On Working From Home

Rector and Sean
Hey, look, it’s Rector and Chercover!

Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out with my good friend John Rector and Sean Chercover. I’ve known Rector for close to a decade, and he’s honestly one of my favorite people. We hung out for around four hours and our topics of conversation ranged from what we were currently writing (In case you didn’t know it already, writers asking each other about what they’re working on is kind of like most folks talking about the weather. It’s our most common ice breaker, at least until we start getting into the nuts and bolts of whatever project we’re working on.) to how our families are, and all the usual topics you expect from two people who haven’t seen each other in four years.

The one topic that’s stuck in my head was the subject of working from home full time. I’m three months away from my first anniversary of writing full time, and I’ll straight up tell you that it’s an awesome way to earn a living. Yes, it’s at times very frustrating and it can leave you feeling anxious as all hell, but still, it’s way better than having to go into an office every day. But there are issues that go along with it that you don’t expect, and here’s a few of them. (Yes, this is going to be a listicle.)

1) There is No Such Things As Fridays Or The Weekend

You know how on Fridays you wake up and smile to yourself because it’s Friday and you know you only have to endure eight more hours until it’s the weekend. Yeah, it’s a great feeling. I haven’t had that feeling in nine months. When I wake up on Friday mornings, all I do is start making a list of what I absolutely have to get done because I know that my time is going to be sucked down to nil because my wife and daughter will be home on Saturday and Sunday, and they’re going to want to go out and do stuff, so I have to pack in as much work as I can before the day winds down. Of course, my work doesn’t go away on the weekends, either, it’s still there, and I just have to somehow manage to fit it in between family time.

2) You Never Leave The House

When Rector and I were talking, both of us commented how neither of us leave the house very much. During the school year, the longest period of time I spend outside of the house is taking my daughter to school and then picking her up at the end of the day. By the way, we live exactly one block away from my daughter’s school. Seriously, I can throw a rock and hit my daughter’s school from our house, so obviously it’s a short trip. Which means during the school year, I’m out of the house maybe 15 minutes a day. Yeah, I’m in the house 23:45 every day during the school year. I’m out a little more during the summer largely because I’m either running the midget to her grandmother’s house, or to a summer activity, so my time outside of the house has been extended to maybe two hours a day. By the way, folks, I’m not complaining about this. I really like my house.

3) Putting On Pants Kind Of Feels Like Dressing Up

I own three pairs of basketball shorts and they are the most comfortable items of clothing I own, so obviously I always wear them. I wear them so much they almost feel like a second skin. So when I have to put on pants (Even if it’s just another pair of shorts.), it feels like I’m getting ready to attend a formal dinner and I’m putting on a tuxedo. And, oh yeah, I rarely wear a shirt either, particularly during the hot months here in Phoenix, so putting one on feels like I’m slipping on a silk tie to go along with my tuxedo shorts.

4) You Get Pissed Off At The Dumbest Shit

When I was working from an office, I’d cruise social media on my phone and read statuses from other writers bitching and complaining about the most mundane shit. I mean really minor crap that would make me shrug and ask, ‘What the fuck are you complaining about this for?’ Then I started working from home, and it made so much more sense. Lack of external stimulation is kind of an issue. Yes I have books, music (I now listen to music pretty much continuously, which is kind of awesome.), movies, television, etc., but my human contact is minimal to say the least. So when my routines are upset in some minor way, I get a little upset.

For instance, when the dogs just start barking randomly, that shit just drives me up the wall. (This morning they started barking at a hot air balloon and wouldn’t stop barking for fifteen minutes even thought they were inside the house. Needless to say I went a little ape shit on them.), or when my wife starts listing off things that I already planned on doing throughout the day as she’s making her way out the front door. Or—and this is my biggest stay-at-home pet peeve—when my wife and daughter leave glasses and plates on the upstairs landing for DAYS at a time. YAAAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!

I know, all of this is minor, minor stuff, but it gets my goat. And I know that if it wasn’t these three things, I would just find something else to get a little angry about. But, I do tamp down the urge to be vocal about these teeny-tiny annoyances (Except for when the dogs are barking, sometimes you just have to yell at them or they’re just going to keep going and going.), because I fully acknowledge that they are stupid. Oh, I also promise never to complain about this stuff on social media. Even though I’m doing exactly that right now. So I promise not to do it anymore after this.

