Take Me to Your Leader

Close Encounters of the Weird Kind

Recently, there was construction taking place outside the office. Guess what? Jackhammers and productivity do not mix.

Good thing I have noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify Premium.

At one point, the jackhammers were replaced by a deep, metallic, droning sound that lasted for about five seconds at a time. Really creepy-sounding, and it kept repeating; kind of like an ominous foghorn that I found eerie and familiar. I knew I’d heard that sound before, but couldn’t quite place it.

tripodFinally, I realized it was identical to the sound the Tripods made in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds. I played it out loud, and everybody in the office agreed—the resemblance was uncanny.

This reminded me of the time I was convinced I’d been abducted by aliens.

Cue flashback music…

It was January 2007, and my life was in flux. I was newly-divorced and living in a brand-new townhouse of my very own. One evening, I was parked in front of the computer in my bedroom, chatting with a female. (Newly divorced, remember?) Suddenly, three events occurred in rapid succession:

  • A dog began barking urgently outside.
  • The lights dimmed. They didn’t flicker, as will sometimes occur when it’s windy; they just got real low for a few seconds.
  • I heard a mysterious sound. In my blog post dated 1/24/2007, I compared it to “an electronic sort of humming, followed by what sounded like clashing cymbals.”

This was well nigh disturbing, to say the least. (Also, I have been blogging forever…)

I mentioned these strange occurrences to my chat companion, who joked, “Sounds like the Mother Ship just landed.”

I didn’t think much more about it until the following morning, when electronic devices began conking out anytime I drew near. Seriously: my fully-charged cellphone wouldn’t let me make a call, but instead emitted “a series of weird electronic beeps and clicks.” That same day, I was in Best Buy on my lunch hour, buying a CD (because it was early 2007), when the sales clerk’s cash register froze. She could not get it to work and was forced to do a hard reboot. “That was odd,” she said. “It’s never happened to me before.” Weird things like that happened, off and on, the rest of the week, before things finally returned to normal.

Suddenly, those jokes about the Mother Ship weren’t so funny to me. I wondered whether I had been abducted by aliens and had my memory erased, the side effects of which were an ability to disrupt the electro-magnetic field. Sure, we scoff now, but it seemed at the time to be the only logical explanation to my weird ability to unwittingly kill all electronics around me.

To this day I can’t explain what was going on, though later events in the townhouse make me feel that I had a bigger problem with ghosts than aliens.

I’m Here for the Boos

Between carving pumpkins for the first time in years and actually passing out candy to kids, Halloween was a novelty this year. I hadn’t had a trick-or-treater come to my front door in 14 years. Not because I didn’t have a front door (turns out those are a pretty standard feature in most dwellings, minus tipis and igloos), but rather, kids avoid apartment and townhouse complexes on Halloween, so we always ended up with a couple of unopened bags of candy. We figured things would be different now that we’re in a house, and sure enough, we saw maybe 40-50 costumed kiddos over a three-hour period. It was actually a lot of fun, even though I didn’t discover until plugging it in that evening that my fog machine was broken. It emitted a few half-hearted wisps of fog before sputtering out, the last futile gasps of breath from a dying soul. I wasn’t too surprised though; the thing had been boxed up since 2006. I’ll be sure to buy a new one for 2020 so I can really set a festive tone.

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Glutton for Punishment?

The weather has been its usual mixed bag of late, alternating between cold, a little less cold, snowy, a little less snowy, windy, and a little less windy. It looks to be the same for the foreseeable future.

You will notice, by the way, that I did not in fact post anything on the first two days of the month, which means I’m bagging my idea of blogging every day in November. You can breathe easily, Betsy. We’re gearing up for the winter issue of our parenting magazine at work and I’m still freelance blogging like a madman, so I figured I was overextended enough already. Can you believe I’m averaging 75 freelance articles a month?! It’s a wonder I have any brain cells left. I’m passing the torch and handing over 90 percent of the work to a former colleague at the end of the year, so at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Hopefully not a weird, flickering light accompanied by strange sounds and dying electronics…

2020 Visions

I’ve been reading posts about NaNoWriMo the last couple of days, and they have brought back memories. Back in 2016, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first (and only) time in my life. It was a heady experience.

