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Nice Guys on the Side of the Highway

Completely independent of each other, two friends reviewing my resume told me last week to stop “being so Minnesotan.”

If this makes no sense to you, I will offer an inside joke I have with the Manly Fireplug. I told him that growing up in Minnesota, I’d often see drivers pause on highway entrance ramps.

“Why the hell would they do that?”

“Because they’re thinking, (and here I adopted the appropriate vowel-flattening accent of my hometown): ‘Oh, I don’t want to get in anyone’s way…’”


The Fireplug and I use that phrase now, “Oh, I don’t want to get in anyone’s way,” whenever I’m being too modest. The Fireplug doesn’t usually have that problem, and I’ve learned a few things about self-confidence and self-marketing from him. Humility is attractive, yes, but not on the job market, and in case you haven’t heard, there’s a couple other people looking for work these days.

It had been a while since I’d worked on my resume, and I was still under the impression that you’d do best sticking to one page. Fortunately, in my recent quest to Ask For Help Even If It Feels Uncomfortable, a few friends with more experience in job searching have pointed me in the right direction.

In fact, so many people have helped me out, in a myriad of ways, with resume edits, job leads, and references, that I am almost humbled into silence. Almost.

But you can’t rely completely on other people to get your own shit done. I swallowed my humility long enough to bang out a professional/C.V. page for this here blog, and I’m glad I did. For that page, coupled with my recent posts, landed me some paid work.

It’s still too new and too fragile-feeling for me to say much about it, but it involves a publisher, books, and blogging. So, yeah. It doesn’t suck.

A New Place on 18th Street

I’ve always been a moody dude, but lately it’s gotten ridiculous. Depending upon the hour – and sometimes upon the minute – of the day, I swing from one emotional pole to the next. Rage at my recent financial collapse, anxiety that my overly-sensitive, creative soul, trembling in the wind, will never find a home in the professional world, and writ-slitting despondency, when I’ve realized that I’ve sent out a dozen resumes with two typos. For writing and editing jobs.

In the space between mood swings I distract myself with complicated job search plans that essentially boil down to three phases: long-term, mid-range, and oh-my-fucking-god. Long-term means I filled out a LinkedIn profile, since the only responses I’ve received as of yet from Craig’s List jobs are three internet scams, and it’s clear that I will find work the way everyone else in the world finds work: through people I know.

The emergency, oh-my-fucking-god phase means I swallowed my pride long enough to shake a couple of hands and pick up an application for seasonal work at a large national chain, and dragged myself to another national chain to fill out the application over a cup of coffee. Which was when I heard a voice over my shoulder:

“I sometimes think I should just make like several dozen copies of those.”

I looked up and found an acquaintance, a recent transplant to our fair city, a few years younger than me, smiling down at me. He pointed at the application.

“I can’t tell you how may of those I’ve filled out.”

Frankly I welcomed the interruption, and leaned back so we could chat a few minutes about our shared misery. At least, I thought of it as shared misery until he said the following words:

“So, yeah, I’ve been living out of my car.”

End shared misery. End self-pity. Begin other, more complicated emotions.

Being a somewhat private guy from the Midwest, I was hesitant to poke too forcefully into his circumstances. He told me a little, but his face stayed guarded, the way your own face would stay guarded should you find yourself in a similar situation. He made a point of saying he wasn’t looking for hand-outs, and he also made a point of saying his pride had sometimes cost him a night or two on a friend’s couch.

I found myself at a loss for words. I wanted to help him, but didn’t know how. The only thing I could think to say was “Where do you park at night?”

“I tell people I live at 18th and Noe,” he said, with a wry grin.

“The cops don’t bother you?”

He shook his head. “I just have to get up early every day, otherwise I wake up to someone peering in at me.” He sipped his coffee. “It makes dating interesting. The other day this guy asked if we could go back to my place. We ended up fooling around in my car. I asked him if it bothered him, but he said it was sort of dirtily romantic.”

I couldn’t help dwelling with fresh perspective on my own more fortunate situation, a situation that just an hour before had led me to a very dark place. My circumstances hadn’t changed, but in the space of 24 hours I’d swung like a deranged monkey from one wild branch to the next, around this same set of circumstances, my view changing with each swing, my breathing and heart-rate, too.

The older I get, the more I see that this is one of the secrets to happiness: a change in perspective. If I was going to come up with an aphorism I might say something like, it’s not what life hands you, but how you look at what life hands you. But I don’t do aphorisms here so just pretend you didn’t read that.

But this is why – when you are sunk in despair, dressed in your pajamas, scrolling through Craig’s List for a golden ring of opportunity – it’s a good idea to get out of the house, to give yourself the chance to stumble across others doing their best in trying times.

I still didn’t know what to say to him. Of course later one idea came to me; I should have just asked him, “What can I do?” and let him supply the answer, the answer his pride would allow. But that afternoon we just shook hands, and gave each other a kind of what-the-fuck-are-you-going-to-do shrug that said more than any words we could manage, at the time.

Didn’t See It Coming

You can have your astrology. No, really, just keep it. I have yet to read a description of an Aries that fits me, and no, I don’t care what light my rising moon might shed on that discrepancy.

