Pickles or Jam

Meredith’s post covers a whole range of issues, all at once.  Belonging to neither one place nor the other, or perhaps both.  Spending your life studying in one field and then no longer being defined by that.  Losing yourself.  Finding yourself, only to lose yourself again; geographically, emotionally, mentally.  Being saved by cake (no, really).  And realising what matters most.  

Enough for you, readers?  Over to you, Meredith:         

Those who know me well (and are, generally, geographically near) know that I’m either in ‘a bit of a pickle’ or ‘in a jam’ depending on which country you’re from (those who don’t know me as well or what’s been going on may just think I’m directionless…or spoiled…or lazy…or whatever, which is a real shame). I constantly feel I have to choose between the two, pickles or jam, England or Texas. But for now, as I’m in England, I’m ‘in a bit of a pickle’. So much has happened in the past few years that the enormity of the vast changes in myself no doubt witnessed by others are just now making themselves known to me. I know. How can I not notice myself changing? The answer is that I think I knew something was happening but didn’t have time to reflect and appreciate, let alone comprehend the changes.

I find myself now with the best husband in the world (no, for real!) that I completely adore more  ardently and more fervently than I did the first moment I met him. I’m sure that the choir in which we met was hoping our couple-iness would die down – sorry to disappoint them, as we’re probably even more sweetly sickening than ever now that we’re newlyweds (thrice over, thanks for the reminder, Rach)! When I say, ‘I find myself’ I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t know what I was doing when I was doing all these things resulting in the ‘changes’, and certainly not when I married Michael. I most certainly did know what I was doing with him and in fact that decision is probably the one thing that I’ve been constantly sure of since I picked up and moved halfway around the world. So when I say I’m in ‘a bit of a pickle’ the pickle-iness of the situation does not apply to him, though of course he is impacted by the pickle, as one would be.

The pickle to which I refer is that I find myself a bit lost. I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere, apart from when I am at home with Michael, wherever that may be, though currently in London. When I am here in this phenomenal city, I miss my family in Texas. When I am in Texas, I miss my family in England. When I go to Texas with Michael, people ask us where we’re from because I’ve picked up enough English-isms to not sound wholly Texan. Yet when I’m here, I obviously don’t sound English either. I feel like I actually just belong somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, on a made-up island called Tex-land. This is not meant to sound at all like I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. I have it good. I just mean that I feel a little lost in some aspects of my life not to do with my dear husband. I feel like, though I am now a ‘we’, that the ‘me’ is beyond recognition to my life before moving to London; likewise, I feel that I cannot ever return to the ‘me’ that was before, even if I return to Texas, but don’t really know who ‘me’ is meant to be now. Being a ‘we’ is amazing, but it doesn’t cancel out the need to be a ‘me’ as well. 

This has been really difficult, as I’ve always been so independently minded. I probably feel most pickled and lost in terms of my career path. After seven years of intense study for a career in one thing, after a difficultly long undergraduate degree and two challenging whirlwind masters degrees, I’m burnt out. What once made me happy, especially in the midst of grief, now seems like a chore and causes me more grief. I’m sure there are others out there who have had similar experiences and if you have, please pipe up! Isn’t it incredibly difficult, terrifying, confusing, and sad all at the same time?! I feel like my identity career-wise has been stripped away and yet part of me is okay with it because what had become a burden has been lifted. Coming to the point where I was actually able to say out loud, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ reduced me to tears. Very complex tears. This, combined with a relentless observation of the lifestyle that my friends live who are pursuing this path (ie, hardly seeing their partners and/or children, constant travel, constant competition, constant doubt) has caused me to step back and say sincerely, ‘I don’t want this lifestyle’. Some of them love it and those that do will no doubt be successful. It’s not the wrong thing for some people and I don’t want to give the impression that it is. It’s just not for me. Not anymore. I’m not willing to give up many of the things I would inevitably have to sacrifice. And that’s okay. 

So for now, I have come to the very difficult conclusion that what I thought I would be doing with my life, I will not be, at least not professionally, at least not solely, at least not now. I realize/realise that some of my family and friends who I haven’t been completely honest with will now read this and think I’m crazy, or wasteful (of money and/or time and/or talent), or fickle, or mistaken, or just downright stupid. I don’t like that idea, but I’m not ruled by it either, for one cannot ever know the complexities of another’s life or mind-set or conclusions. I do not even remotely regret the path that I have chosen, or the education, or the jobs. They’ve all made me who I am today, have led me to whom I’m married to today (which is enough in itself really, I say as I get choked up), and will still prepare me for whatever direction I wish to move in the future. As a former teacher would say, the ability to transfer skills is as important as having the skills!  Most importantly, this choice is in no way indicative of failure. I must remember that. And it’s hard for someone like me who is so unrelentingly critical of myself. It’s exhausting. But to think a change in direction is a sign of failure is to make as ludicrous a statement as ‘If I cannot be happy doing this, I must not be talented or driven enough to succeed’. Wrong. Just plain wrong. I finally understand what everyone’s been saying to me for so long!