By “heady,” I mean, tough as hell.

50,000 words in 30 days is no small feat. And while I “won” the challenge, I didn’t magically write an entire novel in one month. I didn’t finish “Dream Sailors” until the following February (it ended up being closer to 80,000 words) and, I’m embarrassed to admit, I still haven’t finished editing it. Only one person has ever read it, and her name is not Tara (hi, Chris!). I’ll blame life’s general business. After finishing the novel, I uprooted my entire life and moved 1,250 miles across the country in 2018, and bought a house/started a new job in 2019. I have excuses, dammit!

But those excuses are beginning to wear thin. We’re settled in now. I have money in the bank. I really need to finish editing that novel and get it published. Tell you what: I’m making that an official New Year’s resolution for 2020. Next year, you’ll see my name in print again. It’s happening.

I also think I’d like to do NaNoWriMo again, but that’ll be next year. Yes, it was a lot of hard work. But I also think back fondly on that sense of accomplishment I felt. My favorite part was the two days I spent holed up in a vintage trailer in Ocean Shores, WA. Writing by candlelight, with wine and music and the gentle pattering of rain on the roof. I will always treasure that experience.

Because I’m a sucker for punishment apparently, I also took it upon myself to blog every single day that month. If nothing else, I was a freakin’ beast in November, 2016. I’m tempted to do that again this year, but when you work 40 hours a week as a writer, and much of your free time (mornings and weekends) as a freelance writer, the last thing in the world you feel like doing in your very limited free time is writing some more. Then again, we’re finally all settled into our house and winter is FAST APPROACHING (we had a little snow last weekend, and there’s more in the forecast), so what the hell else do I have going on?

Besides five more seasons of Mad Men, of course.

Work is still bomb dot com. Last Friday, I interviewed the GM of the Hotel Alex Johnson for a story about ghosts. That’ll go live on Monday. Talk about a topic right up my alley! I was regaling my coworkers afterward with stories of my own paranormal experiences. Oddly enough, here we are, living in a house where a woman died in February, and we haven’t had a single odd experience. Back in my old townhouse in Vancouver, Washington, my bathroom couldn’t have been more haunted. Go figure.

Saturday, I took advantage of decent weather to rake up a yard full of leaves, but underestimated the complexity of the project. I did not anticipate that it would take me a solid four hours and I’d end up filling fourteen yard waste bags (and a compost bin) full of leaves. Or that my arms and back would be throbbing with pain after. Tara suggested I take a hot bath and that sounded like a great idea, but we had a game night planned with people from her work and I just ran out of time.

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I talked to my parents that evening, and my mom asked if we had a grass catcher attached to our lawn mower. Yes, I said. Yes, we do. Why? “You could have just ‘cut the grass’ and then emptied all the leaves into those bags rather than kill yourself raking,” she replied.

Wow. Talk about a lightbulb moment. Moms really do know best!

So, should I shoot for 30 posts in 30 days next month, or what?

 

The Third Cut is the Deepest

We writers are required to have a thick skin. It’s right there in the job requirements, alongside other necessary qualities such as:

  1. Cat-centricity. Not to be confused with eccentricity, though that’s a common stereotype, too. Hemingway famously owned a white six-toed cat and I have Sydney, so it’s gotta be true.
  2. Caffeine and alcohol addictions. Surely you’ve seen writers hunched over their laptops in your local coffee shop. I was one of them for much of last year. And again, ol’ Ernest can vouch for the booze part.
  3. Introverted-ness. Anybody who holes up inside and spends large amounts of time creating fictional worlds isn’t exactly eager to deal with the real one.

