My shoes are squishy and soaked. I'm holding up the biggest umbrella I own and using my phone precariously like a flashlight. At 3AM, the sky is dark and pouring rain. I had peeked outside the stained motel curtains in exhaustion right before venturing out and spotted rain. It wasn't merely raining, it was actual torrential pouring rain!
The kind of rain that overwhelms at the thought of trekking out - not only because it doesn't care to fall straight down, but that it gushes rivers on both sides of the steep road with such a force which I've never seen before. It's exactly the kind you never want to venture out into.
The cats are hiding under the bed inside the motel room, if you can call it that, and I'm worrying how the heck we're going to back up this monstrous moving truck from this narrow, small lot. You see, it's facing the way we came in, and now there's barely any room to move it, let alone turn around. I'm not a seasoned mover. An egregious mistake has been made... we're going to have to back this beast up.
But, pardon, this isn't the start of my adventures...let's do that part first.
This is the story about my move from east coast North Carolina all the way to west coast Los Angeles.
5 days. 3 cats. 2 people. A big moving truck with car in tow.
We had barely enough budget and a lot of scrappy solutions. I'm sharing all the real deal details some stories might happily discard in favor of the beautiful clouds in the sky, the wind in your face, the sun shining. Not here, not mine.
This was one of the hardest moves I've ever made. It'll be a long time before I look back on the trip without a ton of memories flooding back in, good and bad.
I've moved between sides of town in state, as well as moved countless people. Then, four years ago, I moved out of state for the first time from Indianapolis, IN to Winston Salem, NC for my job. A job that I got before I even stepped foot out the door. They were helping with relocation with a moving company, which included people to come lug the heavy furniture, washer/dryer, and any big bulk boxes that I wasn't taking directly in my car. Moving places that bring it from and into your new apartment. I'd never had help like this before.
Was it great? Oh yes! I marveled as they managed to get all the big stuff down the flights of stairs at my old apartment while I dealt with all the other things to do for an out of state move.
Why even move at all if it's so hard? I had to. I got laid off from the job I had relocated for to begin with after four years of employment. The company is winding down, and I was among the first out. It was a random Tuesday late January this year. It happened days before my birthday and the first month into the new year.
Fast forwarding to present day - the second to last day before Move to LA or Bust Day - it's a hot afternoon, and myself, my twin, and her boyfriend are attempting to get a rather large, heavy couch down the narrow, iron fenced off stairwells that make moving big furniture nightmarish. How did they even get this up here? I'll never know. As I sweated and huffed, pulled and tugged with my might, I thought back to that tiny moment in time that didn't feel real at all.
BUDGET AND GOFUNDME
This time moving? Absolute chaos. This time, I emptied my 401k I had just only started earlier in the year, gathered every last savings I could pull in or things I could sell off, and with a lot of hesitation thrown to the wind, I set up a Go Fund Me. That wasn't before trying every last avenue I could think of first.
This time, I didn't have a moving company happily welcoming me into a new city and job to walk into the following week, and I didn't have any tactical plan left.
The only plan was get out west and start right away into post. I must have been crazy.
I might still be.
I didn't have enough to cover all the moving costs on my own, and getting together an exit plan was the order of the night. I knew, despite the fear, that the time had come. I had to get out of North Carolina to continue surviving doing what I love - editing. Could I find another job somewhere else, maybe in Washington or some other state than Cali? I actually tried. I applied to many out of state jobs before coming to the conclusion it was a bit of a loss, given the longer I stay where I was, the less money I'd have to even move. North Carolina was an island with no other opportunities, so if I wanted to stay in the business I would need to act fast.
Everything takes time. It takes time to find somewhere hiring, get your cover letter crafted, send out your information just so and play the waiting game. If you haven't done it for awhile, you might not recall how time consuming it is and how much energy it takes.
Maybe they're not even actually hiring right now. Maybe the project fell through. Maybe they had to post the job but they intend to fill it internally. Maybe they bluffed too much about the project's needs, and I once had a position completely vanish into thin air.
There were so many dead ends I hit before I felt the way I did before posting that Go Fund Me video.
Did you know out of all the jobs I contacted since the first day after my lay off, almost NONE got back with me? Not even a no? No?? Well, there's the harsh reality of that. I don't take it personal. It's not. Only rarely is it ever.
Maybe a few I was a bit underqualified for perhaps, but I was also applying to many things I was quite qualified for. I did a 2 hour long interview one stormy night as part of that "oops, this isn't at all what it was supposed to be" job interview kind of moments. I accepted that I got one of a few actual steady jobs there in NC.. at least, far as I could tell.
With the help of friends and kind innernetz souls, I managed to gather the last of what I thought I'd need to plunge into this move. My pre-budgeting wasn't perfect. Everything seems more attainable and in your grasp when you are theorizing what costs would be without knowing for sure.
There was a lot I just couldn't know or didn't know about LA specifics, but I did my best to put a number to it and held to that. I had stayed up all night working on the video idea and re-shooting my terrible attempts to talk on camera until I finally said enough on my last take. I admit I even had a bit of fun doing this because it was a small creative project, even though I was cringing how the main star was me! I'm using a selfie stick and an iPhone, so it was laughably bad. I know.
I spent the late evening writing up ideas, awhile working up my courage, then shooting b-roll and finally myself. I spent all the early morning editing everything together.
I posted it late that morning and crawled into bed, wondering what I'd done and calmed myself down thinking, "I'll just delete it when I get up."
I woke up to tons of messages from friends excitedly watching the monetary total grow hour by hour.
By the next day, the goal had been reached! I couldn't believe my eyes!! I'd... I'd done it? Did this seriously happen? Oh. Oh no. I better start on the logistics and get the moving truck arrangements sorted. No, wait. I better find somewhere to live now!? An assorted array of emotions hit me square in the face, and I was completely humbled and excited that so many believed in me enough to even share or watch, let alone contribute. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling.
And thus began the longest, most trying apartment search I have ever endured. It became my full-time job, or well, my other full-time job on top of searching for jobs. If you want actual specifics and are looking to move to the LA area, I'm happy to get into the nitty gritty with you down below. For the rest of my dear readers, you can skip through the weeks of pure hell that it was - except to say, I learned many a things I didn't know beforehand, and it was every bit of a struggle as you'd imagine or know.
I used all sorts of ways to find apartments while still living in NC. Most people will tell you it's better to come out and look around for the week yourself, but hahah. Ohhh. Hey. If you have the budget to do that, by all means, fly on out.
However if you're like me and need to save every last penny, I'll link this guide which told me a lot of what I really actually needed to know. It lists off the sites I used the most throughout the weeks of hunting. You're gonna lose a lot of time on any of them, just a forewarning. I know you probably know how to apartment hunt, but I am seriously warning you that whatever time you'll think it takes to start sorting apartments for whatever LA area you're moving into, just double it. No, triple it. I had pets included in my search, so that always narrows down and makes it harder. Of course, maybe it goes better for you!
I spent a lot of time on Padmappers, Hotpads, Zillow, For Rent, Apartments.com, Craigslist, any kind of "apartments for rent" googled website trying to pinpoint areas I might end up landing. I looked all over, from Glendale to Burbank to Koreatown to West Hollywood to Santa Monica to anywhere in the San Fernando Valley. It was a very wide radius.
Sometimes, late at night when I'd have enough of reading listing after listing talking about their "sparkling pools" and other bs'ery, I would pick an area and use Google Maps street view to travel down the roads looking at what else was around. Did it have a "For Rent" sign out? Hey! Maybe they've got vacancies now. Sure, it was a little while ago this picture of the area was taken, but you never know?
If you discover somewhere managed by a bigger company that has multiple different apartments around the areas, go to their main website to see what else is lurking. That's actually in the end how I found the place I'm living at now.
Anybody living here is probably wondering, why did I not include Westside Rentals yet? You should know that Westside Rentals requires a membership (costly enough that I avoided it) to get any vital contact info and some of those listings are so barren of important info anyway, it's a small wonder how anybody finds anything. If you can, borrow someone's account and good luck there. I don't consider it an essential place to find a listing though.
Trying to hang on, feeling defeat.
MANAGE EXPECTATIONS, MISCHIEF MANAGED
Admittedly, my search was sometimes unfocused because I figured I'd just live anywhere I could get into. Kind of a bad way to approach it, but it was the only way.
When I thought I had an apartment nailed down initially, a multiple bed bug report or something else really bad about the landlord or apartment complex being fishy would crop up (whether by me, my sis, my friends, between all my helpers) and I would get that sinking feeling this was a bad idea place to live. I had a few needs I wanted preset in my mind.
Let me reiterate: You have your own needs and threshold to contend with, so don't let anyone else define those for you. Be realistic. You're not going to have fancy new appliances and modern lighting or an ice maker fridge in certain priced apartments or areas. Realize no matter where you coming from, there's compromises to make and tradeoffs. Still, do not let other people tell you what you should and shouldn't settle with, especially the ones tacked on with, "well, I did it and it was fine for me!"
Even my tale isn't something that should define how you personally do your own search and journey. Just a guide. I heard a lot of stories from people of their own journeys, and that can be a very helpful thing.
Grain of salt. Trust your own gut.
What do you actually need to stay sane and surviving? For me, I couldn't imagine living anywhere with multiple problems with bugs or mold. That is my own threshold.
I wanted at least a window AC unit. Some have nothing at all, and they won't let you put in any units in windows because electric is included so it won't cover the cost. I don't want to risk my cat or me overheating because I wanted to save a few bucks.
I hoped to live somewhere with options for public transport. I know parking here is crazy, so I wanted to protect myself and have the use of when I needed it. I wanted to keep a level grip on the round trip timing of travel. Depending on the area of where I might be living to where I thought I might find work, I was looking at a hefty drive. Sure, it was total guestimates since remember, I didn't have a job lined up. What chaos! Did I really want to do this insane drive on an everyday basis? Maybe short term, fine. The last thing I wanted to do was come in and run down my just fixed only car.
The apartment I moved into happened to have a fridge, but a lot won't so you'll have to rent your own, possibly even pay someone with a truck to help haul it and get it inside. That stuff adds up quick. It may not even be a full size fridge. Even worse, watch out for those kitchenette listings unless you like ramen, takeout, and microwave fare for your dinners. Oh. Sorry. I presumed it had a microwave. A lot don't! I happened to have already a microwave, and the one I moved into included one so now I have an extra... seriously, does anyone need a microwave?
Fridges definitely don't always come with apartments, and that was a new thing for me. What in the world is up with that? No really... this is the first place I've lived where it's acceptable to have a devoid kitchen of any appliances but charge as if it was an actual kitchen? So confused, I'll never understand it.
