Santa Claus

Four years ago today my husband came home from work and announced that he was moving out. I was shocked because he never told me that he was the least bit unhappy. In addition I was still recovering from hip surgery just three months earlier and I really didn’t need this.

Since then I haven’t spoken to him. I really can’t be friends with someone who, one day, pretended that he still loved me while he was secretly screwing a mentally ill friend on the side (at the same time that I was recovering from hip surgery and it’s possible that the affair might have started even before that surgery) then the next day announced that he wants a divorce and he started to treat me like he really detested me all those years while demanding that I adhere to this separation schedule that existed in his head or else he would threaten to sue me. On top of that, he refused to even talk with me in person or on the phone—I could only communicate with him either by e-mail or text and he would answer only if it was relevant to the separation schedule that existed in his head. (Otherwise, I might as well have communicated only with myself if he chose not to answer.) As of this writing he has yet to make any attempt to apologize to me or anything like that.

I can’t say for sure when his affair started. All I know is that I later found out after our divorce that he had secretly become engaged to the other woman just eight months after he left me (and while he was still legally married to me). Then he married her just two months after our divorce was final. So my ex-husband went from his first marriage to his second marriage in nearly 20 months. And he married a woman whose mental health problems had gotten so bad that she was determined to be eligible for Social Security disability payments about a month or so before he left me for her. (My husband told me at the time that he had gotten her to talk to his sister via long-distance telephone because she works for Social Security and he thought she could give that woman advice on how to apply for disability. I thought he was being a helpful friend and I didn’t realize that he was more than just friends with her.)

Since that time I’ve had many of our longtime friends tell me that they either haven’t seen him at all or they’ll see him with the other woman but he keeps his distance from them. It’s like he’s gone from being a very friendly person (at least when he was with me) to being more reclusive. It kind of reminds me of the lyrics to the Creed song “My Own Prison.”

It’s sad because I never expected my marriage to turn out like this. Sure my marriage wasn’t perfect but we had basically gotten along well with each other until the night he left. I’ve had so many of my friends tell me that they were shocked that my marriage ended the way it did because, based on what they saw, they thought we seemed very happy together.

I really envy widows mainly because when they lose their spouses, they generally still love them and continue to have fond memories of the happier times they had before their mates died. In my case I’ve seen a complete personality change in my own husband and it’s jarring because it contrasts with the earlier memories I have of him. It’s like his old self is dead yet his body is still alive with a new self that’s more unlikeable and unfriendly than before. It’s almost like someone had flicked an internal switch inside of him or he had been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a lookalike pod person. (The latter is actually the plot of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) To me seeing something like that is far worse than being a widow.

Since that time I’ve tried a whole bunch of things in order to get my life back on track. It’s hard because I had two major bad things happen to me back-to-back (hip surgery and divorce) and it’s taking me much longer to get over it than if I had to deal with only one of them.

If all that wasn’t enough, I’ve had to deal with a very tough economy. My craft sales have declined because people are either unemployed or underemployed and I’ve gotten plenty of people telling me that they couldn’t afford to buy anything from me. I’ve tried getting more steady work (like a day job) but it’s been very difficult because I’m competing with so many other unemployed people as well.

This fall I went through a bunch of unexpected drama that was so non-stop that I didn’t realize that Christmas was coming until after December 12 (when the six-week Artomatic show ended).

In late September I applied for a job for tutoring children which supposedly required computer skills. I went for it and I was surprised when someone called me back just two hours after I e-mailed my resume. It was a private for-profit educational company that had just gotten a contract with a local public elementary school to provide before and after school classes to the students who attended that school. And they wanted me to submit to a background check so I could begin teaching immediately. I initially felt thrilled with the possibility of having a steady job to offset the unsteady job of being an artist and crafter.

That pleasant surprise went downhill for me pretty quick when they began to pressure me to accept teaching jobs in cooking and fashion design—subjects in which I had no experience in. (I cook simple meals mainly for myself using recipes but one would be hard-pressed to call me a chef. As for fashion design, the closest experience I have is when I made doll clothes using patterns. Otherwise, most of my knowledge of fashion design comes from watching episodes of Project Runway.) What was worse was that there was no curriculum or anything and we were expected to plan our own lessons. I told them that I had no experience in these subjects but they refused to take that for an answer and they kept on pressuring me to accept those assignments. (Never mind the fact that the original job announcement never mentioned cooking or fashion design and it said that it wanted people with computer skills.)

I was prepared to walk away when they offered me the chance to assist another teacher for a digital photography class. I leaped at the chance because it was a subject that I knew all about (and have tried to demonstrate in this blog). I was told to call the instructor. I did so. I learned that, like the other classes, there was no curriculum and we had to make up our own lessons as we went along. He told me that the digital photography class was a before school class that would be held from 8:15-9:15 a.m. so I was expected to get up at the crack of dawn and make the drive around the notoriously clogged Capital Beltway in order to arrive at the school on time. He also told me that the class would begin the very next day.

