The Struggle - More Dehumanizing Than Instructive - A Lack Of Empathy From Dad - Avoiding Excessive Job Demands - Fuck This! - A Delicate Dance To Keep My Job - Absenteeism As Spiritual Mandate
Work - November 18, 1996
I spoke to my father today about what a difficult time X and I are having -- financially, artistically, emotionally, spiritually. He responded with an abrupt laugh -- I'd call it more of a snort -- calling our situation, "The Struggle." In that response lies many of the reasons why I feel closer to my mother than to him. It appears that his life has been so full of pain and failed expectations that for him that is all there is. For me to appreciate him more he would at least commiserate with us, acknowledging that our suffering, if not unique, was at least wrong. He could even go so far as to offer money, or say that he would do so if he had some. My father expresses no anger or dissatisfaction toward the workplace, toward inadequate wages, or toward electromagnetic pollution or anything else that threatens our wellbeing. I have no problem with life involving some hard work, some discipline, and occasional difficulty. But for X and me, the cost is much too high. The "struggle" is no longer instructive and sharpening. Destructiveness predominates.
I told him that I was beginning to take more time off from work -- that I was increasingly absenting myself from staff meetings. He gave me a blank response. He does not understand or respect the need to insulate oneself from excessive professional obligations. He would not approve of my staying home when I am physically capable of carrying out the duties of my job. If the principal calls a trivial meeting that cuts into my preparatory period, my father, were he a teacher, would undoubtedly show up. I have always had difficulty accepting authority and social/professional rules. My father has no higher value system that calls into question the assumptions and expectations of the world he lives in. And if he does have such a value system, then it is not fully connected with his physical, emotional, and daily life.
Being true to your values means that you wrestle with the prevailing social codes everyday. You never take any of it for granted. It is a personal assessment to determine that the requirements of your job are excessive. From my point of view, my spirit, mind, and body begin to atrophy after just a few hours at work. If I were to follow my gut response -- my intuitive reaction to the whole situation -- I would not even show up at all. But I have to have a job. I require the employment. In order to make sure that I remain employed there my need for removal and distance must be satisfied very methodically. I gauge the absenteeism of the rest of the staff; I measure the real control of the supervising administrator; I determine the acceptance of the staff with whom I work most closely (and who are most impacted by my absences); I become familiar with my contractual rights. Using these inputs I calculate how many days I can be absent, or how many meetings I can abort, with a minimum of negative consequences. I always have more absences than the average teacher, but I am intelligent enough with moderating my "Fuck this!" attitude that I am not perceived as blatantly disrespectful or a threat to the social fabric as a whole.My contract allows for 18 days of sickness per year. The average teacher is out 7 days, leaving the remainder to accumulate toward retirement. I average 16 days out per year. But I wish to remain employed, so I force myself to present a good attitude at work. People's perceptions are that I am absent not because I hate my job, but because I get worn out and frustrated so easily. My absenteeism is more palatable to them because it appears due to a personal weakness of mine rather than a structural flaw in the educational or workplace bureaucracy as a whole. If people need to know why I am absent, I will say that I am mentally ill and have paperwork to catch up on--both of which are always true. And then, if I continue, I go on to explain how mental or emotional stress leads to physiological disease and that preventative absences, such as those that I take, contribute to a longer, more healthful life.
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