I learned how difficult it was to find an affordable apartment that let you have pets without 50 strings attached.
I learned how finicky and fickle finding a sublet could be and gave up on that idea. Please, do yourselves a favour and never bother looking at a sublet listing on Craigslist... unless you enjoy hearing fake stories about traveling nurses and landlord's sick daughters out of state all leading to why you can't have someone view it in person, or being asked to wire money in advance, etc.
Even with friends looking, everything seemed to turn upside down just when it seemed to be promising.
My mind was made up and absolute - I was not going to leave without my cats. I had to find a way.
The tales go on and on.
I knew roommates were pretty much out of the question for my particular situation, although perhaps that does work for one person with no pets or hardly any items.
If you can do that option, it would have been a good place to land off the bat and possibly made things easier yet harder in other ways. Use caution, but there are some good people out there just looking to split rent and let one another live in peace. Hopefully you'll find them! Plus, there'd be no worrying about setting up utilities or any other hassles of renting your own apartment. Being able to split costs is one reason I was even curious about it, but soon I gave up after each one had its own list of peculiarities and rules, mostly all including NO pets. Time was ticking. Welp. Alas, no love for the cats.
By the way, why do apartments hate cats so much, LA? I see dogs everywhere, all over the streets, restaurants, cars, even the stores, so what's the big deal with well-behaved cats, I ask you!?
As if by some miracle or total dumb luck, a suitable apartment was found down to the wire and finally approved days before moving. D A Y S. I was about to give up, ten minutes before canceling my moving truck, when they called me back.
It really was that close.
I remember going to the UPS store to get the paperwork notarized and faxed over while I was covered in dust and sweat and bruises from hauling so many boxes and items down. You can't plan this part happening the way it does. Stay persistent, keep looking until someone says yes. Be careful in your relief and excitement not to accept something too far above your budget and means, because the first few months can/will be mayhem on your wallet, as everything will cost more than you might be used to.
Try to double check all the paperwork, but know that a few kinks or errors will occur since you aren't there in person or the apartment manager might fail to leave something of importance out.
THE TRIP PREPARATIONS
Oh hello! So, you're ready to gear up and make a full trek across from coast to coast?
Did you get everything all packed up, labeled at first and haphazardly tossed into boxes by the end? Ran out of box tape 3 times over? Budget all planned and truck with a full tank? Frazzled and wondering how this adventure might go? Okay. Grab some coffee or a drink, settle in, let's get this journey going.
Here's how I planned out my move, with motels and any other stops you might need to make.
As you can see on the map I made using the Roadtrippers app, I had a few stops pre-planned for motels because traveling with pets really manages your driving time out. I had to flex around the motel situation as the days had unexpected events and thus took more toll than expected. No sleeping at rest stops in this case. Maybe if you have a watchful dog, you might sneak one in.
Originally, we were supposed to be stopping in Vicksburg, Dallas/Ft Worth area, El Paso, Phoenix, and possibly a small stay if tired in Palm Springs. It didn't go like this. Instead, we stopped in Birmingham, AL onto Canton, TX, then Las Cruces NM, and a final night stay in Casa Grande, AZ with my boyfriend's family. So be ready to change on the fly.
For the most part, driving was done during the very early morning into daylight hours and stopping by the dusk wherever possible. Although stay as flexible as you can on it, because you can't predict how overtired you'll be or if you need to stop mid afternoon vs. evening, if there is bad weather, truck trouble, etc. so it might make the next day longer to stay on track or you might need help figuring out a new motel reservation.
We had zero truck issues the entire way. No popped tires. No dead battery. Nothing. We did get coverage that assisted with this kind of thing or low on gas, or any other issues, but we didn't once need it. No matter how planned and on target you stay, there is no glamour to maintain in driving that far of a distance.
Hook in truck is good for banana hanging.
As for preparations to reduce costs on food, there was a cooler in the car that was up on the tow which was packed with an array of easy to maintain, fridge or no fridge style foods: water or other drinks, sammiches (pb/jelly), variety of chips, lots of green grapes, nuts, granola bars, and some prepackaged stable-without-fridge style protein drinks (I liked the Premier banana 30g protein ones). I kept a bit of the snacks up front in baggies inside a big cloth bag, hung some bananas on a hook and kept a few waters for us and the cats for ease of grabbing. In my head, I figured the rest could be gotten out during rest stops like craving a certain snack or drink (and it was a good system).
The most you have to remember is to drain water out of cooler before taking off and hit up a gas station for ice on the way to interstate.
You wanna bring the kind of meal that's easy to eat, won't easily spoil, and that you can stand to eat over the next many days wherever possible. I consider this a huge win to have pulled off. Even on the first night stay over, those extra food items came in handy to eat in the motel for dinner and saved me a trip to store, the not very nutritional vending machine fare, or cost of ordering out. Even if you have some decent funds, save those for other things because the worst that happens is you order out for your dinners and save some on your breakfast, snacks, or lunch.
PET TRAVEL CARE
If you have pets, you need to also plan their comfort needs. You need to have a big bag of treats, familiar toys, leashes (if applicable), and a few bowls for food and water. Mine ate treats consistently, their food maybe once or twice while mobile, and definitely would take water on rotating intervals. Obviously, you need their carriers. Litter boxes/trash bags. I brought a backup fold flat carrier case, in case of any issues with the others ones happened. I was extra paranoid, what can I say.
Since I had Momo kitten with me, I had two special bowls put aside for her wet kitten food. That way if one got dirty, I could use a fresh one until I reached the hotel where I cleaned both out for the next day in the sink. It was a lot of bowls in total for all of the cats, but they all stack and fit up in the dashboard area for storage. The mini bowls you can find at any dollar store pet section work perfect here for that purpose. There's lots of handy but more expensive items like folding water cups and other traveling pet bits and bobs, so do whatever works best for your pets and your budget.
You might also consider some natural calming drops to put on treats for your dog or cat, especially the flighty ones who don't love car travel. I found those off Amazon along with a few recycled material litter boxes with baking soda infused, made for travel and disposing.
I'll mostly speak about cats specifically since that's what I had with me.
Several extra trash bags are handy for transporting the box (no litter everywhere) and include inside a lil scooper and you're set. I cannot stress how easier this made travel. I think I got 3 of the litter boxes as a pack for around 9$, and most importantly, it was big enough for the adult kitties but not giant and unwieldy. Throughout the trip, I was able to toss out the two and keep the last one for using in apartment until I got out for a real one. Additionally, you could consider getting one of those Litter Genie devices for scooping/managing litter because those work amazing (I later got one as a house warming gift). It helps store the litter without smells until full and it's so handy once in your new place.
To make the list summed up, here's a little rundown in an easy copy format:
Disposable litter boxes
Litter, Trash bags (scented even better!), and Litter Scoop
Bowls (the more, the merrier!)
Bag of toys, petromalt, brush
Any documents you might need
Calming Drops (if needed), medicines, nail clippers
Bags of their dry food - I used larger ziplock bags and left the giant bag in my car up on tow
Wet kitten food (and extra bowls just to accommodate that) - If you have a kitten, definitely don't change what you feed them during moving trip!!
Carriers - I like to use small fleece blankets or shirts as padding that they've laid on before so it smells familiar/calming
Although I wished for a magical teleportation device to teleport in every friend and family I'd ever helped move - which is actually a whole lot total when I think back on it - I was able to secure some great help from friends and family all the same. People find a way to rally around you to help when you least think it possible. I don't think this was the kind of task I could have accomplished alone. No way.
Thanks to the help of everyone who came, I was able to get things done just in time for moving day. I know it was hot, sweaty, dirty, heavy work. I was up some set of stairs and down narrow pathways. Nothing about it was easy, and I am grateful it wasn't managed alone.
It's really important to make sure that you physically pack the things that matter the most first when your brain is fresh and you have lots of packing materials to select from. One of the other first things I did was put aside anything I'd need in-between the move. I packed up anything precious or heirloom or memory items so that there's no risk of someone else accidentally packing it in a random box or anything breaking or getting lost.
I say it every time: when I move, I lose stuff.
I either go through a huge purge and toss things (check) or give away/sell items I know just aren't being used the way they could (check) and finally, there's always a mysterious force in which a few items you didn't know you wanted to find but suddenly now do post moving, they're just gone! (check) Who knows if it accidentally got trashed or nudged into a box that you can't locate or what. It happens. Just know it'll happen and tackle the important items you own first.
The day before leaving, we went back to the rental place with a mostly packed truck to fetch the tow component and finally drive the car onto the tow as the last part of preparation.
Make sure everything is done errand wise because once you do this, you're locked down to driving a huge beast of a truck with tow which isn't easy to navigate as your car is.
It was so big and long with the tow attached that I had to park it kinda far from the apartment in an emptier part of the parking lot, lock it up, and walk back to my building. Your apartment or house area might be different, but it is vital to think about those logistics. Don't forget to also check in to where you are moving to and find out about their parking situation. Mine wasn't so lucky here. I'll get into that later. So we parked it further away to not be an inconvenience for others, and then the early morning of leaving, drove it right in front of the apartment building and bum-rushed everything leftover hoping no one would need to leave or get angry that we were blocking things a bit. It went fine!
Before the tow was attached, we were able to park it backed up into a parking spot by the sidewalk, marked off by the maintenance crew with cones. It stuck out a bit but nothing bad. I alerted the apartment office ahead of time to tell them I'd be doing this, and that helps out more than you'd think. If they're cool like mine was, they might swing by and make sure you're doing alright or keep your spot marked off with cone if you need to leave.
Don't underestimate using whatever help you can get to manage parking. It's a tricky thing overall for sure, you'll figure it out because you have to.
DAYS OF TRAVEL BEGIN
After loading up everything left, grabbing the cats, any last minute stuff, and the vast bags of trash gathered up to be dropped unceremoniously into the dumpster, thus begins the adventure into the sh-tstorm that is known as moving.
You might notice the immense relief settle in your shoulders as you no longer have any boxes to haul or anything left to label. That all you have to do is sit on the seat and navigate forward.
Enjoy the sunrise, feel the fresh air, and come to realize you have just cleaned out and locked the place you called home for awhile.
There is no going back. Only forward.
I must admit the sleep over the weeks leading up to all this was in small shifts, other times nights were spent awake full of feels and worries. I was under a lot of pressure and stress, and it has a way of catching up to you.
The night before we left, I woke up several times after attempting to go to bed that night at around 6 or 7pm. I was exhausted beyond all exhaustion, and there were still things to do. Woke up once to make some sammiches for cooler. Another time I finished gathering up every last cat toy. The final time I triple checked what I had packed to bring in the truck with me. The original plan was to get a good night's sleep before having to start the trek, but things in moving take longer than you think and very rarely go as planned.
