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Christopher Sikkenga

January 2017 Monthly Income Report

4 min read

The accounting goal of many businesses that want to avoid taxes is to not show a profit. Personally, I would very much like to see profit from writing so that I can justify this change in careers. However, this month isn't exactly a winner. What if I pretend that I'm sandbagging? I'll post these low numbers in January so that by May, when I'm raking it in, the difference will be dramatic! Yes. That's what's happening here.

This documentation adventure started, in part, because we're our own worse critics. I'll never tell myself that I'm doing a great job or successful. However, if I look back and see these reports, the numbers won't lie. I might have to admit to myself I did something right. At the moment, this may look like it is backfiring. Well, the other reason I wanted to do this was to keep a realistic record of a writer's life. Finding information when I was thinking of making the switch wasn't easy. Perhaps these reports will help some future writer.

Of course, I'm not done yet. Yes, I got $10 per short article I wrote this month. However, I like who I am working for and I'm learning a lot from him. Furthermore, he's helped me network and meet other potential employers. Therefore, at this point I'm not letting the numbers get to me because I need to build my confidence. I need to be positive and assured as I hustle for more work. January is typically a slow month for many, that post Christmas drought. Thus, I've been spending the time sending writing samples out and introducing myself to editors. It's awkward, but it gets easier every time I do it. The "no thanks" and lack of any response doesn't have to get me down. Those unlucky souls are just missing out one what I can give them. Right? Right!

Monthly Summary

More hours, less money than last month? There's a big assignment I've been working on for a while. I put a lot of pressure on myself to slam dunk it because there's a small chance it could lead to an opportunity. Plus, I mean who doesn't want to do a great job? Anyway, this piece has gotten in my head and I've written multiple drafts trying to please my worst critic, me. I'm still working on it in February, but I think I've shaken the futile pressure.

Every report, I'm finding a new item to track and this month is no different. I really do need to keep track of my hustling for jobs. I started the month on vacation with my spouse, but when I returned I hit up at least 2 sites and a local publication about an unpublished story. There's more emails out there waiting for responses, but as I said, I need to start documenting that better. I've got a small client lined up for the Spring and I've been writing a lot. Whether it is putting ideas together for future articles or simply writing about what interests me, I've been keeping that big muscle in my skull busy.

This past month and much of February has been focused on personal projects. I've seen so many friends have success with "doing their own thing" that I've doubled-down on a small project I started 2 years ago. Someday In February is a holiday that I've put together to help people get things done and enjoy themselves. I've been writing at that site and asked a friend to help out and keep me focused.

The other personal project is the podcast. We're back in production and that means scheduling, researching guests, writing questions, recording and summarizing the shows. It's great to be back and I'm looking to do another show with someone locally. Both the shows I do now are long form and I would like to try something shorter, possibly with more pre-production. In this way, I could add a show that I could record 3-5 episodes of in one sitting. I'd also like to sit down with someone next to me, the current shows are through Skype which can make conversations awkward.

Christopher Sikkenga

December 2016 Monthly Income Report

3 min read

In September I made this grand experiment official, “Let’s see how well I can transition to a job as a writer.” Keeping it real, I recognized that there truly is no such thing as “going viral” or “being discovered.” This goal will take time. I thought I’d give it a year or two. Now, after a few months, my resolve is fading.

December was a month minus my regular client that provided more than 2 years of work. I started editing images for episcura (link not guaranteed to work much longer). Eventually, I was handling the Twitter, Facebook and G+ accounts as well. Two of the three owners had the reigns of the social network accounts as well. They grabbed followers, bought ads and responded to some questions while I posted the day to day content. From there, it spun into me blogging for them.

The company, episcura, has decided to close up shop. While 3D artist do need HDRI and texture images for their work, it is simply too easy to appropriate pictures from a Google image search, rather than pay for quality work. Furthermore, technology advancements continue to make photogrammetry more practical and efficient.

