And, today I go to orientation. There’s not much more point to this post other than to say that, for some sort of keeping track such as this blog is (as opposed to my Twitter account, which has much more spur of the moment reflections).
Despite that this isn’t, perhaps, quite the way I had envisioned my plans to go, I’m happy with where I am and excited to be back in the driver’s seat.
I have a long and complicated history of burnout, as those of you who have been around here for a while probably already know. I bounce through jobs like a revolving door met a Ferris wheel and had a good old-fashioned frolic in the new-mown hay.
This time around at least I’m doing it right. I put in the application back before Christmas, and the applications are good for a month.
If you can’t guess, or you hadn’t seen me mention it elsewhere, I’m going back to the one thing I know I’m truly good at. Driving a big rig. Don’t worry, I’m not putting going back to school on hold either. I think that I should well and be able to keep up with the course load of two classes at a time even with this somewhat abrupt left turn in trajectory.
I wrote a really nice letter for my two-weeks notice (although whether I’ll be allowed to carry out and finish the term of my employment that I said I will will be anyone’s guess; I don’t take my current workplace to be somewhere that would fire me for giving notice, but then again, I’m no soothsayer either). That’s getting emailed out to HR right around the timing of this post being published, as well.
That makes this real.
The recruiter I worked with at the temp agency the job is through told me, based on our previous conversations, “I thought you wanted an office job.” and as for my response to that? ”I thought I did, too.”
One of my partners was supposed to come down to visit in between me leaving and me starting the trucking job, but unfortunately due to the ongoing pandemic and the difficulty in getting a covid test, we cancelled those plans and tabled them for another time in the future.
I’m writing this over some time though, as a running litany of all the little things that make the decision real in my head:
making the list of pros and cons and weighing it, fully
talking to my therapist and the validation that my logic pans out and makes sense
calling the recruiter and putting in an application
taking the duffel bag I want to use out of the shed
doing a dry run of packing for the road
taking the big sleeping bags that I use as a mattress pad to the laundromat…
and so many more things over the next two and a bit weeks, then I’ll be off to orientation and hopefully getting assigned a truck and back to driving.
When it comes down to it, the way I see it is like this. Working at a job is participating in capitalism, and just like there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, in many ways having a job is destined to be miserable at least part of the time. At least, that’s how it has always seemed to me.
Moreover, as far as my own disability goes, although driving a truck may not be the best thing I can do for my mobility and physical health, sitting at a desk all day wasn’t doing me very much good either. This way I’m more active. So when it comes down to it, I’m going to pick my battles, and I’m going to be miserable occasionally doing something that overall makes me happy.
Although I am Jewish, my extended family — family by blood, family by marriage, and family by choice — is very interfaith.
And I’m going to be honest, I find myself missing Christmas more than I imagined I was going to.
Pre-pandemic, along with the traditional Chinese food, my family spent Christmas visiting. When I was a small child, we would go over to my grandfather’s sister’s house, where my great-aunt Cissy and great-uncle Julius had what always seemed to be hugest Christmas parties, although they were modest enough. That, not Chanike, was when I got holiday presents from some of the extended family, who themselves had intermarried. Sometimes, whoever was there of my great-uncle’s band would play a little bit. And sometimes us kids would get to play, gently, with the marimbas.
Although the Christmas parties stopped eventually, the visiting did not. We visited long-time family friends variously every year. Other family friends had a Boxing Day party with more people crammed into a tiny Valley Village apartment than you’d ever think possible. Mirth and merriment and togetherness.
In 2019, I figured out how to take my hometime for Christmas, buy a spot at the truck stop to park at, so that we were able to go up and visit my now-mother-in-law and spouse’s siblings for Christmas. Then I went back on the road and spouse stayed and flew home a bit later. (And then the pandemic started, but that’s another blog post altogether.) Spouse has a big family, and spending Christmas up there was a joy, even though it came with its own share of stressors and interpersonal conflict happening as well, as is bound to happen with family. One day I’d love to be able to do that again.
And I miss that now more than I did at Chanike.
I hope that, as we have another year of pandemic holidays, you’re able to find and forge new traditions to take the place of the ones the pandemic has taken from us. The holidays are about togetherness, even when that togetherness and when expressing the same care for one another means instead of visiting, staying home, like we’re doing this year.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to make pancakes, and then we’re going to build a fire in the fireplace and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Tomorrow evening, we’re going to get Chinese food from the local takeout that we like.
So happy Christmas, along with all the joy and blessings of the season, to everyone who celebrates.
