Showing posts with label gig life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gig life. Show all posts

04 October, 2016

Notes from the Bunker #4: There's more than one way to baptize a cat

 What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt - it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.  - Hal Boyle

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.  - Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher

Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

 There's something comforting about having to start over. At least, there must be -- since I tend to do just that, in some form or another, over and over again.

In my latest regeneration, I'm working as a waiter/grunt for a local catering company. That's my paying gig, anyway. I'm still at work on other projects like my podcasts (The Kentucky Muck Podcast and the up coming Alidade: an audio map), my poetry, and some new short stories. I'm applying to go back to school -- not to study English*, or Creative Writing**, or God help us Rhetoric and Composition***, but to work on plying my skills elsewhere where the machine isn't so broken and the culture not so apathetic.  But for now, the Parsons/Hay household needs more than one salary and "unemployment insurance" that does not insure any kind life above bare sustenance. And while I have spent the better part of six months looking for work using the skills and experience honed over the last 13 years, I am back to working with the one thing I have always been able to count on -- my back.

When it come to work, I'm not a snob. All work is noble and deserves respect. I've held enough jobs in enough fields^ that I know there isn't any difference between the respectability of "white collar" and "blue collar" work. When I was a janitor and when I was a college instructor, I saw work in fundamentally the same way:

Work is a massive and inevitable inconvenience that I seem unable to shake off.

 As I mentioned in a previous video update, my motivations for working have less to do with me than with wanting to be a good husband. I don't mind work, of any kind, as long as I have a reason. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that staying alive should be enough of a reason. You're thinking that I wanting to contribute to society should be enough. You're thinking that not wanting to be a bum should be enough.

Clearly you don't know me at all. But that's ok. Read enough of me and you'll figure it out.

Some might see my exit from 13 years of higher education experience into a field where I have
hardly any experience at some sort of decline. People who view life in this way -- as some mountain to climb, a la Sisyphus -- might see this as tumbling to the bottom only to have to try and roll the rock up to some unattainable pinnacle.

Embracing that kind of metaphor can be tiring, and I have too much to do that. Once I let go of the fundamental illusion  of "until" and "someday", life ceased to be a mountain and it became a river. Sometime it ebbs. Sometimes it flows. Sometimes, over the course of years, it changes course. But the current always knows where it's going. I doubt I'm going to retire from the line of work I'm currently in. But I know why I'm doing it, and I'm grateful to have the work. I may not be able to avoid the inconvenience of it just yet. But I can follow the current.

*Not Again.
**Writers learn to write by writing. And failing. And more writing.
***Hell, no.
^I can honestly say the only kind of job I haven't had yet is a nightwatchman. But I'm young. There's time.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:

22 January, 2016

Snowed in along the dirty, sacred river: #zombiesnopocalypse2016/Marchof the politicos

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. -Ambrose Bierce
Genius is an African who dreams up snow. - Vladimir Nabokov

1. #zombiesnowpocalypse2016

pic by Daniel Lewis Sherrill, a Kroger near UofL
 The truth is, I don't mind being snowed in as long as I have a few necessaries at hand:

  • coffee, to help me wake up;
  • a place to write and supplies to write on and with;
  • books and music (and instruments) to keep me entertained;
  • simple food (rice beans, chili, PBandJ, and some kind of fruit and veggies) to stay alive;
  • pipe tobacco;
  • water, to stay hydrated; and
  • bourbon -- because, well, BOURBON.
And now that #zombiesnopocalypse2016 is upon us in full, my bearish tendencies to hibernate with my supplies kicks in.

Winter in the Lower Ohio River Valley is a contest between those things that force me outside of the house and my body's hatred of the cold -- as well as everyone else's general inability to drive in inclement weather.

When I lived further north, in the tundra of northwest Illinois* I felt much safer going outside during snow events because people were far more pragmatic. There was none of the running after bread, toilet paper, and milk when reports of another snow dump were announced. People prepared calmly, deliberately, and still managed to get out for church, the coffee shop, or to have a few drinks at the bar. The only thing missing were the warm weather tourists making their way from Chicago to Galena to visit artisan shops and a house Ulysses S. Grant used to live in. **   Locals only. Very quiet. And of those, only the ones who really know how to drive go out. Sometimes, that just means the workers with the street and county highway departments.