So, friends, you can see my pickle. Teehee, wait, that sounds a bit rude. You can see the pickle I find myself in? Oh forget it, you know what I’m trying to say. Pickle = predicament. Back to the point. If I don’t know what my career will be, how can I wholly comprehend my purpose in life? How can I know the ‘me’ within the ‘we’? Where do I belong? Where, in fact, is Tex-land? And who lives there with me? 

For the first two questions, the answer is currently ‘cake’. For now, I’m pursuing my baking passions and this has given me a sense of purpose and conviction that, looking back, I haven’t actually had in a very long time. They say retrospect is everything, huh? I have a lot to learn, of course, but I’m actually pretty good at it. And it fuels my need for creative expression in a way that I love and gives me an end product to not only critique more than Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood (Americans will soon know of Mr. Hollywood because the Great British Bake-Off is going to America!) but also simply to observe something I have created. I love the tangible aspect of a well-made cake. It’s also the perfect skill set to know for a small home-business, which I would like to have someday. I think it could work with kids. Just maybe. When I can return to a place where I’m doing something I love, I think the ‘me’ within the ‘we’ will return. 

Where do I belong? The answer is actually quite simple. With my heart. Where does my heart belong? To Michael. With him. And, if and when he has an ‘identity crisis’ in the future, the following words go both ways! Just as the readings from our wedding suggest: ‘My true love hath my heart and I have his’, The Bargain, Sir Philip Sidney. ‘Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God’, Ruth 1:16-17. And, then, perhaps even more suited, words from A New World by Mark Twain, it (meaning marriage/wedding day) ‘makes of two fractional lives a whole; it gives to two purposeless lives a work, and doubles the strength of each whereby to perform it; it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, and something to live for’.

Despite constant scrutiny of my desk globe, a gift from Michael of course, I haven’t found Tex-land on the map anywhere…yet. Go figure. But I do know that, with Michael’s help, I will find that glorious middle ground. In a huge way I will always belong to Texas. Also, by marrying Michael, I will always now belong to England. Instead of feeling lost and country-less for belonging wholly to neither one nor the other place, perhaps I should rejoice at having not one but two homelands. For you musicians, cue Brahms’s An Die Heimat. And, in case you’re curious why my mind went there, ‘Heimat’ is a German word with no real English equivalent, but is often translated as ‘homeland’ and, appropriately, denotes a person’s relationship with a particular space or social group. 

Someone has recently told me that, geographically, England would fit within the state of Texas. Mathematically, England has an area of about 50,337 square miles and Texas has around 268,601 square miles, which makes Texas roughly 5.3 times as big. So, it’s true! Geography aside, this tiny fact was like a light bulb being turned on! The ironic and poetical aspect of this comparison is not lost on me and is so meaningful at this point in my life. My love for England can fit within my love for Texas, without emotionally detracting from it.  

So, there you have it. I don’t really have to choose between England and Texas; also, I don’t really have to choose between pickles and jam. And why would I want to? They’re very different, yet both are absolutely essential to my happiness.

Categories: Life Experience
6 interesting thoughts on this

6 Comments

  1. Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Are we twins? I can relate so much to this. I also moved to the country of my husband, I am Mexican, he’s Dutch, and like you, instead of feeling of one country or another, like a Mexican song says: “No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla” (I’m not from here, neither from there), it’s like all those little bits and pieces start forming part of who I am.

    Career wise, I am also not where I thought I wold be, and to be truly honest if I were going all for it, that would mean pursuing (yet more) internships, maybe moving abroad for a few months, all things that I am choosing not to do because I want to be with my husband. And it is very very hard because studying for 9 years has make me define me as what my hard-earned diplomas say and this journey has make me discover that I am so much more than that.

    And like you, I have found baking is like therapy, and cake has pretty much saved me, it brings me so much joy, and it is also something that I am developing into a business where I can work from home or combine it with a family, hopefully soon (though it has been so far a long road).

  2. Kate G
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Meredith I recognise so much of myself and my own thought-hampsters in your lovely piece of writing. So you – we all in this situation – are not alone. I have 3 “homelands”. The most recent one is fairly new and I would not yet classify it as home, and trying to answer an innocently asked question of “where’s home?” is an absolute mindfu*k. Really. Leaves me gasping like a goldfish out of water sometimes.

    Time and perspective are beautiful (if rather s.l.o.w) assistants in this pickle! I know this after country #2 became home, which is why I know that eventually, country #3 will be home one day – or a definition of home that suits me.

