As 2019 draws to a close, like most people, I can’t help but look back at the past decade and evaluate my journey through it. Did I end the decade in a better position than I started? Did I make good decisions? Did I make the most of it?
I began the decade in a somewhat tumultuous state. Game Crazy, the company I’d been working at for fourteen years, had filed chapter 7 and was going away forever. Game Crazy was more than just a job. My co-workers and colleagues were like family. I’d put everything I had into the company, and I was good at my job. I had the respect of my peers, and a solid reputation throughout the games industry.
Not all of my Game Crazy memories are happy ones—the last year or so was particularly difficult, feeling powerless as I watched something I loved dissolve right before my eyes—but I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Game Crazy was special, and that experience will never be replicated. I miss it more than I’ll ever be able to describe.
My last day of employment was in June of 2010, which kicked off a rather challenging couple of years. My area of expertise was so specific, and I struggled to find work in my area. I’d considered relocation, but didn’t want to leave my family and friends behind.
I used my newfound free time to explore a budding interest in writing. I took a blog series I’d started about a missing girl and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance, and turned it into a full novel titled Noble, which I self-published in October. It was poorly written, but the core idea was solid. More on that later.
An alarming change in my mental health followed. Unemployment had me frustrated and feeling bad about myself. It was getting harder to pay the bills, and my girlfriend was putting herself in debt trying to bail me out. The more time I spent out of work, the more my frustration turned to anger. The anger intensified, evolving into levels of rage I’d never experienced before in my life, and it was terrifying. I knew it was time to take back control before I lost it completely.
I was upside down on my house, so I made the only decision I could at the time: I gave it back to the bank. Not a proud moment in my life, but necessary. My girlfriend bought us a new home and we moved to Oregon City, Oregon, a charming little town southeast of Portland, to start a new chapter in our lives.
Taking back control of my life involved more than just improving my mental health. I needed to make changes toward my physical health as well. I’d battled obesity from an early age, and had reached a weight of 325 lbs. The heaviest I’d ever been. After injuring my knee simply getting out of a chair, I’d had enough, and took immediate action. With a change of diet and exercise, I lost 128 lbs over the next two years.
In August, I released my second book, The Jumper, about a troubled ghost haunting a youth community center in Chicago.
I caught a break in early 2012 and finally landed a job managing a video game store in Canby, Oregon. I was grateful to have a paycheck again, but the work definitely had a strong “been there, done that” vibe. It was also a massive lateral move that left me feeling empty and unfulfilled most days.
I began work on my third book, Bloodlines, a sequel to Noble. Shortly after its release in April, I followed it up with Strangers, an anthology chronicling the bizarre experiences of several travelers. Most of these stories were inspired by real-life events I witnessed while traveling across the country several times a year.
A few months into the new job, I’d already had enough, but had nothing else to fall back on, and unemployment was absolutely not an option. I decided to throw a “Hail Mary” and reached out to an old friend in the video game industry: Laura Miele at Electronic Arts.
It had been my dream to work at BioWare from the moment I booted up Stars Wars: Knights of the Old Republic nine years prior, but there had never been an opportunity for me. However, EA’s acquisition of BioWare a few years earlier created additional opportunities, and I contacted Laura to see if I’d be a good fit for any of them.
I can’t say enough positive things about Laura. Despite the negative things you hear about EA, Laura is one of the good ones busting her ass to make the company a better place. She responded to my inquiry quickly and connected me with EA’s marketing lead for BioWare. We emailed back and forth a few weeks before setting a meeting at E3 to discuss a community management position.
The entire interview process took around two months, but in July, I was officially offered a one-year contract, and they allowed me to work remotely from home. My first assignment was to prep the community for the upcoming Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut DLC. To say that I joined EA during a shitstorm of community outrage and backlash would be the queen mother of all understatements, but I didn’t care. I had achieved my dream of working for BioWare, and nothing could’ve spoiled that for me.
In November, as Obama re-election coverage and Mayan calendar hysteria dominated the news cycle, we sadly said goodbye to my sweet Aunt Billie. Even now as I write this, I can recall the sound of her infectious laughter.
Life at EA was going well. Things were slow at BioWare, so I was shuffled around and put in charge of the Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel community. I even briefly worked on Dead Space 3. Once those games had shipped, and we’d gotten through the last of Mass Effect 3’s DLC, I moved onto Dragon Age: Inquisition full time.
In September, during a marketing summit in Edmonton, I contacted Johnny Pleasant, the manager of Hammock, one of my all-time favorite bands. I wanted to use my digital marketing skills to pitch in and help improve their social media presence. Johnny welcomed me to the team, and within a matter of days, I was knee deep into an Oblivion Hymns launch strategy.
My time at EA was running out, and they had a decision to make by the end of October. They could either bring me on permanently, or let my contract expire and part ways. Luckily, they opted to keep me, and I became an official “blue badge” employee.
