Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Losing a Whole Year

I remember you and me used to spend the whole goddamned day in bed. -- Third Eye Blind

Hopefully all of you out there have had a good year, and are set for a fine '15. Me, it's been a strange one this most recent go-round, mostly unpleasant, but also on a level that I would generally feel bad complaining about, in the "first world problems" sense. Nevertheless....

2013 was a productive year for me, as in the absence of viable opportunities to take my degree and make some real chedda, I took the initiative and read anything and everything I could find on website monetization and e-book creation and marketing. I created a guitar website and wrote five (short) tab books to support and drive traffic, finding a niche that no one had scratched. The books were modestly priced, but so far have generated at least a "beer money" level of side income. Not quite what I had my sights set on, but better than nothing.

Now, in my day job, as 2013 came to a close, there came an opportunity for a direct promotion in early 2014, not only for about $15K or so more, but directly in my chain of advancement, the next step up, work I was already doing, because this new position was being created, not filling a vacancy. Slam dunk for yours truly. Then it went sideways, after they fucked up the recruitment and interview process, taking three months to make a decision -- and when they finally did, I didn't land the gig. Still don't know why exactly, something that more or less boils down to "shit happens", near as I can tell.

(I did get to keep my current position, but am already at the highest step, maxed out in salary, so as long as prices for things like gas and food come back down -- and strangely they have the past few months, but not for long -- it's all good.)

Mostly it was an opportunity to finally start getting ahead just a little, turn that eternally tenuous toehold into something resembling a grip. And when the process gets stretched out to more like six months, when all's said and done, it takes a lot out of you. The thing was, I set aside all my extracurricular activities in order to concentrate on proving how over-qualified I was for the newer, shinier, better compensated position. I had ideas for at least three more guitar books for 2014, and shelved them "temporarily" whilst humping legs for that fucking promotion. By the time the smoke had cleared I'd lost the thread on the books. It was a long summer, between trying to get back on that horse, accepting getting passed over, and getting more and more work coming my way.

Then just a couple months ago, mid-October, my father, who had turned 90 at the end of August, passed away. It was painless and peaceful, in his sleep, and he was still in possession of his mental and physical faculties, which was important to him (and to all of his kids, of course). He had a rich, long life, and died content. If we were given the opportunity to choose our own personal way to go, most of us would probably pick this. He was a great guy and I miss him terribly, but we've all had elderly relatives, and we all steel ourselves for what comes eventually to all of us, the way you clench your abs just before someone punches you in the gut. But you never quite know when that punch is coming. Life has a way of making you flinch before the real blow comes.

Since then, it's triggered a sort of midlife crisis response for me, not that I'm running out to get a red sports car and a 25-year-old girlfriend (though I'm not opposed to those things!), but mostly in my professional life. It'd be easy and fun to paint an Office Space type of picture for you, and there's an element of that, as there is in any sedentary desk-monkey job. But in general, I like the people I work with, they like me, and I'm good at the work I do.

I just don't enjoy the job anymore, and my dad's passing has served as a reminder that life is short, because even if you live to be 90 or 100, your body starts failing you long before that time. I'll be 48 this coming May, but all I see is staring down the barrel of the big five-oh already. And then it's a crapshoot to see how long shit holds together physically. Fifty to sixty years of age is, on average, the time of life where either you start developing some sort of chronic condition, or just the normal aches and pains that never quite go away, but settle in, get a nice ass-groove going, and expand, slowly, persistently.

When I was a 25-year-old wannabe Eddie Van Halen, I looked down the temporal road and chuckled that I'd be retired at age 50, no sweat. If we knew then what we know now, if we could go back and warn our younger selves. Life has ways of throwing little twists into things, and truly pivotal paths can turn almost imperceptibly, on a dime. And you are well down a different path before you even realize it. Shoulda left a trail of bread crumbs, or unraveled a giant ball of string behind you. But we can never find our way back, we can only look back up the path and wish in futility.

