Sunday, August 23, 2009

One More Time

I imagine that everyone hates moving. I’m speaking of the physical process of packing up all your stuff, loading it and carting it over somewhere else. A new place to live, a new home to set up, speaks to the nature of new beginnings. It’s like celebrating New Year’s Eve, casting off the old for the promise of the new. And we don’t need any certainties, just the promise. It’s full of magic and hope.

That magic evaporated for me some years ago, the hope slain by the sheer number of times I’ve changed my address. To date, I have packed up everything I own and moved myself –

1 – May 2001, out of my parents’ house for the first time
2 – May 2002, my roommate and I found a better deal
3 – May 2003, my roommate and I found a 3rd person, needed a bigger place
4 – October 2003, moved to my parents’ as I was getting ready to move to Houston and get married
5 – November 2003, took all my stuff to Houston, had a panic attack, broke up with the girl, and moved back all in the same day. Possibly the longest day of my life.
6 – December 2003, found my own place to live
7 – December 2004, back with my parents’ thinking I may go to grad school soon. Didn’t.
8 – October 2005, moved in with a girlfriend
9 – December 2005, her lease ended, we got a bigger place
10 – December 2006, we broke up, found another place; February, new girlfriend moved in
11 – May 2007, sublet a friends’ place for the summer
12 – August 2007, moved to Chicago (first move outside the immediate Dallas area)
13 – February 2008, girlfriend and I split, got my own place
14 – August 2009, my building shut down for renovations, forced to find another place

Which brings us to today. My next apartment (keep your fingers crossed, I’m only just today filling out the application) is one quarter mile from my current place. And yet despite this closeness I have to rent a truck, pack everything into boxes, load it, drive it, unload it, return the truck, set up the new place . . . .

And this is after a week’s search. I found an adequate place, but kept looking. I found a wonderful place, but before I could say yes, I got sniped by the agent’s daughter-in-law’s mother. So I went to fill out the application at the adequate place, but they’d forgotten to tell me they don’t allow students. Then a friend gave me a lead in her building, and when I opened my mouth to say “I’d like to fill out the application,” I remembered to say, “Do you allow a cat?” They don’t.

Yesterday I saw, and decided I liked well enough, a new place. It’s big and it’s sunny. It’s on the top (3rd) floor on the corner facing south and east. I’ll have a dining room for the first time, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever use it except that for some reason the closet is in there instead of the bedroom. But then my closet is currently off the entry way nearer to the kitchen, so I guess I’m kinda used to that.

And I promise to love, love, love this place as long as I get to keep it until I can afford to pay somebody else to pack and move my stuff for me. But if it doesn’t work that way, and it probably won’t, I’ll just do what I always do. Shout at something, punch the wall, and grab some classifieds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Decisions, My Mistakes, My Life – My Own

This is my life now.
There are many like it, but
This life is now mine.

Many years ago I made a series of mistakes that took me upwards of $40,000 in credit card debt. The minimum monthly payments were equivalent, if not a little higher, than the combined remainder of my cost of living. Today, I couldn’t even tell you what I spent that money on. I can tell you that thanks to interest, I’ve paid back far more than that trying to clear it out.

When I graduated college, it was this (still escalating) debt that kept me showing up to my job every day. Customers asked me how I managed to maintain my constant level of energy and enthusiasm while wearing tights and a cape, and I’d answer, “I just think of my Visa bill.” It was a joke, and they’d usually laugh. But it was also true.

I allowed my debt to feed my fear of pursuing an acting career. I was safe and comfortable taking no risks. Indeed, my entire life I’ve been shiftless, motivated to action only out of necessity, and then only when prodded. Uninspired. Unimpressive. Afraid. Until I was 26 I was never outside of Dallas for more than a week, scared and homesick and nearly desperate to return to familiar surroundings. I didn’t even bother to lie to myself and say I was happy at my dead end job, because if I ever did I would realize just how much I wanted to be doing something else. But to do something else would make me vulnerable. To admit what I really wanted and go for it was too frightening, because if I tried and I failed would be worse than never trying. But comfortable acquiescence wasn’t the same as fulfillment, and I grew more and more unhappy.

