I’ve been feeling a remarkable lack of personal devastation at being laid off. While I was calmly packing up my desk and even humming while doing so, my co-worker — former co-worker, now — was obviously much more distressed about my lay off than I was. True, my salary is now gone, but since Jennifer and I will be fine, financially, for several months, the extreme stress that I felt the last time I was unemployed isn’t really there. Of course, I’m looking for work, but I’m also taking the opportunity to read, to write, to learn PHP and Java, and to get muddy.

Yes, today I went and got myself muddy.

I’ve decided that now would be a good time to take part in some field research related to ecological systems engineering. So I contacted one of the professors that I’d been put in touch with back in September, and he arranged for me to meet with one of his graduate students who was having trouble finding enough people to help her collect the samples that she needed. She’d just had some knee surgery done and was having trouble getting down to the riverbanks to get the water samples that she needed. Since I’m pretty mobile and agile myself, I volunteered. We headed out to Sacramento to the three sampling sites along the creek that she’s been studying and started sampling away.

She let me read the current chapter of the doctoral thesis that she’s been working on. I found out about how she is conducting this research in order to learn how the levels of a particular pesticide vary over time and throughout the different areas of Sacramento. And because last night was a "storm event" — technically, because it rained, though it certainly wouldn’t count as a storm in my estimation — we also went to one of the storm drains off of the river and set up an automated sampling machine to take samples of the river water every hour for the next twenty-four hours.

You know, it was an incredible experience. Okay, sure, I slipped and fell in the mud twice at the third sampling site, but I didn’t manage to injure myself; I only succeeded in coating my jeans and my jacket with mud. I didn’t even break the sample jar, for which I was very pleased with myself. When we went back to the aquatic toxicology lab on the UC Davis campus, I found myself deluged with familiar smells from my college days: reagents and chemicals that I’d been exposed to regularly during my days in college chemistry. Although I didn’t do very well in my chemistry classes, I discovered that I actually miss them. I have the feeling now, though, that if I went back to those classes, I’d find that I’ve matured enough to actually work at those classes; similar to the feelings I’ve been having when I’ve been reviewing pre-calculus.

I also talked to the woman I worked with today about her life as a graduate student who also has a full-time job. She loves it, but admits that she’s looking forward to getting her actual PhD next week and having a life for a change. We talked about how her lifestyle resembled the lifestyle I had when I was first working for my former employer, traveling up to the Pacific Northwest every week and putting in 15 to 16 hour days while I was up there. For both, there was a sense of being "on", 24/7. But we had opposite feelings about it: while I thought it would be exciting to do that when involved in research, in something that has potential benefits not only for the ecosystem but also for the people living in the area, she thought it would be exciting to do it while actually producing something of immediate use. On the other hand, she wouldn’t have given up her research; her pursuit of knowledge was too important to her.

But I enjoyed it. My determination to go back to school and study ecological systems engineering has strengthened, though it may be hampered by the fact that I do have to find a job that will help us pay the bills. I suppose that right now my dream job is something that will let me continue as a web developer for a company involved with ecological research for the pay that I was receiving before. Unfortunately, all of the opportunities that I’ve found like that have been volunteer opportunities.

Still, though… I suppose there’s just a part of me that never grew up from the little boy who liked to play in the mud and splash water everywhere.

Oh, and I went to a job fair today in Sacramento. I dropped off fifteen resumes and talked to a few people, but the pickings were slim for a web developer. If I’d been in the market for a minimum wage cashiering position, or a position in sales or marketing, I’d be set. I’m not ready to pursue one of those quite yet.


"Were you expecting it?" is the first question that people keep asking me. "Are you okay?" is always the second.

Well, yeah, I guess I did. Revenue had been dropping like a lead weight for months. Contracts with major supporters weren’t getting renewed. And new contracts were just not pulling in as much money as former contracts were.

So at a Board of Directors meeting a couple of weeks ago, the company was ordered to slash thirty per cent of its budget. Every department had to cut thirty per cent. In some departments, such as Marketing, that meant cuts in materials and so on. In my department, where no money is spent on printed material or travel, the cuts had to come in personnel.

It’s the curse of the dot-com, and, I think, another stage in what my friend Evilpheemy has described as my downward slide into yuppiedom. Losing your job is just part of the whole process, I suppose.

My co-worker B. had spent a lot of time worrying. We both knew that cutbacks were coming, but while I figured it would be the content manager and possibly the QA-manager-who-doesn’t-ever-do-QA, B. had a gut feeling that he would feel the axe. I told him he didn’t need to worry, that his technical skills were good. "That doesn’t mean anything," he said. He told me that I was safe because my communication skills were good. "That doesn’t mean anything either," I replied.

