I will write next year.
But I'm not going to set goals of finishing the novel, or x number of posts per month, or x amount of short stories. 15 minutes a day. That's the goal. That is the resolution.
"Angels we have heard on high,Sweetly singing o'er the plains.And the mountains in reply,echoing their sweet refrains."
For the second time in two years, I found myself cleaning out my desk this week.
The first time, I was completely stunned. I didn't see it coming at all. I thought I was actually making good progress and was looking forward to discussing next year's goals, and instead, I was turning in my keys.
But this time...
This time, I smelled it coming. I had a really lousy week the previous week, and I knew my boss wasn't happy with me. I expected that we would have a stern conversation sometime this week. But when I walked in, and the head honcho was also sitting there, I knew things were going down.
I've definitely had some issues at work. A couple of deadlines that I was chasing pretty furiously. I was seeing this week as the week when I would prove my worth again, demonstrate again that I was the person they wanted in this position. They were taking a chance hiring me, and I wanted so badly to prove that the gamble was worth it. It WAS worth it - I learned a tremendous amount, I did some fantastic work, and I'm proud of what I did.
But I slipped. I let my anxiety and my fear of failure get the best of me, started getting sloppy on collecting information. Deadlines started creeping closer and closer. I started fibbing to my supervisor about where I was on projects. There's a thing that happens when you start falling behind and the workload never stops. You keep thinking you'll get to a spot where you can catch up, some quiet week. You think you'll work a few evenings, maybe some time on the weekend to catch up. You keep thinking that you'll catch up sometime down the road, and then the end of the road happens.
Could I have stopped this? Maybe. Did I see this coming in time? I don't think so. By the time I sensed trouble, it was already too late. Maybe I should have visited the therapist more often. Maybe I should have worked more on the weekend. Maybe ... maybe ... maybe ...
And then again, maybe it was inevitable. I was being brought in as an entry-level employee, doing way advanced-level work. Every fundraising job right now is being expected to overperform in a terrible economy; there's less money out there, but we're all being to find every available dollar. I was brought in as a rookie who was expected to perform like a ten-year veteran, and when I couldn't keep up with the frantic pace being set, I got the axe. Was it my fault for not being able to keep running, or their fault for pushing me too hard?
It doesn't matter now. What matters now is moving on. I've got to move onto another job, and this job search is going to be a little more complicated than the last one. But I'm feeling oddly relieved by this. Sure, I'm back on unemployment, and sure, I hate having to start the search process all over again. But maybe it's time to find a job that's actually at my level. This might be a genuine case where the last job wasn't a good fit, and I can use this to really find something that really matches where I'm at.
I'm feeling good about this, people. Really. If I got through the last search in the dead of the recession, I can get through this one.
I quite enjoyed this NY Times article on the National. It's a great piece on a band filled with literate, brilliant, and obviously strong-willed individuals. The tension between them explains quite a bit about the music they create.
Also, it contains two of the best quotes I've ever seen in the Times on any subject.
This, describing the process of perfecting a new song:
“Lemonworld,” for instance, had by now sustained upwards of 80 takes followed by upwards of 80 onslaughts of derision. Versions of the song had been fragged for being really annoying, really bombastic, really boring, really cheesy, too destabilized, really meatball, really saccharine, too sludgefest, too Dave Matthews swank and too all-fancy razzle-dazzle. At one point, Bryan worried aloud, “We’re throwing the baby out with the bath water,” to which Matt replied, “What is the baby?”
And then this description of the lead vocalist, Matt Berninger:
Over the years, Matt has accumulated a flock of snide nicknames from his band mates, including the Dark Lord, the Naysayer, Mumbleberry Pie, Mr. Knee Jerk, Mr. Sony Headphones and the Echo Chamber.
I've been hiding my identity for years, using a pseudonym. Most of you know that Sky Bluesky is not my real name. Parts of the life I describe on this blog are real, and some of them are fabricated to make it harder to identify me. I have wanted for years to tell the truth about who I am, but I had to wait until the right time when my words could no longer be used against me. I've said things on this blog that could make my professional life very difficult.
But it's time to end the mystery. It's time for me to tell the world who I really am. So on this day, April 1, 2010, I am removing the veil.
My name is Greg Nickels.
