TBT^2: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

The Kindle version of The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot goes live today!  If you pre-ordered the book, it should pop up in your Kindle app today.  At $5, it’s a very easy lift, as is the paperback at $15.

It’s April Fool’s Day, a holiday for mirth and merriment, but one I dedicate to remembering the day twelve years ago when I faced unemployment during the worst job market since the Great Depression.

In rereading last year’s TBT and the original “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective,” I’m reminded how good God has been to me.  Last year I’d lost most of my private lesson students due to The Virus; now, I’m back up to seven students (six weekly, one twice a month), and I’ve just released a book (the Kindle version goes live today!).  Gigging still hasn’t really picked back up, but Bandcamp sales have been decent (and another Bandcamp Friday is tomorrow!), and my front porch Spooktacular was a blast.

I’m still hustlin’, but I’m also taking more time to appreciate life.  Perhaps the hard slog of my twenties has finally paid off here in my mid-thirties.

With that, here are “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” and “TBT: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective“:

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Lazy Sunday XV: Work

It’s a bit of an oxymoron, but today’s Lazy Sunday is all about work.  I’m writing it amid a very lazy weekend full of loafing and pizza (and scrolling through Milo Yiannopoulos’s exquisite Telegram feed).

The weekend is so lazy because I’ve been working my butt off the past couple of weeks.  My pastor recently wrapped up our Wednesday night study of Nehemiah, and a major point of our last lesson (on Nehemiah 13) was the importance of keeping the Sabbath, for both spiritual and physical reasons.  He pointed out that God designed us to take a day once a week to rest, not out of legalistic adherence to the Law, but for spiritual and physical refreshment.

I’ve definitely been living up to that restful ideal, but I do love to work (namely, I enjoy earning money).  Work is therapeutic in its own way—it can distract from the follies of life—and while it is stressful at times, good work instills one with virtue.

I firmly believe that work is ennobling, and provides a sense of purpose and meaning beyond the obvious financial reasons people work.  Simply giving people money in lieu of work, then, may satisfy material needs, but it creates and encourages dependency, and robs one of an opportunity to grow and learn.

My main goal in working is to retire—I want to have enough squirreled away that I don’t have to work, which would free me up to enjoy work maximally (and to have the flexibility to take time for other pursuits when needed).  That’s why I teach full-time, teach part-time as an adjunct, teach private lessons, play gigs, write songs, and paint classrooms in the summer.  But I don’t think I’ll ever stop working at this point; I’ll just write more and sleep in later.

Of course, if you want to help me reach my retirement goals slightly faster, feel free to subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.  It’s just a buck a month to support my work and gain access to exclusive weekly content.  Consider that a year’s subscription ($12) is about the price of one large pizza, and you won’t get meat sweats from reading my material.

So, all panhandling aside, here are some past works on… work!

  • Meetings are (Usually) a Waste of Time” – This piece looked at a Rasmussen Number of the Day that claimed that Americans spend 11.5 hours a week in meetings.  What a waste.  I have way too much important stuff to do without some petty tyrant showing off his or her power to make me sit in a crowded room.

    My ironclad rules for meetings:

    • A regularly-scheduled meeting should be no more than 30 minutes
    • A less frequent meeting should an hour, tops, and that’s pushing it
    • If it can be done via e-mail, do it that way (just be prepared to send the e-mail several times to make sure people read it)
  • April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” – This post was about my getting laid off (well, technically, about finding out my contract was not being renewed) during the height of the Great Recession.  That was probably one of the most formative moments in my adult life, and explains why I fastidiously budget every penny for the day when the economy turns sour again.
  • Painting” – Another self-indulgent post, this one about the subtle joys of painting—no, not the fun, Bob Ross kind of painting, but the painting of rooms.  I spend most of my summers at school, often alone, painting classrooms.  It’s a great way to clear your head (and to listen to podcasts).
  • Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019” – I run a little summer camp every June that involves playing Minecraft with rambunctious young’uns.  It’s surprisingly lucrative:  in four half-days, I earned about double what I will in fifty hours of summer painting and maintenance work (depending on the number of students enrolled).  It’s also a blast, and kids create some amazing stuff in this little sandbox game.

