Turning Pro

A while back, maybe a year or even two ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro. I then read the War of Art, not knowing that I had gotten the order out of whack. I really enjoyed everything that he had to say, and of course, like any creative I was inspired. That could be me! I thought. Of course, I had not yet hit those moments that he talked about, which are mostly getting out of your own way. Procrastination, perfectionism, distraction, vices, all of those things are what keep us from achieving our goals.

There’s a part in the book where he discussed knowing that moment when you turn pro.

He says that just like you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11, you’ll remember that moment when you realized you turned pro. For me, back then, I still hadn’t hit it. Recently, however, I believe I have.

I think it happened recently, amid all of these lockdowns and layoff threats and all the other crap going on in my life. But first, I want to talk about my Resistances.

Marriage and Divorce

I have mentioned before about my very messy, high-conflict divorce. My marriage and subsequent divorce was one of those distractions. In a weird way, it was self-imposed because I needed to hold myself back even then, and my ex-wife was sure as hell happy to oblige. Whatever money I made, she spent every dollar. Any time I had to myself, unless it was making money for her or spending time with her, was considered useless. Or I was abandoning her.

Family

When you have kids, it is endless distraction and endless expense. It’s a law of diminishing returns, as a good writer friend of mine always used to say. Or as my girlfriend always says, “I’ve had to be Little Miss Responsible.” These are both true. I was the sole breadwinner when my kids were born and I was expected to stay the course at a job I never intended to make into a career just to keep the lights on. I wrote to escape. I wrote to keep my sanity, and most of the time, it was considered something that detracted from the Family. I could never hope to get good enough to do it because my labor was needed. Of course nobody else was stepping up to the plate to work, but yeah.

Even though writing was something my ex-spouse knew I wanted to do when we first met. It’s baffling how bad people want to bleed everything that is good out of you, to change you into something you are not.

Bad relationships

After my divorce, I made the mistake of chasing someone who never had time for me, but insisted I was always available for them. They never outright said it. It was conditioning, and honestly, if I had better boundaries, I would have just walked away from it for good instead of getting sucked back into it. Well, fuck that noise. It was on-again-off-again, but it sure was a good way to distract myself from turning pro, that’s for sure. Since then I’ve discovered stability in a relationship, and how a healthy one allows you both to lift each other up instead of just walking on eggshells.

People just don’t get it

My family, my friends, and all sorts of people I know just don’t understand why I’m doing what I do. A couple times, I have even been told “well, you’re not a real writer.” You’d think that would get me fired up, but it really doesn’t. Especially depending on the source. Someone projecting their own doubts of their potential onto me, whom the are just illustrating they know nothing about.

The day job

The day job has been a major element of Resistance. Sitting at my desk for eight hours a day, I can honestly say that in the last 13 years of being there, I have become very efficient at what I do. The same crap that took me several hours to do might take half that time. So basically I respond to tasks, I fight fires. Above all else, I listen to a bunch of people in the office who never shut up because apparently they don’t have enough to do. Most days I put in my earbuds and I try to block out the jabber, because when you work in a fishbowl, you can kiss productivity goodbye.

This lockdown has shown me that in working from home, I can get a lot more done in the day because I don’t have endless distractions. I don’t have to physically or verbally respond to someone who reads an email or a text or an article online and just has to share it with everyone else. Even if (fuck that–ESPECIALLY if) it has nothing to do with the day job. This experience has been a lot like when you open a bag of potato chips and you discover how much of the bag is just air.

Everyday I get the passive aggressive emails of people announcing themselves, proving to everyone else that they are at their post and ready to work. Reporting for duty, sir! When all throughout the day, I can see via Microsoft Teams that their computer has been asleep for most of the day. Those icons are all yellow and red. You ain’t doing shit.

Epiphany hits and leaves welts

So, recently, I had a weird moment. My day job is laying off 65 or more employees within the next month. Then we will get to sit around for a month after that to make sure all the work gets done so the University doesn’t go to complete shit. Because even though that would happen if they cut us all loose, we aren’t important enough to keep around. We must be such a drag on the system. A system that pays people high six figure incomes to go to lunch with other important people.