    I wish you lots of luck in adjusting to your new English life and your new path in your career. It does take a lot of time to wiggle into a new shell, whether a place, a new job / career, a new circle, anything, so dont put pressure on yourself to feel right or be sure of anything, or feel you have to know the answers too soon. Its hard enough to cope with the emotional changes raging beneath!
    It will come in good time, and you will rejoyce in your gift of having 2 homelands.

    I often think of that beautiful phrase “l’embarrasment du riches” . Everything Ive had to leave behind has enriched my life, so its always with me, and that makes me feel pretty lucky.

    Loved your post.

    XX

  3. Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Hi Meredith,

    Thank you so much for writing about your pickle/jam. Around Christmas, I could probably have written that post myself- I’m coming to the end of a PhD, and looking around at next steps I was horrified. My friends in academe were miserable. My friends out of academe were miserable. My friends who were unemployed were beyond miserable. After a very intense study visit, I broke down when I got home. My lovely husband and I had just moved our whole lives to a new area (not anywhere NEAR as much as you have) and I realised I valued our life, our new lifestyle, our relationship, a whole lot more than any of the jobs I wasn’t getting or my career plans. I have always been driven and ambitious up til now- I fought hard for a funded PhD, and always wanted to work in my field. Back in December, I wept and wept for my lost desires- I let them go. It hurt, but my new life was too good to sacrifice for a job.

    Six months down the line, I feel so much better. I think, from reading your post, that you will too. You already sound like you are thinking of other ideas, other plans, other things that excite you in your life. That feeling of release, of relief, of letting go of your “big dream” is something that we don’t often talk about- it’s all very “follow your dreams, don’t let anybody stop you.” But what if your dream is making you sad? What if every job you apply for has 400+ applicants and entails trashing your home life? Then maybe it’s time for your dreams to change. I think mine, and I hope yours, have changed for the better. I have an interview on Friday for a non-academic position (have told nobody ladies, so keep stum ;) ) and am more excited about it than I have been about anything in a long time. I don’t care who thinks “you’ve been at university for 8 years and now you won’t even get a real job?” They can go hang. I’m going to do what makes me happy and what helps to make my husband happy, and I’m sure you will do the same.

    I guess the hard part is figuring out what that is. Lots of love to you, and I have every faith that you will fix your pickle. xxxxxx

    (Apologies for the MAMMOTH post)

  4. Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Wow. I feel like I’m looking inside my own brain while reading this post. I don’t have the predicament of multiple homelands, but the career dilemma rings so so true. I’ve just qualified into a profession which, while I love it, has few current roles for my preferred specialism at my level of qualification. Like you say, it is terrifying and quite depressing when things are going nowhere; to start thinking that this possibly isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life, coupled with a feeling of guilt that I wouldn’t be using the knowledge I’ve worked for years for. But, at the same time, if I’m going to change direction (which would probably require complete back-to-basics retraining), maybe the next few years would be the best time to do it, to lay the foundation for the future? It’s scary – but at some point I think you just need to take the plunge and do it.

    Funnily enough, one of my thoughts for the future would be cake-based. That really would be a dream job. I hope it becomes reality for you.

    (Also, best of luck with your interview Lucy – fingers firmly crossed!)

  5. Lottie
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Meredith, I am in a situation not dissimilar to yourself. Although my hubby and I are both British, we now live in Texas (I know why you love it and miss it!) I know when in four or five hers I return to England, I will not be the same Lottie who left.

    When I left I was studying my MA part time, working full time in a very demanding job, and doing up our property (which we had stretched ourselves to buy). I was locked in to a job that had (and sometimes still did) inspired me but was burning me out, leaving no time for fun and certainly no time or energy for health.

    Then I moved and had no job. From all of that hard slog and stress, to loneliness, a loss of identity and time to mourn over that career I had once had. I eventually got a job in Texas and it isn’t what I trained for, it isn’t what I dreamt of doing. However, I get time in the evenings to exercise, socialize and relax. My weekends aren’t spent working and studying. I can be the wife I want to be and the woman I want to be. I can indulge my hobbies and interests.

    Last night I said to my husband, “it must have been so hard for you when I was working back in U.K.”. He said it was but he knew it wasn’t really me. Now we are able to enjoy being married and not keep feeling guilty that we were neglecting our marriage whilst trying to keep all those other things on the go.
    I would never have been this relaxed and happy had I stayed in my previous life/career. It has been a blessing to have this change; but it did take a while to realize that.

    Best of luck with the baking!

  6. Alex
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Oh Meredith, I have tears in my eyes reading this. Mostly because do the double homeland dilemma. Being Austrian (passport), born in Venezuela where I lived for quite a few years, then moving to Belgium, having lived in France for 11 years and now married to a French living in Dubai I don’t belong here nor there. We have to build our own identity based on our experiences and find friends with similar backgrounds. It does help and I feel less alone through that.
    The best part for us: we get to choose the best part of each culture and embrace it and make it our own :)

    All the best for your future career. Baking is so much fun! Not cakes for me but muffins, but still great fun.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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