The Year in Review

I don’t normally use this blog for personal things, but I wanted a permanent record of this, and Conventioneering is my most formal-ish blog, and it’s a nice place to have a permanent record of Stuff.

This year was amazing. It was also hell. It contained heights I’d never dreamed of reaching and also falls of unimaginable magnitude. I’m still not sure how to feel about everything. So much happened that in some ways it feels like four years packed into one.

As a warning, there’d discussion of death in this post, and also some vivid talk about a severe case of stomach flu. You’ve been warned.

2013 for me really began in 2012, in a way. In December of last year, I was finishing my graduate thesis, For a Muse of Fire, which I still have yet to publish formally (it’s hard to find nonfiction publications that will take your very specific genre and also pay you and also deal with essays works of more than 10,000 words apiece). Said thesis wasn’t the one I’d started with (this very blog!) but I think, in the end, it was a stronger work and one I needed to write. In that same month, I had applied for a bunch of jobs and had a really strong interview with the company LinkedIn, where I was going to become a marketing intern.

Except…

Well.

I’d had an interview with WIRED Magazine, with a nice gentleman named Peter and an intimidating and curt fellow named Adam. I didn’t think anything would come of it. WIRED was, well, y’know, WIRED. And I was me. I had exactly one published essay to my name, I was—and am—chronically bad at pitching and publishing, I was older than all the other applicants and kind of a wash-out, in my opinion.

But then I got a phone call.

“Would you like to come be an editorial intern at WIRED?”

I couldn’t speak. I stood there, struck dumb. Did I want to…?

“I understand if you need some time to decide…”

“NO! I MEAN YES! I’M DOING IT!” I shouted, a little too loudly.

“Oh, good. Your first day of work is January 7.”

It was December 20th. I blinked a few times.

“That’s… soon.”

“I’m sure you can do it!”

That was that. I sat down for a long, long time. I was going to give up my relatively secure and settled life in Boston. My dad owned the condo I lived in, and I had that one job lined up, a lot of friends and contacts… but WIRED. But… WIRED! Probably my second favorite magazine on the planet (my favorite is Smithsonian, and they’d rejected my application). I had to move to San Francisco, one of the most expensive and desirable cities in the world, within about two weeks.

Jesus christ.

My parents graciously decided to help me out. They rented a van so I could move my stuff into storage in my old room in suburban Maryland so that they could rent out my room in Boston. I worked furiously to try to find a sublet in the Bay Area, no mean feat when you’re on the other coast. Mom helped, as she was a San Francisco native with lots of connections out there, but there was only so much she could do.

While we were packing up, my dad got a phone call. I remember—the room was almost empty, the place echoing loudly in the absence of furniture, it was horrifically cold because Boston in December, and dad was crying.

His sister was dead.

She was only about sixty-four, and she’d died of complications from lifelong alcoholism and cigarette addiction, and here, I’m going to get on a soapbox and beg you: if you think you have alcoholism, get help. If you smoke, get help. My aunt looked about twenty years older than she was and could barely speak by the end of her life, and her death was horrible. I won’t go into the gory details, but please, please don’t let these things destroy your life.

As for me, I couldn’t even go to her funeral. I was too busy moving all the way across the country.

At the last minute, I managed to land a three month lease in the Mission district of San Francisco with a couple of dance instructors who were also pro-Palestine activists. The house was right across the street from the oldest Mexican fast food joint in the city, and also from a cute little German restaurant.

I’ve never lived in a more interesting or beautiful neighborhood. There were points at which it was trying and streets that were dangerous, but the sheer variety of the Mission, from 16th and Mission with the Catholic preachers screaming in Spanish about the end of the world to fancy-pants Valencia with its boutiques and sci-fi bookstore and weird curiosity shops and pirate supply store to 24th’s Spanish groceries and taquerias, I’ve never been in a place that felt more like my own place. I complained sometimes, sure; the house was way, way too cold all the time (high ceilings plus no heat means it’s usually 55 degrees indoors…) but I’d pay a pretty penny if I could return.

WIRED was tough. On the one hand, it was amazing to be at the essential center of geek and tech culture, to see people playing with Google Glass and getting preview copies of upcoming films on a daily basis. On the other, well, it’s a national magazine. Deadlines are tight, stupid questions aren’t well tolerated, and I was “just an intern.” I really could have done better in that job, I really should have pushed harder, pitched more, been better, but I didn’t. I do, in part, blame my lack of health insurance and thus my inability to continue treatment of my severe ADHD, but it was also equally my own fault for just not pushing myself harder. I constantly felt inadequate next to the other interns, and it didn’t help that I got the feeling that a few of the senior editors genuinely disliked me. My fellow interns were wonderful people though, and I do hope we can remain friends even though it’s over. I also became good friends with the WIRED kitchen staff, since it was my job to clean up the Friday night cocktail lounge (yes, WIRED has a Friday night cocktail lounge. Some journalism cliches really ARE true.) and so Monday mornings were spent shooting the shit with them.