So I was thrown into a class with less than 12 hours notice that had no formal curriculum and literally no time to develop any kind of lesson plans or activities and it was a total disaster. (Basically the instructor I assisted gave an hour-long college-level lecture to elementary school kids that was way too advanced for them and they ended up completely bored and confused. They complained to their parents, who then complained to the school and, well, you get the picture.) After my first day on the job I had to go to the organization for a job interview (which is pretty convoluted). From that time it was total chaos where my original co-teacher was replaced with two other teachers and I would be relegated to be an on-call substitute teacher only to have one of those other teachers get sacked a week later and I ended up being back in the classroom again. I got along with the other replacement teacher pretty well and, in a different situation, I would’ve loved to have continued working with her. But that organization was way too full of behind the scenes dysfunction and drama for my taste.

And then there was the issue of getting paid. I didn’t get any money for the first two months. In fact, I began to turn down other tutoring jobs from that organization because of the paycheck issue and the fact that I was not very impressed with them at all. (They would call me with tutorial opportunities with not much notice. They called me about one such gig only two hours before it was supposed to begin.) I finally got my first paycheck after I assisted in teaching eight one-hour sessions and, based on the eight hours I had worked at that point, the breakdown was that I was paid little more than $5.93 per hour! Ironically I could’ve made a lot more money working at McDonald’s or Walmart (two places that are notorious for paying their workers very low wages). The gas alone ate up whatever I earned so it turned out to be not even a profitable gig for me and there’s no way I could support myself on such a low wage (especially not in the Washington, DC area). On top of it this organization was expecting us teachers to come up with our own lesson plans outside of class in addition to teaching in the classroom and all for only $5.93 an hour!

Unfortunately I foolishly signed a contract with the group during that job interview (yes, it was the one that was held after my first day on the job) that stipulated that I had to stay on the job until the class ended on December 8 or I was fired—whichever came first. So I had to sit there and keep on helping with the before school class until it finally ended. (As of this writing, I have yet to receive a paycheck for the last three weeks of the class that I actually taught.) I could write plenty more paragraphs about that teaching job, believe me. Let’s just say that this job has given me a glimpse into the whole for-profit education system and it’s not a pretty picture. Fortunately it was a public elementary school that hired this outside for-profit contractor for only the before and after school programs so the kids still had their regular public school teachers during the day. I’d hate to see first-hand what goes on in those private for-profit charter schools that I hear so many people complain about.

In the meantime Artomatic was announced. I decided to get involved as a filmmaker rather than a visual artist like at past Artomatics mainly because I couldn’t afford the $125 visual artist fee. (The filmmaker fee came to only $15 because my film was less than 30 minutes long.) It was a really neat thing being a filmmaker because people really took me seriously whenever I declared myself as one and they asked me about my movie (Saving the Enchanted Forest) and when I would be showing it. I had people see my movie and respond positively to it, which was really cool. In addition I also volunteered as a blogger for the Artomatic site and that was a cool gig as well.

I pretty much immersed myself into the Artomatic experience at the expense of not paying any attention to the upcoming winter holidays until after it ended on December 12.

In between all that, I had volunteered to staff a table on behalf of the new non-profit Greenbelt Theater cooperative during the Festival of Lights craft show in Greenbelt on December 5 just a couple of hours after I did the second showing of my Saving the Enchanted Forest movie at Artomatic. I liked talking to people about the Greenbelt Theater but, boy, was I tired after that full day!

The day after Artomatic ended I took part in my church’s annual Holiday Craft Fair, which usually begins after Sunday service ends and goes on until around 12:30 p.m. I didn’t announce it in this blog ahead of time because I got so tied up with Artomatic and, in addition, I’ve never got much response from announcing my church’s craft show in this blog in previous years mainly because the show begins once Sunday service ends and the schedule tends to benefit members more than the general public who either aren’t religious or attends a different house of worship at the same time. This year the person organizing it decided to try running it for two Sundays in a row to give people who couldn’t be there the first week a chance to buy handcrafted items. I was selling the superhero coasters that I’ve been selling since the Greenbelt Mini-Maker Faire and I earned $30 each week for a total of $60. Sweet!

So I promoted the Greenbelt Theater on December 5, my crazy drama-filled one-day-a-week teaching job ended on December 8, Artomatic ended on December 12, and I was selling my wares after church on December 13 and December 20. So I had a pretty action-packed fall.

I’m also on the verge of starting something new that I hope will earn me a better income than that before school teaching job. I can’t go into details at the moment other than to say that, based on my job interview, this new company is way more professional with far less drama than the organization behind that teaching gig. (At least they did the job interview before I was expected to start working for them—like a normal company would do.) It’s a job that’s completely different and has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or tutoring kids. I’m looking forward to it and I hope everything works out.

Tonight I’m going to the annual holiday party that my support group for people who are separated or divorced holds each year between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a potluck where we bring a meal to share. They have a White Elephant gift exchange where we could either bring an unwanted gift or we could buy a new gift (as long as it costs less than $10) and it has to be wrapped. That gift exchange is pretty fun and it’s the third year that I’m participating. (I purchased this wooden table top miniature bowling game that I found at Five Below, the store where no item is ever priced above $5.)

I just want to put the trauma of December 28, 2011 further behind me. I want my future to be just like the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”