DAY ONE: April 2nd, 2017
The plan was to get from my city in North Carolina, through all of Georgia, and over to Birmingham, Alabama for the first day. Originally, we would have made it to Vicksburg - but it was way too ambitious.
We left early in the AM, probably was around 5am by the time things got loaded, but started around 2am.
Let me preface this by saying, if I could do this day over again, I would not have stayed anywhere in Alabama. NOPE. I think I would have stayed somewhere in Georgia and driven STRAIGHT through Alabama into Mississippi or beyond. Anyway, this is a tale that's already happened, and here we ended up stopping by exhaustion in Birmingham, AL to stay the night.
The cats weren't exactly happy about being cooped up in a loud moving truck, but Spazziecat and Meatie had been through traveling before so they were, for the most part, very well behaved and calmer the first day. Poor Momo wasn't a seasoned traveler, and she had a rough time of things.
I mostly kept her held in my hoodie with my arms around her for many portions of the trip. She was scared, but there were times she'd settle down and take a nap in the sun in her carrier. We'd let her sleep as long as she wanted. She panted a little bit and shook from nerves, but I kept a close eye on her and comforted her the best I could. Usually during rest stops, I would get out and open all their doors up and offer water or let them stretch. Sometimes I had to dole out food or water while we were moving, which is sometimes unavoidable. Keep a towel handy, is all I can say. Hah.
The trip was not at all bad as we had an easy route to follow for now, no mountains to really contend with, and plenty of provisions to make for an easy traveling day. One thing we noticed was gas wasn't costing as much as we thought, and we weren't using as much as we thought. Cool! One good thing happening already.
By the middle afternoon, both of us were kind of dragging and feeling like we were good and ready to stop before our first planned stopping point. This is where having a good friend or family member available to help if plans change is handy because you can have a level headed person to discuss change of plans with, who can help reserve or change things on reliable signal (mine went in and out of decent to terrible signals).
After avoiding no less than 4 different accidents through Birmingham (seriously, why!), we couldn't wait to get off the road. We reached the motel... ahhhhh. Ah. Hm. This. Wow. O_O This isn't what I thought it'd be, at all.
The motel was pretty terrible by all standards here. No one could have predicted how bad it was.
To give background, I was staying cheap as possible at Motel 6's because they fit the budget and are cat friendly, so I wasn't expecting much to begin with, but this one... this one takes the cake.
Inside the room, it reeked of baby powder (a spray?), which didn't mask the stale odd smells it had anyway. Scanning the room, there were holes in the comforter from cigarettes and stained curtains. It looked kinda dim and grim. I had a sinking feeling. The cats all immediately hid under the bed and wouldn't come out for anything. Still, it was somewhere to shower off and let the cats out and choices were limited. There was lots of people just hanging outside their doors sketchy, watching as you went to the car and being quite loud. Let's just say it definitely wasn't a great area, and I would NEVER stop there again. Not ever.
Worst of all, the motel was up a super steep hill, which was not at all good for a heavy moving truck. The lot was more long than wide. Argh, this was no good, but it would have to do.
We managed to get quick showers, shove down a sandwich from the cooler, and feed the cats. I checked to make sure all of them were drinking water and using the litter box. They were okay, so I was okay for now. Eventually they came up on the bed, and I tried to watch whatever was on TV. I slept with a hoodie up over my head in kind of a discomforted state. I kept repeating to myself internally, "this is only temporary..."
Sleep was terrible, but somehow I slept. It was sufficient, but I woke up suddenly to loud sounds of rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning. I was all disoriented. What time was it? What's going on? I could not go back to sleep, everyone else was awake and the cats were nervous bundles of fur.
And now we come back to the stormy tale of the beginning of this blog. Scroll back up if you like. Refresh thyself!
It was very late evening or very early, depending on how you view the 3am+ type hours.
DAY TWO: April 3rd, 2017
The goal for day two was to travel from Birmingham, AL across Mississippi and Louisiana ending into Canton, TX. (IE: before the long stretch of Texas...) We were in for a rough ride of a day. The worst of the lot, in my opinion.
It's torrentially raining hard, and we're so absolutely done with this motel between the noises and smells and just giving out bad vibes. Not very relaxing or rejuvenating.
It's so bad, in fact, that I am willing to go out in said rain and help get the truck turned around or backed out so we can get the hell out of dodge way before check out time. Turning around was a no-go. Backing up the truck was the only option, no easy feat with a tow wanting to go left or right as it pleased. I don't know how we did it. Sheer will. It didn't take long for me to give up attempting not to get soaked. It was impossible! It was dark and hard to see, as there wasn't very good parking lot lights there. But determination and persistence eventually led us to maneuvering the thing towards the street. We had a little audience of randoms outside their door watching the while as a bonus.
At this point, the wheels were nearing the little road, and it was quite scary. There were two gushing waterfall rivers on either side of the street from all the water coming from the top of it. As the truck moved into one side, it was just piling up and crashing around the tires. I was worried it was going to somehow push the truck or slip it a bit more down the hill, which would have been disastrous with all the weight in the back of that thing. With a good quick move, it got through that and into the next set of water gushing, and finally lined up into the right side lane of the tiny road leading up there.
Thankfully because it was so early, there was next to no traffic so we could do this safer. Because of all the water coming down, we couldn't just leave it parked there with the brake on for fear we'd come back and it would be toppled down the hill. We couldn't drive it back into the lot because we just spent forever getting it out. How the hell were we going to get our stuff and the cats!?
The only answer (at least in our rain-soaked stupor) was to drive the beast all the way down the hill, leave the blinkers on, lock it up, and walk back up the long sidewalks to the motel. Eff it, we were already soaked and cold and gross. What's a little more wet, by this point?
It took two trips of back and forth to load the car and truck back up, and I used a motel towel to cover the carriers to get the kitties back out. No one was in a laughing mood at this point. I'm sure the cats HATED me for having to walk them down in pouring rain to the truck - which I did very last of course so they weren't alone in there. They hated the motel room, too, and I was putting them back in the truck - a place they definitely weren't going to like. It was a very 'down in the dump' feels kinda moment. I felt awful for them, felt awful for us, but it had to be done.
I was never more relieved seeing that crummy, trashy motel disappear into the rainy horizon as we navigated to the nearest coffee in sight. GOOD RIDDANCE, vile place. Hrmph.
I put in coffee into the GPS to see what was around, and luckily one popped up in the area. We still had about 45 minutes until they opened, and it was the ONLY one around without going way off course :( It's also still pouring down rain really hard and glooming the atmosphere.
So to take stock of the situation, I'm under-caffeinated, grumpy, wet, have to pee, hungry, unhappy, sleepy, and it's all out of my control.
We parked out in the parking lot, accepted the ill fate of things, and opened up the back of the truck. First things first, get dry. We shut the trailer door and changed out of all our wet clothes. The only pair of shoes I had on me were sopping wet and had to be placed in the top of the truck windshield to hopefully dry out when the sun came back out.
Remember how I said a few things got lost in the mix? My little box of extra shoes I put aside somehow got lost in the pile of boxes or misplaced into the truck. I couldn't find it. I had to put on a pair of my boyfriend's shoes because he found his box hilariously, and in this moment, after everything bad happening, I had but one choice left. I could either breakdown and cry or laugh myself silly. I chose the latter. PS: his feet are a lot bigger than mine. Still, they were dry shoes and in those moments, you just don't care anymore.
After getting caffeinated, attending to cats, changing, bathroom break and eating some breakfast, we headed back out to the interstate and steeled to get through the rain. I had checked the radar, and we realized after so long we'd make it out the end of the storm and be back on track.
Momo and kitty company mostly slept through a lot of this day, rightly so! They had a very bad long morning, and by mercy, it tired them out so caring for them was a lot easier this time. With the help of my awesome twin sis, she helped me get set up to a much better Motel 6 over in Canton for our next stopping point. I tried my best to stay positive, remember I had a way better motel situation at the end as a reward.
We passed over the Mississippi River, and I sort of felt like Sam from LOTR. It’s hard to describe, those who get it, get it.
Somewhere in Louisiana, we made a pitstop for one thing as promised, but before that, ended up having to stop for even longer. My brain suddenly had enough of everything, and I was feeling very anxious.
In one of the smallest gas stations I've ever seen, we managed to find a big enough parking space off to the side to stop the truck so I could get out, stretch my legs, and mostly try to calm down. Thank everything I was with a travel partner who didn't make it worse. I was feeling light headed, anxious, heartbeat racing, sweaty, tunnel vision - it's like all the stress of the last few weeks came crashing down on me at once. I called my twin sis right away and broke down admitting how bad I felt. That I'd been feeling like I couldn't go on. To get reassurance that I wasn't having a heart attack or something. To say that maybe all this was a bad idea, maybe I wasn't meant to be able to pull this off, maybe finally I'd just had too much bad happen to me.
It was not a pretty moment. I feel chilled still thinking about it.
I hit my limit, and there is no plan but to get through that moment. The panic and anxiety can feel overwhelming. You may have heard this before and wondered, what's an attack feel like? You suddenly feel ill. Sweaty. You can't control your heart beat. You feel off. Everything seems too bright or too loud or too hot or cold. It's an uncomfortable feeling that can only get worse sometimes. I've had a collapsed lung, and it was nothing like that pain. It's a terrible, different, and dire feeling.
This is a part I could have left out from all knowledge, but then this wouldn't be the real whole story? By sharing this, I hope it continues to make talking about mental health and its struggles a bit easier for the next person. That we all don't have to discard the dark times in favor of only lighter moments, all of them are valid -- the things that didn't go right, the times you felt like it might fail, when you didn't feel like you'd make it (and despite that, still tried) -- all this needs to be said more often and out loud. Life isn't perfect. These tales are worth telling. Don't hide yours.
Anyone might be worn down enough for some kind of trouble on a haphazard journey like this, but I've been putting myself under extreme pressure and stress for so long, ever since the lay off. All I could do was take a deep breath in and back out. Repeat. Listen. Look around to ground myself. Remind myself why I was going through all this discomfort. That it's only temporary.
I drank a bunch of cold water, ate a little fruit, and after an hour and more of talking through things during their worst, I started to feel like it had passed. I began to feel a little better. I don't know how else I would have made it through that moment, if my twin hadn't stayed on the phone and helped me through that.
Once more, I realize that asking for help is the only way I am where I am now.
Before we heading out, I remember looking over and seeing a poor Sonic sign all slumped over like it fell a bit, maybe from the earlier storms?? It was a poignant moment. If the sign could still hold itself up, even with a bit of help, maybe I could too. You'd be surprised the connections you can make in moments like that.