So it's become this weird -- not vicious, just weird -- cycle, of a lack of productivity and motivation, of self-recrimination for said lack, of having days where I just want to say fuck it, sell everything I own for pennies on the dollar, and take my guitars and books and laptop to Costa Rica, and spend my remaining salad days teaching milfs how to surf and play guitar. I suppose my wife might have some difference of opinion on that particular dream; let's just say I would be perfectly content to run a normal mom-and-pop business with her, but still in that location, or something like it. Somewhere away from the hamster wheel of debt slavery.

It's the fear -- and obviously, this is something I've explored in depth the past couple years in here, picked it like a fuckin' scab, never quite letting it heal over -- of being mired in debt right up to the end. Worse than that, denying myself the chance to go try something I'd probably love and enjoy. I'm not a big "purpose" guy, but like the aforementioned Peter Gibbons, I don't think we were meant to spend our lives pushing paper and pixels, doing the impossible for the ungrateful because we're conditioned to remain tethered to our paper debt in perpetuity.

So that's my goal for 2015, to get back into trying to monetize the music and internet stuff, attack it with a renewed vengeance (and yes, purpose), make it click, get some traction. I think it's important to not let the bastards get to you; I wish this poor soul had had someone to tell her that, that life for all its faults and traps is generally good and frequently great, that you can wait out the townies and the parents and the assholes, and move away from them and never look back. That's the sort of thing that makes my carping feel like small beer. I have a small house and a big dick, and that's still better than the other way around. The only reason I complain is that I expect more out of myself.

I mentioned in my 2013 year-end roundup that I would probably be closing up shop here at The Hammer this here very night, at the end of 2014. There seemed to be a certain symmetry to it, ten years exactly and all, and there are many days when I feel like the well has run dry. But there are enough days where I still feel like pumping to continue to plug along. Writing, as I've tried to impart to my teenage daughter, is nothing more or less than organizing your thoughts. And while I don't feel like I've had all that many fresh ideas or thoughts as of late, I still think the organizing part is important, needs to be kept up. Maybe mixing things up, with something besides easy-meat hot-button politics and current events, would help.

So we're still here until we're not -- me, you, everyone. Stay safe. Live better, laugh louder, fuck harder and more often. Hope this coming year brings only good things for us all.


Strix Cratylus said...

Glad you decided to keep going. As long as you don't turn into the blog version of Aerosmith, or some such. If you hire the equivalent of Desmond Child and Diane Warren to co-write your hit posts for you, well...

David Simon often said he consciously modeled The Wire on Greek tragedy, with our failing societal institutions taking the place of the gods and their intrigues. The characters in his stories are just trying to get by and avoid getting crushed underfoot as these doddering old deities stumble around, following their own logic for their own ends. If you're soliciting opinions (and even if you're not, I'm just that generous), I'd suggest that you could probably tell similarly compelling stories from your own personal perspective, sort of like you're doing in this post. One man's view from the margins while waiting for the barbarians. If punditry is feeling tired and boring to you, that is.

Heywood J. said...

Yeah, glad you're still going as well. I saw the changes you'd made and your post, not long after I spilled my guts on this one.

Funny you should mention The Wire -- I just spent a good chunk of my holiday break from work binge-watching it, as HBO had a marathon over the last weekend. Still holds up amazingly well. The self-propelled decline of the American Empire, practically in iambic pentameter.

I'll probably still do some punditry, it's just in my nature to snipe at well-paid buffoons. But I agree that providing some personal color to things would add something, and maybe more of a mix in topics.

Strix Cratylus said...

Yeah, I don't have nearly as much free time as I'd like, and it's even more frustrating when you're itching to write, but can't get enough quiet time to do the necessary reading and thinking. But I imagine I'll still be doing this after all the kids have had Google wi-fi chips implanted in their skulls to allow them to just think at each other rather than go through all the strenuous labor of typing pidgin English on their phones. Like you said, organizing your thoughts is important enough to make a routine of it.

Come to think of it, you might be able to write for the New Escapologist, especially if you take the Costa Rica option. Maybe there's some beer money in that, too.

In other news, our boys Clutch are working on new material.