Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This can stop now...

...as yet another day goes by in a kind of blur that has nothing to do with artificial mood-altering items.

It was a nothing day. It seems boring and repetitive to say no money came in and no responses were received regarding numerous inquiries about work, but that's how it was.

What bothers me more than a little is that I felt nothing when I thought about my rapidly deteriorating situation today. No anger, no resolve to do something -- as if, at this point, there is anything I can do -- or anything of the sort. All I feel is a kind of resignation (mixed with a little curiosity) about what happens next.

One way or another, this miserable situation must come to an end, and soon. Right now the chances of a positive outcome aren't looking good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sundays are no longer my friend.

There was a time when I didn't mind Sundays. They were days off, and even if work awaited on Monday, it was a kind of known quantity, sometimes satisfying, sometimes frustrating, but generally predictable. I knew what I had, and if not ideal, it was at least tolerable.

Later, Sundays became work days. I'd write, or attend work-related events. Not ideal, of course, but again predictable.

Now, Sundays are like Saturdays. As a rule, I don't hear from the people to whom I owe money, and that is the best I can say about them.

There is no point in calling those who owe me money, or from whom I would like to get work. They take weekends off, and leaving messages for them -- as I do during the week -- is futile.

So is applying for new jobs. Again, potential employers are not accessible. They can ignore me during the week, as so many have.

But I know that tomorrow is Monday, and the whole sorry routine of trying -- unsuccessfully -- to explain why I can't pay my bills begins again. I hate that; those to whom I owe money have legitimate beefs, and they don't want to hear that my clients are ignoring me. All they know is that I owe them. They are right to think that way.

I have work. I can do three or four articles for a client whose three publications are far behind in payments. And yet, when I even think about doing those assignments, I can't even begin to work on them. What little trust I had in that company is long gone.

Tomorrow, the whole sad cycle begins again. I will call the client for whom I have done work for close to a decade, but who is hurting because of the collapse of the nation's economy. He will tell me that the usual people have not signed contracts for his gig as yet, and therefore he can't give me any assignments.

Another client will tell me they haven't decided what I can do for them as of now. They will encourage me to call back next week....

Another former -- and, one hopes, future -- client will tell me to drop by and talk with them, though there is nothing they can assign me to do right now. Maybe later....

I will apply for more jobs. A friend has suggested one; it is something I might have taken 22 years ago, when I was a novice in my craft. I'll apply, but not expect anything better than a tepid reply and money that won't allow me to survive, if I get that much.

None of which will pay those bills which are past due. Those I owe are at the point where they don't want to hear excuses. I can't blame them.

Some people will say things like: "think positive!" "Visualize success!" Been there, done that, buckaroos.

The best I can hope for is to survive the week to come. It's not a sure thing.

In the meantime, I think I will allow myself to indulge in an excess of what some call Adult Beverage. It doesn't help, but somehow makes the time pass by more quickly on a Sunday night when I have no encouraging words for myself, and have no one around to deliver any positive thoughts or encouragement.

I never thought it would come to this, Jim.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No escape...

...as I should have known that when things don't go well, running away doesn't always help.

The trip to Catalina was, in many respects, a disaster. I'll explain, but warn all that this may get a little, well, convoluted....

A friend asked me to explain exactly what it was I was "fixing" last time I wrote about a journey to Catalina and, when I was through telling her, thought I should write about it. So that's what I'm doing, though under circumstances less happy than I envisioned.

My trips over to the island have been taken to help a friend fix a pipe organ that was installed in the Avalon Theatre in 1928...

This is, of course, a slightly less remunerative and interesting gig than, say, blacksmithing, building horse-drawn buggies or making incandescent light bulbs and vacuum tubes. It is, at best, a dying profession. But I began learning the tricks of the trade some 33 years ago and have some expertise, as if anyone cares.

This particular pipe organ has roughly 1200 pipes, plus some percussion instruments (xylophone, glockenspiel and the like) playable from its four keyboards and pedal keyboard. The last organ of its type was built in the 1930s, and those of us who work on them do so primarily out of love instead of financial gain.

The spaces (there are two) in which the pipes are installed are far from spacious, as this photo suggests...

The mechanisms that operate the pipes and other sounds are now 81 years old. The leather and felt used in the operating systems are wearing out, and need replacing. This involves working in cramped quarters, in spaces that haven't been thoroughly cleaned since 1928. It also, as I mentioned in a post last year, involves climbing less-than-sturdy ladders to gain access.

So what's the problem? Until now, the contract under which a friend of mine maintains the instrument has called for patching those bits of old hardware that are failing. But we have reached a point where the failures are coming faster than the repairs can cope with, meaning that we need to essentially rebuild the organ completely to make it work properly.

That involves not only the pipe actions themselves, but many other subsidiary parts....

