Six years ago.

I can’t think of a better title for this post, because it’s one of those kinda-personal and kinda-not-really things, where you just write it out and let the chips fall where they may.

If you read my childfree post before, then you know my desire not to reproduce is no secret. I make no bones of it and speak frankly about it. It’s fair game – no one ever asks people why they have kids or why they want kids, but a decision to not have any seems to give other people the license to try and “convert” us the childfree to their way of thinking. And sorry, folks, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if you put my decisions under a magnifying glass, make sure yours stand up to the same muster.

I am also very frank about the fact that I’m sterile, and Sept. 12th marked the six-year anniversary of my surgery. I turn 30 in May of next year.

And I think it’s pretty fair to say that the past six years, even with their pitfalls, have been pretty damn good to me, and if they are any indication of the future, then I will say that this has been a pretty fantastic investment.

There have been many “studies” – and I use the quotations, for reasons I shall explain shortly – about regret for tubal ligations. The reason I use the quotations is because regret is a very arbitrary feeling, and there’s no universal category for one person feeling regret for the same thing as thirty or forty others. Considering that the “tubal regret” statistics are nearly all trotted out only for the reason to assure women seeking sterilization that they’ll “change their minds”, I really wonder how many of those studies were actually conducted by any means but an Internet poll.

As I said before, and I said time and time again, there’s a lot more thought that goes into the decision to not have a child than some people put into their decision to reproduce. A pretty sizable chunk of my peers either have kids, or are thinking about what to name them. All I could think of is, “Before you start of thinking of the positive pregnancy test, how about you first think of the world you want to birth your kid into!”

But they never question themselves. I, however, get questioned left and right, on the only account of going against the grain and actually asking myself, “Am I cut out for the job?” I look at my peers, and I’m thinking, “Did you think this through?” “Can you really handle this?” “How are you going to pull it off if [mitigating circumstance]?” And I also think, they should be asking themselves all of these things. Most of them do not, but those who do, and who come to the conclusion that hey, risking becoming a parent is not the right thing to do, are suddenly made the pariahs because they put to question what so very few others do.

I often say my tubal has been my best investment. I paid only my deductible at the time. A thousand bucks to ensure I’ll never reproduce.

What did I gain?

Financial security: it takes over $200,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18 without college costs as of today; that alone is cost of a house – and it’s money I will not lose over my lifetime. I may not be in my ideal living situation, but I have started putting away for retirement, and while my peers and I jointly suffer under the yoke of student loans, I have the potential to break free of mine so much sooner.

New horizons and experiences: because I am CF, I can pick up a suitcase and jet off to anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice if I’m called to a gig. I can carve out the time to read a book, or take additional classes to pursue interests. I’m free to move to a different part of the country, if I so desire. I’m free to travel – which is a passion of mine that I indulge often. I can go out to dinner to an exotic cuisine.

Professional advancement: because I don’t have kids, I can put in more hours at my work or business, which results in more income for me and my future. Yes, this means that I have to pick up the slack for my childed counterparts, and I make it work for me – neither my bosses nor my clients overlook my hard work. I can keep learning and expanding my skills and business, and invest both time and money into new technology to further it.

My health and peace of mind: never minding the enduring hell of pregnancy and childbirth, I am one of those people who don’t deal with stress very well, and the one thing I treasure is my quiet time. I am a worrying person by nature, and while I worry over my friends a bit, I trust them to take care of themselves. As a result, I can take much better care of me.

And most importantly: time. I will always find the time to nurture my friendships and connections. I invite my friends to dinner, to shows, to explore with me. I always have the time to set aside to get some more sleep – something I don’t do because of the workload, but the fact is, that time is there. And most of all, I have the time to put towards my creative pursuits.

If you want to call me selfish – please, go ahead, but ask yourself at the same time: how is taking care of my life and business selfish? And while you’re at it, please give me the reasons that you had children, that do not start with “I want” or “The bible” or “because that’s what you do”.

I’ll wait.

I will say this, though, that there is a lot of resentment towards the childfree people from their childed counterparts. Particularly over the aforementioned financial security and the free time. The free time most of all, and the resentment is most palpable from parents of young children, usually under 5. And to this I have to ask, did you not consider that before having kids? Did you not think of all that you’d have to sacrifice when you bring a baby into your life?

Turns out, a lot of my peers didn’t think of all of that.