Onward and forward! It was hard, and I didn't want to be in the truck still, but I couldn't stay where I was either. Time has a way of passing and that last hour left seems to have a way of slowing down.
Eventually we arrived into Canton, though it was much later than planned. It must have been 10pm I think by the time we made it. It was entirely my fault.
The motel was brightly lit, clean, quiet, and more welcoming than the last one. They had a very large dirt/grass area the lady helpfully pointed out to us for parking the truck. It let us park it in a way that wouldn't be hard to get out of in the morning. Right before arriving, we made a quick pitstop to get something other than PB for dinner (this really made our night and was well worth it), and unloaded into the quiet corner of the motel room. Saw a decent pool that I would have used if I haven't been so exhausted. I can't speak enough about how much night and day difference this Canton Motel 6 was compared to Birmingham.
The kitties, upon being let out, didn't once go hide under the bed. Instead, they freely explored and seemed way less stressed out. They used the litter and had hearty appetites. In turn, I was more relaxed. I could have fallen straight into bed in relief, but I was too tired and hungry and busy thanking my twin for doing such a stellar job of finding this gem.
It was amazing how the little things made such a difference.
We had a little nook to sit down and eat comfortably in. They had wifi so I could check on things. Nobody was yelling or being sketchy outside. It was a huge turning point in the whole trip.
Everything just settled down a few notches, and we slept a lot later into the morning the next day. I needed it.
DAY THREE: April 4th, 2017
The goal today was make it all through Texas and into Las Cruces, NM for our next stop. Since we woke up a lot later than planned, we knew it might be a later day before arriving to Las Cruces, but that's okay. Just roll with punches.
Wow, Texas is LONG. Really long.
Did I mention windy!? And through most sections of this part of the route, it was filled with smells of oil and gas. We were heading the southern interstate route of course towards Cali, so it took us right by the border and through all the oil fields. Big long stretches of interstate were ahead. Towering, but beautiful wind mills were everywhere.
It was extra taxing because it was so noisy and windy, and the cats were a little unsettled but fell into routines of sleeping and eating. We kept the AC blasting on and off to keep us all from melting. It was a bright and sunny hot day out. We were relieved for no pouring rain, but the super high winds really sucked.
It was going to be a very long drive, so we were thankful to get a good night's sleep. I almost didn't want to leave Canton and wanted to risk staying another day, but you can't hide from the length of the trip. Due to all the winds, we spent more gas and time through Texas because it took a lot longer to make it through. I'd heard it was windy prior, but I think this is a consistent state. Something to know if you go this route, plan for several extra hours and more gas budget here. Get ready to iron grip the steering wheel, too. :(
We stopped several times for gas, a different snack here or there, and to stretch. At one gas station, I even saw a tumbleweed that had gotten stuck to the car tow!
After a long portion of driving, we were running low on gas and had to make a weird little stop. This gas station was so old that I saw pay phones still there. There's a fun little story that goes along with this:
Creepy gas station, pay phones gone, RUN train. Ok. We run. Bye!
I would not miss going through that interstate again, but it was bearable. We didn't hit any border checkpoints as we expected until nearing Cali funny enough, but planned to leave a little time for that just in case. We started seeing some fun little lights and shops by El Paso. The traffic is CRAZY through there, but given we did happen to arrive kind of during prime evening driving hours, I suppose it was gonna happen. We probably should have either stopped right before there, or not slept as late to avoid it. That was a tense situation because we can only move so fast, and lots of people like to drive a bit nuts to get around and past your truck. That made things more on edge.
Towards into Las Cruces, we saw this hilarious, cool space themed car wash. I stopped to get a good pic of because I'd never seen anything like that before. There were little moments of neat things along the way.
The kitties were very behaved throughout the day, and they deserved to have a shorter day if I could have given it to them. Even Spazziecat, who's the most calm, started fussing and meowing. I knew we pushed the time a bit too long. She probably needed a potty break and some stretching. I felt so bad. Things got tense again as we neared that last bit of road stretch to the motel. We were tired and hungry and everything had amped up again. I was starting to feel the effects of not eating my usual schedule of food. I really really wanted something fresh, anything fresh like a salad or soup or things with veggies and protein - anything like that. I hoped for the best.
Getting the truck maneuvered into the lot wasn't awful, but we had to park kinda far back and lug everything up in a few trips. This time, all the rooms were inside! We had to use an ancient elevator to get the cats and other things set up, then go back down for our own things. The poor kitties definitely needed out, so the tension went down when they were able to use litter box and grab fresh water. Whew.
The motel itself wasn't bad - it was clean and for the most part, everything I expected it to be for being Motel 6. The tub was nicely sized and the room was just enough to get by a night in.
As for us eating, it was pretty late. I think almost 11pm when we got settled in. I saw menus by the phone and happily grabbed it thinking, "OMG, I can get real food? A salad!? YES! Oh... oh wait." It's shut by now. Crap. Nothing is really open nearby or would cost way too much to order/deliver. Time to pick through the now becoming sad contents of the cooler and maybe supplement with the vending machine fare.
Blahhh. Bad planning and just kind of one of 'those' nights. We took baths and both had enough of the day by bedtime.
Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our goal was to make it from there and a shorter trip over to his family in Casa Grande, AZ. I was actually feeling pretty good about the day because it was a short trip, FINALLLLYYYYY.
A fresh day - that's always a good time of a trip. I could not contain my giddiness at the thought of not being stuck in the truck all the day long.
By this day into things, you will certainly feel the weariness of the traveling routine. Packing things back up and cats corralled into carriers, the long stretches of roads and what not. The longing to stay in bed and teleport into your new apartment.
We slept in a bit later and begrudgingly packed things up to head back out into the world. It was nice to see New Mexico in daylight. I noticed all kinds of features about it that were so different than what I'd seen or been past before. There were really neat plants and flowers I could see on the side of the road.
We located a Starbucks and headed over to get something hot for breakfast and a nice big coffee, and all of us settled into a clear day on the road. This was a more interesting part of the trip in that we could see a lot more locals and shops on our way out of town and along some stretches. We passed over Rio Grande! I saw neat street art and felt glued to the window for quite some time.
Along the way, right by the interstate was a little shop called the Old West Trading Post. I couldn't resist. I didn't stop for anything hardly all this way, but the idea of finding a few little treasures in the trading post and stretching my legs was too tempting.
There were all sorts of cool bits and bobs hiding inside. The one that struck me as the neatest (and cheapest thrill) was getting a bag of mixed polished stones in a little bag for 5$! All you had to do was be able to shut the top closed, and I pawed through the giant bin. All the rocks were pretty neat, and after a short while I had found some really nice variety ones.
I used those in my decor around the new apartment, and it was neat to have a physical item I could look at and remember something good about the trip. They had dreamcatchers, all manners of jewelry with turquoise, pretty art, figurines, sculptures, wall art, clothing, pillows, blankets, all sorts of handcrafted stuff. It was so fun that we shortly stopped by TWO of them along this stretch to see if they had any different rocks in the bins.
Spirits were good, and I kept pawing through the rocks and admiring them in the sunlight. I know the kitties appreciated the shorter drive.
Before long, we were in Casa Grande and able to get the cats back out, eat some dinner, and attempt to get some decent sleep for the last long stretch.
Stealthy arrival pic is stealthy!
DAY FIVE: April 6th, 2017
Today was the final stretch of the trip. Casa Grande, AZ to Los Angeles, CA. We planned to arrive sometime in the early afternoon since we got up nice and early this day.
It was a sunny clear day out. Sleep was pretty good, better than it had been. The worst part was that we couldn't find any coffee shops around our route for some time, so I was pretty sleepy. I think in hindsight bringing a few VIA packets or instant coffee could have been a helpful thing in a pinch. Note to self.
Day five was the best because there was an end in sight. Traveling through AZ and into Cali had only one border stop, checking to see if we had any live plants - which we didn't. The view started to change from desert to a lot of very intense greens and flowers scattered among the side of the road. Still desert in some areas, of course. Lots of hills and mountains in the background. We stopped to take a cool panoramic, and I saw a little lizard. Probably the first wild life I saw the whole trip, in fact, apart from birds! Not one deer, fox, bear, nothing. I was a little disappointed.
It was an easy enough drive for the most part, and by now all the cats had settled into some routine of dealing with the road. Which is good because things started to get congested on the 101 as we neared the city and through downtown. It gave us time to look around and get our bearings on the area. I was really quite tired, but also excited.
Finally the moment arrived where we were minutes from finding our apartment area. Now things were going to get interesting even further!
We found a little side road right by the apartment where we could park the truck. For the first time in days, I was able to get in my own car again. It felt so strange because I'd been so high up in the truck for so long. I drove the car down off the tow and loaded the kitties inside. It was time to head over to the office and get paperwork together and get our key!
The apartment itself seemed alright. It was much smaller than my last apartment, but I knew that going into things. Still, facing it and wondering how you'll fit everything is a little daunting. The lovely discovery of there only being one laundry room (one washer/one dryer) for the entire floor was also a little bummer, it was probably from the 80's or 90's and coin operated. The gym wasn't anything, very small and basically useless apart from a few items in there. There was a pool we passed by on way in. Some garden and plants in little areas.
The way the apartment works is that the parking area is gated off underneath a stone archway which is a part of the apartments. Unfortunately, this meant we could in no way ever drive the truck up to our apartment to unload. It was pretty terrible seeing it in person - it was a sinking feeling. We had hoped somehow the smaller truck we went with would fit, but it just was too high for the arch. Instead, we found out we'd have to pull the truck up near the front entrance (off a busy road too) and back it up into the little entrance drive and offload everything from the gated area into the car and drive said car back around the corner to get hand carried around another bend to get inside. LOL. Lost yet? I know I was.
The best part was having to hit the gate unlock button constantly. That thing would shut right as you were dealing with a heavy item, and I'm sure it was comical to try to watch us as we rushed for the remote to keep it from shutting every 30 seconds. Ugh.
It was probably the most inconvenient part of the whole trip, honestly. Instead of worrying about getting all these items inside, not even the mattresses, we left it all locked in the truck parked a street over and only grabbed a few things for the moment. It was just a lot of stress and activity and big things happening. I felt like I had zero energy left to handle all the logistics, but I had to anyway. At the least, the cats got set up, and that's honestly all I cared about right then.
Of course, it wasn't without a hitch.
Between the chaos of trying to deal with the new area/new apartment stuff, my phone signal began acting up or not working (ie: dropping calls or texts not working) with the apartment complex being suspect but me totally clueless and too tired to fully understand. Cue a long while of dealing with this terrible phone signal crap for the future, by the way. Friends were trying to stop by to help out and couldn't reach me properly. I couldn't even answer the phone to unlock the door because the call would drop before even picking up fully. I had tried calling my sister to update her that I made it inside, but the stupid call kept dropping. Stress levels rising!!
