Okay. I think I can finally talk about this thing.
When last I wrote we had just committed to a drastic and frightening life change. (Geeze. Isn’t “life change” a bloodless phrase?) Samantha, her 85-year-old father and I were moving halfway across the country where I would take on a steady and significant position on a small community newspaper. My position as prof at the college was never going to go beyond contractual, which provided us with an inconsistent pay cheque and no medical benefits.
The new position would supply a regular pay as well as medical benefits.
Moving, however, was expensive. Since we would be paying by the pound to transport out belongings about 2,000 miles we had to pare down to the bare minimum. And even that was going to cost us in the neighbourhood of $4,000. Sam’s father’s bed was a motorized job that weighed hundreds of pounds and our library consisted of some 6,000 books. Dishes were also going have to be left behind along with many keepsakes that simply weighed too much to bring.
In the end we whittled our furniture down to the bare necessities and retained only 10% of our library — roughly 600 books.
But all this sorting of the wheat from the wheat occurred a couple of months later. Since the position needed to be filled immediately, our first concern was actually getting there to start working. We decided our best course of action was for Samantha and I to pack the Grand Am with clothes, toiletries and other necessary items and get on the road. The newspaper’s advertising rep agreed to rent us a room in his house for the first month. I could work at the paper while Sam started scouting out a permanent place to live for us and her father.
Things were complicated a bit when Sam was hired as well since it meant both of us would be spending most of our time working, but in the end we found a six-month gig house-sitting for a reasonable rent on a farm a short commute outside the town. Sam’s father was still back in Ontario and living on his own. Getting him and our belongings (at least such as we could bring) was imperative since he didn’t do well without someone around to keep an eye on him. The farm house gave us a base of operations and allowed us months to find something more permanent for the three of us.
After one month with the ad rep, and another month on the farm, Sam flew back to try sorting out the stuff we’d be keeping while continuing to write for the paper, fact checking, editing and doing research and telephone interviews for me. A few weeks later I flew out (discovering in the process of landing that I have an inner-ear problem) and spent the week finishing up the sorting, packing and and library decimation while also writing for the paper.
Finally the moving men came, took away our belongings and we set out in two cars packed to the rooves with everything we could stuff into them. Sam’s father drove the Buick and I drove the Grand Am. In Northern Ontario we hit complete white-outs and road closures, but after several days finally made it back to the farmhouse, where I immediately drove out to the office and continued work on that week’s issue.
The moving truck arrived a couple of weeks later, missing half the boxes of books they’d loaded onto the truck. Although the boxes were listed on their inventory sheet, they disavowed all responsibility and if we wanted to make an issue of it we could get a lawyer — which, of course, we couldn’t.
Meanwhile, things at the newspaper had gone from bizarre to nightmarish. Sam was fired without warning after a particularly hostile and incomprehensible meeting. I was never allowed to do my job, and the ad rep, who basically ran the paper through tantrums and bullying tactics, started undermining me the same ways he had apparently undermined the editor before — to the point of telling major news sources to send all information to him, whereupon he would decide which items I should be told about.
I’m not about to go into all the details — not only would they would be tedious, but after a certain point they begin to seem unreal and I start to feel like a liar.
In the end we had to leave. We returned to Ontario in two cars with what few possessions we could pack into them, the rest having been hastily stored in a public storage locker near the farm and 2,000 miles from home where they would sit until we could save up enough money to get them back. We got a house-sitting gig just outside of Toronto and a short while later Sam’s father died. I was unable to get back into teaching, and so when the fall semester began I took on a contract as a notetaker for the deaf — an even less consistent source of income than that of a contractual college prof.
The house-sitting ended just as the semester started and since then Sam has been staying with a couple of friends while I stay with my mother. We have an apartment lined up for the beginning of November, and an unexpected cat-sitting gig has allowed us to be together for the week before and the week after Thanksgiving (Canadian).
Well, through this I pretty much had a breakdown, and the depression has been chronic. It hasn’t just been the failure — there was always the possibility of that — it was the nearly-inconceivable behaviour involved. I’ve never been one to put up with being bullied, but I was completely reliant upon this pay cheque in a way I’d never been before and I simply couldn’t fight back. Nor had I ever run across it in such a naked form before.
As we left, with our tails tucked between our legs and our lives in a storage locker we might never see again, I felt nothing but guilt.
Could I have grasped the situation faster? Could I have changed it if I had? Should I have done this or should I have done that?
As far as I could tell by any objective means, the answer to all these guilt-wracking questions was, “No.”
There was the discovery that the benefits promised over the phone were non-existent. There was the heart-felt warning given to us from the departing editor about the ad rep’s control of the paper and his near-psychopathic behaviour. There was the unbelievable lack of any semblance of professionalism. There was the very obvious undermining actions and bully tactics.
All of this should have helped me come to grips with the fact that I’d done my job best I could and that the debacle was not not my fault.
Plus both Sam and I won journalism awards.
But none of it helped. In a deep place I couldn’t reason with I felt totally responsible. I’d been a failure before, able only to bring in a subsistence wage, and now I was a catastrophic failure having lost us almost everything we owned.
During our house-sitting back in Ontario where I was on medical leave I took the time to start working on an illustrated children’s book about a hand puppet named King Cedric. It’s a concept I’ve had in mind for about ten years, and drawing and painting acted as a form of therapy. During this time, however, Sam’s father died (having never had the chance to see his possessions again) and I put that aside. Now with notetaking (and living in cramped quarters with no place to set out art supplies) I’ve had to put Cedric on hold again.
The notetaking is something I can do quite well, since it mostly involves typing what people are saying. But already there are lost hours, which means lost pay. I’m trying to find something more permanent, but not only is my time constrained, I’ve also had a deep sense of futility.
I mean, who wants to hire an old failure?
In the meantime, my mother, who had subscribed to the paper when I started working there, continued to get each issue and as time went on Sam and I began to notice evidence of trouble. The new editor had apparently been quietly demoted to reporter, the paper was consistently smaller, and odd messages on the ex-editor’s facebook page suggested a growing discontent — albeit phrased in such a way that no outsider would be able to pick it up. He even sent me a friend request on facebook, but I hesitated to accept out of mistrust. Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I responded.
And that was that.
Until last Thursday when I received this message:
I have no idea how you put up with it as long as you did at the A______, I really don’t.
I have never been in such an unprofessional environment.
I opened the message just as a class was about to begin, and upon reading it, burst into laughter. I regained control quickly, but as of that moment I felt lighter than I had in almost a year.
It’s now several days later and the old depression seems to have truly let go. It’s the beginning of Intersession Week (call it Reading Week or whatever) so I’ve got some time to make a concerted effort at refining my resume and cover letters, and firing off applications for anything with a steady pay cheque. And best of all I once again have the self-confidence (or at least the beginnings of self-confidence) to do it.
Concurrent with all this positivity, the old Humor Bloggers Dot Com site has reopened — the site at which I met bloggers who would become online friends over the years — many of whom have gone through their own personal dark valleys and come out on the other side with laughter. Or at the very least with entertaining smirks. (As opposed to Funky Winkerbean, whose smirks are anything but entertaining.)
So hello everyone. I think I’m back, at least on a semi-regular basis. And if you’re not a member of Humor Bloggers Dot Com, why not drop by and check it out?
As for me, I’m going to see if I can get back into laughing at fate rather than letting it laugh at me.
Nah, that sounds uncharacteristically optimistic even at my best.