Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Year In Review: Part I

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings.

Okay. Yes. I am recapping my 2015 nearly eight months after it ended. I get it. I am slow.

Star Wars fans had to wait a decade for The Force Awakens after Revenge of the Sith. I figure by comparison, I am downright speedy. (((pats self on back)))

But how best to end a long silence with a bit of replay? Perhaps I need to jog your memory a bit (as well as mine), and get those literary juices flowing again. There is a lot to cover.

A lot.

Let me begin with some historical context. 2015 was supposed to be THE YEAR. You know... the year it all comes together, regardless of what "it" might be. 2015 was supposed to be the year my career choice as a professional genealogist netted a six-figure income. It was the year I was to find true love, my abs, and the miraculous ability to successfully manage my time while still trolling my Facebook feed and watching strings of meaningless YouTube videos. 2014 ended with all the chessmen in place. I just need to maneuver them into my checkmate.

It didn't quite work out that way.

I left my job as a small-animal veterinarian at a busy multi-doctor practice in January 2013. And by "left" I mean I was told after twenty-two years of practicing that my services were no longer needed and then given a five-minute notice to pack my things and leave. It was not unexpected. Having worked part-time since 2008, I had made myself expendible. I was also not exactly quiet and demure in my vocalization regarding the gross mismanagement of the business, as well as grappling with the wildly growing egos of money-hungry and power-thirsty younger associates. The medicine still excited and intrigued me. The health and well-being of beloved dogs and cats motivated and rewarded me. The people associated with both sides of the exam table were doing none of the above. To quote a blog I rarely read because of the associated anxiety it creates:"From time to time I'd have one of those days when I'd rather be the janitor in a porno theater than to continue this nonsense of being a veterinarian."1 

My contract was to end in July 2013, and I had no expectation of receiving an invite to stay on, nor did I necessarily want to. Being handed my walking papers six months prematurely was not unexpected, but it was traumatic.

Suddenly I was thrust into relying solely on genealogical income for my survival. The first few weeks after my professional life abruptly ended, I battled physical illness, nausea, and anxiety associated with the stress of realizing that years of higher education and nearly a quarter-century of my professional life had just been tossed into a dumpster. Thereafter, I slowly came to the realization how nice it was to sleep in past 6 a.m. and gain a sense of excitement toward channeling my professional energies into this "hobby" that had consumed my life since my pre-teen years.

My newly adopted attitude was along the lines of "Neener Neener Neener, I No Longer Have To Participate In The Rat Race!" I was born and raised poor white trash, so I never bought into the mindset and extravagence of spending money on things I could not afford. I had made a good living as a veterinarian and squirrelled away enough savings for this very moment. Sleeping in even after the alarm clock goes off was a luxury of which I was becoming accustomed, because now it was merely a suggestion, and not a command. Relaxing mornings became the norm, nursing a pot (or two) of coffee whilst reading the news, emails, or the stack of genealogical periodicals that previously were little more than part of the perpetual clutter that was known as my work space. Throw in some required laptime for three cats, random household chores, perpetual snacking, degredation of housecleaning and gym habits, and I was completely and totally embracing the reclusive life of a hermit. 2013 quickly became dominatd by oft-repeated questions, such as "Did I shower this week?" or "Should I shave this month?"  These questions were, of course, directed toward the cats, since human interaction was purely hypothetical.

"Why Working from Home is Both Awesome and Horrible," The Oatmeal,

So let's just say that 2013 was a transition year; a year of much needed rest and a zero-tolerance rule for stress and anxiety. It was a year of increased travel and visiting friends from California to New Jersey. It was a year needed to bring myself to a middle ground where I was putting one professional life behind me, and embarking upon a new one. And hey, I had savings, and I lived alone in a three-bedroom house. If need be, I could rent out those two spare bedrooms and supplement my current non-existent income and unemployment benefits, and life would be peachy! Right?

