Tuesday, February 24, 2009


President Obama is about to deliver his first speech to Congress, an appearance they’re not calling a State of the Union address -- or SOTU, as headline writers sometimes abbreviate it -- but that will feel like one. Last month, here in Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire gave the first State of the State (SOTS) of her second term, and a week ago today Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels offered his own State of the City (SOTC) address.

It’s that time of year. So, in the spirit of the season I’m pausing a minute for a personal assessment: the SOML, or State of My Life. Ahem. Lapel pin adjusted. Ready the teleprompters!

Although the SOTUs themselves can drone on, presidential speechwriters often include one line that cuts to the chase. Something like: Tonight, the state of the union is ... sound, challenged, hopeful, whatever the case may be.

Tonight, the state of my life is ... a mix of chaos and stasis. Staos?

In some senses very little has changed, or changes. Approaching two and a half years now since I left work to deal with my health, I remain unemployed, on medical disability, seeing doctors, popping pills, checking months off my chemo calendar. At the same time life feels like it’s changing crazily. The Seattle P-I, where I used to work and Michelle still does, is likely to close in a few weeks. But we have no official word about whether an online version of the paper will survive as rumored or, if so, whether Michelle will grab one of the few musical-chair jobs left to be had.

It’s impossible to say with any certainty what we’ll be doing three months from now or even where we’ll be living. We’re both looking for work here in Seattle, where I have family and prefer to stay, but we agree that this is no time to insist on a specific job in a specific city. As cool as the Excellent Element is, neither of us wants to live in it. So we’re looking elsewhere as well. Turbulence creates downdrafts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if M&M winds up relocating, maybe back to Los Angeles, as early as this summer.

All that’s enough to give a guy a case of the chaotics.

Partly to brace for the financial hit, and in recognition that the various federal bailouts will bail out every sector except that of dopes like us who bought a house we could afford on a loan we were qualified to receive, Michelle and I have reassessed our household budget and made significant cuts in our lifestyle. Again stupidly responsible, no doubt. To be clear, I don’t mean to whine, as we’ve merely ratcheted down to moderately conservative from comfortably affluent. I mean, we are the rock’n’rollers who spent two Pie in the Sky months on the road last year, just a couple of months after spending two weeks in Paris and Rome. We’ve had it pretty good. Ew, did you drop your caviar in my champagne? But we have made adjustments. We’re not taking any trips this year that weren’t already planned, like the April pilgrimage to New Orleans for Freda’s 70th birthday. We’re limiting ourselves to one movie outing a month. We cut back to basic cable. We’ve stopped dining out. We’re making each gin bottle last twice as long (ouch). And I’ve stopped playing poker, on the theory that you should never bet what you can’t afford to lose. That one really hurts.

In support of the new budget plan we’ve combined finances more fully than ever before. That’s a net financial gain for me but a change that makes me cringe. I’ve been financially independent now for more than 30 years and hate to surrender the feeling. Ving Rhames tells Bruce Willis in “Pulp Fiction,” “That’s pride fuckin’ with ya,” and I know that’s true. Still.

I could go on. There are indignities on the job-search front, worries on the family front, frustrations on the medical front.

A friend asked the other day about my health, and I described how at this point the effects of brain cancer feel less physical and more psychological and emotional. I struggle sometimes to think of myself as the same capable, confident person who 17 months ago spazzed out of one familiar life and into this new weird one.

Even so, as I’m sure the president is saying right about now (we’re Tivo’ing the non-SOTU), out of hardship comes opportunity. Hope and recovery are ahead. Trite as these pat lines are, I believe there is truth in them, for the individual as well as the nation.

Personally, I have much to give me strength and hope. Despite some growing pains of adolescence Gina and Franny are awesome, inspiring kids and actually fun to be around. Lovergirl Michelle and I remain totally solid, in spite of the understandable stress we both face.

I don’t know where we’ll be this time next year -- or next month for that matter. But we’ll be here. M&M abides, and the SOML is, staotic though it may be, still pretty good.

OK. Off to watch the speech. Good night, and God bless America! Please comment on Obama’s address here.

Photo credit: Top photo via whitehouse.gov on Creative Commons license.


Rita said...

The SOTU: OMG! An incredible speech. How refreshing to have a President with the brainpower to recognize the needs and orchestrate the plans to resolve the problems facing our country.

To me, this is the hope that will make the difference.

The SOML: A beautiful post. How comforting, as always, to hear the wise words of a son so full of love and hope in spite of life's challanges.

Very insightful, Mark. A good idea for all of us - to routinely assess our lives with a SOML

Jason Bellamy said...

Mark: I skipped the SOTU in favor of reading and rest, but I'm much happier to read the SOML.

I'm sure I can speak for many M&M followers who 'always want to know but figure you're tired of being asked,' especially when updates on everything from health to the job market probably change depending on the day. Point is, I'm grateful for the update.

Watching the newspaper industry unraveling like this is devastating. I have so many friends working their asses off in that noble profession who were underpaid to begin with and now face ... who knows. In times like these I'm grateful that I suck at writing on short deadline, because otherwise I'd almost certainly be 10 years into a newspaper career -- just long enough to be invested in it, not long enough to have established myself to the point that I'd feel confident competing for the available jobs that are going to be cut in half. (Yikes. Real jolt of hope I am. Let's move on...)

I hope it works out for you that you both can stay in the area, near family, but as usual the M&M logic seems sound. Whatever the next step, I hope it's excellent. With the two of you, I'm sure it will be.

And in the meantime, thank goodness it's coming on baseball season. That's always a reason for hope -- even if you follow the Ms, Giants or Nats.

Thinking of you guys.

Ronelle said...

I think Aunt Rita, as usual, has taken the words right out of my mouth. But, I wanted to post anyway, so you know I was was here. I LOVED the SOTU as well. I found myself feeling better about everything and inspired to carry on.
I was even more moved by the SOML. As Jason wrote, it was good to get an update. More importantly, it was good to read your beautiful thoughts. What a gift it is to continue to see all that you have to celebrate in your life, despite all you have to endure. I am so proud of you, corny I know, but too bad -I said it! Thank you for showing me how to take stock of my life as well. Your attitude and the M&M team will carry you through this uncertainty and onto the next great adventure! I hope the best awaits you.

mich said...

I'm late, I know, but I wanted to say thanks, Mark, for a great post. It's good to get a window into your thoughts, and even better to get a mirror -- a reminder to look at my own life with some perspective. We've all got a lot to be grateful for. You're big on my list.