Yes, that Greg Nickels. The former mayor of Seattle.
As you can imagine, leading this double life has been extremely stressful, but it's also been a delightful creative exercise. I have had the opportunity to craft a new life, a new family, and speak candidly through the voice of another.
In the future, I look forward to sharing my thoughts here on the political landscape of Seattle and the country, as well as continuing to blog about my favorite music, odd stories that cross my mind, and the wonderful meals that my wife Sharon prepares. Godspeed.
Mrs. B and Oliver had the most hilarious interplay last night. They were playing with legos or puppets or something, and Oliver decided to say that his little guy was a knight. A good knight, not a bad knight.
O: "I'm a good knight!"
Mrs. B: (slyly) "Good night!"
She burst out laughing. He just got annoyed. So he tried to explain again that he was a good knight.
Mrs. B: "Good night!"
O: "No, I'm a knight!"
Mrs. B: "Good night!"
And then he tried to clarify. "There are two kinds of nights. I'm the kind of knight that rides a horse. I'm not the kind of night that you say when you say good night."
Mrs. B: "Good night!"
O: "Stop it."
That kept going for at least ten minutes, and Mrs. B and I kept cracking up every time she delivered the line.
Some very smart people have written about what the historic vote on health care reform means. What it means for Republicans, what it means for Democrats, what it means for the public's view of government, what it means for the country. I'm not going to try and retread those well-worn paths. Let me tell you what this battle means to me.
Yes, that's right, me. All politics is local, and all politics is personal. So let me tell you about my journey of learning about why health care matters.
Ten years ago, I started working in the world of social justice. I was a canvasser. I was one of those people who knocks on your door and asks you if you have a minute, and tells you about some political issue you probably weren't thinking about, and then asks you to take action or donate money so that the fight on that political issue can continue.
It was a job. I had just been fired from my last job and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. It was a decent-paying job that required no experience, just the ability to make a good argument and to think on one's feet. I could do that. So I became a canvasser.
I became an activist, in the parlance of the movement. We weren't just canvassers. We were activists. We were community organizers, sowing the seeds of grassroots power, one doorstep at a time.
But the problem was this. We weren't talking about revolutionary issues. We were talking about ... health care. Prescription drug prices. Access to insurance. I didn't get it. I thought health care was a pretty middle-class issue, not very exciting, not very revolutionary. Health care just wasn't that big a deal. Why weren't we talking about homelessness, or defunding the military, or banning nuclear bombs? What did health care matter?
One thing I did notice, though. A lot of people didn't have anything to say, or didn't have time to talk. But the ones who did would open up. Their stories would come pouring out of them, often with tears and shaking voices and anger. And the more I talked to people, the more I saw how important health care really was.
I talked to men who would bring out their handwritten lists of medications - ten, fifteen, twenty different drugs - and tell me which ones they knew they had to have, and which ones they knew they could skip if they couldn't afford them. "These pills all cost money," they explained, "and sometimes, you gotta make choices."
I talked to people who faithfully paid their premiums every month, only to find that their insurance company refused to cover their illnesses when they became sick. They did nothing wrong except to become sick, and their insurance companies suddenly found exemptions, exclusions, limitations in their coverage. Profits over people. It happens more often than any of us realize.
I talked to people who were too young for Medicare, too ill to work, and too healthy to qualify for disability or Medicaid. They were trapped without health insurance, holding their breath and hoping that they wouldn't get sick. Prayer. That was their health care plan. Pray you don't get sick.
I talked to people who knew that if they got sick, their only choice was the emergency room. They couldn't afford the bills. They would get a payment plan if they had to go to the ER, and they would pay what they could, and they would fall behind, and the ER would send their account to a collection agency, and they would probably go bankrupt over it. Over health care costs.
I brought people to Olympia to protest against the high cost of prescription drugs. I helped organize rallies and town hall meetings to demand access to health care. I fought with my heart and soul against proposed increases in health care costs for the poorest of the poor, against threatened termination of our state's Basic Health plan. I met people who would weep when they thought about losing their health care. I met people who knew they would die without health care.
