As the final minutes tick away on 2006, I thought I'd sit down and try to record a few of my thoughts on the past year.
At the start of the year, I was in a period of transition. I had begun a new job at a [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] on December 30th of 2005, marking the first time in over a year that I had had a regular 40-hour a week desk job. It was also a job in an entirely new industry for me, so I was learning the ropes basically from the bottom of the barrel. I was also continuing to work, at that time, at [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS], waiting tables on the weekend. By February, that simply proved too stressful, so I finally quit the restaurant and started working solely at the [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS].
During the first half of the year, [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] and I were preparing for the impending birth of our second daughter, trying to figure out how we were going to make ends meet, and waiting to hear from the various graduate schools I had applied to the previous fall (I was hoping to enter graduate school in Creative Writing). We were sort of in a holding period for the first four months or so of the year, pending the outcome of those applications. We knew we could be moving anywhere from Memphis to Tucson, or not going anywhere at all.
It seemed to take forever for those responses to start coming back, and when they did, it was nothing but disappointment after disappointment. Despite applying to nine different programs, I didn't get accepted anywhere. The consensus from the various programs seemed to be that I was a fine writer with solid test scores, but simply wasn't writing the sort of fiction that the programs were looking for. In retrospect, considering the "commercial" nature of my fiction, I suppose this isn't so shocking. Most graduate school fiction programs, I would think, would be focusing on literary fiction, not commercial fiction. I had known that going in, but I had figured it was worth a shot.
Be that as it may, I was mightily disappointed by not getting accepted anywhere. I had more or less convinced myself that I would at least get in somewhere. When that didn't happen, [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] and I were left at a crossroads. We had been planning for so long on moving in the summer of 2006, that once we were left with no where to go, we didn't know quite what to do. I had started the job at the [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] under the assumption that it would just be a temporary job. Now I was faced with staying there for at least another year, and attempting to get into graduate school in 2007.
That just wasn't very appealing to me or [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS]. So we began very seriously considering a move to [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS]. We had talked of moving down there ever since college. In fact, we had initially planned on moving there when we got married, but ended up backing out at the last minute (this being back in 1997), and staying in this area instead. Now it was nine years down the road, and we figured if we were ever going to go, now was the time. We wanted a change of scenery, and we had been expecting, for so long, to be moving, that it just seemed to make sense for us to go down there. Mom and Dad would be close to help out with the new baby, and from our searches on the Internet it appeared that housing was cheaper and the job market was better than here in [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS].
We made all the preparations - we looked for houses, jobs, daycares. [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] began the process of learning how to transfer her [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] from [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] to [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS], and my Mom began finding out about some reputable daycares for our daughters.
In the end, as we had in 1997, we ended up changing our minds. After our second daughter was born in May, and we had all the stress that goes along with having a new baby in the house, the very idea of picking up and moving just seemed absurd. We also realized that no matter what we did once we got there, we were going to have to live with my parents for at least a little while, and we realized that was going to be stressful on everyone involved. We simply decided that it was more stress than it was worth, and ultimately it didn't make sense, because if I applied again for graduate school, and got accepted, we'd very likely be moving again the following year.
Once we had decided to stay in [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS], I had to face a second dilemma - what to do about my job situation. As I said above, I had never planned on staying with the [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] more than just a few months. I had figured it would be a sort of "transition" between waiting tables and starting graduate school. I didn't want to wait tables anymore, and I needed better money. So it was originally intended to simply function as a stop gap for a few months, until we moved and I started school. Now that I wasn't going to school, and we weren't moving, I needed to find a new job.
As I had done the previous year, when I had been unemployed, I began sending out resume after resume. Most of them were for various [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] around town, but a number of them were also in completely new industries. I applied for everything from merchandising to customer service to marketing.
I couldn't get so much as a phone call from anybody.
I managed to get one interview out of all those applications, and it was for a merchandising job with a contractor inside Home Depot. The job consisted of point of sale merchandising...basically setting up the displays and products to help sell them. It also included daily inventories and such. A fairly basic job, one that would allow me to work on my own without direct supervision - right up my alley. It also had flexible hours - I could come in anytime I wanted (as early as 4 a.m.), and once I had put in my eight hours, I could leave. So I could have conceivably worked something like 6:00 to 2:00 and been home before [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] every afternoon. Unfortunately the pay was less than I was making at the [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS], and it simply wasn't something I could do.