What do you do to earn some extra bucks?  Leave a comment below, then head to my SubscribeStar page to sign up for a monthly subscription.

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Lazy Sunday X: Economics, Part II

Last week’s edition of Lazy Sunday—“Lazy Sunday IX: Economics, Part I“—featured four pieces about economics.  As I wrote last week, my thinking on economics has evolved by degrees over the past decade.  To summarize:  I used to think that (mostly) unbridled capitalism could solve most of society’s problems through ever-more-efficient allocation of resources.

Now, I’d argue that capitalism is a great system that should benefit people, but which we shouldn’t worship as a panacea.  Put another way:  we shouldn’t be sacrificing people’s livelihoods and communities on the altar of efficiency.

Naturally, there’s a great deal of room for nuance in that position, and it opens up a tricky question:  who gets to make the decisions that ameliorate some of the excesses and disruptive side effects of capitalism?  What’s the limiting principle at play?

These are important questions, but their difficulty should not lead us to resignation—to worship efficiency by default.  This week’s three pieces are my small contributions to that discussion:

  • TBT: Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism” – this piece dates back to the old TPP website, from the TPP 2.0 Era, and I consider it one of the most important essays I’ve ever written.  Social conservatives are the punching-bag of the modern Right, and the least-respected “leg” of the traditional Republican Party “tripod” coalition between social, economic, and national security conservatives.

    That’s a shame, because without the values of social conservatism, capitalism cannot long endure.  Without traditional morality, capitalism becomes an asset-stripping free-for-all:  employers have no obligation to their employees beyond a crude economic exchange of value; businesses can cheat on contracts when they coldly calculate it’s worth the potential costs; and human life, especially unborn life, is valued in dollars, not spiritual worth.

  • Tucker Carlson’s Diagnosis” – Fox News host Tucker Carlson eloquently and forcefully expressed some of the ideas implied in the previous bullet point in a powerful monologue back in January 2019.  Carlson has become a major paleoconservative voice, one that offers a much-needed counterbalance to the capitalism-as-highest-good mentality dominant in the Republican Party.

    That Carlson’s show is highly popular demonstrates that these ideas have legs politically.  Again, Carlson doesn’t have a beef with capitalism, per se, but believes it should work for us, not the other way around.  This monologue powerfully points out how our elites have thrown the rest of us over the bus, and are enjoying the fruits of their corporatist, globalist schemes.  It’s a must-watch.

  • April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” – this piece is a bit of a personal essay, looking back to 1 April 2009, the day I found out my teaching contract would not be renewed for another year.  It’s easy to forget how awful the years of the Great Recession were, and how bad the “recovery” was under President Obama.  This piece also serves as a nice counterbalance to the other two:  it shows how important robust economic growth is to sustaining strong societies.  If social conservatism is necessary to foster economic growth, that growth makes it easier for families to gain self-sufficiency (so long as we avoid the easy traps of prosperity).

There you have it—more essays on economics, a field we should consider a human science—part of the humanities—not a cold, deterministic hard science (the essay linked in this sentence, “Economics: A Human Science,” is another strong contender for today’s compilation).

Get out there and hustle!


Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

Today is April 1, 2019, popularly known as April Fool’s Day.  It’s a day for good-natured pranking and mirthful fun, a bit like a poor man’s Halloween.

This April Fool’s Day holds a particular resonance for me, however.  It was ten years ago today that, in the midst of the Great Recession, I lost my job.

Technically, my teaching contract was not renewed.  I still had an obligation to finish out the year, which I did as best I could, but I would not be coming back.

I remember it vividly:  my school’s former headmaster told me he wanted to speak with me.  I went into his office, and he told me a few things:  the school was consolidating my classes into fewer sections; the school desperately needed money (the enrollment was around ninety-five kids, and things were so tight they needed the $28,000 going towards my salary); and the economy was not conducive to private school fundraising and tuition.

