Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Utah-bound (yet another long-ass post)

Irony is hitting me from all sides at the moment. Maybe not irony in the most correct definition, but at least something similar to what Alanis Morissette had in mind (rain on your wedding day, foreign hair on your spaghetti plate, etc.). Actually, it's probably somewhere in between...something my friend Amber used to refer to as "bumper cars." For example, Amber just moved to New Orleans a couple weeks ago. I just returned from there, fresh and smooth as a newborn baby's unemployed ass, in February with three kitties for my new-ish apartment and thoughts of visiting her and ARNO on a somewhat regular basis.

I like my new-ish apartment. A lot. And I've spent a lot of time getting to know it along with the three kitties in this past month. That's the most kick-ass-est thing about affords you plenty of time to be humped over in your jammie pants in front of your computer with a small, black and white cat perched on your back watching birds outside the window. There's also lots of time to be spent on YouTube watching completely fascinating videos of bands you really love - or just know about, in many cases - but never got to see live and/or in their heydays (ladies and gentlemen - Bikini Kill...and Kiss...and Tool...and Helmet...and Nashville Pussy...and Deep Purple...and Blue Cheer...and Mr. Bungle...and clips from the never-released Rolling Stones flick, "Cocksucker Blues"...I've truly only scratched the surface, I'm sure). I reintroduced myself to the beguiling and dangerous world of napping. Never been much of a fan of napping for the most part. But for a good week or so I was napping a completely unacceptable amount. I'll always take my conscious mind over my unconscious (or subconscious). But the lure of the nap when you're annoyed or disappointed or stressed...oh, sweet nap...easily the most convenient form of escapism. And the dangerous part for me is, a) that I have somewhat depressive tendencies to start with; and, b) the fact that I cannot comprehend moderation at all...not a good combination of personality traits. It's a recipe for clinical depression, actually. So...ixnay on the apnays. But there's also reading. You can do lots of reading when you ain't got no job. It's loads of fun. Yeah, the "no steady source of income" thing sucks a ball or two, but it's otherwise a pretty nifty lifestyle. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, Tim and I both loved the new place pretty much immediately. We'd been stuck in a rut at the old apartment. The old place was cool, but the novelty wears off after ten years...and with stuff falling apart or not working and walls permanently stained with candle soot. I had no idea, though, how much change I was in for when I made that move. You jack with one thing, make one significant change...BOOM!...all kinds of (seemingly) unrelated hell breaks loose. Amber would be doing a delighted happy dance in front of me, clapping her hands and singing "bumper cars!" And I, of course, would be denying the more spiritual implications behind her theories. I'm a steadfast, utterly devout follower of the religion of Shit Happens. Amber and most of my friends believe - to varying degrees - that everything happens for a reason. I can think of no other platitude that makes my eyes immediately roll as quickly as that one. Because it's a fucking cop-out philosophy, mainly...the ideal that certain things are or are not "meant to be." Whatever. The only thing I really subscribe to with any sincerity is the notion that nothing happens for a reason (or everything happens for no reason...take your pick). Shit happens. Amen.

That's not to say, however, that many actions and events don't influence other reactions or events. Far from it. I just believe that coincidence is a more powerful and believable force than the idea that some incomprehensible purpose is driving the activities and/or mental/physical processes in this earthly dimension. It's just my thing.

As is my tendency, though, I've veered a bit off topic here. Back to the "loving the new place" subject. The place in question is in a very old building (1920s-ish) that, given the block on which it sits, could not look any more incongruent than if it were on the side of a mountain. It's a converted Spanish-style mansion sitting directly in between some sort of mid-rise commercial building and a group of stores along Oak Lawn. It's the only residential building on this block; there's even a fucking Starbucks across the street. Not that that's a unique occurrence. But even when I was moving in, I kept wondering if the days were numbered for this place. These days in Dallas, if you even think of looking at a building with some sort of historic sentiment in your head, you might as well paint a bulls-eye upon which somebody can take aim with a wrecking ball. On the western side of Oak Lawn, Rawlins Street is virtually entirely residential and makes for a pretty lovely drive because almost all the buildings are old mansions from various eras converted into apartments such as my own. Not on my block, though. (Feel free to check out the views from the nifty second-floor patio area here...)

At any rate, I had a couple interviews with a really cool company - doing pretty much what I've been doing the past fifteen years, work-wise - here in Dallas shortly after getting shitcanned from my old job. I don't know if I actually got the job - I know I was one of two finalists. But I think I discovered that the voicemail service for the landline I've been using since I moved in has never worked. Hasn't been an issue to this point because I mostly use my cell phone or email, anyway. But I know some numbers have shown up on the caller ID, listing folks from whom I'd expect a message of some sort awaiting me. It doesn't really matter now - and I kinda like not knowing whether I got the other gig or not - because something more fitting came along. Or, I should say, I came back to it.

