Monday, January 24, 2011


"So what if all my heroes were the losing kind?"--Lucero

I have gotten to the stage in life where I don't really mind being a loser.

This is a big change since high school. I used to be obsessed with why I didn't have more friends, why I wasn't popular, why I couldn't get in a band, why I couldn't get a date, why I felt like such a failure. But one can only worry about such matters so long, and eventually, instead of just saying "I don't really care about being popular/cool/whatever," I actually became able to not care. When I finally found myself at the stage where I actually didn't care what people thought of me, I started to more be myself...and everything came a lot easier. I ended up in a career I love, with the world's most perfect women (who, eight years ago today, became the world's most perfect spousal unit), and in a fairly awesome band.

This is all, I guess, part of growing up.

However, coming to terms with where I am and who I am does not mean that I always succeed...or even come close. Yes, I'm in a band, but although we are (of course) awesome, we don't exactly sell out the local stadiums. Yes, I love my job, but it's by no means where I thought I would be (non-tenure in a different field). I think I write good scholarship (albeit completely unrewarded), but I have a terrible time getting the pieces I like best published. Let's not even talk about how long it's been since my job application material elicited even the slightest response from last interview was (I think) about three years ago.

These are all fine, though, because they all are the result of me doing my best, me really trying, and things just not working out. Maybe I'm simply not good enough, lucky enough, hip enough, or timely enough. But I can live with being out of step with expectations...because I'm trying. I'm pushing. I'm doing everything I can to who cares if I fail?

What I cannot deal all that well with is the type of failure which has no logic...which has no cause...which hits out of the blue, without warning, without precursor, without justice.

Friday afternoon, I was finishing my workout when the spousal unit came home. She had picked up the mail (she's a little obsessed with mail delivery) and handed my share, saying "here's one from your Human Resources department."

I opened it. It said that said Spousal Unit's health care had been canceled.

I cursed. I yelled. I more or less collapsed on the couch. Losing her health care would be bad enough, but of course, the spousal unit is now the pregnancy unit...and the idea of paying for a pregnancy and delivery out of our own pockets was horrific. It would've, quite simply, finished any hope of us ever recovering financially. Hell, we both have a painful amount of student loans, and I'm still trying to recover from the fiscal devastation that was my two years as an adjunct. Throw on the potential pregnancy health care charges, and I could easily picture Financial Disaster.

I began to plan for the fiscal apocalypse. How would we survive? I came up with a multi-pronged attack:

  • canceling the tv programming
  • canceling the internet
  • quitting drinking
  • never going to Howard's again (which would've saved money yet cost me my soul)
  • selling my plasma
  • changing my cuisine to a cat food base
  • having the delivery in our bath tub
  • charging admission to said delivery

The spousal unit took to researching lower-cost ways of delivery, clinics, pregnancy insurance, and so forth. All I could really think of was having the urchin, struggling until the spousal unit's insurance was reinstated, and then declaring bankruptcy. Earlier, a friend suggested auctioning off naming rights, and there was a part of me which soon began to give it serious consideration.

The financial doom was, though, only a part of it. I really had a problem with the random "out of the blue" nature of this particular terror. This had nothing to do with missed expectations, with personal failings, with any logic or order. It just was a giant ball of misery pelted my direction for no apparent reason.

This morning, after a weekend of agony, I dropped off the spousal unit and stopped by my university's HR department. I put on my best pleading/pathetic/panicking look (which was not an act in the slightest), stated my case, used the word "pregnant" about ten times, and threw myself on their mercy. After frightening me for a little bit, they decided to clear up the paperwork snafu and insure my spousal unit after all.

I cannot begin to describe the level of relief and elation I felt (and still feel). I can think about leading something close to a normal life again. The biggest lesson from this experience? As much as I don't expect logic/mercy/pity, it's amazing how much I can be shaken when the lack of any coherent order is rubbed in my face.

I guess when it comes down to it, I can handle being a loser. Being a victim? I'm not so good with that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

things going on

Whenever our schedules come into some harmonic convergence, the spousal unit and I, in order to save on gas expenses (thus lowering credit card bills and hopefully guiding us one micron closer to clamping down on the higher-than-I-care-to-think-about debts incurred in our student and my adjunct years), ride together to work. While the spousal unit puts the finishing touches on her morning routine, I stumble into the still-dark outside frigidity, crank up the car, turn on the defrost, install my coffee in the cup-holder, and set about scraping the ice off the windows. Then we pack up the car, climb in, turn on the music, and hit the road

Last Thursday, rather than put the mp3 on random, I asked the spousal unit to just pick an album. I sipped my coffee, she scrolled through the list before eventually settling on a selection. A compilation of Lynyrd Skynyrd non-radio songs began to play. I wasn't expecting this. Suddenly, my mind was wandering through reminiscences fractals, wading through iteration after iteration of Skynyrd memories.

As a beginning guitar player, having friends show me the chord structure of "Sweet Home Alabama," while assuring me that, as we lived in Skynyrd's hometown of Jacksonville, this was a mandatory skill.

Sitting in a garage with an acoustic, some fairly drunk friend of my friend's dad insisting "Tuesday's Gone" was a double-time, almost bluegrass number, and that I, by adopting a bluesy approach, was playing it "all wrong and horrible"...all while blowing smoke in my face.

Master guitar player friend sitting in my bedroom, picking up my crappy Japanese strat, and playing "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" mesmerized by the dripping tale of an unappreciated artist.