Sitting at home, batting back all the random emails to do crap, something hit me. Without all the distractions, the job was simple. Honestly, it has allowed me to be incredibly lazy. It has taken up so much time in my day that by the time I get home to actually write anything, I am mentally exhausted. Not from the amount of work I have to do, but the sheer amount of distraction, and suck that comes from the job. Some days there isn’t a lot to do except for look busy. This is a time-honored tradition of State employees. It is fucking exhausting too.

The Problem

The little pings from work. The nagging little distractions. It takes up a lot of my time. I used to be terrified about the concept of writing full time. I was still tied to child support and my lazy ex-wife who still won’t work a full-time job, even after nearly six years. How are you supposed to have the option of cutting back on expenses to live your dream when someone else is walking around with their hand in your pocket? I have a part time job writing SEO content, and if I have time to write for them, I can make enough to live on. The problem is finding enough time.

The problem is not letting myself get distracted. The problem is not procrastinating. The problem can be solved by getting out of my own way.

It’s not you, it’s me

The moment when I realized my job doesn’t need me, that it is just a time suck. It gets in the way of writing, which even if it’s writing about coilover shocks for Toyotas or gutter repair, is infinitely more fulfilling than changing schedules around so spoiled professors get a four day weekend every week. (Yes, because we should all be lucky enough to get paid $80k a year and only work three days a week for nine months out of the year).

My amazing girlfriend said something the other day that stopped my breath right in my lungs. She called me a professional writer. It’s true. I supplement my income with it regularly. I’ve worked years to get where I am with it, in spite of child support hearings, people at work looking down at me from their lofty Ivory Tower, and my own sense of impostor syndrome looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s true! Even on those nights where I’m hating myself and thinking “tomorrow I’ll do better.”

The Game Changer

On this lockdown, I have been able to write. On the days when I haven’t been flat out depressed over the uncertainty of what the future holds, I have written. I have written paid blogs, and I have been working on my book. Without distractions, I have been writing my ass off. It’s amazing how much time you have in the day when you don’t have a “real job.” This last weekend taught me that!

I can write and do laundry and keep a clean house. The only thing missing from a day like that is annoying co-workers talking about ham or taffy for two hours and expecting you to chime in.

And maybe like Pressfield says, you remember it like 9/11. That moment when you turn Pro. It’s a weird feeling when you go from “Well, that isn’t for me. Not yet.” to saying “Why the hell not?” It’s just like anything else. You suck at it until you don’t. Then you keep working at it until you are confident enough to ignore that voice inside your head that says “You’re going to starve to death!”

The Future

Right now, when I lose my job, I will be no worse off than all of the other office schlubs I worked with. Or the people working for small businesses. Or retail. Or service staff. Except I actually do have a trade. I can string words together. Very well sometimes. Everyone I work with is freaking out about being *this* close to retirement and how will they ever live?! Not that they have been doing much living as it is. I’m over here, thinking to myself, “why would I ever want to retire from writing?” Some people actually start writing when they retire because they finally have the time for it. Well, not a long time, but time enough in the day at least.

Imagine that: getting to do what you’ve always wanted to do in the prime of your life instead of those twilight years , wondering if today might be your last. Well, folks, in light if this virus, tomorrow might indeed be it. Why not live everyday with the understanding that one day, we will all die? It’s in everything from Ecclesiastes to the Hagakure. Why does it take so long to listen to those words?

It’s easy enough if you try. And once you pass that point, you wonder how you ever lived before.

Bleach

For years, I’ve wanted to write a book about my experiences in my hellish marriage. I used to use these anecdotes at parties, because hey, they were great stories to tell and I could do them in a way that would illicit sympathy, as well as engage people in conversation. The other trick here is that people never really got a chance to know me. They knew my schtick, which is a big reason I stopped telling these stories. But lately, the way things have gotten here on planet earth in terms of people being hypervigilant with avoiding this virus, started making me think a lot about what I lived through.

