Category Archives: Year in Review

2013: That Went Well

2013 was as good. Not life-alteringly amazing. Not transcendentally awesome. But good. At the end of every year I wish that I’d done more, but honestly this one was solid, both in terms of professional and personal events. Some highlights:

Genetic hybrids, everywhere!

Earlier this month I attended a party with several college friends whom I don’t get to see very often. It was nice catching up with people and I had an entirely pleasant time, but this gathering was different than previous meetups of its type. This time, most of the attendees had brought something extra with them, and virtually every surface of the house we were in was covered in babies. Tons of babies. Babies were everywhere. Walking ones. Nonwalking ones. Loud ones. Sleeping ones. Recently (but especially in the past year) several of my friends have created genetic hybrids of themselves. At the shindig in question, this reality was highly apparent, and felt that I had to look before stepping, lest I trod on someone’s offspring.

Not present at the gathering was the infant closest to me, my baby niece. Earlier this year my little sister gave birth to a baby girl, instantly turning my parents into old people and my brothers and I into uncles.

I do not have children, and the idea of parenthood frightens me. My peers who are now parents seem to prioritize their children’s happiness above most other things, and as much as I appreciate love and compassion, I’m very scared of that level of implied self-abnegation. Devotion to a child seems to entail giving up your own life. I do not dislike children, and it is probable that I will have one or two of my own. However, I would like to be slightly more established before that happens, especially financially. Even though I’m thirty-three, I’m still much too chaotic ungrownuplike to be a dad. Or maybe that’s what I tell myself to justify my continued nonreproduction.

I did on-the-street interviews. With street people.

Of all of the writing I did this year I was most proud of my September 25 Mercury feature where I interviewed panhandlers about their income, spending, and lifestyle habits. It was a difficult piece to research, and I learned a good deal about homelessness, poverty, and what daily life is like for people struggling with it. I would like to think that I have more empathy and understanding for poor people now than I did at the start of the year, and now more than ever I realize that the poor people are not a problem. Poverty is a problem. That important distinction seems avoided all too often.

Probably my second favorite thing from this year was a piece way back in January about Portland’s street grid. Portland’s street platting was a nerdy obsession of mine, and I was pleased that my editors allowed me to spend 2,000 words of newsprint on it.

I yelled at people in bars. And at a game convention. And over the Internet.

I talk to people for a living. During my day job as a tour guide I dazzle visitors to Portland with interesting local facts, like how Portland was incorporated in 1851. Wasn’t that interesting? Yes it was. Now tip me. I’ve gotten very good at this whole “research a thing and then talk about it” deal, and I now have a regular gig as part of Stumptown Stories, a lecture series that focuses primarily on Portland and Oregon history. This past year I’ve done lectures on unsolved crimes, local booze, bad mayors, cool buildings, and labor agitators. In October I got to be a guest at the Portand Retro Gaming Expo to talk about Polybius (our fair city’s mythical killer video game), and I’m attempting to run a general-interest trivia podcast. That last project needs a bit more attention, but on the whole public speaking for fun and profit is going decently well.

Pain! Gain! Feeling of the burn!

My relationship with exercise has been a spotty one. I was a distance runner back in high school, did fencing and aikido in college, and I ride my bike every day, but I’ve never been all that obsessive or orderly about taking care of the hair-strewn meat robot that is my body. As of this year, though, I live with an amazonian kung-fu roller derby badass ninja woman who could kill me with her pinkie (I love you, Sarah!) and a bit of her enthusiasm for exercise has rubbed off on me. Because of Sarah I’ve been running, working out, and doing Healthy Person Things on a regular basis. This past September we did the Warrior Dash (which was a lot of fun, though not as difficult as it’s billed to be) and we’ll likely do some ridiculous fitness event again next year.

Exercise is not unpleasant. In fact, I’ve come to sort of enjoy the pain and aches that come with it. It is a good pain. It’s a pain that says “I accomplished something and am superficially similar to the Incredible Hulk.”

Sin! I live in it now.

