Monday, February 08, 2016
I wandered around the shelves of my local bookstore this afternoon. I was looking for several biographies, but enjoyed the search to find them. I was reminded of the fruitless search through the archives performed by Kvothe and orchestrated by Elodin. Just like the former, I found myself wandering down rabbit trails of interest as I’d flip through books I had never considered. Sadly, I never found the name of the wind–or The Name of the Wind. Instead, I found many of the books that used to reside in my own library. I’m still trying to decided how I feel about that.
When I packed up my things this summer to make the move to New York, I realized that I couldn’t move all the books I had acquired over the last fifteen years. I went through them a number of times, and with each felling I cut the number of keepers down. While I was looking through the fiction section today I ran across my old copy of Silence, by Shusaku Endo. I bought and read Silence almost ten years ago after a glowing recommendation by Philip Yancey in his book Soul Survivor. Having it in my hands again made me want to re-read it. I’m not going to, but I will suggest it to anyone reading this. If you’re looking for a story about colonialism, catholicism, Japan, or sacrifice, or one that just introduces you to incredible characters, Silence is a great option. At least, as I remember it. I mean, it’s been ten years.
As I continued around the store I found another of my former books. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch, is another book that deals with sacrifice, colonialism, and raw humanity. It tells stories from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It’s a terrible sad book, but it also has threads of hope sewn through it, as there were people trying to help others during a horrific time in world history.
The last of my old books that I saw was The Art of Biblical Narrative, by Robert Alter. I read that book for my Old Testament class while I was a student at Wheaton College. This book was one of the first that introduced me to a reading of the Bible from a secular literary point of view, and my experience with it is certainly part of the reason I loved In the Beginning, by Chaim Potok.
At this point in my life I might best describe myself as a skeptic, and view the stumbling-upon of these three books as simple coincidence. But it’s a nice coincidence, since it was just today that I finished reading The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Bulgakov weaves a story about Russia and Russian society from the early twentieth century that deals with many of the same themes as these three former books of mine, but especially religion and the suppression of religion, and what it looks like to tell a story that those in power might not want to hear.
I feel like I need to give Bulgakov another reading, and sooner would be better. Regardless, finishing a book and seeing others that have had a strong impact on me over the years combined to reinforce how important storytelling is to me. Even though writing this doesn’t add to the page count of the musical I’m working on, it does contribute to my practice as a writer, and that’s always worthwhile.
*The book store is called While Away Books, and I feel like it's almost intentionally disorganized to resemble the University's Archives, for the very purposes I've listed. I like believing that this is intentional. It's romantic.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Guess how many times I’ve quit a well-paying, steady, benefits-included full-time job with nothing lined up after it.
Okay, so one of those didn’t actually pay me that well, and the benefits weren’t great. But it was still a full-time job, and I didn’t have anything lined up after it when I quit. And it was still in the midst of full-on recession.
The first time I quit there were plenty of reasons. I was teaching high school math. For some people, that would be enough reason right there. But I had more. I missed being a creative/performer, and teaching high school math wasn’t filling that void at all. I was discouraged a little bit by my own failings as a teacher, which mainly had to do with some of my character flaws and inability/unwillingness to attack them. I struggled some with my supervisor. I had a coworker who made me feel extremely uncomfortable at work, and I didn’t know how to appropriately handle that. I had grandiose dreams of moving across the country–back to Chicago–to rejoin some former bandmates and make awesome music again.
I gave my letter of resignation right around spring break, and did my best to put in a strong finish to the school year. I knew that I’d be getting two paychecks after the school year ended. I thought this would be sufficient for me to make it to Chicago. I was wrong. Let me recount my downfall: I stayed in my apartment too long. The apartment was bigger than I needed, and it was more expensive than I needed. I could afford to live there when I was working full-time, but I couldn’t afford to put so much of my income into it for the two summer months when I wasn’t heading to another job. There are several reasons I stayed in that apartment longer than I should have, not the least of which include having too much stuff, having no specific exit strategy, and being prone to procrastination. The biggest reason I stayed, though, was getting cast in To Be a Swan for the Oregon Musical Theatre Festival at Umpqua Community College. The show ran the final week of July and first week of August, so I needed to stay in town until then. This was my first real experience in a play or musical, and fulfilled a long-time desire of mine. It was also my introduction to doing live theatre, something that changed my life.