Stereotypes aside, we do love words. Especially our own. So when we’re asked to tear apart creations we have obsessed over perfecting, it feels like a slow death of sorts.

Now, just to be clear, I absolutely love my job. It’s hands-down my best gig ever. As far back as college, I dreamed of working in the publishing industry. I still pinch myself every now and then, not quite convinced this isn’t some blissful dream from which I might awaken. I really need to knock that off, because I keep showing up to work with unexplained bruises on my arms.

So far, so good.

In the publishing industry—much like NASA—space is everything. A magazine has column inches that are guarded more fiercely than some borders. Stray even an inch over and all sorts of alarms will sound.

We’re in the process of laying out our fall/winter visitor’s magazine, and there’s a big section on food and drink. I spent hours diligently researching and writing this spread (pun intended) and was very happy with the final outcome. I delved deeply into the history of South Dakota’s iconic dishes and really put my mark on it. (Yeah, another pun.) By the time I’d finished, I loved it. Our managing director loved it. Our creative director didn’t not love it, but his job is to make sure everything fits neatly into the tight confines of a 65-page publication.

Guess whose article didn’t fit neatly into the tight confines of a 65-page publication?

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OK, so I got a little carried away. Maybe readers don’t need to know that “bison herds numbering in the millions once roamed the vast prairie freely” or that “Cornish immigrants working for the Homestake Mine in the 1870s carried pasties in their lunch boxes” when I’m just writing about buffalo burgers and meat pies (not nipple tassels, as some of you might be thinking). What can I say? I’m a completist. The characters in my novels all have carefully-developed backgrounds, so why shouldn’t readers know that kuchen (the state dessert) was brought to South Dakota by German immigrants in the 1880s?!

Well, because of that jewelry ad. That’s why.

FINE. I get it. But I can’t promise I won’t cry a little when cutting down my own articles. By the time our creative director sent the article back for a third edit, I was a brokenhearted, slobbering mess. On the inside, of course. Outwardly, I projected the same calm, cool, and professional demeanor that defines me. Other than wailing, “My words! My beautiful words! All gone!!,” you’d never know I was in any sort of distress whatsoever.

Thick skin, people. Thick skin.

Mutual Admiration

Gather ’round, folks. I’ve got a story to share.

Our tale begins on January 2, 2018. We were six months away from leaving the PNW for South Dakota, and while I’d hoped to be able to keep my job with Fuel and work remotely, management wasn’t on board with the plan. While scrolling through Instagram that day, I came across a post from a publishing and media company in Rapid City. Intrigued, I visited their website, and decided on the spot this was a place I wanted to work. They are a small group of creative professionals whose core business is print publishing; they produce a number of magazines, including Black Hills Visitor, a regional travel planning guide, and provide marketing services to locally owned businesses – everything from web development and social media management to design. Everything they do is right up my alley. The only problem? They weren’t hiring a content writer (or any other position, for that matter).

I decided to reach out to them anyway, so I drafted a cold contact letter introducing myself, letting them know I’d be moving out there that summer, and if they ever needed a copywriter I’d love to chat. I submitted it through their website and honestly expected nothing to come of it, so when they emailed me back two hours later to set up a phone interview, I was shocked.

A week later, I had a great conversation with the owner and the managing director. They asked me to send in work samples and promised they’d talk about adding a writing position to the team. I tried not to get my hopes up, but was so excited, Tara and I began discussing the possibility of me moving out here early. A few weeks later, they got back to me and said, while they were impressed with my work, they weren’t ready to add to their team yet. They asked me to keep in touch and stop by when I got to town. I was disappointed but hardly surprised; it had felt like a long-shot anyway.

Exactly six months later, on July 2, I did indeed stop by their office. It was my first day freelancing and I wandered over on my lunch break, since the coffee shop where I was working is located in the same building, immediately next door. The managing director was happy to see me and gave me a tour. Unfortunately, the owner wasn’t in, and I tried a few more times to see him over the summer but he was never available. I finally stopped trying, afraid I’d appear desperate (or they’d think I was a stalker, ha).