The job offer came with a substantial pay raise, but also a stipulation: that I relocate to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and work out of the BioWare studio. I agreed, submitted all my paperwork to the Canadian government, and waited for an answer.
Also, in October, I married the love of my life, Jennie. We’d been together since 2008 and hadn’t been financially secure enough to tie the knot. But thanks to a stable job at EA, and some extra contract work for Warner Bros., we finally had the money for the wedding and honeymoon she deserved, and it was perfect.
Speaking of honeymoons, we spent ours eating our way through Port Townsend, a beautiful Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula. More on that later.
2014 saw the end of How I Met Your Mother, probably my favorite TV show of all time. When I first discovered the show back in 2007, Ted Mosby and I had a lot in common. I related to his character deeply because we were going through near identical journeys at the same time.
The thing about HIMYM is that it’s not entirely a show carried by Ted’s quest for true love. The rest of the gang feels like your friends, too, and you become as invested in their lives as Ted’s. Can anyone get through the loss of Marshall’s father with dry eyes?
Even though I was ultimately disappointed with the ending, there’s no denying the impact the show has had on my life. It was a massive feat in character development and storytelling. Thanks to Hulu, I’m able to watch the series any time I want, and you know what? I still discover new things each time I go through it.
But more significant than a TV show ending its run, I’ll always remember 2014 as the year I conquered my fear of flying. Up to that point, I’d taken every long trip imaginable by either bus or train. After so many years, though, I couldn’t endure the wear and tear on my body anymore. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get myself on a plane to San Francisco. A month later, I got on a plane to Boston. And after that, routine trips to Edmonton and Los Angeles followed. To be clear, I’m still absolutely terrified of flying and hope I never have to do it again, but at least I can say that I did it.
In May, I released New World Order, completing the Noble trilogy. I don’t know that it was the best book in the series, but I’m very proud of the ending. While writing the book, I was so excited to get to the last chapter and finally put the ending to paper that had been in my head for months.
2014 ended with one last trip to Edmonton for the launch of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I spent two cold-as-balls weeks with the dev team, serving as the line of communication between them and the community. We squashed a lot of post-launch bugs thanks to the awesome fans helping us out!
By 2015, my life had made a complete 180, and things were good again after what felt like an eternity of struggle. Jennie and I both had good jobs with sufficient pay and were comfortable. Not wealthy, just comfortable. It was nice not stressing about how we were going to pay the bills each month.
Unfortunately, after more than a year of waiting, I received word back from Canada that my application for residency had been denied. I was heartbroken. I loved working in digital communications, but what I wanted more than anything was to become a writer at BioWare, and the only path was through Edmonton. My options were to either relocate to the Redwood Shores office, or continue working from home, knowing my career would suffer.
In the end, I chose to stay at home, and accepted that I had climbed as far as I was going to at EA. It wasn’t terrible, though. Since I was working from home, “home” could be wherever I wanted it to be… just not in Canada. So, my wife and I decided on that lovely Victorian seaport we’d honeymooned at in 2013. Our home sold within a week of listing, and then the pressure was on to pack up our lives and head to Port Townsend.
Before Port Townsend, however, there was one last thing to do. We went to San Jose for Wrestlemania 31! As lifelong WWE fans, this was a special moment for us. Neither of us had ever been to a major event like that, and you certainly can’t get any more major than Wrestlemania. The whole weekend was so much fun, and temporarily relieved the stress about our upcoming move.
The rest of 2015 consisted of settling into our new home, our new town, and absorbing the surrounding beauty. The Pacific Northwest, if nothing else, is consistently gorgeous.
The year started off on a good note, as I released my next novel, Planet of Ice, the second installment in bestselling author Tony Healey’s Broken Stars series. Much to my dismay, the rest of the year wouldn’t be as kind.
Things were falling apart at EA. The company had undergone its third re-org in less than two years and with it came a significant rise in idiocy at the top. All the great work we’d done to separate ourselves from the “evil empire” that fans remembered was completely unraveled.
Suddenly, I had yet another new boss, this one about as useless as anyone I’ve ever worked for in my life. She consistently no-showed meetings, blamed me for incomplete tasks outside my scope, and she didn’t know the first fucking thing about our games. Granted, you don’t have to in order to work in the games industry, but it helps. She had no passion for our games. She wasn’t invested. EA was just another stopover to pad her resume. Last I heard, she’d already moved on after only two years.
I couldn’t ignore the simple truth any longer. My job wasn’t fun anymore. The last re-org had placed all the wrong people in charge, and no one seemed to know who did what anymore. My boss’s boss then gave me an ultimatum that he wanted me to start spending two weeks in Edmonton per month because it was important for me to be with the team.
I was happy to spend more time in Edmonton because it was indeed important for me to work directly with the devs, but two weeks per month? Half of my year spent away from my family? Who the hell would ask that of their employees?
In hindsight, he probably never expected me to agree to it. It was most likely an attempt to phase me out, and it worked. I decided to invest in myself and focus on my writing. I put in my two weeks notice in mid-October, and my last official day was on Halloween.
