The Fear Year (Part 1)

[First of three posts.]

Life is filled with big and small decisions. It gets complicated when the small decisions turn out to be big and the bigger ones were, in the end, just small potatoes. Time works its magic and sometimes you’re able to see it all in perspective.

My first real personal and career challenge—one I set for myself—came in 1992. Since 1985 I’d been bored at my corporate job and taking some university classes (at the behest of the ’rents), and furiously job searching. When I realized I could also try my hand at freelancing, I planned to quit the day job, move out of my Hopkins apartment and over to St. Paul where nearly all my friends lived at the time.

Seemed like a plan, right?

Well, I still needed to run it by my family. Although I’d been on my own as an adult for nearly ten years, I still worried about what they thought. I probably still do, and they’ve been dead for a decade. We’re all just anxious children deep inside, I guess.

This story is timely since I’m again risking another move to a newer (and hopefully better) living situation. Not quitting my job (that, I learned the hard way, is tricky, especially when dealing with landlords, banks, or anyone who depends on your income), so for the foreseeable future I have a reliable income.

Researching this post, I read forward in my 1992­­–93 journal to recall the immediate effects of my decision—and it caused me to shudder. Once I’d left corporate on Dec. 7, 1992, I wouldn’t find solid financial ground for another nine months after that.

It really gave me pause. But then I remembered that things improved. It just didn’t happen right away.

On June 20, 1992, I wrote in the journal: “My decision day, Stage One of Three for the next two months … I got to thinking that maybe I can make these changes by Sept. 1, but they needn’t be so dramatic yet, that is, I could make sure I pay up all my debts by the end of August, then find a cheaper place to live, Uptown maybe and then, after a few more months wading into freelance work, downshift part-time [at the corporation], then quit. It’s certainly another option. But I do know that change is in order.”

So, “wading into change” was in the mix—surely wise, so that I wasn’t making a hasty decision. (I had some debts, but not a lot.)

But nearly four months later, at the beginning of October, I’d “determined that if I don’t get the job [at a local ad agency] I will move to St. Paul and start up the freelance business by December 1st. I’ll have to by then because that’s when I have to be moved out of my apartment. I put my 60-day notice into the office yesterday.”

Again, a shudder when I look over this old yellowed journal. I peer into it like it’s a crystal ball, when it’s as opaque as ever. The words on the page were written in ignorance of the future. There I still see my younger self’s crackling sense of will power leaping off the ruled lines.

Between Halloween 1992 and Thursday, Nov. 19th, with its handwritten “I’m all moved…” I’d neglected to write about an incident I remember well and only wish the journal would have recorded it. There’s a hint of it in an Oct. 11th entry: “Saturday I helped Dad out at the house.” It would’ve been at their Minnetrista farm, where later we had supper with Colin, my infant nephew, while his parents were on an anniversary date in Stillwater.

Sometime before Nov. 6, 1992, I had dinner with my late parents at a supper club in Spring Park, Minn., called The Mist. I’m fairly certain my brother wasn’t there as he was already married and living with his wife and child. We sat in a corner booth overlooking Lake Minnetonka. I can’t remember if I sat next to Mom or Dad, but there are only three possible configurations: me all alone one side, the folks on the other (not likely); Mom and me on one side, Dad on the other; or me and Dad together and Mom on the other side of the booth. I’m going with me and Mom opposite Dad. At that meal I told them my plan to leave the sleepy corporate job, move to St. Paul, and do freelance desktop publishing. It was the first they’d heard of it.

Dad hit the roof. Voices were raised. Restaurant patrons eyed us. It was very uncomfortable.

My father’s objection was I wouldn’t make enough money to pay for insurance, health care, rent, you name it. I was disheartened he had so little faith in me, and it made me angry. Looking back on it now, he was probably right to be concerned.

In the end, I wanted a change. They ended up helping with the move, Dad loading what little furniture I had in the back of his Dodge Ram pickup.

Leaving the day job was a blur: signing some paperwork, transferring out a retirement account, throwing a send-off party in downtown Minneapolis. But moving into the new place—a bedroom in a St. Paul Summit Avenue mansion just blocks from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthplace—was another thing altogether.

In the above photo, winter light from December 1992 (or heck, it could’ve been January 1993) shines through my new St. Paul bedroom window, along with a description of the property and a postcard sent by housemate Eric Wulfsberg three months into the new year, when we’d both moved out … to escape what had become the first nightmare of the Fear Year of 1993.

~ by completelyinthedark on March 8, 2019.

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