Warning: This is kind of long (and mostly unedited)…
So, despite the strange way 2019 is starting out, I am beyond glad to have seen 2018 come to an end.
The year 2018 was a veritable shitstorm (dumpster fire is too neatly contained)—and more volatile than the current stock market. What could go wrong went wrong; when something went right, it felt as though it came at considerable cost.
I knew things weren’t going to be easy—but things got so rough financially that my mom started sending me a little bit of money to help out. This might not seem like a big deal, but my mom is not given to acts of financial generosity: “You can have what I’ve got when I’m gone; until then, you’re on your own.”
That’s how precarious things got. (Though I was lucky I still had a little bit of freelance editing work coming in, so I was able to pay the bills without too much struggle.)
Then my father, who lived in California, got sick. Although he’d never talked about this kind of stuff with me—or even told me much about his health, except maybe after the fact—the hospital where he was being treated wanted to know what the family (me) wanted to do. They were really pushing for him to go to assisted living or hospice care. All I knew was that he wanted to go home. After three nerve-wracking weeks, he got to go home.
Meanwhile, I looked for a job. I did get to fill in for three days as a copy editor at a local newspaper (not the journalistic kind, but more of the goings-on-around-town kind), but three days does not pay the rent. I interviewed for a couple of jobs; I really thought I had one of them in the bag (which is saying a lot, because I’m notoriously bad at job interviews)—but they went with somebody else.
A few weeks later, I managed to get a six-week position that was advertised as part-time (30 hours a week), but was actually full-time. So, for six weeks, I got to live like a real person again.
An agonizing six weeks followed the end of that job, until the agency I went through called to let me know that the company I’d worked with wanted to hire me again for a job running through the middle of this year. Of course, I said.
At the end of my first week on the job, my father died.
I knew he had been spending most of his time in bed, but he never let on that he was that seriously ill. “I just need to get back my strength,” he would say.
Complicating matters was that he had all of about $200 in the bank, and no other assets. No property, no stock, no other bank accounts. Nothing set aside for “final expenses”. The mortuary folks would be expecting to be paid, and there would be nothing to pay them. I got very lucky in that I was able to find a place that facilitated the donation of remains for medical research, and that the mortuary was willing to cooperate with them. The service would pay the mortuary for their services up to that point, transport the body, and, after any research-related stuff was finished, arrange for cremation and return of the ashes to me—at no cost to me.
This slowed me down a little bit—particularly since there were also things like obtaining copies of the death certificate and contacting creditors to take care of—but I gradually got going in my new job.
Not long after that, the client’s reputation for being difficult kicked in. Picture a combination of micromanaging, lack of clarity, passive-aggressiveness, and patronizingness (I looked it up—it’s a word), and you may get an idea of the kind of person I’m talking about.
I probably should have expected this, since this is the same person my project manager over the summer had to deal with, and said project manager was like John Belushi in the Greek-owned restaurant skit on Saturday Night Live (“C’mon, c’mon—we gotta have turnover!”) until the very last week of the project.
After a particularly egregious incident involving a list, a meeting, and my waiting until after the meeting took place, I had had enough. I asked to have a conversation with my manager. In short, I said I did not want to have to work with this person. I would gladly do other grunt work until the cows came home, were taken to slaughter, and processed into ground beef—but under no circumstances would I make it to the end of the contract if I had to work with this person on a regular basis.
Lucky for me that my manager quite possibly has a worse opinion of the person in question than I do, because, under normal circumstances, I would expect to be out of a job the next day.
A less egregious, but no less annoying, incident occurred a couple of weeks later, following an email in which it was revealed that I would be expected to lead a particular presentation, despite no one having said this in the first place. When I called her on it, she responded with a couple of different assertions and her meeting notes—none of which made any mention of Kevin leading a presentation about the subject in question.
Then, sneakily, she changed the cc: field of the email thread so that the people who were previously involved in the conversation were suddenly out of the picture; in their place was her sales contact at the company employing me.
So I emailed this person to explain the situation—and reiterated my desire to not have to work with that person. I would gladly do other grunt work until the cows came home, were taken to slaughter, and processed into ground beef—but I would rather not have to deal with that person on a regular basis.
Somehow, I did not get fired the next day. We worked out the presentation thing, and some other stuff came up, and life went on.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, my cat Trixie stopped eating. She was due for a check-up anyway, so I took her to the vet on Monday. They gave her some fluids, drew some blood, and we went home. I got a bunch of cat treats at a nearby pet-food shop, and she scarfed a bunch of those down. But, the next day she was still not eating.
The vet called later that morning with the results of the blood work. Since Trixie still wasn’t eating, I let them know, and they had me bring her back in, so they could give her fluids and monitor her appetite and whatnot.
Because they would not be open on Thanksgiving, I had to take Trixie to another facility to continue her care. Except for that Friday, when I had to take her to Renton for an ultrasound, she never left. They stopped giving her fluids when a fluid buildup around her lungs was making it difficult for her to breathe, which helped—but the blood work was still not good; the ultrasound had shown problems with her liver, gall bladder, and pancreas (and possible signs of heart disease); and she was still not eating. When they said they could “try putting in a feeding tube”, I knew I couldn’t put her through any more.
