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An Anecdote (and more)

A long time ago…so very long ago – I was at a party. It wasn’t anything particularly special – about 50 or so people out in the middle of nowhere, but pretty mellow with just a whole shitload of booze and a little weed. Late in the evening, as we sat around the bonfire and mulled over our college careers, prospective futures, and of course, sex, things began to get introspective. The gaps in conversation got a little broader, the laughing a little quieter. The folks that had the most energy and willingness to party were asleep or passed out, with just a handful of us awake around the bonfire.

During the course of the musings and mullings there was a lull which was eventually broken by a guy who hadn’t said much all evening.  He was known for being pretty introspective, and quiet enough that when he spoke, everyone else got quiet; we wanted to hear what he had to say.

“Life,” he reflected, “is like…” he stopped.

After the longest of pauses, “…sooo hard.”

He wasn’t wrong.

 Paralyzed by an Abundance of Options (Priorities are an issue too)

I haven’t made a post in a while – over a year.  Sorry.  For what it’s worth, I haven’t been writing any other blogs if that’s what you’re worried about.  Here is a very brief, rapid-fire series of excuses absolving me of my past performance: Bought a house while spending 60% of my time 200 miles away from it. When I left that job I had a few months of unemployment followed by the shittiest job I’ve ever had the displeasure of being a slave to. I left there to work 200 miles away again, bought a second piece of property, and am now (once again!) unemployed.  This was followed by a server crash and of course no backups so the last few weeks have been spent rebuilding and recovering. We have also acquired a foster child, but you won’t get the details from this summary…you’ll have to read the whole thing.There are also health issues and family drama, most of which I won’t detail because frankly it’s boring shit.

Now I have time to get the house in order and maybe pursue a few other hobbies; maybe I can find a new passion.

Of course, prioritization has been a challenge (and yes, I’m acutely aware that while I lament my “ill fortune” in a house I’m in no danger of losing with a loving wife that I’m also in no danger of losing and wonderful kids and spectacular dogs and…yes…definitely #firstworldproblems #woeisme etc that the rest of the world is burning) but hopefully I’m putting my focus in the right areas in the right amounts.  I’m prone to burning myself out with things that I enjoy, so I need to be a bit slower and more methodical in my approach.

Those of you that know me know that I have a lot of opinions. This has also slowed progress simply because there is so much important shit to talk about. Research takes time and (despite typos) I thoroughly proofread my shit. I’m also not entirely sure that I know what direction I want to take the blog in, but I’ll get into that later as well.

Politics? (not on a bet)

Where in the fuck would I start?  Seriously? Do I start with the poor decision making, the lying, the cheating, the misogyny, the racism, the fundamental disconnect from real society? Draining the swamp to fill it with alligators? Christ, I just wouldn’t even know where to begin – and because I’ve spent the last year not being able to write on any topic at all because “this is too important!” I have reduced its priority accordingly. This is as much for my sanity as yours…I’ve lost a few friends because of it already: When you’re on the same side as the KKK, you should reevaluate your “facts”.

People can blame “Russian Collusion” all they want, but Americans had the vote and didn’t do their fucking research. But here’s the thing about talking Politics: the people that mostly agree with me will read the blog and nod their heads…nothing will change.  The people that don’t agree with me, if they come across the blog (at all), will dismiss it as liberal propaganda – I know this because Trump’s personality has been on display for a long long long time, and “we” still gave the fucker the most powerful job on the planet.

There are a large number of things wrong with our political system, and those things might be worth discussing at another time, but here’s the thing: It shouldn’t have even been “close”, and I’m disgusted that 46% of the voting public are either so myopic, racist, misogynistic, or hard of thinking that he got the job.

Religion (ok, a little)

But only because this new Pope is pretty fucking cool. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the things that Pope Francis has done, but with only a couple of misses, he’s been well on track to make our planet a better more humane place to live. It’s nice to see.

Frankly I don’t really have room in my life for religion or spirituality. I have come to the conclusion that religion is simply one of many tools that humans use to cope with their existence; something we use to “make sense” of the world around us.  I came to the conclusion a long time ago that as soon as “humans” are involved, things stop making sense…religion doesn’t change that.

The Human Condition

Ok, you got me. I can probably write about this. At length. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably have a hard time stopping me.

