Saturday, November 5, 2011

Choices... Or, what's weak this week in the lives of the broken, the deranged, and the damned

From 2011-11 (Nov)

This is one of those mopey journal entries about my life, so if you are looking for something about social media marketing or alligators in Oregon ponds, you might want to pick a different post.  

There is your warning.

It is also very long.  But it ends on an upbeat note talking about how today was better than yesterday because none of the emails to my sons' schools required the use of the phrase "dealing with threats of anal rape."

You are now informed.  Read it or not, I leave it up to you.

A tale of two charts.  Good news and bad news. And a clear illustration of how the choices I make affect the lives around me.  Basically, in this way...  We are all damned no matter what choice is made, so it is time for me to gird up my loins, pick a shitty option, and wade out into the filth for a nice wallow in the unpleasant muck of one choice or the other...  Because even that is better than the current situation.

So, some background...  Honestly, a lot of background...  Grab a cup of tea or a beer or whatever, we are going to be here for awhile.

Last April, my youngest son moved back in with me full time, and his older brother followed in May.  They spent the previous year living full time with their disabled mother in Beaverton, and the school year with their grandmother living there trying to help out.

By the time the boys came back my way, the little one had been expelled from two schools and was killing time at home waiting to finish the school year at a private, outpatient treatment center for severely troubled youth. The older boy was in even worse shape and had not even attended school since December.  CPS was literally hours away from stepping in and shutting the whole scary and confusing game down out there...

Meanwhile, I was sitting on the sidelines, helping out where I could, waiting and ready to be called out onto the field.  Finally, I got the tap on the shoulder and, since then, I have been the primary custodial guardian of both of my sons for the first time in too many years.

Needless to say, considering the state the boys were in when they arrived here, I've had my hands full for the last six months.

But it has been a wonderful, well, five and a half-months, for my family. Both the boys did great and made tremendous progress up through the summer.  The little one, the one sent to the treatment center last spring, reached the point where he was ready to start transitioning back into his neighborhood, mainstream elementary school and the older one, who in many ways came out of the last year or so even more damaged than the younger one, while struggling a lot at school, was showing slow and steady signs of improvement.

Thus began October...  Unfortunately, the end of October would look very different.

On October 17, I received an email from the younger one's case manager talking about starting his transition back into the mainstream school system.  About this time, also, the older boy looked like he was really starting to function in school and, in spite of all expectations, might actually pass some of his classes this trimester.  (A fleeting hope.)

It seemed like it was time to let the older one start taking on a little more responsibility, so instead of sitting down with him and watching him do his homework for five hours every night (there is a lot of homework in middle school when you don't do any of your work in class), I started letting him, more and more, do his homework on his own.

Another piece of this puzzle that I've left out so far is the boys' mother.  She landed here in June, herself a wreck from the experiences of the preceding year.  By the middle of October, she seemed ready and willing to take on a bigger role in the family once again, so I pulled back a bit and let her...

What was that, about two weeks ago?  Really?  It seems like a month ago, at least...

So... Stepping back once again, a bit further this time...

Back in late 2008, I had to quit working for some time to deal with some severe health issues.  Between my health issues and the previous round of family issues, 2009 was a wasteland, as far as work was concerned.

By last fall, a year ago, I was feeling great and ready to return to work and the boys' mother had moved to Beaverton with the kids, unfortunately ending my role as a daily, close to full time Dad that I enjoyed when she lived right across the street from me, but freeing me up, for the first time in a long time, to really put my own needs first.

But before the major life change pony even got near the starting gate...

Exactly one a year ago this week, I received a "your mother is very ill, you need to be here now, bring funeral clothes" phone call.  So I went.  Today's Photo of the Day was taken on the drive to Sacramento a few minutes after I got the call that she was out of the woods and would probably make it.

However, she needed some extensive aftercare and I spent the next three months down there helping out in various small ways where I could.  While I was in California, though, the boys were falling to pieces with their mother and grandmother up here.

It was a tough time, but there was little that I could do about the situation up here (no one was ready to let me have custody yet, not without a battle that I could not, financially, afford to fight) so I stayed in Sacramento, where I could actually be of service.

Finally, by the end of January, the situation down there had improved enough and the situation up here had worsened enough that it was time to come home.  For the next couple months I was running back and forth between my home in Gresham and the boys' home in Beaverton almost daily, but still, there was little that I could do to help.

It took until April for the situation out there to become so out of hand that real change was possible, for them all to "hit bottom," so to speak.