As I mentioned last month, even though I could sense it coming, losing the gig was quite a shock. Thus, I spent much of the month in self-doubt and low confidence. I wanted to double my efforts with my remaining client, but my ego was too bruised to give it my all. December is a holiday month spent with family and friends, but it was feeling shame because I had lost what little income I had. The month is typically a busy month because firms are trying to spend the last of their yearly budget in order to get the same amount renewed for the following year. However with the last week of December a write-off because of Christmas, I felt it would be difficult to find a new client in the 3 weeks left of the year. Perhaps that was the self-doubt talking?

Monthly Summary

Those are some very sad numbers, indeed. I didn’t get a lot of assignments from my remaining client because they were busy with an art opening. I’m somewhat mad at myself for not running with the freedom and pouring some content out on their site. For episcura, I ran with the ball and posted one article a day, sometimes more. I think initiative and confidence go hand and hand, and I was lacking the later. I’ve done freelance for years and clients come and go, but I was really invested in episcura, so I took it personally. The bright spot in the month is a piece I did on a new social network.

Other Income

Paul is always there when I need him. My friend and co-host started publishing our past live shows and kept me busy with show notes and writing updates on our Patreon page. We even got together for a short show and talked about smart watches.

January began with a trip away from the gloom of winter. Hopefully the sunshine will inspire a better report next time.

Christopher Sikkenga

November 2016 Monthly Income Report

5 min read

."Better late than never" is not something you want to lead with when it comes to impressing potential employers. Yet, it has taken me the entire month of December to publish my November income report. While I was laid up post surgery and took a week off to visit my family, it was a tough month because I lost my regular client.

At the end of October, I had my gallbladder removed. The procedure took a day and then I was sent home to rest. Writing is something you can do while resting, right? Between the drugs and the trauma of surgery inflicted on my body, I slept a lot. Having your stomach stitched together in 4 places is distracting at best. At worst, it is terrifying (never sneeze when you're being held together with string & good intentions). I managed to do a couple interviews and write a few things despite recovery.income NOV

A little more than 2 weeks after my procedure I went to the States to visit my mother on her birthday. It was only a 5 day trip, but we were able to see friends and family. It has been 4 years since I left my job and my former coworkers invited us out to lunch and even paid. Every trip back they do this. Those are pretty amazing people. Got some marketing or an app/website you need built, check out ddm. As for me, I did some social media posts for a client and published some stories and interviews I wrote prior to leaving.

After returning from our trip, I spent more time trying to sell my story I wrote the previous month as a test for a new client. Since they passed on it, I reached out to a previous podcast guest, Alan Henry, over at Lifehacker. It was a long shot and I probably should have went through proper channels, but it was worth a try. One of the editors gave me the bad news and I remained positive as I reached out to a local publication. I received an initial response requesting samples of my work, but I haven't heard anything else.

More Low Numbers to Come?

From there, things went downhill. My client of the last 2 years has decided to close their doors. I was looking for additional work, in part because I knew things were rocky in New York. Yet, I had hoped my work would lead to opportunities for the small company. As with most internet ventures, they were slowly getting some traction. In the last 3 months, I had multiple people contacting me to have their products and people featured on the blog. It was exciting that the audience was growing so much that we had offers like that. Thus, it came as quite a shock to me.

It has been a difficult December, coming to terms with my job loss. I guess I'll write about that very soon in the next report. If I was a fiction author this would be a character building set back, according to cliche. However, I'm just struggling to find companies or people who pay writers online as so many sites make money off of people who write for free.

Other Income & Monthly Summary

My friend & co-host has been busy editing our podcast. I've thrown up some short posts on our patreon page and completed the notes for each show. Thus, we'll be ready to record new episodes in the new year. We're going to make some changes to the Patreon campaign in order to motivate ourselves & perhaps inspire more listeners to patronize us. We do the show live on Thursday evenings and then my friend edits the show and we put it on the site. We do the podcast because we enjoy it, but we're not always quick to put it on the site for listening. So, we may offer the raw recording of the live show to patrons at any dollar amount.

As for freebies, I did work on something for my friends' business here in town. I wrote it on the plane ride this month. I haven't taken the time to edit it. Though, it would appear that I should probably remove it from "freebies" because they offered to pay me in store credit. That's exciting! I was just happy to add something diverse to my portfolio, which is why I was listing it in this section.

