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Good times mean bad times

Dear Jim,
I only have an hour to craft a decent letter to you. I know it’s been a while and I haven’t been much in touch recently. I was glad to see, via Joyce, that you’re back to work. This means, I hope, that your elbow healed up well and you still had a place with the company you were working with when you that welding slag did you in.
 I think I told you, but I am just coming out of a difficult time. I was really down in the dumps for a few months there, right around the time you were home with your injury. I was in a deplorable state, unable to do more than the bare minimum in terms of getting family responsibilities taken care of. My classes didn’t suffer, I think, because some of that work is rote at this point.
I hate that, however. I’d rather get engaged with the students I’m supposed to be exciting with my incredible wit and intelligence. I was that dynamic and lively lecturer who you saw when you visited my class some years ago. I filled in all the blanks for my students and answered all their questions. But I was hardly there at all.

My mind never hooked into the material. I couldn’t remember any students’ names. The semester’s gone really well. At least, I think it has. I wouldn’t know unless someone told me.

A year has gone by since I earned the doctorate and I’m still learning how to live without a large, pressing project on me. It’s difficult really. I understand now what compelled me on to the next big thing when I was younger. I would get into a big project or new line of work, figure it out, and waste away for a while waiting for the next great idea or project. Either that or the project would end and I’d stand around rubbing my toes in the sand wondering what I’m supposed to do next. I’m in that time of wasting away, I think. I’m standing around waiting for the next big project.
Right now, everything is running smoothly. I climbed out of the dumps. We have enough money. Family life is good. The house is sound but for a small leak in a pipe in the basement. My friends are healthy—I hope you are, anyway. The cars run well. My kid is doing well in school. My classes run right and, except for a couple of problem students, the semester will end on a good note.
It’s really the hardest time I’ve lived recently. I thought that dissertation was going to kill me. But it didn’t. I thought that once I was done I’d get busy with a lot of little things, and that’s exactly what’s happened. I thought that I’d be happy tending to the small things, paying attention to family, and finding my old hobbies again. I am not.
I am not comfortable unless I have a huge, pressing projectthat demands a great deal of time and attention. I have to learn that not everything in life has to be an emergency, not all projects have to squeeze the life out of me. I have to learn that life can be, well, regular.
But I’ve never done regular. When I worked real jobs, regular would kill me. I’d run off across the continent or other continents. I’d set myself up with new and different things that stripped me of confidence.
At the same time, I’ve avoided getting on to the next big thing. Anna thought that maybe I ought to go off to law school or medical school. She wasn’t kidding. I’ve often thought that I would make a great medical doctor, particularly an emergency department trauma doc or trial litigator—a defense attorney, specifically. Let me tell you why: When everyone else panics, my head settles into focus. When the earthquake comes, you want tobe standing next to me. I’d love the emergency department and I’d love the courtroom. Sure, I would wander around bugging the other doctors and nurses while there was little to do but see people who think they’re dying of the common cold. I’d also waste away in my little office going over the intricacies of the law. Little tedious things drive me crazy and I’m really uncomfortable when things run smoothly. But then the gunshot victim would arrive or the

mangled car accident victims. I’d have to face a jury and get my client out of whatever legal pickle they put themselves in. I would be as calm and cool as a librarian in those situations. I’m smart, quick on my feet, and tend to be most confident when I don’t have time to think much about the next right thing to do.

Over the last year, I have had to settle down and become a mature human being for the first time in my life. It’s not an easy task. I think all that turning-new-leaf running around I did helped me to avoid dealing with life as it comes. When I was drinking, life was always in disarray. I didn’t realize that I’d inured myself to drama. I changed jobs a lot. I ran off to Germany and started over. Then I came back and started over. I quit drinking and started over again. I tried to fit in and take real jobs that might turn into careers. I failed and walked to Montana. I started a series of new careers one after the other. Journalist. Newspaper editor. Book editor. When that wasn’t enough, I got into Ph.D. studies. I wrote books.
All this living without stress and worry is killing me withstress and worry. What does adult life look like? What does a steady father act like? What does a good husband do from day to day? How do people live without stress?
I don’t have a clue. I’m just trying not to run off again and start something new. But medical or law school is always on my mind.
I hope work is treating you well and that you and the family are healthy. I look forward to our next talk.
Yours,
Patrick

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