Day 59 – Fate, Ruined

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.

Monday – October 27, 2014

No_fate_but_whatever
Let’s face it, at this point I’m willing to attach any picture that’s even tangentially related to the point.

I heard back definitively on the Salt Lake job. This big time, multi-million dollar company was kind enough to call personally to say I didn’t actually have the job. It was down to me and one other guy for the Creative Director position. I got close… but no. I wasn’t their guy. This is a big “coulda’ been.”

I experienced a brief second of disappointment and feeling a bit like I’d been faked out (don’t they typically only call back if you have the job?), but it really was a classy way of taking care of what could be some messy business, depending on how I reacted. To go just a step further, they’re sending me some free product in the mail. That’s a pretty solid thing to do for someone they ostensibly will never deal with or see again.

Credit where it’s due: that company was Perfectly Posh.

The tricky thing this afternoon was that this latest rejection sent mine and Erin’s emotions flying off in two different directions. She was sad and upset because our unemployment ordeal is not yet at an end and she was actually kind of excited about moving to Utah. I was just relieved. As completely pumped as I was for the job, it was also a very big job in a high pressure situation. That’s awesome and exciting, but also a situation I now don’t have to adjust to.

In other words: I, the drowning man, just found a silver lining after being thrown an inner tube attached to a too short rope.

I think sometimes I err in putting too positive a spin on things. My attitude frustrated Erin. Do I not have ambition? Am I not concerned? Or am I content to watch the ship go down with a fiery burning? (It’s possible I’m crushing this blog under the weight of too many metaphors.)

The truth is I was just taking my time getting around to being really, truly bummed. Working at Perfectly Posh would have been absolutely amazing. I hear they ride scooters around the office and I OWN A SCOOTER. Fate has been ruined. It’s possible I don’t even believe in it anymore (okay, I never did).

Salt Lake probably would have been an incredible journey for our family. Instead, we’re still here, doing our best to make our money go as far as we can for as long as we can. There are still other irons in the fire–the San Francisco job, for one–but this hurts. Right now, it just hurts.

* * *

Tried to get to writing all day today, but what I wanted just wasn’t in the cards. Should have taken that as a sign.

Instead, in the one bright spot of the day, I went to the park with Erin and Violet. Lately, Violet is fascinated with all things Mario and she insisted we act out her every video game fantasy. Mommy was Mario and she was a very modern day Princess Peach/Elsa hybrid who fought off Bowser (me) with her ice powers. I died a lot this morning.

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!

Days 51 and 52 – Leading at Church and Guiding in the Mall

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.

Sunday & Monday – October 19-20, 2014

On Sunday I performed my first acts as President of the Elders Quorum in the new McKinley Ward. I attended a ward leadership meeting in AM, and then during church I called someone to a position within the Quorum. I’ve never done that before. I’ve been on the other side of the experience dozens of times, but I’ve never sat with someone, said a prayer with them, asked them to serve, and then told them what I expected from them.

Actually, we didn’t sit down at all. I don’t know our new church building well enough to know where we can go for privacy, so I opened the first door I saw and we ended up standing together in the janitor’s closet among the mops and brooms. Now I know where to change into my super suit to fight giant robots.

We held our first Quorum meeting during the third hour. I had expected maybe 8 guys to fill the chairs, but we had twice as many show up, all looking to me to for what to do for an hour.

I’ve lead people before, but this is on a different level. We deal in the things of the eternities and salvation at church, so the only way to do a job like this is to have wisdom that reaches beyond mine. This is a spiritual job, and I am very much a temporal being. I have great faults. I stumble. I fall. The only difference between me and the other 17 men in the meeting today is that I was called to preside at this time, however long that turns out to be. No doubt some of them are thinking, “Please find a job in Albuquerque. Soon.”

* * *

Today, I got connected a little more to my baby girl. Violet is at the phase where she’s constantly pushing me aside in favor of her mom. She might just hate me a little. “No, not YOU!” is something I hear a lot. She’s three.

32b35788-c83d-4a6e-bb9e-eb0cfc921bc4

We went to the mall together to exchange a belt at Macy’s, but that only took about ten minutes. For the rest of the three hours, I let her tell Violet be the guide. We went to the Disney Store and she explored every princess item they had on display, but she also got very excited when an ad for Star Wars came up on the big screen in the center of the store. If we’re going to have a geek girl, she’ll be the one.