And it's not as if I was doing NOTHING in 2013. I was still lecturing. I was still chasing the dead people of others for hire. I was still doing the work I was born to do. I just hadn't done much in the way of business planning or honing constructive time management skills before this transition was thrust upon me. Then again, I wasn't entirely embracing the need to do so right away either. When 2013 came to an end, there was the stark realization that I may actually have to work in 2014.

Unfortunately my 2014 began with a lecherous B&B owner sneaking into my rented bedroom and groping my nether regions in my sleep on an early, sunny Palm Springs, California, morning. This was quickly followed by a hasty and obscenely early retreat after some police intervention to catch an Amtrak train with my increasingly melodramatic mother. Sunny California gave way to a ridiculously frigid Midwest and a subsequent eleven-hour delay as we inched our way into Chicago during a polar vortex. With all transportation shut down and a state of emergency declared, I was booted out into the streets of Chicago in forty-below-zero weather by testy Amtrak personnel who had no idea when they could get me home, nor any desire to make it happen.

I really should pay a lot more attention to these New Year harbingers of doom and destruction.

The other thing that 2014 brought me? DNA. I do not need to rehash THAT part of my life here. Those who have read this blog from the beginning know that fact full well. In February 2014, I learned that the man I had regarded as my biological maternal grandfather was not at all correct. While I had long suspected that a reasonable doubt existed, and that my grandmother's first husband could be the man who fathered my mother, I was also shocked to learn that he too was not the man I was looking for. My grandfather was a complete stranger.

It really is a very unkind twist of fate to destroy one-quarter of a genealogist's pedigree after thirty-five years of research.

2014 was supposed to be the year I got my business off the ground. 2014 was the year I was going to finally work on my certification project for the Board for Certification of Genealogists. 2014 was the year I was going to tighten the reigns and make my mark on the world of professional genealogy. 2014 was the year I was going to leave Indiana and start life anew... perhaps in California, in Utah, in Pennsylvania... just somewhere that was not here.

Instead, 2014 became the obsessive year of finding my grandfather. Hours upon hours were spent analyzing even the tiniest autosomal DNA match in hopes of finding some common thread. When the trail began heating up, I would spend days extending pedigrees back several generations on Robinsons, Ryders, and adjacent families that would later be found to be completely unrelated. I stalked countless people on Facebook who might carry DNA that would help me. I made elaborate diagrams and trees. I begged strangers for DNA. Repeatedly. There was no comprehensible thought of leaving Indiana now. Knowing my mother was conceived in the area around Elkhart, Indiana, in the spring of 1946 meant that the likely home of my unknown grandfather and his extended family was also northern Indiana. The dream of starting a new life in a new place was put on hold indefinitely, because I was determined to identify this mystery man before ever leaving the state.

I WAS going to identify this man. I had no question about that.

Business in 2014 was laughable. Little money was coming in, and a whole lot was going out on dozens of autosomal DNA test kits. Client work was minimal and even those projects I took on where grievously delayed and perpetually behind schedule. I spent more time obsessively checking 23andMe's results pages for new matches to my mother instead of writing reports. No new matches at 9 a.m.? How about 10? 10:30? 2? Certainly there would be a new lead at 4 p.m. Over and over and over again like pulling the arm on a damn slot machine waiting for my three cherries to pop up and dump a jackpot into my lap.

It wasn't quite that easy. Obsession, compulsion, determination, fanatacism... whatever you want to call it... paid off. In less than a year I had found my grandfather. 2014 ended with not just a new name on my pedigree chart and new genealogical lines to investigate. It ended with finding a living human being who showed me how and why I ended up being a part of a family with whom I had so little in common - physically, emotionally, intellectually. Finding Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty was the end of a journey I had no idea I was taking. I did not find just a name, nor did I find an unremarkable old man. I unwittingly found myself. An intellectual, analytical, factual, genealogical search became intimately more personal.

This is what life offered me as 2014 drew to a close, and 2015 dawned. Yes, 2015 was going to be THE YEAR. Doors had been opened. A quest had come to a successful fruition. My motivation to work at my chosen profession energized me every day, and I had a wonderful new part of me that I yearned to learn about. Nothing could possibly keep me from attaining new heights of happiness, success, and world domination. Okay, at least the first two were easily within my grasp.