Oh, well. It was a nice dream, but clearly not meant to be.

Or so I thought…

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. Suddenly, a job posting appeared. For a Senior Content Writer. For this very company. Now, I have been gainfully employed since the beginning of the year and was enjoying my job (despite the many challenges in government proposal work), so I debated even responding. But I had too much sort-of history with these guys, and besides, this was truly my Dream Job. Writing creative copy about this place I love so much?! I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by without at least trying, so I applied online. Figured, maybe they won’t even call.

They called.

Two interviews later, they offered me the job. Let me repeat: THEY OFFERED ME THE JOB.

I accepted without hesitation. How could I not?! This is everything I wanted. And they wanted me. I guess you could call it a case of mutual admiration. Ironically enough, I have John Mellencamp to thank for this job. At least partly; my second interview was the day after the concert, and I happened to mention to the owner that we had gone. “That was a great show, wasn’t it?” he replied. Now, I’d had no idea he had gone to the same concert or was even a fan. For half the interview, we chatted about Mellencamp and rock music while the managing director and creative director looked on with bemusement. Those tickets were the best investment we ever made! (The show was awesome, by the way. I’d gush over that more, but this story is long enough as it is.)

So, last Friday afternoon, I had a difficult conversation with my employer and turned in a letter of resignation. I really hated doing that, but to their credit, they responded with grace and dignity, were totally supportive, and encouraged me to follow my passions. I gave them two weeks’ notice; my last day there will be May 10, and then I begin my Dream Job May 15.

How’s that for excitement?!


Also exciting: Tara and I are now officially house hunting. We looked at our first one last week, and while the online listing was very appealing, it was less so in person. Great location, but too many cosmetic and structural issues. It needs a new roof, for instance. Even our realtor said it was overpriced. So, we passed – but the search continues. We are in no hurry and are both confident our perfect house is out there, just waiting to be discovered.


Here are a few random pics from last weekend’s adventure. We went to Wind Cave National Park to celebrate National Park Week. Couldn’t have asked for better weather!

 


Also exciting, Part II: we just spent my birthday weekend in Deadwood. Went for a nice hike along the Homestake Trail, checked into our room at the historic Bullock Hotel, bought tickets for a ghost tour, had a fantastic dinner at FLYT Steakhouse, spent a few hours playing video blackjack, and called it a night. After a nice breakfast and another few rounds of blackjack, we checked out and came home. It was a nice little getaway. Next weekend, we’re driving to Jamestown, North Dakota, to meet a blogging friend I have known for 15+ years.

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The Bullock Hotel was built in 1896 by Deadwood’s first sheriff, Seth Bullock, after his hardware store burned down on this very spot.

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Our tour guide showed us a photo of an apparition standing beside her at the top of this staircase. Our room just happened to be at the top of this staircase, as well.

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The original foundation wall/basement of Seth Bullock’s hardware store, with burn marks from the 1894 fire still visible.

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Burned floor joists in the basement.

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Whew! Quite a few things happening in my life right now and they’re all good. 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty great year.

Meat and Catch-Up

I haven’t written a proper post in what seems like ages – photos of fall foliage and snow do not count – so this is an opportunity for a little catch-up! Forgive me if I jump around from topic to topic. I feel like I have a little bit to say about a lot of things.

Lessons I Learned from Our Early Season Snowfalls

Two big takeaways from our recent bout with winter-like weather:

  1. When it’s snowy, icy, or below freezing, you have to calculate extra time when making plans. Because you’ve got to scrape ice and/or sweep snow from your windshield and set the defroster to high if you want to be able to see while driving. I don’t know about you, but I find this helps prevent accidents. Speaking of scraping ice…
  2. The windshield isn’t the only thing that requires attention. We were headed out to a comedy show in Rapid City Saturday night and it took me several blocks to figure out why my headlights were barely penetrating the snowy darkness: they were coated in snow and ice. So, I had to pull over to the side of the road and take care of that.