He told me that, as I’d studied history (he, too, was a history teacher), I knew how these kinds of economic downturns went.  I thought he was mentioning this as a bit of cold comfort, a sort of, “don’t worry, it won’t last long, as you’ll be okay.”  Instead, he continued, saying, “this thing could last an entire decade!”  Yikes!  Way to kick a man when he’s down.

I knew (or, at least, I hoped—the day isn’t over yet!) that I’d never have the opportunity, grim as it was, again, so I said, “Wait a minute—this isn’t just some elaborate April Fool’s joke, is it?”  He said, stone-faced, “I wish it were.”

So, there I was, facing imminent unemployment in the worst job market since the Great Depression, with only one year of teaching under my belt and a Master’s degree in United States Trivia.

We forget, living in the wonderful Trump economy, how hard it was back then.  Jobs were not to be found.  Remember going to gas stations, and people would start polishing your hubcaps against your will so they could sell you the cleaner?  That’s how bad it was—people were hawking hubcap polisher at rural gas stations to try to make ends meet.  “Entry level” jobs required two years of experience, at minimum, which no one fresh out of college plausibly had (unless they’d wisely done some kind of internship or work study).

Fortunately, with some help and coaching from my dad, I landed a job at the City of Sumter, after only three months of formal joblessness.  I was quite fortunate.  I managed the Sumter Opera House, where I learned to run live lights and sound.  I also met some interesting people, including the comedian Gallagher (that used to be an impressive anecdote, but now few people under thirty know who Gallagher is; it’s a shame).  He was an odd bird, which isn’t that surprising, given he made a career out of smashing fruits with a sledgehammer.

That job turned into a grind—remember, if you had a job, you had to do pretty much anything your employer demanded, lest you face termination—but I learned a great deal, and it landed me back at my old teaching gig, under a new headmaster, in 2011.

That experience—being jobless in the Great Recession—left an enduring mark on me.  My first year teaching, I definitely phoned it in.  I worked hard on lectures, of course, but beyond a little club for musicians, I didn’t do much extra.

My first year back in the classroom, in 2011, was completely different.  I was teaching World History, Government, Economics, History of American Popular Music (a course I created), and AP US History.  I had to do prep for all of them.

I was astonished how much American history I’d forgotten since high school and college (a pro-tip:  studying American history in graduate school is more about reading overly-detailed monographs about obscure bits of the story of America; when I took my exams to finish my Master’s, I essentially used information I learned in my eleventh-grade AP US History class).  I would spend hours on Sunday afternoons at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina writing up lesson plans.

Then, I became the de facto sound guy for school events after a talented tech kid graduated (I named an award after him, which I give to students who assist with our concerts and plays on the tech end).  It’s the ultimate in job security—no one else knows how to do it—but it’s also a major obligation—no one else knows how to do it.

Since then, I’ve grown a decent side hustle teaching private music lessons.  I also teach courses at a local technical college, mostly online, but some face-to-face.  In 2014, I taught Monday-Wednesday evenings, first from 6-7:15, then from 9-10:15 PM.  I’d come home, exhausted, and fall asleep in my recliner.  Thursdays felt like Saturdays because, even though I still had two days at the high school, it was the longest possible point before a grueling sixteen hour Monday rolled around.

I save constantly for retirement—I make the legal annual maximum contributions to my IRA, 403(b), and HSA—and spend very little money.  I still drive the same Dodge Caravan that I’ve had since 2006.  I will occasionally splurge and buy digital piano, but my saxophones are falling apart (literally—my pawn shop alto sax has a key falling off).  I occasionally worry that, on that glorious day when I do retire, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working.

All that said, I have done everything possible to position myself against another recession, bad labor market, etc.  April 1, 2009, seems now like a distant memory, but it could all come back.  I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode where some repo men are repossessing property from a failed Dot Com start-up.  One of them says, “It’s a golden age for the repo business—one which will never end!” as he lights a cigar with a $100 bill.

It’s easy to fall into that mindset.  I’m optimistic for the future, but I’ll never take prosperity or security for granted again.  Constant hustling—booking new gigs, picking up more students, getting more classes, working maintenance on the weekends, leading summer camps, collecting songwriter and publishing royalties—is what it takes.

No foolin’.