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Artificial Gods and Real Authors | 2013 | Blanket Fort


Nothing will work unless you do.  

-Maya Angelou


Closer to Homeless

When I returned home from yoga Monday - Amber is trying to burn through a gift certificate she got for her birthday in July and which we've ignored until last week - there was a message from my publisher stating that my third book had just been released. As they did not even bother to ask my opinions for cover art this time (though I am thrilled that the art is better than I would have suggested), I had no reason to assume it would be out so soon.

I had presciently taken Tuesday off to get rid of some state mandated personal time, so I relaxed and fielded emails from the people I had gently harassed into buying Artificial Gods and then sent out a check to buy fifty paperback copies to sell at No Such Convention next month. Amber cuddled in my lap when she wasn't painting pint glasses to sell or trying to figure out what we would need in the apartment we planned to move into come spring ("dishwasher" topped her list, "an office to which Amber's art could be confined" topped mine), since I got a substantial raise a few months ago and we could finally afford it. When she was distracted, I shopped for engagement rings online and ordered us a new Xbox game and a few peripherals. Overall, a calm and productive day of the new life I have been building.

Before I could put down my coat at work on Wednesday, the education coordinator called me into one of the classrooms for a meeting. She said that the governor intended to shut down our facility, a fact he made explicit in a speech given the night prior. We'd been working with his Closer to Home Initiative, wherein residents from the five boroughs would be sent to private placements closer to where they lived (private placements that tended not to be ready, not to actually exist yet, or to send the residents back to us as being unmanageable). I philosophically disagree with this proposal - I saw boys come out of their shells while upstate and allow themselves for the first time since childhood to be something other than gang patsies - but my opinion tends not to be solicited by politicians.

Other employees tried to cushion this blow, speculating that we might close one day as non-secure only to open the next as limited secure.

During lunch, the acting director called us into a classroom and clarified that we were closing without a doubt, we would not be turning limited secure, and that the governor would be closing the limited secures next year anyway. We had anywhere from sixty-one days (our contracts state that we must be given sixty days notice prior to the facility being formally shuddered) to a year to find new jobs. More than likely, we would fortuitously have until the end of the school year, since the budget is going before the legislature in April.

One of the best case scenarios is that the state offers all of us jobs elsewhere. However, "elsewhere" could be Buffalo and two of my three teaching coworkers (as well as myself) have not been at this job long enough to have permanency, the state equivalent of tenure. As such, the governor doesn't have to do a damn thing for us, since our unemployment wouldn't directly count against him. Even assuming we are offered new jobs, according to employees who have been through closings before, he can assign us to any state job at any pay rate anywhere. It is unlikely the bureaucracy would put me to work as a full-time English teacher again if there is an opening for part-time typist in New York City.

The local newspaper, in reporting about the proposed closings, had very little to say about my facility. The only quote they could rally was how we were all but invisible to the town, something that I thought was a good thing (in that the community does not want to have brought to its attention that a facility for youth offenders is a couple miles down the road) but which was placed in the article in such a way as to imply we are unimportant to the community. I pay rent here. I shop here. I dine here. I go to the doctor one town down and the dentist and optometrist one town over. I am not irrelevant. Before this news, this sword of Damocles, I planned trips. I bought people gifts. I purchased an unfortunate amount of my books wholesale to sell at events. I planned to propose to Amber, with all that would entail, because I was beginning to have money enough that I thought I could afford it. I was, in short, doing my level best to keep the economy churning. Now that I do not know when my job will vanish, I feel I need to cling to every penny. I don't want to have to return to receiving unemployment benefits (and yet again because someone I will never meet is trying to play at deceptive accounting without concern for the human cost of their decisions). I have a coworker who just signed a mortgage for a condo closer to work, who is now stuck hoping that this will all work out by the grace of dumb luck. This pandering masked as austerity will have severe, negative effects on hard-working, public employees.

I can feel the anxiety dripping back and, with it, the depression that lurked in the corners of my life those years I was on unemployment (and working eleven hours a day at per diem jobs to avoid taking state benefits). Now, I have Amber to care for as well, so I cannot simply hole-up in some studio apartment with a month-to-month lease in hope something better shows up and I can move. She says we can move in with her mother, which is very low on my list of things I would ever want to do. I am thirty-two and an educated professional, I should not have to rent the guestroom from my future mother-in-law.

All this because the governor is planning for a presidential run in 2016 and wants the voters then to think he is willing to radically sacrifice (their safety, their children, their jobs) in order to balance the budget, so he can say he brought jobs to New York City by robbing them from people upstate. My life and the lives of hundred more (to say nothing of the communities to which these boys will return, which are certainly not ready for the influx) are thrown into disarray so a man I've never met can move numbers from one column to another as though the taxpayers won't still have to pay (in fact, his proposed and largely nonexistent private agencies will cost more to the taxpayers through lost property values, occupied buildings, crime, and inflated salaries and will undoubtedly not be as effective).

Though I do not wish to lose my job - even if it is not the best use of my talents, the stability of it makes me happy and freer to write - I do want to know for what I should be preparing and when. I keep being reminded that this is the governor's proposal, not his diktat, which doesn't mean much when being told to look for a new job post haste. I know the governor is gunning for my job, but it could hypothetically be overturned by the legislature (though it won't be, because he dangled hurricane relief over people's heads; if my facility isn't emptied, maybe he won't bother releasing federal funds to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy). Yes, my facility still could shift to limited secure and be spared for a year (or more, since it seems inconceivable any facility will stay closed for very long once Closer to Home fails) or turn to a girls' facility or any number of other claims my coworkers mull over. We were supposed to be converted to limited secure over winter break - a change that would only have meant different doors and more strictly regulated keys - but that never happened because the governor was already plotting.

So I will spend the next few months applying to every job that doesn't make me gag and pays me enough to remain self-reliant. I will try to manage the anxiety this uncertainty provokes within me, since I am given no other option. I will cope with being used as pawn in a politician's game, but I will not allow him to control my fate. Once my feet are on solid ground, I will have that home Amber and I deserve.

Soon in Xenology: The Discontinuity. The Ship of Theseus.

last watched: Gurren Lagann
reading: Third Blood
listening: Julie London

Artificial Gods and Real Authors | 2013 | Blanket Fort

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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