This turned out to be rather a long post. I've put it under a cut. The bottom line for readers is that I'm giving myself a deadline to be caught up - October 15th. If I'm not caught up by then, i'll be putting the shop on "vacation" until I *am* caught up. Since I'm officially job-hunting again as the outside work has largely dried up and since there won't be even the trickle of income from here in that event, I am not sure *how* I'll get caught up, but I have to do something, and that is what this post is about.
I feel awkward saying this because I've said it so many times over the last months, but I am hoping that I’m about to make some progress towards getting caught up. I just got payment from this outside-work customer, and I am about to ship a bunch of packages that have been ready or nearly ready, just pending the funds being free to purchase shipping labels in between refunds and chargebacks and replenishing supplies. I'd love to say I'm about to be caught up, but I'm afraid that might be too optimistic; after all, I keep on saying it and keep on not quite getting there.
*However,* I am very pleased to say that Mia, who helped me for a few weeks this past spring and did a great job before she left town for the summer, is back in town, and the plan is [was] that she’s going to help out some more starting soon (it was supposed to be last week, but as is typical for my life lately, plans have gone awry). [Since a good chunk of the funds I had set aside got consumed by vehicle repairs and a paired set of shocking phone and power bills, on top of work drying up and a customer screwing me out of hundreds of dollars, I can’t pay Mia, so I doubt she’ll be coming around anytime soon unless something changes *again,* this time for the better.] She is [was] (hopefully) going to work on the inbox and on helping me update the site with shipping info, and while it's not even remotely possible that we can get through the inbox in one day, I'm hopeful that this gets the ball rolling.
The good news is that all the outside work I've been doing means I could put something aside to ship some packages. [Again, some of this has gotten burned up by other stuff but I can definitely ship *some* stuff.] The bad news is that it's kept me away from the shop and the inbox. So the latest news is mixed – as of just these past two weeks, there's not a lot of work for me right now outside the house, which means not a lot of income (which means after the labels I'm about to print, not a lot left for more labels from that source). But it also means more time for the shop as of now, which means more progress on the inbox, on services and reports, and on communication in general.
And Mia is helpful not only in being awesome and efficient and a quick learner, but also in helping me avoid the feeling of overwhelm that lurks around the corner and threatens my own efficiency at every turn. I can post here on good days, and on good days I make progress and have something to post about, but they aren't all good days, and I'm having trouble following, myself, the advice I would give to a client in my situation. This includes acknowledging the huge number of major life changes over the past year and change and that expecting seamless, quick adjustment is neither fair nor realistic. It includes acknowledging the difficulty a self-reliant person who sees herself as a problem-solver can have when many big life things are truly outside her control, esp. when they don't go according to plan despite the investment of monumental effort. It includes the difficulty anyone could have if they faced hostility, threats, or assault in their place of work. There's the loss of several close friends/family members and the fact that the grieving process can't be rushed or pushed aside.
Then of course the whole situation with a path/plan that had over ten years of massive effort and study (and Lord knows how much money) put into it that went... not where I planned, at all. There's actually legitimate grief there, too – grief for a future I banked everything on and had to let go of before I even really had a chance to go after it. [*1] And I would tell a client to recognize that and cut themselves some slack if it took time to get their footing again. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and let go, and it’s hard to do when you have so much invested in something, even when you start to sense you’re throwing good money after bad, or good energy after bad, or both. Even when you know intellectually that it’s the right thing to do – or in fact the only thing to do because the choices have been taken away from you – you can’t just tell your heart or mind or soul or however you like to conceive of it to get over it because your head knows where all the cards are. It just plain takes time and there is no way to rush through or banish that distress. And living with distress – just having to live with it, knowing you can’t really DO anything to FIX it but you just have to get *through* it, as a process – is no damn fun, as anybody who has ever mourned anything or anyone knows all too well.
But I am not my client, and I just kick my own ass as a supposed problem-solver and facilitator who can't solve her own problems very well and who has managed to drop so many balls for so long that her once-decent reputation and clientele pretty much no longer exist. It’s the nastiest sort of loop, and some mornings I get up and look at the stack of papers and the stack of boxes that still aren’t shipped and I can’t even *move,* because I can only chip away at things rather than bulldoze them, and I can’t make everybody happy right now, and any decision I make about what to prioritize first – about which package to ship first, which person to refund first, which email to answer first, which dwindling supply to order first, which nearly limitless stack of to-dos to tackle with my very limited energy, whether to work outside the house where I know my hours will turn into measurable cash or to try to chip away at the stack of stuff that won’t – will simultaneously be a decision about what to prioritize second and third and fourth…. and will make somebody unhappy. So I spend that time doing the dishes, or filing things, or trying to find a new label supplier, or leaving the house to do other work, or doing anything but going through emails that might have angry things in them and make me feel even worse than I already feel. And that only makes everything worse, of course.
