Monday, May 03, 2010

40 creeps one year closer

Six years and nine months ago, I was hired at AEP, on the recommendation of a man I worked with at Sterling Commerce. Jerod has since gone on to bigger and better things (I believe he is currently the head of IT Security at Abercrombie & Fitch), and I have remained here, notable only because I have never stayed at a job this long before. My usual itch to flee and seek my fortune elsewhere comes and goes, as always, but I am comfortable enough where I'm at to not act on it. At least, to not act on it for a few more years.

Recently AEP gave me a permanent parking spot in the main building's garage. The spots are doled out as people retire and your place in the queue is determined by your hire date. The spot saves me about 10 minutes daily of searching for a spot in the "unassigned" garage across the street from the main building, and walking down a few flights of stairs where business-casual cubicle dwellers (like myself) crowd me in a panic, and storm past me in a huff for being slowed down on the way to their morning coffee, meetings, and arbitrary clerical deadline of being inside the building. Unlike myself. I'm a stroller in the morning, a meanderer still recovering from my commute-induced daydreams. My coworkers are nothing of the sort, and for 6 years I've been watching them scurry about hurriedly first thing in the morning, which I thought was nothing more than a minor annoyance, until I stopped seeing it every day. Suddenly my commute is peaceful from start to finish, and I reach my desk calm and content.

The seemingly small change of removing that daily stress has had a remarkable effect on my mood and my work, and has sparked in me a reflection on my path through life to get where I'm at. Where am I? 39 years old today, comfortable in a job where I get to be creative intermittently, watching my little girl grow up and get the social successes my bumbling always kept her from in the past, struggling to keep a happy wife and stepdaughter, and a roof over all our heads. I'm hoping to find through my reflection where my ambition went, why my eventual death is suddenly more real to me, and a clue as to where I'll be in another decade. Still at the same job? Still married? Will I be in the same house?

Ideally, the answers are no, yes, and no. Despite how good AEP has been to me, and how comfortable I am there now, I'd like to be able to be more creative and independent. Write the killer app, run private servers, write, blog, etc. Keep in mind I'm just talking "ideally" here, pragmatically staying where I am and continuing up the ranks is the best choice, but if you ask me what I want most out of life, "to be pragmatic" won't be the answer.

The answer to "Still married?" feels almost a given. Liberty has been the Clarisse McClellan to my Guy Montag, pulling back the veil of the world that I had started to forget was there, rekindling my atrophied senses of both wonder and outrage. I know some readers despise hearing people go on about how amazing their spouses are and how lucky they are to be with them, so I'll keep this brief: Liberty is amazing, and I am lucky to be with her. Because she isn't eager to show off, or to buy the same toys as her peers, and after being together for close to three years now, we still have things to talk about beyond "how was your day?" and the logistics of managing kids and a household. She sees the world differently than people raised with the stink of manufactured lowest common denominator monoculture, and she's quick to remind me that there's more to the world whenever I forget.

The suburbs are not where we want to live any more, despite my fondness for my neighbors. I love every one them; I really do. I love them even though I'm nothing like them. The house will be paid off in close to 10 years (barring any problems keeping the payments up, which I've done consistently since taking the house over in '02), but we'd like to be out of the house earlier than that, to go get a larger plot of land somewhere away from a big city. This will have to wait at least 4 years, so Stacey can continue on in Westerville schools, which will also give us time to do some repairs and build up some savings.

I'm not looking for a fortune when selling the house, although I've got some decent equity in it if you believe what the county auditor's assessment. One of the things I've had in the back of my head for years is this conversation I had with the previous owners, who sold the house because of money problems. It was the dad's childhood home that he came back and bought years after his parents sold it (at least, that's my understanding), and he was sad to leave the house and said he'd want to get back in it some day. I'd like to sell it back to him at what I paid for it, which would net me a sizable loss over what I could realistically sell for. A little number-twiddling shows that selling for what I paid for it the year Stacey graduates (2014) would let me pay off the remainder of my mortgage and walk about with about $60k.

In addition, walking away from AEP in 2014 would put my pension somewhere in the neighborhood of $40k after the early withdrawal tax penalty (I'd roll my 401k into something else - no sense using up all of my nest-egg). What can I do with $100k? Not much around here, but I can buy a nice plot of land with a workable house outright in Vermont, an idea Liberty and I have been taking more and more seriously lately - her for slightly different reasons than me.

So that's ideal, in Vermont in a modest home on a bigger plot of land than the sub-acre chunk of cul-de-sac we're at now. Me working freelance at something, my wife at my side involved in creative endeavors to her liking. Logistics of Stacey and Scout would be difficult, and one or two fights with their other parents would be very likely. But ultimately it would be a better life for all involved.

So there it is, my musings as 40 creeps one year closer, and my hopes for what 50 will bring me.

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