elora

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings

My wife badgered me about Mother’s Day something fierce this year.

“You always do it,” she said. “Every two years.”

“Every two years,” I said. “I don’t remember committing to that. I don’t have any ideas this year.”

“It’s my favorite thing. Please?”

That was the first conversation about five weeks ago. We revisited the conversation every few days after that, and each time I insisted that just because I did a cartoon drawing of our family every two years in the past, that didn’t constitute a promise for the future. Erin was not persuaded. In her mind, I will be doing these drawings until the day I die. Maybe even after that.

So, I gave in. I did another drawing, I gave it to her this morning, she gushed, and Facebook nodded their collective approval. And then I sat down to write this blog and I discovered I’d been swindled.

I have literally NEVER made Erin a cartoon family Mother’s Day drawing two years after the previous one. I’ve drawn one four years after the previous one, and I’ve drawn one three years after the previous one, but until today I have never put myself through the hours and hours of work it takes to make these thing a scant two years after the previous one.

Well played, Erin.

* * *

This is more for me than anyone else.

I put a lot more thought into these drawings than it may first appear. I see them as capturing a moment in time, and I try to fill them with details that speak to their respective moments. Thought it might be fun to try to do a little recapturing. Let’s go back 9 years.

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, even as I type this eleven years later, still does not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in her most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Here it is, the drawing I gave to Erin just this morning.

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing the world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and we’ve been rebuilding ever since. Going back over these drawings, I’m impressed by the ebb and flow of life. Ups and downs are just part and parcel, but in revisiting them I’m impressed by how much that plays out over the long term. It gives me hope, honestly, that we’ll be back on top in no time… and then we’ll probably fall again, somehow. This is just the way things work. There’s comfort in that.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken off the dog from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, is quite the poised young woman now and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She’s only an inch shorter than Erin now, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. Last Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets are no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school this year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dress right now as I fulfill my role as a stay-at-home dad and work on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I work (mostly at home) as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe is deteriorating. My hate for clothes shopping coupled with our financial challenges leaves me with little motivation to improve or update my wardrobe. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet has been just OBSESSED with Star Wars this past year, and particularly with Rey. She actually does own and wear this costume, and she has a light saber, too. Her enthusiasm is adorable. Even if she grows out of it later, the is the Star Wars year. (The fever extends to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she asks for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.)

* * *

Just to bring it back, I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and not cheap (ex. I’d have charged about $500 for this latest one), but if you’re interested in exploring the possiblity, feel free to drop me a line at bwhheasley (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt

To all the Boys of the World:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Back of a zebra

Look, a good blog has photos, but I’m not showing you butt pictures. Not human ones, anyway. This is a zebra butt.

When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“The test was hard.”

“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”

“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”

What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”

“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”

“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”

“Your butt?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)

“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”

This is a ladybug butt. Cute, right?

This is a ladybug butt.

Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.

My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?

This is a butt hinge.

This is a butt hinge.

When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.

Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.

You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.

Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?

Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:

“You look nice.”

That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.

This is a butte.

This is a butte.

And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.

I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

I Am The 7%

Ever since losing my job back in August, 2014, I’ve been looking for a new job/identity*. At first, I looked for Art Director jobs. That’s was my old job, why not just do that again? The universe responded “Because” while I applied to dozens and dozens of places for months until I finally got it through my head I needed to move on. So, I poured myself into other things. I finished the book I was working on and submitted it to my literary agent. I doubled down on freelance graphic design and my online comic to generate a bit of cash. I designed a new religious symbol and started a business. I got a new, demanding calling at church. And, of course, I joined up with Tremendum Pictures to make movies. Just recently, I wrote and directed my first short film.

*Because, let’s face it, what’s the first thing you ask someone when you meet them? You ask about their job. Our occupations are inextricably linked to our identities as human beings. How do you talk to an unemployed or homeless person? The answer should be “Like everyone else,” but when you remove occupation from the equation you’re already handicapping the conversation right from the start.

But here’s the thing about all of that: none of what I do is a 9-to-5 job and none of it pays a whole heckuva lot right now. What I actually do with a big chunk of each and every day is completely unrelated to all my other pursuits. And it is the most important thing I do, period.