As shared above, the numbers are low because I was out of commission thanks to surgery. Then, I took 6 days to go back to the States and visit my mother, sister and my friends. Finally, I lost a client. So, the last week of the month my normal workload was absent. December is going to be even uglier because it is the holiday season. It's very tough to find work between Christmas and New Years. Hopefully, I can muster the courage to sit down and write that report sooner.

Christopher Sikkenga

October 2016 Monthly Income Report

6 min read

The excitement of September was followed by new challenges and struggles. Onward, I merrily stumble, minus my gallbladder.

Income is surprisingly up, despite the time I spent recovering and working to woo a new client. I had surgery to remove my gallbladder, the malfunctioning organ sent me to the hospital twice in the past year. So, I’m glad it is gone. Yet, I was not too happy to take the time off for recovery. I’ve done this freelance rodeo before with video. When you’re not working, you’re not earning. Ironically, there were no sick days for me because I am self-employed.

Secondly, as noted below, I put some time into some test pieces for a new opportunity. I can’t express enough gratitude to Adam Dachis for believing in me and giving my name to a publishing company with several blogs. I’ve gotten some positive feedback from them, but the process has been stalled by changes happening with their publications. Thus, I have no income to report and I cannot count them as a client, at the moment. Regardless, it has been a good experience for me.

As David Coverdale sang, “Here I Go Again”

I knew that this experiment would have its challenges, but this past month I’ve come to realize that they are very familiar. As I said earlier, I was a freelance video editor before. I still call myself an edito

r, but I did a lot more to survive. I shot videos and conducted interviews. I guess I was producer, sound, camera and editor. When I made the move to Canada, people encouraged me to go back to freelance video. I felt a new business and building a new network would put a strain on my new marriage. We like each other and want to spend time together, not be roommates who occasionally run into each other.

Now, I find myself starting a new business and creating a new network of clients for writing. Oops. This realization has given me pause. If I’m going to take on those challenges, why not do it in the field of video that I know? Additionally, that work would pay much more. It’s a compelling argument for which I don’t have a decent rebuttal.

New challenges are always more alluring, though nobody enjoys stress, right? My former video work was stressful. It’s not hard to look back and see that. While switching careers is stressful as well, it’s new. There’s no baggage. Originally, I came to a bigger city hoping to sell myself exclusively as an editor. However, I didn’t have much luck. Going freelance as a video professional also means gear, and wearing all those hats of sound, producer and camera man. Those jobs were always the source of stress and distraction from my passion of editing.

In a way, video editing is like writing because it is all about crafting stories. Unfortunately, it pays a lot less. Though, it isn’t just about your job and pay. Currently, writing from home means less anxiety and stress in my life. Being my own boss has some stress, but I can go take a walk, clear my head and come back focused. I can work around my spouse’s schedule or grab a pen or a laptop and work when inspired. Writing isn’t perfect, but so far I’m enjoying the experiment.

Progress

Business never goes viral. The internet is the new Hollywood. For years people always wanted to “be discovered.” Actors in Hollywood just wake up one day and experience success, right? No, they work hard to get there. We never talk about that. The same goes for the web, and app developers. A year ago, I helped client uno start a blog. We are finally getting some attention from advertisers and people who want to be featured on the site. I think it is pretty exciting.

The Asterisk & Other Income

I effectively auditioned for a new client with two pieces I wrote. I spent some time interviewing 2 people, doing research and even making a recipe and taking photos. Unfortunately, one of the articles was turned down. It was the classic, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I was told the blog that I was testing for was being discontinued. As I mentioned before, this new organization is going through some flux. I don’t have any feedback on the second piece, yet. It’s been 2 weeks, I’m thinking that’s not a good sign. The plus, is that I’m confident I can shop both of these pieces around to other publishers.

Once again, I’ve got some income from Patreon thanks to our podcast, Montreal Sauce. I wrote a few things for the Patreon page, but didn’t publish as much as I would have liked. At least, I got the content written, I guess? I just need to schedule some time in my calendar to get these things in my routine.