Despite everything, I was still gutted by leaving. It took me nine long years to get to BioWare, and after only four and half, it was over, taking my dreams of ever writing Mass Effect stories with it.
I spent the first quarter of the year writing, taking my poorly written Noble trilogy and working with a professional editor to salvage them. This process wasn’t simply a re-edit, however. It was a complete rewrite from the ground up. I’d come a long way as a writer in seven years, and I was determined to give these books a new lease on life.
Icarus came first in January, followed by The Invisible War shortly thereafter, and finally The Reckoning in September. I’m beyond proud of how these books turned out, but I’d be lying if I said they made up for the EA paycheck I’d lost.
My wife had opened her own clothing boutique in town and was doing quite well. To help ends meet, I got a part time job as a projectionist for a classy, upscale movie theater. We weren’t as comfortable as before, but were getting by, and continued to love being in our little town.
The trouble was, the town was booming and attracting the attention of wealthy retirees from across the country. Tourism had always been the lifeblood of this town, which was great, but now people were buying vacation homes to “summer,” and leaving them empty the rest of the year.
As result, housing became limited and prices went up. Rental prices went up. Restaurant prices went up. Our rent was $875 a month when we moved to Port Townsend in 2015, and by the end of 2017, it was $1,400. We couldn’t afford to be there anymore, and our landlord was less than empathetic.
We knew the end was coming, and had to start thinking seriously about what to do next.
Our lease expired in March, and with nowhere else to go in Port Townsend, we moved to Vancouver, WA to stay with my parents while we got back on our feet. If you’ve never had the luxury of living with your parents in your 40s, I don’t recommend it. But we do what we must in order to survive.
Sharing a small ranch-style home with my parents was difficult, but on the plus side, I got to see them every day. While living in Port Townsend, we saw them maybe 3-4 times a year, and this arrangement allowed us to make up for lost time, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. More on that later.
Finding a job proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. It took nearly five months of searching and interviewing until I landed at Nautilus as a chat support agent. It was fine at first, but it became apparent early on that I was punching well below my weight class. I made the best of it—even got promoted after three months—but it wasn’t a long-term fit. Especially not with Nautilus’ extreme mis-management and financial woes.
Much of 2018 is a blur because we were so miserable. We missed Port Townsend. We missed having jobs that we cared about. We missed our independence. I never wanted to return to Vancouver and there we were. Completely stuck with no signs of unsticking.
Neither of us could take it anymore, so we kept our eyes peeled for a way back to Port Townsend, and in February, it came. A mortgage loan officer needed an assistant to come in and run her marketing and manage her customer database. The pay was decent, by Port Townsend standards, and as far as jobs in the area were concerned, it was a good one. I took a chance and sent in my resume.
The phone interview wasn’t great, but it earned me a face-to-face interview. She offered me the job over beers, and Jennie and I were so excited! We were given a chance to come back to the place we never wanted to leave and hit unpause on our lives.
Two weeks later, my mom got sick. At first, the doctors thought it was pneumonia, but further tests revealed significant damage to her pulmonary system. She’d apparently suffered a heart attack at some point without even knowing. While the most immediate threat to her health, it wasn’t even the worst of it. Her kidneys were failing, and the latest scan had revealed an aggressive cancer growing inside her. She was on borrowed time.
The doctors scheduled a triple bypass on the day Jennie and I were set to move. Mom made it through surgery, but a couple of days later, the doctors discovered that the valve they’d replaced was contaminated, and scheduled another procedure to swap it out.
The surgery failed, and the doctors gave us ten minutes to decide Mom’s fate. They could open her back up and try to correct the procedure, or we could simply let her go peacefully in her sleep. They didn’t give her good odds at surviving another open-heart procedure, and even if she did, it was going to require extensive rehabilitation. She’d have lived out her last days in a nursing home, which she was terrified of.
So, we decided to let her go. It wasn’t fair, but it was the kindest option. My mother passed away on April 10th, 2019 at the age of 69, and she took so much love and light with her. Love and light that I haven’t been able to fill.
Since her death, life has continued to deliver one swift kick to the face after another. I’m sad most of the time. Miserable at my job. My latest novel has been rejected by nearly 100 agents. We’re being swallowed up by the constantly rising cost of living. And I genuinely don’t know what the future holds. I’m trying to be optimistic, but it’s hard in the face of continuous struggle.
The last decade had extremely high highs and devastatingly low lows. It peaked in 2015 and cascaded downhill from there. But did I end the decade in a better position than I started? I’m employed. I’m happily married. I’m living in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I’m playing my guitar again.
It’s hard to dispute that I made a lot of progress over the last ten years. It’s also hard to dispute that I struggled more than 50% of the decade. But I’m trying to not let that overshadow the amazing milestones I reached, and the times of joy I experienced.
So, what does the future hold? Perhaps a move to the east coast. Perhaps a career change. Perhaps a string of luck. Whatever the answer, I know it’s going to involve much change, and I’m ready.