I can’t decide whether stress is like poison, administered a drop at a time, or like an opponent in the ring of life that sometimes gets a choke-hold. Maybe it’s like another voice that’s always there. Sometimes, when things are going well, stress speaks in a barely audible whisper. As things start to go badly, stress speaks louder. And when your world circles the toilet bowl, stress screams.

When stress screams, my muse can’t hear the voices of my characters.

Will blogging about it help? Hopefully, it will give me another outlet and I can get the stress down to a dull roar. Sometimes muse can speak over a dull roar. What am I stressed about currently?

1. My eldest is 8 or 9 hours away.

This means that not only has the fabric of life changed, which is stressful enough to a rut person like me, but he’s beyond my reach. I can communicate via telephone, email and Skype (which is wonderful and lets me see him), but I can’t hug him, communicate one on one. Worst of all, if he needs me, I can’t get to him without an 8 or 9 hour journey in a car. I could fly, but that costs money, which will be another stress addressed below.

I’d worry less if I could get to him faster. If he were an hour or two away, and I got to worrying, I could get in a car and go for a brief visit that wouldn’t break the bank by requiring lots of gas, hotel rooms and meals out. If I could afford to fly then we could be in California, Kansas or New York and I would still worry less.

So one of my current stressors is having Zack so far away when my resources are nearly nonexistent. What if he needs me and I can’t be there?

2. My hubby is still downsized

My hubby is a talented computer programmer. He programs RPG on IBM’s AS400 system. He has a 2 year instead of a 4 year degree, mainly because he was facing college when the computer boom was first exploding. He knew what he wanted to do and he was out working and developing real world skills while others where being taught rules and limitations in the classroom. John is a brilliant man – much smarter than me – and throughout his career, his refusal to acknowledge rules and limitations has  benefited his employers. He once wrote a program (or a routine or something that tells the 400 what to do) in machine code – which isn’t even a programming language. Why? His employer needed the 400 to do something that the existing version at the time wasn’t designed to do. The rule book says the 400 will not update in real time. That means, a company couldn’t know how many widgets were ready to ship at this second. John didn’t study those rules and those limitations weren’t drilled into him by professors. So he studied the problem after a company asked him to do real-time updating and wrote some code to get the 400 to do what the book says it can’t do.

Yet, John is still looking for work in his field. He’s one of those rare folks with an innate gift with computers. There is no language he couldn’t learn or job he couldn’t do that involves computers, especially the 400 which he learned from the ground up the hard way – by discovering the boundaries and figuring out ways around them. He has a background in consulting work, meaning he had to learn people skills too. That gave him a real appreciation for the users, the folks who work with the code he writes and the screens he designs. His prior employer routinely assigned John to work with the users other programmers found impossibly demanding. John sat down with them, listened to them, worked with them and met or exceeded their requirements – every time.

John is working at my law firm with our local computer network, the scanners and even answering discovery requests, doing some correspondence, etc. But it’s not his field and it stresses him out too. I’m so proud of him for dealing every day with something he hates (words, words and more words). He’s used to computers and code, not to lawyers who make a living by using words to try a case or to find loopholes around the system. I admire John every day for having the fortitude to do what he doesn’t want to do. I also appreciate every day my employer for making that adjustment and for paying the COBRA we can’t afford so my family is not uninsured (yet). It too will run out soon.

But how can this talented, gifted computer professional not be employed in his field? In an economy where companies need to do more with less, my husband is an IT department’s dream.

3. The bills haven’t changed

Our incomes have changed, but the bills haven’t. They still need to be paid. I do the bills at home – which is a scary thing because I’m not at all financially savvy. Every month we skate closer to the edge. Eventually, we will fall over.

That’s especially terrifying for me. I grew up poor. Very poor. The kind of poor with holes in the floors and bill collectors calling. Worse, my father, who was a great man in so many ways, refused to acknowledge the importance of money. My mother was very hard of hearing. When the bill collectors called, their young daughter, yours truly, was forced to deal with them. Some people define rich as well-padded bank balances. I define it as being able to pay the bills, provide everything the family needs and some of what we want – like an anniversary trip or a family vacation.

I’ve likely also over-reacted. I’ve tried to give my kids everything. Likely, that comes from the old syndrome of wanting them to have more, do more, enjoy more than their mom did.

Either way, the stress and press of the bills confronts me once a week. And as so many of you know, it’s hard.

4. I lied. The bills have changed.

Remember Zack? The kid who’s an 8 or 9 hour drive away? He got a full scholarship. But free isn’t free. His dorm room had to be furnished. He needed textbooks that added up into the hundreds and hundreds of dollars. He needs other equipment like a graphing calculator. He needed a meal plan so his limited cooking skills wouldn’t be challenged and so that he’d get at least one meal a day. I got the cheapest meal plan, but it added up to hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Now, we need to add money to the meal plan because I got the cheapest one. And he still needs money to live on. And he’s in a dorm where he’ll have to pay summer rent – a couple of thousand dollars and a looming expense. Next semester, he’ll need more textbooks. And another meal plan.  And more money to live on.

When both parents are fully employed, we can stretch and make a way. Now both parents aren’t fully employed, but we still have to stretch and make it work.

5. One more thing added to this load makes the cacophony of stress too loud to overcome

That thing happened this week. We lost 2 big legal battles. The state Supreme Court came down the wrong way on a case that is very important to one of the insurance carriers we’re privileged to work for and it did it with some snarky and entirely incorrect language that my firm takes personally. In another case, a coverage or DJ matter for another insurance carrier whose work my boss has been proud to do for most of his career, a Common Pleas (local and lower ranked on the judicial scale than the Supremes) Judge came down the wrong way.

Now I face 2 big, huge, monumental deadlines –for a Petition for Rehearing with the accompanying Memorandum on the appellate matter and for a Motion for Reconsideration on the Common Pleas case. Both are matters where I feel strongly that we were on the right side of the law and I devoted many, many hours of work to the original briefs and memoranda (the DJ was submitted on the record, Memos and proposed Orders).

The defeats were hard to take, although I know somewhere in my logical side that no one wins everything and we had a distinguished string of big stakes wins that was going to be broken sometime. Still, writing is what I do and what I’m best at doing. Like John’s gift is with computers, mine (such as it is) is with the written word. And twice last week the ultimate judicial critics said my words weren’t good enough. With those defeats ringing in my head, I have to gather myself next week and find a new way, a better way, a more persuasive way to make the arguments in both cases. And I want to do it, need to do it because I want our carriers to get justice, to win.

That’s hard enough, but I also have to make the time to do the work. The telephone will still ring with other matters that are also important. Other deadlines loom and other cases must be advanced. Next week I’ll be working on the Petition/Memo and the Motion while all of those other matters press on me and the needs of those client’s never completely leave my mind.

All of that stress, and some of the other, more personal stress that the above brings along as unwanted baggage, is combining to drown out my muse. I can’t hear my character’s story when my real life brings more than I can handle. When one or more of the worries dies down, I hope I will be able to hear my muse again.

My fear is that I won’t. That my muse will leave me forever. I need to hear her professionally and in my personal romance novel writing. Like my husband’s gift with computers is part of who he is, words and writing are a big part of who I am. Maybe if I work on my listening skills, I’ll hear a whisper. I hope it says that my muse is still with me and when the roar of reality diminishes, my muse will speak to me again.

I’m listening for that voice right now. Listening and waiting and hoping.

When my muse can’t hear, my world darkens.

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