hard work

Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – October 9, 2014

These are not the tools of my trade.

These are not the tools of my trade.

I’m excited to report I put in a full morning of writing the penultimate chapter of my next book. This is one of the most difficult chapters because it has so much to wrap up and so much to comment on at the same time. Good stories are a circle, thematically, but I find with a book length memoir project I don’t really know how I’m going to circle back until I’m actually writing the end. Themes emerge for me. Planning them is pretty pointless because I don’t know my story well enough until I’ve told it. After a long three years, I can hardly believe I’m at the point of ending this first draft and truly discovering just what the crud I’ve done.

Because of all of that, the writing process was utterly torturous this morning until the last half hour. Sometimes, the words just do not flow and the big ideas and themes do not emerge. Not without great difficulty, anyway. There’s some tricky material at the end of this book that I can barely wrap my head around, but that’s been true throughout the writing process. I’ll figure it out.

* * *

We met with Elora’s math teacher in the middle of the afternoon to discuss her grade, because that’s the sort of thing we have time for now. It was a good meeting. I noticed the teacher had some materials in her classroom that I had illustrated. Always cool to see my stuff “out in the wild,” but also, of course, it’s a reminder of what I don’t have anymore.

Elora’s teacher did not ask “Why are you both here?” I know it’s an odd thing to have both parents show up, especially in the middle 0f the work day. The teacher may not have even thought it, but every time I’m out and about I can’t help but wonder if people question why I’m not at work, earning a living, and making some contribution to society beyond creating more midday traffic. It feels like I’ve got a big, sloppy t-shirt covered with Cheetos crumbs that says, “I don’t have a job.” I don’t, of course. They’re Baked Cheetos. Healthy dieting is important.

* * *

Erin and I had to come to terms again today. We have to do these check-ins now and again because, while we’re both enduring the same trial, we each handle it very differently. And sometimes, by failing to recognize that difference, I handle it badly.

In her view, I’m just not pulling my weight around the house. I spend a lot of time working on this blog and writing my book and I’m saying things like “in a minute” a lot. Meanwhile, she isn’t able to work on the things that are important to her and take advantage of those opportunities that have come her way to make a little extra cash. I feel bad about the imbalance. I agree there are some changes I need to make about how I use my time when the kids are around and the house needs attention, but I’m also working hard on things that I think are important. I feel torn because it seems like I’m never able to get ahead on anything because I have so much to do (some of which, admittedly, I bring on myself). So the idea of backing off to allow her time to work on her stuff? Yeah, that freaks me out a little. It’s a selfish freakout, but there it is.

The most damning accusation–and the one for which I did not get super defensive–was that I’m operating my life as though being a writer is my profession, like I’m some sort of neglectful, stay-at-home dad who writes for a living I hope to make one day. She’s probably not wrong about the writing part of it, but I don’t know how long this unemployment thing is going to last and I want to take advantage of every second of it. I’m disciplined. My balance is out of whack, but I’m disciplined.

The idea that I’m neglectful though? Yeah, that hurts. I don’t want to do that.

We didn’t really reach a solution, but I’m determined to pay more attention to how I’m using my time and trying to take some initiative with the house. Erin made a good point about not wanting to be my boss, but by continually waiting for her to tell me when to get off the computer and what to do, I’ve made her into the worse kind of boss: a nagging one. I don’t want that.

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My Breaking Point

This past weekend I did a one hour podcast interview with Kurt Sasso over at TGT Media. The subject was my comic work, specifically The SuperFogeys, but Kurt and I veered off into some deep thematic territory. We discussed aging, retirement, righteousness and endurance. And those two months when I watched movies and did little else.

Kurt asked me about whether or not I’d ever reached a breaking point when I was compelled to make a radical change in my life and behavior. While it’s true my final day of wearing Underoos was painful and a long time coming, it was my two month movie marathon that did the better job of bringing me into a semblance of maturity.

I was 21 and had just gotten off a religious mission. I hadn’t seen one movie or TV show in all that time. I was starving and I had a lot of catching up to do. I also entered into a relationship with a girl and then almost immediately got dumped, hard.

I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t in school, I lived with my mom and the opposite sex had rejected me. I was low and movies were my comfort food.

My brain fried in no time. Remember Joel Shumacher’s abysmal, puntastic, Ahnold-enhanced Batman and Robin? I thought it was good.

After two months, I just snapped. I was sick of myself. I was horrified by the amount of time I’d wasted away in front of the TV and how much money I’d spent on video rentals. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t be that guy.

So, I wasn’t.

I got up, got a job, enrolled in school, gave the other gender a second chance and started my new life as an adult. Two years later, I was married. Three years after that, I was a college graduate. Nine years after graduation, I have three kids, a nice home and I’m the Art Director for a non-profit group.

The biggest reason things have worked out as well as they have (which isn’t to say there haven’t been some dark times–there certainly have been) is because I’ve put my trust in God along the way.

The second biggest reason is because after two months of not working or doing anything of any particular import, I decided I wouldn’t ever be that guy again.  That guy on the couch, helpless and aimless. I decided to work hard and never stop.

And I never have.

Have you ever had a moment of epiphany? When the way forward was clear and all you had to do was decide? What did you do?

How to Make Things Valuable

A writerly pose. Notice the all-black attire, the awkward framing, the fingers brought to the temple, and the archaic writing tool. Yes, this man has deep, deep thoughts.

When I was younger I had this dream about accomplishing something amazing at a young age. Get hired by Marvel or DC Comics. Write a book. Serve in City Council. Invent a new Oreo. Whatever. I thought that doing something great at a young age would make me and that thing more extraordinary.

Didn’t happen. The things I did as a young adult were pretty typical. I graduated college. Married. Had kids. Got a job and a house. All good things and great accomplishments for me personally, but nothing the world was gonna stand up and take notice of.

Fast forward to now and, on the eve of my 35th birthday (still a week away), I actually have done something pretty great. I’ve written a book that could find a wide audience and change my life and the life of my family forever. That’s terribly exciting, but it’s nothing people younger than me haven’t already done hundreds of times over. Granted, my story is my own and unique and amazing, but I’ve read and heard about kids and young adults still in college getting these amazing book deals. Real prodigies. People who have accomplished so much and are so talented  and so young. That was supposed to me.

I’m so, so glad it wasn’t.

There is value in the wait. With hard, laborious, extended periods of work and pounds of sweat comes a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I can appreciate what I have now because of where I’ve been and what it took to get here. My book has been through the wringer–multiple readers and people giving their opinion on what I’ve done and what does and does work for them. The “does not” is the hard part. Pouring your heart and talents into something for years and then being told it’s not quite right is tough and it shapes you. Thank goodness.

Now, I have a literary agent. I’ve written a book. Do you know how exciting that is? I do, now. If this had happened to younger me (and no friggin’ way he had the talent or the skills), he wouldn’t have appreciated it. There would have a been a sense of inevitability about it. A sense of entitlement that would have made the accomplishment less thrilling and less deserved. I’m glad that punk didn’t get this then. What I have now is more valuable because that guy was disappointed and had to wait and reconfigure who he thought he was and work harder than he ever thought he could.

I realize I haven’t really “done it” yet. In fact, I’m at the biggest crossroads of this whole process right now. The book is about to go out to publishers and then we’ll really see what the future holds. But everything that’s happened so far? Pretty big deal. More than most ever get.

I’m so glad I can see that fully.