Gray Clouds: Diagnosed and depressed in the Emerald City

Chapter VII

[What’s in a name? Well, whatever it is, some of these names are made up.]

Seattle is a dichotomous city: Hills and valleys, waterways and mountain ranges, limitless summer sun followed by an oppressively gray winter. Fun fact: Seattle’s annual rainfall doesn’t even put it in the top 20 of US cities, but from late October to April, the skies are shrouded in a blanket of drizzling clouds trapped overhead by the Cascades.

I arrived in the heart of summer, filled with optimism for the future of my project. This uncharacteristic positivity was in large part due to the pending publication of a Washington Post article I’d written about the financial travails of my travels. Though personal finance was the least interesting part of my project to me, when the opportunity to write a feature article for a national publication presents itself, a fledgling writer jumps at the opportunity.

The patron of my opportunity was Marianne, a friend since college who at the time was designing at the Post and had put the idea in the ear of an editor. Marianne and I have the type of friendship in which we catch up infrequently, but always with ease and an appreciation for our mutual side-eyed view of our lives. She’d witnessed and supported 10 Cities/10 Years essentially since its conception.

The featured article, complete with photo spread, provided my first taste of wide exposure and brought a flood of attention. The online comment section was divided evenly between those expressing admiration for my goal, people calling me an idiot, and pedants crowing about a typo. Truly, it had reached every demographic.

I rode the high of having my first major publishing credit for a few weeks, which led to local interviews with radio and digital publications and hearing from people who I hadn’t spoken to since high school. I was even recognized by a stranger on the street. Fame!

Luxuriating in the moment, I reunited with Ashley, yet again. As geographically removed as we had ever been, we still couldn’t resist each other. Her absence from my life left gnawing emptiness. She flew out and together we ascended the Space Needle, visited the aquarium, attended a Ryan Adams concert, and spent the still warm evenings huddled in dark booths. We didn’t even fight, a true rarity for us.

Our third go-round lasted only two months.

For years, Ashley had ridden the ups and downs of my sporadic attention, tolerating an art project that she didn’t understand and I couldn’t justify. Whatever she saw in me, whatever drew us together, it was in spite of my single-minded dedication to art, not because of it. All she wanted was a family and a home near her parents and I, well, I couldn’t say what I wanted. But it wasn’t in North Carolina.

When I ended it for the third time, it was with the understanding that there wouldn’t be a fourth. As long as we were holding on to the possibility of reconnecting someday, we’d both be miserable. And so, with an eviscerating finality, it was over.

 

Oscillation

I told the doctor everything.

It was mid-January and I had returned to familiar territory: jobless and scrambling to put together enough income to make it another month.

In the wake of yet another break up and the rapidly dwindling interest of the public for 10 Cities/10 Years, my mental state had taken another precipitous drop. My circumstances didn’t help. Weeks before Christmas, my coworkers at Levi’s and I learned that our store was closing in January. 

With the winter months a job desert, I responded to an online posting for a medical study. Déjà vu, all over again.

The psychologist, Dr. Alden, explained that they were studying the efficacy of a new anti-depressant. I had never taken any medication for my depression (self-diagnosed in high school, and confirmed every year of my life afterwards), but I was in a low place, and Seattle’s unvarying gray skies only made matters worse. I couldn’t keep fighting my brain chemistry unarmed.

For an hour and a half, I shared: career missteps, romantic failings, family history, and the current uneasy state of my nomadic existence. I checked off almost every box for depression – trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, suicidal ideations, loss of interest in activities, repetitive negative thoughts – and looked to be an ideal subject for the study. One thing gave her pause: my drinking.

“If I put you on this drug, you’ll have to cut out all alcohol. Is that something you think you can do?”

I paused a beat before saying, “Of course.” She must have known it was a lie, but she pushed ahead anyway.

Having reached the conclusion of my interview, she was preparing to sign off on my admission to the study when an off-hand comment made her go back to her notes. Earlier, I had mentioned feeling more buoyant in the sunnier months. She quickly flipped back through her folder.

