Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Most Important Lesson I Learned in Life Came from 'Judge Judy'...

Recently I did something I never thought I'd do: I read my book, cover to cover-- cringing, of course, at the typos my brain apparently corrected during my initial proofread and therefore allowed me to send to the publisher with them still there but without realizing it. I did this because I was looking to see if I had a follow-up, a sequel of sorts, in me. That book was born out of blog entries too long to post in full here, but admittedly it has been a while since this space was anything more than a portfolio to house my other, professional links and stories.

But that book was also born out of where I was in my life at the time and what obsessive thoughts were clogging my brain. Writing has always been an outlet for me to work through things, a way to "therapize" myself. When all of my friends were pairing off and coupling up, I took a cold, hard look around at my life to see why it was I didn't want that, too. If I'm being really honest, I don't even find myself comparing the guys I've dated since the book was published to those on TV anymore. Even though in one case, he actually was a guy on TV.

(Calm down, he isn't a household name or even a face you're bound to recognize. He's the kind of famous my friends call "Danielle Famous" because I recognize everyone-- even the guy who did a stint as Cop #2 on Days of our Lives for a week in the summer of 2000.)

It's not that I've magically matured or "healed" or whatever. I think a part of why I stopped comparing was because it felt less organic and more like I was trying to force something for the material. Maybe in another ten years, I'll look back with distance and wisdom and draw a parallel I'm just too close to see right now. Or maybe not. Maybe that part of my life really is over. But clearly where one door closes, another bangs open because recently I have had a pop culture revelation in another area of my life: My work ethic has been entirely derived from watching Judge Judy.

For as long as I can remember, Judge Judy Sheindlin has had a court show on CBS that I would watch every day either after school or because it was a holiday or I was home sick-- or later because I was unemployed. Since she was the star, the center, the only constant (other than Byrd, of course), it seemed clear that the audience was supposed to identify with her. So when she sneered at the parasitic litigants before her, who time after time would answer "What do you do?" with "Nothing" or "I'm on disability," I would find myself rolling my eyes right along side her. Truth bomb: Sheindlin perfected the eye-roll way before Liz Lemon.

Side note: I don't want to imply that I don't think there are some people in the world who are legitimately too disabled to work. I just think that the majority who paraded through her courtroom did not fit that description and merely took advantage of the system because they could. They were taking advantage of the system, in many ways, simply for being so litigious and trying to win money in frivolous lawsuits. Again, not everyone. But a good majority. 

The thing is, my mother had an amazing work ethic. She busted her ass at what seemed to me to be a pretty boring and menial job. But she didn't complain; she voluntarily went in before the sun rose to get a head start on her work day; she stayed with the job even when her stress levels caused her to develop colitis; she put up with the downsizing that meant even more work would be dumped on her plate for no more money and the company moves that treated her like a demoted employee, sticking her back in the cubicle farm after years in an office with a window, despite being at the upper management level. Could she have applied for disability and lived off the government? Probably. But she didn't. Still, you'll notice I didn't credit her with my work ethic; I created Judge Judy. Because the thing is, actively relying on a crutch or a cushion she was not, but being someone else's crutch or cushion she was. 

My father never worked more than a consecutive few days in the entire time I have been alive. In the beginning it was because he stayed at home to raise me while my mother worked to support the whole family. That's fine; stay-at-home parents have a hard job, and I do not mean to imply it is not a real job. But when the child you're staying at home goes back to school (half-day at age three and full day at age five for me, personally), you can't hide behind the "raising the kid" angle. You have to contribute somewhere, somehow else. Housework, chores, errands, cooking while the kid's at school and then helping the kid with homework when he or she returns from school. Remembering to the pick the kid up from school-- and on time. You have to do something to pull your own weight and to earn what has been given to you.

I just don't understand why that is such a novel concept to some. Why some can be so okay with, nay so willing to sit back and do nothing but reap benefits and rewards from others'. In the case of my family, my mother was in on the agreement, too. Whether or not she thought it had an end date on it, I'll never know, so the situation isn't as universal as those who, say, rely on government assistance like the aforementioned disability or even welfare-- things that are there for those who really need them and as last ditch efforts, not for throwing up hands and going "Oooh, free money, let me get in on that!" I literally don't understand the mentality of someone who isn't kept up at night when living this way. I'd like someone to study and compare our brains (after we die of natural causes, of course) to see if we're literally wired differently or if one of us has a tumor or other mass pressing on the "pride" or "shame" parts of our brains.

I lost the two main sources of my income in the last half a year. It has been demoralizing, in addition to draining my bank account. I have leaned much more on my own crutch, my own cushion, than I am personally comfortable with, and that just makes the whole thing feel so much worse. When my mother passed away, I inherited half of her hard-earned savings. I put it in a special account, and it was supposed to be for buying a home and for eventually being able to retire (retire from what? It often feels like I spend more time looking for work than actually working). But I have had to dip into it just to pay my monthly bills a lot lately. As a freelancer, I'm not eligible for unemployment, and though I've been applying for jobs-- from ones in my industry to regular old office/temp jobs-- I'm just not seeing any results. It's a bad time out there. 

Could I convince a psychiatrist to sign off on my application for disability? I'm pretty confident I have the capability to do so, but that doesn't mean I should, or that I want to, or that I will. It can be comfortable life if you can get it, but I honestly can't understand how people can be comfortable choosing that for their lives. I feel the same way about kids who live off trust funds or other kinds of family money. It's exploitational. I don't consider myself particularly prideful-- I am more than willing to take a menial job right now just to have money coming in (though no one seems to want to give me one of those, either)-- but maybe it's a different kind of pride.

An hour (four, sometimes five cases) of Judge Judy a day instilled a desire in me to be more than a leech. I felt shame for the people on Judge Judy who so clearly didn't have their lives together and who were content-- actually, some where downright proud-- to settle and scam. I knew there was something inherently not okay with living solely off of someone else (and by the way, if we have a term for women who do it, why not one for men who do?), but I had no one else validating my beliefs until I found Judge Judy.

So if you haven't already checked out my book, maybe just please do that. The residuals from the sales will definitely help towards continuing to be able to eat.

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