My wife went back to school this past semester to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s an incredible public speaker, but more importantly she’s extremely talented at helping other adults become great public speakers. Her dream job is teaching them how to to do just that at the community college level, so, Master’s Degree. But here’s the thing about a Master’s Degree: it is a MASSIVE time suck. If Erin isn’t at school–which she always is–then she’s reading, or writing papers, or grading papers as part of being a TA, or meeting with professors, or etc. Most weeks, she makes cameo appearances in our lives, like a welcome guest star in a sitcom that everyone cheers when she walks through the door. Christmas Break was amazing; an extended guest stint where myself and our three girls got to remember what it was like when Mommy’s dressy pants weren’t permanently attached to her legs.

All of this is okay. It’s what we all signed up for and it’s temporary. In college, they tried to convince us that if we couldn’t handle the workload of all our classes then we weren’t ready for “the real world.” This was, of course, a lie. I’ve never been so busy as when I was in college. I was oppressively busy in college, same as Erin is now. This is temporary and, one day soon, Erin will just go to a job like a normal person and the hustle and bustle of College Round 2 will be over. All of this is okay.

This morning, Erin left for a weekend long conference. She won’t be back until Monday. It was at some point between saying goodbye to her after doing dropoffs with the kids and realizing I had better call the school about registering our youngest, Violet, for Kindergarten that I realized that, despite everything else I’ve got going on, I’ve got another identity altogether that I maybe haven’t been acknowledging.

I am a Stay-at-Home Dad. I am part of the 7% of American dads who stay home, with their kids, and parent while the mom goes off to do other things. I am the current, primary caregiver.

Photo on 2-26-16 at 4.05 PM #2 copy

Me and the only child I was able to wrangle for a photo, Violet.

This means I go to the doctor appointments. This means I do the dropoffs and pickups. This means I do the shopping. If the house is a mess, it’s my fault. If the kids don’t eat, it’s my fault. If Erin has to go to a conference for the weekend, I smile and see her on her way, knowing she doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

Being a Stay-at-Home Dad means all of that, but, for some reason, I don’t think I really realized that’s what I am until today. I’ve been pretty much doing all this since last August, but there’s something about realizing there’s a label attached to it that suddenly makes it different.

“Well, good,” I can hear a lot of you Stay-at-Hom Moms out there saying. “Now you know what it’s like for us!”

Well, yeah. But, to be fair to me… and I hate to disappoint you… but whatever else my faults may be (and they are legion), I like to think my batting average for not taking the work my wife has been doing all these years for granted is pretty good. I always, always, always thought her job was harder. And told her so, repeatedly. When I came home and the house was a mess? I said nothing. Why would I? How can anybody be expected to keep up with the house when there’s small gremlins running around it constantly, destroying it, and then demanding fruit snacks as a reward. What I do is a pretty poor imitation of her job, really. Erin and I both know that if the kids are going to eat anything other than fast food any given night then she’s gonna have to prepare something I can put in a crockpot. Tonight: Black Bean Cilantro Soup. Tomorrow: …probably pizza. She’s out of town, you see.

Already I can see some huge benefits to being a Stay-at-Home Dad. Every time I pick up Violet from preschool, she insists we run around a nearby tree together. That’s something we do together, just her and me. Cami, our middle daughter with special needs, greets me with squeals and hugs every afternoon when I pick her up. Elora, our oldest and newly christened teenager, depends on having some time with me every night so we can watch cool shows*. We talk a lot more now, too. I actually do know what’s going on her life, which is awesome.

* Currently: LOST, The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, anyway, I am a writer, a filmmaker, an entrepreneur, an artist, and the 7%. A Stay-at-Home Dad. Weird hats to be wearing all at once, for sure, but I’m going a bit bald now so hats are helpful. Even weird ones.

What It’s Like to Make Your First Short Film

P1050352

The biggest, most important scene in the script took place in a diner and I had found the perfect location. It was quirkily retro and dressed with colors you don’t see in modern buildings anymore. This–this diner–popped. In a big way. Every angle was a good one, enough so I knew my DP would be in heaven every minute we shot there.  And the space–oh man, was it spacious! Not a small thing given how many crew and actors and extras would be assembled for the marathon twelve hour shoot.