And then I tried to die.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But wandering around Salt Lake City in January 2015 drenched in sweat, confused and disoriented while gasping for oxygen through the audible crackles and wheezes of my diseased lungs certainly qualifies for the trivia list entitled Top 5 Illnesses of My Life. A fantastic weight loss plan, yes, but one I do not highly recommend using on a regular basis. This should have been my sign of things to come.

The ensuing Spring had me traveling to to a number of lecture venues and attempting to jump start my career with new client work and lecture opportunities. With the melting snows also came two new roommates.

Some background: if it does not relate to genealogy or DNA, I am a Scrooge. I can have my desk stacked with six spare autosomal DNA test kits, but I will agonize over the price of gum. Having roommates was a welcome -- and necessary -- addition to my financial well-being. But let's take a broader view here: how many responsible, sane adults need to live in a stranger's spare bedroom? I am near the Notre Dame campus, but not close enough to garner the interest of students. I live in the booming metropolis of Granger, Indiana. How am I going to find renters? And what kind of people would they be?

Craigslist. Yep. That's where I sought life's answers. I advertised for any lost souls who wanted to rent a room. Of course, I had prospective tenants fill out renter's applications. I conducted interviews. I ran credit and background checks. I may be desperate, but I ain't no fool. It wasn't all haphazard. After all, I did manage to avoid the very charming, attractive, and well-spoken man who conspicuously left a large portion of his application blank, and upon research was a convicted felon with a lengthy prison record, and as an additional perks was also on the state sex offenders list. I declined the guy whose occupation was "professional gambler" who upon first meeting proceeded to give me the intimate details of his sex life while on the road playing poker. Then there was the boyfriend-girlfriend duo with the German Shepherd who just wouldn't take "NO" for an answer. No, I don't want two people renting one room. No, I definitely don't want a large dog in my house with my two cats. No, I am not going to consider it. No, I don't want to meet you. No, I am not going to send you an application. No, I am not going to respond to your fifteenth and sixteenth email.

The first to move in was Nate. Forty years old and recently divorced, his ex-wife had moved with his two pre-teen sons from Wisconsin to be closer to her parents in nearby Edwardsburg, Michigan. He was looking to move nearby so he too could participate in his parental responsibilities. He was a bartender of long standing at a Madison brewhouse, and his references were sound. He had the personality of a grown-up child, or perhaps that of a frat boy that never matured passed his late teens. He was funny and relaxed, tousled and unkempt, with a penchant for magic tricks, collecting coins, treasure hunting with his metal detector, and indulging in political conspiracy theories. We were certainly not cut from the same cloth, and it was unlikely that we would be spending our evenings in animated discussion on the history of the German settlement of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, but he also seemed harmless, financially sound, and possessing a legitimate reason for needing a cheap place to stay relatively quickly. Done deal.

The second roommate was Kirk. He was in his sixties, and his application boasted his professional history of successful investment banking in Chicago, while currently working part-time as a weekend concierge in a Chicago restaurant and as a fitness trainer at a local gym. To me, his nickname immediately became "Skeletor," as he was rail thin and hardly someone I would take fitness advice from. His ultralean frame was topped with unnaturally dark jet-black hair that obviously came from a bottle. He bathed in cheap department store cologne that would let any woman know by smell before sight that a way-past-his-prime-but-doesn't-know-it Lothario was out on the prowl. Kirk's aged father had recently died, and he had moved from Chicago to Michigan to live in the family's lake house and ready it for sale. Its immediate and unexpected sale meant that he needed a place to live while his estate in Florida was being built, where he would be moving with his steady girlfriend, who would likely soon become his wife. As it turned out, the Florida home was never again referenced, and the girlfriend was never seen.

Although his story reeked of bullshit, he seemed harmless enough. His background checked out, and he moved in with nary a pot to piss in (but enough dietery supplements to choke a horse). He had a daily routine that kept him away from the house for most the time other than night-time sleeping. It seemed perfect.

