October 11, 2012
Short-term frustrations and the long-term view. Plus, sex and babies.
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I confess, I've been feeling quite frustrated lately, because of a series of small-term setbacks in my life recently. For example, my arts center had to cancel its summer book, which instantly erased 20 percent of this year's expected revenue; and that's meant almost no incoming money the last few months at all, in that 90 percent of a CCLaP book's revenue is made within the first few months of its release; plus after lots of time and money spent, our inaugural Summer School program laid a big goose-egg, which erased yet another 20 percent of this year's expected revenue; and that officially means that we'll most likely end this year at roughly the same position as last year, at $6,000 in gross revenue over the last twelve months, certainly not bad in the long-term view of things but disappointing when I had been shooting for 40 percent more (and doing 40 percent more work to boot). And two of our assistant directors have had to bow out recently because of time commitment issues, with even the ones who are left not up to the speed I had hoped they'd be by now; and so a number of things going on right now that I first formulated six months ago, assuming that by this point one of the apprentices would've been far enough along to handle it, ended up having to be handled by me because none of the apprentices stepped forward to do them; and they've all sort of come out half-assed because I've been spread too thin, again nothing outright embarrassing but just not at the level I wanted them to be. And so I've been doing a tremendous amount of work this month, dealing with these projects plus getting our newest original book ready to release, for almost no incoming revenue (well, until the new book came out two days ago), which has been a highly stressful situation that's caused me to constantly question whether I'm on the right track with all of this; and it's also now been about a month since I decided to get more serious with Etsy (where I sell blank notebooks), eBay (where I sell rare books) and Second Life (where I sell prefabricated digital homes), and despite a tremendous amount of effort just to get up to speed, I have made barely any money yet from the endeavor, just $18 profit from one single sale.

It's at times like these when it's beneficial to have a romantic partner or family around, to remind you that all the little setbacks are just that, little ones, and that in general things are chugging along just fine; but I have neither of these things in my life right now, so I've found myself focusing on these little problems a lot these days, and feeling very frustrated and discouraged about it all, and wondering whether the CCLaP 2020 Plan is actually going to be able to be carried out. Oh, you don't know what the CCLaP 2020 Plan is? That's the plan to finally open a permanent physical space for the center by that year, so that we can have a photography gallery, a retail space, a rare-books room, and live events seven nights a week, thus finally making CCLaP my full-time career generating full-time money. I came up with the plan in 2009, while recuperating from a bad bicycle accident, and knowing at that point that I would eventually be receiving a substantial insurance settlement, which I could use to start the massive series of steps that need to take place from now until 2020 -- repair my credit rating, establish a credit record for the first time in my life, fix some lingering medical issues, inflate CCLaP's yearly budget and revenue to a point where it can afford a physical space, and has a large enough local audience to sustain the space, gather the collateral needed for the small loan I'll need to get in 2020, etc etc. Oh, plus move into a new apartment for the first time in fifteen years, one large enough that I can start hosting CCLaP events, parties and fundraisers there; plus probably start dating again for the first time in a decade, since everything else will be coming together at the same time as well. It's been ten years now since I was last able to find a 9-to-5 salaried day job, and frankly trying to get CCLaP open as a physical space is the best shot I have right now for making salary-level money again, so needless to say I'm anxious to get to that point as quickly as possible; and so it's always maddening and anxiety-forming whenever setbacks occur, or just when things aren't growing at the insanely fast rate I've forced upon myself these days.