She read off a series of questions.

Do I have periods where I feel sped-up? Do I rapidly swing back and forth between extremes of self-confidence and self-doubt? Does my libido increase dramatically in happier phases? Is my creativity affected?

The interview went on like that for a few more minutes, with me answering in the affirmative for nearly every inquiry. When she had read through the full list, she looked up at me, sighed, and informed me, “I can’t add you to the study.”

The medication was intended to treat clinical depression, which I’d always assumed I had. Instead, she explained, my symptoms suggested Bipolar II (typified by hypomanic phases instead of the more erratic manic episodes of Bipolar I).

Her diagnosis, cursory though it might have been, provided two strands of relief. Firstly, having a framework to describe the oscillating swings of mood and personality that had dictated my identity since I was a teenager helped me feel that I was no longer at the whim of some unknowable trickster god. I could understand my cycles, and therefore, myself.

The other source or relief: since I wouldn’t be in the study, I didn’t have to give up drinking.

Dahlia

Even without a job, I refused to spend every night locked up in my room. About once a week, I met my former coworker, Albert, at the Rabbit Hole, a cocktail bar less than ten minutes’ walk from my Belltown apartment. Sometimes we played a few abysmal rounds of trivia or a couple games of skeeball. Behind the bar was an alluring and statuesque Venus who Albert swore he’d marry one day, just as soon as she knew his name.

One February evening, while sitting at the bar, a short, young woman, plainly dressed, took the stool next to me. I’m not usually one to chat up a stranger (strangers generally approach me) but the whiskey had me feeling outgoing so I introduced myself. By chance, she was a visitor from Pennsylvania, traipsing through the Pacific Northwest on her own. We had an immediate rapport and began exchanging travel stories.

With a knowing look, Albert excused himself, leaving me alone with my new companion, Dahlia.

After a couple more drinks, I offered to give her the almost-local tour. From the Rabbit Hole, we walked a half mile through the cooling evening towards downtown Seattle to try Von’s, a garish cocktail lounge where they spin a wheel on the wall every half hour to determine what the current special will be. It’s usually some variant of martini in the $4 to $5 range.

Topics flowed with ease as we rapidly progressed through family, career, past travel, and even former relationships. We shared a restless worldview and waxed sibyllicly of the locales we would one day explore. A half dozen drinks into the night, we finished our discount martinis and ordered another. The quiet inner monologue that grows ever more insistent with alcohol was screaming that this was going somewhere.

Leaving Von’s, I offered to bring her to the Space Needle. It had grown laSpace Needle (at Night)te and the iconic site would be lit up brightly against the dark clouds. Like me, Dahlia preferred walking to taking a car, and since Seattle is deceptively small, we continued our evening with a mile-long stroll back through Belltown.

Conversation started to taper off during the walk, either because we had exhausted all obvious roads or because the alcohol had chemically transformed from social lubricant to depressant. Nearing the Space Needle, we stopped into Seattle’s beloved 24-hour diner, the 5 Point Café, for another round.

Dahlia made a point of mentioning that she was staying at a hostel, though she wasn’t quite sure where it was in relation to our current location. Sitting on those black vinyl stools, confident that I had accumulated enough evidence to know where this was going, I leaned in to kiss her.

Abruptly, she rebuffed me before I made contact. I retracted, stunned and ashamed. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d had a kiss rejected – whiskey isn’t just a social lubricant – but each time, it’s always deeply embarrassing. No means no, infinitum: I apologized and hoped to salvage the night by changing the subject.

I suppose the rejection – or, from her perspective, the intrusion – had irreparably shifted the tone of the evening, because the conversation quickly soured.

Slipping through an alcoholic black hole, I emerged on the other side firmly enmeshed in a heated debate with Dahlia about moral relativism. I’ve no memory of how the conversation began, but with each passing exchange, our volume increased in inverse proportion to our civility.

