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MULA Part Three (and Four, and Five)

April 21, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, April 21, 2009: Poor earnings drive the stock on my employer $4.  Job security is an oxymoron.

My my my...

The economic forecast grows darker.

Yesterday before the market opened my employer, 401K Stalwart, reported earnings for the first quarter [2009].  There’s good and bad news here and I’ll let our CEO break it to you: “The good news is that our results were slightly better than we expected at the beginning of the quarter — the bad news is that we experienced our first quarterly loss since 1991.”

Pronouncements of this sort are never good — Ye Olde Foundation in the 401K gapped down $4 yesterday.  Ouch in the 401K, ouch in my TD Ameritrade account.  To establish faith among fickle investors, and also to combat the darkening economic forecast — “We are convinced that the weakness in our end markets will continue through year end with the full year decline in our end markets reaching 15 to 16 percent versus our originals expectation of 10 to 11 percent” — 401K Provider is “adjusting resources within the company.”  In lay terms (yes, that might qualify as a pun) that means a second round of lay-offs and the return of mandatory unpaid leaves of absence, not just for the second quarter, but for third and forth quarters as well.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Of course, I’m concerned about my job.  Admittedly, with all these dreams of publishing a novel and earning a living in the stock market, it’s an abstract thing.  Yeah, I want all those things, but it’d a whole lot easier if I kept my paycheck in the process. Word from my manager — we had a reassuring call with him yesterday at lunch — is that at this point in time our team of analysts is still considered an important cog in the mighty corporate wheel.  He doesn’t anticipate us losing members in this round, but, of course, if the decline continues any and all overhead not specifically tied to revenue generation will be drawn into question.

The truth is, a lot of things are being drawn in to question.

Just this weekend my wife and I talked about getting DVR, but now we’re not.  On Friday without the foreknowledge of Sandy’s memo, I scheduled an appointment for my wife’s car and put down $700 for routine maintenance.  Also, per a recent barrage of “thou shalt” emails, cost savings from payroll reductions must be locked in quickly so all second quarter MULA requests (assuming I still have a job then, of course) must be in by May 1st.  So now, in addition to overall job security, I’m thinking about what week I want to take in May or June, and whether I should take off the week I’m planning to fly to New York for the long-scheduled Pitch Conference.

I’m also thinking about whether it even makes sense for me to go.

This is all conjecture, of course.  I haven’t applied yet so it’s not certain that I will even go (this is a problem I can solve by applying early instead of in May like I planned).  I’m pretty certain that, with only 30K words written, The Twin Paradox won’t be in a polished, saleable format by June 11th even if I am accepted (but that’s ok, I’ve started to believe the exposure is more important than selling the book).  And I haven’t purchased any plane tickets, so while it’s in my head to go I have haven’t made any concrete plans to follow through beyond writing and revising the novel.  I can say now that it’s not wise for me to go and no one, other than myself and my wife and the few friends that I’ve told (and you), would ever know the difference.

This is the struggle I have, the struggle all people have I believe: how to walk the fine line between genius and stupidity.  Going to New York on my MULA week and getting a fat, six-figure publishing deals sounds like the pitch for a made-for-TV movie, doesn’t it?  Erin Brockervich Meets Invincible, or something like that.  If I ever doubt I’m human all I have to do is think of my capacity to dream in moments like this that the universe is aligning for the betterment of my life and my life alone and the doubt is removed.  I have dreams of this type all the time.  Just a few weeks ago I told you about a mystical convergence of forces for the month of May: two writing contests and my application to the NY Pitch Conference.  So now that I have to submit my MULA request by May 1st is that verification that all these supernatural forces are gathering just as I said or simply my mind aligning the agreeable data points (and ignoring the conflicting ones) for a fitted-curve that I’ve already drawn in my mind?

Granted, whatever the future brings, we’ll make a judgment on what happened after the fact and call the outcome good or bad with relative impunity — such is also the nature of being human.  If it happens just the way I said you’ll be calling me a soothsayer of unnatural skill.  If it doesn’t, feel free (as if I have the power to stop you) to call me anything in the opposite spectrum, even stupid, even crazy.  But, please, one request: keep reading.

Despite the doubt circling my brain now, I have to say my overwhelming stance is to still go.  I have a goal, and although I can sometimes get caught up in the financial bottom line that is selling my book, the real weakness I’m trying to correct — the reason I even came across the NY Pitch Conference in the first place — is the fact that I’m a relatively unknown quantity.  I’ve been writing in seclusion for the past eight years.  I don’t have any friends or contacts trying to do the same thing.  Other than my wife and Lover Boy, I have no one to bounce ideas off, no one to critique my work.  Somehow I doubt I’ll find a comrade in NY who I can click with instantaneously [and I didn’t], but workshopping my novel isn’t the appeal as much as having the opportunity to meet and pitch my ideas to editors.  I see value in getting a glimpse into their minds, of being around writers and editors and coaches for the first time since I started.  I was thinking about my simplified goals last week: A country boy from Georgia riding the fabled A-train to Manhattan for a writing conference a few blocks over from Madison Square Garden.  It’ll be an accomplishment just getting there, let alone selling my book or finding an agent.

And if I’m not accepted to NY I’ve been eyeing a second option, which incidentally, I’ve known about longer than the Pitch Conference: The Black Writers Reunion and Conference which will be held in Las Vegas this year, June 18 and 19.  Both are viable options but when the thought came to my mind that I needed to get out it didn’t come down across race lines.  And, as I said before, I liked the pitch component of the NY conference better, and from a financial standpoint, since I can stay in Brooklyn and ride the train into Manhattan for the week, the cost between the two become a wash.  I will, however, deeply consider a trip to Sin City if things fall through in New York, but the flip side to that is there are two more Pitch Conferences in NY, one in the third quarter and one in the fourth, so even if I’m rejected from the June conference there is an opportunity to attend the others and I’ve got the MULA weeks to do it in.

Once again it comes down to choices that have to be made without the self-referential benefits of hindsight.  Where to go.  What to do.  I, for one, am sticking with the plan and applying to the NY Pitch Conference.  Wish me luck, but regardless of what happens, there are always options.

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