Lastly, I moved in with my girlfriend Sarah this year. I was scared to do it. The only other time I’ve lived with a partner, it did not go well, and I was worried that if Sarah and I had to see each other on a regular basis we’d just start resenting each other and get bored. At the time, we’d been together for just over two very good years, and I was worried that cohabitation would make us boring. That has not happened. At all. In fact, living with her has been way better than what we had before insofar as we now don’t have to worry about the various logistics that come with dividing your time between two residences. Of everything that’s happened this year, moving in with someone I love has easily been the best development. Sarah, this past year with you has been wonderful. Here’s to many, many more.

2012: A Slow Climb

I’ve found the conversation starter “What do you do?” to be more than a little annoying. For the most part I’ve said “I’m a tour guide,” and left it at that. I don’t like introducing myself as a writer. After all, if someone waits tables and occasionally acts, they are not an actor. They are a waiter who acts. You’re an actor when you do it full time. In an attempt to be honest or humble, I answer “What do you do?” with my day job, as opposed to the job that I find truly rewarding. I am not a writer. I’m a tour guide who writes. You’re a writer when you do it full time.

In 2012, I’ve found that this perspective is unproductive and self-defeating, especially because it’s become more and more not the case. I’ve spent a good part of this year as a freelance contributor to the Portland Mercury, the awesomest alternative weekly in the U.S. I reviewed books, movies, and television, blogged about video games, history, and a conceptual art museum, wrote a few long-form features, and interviewed several interesting people, including mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith on election night. When not writing for the Mercury, I also did a bit of Portland-centric travel writing and ghost wrote some marketing copy. In 2012, I wrote more than I ever have before, and I loved it. On top of that, I started doing regular history lectures at downtown Portland’s Jack London Bar, which has been a blast. I am a tour guide. But I’m a writer, too.

However, gnawing at the back of my mind is the pessimistic fact that I’m playing catch-up. I’m thirty-two years old (young yet, I hope) and I still don’t have a full-time job. I’ve made things work, stitching together my part time job with several freelance assignments. I’m able to pay for rent, groceries, all that. But, I don’t have a steady position inside of an established institution. That gnaws at me. I would give up quite a bit to have a full time job. Ideally, I’d want something in the fields of publishing or communications, but I know those are dying industries- newspapers will probably not last the decade. However, being a crew member of a sinking ship seems better than never setting sail at all. Realistically, I’ll probably get a position in marketing firm somewhere. If I were ever given a chance at any kind of regular editorial job, though, I would learn how to do backflips specifically so I could do them in celebration.

I also acknowledge that if/when I do get a full time job, Future Me will look back on this time like it’s some kind of idyllic Bohemia, and long for the days when I lived in a studio apartment, worked for tips, and freelanced for a publication that let use swears as much and as often as I wanted to. 2012 has been good. In some ways, very good. I have no anxiety whatsoever, for example, about my personal life- I have a fantastic girlfriend and a wonderful social circle. I’m glad that all of my angst is connected to professional matters and not more intimate affairs.

If 2013 is like 2012 (but moreso) I will get somewhere. If 2014 is like 2013 (but moreso) I will get somewhere. And so on. However, opportunities for meaningful employment are not as numerous as they were in previous decades. We can climb, we have to, but the summit is shrouded with clouds.

2011: In Which I Freelanced More Than Ever

Earlier this year, I was at a writing workshop, and someone asked me a fairly innocuous question. They asked me “Are you a writer?”

“Sort of,” I said, “it’s not my main job. It only supplements my income.”

The questioner was kind of surprised. “Wait,” they said, “you make money?”

Well, yes. Not very much of it and not frequently enough, but yes, that does happen sometime. I do not like calling myself a “writer.” For some reason, the word seems loaded and uncomfortable, and I have this weird feeling that if I were to say to people “I’m a writer,” people would instantly think of some Hemingway wannabe staring intently at a keyboard, not actually producing anything. You know, Ewan McGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge. A guy with vague, lofty ambitions who is unable to actually translate them into anything at all, and wants to have written more than he wants to write.

There is also the tendency to think of “writer” as in the same category as “rock star,” “astronaut,” or “ballerina;” dreamy jobs that technically do exist, but that do not abound in any significant numbers.