And it's funny, just this week on The Office they were making vicious fun of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" time-management system, which I've been a daily practitioner of since 2005; but I gotta say, if it wasn't for GTD, I would literally not have gotten done any the things in the last several years that I have, although certainly I can see why The Office would make fun of it, because supporters like me tend to be fanatical in their devotion, fussily detailed in their implementation, and humorless when it comes to criticism. And one of the things I like most about GTD (and something that clearly goes back to Allen's time when younger studying Eastern religions) is that he encourages you to look at your life on a regular basis from a whole series of different removes, which he likens to the different ways we view the ground when at various different altitudes. So when you're on ground level yourself, you see a lot of the details, but you can't see very far ahead, while if you're on the top of a skyscraper this ratio starts to inverse, while if you're in a plane at 30,000 feet it inverts even more; and so too should we not only have our daily to-do list of little things we hope to have done by the time we go to bed that night, but an idea in our head of what we want to accomplish that week, that month, that year, that decade, and over the course of our entire life, and that we should check in with these lists every week or month or year, really trot them out and seriously look at them, and see what kinds of things we need to slowly be doing over the next week or month or year to get us closer to these bigger, fuzzier goals as well. And so when I do this, things with my life are looking just fine; maybe a series of small problems over the last few months, but a whole series of big successes in a row earlier this year, and most importantly, no backwards movement at all in any part of my life whatsoever.

And sure, it's easy to point to the big successes as proof of what I'm talking about, and I don't mind pointing some of those out and tooting my own horn a little: we may have had to cancel a book this year, for example, but we still got five other ones out, one becoming a finalist for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award, another a grant recipient from the Ohio Arts Council, and collectively making just as much money as they did last year. And there was that amazing trip to New York in June, for another example, in which eight of my authors and myself did four big showcases in four notorious spots in Manhattan and Brooklyn over four days and nights, and sold $600 in books and made all these new friends and got mentioned all over the place, plus I got to tour MoMA and wander Bushwick by myself and visit Harlem for the first time and meet Olympia Dukakis and become better friends with John Reed, who's the most famous writer I personally know (and the guy who started the process of our visit in the first place). But perhaps more importantly, and definitely what gives me a greater sense of satisfaction when I think about it, are all the little ways that things are getting better and better in my life, all the infrastructure improvements that are responsible for more and more of the flashy surface-level achievements. In fact, I was just thinking about all this earlier today, which is what prompted me to sit down and crank out a Wednesday night journal entry, instead of on the weekends when I usually do them. See, in just the last three weeks, I've managed to get the editing done for our latest book, get the manuscript laid out in four different formats, print off signature pages and mail them to the author and get them back signed, find a cover artist, get them paid, get the cover off to the printing plant, get everything back, make a total now of 40 paper copies by hand, take orders every day, print labels every day, prep mailings every day, and bike to the post office every day; and it's become so routine that I didn't even notice it until I stopped today and realized just how much I had gotten done over the last couple of weeks, especially when you combine the fact that we're in the middle of laying out the center's deluxe holiday book right now at the same time.

And that's pretty astounding, because even a year and a half ago when I started the paper publishing program, I was struggling pretty mightily to get a lot less than this done every day; but especially when you compare this to, say, my twenties, I would've been overwhelmed back then at the sheer prospect of keeping all this straight, which when you count all the steps in the bookbinding process is literally something like 200 distinct actions that need to happen for each and every book made, from ordering the material all the way to a finished book being in a customer's hands, and cash in yours. And hell, even in my thirties, when I could at least understand all the steps and could do them all once with a herculean amount of effort, ain't no way I would've been able to keep it up all day, every day, day in and day out for weeks and months in a row; and I know that because I tried it and I miserably failed at it, which is why my thirties are littered with great ideas that never really got off the ground, which I basically scooped all up in my forties, combined, and turned into CCLaP's operating plan. And that's a deeply satisfying and moving conclusion to come to, that I'm literally better at putting all the pieces of my life together than I was a decade ago, two decades ago; but man, how easy to forget this when you're dealing with changes that take decades to occur, especially when confronted with NOT ENOUGH MONEY RIGHT NOW RIGHT THIS SECOND RIGHT NOW. As regular readers know, I've felt for a long time that this period where nothing was going right for me (i.e. the post-9/11, pre-Obama years) was a sort of cosmic punishment for being such a horrible person when younger, a way for me to pay penance until all was karmically balanced again and things would be allowed to move forward in my life again, and how I realized last year that that period was finally over during what will forever be known as "The Jens Lekman Incident;" so it's nice to get external proof that this process continues to move forward, even if it's more of a wavy line than a straight one pointing upward, full of little peaks and valleys. So yes, I'll take it, I'll take what this year has brought, even though it wasn't up to the ridiculous heights I had set for myself. Besides, I just know that we'll finally break $10,000 in revenue next year! I guarantee it!

