Miss Again

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I’m perched on a higher table at a Starbucks inside a Barnes & Noble.

Wait. That makes it sound like I’m poised on top of the table, ready to strike out at the old lady checking out Moleskines in front of me. Forgive me; I haven’t done this in a while.

I’m sitting at a taller table in a Starbucks wrapped inside a Barnes & Noble, overlooking a couple women in Hawaiian shirts who are pacing up and down the main aisle looking for specific people to give name tags and adorn with leis. I have no idea what’s going on with that; only that–in intentional J. Alfred Prufrockian fashion–I do not think  they have a lei for me.

The strangest part of it all is that I’m currently outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. And that I now live here.

I’ve been looking for new freedoms for some time: to move out from under my parents’ roof, forge my own path and leave a job whose flexibilities were bending me over backward more often than I liked. The problem with trying to find a new job to move to, however, is that most places are understandably hesitant to extend a chance to someone “foreign” when they have capable people living right next to them. Almost 3 months ago, however, I finally received a chance from a company here in the Grand Rapids area. Admittedly, the only reason they bothered with me was likely because my cousin also works for the company, but that’s another life lesson: connections are everything.

Grand Rapids is a mixed, religious and overall quaint city, possessing the charm of its hometown president, Gerald Ford.

FACT: Gerald Ford may be the only U.S. President who has ever fallen out of Air Force One and survived.

It has its good sections and bad sections, of course, but luckily I’m in a good apartment complex with a fitness center and access to walking trails. Above all, I have a home in this complex that is mine. Sure, I’m responsible for cleaning it and ensuring it doesn’t catch on fire, but the newfound freedoms far outweigh these responsibilities.

Michigan has also decided that major intersections are not for left-hand turns. You need to drive past it to a designated U-turn area, go back and then turn right. It’s weird, but I can’t say it doesn’t work. I’m sure traffic looks more like a ballet from above Michigan than nearly anywhere else.

Anyway, the plan has been simple: use my new job as the stepping stone and foundation to build a new life, find new friends, love, success, etc. All those things that, when you’re old and looking back with the question of whether you lived life well, pat you reassuring on the back and say, “Yeah. Not bad, pal. Now hurry up: it’s bingo and mashed prunes night!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t expect that my stepping stone would be the first thing to grow unstable. I was hired on as a temp with several others in an apparent work force boom. We were to work for 3 months, then they would decide whether they would hire us on fully. It was generally implied that we were shoe-ins, and we did perform admirably–they even said as such when they told us yesterday they’re going to keep us on as temps. It seems somewhere within the 3 months between our hiring and the present, the company as a whole decided it should experiment with localizing our departments, meaning spreading people away from Grand Rapids. We were offered the chance for position openings in San Francisco and New York City, but even if I wanted to go to these places, the 1-year contract on my apartment tells me no.

So I’m still working, which I am definitely thankful for, but the added security of benefits, insurance, retirement plans, paid time off and bonuses that I was so earnestly working for I will now not be receiving. It’s be in a precarious position (a near panic, actually) that I may have placed all my eggs in one basket–and then set this basket on the Titanic.

I will continue working, and do my best, but all wisdom says to be looking for another job in the meantime; for while there’s a chance things will work out and they will fully hire me in the future, they also have the right to cut my strings at any time and send me out without so much as a farewell wave. Please note that I don’t really blame the company or anyone I work with for this. I’ve actually gotten along with my co-workers well, but falling complacent with your position as a temp can be very costly. Hey, that sounds like a pretty good metaphor for life itself, actually. I’ll see if I can register that.

Within all the uncertainty, however, there’s this seed of a thrill. For once I’ve placed myself in a position where I have to make things work no matter what. If I’m cut from my current job, I do at least have a temp agency to fall back on, and I’m still living somewhere with so much more opportunity than where I previously lived. Even if it’s not the biggest, it’s a city, and I may finally find The Right Things here.

And even if that all fails, through the tiniest graces I have never had a better opportunity to play this clip:

If you have any advice, I would certainly love to hear it. And you know what? Updating this blog after so long has felt good. Doing it here in B&N on a Saturday with a Green Tea Latte also feels good. I think I’ll start doing this weekly. Just, you know, probably with fewer humongous life updates.

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‘What has this yutz been up to?’

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Hey there! It’s been a while.

I was actually a bit surprised to come back and see my last post was Aug. 9. It had felt even longer than that, but a recent e-mail showed me it was time to get back into gear and push some text:

Just a short note to say that I have appreciated your writing (you are bookmarked in my favourites), but I am getting a bit tired of seeing a bear’s behind every time I check your page.  I do realise that you also write elsewhere (and have checked out your gaming articles as my family is big on gaming), but was wondering if you could maybe do a short ‘I’m really busy living my life’ kind of blog to just get the bear off the top.

How could I deny such a simple request? And in case you haven’t noticed, the “bear bottom” commercials are all but non-existent anymore and I don’t want to be the last one foisting that image upon innocent people.

So, why have I not written here for a few months? It’s really not an airtight excuse, but the truth is I’ve been concentrating more on my video games writing, and for an astounding reason.