So, I’ve been looking for lots of Plan Bs. Something else. A “real” job. However, I feel most satisfied when I can sit down, pound out an article, and actually call it real work. While I have looked into grad school, this past year I’ve been most excited by the writing jobs that I’ve gotten. This spring I wrote some news for a local publication called About Face Magazine, I ever-so-briefly worked for Portland Picks for Men before they went under, did regular work for Metromix, an arts and leisure site, blogged for the Daily Journal of Commerce, and wrote a feature and began blogging for the Portland Mercury. The day job, Portland Walking Tours, has also picked me up to work as a researcher and content provider. Not a bad collection of bylines, and I have a few other projects on deck.

I like this. I like this a great deal. If I knew I could make a living at it, I would make a living as a writer and journalist. There are real, actual people who do this, who research and report and write full time. I would like to be one of them. Given the poor economy, the state of the newspaper industry, and the general non-scarcity of information, though, I still don’t know if this is wholly and completely possible. I really, really want it to be, though. A local newspaper has now interviewed me twice about being a full-time reporter, and, despite knowing that any newspaper in the country could keel over dead and bankrupt at any moment, I’m ready to say yes if the offer me the job.

2011 has made me all the more want to discard backup plans, and just dive into trying to be a full time wordsmith. Even as I type this, there’s an uncashed freelancing check sitting on the table next to me, and that small amount of professional success only makes me fantasize more about pursuing my dream job. I want to be able to say “I’m a writer” without any kind of reservations, asterisks, or caveats, but I’ll only do that when it is, in fact, my full-time job.

It’s not impossible. Not probable, certainly, but being a professional would not violate the laws of reality. Let’s see what happens in 2012.

2010, In Review

2010 was simultaneously horrible and awesome.

It was horrible because it was yet another year wherein I (and thousands of others like me) survived on part time jobs and freelancing. I do not want to sound ungrateful- I happen to love my part time job (more on that in a bit) and freelancing has been immensely fun, especially when I manage to actually get paid in a timely fashion. Any enjoyment that I had of 2010, though, has to be accompanied by a gigantic asterisk.

This wasn’t a year of great progress- it was a slog. All in all, a positive slog that will hopefully get us back to where we need to be, but for too much of this year surviving, rather than thriving, was the order of the day. And yes, I know that when someone like me says that it comes across as immensely arrogant. I’m a reasonably well-off educated white boy in the U.S.A. who has quite a few things going for him. It’s utter b.s. to pretend that I’m going to be destitute any time soon. However, I’m thirty years old now and would rather like to start a career. (Helllllloooo, grad school!)

That said, the one big job that I did have this year was immensely awesome. I loved it. I still love it, actually. I love that I’ve learned things from it, that I’ve become a better public speaker and better communicator. I love that I’ve learned how to be funny on a consistent basis and can get different crowds of people to laugh at the same jokes. I love being a performer, a showman, and a knower-of-things. I enjoy the hell out of being a tour guide.

Giving walking tours of Portland has been a fantastic experience, and has made me realize something that I always sort of knew about myself: public speaking makes me high. When I taught for GEOS and then Kaplan, I got some whiffs of that- those days when a class just clicked and the students all went “ooooh!” at the same time. For four years now my job has pretty much been “get up in front of a bunch of people and edify them.” Now, I finally realize that I’m quite good at it.

Again, I’m sounding arrogant. It’s very nice, though, to know what you’re good at. I happen to be a good public speaker and knower-of-things. This hasn’t just been applicable to tour guiding, by any means. I also officiated a wedding for some very good friends of mine back in March, and have occasionally done stand up comedy. Stand up, by the way, ranges from being transcendentally awesome to horribly painful. I try to veer towards the former.

It’s weird that a lot of the time, I’m a professional performer. It’s also odd to know that Performance Joe is very much a persona, and not one that I created deliberately. He has a different way of speaking, a different cadence a different sort of mode about him than me. This is true of all performers, and is not a new observation, but something’s always weird and new when it happens to you. (By the way, Performance Joe sometimes gets out during social occasions, where I’ve been told that he can be boisterous and annoying.)

Let’s see, what else?