I remember the moment the scales tipped. I had fallen in love with a most ambitious woman with remarkably ambitious companions. I remember the way she talked about them, and I wanted her to think of me the way she thought of them. I began to consider where I was in my life, which was four years out of college with a resume of a fresh graduate. The parade of life kept going after I had stopped moving with it, and as I stood still a new world washed over me. First it was a cold, dark and empty place with no one to point me in a direction I was willing to go, and later it became the world I fit myself into instead of keeping up with the world I wanted to be in. I remembered the passion I had begun to develop for artistic creation and performance, and my heart began to bleed and radiate the need get back into that world. I needed to catch back up.

I began doing voice overs and loved it, but couldn’t get enough work to make me happy. I applied for grad school and was rejected. I got into a play, but the rehearsal schedule conflicted with my job, and the money I lost was five times the paltry sum they paid me. The half-summer I spent in Cambridge was the most influential. I spent weeks working with my contemporaries and old school Russian professionals, and I earned the deepest sense of confidence in myself thanks to the praise and respect I got from fellow students and teachers alike. I finally realized I had nothing to fear. I was good at this, and being good at what I love to do lit a fire under me. I would do whatever it took to make this my life. I would go anywhere, suffer any indignity in the pursuit of my dream. I was still afraid, but that fear was quieted by my desire.

I came to Chicago on a whim. I had high aspirations of what I would do and be able to accomplish, and fear wasn’t going to stop me. I had established the passion in my heart, and I had confirmation of my skill, and I was in the right place. The only thing I was missing was a resource of income, whereby I would be able to pay those minimum credit card payments of about $1,000 a month and still eat.

I needed a job, any job, and I was here for several weeks before I got one. I took out a sizeable loan, sold my truck (sniff), cashed in my entire 401k, and in spite of the blessed assistance Heather gave me, I burned through all that money before I got my first real paycheck. I took any source of income that came along, including two menial jobs that each paid half what I was expecting to make. Soon after, I took a third job and got a promotion at the second, and I started to catch up. A few months later and I actually started to get ahead.

Money was the first tangible hurdle to starting my theatrical career, and it was the last thing I started to clear out of my way. Being in debt has ruled my life since I was twenty years old. I have ached and screamed and raged and cried over it, most especially once I began to realize just how much it was stopping me from living the sort of life I really wanted. The last two years it ached and palled working sixty to eighty hours a week trying to make up for my mistakes, watching my life tick away while I did nothing that made me happy. I hated what it meant to be working these jobs, I hated not having any sort of hobby, and I hated not having the time or energy to go out and have a good time with the woman I loved. It was like running up a rockslide, the ground sliding out from under my feet with every leap forward, bloodying my knees and knuckles and toes, grasping for anything I could use to pull me ahead.

Finally, blessedly, I made to solid ground. Through all these hours of toil and misery, exhaustion and sacrifice, money is no longer a problem. I’ll have the student loan debts in a few years, but that will accrue during the pursuit of a lifelong dream. Every cent spent on education is money spent well and to good purpose, which is far more than I can say for the first round of debts I incurred. I’ll still be living in debt, but I’ll be working for, and on, and toward my heart’s true passion and desire. I can live with that, and happily.

I never would have made it through without the constant support of one other. She was my relief and my release and I relied on her daily to sustain my sanity. I was grateful for her in a way I was never able to articulate, and every effort to do so fell woefully short. It was just one of the reasons I fell so desperately in love with her. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to give to her the love and gratitude and passion I carry, to focus on her the way she always deserved. If I’m very lucky, she’ll want me to. And if I’m very lucky indeed, she’ll want me, too.

As for today, and tomorrow . . . they belong solely to me. All other problems and hurdles are out of my way. Every obligation I have coming, every choice that presents itself and every decision I make is directly related to living the dream. The approaching days are the ones that matter most, more than any single day that has come before.