It’s little things like these that never even crossed my mind living in the temperate PNW. On the rare occasions when it snowed in Vancouver, I certainly didn’t venture out in it. I won’t have that luxury living here, which is why I volunteered to drive us into town during our unexpected snowstorm Saturday night. I figured I’m going to have to get used to it anyway, so I might as well jump right in. Luckily, my Mazda handled the weather just fine. I could pretend I didn’t white-knuckle it the whole way, but why lie?

Also: I really want a Jeep Cherokee. But that’s another post. One that I can ignore for a while since today was sunny and 71 degrees.

Crazy Horse Progress is Measured in Inches

My favorite joke during the Saturday night comedy show went  something like this: They say the sun is going to explode in five billion years, which means they’re going to have to finish carving Crazy Horse in the dark.

The Crazy Horse Memorial, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a mountain carving honoring an Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is proceeding at a glacial pace, probably because it’s a non-profit undertaking and the Ziolkowski family refuses to take any federal or state funds. They rely solely on entrance fees, gift shop purchases, and private contributions. Hats off to them, but this thing won’t be finished in my lifetime. Or my kids’.

These photos show what Crazy Horse looked like when I visited in 2011, and again, last week.

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Hard to see any real progress. Some of the trees are a little taller, though.

This is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished:

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Crazy Horse Memorial, circa 2238

Discovering Chislic

Months before moving here, I wrote about chislic, a regional dish of cubed red meat (traditionally lamb, though beef or venison may be substituted) and South Dakota’s official state food. It is often served with toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers and hot sauce.IMAG6950.jpg

Sounds weird, huh? Here’s the thing: it’s really good. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, it’s fried meat. Unless you’re a vegetarian, which I am most certainly not, what”s not to love?!

I’ve had it a couple of times now, and have yet to see either Saltines or toothpicks. Mine have always come with French fries, which makes the purist in me unhappy because it feels like my experience is a little less authentic. I haven’t had hot sauce either, come to think of it, but one place in Hill City served it with barbecue sauce and that was a pretty damn good substitute.

Though it’s more common in east river, chislic is pretty readily available around these parts, too. I intend to research the matter carefully and find the best in the west, so to speak.

I also want to make it myself and will probably try this recipe.

A Random Photo I Haven’t Posted Anywhere

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Deerfield Reservoir

The Freelance Lifestyle

I’m really diggin’ the freelance lifestyle for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the freedom to work anywhere at any time. I’m fortunate to have a steady supply of work from my former employer, and because I know the industry and topics inside and out, I usually bang it out in two days. That leaves me a lot of free time to go exploring. I try to work from a coffee shop one day a week, just to get me out of the apartment. I find that I like having a little structure, and it feels more like a real job if I have to actually get dressed and drive somewhere.

Having said that, a full-time job would be ideal because as nice as it is being an independent contractor, the benefits leave much to be desired. Probably because they’re non-existent. A couple of months ago I was offered a job as a technical writer for a local Rapid City company, and after a four-day trial period…turned it down. Umm, what?! I didn’t feel like it was a good fit at the time, but soon after had major regrets.

Now, that same company has procured my services (as a contractor) to assist in several projects that should last through the holidays. They’ve even given me an office and computer to use and only ask me to come in for a few hours a couple of times a week. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, actually. A steady paycheck (on top of another steady paycheck) without the ol’ 9 to 5 drudgery. Having said that, if this happens to lead to something permanent, I’ll be thrilled. But if not, it’s great experience and gives me more to add to my resume and portfolio.

Tara, by the way, is happy with her job. She didn’t particularly want to remain in the mortgage industry, but this position is far less demanding, which means far less stressful. She doesn’t dread going to work in the morning, which is something we should all aspire to, you know?

And, because happy wife = happy life, all is good in this hood.

One More Random (and Really Wide) Pic Before I Go

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Why I love it here, Part 37.