Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Another Self-Questionnaire

What were you doing ten years ago?

Hmm, 1997. Jordan turned two that January, and that same week we took home the newborn Sophia. In April I began my fourth year of working as an editor at the LDS Church's Ensign magazine in downtown Salt Lake City.

This was the year that Kathleen Williams divorced me, even though I'd cried out, "Please don't throw me into the brier patch." After six months of very rocky times with the infant Sophia, who cried almost nonstop and suffered eating and bowel problems, Kathleen asked me to move out at the beginning of June, almost exactly ten years ago. So I moved to my parents' house in Bountiful, taking over the large upstairs bedroom in the northeast corner that had traditionally been occupied by girls.

The divorce finalized rather quickly because I didn't contest anything, and I also had to file for bankruptcy because Kathleen had gotten us in way over our heads with debt, all in my name, of course. Two years earlier we had bought a brand-new house way out in West Valley City, and with a second mortgage we were actually upside-down on it, owing more than it was worth. It would seem that divorce and bankruptcy would be hard things, but my overall emotion through the process was relief.

Then in mid-December, after having done just a smattering of dating, I got set up on a blind date with Ann Larsen down in Provo, and by the end of the year we were seeing each other every day. In fact, I often slept in the basement of her condo, since I-15 was under construction and it was a one-hour drive to Bountiful even without construction traffic.

What were you doing one year ago?

Around this time last year, I was working as a senior writer at Neways (still am) and was working hard to finish up several books and launch my Zarahemla Books publishing gig. I think I had finished the draft of Kindred Spirits, was finishing up editing Conversations with Mormon Authors and The Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer, and was working quite hard on The Timechart History of Mormonism, although I think August was the heaviest-duty month on that.

One year later, I'm overall feeling a little underwhelmed by the results of all that effort. I don't regret doing it, but I wouldn't say it has been as fulfilling or rewarding as I'd hoped. It's been fun at times, but overall the stress and the disappointments have outweighed the fun. Trying to accomplish something as a book author and publisher is much harder than I anticipated, but I'm still in the game for now.

Five snacks you enjoy:

I think I forgot about peanut butter for several years, but now I really enjoy it as a snack, usually on apple wedges or Whole Wheat Ritz. Sometimes I'll put cheddar cheese on the Ritz instead, if I remember that option.

Sometimes in the afternoon, I'll treat myself to Peanut M&Ms, a Butterfinger, or a Take Five. All three of my current favorite candy bars have peanuts as a component, I notice.

I'll sometimes open the chip cupboard and eat some handfuls of plain Ruffles or whatever tortilla chip is in there. I don't care as much for thin potato chips, although I'll certainly gobble them if nothing else is available. Oh, and I love my wife's guacamole, but it's more of a special occasion when she makes it, which is probably good because I always overeat it.

Hmm, can't think of too much else that I regularly eat as a snack... Sometimes I have a bowl of mint-chip ice cream in the evening, when we have it in the freezer. If drinks count as snacks, on summer evenings I often have a can of Sharp's nonalcoholic beverage and on winter evenings a mug of decaf. Of course, I also drink Coke quite often, though I'm trying to cut back a little on that.

Things you would do if you were a millionaire:

I honestly wonder if having a million bucks would make me much happier. I think I would really enjoy the freedom of completely managing my own time and tasks, but I would also face some problems of motivation and discipline that could lead to depression.

Obviously I would take lots more time for my own creative writing. I would probably also want to invest in various small business ideas, maybe even a retail outlet of some kind that I would have someone else help manage. I would want to spend a chunk of every year living somewhere else, preferably overseas. I'm talking at least 2-3 months at a time—I'm not as crazy about being a tourist for a short time, although I'm sure I would do plenty of that too.

I don't think I'd replace my car right away, and I wouldn't upgrade too much when I did. (I don't really care much about cars as long as they're comfy, reliable, and not offensive to the eye.) I'm sure we would remodel our house or maybe even move to a nicer house.