And so when the axe fell and the Director of Development had to cut someone loose, it was me. I’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed now. It’s one of those things that you figure happens to the nameless and faceless thousands of workers at, say, Hewlett-Packard or Agilent, or Motorola. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me, that’s for sure.

I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude. After all, a negative attitude probably won’t get me anywhere useful, and I learned a long time ago that life just Moves More Smoothly when you look at it positively. My former manager told me that he would give me glowing references, and the production manager up north told me the same thing. There are hints that I might be brought back on for contract work from time to time.

It’s hard to feel really good about being laid off. Really. No amount of "Better things are ahead for you" or "You weren’t really all that crazy about that job anyway" or "Now you’ll have the time to find something that you Really Want" can really overshadow the fact that you’re now Unemployed. Yep. Now when I’m filling out those on-line forms asking for demographic data I have to mark "Currently Unemployed" in the "Employment Status" field. I’m told that Carl Jung, when meeting with a patient who had recently lost a job, would exclaim, "That’s wonderful news! Let us celebrate now!" No, not even that can overshadow the little box in the demographic section of the on-line surveys.

My co-worker — okay, former co-worker — B. tells me that I’m an example to him of how to handle such things. I’m doing my best to be graceful about this. I admit that the temptation to write an e-mail to the entire company saying, in big bold letters, "I’M ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES! IT’S A SINKING SHIP! IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME AND YOU’RE ALL DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY!" is very, very strong. But, I suppose, that might just lower the odds of getting a good recommendation out of my former managers and boss. So, I’m being a good citizen and saying nice things, thanking my former co-workers for a good year and all that. And it’s all true; there were times when I wasn’t getting all that I was hoping for from the company, but there honestly was no one there that I didn’t enjoy working with. And the product is a decent one, if only the target audience would use it.

I returned to the office one last time today to clean out my desk, return the laptop computer I’d been using, and finish up any old business that was there. I think that my co-workers were genuinely sorry to see me go, and that helped a bit.

Right now my confidence is good and I’m not worried about finding something within a few months. I know that there will be times when I’ll be feeling sorry for myself and that my self-confidence will plummet to abyssal levels, but I’ve been there before and I’ve always survived. I’m more fortunate than I can say to have a loving and supportive wife that I love more than anything, not to mention parents and in-laws and friends who have always been there when I needed them, in good times and bad.

And, so… Yes, I’m okay. And I fully intend to stay that way.

The Good Provider

"This is a test, isn’t it?" I asked my wife via Instant Messenger after a long pause.

"No it’s not," she replied, "and you really don’t have to if you don’t want to."

It was too late, though. I’d already agreed.

Back up a few minutes to where I’d told Jennifer that I was going to stop at Long’s on the way home and pick up some medication. Under the new health insurance plan that our company has bought into, co-pays usually are a much more painful experience than they were before (the last time I had to buy my allergy medication and pay a $35.00 co-pay, I wanted to call up Aetna the next day and demand how they could sleep at night; of course, the next day was September 11 and that call was never made), so these visits to Longs just aren’t as much fun as they once were. I try to refill all of my prescriptions at once now and get the massive payments out of the way. So I IM’ed Jennifer and said, "I’m going to stop at the drugstore on the way home. Do you want me to pick up anything for you?"

"Um, not really," she replied.

"Okay," I replied. It was close to quitting time and I was busy hacking up a lung because of my newest cold, so I didn’t type anything else.

But then Jennifer added, "Oh, wait! There is one thing, if you don’t mind."

For some reason I winced. Just a bit. See, I’ve often told Jennifer that she and I have the ideal relationship, because while I’m the kind of guy who would willingly buy tampons at the drugstore for her, she’s also the kind of woman who would never make me do that. But I could tell that our relationship was about to hit a crossroads.

"Mascara," she told me. Which is when I paused, and then typed, "This is a test, isn’t it?"

She was sincere when she told me that I didn’t have to buy the mascara for her. But I’d already made the offer, so I agreed anyway. I quizzed her about brand, style, color, etc., as many questions as I could think of about mascara (I didn’t think that Ph would be an issue but I don’t know that much about cosmetics — as I’m sure she would have no idea why I might prefer one brand of athletic supporter over another, I suppose — and so I asked her anyway). She pondered with me ways in which I could retain my masculinity while staring at shelves of mascara and lipstick. Her suggestion was that I stare blankly and mutter beneath my breath, just loud enough for anyone who might be staring at me oddly, about the wife and her constant makeup needs. I told her that I would probably have to buy a new watch, something particularly manly, that would make up for buying her "girlie stuff".