The next day, I spent my last moments with Trixie, leaving only after her body started to cool and she had peed on my leg (and pretty much everywhere else, for that matter).
The Friday before Xmas, I got word that my contract would be “wrapping up” the third week of January. Despite assurances that the company enjoyed working with me, and would miss having my expertise, my manager found out about this development from me.
Now, this was not entirely unexpected—as I mentioned above, under normal circumstances, I would have expected to be fired the next day after having told my employer I didn’t want to work with the client. But the timing did surprise me, particularly since nobody had contacted me to discuss anything—not even to give me a heads-up.
And, for the remaining week and a half of my now-shortened contract, I will be training my replacement—which I am actually glad to do, because she seems like a nice person, and is going to have her work cut out for her as it is. And if she’s better suited to working with this person I’d rather not have to deal with, I have no problem with that.
If everything above sounds like one giant nota bummer (as Julian Cope put it in the liner notes of his Peggy Suicide album), well, there were some good moments also.
For one thing, I got three jobs in the space of a year. Yes, they were short term—but I am notoriously bad at job hunting. I easily take two or three times as long as most other people, once I start looking, to have someone actually hire me. I’m sort of the reverse of the unseen relative of Dan Hedaya in Joe Versus the Volcano—I can do the job, but can I get the job? So that’s kind of a big deal for me.
I published a new collection of poems, The Lilac Years, in April 2018. After my father died, I put together my first handmade chapbook, Interval.
I had a couple of featured-reader slots—one at It’s About Time, which takes place the second Thursday every month at the Ballard library, and one at Redmond Association of Spokenword (RASP). At the RASP reading, I even managed to sell six or seven books.
One of the few things I was able to retrieve from my father’s possessions (since he lived in California and I was unable to take care of things in person, I had to rely on a close friend of his, who not only helped take care of him during his last couple of years, but who also performed the otherwise thankless task of handling the disposal of his belongings) was his iPad. It has a couple of horrible cracks in the screen; I was told that it would cost $299 to fix, meaning that it would make more sense to just buy a new one. After a few weeks, I did. Costco had the 6th generation iPad (with twice the storage capacity of my dad’s iPad) on sale at a ridiculously low price (about $80 less than Apple’s price), and that was too good a bargain to pass up.
Not long after that, I bought an Apple Pencil—which I have been using to write poems when it would otherwise not make sense to use paper (i.e., at night), and also to draw. The drawing aspect surprises me, because I’ve never been very good at it, and I almost never draw anything that’s recognizable as something. But I’ve been doing something with it almost every day.
Though I had less freelance work overall in 2018, the work I did get came in at the right times. And the project that kept being pushed back for one reason or another finally came my way shortly after I received word that my day-job contract would be ending early, so that will make things a bit easier while I look for the next regular thing.
And, thanks to my overall work activity during the year, my finances are not nearly as precarious as they had been. I owe a lot less on my credit card, and I have enough to eat and pay the rent.
Finally, entering this new year, I have a new collection of poems in the works. It was originally going to be two collections, but I kept adding to the one, changed my mind a couple of times about how to organize it, and then decided the theme I had chosen likely no longer applied. So now I am working on a single collection that consolidates the two. Because of the conscious decision to publish at a more reasonable pace (instead of two or three times a year), and the inclusion of some longer-than-usual pieces, this upcoming collection (as yet unnamed) will probably be the largest one yet—I’m still pruning (and editing), but it is currently in the neighborhood of 520 pages.
I’m not sure what to make of the current state of my writing. One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve had this day job is a strange sense of detachment from the words I write. This has been both good and bad—and both in the same way: particularly since December, I have not had a strong sense of whether or not I like what I’ve just written. In some cases, I find I don’t like something as much as I had expected to; in others, I have a better opinion of poems I didn’t think much of when I wrote them. I don’t know what that’s going to mean for the rest of the year.
With so much in flux and states of chaos this last year, my attendance at some of the poetry readings I usually go to has become sporadic. Although some chaos will continue for the next couple of weeks—and probably however long my next job search takes—I am hoping to remedy that this year.
If you have made it this far, thanks for reading. And thanks for taking the time to look at my blog, however much of it you choose to read, and however often you choose to visit. I try not to put too much importance on statistics, but I do pay attention to how many views my blog posts get, and I do try to check out the blogs of folks who have read mine. It’s all part of my writing practice, along with writing and posting something as close to every day as possible.
The final tally (to the best of my recollection right now):
- 1 dead parent
- 1 dead cat
- 4 or 5 job interviews
- 3 jobs
- 1 classical music concert attended
- 1 new gadget
- 1 new LED monitor for company-issued laptop with dinky screen
- 75 viewings (give or take) of American Splendor
- 3 friends being treated for cancer
- my first ever flu shot
- 1,348 pages of poems written (letter-size pages)
- a bunch of new digital drawings
- about a dozen new Polaroid photos
- 1 new pair of glasses
- 1 torn retina
- 1 laser eye surgical procedure
- $1,200 in car repairs
- 465 poems written in bookstores and libraries
(9 January 2019)