5) OH! LOOK! PEOPLE!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a people person. I mean, I like them, but it doesn’t upset me all that much that I’m not around them on a day-to-day basis. But when I get to be around people that I really, really like, words come vomiting out of my mouth until my pals start looking at me like I’m absolutely bugshit and my wife has to duct tape my mouth shut and drag me away.

6) You Don’t Have Days Off, You Have Hours Off

My family is getting ready to go on vacation for a couple of weeks and we’re all really looking forward to it because we haven’t taken a multi-week vacation in a long, long time. But for me, I’ll still be working because both personal and professional deadlines never stop. For instance, I’m 30,000 words into a new project and I’m cranking on it pretty hard, so obviously I’m not going to stop working on it while I’m on a roll. Also, I have a corporate gig which allows only so much time off during the year (And, yes, it is not paid time off) and I’ll still have to complete certain assignments while I’m on vacation. So I’ll be getting up a couple of hours early every day and going town to the lobbies of the hotels we’ll be staying at and putting in my hours before we start off for the day. It’s a little frustrating, but in the same breath, it’s absolutely necessary.

I know there are plenty of writers out there who take extended periods of time off (Hell, Chuck Wendig takes weekends off.) because they’ve been at the game for much, much longer than I have, and they can afford it. But at this stage in my career, if I take too much time off, I lose money. In fact, I’m so obsessive about it at this point, I’m even a little paranoid to take a stray afternoon off. I know this will change as time goes on, but for the time being, I’m going to keep churning away until I feel comfortable enough to take extended breaks from writing. But, considering my obsessive nature, I don’t really ever see that happening.

Anyway, there’s a few other points I’m sure I can touch on, but I consider writing this little essay to technically be time off, so it’s time for me to get back to work.

Father’s Day

me and dad
Me and my dad when I was living in Flagstaff, AZ

Me and my old man never got along. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a stronger relationship with him, but when it comes right down to it, we were polar opposites. My dad was an angry, paranoid, secretive, and somewhat selfish man, and I just wasn’t. As a kid, I was a loud little goofball who would pretty much talk to anybody who would listen. For someone like my dad, I imagine he had a really hard time dealing with my personality, and he tried his damnedest to change it, reshape it into a personality more like his own. And over the years through harsh verbal conditioning, he did just that. As I grew older in my dad’s house, I grew to distrust the world just as much as he did. I became quiet and withdrawn, secretive and frightened. I came to believe I was a freak because I was outgoing.

Once I moved away from my parents house, I slowly came to realize that being outgoing was actually a benefit, but it took over a decade—half of which was filled to overflowing with self-destructive addiction—to reconcile my personality. But the conditioning is still there, like a stray eyelash caught below the lid; a constant irritant causing the eye to constantly water and swell.

I can’t really blame my dad for being who he was. He went through things as a young man that most people couldn’t possibly imagine. When he was 19, he got his girlfriend pregnant (The woman would become his first wife), and he had to drop out of college in order to support her. But what happened instead of him just getting a job and living a normal working class life in Cleveland, he was instead drafted by the U.S. Army into the Korean war. During the war, he was severely wounded and captured, and he would spend 18 months in a prisoner of war camp. Because my dad was captured below the 48th parallel in North Korea, the Army told my grandparents that my dad had been killed in action and they buried the ghost of their only living son. (My uncle had died while fighting in the Pacific during World War II.)

When my dad came back home, his world view—Hell, his entire world—was completely changed. My grandparents, of course, welcomed him back with open arms. His wife, however, didn’t. My dad’s ex-wife had moved on with her life. She had accepted the fact that the old man was dead, but then just as suddenly, here he was, alive and strung out from his experiences. They tried to make things work, but they were both very different people, and my dad’s ex filed for divorce. During the divorce proceedings, my old man decked his wife’s attorney. The lawyer ended up pressing assault charges.