By late August, just as we were getting ready to put the new baby in daycare, and take on all the extra expenses associated with two kids in daycare instead of just one, I was facing the necessity of having to get a second job. I was dreading it and didn't want to do it, but there was no other choice. Then, the very week before we were due to start the kids in daycare, I got an unexpected raise, and [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] yearly raise also came through that same week. My raise, as I said, was unexpected, and hers was higher than we had expected. Because of that, I was able to avoid having to get that second job - at least for the time being.
With some of the financial pressure relieved, I was able to start considering other options for my future. By that time, I had begun to second guess my desire to go to graduate school. Even if I could get in the second time around, I wasn't sure any longer if teaching Creative Writing at the collegiate level was really something I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do was write, not teach writing.
But if I didn't go to graduate school, I had to do something. Working as a [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] for the rest of my life (or until I could get a book published) was unthinkable. So I began to consider going to school to be an MRI/CT tech. My mother, who runs a [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS], and a good friend who is a 5th year radiology resident, had both been encouraging me for quite some time to take that route. The pay is excellent, the job security is unmatched, the demand is high, the benefits are great, and the hours are flexible. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be a good way for me to make enough money to support my family, have enough free time to pursue my writing, and also have a job that would allow me a way to offer a viable service to the community and to help people.
In the end, I decided to take this route. So in September, I enrolled in an X-ray tech program at a local technical college. This is a 15-month program, and once I am through with it, I will be able to start working as an X-ray tech, while I continue on into the second half of the program, getting trained to operate MRI's and other digital diagnostic machines.
The last part of 2006 was quite stressful. I was adjusting to being in school full time (four nights a week, three and a half hours each night) and working full time, Monday through Friday. My weekends consisted of juggling time for myself, time with my family, and study time. There wasn't much time to breathe or to slow down. Monday through Thursday, especially, I felt like all I did was go to work, go to school, and sleep. When the quarter ended in mid-December, I was very thankful for the break.
Despite the stress, I excelled in my classes, quickly gaining a reputation as the "smart one." That was definitely a new experience for me - I've always considered myself fairly intelligent, and I think those who know me would agree, but I never "excelled" in school before. I always did just enough to get by, but never "applied" myself (God, how many times did I hear teachers and professors say that - "He just doesn't apply himself..."). I graduated from [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] with a 2.96, and I had about the same in high school. I was never a straight-A student by any means. Be that as it may, I did get straight A's this fall. In fact, I didn't make less than an A on any project, paper, homework, or test in any class all quarter.
It's now 11:38 and the confetti will be flying in 22 minutes in Times Square. As I look back on 2006, I see it as sort of a transition year - my first full year back with [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] after a two year separation and divorce, a new job, a new baby, and taking classes again for the first time in nine years. All of those were great things, but they were all things that brought an inordinate amount of stress too.
But as I look ahead to 2007, I want to focus on the here and now. Happiness is not something you attain or strive to reach. It's a choice. It's equally available to the poor, the rich, the sick, the healthy, the fat, the skinny, the attractive, the ugly, the successful, and the unsuccessful. It's not some far off finish line, to be reached when certain parameters, goals, and dreams have been fulfilled. It's available here and now, for whoever chooses to grab it. It's a choice.
So as I go into 2007, I intend to focus on my family, my schoolwork, and my health. I hope to exercise more often, eat better, continue on my path of sobriety (which, thankfully, I have been on for several months now), and get back into my meditation and yoga routines. But whether I manage to fulfill all those goals or not, I am going to choose happiness. Even when the money is tight and I come in from a long day at work and school, and [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] is demanding food and drink and the house is a mess, and even when I'm sitting at work thinking about how terrible it feels to be a 31-year-old [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] making less than [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS] per year, I'm going to remember that happiness is a choice, and I am going to choose happiness.
It is now 11:50 p.m. in [EDITED FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY REASONS]. Earlier in the evening, at exactly 7:00 p.m., I got a text from my parents, who are vacationing right now in England, the strip of land that manages to run through the time zone we call Greenwich Mean Time. HAPPY NEW YEAR! the text said.
Let's hope so.
Better yet, let's choose so.