She argued that no person or society has the right to dictate to any other person or society their moral values. I took the, perhaps, more provincial view that a society – and by extension, humanity – could not function if we did not enforce some sort of moral code.

I assume we’re all familiar with Godwin’s Law.

“You would let the Nazis kill the Jews?” This inarticulately worded question seemed like the logical conclusion of her position, and I assumed the only possible response was “no.” I assumed wrong. “You would let the Nazis kills the Jews!” I repeated, this time not a question, but an accusation.

She held steadfast while my mind locked onto that one phrase like a glitching robot trapped in an inescapable loop. With deepening incredulity, I rebutted her every point with that refrain, until, finally, pissed off and not a little drunk, she stormed off to the restroom.

Ten minutes passed before I concluded that she had, in fact, exited 5 Points, leaving me with the bill and a hazy understanding of how the night had flipped so dramatically, so quickly.

Pike Place Brick (Cropped)

And then the skies began to clear.

Seattle’s shifting weather mirrored my mental oscillations, and either because of that or despite it, the city remains among my favorites of the ten years.

Friendships made a big difference. One couple, Clarice and Tom, welcomed me into their home frequently and introduced me to varied and fascinating people, including Rhiannon, with whom I enjoyed burlesque shows, speakeasies, and casual misanthropy.

My two month job search ended in March when I found one of the most laidback and lucrative waiting jobs I ever had, bartending on Blake Island for visitors to Tillicum Village and the customers of Argosy Cruises. My young and sprightly coworkers often complained about working hard (we never did), and in their company I felt like an elder statesman, having lived a thousand different lives. I could have lived in that summer feeling forever, but I had more roads ahead.

With my exit a week away, my coworker, Brielle – an inveterate hostess – threw a raucous going away party at her apartment. Having seven cities in the books, I felt like a man on a victory tour. In two years I’d be in New York, and before that, all I had to do was live it up in New Orleans and Boston.

Little did I know that an old face from Chicago was about to blow everything up.

It was Seattle in late August; I couldn’t see them yet, but clouds were on the horizon. They always are.

Keep reading: Chapter VIII – New Orleans 

Road To Nowhere: The totally made up story of how publishing my poetry chapbook turned into a nightmare

Over the duration of my project, I’ve had a few opportunities to see my writing in print, both in small presses and on the national stage. Every chance to put my writing in front of new eyes offers a burst of excitement, as I’m sure any artist would admit. The real goal for a writer, though, is to put out a book with one’s own name on it, something that is yours and only yours.

For me, such an opportunity presented itself a few years ago when I was approached to publish a collection of poetry I entitled “The Road So Far.” That’s the cover over in the sidebar. If you click on the link, you’ll notice that it’s listed as out of print. I would like to do something about that, but the truth is I have no control over it. “Why?” you ask.

Let me tell you a fantastical story. It’s just a story. I made all of this up. Pure fiction.

About a month after my article in the Washington Post appeared, a woman – let’s call her Susan – contacted me via e-mail. She said she had read some of my writing and was interested in publishing a chapbook through her imprint named Soaring Bird Publishers. It was a flattering offer and I agreed to meet with her.

I write loads of poetry, posting frequently on this website, with a few poems even being published online and in print. But I’ve never considered myself a poet. It’s not where my true talent lies (that true talent: drinking without a hangover), and it’s not my passion. But the act of writing poetry can be very cathartic, a release of pent up creativity when I’m not in a place to sit and work on a novel or short story.

I had previously looked into self-publishing a chapbook just so I could have some writing out in the world, but I ultimately rejected the idea. It seemed like a lot of work for something I was only half-interested in doing, and I am pretty adamantly anti self-publishing. So when Susan offered to publish my poetry, I thought, “Why not?”

Meeting Susan and her boyfriend/husband/partner/haberdasher in a coffee shop in Seattle, I brought a selection of poems I felt were most worthy of inclusion in a chapbook. We sat for a bit, discussed her plans for the collection and she explained that she had worked in the offices of publishing companies for most of her career (not as an agent, though). Having retired from that work, she was interested in finding local artists to represent and publish.

