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A lot can happen in two months...

When last I wrote, it was still summer vacation for me, with school about to start up again at Four Corners after the Labor Day weekend. I was facing down that regular turning of the year with a mixture of resignation and unrest—in my mind, I’d always promised myself if I spent more than 5 years moonlighting as a school employee, I was screwing myself over. Here I was: not quite at 5 years of working within the school district yet, but at the beginning of my 6th school year as an Educational Assistant. I hadn’t hit my silent deadline, but it was looming right in front of me.

But the start of the year came, and as much as I’d looked for work over the summer and dreaded this return to the norm more than usual, it was easy to get back in the groove. The staff at Four Corners is a pretty solid crew, so much better than what was the norm elsewhere. Before, most of the employees in my same position were ladies 30+ years older than me in a sort of semi-retired limbo, with a lot of bad attitudes all around.

At Four Corners, I finally had peers around my own age, a better balance of male & female, and almost everyone on the same wavelength. It’s hard to describe what that wavelength is… a sort of good-natured cynicism—black-humored, wise-assed, foul-mouthed, but still genuine & supportive. Just my style.

So I sighed internally and resolved to make my peace with another year of doing work that is, yes, important and rewarding and different every day, but for not enough money to live on and with no path for advancement outside of picking up a teacher’s degree. Is it any wonder that in the absence of anything constructive happening in my career, I so regularly threw myself into the deep end of my hobbies instead?

All of that to say, I was looking to shout down my inner doubts and reach a point of forced contentedness rather than make a change. Maybe it was something about that effort that made it all come together. Call it latent desperation: so subliminal I didn’t even realize it was happening.

But with my savings in the toilet, a couple money scares and more than my share of lingering and looming financial doom, I’d cope by trolling through my regular rounds for online job-hunting. Just enough so I could tell myself I hadn’t given up, mostly Craigslist and a few corporate pages I’ve got bookmarked, waiting for my lucky day. Careful to not be looking at any education jobs.

Thus it was that I took a look at the Portland subreddit, since I’d noticed after posting to advertise Ready, Set, Game events there that they had a monthly job-seeker thread stickied to the top of the page. Plenty of local outfits listed their openings there; I’d seen that Simple had someone regularly posting for their hiring, as I’d applied with them before. I didn’t see them this time, in that September thread, but I saw another company: Squarespace.

For context, this is a Squarespace site. Even now, these words sit in memory on a Squarespace server somewhere, in a room in New York I’d imagine, where they’re headquartered. Or as I should say: where we’re headquartered. Because while I’m still working in Portland, it’s for the very recently-opened Portland branch of Squarespace, Inc.

It all happened crazy-fast. I’d been a user for ages—I heard a promotion on This American Life way back in 2009—and I figured the company would be a good fit. It was working online support, and I’d done similar work for a friend’s company two summers earlier. I applied in September, not even two weeks after school had started, and only 10 days later I’d interviewed for & accepted a job offer to start the first week of October. Head-spinning stuff!

And what a turn-around it’s been already. Taking home almost twice as much in pay was certainly a nice step up. Let’s be real: I was making shit money before, but even so. I’d gotten used to making nothing, though not quite living on nothing. Hence money scares, debt, etc. But to skyrocket to double what I was used to, well… let’s just say I no longer have stress nightmares. I’m not exhausted all the time from laying awake worrying. And you no longer can track the figure in my bank account by my following my mood & sense of self-worth.

That’s the baseline for a positive change. On top of all that: holy shit I’m doing something where my background feels at least somewhat relevant. I didn’t go to college for this thing, no, but it’s honestly not that far from formal public relations, which I at least got familiar with. And four years of learning how to communicate comes in damn handy plowing through emails.

Ah yes, the job itself: online customer support. Doesn’t sound glamorous, but in all frankness I love problem-solving. I’ve always envied people in tech support positions at least for the fact that when they worked to solve problems, those problems could usually be solved. Working with troubled kids is all about problem-solving too, but these kids ain’t gonna be “solved” anytime this decade, for the most part.