I can honestly say that I hope this is not the new normal, because seriously, I’ve lived through it as a daily occurance. I don’t want to go back there again. At some point, this hypervigilance is going to just relax and people are going to say to hell with it and just either live or not. That’s the way it always has been, and probably will be as long as there are people.

So, let me tell you about Bleach…

I used to refer to it as the cleaning ritual. Every day, it was the same process. I would come home from work and enter the house through the garage. When I was married, we lived in a split-level home, with an attached garage. Nobody parked in the garage, because we had a feral cat who lived there, but that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I would come home after a long day at work. My wife at the time would be waiting, usually with the cat in her arms, and she would close the garage door as I stepped in. The ritual began with me stripping down to my underwear and putting everything I was wearing into a hamper by the door. My shoes were left outside in the garage. I had to rub my feet through a couple squirts from a half-gallon jug of Purell by the door too.

She would follow behind me as I made my way to our bathroom three levels up, wiping down the walls and bannister with a solution of bleach and water until I reached the bathroom. After I was done showering, I would get dressed in “house clothes” and then I would be able to return downstairs. Only then could the kids say hello, give me hugs, or even speak to me. She would spray the inside of the shower with a bleach solution and wipe down any fixtures I might have touched or brushed against in my stupid, clumsy movements throughout the house.

No shoes were allowed inside the house. Coats, gloves, all that kind of thing had to be sprayed with lysol spray or thrown into the washer immediately upon returning. The kids also went through this process, until they were pulled out of school to be homeschooled because she couldn’t trust them not to touch their faces or use their wipes unless she was right there.

If we discovered we were out of something like canned beans or milk and I had to go back out, I had to repeat the entire process again once I got home, including showering and the bleaching of everything. The groceries were also wiped down with a bleach solution, or if the packaging was not safe from water, such as a bag of flour or a bunch of onions or potatoes, they were lysoled. Then the floor where the bags had been was also bleached and allowed to dry. This was done with minor trips to the store as well as large runs such as Sam’s Club.

We didn’t eat out for nearly two years, unless it was takeout and it could be promptly brought home and microwaved to kill any pathogens. If the whole family were out of the house, we wiped everything–including our hands–with first Clorox wipes and then Wet Ones.

Each month we bought two or three gallons of bleach, six to eight cans of lysol spray, a four pack of clorox wipes, and at least six packages of Wet Ones wipes. The reason? My ex was afraid of norovirus, as well as other viruses. Noro is the Ferrari of communicable diseases. Most everyone knows of it as the “Stomach flu.” It isn’t a flu, but a virus that is usually transmitted through food, casual contact, but more importantly feces and vomit. It is very hard to kill.

Norovirus isn’t killed by lysol liquid, Mr. Clean, soap and water, or even alcohol. It survives UV light, and even temperatures up to 140 degrees F. At least, that’s what her medical degree from Google U said. I was a culprit in this too, since I read up on it to try to figure out ways around all of this fuckery, but just going along with it beat the hysterics and screaming that would always follow. Unfortunately, bleach stuck, because bleach kills everything. Out and about, when we couldn’t bleach everything, so we used the Clorox wipes first to kill any viruses other than Noro, then the Wet Ones to kill the Noro. Wet ones contain benzalkonium hydrochloride, which kills stomach flu, but not Flu or cold viruses. Clorox wipes or Purell kill those.

They also dry out your hands to the point where they are constantly chapped and bleeding. This stuff will also take your fingerprints off if you do it long enough.

This whole thing because when our youngest was just over two years old. This is before all the cleaning ritual crap began, Halloween, 2012. He had been sick from whatever crud the older kids had brought home from school. His mom had taken him to the doctor, but he was still sick. Not eating very much, and lethargic. After taking his temp, around 100-101 F–I took off from work to take them to the doctor. For whatever reason (maybe I’ll get into that later) doctors and PAs tended to listen better when I was there. This time, however, the doctor–a young Resident, probably about 29 or 30–was about to blow us off and send us home with a prescription of “Make sure he’s drinking Pedialyte and sleeping lots”, when I noticed my son laying back in his stroller, just twitching and convulsing.

“He’s having a seizure.” I said.