While I will always be for giving parents some sort of a support system, having seen friends with children struggle through their early days – and being there for them – I will also be an even bigger advocate of planning in advance. The old saying, “Failure to plan on your part is not an emergency on anyone else’s part” is callous, unfeeling, and 100% true.

And six years ago, I made the rest of my future happen.

K.G.

 

 

No, You Can’t Do It All

I checked out an article touching on Shonda Rhimes’s commencement speech at Dartmouth, and found myself smiling even though I’m CF. The speech was about the fallacy of “doing it all”.

You know what I mean. A little girl is told that she can “do it all” – have a career, a healthy marriage, AND a family.

It’s a lie.

The reason I found myself smiling is because I have found, maybe a little too soon, according to my mom, that “having it all” is a myth. I knew it even back in college, when I struggled to get my papers written after being up till 4am working. But working outside of college, it was a wakeup call as to just how little time there really is in the day.

My bosses keep me on a part-time basis, and it shocked them that I insisted that they keep me that way. That is with very good reason: my photography work. Never mind money for a minute: because I have a shorter workweek, I get to have time for things like cleaning my house, having a homecooked meal with Mom, working out, and yes, photos. But things like the housecleaning – that is something I rarely, if at all, have the chance to really do if I’m working full time. Considering accounting gets a wee bit busy (understatement) in spring, and I’m working 6-7 days a week, then it becomes all the more important to have some time when I’m not working.

It sounds mundane, I’m sure, housecleaning. But imagine the state of my apartment if I didn’t take that time. I’m well past the age of my mother picking up after me, and she works too. I’m the de facto super for our household. I’m the one who does the minor repairs, replacements, maintenance, etc. And I barely even find the time to unpack my suitcases after a trip.

Mind you this: I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets. But I still have responsibilities and a life and an apartment. And if I, working part time and running a business, cannot manage it, then what about someone in different shoes?

You just plain do not have the time to “do it all”. You just don’t. There’s a finite number of hours in the day that we have to allocate across working, sleeping, and everything else. The original motto for workers’ rights is “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will!” – which is why your workday is that eight hours – but realistically, it’s more like 10. One hour each way for commute, and if you have overtime, then you add more to that segment. So where do you get the extra hours? Sacrifice either sleep or the “what we will” portion. If your friend needs your help moving and you say yes, and you take an hour or so off work, then you have to make up for it. You need a certain number of hours of shut-eye to not be an exhausted mess. If you’re in a relationship, then relationships require work too. You have to set time aside to make it work. So where do you find the hours? What if you’re sick as a dog and can’t afford the time off?

If you have a family, it’s infinitely tougher. If you want to be there for your son’s swim meet and there’s a project you have to submit at the same time, what wins? If you manage to do both, how will you feel? Bedraggled? Exhausted? Yes, if this happens on a consistent basis Be honest about how tired you are. Be honest if you admit that you’re staying up late working on things that you bring home or that you have to stay late if you left early one day or another. If you do, however, manage to do both on a consistent basis, ask yourself this: how long can you keep doing that? Your strength and resources aren’t infinite. You do get tired. Tiredness morphs into fatigue a little too easily. If you’re fatigued, you can kiss any sort of living – not only surviving, but living – goodbye; no matter how great things are at work and at home, will you really be able to enjoy them if all you want to do consistently is keel over and sleep?

Let’s start being honest about what we feel when we try to “do it all”.

I work and I have a business. So basically two jobs. I live with my mother, and even though we live together, we rarely, if at all, see each other during the week. She works too and gets out earlier than me. She sends me things to read or watch all the time, but I can never watch them – no time. On weekends, we’re both exhausted, so we sleep and try and keep the apartment clean. And two days aren’t enough to rest – anyone trying to convince themselves to contrary is kidding themselves. Time is not infinite, and you know what else isn’t? Energy.

