Familiar Terrain

November 28, 2011

In the Long Distance Rider world, a realm in which people far greater than I ride motorcycles more than 2000 miles in 24 hours, or 11,000+ miles in 11 days, there are many iconic figures. Chief amongst them, in my mind, is Robert Higdon. Bob will say he doesn’t ride well or far, but these are untruths of modesty.

Bob is a lawyer – I can only imagine he is outstanding in this field – and some of the liability aspects of the Iron Butt Association and its now-copious members occasionally pulse his blood pressure.

It is one thing to ride a motorcycle fast and far on public roads; it is quite another (in terms of potential liabilities) to write about it upon public fora, email lists, and websites, particularly if the riding occurred during the course of an organized event. Thus, back in the day when the LDR email list was slightly more civilized, and contained more signal than noise, we did not discuss Specific Speeds. We had a code of sorts, and that code revolved around Bob Higdon and his forehead.

The most egregious recklessness was referred to as “triple-Higdon speeds,” referring to the number of veins one would observe popping out on Bob’s Higdon’s forehead, were he to read such an account.

I miss having a little Higdon in my world from time to time, but I carry him with me, and he continues to mentor from the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair in my brain on an almost weekly basis.

What does Bob Higdon have to do with today?

My everyday life has been, for the last few months, a combination of single- to double-Higdon stressors, with the occasional triple-veiner burst. I’ve been trying to simply abide, to muddle through as best I can, but I slipped too far down the slope with the addition of a job I loathe, and in trying to climb back up to the precipice’s edge, I lost my tenuous grip and tumbled far down into blackness.

I am upright, lucid, moving around, taking in stimuli, but I am essentially the walking dead. I don’t know where I am, internally, and worse, I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what used to make me happy, let alone would make me happy now.

Common sense tells me what I should do, but I can’t be arsed to do it. It’s like there is a line on the ground – I can see the line, and I know what it represents. To start down the road to recovery, all I have to do is to step across the damned line. That’s it.

But I can’t find the motivation to do it.

I can’t even really look at the line itself; I have to take it in with a furtive, sidelong glance.

People who have never been depressed, who have never suffered from a lack of motivation, will read that and say, quite correctly, “That is absurd. Walk across the fucking line, you incredibly silly person.”

It seems so easy to them, and it probably is. Except for those of us who can’t even look at the line, let alone interact with it or walk across it.

I maintain an uneasy awareness of the line, and its relative proximity. Some days, it’s right there and I feel ready to try … but balk at the last second after getting a good look at it from right up close. Other days, I sense it vaguely in the distance, a far-off brightness in the grey evening light where I have been living.

Being around other people is difficult at best, impossible at worst, but is of course part of what one must endure in day-to-day life. My job is to provide technical support (from home) to troubled, confused, angry, and frustrated customers over the phone, via support ticket, or in a live chat. The support ticket is the preferred method of communicating with customers, as it places no real-time pressure on a person. There is no opportunity for real-time abuse or desperation. Everything is held at arm’s length, and we like it that way.

However, some customers prefer to “talk voice” (as we used to say in the old days of the internet.) I’ve never been any good at distancing myself from my customers’ emotions, and this is especially true when they are on the phone with me. If the customer is polite with me, and civil, despite their broken technology, I take on their frustrations at a personal level. If they are friendly and sweet, this amplifies my take on their emotions.

The simple solution is, “don’t do that,” right? I’m a highly-sensitive person. I am empathic, sympathetic, wanting to make people happy. I literally do not know how┬áto back away, how to put up healthy barriers, how to keep a person needing help out of my personal space.

To compound matters, I hate computers. I’m not saying this to be funny – I truly hate them, and the feeling (as far as I can tell) is mutual. When I am near, computers sometimes behave in completely unpredictable ways. Incidents that might otherwise be written off as “flukes” or “once in a million” are fairly standard behavior when I am using them.

You, likely being a rational, sane person, read this and think, “that’s probably not quite the case, slightly-crazy lady; you are simply doing it wrong.” I used to think the same things when my mom reported bizarre computer problems I could not reproduce. However, the older I get, and the more quirks I see, the less I am able to dismiss the oddities that happen to me daily.