Instead of facing up to the charges, my dad went on the run and ended up in Las Vegas where a group of his childhood friends had set up shop (Yes, the friends were mobbed up. Interesting footnote about the old man before I move on. My dad grew up in an Italian neighborhood, and because of his dark complexion and tight, kinky black hair, he actually passed himself off as Italian. Most of the guys he grew up with became crooks. Also, most of those guys who stuck around Cleveland ended up dying in the car bomb wars in the 1970’s.), and they got him a job fixing air conditions at the Sands hotel. Eventually, my grandfather convinced my dad to come back to Cleveland and face the charges, and he went home and did time.

By the time me and my older brother came around, he and my mom had bought a large piece of property out in the middle of the southern California high desert, and he started building his house and his massive collection of junk. Over the years, the old man had become a hoarder. No one back then called it hoarding, it was just collecting. My dad liked projects, he liked making things. But the scope of his vision never matched his actual productivity and the 5 acres of land that my parents built their house on came to resemble a scrapyard with broken down cars, motorcycles, mountains of sheet metal, mildewing lumber, and rotting boxes of pipe fittings, bottles, screws, and washers. The old man never threw anything out and always bought 2 or 10 of the same tool, and he would keep re-buying those tools even though he may have already owned a hundred of them for whatever mystery projects he had planned.

My dad died on April 20, 2002—six months before I would marry my wife—with the bulk of his projects remaining a complete mystery.

me and sadie
Me and the midget being goofballs.

Despite my purposeful reconditioning, I can see a lot of my old man’s personality in me. I’m a collector. But instead of tools and junk, I collect books and action figures. The only difference is that if my books start overflowing from my shelves and onto the floor, I realize that it’s time to make a trip to the used bookstore or Goodwill. The same thing goes for my figures, if the shelves grow too crowded, I store the figures in a large storage box I have tucked away in my fairly well organized and entirely uncluttered garage.

The other aspect of my personality which mirrors my dad is how I deal and interact with my daughter. My daughter is a loud little goofball. She’s a bit more reserved than I am (that comes from her mother), but once you get to know her, she never stops talking and laughing over her silly jokes and stories. Sometimes I find myself wanting to tell my kiddo to quiet down. Okay, not just tell her, but yell at her to quiet down. But then I pull myself back, and remind myself that she’s just being 8-years-old; she’s just being a kid. Because I want her to just be a kid who doesn’t hold back who she is. I want her have fun and laugh, because this time in her life is way too short, and she should be able to enjoy it.  Now, if she’s being an asshole, that’s a different story. Then I lay into her, because no one likes an asshole, and we’ve got way too many of those in the world.

Anyway, happy father’s day. I hope you have a good one.

Maybe Jimmy Carter Was Right?

Let me ask you a question: What if I broke into your house to steal your television? Now mind imagesyou, I’m not there to kill you or rape you, all I want is your television, that’s it. What would you do to me? Chances are 9-out-of-10 of you would say that you would shoot me. And legally, you would have every right to, because I’m in your house uninvited and I’m stealing your shit. But for a second, I want you to think about the fact that you would kill another human being over a television set. I mean, it’s just a TV, and if you have home owners or renters insurance, you’re going to get that TV back. In fact, you’re probably going to get a better one out of it. But yet, you would kill me for a possession.

Whenever a mass killing happens in the United States, I start thinking about why these things happen so often in our country?

The reactionary part of me will more often than not automatically jump to the argument that we need more stringent gun laws, that people can get their hands on handguns and assault rifles way too easily. But then I become a little more rational and I start going through the facts about gun control in America. (By the way, folks, I am not a gun rights advocate. I don’t own a gun and never will. But in the same breath, if you’re a responsible gun owner, I don’t care if you own one or a dozen.) The fact is, we have some really strict laws already in place. If you’re a convicted felon or have a history of mental illness, you can’t purchase a gun. Plus, buying a gun of any type is really expensive. A handgun with ammunition and all the proper gear will run you about $700. A shotgun will cost you a little less (around $500 with ammo and gear), and an assault weapon will cost you around $2000. Owning a firearm is an investment. So, yeah, along with it being pretty hard to get through all the background checks, you also have to have the money to actually buy the gun. (Or you can just steal it, which is what most criminals do. This, unfortunately, is the downside of living in a country where people own so many guns and where we value possession over human life.)