And in the midst of all this, Momo started to choke on her water!
It was so sudden and scary, and it took the last bit of anything I had out of me. I was so rattled and upset because she was seriously choking, and I was an idiot blanking out so it took me some seconds to register what to do aside from immediately freaking out. (ps: there is a kitty version heimlich) Garrett sprung to the rescue and cleared her airway using that method. Wow. It was the last straw that I could handle, and I felt like a person capable of nothing further. I slunk down to the floor in disbelief, thinking anything bad like that happening after all the rest of what we put her through… Well, it was awful feels. Pure awful.
She's okay, and it's fine. I just wasn't fine for the rest of the evening after that.
I don't even think I was able to fully pull myself together when friends did arrive. I was fiddling with my phone because I had to hurry up and pay rent on this website they had before 5pm. The hour was growing nearer, but with my signal acting up, I was struggling to get it to load. All my stuff was all over the place, between the truck, my car, and in random bags or boxes. There is a feeling of discord and chaos that you can't avoid.
Magical fridge of noms!
The great part is the cinnamon bun magical beings that my friends are, they flitted about and filled the fridge and cabinets with some very thoughtful selected nice foods and snacks and drinks. I couldn't process them all in the moment, but I was so grateful to open the fridge later and find actual real food or fruit or water. I can't say thank you enough, truly.
It turned out that I was able to get my rent paid and chat for a bit about things before I realized just how tired I was by that point - that I wasn't going to be able to unload much of the truck tonight, after all.
I'm pretty sure the cats were beyond relieved I wasn't shuffling them into any more carriers.
Wait, how did we get back to day one again? Well, this is the first real day of being in LA. The two days that followed were unpacking the truck, unpacking boxes, and arranging things.
The goal the first full day here was to get at least half of the truck, if not more, unloaded and into the apartment. With some help and the amazing gesture by another magic friend of hiring someone with a truck to haul big items from Task Rabbit (an app) and a lot of sweat, we managed to get most of the important items into the apartment, to the point of the poor studio filling up and being juuust barely able to move around. haha almost too good!
We realized at that point we had to stop and arrange furniture, get things put together like beds, etc. and then finish unpacking the rest the next day. We still had time! It was overwhelming looking at all the stacked boxes and items everywhere, and I wasn't sure how in the world it would all make sense and fit. Somehow, it did.
The truck wasn't due back until that Sunday morning, so we used as much time as we could to make this all work. The second day was another rinse and repeat, but this time we managed to get everything done by car. Actually seeing the truck empty was a pretty great moment! A feeling of triumph!
Actually that gif describes how I feel just writing out this entire blog about the move, to be honest. Probably you as well, as you're reading through all this.
A solid week or two is what it took to get things in any working order. I ended up throwing away a few more boxes of things I didn't really need around or have room to store at the moment. There's still a little area of boxes that are holiday decor or things I just have no place for. I suppose one day soon I'll maybe rent a small storage unit and pop those over there, or maybe not. Things find a way of new homes in the apartment, and slowly art or little decor items crept into shelves or other areas to add some actual personality - boring or blank white walls make me sad.
A NEW LIFE
So here we are. I made it to LA.
Nothing exploded. The truck didn't break down. The cats made it. I made it, in one piece. I think that's a pretty good feat!
If you are considering making your own trek west to east, west to north, north to south, east to west - whatever it may be - I hope you find this blog of any use or were entertained in some fashion. Plan the best you can, and expect the unexpected. Most people only share the highlights and the good memories to build themselves up. In reality, things are difficult. When you don't have grandparents or parents to fall back on for money and you're truly on your own, things get less fun.
I'm sure you're all asking yourselves, was it worth it? Did it all turn out okay in the end??
Welp. Yes and no. I've left out a lot of the work struggle that I endured since arriving here, because sometimes not everything is worth remembering. Sometimes, it's okay to skip over a little over the battle to be able to tell the tale. I don't want to tell you every last thing about it because your story might be different. Mine happened the way it did, and it certainly isn't indicative of what you'll experience. I applied to over 30 jobs in the course of a few days last week, however, just to put some perspective into it.
It got bleak, really bleak. It might still be. I was and am willing to do what it takes.
I was coming in hot, like I warned on my tweets and how I figured it might go. None of this was easy or comfortable. A lot of it was risky as hell. This isn't technically the way you want to start out, but sometimes it's the only way you can truly do it. Not every piece of advice applies to everyone who wants to move to LA. Not every move to LA can be an assured success with perseverance and hard work, neither of which pay for food and gas. Not everyone can choose to move once they have 3-6 months of expenses saved up.
To answer your question, though - I got a job!!!! It's as an assistant editor at a well known company, so I stayed in post production! Yes, in under a month of coming to LA, I somehow managed to do what felt impossible. Two interviews later, I was offered a staff job. I don't know how that happened that way, but it did. I'll feel more relief when stable checks are coming in, and I'm more settled into the work I'll be doing. Ask me later.
It wasn't even a listed job hiring. So essentially, having people rally and get you out to meet various people at places as soon as possible goes a long way. I went for a "meet and greet" turned interview by the end. I was invited back for possible contract work through September. After my second interview, just like that, it turned into a staff job offer.
I won't tell you that's normal. If I'm quite truthful, I did not think it was going to happen in time. In time to pay rent and bills. In time to survive the next few months out. It was very risky, IS still risky for me, and I'm still sitting in the pot waiting for the water to boil over. When you come in with no financial backing, relying on a GoFundMe and budgeting, you have to plan for the gap in between landing work and that work paying you. As a freelancer, that might mean you're waiting an extra month after your gig ends.
I guess what I mean to say to end this is that there is a lot more possible in your life by asking for help.
None of this would have ever been possible without the aid of friends and people who believed in me. Without that one moment of me saying alright, I'll try, even though I was feeling unsure all the while. It's okay to admit things are greater than you, and that you can't do it alone. My old self would have never asked for this kind of help, it felt far too great of a burden. We all have our intricacies, and mine was being self-sufficient. It was uncomfortable to let that go.
That's where this ends, because this is where my life begins again. You have to make it to the end of a chapter to start the beginning of the next one.
Be well everyone. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far and eventually want to, come find me in LA - I probably owe you some cookies.
It just so happens I can make some delicious cookies!
Wait... where is my cookie pan? ... ah. Shoot. Must have packed it away really good. I'll have to find it...
I still remember the last few countdowns, 3..2..1…to 2016. It had so much hope. It always does. After a bumpy 2015, I was looking forward to this year being filled with a lot more happy and a lot less trouble. It’s the same wish I think we all have every year, but I thought for sure this would be it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. By only mid-January this year, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer.
Stage. Four. CANCER.
What!?!? Did someone accidentally sit on the fast forward illness button!? Hadn’t just a week or two ago we all shared a lovely holiday together through the distance (my sister and me in North Carolina with mom in Indiana) whether by video streams or listening to one another open up gifts over the phone, while sharing the same goofy holiday stories mom always told in good spirits? I couldn’t believe it.
The holidays can invoke some of the strongest feelings and memories. And for some of us, myself included, they’re incredibly hard to cope with as they draw nearer. Whether due to illness, loss, tragedies or family rifts, the holidays are one of those top stressors to really escalate strong feelings.
My mom had a fondness for Victorian era ornaments and velvet or sugared or hand made style ones. And most of all, bubble lights!
For all of that said, the holidays can be incredibly fun and happy for some. This is certainly not a new topic, but I feel like it’s vital we keep talking about it as December takes hold. I have known some dear friends suffering during this time, what with the barrage of Thanksgiving to Happy Holidays to New Years Eve, all for their own reasons. So many high emotions and celebrations going on.
Let’s also mention how this year in general has been particularly nasty, in terms of the election and some amazing people being taken by cancer, like David Bowie or Alan Rickman. Cancer is like a Dementor from Harry Potter of sorts, it sucks people away that we care about the most. I have learned this over time seeing it happen to friends and others, and now personally to my family. This year would have been intense enough even without even adding any personal experiences.
My mom awhile back with our grandparents, they all used to travel quite a bit.
Magnify all this by the work loads of post, usually spiking up in hurried projects that “need” out before the holidays, with haphazard deadlines looming on top of those heavy feelings. It might seem like a useful coping tool that delays the way you digest your feelings, in that you can ignore it all until a postponed date.
This is a double edged sword because when the rush is complete and you’re back home and supposed to be making face at parties or decorating trees, all your thoughts turn to the things you ignored. They’ll be there waiting, and you can’t always turn them back off.
We have stressful jobs in post. One day could be absolute chaos, the next a little tumbleweed floats by, gently traversing the chairs and people as it merrily makes it way to nowhere. I’ve noticed how I’m easily able to ignore a lot of the darkness because I’m so busy.
I’m so busy in other people's emergencies that I have zero time to consider my feelings as they come and go. It’s only when it stops that I have a moment to catch my breath, to stop and reflect, to painfully be aware of the feelings that were always there.
Finally, consider that some of us might suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) too – a type of depression related directly to changes in season and mood. Winter as a whole for some can bring about less energy, more sleeping, more prone to eating, and living even more day to day in the dark because of the shorter days.
Winter can also be pretty and calming. Great for us hot blooded people who enjoy not sweating all the time, too! hah.
Considering our recipe for potential disaster, how full it’s gotten…you have a holiday filled with lots of pressure and personal reasons to celebrate, paired with high work loads, spiced with some SAD and it’s no small wonder why so many struggle.
What if you start feeling like you don’t have much left to celebrate? What if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety? Lost someone close? Have a hugely divided family that creates more stress than fun?
There is sort of a potent combination when you combine a stressful, high deadline job with a high stress personal problem (not to mention, a high celebratory period stretching between 3 months all together!) I know, because I experienced it earlier this year. And know that my experience is subjective, everyone will be different. I’m here to find a little sun and fresh air from the depths of it’s locked away box — before it gets too dark this upcoming holiday season.
Momo kitten actually behaving quite nicely for being around a tree the first time. So chill!
Look a bit closer at those around you this season. They may not be openly talking about it or showing some sign you can point to and say “AH-HA!” It’s delicate, sure. It’s a risk to ask and be wrong, but at least you asked. They may not want to talk about it at all or will only scratch the surface. Respecting the boundary is important, but so is checking in on their well being. We need to keep having more discussions about it with less fear and judgements, so our mental struggles can become normal and as easy as talking about physical health problems.
For me, this holiday season is dominated with my struggle to cope with several personal losses this year, including the unexpected passing of my mom. Let me tell you about her.