She was fascinated by the fountain in the middle of the mall, and I had to explain to her why I couldn’t fish out the money to pay for the candy she wanted from the nearby dispenser. I also had to explain why my pockets cannot spontaneously produce quarters. We went up the escalator in JC Penney and back down again, per her request.

We ate at the Food Court, went back for another trip up and down the escalator, and dove back in for another round at the Disney Store. She insisted the singing Anna and Elsa dolls be next to each other so they could harmonize, never mind they were singing two different songs.

We capped off the afternoon with a double shot of Orange Julius. As we stood in line, Violet spotted more fountains outside. She asked if we could sit out there and drink. I told her we could and she screamed “Hooray”, jumped up and down, and hugged me.

I really needed this time with Violet. Not gonna lie, as heart melts go, mine turned to a puddle more than once.

I will allow that all this dad stuff is probably pretty boring, but this was one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had since starting this whole unemployment mess and I’m telling you about it, dang it. This was special. It deserves to be recorded.

And yet… there were odd moments of disconnect throughout the afternoon. At times, I felt like a passenger on the trip, not the one driving the boat. I didn’t smile as much as I wanted and lacked an energy you’d think would go along with making your daughter happy over and over again. Even now, as I’m writing this, I feel not totally plugged in.

It might be because I’m posting and rewriting this blog today, October 31st. Eleven days from the mall and Violet and fountains with money we can’t take for ourselves, things are tougher. The constant striving and disappointments are wearing on me. I’m not completely hopeless. I’m just having a harder time seeing the light.

But we’ll get to that.

Day 50 – Celebrating 50 Great Days of Unemployment!

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 – October 18, 2014

ID-10086740Day 50! Wow, what a milestone. I just never thought we would make it this far. I’d like to thank the job that let me go, and all of you who said “Brock, I believe in you! You can do this. You can be unemployed for 50 days straight!” You were right. There were times I didn’t believe, but… you were right.

What I hear from people who have been through this is that a months-long wait for employment is not unusual. It’s not just about finding the right position, it’s also about wading through the interview and hiring processes, which can be stressful and lenghty. Funny thing: most companies aren’t in as much of a hurry as I am. Go figure.

* * *

Today was a Saturday and Saturdays are always a bit easier to take than other days. This is a day I wouldn’t have been working anyway, so I skip through it essentially guilt-free.

Yes, there is a bit of guilt associated with all this. Not because of anything I did wrong or any job performance issues I might have had to lose my job in the first place (nothing I did was the cause of the loss), but because I’m just supposed to be working. I feel bad for not working, period. It’s not a rational thing because it’s not like I’m living like this by choice, but at least I have Saturdays when I know I wouldn’t have been working anyway. It’s a small relief to engage with life without looking at the calendar and thinking about where I would be otherwise.

I used my blessed Saturday for a mishmash of things. I took Cami to go ride her horse out the Heart of the Horst Therapy Ranch, moved the treadmill out of our bedroom to make room for a desk so I can stop writing and drawing and working at the kitchen table, and I did a bit of pro bono design for the upcoming McKinley Ward Halloween Party. Always feels good to do stuff like that, even if it takes me away from my own stuff for a few hours. The sacrifice, actually, is what makes it worth it.

* * *

Today I posted Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard. Eight days ago I was having a pretty tough time balancing home life and the other projects and freelance work I’ve got going on while I wait out this storm. It’s encouraging to look back and that blog and realize that I’m doing much better with all that now. I’m spending less time on the computer and paying better attention to my family.

The consequence? As I feared, I’m falling behind. This blog is getting tougher to turn out and other projects aren’t as far along as I’d like. But it’s probably a fair trade off.

* * *

TWO SHORT STORIES FROM TODAY:

Erin told me this morning she applied to a job for me here in Fresno that could be great for me. This is encouraging because I can almost never find anything in my field here in town. I looked at it and it has a crazy amount of qualifications and requirements. I don’t know anyone who can do all that and knows all of those programs.

She reassured me it’s just a wishlist. After all, she only got half of what she wanted in a husband.

Awesome.

————————-

Violet (age 3), who had been watching Return of the Jedi this afternoon, ran up to Erin with the most broken-hearted little look on her face and choked out the following:

“MOMMY! Darth Vader… is Luke’s father. IT’S JUST SO SAD!”

shawscene

I agree, Violet. It’s a real tearjerker.