I would pay tithing but probably not donate much beyond that, unless I had plenty of fresh money coming in too beyond the initial million bucks. Otherwise, I bet it would be gone within about ten years. I'm sure Ann would want to invest at least a third of it in long-term savings and retirement, which I would agree with. If left on my own, I would probably invest only about a tenth of it in retirement and use the rest to live in the shorter term and do some interesting things.

Five bad habits:

I think I just answered this in another recent questionnaire, but I'd say eating too much fattening food and drink, plucking and trimming my facial hair too much, and sleeping or otherwise not listening during church. I'm grateful to be free of any serious vices or addictions.

Five things you like to do:

Definitely reading, although sometimes it's a pain to keep up with everything I want to read, and I impose some self-stress about it. I should probably reduce the number of magazines I subscribe to, and part of me would be relieved not to have to keep up with a daily newspaper, although I would miss it too.

I love to go out to eat and do it way too often, especially for lunch. I'm lucky if I bring a lunch from home once a week.

I love to sleep in until 8 or 9 on the weekends.

I love to skip church.

I love to cuddle with my wife.

I like to go to movies, although I'm dissatisfied with them more often than not.

Five favorite toys:

I'm not much of a gadget person. I get pleasure from my Ipod Nano, which is such a sleek little cool apparatus. (My Ipod Shuffle, on the other hand, ain't too magical. I use the Nano for audiobooks and podcasts and the Shuffle for music.)

I suppose I also really love my computers, my Mac at work and PCs at home. I spend so much time on them, and so much of my life is conducted on them—probably too much. I could name numerous websites and programs that I especially enjoy.

I'm already running out of ideas. I have a cell phone but don't love cell phones. I'm not the kind of person to care about a car or to even consider buying a boat or other recreational vehicle of any kind. Sometimes I wish I put some energy into some kind of recreation or hobby, but I don't feel like I have the time or money for it. I think I get this trait from my parents, who didn't do much for their own pleasure except go to movies once a week. And I think several of my grandparents were the same way too, come to think of it.

Where will I be in ten years?

Sadly, I don't really have much of a plan. If I had to bet money, I would say that I'll be in some kind of corporate writing/editing position much like my present one or maybe even at this same company, perhaps with some supervisory or management responsibility if I ever reach the point where I cross that line—but I can't honestly imagine that ever happening. At the same time, it's hard to imagine feeling too happy with my life if I just continue as a corporate drone—an "individual contributor," as the human resource folks call it, writing stuff I don't even personally believe in or care about.

In some ways, I think I could be happier with a successful independent freelance gig, doing corporate and marketing writing/editing for whoever would have me, mingled with adjunct college teaching and maybe some other things. However, we'd probably eat up much of our home equity line before I could get myself really established, and it would be terrible to take on that debt. It could turn out that I never regained the level of my corporate salary, and the pressures and stresses of making a living that way could very well outweigh the pleasures of being my own man.

After all, I watched my dad go through many cycles of feast and famine with his own business, and I would say it overall didn't work out for him, as he's almost 65 but just recently reorganized his finances and went back into the corporate world, and I don't think my parents have any retirement set aside. He worked for corporations until I was about age 12-13 and did very well, reaching the V.P. level at a Los Angeles bank, and my parents seemed to have plenty of money, with a rather large savings account. But after he bought his own business, it brought a lot of stress into our household, financial and otherwise (after a year or two in office parks, he moved his business into our basement). But who knows—maybe it made him happier overall than staying in corporate life would have.

As far as Zarahemla Books and my own book-writing efforts, I imagine I will do some more with those over the next ten years, but I think chances are higher that I'll be burned out ten years from now than that I'll still be pushing myself in these areas with my spare time. These efforts are just too intense to continue as mere hobbies, and unless I can actually make some money at it and/or get some bigger thrills as far as success, this area will probably mostly die out. I wish I could just view writing a novel as a relaxing hobby for my spare time, but I can't help but take it professionally seriously and stress myself out.

One thing that will be very nice is that in ten years, our mortgage and child support will all be completely paid off, which currently amount to $1,800 a month total between the two of them.

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