Friday, March 30, 2007

Rich People Die Unhappy

"If this path is so right,
Then why can’t I sleep at night?"
-The Noises 10 "Stuck in the backseat"
This is a post I’ve been putting off for awhile—one because it’s not an easy thing to write about and two because I’d hoped (and pretty much rightly so) that if I waited, there’d be a cheerier outlook on things. But at this point: I’ve got to get it out of my system in the hopes of sleeping easier.

(Disclaimer: if talks about depression, a liberal does of general bitching/pity-party-for-one hosting, and pretty-obviously-employed-as-coping-method jokes about depression aren’t your cup of tea, then don’t read past this little period. Oh, and it’s pretty long.)

As alluded to in an earlier post, I’d figured that things weren’t quite working out in Athens like I’d hoped, and that an attempt to grow up and move on with life was in order.
Parts of that plan not quite working out like I’d hoped have allowed the dreaded second thoughts to creep in. Everyone I told the "move to Atlanta, get a real job" plan to has endorsed the idea.

And that alone makes me nervous in a prolix, retroactively self-doubting, "so did everyone think I was fucking up sticking around Athens as long as I did? Or was it just the low-paying, not-writing-enough aspect? Etc." way. So a pretty specific type of nervous is the point.

Add to the nervous the fact that almost all my dwindling circle of friends remaining in Athens are engaged or cohabitating or otherwise no longer single, and sure, almost none of them go downtown on much of a regular basis, and sure last Saturday—it being one of those gloriously sunny and warm days that makes me say "hey, there is an upside to Global Warming"—since no one would join me at the pool I (admittedly after a few shots worth of Patron and several beers) decided to go meet some of my neighbors (ironically enough though the girls playing perhaps the World’s Longest Game of Beer Pong weren’t residents, but you didn’t hear that from me). As Radiohead’s DVD title says: "Meeting People is Easy."

What’s not easy is finding a job in Athens that can pay even in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year with benefits (assuming you’re like me and have no PhDs or law degrees or 5 years or more of computer programming experience—and even then there’s no guarantees and odds are you get paid less than you would at the same job in a city like, say Atlanta.)

And my personal sort-of motto of "less money in Athens but happy" hasn’t really been holding a lot of water for a while, despite my attempts at invoking it even on a date (which was a very happy time indeed. But how much of that was because it allowed me to not think about the job situation, future etc.) That "funk" or worse feeling has shown up several times, dating back at least to last summer, but even that first year I stuck around after graduating in ’03-’04 where Athens didn’t feel right to me.

"And after all this time, you were waiting on the rideTo stop at the place where
they slowly misplaced your life..."

-Butch Walker "Joan"

I can’t deny a large portion of it is the money. I’ve tried denying that for years: I’m done. It was and is a factor. Not just in a paying the bills and a shiny iPod for working out, but dating too. Especially dating.

The Girl (note: I'm not using her name here, but she gets big-time proper noun-status anyway) was incredibly low-maintenance—yet another plus in her favor, among many; if I listed all her good qualities it’d crash Blogger’s server and her bad qualities would take a few lines at most—but I wasn’t exactly advertising just how tight money was either. She knew from the first date I wished my job had the benefits (and hours, and non-punchclock regimens) her job had. She knew then I was not exactly jumping for joy with my current financial situation (see the note below about my buddy’s salary supra, that story was mentioned too).

Money wasn’t an issue for her(well, the money I had wasn't an issue; I got the impression she, like most people, would enjoy having more than she was currently making, and while she downplayed her work, she was probably more than enough of a badass at it that she probably did/does deserve a raise). She practically bent over backwards to keep me from paying for dinner all the time. But it was an (mostly unspoken) issue for me—not so much picking up the check at Bissette’s or Mellow Mushroom or wherever—but more importantly any time I’d look more than a few weeks into the future.