Out on my dad's boat, fishing, radio quietly playing some of the more acoustic Skynyrd, aforementioned master guitar player friend commenting on "the perfect fishing music" as I got snagged in the weeds.

Hearing "Four Walls of Raiford" for the first time, wondering why the radio didn't play some of this awesome stuff instead of sticking to the same five overplayed this one perfectly captured hopelessness and crushing loneliness.

My brother's guitar player/1957 Cadillac owner telling us about playing in a bar, having someone requesting "Freebird," him making the flicking-the-middle-finger/"here's a free bird" joke, and having the requesting patron throw a 1 1/2" thick glass ashtray across the bar at his head in response.

Coming from Jacksonville, I have particularly complicated relationship with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yeah, I know that every aspiring musician has to deal with their hometown successes, and I'm sure there are, for instance, a thousand Detroit-area guitar players whose stomach turns when someone requests Bob Seger (as, incidentally, would mine). But for us North Floridians, Skynyrd is a bit different. Pre-Jacksonville Jaguars, Skynyrd is all anyone knows of Jacksonville. And the image they have? Rebel flag-waving, George Wallace-supporting, "Freebird" yelling whiskey drunks. Jacksonville is way more complex than this. Hell, Skynyrd is way more complex than this. But the image, thanks to "Freebird," "Gimme Three Steps," and "Sweet Home Alabama"-obsessed radio programmers, persists. To this day, I have a friend who has, to my face, brought up the "southerners = Lynyrd Skynyrd = Klan members" equation.

I left Lynyrd Skynyrd behind long before I left the South, but eventually, thanks to Drive-By Truckers and a clever "Simple Man" placement in season one of My Name is Earl, I eventually found my way back. But I was living in Ohio by then, in completely different surroundings, a Southerner unrecognizable as such (thanks to my lack of accent). Lacking the Jacksonville context, Skynyrd just became a reminder, just something to occasionally prompt fuzzy nostalgia.

Last Thursday, though, hearing them out of the was different. The surroundings might've sported snow accents, but the bleakness remained. I was still driving through desolate landscapes (albeit without trees). After I dropped off the spousal unit, I crossed through an industrial zone full of warehouses, and save the cold, could've been on Beaver Street. A certain emptiness and despair entered the surroundings, and my mood altered itself to match. I was struck by how much of "is this all there will ever be to my life?" dug its way into my brain, and how strong was my desire to drown that feeling with whiskey. For the brief drive, Skynyrd became the over-saturated soundtrack of hopelessness, of ashtray-throwing critics, of fishermen and drunks.

Upon reflection, things are very much different for me now. I'm living in a much better place, with much closer friends, doing a job I love instead of merely tolerate, living with my true love instead of dwelling in emptiness. While it's true my life hasn't ended up how I expected, I am intently happy...and if this indeed all there will ever be, I will, 90 times out of 100, be perfectly fine with that.

But for one day, Skynyrd changed that. Hell, it's not even like it was in Lynyrd Skynyrd itself...they're too concerned with money, drugs, and sex...but that's where I saw it anyway. Maybe this says something about me.

I guess next time I should just focus on the endless guitar solos.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

new year's tradition?

I've just finished my black-eyed peas & rice, corn bread, and collard greens. It is the traditional menu for a good southern boy to have on New Years. My versions aren't entirely traditional(my collard greens, for instance, are boiled, drained, and sautéed in a ton of olive oil and garlic). However, it's all very tasty, and I like to think I fulfill the tradition aspect well enough by cooking it in the first place in spite of any hangover I may or may not have. Now, all I really have to do to make it a perfect New Year's day is to hang out, watch the Winter Classic, and contemplate the year that was.

This, though, is where my personal traditions fall apart this year.

In many ways, I'm in pretty much the same situation as always. My academic career continues to stagnate, and, by now, I'm pretty sure I will never get that tenure-track job. I'm still living in the middle of the student ghetto, still driving a hand-me-down car, still writing desperately un-hip scholarship for no good reason, still have most of my friends either currently or are soon-to-be scattered throughout the country. I'm partway through another job-hunt year without any response from anyone at all. By all sense of my normal New Year's tradition, I should be sitting here, working through a terrible hangover, desperately trying to think happy thoughts, and doing everything I can to avoid my traditional seasonal depression.

This year, it's different. Although so much of my life is essentially unchanged, for many reasons, I couldn't really be happier.

It has been one hell of a year. Instead of being the guy who perpetually thought of himself as a failed guitar player, I am now in a pretty awesome band that's played out almost a dozen times and should have a cd out in a few months. Instead of being the lonely whiner of my teenage years, I regularly hang out with the best friends imaginable. I have conquered distance: even though one of my best friends left the country, we still hang out, drink, and chat regularly thanks to technology. Instead of having doubts about my academic relevance, I published in a major journal, have another publication coming out this month, and have the best writing I've ever done (which has real revolutionary potential) in circulation. Instead of feeling like I've missed having anything resembling a normal life, I have a child on the way. Hell, even after a 3am New Year's eve, I woke up feeling great

What's led to this joy, this sudden satisfaction with life? Beats me. I wish that I had some secret to impart, some bit of "if you do this, your life will be as awesome as mine" advice to give. Maybe I was just due. Maybe there is some sort of cosmic justice at work...although I doubt it.

I suppose that, as a writer, I would be insistent on finding the deeper meaning, coming to some great insight. Normally, I would...but there's hockey to watch, a food coma to work through, and a spousal unit to look at lovingly.

Enjoy your New Year's's a long year, and there's always plenty of time for insight later.