But as long as we’re talking categories (and who doesn’t love, deep down, categories?) I will admit a soft spot for the Myers-Briggs. I don’t care if it’s out of fashion, or disproven, or simplistic. It’s the only kind of categorization system in which I’ve ever recognized myself.

That’s because, according to Myers-Briggs, I am a very special person. My type, INFJ, is the “rarest of all the types.” Which makes my personality “intricately and deeply woven, mysterious, and highly complex, sometimes puzzling even themselves.” I am a freak of nature and you will never get to the bottom of me. Fortunately you are just as self-absorbed as I am, which means you will quickly tire of my infuriating defenses and return to mulling over your own problems.

I mention INFJs here because our supposed first line of defense has been on my mind. “Mute withdrawal,” it’s called, and any friend of mine, and anyone who’s been a regular reader here, knows that I tend to drop out of sight every few weeks. I stop posting because, usually, life has once again grabbed me by the gonads, reducing me to the kind of of pre-verbal vegetative state that makes activities like blogging and cocktail parties challenging at best.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a car accident, an accident that sent someone to the hospital and an accident for which I was eventually deemed “100% responsible.”  I hadn’t had an accident in 18 years; it happened as the Manly Fireplug and I were picking up a pizza, and though I was eventually able to eat a couple of slices, I spent the rest of the night throwing them up.

As the Fireplug kept trying to assure me, accidents are called accidents for a reason. But I have a habit of looking for meaning in everything, a habit common to writers and maybe to the INFJs of the world. And so, traumatized, I turned to this habit with full force.

I can’t say for sure why the accident felt like such a rebuke, only that I harbor low-lying feelings of guilt at most times, and the $500 deductible cast a glaring light on my personal finances, and so that’s where I began my atonement. Somehow, through a deeply intuitive process of association,  fueled by dimly-lit anxieties, I came to believe that my eyes had been closed for some time. To life, to reality, what have you. I’d been blind, and now I wanted to, well, you know…

I gave up a few monthly subscriptions to various non-essential (i.e. porn) websites. I cut down on Starbucks and protein shakes and stopped buying clothes. Most importantly, I gave up my office, a little rental in the Mission, since I had yet to break even with my writing and it felt like an ostentatious display of…something.

Naturally I expected, having made the smallest of sacrifices, to reap immediate karmic reward. But life had other plans.

Due to circumstances outside of my control, money got incredibly scary incredibly quickly, such that as of today I do not know how I will be paying rent. Long story short, I must now get a real job.

I know. It’s so unfair. And though you will want to shower me with pity, I ask for my own sake that you refrain.

With a bank balance that makes it rather difficult to be picky, I’ve started casting my net. And though I just began my search, today I heard back from two prospective employers who had posted on Craig’s List. Asking for my name, address, telephone, social security number, and perhaps my bank account routing number, too, you know, just to get the wheels in motion…

So yeah, for a few seconds here I will set aside this self-protective self-deprecation, and admit that as I fast close in on the age of forty, I am as confused as ever by life. I have spent several years putting all of my eggs into one basket, writing a book, an art form that any cursory glance at media will tell you is going the way of dinosaurs. I did what they say, Follow Your Bliss, though they decline to tell you what to do when the bottom drops out.

All month I’ve been hearing the voice of my father, the most practical man on the planet, whom I have put in severe psychic pain by my lifelong ambivalence towards Jobs That Come With 401ks.

Yes, Dad, I hear you now.

I have a new recovery sponsor, who asks me every time I come to him with a problem, “Have you prayed yet?”  Yes, I usually want to punch him first. And though none of my gauzy-lit visions of a higher power include an omniscient dude who sits up there pulling all the strings, I try to take this question seriously. Really what he means is, “Have you asked for help?”

I hereby argue against the American myth of the self-made man. The up-by-his-own-bootstraps guy. No such man exists. We are helped, all of us, some more than others, all along our lives. Parents, maybe, siblings, friends, coaches, the occasionally stellar English teacher. Someone gave us a break. Maybe our first, maybe every single one. Someone opened a door, someone gave us a job.

Which is not to say that we ourselves don’t need to do most of the work. Only that we can’t pretend to be the complete and total masters of our own destiny. And now as the Manly Fireplug and various friends begin to circle around and prop me up, I must once again face a fact I’ve tried often to ignore. Though I retreat into mute withdrawal, though I’m no good at parties, though I think of “networking” as a particularly insidious form of torture, though I find other people to be at times absolutely confounding and infuriating and disappointing, it turns out that I still need them.

Get Lit

An article I wrote about San Francisco literary events in bars, for BarTAB magazine:

You can trace the marriage of booze and books in San Francisco back to the 1950s, when Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac passed around bottles of cheap red wine during live readings at North Beach bars like The Black Cat, The Cellar, and Vesuvio.

That tradition is alive and well today. Several local series blow the cobwebs off the typical staid literary reading with raucous, unpredictable events where you can always slip away from the rare tedious author for a shot of whiskey at the bar, or a quick smoke out front.

October is by far the greatest month for local book and bar lovers. Litquake, the city’s annual literary festival, runs from October 1–9 and brings together an astonishing array of writers and fans for readings and panels in unusual locations (www.litquake.org).

(You can read the rest of the article on BarTAB’s site.)