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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?

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.

Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In

by Raymond Carver

You simply go out and shut the door
without thinking. And when you look back
at what you’ve done
it’s too late. If this sounds
like the story of a life, okay.

It was raining. The neighbors who had
a key were away. I tried and tried
the lower windows. Stared
inside the sofa, plants, the table
and chairs, the stereo set-up.
My coffee cup and ashtrays waited for me
on the glass-topped table, and my heart
went out to them. I said, Hello, friends,
or something like that. After all,
this wasn’t so bad.
Worse things had happened. This
was even a little funny. I found the ladder.
Took that and leaned it against the house.
Then climbed in the rain to the deck,
swung myself over the railing
and tried the door. Which was locked,
of course. But I looked in just the same
at my desk, some papers, and my chair.
This was the window on the other side
of the desk where I’d raise my eyes
and stare out when I sat at that desk.
This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

And it was something to look in like that, unseen,
from the deck. To be there, inside, and not be there.
I don’t even think I can talk about it.
I brought my face close to the glass
and imagined myself inside,
sitting at the desk. Looking up
from my work now and again.
Thinking about some other place
and some other time.
The people I had loved then.

I stood there for a minute in the rain.
Considering myself to be the luckiest of men.
Even though a wave of grief passed through me.
Even though I felt violently ashamed
of the injury I’d done back then.
I bashed that beautiful window.
And stepped back in.

—from Where Water Comes Together With Other Water