Coming to Chicago was a reboot, and a confirmation of my worst fears about really getting started on doing something important with my life. I’ve never had so much standing in my way, so many challenges to overcome, so many hardships to endure; but I’ve also never taken so many risks, or tried to accomplish so much. And when I look back over the time I spent here, I’m proud to say that for everything I tried to do, I succeeded. Every obstacle I faced, I defeated. And there’s only one thing I really, really wanted and couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried.

Maybe I am human, after all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I only have five days left at my temp job, and there's no one way to feel about it. It was originally intended to be a three month project. As those three months were wrapping up, I began to feel a bit empty. I had never before had an office job. I learned a new set of skills and abilities I didn't know I had. I developed a previously unparalleled work ethic and an obsessive attention to detail and accuracy. I was proud of what I had accomplished, and for it to end so soon after it began made me feel like I was missing out on a much grander part of who I was capable of becoming.

Then the job got extended and, nineteen months later, I'm the last one left. At the end of the first three months, a sixty person staff was cut to thirty. A year later, thirty people became seven. Of the seven, everyone but me has been hired on – or transferred to another project – by the company we’re temping for; so my last week on the job will be spent all by my lonesome. I was there on day one, October 10 2007, and now I'm Last Man Standing. It's an odd, lonely feeling.

I'm thrilled it lasted as long as it did. Compared to the service industry, it was such a low stress position it was virtually a dream. Creative problem solving was the order of nearly every day. The face and nature of the workload changed from one month to the next so I never felt locked into the same routine as I once had been, repeating monotonous patterns of drink specials and showcasing the salad bar and singing Happy Birthday a dozen times a day or more. I rose up a few ranks, worked lots and lots of overtime, and paid off FIVE credit cards. I became a manager, then a supervisor, and then the supervisor, all the while earning the trust and respect of the professionals who made this company their life's work. And this coming Friday, when I put my back to that building for the last time, I'll feel a well rounded sense of fulfillment and the swell of pride from a job well done, many times over.

But then what?

School is the next step. It was five years ago that I first made the decision to move on with my life, my dream, my career. After several rejections and a severe false start, it's finally happening. People keep asking me if I'm excited, but I don't know how to be, because I don't know what to expect. I know it will challenge me to a depth I've never experienced. I'm (most likely) getting a work study position that will utilize the skills and talents I acquired from my temp job. I'm going to be plunged into an environment I've not known in eight years with a group of people I've never met. I'm moving out of my home into a new one, most likely into a new neighborhood.

I don’t know what these classes are going to expect from me. I don't know these 10 other people to whom I'll be attached for the next three years, or if I'll have the opportunity to meet anyone else. I don't know where I'm going to live, and I don’t know what sort of lifestyle will be within my financial reach.

Yes, I’m excited. But I’m also terrified.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eating Fried Worms

At some point during Elementary school we read a book called How to Eat Fried Worms. The main character bet his friends $50 he could eat a worm every day for fifteen days. Fearing they’re going to lose, his friends distract him – they take him out for a day, keep him busy, entertain him, and keep his mind off the bet. It almost works; but at the end of the day, lying in bed about to pass through the veil into the realm of dreams, his mind flashes back to his daily cross to bear, and he wastes no time engaging his energies toward eating his daily worm.

This is analogous to how I’ve felt lately. I’ve been eating a worm every day for months and more than months, feeding my ache and misery and giving me license to complain and feel sorry for myself. I’m delighted to say my friends have stepped up and are keeping me distracted. Sometimes with small notes and messages of support, and sometimes with long phone calls. Sometimes with activities – I’ve been hiking in Utica, went to the Brookfield Zoo, sat on a rooftop and pounded back beers for six hours, passed out on a friend’s couch after drinking a few bottles of wine discussing art and politics – and that was just in the last week.