Honestly, though, buying makeup for the wife isn’t all that big a deal. I can’t honestly imagine the clerk thinking to herself, "Wow, here’s a guy buying makeup — what kind of a fag is he?" More likely (and indulge my little fantasy here), she’s thinking to herself something like, "Wow, here’s a guy buying makeup — I wonder if he’s taken? If he is, that sure is one lucky woman."

Well, I can dream.

It wasn’t that bad, ultimately. I stared blankly at rows and rows of lipstick tubes and mascara applicators, knowing that I’d stared just as blankly at memory chips the other day at CompUSA. I could find no mascara, though, so I did end up going to the woman at the counter and asked her. She showed me where it was, without any inflection at all or any sort of reaction. It was the sort of distracted customer service attitude that I’d frequently assumed when I was working at a video store and people wanted to know where the latest Tim Robbins film was — something inoffensive, not interesting enough for me to watch, and certainly not interesting enough for me to think of the customer as interesting in and of him or herself. So I doubt that the clerk at Longs had any sort of reaction to me — this medium-sized guy with a black beard who probably hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and slightly unkempt hair buying makeup. In all probability, she probably knew it wasn’t for me. CoverGirl probably isn’t, as a brand, manly enough for a guy like me.

Still, though, as I walked up to the counter to pay for the makeup and pick up my medicines, I stopped at one more counter and picked up one more thing to buy.

Jennifer was pleased that I’d gotten the right brand and style and color of mascara for her. I told her it wasn’t all that bad an experience at all.

Besides, my new watch — with the digital compass built right into it — is more than manly enough to make up for one wimpy-ass tube of mascara.

A Safe Little War

I saw on that the first wave of U. S. strikes against the Taliban have begun this morning. The Taliban has moved 8,000 to 10,000 to the Afghan borders to defend itself. We have somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 troops in the region — nothing like the huge buildup we had in the region in 1991 in preparation for a war against Iraq, but enough to significantly outnumber what the Taliban can bring to bear. And while the Taliban may possess U. S. trained guerillas, they also have thousands upon thousands of empovershed citizens who don’t really give a damn one way or the other since they haven’t really eaten in decades. I don’t have a doubt that we’ll win some sort of victory. I just hope that it isn’t at the cost of thousands of innocent lives.

This is just the beginning, of course. If we go back to my old analogy of terrorists being like ants, then this is just like the first stage in the battle: spraying Raid on the first colony you find, for example. This isn’t going to be a "media-friendly" war, where you can send reporters in to the battle scenes, since the strikes will probably be quick and surgical when the "nests" are found. So, just like in the Gulf War, we’ll have to rely on official military briefings for news of what’s happening.

I’ve been paying attention to the conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that the attack on September 11th was orchestrated by the Bush Administration to shore up a sagging presidency and a weakening economy. It didn’t work for Bush Sr., of course; winning a decisive victory in Iraq gave him the highest approval rating of any president in U. S. history, but that didn’t stop him from losing to Bill Clinton in the presidential elections just a few months later. And Bush, Jr., has years to make mistakes; no, this sort of orchestration would have been better done towards the end of his presidency (and much as I dislike Bush, I doubt that he would sink so low as to engineer the deaths of nearly six thousand people on American soil just to make himself look good; the chances of being found out are too great and if he ever is found out then what happened to Nixon would pale in comparison to what would happen if Bush were found out; Bush may be a moron but he isn’t evil).

I worry about "safe" wars. We saw during World War Two, with the Holocaust, just how low humanity is capable of sinking (and I think it should be mentioned that Hitler and his crew, who were white, engineered millions upon millions of deaths of innocents, far more than extremist Muslim terrorists ever have), and we saw more of it during the Vietnam War. If the media is removed from the battlefields, will we forget that war his its horrors and its villainy and evil, since we’ll never see them? I hope not.

In one of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek television series, "The Armageddon Factor", two planets have waged a war against each other for centuries. Their war has become "clean" and "sanitized", and computers do all of the fighting. When the computers inform the population that a bomb has struck a city, all of the people in that city go to extermination chambers to be killed cleanly. Captain Kirk destroys the computers that wage this virtual war; when asked, "What are you doing?" by the outraged leaders of the two worlds, he tells them, "I’ve made war what it’s supposed to be for you: dirty, evil, horrific. Now maybe you’ll finally make peace."

I’m worried about the innocent people of Afghanistan whose only crime was to be forced into a totalitarian regime that doesn’t care about them; I’m worried about how such sanitized conflict as this one is liable to be will affect our country’s moral fiber. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by how far out of their way the government and the media in our country seem to be going to make it clear that it’s terrorists who are the enemy here, not Islám; President Bush has visited mosques, television commercials present Arab Americans prominently, at least one interfaith ceremony involving Congress featured a Muslim Imam praying for peace. The terrorists who struck on September 11 represent traditional Islám no more than Fred Phelps or Jerry Falwell represent traditional Christianity.