She had a great idea that we could both take our laptops downtown, or to the dog park (well, the second one was more of a plan for Spring or one of those non-freezing days in the fall) and write, together (can you blame me for falling ass-over-teakettle-grade smitten?). The catch: I had no laptop, and really no feasible way to buy one. Several weeks (and a literally teeth-chattering fall cold front) later on somehow our conversation turned to ski lifts and how the height made her nervous, I think a television ad was involved, and I pointed out that a two-person lift can be quite romantic, if it’s the right two people (especially if the resort’s set up for night skiing, and there’s a hot tub to "recover" in afterwards.). Then we talked about maybe taking a trip…I was thinking somewhere close—perhaps the classic three-day weekend retreat to someplace where the snow is only slightly more natural than Pamela Anderson-?(Rock? Lee? I don’t really know or care at this point)’s décolletage, like say either one of those resorts in Boone, NC—but yet again, I could throw the idea out there, but I knew I couldn’t actually make it happen. And it eats away at you.

I can add up the figures and sometimes wonder how I had any bit of a life (and then be amazed that I was able to have an amazing relationship for even two dates, much less a few months.) The numbers in a nutshell: after rent and bills, I was left with $100 (or sometimes less—a lack of health insurance, coupled with far too many stretches where I would eat way too much junk/fast food and not work out wrecked perfect attendance) per week for food, fuel in the car, and…well, maybe it was a good thing I didn’t have many friends that liked going out downtown. It eats away at you.

That went on for a year. November and December prior I was searching for work, and blowing the tiny bit of savings I had accumulated working in the ‘burbs. But unlike some folks who graduated, worked outside of Athens and moved back, I wasn’t really taking that big of a pay cut. I hadn’t worked continuously for long in the ‘burbs, thanks primarily to what I’m pretty sure now (there was never a formal diagnosis or anything—I had no health insurance, but also just enough vanity or pride or whatever to not ask my folks for money to see a psychologist) was a pretty nasty bout with depression that winter (other than the occasional band practice, my mental health was helped the most through the two-hour blocks of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TNT. So basically I can date the length of that depressed period by however long it took TNT to air the last few episodes of Season Four—starting with the episode where Faith killed a man—to right about the time in Season Six that Buffy and Spike’s wild sex brought a building down on them.)

So while "I left Atlanta and more money for Athens" may technically be true, I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough there—and I followed the same job search pattern I employed in Athens in my first post-grad year: take the first job offer you get, even if you can’t imagine staying there long. I’ve got a friend that graduated UGA all of three months later than I did who made $70K last year and at minimum $150,000 since graduating. I don’t want to actually dig out my tax returns, but I’m pretty sure my entire income from graduation in ’03 to my ’06 income added up might not even be $70K. And it can eat away at you.

Because one year is maybe adjustment to post-college life, or my plan to take a year off and the go back to grad school, but after several years of struggling, the cumulative effect on my overall confidence is: not good. But I’ve got lots of friends who will tell me how brilliant I am, or how even in my (well, to me) goofy-looking driver’s license picture I looked smart. Plus also a number of friends telling me on the frequent occasions my current relationships with the fairer sex haven’t gone beyond a date or two that I really should have a girlfriend. So, how much of those comments win out over the reality of being single and poor registers as true, and how much self-doubt based on the small figures on the checks and little to no money for dates takes over? At what point do you begin to feel a scarlet F (for either "failure" or "fuckup" depending for how vulgar I’m feeling) on you at almost all times? When do you admit to yourself that because a girl dates an older guy it’s not because she’s out for his money, but it’s because he’s not drowning in doubts about how he could afford to travel and see her, or the classic insecurity-in-relationship killer "what does she even see in me?" question? And when do you stop and reflect that your dream of coming back to Athens, and what you wanted to do, and what you’ve wound up doing, don’t mesh? Again (well, by know if you’re reading this you can detect the them I’ve been going for at the end of these paragraphs…)

But am I really talking myself into plans of a "real job" in Atlanta, and moving away from the town I’ve called home for seven out of the past eight years?

Or am I simply throwing in the towel because I think someone special had come into my life, and I realize now I screwed up, again, in the same poor communication way that’s screwed up some other promising relationships?

And that maybe the money isn’t a reason why I clamed up at the worst time, but an excuse?
(The quick backstory: when things stopped working well dovetails with my turn from being honest and open with her to lying or avoiding talking about issues because I figured that that was what she wanted. Insecurity strikes again.)