People always like to say “work a little harder” and they’re usually the ones already comfortable. Those of us who are already working hard are doing so at an expense that’s a hell of a lot more than money. There’s a limit to how much harder a person can work without collapsing. I see a lot of this trend in vilification of single mothers, unjustly so: single mothers 1. rarely, if ever, ask to be single mothers, and 2. work more than one job to make things work financially for themselves and their children. As a result, they end up missing out on a lot of their children’s lives – all in the name of survival. And those who are not single parents, and stuck in economically wrecked areas – think Midwest, rural Americana, small towns that have never been the same since industrial and factory work has been shipped overseas – are that much worse. Think about it: you’re in an area where the only available jobs are minimum wage or not much higher, where the economic downturn is affecting the consumers with a lot of them likely on public assistance to make it meet, and if you don’t want to go on welfare, you can, and often do, take two jobs to survive. Which leaves you working twice as hard as you would work in a metropolitan area, for less pay. And it will catch up to you, regardless of the money: fatigue waits for no one. And while you work, you sacrifice everything else.

There’s a limit to how much harder people can work before they keel over. This is why they’re people and not robots: they actually need to rest, take care of themselves, and be themselves.

The fact is, no matter how much you may say “work harder” or how much one person works, there needs to be a collective reminder that workers are human beings. With very human lives. Living alone doesn’t mean one doesn’t have responsibilities. Just like being stay-at-home anything – husband, wife, mother, stepmother, pet mom – doesn’t mean there’s no responsibilities. And this means that something out of the “having it all” equation either needs to disappear, or you just may find that in your effort of “doing it all” and “having it all”, you’ve done a mediocre job at all of the above, and that, I’m sure, will be in no way satisfying.

Let’s begin by first accepting that we ourselves have been lied to, and we ourselves have been told the same bullshit line that ends up running us into the ground earlier than we are ready to. Let’s begin by saying that if it’s important to us, then we need to prioritize it in the order of which is more important. And most of all, let’s begin actually acting on what we feel our life priorities are.

If you value your career first, own up to it, and put it first. You will lose people around you, but you will be doing what fulfills you. Don’t lie to yourself and say, “I want a career, and a family” when you know that the second will never make you as happy as the first. Same with when it’s the other way around. If what you want is a spouse and kids, then have them – and put them as a priority. If you are okay with working less, or if you have the job that gives you allowances with your time, then you know you can make it work. But if you, like a lot of folks, have an inflexible desk job, ask yourself what of your life comes first – and act accordingly. But do not, do not run around trying to do everything and pretend that having it all makes you happy when it will exhaust you first.

Don’t put out the platitude of “It’s all worth it” and don’t put out the second platitude of “You’ll make it work”. Neither is true, because both carry a heavy price. It’s all worth it – at the expense of your own energy and well-being. You’ll make it work – and sacrifice whatever you have to, for what guarantees? There are none, in life. Don’t put the blanket backpedals on. It’s just not fair to those of us who listen to you and subsequently get duped because we bought into your view of life instead of our own.

When you stop trying to please everyone and see exactly where you, just you are happy, then you’ll see exactly how fulfilling life can be. It just doesn’t do well to run ragged trying to please everyone but yourself.

K.G.

Game-Changers

What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?

Well, this one has two answers, and thusly, I’ll tell you about two events, in chronological order, of course.

The first experience that changed my life was finishing Book 1 in The Index Series. The first draft of it, anyway. The first draft was honestly ridiculous, and I’m glad that I disposed the entire first half of that first draft. But writing it was…well, it was an experience, to be sure.

Let’s go back to 2006 for a minute. I was a college senior. It was December; I got my first win at NaNoWriMo. I was taking 18 credits, and it was my senior year. I was also living in the dorms.

The dorms for Pace University were split across several buildings on both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge, and, as far as dorms go, Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights was pretty much your typical dorm. I had a sort-of view of the Brooklyn Bridge, even though the window was ridiculously small; the room was passably comfortable, and the great thing was that, since I worked nights and slept through most of the morning, that I had the building almost to myself.

The night I finished the book was Dec. 16th, 2006. I was working on a midnight-4am shift at the front desk of another dorm building. I was writing one of the final scenes at work, and I had gotten so absorbed in it that the security guard who sat next to me had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me I was free to go. As was the norm for me at the time, I hailed a cab to go to the Brooklyn Heights dorms; I could’ve taken the train for two stops, but the 2/3 line was – and still is – notoriously unreliable in the dead of night. Was it safe? Actually yes. The platform was always deserted. But reliable? Not really. If you miss a train, you’re stuck waiting for nearly a half-hour. Cabs worked better, and it was about $10 to go over the bridge.

I did not shut down my laptop that night before packing it into my bag. I was so absorbed in writing while I was at work that I knew I had to finish what I started the minute I got to my room. The fire has been lit and there was nothing I could do about it except for do exactly as it was asking me: write the rest of the story. 