My mama, she was a knockout! She's entering her early 20's here.
For the last month and a half prior to her cancer diagnosis, my mom thought she’d had a simple bladder infection. It was getting concerning for all of us that something like this could go on for so long, as many months back it seemed she was suffering the same thing (did it ever go away? was is it coming back? Why? What meds are they using and why? What if it doesn’t cure it? ALL the questions.)
After her diagnosis, I desperately reached out to friends to speak with those who also had experienced this kind of sudden illness. What could I do? What treatments might happen? Will she make it through this? Preliminarily speaking, she was going to have a port placed in her chest while recovering at a short term rehabilitation center to move into chemotherapy treatments. There was discussion about a hysterectomy. Even discussion about coming back home.
And for a time, it seemed things were on a hopeful course with some answers. There was some relief to the absolute chaos that cancer likes to bring to the table and drop without ceremony upon your plates.
Speaking of plates, this was my mom's cherished "Rose Lady" plate.
Mom hated being in hospitals, and especially hated the short term rehab center with a thorough passion. I’m with her on that. After my long term stay after my emergency lung surgery in 2014 (a story for another post) I was ready to rip out of the ceiling and blast teleport myself home. Maybe it was the heavy medications I was on, but I swore if I concentrated hard enough, I might just wake up at home in my own bed and get to see my cats again.
I still remember mom’s phone call where she described the physical therapy woes, the state of hot or cold foods, or the communication struggles, how she just wanted some damn cashews for a snack, or how her feet were cold. But the way she could add bits of humour to most complaints told me she was still herself.
That she was okay right now. That perhaps she would be…eventually okay.
You see, my mom could be kind of a private person when it came to some of her own problems. I’ll never know if it was embarrassment for feeling weak or perhaps trying to deny it was something serious, or even knowing it was serious and somehow trying to spare us. This private side is something that I suffer from as well. I say “suffer” for a dual purpose as both could be seen as good and bad. Sharing with people what you’re going through, gritty and dark as it may be, can open doors of support and advice, maybe feeling like you’re not alone in this. But there's always a risk opening up to people. A vulnerability, "a chink in the armor" so to speak. One I admittedly don't particularly like to feel.
My mom very much pregnant in labour, heading to hospital from both of us twins.
One time before her cancer diagnosis, mom fell down. Or I thought it was one time. At first, it seemed mostly like weakness from not sleeping enough from dealing with a few health problems and bad sleep. Falling down isn’t a normal thing to have happen by any means. For a brief time we all believed it was a fluke, but it continued a few more times after that.
Frustratingly, I had no idea she’d fallen the first time until another fall, because she had blown it off like it’s not a big deal, possibly embarassed. I had left my home state in 2013 for my career, and though mom and I talked often and found ways to visit and stay in touch or play MMOs together online, it wasn’t the same. I was out of touch with her day to day health.
When the fire dept had to be called because she fell in such a way that her partner couldn’t help get her back up because of her own health issues, I knew something was terribly wrong. I didn’t know HOW wrong. But that sinking feeling hit me straight in the gut. That’s when everything changed.
After mom’s cancer diagnosis, I had been silently laying out a visitation plan in my head on how to keep her spirits up while also dealing with my own heavier work loads. I only had so much time to arrange for driving from NC to Indianapolis, and I had laid out an idea to divide all the time I could take off in a way that I could come up to visit pre-chemo, several times during chemo, and hopefully again when it was completed to stay for a bit to help her back on her feet and make SURE she was okay.
I really wanted to come up right that instant, when I got the call it was cancer. I was wrestling with some of the darkest guilt I’ve ever felt in my life. Should I have even left Indiana a few years back? What would have been different had I not left? Would I have noticed her feeling more ill and urged her strongly to get seen by someone other than the family doctor who might have had more urgency? Could anything I’d done change what would come to happen?
When I still lived in Indiana, I used to visit my mom a few times a month. I’d sit in that same familiar side chair by the little table with her favourite lamp. One of the kitties, usually fluffy little Bandit, would hop up and say hello in my lap. We’d talk about all kinds of things. Visit and play with all the pets. Update her about my life, her about her life, and often I’d ask her for advice on tough situations. I never left without some snacks, a book, a new recipe or cute thing she found that she thought I'd like. She was generous and funny to be around.
She and I were very close though not without our faults throughout time, especially my teenage years. However, in the end as an adult, I did not need to be coerced to go see her. While there, I would handle many other helpful around-the-house things she’d do if she could. I'm not saying I didn't roll my eyes once or twice, but they were predictable like trash cans back up to the house or fixing a high up light bulb.
My mom loved dogs - had them all her life. Here's one of them! She always was fond of Siamese cats, too.
Because of all that, I knew it would be hard leaving Indy. The thing I would miss most was her visits. I took a risk and I came to NC for work. I put myself in the most uncomfortable spot I could think of — would I sink or swim? I needed to save myself from a particularly crumbling situation. And the night I left, she had been particularly ill with something, and I’d thought of reconsidering or delaying.
She told me to go, go do it! And so, I did. All the same, I felt regret.
While in the short term rehab center, my mom wasn’t getting in enough calories and had been progressively feeling worse. She’d fall asleep while talking, although I attributed that more to the medication than the illness. I would do Facetime or try to encourage her to Skype me. Everyday I sent her cheerful little gifs and texts while she was there. I’d send things in the mail to cheer her up, one of which was a cute Pusheen plush keychain which is now attached to my everyday backpack. (I have a little bit of her with me at all times, it helps.)
I look back and realize I did try my best with what I could do in the moment. I still regret I couldn’t do more, but I might always and that’s going to have to just…be.
At one point, some of my very close friends and even people who I didn’t know rallied to send her many many cards, to send good wishes before the chemo was scheduled to start. She was very nervous about having to start it, and I felt it was important to comfort her. I couldn’t believe so many people would take time out to write her a note with a card and mail it out so quickly. Even from all the way overseas!! I can never properly express my thanks about it. I still meant to write each one back, but anytime I try, it’s still a little too painful.
The cards sent by many touched all of us.
Even though she sadly never got to start the chemo when things took a turn, it helped her in that moment. The encouragement. But still, I thought back then, I wasn’t there! I wrestled with this for awhile afterward and wondered some dark thoughts.
She seemed to be balancing out at first. She was enduring things, at least. But it became apparent in late February that she was getting worse. It got so bad that a certain night she had to be rushed back to the hospital emergency room. She had sepsis, a blood clot in her right leg, and was somewhat unresponsive with low oxygen levels. It was scary news!!
And after I got the call, that’s when I dropped everything and rushed into the late night to be by her side.
My mom and dad (he passed from complications in surgery back in 2001 or so).
I hoped I was not too late. Without hesitation, I wrote into work, I dumped as much cat food and water bowls down as I could spare (with my sister’s very kind boyfriend coming in to check on them while gone), I shoved a few clothes in a backpack and took off to head a short hour over to pick up my sister so we could drive to Indiana together immediately.
It was around 11pm. I still remember the cloudless sky and all the stars that were out while driving through the mountains. We had to stop for a short time because all of us had gone through a long day beforehand, and we were incredibly stressed and tired. I remember seeing a shooting star flying over the moon roof window of my car while attempting to get an hour of sleep. Somehow I wanted to believe it was a sign of hope.
In the glass half full situation, she did not pass suddenly while I rushed to get through the mountains and miles to get to her side. In the glass half empty side, it was only the beginning of what was to come.
She was taken from me on Easter afternoon.
Her little lavender plant outside had bloomed nicely that very day.
She got to come home for at-home hospice care for almost 3 weeks, see her kitties and everyone somewhere away from tubes and breathing machines and all the things she hated. She was alert and talking for several days, but sadly after that, she didn't speak much more. This is a small list I left in a draft that I’d been recording down as a way to find a teensy bit of positivity during her illness. Though I’m reluctant, I’d like to share it with you anyway.
Things that made her smile during hospice:
— someone walking by with foils all crazy in their hair (we were doing our hair as some light entertainment)
— my pretty pink galaxy dress from thrifting in LA
— Apple juice in her favourite little glass
— a lavendar bunny plushie
— funny jokes, especially ones involving the kind of punchline you can drag out and then BAM, unleash
— my finished hair, which she said looked like a mermaid (I’d done it up turquoise and rich blues, not at all unlike the sea which she loved)
— asking about elf lore and games
— having a little bit of italian food while watching Avatar (with the food sent to my mom’s by my BFF Kylee, after we finally got to bring mom home from hospital. We'd had many late days with little food spent there. She may never know how important that kind action was especially because it was about the last thing mom ever ate.)
She loved this stained glass hanging in the front window, gift from my sister.
People came by to visit. Flowers came. Calls rang. One of our old family friends sent mom gorgeous blue and white flowers with some kind words, and even stopped by later to see how we were doing. This very same friend later passed away very suddenly only some months later, just a few years older than myself and my sister. It felt surreal.
It’s all been very heavy. I’ve had some major losses this year, and I don’t know how I’m enduring it.
It’s not something I can easily talk about, but I was there for the hospice care portion for mom. I know how it can haunt you afterward. I would do it again for her though, knowing now what I know all the same. I did the same for my sweet cat Snarfie when she too was taken from me from a blood clot quite recently. Snarfie had been there with me through a bad breakup, the move, new job, lots of things... I miss all of them so much.
My beautiful and super sweet and talkative Thundercat, Snarfie.
Be there for the ones you love, to whatever end. You can face the ugly unpleasant truth that we’re all just kinda here residing on Earth for awhile and that while you can’t control the outcomes and these things all come to an end, you can and will get through it. You can trust that there are people who will not judge you for all your feelings, ugly and dark as they can get.
This same principle also applies towards yourself. You can try your best to be there for yourself, now more than ever, but when or if that is not enough, when you are feeling down and defeated by all these emotions, reach out to someone that you are comfortable with. Maybe you aren't super close yet, but by sharing, you might become close. Know that there are others out there who feel like you might, even just a little. Grab our hand. You are not alone. Reach further.
There is always this risk by revealing your feelings that someone won’t understand, will judge you, or will share to someone you don’t want knowing. I understand this risk by even talking about my challenges and story here. I tell you that this risk exists no matter what, no matter how “careful” you think you’re being or by hiding it. When you accept that sometimes giving people the benefit of the doubt might lead to them completely changing your mindset, you’ll be open to the chance that things could change or become a little less difficulty.
I braced myself for this time period — “the holidays” — because I knew it might really suck and cause me to feel down about things. I have no parents left. No extended family in contact to speak of thanks to some old rift I was too young to understand. I feel odd.. like we're now quite small with only my twin sister and brother.