Technology (ugh)

I’m unemployed again which means that there’s been a whole lot of introspection while I try to figure out what I’m gonna do. See, the world of technology moves really REALLY fucking fast, and I’ve been following it, pretty closely, for the last 20 years or so.  My brain feels full. So very very full.  Full of obsolete operating systems and troubleshooting for hardware that doesn’t really exist anymore; technologies that were a fad and fizzled, or even workhorses that have been put out of commission ten years ago (frankly, if any of those old beasts are still around, shame on whoever has not made a concerted effort in replacing them. History bears the scars of companies and governments that failed to adapt and evolve). Old court cases – I could tell you which of the older companies “used to be” really evil and why I think they have or haven’t changed.  I could talk about how corporate manipulation has killed the industry and how innovation is stifled because of the artificially inflated speed of “progress”.  I could dwell on this fucking topic for hours. Instead I’ll give you one more paragraph and then I’m moving on.

Twenty years ago when computers were just starting to break into business, a whole lot of businesses – most of them, in fact – resisted. For them it was a simple matter of cost vs. reward – they were doing business just fine without computers, and now you’re talking about spending money on computers and retraining staff? But they relented, and then the sticker shock really sank in when they realized that they didn’t have anyone to fix the goddamned things and no room in the budget to hire enough people. Many hired one, and that one person had to scramble like a little rat to justify his (or her, if you were lucky enough to not be objectified into oblivion) existence. If we didn’t scramble there was a very good chance the owner of the company would just dump computers entirely, and this was a technology that we wanted to succeed. A lot of us, many from smaller companies, picked up “fringe” skills that are only useful in the scope of some other field – I can assemble IKEA like a madman. This led to many IT jobs becoming salaried so that overtime could be required but not paid for.

This has been my existence for 20 years, and I think I’m ready for a new fucking chapter; this one is like reading Victor Hugo.

(As you can tell, I’m so burned out that I don’t even feel like digging up links for all of the crap in the last two paragraphs)

White Privilege, Male Privilege, My Struggles are Largely Self-Imposed

I have always considered myself a feminist (“Yes. What else is there to be? Everything else is being an asshole.” – Salman Rushdie) – in the truest sense of the word, to be honest: Everyone should be free to live their lives how they see fit, unless they are negatively impacting others. I’ve talked about this at length already, but I bring it up again here as a reminder that I haven’t forgotten all of the little perks and boosts that I’ve gotten over the years. Besides, until the issues are resolved, we ALL need to be aware that people are being unjustly denied their rights based on how they were born. These problems will always exist of course, after all, we belong to a species that’s really good at it, but we don’t have to tolerate it.

I was born in the most developed country in the modern age, after the government stopped allowing lead in the gasoline (paint and pipes would follow), and asbestos in the walls. Vaccinations were still being enforced (people had not yet forgotten how horrifying things like Polio and Measles actually were), providing for me the best opportunities to have a strong immune system and survive long enough to use it. My family didn’t have to rely on the productivity of their own farms so we were pretty sure we were going to eat from month to month.  I served in the military during a time when service wasn’t compulsory and was released from my contract early with an Honorable Discharge. I have, quite literally, been given every opportunity to succeed that could be expected (although perhaps I’m in the minority that my parents couldn’t give me a “small” $1,000,000 loan?). I have a familial support structure that isn’t particularly close but is FAR better than most and, I can’t stress this enough, the most awesome wife ever.

While I have been coasting on a penis of privilege, I’ve watched the women in my life get metaphorically screwed by dint of their gender (don’t get me wrong – plenty of women get physically screwed, they just happen to be in non-overlapping parts of the Venn Diagram that composites my life) and it’s frustrates me to no end.  If you’re capable of doing the work I don’t give two fiddly fucks about anything else. Are these people really that helpless at sex or life that they have to strongarm their love interests with their employment? Sadly, the answer is yes. For all of their money and “success”, they really suck at living.

And unfortunately enough people are willing to get “a little” dirty for their own success that they become complicit by default…we’ve all seen it happen. I can’t say for sure that these people become resentful of folks that don’t get sucked into the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch mine” mentality but it sure feels like it sometimes.