Now that I'm back home in the land carved out by water, I battle the cold getting into by bones and staying there (whether I'm indoors or not), those obligations that drive me out into the weather, and people's general inability to handle driving in snow and ice. I'm less nervous about the general conditions than I am the lack of someone else's insurance coverage. Generally, I stick to my natural inclinations whenever possible. I'm safely wrapped away in the bunker down here in the south end of Louisville with all of the above mentioned supplies, Amanda, our dog Gypsi and Wasabi the Cat.

It's important to take care and appreciate the little things. My employment outlook of late has not been great. I'm putting together some freelance work and I'm teaching two days a week. This leaves me plenty of time for other things, but sometimes other things don't pay the power company. I'm looking for opportunities and remain optimistic, though. There's no reliable gravy train in this gig economy -- this part-time worker's paradise*** that President Obama and the Democratic Party count as an economic recovery. Getting by means living by piece work. I don't mind it so much, but it seems selfish to have to have three jobs when there are people who don't have one.

But, that's the capitalist system for you. Ensuring that you work harder for less so that the exceptionally rich don't have to work at all -- leaving them time to take care all that tedious domestic governing and foreign policy muckety muck.^

It's important to take care and appreciate the little things. I have shelter, and a woman who loves me. I'm not starving, and I do get to indulge in some creature comforts. Happy is a surprisingly simply state of being.

2. March of the Politicos

Life never ceases to be strange.  But I suppose if I were the sort of person who could keep my elephant mouth^^ shut, these kinds of things wouldn't happen.

The first time I can recall my tendency to fill empty space with the sound of my voice was during my undergraduate years at Morehead State University. One of the more radical faculty members of the English Department^^^ was trying to organize a LGBT organization for students, faculty, and staff. This was during the mid-90's before the alphabet soup was truly a part of the cultural language.  The all-inclusive buzz term was "alternative lifestyle."+ Patty was looking for supportive people across the campus to come to the first meeting. She asked me to come out and show my support. So I did. There was maybe 30 people in attendance. Looking around, I saw that I was the only non-queer in attendance. Patty opened up the meeting, but no one would talk. This was Eastern Kentucky, and even though there was a large community of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual folks there, it was still not safe to be TOO out. No one would talk. No one offered ideas. It was very quiet and very awkward.

So I spoke. I don't remember what I said, except that I qualified my position as someone supportive of everyone's right to be happy and be who they are without judgement. I can get a little fire-brand when I get warmed up -- I was probably supposed to be a preacher -- and by the time the meeting was over we decided on an initial course of action and the next social activity (a movie night).

I was also unanimously elected President of MSU's Alternative Lifestyle Organization (ALSO).

My tenure was short for a couple of reasons. Part of it was I didn't feel like I was the person who needed to be the voice of the queer community in MSU. Someone queer needed to be the voice of the queer community at MSU. The other issue was that I was already on the path of what would end up being a very messy and painful divorce, and when I went home and told my daughter's mother that I'd been elected President of the campus alternative lifestyle organization.

Her response: "Are you gay?"
Me: "No. Do I have to be?"
Her response: "Sigh."

Needless to say, it was one more nail in a coffin of a marriage.

That sort of thing happens to me on a not-regular basis. I open my big mouth and end up being responsible for something.

Part of the burden of being a vocal (some might say articulate) and opinionated (read: stubborn) person is that sometimes you have to step up to the line you mark in the sand. It's not enough to talk the talk. You have to walk the walk, too.  And because one of the many things I love going off about is politics++, people sometimes make assumptions about me.

What confounds me, though, is how, when I am
  1. Branch Secretary of the Kentucky Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, 
  2. openly critical of all politicians and both major parties, and 
  3. openly cynical about the usefulness of politicians and government in general

I have been asked to run for a public office not ONCE, but TWICE.

The first time happened when my local metro councilman, Dan Johnson, was up for re-election. He's been a metro councilman for District 21 for 30 years, and is generally thought of as a nice, but not terribly bright guy. He gets elected  because he's a registered democrat in a traditionally democratic part of town in a generally democratic leaning city. I won't go through all of the issues with Dan here, but you get the impression after a while that he makes most of his decisions driving home or between games of Texas Hold'em on his smart phone. I was approached over social media by some people in the neighborhood, asking me to run. I turned them down because they were very clearly mistaken. They assumed that because I'm in my early 40's and openly critical of an incumbent democrat that I must be a libertarian. I'm not.

