Happy New 2008 to all of you! We’ve made it through another year and another holiday season. It’s time to take stock, to think about losses and gains, to contemplate what I want to see happen in the new year. But first, I thank you all for your emails and for your support in visiting my blog and my website over the past seven months. It’s been great to know that there are people out there who are either entertained by my ramblings or take my thoughts seriously. I hope to keep up the good work throughout this year as well.
Taking stock is always an interesting task. Do we do it from the standpoint of what society says we should value? Do we include intangibles like human losses and gains into account? Do we forget about the past completely and just move on, as if what occurred a few hours or days ago isn’t linked at all to the present or immediate future? Or do we just take a glass half-empty or half-full approach, emphasizing gains or magnifying losses beyond their actual significance?
For me, my approach for most of my life has been measured by progress toward diploma or degree, progress in my career, progress in reducing the number of times I masturbate, and progress in increasing my income. Since I married my wife in 2000 and especially since we had Noah in 2003, my priorities have shifted a bit. Of course I’m no longer a student in any formal sense, and haven’t been since the end of ’96. But being part of other people’s lives as a husband or father does make taking stock of a year more complicated. Did me and my wife argue less about money or about our relationship this past year? Did we have more sex or less? What was the quality of our sexual activities over the past year? Are we more in tune with each other’s emotional and psychological needs than we were a year ago?
As for Noah, gains are pretty easy to measure. He’s becoming a intelligent goofball who loves to ham it up around us and his friends, has his first girlfriend (for a four-and-a-half year-old, that is), can count up to 30 easily, 50 a little less so, and with some assistance, can count up to 100. Noah also had become good at using that smart mouth of his, which I as a reformed smart mouth occasionally try to curtail (at least for his sake). He’s starting to recognize words and spellings of words (we sometimes talk in code in front of him, but he’s picked up spellings like p-i-z-z-a and l-i-g-h-t and t-r-a-i-n, for instance). He can throw a Nerf football up to 15 yards, and had learned how to catch most of what I throw to him. I don’t know if Noah’s a genius, an actor, an athlete or an orator yet. But I do think that he has a lot of potential, and that we saw those potentials develop quite a bit in ’07.
On the gains chart, the biggest one was finishing the first draft of Boy At The Window at the end of last January. It gave me the year to find an agent, to clean up and revise prose (in some sections, eight times over), to conduct additional interviews and gain more insight into my family, friends and former classmates and teachers, as well as some interesting thoughts about the Donald Collins I was before ’87 and college. You could easily argue that the year from the spring of ’07 on was a loss because I haven’t found an agent willing to take on the book yet. My only counterargument is that publishing is a nutty “who-you-know” (not what you know) business. It’s one in which immediate profitability and name recognition (or name dropping) takes precedence over writing quality and excellence. The reality is, even for a (self) published author, these things take time, and I’m willing to fight as long I have to for the right agent and publisher for Boy At The Window, because my characters and my readers deserve the best that I can do.
The other gains are of lesser importance but are still worthy of mention. Quiting my job at the beginning of November has gained me a few more brain cells and slowed down the graying process. My last day as a full-time, stagnating upper-middle-manager at a large nonprofit organization in the capital of the nonprofit world ends on February 1, and I couldn’t feel any better about that than I would if I had a book contract right now.
I’m teaching at the University of Maryland this semester, effectively ending my time at Howard University. Here’s to wishing Howard well and hoping that my time at Maryland is more exciting and stimulating than my time at Howard.
The road trip me and my family took to Florida to visit my father and to take Noah to Sea World was one of the most exciting times of my life. It was exhausting, and I couldn’t believe we could drive that many miles in a Honda Element. But it was so much fun visiting folks, seeing my father sober and in great health (he’s 67 now), teaching Noah how to swim (somewhat anyway), going to Sea World, and attempting to convince my wife that there are a couple of places farther south than DC (like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) where we can live comfortably without making at least $150,000 a year.
Now for what I’ve lost. I will never see doing good work in education reform or social justice the same after ten years overall as a nonprofit manager with three different organizations, the last two much more interested in making a profit than in staying on mission or achieving a good. I wasn’t idealistic when I left graduate school and part-time teaching for a full-time job in ’99, but I did have ideals, I did have a vision for making social justice and education reform real, even if only for a few folks. But it’s a money game for all involved. Between whimsical and conservative private philanthropy, large nonprofits with flimsy support systems for fundraising and programmatic work, and little job security except for the most senior of managers, it was obvious to me that I wasn’t cut out to be a money whore.
Still, I do know that there are other places and plenty of people doing great work on the issues I care about despite these realities. I haven’t given up my ideals. I’ve come to recognize my need to do something about my ideals is translated best as a writer and a teacher, whether in academia, at a nonprofit, or with a foundation.
Brandie Barrie Weston. Gone too soon, suffered too much, wished I’d known her better. Glad to have known her for as short a period as I did. It’s a real shame on all of us as a society when someone dies all to young, homeless, mentally and physically ill and tortured as I’ve understood her to be.
Noah’s no longer a baby or a toddler. I sometimes miss being able to treat him like a baby, if only because he’s growing up faster than I’m sometimes prepared for. But this loss is more than offset by the wonderful child that he is. I just wish he would wipe his own butt without giving me a hard time.
There’s so much to look forward to this year. Teaching a course that I know how to teach (Social History of Washington, DC). Working at home as a consultant. Finally finding an agent and publisher for Boy At The Window. Obama or Edwards becoming the next President. Noah starting kindergarten and reducing our childcare expenses by 150 percent. My wife finding a new job and/or starting graduate school. Having a career that both pays the bills and gives me enjoyment and fulfillment, all at the same time. All I know is that if most of this happens this year, next year’s blog might be more (or less) interesting than this one,