Days 57 and 58 – I Can Talk Words

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.

Saturday & Sunday – October 25-26, 2014

Saturday

10703573_10204792240863398_6428795307795303273_nToday was all about other people looking out for us. Our friend Kathryn makes shadow boxes for sale, and she had her husband come by to just straight up drop off a Star Wars box for me since they know I’m a fan. How generous is that? It’s a pretty fantastic little thing, and oddly perfect (to me, anyway) for Halloween. You can see more of Kathryn’s shadow boxes at her online store.

In the evening we went to a Halloween Party with several friends and several people we didn’t know at all. Made some new friends, which was nice. We’re in an area of town where people are just incredible nice and friendly and share a lot of common interests. We really don’t want to leave her. We will if we have to, but nights like this I’m more reluctant. That, however, doesn’t stop me from being excited about this:

Very, very late at night I got an email from my (step)sister, Kris, who is a famous crafter with her twin, Kim. Kris knew of a couple of leads on jobs that seem perfect me for me in Colorado. Really, really perfect.

Sunday

When I told Erin and Elora about the jobs and location, Elora asked where Denver is. I told her it was in Colorado, in the middle of the country, where they have all the school shootings. Elora just stared at me, horrified. I got the sense this was not the right thing to say.

Erin challenged me to put this anecdote in my blog, so there you go.

Since the whole stake blew up in the wake of the big ward boundary changes, it’s taken a little while for everyone to settle into their new roles properly. Case in point: today I was finally set apart as the Elders Quorum President of the McKinley Ward. A “setting apart” is a blessing given by the laying of hands on the person’s head by one who has authority, and in that blessing keys and rights are given to the person to be able to perform their new duty. I haven’t been able to do some basic things like calling other people to positions within the Quorum because I didn’t have those rights and keys yet.

Because of the nature of my calling, the Stake President himself had to do my setting apart. Unfortunately, the entire event turned into a comedy of errors.

I was late to the meeting in the first place because I got caught up talking to someone else in another part of the building. When I did finally make it to our Elders Quorum makeshift classroom on the stage, President Nef and one of his counselors were already waiting for me. So was Cami’s Sunday School teacher, who kindly informed me Cami needed a change. We’re going on ten years of diapers here so normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in this case I had to ask President Nef and President Biberston to wait some more while I went to change Cami in the men’s bathroom (on the floor, sadly, as there was no change table I could find). This was an event grosser, longer and more toxic than usual due to circumstances best left to the imagination.

I eventually returned and the setting apart actually happened. After the Stake President and his counselor left, I proceeded to take care of overdue business. Or tried to. There was some confusion with the teacher of the lesson and for about a minute we awkwardly played out our version of Who’s On First? in front of the class while I tried to communicate that I wanted to take care of some additional callings before he resumed.

Lead with confidence and clarity, that’s my motto.

When I finally persuaded the teacher, my friend Mike, to sit down, I then presented his name for a sustaining vote by the Quorum as our Secretary. And I presented another name as our Instructor. We do everything by common consent in the church, and if anyone has a problem with a particular person to whom a calling is issued, we are free to speak up and make our objection known for consideration.

This is all usually done very quickly with the request that everyone raise their right arm to signify their vote at the appropriate time. And then objectors are likewise asked to raise their arms as a sign they’re not cool with it.

It’s extremely rare anyone objects. It’s even rarer for the person who leads everyone in casting their votes to completely forget what to say and how to use words generally. I still can’t even tell you what I was supposed to say, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “Raise your hands if you, uh, agree and then if you don’t you can raise your hands, too. Or whatever.”

I would make for a terrible actor. I have no memorization skills whatsoever. I’m not usually such a tongue tied or off-my-balance leader, but I paraphrase and reword everything and that’s my problem. This is great for avoiding cliches, but terrible for exquisitely crafted monologues. So, you’re welcome world, I decided not be an actor.

I’ll get better at all this, I know that, but it was highly embarrassing for me personally that any of this even happened. Presentation is, I think, pretty important. I blame the diaper. Pretty sure I’d register on a Geiger counter right now.

Day 56 – What It Takes to Write a Book (or The Benefit of Failure)

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.

Friday – October 24, 2014

What is kid smiling about?
What is kid smiling about?