So, when a local mover and shaker who I know casually -- and who I like, really -- wanted a meeting with me to talk about ways to take back the Democratic Party, I was naturally curious. I broke with the Democratic Party after it was clear to me that they had broken with me and with everyone else it claims to be "there" for. In most every way, they are WORSE than the Republican Party.

He asked me to file and run to be a legislative chair for the Kentucky Democratic Party -- the very party whose malfeasance and ineptitude handed the governor's mansion to a tin pot little fascist who, contrary to his party affiliation, really isn't a Republican. He's a far-right neoliberal. He's the newest face in the rise of the American nuevo-nazi party. And I don't feel like I'm going overboard with that description. Republicans, at the end of the day, tend to be pragmatic. Yes, they're ideological... but to a point. Bevin wants to push austerity measures on Kentucky because he has a politician's taste for power and a zealot's belief that God is on his side -- regardless whether the deity endorses him or not.

This mover and shaker is trying to fix the Democratic Party from the inside, and I wish him well. And I won't lie -- I was tempted. He was ok when I told him I'm a Wob. He didn't even blink when I announced my anti-capitalist stance.

But he was stymied when I told him I'm not a registered Democrat and that I was unwilling to change my affiliation for the sake of expediency and the hope of fixing a broken political party.

I wished him well and we parted on good terms. I told him I'd still think about it, but I suspect he's already made other plans.
*Mount Carroll, IL, I love you. Hopefully I'll get up that way when the spring thaw hits.
** He was born in Pt. Pleasant, OH, near where I grew up. Not to be confused with Point Pleasant, WV, home of The Mothman Festival.
*** The Democratic Party is far more dangerous than the Republican Party. You can see the GOP coming. They don't hide their contempt for working people -- which honestly is why I think so many working and working poor people vote Republican in spite of the fact that Republican policies harm working people.  At least with the GOP, you know you have no standing. The Democratic Party has the same Neoliberal agenda as the GOP. The difference is, they'll try and be your friend before they pick your pocket.
^ Plutocracy
^^ One my father's favorite tirades: "Your elephant mouth is going/has gotten/just got your chipmunk ass in trouble!" He was a master of the mixed-up metaphor. But the tone carried his message quite well.
^^^ Patty didn't get tenure and ended up going to Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
+It was an incredibly problematic term that lended too much authority to the narrative that sexuality is a choice. Patty acknowledged this to me once... but she saw it as a transitional term -- a way to warm misinformed cis-normative (to use the current term for heterosexual) folks into a rational discussion. And since she was/is a lesbian and a long time activist, I ceded to her view on the matter.
++ Politics is the best blood-sport going. There are no roughing the passer rules, no boundaries besides the dark imagination, and the clearest image of who people are when they are devoid of the rules of etiquette.
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06 January, 2016

Don't get no respect: back to school, wobbly-style

 I'm heading back to campus today to line up the last bit of what I need to do in order to teach on Thursday. Between the usual decline in course offerings and my separation from the local alternative dining and concert guide*, this winter, like most every, will be a tight one. I'm always on the look for more work, and I'm going to be diving into some projects and working on my poetry and fiction. I'm uncharacteristically prepared for the semester to begin, actually... primarily because I'm simplifying my teaching methods and focusing on what's really important in a writing class.


People ask me all the time what I teach. When they're kind, or when they know I write poetry, they immediately ask if I teach creative writing**. I have to, for the sake of conversation, clarify that I teach academic writing***, tossing in some scholarly research methods and some interesting stories and little known history. I've been using Labor History the last few years as the subject matter for my Intermediate classes; I think it's important try and highlight little known facts of history that get overlooked in the narrative of manifest destiny.

This semester, I'm trying something a bit different because what I find in teaching labor history is that many of my students are incredibly disconnected from the events I wanted to talk about and the stories I wanted to tell.  I also found that in my attempts to ensure I was doing my job that I lost some the fundamental elements of my teaching style that made it fun and interesting.

One of the things I'm doing is simply changing research topics, for a while. My classes are going to be examining some events from local history: the 1855 Bloody Monday Election Riots, The 1937 Ohio River Flood, and river stories and myths. We're going to talk about how these narratives -- and the narratives of more current events -- impact ourselves as individuals, as a city, and as a larger culture.

So basically -- I'm going to tell stories, read and talk about essay drafts, and focus the important stuff.

And, you know, take attendance. Can't escape the all the tedium.