If we’re counting, then, that’s two big improvements: pay and position. And then there’s the company and team. At Four Corners, as I said the team was solid. I had some concerns about our latest administrator (the most recent in a chain of principals who rarely lasted more than a school year), but everybody else in the building was a total keeper. They made that job worth coming back for: all reliable, supportive, and a fucking good time to hang out with.

That part has stayed true here in my new job, I’m happy to say. They’re a touch less cynical—I mean, come on, they’re not public school employees, so of course they’re less cynical. So I miss a bit of the old “we’re all in this fucked shit together” vibe. And on the upside, while Squarespace is indeed a venture-capital funded startup, that’s a hell of a lot more stable than tax-funded school district. Reynolds (a district I grew up in, so this is not just from a place of worker bitterness) laid me off three years in a row at the height of the recession, only to rehire me & a raft of other laid-off EAs every fall. Whether those moves were cost-cutting, poor planning, the ebb and flow of tax money, I’ll never really know. But I’m thrilled to no longer be subject to those particular whims.

It’s only about a month on from my start date from Squarespace, but already it feels like home. I get to work downtown, use my discounted TriMet pass to avoid a stressful commute, and I’m jazzed to see the folks at the office every day. Lots & lots of overlapping spheres of interest, experience, and perspective, but without sacrificing the spectrum of diversity. (Other than age, maybe—everybody there trends totally young, but again: startup, right?) I enjoyed the hell out of my colleagues at Four Corners, but I sincerely doubt I would have ever been running D&D games in a conference room there after hours. Which I now am, haha! And I’m already putting the perk of unlimited free websites to use

So I’m looking forward to settling into this particular groove for the foreseeable future. Already I know that the opportunities here are great. Staying within this company for the next 10 years or more is something I can absolutely see happening. And if that’s not the longterm plan, then halle-fucking-lujah, I’ll be able to take a more transferable skillset away from this than I ever could’ve gathered in public schools. That was, above all, my greatest fear: getting specialized enough in the field that I’d find my options trapped by a cage of my own making.

My Journalism degree still sits mostly unused, but who knows? By any measure, this is more of a step in that direction than just about anything that’s happened in the last 5 years. I’m excited to see where this takes me, and looking forward to sharing more about that in the weeks & months to come.

Amateur archaeology on a budget

Sometimes it’s hard to understand if certain aspects of your life are symptoms or causes.

I’ve got weird cleaning habits. In my ideal state I’m a nitpicky perfectionist about organization, systems of layout and arrangement, and that kind of keeping house. Less so the dusting, the laundry, and actually getting dirty shit clean. The deep brain layers just don’t seem to get as excited about it. I don’t want it to sparkle; I just want to know where it is & have it good enough to use. But, the perfectionist streak never goes away.

So this manifests in a lot of delaying tactics, hoarding, good old denial. Reliable pals. I still can’t handle the clutter though. I can build up some tolerance, some immunity, but it’s the same way a person living in a garbage dump might develop a tough immune system: you’ve just gotten better at living in a shitty life. And denial is cool but it doesn’t get the towels off the floor, the books out of piles, or the tumbling stacks of bills… actually, denial doesn’t do half bad on those. Point taken.

The moment still comes though when I feel a sheen of flopsweat over my whole body and a shuddering certainty that holy shit, we’ve gone too far. Too far with the normalizing, too far with the rationalizations, far enough that if I don’t sort out this mess right now I’m going to lose my mind. And not by accident, but like, drop it down a storm drain or fire it into the sun.

It would feel a lot more unhealthy if it wasn’t so stimulating. Like, whoa, I can see carpet again! Hot damn, there’s room for humans at the kitchen table! And man, this is taking all day but all the carboard boxes are gone and the pantry’s all sorted and I found where the motherfucking moths are coming from…

Yeah, some of these are dubious pleasures. I still won ‘em.

