Nerve & Me

 

This week, I was honored to share an essay in Vela Magazine , a publication I’ve long admired. The essay explores what life with epilepsy has taught me about uncertainty.

The world—and our bodies—do not always operate in a neat and orderly fashion. Control is not our default modus operandi, or even our ideal. Thirty years with epilepsy has taught me to accept, even love, this truth.

I rarely talk about my epilepsy, and when I do, it feels vaguely dissatisfying, as if I’m not quite expressing things adequately. Writing this piece, then, was healing.

It was also difficult, requiring a ton of research. In the process, I learned a lot about epilepsy in the workplace that I’d never known–even as I’ve managed my own condition. In terms of career,  epilepsy has can be a nasty deterrent. 

Still, I like to think the human spirit is indomitable. And this seems like a fine time for a “Garden State” throwback (which, for those too young to remember, features Natalie Portman as an epileptic). No seizures here, just love…!

Let nothing hold us back from the life we crave.

 

Self-Employees of the Month: Andrea Enright & Michael Boudreaux

Andrea Enright and Michael Boudreaux

A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then … the glory … a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.”

–John Steinbeck

In 2005, Andrea Enright was living a golden, idyllic freelancer’s lifestyle, her communications portfolio fattening ever with contracts from well-known clients that ranged from Boston Market to Planned Parenthood. She had already successfully escaped the proverbial grind … but something was still missing. Her husband, Michael Boudreaux, a tech maestro for DIRECTV, thought so too. After a bit of soul-searching, they blew out of Denver and joined the Peace Corps.

When their two years of service in Bulgaria came to a close, Andrea and Michael kept going. On a mission they call “Wanderlust or Bust” they continued across the globe, including Syria, Lebanon, and Kurdistan (yeah, that’s Northern Iraq), couchsurfing, blogging, videoing and volunteering as they went. Continue reading

The Accidental Tourist, Unplugged

Frozen Lake at Kripalu

Footprints across a frozen lake, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Massachusetts

One of the hardest things to do—for freelancers or anyone—can be to stop and make yourself take a vacation.

On the surface, it seems impossible that a freelancer would have any trouble arranging a vacation. If I’m in charge of my own schedule, what’s the problem? But generally, the freelance life is less predictable than a nine-to-five one, and harder to tame. I’ve traded an infinitely structured life for an infinitely flexible one. I never know when a contract might come in, so am always hesitant to plan anything at all, including a trip to visit my grandmother. And if I do, be darn sure I’m not entirely escaping—I’ll have my laptop in tow.

Well, at least I’ll try to have my laptop in tow.

Over and over again, I put off this trip to the Berkshires, during which I wanted to combine R&R at a yoga center with a visit to see a dear friend. Given my two-week dry spell with work, I felt incredibly guilty taking time off. Ultimately, could I really afford it? (No.) Shouldn’t I be looking for work? (Yes.)

Ultimately, my partner practically booted me out the door. Thank goodness. By the end of February, I was on a train cruising through the winter wonderland of the Hudson River Valley. It all happened so quickly that I had the distinctive feeling I’d forgotten something. By the time I got to my friend’s house in New York and broke out my laptop, I realized what it was—my power cord.

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Self-Employee of the Month: Jennifer Baljko

Jenn Baljko

“It’s just another gamble, right? I mean, you throw the dice, and if it doesn’t work … I’ll start over again somewhere else.

On New Year’s Eve 2003, I hosted a dinner party and served up slow-cooked collard greens and black-eyed peas—a soul food combo that, according to Southern superstition, brings wealth and happiness in the coming year. As technology trade reporter Jennifer Baljko joined the table, none of us gathered could have guessed the wealth and happiness that would soon come her way.

Jennifer’s name didn’t pop up on my radar again until 2007, when I noticed that she had beat out stiff literary competition to win the Traveler’s Tales Solas Contest. I was intrigued: Where has this woman been for the past four years?

Apparently, mere months after those collards and peas worked their magic, divorce and the dotcom bust sparked Jennifer’s search for a new life and livelihood. On the very day that the U.S. first declared war on Iraq, she declared war on life as she knew it, buying a ticket for an extended international journey and soon thereafter quitting her job. “I knew I needed to set my priorities straight,” she says.

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The Rest You Must Invent

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Just trying to keep it in perspective. (Salt mines, Czech Republic) 

 

You think the world owes you
It don’t owe you a thing.
When it’s given all it can
The rest you must invent.

–Morees Bickman, “Rosebush Inside”

Especially here in America, we think that we deserve the good life. Isn’t it is our birthright? Isn’t it in the constitution? Isn’t it written somewhere?

Even if it is, I would like to know who exactly can honor that contract. Natural disasters, accidents, villains, and just plain chance intervene in our otherwise glorious destiny and sometimes, bad things are going to happen. The good life is not something we should expect; it’s something we have to work for. And even when we do, there are no guarantees.

We are spoiled.

I mention this because it relates to the general conception of what a healthy work life really is. What kinds of demands and expectations can we reasonably place on our work lives?

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Escape of the Day: Make a Big To-Do

…List, that is. Make a list, because it gets sh*t done.

The year I moved to San Francisco (and yes, this was light years ago) I found the very first issue of the now-defunct To-Do List magazine and kept it through three moves across the city. Why? That rag contained a fantastic article called “Quirkyalone” that fed my soul, which its author, Sasha Cagen, later parlayed into a book by the same name. Anyway, Ms. Cagen has been at it again, recently publishing the book To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, and maintaining a fab blog as well. I think her work shows insight and humor.

Go forth and organize your life!