I’m kind of over the moon excited that I finished the penultimate chapter in my memoir, Worlds Aparttoday. The chapter, currently titled Family Junk*, deals with the limbo/hell that is engagement, and focuses particularly on all the religious and cultural strife we managed to layer on top of an already tense situation. I’ve posted a short excerpt from this chapter before. Anyone who’s been through an engagement can, I’m sure, relate.

*I hate chapters that are numbered. They tell you nothing and make it much more difficult to go back into the book and find particular passages. That said, especially during the first draft, chapter titles are always an in flux thing.

The chapter ends with the line “Somehow, this was all ending with a wedding.” Which is apt. The first half of the book makes that a more than improbable proposition.

The next–and last–chapter is entitled, naturally, The Wedding. Once it and a short epilogue are done, I will actually have a completed first draft. It’s taken three long years to get here but the point is it’s done. Er, almost done.

I’m close, is my point.

My literary agent has been incredibly patient with me through all of this. For me, there’s no shortcutting the process. Some can burn through a first draft no problem and that’s their favorite part, but the first draft is just pure torture for me. I edit as I go–a cardinal sin of writing–but I can’t generate ideas unless I’m feeling the language. And I can’t feel the language unless I make it “sound” at least somewhat decent. The upshot is this makes for quick subsequent drafts as the individual pieces of writing are more or less in good shape. It’s a very different kind of writing than the quick jots I do here in this blog.

Writing a book takes a scary amount of discipline, but thankfully there are some big deal things I’ve done in my life that required quite a bit of discipline. I spent a good chunk of my childhood and teen years teaching myself how to draw. Hours and hours over years and years of tracing and copying led to creations of my own and experimentations with different styles and mediums until, finally, I was able to make a living doing illustration and design. The hard work paid off.

At 19-years-old I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my Church. I was assigned to teach the Hispanic peoples of Arizona, in their native language. I averaged a C- minus in Spanish in high school. I hated Spanish. I didn’t want to learn another language, but I did it anyway and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life–harder, for me at that late age, than learning to draw. The fluency I achieved during my time in Arizona is one of the great (admittedly God-assisted) accomplishments of my life.

At 28-years-old, I decided to be a writer. Have you ever just thought you could do something–I mean really do it, successfully–without any real evidence to support your self-belief? It’s a feeling that comes out of nowhere and I didn’t feel terribly responsible for it. Writing is more like something that happened to me and not something I necessarily chose.

After writing blogs and short stories for a while, I figured, in all my hubris, that I’d try my hand at writing a book. Worse, a non-celebrity memoir (which may be the most ill-advised kind of memoir because: who cares?).

Again I had to call upon a kind of discipline I didn’t even know I had. Books don’t get written only when you feel like writing. They get written every day, little-by-little, until they’re done. If you’re like me and you’ve got family and work and church commitments, you write it really-little-by-really-little. My first book took me about two years. It was a strong enough piece of writing that it got me a literary agent and got read by some fairly important people. But it didn’t sell.

If my first book required discipline, approaching the second one after the failure of the first required ten times more and about a month of crying in my proverbial beer. However–and I’ve only recently become grateful for this–my life is riddled with failures that came only after getting as close to success as a person possibly can without actually achieving it. My failures are bitter affairs, the perpetual football taken away at the last second.

Not that I wouldn’t choose to reverse a failure or two if I could (selling an idea to DC Comics, signing a contract to produce the comic for a year, and then having the entire line cancelled before my team could even get started on our entry ranks up there), but holy crud has all this failure honed my discipline and made me more grateful for good fortune and blessings than I ever thought possible. I take nothing for granted. Not one thing.

I’ve gone far off point here, if I ever had one. What I’m trying to say is, if there’s two things I’ve learned in my life–and this is certainly true of my current unemployment situation as well–it’s that 1) nothing is achieved without hard work, and 2) sometimes you don’t get it even with hard work, and that doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, matter.

I’m a better person because of my disappointments. I know 100% I’m a better, more empathetic person for going through this unemployment mess. In the end, the lessons or self-improvement or self-understanding or whatever you want to call it, are the only thing of real value in this world, period. Those are the things we take with us into the next. When I’m clear and thinking and seeing things as they really are, I understand all this perfectly.