The other thing is, our neighbors to the north, Canada, also have the right to bear arms, and a solid chunk of the Canadian population owns firearms. But between 2007-to-2011, Canada only had around 70 firearm related deaths.

70

And, yes, gun rights advocates will point out that Canada has a much smaller population than the United States (It’s around 35 million, which is the same population as California) and blah, blah, blah. But still, only 70 gun deaths in five years is pretty damn low. In fact, if you look at the rest of the civilized world, gun deaths are pretty low across the board. But in the United States, we had 32,000 gun deaths in 2014 alone. That’s crazy.

Which brings me to my next point. Because after I shirk off the gun control arguments, my mind leads me to the next logical explanation for all the mass murders that occur within the United States: Mental Illness.

James Eagan HolmesEric Harris and Dylan KleboldSeung-Hui Cho, I think we can all agree that all of these individuals were/are mentally ill. But let’s take a look at Dylan Roof, the kid who killed the 9 members of the Emanuel AME Church. Is Roof insane? To most of us, it would appear so. I mean, what sane person would kill 9 innocent people without provocation? But really, Roof isn’t mentally ill, he’s young and stupid and is a violent racist– and let’s face facts, in certain parts of the country, racism is still very much culturally acceptable. And true, most racists wouldn’t kill people of other color (Well, they probably would if they could get away with it.), or religions, or sexual orientation–but he’s probably not technically mentally ill. He’s just a piece of human shit and that’s all.

But to get back to mental illness, as Americans, we don’t really give a shit about mental illness. I mean, we do, but we don’t. If you take a look at the streets of most American cities, you will see massive numbers of homeless individuals. And yes, some of the folks living on the street are alcoholics or drug addicts, or they’re families down on their luck. But the bulk of the people living on the street are severely mentally ill and are a danger to themselves and to  others. But we don’t really give a shit, because what can we really do to help them? But as a general rule, this is the overall American attitude towards mental illness. We don’t talk about it, and we don’t care about it. Well, we do talk about it, but only when a mass killing occurs, and then we only talk about it in very abstract terms and why we never discuss mental illness.

But let’s go back to the number of gun deaths in the United States: 32,000. I mean, come on, all that killing, not all of the people who committed those crimes couldn’t have all been mentally ill? Or maybe they all were? Or maybe, as Americans, we all are? Maybe we, as a people are suffering from mass hysteria?

Which brings me back to why most of you would want to shoot me in the face for stealing your television.

Back in 1979, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter went of television and made his “Crisis Of Confidence” speech. The address was largely focused on the energy crisis the United States was facing at the time, and most political scientists will tell you that this speech was the reason why Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan. If you actually read the speech, what Carter outlined was a pretty strong plan to make the U.S. independent of foreign energy. But what ticked people off was this nugget:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning….”

Carter was basically warning us that being a bunch of greed bastards was going to ultimately undermine us as a culture. At the time, the American people just thought Carter was an asshole and they handed the country over to a  a form of government that we’d almost eradicated through the labor movement: Oligarchy. But this new, shiny version of the same old shit convinced us as a people that greed was a good thing. That buying and owning things was the true key to happiness, and that your fellow human beings didn’t matter one goddamn bit. They also taught us to believe that if you worked really, really hard, we could be rich, too. Because that was the American Dream, right? Being rich and famous.

It’s been 35 years since we welcomed this strain of thought into our collective consciousness, and what has it gotten us? I could list off a laundry list of issues like the three economically motivated wars we’ve fought in the last 20 years, or our booming prison populations, or our militarized police forces. Or I could sum it up by saying that our greed based lifestyle has gotten us nothing but a shit sandwich and an overwhelming urge to shoot someone in the face over stealing your television. (Oh, and by the way, you’re not rich, either, and you never will be.)

But maybe I’m wrong? Maybe the answer is more laws that won’t be enforced? Maybe we can dance around the issues of mental illness and still do absolutely nothing about it. Because, hey, we’re Americans, and we’re really good at doing absolutely nothing.

By the way, if you want to see Carter’s entire “Crisis Of Confidence” speech, I’ve embed it below.