Around the end of February, I came down with one of the worst illnesses I’ve ever had: a bout of norovirus. I developed a high fever and voided pretty much everything I ate almost undigested, and not by vomiting, either. My new friend Henry was kind enough to put me up in his house the second night, while I still thought it might just be food poisoning, and then the next morning drove me to a health clinic. They thought I had appendicitis and took me to the hospital. By that point, I had voided so much food from my system and so much water that I was completely dehydrated and unable to expel anything else. In the foyer of the hospital, I fainted.

I woke up about a minute later in a wheelchair. The hospital signed me in, and immediately put me on an IV. A few hours later, I had a diagnosis of norovirus.

To be honest, I think if I hadn’t gotten to the hospital, I might have died. I am severely underweight on a good day, and losing that much food and water over a few days… I don’t have the fat to burn to survive. I weigh only 98 pounds, any weight loss could be catastrophic for me. I was terrified. But a few hours on an IV plus some medication to help me keep food down worked wonders, and I was discharged that same day. Henry was amazing and used a service to deliver food to me: rice, apple sauce, and electrolyte fluids. My roommates were also wonderful. It was prohibitively expensive to run the heaters in that house, and they told me not to worry about it, to just keep the heater on and use extra blankets. Within a few days, I was mostly recovered.

The worst part about it? That very weekend I was supposed to go to Sacramento to visit family friends. I’d bought bus tickets and everything, and even while I was going home from work while feeling utterly awful I considered trying to catch the bus anyway. Surely this illness wasn’t too bad? Thank goodness I didn’t. Mother was also in Sacramento on business, so she and said family friends came down to visit me as I was recovering. We went out to a nice dinner, and by then I was even able to keep it down.

In April, my lease was up, so I had to move again. I missed out on another house in the Mission, and was terrified that I’d find no housing at all, but luckily, my mom’s old college roommate, Clay, offered me a room in his home at a discount. He lived in Bayview, a neighborhood known for being not so great, and a bit of a hike from my job, but his house was on a nice street and was completely gorgeous. He and his roommate, Brian, were incredibly sweet and gracious hosts. I didn’t do so well with Clay’s dogs, as I am Not A Dog Person and kind of allergic, but they were sweet pooches anyway and brought plenty of excitement to the place. I had a lovely time cooking overly elaborate meals and playing around with the bread machine and watching movies with them. Clay knows so much about San Francisco history, and it was wonderful to hear his stories. Brian was great fun and very nerdy, and we had fantastic conversations about music.

I also got to meet up with my mom’s old friends Joe van der Kooy and his husband, Alex Franco, both very sweet men. Joe would take me on long walks through places near San Francisco, and we’d explore all kinds of places in the area. I had such a great time getting out of the city and really getting to see places.

I also have to thank many people, but especially Matt, Andrew, Sharon, and Ekate, who all made me feel welcome and helped me out immensely at various points, and showed me around town. My time in San Francisco was the highlight of this year, a wonderful, colorful adventure that I will never, ever regret.

Toward the end of my internship in June, I had a decision to make. My lease with Clay was, again, only three months. Thus, I had a choice: I could either try to get a job in San Francisco and then try to get another apartment with a longer lease and stay, or I could return to the East Coast. I tried applying for jobs in the area, but with no luck, and rent in SF is ridiculously high. My student loans were also coming due, and I felt overwhelmed. I thus started applying for more jobs back in the DC area, where my parents lived. I figured that I could live at home with them, pay off my loans for a bit, and then, hopefully, someday, return once I had things under control.

I still regret this. I feel like I should have stayed, like I should have thrown myself on the mercy of friends and family, gone on unemployment and food stamps, tried to keep applying in SF, tried HARDER to apply for stuff in SF (I didn’t try very hard, frankly). But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

I landed a job in the DC area, near the air force base. It was a marketing job with a firm that worked with credit unions. They offered me 40k/year, health insurance and dental. It sounded too good to be true. The catch was that I had to leave SF early. My original plan was to stay for SF pride, then go to San Diego for a week with my mom, then come home. But they wanted me on the 26th of June, so I had to leave early.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID. I should have known that offering a green recruit 40 k right away was a red flag. I should have Glass Door’d them, I should have gone on Google Maps to see the neighborhood. I said my goodbyes and flew home, blinded by the prospect of money. My car broke down when I got back home, so my dad had to drive me to the place.