In August, I decided I should try testing the waters more for a potential career in games journalism. I began to submit work not only to the awesome LeftStickRight, but also a unique open community called Bitmob. I was thrilled to see some of my pieces get feature on Bitmob’s front page, and toward the end of August I saddled up to meet the LeftStickRight boss and other writer to cover FanExpo Canada.

On the way up, at a rest stop, I grabbed a burger and checked my e-mail. There I found a new message from Susan Arendt, senior editor at an online magazine called The Escapist. She had seen my Bitmob submissions, enjoyed them, and thought I should write some stuff for their publication. At that point my brain was carpet bombed my various reasons for elation:

1. Prominent members of the gaming/technology community were actually reading my stuff.

2. They want me to try writing more stuff for more people to read.

3. Apparently, they’d even consider paying me to do it.

Freelance writing has always been one of those ideas wisping through the back of my mind, but I never considered myself a viable candidate. I just never thought I was the sort of “type” editors would be looking for. But now I had someone literally suggesting I try it for them and the feeling that I could somehow make it into this industry became too tangible not to attempt.

So after an incredibly fun time at FanExpo where I took a number of photos  depicting the deaths of Ian Yuan at the hands of cosplayers, I came home and tried my hand. I learned there were no instant assignments; you had to submit short pitches based around various topics and if one caught their eye, they’d order a full-blown article. Luckily, one of the three initial pitches I’ve made was chosen–on silly weaponry in video games–and I went straight to work.

After submitting my draft, I quickly learned The Escapist edits more thoroughly than my newspaper ever has. I received it back with multiple requests and suggestions. What worried me most was Arendt telling me I was trying to be “too cute” at several points. I went back to work, mustering up the confidence that I could produce something better, and she was much happier the second time around. That’s when I realized that she had been right: I was trying to be too cute. In my earnestness in such a new situation, I was trying to fall back on my oldest style of writing, trying to be Dave Barry instead of letting the voice I’ve developed over time be at the forefront. And then I realized that I actually had my writing edited by a prominent member of the gaming/technology community and I gave a little squee. Writers can be weird like that.

The whole process for the piece took around a couple weeks, but it’s been a blast. It will appear in The Escapist this Tuesday, and I’ve been counting the days with much anticipation. Ideally, I’ll gain more exposure and maybe even the attention of people who’d like to give me a full-time gig. At the worst, I’ll be shipped out of the publication’s forums on a rail, but I’ll still make more writing that one piece than I would for a full week of work at the newspaper.

Whatever happens, I really, really hope I get the chance to do it again. But that’s my main reason for not writing: my head has mostly been occupied by this opportunity. I’m hoping that after this all comes to its climax, I’ll be a little more balanced because I don’t want to give this blog up entirely.

Think I managed to bury that bear? If not, then hopefully this picture of a red panda licking a grape can provide some much-needed balance:



Simple Saturday: Moving On

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It’s been, overall, a lackluster past 4 years  in my life. I’ve worked for a newspaper that has gradually demanded more of its workers for less and less reward, and I’ve seen my last remaining “real-life” friends leave the area for higher pursuits: careers, marriage. Good stuff.

I’ve tried to escape from this area myself, but it simply hasn’t worked out. All but two of the job applications I’ve sent out in all this time have ever received a response. One was quite exciting, actually. I was flown down to Washington, D.C. on the government’s time and actually paid a stipend to be interviewed down there. We were told everyone would receive word in the mail within a couple months if we had been chosen or not. It’s now 11 months and I never heard a thing. The other response I got was a plain and polite rejection and the only other time I was treated by a company with something other than silence.

So let’s just say it’s been four years and my general goals of being less alone and having a satisfying purpose haven’t panned out that well. And I’m thinking of taking a big step, going abroad, and trying to teach English to students in Asia somewhere. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, and this could be a way to do so while actually making savings and not going insane. Potentially.

The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe if I was someone who’s had more experiences it wouldn’t be such a strange prospect. But I’m someone who’s had every attempt to move on with his life fall apart since graduating college. I’m honestly afraid if I try this, it’s just going to fall apart again, only this time I’ll be truly alone on the other side of the world when it goes down.

Have you ever faced a choice like this? Have you ever felt backed into a corner for a long time? What do you think is the best thing to do in such a situation?

Simple Saturday: Comings and goings

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My dad has returned from the hospital today. He continues to do as well as a man who must remain bottomless with tubes and bags connected to places tubes and bags should never be connected to can.

And simultaneously, as my dad comes home, I have a friend getting ready to leave for training, after which he will be sent off to Iraq or Afghanistan for civilian duties. He’s the kind of guy who lives for adventure and experience, having taken a separate trip to Antarctica. His wife, saint that she is, lets him do all this, waiting with her family until he returns.

When I think about my father and my friend, I wonder just how solid the line is between risk and safety. Yes, going to a warzone to aid efforts there arguably increases the chance something bad may happen to you, but bad things can just pop up out of the blue while you’re living in your home with your wife, 2.3 kids and dog Spot. Just because you don’t go to the mountain doesn’t mean the mountain can’t come to you.

If you face tragedy in risk, will you wish you had settled down? If you face tragedy when you’re settled down, will you wish you had taken more chances? Where does the balance lie?