For you, maybe you lost a parent or a great friend or other family member, or your best dog friend or kitty. The ways I started to process and manage these feelings is by talking to others, my close friends who thankfully are able to listen without telling me my feelings are wrong. I can tell my twin sister the deepest thoughts I have, and she will always listen. I'm lucky in that aspect. But, some days I don't want to talk about it at all. Family I suppose, is after all what you make of it and how you want to can include close friends.
Me and my humbly small fam or "new fam" -- however you choose to look at it. Including friends some near, most far and not pictured.
Just listen, if someone asks or suddenly speaks up. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anyone close to reach out to about this. Know there is someone who will be willing to listen, and if one you reach out to doesn’t respond, encourage, or support you, it won’t mean no one cares about you. Keep trying!
To the people who don't know what to say when someone confides in them some kind of tragedy such as someone passing or otherwise, please try not to ignore it out of fear for loss of words. In fact, even just stating that acknowledges their struggle. If you do want a quick response, avoid making off hand promises that "everything gets better" or "it'll all be okay" even if you mean well. Humbly, "I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do? I'll listen." or if you haven't experienced it, a simple "I can't imagine what that's like, I'm so sorry to hear it happened" acknowledges it.
I thought I might skip the holiday stuff entirely. I'm worn down. But then, after much thinking, I realized that I'd be avoiding some of the very things my mom loved best. Little by little, I invited a bit of the usual back in for Thanksgiving to test it out. I carried over her traditions like a tray with carrots/olives/little pickles. I also made her special style of stuffing. I even put up the tree this past weekend to the cats surprise! (though some of the lights burnt out from the top, eff it!) I didn't think I would. I'm making do.
I curled up my hair for Thanksgiving (natural texture is quite wavy - which I normally fight against - but embraced them that day)
I still have more tests to go. I might have to retreat a bit, and I know it won't feel the same. I know how much my mom loved the snow, lights, and older holiday songs or just baking stuff. Maybe I can help keep her memory alive in this way. The thing is, I don't know! I'll probably blog again about it, in case you'd like to come back and visit me.
I started waking up early before work to work out, much to my own chagrin. I am NO morning person, and I never shall be, I don’t think. Neither was mom. But if I’m left alone and pop on some music, I find I have the will to manage. I surprised myself by doing so — something I haven’t done in a while! Exercising is important to me, and I got sick and tired of having to play a guessing game all day if I would make it out of work on time or not, rushing off to workout. It’s taken a big load of stress off my plate.
Decided a change in routine was good. I get up and go use the apartment gym in the AM.
When I leave work, even if late, I know I did something good for me today by working out, since it’s important to my well being. I won’t be as anxious. The goal was at least 3 times a week to do lifting weights and some form of interval or HIIT cardio for about 30 mins afterward. So far, so good. It makes me feel a world’s better about myself and unloads some stress and anxiety off my shoulders. You might even say it's a form of therapy with some health benefits.
The next day, I get to relax, maybe take an epsom salt bath or run a few errands since I’ll have more energy. I never thought I would be waking up in the dark of the morning for this. I don’t know how I do it or who I am by continuing to do this week after week now, but it’s shown me something.
I’m evolving. I’m changing. I don’t have to try to get back to normal, because that normal is now different.
I’m not the same me I was before this year happened, funny as it sounds. Maybe anyone could say that with everything that can happen in a year. It’s somehow deeper this time, personally, in terms of despair or grief or sadness. This time is different. I’m surrounded by the shadows. Despite it, I can do these things I stopped feeling confident I'd be capable to do. You can be a champion for keeping yourself more mentally happy. I can give myself a pass for making the best decision I possibly could at any given point, from when I left Indy to try to make a better life for myself, to when mom’s illness took hold.
I’m going to give it my best shot.
Ask yourself, what’s something I could do that might improve my mood? Maybe it’s making crafts, reading some new books or seeing some series you wanted to catch up on. Taking a bath. Playing some sports with friends. Gaming is very fun and helpful, exploring new worlds and fantastical explorations. Going window shopping. Do something for you. Even if it feels impossible to fit in timewise, you might surprise yourself. This felt absolutely impossible, but now I am eating humble pie about myself. Perhaps we all could do with lightening up and giving ourselves more credit. What have you got to lose?
My mom LOVED to game (as do I and my sis). She really loved Everquest. Here's her little fae inside of EQ2 she adored.
And if that doesn’t work, I have people and resources and places I can go to help me sort through all this. If I’m not happy, at least feeling stable and finding more ways to have moments of joy or humour vs. full force emotions like heaviness and sadness is my key. Even numb is good. All it takes is one little change to get it going. Just like working out or any physical issues going on, we have to have patience with ourselves mentally. Accept the pretty and unpleasant factors into it. Know that this isn’t going to be easy.
Whether someone wanders in with a flashlight and shines it straight on your shadows, or you manage to push out through until some sun gets in, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to fight it alone, if you don't want to. The pain you might feel always, especially during the holidays, is real and valid because you loved and cared deeply about something or someone else. Or you might mourn that they're gone and nothing can be changed. You might miss their presence a lot right now, and no person can replace that. And... that's okay.
Being painfully honest, this kind of loss is inexplicably difficult to describe and can make you feel extremely low and passionately upset even if you thought you were doing okay moments before. Misinterpretations can occur, the heaviness of a feeling in one moment can break the next hour and lift or vice versa. "This is temporary!" is what I think about in a moment of anxiety, and it sometimes work for me.
Grief is not something that only visits the tepid rapid-free waters of your memory, it is quite hot and cold with wave after wave. Realize this, it’s okay however it comes. You don’t need to be able to succinctly describe it or prepare an introduction warning to what you’re about to say. Stumbling and bumping through every emotion. You will find you'll care a whole lot less about what strangers or coworkers or whoever thinks of you when your lens focuses on only those who matter most. And one part of that lens should be on the very person you might want to avoid... yourself.
They divorced when I was around 8 or so, but from what I see in pics, they used to be happy together for a time.
Something that also prompted me to even write about this is because we can’t control bad situations and how it can make us feel in the moment. Because I know you're out there dealing with this in your own situations, too. Because not everyone around understands what is happening. Certainly, I don’t say all this to depress you all over. This is a prime reason why some people don’t wish to talk about these things. It’s sad. It’s unpleasant. Nothing can be done.
No one person can go back in a past magical period to correct it. It’s a special awful kind of misery that you don’t want to spread to others, but you can’t hold it in, either. It’s necessary to connect with someone else who has suffered this kind of loss, so that you won’t have to dig extra deep to explain any of it – they’ll just “know.” Or maybe to have a passerby reading and be able to relate, to find the strength to keep going past their own tragedies. Maybe it’s to help yourself, too.
So if you’re dealing with loss this holiday season, you might suddenly get upset when you hear an old holiday song a loved one liked, watch their favourite movie, or smell a particular kind of cookie they enjoyed. Just let the wave hit you, and you can brace for it every time after that. The waves get further apart and spread out into areas you can predict and feel more prepared to experience.
A memorial blanket with lots of pics of her.
I guess that’s how I’m enduring it: I’m not alone. I’ve spent the year surrounded with loss, but also surrounded by my twin sister and friends.
Others are here with you, feeling those similar feelings and battling with them too. When something more unexpected hits you, it’s not as rough going as when you are alone. It’s poignant and somehow less mentally crowding. Someone cares about you more than you might realize, even when you’re upset and feeling in despair. Don’t be afraid to reach.
I’m also enduring it with the many memories of my loved ones. One of our favorite holiday memories with mom was how painstakingly slow she liked to open gifts. Everything was like a grand event. Every part of the present was examined and remarked upon. Though it took a while, I realize in retrospect that she wanted to keep us all together in the same place and soak up the experience. The way she saved paper and pretty bows all in a big container to re-use was charming. Her saving each ribbon and bow inspired us to actually go on to decorate bags and presents in detail because we could see how some people really treasured those little touches.
Mandy and I when we were young opening up gifts.
Her stories were of an epic proportion, also. She was a masterful storyteller of the highest order. Her D&D dragon themed stories around the round wooden lion feet table while eating MRE's like we were camping out is a top favourite memory. She gave me my creativity, but then kept it sparked up. My regret is I never captured the stories on audio to be heard in her special kind of way. They'll always have a place in my memory, but it's not the same.
More and more, I feel a bit like Frodo from Lord of the Rings with some wounds that linger deeply, ones that may never fully heal. For me, there is no ship to bear me “home” to somewhere of sparking waters, pretty and green with a swift sunrise. No beautiful, ethereal elf songs or wise words of an elder to ease my sorrow.
In-between renders and edits, epic battles ensue on my keyboard.
Facing that truth, I know that I want to give you a fighting chance for tomorrow. The holidays will pass, even if you are kicking and screaming through them or crying to sleep, overloaded with deadlines looming or just skipping them entirely. Whether it’s epicly good or terribly bad, it’s a tomorrow. A new possibility and chance at a day. As much as we'd like, we just don't know what will happen next. I'm a curious soul, too.
It all starts with a conversation, so let’s have one. I’m here.
Visiting my secret garden place found nearby the apartment for peaceful moments. I go here during the warmer months.
PS: My mom wrote this little story centered around the North Pole that I ran across in one of her notebooks. I'm fairly sure this is a story she wrote herself, rather than recorded down, as with a quick Google search I don't see anything of this fashion popping up. My mom had a passion for English and writing. She used to love to write poems and little stories. Might be a good little read to your kids. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a batch of kittens born at the North Pole very close to Christmas time. Now, Santa had decided on homes for all of them except one.
This little kitten was all white - long soft fur, dear little whiskers, and eyes as green as emeralds. She had a rosey pink tongue and a little nose the color of bubblegum. She was very graceful and loved to polish her marshmellow toes.
Santa liked her so much that he and Mrs. Santa were thinking of keeping her. They even picked out a name - Snowflake.
All of Santa's elves had been working very very hard to get the toys ready for Xmas Eve. There was one small elf named Midnight because he liked to stay up late. Poor Midnight was always tired and grumpy in the morning when it was time to get up. He usually put his red shirt on backwards with the label in front. Many times his green overalls were buttoned crisscrossed. His red and white shoelaces were always the first to be untied. As if that wasn't enough, he had lost the jingle bell right off the top of his pointed cap!
Now, Midnight loved Snowflake more than he had ever loved anything found in Santa's workshop. When his elf-toes would twinkle 'round late at night, Snowflake was always ready to play. Once, Midnight even fell asleep with Snowflake!
The other elves were busy guys and they knew Santa would have a nice present for them on Christmas Day. But, Midnight only wanted that furry little Snowflake.
He had saved a scrap of red ribbon to make her a jingly toy with the jingle bell he finally found that was supposed to be on his cap. He saved Snowflake scraps of chicken from his own dish.