The doctor and my ex panicked. The “doctor” started shouting for Valium to give him. They didn’t have any at the clinic. Eventually, the ambulance came and by the time they loaded my son and his mom up in the van, he had already stopped seizing. We sat with him in the ER for another hour or two. The nurse told us he had had a “febrile seizure” which means in little guys, their bodies don’t know how to regulate temperature or handle a fever yet. So they go into a seizure, which is like hitting the Reset button on your XBox. He had been fighting a low-grade fever for days, and because he was dehydrated, his temp never got above 100.

For whatever reason, the nurses at the clinic where he had seized warned his mother that we needed to do everything we could to keep him from being exposed to getting sick again. This translated to the Cleaning Ritual in her mind. Though the house was still cluttered and we had half a dozen chickens, three dogs, and all manner of pet rodents, everything had to be constantly sterilized. The kids and I became the main concern for infection, oddly enough.

We would get into horrible fights over this. We went to California and she had to “sanitize” all three hotel rooms where we stayed, including the Duke of Edinburgh Suite on the Queen Mary. Wiping down all surfaces with lysol spray and waiting a minimum of three minutes for the germs to die. I have spent probably $100 in Targets throughout L.A. just because she couldn’t bring her own cans on the plane. Do you know how hard it is for kids to see the ocean for the first time and not be allowed to swim in it? Oh, they did swim in it, and their mom lost her shit. When we got to the hotel, they had to strip down, shower, change all clothes, etc. We had to stand for 3 whole minutes in place because we were waiting for the cloud of Lysol spray to descend from the air to clean the floor because she was convinced the maids had walked through the room when we were gone.

It was insanity.

I lived like that for another two years. Being accused of walking through the house in my shoes. Cleaning everything. The kids weren’t allowed to touch anything. They couldn’t go to the park or play in the dirt. I was expected to go to work and come straight home again. Christmas party at work? Forget about it. If visitors came over, the SECOND they drove off, we were bleaching the floors. Bathing the dogs they might have petted. The mail piled up because we couldn’t open it for two weeks in case someone infected had touched it before sending it. You can imagine how bill collectors felt about that. Netflix videos. All of it. Our monthly bill for cleaning supplies was around $80.

By the time I left, the bleach fumes had eaten the chrome plating off the fixtures in the bathroom. She got bronchitis which didn’t get better, in spite of having everything clean. I even called Social Services and they wondered what was wrong with having a clean house. Her bronchitis became pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure. I tried to talk to her doctors to tell them “She is aerosolizing bleach and breathing it all the time.” Chlorine gas isn’t good for your respiratory system. You’d think at least one of those doctors would have figured that out.

Finally, I convinced her to stop spraying the bleach. She was on oxygen all the time by then and being tested for sleep apnea. The whole time my brain is screaming “It’s the goddamned bleach you fucking idiots!!” Once she stopped spraying the bleach, things began to improve for her. Almost dramatically. She went from an expected lifespan of almost five years and “we are completely baffled” to “Oh, you’ll probably live another 40 years, easily!”

It was then that I filed for divorce. October 30, 2014.

You cannot imagine how liberating it felt to walk into my own place without stripping down and having someone follow me with a bleach rag because I was a contagion. I dropped washing my hands from 20 minutes per day to about four, total. I could breathe and live and be happy again. And you know what? I didn’t die. I did get the stomach flu once a few years later. I shit and puked for about two days and then I was fine again.

My youngest, who was now four years old when I decided to end the marriage, started going to daycare and caught a virus that gave him a cold and a cough for the next six months. Coughing until he threw up sometimes. Eventually, his immune system hardened off. Now the kid could probably bathe in raw sewage and be fine. He’ll be ten in the fall.

So, with this Coronavirus, COVID-19 bullshit going on, you might be able to see why I am reluctant to buy into all of this horseshit. At some point, the cure becomes a prison. My quality of life was terrible. My sanity was frayed, if not completely obliterated. I was forced into living like that, because anytime I protested, I was screamed at, attacked, and told I was trying to kill her and the kids. I figured it would blow over. It didn’t. It was YEARS of living like that. Being hyperaware of what I had touched. Where I had walked. All of that.