No, it wasn’t Penguin or Harper Collins, and in fact, this would barely be a step above self-publishing. It was someone else wanting to put out my work, though, someone who was going to take the effort and produce a professional looking chapbook. Again, I thought, “Why not?”

The universe has a way of answering those “why not” questions.

My initial email communications with Susan were spaced a month apart in the beginning, our greetings leaping from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. In January of 2012, we had more regular correspondence and it felt like actual progress was being made. She said she had an “e-proof” of the book and would be forwarding it on to me for editing.

Then silence for nearly 2 months.

In the winter of 2012, I was unemployed and concerns about the chapbook fell on the back-burner. It was a rough couple months of financial insecurity, alleviated partially by a friend who offered me construction work. Around that time, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate contacted me. He had heard about my 10 Cities Project from friends at a party and wanted to do an interview with me. A bit of light in a dark Seattle off-season.

A couple weeks after that piece aired, Susan called me.

My frustration with the slow or non-existent responses was only compounded when she attempted to take credit for the NBC interview. This lie was the last straw: I told her I didn’t want to go forward with the chapbook anymore.

She insisted she had put in considerable time editing the book and promoting it (though she never indicated how) and assured me I would appreciate the final product. I said that if she sent me a physical copy of the book to proofread along with a contract, I would look it over and decide whether or not to sign off on it. She agreed.

Then more silence. Months went by without any communication from her, and the proof never arrived. In May, I noticed an Amazon listing for “The Road So Far,” despite the fact that I had never seen a proof nor signed a contract. I emailed her telling her to immediately take down the listing. No response.

In July, she emailed me that the proof was available for me to read. In the interim months, we had talked a couple times  on the phone and our conversations always followed the same pattern: I’d tell her I was done with this project, she would insist the book was nearly ready to go, and then  I would relent because I figured I was in this far, might as well see it through (I couldn’t give up my dream of having a physical collection of my poems).

When Susan finally sent me the proof, it was abysmal. Riddled with typos, some poems were spliced across 2 or 3 pages and other formatting errors abounded. It was a nightmare. Despite these obvious warning signs, I took the time to edit it and mailed it back with a signed contract. Dummy.

And then, you guessed it, more silence.

On August 8th, 2012, I sent her a brief email: “Have you received the proof and contract yet?”

June 25th of 2013 was the next time I heard from her, nearly 2 years since we first met. She wanted my address in New Orleans so she could send me my 10 free copies of the book (per the contract). I ignored her email. She sent it again a few days later. And again in July. She then contacted me on Facebook and I finally relented.

In an email that was far more civil than I felt, I told her that this process had been “confounding” and that I didn’t believe she had taken the work on with “serious commitment or in good faith.” I explained that I was upset that she had “published” the book on Amazon without letting me have the final say on the last edit, and I, again, wanted her to take the listing down. I gave her my address and asked her to send me what copies she had and then I expressed my wish to sever our relationship.

She didn’t respond by email, but a couple weeks later a package arrived with my 10 copies and a letter. In said letter, she told me quite bluntly that I had signed a contract so Soaring Bird maintained the right to sell the books. She also told me that she had never agreed to give me final edit. I suddenly understood the thematic relevance of a rising bird.

Ryan Adams Finger

I wrote her another email which read, in part:

I received my copies of the collection. I also read your letter, which exemplifies my issue with working with you. As I acknowledged in my previous email, I realize you have the right to sell the chapbooks. I have no legal recourse to stop you, and at this point I honestly don’t care. My issue is with you as a publisher, who despite being a single person and someone who has only published one or two other collections that I can see, still wants to behave as if you are a faceless entity big enough to steamroll over the artist. The whole point of working with a small publisher is getting the personal, genuine touch. You have provided none of that.”

If she insisted on selling the books per the contract, I concluded, then she was also obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract and pay me my share. Even as I was writing it, I knew that was a pipe dream.

