Monday, September 08, 2014

The Crumbling Fringe

Honest talk:

1. I'm slower than I used to be. Everything I make or do feels like it has to swim through molasses before it manifests in a tangible form. I have to consider this when I'm doing projects for people. This is enormously frustrating.

2. I can't even start with what I'm supposed to be doing for me because everything gets in the way. Overdue project, my sister's wedding, and my family's dumb idea to have me "do something useful" by contributing to said wedding by helping with the invitations.

Contributing this way isn't bad in itself, but I'm swamped and they're treating this like a job they want to farm out to the retarded relative out of  pity. I'd rather not take on that job if it's going to have that kind of baggage. I'd rather this bridge stay burned than traverse it again.      

3. And the root is this: People around me think I don't do anything. Considering that I can't do anything at a decent pace, I'm beginning to believe them.

4. There's nowhere else to go to start over. I can't rely on friends for help this time: they've got their own problems and they don't need me adding to them.  There's nowhere to go, and no one to talk to about this. No one who won't be whining about me whining.

5. Suicide out of frustration is not an option. You know how much funerary services cost? If there was a way to do this painlessly and cost-effectively, I'd have done it by now. And the kicker is that it still won't shut anybody up.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


My brother suffered a stroke roughly two weeks ago.

Perhaps "a stroke" isn't the most accurate of terms. I've seen and heard related terms like "aneurysm," "thrombosis," "embolism" and "blood clot" bandied about, but each of these terms brings up the same unspoken horror.

Yeah. Horror.

What scares an atheist when spirits and curses and threats of being God's pot roast in the grand penal barbecue don't faze him? A rogue blood clot, a burst blood vessel, a chance hemorrhage in just the right areas of the brain that govern important things like speech, personality, perception, movement, the ability to recognize the faces of the people I love, the ability to pee standing up.

And today, this atheist is very, very afraid. Like my brother, I too am hypertensive, I too have had lousy eating and sleeping habits mark the passage of most of my life. I too have taxed myself beyond allowable human tolerance (and where my brother kept nutcases from owning and abusing a gun, I have had the dubious distinction of over-thinking and taking my hundred courtships way too personally, and maybe writing poetry that no one can really appreciate). What happened to my brother could easily happen to me, and with my dumb luck, I'll probably line up and hit all the unwanted targets: movement, perception and so on and so forth.

I can't cheat death. I've come to terms with dying, the possibility of it, the gifts of a creeping old age that precede death-- gifts I regularly anticipate and joke about. Dying, I can live with. It's the messy how of it that scares me near-witless. I don't want to die alone, in my own head, cut off from even perceiving the world around me. I don't want to die unable to compose myself to accept death. I don't want to die and be unable to hold a coherent thought.

What's sad is that I can't go back to the comforts of a life filled with prayer.

Side note: my brother is recovering.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


...requires among other things a level of commitment to the welfare of your students. It's long nights planing your lessons and making reports because you always have to answer to some administrator who's always wondering why the kids' scores aren't what they were supposed to be. You often pay for class-related expenses out of your own pocket because getting approval takes too damned long. It's listening to students bullshit about why they didn't hand in their papers on time.

And I really can't do this anymore.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Oddjob Journeyman Chronicles 01: Vitreous

Oddjob: Journeyman Chronicles is all about work-- my work. I decided to write about the gigs I get myself into. If anyone gets anything useful out of what he finds here, great. If my gentle reader gets nothing more than a good laugh, though, I'd consider that a win.

I'll be rating the experience according to "Oddness" and whether I got "Shafted." Oddness answers how far the gig's taken me from my comfort zone and how different the experience is from a desk job; "Shafted" is a measure of how cheated I feel at the end of the gig. 

Dateline: 21 December 2012

Prior to Christmas of 2012, I answered a friend's call for help. Her family was in the stained glass business and one of their artists just ...quit. Flaked. The result was that my friend's mother was left in the lurch in the middle of an important  project.

I have been on both sides of this often enough, so I'm not going to pass too harsh a judgment on the guy or his employer (my friend's mom). Artists, by their very nature, tend to be flaky: part of what makes them artists is a wild, self-indulgent streak that keeps them from being satisfied with one type of activity for long. Too, artists are often treated as artisans only and paid a pittance for the blood and sweat and sleepless nights they put into their work.  Said work, because of its decorative nature, is not perceived by the public-at-large to put copious amounts of food on the table, a roof over one's head, and a mate in one's bed.