But since then, real progress has been made.  I rolled up my sleeves, yet again, and just got to work on everyone's life issues and we had a great spring and a ridiculously fun summer...  Tons of fun. More importantly, tons of healing.  By the end of the summer, the boys almost seemed like normal kids again.  Tremendous.

My original plan had been to focus on being a full time parent through the start of the school year.  It looked like, with some financial help from my father, that this would be possible.  Then, in October, after getting the boys transitioned back into school, I was hoping that they would be in a good stable place where I could go back to work.

Of course, one of my favorite sayings is, "If you want to see God laugh, make plans."

The little one hit the ground running at the start of the school year and, as I've mentioned, by October 14 the special program he was in decided that it was time for him to transition back to a normal class environment because "he just hasn't had the intensity of the behavioral issues we were expecting, so it seems that [this program] is too restrictive."  Unfortunately, his brother was trending in almost the opposite direction.

As October was commencing, it was becoming clear that I wouldn't be able to go back to work anytime soon.  With the pleasant but unexpected news of the young one's upcoming transition and the continuing needs of the older one, this wasn't the time to take my eye too far off the ball.

Unfortunately, it was also becoming clear that our financial situation was just not going to be sustainable for much longer.  Each month we are starting further and further in the hole and we've had to make some tough decisions, like parking the car because we just cannot afford its costs right now.

I am not even sure where the budget hemorrhaging is occurring.  When your ex-wife is living with you and running the finances... Well, I just duck and smile a lot.  Too much probably, but it just seems easier that way.  I tried to work on a budget with her once...  We have too much baggage from our past left to sort through for that.  I'll just quietly walk away from the whole topic, hoping for the best.

Still, it seemed like things were running a little smoother.  While I still needed to be on-site and on-call at home pretty much 24/7, things did seem to be shaping up to the point where I could, at least, start busting my ass on some projects in the office nook in my bedroom.  It seemed like I didn't need to be providing direct supervision, being in the same room with everyone else, all the time.  The boys' mother seemed willing and capable of taking on this role, as needed, for a while, at least.

Because of these things, the middle of October seemed like a good time to start working on some projects that I had been putting off for a while due to all of the other obligations that God has presented me with over the last few years.

So I dove in, full time plus, working my tail off on some projects that would both lay a solid foundation, portfolio-wise, for when I was able to start searching for a new writing contract, and projects that I absolutely would not have time for, between family and work obligations, once I did land a new writing contract.

Also, the building financial pressures were making me feel the need to be working on something, anything, that might lead to some income for my family.  Even if the end result was only just shortening the amount of time it will take me to land a writing contract once I start looking for one.

Essentially, I decided, to streamline my on-line material and to work on expanding my on-line foot print.  To clean up my blogs, to link everything together, to build a solid web profile around the centerpiece of my (still yet to be built) work portfolio.

For the last couple of weeks I've been working long, long days and nights putting together the Rubblebase sites and launching a couple of other "small," on-line endeavors.  All big, complicated, time consuming stuff.  Then, when this work was done, I figured I could also throw a few ads up and maybe make a few bucks on the side, as well.

I think I also released an EP in there at some point...  And two music videos...  But it was old material already in the can and the videos were very simple.

There has been a lot going through my mind during this time, both during the long months working with my family and also during the recent long hours working on my websites.

While technical writing is a fine career for me right now, I enjoy it well enough and it pays decentlyit really isn't what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.  Originally, it was a short term career stop until I finished my education and could start teaching college.  Unfortunately, the health issues and the previous round of family issues has effectively ended my teaching career before I could even start it, since it will be years, at the absolute minimum, before I can realistically go back to college for my Master's and PhD.

However, since returning from California, I've been spending a lot of time working on my photography (my one escape vent!).  I've been doing this primarily because I enjoy it.  It has been nice, though, to discover that a lot of other people seem to be enjoying it as well.  By the end of the summer, redirecting my career goals in that direction started to seem like an idea worth exploring.  In fact, I have a few photojournalism project ideas in mind that I might seek funding for over the winter.     

And, of course, I will always be a writer first.  Yeah, I've got a manuscript in progress.  But that train isn't anywhere close to leaving the station yet.  However, thoughts of returning to journalism have been crossing my mind more and more...  My first love, but one long, long, long ago left behind.  In disgust.

Now, these two career possibilities are things that I would like to start working towards, but they were not really on the short term to-do list yet, a couple weeks ago.