I approached the management at the diner four weeks out. They were enthusiastic about us taking over the building after hours and the approval came quickly. All smiles. Four days before we started shooting–after weeks of prep and the aligning of schedules and last minute castings and, and, and–the diner pulled out.

We lost our primary location with four days to go… and I didn’t have a backup. I called Tremendum Pictures head honchos Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff in a panic. First thing they said?

“Welcome to Indie filmmaking.”

Read the rest at Tremendum.com…

The Happiest Unhappy Birthday Ever

This year, for the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to my birthday.

I’m not afraid of aging. Even as I near 40 and the increasing possibility I’ve got more years behind me than ahead, I don’t mind getting older at all. I want to get older. Getting older means gaining experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Who doesn’t want that? Sure, there are plenty of negatives that come with aging–weight gain, creaky bones, poor eyesight, getting weirdly riled up over kids on my lawn, etc.–but for the most part I still get excited by the marking of time and all the stuff people want to give me because of something my mom did years ago.

Until this year. This year, I’m 38-years-old and unemployed.

I didn’t think I’d be celebrating Christmas–much less my birthday–unemployed. So, I went into my birthday slightly depressed. I begged Erin to spend no money on me and just let the day slide by like any other. I knew better than to ask that because my wife is awesome and giving, but I did it anyway. She rolled her bright, beautiful eyes. She’s a champion eye roller.

Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.

Mint. Chocolate. Chip. These are literally all the flavors and textures you need in good food. And maybe bacon.

Amazon has been trying to send us a card with their logo on it and give us free money for years, so Erin finally let them do it and got me some great, expensive board games for basically nothing. (If you ever work up the courage to venture beyond Monopoly and Candy Land, you could do a lot worse than to pick up Castles of Mad King Ludwig and BANG!–both truly excellent, easy-to-understand, difficult-to-master games.) She also made a Mint Chocolate Chip Cake from scratch. I would tell you how good it is but then you might want some and there’s no way in Satan’s address I’m sharing.

At Erin’s suggestion and in acknowledgment of the distinct lack of joy in my countenance of late, I took Violet to jump at a local trampoline arena after preschool let out. Technically, I think it’s against the law to frown there.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.36.32 PMThe day kept getting better. After the trampolines, Erin and I split a Chipotle burrito for lunch and watched Boyhood (edited for content via my handy Clearplay player). After the kids got out of school she got me a balloon and Rolling Stone magazine, and I played video games with Elora. My Mother-in-Law, Lynn, took us to House of JuJu, my favorite burger place. Best burgers in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’m not kidding. If you ever find yourself in the Fresno/Clovis area, try the Dragon Lady. Thank me later.

After we got home from JuJu’s, several men dressed in ski masks and hoods jumped out from the kitchen and the closest, put a bag over my head, and bodily carried me out of the house. I was kidnapped.

The criminals were my friends: Cody, Mike, Kevin, and Logan. We call ourselves “The Forum,” not because it’s not stupid, but because it’s shorter than “Guys Who Get Together Every Couple Weeks to Play Board Games Late at Night After Our Wives Go to Bed.” Yes, we are all married. We’ve all even got kids. We are a massage therapist, a bank manager, a nurse, an insurance claims adjuster, and an ex-art director. Pretty fantastic group.

Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike

Clockwise from left: Me, Cody, Logan, Kevin, Mike

Here’s how it went down:

Coming into my kitchen to see two masked men crouched low and hiding and then having all visual input cut off by the bag was honestly one of the creepiest, heart stopping things that’s ever happened to me. The big guy carrying me is Cody. It’s muffled, but if you listen closely you can hear me say “I’m so scared.” I quickly realized it was my friends under the masks, but I was afraid of being dropped. So, of course, Cody dropped me–though you can’t tell in the video because of how dark it was.

(Erin makes a little cameo in the beginning of the video, and that’s Cami–still recovering from her Whooping Cough–throwing a little fit as we exit.)

The Forum took me to No Surrender, a local Laser Tag facility that does it right–full range of weapons (Assault, Shotgun, P-90, Sniper Rifle, etc.) and a gameplay system that encourages and rewards stealth. We played three games in which we sucked so very hard against all the tournament players who showed up for half-price Tuesday. Can’t complain though. We sweat a lot, enjoyed each other’s company, grabbed some late night fast food, and ate my delicious cake. It was everything I could have wanted from my 38th Birthday and it never mattered once that I don’t have a job.