By the time I got to the dorms, it was about 4:30am. Immediately, I popped open my laptop and got to writing again.

By the time I put the words to be continued at the end of the final scene, it was about 6:00.

It was cold. Even though the dorm building kept the heat up, there was always a draft around the windows. But the sun has already started to color the clouds in shades of purple and orange, and I couldn’t sleep. I was tired like all get-out, but I couldn’t sleep. So I got my warmest clothing, got my heavy coat, and walked down to sit on the Promenade to watch the sun rise.

If you’ve never been to the Promenade in NYC, you’re missing out one of the best views in town. It’s the postcard-perfect view of the downtown skyline; stellar at night and, as I found out firsthand, entrancing at sunrise. So I sat there, watching the sun make its way up to another December morning, and all I could think of was, I just finished my first book.

I knew I couldn’t publish it, not in its rough stage, but it was finished. It was done. Since I was three, I kept saying that I’d write a book. And I’ve done it. And somehow, I did not feel elated with the accomplishment. It felt great to finally get it done, but there was a cloud hanging over the entire thing. But even through that, I knew that life as I knew it was not going to be the same after that.

Of course, in 2006 and working at finishing my degree, I had no idea just how my life was going to change. Which brings me to the second event.

The second event was a little later on. January 31st, 2009.

By this time, I’ve already been at my now-former job for a hair over two years. And on my birthday in 2009, I thought I would do something a little out of the ordinary. So I killed some solid money on booking my first cruise. Not Capital Jazz, but instead, the All Star Cruise, better known as the Smooth Music Cruise, currently a defunct series.

But…this was my first trip away. My first trip out of the country, really, and completely on my own. On a boatful of musicians heading to the Caribbean.

Reflecting on it now, I smile because I was just getting into everything. Graphics. Writing. The camera was a pipe dream, if anything. I was 24 and still had no idea what I was doing with my life. I knew one thing, though: I loved contemporary jazz, and traveling on a ship full of music seemed like a pretty good trip to take.

Right now, in retrospect, you can say that the last part of the prior sentence was the understatement of the month.

Do you know what it feels like when you realize that you’re doing something right? Or when you’re exactly in the right place at the right time? When you walk into a job interview and you know that it’s yours within three minutes of setting foot in the office? When you are viewing an apartment to rent and immediately see the layout of your furniture? When I set foot on the Celebrity Century ship, that was how I felt. I accepted a glass of complimentary champagne, spotted the one musician friend whom I did know (at the time!) in the crowd, and found myself introduced to a mess of people, and within the first five minutes of it, I knew immediately that I was home. This was where I needed to be; on that ship, with the people there, at that moment, and that there was nothing more right than being there.

The effect of that trip in my life is pretty much obvious, and I say that, had I not taken that trip, I’m not sure what my life would’ve been like otherwise.

I still remember it in detail. I know there’s a dedicated martini bar on the Century, all in white ultra-modern decor, with soft blue lighting done in such a way that it makes the room look like ice. I still remember that there’s a Scotch tasting room that looks like straight out of a Victorian library. The covers in my room were with a blue runner. I had a complimentary bottle of cabernet waiting for me. My cabin number was 1507; right in the nose of the ship, under the theater, where I could hear the entire jam session. And the back lounge had seats on dais in several tiers. I remember also that the dining room, all two levels of it, was housed in the back of the ship, under the lounge, and though I came alone, I seldom ate alone.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

K.G.

On Regrets

What was the worst mistake or decision you have ever made in life?  What could you have done differently?

An interesting topic for a writing prompt, and one that requires a good bit of thinking.

We all have things that we regret. Some more than others, and some less. And myself, I often say that so far, I have no regrets whatsoever. That, in and of itself, is not a lie. I may not have liked learning some life lessons the hard way – as I learned most of them – but I could’ve had them come to me a lot worse. A lot worse. There are some things I wish I had never learned about life, but as a whole, I do not regret anything. Not proud of certain things either, but such is the great kaleidoscope that life tends to be.

But really, there are a couple of things that I regret having to go through. Not the lessons that came out of those experiences, no. The lessons are and remain invaluable. But the way I learned them, I could’ve really done without.

Cut for waxing personal.

Continue reading “On Regrets”