The Colonel’s Plan – A Low Place

Once again I remind my kind readers that this entry was written some months ago. It is not a cry for help. I simply believe that, if you’re going to document an experience, it’s important to document all of it. Please don’t worry over me, and, if this account brings you down or tests your patience, please just skip it. I know my problems aren’t of the scope of those being suffered by others, but our problems are our problems. If yours have you in this place, let these words serve you as a reminder that we all land in the low place sometimes. If you’re there, please keep moving forward. You will climb out. Like the theme song of a show the Colonel hated says, “So while you’re here, enjoy the view. Keep on doing what you do. Hold on tight. We’ll muddle through one day at a time.”

October 10th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

It’s hard to know what to write today. Honestly, I’m battling depression. I have been for some time. I’m sure that shows up in my earlier letters, but I’m finding myself needing to admit it out loud, and in writing, for my own benefit.

This image of the back of our tractor shed has nothing to do with the article, but it certainly makes me think of a low place. Don’t worry–it’s looking better!

I don’t think it’s a chemical depression. What did they used to call a breakdown? “Psychosis Situational?” Not that I’m psychotic, either. But a situation is causing my depression, and, dammit, the situation is psychotic. Over the course of the last two days, reading up on the things that I’m dealing with, and reviewing notes and emails, I’ve wondered just how in the hell I’ve coped this long with this much.

Does that sound like I’m whining? It sounds like I’m whining. I’m not whining, though, in the sense of saying that I have it harder than other people. I don’t know how hard other people have it. I just know that my back is straining under the burden placed on me.

People have been telling me I look tired. I’ve mentioned that before. And I am tired. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. When I’m awake, I don’t always feel awake enough to function at the level I need to. Every day is a series of realizations that I forgot to do something, or that I ran out of time to do all of the things I set out to do that morning. I get reminders daily from friends, co-workers, bosses and customers whose expectations I have not met. Reasonable expectations or no, I’m left feeling that I’ve let those people down. (Yes, that’s a split infinitive. I stand by it.)

Have I let myself down? I guess that’s the question.

When I was 15, I wanted to be a newspaper editor. My friends called me “Lou Grant.” I don’t know if you remember Lou Grant. I know you despised Ed Asner, the actor who played him, because Ed is a hardcore liberal. I decided to be a math teacher, though, because Maryland needed teachers, and I, as liberal as old Ed at that point in life (that’s Ed Asner, not Ed Wilson), believed that education would save the world.

Maryland didn’t need math teachers badly enough to keep them the hell out of the weed-out courses that universities set up to reduce the number of engineering and computer science graduates. So my freshman year at College Park really discouraged me. It discouraged me enough that I went back to my first love, journalism. The campus environment also discouraged my liberalism–by nigh-drowning me in examples of how idiotically extreme liberals could be –so my fire to teach in public school was gone anyway.

My budding college journalism career was brief, however. I wrote some op ed pieces for The Diamonback, the college paper, but I turned down my first news assignment (I think it was a building fire) because I had a date. There was no second news assignment. I went into a funk over the second-six-month blues of my first real romantic relationship, and damn near failed Advanced News Reporting, after carrying straight ‘A’s in my other writing and design courses. I felt like a fool. You forgave me readily for wasting your tuition money.

I got an job as an editorial assistant at Columbia Magazine my senior year, and was on top of the world, going to school full time and working thirty hours a week. The management made a tentative offer of a full-time job upon graduation, then began to hedge, then the magazine was sold and the entire staff, with one exception, dismissed. I went, within a year, from believing I was going to be running a magazine or paper someday after all, to taking a lowly customer service job at a bank. Upon graduation, I had realized that I did not want to try and support a wife on the salary a newspaper reporter was paid, working the hours I would have to work. I wound up at Howard County Library, where I did work I was proud of, and was… not content.

Just before graduation, I had sold a single story to DC Comics. My editor had said, “Welcome to the big time, kid.” So, lowly jobs and all, I spent the next few years believing that I was going to score big as a comics writer. I was even offered a potential job as an assistant editor at DC… but I didn’t even interview for it, because I didn’t want to drag my new wife to New York to live in poverty. I don’t regret that choice. Few comics editors retire from that job. Even if it had been a springboard to full-time writing, comics writing seems to be about a ten-to-fifteen year career proposition. Then trends have changed and you’re “old news.” My comics career consisted of four published comic books and one paid story that’s sitting in a file cabinet, never to be published. The crushing thing is that those five stories paid about as much as a year at the library.

So, still working at the library, still not content, I started a science fiction convention, Farpoint. I ran it for eight years. It’s still running now, and I’m its deputy chairman, alongside Renee. It’s a quaint little local event that about 700 people love. I had envisioned it becoming an institution with events literally all over the world. So I was not content.

I tried to sell prose fiction for many years. I made, I believe, about fifty dollars. I never sold a story to a major publisher or magazine. [Editor’s note–as of 2019 that is no longer true!] So I started an independent radio show. It won two major awards. So I started a publishing company and wrote books based on my radio show. The first book was written up in Library Journal and bought by libraries nationwide. Thirteen books later, I’ve had exactly one other major review, and my books are not making money, with the exception of that first one, and one other anthology, which I was able to crowd-fund, and thus pay the authors one cent per word. Or maybe it was three cents. Professional rate is six. I am not content.

I left the Library, and, for 21 years, I’ve worked in IT for Howard County Fire and Rescue. I’m the first civilian to be given the equivalent rank of a chief officer. I literally built my job and most of the bureau that works for me. But all of my projects and initiatives are an uphill battle, and IT projects are never “finished.” They’re just brought to some kind of completion about one year after the technology you’ve delivered is already obsolete. I think people respect me. A lot of the uniformed personnel call me “Chief” or “Sir” with great regularity. That really means something in a tradition-heavy, para-military culture.

But I am not content.

For 18 years, I was a consultant to a non-profit corporation that helps police officers and firefighters who have suffered emotional trauma while helping people. It’s a small company with a lot of politics, but I was helping people. Yesterday, the CEO called and told me that my services were no longer required. [Editor’s note again: A few months later, the same CEO is reconsidering that stance.]

I’m a lot less than content.

I have someone in my life is giving in to alcoholism, whose life is in danger, and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.

And, with one source of income blown out of the water, I’m not sure how I’m going to afford to maintain this beautiful house you left us.

No, I’m not content.

Yes, I am depressed.

Next week, I believe I’ll have better news.

I have to believe that, don’t I?

Love,

Steven

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