I’ve never defined my self worth by my job. I’ve never done it. I’ve always said a job was a job and it was important to me to do a good job, but my real happiness and fulfillment comes from my friends, my family, and my faith. I’ve always said that, but, until now, I’ve had the luxury of being employed while saying such things.

So, what happened? Of course that got put to the test. Of course it did.

At my last birthday, I did have a job. I didn’t want to turn 38 this year I think, in part, because it stings to be this old and this unemployed. The other half of that sting is that, until now, I’ve done a poor job of adequately considering what I’ve gained in the past year. I’ve only looked at the loss.

I haven’t put things in the proper perspective.

A year ago, the Forum didn’t really exist. The last time I had a close group of guy friends I had to ask permission from my mom to cross the street. Now, these men who are my friends are important to me and I’m important to them and we are a group. I didn’t think I’d ever get that again in my lifetime. But I have it now, this year, at this time. And, amazingly, we are adults.

A year ago, I was gone at work almost every day and saw my kids for 2-3 hours in the evening. I wasn’t a neglectful, 1980’s movie dad who had to be taught that his big brick cell phone and Madison Avenue job weren’t the most important things in life, but I didn’t see my kids nearly as much as I have since the big job loss this past August. I’m closer to my kids now–especially to Violet–than I otherwise would be. I’d say you can’t put a price on that, but I’ve actually paid dearly for it.

unnamed-1

A year ago, things were as good as they’ve ever been and yet I felt slightly out of touch with my faith. I had experienced things so viscerally in times past and I was wondering why I didn’t feel such things so strongly anymore. Now, as always happens in times of trial, I’ve had to rely on the Lord more and in doing so I’ve felt Him powerfully.

Are all of these gains a result of being unemployed? No. Some, but not all. Either way, that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve been blessed, immeasurably–and recently. Not with a job, but with so many other things that matter a great deal more.

When you think about it that way, focusing too much on the job loss and getting down because of it isn’t just kind of silly, it’s more than a bit ungrateful. It’s like getting a piece of cake and your favorite ice cream and then complaining about the color of the plate. Sure, I like blue, but I shouldn’t cry about getting avocado green when I’ve still got this amazing cake and ice cream.

My life is delicious cake and ice cream on an ugly plate right now.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Days 64 – 139: Here’s Everything That Happened While I Was Out

I have no idea why we're making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I have no idea why we’re making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I think it’s time to come back.

How much does an unfinished story suck? I know I hate it. I didn’t intend to leave everyone hanging for so long, but as the responsibilities started piling up–most especially as I finished Worlds Apart in an effort to get it off to my agent–it got easier and easier to not blog. Sure, I jotted down blog notes every couple days and saved them as drafts, but you don’t want to read notes. Notes are boring. Notes are incomplete. Notes lack flavor. Pizazz.

Those notes were supposed to be used to resume the story of our double unemployment from where I left off, and then I was just going to continue it forward with blog after blog after blog.

I’m not going to do that.

What I am going to do instead is fill you in on everything that’s happened since I stopped updating in one go, right here. But first, let’s talk about why I stopped updating in the first place.

The truth is, the constant pressure of chronicling our double unemployment journey every day was not an issue in the beginning when everything was new and different, but as time wore on it all got to be repetitive and I had to drag the blogs out of me kicking and screaming. And biting. Some blogs bit hard because they were wild and not house trained and peed on me.

The point is, unemployment is not exciting. (Who knew?) It’s deadly boring and sad. It’s just sad. I can’t even make a joke about it without making people feel uncomfortable and sorry for us. And if I can’t joke, am I really even alive? Do I even feel? Do I breathe? Do I exist?

Well, let me tell you, according the employers of the world, no, I do not exist.

ba-dum bum.

See? Not funny.

Let’s do this. Let’s break out the bullet points (because everyone loves bullet points, right?) and run down everything that’s happened since October 31st, 2014 (holy crud) in one go. Ready? Read:

• I went on two different dates with two different women in one day. In the afternon, I ate seafood with my daughter Cami, and in the evening I went to dinner and a movie (St. Vincent with Bill Murray–great movie!) with Erin.