Monthly Summary

My spouse has been teasing me that I seem to work more than she does now. However, now that I’ve been tracking the hours, it’s obvious that I’m not full time. The invoices that my total income represents were for a 5 week period. If I was full time, I would have worked 200 hours, not 71. My spouse actually enjoys having me as a kept man, home taking care of dinner, cleaning, laundry, dishes and the like. I’m not opposed to working full time, if you’re hiring writers! That would just require an adjustment to my work/life balance. Right now, we’re happy.

Seeing the hours of writing and research in the stats means doing that nasty equation to figure out an hourly rate. So, this stud made $11.54 an hour in October. It doesn’t sound flattering, but it is about work/life balance. It’s about the benefits, just as much as it is about money. I many not have a retirement plan or health benefits, but I have flexible time. That’s pretty great. I’ll continue to improve my writing skills, speed and get better at the craft. Hopefully, these posts will continue to show progress in that direction.

Christopher Sikkenga

September 2016 Monthly Income Report

4 min read

What?

Yes. This is probably one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done. I'm about to tell you how ridiculously poor I am. You know what? Scratch that privileged mindset. I'm about to tell you how much money I make. I'm putting realistic data out in the open instead of fooling myself & others with peachy social network posts of how great I am at my new career.

I hope this experiment is useful data for others interested in making a living writing, but I really need to do this for me. First, I need to measure my progress. Maybe a career switch is a bad idea and I'm going through some mid-life crisis? I'll need to look at concrete numbers to make that decision. That brings me to the second point, I am my own worst enemy. There's a good chance that I could be doing an excellent job and making enough money to live, but I'd never let myself believe it. Having a monthly income report, seeing the changes, good and bad, will help me objectively judge my progress.

Progress Thus Far

At the end of August, I added a new client. That's the good news. I'm lucky enough to have befriended someone in the biz who is willing to help me find more work and possibly build my reputation. I think that the opportunity to learn and make more connections overweighs the fact that this new client pays less than my regular writing gig. I wanted to share these decisions here because it will certainly affect my income. In August, I made $1,015 writing mostly for a single client. I've been writing for client uno since last November. Now, I'm eager to progress and find more opportunities.

As you can see on the right, putting more time into the new gig has cut into my profits from client uno. Well you can't see it exactly, because I didn't track my hours on the new job. I get paid per piece, but in the following reports I will add hours to reflect my growth. Basically, I wrote the same amount of articles for client uno in less time. So hey! I'm getting faster at what I do. That's progress.

I should note that the hours & pay for my original client also include the task of daily social media posts to Twitter & Facebook.

Other Income & Freebies

On top of my work for others, I produce lots of content in my own schemes. I produce two podcasts and I am hoping to add a third. For our Montreal Sauce podcast we have a Patreon page for listeners to give money if they are so inclined. Currently we have two patrons and after Patreon (& the money transaction service they use) takes a cut, we got a total of $5.33 for September. I split that with my friend, and co host, which leaves me with $2.66. I haven't added that to the monthly income, because I put the money aside for more podcast-related goodies like equipment, internet service, business cards and other expenses.

The Patreon page has also become a way to communicate with listeners. Thus, I've decided to start publishing stories there weekly, but I won't add them to the numbers. Perhaps, I'll put them in this section.

Since I added a second client this month, I didn't do any freebies. I focused on doing good work for the new boss and it paid off, but more on that later. One of my goals when I started writing was to get myself out there. Thus, I have volunteered to write for my friends sites to build a reputation and a portfolio. This month, I was unable to reach that goal, but I have a freebie lined up for October.

Monthly Summary

The big thing that stands out is that I made much less this month than the last. So, I did a quick average of what I have been making from the single client who bravely took me on last November. I was averaging around $767 a month. Therefore, this month's numbers don't look too bad. Of course, I did add an additional client and more work for myself this month. However, it has already paid off. Super awesome client deux has already introduced me to an organization responsible for a number of large online publications! The client number may go up next month. Woo!

While the income went down, I couldn't be more happy that after only a month, client deux thinks enough of me to connect me to the editor-in-chief that he works with. I had a Skype conversation with her last week and I'll be pitching stories this coming week. Wish me luck.