On my own, I’ve been reading a lot. I finished four novels in the last two weeks, and today I bought four more. I’ve been exercising a lot – I recently mapped the exact distance of my jogging routes to discover I run 26 miles a week.
I’ve cinched my belt two notches, and out of curiosity I got out a ruler and measured the distance between them to discover I’ve lost 2½ inches off my waist. Including the punching & jump rope routines I do, I’m in better physical shape than I have been in years.

Then there’s the writing. I haven’t expressed this very often, but being a professional writer was my first passion. I tried to write fictional stories once upon a time, but realized I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say. It’s been said one must write from personal experiences, but I never felt I had done anything interesting enough to translate onto a page, whether it be writing pure truth or transposing true experiences to fiction. So I made the decision to lead the most interesting possible life; to take more risks, learn new skills, practice a variety of hobbies, hold a few different jobs. I’m studying acting now because I have a creative beast within that must be fed; but it’s just one more step in the process toward one day creating and telling stories that breed inspiration, education, encouragement, and entertainment.

I blog not because I’m certain people are interested in what I have to say or the stories I have to tell. Don’t get me wrong; I’m an artist who craves an audience, so if you appreciate what I put down, well that’s an extra little thrill. But the main reason I do it is that writing takes the full extent of my concentration, a nicely distracting hobby that takes my mind off the worst parts of my day. I put my best effort into deciding what I want to say and how to order and structure my ideas into a smoothly flowing story. I spend hours choosing which words and phrases will best communicate the emotional and intellectual response I’m aiming for while keeping it all entertaining. One day I’ll think of a story interesting enough to publish and (dare I say) sell. By then my skills will be sharpened by my years of posting here, and I’ll be able to knock that out the way a martial arts student one day finds himself attacked in a dark alley.

But these days it’s all about choosing which worm to eat, and which to be distracted from eating. In the continued spirit of good news/bad news balance, I got a piece of each this week. I found out my last day at the “temp” job is Friday, August 14th – that’s the good news. I finally get to know exactly how much longer I’ll be there, exactly how many dollars I’ll have to rely on between now and the beginning of school. It’s been a huge question whether I could financially survive the span between my last paycheck and my FAFSA refund, and I now know with certainty that I will – quite possibly without having to touch my savings account to do it.

The bad news this week was an email informing me that my student loan amount has been “revised”. And by revised they mean it got lowered by the amount of my scholarship. It’s a fair thing to do, and I know I’ll appreciate it in the long run when I have several thousand fewer dollars to pay back. But it would have been nice to have this information months ago; I was planning my future living expenses based on a budget $1,200 a month higher than I’m actually going to have. So in short, this week I learned the question of surviving August is now a certainty, but the certainty of surviving the next three years has been called into question. I’m relieved I’ve been stalling on finding a place to live, because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d already signed a lease for a place I cannot possibly afford.

It was at the end of June when I took a smoke break at work and was approached by a man from India, as evidenced by his ethnicity, his accent, and the fact that he told me he was from India. He told me I had a kind aura and that I clearly was the type of person who liked to handle problems on his own without asking for help or support. He guessed my favorite color and number between one and ten. He iterated that at some point during the months of July and/or August I would be very lucky. Then he held out his wallet, asked for a donation, and when I gave him two dollars he asked me if I couldn’t afford ten. I told him I couldn’t, and it was true.

Since then I’ve been pondering what he meant by telling me I would be lucky. Now that July is over the window of opportunity for luck to come into my life has half-closed. And what are the most significant events of July? I got my heart broken by the same woman for the third time since January, but I finally started to figure out how to get through the day without looking for a way to win her back, so in a way I guess that almost balances out. I got short-term financial relief but long term financial insecurity, so that’s a wash. Am I supposed to become lucky in that my circumstances change for the better, or because they fail to get worse? I’ve not won the lottery or fallen in love, but neither have I been hit by a bus or struck by lightning, so I can’t tell which it is.

Of course, he never specified that it would be good luck. I’m going to see if I can keep my fingers crossed for the whole month of August.

Now where’s that worm?

“Every day takes figurin’ out all over again how to fuckin’ live.”