It has taken me five years to be able to touch a stair rail or a doorknob and not need to wash my hands immediately after. And now the government is telling us we are going to kill our loved ones if we do these things?

Maybe now, you can see where I am coming from, and where I am afraid the whole country is going. Sure, stay at home. Flatten the curve. Wash your damn hands! Don’t spread the disease, but at some point we are all going to be exposed to it, and it will be as seasonal as a headcold or the flu. Unless they aren’t telling us something. Which is entirely possible.

You see, you can control a lot of people with a little bit of fear.

We are the descendants of people who have survived polio, the Black Plague, smallpox, and a thousand other diseases that make COVID19 look like a walk in the park. I remember the story of Mother Teresa holding a child with Ebola. They freaked out and she said, “This child isn’t going to hurt me.”

I wish we all had that kind of faith. Maybe it was blind luck. Maybe she was a saint. But I’d rather not live in fear anymore. I did that already. If we have to be “socially distant” I’m fine with that. I’m tired of peoples’ bullshit anyway. I’ll be over here, being an introvert, because I didn’t want to go to your stupid parties and concerts and events anyway.

Right now, I’m what’s in.

Frustration and Staying Frosty

So, I moved my travel blog (not that it will be getting any mileage in the foreseeable future, for obvious reasons) to WordPress. It was supposed to be a little cheaper, and the domain host that I had been using was not that great. All customer service was done by automated responses to keywords which directed me to a Tech Info Library.

So, I moved the domain.

Only to discover that none of the content moved with it. But because it never made it to Google, I can’t even use the wayback machine to copy and paste a year’s worth of content to the new site. It’s gone. All of it.

When life throws those kinds of things at you, all you can do is find the lesson in it. You see, I have a LiveJournal blog that I wrote on from 2007 all the way until pretty much the end of last year. All of that content is still there. Unlike the blog site I paid for, which is gone, never showed up on a Google search in spite of all the add ons and bullshit I paid for, and now it is so much pixelated dust.

The lesson here is write locally, upload globally.

Kinda the same with my book. You see, people are buying and potentially reading my book, but they are getting copies of it from sites on Amazon that aren’t my account because I never get paid for them. The Chinese are notorious for this. Copyright? What’s that? I’ve had many friends who find their works printed off from China and they never see a red cent.

The only bummer is that I probably no longer have a PDF of the finished copy of my book the way Createspace had it, because I could just go to Createspace and run off copies for cost and give them or sell them to people. I could buy three or sometimes four copies of my book for what Amazon wanted for just one. I did this a lot. Because I feel like it’s better to be read than it is to get rich.

I know I’m not going to get rich. Money-wise anyway. There are other kinds of wealth. Granted, I wouldn’t mind selling some writing to help pay the rent, which is why I write SEO content for companies. It is usually joyless work, but it is more fulfilling than changing the same classes over and over and over again for professors who don’t feel that working five days a week is for them. No, they do everything they can to shore up their teaching schedule into maybe three days so they get four day weekends.

This is why I’m going to be writing about the underbelly of the Ivory Tower soon enough. I have 18 years experience in this kind of fuckery. It’s time to share it with the world. There’s a good reason Higher Ed is failing right now. Why one of the biggest crises to hit the US is the student loan bubble. That’s why the Feds are looking to bail out loan holders right now. They painted themselves into a corner by not allowing bankruptcies, and rather than bring back debtors prison, they have to do something. Might as well winnow out the small remaining loans so they can continue to milk the big bulls.

This, my friends, is how you get the Great Depression II. Inflate loans people can’t pay (but keep issuing them) and then the bottom drops out of the economy. Boom. You now how an impoverished class. Or at least an economic crisis.

And this stimulus package to just pay everyone $1000 to $3000 dollars? It reminds me a lot of the German state in the 1920s. Lets just print off more money. What color deutchmarks would you like to plaster the bathroom with? I guess if they run inflation up, that toilet paper crisis in the US will be solved. Just go to the ATM machine!

Anyway, that is my dispatch today. Stay safe. Be patient. And be kind.