Despite my misgivings, I told friends and family about the book and advertised it on this site. As far as I can tell, and despite Susan’s claims to the contrary, this was the only advertising of any kind my collection received. Many people bought copies and let me know that they had. A few months after the book went live, I contacted Susan again letting her know that I knew copies had sold and I expected payment sent to my Boston address.

That was almost a year ago. Do you think she responded? I’ll give you 2 guesses.

Two weeks ago, the last copy of “The Road So Far” sold, prompting my interest in retrieving publishing rights from Susan. I sent an email and received the usual cyber echo. I then sent a message to the Facebook page for Soaring Bird. To my surprise, I received a response. Its tone was, unsurprisingly, not conciliatory.

After indicating that my email had been received (yet never responded to), the message went on to say:

Regarding your accusations: should you engage in oral and/or verbal defamation, this company will file a libel and/or slander lawsuit against you. The words of your notification and your email are adversarial and threatening in tone. Please ensure you want to continue in this adversarial manner because it has been this company’s intent to support the publication of “The Road So Far” and to support your endeavors of your project 10 Cities / 10 Years.

Surely this is the tone of a company that “supports” my endeavors.

(Which reminds me, I want to reiterate that this story is clearly a fictional account and any resemblances to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Just a wacky story, haha!)

Meanwhile, I have no idea if the contract I signed is truly binding. I have no idea how much money I am owed as I don’t know how many copies were even published. I’m sure it’s not much, and that was never the point. I feel bad that people have bought these books thinking they were supporting me when I never saw a penny from those sales.

If you are one of those (hypothetical) people, know that the money was never the point. Just the fact that you bought a copy is all the support I could ask for. Neither this project nor the book have ever been about making money; publishing “The Road So Far” was about having some permanent physical artifact of my writing.

When I look back on this whole experience, I know I did pretty much everything wrong. But what’s to be done now? I resigned myself a long time ago to not seeing any money from this book. I just hope that someday I can gain the publication rights back in order to make more copies available (or to prevent some unscrupulous party from profiting off of my name). Regardless, it’s not about money, it’s about having a little bit of art out in the world.

To everyone who bought a book, or wanted to buy one: Thank you, sincerely. It means so much more than a couple of dollars and I am truly grateful.

As for Susan and anyone else at Soaring Bird, I’m just glad they aren’t real people. Thank goodness my real publisher would never be such dicks.

Cheers.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Haters gonna… I forget

It’s been an interesting day.  I want to thank everyone who read my article in the Washington Post.  I especially want to thank those who reposted it or tweeted it or faxed it or whatever it is you crazy kids are doing these days.

The Post allows comments on articles, so I’ve taken the time to read through them.  There has been a lot of encouragement, a lot of people saying they admire what I do and wishing me luck as I continue.  It’s good to know that this project resonates with people, and while I know not everyone will be interested, at least there is segment of the population that supports us crazy idiots out here.

Of course, there is also a fair share of backlash.  Mostly, this criticism has fallen along the line of, “He’s doing this without healthcare and is just going to have to rely on the government if he gets sick.  Plus, he’s got no long-term plan for the future.”

To which I say, fair enough.

Actually, screw it, I don’t say that.

There is absolutely no merit to their criticism*.

I do not have health insurance (or a car, as some have asked).  Of all my jobs, I’ve had only one that provided it and so I had insurance for about a year, once.  I used it to get checked up, at which I got a clean bill of health, and then I lost the insurance when I left that job (I’ve never been on  my parents’ insurance; not sure they even have any).  If I get sick, which is rare, I just deal.  I had a few years in a row when I got strep throat.  I paid out of pocket for a clinic visit and antibiotics.  Luckily, I haven’t had strep in many years.