So at this point, I have become a pretty significant obstacle towards my own progress because of the state my head is in. I keep thinking that I feel and am being very unlike myself, that this just isn’t me, this paralysis and getting stuck in a horrible snarl of guilt, helplessness, shame, pessimism, and fear when facing work that used to be what I lived for. But then I have to admit that when things have been like this for a year, or God forbid longer, that *this is me* and *this is my life* now and I just don’t seem to be snapping out of it, no matter how much I kick my own ass.
But this mess has been going on for a year now, ever since my sister had to stop being my assistant in order to take on nearly full-time care of a family member when some deaths in the family necessitated some moving around and juggling of responsibilities. I got behind the summer that I moved to take this academic job, of course, since moving does that. And then I was immediately pressed against the wall once the semester started since the job demanded 60 hours a week in a good week and 80 or more in a bad one, and besides that the overall adjustment to the move was, shall we say, pretty rough on the whole family. All it took was that hiccup to make me stumble – losing that help when things were already so precarious – and I have been behind ever since. I foolishly began accepting credit card payments through a processor other than PayPal when I moved my shop to a site that was supposed to make my life easier and help me get orders out the door more efficiently, and that bit me in the ass and kept biting by initiating a financial cycle that I have not been able to escape, since unlike Paypal, credit card companies take the money first and occasionally investigate later (or not), and unlike Paypal, they don’t care if you can provide shipping confirmation and they don’t care what your Terms of Service say.
I have been hemorrhaging money ever since and have been stuck in a loop that prevents me from filling and shipping orders in a timely fashion because of this. My business account has frequently been in the negative, meaning any funds coming in are only filling a hole and can’t be put to use shipping packages, and when it hasn’t been in the negative, it’s only been barely. I didn’t make enough as a contingent, contract faculty member to cover disappearing funds and I certainly haven’t made any more since then. I haven’ been able to close the shop to get caught up since it’s the only source of funds to ship in-house orders, I can’t afford to just refund everything, and in the meanwhile chargebacks and disputes keep coming in the longer this goes on. I have already borrowed money several times to ship packages and order supplies. I have trained, or attempted to train, six potential new assistants. I have had regular sales to try to generate some immediate cash to cover holes and get packages out, often sending items out the door at barely above my cost (and in the case of art and altar pieces, under my cost sometimes).
And now the employment I’ve had since I resigned my university position has gotten a lot spottier, effective week before last. The pay was never great, with this work or the university work for that matter. Add in multiple major unexpected expenses due to vehicle and appliance breakdown, family injuries and illnesses, travel due to illnesses and deaths in the extended family, some sudden unpleasantness with the IRS, and most recently a customer refusing to pay an invoice for two weeks’ worth of work, etc., and I honestly cannot *imagine* what I can possibly do to fix this. In fact, I’ve done everything I can think of to do, although my best ideas and intentions and efforts haven’t been all that great for some time now. Part of me does still believe that ultimately, one day, I’ll be able to make some sense of why my life has been like this for the last few years (some of the balls I kept in the air got pretty slippery in the year preceding my move, but things have been seriously acutely *screwed up* for the last 12 months in a way I haven’t had to endure since… oh, I guess my teens, when I was clueless anyway), but I had to admit a good while back that for whatever reasons, or maybe for no reasons at all, my plans and efforts just aren’t working out lately. Well, there was a shorter period in my early 20s when I went off the rails for a little while, careened around and fumbled most things, and then joined the military in a decisive effort to get my shit together.
Something similarly decisive seems warranted but impossible. I’d like to say I think the storm will finally pass soon, that I can blame a lot of this, at least the acute bit, on something like Saturn being conjunct my natal Moon while Uranus is in opposition to my Sun, and I will at least find a way to *see* things in a better light starting this winter. But I am way past the point where I can even hope anything out loud; my words and hopes and intentions don’t carry a lot of weight these days, and my assurances are probably worse than meaningless – at best, they’re probably ridiculous, and for many of my customers and clients they are likely exasperating.
So. I’m saying all of this not because I’m ready to hang it all up just yet, but because something is going to have to give. I hope that that something just hasn’t come onto the horizon yet and it will be a change for the better. But this can’t go on, not like this. I’ve abused the patience of those of you who haven’t already given up on me long enough. I’m going to have to give myself a deadline to get caught up, after which point I will have to put the shop “on vacation” and just not take on any new stuff until everything is cleared up and there is nothing else that can perpetuate this vicious financial cycle I’ve been stuck in. I have no idea how I’d get caught up with the shop closed, but since I’m not catching up with the shop open and I have no idea how I’m going to do any damned thing anyway, this would at least prevent *new* people from coming to the conclusion that I’m totally unreliable and useless.