- x -

Strike! Strike! The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike a few weeks ago for the first time in a quarter century; and so that had full-time-working parents scrambling to figure out things to do with their kids all day every day for two straight weeks, one of them being my old friend Carrie with the twin nine-year-old sons who I've mentioned here quite a bit in the past. And this just happens to be the very first year that I've started spending time with the boys out in public with me being the only adult figure around -- I've been very nervous about doing this up until now, when the boys were younger, because of my hearing problems and lack of parental authority, with me only getting more comfortable now that they're entering their pre-teens -- and so I ended up going down to the Loop a whole number of times during the strike, to take the boys off their mother's hands at her office where they were spending most of the day those days, and to entertain them out in the big chaotic world so that Carrie could have her daily conferences, get work done, etc. And I have to say, after a lot of anxiety about it, it went just fine; we walked to the theater a couple of times and saw movies, went to the Lego Store at Water Tower Place, stopped by Starbucks for an afternoon full of sugar (muffins and hot chocolate -- God, I'm such a pushover), visited the playground, went to the library, and in general spent a lot of time trudging up and down the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue, the boys jabbering a mile a minute the entire time regarding each and every thing that was going on around them.

There are lots of observations I could make about it all, but perhaps the most interesting one has to do with what had been my greatest fear, that they would start getting rowdy and I would lack the authority in their eyes to force them to stop; because when all was said and done, not only did they have the ability to understand when they were reaching the limits of my patience, and would deliberately stop their bad behavior right before the point where they'd get in trouble, they had a very sophisticated and nuanced understanding of where this line laid, a much more mature ability to judge and understand the subtle details of the world around them than I realized they had, certainly a lot more than when I first started spending time with them, four years ago now if you can believe that. And so for the first time since I've known them, that made it more like three male friends out hitting the town, albeit it absolutely with one of them in charge of the other two, but more like three people palling around who have a mutual respect for each other than a babysitter and his charges, if that makes sense. And one of them (but definitely not the other) is still in the habit of reaching up and holding an adult's hand at quiet times while walking down the street; and man, let me say, there's not much else that can melt your heart like having a little child you're in charge of reach up and take your hand at quiet moments during a walk. See, that's how that fucker God tricks you into having one of these little monsters yourself and propagating the species; he floods you with endorphins every time they reach up and touch you with their cutie widdle hands and their cutie widdle fingers. FUCK YOU, GOD! YOU'RE NOT TRAPPING ME THAT EASILY, ASSHOLE!

But of course He actually is; and so I find myself having baby fever every so often while I'm out these days, which is a much more complicated thing to have when you're a single male, because you can't lovingly stare at another person's child at a cafe like a single woman can without usually getting a sock in the nose for it. And that's...well, that's neither here nor there, because I'm not even dating yet again, so I basically have to take all that one step at a time, and find someone who can actually stand fucking me before deciding whether our little Rutegar will be home-schooled or going to Montessori. It's funny to at least have the sensation, though, and a longing at times for children for the first time in my life; because I have to say, now that I've developed this long-term relationship with the boys, many times I really do legitimately have a lot of fun with them when we're hanging out, a bigger shock to me than anyone else. Anyway, as always, more on this subject over the coming months and years, and lots of pictures of all of us in action over at my Flickr account. That's it for now -- talk with you again soon, or just come by Facebook for much more regular updates.

Copyright 2012, Jason Pettus. Released under a Creative Commons license; some rights reserved. Contact: ilikejason [at] gmail.com. Powered by Movable Type 5.01. This site is graciously hosted for free by Jimi Sweet. Subscribe via RSS: summaries | full text