Christopher Sikkenga

@jeena How's things with your website? Have you had to update your code often? It seems like Known is getting out of the POSSE game. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/known-dev/orekBTTJMfg

Christopher Sikkenga

US Citizen Moves to Canada So He Must Be A Criminal

8 min read

CAN US FLAG

September has been an awful moment for my wallet, not because of spending but because clients and employers can't pay American me in Canada. Previously, a client had me sign up for a Chase service which I connected to my US account with another bank. Chase recently decided to say goodbye to freeloaders, like me, who weren't doing any banking with them. So began a month of stress, frustration and absolute disgust with customer service, computerized systems and the US, in general.

I'm a US citizen, but a legal resident of Canada. No matter what I do, I always have to file US taxes. Every other country in the world, has you file in the country of residence. Not our beloved USA. Thus, I changed my official address at my US bank account to Canada. I didn't want to appear suspicious by having a US address and also claiming residency in Canada. My bank assured me that they were fine with this arrangement.

My US bank account is a nice thing to have for traveling back home to visit. It's also necessary to pay off my student loans. Thus, I was getting paid by my US clients into that account and paying my student loans. I'm very thankful that friends in my professional network have stuck with me and cho se to employ me despite the move to Canada. It can complicate things for them and they're taxes as well.

While my problems this week are somewhat tax related, it really just comes down to getting paid. Despite having these computers in our pockets, banking is still in the dark ages. Well, I should rephrase that. American banks are in the dark ages. The security of the chipped credit card just reached the US last year? It's been a staple in Canada and other countries for close to a decade. (Plus, the US chip system never seems to ask me for my pass code. That's one of the most secure functions of it!) We hear about fabulous apps to send/receive money like Square Cash or Google Wallet, but they're US only.

"Where's the problem? You have a US account."

My address is Canadian. It's like living in a post Y2K world, where computer systems were never updated to do a 4-digit year. I literally cannot type in my postal code. I cannot choose my province from the dropdown menu. And "Heather," Google's help desk person who obviously has English as a second language because she's most likely not working at the Google campus, cannot help me because that's not in her script. Indeed, another friend talked to a family member who is at Square to help me out, and it was also a no go. Many friends suggested Freshbooks. It turns out they're based in Canada, surely they can help! "When you add your bank account, just put in a US address, not a Canadian one." Why didn't I think of that? Just lie. I'm sure that will work out for me. "News at 11: IRS Finds Canadian Terrorist Cell Using Freshbooks."

Death to Stock

Meanwhile in Canada and Europe, I've seen a number of methods to move money across borders. Here, there a number of immigrants, like me, sending money home. Wire transfer services, apps and websites can move money just about anywhere. The exception is the US. Obviously, Europe has mostly open borders and these things are a daily occurrence with your neighbor. The US and Canada are neighbors, right?

The Tax Shelter That Is Chris

The reason I am having so much trouble is because I'm a person, not a corporation. Wait, aren't corporations people now? Does it work the other way around? Am I Burger King? Did I move to Canada to escape the evil US taxes? Well, since I now have to file for taxes in two countries, hell no. Yet, that's really how I am being treated, as a criminal.

The assumption is that I fled to Canada to escape taxes. It wasn't love, happiness or any other ridiculous notion. I'm a US citizen, and complete criminal element. The thing that really gets me about the whole situation is that we live in this weird, new sharing economy. Again, sharing is in reference to the peons, us people at the bottom rung. The Uber drivers are so very happy to make their own hours and a living driving a car. The execs at the top of Uber are still playing the age old capitalism games and could care less about the sharing economy. Perhaps young startups begin with the sharing ideals, but they take on shareholders and fall into the well.

Fees, Fees, Fees A.K.A. PayPal

Search "don't use PayPal," or the classic "PayPal sucks" and you'll find a load of reasons to steer clear of them. You may even find a 14 year old rant by yours truly. I had a falling out with the service and have never used it or it's partner in crime, eBay, ever again. Guess what? It does actually work in Canada and the US. Despite my misgivings about the company, things are looking brighter, right? Setting the past aside, no. Things are probably going to get uglier.