This is neither here nor there, really – the main point is, I am trapped in a job I loathe, and I am not skilled to do anything else.

This place where I am is not entirely unfamiliar – indeed, I know the landscape pretty well. Thanks to a series of piss-poor decisions in my first years of college, I opted out of the career path where I belonged (life sciences) and squandered most of my fairly expensive education (seven years at the University of Michigan, a place where I could have done great and wonderful things, had I chosen to avail myself of its resources and opportunities.) I could have done real and lasting good, I believe, had I not seen all the math and chemistry on this path and frantically fled in the opposite direction.

I landed in Information Technology, because it was there, it was easy, and I didn’t hate it yet. I have never been extraordinarily gifted with computers, but neither did I utterly fail with them, and I found work mostly in this field for a good fifteen years, right up to the present moment. Not being particularly interested in computers means a lot of the details do not stick with me. I am not compelled to discover how they work, or why they do not. I do what I need to do, and I provide excruciatingly good customer service as I do it.

Each phone call, each live chat, each ticket, takes a little piece of my soul because I hate it so much. Each failure stays with me, affects me for too long. Each triumph seems hollow and meaningless, apart from making someone happy (or at least less pissed-off.)

It is because I hate my job so much, because I am so disenchanted with my life, that I am writing this post from a very nice hotel on the beach of Lake Michigan. There is an absurdly large jacuzzi tub in the bedroom, a living room, a modest bathroom. A view of the canal leading to the lake. I will be here for two days.

Years ago, I would watch the movie “Switch” with some frequency. I loved Ellen Barkin’s portrayal of a man suddenly in a woman’s body. I may be mis-attributing the quote, but as I recall, Ellen Barkin is talking about a desire to get away from it all, and references Gaughan “chucking it and moving to Tahiti.” That line remains with me, and adequately sums up the feel I sometimes – a powerful urge to chuck it and go someplace new, start over. Have some drinks on the beach.

Tonight, I chucked it and came to St. Joseph, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The drive took over three hours, thanks to unholy traffic at the intersection of the two main highways I had to travel. It was raining, windy and cold, but my urge to flee was at least being sated, even at 5 miles per hour. I fled from my job, from my marriage, from my home – basically from my miserable life. A change of scenery to jolt the system, however temporarily.

Benton Harbor, the town next door to St. Joseph, is under political assault right now from our state’s Governor. The divide between the affluent, predominantly white St. Joseph and the poor, predominantly black Benton Harbor is a bridge that would take less than a minute to walk across on foot. I’ve driven through Benton Harbor twice this season, and each time I’ve thought, “this doesn’t look like a city that would be in the news.” It looks like a city that’s fallen on hard times, made worse by a series of events which culminated in the Governor removing the city council’s right to govern itself. . It looks like parts of Detroit back in the late eighties and early nineties. Benton Harbor is depressed and lost, and in those respects, we are alike. I might feel more comfortable over there, in fact, than in the touristy, upbeat, expensive-boutique-laden cove of Silver Beach in St. Joseph.

My hotel is nice, but not extravagant. They use compact fluorescent bulbs and other power-saving measures. They are environmentally conscious.

Still, as I stepped into the jacuzzi tub which I had filled with probably 150 gallons of hot water, I was Erin the Great Consumer of Resources. I wondered how many peoples’ thirst would be slaked by the water I was simply bathing in for pleasure. Unable to carry the water to them at the moment, I climbed in and did my level best to let the water jets soothe away the guilt. The tub’s enormous proportions made it impossible to get really comfortable. While I will normally enjoy a soak in the tub for a good two hours, I was out within 45 minutes, guilt not appeased and in fact made worse by the short duration of the water’s use. It drained away, taking a good fifteen to twenty minutes to do so, not taking my anxiety or lack of motivation with it.

The day after tomorrow, I will make the trek back home. The vividness of this trip will sustain me for a few days, maybe a week, and then I’ll be back in the gray lands of full-blown depression, trying to find the line, and then shying away from it.

I sometimes wish I were a wanderer, life able to be packed in a bag or two, no roots – free.


I don’t even know if freedom is attainable anymore.

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