Being home every night instead of away for two weeks to months at a time.
Going back to school.
Having a desk job.
Being able to focus on my mental health, really focus on it, which has included being able to seek mental health treatment that wasn’t available to me while I was an over-the-road truck driver due to the overwhelming stigma against mental health problems in much of the transportation industry.
I thought it would be easier.
I’m nearly all the way through my first semester back, and given as I also have a desk job that is currently 40 hours/week and holds the potential to be more hours/week, I’m going to be cutting back and completing the rest of my community college over three additional semesters instead of two. I don’t think it will make a difference to my prospective applications to university level studies anyway, as the local school doesn’t do spring transfer admissions and thus if I had done it at three classes per semester I would have simply had an entire six months of no school in between finishing at community college and starting at university.
I miss the road. I miss waking up somewhere new every day, I miss the scenery, I miss the way that focusing on driving allowed me to not feel like the inside of my head was a nightmare that I might never escape from.
This week is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbos that occurs in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In English, it is the Shabbat of Return. It is a pause in the middle of the days of awe, the days of repentance. (It is also the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, but there are a lot of posts about that already.)
A save point, if you will.
And in our communities there has been a lot of talk— as we still make socially distanced minyans over Zoom, minyans that enable us to be together across so many miles and enable us to truly include people; as we are facing the high holy day season in the middle of a global panini… I mean global pandemic, for a second year— of returning to ‘normal’.
On Twitter yesterday, Rabbi Ruth Adar said, “Forget “back to normal”. Let’s go back to being the people we aspire to be.” (So many of my favourite rabbis are on Twitter; and the ones who aren’t? Are on TikTok.)
One of the things that I particularly love about Judaism is that we are invited, encouraged, that in fact we are required to wrestle with the texts. This week’s Torah portion is Vayeilekh, the start of chapter 31 of Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy. The English for the first aliyah, which I chanted at this morning’s pop-up minyan that a friend and I put together, is as follows (with adjustments made to use a neutral pronoun):
Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel.
He said to them:
I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active. Moreover, Hashem has said to me, “You shall not go across yonder Jordan.”
Hashem your Gxd Themself will cross over before you, and They Themself will wipe out those nations from your path and you shall dispossess them.— Joshua is the one who shall cross before you, as Hashem has spoken.—
It is difficult, today, when we are living as a diaspora people.
When so many countries exist due to the displacement— and quite often much worse than simply displacement— of the indigenous populations who were here before, how do we bring ourselves to truly wrestle with these verses? Not to simply say that it happened and ignore it, or say that it did not happen and thus ignore it, but truly bring ourselves to think about how it is we got here. Regardless of how much that this plot point may make sense within the story narrative of the journey between Egypt and Israel, how do we contend in a modern sense with being on land that still is sacred to someone else?
The parsha continues.
Moses calls Joshua to him, speaks some more, writes down the teaching and gives it to the priests. It specifies that during Sukkot of the shmita year, the sabbatical year, they should read the teaching, the Torah, aloud in the presence of all of Israel— men, women, and the strangers within your midst.
This year, 5782, is the shmita year, the sabbatical year.
It’s not a ‘normal’ year within the agricultural cycle, rather it is the time during which lands are to lay fallow, debts are to be remitted.
So the question becomes, on this Shabbat Shuvah, who is it that we aspire to be?
And how can we use our process of teshuvah to help us to get there?
Teshuvah, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah. The Unetanah Tokef prayer on the High Holy Days tells us that penitence, prayer, and righteous acts shall avert the severity of the decree.
And although teshuvah is often translated as penitence or repentance, it is so much more than simply saying “I’m sorry”. The atonement that we are aiming for of teshuvah is that of returning, of ethical self-transformation.
Maimonides lays out the steps of teshuvah and within those are included three stages: confession, regret, and a vow not to repeat the misdeed.
So how do we make sure that we do not repeat the misdeeds of those who came before us with regard to the land? And I think that one answer, at least, is simple, although the bigger answers never are. When we gather, all the people Israel— non-binary people, transgender people, agender people, converts, those who were born Jewish, the strangers within our midst—
Let us make a vow that the learning will go both ways.
Let us consider that at times, we are the stranger within the midst of others. And that sometimes, that’s okay. I think that it is important to seek answers other than isolating ourselves within our own communities; it is important to come to the table and sit in solidarity. One way that we can be active in our process of teshuvah is by learning from the indigenous nations whose land it is, learning to respect and care for the land in ways that are important to them. (For further reading, please start with A guide to Indigenous land acknowledgment by the Native Governance Center, and also consider Jews On Ohlone Land for an example of what the relationships between Jewish and Indigenous communities should look like.)