The company that owns the Avalon has indicated some willingness to pay for a full restoration, but nothing has reached the contract stage. My friend who has been doing the servicing (most recently with my assistance) is trying to get them to sign on the dotted line. The alternative is that the organ will soon no longer be usable at all.

This last trip was frustrating. As quickly as we could repair one part of the puzzle, another would fail. The decay of old leather and other parts is outpacing our ability to repair and replace.

Therefore, my friend decided that this was our last "service" trip over there. If we are not given the funds to do the job properly, the organ will simply fail and become an unusable relic.

I couldn't argue.

That has too many parallels with my current situation to be comfortable to think about. I have worked hard, because I believe in what I do, but those I have worked for seem to think I'll always be there, and it doesn't matter if they pay me or not.

After the somewhat frustrating trip over to the island and back, I was "greeted" (if you want to call it that) with even more bad news which, thanks to the publications that have chosen to pay me at their own convenience instead of being up-front with me, I cannot answer.

This is simply getting to be too damn much. If everything is going to cause stress and disappointment, I might as well give up now and avoid the rush.

And, as frosting on the cake, my little camera decided to start turning up its digital toes on this trip. I expect it to fail totally within the next few days. I can't afford to replace it right now, and I will miss it.

Perhaps the last photo I'll be able to take with it was this shot of the sculpture in front of Avalon's snooty Tuna Club, yet another place that will never welcome me within its walls....

Damn. I need something (or someone) to hang on to, Jim.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A chance to escape...

...is what I've been craving, and am finally getting.

Unfortunately, it's only for two days.

This week, in fact the last three weeks, have been an absolute nightmare. It has been a time of unrelenting stress, nightmares and that helpless feeling of being propelled at top speed toward a very large and very thick brick wall.

Today was the worst, beginning with a humiliating message from an editor I don't know who works for a former (and, I hope, future) client. My friend D., the photographer, got me into that mess in his inimitable way; I'm not yet certain how it will resolve.

A couple of friends have been steadfast through all this evil. One, in particular, should now be in Karma Heaven if my appreciation for her aid and comfort go into her good-deeds account, as they should.

Others, not so much. A consequence of having their own lives, I guess. Can't blame them; I'm not exactly a barrel o' fun these days.

Anyway, the escape: I've been asked to go back over to Catalina Island for two days to do some work there. It won't solve any of my problems here, but will take my mind off them and allow me to buy groceries when I get back.

Though only 25 or so miles off the coast, it is far enough removed from here that I can ordinarily put all the strain and pain out of my mind. This will be a major test of that effect.

But I do have to come back.

This just ain't the way it should be, Jim....

Thursday, April 09, 2009

For every action...

...there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe Isaac Newton figured that out first.

It's the truth. There have been a number of actions around here this week. I'm waiting for the "equal and opposite" reaction.

And it's not going to be pretty.

I won't bore you with the "every action" list. It is as you might imagine: payments that didn't arrive, people who are unwilling to reply to phone messages and emails, job applications that apparently vanished into the Great Void, Photographer D. trying to get me stirred up to write a story a publication is supposedly eager to get (a contention disproved, alas, by the editor of said magazine who was, at best, lukewarm to the idea when I called him today), and the usual chorus of people lining up to drink my blood if they can't get my money....

That's the action. What might the reaction be? That's something I don't want to consider.

Experience tells me that advising the howling mob that things are out of my hands will not calm them. I am not the government; I can't write checks without worrying whether there are funds to cover them. I can't print money.

Apparently, I can't earn money either.

I'm not going to make excuses. I chose to do what I do and, over the years, I have learned that it is a tenuous gig at best. You might say I should have been more ant than grasshopper, and I can't dispute that.

PARENTHETICAL DON'T-PAY-ATTENTION-TO-FABLES THOUGHT: Aesop -- or whoever the hell dreamed up all these cautionary tales of grasshoppers vs. ants, or tortoises vs. hares -- didn't take into consideration the simple fact that even the ant (or tortoise) can starve when the diet is meager enough.

What the hell. I have no brilliant answer, no snappy comeback.

In fact, I need a break (no matter how short) from this, a friendly shoulder to lean on while I consider what I might do.

I have learned, however, that I shouldn't expect to get that break.

So the "equal and opposite reaction" will be what it is.

Monday, April 06, 2009

An anniversary...of sorts

Reading this entry in the journal of someone for whom I have the utmost respect as a writer, friend and all-around human being reminded me I have an anniversary coming up next month: it will be 23 years ago in May that I had my first magazine article published.

I remember it so vividly. I remember the simple suggestion of a story idea to an editor, a suggestion that received a "why don't you write it?" response. I remember the research, the phone calls, the visits to the subject. I remember the long hours spent at the typewriter -- yes, typewriter! -- stringing words together, and the tentative, nervous way I handled submission of the finished product.