Today, I understand perfectly. I am saddled with difficulty and burdened by bills I don’t know how I’ll soon pay, but I can see it all as part of the larger tapestry that is a life I don’t think I’ve been completely unsuccessful at and hope to live out well.

For now, soon I queue up another football. We’ll see if I kick it this time.

* * *

As for the actual day today…

We came back reluctantly–and too early in the morning–from Uncle John’s Cabin in Bass Lake. I guess it was good to see the kids again. I mean, I guess they’re pretty cool and they put smiles on our faces and their hugs are kinda great. But they do ask for food. Constantly. No one needs as many snacks as they ask for.

They stayed the night at their grandparents’ house and my mom dropped them off at school, so I didn’t see Cami until I picked her up later in the afternoon. She spotted me from far away, but her teacher didn’t. Cami pulled and pulled on her, but her teacher wouldn’t let her go because she was busy with her conversation. Cami started shrieking and did everything she could to get away as I came closer, but still her teacher wouldn’t turn around to see what Cami was reaching for.

Finally, Cami broke free and covered the now short distance between us to fall into my arms and bury her face in my shoulder with even more shrieks of joy. We’d only been apart for a day or so, but you’d have thought it was a month.

Day 55 – A Much Needed Escape

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 23, 2014

A recent photo of me and Erin.
A recent photo of me and Erin.

Today, we made our escape. We got the kids to school, loaded up the van with what we needed for an overnight, and headed North past the closed down casino and into the foothills and just-starting-to-get-cold part of the mountains to spend a night in Uncle John’s Cabin.

Yep, Uncle John’s Cabin. I know that sounds like a Grateful Dead song or the title of a woodsy short story about some urbanite’s misspent childhood summer days at a long dead relative’s humble abode, but that’s really what we call it. Uncle John’s Cabin.

The cabin is really a two level condo planted in Bass Lake, a small but picturesque mountain community Hollywood likes to use and abuse now and again (The Great Outdoors, a 1980’s Dan Ackroyd/John Candy vehicle being the most notable, unfortunate example). Uncle John is not a shotgun wielding hermit. He’s a lawyer with a generous heart. He lets family freely use the cabin, with the simple request that we not destroy it.

To avoid restaurants and their gross chef-cooked meals, socialistic free bread, and annoying table service, Erin and I bought food in neighboring Oakhurst on our way up to cook at the cabin. Well, Erin cooked. I can pour milk and spread butter over toast. If I were to combine the two things into a dish they would make a meal you would not want to eat.

We love our kids and our house and the internet, but boy was it nice to get away from all of those things for a day. The longer this all goes on, the more stressed Erin and I get. We’ve been through tougher things, but the strain times of stress puts on our relationship is something that cannot be taken for granted. There’s a lot of taking care of each other that needs to happen for us to navigate times like this successfully. Having some space and time just to ourselves today with absolutely no one else in the world we know remotely near us was a much needed recharge.

When we weren’t just out-and-out napping sans child jumping on our heads, we hiked. This was a bit of a comedy of errors as we tried to find a decent trailhead with the very worst of maps (that I had committed to memory instead of, y’know, printing it out–still the map’s fault though) and ended up driving right out of the Bass Lake area. We doubled back, picked a trail near the Cabin, and just went for it to wherever the trail took us. Turned out it was the trail we’d been looking for in the first place; a steep climb that would have led us to waterfalls if we hadn’t wasted so much time searching and it wasn’t so close to sundown that we had to turn around early. Stupid map.

Of course, given California’s current status as giant dry creek bed, we may not have seen waterfalls at all. When we did stumble upon the Lake of Bass, it was mostly dirt and mud. This drought is the worst I’ve  seen in my lifetime, and that’s including the 7-year drought from the late 80’s that left me, as a young child, wondering what this magical thing known as “rain” could possibly be.

The lake stank of fish and dirty bones. We could walk down into a fair part of it, to spots that would have seen us completely submerged and surrounded by water any other year. Docks attached to houses were no longer floating but instead reaching straight down to cold earth that probably hadn’t felt the air since the Lake was first created decades ago.

For the evening, Erin and I watched movies (The Bourne Ultimatum and Bernie), played games, and talked. We just talked. When we didn’t talk, there was glorious silence. It was the oddest thing.