Wherein we continue to remember that our values place the highest and utmost importance on pikuach nefesh, saving a human life.
That our new normal will continue to be one wherein accommodating the needs of others isn’t just an afterthought.
Let us all be people who look around us and see the problems in the world and ask, in the truest spirit of tikkun olam, “How can I make these better?”
Shanah tovah u’metuka, a gutn Shabbos, and Shabbat Shalom.
Specifically, there are nine days left until the beginning of the fall semester. I am enrolled in three classes, and will, after this semester, have six classes left in order to finish my associate degree. It’s been seven years since I was a college student.
Sometimes no matter how well you’re prepared for change to come, it still surprises you.
Last Wednesday, I turned in the truck and my keys and resigned from my job.
I’ve been contemplating what my life will look like after trucking for a while now, but the truth of the matter is that my entire career thus far has been in transportation in one way or another.
The first real job that I got, that lasted more than a few weeks, was as a paratransit driver. Eventually, that led to me becoming a city bus operator, and when I burned out on that, trucking school to acquire my class A commercial driver’s license.
But if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that I don’t yet know how to avoid burnout.
Indeed, burnout feels intrinsic in some way to the capitalist labour system in the country; inevitable when the only vacation from working sixty hours a week is the time off to move or the time off in between jobs, both of which come with their own stressors. The more that I think about it, the more that I don’t know how I was supposed to not burn out. The additional stressors that the pandemic has put onto the trucking industry were just the tip of the iceberg.
And this time, I decided to stop before any of it got to a breaking point, at least.
But six — seven? I’ve lost count — years in transportation as a driver doesn’t leave me with much by the way of transferable skills to a new job. I’ve registered to go back to community college in the fall and hopefully finish the associate’s degree and the transfer requirements that I quite frankly wasn’t interested in when I went to school the first time around.
And from there? The road, such as it is, should be wide open.
There’s nothing actually different about thirty, but…
At the same time, everything is different, in the way that things are different from one day to the next, from one week to the next, from one month to the next.
From one year to the next.
I was working on my birthday, but I did get to celebrate it the weekend before with my spouse and my parents during my hometime. This was the second time now that I’ve celebrated my birthday quietly during the pandemic.
Because I’m an introvert to start with, celebrating quietly with only our tiny little bubble doesn’t feel like a diminishing of anything.
Instead, the overall social isolation of the pandemic has given me so many chances to truly consider what I’m doing, and what I want to be doing. As you might guess, these two things no longer align; although I love driving, I don’t love the trucking industry, and I don’t feel like it’s a sustainable option for me in the long term.
I don’t much like talking about plans about the future online for fears that I am going to jinx them or do something that makes them not come true.
But I have plans.
And I have goals.
And I’ve been taking slow but steady steps towards achieving them.
When you put it all together, that’s a helluva lot after stopping to consider the fact that ten years ago, I reliably didn’t feel like I was going to make it to my thirtieth birthday.
So here’s to a decade where I don’t just survive; here’s to a decade where I live.
Quick note: Although I’ve done my best to be careful in the language that I’ve used, this post contains discussion of suicide.
This weekend marks thirteen years, by the Jewish calendar, since my best friend killed himself.
I was seventeen at the time; he was three years ahead of me and had gone off to college on the east coast. We kept up regularly on the phone and through texting.
Early Friday afternoon, like every one before that that year, I wished him a good Shabbos. He told me to have a good weekend at the faire, and we hung up. We’d talk on Monday.
Mid-afternoon on Sunday I got the call that on Sunday morning, he’d stepped in front of an oncoming train.
I could write pages about how despite how close we were I had no clue that he was struggling (and by all accounts, neither did anyone else). I could write about how even thirteen years later I feel guilty. But the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t my fault, and there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent it, and I cannot continually live in the land of what-if and grief.
Instead, I’d like to share a previously unpublished poem that I wrote several years ago.
I am ashamed to say that time has softened grief
and that on this dark and stormy night I no longer
can remember the words, or how your smile lit the evenings by the campfires.
and I cannot place this stone in remembrance
from a thousand miles away. all I can do as the trains
echo into the distance, is whisper to myself yis-gadal v’yis-kadash
and for a moment pretend that you are smiling still.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out and get help.