The fire that got lit under my bottom a two or three weeks ago was the idea that, to really start towards any of these long, long term goals, and even just to promote my technical writing (my web, design, and photography skills) when life settles down into a place where I can look for a new contract, I really needed some solid on-line portfolio material.  Since I wouldn't have time to work on these projects once I started working full time, this was the time to get it done or to forever hold my peace.

At the very least, it was a way to salvage some good for my career out of these long, idle months and years.  Time that has been great for my family's progress through life, but not so much for mine.  Time that has been very rewarding to me spiritually and emotionally, but a very bleak time for me when it comes to my career (any career) and when it comes to my finances.

And, in a slightly petty way, it didn't seem too much to ask to at least have something small, like these web sites, to show for all of this time spent out of the career game.

At the top of this post, I wrote that this is the story of the two charts I posted yesterday, and it is.  It is the story of the chart about my hit counts, and the chart about my son's grades.  But those charts don't tell the whole story.

So, I dove in, like I said, and worked my tail off for two or three weeks.  Finally, over the last couple of days I emerged from my room, pale, shaking... sleep deprived and malnourished...  And I took a look around.

Things were not good out there.  I might have made some incorrect assumptions about the state of my family before I started in on these projects.

But at the same time, wrapping up this first phase of my on-line plans, I also sat down and took a close look at the results of my work, and I almost fell out of my chair.

I will start with the good news.

I would say that my vague plan was to build these websites and, once they were in place, they could slowly build their hit counts with me posting up now and then while working on getting back to work at a real job (and in the mornings and evenings now and then while working at said real job).  Now that the sites are pretty much done, I could also turn my attention towards some other, smaller projects that would support these sites and, slowly, build their counts and increase their possible earning potential.  Oh, and finally get a decent work portfolio up on line.

Then, a few years down the road, I might build enough of a following to start making a few bucks on the side and to be able to transition over into a different career, one more artistically or journalistically oriented.

That was my motivation here, the good, old field of dreams plan.  If I build it, maybe they will come...

In August and September, I was excited because I was pretty close to consistently averaging 500 hits per month each on Rubble and Democracy In Distress.  I almost felt legitimate.  Of course, this is nothing, but it the most consistent readership these sites had ever had, and larger than anything I'd worked on in many, many years.

Fueling this feeling of legitimacy was the fact that, when I applied to Google to place their ads on my site, they didn't turn me down because my sites were too unprofessional or too small, but because they were concerned  that Democracy in Distress might be too extreme.  Now that hurt my feelings, because I've always considered myself a centrist and, in fact, consider extremism to be one of the biggest threats to democracy out there.

But that was fine, being turned down by Google.  It is not like I was actually going to make any money with 500 hits a month!  The only reason I even wanted the ads was so I didn't have to deal with putting them on in the future, when I would be busier, and to have them there just in case something I posted went viral and I had a sudden spike in hits.  You never know...

In October, things just took off on those sites.  Not crazy spikes, but a pretty big jump.  A huge one on Democracy.  Still, not enough to make me change my career game plan, but enough for me to notice.

But what pretty much made me fall out of my chair was when I added up the counts on all of my content all over the web.  In October, there was a crazy spike...  Between my sites and my photos, I racked up somewhere in the ball park of 26,181 hits.

Oh my.  That, my friend, is starting to be a game changing type of number.  One that I have had less than 24 hours to process (hence this long post, this is definitely a part of my processing process).  I think I may be sitting down and taking a look at my on-line strategy a bit this weekend.  This is the type of number that I thought it might take a couple years to build up to.

Of course, these number, of themselves, are pretty meaningless.  And the way these hits are distributed, right now, does not lead to my photography or web sites becoming a significant source of income for me in the near future.

However, as a start, it is huge.  And it absolutely suggests, especially if these numbers hold for November, that it is worth taking some more time to work on channeling these hit counts into some sort of revenue stream.

Anyway, I suppose the encouraging thing here is that starting a new career may be a lot closer at hand than I would have thought 24 hours ago.  But there is a lot of work to be done if I want to pursue that and I have a very short time to do it.  Unfortunately, while there is a lot of work that leaps immediately to mind that will go towards making this happen, the initial steps are all very time consuming...  It is work worth doing, but I may not have the opportunity to do it.

Because, like I said, I wandered out of my dark room back into the lives of my family to find chaos and wreckage.

The second chart.