Erin went to bed at 10pm, her usual time. I read a book (All You Need is Kill) for about an hour afterwards before heading to bed about three hours earlier than usual. I can’t remember the last time I was relaxed enough to do that.

Days 53 and 54: Violet (Age 3) Finally Realizes I Don’t Have a Job Anymore

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.

Tuesday & Wednesday – October 21-22, 2014

Violet
Violet

Life caught up with us a little on Tuesday. We’ve admittedly been pushing a few things off–bills and health insurance stuff and other things that kill trees and should, honestly, be banned forever. It’s not like we’re delinquent in paying these things, but unemployment has a tendency to make unappealing, taking-care-of-business junk tasks even less appealing than usual. Having more time to do a thing does not make it any easier to do that thing. Especially when it takes from a resource–in this case, money–that is diminishing faster than it’s being replenished. Bills are the hearty lumberjack in the forested hills that is our financials.

I guess that makes us tree huggers.

We are fortunate enough to not have to pay all of our bills at the moment. I’ve written before about how Erin’s Aunt Mary was kind enough to stop us from pulling Violet out of her preschool by paying for it herself. The other expense that we had decided to cut but was covered–this time by Erin’s mom, Lynn–is the bill for Violet and Elora’s weekly dance classes. Telling a 3-year-old little girl that the thing she enjoys most on the planet is being taken away from her is something Erin and I agonized over, so the fact that we never had to have that conversation at all has to got to rank among the biggest of blessings we’ve received since this all started.

It was on the way to dance class that Violet (Age 3) had a sudden realization that I’ve been home–for the past 54 days–a lot more than usual. She asked, “Why don’t you go to your job?”

I said, “I don’t have a job anymore. I’m looking for a new job, and mommy’s looking for a new job, too.”

I had the sense to start recording as soon as I realized what conversation we were having. Here’s the rest in audio form (edited only to speed things along a bit).

If you’re not in a listening mood, here’s the transcript:

Me: What kind of job do you think Mommy should do?

Violet: Mmm. Work on her ‘puter with a job.

Me: Work on her computer?

Violet: With a job.

Me: With a job–that makes sense. Do you like having me home while I don’t have a job?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Do you like it that I’m home all the time?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Do you? Or do you want me to go to work?

Violet: I want you to go to work.

Me: Oh. Why do you want me to go to work?

Violet: Because.

Me: What do I do at work? Do you know?

Violet: You work there.

Me: Yeah. Where?

Violet: In your office.

Me: In my office, yeah. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to my office, isn’t it?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Yeah…

Violet: Last time you was at your work I was coming with you and Mommy drive me there!

Me: That’s right. She did, didn’t she?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Did you like it there?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Yeah, it was fun there, wasn’t it?

Violet: Mm-hmm.

Me: I can’t go there anymore.

Violet: Oh.

Me: They told me–they told me to go–they told me to not come back anymore.

Violet: Uh oh!

Me: Yeah, I know.

Violet: Last night, my teacher told me to come to preschool and she told me to not go.

Me: She told you to not go to preschool?

Violet: Mm-mmm.

Me: WHAT?

Violet: And she want me to go to preschool!

Me: Yeah, she wants you to go to preschool. She didn’t tell you not to go to preschool.

Violet: And now I don’t have a job!

Me: Now you don’t have a job either?

Violet: Uh uh.

Me: So we’re both unemployed!

Violet: Yeah.

Me: Awwww!

Violet: And now I go to preschool and dance class. Remember?

Me: You go to preschool AND dance class?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Wow. You sound really busy.

Violet: I not busy.

Me: You’re not?

Violet: Uh uh.

Me: How much money do you make at your job?

Violet: A lot of money.

Me: A lot of money. Wow.

Violet: So I give people money.

Me: Oh, so you give–you give your money to people?

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: Oh, that’s so nice! Who do you give it too?

Violet: I don’t know.

Me: Oh. Oh, you give it anonymously.

Violet: Yeah.

Me: That’s nice.

Violet: So I get candy.

Me: Ah, and you get candy when you give away money!

Violet: Uh huh.

Me: That’s great!

Violet: Daddy!

Me: Yeah?

Violet: We got to go at dance class.

Me: Oh, it’s time for dance class. Okay, say bye bye.

Violet: Bye bye!