All that said, there is something --often something in the category of "really not good"-- to skipping out on a project. It tells the world you're callous, or careless, or incompetent, or pathologically preoccupied, and that you can't be depended on to get anything done even if someone paid you. If you let this happen enough times to enough people, you will develop a new appreciation for the phrase, "the Mark of Cain."

The long and short of what happened: Dex said "yes" to the universe and was suddenly tapped to work practically non-stop from ten in the morning to around five in the morning the next day, painting what approximated wheat on an endless conveyor line of glass plates.

What was involved?

The word of the day: vitreous. 

I don't know how it is for most people, but I like a word not only for its meaning or how it falls on the ear, but also for how it looks. "Vitreous" is one of those words that appeal to me on all of these levels ("Gangrene" is another, as is "sepsis." I know, I'm strange.)

The word is balanced from a typography-and-design standpoint, but not boringly so. It looks Latin and sounds like it could be used in some form of incantation or Roman Catholic intercessory prayer. The real meaning isn't so imposing: vitreous means glass-like.

The dyes used for painting on glass were vitreous, meant to have a glassy translucent effect after the whole process was over and done with. Contrary to my old ideas of stained glass work, you didn't just stain the glass, cut the sucker into parts that fit the jigsaw wrought-iron frame that you'd had someone else make to match your original design. (Strangely, I don't know where I got that idea. An old art class maybe? A review of techniques used by Renaissance artisans that I half-slept through?). The current staining process was tedious, but only because of the number of panes I had to paint.  

I'm writing this a considerable amount of time after my day at the sweatshop, and the hasty notes I could take understandably didn't involve the nitty-gritty of the process. I was more focused on just getting the panels done and done right. My later research wasn't sufficient to give me answers I could be sure of, and I didn't want to have to go back to my erstwhile employer and subject her to the discomfort of being asked about her business secrets. All I can reasonably remember was there were vitreous pigments, there was (possibly) a binding agent that looked like ash. In the best of circumstances, the painting would be done on one glass pane and get painstakingly reproduced on another. Then the whole thing was fired in some kind of kiln. There's an unsurprising similarity to glazing ceramics here.

Of course, this is Dex you're reading, so the narrative doesn't describe "the best of circumstances."  I get the most interesting jobs.

Achy Flaky Art

The artist had flaked, leaving the employer in the lurch. There had already been some kind of back-and-forth between them that could only have worsened the delay. By the time I was brought on board, the panes were due for delivery to a church under construction, and situated out of town... on the very next day.

No time for any kiln firing and no way this journeyman would get to see it. There was only time for a briefing and a light snack before I could sit down and get to it.

Wait, no, that didn't quite happen either.

There simply wasn't much room. I couldn't really sit, not without having to paint on a surface that was almost as high as my chest. I'd had to stand and stoop to paint. The workshop only looked like the pic on the right before the desks started to take on stacks of glass panels.

When I wasn't painting simulated wheat, we were constantly moving panes around, almost tiptoeing, because we didn't want to break anything.

We finished the last of the panes-- there were so many, even the boss had a brush in her hand-- at almost five in the morning. Once the last of the plates dried, they'd be loaded onto a truck for shipping to the church site.

We were all hopped up on coffee and little sleep, but the atmosphere was relaxed, mostly because we were exhausted. My boss was also resigned to the idea that this project was one of the ones that fell horribly short of the goal. My heart went out to her: she'd still have to deal with an irate customer. Sensing the end of my time with her, my employer decided to talk to me about Jesus while her daughter prepared my check.

I think the sun was rising when I left the workshop. I was upbeat, because I could stave off some expenses.

Oddjob Ronin Rating    

Odd? Yes: Harold Sakata throws five hats at James Bond, and three of them hit.

I wouldn't have gotten this job if the circumstances weren't so desperate for that particular company. While sweatshops-in-all-but-name are common, this setup with my friend's mom doesn't count. In an ad-man's world, this situation could be compared to crunch time for a presentation.

Similarities to other jobs: think old-time sign painters for movies (given scope and volume of work), illustrators and painters on a leash.