Last year, in Nashville, I slipped and pulled something in my chest.  It hurt a great deal, to the point where it was hard to lift anything (not good for a waiter).  I still worked, though.  I took a lot of Tylenol and never went to the doctor.  It took about a month but I healed.  These are the real world issues I have to deal with living the way I do.  Yes, my life is unique based on my project, but I’m hardly the only person in the world working on Customer Service wages and unable to afford health insurance.  The fact that someone might get sick or hurt and not be able to afford medical attention in the wealthiest nation in the world shouldn’t be a reason to cheer or gloat (I’m looking at you Tea Party debate audience).

Some of the commentators seem almost giddy at the thought of me getting sick or getting hit by a truck, as if they were thinking,  “That’ll show ’em.”  It’s also pretty obvious by the rantings of some of these commentators that they were mostly (if not all) politically Conservatives, pissed at the idea that their tax dollars would have to pay for me.  Well, fret not, I haven’t seen a penny of your precious tax dollar.

I love that in this so-called Christian Nation, most people’s first thoughts when thinking of another person’s misfortune is, “How does this affect my wallet?”  Christ abides, indeed.

There is a certain contingent of society that would have there be no artists, no risks takers, no outliers.  These people want everyone to get a job and save up money, live for the dollar.  Some of them mean well.  They read the article and think, like a worried parent, “That boy has no safety net if things going wrong.”  It’s an understandable concern.

But I think most of these Negative Nelly’s are, in the parlance of today’s youth, simply Haters.  For whatever reason, they cannot help but shit on anything and anyone that doesn’t fall in line with their own life choices.  Oddly, from my vantage point, these people who would attempt to squash my dreams (not gonna happen) are the same ones decrying the government for taking away their liberties.  Irony much?

Really, all they’re saying is, “These are the reasons I’d be too scared to do what he’s doing.”  Money’s your hangup, man. (You should imagine a dirty hippie saying that .)

What it comes down to is, if you like my project, then I hope you’ll follow it and keep the encouragement coming.  I need it.  If, on the other hand, you find my project to be totally impractical and unrealistic, congratulations, you’re right.  As I said in the article, I have no intention of being anyone’s financial guru.  In that same article I also said my life isn’t a practical way to live.  It’s the way I choose to live, that’s it. 

If I get to the end of my 10 years and nobody wants to buy my book and I don’t make it as a writer, well, I’ll be crushed.  But it’ll be my defeat, my grand failure, and no one else’s.

And contrary to what people are saying, I am planning for my future.  I’m planning to not be filled with regrets because I let fear of sickness or slavish devotion to money and security keep me in place.  Also, I’m planning to own a BMW with heated seats.

This is my dream.  It isn’t yours.  Pursue your own passions, whatever they may be, and don’t get so hung up on other people’s life choices.  Especially the ones that have nothing to do with you.

And, again, to those who have offered encouragement and assistance over the years, I thank you.  I’ve still got plenty of years ahead of me, so I’ll probably still need more.  Or is getting help from friends and family now suddenly un-American?

*If, however, you want to criticize my skills as a writer, well that’s a horse of a different color.  I’m not gonna argue it.  What would be the point?

My Fifteen Minutes…

begins here.

Focusing on how I survive year to year on a rather paltry income, this article is my first national piece.

You can also see the traditional paper layout of the story, with the front page here and the full-page continuation here.

We bloggers don’t get a lot of opportunities like this, so I am very grateful for the chance.

If you like what you read, please mention the article on your Facebook or Twitter accounts.  I’d love to get this in front of as many eyes as possible.

Thanks for reading.

And I guess there’s no hiding it anymore.  My real name is Joseph Fonseca.  Cheers.

Meet The Press

Here we go folks.

This Sunday, October 2nd, 10 Cities/10 Years will receive its first (but hopefully not last) spot of national press.

The Washington Post will run a Lyttleton-penned feature article in the Sunday Business section.  You’ll be able to find the full article on their website, and if you want to see the article as it’s meant to be seen, check it out in their Today’s Paper feature.  If you happen to live in their East Coast distribution area, go ahead and pick up a copy; let’s support Old Media so all us lazy bloggers have resources to steal from without having to do any legwork.  We hate legwork.

And please let me know if you read it, I’d love to hear your reactions.