About the same time I started working on these projects, my older boy's grades stopped their climb from the cellar, leveled off, and started to decline.  I do not believe in coincidences.  I do believe that I was wrong in my assumption that he was at the point where I could back off a little.  That he was at a point where I could start to share my focus on his and his brother's needs with some of the other needs of the family, and myself.

And the big one, while showing a general decline at home and in school, is actually doing a bit better than his brother right now, who is rapidly collapsing back into his full on Beaverton angry feral child mode.  He is losing all of the friends he made over the summer and, the last four or five times he went outside to play, he came home beaten up from picking fights.  He is destroying classrooms again.  He is yelling, screaming, and swearing at everyone...  The violence, at home, at least, has not returned, but it is close.

Two weeks...

Earlier, I tweeted (to no one in general): "You are correct. This is not my happy face."

Later, I posted this on my Facebook wall :
So, for about nine months, I've been keeping one particular, disturbing picture in reserve for my Photo of the Day, saving it for a day so evil that it is the only image that could possibly convey the depths of my disgust and revulsion...
I almost posted it today. However, I am glad that I did not. As the day has progressed, it became clear that it was I who had the issues today, not the world around me, and that it was not worth wasting this perfect, evil picture on what is, essentially, my own bad, evil, foul mood.

(Boy, that is a lot of social media for an old school Luddite like myself.)

Clearly, I took myself out of the game too soon.  Obviously.  And, we had a spell very similar to this one over the summer when I was adjusting to some new medication (health issues are under control, but will always be there) and needed to spend about two weeks in bed.  Fortunately, at that point, the boys were not in school, so things didn't get that bad.

Obviously, mainstreaming the little one is on hold.  Conversations are being held with the big one's school about whether he needs to be pulled from the mainstream...

Two fucking weeks...

Now, I would not say that the last six months worth of work and healing has been undone.  But it has been set back.  And everyone is tired and wrecked and it will be hard to do the work to get us all back on track. But it must be done..

So, 26,181, I will see what I can do.  You may have to hang onto your money for now.  I could use it, but I do not have the time or opportunity to come and collect it from you.  (Oh, it is late, I misspoke.  I meant say that I may not have the time to entertain you for fun and profit!)  This might not be the time for a career change for me.

Hell, right now, it might not be the time for any career at all.

Unfortunately, that is not a real option.  This week, I've also been working on some putting together a pretty solid timeline and plan for returning to work, regardless of the family situation, in January.  I just hope we can make it that long.  The finances are dire.

What this means is, in January, if the big one is still requiring this level of support, he will need to be placed into a more specialized program, or he'll just be left on his own with his mother in charge of his education.  Like the last two weeks...  Like in Beaverton...  When he got straight Fs for one term before not going to school at all for the rest of the time he lived there.

And the little one?  Damn it.  Maybe I should have posted that Photo of the Day today?

Of course, this also means I have less than two months to work on turning those hit counts into some sort of income.  Not like there is going to be much time for it, but considering that it may be a way to eat food and to be home for the kids, I feel like I need to go for it.  But only working when the boys are in school and in bed.

I am not going to be sleeping much in the foreseeable future.

Things might get a little strange around here!

We'll get through.  But, at times like this, the solution always seems clear and simple, but also daunting.  It is, also, always the same.

I just need to get off my ass and work a little harder.

Oh, and to wrap up one loose end.  When I re-applied for Google ad-content last week, well, I guess Democracy In Distress is no longer extreme.  Does this mean that I am now to be considered mainstream media?  Oh joy.

If you've read all the way to the bottom, I am sorry.  There are no great punchlines down here.  Just a lot of whining and a little bit of bragging from me about the state of my life.  While I don't condone this level of navel-gazing from anyone, and I feel dirty and want to take a long scalding shower after writing this, it is still, admittedly, fairly therapeutic for me.

The one consolation I have, for myself, at least, is that my life is not boring.  One of these days, I may even speak of the nitty-gritty details...  But be warned, for on that day, the Photo of the Day...

I will leave you with this thought.  Several hours of my day yesterday involved emails to one of the schools with phrases in it like "dealing with threats of anal rape."  Today was definitely better, on that count, than yesterday.  Today only dealt with one of the boys receiving a half-day suspension from school for pantsing another kid int the middle of the lunchtime crowd.

But things like this are also why I end up pressing the post button far too often at 3:15 in the morning.  That is the time I have to work on these things.


No comments:

Post a Comment