When I made t-shirts for our podcast, Cotton Bureau only accepted PayPal, but wouldn't let me connect my account. It was that Canadian address issue again. Damn me for being an upright citizen and not lying. So, I signed up for a Canadian PayPal account.

My Canadian bank account says I can get a US account with their bank in the US and move money between the accouts without hassle. Sign me up! "No, you actually have to go to a US branch and sign up." Shoot me now. Instead, I opened a US dollar account here in Canada. Any US dollars I put in it are mine, without conversion! So, Canadian account plus Canadian PayPal, but payments in US dollars coming to a US dollar account! I win. Except for all of PayPal's fees that I can't list here because they're completely obfuscated on their site.

Oops. I celebrated too soon. It's a Canadian PayPal account. PayPal charges a fee for converting USD to CAD and vice versa. They really want that fee. Now, my option is to get paid, convert the USD to CAD and deposit it in the USD account which means another conversion by my bank. Or take the conversion into my CAD bank account. Tell me again, how I will pay my US student loans?

My Money, My Future, My Loyalties

As a freelancer, stress often comes from clients not paying your invoices. This was a whole new level of stress, not finding a method (in 2016!) to receive payment. Now, I brought this on myself. US friends reading this are thinking, "You're the one that moved there." My Canadian friends are wondering, "Why not get a Canadian job and ditch the US clients." Well, thank you for giving constructive advice, fake Canadian voices in my head. That's more helpful than the brash statement by the pompous American voice in my head.

A Canadian job would be pretty wonderful. I do what I do now based on opportunities and who I know. It's not based on me trying to avoid Canadian or US taxes. I don't mind pay taxes. Even before I moved here and had this amazing health care. Taxes give us roads, services and all sorts of things. Even if you don't agree with how the money is spent, you still owe it, in my opinion. Since I live in Canada, I owe that money to the government here, not the US government that assumes I must be a criminal for moving.

This whole episode has me seriously thinking about my US citizenship. What does it really afford me, aside from this hassle? I have family and friends back in the States, but I could still visit if I had Canadian citizenship. In the future, will my wife and I want to retire in the States? It's an option, but it's not looking very good right now.

If you read this far, hello. All of this just boils down to a reminder that Canada is a foreign country. As much as people around the world, and in the US, assume North America is basically the USA, it is simply not true. I would go so far as to say, we're not even that neighborly when it comes to money matters. Really, it's the difference between socialism and capitalism. Canada let me open a US dollar account and I can send money practically anywhere. The US doesn't want money to move outside its border.

If, for some reason, you enjoyed reading about my financial woes, you'll enjoy my next blog series. Riding the line between stupid and brave, I plan to post monthly income reports as I continue my career change journey. I don't really look forward to sharing how little I make. Yet I think it would be nice for others to see, a realistic look at writing articles rather than a carefully cultivated social media presence proclaiming that I am a successful entrepreneur.

Christopher Sikkenga

Credited As: Title Designer

1 min read

Not really a fan of The Academy, but I am loving these vignettes they're doing about the people who make films. I especially liked this one because I adore title design. I wish I knew it was a real job, or someone in the field when I was younger.

 

Christopher Sikkenga

Sometimes Twitter Feels Like This

1 min read

This creative short is well put together and has a decent script and message.

A tweet on Twitter represents our modern tastes when it comes to internet media, we only want small chunks. We read headlines, but skip the article. Perhaps, that's not the greatest practice? So, take a second to imagine that you only had 1500 words left. One, be glad it's only a fantasy. Two, be sure to communicate your feelings to your friends and family while you can. You never know what will be your last words to them.

Christopher Sikkenga

A Sundae for Robocop - A Guide for My Funeral

11 min read

My death is such a terribly frightening thought that my brain refuses to ponder it for more than 4.7 seconds. In April, I enjoyed Taryn Arnold’s For my 25th Birthday My Best Friends Wrote Me Eulogies and recently, I attended a funeral. These events got me thinking about how I want to go out. See, thinking about my funeral is different than thinking about not existing. For anyone that finds this post, I hope you enjoy my musings. For my family and loved ones, this is a set of instructions.