And I remember the silence from the magazine, followed by a copy of the finished product. And I remember the check.

There was my byline, too, for 800,000 readers to see. The first of more than 1000 bylines, not counting several hundred shorter "anonymous" articles.

That was heady stuff, Jim.

It seems a long time ago in one way. The whole scene has gone to hell since, the victim of too many would-be writers jockeying for assignments and too many publishers learning that they didn't really have to treat us contributors with any respect. Pay well, follow the rules about "first-use" rights, pay on time? Not necessary. There's always some chump who will crank out articles because they love doing it.

I used to love it. My friend's words reminded me why.

Now, love has turned to the closest thing to hate. That might be temporary, might not be. I don't know.

The mentally speedy among you might wonder why I don't tell my friend to tone down the idealism and pride, prepare herself for the awful stuff she might face, knowing as I do that it can all turn to dung before you even know what's happening.

Simple answer: She combines far more talent than I ever had* with a much sharper perception of the joys and sorrows of the gig. I have faith that she can land wherever she wants to, survive and thrive in whatever conditions she finds herself. She is also, by training, experience and what I can only call sheer ability, more versatile than I.

I believed what I was taught as a child: do your best, and you'll never fail.

Woops. Wrong.

I'd still like to write. Should conditions allow me to do my best at it while eating and paying bills on time, I might well come to love it again. I'll go so far as to say I'm pretty sure I will. If those things happen.

The 23 years weren't wasted. Only the end result (as it now stands, anyway) stinks.

It was a good ride while it lasted, and my friend's words today reminded me why.

I just wish I could find the magic key to getting it to work again.

* This is neither false modesty nor unwarranted self-criticism. I am a damn good writer, considered so by my own reckoning and by some people whose opinions I consider worth listening to. I have an acquaintance who devours magazines from my field voraciously, and works with many writers in his day job. He says I'm one of the five best of the genre. I'll accept that.

But I know talent when I see it. I've
hired talent. I have read a ton of her stuff, have even giving her minor help with a few stories, and so am qualified to say: she has talent. More than I do.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Even more tired...

...and it has nothing to do with entertaining guests today...

Yes, Girl (who was sleeping on a shelf in my closet), Honey and Max dropped by again, as they often do. Naturally, the latter two spread themselves out across the bed, leaving no room for the bed's owner to rack out, which is what I really feel like doing.

The heaviest dose of fatigue came from the (usually) simple act of hunting for work. I decided to check in with a former client, one that, when last I spoke to them, had chosen to stop using freelance writers and produce everything in-house. I thought that policy might have changed.

Apparently, it has. I first called a friend who works for them. He advised me to contact the head office. I did so, and was warmly received. There seems to be a good chance they'll have some writing for me to do, though -- as I must keep reminding myself -- that is far from certain until they actually pick subjects and send out contracts.

So why do I now feel as if I've gone through the rough equivalent of a 50-mile hike? Simple: I had to make myself sound cheery, positive, and carefree. All of those things are, well, lies.

There's no doubt that I want to work for them. I'll work for anyone, particularly if they pay.* And this company was never difficult to deal with.

But it has grown profoundly difficult to present myself as Mr On-top-of-his-game. Merely watching what I say in order to present myself in the best light is wearing. Sounding as if one is begging for work can be fatal to the chances of getting any assignments.

And I sure as hell don't want to give even the slightest hint that I do not feel like writing at the moment.

It might have been different if they had immediately seized on any of the topics we discussed and ordered up a load of words from me.

When today is such a hideous mess, it's damn hard to try to focus on tomorrow.

It's probably a good thing the kittycats have the bed staked out. I feel like going to sleep and not waking until something good happens.

That could take a long time, Jim. Too long.

* The latter qualification is, alas, not being met by some current clients. I'm getting tired of getting only bills and advertising fliers in the mail, I can tell you....

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I'm sick of it.

Yes, I am.

I'm tired of being Someone (or Something) Up There's laboratory rat.

I'm tired of having Pavlovian psychological games played on me, of being subjected to situations where the stress relentlessly piles up and -- presumably -- my reactions are read on a dial or long, long strip of paper somewhere.

You'd think the experimenter would be getting tired of putting me through the endless tests involving ever-increasing periods of deprivation punctuated by the pushing of the smallest morsels into my cage, particularly when my responses have become dulled to the point where they sometimes barely register.

The bell rings, I salivate. But I'm drying up.

At least the majority of laboratory rats -- those belonging to the Experimental Animals' Union, Local 307, perhaps -- don't have to clean their own freekin' cages.

I bet they get cute girl lab rats to keep 'em company, too.

This pressure has been going on for too many years now. I'm sick of it.