But I am grateful to have some kind of work
*The latest article of important was about how Louisvillians in their 20's move to Germantown, where the rent is cheap. You know... like they have for the past 20 years.
**I have written before about how the term "creative writing" annoys me because it implies that some kinds of writing isn't creative or part of a creative process.
*** Academic writing, apparently, has no creative process. Don't get me started.

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23 July, 2015

Superstition and Tradition

Pictured left is my second round of drinks as a paid freelance journalist in Louisville.

Nothing fancy. Just my usual round of Miller Lite and Maker's Mark. This combination has been my bar drink of choice for longer than my second marriage lasted. My older brother, whose tastes are far more refined but who can drink with the best of them when the mood strikes him, is always a little sickened by my choice of combinations.

I was feeling a little squirrelly last night after a days of spending my days in the basement, sitting at the desk, working. I love the solitude, love the pace of the work I do -- gig based and sporadic as it feels at the moment -- but sometimes I need to get out. As Amanda understands and is extraordinarily patient about, it's not even about being social. Unless I'm meeting friends, I don't even socialize all that much.

The best way I know how to explain it is that sometimes I just need to swim around in a reasonable crowd of normal people who are not me, my books, my stringed instruments, the dog, or the cat. And sometimes I need a good bar with an uncomplicated air to find the ground. I need a place where I can be quiet and still feel like I've socialized.

I've established myself in a neighborhood watering hole that meets all the requirements set forth my pre-established Rules For Not At Home Drinking*.  And although I don't see the inside of a bar as much these days thanks to "the gig life" and the general financial burden that is summer (Thanks engrained academic schedule!), I felt it was important to go and have a  round or three out of the first check I earned as freelance journalist here in River City.

This was as much about wanting to see the inside of a familiar bar as it was superstition. In my last gig as a freelance muckraker -- with the The Prairie-Advocate out of Lanark, Illinois -- the first thing I did when I got paid was walk up to the local watering hole (there were two at the time and I was strongly discouraged by my  now ex-wife from walking in to one...  she called it, not incorrectly, "the redneck meat market") and have a beer and a shot. Bourbon is hard to find that far north, so I made do with a shot of Jack** and stuck to beer after that.

Drinking to inaugurate a new gig is something I see as crucial to the success of that gig. I did the same with first checks from teaching gigs in my 30's and still do in my 40's. I did the same from checks from day labor and factory/warehouse gigs in my 20's.  I will admit to a certain superstitious bent, but that's only because once money rolls in on the regular or semi-regular, it is immediately gobbled up in that bottomless pit called Bills and Other Unsavory Obligations.***

I had more reason to celebrate this gig check, though. When Amanda and I were first talking about me moving to River City and setting down some roots, I wasn't planning on going back to teaching. My Plan was to try and wow some of the local media with my portfolio of news writing. My Plan was that maybe I'd wiggle my way into some freelance work, and start building a fresh portfolio upon which I could build a livelihood out of writing. I don't really consider myself hampered by the fact that I don't have a degree in journalism (I did minor in it once upon a time). But I did find, on first pass, that not having a journalism degree in a medium-sized market as problematic as not having an MFA when you're applying for creative grants.

Sometimes editors, publishers take the absence of a specific degree personally. So my foray into the Louisville journalism scene didn't pan out. Initially.

But, as I am often reminded, everything is about timing.

Talking with Amanda about moving here and writing for LEO was the beginning of  this new and happier chapter in my life. In case you didn't know this about me, in addition to being somewhat superstitious, I'm also a touch sentimental about certain important things. Although I know that this gig is only prelude to something else and life moves forward, it reminds that 1) I really do like writing about news and think good, researched journalism matters, and 2) the Universe is sometimes very kind to me... and even looks out for me from time to time.

So, Sl√°inte ^ , Dear Friends and Readers.

* Rules For Not At Home Drinking, codified and approved 2004, Cincinnati, OH. 1) Do not drink more than stumbling distance or not more than a 30 minute bus ride (no transfers) from home without having a ride. 2) Do not drink more than 5 shots of bourbon in a two hour period, regardless of how good or how empty the mood. 3.) Hydrate regularly. 4.) Eat properly 5.) Be safe.
** Any drinking rules I have get altered when Jack Daniels gets involved. Say what you will, but different liquors hit me differently... and the last time I went on a Jack induced bender I ended up getting hit... and hitting other people. Something in that Tennessee swill raises the temperature of my blood to an unpleasant degree. I take this as proof that I am, at least physiologically, in the right state now.
^ Gaelic for 'Good Health' or 'Last one to drink is a Protestant Tory.'