It was horrible. Dad and I almost missed it, because the parking lot was overrun with weeds and there was no sign. It was near a bunch of abandoned buildings and looked like it used to be an Arbys. All the lights were broken when I went inside, there was no secretary, and the whole place was covered in dust. It took me a few minutes to find anyone, and once I did, I slowly began to realize that the only working lights were in the offices of the CEO and CFO, that all the male employees dressed in ratty jeans, and that by “Marketing for credit unions” they meant “Spam mail.”

At one point, I answered an email on my phone. This was a mistake in itself, doubly so since it was regarding an interview with the University of Maryland that I’d scheduled, but was going to cancel because I had the new job… and then was thinking “well maybe I should re-schedule it instead.” At which point, one of the other workers asked what I was doing and I said, “Oh, just canceling another interview…” to which the response was “You had another interview?” She went and told the CEO, who then immediately fired me. Before she’d taken my paperwork, so I couldn’t collect unemployment. I was told that I was “too ambitious” for a job there.

I had given up San Francisco, come back East for a job, and then immediately fired. I guess on the bright side, at least I was living at home.

The next five months were a nightmare of job applications and rejection after rejection. I did a little freelance writing for a video game company, and even got to interview Harlan Ellison about the re-release of the game adaptation of “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” I got rejected from an editorial job with a tabletop game company because I argued that game companies should avoid the use of gendered pronouns in their materials if at all possible for the sake of inclusivity. I was told that 90% of their customers are male (patently false) and that besides, the grammar is too complicated for tournament players to understand. I’m sorry, but Dominion is an insanely popular tabletop card game which, as I noticed the other day, doesn’t use gendered pronouns on its cards if at all possible, does so with very little space on said cards while still having great art, and generally does a great job of inclusivity in their product. Why can’t you? I was so angry, it was a job I wanted so badly, and I let my damn morals get in the way.

In October, I got a job at a used bookstore as a warehouse clerk. I breathed in a lot of dust and did mindless shelving, got hit on by obnoxious crazy people, got stalked by a lawyer who thought because I’d wished him a nice day I clearly wanted to date him, and then was laid off within a month because the store didn’t make enough money. On the 17th of October, my grandfather died, sending my family into chaos as we worked out the fallout and the funeral. My grandmother was moved into assisted living, where she wastes away, constantly forgetting that grandpa is dead, unable or unwilling to advocate for herself, her body rotting because she has no will to try to re-learn how to walk after her accident, putting on too much weight because the nurses don’t care enough to help her eat right or exercise. Nursing homes are horrific places, they seem to exist so we can put away our elders so we can forget about our own mortality, instead of trying to fight that mortality or learn from their wisdom. It shouldn’t be that way.

I finally got hired by a tiny, seven person email marketing firm near my house. It’s far from my ideal job. The health insurance is fantastic, I get paid decently, but it still feels like a pretty far fall from working for WIRED. It’s the sort of thing I probably shouldn’t say in public, but it’s how I feel. I’m paying off my loans faster, at least. My parents are gracious to let me live at their house, but I still feel so trapped and bored sometimes, living out of the city in the suburbs. DC is no San Francisco, that’s for sure, and suburbia feels even more of a prison than it did when I was a teenager. I am still single, and feel like I will be forever, especially since I have a chronic aversion to dating (it takes so much damn time and 99% of the people are terrible and the remaining 1% still probably aren’t relationship material and god it’s such a hassle especially when you’re thirty minutes away from the nearest real patch of civilization). I’m 27 years old and I feel like I’ve screwed up somewhere. I imagined myself working my way up in book publishing or magazine publishing, not just working off my student loans in the middle of nowhere.

Next year, my main, and perhaps only, goal is to publish one short story and get paid for it. Just one. Doesn’t have to be a lot of pay either, or in a prestigious magazine (though that’d be nice). Just one short story.

Some day, I’ll come back to San Francisco, I hope. But it probably won’t be for a very long time.

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  1. #1 by jrronimo on December 31, 2013 - 10:00 pm

    Helluva year. I’m glad to hear you survived it, though, and I look forward to reading whatever story it is that you end up publishing. It’s a shame the tabletop companies passed you over; I really think they could use someone like you.

    Maybe where you are isn’t ideal, but it sounds like a good place to get your feet on the ground so the dust can settle a little bit. Hopefully you’ll be able to kick all that dust back up and in a very excellent fashion very soon.

    The best of luck in 2014!

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