The person who would have been my boss at this new job in Dallas had a sign in his office that read, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" I'm sure that's a well-established platitude with some folks somewhere, but I'd never considered it before. Shortly after seeing the aforementioned sign, I read the following by Barry Lopez from a recent issue of National Geographic magazine...

"My guess would be that someone someday will trace the roots of modern human loneliness to a loss of intimacy with place, to our many breaks with the physical Earth. We are not out there much anymore. Even when we are, we are often too quick to take things in. A member of the group who insists on lingering is 'holding everyone else up.' I think about this kind of detachment from the physical world frequently, because human beings, generally, seem to long for a specific place, a certain geography that gives them a sense of well-being.

"When I was traveling regularly in the Arctic, I routinely asked Yupik, Inupiat, and Inuit how they characterized people from the civilization of which I was a part. 'Lonely' was a response I heard with discomfiting frequency. The cure for loneliness, I have come to understand, is not more socializing. It's achieving and maintaining close friendships. The trust that characterizes that kind of friendship allows one to be vulnerable, to discuss problems that resist a solution, for example, without having to risk being judged or dismissed. I bring this up because the desire I experience most keenly, when I travel in landscapes like the ones made so evocative here, is for intimacy. I have learned that I will not experience the exhilaration intimacy brings unless I become vulnerable to the place, unless I come to a landscape without judgments, unless I trust that the place is indifferent to me. The practice I strive for when I travel is to meet the land as if it were a person. To encounter it as if it were as deep in its meaning as human personality. I wait for it to speak..."

I think he's right, myself. I think it's what's always drawn me to desert locales and is behind the reason I usually feel most inspired when I'm in the most desolate areas I can find. At any rate, the message on the sign and the words from Barry Lopez conspire in my case to lead me back to Best Friends. Allow me to elaborate, please. (As an enormous, you've-got-to-be-kidding groan takes shape somewhere in cyberspace...)

I decided in the summer of 2005 that I needed to move out west. I had so much fun and felt so alive during the road trip I took in spring of that year to see the dual rarities of blooming wildflowers and a temporary lake in Death Valley that I even traded in my Toyota Corolla for an Xterra. Having damn near destroyed the Corolla while making my way to the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, I knew I needed a truck of some sort. Yes, SUV Guilt is a bitch for a liberal, but dammit...I want to see stuff that can be hard to get to sometimes. So, screw the car...gimme a truck. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I love the desert - my favorite place in the world is Death Valley - and I wanted to find a job and a place to live that would situate me in the middle of the southwestern U.S. Preferably in an area that wasn't ungodly hot like, say, Phoenix. I realized Flagstaff would be the perfect location because it's a nice little town in a cool ( in regards to climate) area in Arizona, and I'd be a day's drive from all my favorite spots. For the next few months I spent all my mental energy trying to get myself relocated to Flagstaff.

Not so easy, as it turns out. For one thing, the cost of living there is pretty high. More problematic, though, is the fact that you pretty much are required to have two master's degrees and a Nobel Prize to get any kind of job in that fucking town. It's ridiculous. They have three main employers, two of whom can hire you if you want to have a warehouse job, and the other who will only hire you if you are The Smartest Person Who Has Ever Lived. Fuckity.

Needless to say, I started expanding my options to include smaller towns in central/northern Arizona and even looked at far southern Utah as possible candidates for the big bag of nothing that I had to offer. I happened upon a small town in Utah called Kanab. When researching the town, I discovered it was the home for the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the United States. As you might guess, angels sang and...well, shit like that. I immediately got my friend Ginger to print me off a few copies of Best Friends job applications (couldn't do that sort of thing at work and didn't have the capabilities to do so at home) and wasted little time in firing off applications to them for at least three different positions. Then about two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina absolutely destroyed the gulf coast, New Orleans in particular, and any respect most of us had for our government's ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

Suffice it to say, everyone's attention was focused on the gulf region, with Best Friends really leading the way with regard to animal welfare in the area. I was originally supposed to volunteer down there with the ASPCA and at least one other animal organization. After those opportunities fell through, it was almost by accident that I got in touch with Best Friends, who told me they could use my assistance. I headed down there for a little over a week in October followed by a second week in December...meeting the best friend I've ever had, my dear Wendy, in the process. As I've said before on this blog, those experiences with Best Friends in Tylertown, Mississippi, were nothing short of life-changing.