I think oversimplifying astrological transits is a majorly bad idea and an all-too-common tendency, but since I have absolutely no great ideas and no real external anything to help me with picking a date, I’m going to semi-jokingly bet it all on my Jupiter trining my natal Ascendant at the beginning of October, which will be a nice change in the heavens if it does indeed usher in the possibility of some outside help or insight coming in some form, or at the very least a shift in my currently stagnant and bitter view of things that helps me see some options I can’t currently see. I need to give it time – I need to give myself time to actually do all this work and come up with the money I need to take care of everything. But I can’t let this drag on too long either – it’s terrible business practice, it’s destroying whatever reputation I might have once had, and it’s not good for my head state either.
So I’m giving myself six more weeks, ‘til October 15th, right after my birthday, and maybe something will shift, or maybe there’ll be a string of well-paying jobs, or maybe something will click, or maybe some other miracle will happen, or maybe I’ll wake up and I’ll still feel like this and things will still look like this and nothing much will have changed decisively. When you’ve run out of ways to try to shift forces that are larger than you that are shaping your reality in a way you can’t live with, there’s nothing else to do but to find something you *can* shift, even if you can’t see at the time how it can really help all that much. (That’s what I did with the job I found unbearable, even though so far I can’t say my life as a whole has really gotten much better from any larger perspective. Then again, I have to remind myself that my perspective is probably a little skewed.)
So until then I will continue on as before, with the plan to ship things as I can and yes, once I can actually know my schedule in advance, to set up phone appointments for anyone who wants one and refund those who want refunds as I’m able. That will be the plan even if I end up having to put the shop on vacation for a while – I will not really be going anywhere and I will still honor all the previous contracts and agreements and get to everything that needs getting to. I just won’t be taking on anything new, so as to avoid adding additional stress to an already almost-unbearably stressful situation that has been dragging on for far too long now.
In the meantime, I’m working away, and whether or not I get Mia or anybody else in to help, I hope to start on the inbox once I get these packages shipped this morning.
If this sounds like one of those letters people write when they are about to quit or leave, well, I’m still not planning on doing that, but I have been struggling for nearly a year now to get caught up and to figure out how to manage what my life has become and to get my freakin shit back together. I haven’t been doing an admirable job. Something has to change, so this is me trying to make something change.
I am truly, deeply grateful to those of you who are still reading. I am truly, deeply sorry to those of you whose patience I have abused. There is no way I ever wanted any of this to turn out like this. But if I can’t get my shit together and give you guys the service and communication you deserve and that you once (deservedly) expected from me, then I am going to stop limping along and doing a bad job of everything until such time that I *do* have my shit together again – and can recognize myself in the mirror and in my own work. So this is an announcement of nothing in particular, just an intention, a plan. Maybe nothing much comes of it from the outside perspective. I’ll keep you posted either way.
- [*1] I put an awful lot into this, too – into the shop and my clients and customers. Other students in my cohort made sure to invest some time into other professional options in case the elusive full time academic job didn’t manifest, keeping their resume and clientele for editing active and updated, for instance, or getting some admin experience, or keeping on tutoring on the side, or getting certified to teach below the college level. I didn’t do that – I always planned on doing this forever, on running and slowly growing my shop and the services I provided -- and I always prioritized it right up there with my PhD studies, and I kept all those balls in the air pretty darn beautifully for many years, and stayed positive about it all the whole time too. I put nothing into anything else – if it wasn’t academia, it was going to be this, and if it *was* academia, it was also, still, going to be this. My studies complemented my work and my work fed my research and I figured if I had time to manage it while in grad school, I *certainly* would have time once I was out of grad school – to teach *and* to write and publish *and* to take care of my customers and clients. (Of course, that was before I got to see firsthand what the “new academic economy” actually *is* for non-tenure-track, contingent college instructors, what the workload and expectations were like, and – the biggest, nastiest surprise of all – just how different the classrooms and the students were going to be from what they were when I first started teaching college classes, at the very same university I just resigned from, ten years ago. I would never have believed how much could change in only two-and-a-half “generations” of high school students, in the time it would take the first freshmen I ever taught to be nearing the ends of their 20s.)
- So I am fighting off bitterness at the irony of the current situation and how I managed to *totally screw up the very things I cared the most about,* dropping all the balls I’d managed to keep in the air together for a decade, all the while ensuring that I had no other options outside of those things because of where I put my time and money and energy. If I’m having trouble reconciling what I can still only perceive as the abject misery, disappointment, and failure of my brief foray into post-graduate-school teaching with the enormous energy, hope, effort, time, faith, and money I sunk into a path that by all signs, for many years, seemed to be *the right path* -- well, I’m having even *more* trouble reconciling my current situation (which is where my own decisions put me) and the person I seem to be these days (based on how I’ve been handling things and how totally worthless any of my bursts of optimism and assurances are) with my not-too-distant past and my own perception of the person who did all those things, who kept all those balls in the air, who faced an enormous stack of things to do every day with energy and optimism and who got the impossible done, and done pretty darn well, for a really long time. I miss that person. I don’t recognize myself in her. I feel she wouldn’t recognize me.