I admit it, I'll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

I admit it, I’ll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

• Erin got bold and contacted an acquaintance who is also a Pharmaceutical Rep about how to break into his industry. He is now mentoring her because the blessings are kind of nonstop like that.

• While watching the Marvel 75th Anniversary television special on ABC, I noticed a piece of art created by my SuperFogeys cohort Marc Lapierre was featured prominently and by mistake. I contacted the comics media and the story soon went viral, resulting in Marc actually getting compensated for his work! It was awesome. You can read the whole story here.

• Cami started SCREECHING whenever she feels joy. The screeching makes me feel anger, so, one day, I yelled at her. I am a horrible person.

• I FINALLY heard back about the job in San Francisco. They decided to halt the hiring process. That was a tough day.

• Erin explored selling life insurance. Decided definitively that it was not for her because you actually have to pay money to start. There’s some legal rigamarole that explains why that is, but I’ll skip to the conclusion: it’s stupid.

• Saw Big Hero 6 with the family. Cami made it through 60 seconds before melting down. She and I spent the rest of the movie in the lobby. Movie theaters used to be one of her favorite places so this was tragic on a level I can’t even explain.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn't guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn’t guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

• I got a real solid lead on a job with a local school district. I applied, they decided a month later that I, as someone who does not have classroom experience, am not qualified for a job that does not require me to teach in a classroom. (Can you hear the heavy sigh?)

• Cami got whooping cough despite having been vaccinated against it. Then she got pneumonia. Her body is getting weaker and her doctor advised us to keep her away from kids who have not been vaccinated whenever possible. This is almost entirely impossible. I’m so glad people love polio so much.

• After reaching a peak place where the stress of unemployment was wearing on us to the point that Erin and I were arguing and angry at each other every day, we fell off that cliff and arrived a sort of serene, peaceful place together. Stress gets to us like it does everyone else, but if I could identify one of the true strengths of our marriage it’s that we always, always, always pull together when it counts. Also, it helps when I finally clean the fan blades and bring her flowers.

• Wrote a blog entitled “Perfect Attendance Awards are an Abomination” and never published it.

• Suffered from insomnia. A lot.

• Finished Worlds Apart and gave it to Erin to read. She had many notes, which is fair since she’s a main character. Made many revisions.

• Batman, one of our two dogs, snuck into Cami’s room during her whooping cough fits and insisted on sleeping next to her for several nights until she was through the worst of it.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

• Erin got a call to come interview with another local company and it went EXTREMELY well. Almost two months later and they still haven’t hired for the position, but we still hold out hope.

• I spent Thanksgiving sick out of my mind, away from family, and watching special features on a Hobbit Blu-ray all day long. (I’m entering the preceding sentence in a “Saddest Story Ever” contest.)

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

• (No, I’m not.)

• The group I’m in charge of at church put on a very successful Turkey Bowl activity at which I played football for the first time in 15 years. I was… not very good.

• Erin and I attended a combo Hmong/Protestant wedding. Besides how lovely the couple and the ceremony were, the MC, who also acted as translator for the evening, was the best. Actual quote: “Now we will have the speech from the Best Man. It is called the Best Man Speech.”

• Erin got sick. A lot.

• Broke a handle on my car.

• Left the garage door open one night by accident. Thieves stole our GPS, a scooter, and all of the personal items I packed up on my last day at the job (including hundreds of dollars worth of comics).

• Wrote a blog entitled “Dear Future Employer” to address the people who say this blog is a bad idea. Posted it for 60 seconds before getting a sick feeling in my stomach and pulling it down. Not sure why. The one person who managed to read it was very complimentary.

• I was drafted to create a slideshow video of photos and home movies from families at church for the Ward Christmas Party. I did, I think, a pretty decent job on it.

• The additional time spent at home means I have grown immeasurably closer to our youngest, Violet. That may be worth all the unemployment trouble by itself. For example, one morning we just took her to the zoo. Because we could.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.

• Erin and Elora presented together at EPU, a local group that helps families with young children with special needs. Elora, 12, who talked about her experiences as Cami’s sister, is the youngest person to ever present for EPU (she presented when she was 10).

• Erin and I both had occasional, what-the-crud-has-happened-to-our-lives freakouts.