After failing to get to Chicago I ended up with amazing experiences in Oregon. I got to be part of two college coaching staffs, helping with a women’s soccer program that made me an even better soccer coach, and getting my first taste of basketball coaching under the exceptional head men’s basketball coach at Linfield College. I followed that up with another show at the Oregon Musical Theatre Festival, a return to my hometown, and a stint as the Director of Digital Services for a group of radio stations.
This is the second job I quit without having something else lined up. This story is shorter. After my year of coaching and barely surviving financially, I decided I needed to be a “real adult” and try to find another full-time teaching job. I had a teaching license, I didn’t hate it–even if it wasn’t totally fulfilling–which is more than many can say about their jobs, and I had too many bills to keep attempting what I was attempting. But when I could barely get interviews, and then was always coming in second to other candidates, I decided I had to find something else. A theatre connection I had helped me convince the general manager of the locally owned radio station conglomerate–oxymoronical, I know–to hire me to run the website. I had no experience, but I had energy, talent, and an ability to learn quickly. I was decent at that job, but hated being so connected to advertising. I especially hated it because one of the primary services of our website was reporting the news. I agree with the sentiment of many that no matter what, having news that is paid for by ads is fundamentally a conflict of interests, and I saw this play out again and again during my year at the radio station. As the summer approached and teaching jobs began to open up, I decided to quit and return to education. I believe my reasoning went something like this: no matter what job I have, it will drive me crazy, so at least if I’m working in education I will also value what I’m doing. It wasn’t the worst reasoning I’ve ever used to make a decision. And that’s why I found myself staring down the prospect of being unemployed around lunchtime of my final day on the job when my phone rang. Thomas, the husband of my cast-mate from To Be a Swan, was calling to see if I’d like to teach math at the charter school where he worked. Twenty minutes later I went in for an initial, informal interview. That was a Wednesday. I was unemployed the rest of that week, had two more interviews the next week, and signed a contract after the final interview on Thursday. So that one worked out pretty well. I had no exit strategy, again, and was only out of work for eight days.
I guess I should include the end of my time at that charter school as another example of quitting before I had another job. It technically fits, but I was really confident in my ability to substitute teach enough to survive if I didn’t get hired, and I wanted the charter school to have as much time as possible to hire a replacement. It didn’t end up mattering for them, as they couldn’t find a good replacement, and I did get hired full-time back at the school I had left before my attempted move to Chicago. That return wasn’t nearly as easy as I had hoped, but it worked out.
And then I quit working there. Again. After two years. Again. With the intent of moving across the country to pursue creative/performing opportunities. Again. But this time I had the benefit of seeing what had happened five years earlier. I turned down a lead role in a show at the Oregon Musical Theatre Festival. I sold or gave away as much of my stuff as I could. I loaded my truck with the rest of my stuff, and I left. I got to New York at the end of June, had a place to rent for six weeks, and started auditioning. I got cast in the first show for which I auditioned, and performed on stage in Manhattan by the end of my first full month in the city. A producer reached out to me to have a featured role in his short film, so I shot that. I got cast in a really cool staged reading, which has turned into a cool relationship with the director of that and a potential role in the upcoming off-Broadway version of the same show.
For now I’m back in my hometown. Once again I’m substitute teaching. I’m staying with incredibly generous friends, driving a car that my amazing aunt and uncle have allowed me to borrow, and writing my own musical with hopes that I’ll be able to produce it somewhere, cast myself, and see what happens. Life is crazy. I’m working on an exit strategy, so that these wonderful people who help me live this way don’t have to support me for more than a few months, and I’m absolutely ready to be out of this small town. I might end up spending more time in Haiti with my family in the coming months and writing and reading on the beaches of a developing nation. We’ll see. Regardless, here’s what I can say about my life: I’m happy, and I’m always excited about what’s coming up next.