I’m sure it’s actually a bit of both. Sadly, I’m also sure even if The Girl suddenly decided to call me up and give me a second (well, by my unofficial count at least fifteenth) chance, it’d yet again end badly. She may not have the whole world on her finger yet ("yet" being the key word here), she’s got a pretty amazing life going on right now, all the hopes and dreams still in the air, and I’ve got…a band that is on "hiatus" (rock musician euphemism for "broken up"), a temporary job that will likely be followed by another temporary job while I continue to send resumes out, and obviously, a disposition that’s probably just as sunny as the one I had back in November that I think quite literally manifested in a kind of contact depression in her. (Note: I’m let’s say 99.9999% sure I’m not currently depressed, and this rant leans towards the nadir of my daily moods, not how I am daily.)

What do you do when your roots have dissolved and broken down And the soil
that you grew in when you were small Has become nothing more than dirt in some
dirty town
When you list all the qualities that you despise And you realise
You're describing yourself?
-Marillion "This Rake's Progress"

Before the temp job came into play I wound up spending almost a month attempting to send out resumes and find work in Atlanta while spending most of my time in Athens. Mostly I slept too much, then finally did a benefit-of-distance postmotem on the relationship with The Girl and well, sometimes seeing yourself how someone else sees you, holding that mirror up to your face, isn’t a good thing.

I could feel the symptoms of depression building again—not "the funk" but the real, ominous, Ideation-rejected-but-still-frightening thing, something like what I felt a few years ago—and something had to give. So I went to Plan B (the temp jobs until something better is found) and started hitting the gym daily, cutting almost all fast food out of the diet. Plan A1+, for the record, involved a large lottery-winning financial windfall, endowing UGA with a true MFA program for creative writing (could DFW be talked into moving to Athens from Pomona in California?), somehow purchasing the old DialAmerica building and deeding it to the folks at Nuci’s Space (I picture a bigger venue for fundraiser shows, more space for practice, and maybe even a small parking deck on the current lot’s footprint, that could raise brobdingnagian amounts of money for the place on gamedays alone), outfitting the band (or a band that I’d play guitar in) with pro gear, and spending even more time writing (which, I will note I’ve been trying my damnedest to be diligent about now, because if I take a "I’ll finish the book when I have more time" attitude, it won’t get finished.)

But several million-to-one-shot-odds fantasies aside, here’s the basic conclusion of a good bit of painful self-reflection:

Insecurity, especially financial insecurity, can make me a really terrible person. I clam up and avoid telling anything remotely approximating the truth to those close to me—especially anyone I’m dating. If I feel I’m "losing" her, I can try stringing together long strands of pent-up things I should’ve told her before (and not all at once) mixed with what I think she wants to hear in a pathetic attempt to get her to stay. I fall into that terrible mistake of picturing relationships as "having" and "winning over," terms of conquest and possession and all that horrid shit, instead of equal, even though I know deep down it’s the equality I want. I manipulate and censor aspects of the relationship when things turn sour to make myself look better and her worse. And if someone figures out I’m doing it, even confessing it later can be a strain on her trusting me. It’s a nasty cycle and I don’t like the guy causing it. And I don’t want to be that guy again. Ever.
He feels like shit constantly, makes those he claims to love feel like shit, and he’s the little fucker that wants to pull me back into depression.

What I want is to feel like the guy The Girl thought I was to begin with—a funny, happy, confident guy. And while my romantic side doesn’t want to admit it (but screw him, the manipulative asshole side of me can talk my romantic side into too much problematic shit) it’s going to take money to kill off the insecurity. Or at least hopefully wound it—perhaps main it in the leg or something so that I can clearly hear it coming and sweep its maimed leg and throw it away.

If I’m being honest with myself Athens isn’t 100% ruled out then, but it’s an almost lottery-winning longshot. Atlanta’s the first choice, and I’m hoping something good is in the pipeline (and I’m not totally grasping at straws here, there are multiple reasons for hope in the pipeline. Even if that’s a lousy mixed metaphor.) If that fails too? Well, several years back I had started looking into what it might take to get a work visa to Australia...

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