I’ve circled my point: All of my own struggles are self imposed. I could cut my hair short (it’s been done before).  I could remove the piercings (it’s also been done before). I could hold my tongue when I see a Manager flailing because he/she doesn’t understand the nature of the problem and is too proud to ask (although I fear that would render me completely mute). I could put my head down, do the minimum, and float on through, but there’s a but, and it’s a pretty big one.

It’s dishonest. And further, it’s expected that I’ll be willing to be dishonest in order to keep my job. I don’t think that I’ve ever been offered enough money to make it worth it….and six isn’t nearly enough figures. So yes – my pride can be bought – but it’s not going to be bought for the privilege of being worked to death by someone that sold out for last years Mercedes.

Starting Over

So I’m seeing my future stretch out before me; more long hours and late nights fixing problems that wouldn’t exist if people had fucking paid attention the first time, and I’m not seeing a direction to go that doesn’t completely suck. Upward mobility means management (i.e. manipulating other people into doing work that’s too hard for me to do myself, for less money than I would have accepted five years ago); there’s nowhere “up” to go without completely losing the “me” that makes me me. When they talk about “upward mobility” they’re usually referring to “the direction your head travels along your rectum”.

How about a lateral move to another IT field? That certainly seems the obvious choice as some of my experience and knowledge would transfer well, but this solution encounters three problems, one of which I touched on above. The first, is that my brain is full.  Everything outside of the “deskside support” side has changed so much that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  It doesn’t help that the thought of continuing in IT gives me actual palpitations.

The second is that the entirety of IT has changed drastically in two decades. What used to be able to be done with one or two people now takes entire teams to succeed. Oh sure, there’s someone out there coding 22 hours a day and completely absorbing the material, someone to prove me wrong, but that guy is not me. I’ve been that guy. It makes for poor health and all of the extra money in the world is no good if you’re too exhausted (or too “on-call”) to enjoy it.

The third is that a person or pair of people could compete on almost even footing with corporations that had a budget. Google and Yahoo! were started in garages; in an open playing field, anyone can win. The field isn’t open anymore; it’s heavily skewed toward billion dollar corporations that can offer political support (usually via financial gain). This means working with a team of nerds…teams involve people, and people (as I mentioned before) have become a problem for me. I will write on this later, but that is a topic in itself – be patient. I’m trying to see how long I can keep you reading without telling you if “later” means later in this post or in a later post.

I have thought pretty clearly about this, and while I wouldn’t turn down an IT job if an appropriate one came my way, I’m going to make an honest try at…erm…virtually something (anything) else.

The next portion of this post will feature a Q&A session with me pretending to be you and me pretending to be me. My part will be easier because I’ve had more practice.

Something Else? Such As…?

Whaddaya got? That’s an honest question.

Yes, as hard as it is to believe, at nearly 43 years old I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Here’s the thing – as a young man I was naive enough to think that having a thrilling job meant that it would be thrilling most of the time.  The sad reality is that most jobs, no matter how glamorous or enticing, tend to suck in some pretty big ways – firefighters fill their non-heroing time with begging money and cleaning their equipment. Cops have a glut of paperwork whether there’s been a crime or not (and that’s not counting the wonderful people that you’ll meet along the way). Actors train for months for a part, and when months aren’t available they’ll get 10 years of training in a few weeks. Can you pick shit up that quickly? I sure as fuck can’t.

That’s assuming, of course, that you can find some way to make the opportunity happen for yourself (nobody else is going to do it for you) – and only some of that has to do with your talent. It’s a depressing fact of life that a large portion of our best and worst days boil down to “luck”.

You’ve mentioned cookies and cakes…

You are absolutely correct – Pastry Chef is the first job that I thought about pursuing, and it actually fits well enough into my salary requirements to be a contender.  It still is, actually, but you’ll have to appreciate that I’m a little gun shy.  The last time I worked at something I loved, I learned to hate it.  The idea of going back to school for it doesn’t thrill me either, but you’ll notice that’s a recurring theme during this imaginary discussion.

My back problems have also returned (probably walking miles on hard concrete every day for work) which limits my ability to stand to about 45 minutes…which isn’t great for that kind of work.

Didn’t you used to act?

Ah, the only form of lying that I’ll unequivocally advocate. I was told that I was pretty good at it too, and I know that I was great at remembering my lines.  Surely someone filming has to be hiring people that can pass for a biker or homeless person?