Now, after Santa would leave on his sleigh - all the other elves would have an Xmas feast under green garlands festooned with fruits and nuts and candy canes. They would laugh and sing carols and eat lots of cookies. One by one, they tiptoed to bed. Midnight couldn't see Snowflake anywhere, and he was so sad. Tears sparkled like diamonds in his eyes and rolled right down his nose.
The other elves clucked and tried to cheer him up with visions of the present Santa would have - usually each elf got to pick a favorite toy - sparkling new sleds with gold bells, licorice black trains with sharp whistles, many colored striped spinning tops and so forth.
Midnight was the last one to bed, but that night he dragged his feet and fell asleep, clutching the red ribbon toy. He never saw a weary Santa finally come home.
Now, Santa never even stopped for his cup of hot chocolate. Right from his almost empty sack, he went to his bedroom and there he found Snowflake!
Quietly, quietly, he and Mrs. Santa tiptoed to Midnight's bedroom and tucked little Snowflake right in Midnight's bed. There was never a happier elf in the whole world than Midnight who woke to find his beloved Snowflake. "Merry Christmas to all!," shouted the happy elf.
In a post production filled world teeming with editors working on TV, film, sports, live shows and even the news, there are many in-house editors working on a huge range of less visible work. From commercial spots to web pre-rolls or even internal pitch reels, there is a rapidly expanding role of “staff editor” in markets all across America.
Currently, I’m one of those editors working at an advertising agency. Before landing the job, I didn’t even realize this was an option for me. Yes! These kind of jobs in our industry exist and are good for experience. Like most people in editorial, I aspire to be editing television and film one day. Because of this, there is a tendency for those in our industry to look down upon editing roles outside of New York or Los Angeles, or even post jobs that aren’t on narrative work.
oh hey, this is me (hair subject to changing often hah)
The truth is that it’s not typical for a great majority of aspiring editors to magically start out cutting those kinds of projects. Feature film jobs with a budget are shrinking – and it’s a very long road to get to cut those – so if your vision is only set to movies, you might be in for some disappointment. But fear not, thanks to the democratization of tools and the internet, there’s a lot more creative work out there than you might have been aware! Commercial work has always been big, but now digital television, web series and social videos are becoming broader, more credible and more requested than ever.
The great thing about cutting this work? I’m exposed to a lot of different techniques and tools, and I’ve had to learn how to interpret technology and people at the same time. Plus, as a staff editor, I have a place to go every single day. If I’m not currently in high demand, I’m utilizing my resources to hone other skills.
let's do this, bub!
It’s a little difficult to discuss what I do. It’s not a feature film. It’s not some epic TV series. Sometimes, it doesn’t get released or I just can’t talk about the specifics. Working in a place where we’re often pitching many ideas that need polished visuals, I do plenty of work that is passed on that consequentially never sees the light of day, stowed away on a hard drive or dusty corner of a password protected hosting site. One of the hardest parts of this in-house role is working every bit as hard on internal projects to help them get to the next stage of production, knowing they’re more than likely to die on the vine through sheer volume.
However, with every project (internal or not), I grow in skills and succeed through new creative and budget challenges. I learn from mistakes made in the past and find better ways to approach problems going forward. It doesn’t matter if the project is viewed widely. I have still gleaned new experiences from my efforts.
Working specifically inside an agency is a special kind of “crazed” environment that we tackle on an every day basis. We’re navigating many deadlines throughout the week, managing a lot of input and directions, and adding our own touches– all the while keeping on the client’s deadline. I do a lot in a small frame of time, which may be different than the flow of long form editing. My work is a very bursty type of chaos, just like the nature of advertising is very feast-or-famine. Decisions are made quickly, and I can suddenly be thrust into a new project that needs to be finished yesterday.
Made this GIF for NC Education Lottery social sharing. Dripping with shiny!
So, what do I do on a daily basis?
It can certainly vary from agency to agency, but I do everything from developing concept pieces up to editing final spots. Essentially, I’m often working on clay that hasn’t taken shape and only has a few pieces formed. Sometimes the pieces are more formed, laid out in very detailed instructions or decisions. I never know what I’ll get, and it’s up to me and the creatives and account executives get the rest together. Creatives include designers, writers, or directors. They’ll write scripts, find or design some of the graphic assets, and assist in direction of the spot. Account executives manage the brand needs because they know the brand inside and out!
On the tech side of things, I’m most often inside Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. I also use Photoshop and Illustrator, InDesign, Audition, and a few other tools or plugins. I edit on a Mac, but easily could use a PC – I really don’t care what I’m using. The tools are just that. It’s you that brings the skills, and that’s the only thing that matters. NLE wars are less important for in-house staff, and for editors outside the usual major markets – a very nice change of pace.
Offline media is triggering.
I frequently trouble shoot my own issues with the computer or programs. In fact, I LIKE doing it. It saves me time and hassle when it happens again, and I’ve learned a lot about what happens under the hood. I don’t often have time to wait for IT or someone else to fix it. Recently, the IT dept. serious but tongue-in-cheek asked me if I'd like to join them because of my track record of solving issues. If I do get assistance, I want to know why it worked and how to do it myself. I utilize that motivation towards each project – rely on yourself first! I’ve solved everything from AJA playback delays to faulty cords and everything in-between, plus figuring out future issues because of it.
In any given month, my hands are on several different projects. One day I might be pulling tons of inspiration videos or stock assets to cut an internal concept piece for creative to show clients. I may not always be working with the “prettiest” of shots in this stage, so I have to see beyond what is in front and envision what it could be. Imagination is essential.
Kitten. Fireworks. Made this fun GIF all in AE for NC Education Lottery.
Other times, I dive into After Effects to work on plenty of motion graphics and animations of many kinds. How I’ll approach each project is closely tied to the needs of the client. For brands looking to get more social, I end up making animations for GIFS to share around -- hey, I’m not complaining.. I love gifs!
Often times, I’m cutting together storyboards with a bit of animation to help get an idea across because having a visual pieced together makes decisions about keeping it or trashing it much easier. In this role, I confidently feel my After Effects skills have stayed honed and increased quite a bit. I use it so often and continually try to challenge myself to figure out something new or shortcuts to save time, which is something any in-house editor should strive to do.
And let us not forget the audio work. I create lots of “scratch” voice-over recordings to form how the tone and delivery should be. Mixing voice-over and music on lots of various videos is another big part of my job. If audio levels aren’t correct, it can be hugely distracting and seriously damage the pitch of a concept!
For big brand shoots, sometimes I even serve as an assistant editor, organizing, grouping and creating deliverables for other editors -- when I’m not editing them myself. Not relegated to internal-use-only, I’m also cutting commercial spots that later play on TV. Different brands and clients mean many different possibilities for delivery: the web, TV, ad pre-rolls, or a revised spot to play in cinema before a movie. There are a lot of possibilities!
Between ALL that, I’m also managing ‘work orders’ put in for compressions, re-edits, social media needs, and much more that have their own deadlines, as well. Even in one given day, I’ve got several things that could be due spread out in the day, and I may not have known about any of them when I came into work that day. I have to manage time with an adamantium grip.
Always stayin organized with any notes.
How does the pitch process work?
First, there are bids and a whole host of mysterious but effective paperwork happens. We make it in a group of “possibles” being considered along with other agencies. Budgets are formed. Ideas are taking shape with the creative, and desired needs or ‘must haves’ in the spot come in from the account executives. This funnels over to producers, who figure out the timelines and schedules, budgets, editors, voice-over sessions, and more. Then the brand spot makes its way to me to edit it all together.
In these type of internal videos, anything goes – we’re selling a concept that will be created in its final form later. It still has to be something that can actually be accomplished should it go through. This involves quite a process and a challenge, and many a revision to get to a balanced place.
Editors and creatives work very closely together and creatives and account execs work closely together. Creatives see my work first after getting a rough cut together. Revisions happen, and they may happen some more. After that, a head creative views it. Then account execs come into the picture to offer opinions. Sometimes they both come together in my edit room when it comes time to reviewing things right before the client. Then a client reviews the work and offers their opinion on things. Then it all loops back around again and again until the deadline.
This process is important and not unlike the same kinds of revision processes you’d find in film or television editorial. During revisions, creatives might hang out on the couch behind me in my room while I cut to do live edits because some people work better that way. If there are any issues, I’ll offer my thoughts on what’s working and what’s not. I have to constantly know the point of the brand for the edit, so I do my own research or ask them about it to quickly understand – that way I have an informed opinion when asked. And sometimes account clashes with creatives! Or the client wants something the creative isn’t keen on. There’s a large balancing act to perform when this happens, ensuring the video is its very best using the collective information and revisions that come back my way. It’s no easy feat, but it’s a necessity to be the calm center.
Gotta caffeinate, this is one of my many coffee mugs that changes colours when hot! ^_^/
And maybe the most important skill learned at a job like this? People and politics.
Often times, someone will ask for things I don’t have. They may have wonky or contradictory specs. They’ll want incredibly complicated, colorful layers brought down into a super tiny sized GIF (and still look good?) or a lengthy HD video crunched so small it’s pixels. Or my collaborators may not have any idea about anything direction-wise, except here’s this footage and what can we do with it? In doing that, I have exercised creative skills crafting the story and the focal point for the brand, all without even a script. I’ve learned how to say no. I’ve gained confidence in my gut. I’ve learned a hell of a lot in the process – how to set, manage and exceed expectations. Sometimes all in the same day.
I’m touching many tools and many projects all at once, challenged to learn new things every day that fit into the constraints of different expectations or budgets. It may not be the traditionally sexy work that every young editor aspires to, but it has served me well. And working in this role has inspired me to talk about my work much more. There’s so much more to post production beyond what you can find on Netflix. What about that YouTube pre-roll ad that reminded you that show was even ON Netflix?
Keepin a sense of humour round these parts, haha.
This sort of editing job is arguably more accessible than more visible roles in large cities, and provides essential industry experience, from tech to soft skills, for anyone in post production. Traditional film and television is mostly available in New York or Los Angeles -- if you don’t live there, the struggle is real.
Whether you aspire to move on to narrative television or documentary features or you’re going to continue to climb the ranks that corporate video has to offer, your work is valid and important. Being invisible can make it feel like the work you’re doing isn’t on par with Hollywood when in reality, it’s all the same skills and then some! The growth of “other” kinds of media creation like digital TV and web series is bringing a whole bunch of new jobs to our industry, and that’s important for the future of post production. So make yourself known – talk about your work online and in person and be proud of what you’re accomplishing, no matter what it is!
I do get out of the editcave sometimes - enjoying the beach with Kylee (@kyl33t) this time last year!