Shafted? No.

I was asked what my daily rate was, and I gave it. Granted, I couldn't have known what kind of situation I'd be facing, but I was paid for my work in the end, with exactly the amount I'd specified.
The work was a positive learning experience. I learned a little about contemporary methods for staining glass. I tested my endurance and my artistic ability. I wound up thinking about my own failings as an artist and an artisan, and the situations of employers and artists in general.

Would I do it again? Probably not for the same pay. I would like to see the panes get fired, though, very much.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Maya,

As this week is "catching up with business that I had to delay last week week," I'll be going out today to render unto Caesar (and all the other jokers in the Senate). While I'm out, will you please render unto Dex the damned .avi file? Properly, this time?



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Reason I Hate Lesson Plans

It turns out that there probably is no money forthcoming from my last shirt deal. Currently unknown if I can recoup my losses and make my other commitments.  It occurs to me that I now have much to write about, and as usual, I am too close to these events to properly write about them.

But back to lesson plans.

I don't dislike them per se. They represent, to me, a level of commitment and competency involved in a job that requires lesson plans. Whatever my qualifications, my gifts, it's hard to come into a job that requires commitment and competency, when the only thing I can give to said job is one of them, and that grudgingly.

My parents want me to go back to teaching. I'd hoped there would be a way around it, but given the pressing needs of the household-- with which my relationship will soon gain another complication-- I'm forced to seriously consider the option. It would be alright if I didn't feel like a total fraud, or if my previous experiences with teaching were financially fruitful and truly emotionally satisfying. It would be alright if I felt as if I took the job because I wanted to, and not because I'd had to take it to help pay for a service that was foisted on me-- the goodwill, concern and worry behind such a foisting notwithstanding. That's my central issue.

Sadly, brute economics is no great respecter of my feelings, and teaching is the only job my mother can more or less secure for me. And there lies the crux of my resigned anger and discontent. Everything--literally everything-- I'd started or tried for myself has ended in tears, shame and (currently) bankruptcy. (Or at least it certainly feels that way.) At best, I could describe my more successful endeavors as "eking." Credit or blame whatever quality or circumstance, the bottom line is that time and again "eking" has been the best I could do, even with help. And I've always needed help.

I can't live without some kind of support system, but neither can I really live knowing that my successes, meager as they are, can be credited only to the hard, hard work of my parents-- who moved heaven and earth to open doors for me, who charted everything (or tried to) and half dragged me (sometimes willy-nilly)      into insane business startup ventures because they were afraid I'd grow old without money. My part in this is patent too: someone had to get his picture taken, to sign his own papers, to go along with whatever harebrained scheme was current. (Happily, I walked into the shirt venture with my full consent and awareness. Even if it didn't pan out the way I'd wanted it to, I'm proud of it. I've little reason for regret there-- a small victory in what feels like an ocean of failure).
I'm angry because my talents can only flourish in a social network, and I can't really depend on social networks. When was the last time I was really paid for a major gig with my friends? Once, maybe twice. And for each of these, I was truly happy, truly alive. Again, small personal victories that don't really count for much against the power an economic recession.

C'est la vie.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unwelcome Interlude

When I wind up making your name a verb; or when your name becomes something I blurt out at random times but more frequently when I am upset, angry, surprised or when I'm not focused on a specific task... then you have probably hurt me deeply at some point in my life. I have probably scarred you too. It makes sense, then, that I call us quits, wish you well and hope to Santy Claws I never see you again. It means that deep down, I probably still miss you in that peculiar manner of mine... the manner that involves symptoms from shaking, fever, lassitude, auditory and olfactory hallucinations to physical pain.

It's unbecoming of me to return to this topic-- that last poem was your final gift to me; that last letter, my final gift to you. It's just that there are some things I just don't get over. That you are among them is indicative of how special you are.  

Recurring Worries

The problem we're facing is that we're operating, in essence, like Culture Crash Comics in the early 2000's.  The product is great, the people are nice, but if something doesn't happen soon, the story will end the same way it always ends whenever I believe in something bigger than myself: egg-sucking disappointment. This isn't the first time I signed up to serve in Camelot. I've seen it fall twice, and I would like to see this one turn in a profit (just a little, but more than "just enough") while it changes the world.