Immortality-challenged

Deep breath.

Alright, that Super Brownie Sundae Challenge at [insert restaurant here] has done me in, literally. First up, you need to make sure that the establishment doesn’t end the contest because of me. Just because I failed the 2 gallon gut buster doesn’t mean it’s not a fun way to promote their restaurant. Arguably, ending the silly promotion after my death looks like admitting guilt. Tell the owners and the media that I died doing the thing I love, eating ice cream.

Next up, what do you do with my body? What are my wishes? I guess, despite being dead, it’s respectful to do as I wish. If I’m being honest, I would simply ask not to be dead. I assume putting me in a new body or a terrifying robot is still Hollywood fantasy? Fine. So do I wish to be cremated? Or do you need to find a big enough cigar box to put me in and bury me the back yard. Presumably, next to the squirrel you saw dad hit with the lawn mower when you were 6 and forced him to perform a funeral for it. It’s only a tough question because I’d just rather not be dead.

Cremate me, I guess. We’ll get to what to do with that leftover bone and ash later.

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

I don’t want to leave you hanging on like a yo-yo, but everyone grieves differently. Personally, my process rarely starts before the funeral. Rather than enlisting the help of a religious leader–that is, instead of paying a church to perform my service I would love a friend or family member to take the lead. Of course, only if he/she is comfortable doing it. I assume that the Hoff is either too expensive or frozen under glass in a tomb in Germany. You could ask Taryn Arnold or Justin Hall because they both have the right attitude and empathy. Otherwise a funeral director will work. Ideally, a grief counselor would be amazing.

While some find solace in faith, I believe it would be better to have professional help for mourners. If there’s a tacky printed program to commemorate my funeral service, be sure to add the name of a grief counselor and a way to contact her or him. I don’t mean to snub those with religious beliefs. I believe they will already have a support system in the form of their own pastor, priest or shaman.

As in life, the funeral is about me. One of the things that really bothers me at services is when the priest or religious leader turns my friend, or family member’s death into a commercial for his/her faith. “Don’t mourn Cindy, she’s in a better place because she put money in a dish when we passed it around and performed a sacred incantation. It’s a great reminder that you need to buy now because supplies are running low!”

I’m sorry for that tasteless portrayal of a faith leader, but that’s how I have felt so many times during funerals. I am hurt, vulnerable and dazed from losing someone very dear to me. Is this time to sell me life insurance? Are we exiting the funeral home through the back door to ignore the life insurance agents collected outside the front doors like paparazzi? No. It’s called respect. My funeral service isn’t a commercial for faith “X.” Let’s respect all the mourners and me. Let’s talk about me. It’s my favorite subject, alive or dead.

Paying the Piper

Let’s get to this “ceremony.” This is the part I like the least. Ceremony, I can’t stand it at weddings or funerals. Please don’t do any weird symbolic things with candles, sand, rope or ribbon. People have a hard enough time dealing with death. Let’s not confuse them with metaphors.

The same goes for poetry. I cannot stress this enough. I need poetry like a fish needs a bicycle. Typically loved ones reading the piece are overcome with emotions or deliver it dead pan. Pun intended. Jokes aside, this is the most important rule– no poetry. For me, poetry only serves as a distraction from the service and the mourning because I despise it so much. If someone thinks they have a poem or song that just fits, convince them otherwise or hire my friend Andy Luther to read it because he’s great at cold readings. (Should I keep a pun count?)

Here’s a novel idea, how about talking about my cause of death? It seems to be the hushed conversation of the audience but rarely covered in the service. “Chris gorged on a 2 gallon ice cream sundae, fell into a diabetic coma (diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome) and passed, shortly thereafter.” Perhaps I am so terrified of death because we don’t face it head-on in our society? I do know that mourning the loss of my uncle became very real when I was allowed to see his blue, bloated body before they cremated him. It may sound morbid, but how many of your deceased loved ones have you seen on a death bed or in a state of lifelessness? At the funeral service, they make the bodies up to look as if they are sleeping. I think it can be very hard to accept the loss if we are constantly ignoring the truth. So address my death in the service. I’m not saying to put my body in the cooler full of ice and drinks. Though, the “stiff drink” pun would be amazing.