Perfection it was not.

I have learned to embrace being a recluse, and I did not rent rooms to hire friends. Nate loved to tell me about his day, his kids, his job, his magic, his everything. Fine. Okay. He wasn't a bad guy. I can do this. My office and library is in my fully-furnised basement. It is my sanctum sanctorum. Being an open concept house, there are few doors, so there was never an obvious physical barrier distinctly telling people to "Keep Out!" Nate loved to come downstairs to chat. Often. Then he decided since his laptop was broken, he could take over one of my desktop workstations when I was not at home. This led to his divine realization that he was destined to quit his job and become an eBay god, spending his days at auctions and garage sales and his nights listing various pieces of junk online. My house rapidly became a storage space for tchotchkes best relegated for a dumpster; each one of which he showed me, described its acquisition in detail, and to which he ascribed some sort of rare and expensive value. Soon he had commandeered by computer, my printer, my packaging material and tape, and most of all - my space. Rummage sale refuse was stacked in my living room, my kitchen, my basement, my garage.

Oh, yes, it was in his room too. But then again, so was everything else. His wordly possessions were mounded on top of each other in a disorganized heap, and he only just kept added to it. I thought eventually it would reach the ceiling, and he would not longer have headroom to stand up. This growing mound also incorporated within it a random assortment of unwashed clothes, food, and eating utensils.

The other thing housed in Nate's bedroom, but regrettably not contained within, was the smell. Not a terrible fan of showering, and even then, deodorizing, Nate was often quite ripe to the discriminating nostrils. When I spied a pizza box with uneaten pizza within lying on his bed for the fifth consecutive day, the law was laid down. If I can smell it, it needs cleaned. And I gave him fair warning that I would enter his room often to reclaim dishes, silverware, cups, and glasses that never seemed to make it back to the kitchen once they entered his odiferous abyss.  Truthfully, I think he found it all rather amusing. It was only when I also demanded the removal of his inventory from all living areas that he started getting defensive. When I declined his offer for increased rental payment in exchange for "work space" in my basement office, he countered aggressively and out of character with a string of expletives about how self-absorbed and greedy I was. It was apparent that frat boy Nate had the potential for significant anger.

Strangely, Kirk and Nate got along well, largely I am sure because of a shared dislike for me. I learned to be perpetually in tune with the sound of their cars, so that I could run and hide in my office or my bedroom. Kirk was odd. Nate was annoying. I was a prisoner in my own home avoiding any possible chance necessary interaction with either of them. Kirk was the polar opposite of Nate: a neat freak who had to keep his wardrobe perpetually clean. Nate would only wash the one pair of black pants and the one black shirt he needed to bartend. Of course he did this repeatedly, as his work place had commented on his sloppy appearance. Combined, my washer and dryer never stopped. My electric bill skyrocketed, and I rarely kept up with the depleting salt demands of my water softener.

This increased level of tension culminated in the events of the morning of 07 May 2015.

Since I have cats that demand complete and total access to my bedroom, I sleep with my door open enough for them to come and go as they please. On that particular morning I was awakened by increasingly louder repetitions of my name from the cracked door. "Mike. Mike. Mike. MIKE."

It was Nate. Once he recieved my acknowledgment, he stated with an obvious tone of amusement, "Dude. You're gonna be pissed when you see the basement." Then he left.

I struggled a minute with conprehending the meaning of his statement while coming to full wakefulness. He was already out the front door when I jumped out of bed and ran through standing water in my hallway.

This was an immediate invite for "Hysterics. Party of One."

My mind raced. My body struggled to follow the dozens of directives simultaenously issued by my brain. Where is the water coming from? Is the valve turned off? Do I grab a million towels? Do I assess the source and path of the water flow....

...Oh Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph, and all the Angels and Saints on High, the path of least resistance for all this water is DOWN! THE BASEMENT!!!

Hell is not fire and brimstone. Hell is water. Lots and lots and lots of water.

1 "Veterinarians Behaving Badly," blog post, 2 May 2015,