I met people who are dead now. They died because they had no health care, and they put off the visit to the doctor until the next paycheck came in. They didn't get checked because they couldn't afford the bill, and their illnesses got worse, and then when they needed to see the doctor, their choices were emergency rooms and sliding scale clinics with lines going out the door. Yes, people died. Lack of health care kills people in this country, thousands of people every year. People I knew and cared deeply about, and they died because of the injustice of our health care system.
I know that this bill will not solve everything. I know that we - the activists, the grassroots, the netroots - have much work yet to do. But twelve million more people are going to have access to health care now. Medicare and Medicaid will be expanded. More money will be available so people who can't afford health insurance can get it. The foolish policies that kept people with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance will go away. Insurance companies will be banned from canceling health insurance policies when their customers get sick.
Things are going to get better. God willing, less people will die now because of lack of health insurance. And when they do, goddammit, people will pay attention. Because health care is one of the most important issues facing our country. Our health care system is broken, deranged, a failed machine running amok. This bill will make some long-needed repairs to the machine. It's not a complete fix. It's not a new machine. But we needed a fix, and this is a good fix, and it is too long in coming.
(Once again, thanks to the awesome Jamie Mulligan for the great canvasser picture.)
The past few years have been catastrophic for ACORN, but not for the reasons most people think. The trouble depended long before James McKeefe dressed up in his Pimps Я Us outfit and started harassing local offices.
ACORN has had a long and troubled history. I first learned about them when I got involved in grassroots organizing at the beginning of the last decade. Shortly after I became an organizer, the local ACORN office was facing a strike from its own "organizers" (their term for canvassers). They complained that they were working in unsafe conditions and not being paid fair hourly wages.
The ugly situation peaked when ACORN strikers picketed outside the Seattle Labor Temple while ACORN management was attending coalition meetings inside. It all ended after a NLRB ruling, a large settlement for back pay, the firing and replacement of the local office's manager, and the personal involvement of Wade Rathke, ACORN's CEO ... oh, pardon me, Chief Organizer.
Rathke, of course, was the center of a much larger scandal in 2008. A firestorm erupted when it came to light that his brother, who was also on the salary of ACORN, had embezzled somewhere around a million dollars, or possibly more. (The true amount has never been publicly revealed, to the best of my knowledge.) Most companies, faced with a massive embezzlement, would call the FBI or the police. But not ACORN, and not with the incestuous nature of the crime. Instead, they buried the story. A funder (apparently Drummond Pike, leader of the Tides Foundation) paid off the debt to ACORN and made a hush-hush payment arrangement with the criminal Rathke brother. Only a select few board members ever knew about the secret, until the New York Times blew the whistle in July 2008.
Afterward, Rathke attempted to explain why he would try to hide something this outrageous. They - notably Rathke, the founder, CEO, and public face of ACORN - said that revealing the crime would put a "weapon" in the hands of its opponents. But the cover-up revealed something much worse - no one was watching the books at ACORN. They had failed the most basic test for nonprofits - they weren't keeping a close eye on their finances.
Funders notice when things like this happen, and they reacted swiftly to the news. By the fall of 2009, several major funders including the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Bank of America and JPMorgan had all ceased their longstanding support of ACORN. ACORN was sending out panicky fundraising letters with language like "We need your help to survive."
By the time the videos started surfacing, ACORN was already on the way down. O'Keefe was beating a dead horse. It's possible that ACORN's crippled position made it easier for O'Keefe to get into multiple office. But O'Keefe did not destroy ACORN.
Republicans have been trying to make the name ACORN toxic since at least 2004. James O'Keefe did some serious damage with his creatively edited videos and his wild stories. (Note that no crimes have ever been charged in connection with the videos, except against O'Keefe himself.) They were the final straw. But ACORN's back had been broken long before.
What actually brought it down was its own poor decisions and malfeasance. If you want to blame someone for the collapse of ACORN, blame its founder. Blame the man who became convinced that he could do no wrong, the man who created the house of cards and who blew it down. Wade Rathke built ACORN, and Wade Rathke deserves the blame for its collapse.
And it's a damn shame. ACORN has done some monumental work in its history: fights against payday loan sharks, predatory lenders, redlining, fights for affordable housing. They were a mighty force for good, but in the end, like so many great organizations, the hubris of its leader brought it low. If we are fortunate, other powerful nonprofits will step in to take on the work that ACORN is no longer able to do. We will not be better off without ACORN in the world.