Tell stories of our harrowing adventures together. Share tales that embarrass me, I promise not to blush. If you want to roast me, that’s perfect. Please let there be laughter at my funeral. Making people laugh brings me endless joy. There’s a talking point right there! "Chris was a cliché in life, always desperate to make people laugh."

Now, let’s eat! It might be in bad taste to have ice cream if I have truly cashed out from a diabetic coma, but the after-gathering is a very important part of any funeral. The service is the last official act to help many cope with accepting the loss, but the bland sandwiches afterwards are just an excuse to console each other. If we’re being realistic, this is the first time many of you will have seen relatives and friends in ages. This is a social gathering.

Many people say, “I don’t want a funeral, just have a party!” We have parties to celebrate events and the simple act of showing up is all you need to do to support the person or event. The party itself should be for the guests. And so, after the service, enjoy the people around you. Catch up with acquaintances, relive the old days and be present. This will be something I will be unable to do. Think about that. Use the bereavement leave from your work to see these people while you’re all in the same town. It only takes one 2 gallon sundae to take them away from you and leave you with regrets.

Heaven is a Cloud Service?

You’ve cremated the husk that stored my personality, now what? First, I don’t know what to believe anymore. Do crematories actually toast me individually, or do they load my body in with a bunch of others and melt us down together? If that’s the truth, what’s the point of holding onto the ashes of me, someone named Wilma and twenty other cadavers? Again, it’s symbolic ceremony, spreading my ashes on the beach or something. Especially if it’s me and a bunch of other people. Donate to the State park in Michigan in my name if ceremony is your thing. A hover bench with my name on it or an outhouse with excellent ventilation.

If what you get is truthfully just my ashes, do something weird with me. You can get the ashes added to a paint and commission a painting of me as Vigo the Carpathian. Have my ashes added to jewelry, stained glass or a tree.

Vigo C

Next, what do we do with digital me? Well, you can give my friend Quoc the keys and let him pretend to be me with a random update every few years. That sounds very Andy Kaufman, doesn’t it? All I ask is that my ridiculous legacy is available for people. Earlier, I wanted to make a Chris Farley joke, but I knew the Saturday Night Live clip would not be available because of the mess that is copyright. People should be able to hear my story. Presumably my death certificate reads, “Cause of death: ice cream.” That’s amazing! Don’t deny people of my ancient tweets about farts. The down side would be my likeness in VR, AR or a CG me being used to sell people things I truly wouldn’t approve of. However, you didn’t listen to my rants on Big Data when I was alive, so I assume Facebook literally owns my likeness and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

"Thank you for your cooperation. Good night."

As the Boyz II Men said, “it’s always hard to say goodbye.” Can you imagine doing the opposite of what Taryn did? Trying to go around to everyone you love and saying, “thanks” before you leave this Earth? That would be very hard. I’m so thankful for the 4 people I talked to today, let alone those that have had a tremendous impact on me in the last 30+ years. Thanks for the friendly conversation this morning, café employee! Seriously, saying my last goodbye & thank you to her and the other 3 people I interacted with today would be brutal. Not to mention, going through that with my wife. Yet, that’s the important thing to take away from Taryn’s “For My 25th Birthday, My Best Friends Wrote Me Eulogies.” Say it now.

So, I should take this time to thank you. Not just those of you that I call my family & friends, but even those of you that somehow found your way to this page and read this far. While I don’t have ads, the tap, or mouse click that brought you here is still a shared experience that I value. If I’m not hit by a car tomorrow, your page view may inspire me to open up about something else or bring us together in another way. Thanks for reading to the end. If I am currently on life support as you read this, please consider this blog post as my consent to be put in a cyborg-like abomination. The worst that could happen is that I become a murderous robot cleaning up the streets of Detroit.

The sundae gif at the top is from an interesting short animation from Xander Marritt & Elias Freiberger. "A reflection of life, a personification of the immediacy in the way we conduct ourselves. This shit is Bananas." Watch below and learn more at bananas.life.