Mixed in with that there’s the mind-blowing shit. Because yeah, these papers are important, but not now, not yet, let’s revisit this in a couple of months. So the envelope gets added to the stack, swiftly forgotten. And it all worked out okay in the end. But then today, I come across DMV paperwork to renew my car’s tags through 2012, which I just did the repeat of this month to cover me through 2016, which means this watermarked DMV form is from holy shit all the way back in 2010 and sat on that couch for 4 years and suddenly this sound is playing.

I can remember a lot about that DMV form, actually. I remember more delay tactics, being summer-poor, the heat & boredom, I’ll-do-it-later, getting the ticket once fall came around & now the tags were expired, and the shape of the yellow envelope from the traffic cop, and whose house it was I was parked in front of. (And how did they know I was actually driving the thing anyway, since it hadn’t moved from her house in like a week?)

But after the memory comes the time. I can feel the years in-between then and now: the dizzying differences & unseemly sameness. There’s a moment of silence, not commemorating anything in particular. Just a brain with a tangle of concepts and a practiced reluctance to really connect the dots.

Because we’re still cleaning, right? Still riding the high that comes with it being 3 AM and we’re still awake and fuck you, we’re getting shit done. But later I have time to think about it. And I have thought about it.

It’s funny, because the more I inventory what’s left to chew through in this season’s purge, the more I appreciate how I’ve left myself landmines everywhere. Memorials to past disgraces & defeats sit patiently in wait, until my organizational zeal disturbs their forgotten tombs. Blasts from my pasts. In the war-scarred European countryside, they call it the iron harvest.

I can’t make up my mind if that’s my perspective on what I do, though. Do I forget these things, let the ignominy build up so that I can interrupt a decisive moment of inspiration with an explosion of time-released shame? Lord knows I harbor mild-to-moderate self-defeating & self-destructive tendencies. That could be the thing right there.

On the other hand, jolts like those DMV forms aren’t just raw nostalgia & ennui. It ain’t all sad playlists and self-pity. Sometimes it’s a reminder that, yeah fucker, get a load of yourself living in the past without even realizing it. You wanted to bust out of this gravity well but you fell back into the same old loop. You didn’t notice, but now you did.

Do I let the time bombs tick on the shelf because I don’t want to deal with it? Or is a part of me saving them for later… just in case?

Writing as momentum

We went dark there for a while! It wasn’t a planned intermission, but it turned handy there in the month of November.

I set my sights on winning in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), you see! And I made the decision with less than half of my 30 days remaining. I had a small head start, but 50,000 words is an awful lot, no matter how you slice it. But, hey — I did it!

I’ve made token efforts at participating in NaNoWriMo before, but always got waylaid by my perfectionist tendencies. I couldn’t just be happy writing “a story”, it had to my best idea executed flawlessly. That doesn’t mesh well with keeping up a daily word count.

My battle from behind taught me some interesting things about how to keep things moving when you need to hit a certain target in a writing session, and what sort of tricks you can use when you run into trouble. A lot of these are NaNoWriMo-centric, and focused on word count, but a lot of it is good advice when you just need to produce.

Create a short-hand code for “fix this later”. In my story, every now and then a word or phrase would get under my skin, and I’d feel I could leave it just sitting there. But if it’s not an easy tweak, that’s a good way to get off track. Instead, I started just sticking an asterisk next to the word so I could find it later with CTRL+F, when I had some for fine-tuning. Real-world facts I wanted to use, but didn’t know (the length between two places, say) became XXX*, so I could just keep moving to the important writing. Fact-checking is counter productive on a first draft.

If you change your mind, don’t despair: keep moving. After a long chunk of my tale, I realized a part wasn’t working. More drama was necessary. In fact, in the last chapter, things should have gone totally differently. Someone should have died. Did I go back to fix it so I could keep going? No. Reworking a big chunk of text can set you back big-time without adding to your word count. Note the change (in a separate place, or perhaps in the story itself, like “XXX HE ACTUALLY DIES HERE XXX”) and pretend it’s all fixed already. Imagine the way it should be, build on that premise, and keep on rolling.