Here’s the thing: to do that as an actual job is oftentimes the most miserable thing a person could be a part of. Don’t believe me? Harvey Weinstein victimized women for nearly forty years and nobody did anything. These are the people that you have to deal with on a regular basis if you act, and I’m barely able to handle the transparent Management “skills” of people who manipulate intellectuals for a living.

Frankly, with few exceptions, I’m kinda scared to walk that path. It ranks up there with Rock Star and Salesman in the “really easy to become a horrible person” department, and I’m not sure I’m talented enough to pull it off without swallowing a lot – a whole lot – of bullshit in the process. Maybe I’m just hard to please?

OK, so you’re (sort of) writing now. How about writing? You seem to be able to put together a coherent sentence. Mostly.

Thanks, I do have a real love of the language despite how I treat it (sorry Tim!). Writing takes time and I’m trying to put a few hours into it every day, even if it’s just a list of shit to do. The last few months have left me with very little ability to focus on writing (rebuilding the server, new foster kid, cleaning the…everything)…my brain has been elsewhere. Hopefully this post marks the beginning of some sort of momentum.

The thing is, until you actually do something artistic, you don’t know what kind of artist you’ll be.  I spent a lot of time in high school drawing, painting, music-ing, but for 20 years those skills have atrophied and my perceptions have changed. I really am a completely different person now with different mental habits and different aches and pains. Writing is the one thing that I’ve done consistently so is a good avenue toward more art.

The hardest part about starting over is remembering how tedious it was the first time. The drag is knowing that I still have responsibilities on top of those pursuits, and I most certainly didn’t have all of that the first time around. Again – I have an outstanding wife without whom I would be completely lost.

I remember that one thing you said, it was really funny…how about Stand-up?

Stand-up terrifies me.

That’s inaccurate; please unread the first sentence.  Stand up audiences terrify me. It’s the only form of entertainment that audiences think it’s ok to interact with uninvited (and to be perfectly fair, when I see a stand up routine I have a hard time not making corrections or comments under my breath – I’m certainly not perfect) and that scares the hell out of me. Remember Michael Richards?  Not saying that I would go on some racial tirade, but pressure and attention do funny things.  When you’re the guy holding the mic performing your craft, you feel the need to defend it…and we aren’t always able to bring our ‘A’ game.

That being said, with the deaths of some of the greats over the years (Dangerfield, Kinison, Carlin, Williams) there’s kind of a vacuum waiting to be filled by an intellectual asshole. Gilbert Gottfried isn’t going to live forever and honestly he shouldn’t have to fight against common decency alone.  Andy Dick hasn’t been much help. Do people still want to see some angry middle aged white guy ranting about the kids on his lawn?

(I hope) I’ve learned from those that came before me – I’ll be recording some stand-up in the privacy of my home so that I can watch it and critique it myself without hecklers being involved.  That’s one way I’ll be finding my voice, and if it goes well I’ll be doing some open mic nights in Portland, OR and see how it goes.

So you’ve figured it out then? Why all of the…um…text?

“Stand up” and “Author” are two of those mid life crisis buzzwords. Any reasonable person would be panicking right now on my behalf if I were talking about “Corvette” and some bimbo, so you’ll pardon me for being a bit cautious.  Only a little though, because I’m also old enough to realize that doing things the way that society wants me to do things hasn’t worked out the greatest for me. I deferred being reckless for being responsible and now I have the opportunity (for a short time) to do the opposite. I can be a little reckless, but you know, there’s a lot that I’m just not willing to sacrifice.

I have the world’s smallest violin here…

Yeah yeah, see my White Privilege comment above.  I’m well aware that I’m speaking from a place of opportunity; many of my experiences are due to the undying patience and support of my wife, and most of them would have been impossible without her blessing.

You Keep Talking About Being Methodical…About Art?

It’s the only way I know, really. The actual art will have to flow, but I have to be organized about my approach. Four decades has taught me that chaos and I don’t work well together. By being organized I can (hopefully) get to work faster and produce more in less time. I’m not stellar about being organized.

I’m not breaking any new ground here – people have been writing fiction for entertainment purposes for about 3,000 years. People have paid to be entertained by buffoons for at least 2,500. That doesn’t mean that I won’t make mistakes along the way, but I feel fairly confident that all of my questions (will) have obtainable answers.