Once Best Friends had more or less pulled out of Tylertown and New Orleans, I got an invitation to do a work evaluation with BF in Kanab (also thanks in no small part to some of the group's founders, whom I'd met and pestered during my volunteer stints). In April of 2006, I spent a week in Kanab and was offered a position as Cat Caregiver. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to decline; financially, there was absolutely no way I could make it work. To say that the pay is low there would be an understatement. But not an insult or negative observation, as nobody should want or expect the pay at any non-profit to be good. They need to be spending their money on their objectives after all, right? And nobody goes to work for non-profit organizations to make money anyway. Unfortunately, I was just nowhere near being in the kind of shape to take on that kind of change in financial lifestyle...too much debt, too many payments, etc. Like most American consumers, I'd worked myself into a position that wasn't easy to escape; the more money you make, the more money you spend, the more obligations you have to fulfill. In short, I was fucked.

Fast-forward to the second half of 2007. The atmosphere at my workplace had become absolutely unbearable...the worst I'd experienced in my fifteen-year tenure there. I hated those people; most of us hated those people. And they didn't look kindly upon us. Every day there was more insulting, oppressive and offensive than the day before. I knew when they laid me off in February that they were doing me a favor. I just had no idea how big that favor would become.

I spent the first month or so firing off resumes to anyone and everyone. One day, however, during one of my usual cleaning-up-after-messy-kitty rituals, it occurred to me: two years ago, I was bending over backward to try and get myself into a position where I could be doing this very thing (or something like it) for a company I think the world of in a part of the world I was dying to move myself to. I told Best Friends when I declined their first offer that I would do my best to get myself where I could accept a job from them. I hadn't, of course...I settled back into my safe, somewhat comfortable rut and plodded along. But now here I was - exactly where I needed to be without having even realized it.

I'd been collecting unemployment benefits since the layoff, but I knew I was going to have to dip into the 401k at some point to make ends meet. Why not really dip into the 401k, pay off all the debts, pay off the truck, etc., and get myself to where I could make the move out to what I really love in a place I really love for a group of people I really love?

I ran the idea past Wendy (my financial advisor) and my folks (my reality advisors) to make sure my idea wasn't too irresponsible or stupid. Everyone was on board. This made me happy.

I just got back last week from another two-week work evaluation with Best Friends. (You can see some pics of the place if you'd like here.) They offered the gig again. I accepted. Life is good. Scary and intimidating for the time being, but good.

I'm scheduled to move out to Kanab by the last week in May. The apartment I love so much I will leave behind. It has become for me merely a transitional place of residence. My world turned inside out during the six-plus months I've lived here. I lost my dear beautiful, wonderful companion Tim. I lost a very close friend who revealed herself to be not quite the good and trustworthy friend I'd made her out to be after all. I lost a job of fifteen years (that I mostly hated). I turned forty. Amber, my close friend for so many years who saw me through sobriety, the onset of panic disorder and some level of depression, has moved to New Orleans. Though, in truth, our friendship has been slowly eroding for some time now...just kind of a natural process that sometimes happens. Things will never be the same. But that's for better and worse. And it's the way things should be, really, if a person is attempting to evolve and move in a new direction. I admit, I was failing badly at doing so prior to my move to the new place here in Oak Lawn. Maybe I should be a little embarrassed by that, but instead I find myself feeling really lucky to have my ass kicked so hard that it hopefully, finally woke me up a bit and forced me to look at my life and where I've put myself.

I've made some really great friends in the process of losing so much. Cindy and Kate have been wonderful supporters...better than I probably deserve. Older friends like Wendy, Ginger, Elena, Erin and Crispin - along with my family - have been predictably supportive in ways I hope to never take for granted. My new feline friends - Frank, Mack and Mary (named after some of the Best Friends folks I got to know in Tylertown) - have been a blessing.

Life is good. Scary and intimidating, but good.

Wish me luck, if you don't mind, on my new adventures. I feel wonderful about it all. And I finally feel, like the Doug Burr lyric currently at the top of this blog, that I've found that reason to sing that I've been looking for for such a long time. All I've ever wanted for myself is to do good, help others, and be proud of my life while I'm here. I hope I've finally found the road that will take me there.

But if not, if it doesn't work out and I fuck the whole thing least I'm giving it a shot. To finish with another great lyric - this one courtesy of the amazing Curt Kirkwood...

Slipping slowly up the rock slide, one thing always seems apparent...
If the climb becomes too much, I can always turn around

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Anonymous wendy said...

That was a long-ass blog, but you actually didn't get off topic too badly, or too often. :-) Good storytelling. You know I'm proud of you for taking this huge step. It is what you've wanted for so long. Whatever happens, you are doing the right thing.

Love and hugs

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Cindy Chaffin said...

I'm REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY going to miss your ass...oh...and the rest of you too.

8:40 AM  

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