Find a place where all you do is wage battle with words. My progress slowed to a crawl when I was writing from my PC at home. I finished much, much more when I wrote in one late-night coffee shop or another. Keep your eye out for the places with a good ambience, plenty of space, late hours, and free wi-fi (if you use Google Drive like I did). All kinds of things and concepts live in your house, and your brain is trained those are the things you do there. A new place has no preconceptions; you can assign it the associations you need.

A sub-optimal writing device can be just about perfect. My laptop’s battery is useless, so it’s not very mobile at all. Worse, knock out the cable and it does. So it is that I relied almost entirely on these tools: a Nexus 7 tablet, a wireless Bluetooth keyboard from Motorola, and the Google Drive application. The Nexus 7 is handy already, and can perform most of the tasks a laptop could — just only one at a time. With a separate keyboard, I could type just as fast as usual. And the device’s multitasking limitations, compared to a laptop or desktop, actually help keep the focus on the main goal: getting those words written.

As it turns out, 50,000 words isn’t as much as it sounds. If I’d started on the 1st of November instead of halfway through, it’d have been easy. And it’s not so much another way, too: I’m only about halfway to the actual end of the story I’m writing. There’s lots of events still to come. 50,000 words is really just a novella, like Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which is about 60,000.

I’m glad I made it to my goal by the end of the month, and I’m interested to see where the second half takes me. Even that won’t be the end, but revisions and edits have to wait for that first draft. I’m thrilled that this year, I’m already halfway there.

Where I'm at in 2012

Hey! It’s been a while. Funny how parts of your life get can be eclipsed by other people without your even noticing. I’ll hit the highlights:

  • Met a girl. Dated the girl! Broke up with the girl. (Repeat steps 2 & 3. And again. Aaaand again. Yikes.)
  • Got laid off  again! Got re-hired  again! Made it through a teacher’s strike. (Mostly, it was boring.) Finally got to the end of a school year with my job intact, which was sweet, sweet relief.
  • Got transferred. Got secretly transferred again, at the last minute. Wasn’t happy. Loving the new school, though!
  • Watched an embarassing number of TV series from start to finish.
  • Went to PAX Prime three years running. Played a lot of games.

Those are the pieces that stick out to my brain, anyhow. So what is this? What to make of this place, now I’ve got it up & running again? Used to be I pretty much talked about games & stories. Small sample size, I admit. But the theme is there. And even when my brain wanders away from strange habits like frequent blogging, it’s pondering and doing those things.

Back when I was last posting here, my sphere of gaming was much narrower. I’ve always been a tabletop fan, but in the last 2-and-a-half years I’ve had the chance to get to know the genre even better. We’ve been playing Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel these last months. We’ve tried out Mutants & MastermindsFATE (via the excellent Dresden Files RPG), ParanoiaCall of CthulhuDeadlands (using Savage Worlds), Void VulturesApocalypseWorldMouse GuardDungeonWorld, Microscope; with established favorites like D&D Fourth Edition and Shadowrun popping up fairly often.

There’s probably more games liberally sprinkled throughout — my memory ain’t so good! We’ve added Fiasco to the regular one-shot rotation. Done a few sessions of the D&D Next playtest. One of us is writing and playtesting his own indie games! And four of us went off the deep end (most everyone at least getting their toes wet) and got big into Magic: The Gathering, our wallets all the lighter because of it.

So, I’ll be focusing on those things I love: games and stories. I’ll try to think about how one medium speaks to another, and ramble about those electric, nebulous intersections. I’ll geek out about geek things, think out loud, veer onto tangets, and drill down on the littlest details. It’ll probably be erratic… but also, it maybe won’t.

New year! New domain!

Welcome to twenty-ten!

After more than 2 months of waiting around, I was finally able to transfer an old domain I’d let lapse into poverty and make it useful again. Word to the wise: whenever you renew a domain, there’s a waiting  of between 45 and 60 days before you can fuckle with it, transfer-wise.

