Thursday, March 1, 2012

And upward.

To say that 2011 was a difficult year is something of an understatement.  Our country, already struggling with a very upsetting period in economic history, one which has fueled a progressively histrionic election season and laid waste to many people’s jobs, has found itself in a bit of an identity crisis, unable to decide whether it is liberal, conservative, theist or agnostic, successful or downtrodden.  Even as some parts of the economy have begun to stabilize, other parts have become gangrenous and been cut off:  my second home for six years, Daddy’s Junky Music, went underwater three months after I took my leave to try and stay afloat elsewhere.  And as much as I detested working there in the end, it was still one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, though I knew that it was absolutely the only smart decision I could make at the time.  But nothing will ever be quite like working at that store.

My own finances continue to be in dire straits; between the pay cut I was given at Daddy’s (an austerity measure that was misguided) and the even lower pay I took to begin working at Macy’s, I actually managed to make roughly $6000 less than the year before.  If my wages were at the normal median level* of most adults in the United States, this would still be a tough step backward, but since I am decidedly on the lower class side of the tracks, that actually represents an entirely different standard of living.  Living paycheck to paycheck is not just a way of life at this point:  now, it is the only way that I can survive.

This is not to say that 2011 was without its virtues and merits.  The Circle continues to grow though in ways that I continue to be surprised by, and in different directions than where I expect.  Actually, it feels very much like there was a significant contraction in the second season, though it was more of a conservation, a preparing of energies.  From a personal musical standpoint, my abilities have improved noticeably, and things continue to happen with my fingers and ears that surprise me.  And this is not to mention the personal advances I’ve made (admittedly small) in starting to understand myself as a person, or the various pieces that go into the semblance of the person.

I think I’m a nicer person than I was, this time last year.  I am absolutely a nicer person than I was two years ago.

The sadness and strife of losing T. contributed a lot to that.  There is no doubt that it was the single defining process of the entire year, and that there are sections of that equation that are still sorting themselves out (always remember your order of operations).  But these things happen.

All this being said, this past year was a pivotal year in my life—downplaying that would fall far short of accuracy.  And it seems vaguely important that I’ve lived in Boston now for close to 7 years.

Success continues to elude me in its most obvious form of financial floatingness.  As mentioned before, I took a job at Macy’s this past July for several reasons; the primary motivation was that I knew Daddy’s was going to take a nosedive, and had been looking for anything to take instead.  And, to be perfectly honest, Macy’s was the first job that said “yes”, and I could see that the manager I’d be working under was a nice guy who was still clearly a good manager.  It was also an attempt to help and patch a struggling relationship—working at a failing guitar store was preying on my personal life much more than it ever should have.

So I took the job.  It didn’t help, but it did get me out of a job at a business that went under roughly three months later.

And for about three months, I didn’t care about the job.  Those who know me well know that I tend to take things up as a cause, whatever status they hold in my life:  everything, from my pursuit of music to my struggle to see myself to my relationships with people to my method of paying bills, becomes another flag to carry, another thing in my life to be mindful about.  Instead of this, and probably in reaction to the churning of my internal life, I actively chose to stay unattached to the job of selling clothes.  It didn’t matter that I was selling things that people want:  I didn’t have any interest in clothes as a general rule, and I didn’t have any personal commitment to any of these scraps of cloth.  That jacket might be $600, but I can’t play a G chord on it, no matter what tuning I prefer to use.

And then I started to care.  I don’t think I could say exactly when the change happened, but this is how I am.  Customer service, and service in general, is one of those things that comes naturally to me.  Also, after all these years, I have a strong feeling that it is also just a coping mechanism for me:  when in stress, it is sometimes easiest to just work.  At least that can yield results, even when nothing else does.

And it did yield results.  I found that I enjoyed selling clothes, and my regular geek impulses latched onto the models and the numbers and the cuts and how they fit on people.  As I managed to sustain enthusiasm (which is probably one of the only ways I know to completely navigate the trials and tribulations of holiday retail work, especially at the company that essentially defined what the holiday retail world is), I got more and more positive attention from my peers and my higher-ups.  As this went on through the holiday season, this attention became trust—my bosses knew that they could rely on me, and acted as such, tending to throw customers to me when I was available.

Moving past the holiday season, and into the month of January, I began to notice that I was getting even more attention from someone who was not my boss—Ingrid—but who was our representative for two of the clothing lines that we carry.  A long story short, Ingrid eventually dropped a few hints to people that mattered, had a couple of talks with other people that mattered, and I found myself being offered a specialist position for one of those clothing lines.  It is something of a small honor, but the line is a well-known brand, and they take care of their employees.  Naturally, I accepted.

This meant a small raise, as well as a substantial bonus in the case that the brand performs well.  It almost always does perform well, but it does take some work and care to ensure that things run smoothly.

But it’s not what I want.

A couple of weeks after I got the official nod and took on the position, I found myself thinking about being stuck.  To be more specific, I was considering the job that I had just taken, as well as the notion of why we do things.  And, unsurprisingly, I found myself looking at this new promotion—one that I had worked carefully to get, and that I was happy to have.  It’s worth noting that I can do the job pretty well.  In fact, that was my internal dialogue: 

“Yes, I can do this.  I can do this and be pretty effective, in fact.”  
“Yeah, there are a few things you’re pretty good at.  But this pays the bills.”
“True.  Still, though, I can do this.”
“But why?”
“Because I need to keep a roof over my head.”
“But you don’t want to do this.”
“. . . Fair point.”

The notion of doing something, simply because I am able to do so, suddenly showed itself for what it was:  a trap.  This was qualitatively different than the choice to begin working sales at Daddy’s, or to move away from the trumpet and towards the guitar, or to invite a person to Boston.  As opposed to an attempt to try and stabilize my position, or a surprised shift in identity, or a clear step forward, this concept of simply treading water, of sticking around and trying to make a life out of something that I’m pretty good at doing, simply because I could continue to do it, was so clearly a trap that I was shocked I hadn’t seen it earlier.

So, in rebellion, I realized that it’s finally time for me to go back to school.

It’s funny to me that a step up, one that I could milk for a very long time and parlay into a semi-decent career, is the final trigger for this.  It’s been a very long time coming, and I don’t think that it would have happened without all the struggle of the past year, especially since July.  And it will not be an easy path; some of the choices I’ve made over the past few years have thrown some serious wrenches in the works, and I will essentially be starting from scratch.  Well, not entirely—I know that the only way I’ll be able to go back is as a musician, though this is not on the original instrument I originally studied.  And the instrument of NST guitar is an entirely different beast anyway, and one that I may have to relegate to a support position while I learn the specifics of an older beast.

But, all that aside, I’ve begun the process of applying for federal aid, talking to teachers, and getting prepared for the application process to school.  It is not an easy way, but this is the necessary way forward.  It’s about time.
*In 2007, it was $31,111 nationwide.  For 2011 in the Boston area, it was around the $85,000 mark.