So What Are You Doing Right Now?

That is a damned good question.  I’ve been playing a lot of video games, which I’m slightly ashamed about because my wife has been investing so much time and energy into keeping things afloat. I’ve done a whole lot of cleaning – remember, I spent over a year mostly away from home and for a good portion of that time we had houseguests that did not exactly leave things pristine. I’ve been doing a little light carpentry and I’m going to try my hand at some claymation…just for fun, but you never know.  I have intentions to start using Duolingo regularly as well as the aforementioned hobbies. Maybe something will pan out…I have to see what I’m capable of first.

Part of Starting Over is Learning From the Past

As I mentioned above with the pastry chef thing, I’m a little gun shy about working for a company doing what I love again. At 20 years old, a 10 year career seemed like a long time and well worth the effort.  At 40 years old, 10 years seems ludicrously short compared to the time investment (as well as the costs of additional schooling). So sticking with what I’m good at, I’m trying to learn from the past.  In order to do that I have to be able and willing to acknowledge and accept the mistakes and poor decisions that I’ve made. Maybe “poor” is the wrong word, because I’m relatively happy with where my life is right now, but part of the Human Condition is “always wanting more”.

It’s not just my past that I can learn from though. It turns out that my father also entered a technical career which moved faster than he was able to keep up. His solution was to scam his way to a retirement (crippling himself in the process). His isolation was held at bay by moving his family to the middle of nowhere, and his inability to cope with other people was thwarted by almighty beer. His story did not end well. His art was long forgotten and resisted opportunities to express himself; he died lonely and bitter, and generally not well thought of by the people that knew him. While the first part of my story had echoes of his own, the next part of my story doesn’t need to.

Part of Starting Over is the Environment

The last few months have been a flurry of activity, most of which is not in any way directly related to producing anything in any way worth a shit. As I mentioned above, being away and having houseguests left us with a lot of extra work. We’ll be feeling those echos for a long long time.

My dedicated wife was working triple digits every week, so was in no position to make major changes around the house (even if they proved to be a vast improvement). So we’ve replaced most of the damaged items, reorganized virtually every cabinet, completely gutted and reorganized the garage (now with studio space for music, video, writing, and any other hobbies I could think to indulge in!), and finally gotten the house and grounds in a state that we can relax in.

Now I can write.

My usual problem is that I frequently get so caught up in the environmental aspects that I forget to start the work (cleaning the house, reorganizing the office space, rebuilding the server…the list goes on); this is something I hope to avoid by being aware of it and frankly by treating my personal growth time as a job. I will spend around (at least!) 40 hours a week making some progress toward some artistic pursuit (and I expect that this will become easier as I settle into the groove, rather than a constant challenge to just do something). This isn’t a gym membership; I shouldn’t have to fight myself to do it.

Stress Won’t Help

I know, it’s a shocking revelation but it’s one that I need to continue to remind myself of. Why? Because this is the first time in 20+ years that I have been unemployed with no intention of seeking reemployment any time soon. As someone that was raised to “be productive”, it’s even more so that I’m pursuing artistic thingies…there are a lot of anxiety attacks. My income, succeess or failure, is entirely dependent on my motivation, ability, and a generous amount of luck that I haven’t the foggiest idea how to attract.

I have to remind myself that this is a new career path; it will take time for me to learn the ropes. It will take time for me to learn the routine.  It will take time for me to relearn the atrophied skills of my youth, and all of that will have to happen before I can truly find my voice. As difficult as it is; I must be patient.

Next?

Well, from a blog standpoint I’d say nearly 5000 words is fairly good place to stop. There’s so much that I’d still like to talk about, but that’s largely why I haven’t posted in the last year. There’ll be more updates (hopefully more frequently), and the format will settle down a bit as well (as well as the length).

From a “life” standpoint, “next” is to get to artin’ and spend as much quality time with my family as is humanly possible. Follow my Twitter (@roknrolzombie) account for updates, thoughts, comments, bullshit, etc. I’m pretty sure the RSS feeds are still working as well, so if you don’t have or like Twitter, you can certainly track updates via RSS.

Thanks for reading; be decent!

–Rok