Oh, yes. I talked to some very nice people. That was cool. I also finally encountered the storied and sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles, which was quite an eye-opening experience. Spent plenty of time in San Francisco, as well, which has rapidly become one of my favorite places on earth, though one time I did have to spend ten hours in a car with a crazy man to get there. Also, a bunch of bigots ended up causing nothing more than a big party here in Portland, which turned out to be quite the uplifting experience.

Oh yes, and I led around a bunch of zombies on bikes.

Anyway, I had fun. Tons of it. I’m in no position whatsoever to say that 2010 was dull or boring or lacking in neato things to do. I have, though, been very conscious of the lack of real progress over that past year, and that remains frustrating.

In that sense, I’m quite ready to leave this year behind. C’mon, 2011- have something nice for us.

2009, in Review

Yeah, yeah, I know this “year in review” thing is a little late…

For me, personally, 2008 was pretty much the Best Year Ever. At the end of last year, I wondered how the hell 2009 would be able to compare, but also had high hopes regarding my career and future travel.

2009 was not what I expected, but still neat in its own way. Sure, I spent most of it rather ingloriously unemployed in Portland (an anticlimax compared to last year) but there was a very, very positive side to that.

When abroad (and before that, in Eugene) I had fond memories and good thoughts of Portland. I remembered it as a vibrant, liberal city, a place where something was always going on, and where the high amount of culture and activity belied the city’s more modest population. I was worried, somewhat, that these were memories colored by nostalgia, that Portland was only slightly less gray than any other American metro area.

Fortunately, though, I was wrong. This past year I’ve found that my geographical parent is even better than the home that I remembered. I hadn’t lived here properly since high school, and I’ve since found out that Portland is a land of zombie bike rides, clever smut, vampiric awesomeness and Star Trek in the park. Also, lots of really excellent beer. Having my nostalgia be confirmed and even exceeded has been an interesting experience, and I love this city more in reality than in abstraction. Portland, the place I call home, has been inspiring. I’ve had bouts of creativity and productivity here that I never had in Japan, and am perplexed and thrilled by that.

My experience is probably colored by the fact that for the most part I’ve spent 2009 writing. While I have worked for five different employers this year (GEOS, a canvassing company, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Kaplan Aspect, and Macy’s) my primary focus has been on my own creative endeavors. I have managed to actually get paid for it once, and have a small gig with a tourism website at the moment. I’ve also managed to get myself into a nifty local ‘zine somehow, which is a fun project.

This is great. Really fantastic, actually. Prior to this year, I thought that it was kind of ludicrous to expect anyone to pay me for anything I’ve written, publish it, or whatever. However, I’m getting some pretty dangerous ideas here, and I think I can pull it off. You all may need to pull me back to earth if I get too optimistic- I’m actually pitching stuff to websites, stitching together a *cough* book *cough* (I’ve been sort of embarrassed to admit that) and (this is the part that boggles my mind) actually being accepted on occasion. Last year I ended 2008 saying “in 2009 I’ll start my career.” I was anticipating going into the Foreign Service or Peace Corps, but I guess this counts as a different kind of start, something I’ve always wanted to do, i.e., be professionally creative.

I wasn’t entirely stationary- there was a little vagabonding going on. 2009 was also a year in which I rode quite a bit on the I-5 corridor, going down to Eugene and up to Seattle, down to San Francisco, and, of course, to Burning Man. (And yes, Burning Man really is neat- it’s not all hype.) Not only is Portland wonderful, but the rest of the West Coast has some pretty cool stuff going on as well. Seeing friends up and down the tectonic plate made me wish I could teleport, or, at least fly really fast. Something like that.

I have no idea what’s happening in 2010. I’m scheduled to join the Peace Corps, have a fantastic new girlfriend, am working on turning Hired Tongue into a book, flinging unsolicited proclamations of my awesomeness to editors and literary agents, and suddenly don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’ll be thirty years old, writing furiously, and still wandering about. I don’t mind that, really- it certainly beats banality. This lifestyle is fitting, for a time, but it has to lead somewhere to be truly satisfying. I don’t know how much of a vagabond I’ll still be in a year’s time. 2010 looks uncertain, but I know it will not be boring.