Our life is filled with monsters. Good monsters, bad monsters, nice monsters, mean monsters. They're everywhere. At least, they are to Oliver. He sees monsters everywhere he turns.
Monsters are a presence in most American kids' lives. They're in hundreds of books - from Maurice Sendak's Wild Things, to the weird creatures who inhabited Dr. Seuss' work, to modern classics like the Gruffalo (pictured above). They're just a presence, and it's small wonder that so many kids are fearful of monsters under the bed. They hear about monsters all the time - at some point, they just begin believing in them for reals.
When it started, Oliver had a typical kid's relationship to monsters: they were bad, they hid under beds and behind closet doors, and they were scary. I had a can of "monster spray" (a relabeled can of air freshener) that I would dutifully spray around his room when he thought there were monsters in there.
Then, the pattern changed. He started announcing that there were bad monsters, but that the good monsters were keeping them out of the house. I don't remember suggesting that good monsters were out there - that was all him.
And then, so gradually we didn't even notice it, the description of the monsters started getting - I don't know the right word. It started getting creative. Eccentric. Weird.
Maybe it was when he started telling us that he couldn't sleep because bad monsters were playing their instruments too loud. That's the first time I remember him getting really weird with the monster talk.
Eventually, monsters became his primary topic of conversation. Bad monsters were outside of the car, trying to pull him out of his car seat, but the good monsters wouldn't let them. Good monsters were constantly fighting with the bad monsters. Bad monsters wouldn't let him eat his food. Good monsters were directing traffic. He would talk about bad monsters who sped and disobeyed traffic rules, and the good monster police who would arrest them and put them in jail.
On some level, they were his version of angels and devils. There was a war being fought between mischievous entities - the bad monsters - and the ones who maintained order and goodness - the good monsters. He would report the skirmishes, but he was merely an observer to the battle. He couldn't change the results. He was just like Uatu, a watcher, permitted to observe but never to interfere.
He would wake up in the morning and be sad because a bad monster killed a good monster's mother. How do you placate someone who's mourning an invisible battle casualty?
He would announce the size of the opposing armies. There were a thousand good monsters, ten million bad monsters. The next day, there were five million good monsters and only a hundred bad monsters. It changed every day. Some days, he would tell us that all the bad monsters all died. The next day, it would change.
He rewrote the rules every day because, after all, it was his war. He remade the conflict every day and adjusted the players as he saw fit, like any good writer would. He would add tension, draw battle lines, create a heartbreaking loss, a triumphant victory. The only constant was the monsters. Whatever the numbers were, whatever was happening, wherever the fight was being waged, there were always good monsters and bad monsters.
And then one day, he introduced us to Freddy.
(to be continued...)
It's a small thing, but I'll share it nonetheless. I just broke 300 calories burned on our elliptical machine.
No, wait a second. It's not a small thing. This is kind of a big deal.
We have an elliptical machine in our house. (It's this one, if you're curious. It's fantastic, and also has a relatively small footprint in our office.)
When we first got it, my goal was to use it two or three times a week. It typically was, like, once a week. Twice if I remembered. There was too much to do, tv shows to watch, books to read, dessert to eat. I kept not doing it. I kept finding excuses not to.
And also (cue whining), it was hard! I was out of shape. I had asthma. My legs weren't used to exercise. When I started, I could only do twenty minutes. Sometimes, I would have to stop because I was gasping for air, even with regular pulls from my albuterol inhaler.
But I got stronger. Twenty turned into twenty-five, and twenty-five turned into thirty.
Then thirty started feeling easy. I could burn through thirty minutes fairly effortlessly. Now, I'm doing forty minutes and ... well, I'm not going to say I don't break a sweat, because I sweat like John Edwards in a room full of videographers. But I can do it, and I can do it comfortably.
What's also different is that I want to get on the elliptical now. Every other night, Mrs. B puts Oliver to bed, and those are the nights I work out. That means three or four times a week, and that's happening every single week. Last week, I hopped on the machine four times for an hour and 45 minutes total, and burned 762 calories. One recent week, I did two hours and twenty minutes on the machine, and burned over 1000 calories.
It's a routine. It's something I look forward to, not something I'm avoiding at all costs. I like that. It's a good feeling.