Tremendum Pictures, a locally based film and video production company with a movie, The Gallows, coming out this summer from New Line Cinema, asked to meet with me. They are looking to grow and want me to come on board.  They’re small right now, but… yes, please. Not a job, per se, but lots of potential. Going full steam ahead with them for as long as I can. Doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s promising.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.23.10 PM

• Erin and I went up to the Portland/Vancouver area to visit my brothers, McKay and Tyler, and their wives, McKenna and Karen. It was wonderful to get away from the stress and worry and complication of our normal lives for a little while.

• McKay and McKenna asked me to read them chapters of Worlds Apart out loud. I happily obliged. The instant gratification of their laughter and guffaws was exhilarating. I get why stage actors do it.

• I spent an afternoon at Powell’s Books in Portland just writing on my laptop. I now have my very own Hipster badge.

• While were were in Vancouver/Portland, every single one of our leads for paying jobs dried up. Four months in, we went back to square one.

• Our oldest, Elora, got her braces off. Suddenly, she’s ten years older.

Freaky, normal teeth.

Freaky, normal teeth.

• Just before Christmas, we were blessed by kind people and their giving hearts.

• Missed the Family Christmas Eve Party because some of the kids attending were not vaccinated. I was bummed, but having Cami has always required sacrifices. We make them gladly.

• Found out a close friend also lost his job. Great, now we’re contagious.

• Erin’s parents took us all to Disneyland, an annual tradition ever since a trip we took years ago during which Cami came alive in a whole new way. The past couple of years have been rough for Cami as she’s developed an aversion to large crowds and dark places, but we stumbled on a solution when we gave her a toy to fidget with and she found her happy place. I had a much more difficult time enjoying myself. Couldn’t help walking around the park and feeling like an outsider as I considered the employed state of everyone around me.

• Post Christmas, peace reigned. A disturbing amount of peace. Peace, despite still-present moments of freaking out, became our overriding state of being.

• Sent Worlds Apart out to beta readers, along with a link to an online survey to facilitate their feedback. This was the right move. Most of the 10 readers read it within 24 hours of starting it. It’s a heartwarming, romantic comedy page-turner with lots of tension and suspense, which is awesome.

• Took Cami to see Annie in the movie theater, risking another meltdown. This time, I took the fidget toy we bought in Disneyland and that did the trick. Cami friggin’ loved the music.

This is such a strange movie. I don't know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

This is such a strange movie. I don’t know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

• Rang in the New Year up in Bass Lake with friends and board games, just like last year. We would happily continue this tradition for years to come. This year has to be better than last, right?

Erin with her go-to New Year's drink--Martinelli's apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

Erin with her go-to New Year’s drink–Martinelli’s apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

• Met with a client with Tremendum for the first time to formulate ideas for a marketing video. I’m going to have a blast with these guys. If I can turn this into my job then everything that’s happened will suddenly make a whole lot of sense to me.

• Cami’s body might be betraying her. A bone density scan shows that her bones are soft and, fearing that her body’s small size might mean bad things internally, we went up to San Francisco to meet with her neurologist. She allayed our fears for the most part (the size of her organs compared to her frame–the biggest potential problem–is really only an issue if she isn’t mobile), but we still need to meet with endocrinologists to determine what’s really going on. This is our constant roller coaster with Cami. There’s no real diagnosis for her issues and we have no real idea of how long we can expect her to be with us. So we enjoy what we can, which this time included walking through Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 with her and watching the sea lions.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

• Sent Worlds Apart to my agent. She burned through it quickly, just like the beta readers, and loved it. Now we’ve gotta find the right publisher. It’s an unusual book that doesn’t end in the way I think most readers will expect. Is that a good thing? Bad thing? We’ll see.

• Erin figured out that, above all, this is a trial of patience. I can’t disagree with that.

Annnnnnd you’re all caught up. This info dump brought to you by: my guilt. Now that I’ve done away with all those blogs I didn’t write, I’m free to do things a bit differently.

No more “Day This” and “Day That.” That’s done. The unemployment continues, but I think from this point forward I’ll be a much better blogger if I just write about what’s happening, not when it’s happening. Topics and events, not days. It will free me up quite a bit and hopefully prove more interesting for all of you. How does that sound?

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Always nice to know people are out there who care. Let’s see how this all ends together.