So now, with those 60 days finally passed, The Nth Degree resides at, making this all professional and shit. Being a perfectionist, I loathed to post here until I could do it up right. Incredibly petty, or amazing resolve? You decide!

I don’t know that I’m going to keep doing the long-format posts that have been the only things here for the last 6 months. Squarespace offers a highly-classy iPhone app for posting to your site & tinkering with various things, so I shouldn’t be surprised if posts begin to approach soul-of-wit length.

It’s nothing astounding, but the wheels in my life keep turning even as I let this house moulder and decay. Here’s some things that have happened between posts:

I kind of forgot to keep playing Dragon Age! I have a bad attention span with videogames; I probably “finish” less than a third of the ones I buy, which isn’t a big number to begin with. The last game I recall completing was GTA IV — and even then, just the main storyline, not the side stuff. Anyway, maybe I’ll finish it? I guess?

I also let World of Warcraft die naked and alone! Not tragic, just my usual binge-purge cycle with the game. I’m sure I’ll be roped in again come Cataclysm.

I started playing Mass Effect 2! It’s pretty great! I don’t think I’m going to get into any real detail about it here on the site, but it’s a definite step up in terms of gameplay, visuals, and best of all: storytelling. I’ll probably even play it all the way to the finish.

My job is more different! At the time of my last post, I was working in a “special behavioral classroom” (or SBC) at an area middle school. I now work one-on-one with a student at an elementary school, and it is AMAZING the change one year makes (the 6th graders I was with, to the 5th graders I o now). It’s about to change again soon, as I transition into supporting a student with autism, as well. I shouldn’t be surprised if the topic of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) comes up in the future; it’s pretty fascinating.

Thanks to that job, I have my eyes set on getting a place of my own! In this economy, it’s not as shameful to live with your folks as it might be, especially for the recently-graduated (and those poor fucks still trapped with the intestines of higher education). But I want out bad. I’m building up a nest egg to make it happen.

I bought an iPhone! That much should be obvious from my remark about the Squarespace app, but it happen just about a week after my last post. This is also thanks to the job; I got two paychecks at once, in essence, and flush with cash I decided the time was right. I love the little bastard. I’m past the gadget phase, and it’s now just a ridiculously useful tool. (And mobile Scrabble platform for all my properly-equipped friends.)

Still doing the D&D thing! Not DMing at the moment, as I’m letting a good friend test out the waters with a homebrewed campaign of his own. It’s only had one session so far, but I think it’s been pretty great.

I submitted a proposal to Wizards of the Coast and never heard back! They say they have a 60-day turnaround time for the submissions they’re interested in, and I never heard back. Didn’t stop me from tweaking the email a bit and sending it in again! I figure, until I see the article in Dragon that makes mine obsolete, I’ll just keep resubmitting the fucker until they accept it out of pity, disgust, or the simple desire to make me go away.

Some interesting prospects on the horizon! This is all speculation, but I’m crossing my fingers that a nice change of pace is headed my way soon. I’d go into more detail (and maybe I will later), but I don’t want to jinx it just yet. And actually, I’m being so vague this really applies to two totally different things. Developing!

I am become adult, destroyer of childhoods! My job is actually full-time now: benefits, retirement options; the whole she-bang. From what I understand, they want me to stick around fairly long-term. Multiple school years, if I understand the plan they have laid out for the students I work with and the training they’re giving me. It’s not public radio, and that does leave a weight on my chest some nights. But I’m hoping that maybe, doing this is what will pay the bills while I work public radio in around it; better still, maybe this will just be the stop-gap I want it to be until The Stars Are Right and I get my job at PRI and Cthulhu awakens within his lost city of R’Lyeh. Anyway, I’m also managing and paying my student loans on my own now, and I’m getting my taxes prepped without as much help as usual. With getting a place of my own looming in the near-distance, it’s a pretty heady brew.