I am an optimist. I believe with at least a big chunk of my heart, if not all of it, that humanity has progressed morally over the centuries. I believe that the age of the "Big Wars" has passed, that we’ll probably never see another massive large-scale combat like World Wars I or II. I believe that there will one day be world peace, but that it may be, literally, a thousand years before it is achieved.

I hope more than anything that our country has learned from its mistakes in the past with regards to this sort of thing. We have a history of going in, supporting rebels and freedom fighters, then leaving them in the lurch and having them come back years later to bite us in the rear out of bitterness and fury. Witness Saddam Hussein. Witness Osama bin Laden. Heck, witness Germany (I’ve heard more than one historian claim that if Germany had not been so crippled by the peace treaties that ended the First World War, then the Second World War would probably have never happened). This will probably be the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; I really hope that we’re willing to stick around afterwards and help clean up our own mess for a change.


There are books, and then there are Books. This evening I pulled down the book of photographs I took while I was wandering around Ireland and the United Kingdom a few months ago, and felt nostalgic. I desperately want to go again, soon, see the sights, talk to the people, breathe in the air and enjoy the scenery. Fortunately, Jennifer and I are planning on going again in May 2002 for our "real" honeymoon, so I get to look forward to that. Because my photo album awakens these memories and feelings in me, I think of it as a Book.

I’ve been listening to Wuthering Heights on CD in my car during my 2 hour commute back and forth to work. Today, I asked my mom, a former English major, whether she had ever read that book. "Not recently," she replied. I asked her, "Is there any reason why Wuthering Heights shouldn’t be subtitled, ‘How a bunch of whining, self-centered drama queens screwed up their lives and refused to take responsibility for any of it’?" She said, "No." Because Wuthering Heights has been a source of irritation and not very enjoyable (I think that the only character I like is the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, and possibly the housekeeper Ellen Dean), I think of it as a book, not a Book. I know that Wuthering Heights has, for some reason, become widely known as a Powerful Work of Literature, but, God’s Truth, I have no idea why. I think that it hits pretty close to home for me: I know too many people who remind me of those self-centered, whining drama queens. Wuthering Heights is just a book.

Nothing very much of interest has been going on around here. Jennifer has her new job, which she starts in about ten days. I started up in the exercise program again and I can already see a difference in my blood pressure and my heart rate. Last weekend Jennifer and I spent the weekend at a ranch in Napa that we own a share in. I’ve been working on a pretty interesting project at work, studying math, getting ready to start taking math classes again at a community college in the area in a couple of months, and just generally living. We saw Hearts in Atlantis, which thoroughly emasculated the story as it was written by Stephen King (the film probably stood well enough on its own merits but I didn’t care for it). Today my parents came up to visit from the South Bay, since my little sister wanted to go to the Renaissance Faire, and my parents didn’t. So Jennifer and I had lunch with them and then we went and saw Serendipity, an old-style romantic comedy with John Cusack which I thought was funny and charming.

This evening Jennifer and I stopped at CompUSA and purchased a new scanner and dropped off her computer for upgrades and repairs. We also picked up some memory to install in Lucien, our server. I spent the evening installing the scanner on Mossroot (my own desktop computer) and scanning in pictures from my trip — soon I’ll put some of those pictures on line and maybe even make a special section on my website for the details of that trip. I’ve also begun an upgrade to a group of pages in the wesite that I share with Jennifer, and did some reading (Stone of Farewell, a Book by Tad Williams).

Life keeps on keeping on. While I spend a rather sedentary and happy afternoon and evening with my parents and my wife, the world continues to turn. While I was in Ireland I was constantly struck by the sense of history that permeates everything. Jennifer and I talked this evening about possibly going out to New York to see the devastation first hand and to somehow make it "real" instead of images we see on television and on our computer monitors, and I was struck by a sense of space. The Wondering Jew writes a poignant reflection of some of the contemporaries of his youth and I think about my own contemporaries, and about how, while I write software and read fantasy novels and plan for my return to graduate school, people clear rubble and search for remains in New York.

And then my mind wanders back to Wuthering Heights, and about how Heathcliff and Cathy, Edgar, Isabel, et. al., spent their lives isolated and removed from the world in Wuthering Heights, caught up in their own minor dramas and unable to expand their own vision to see the suffering that they were causing in others. I can only hope that my own perspective is a bit broader than that.

On another note, I’ve actually been asked for a notify list! I hadn’t pondered one before, figuring that the one or two of you who make up my regular reader base would just wander by whenever you felt the urge to do so. But I couldn’t resist to tug on my ego, so I’ve created a notify list. If you’d like to sign up, there’s a yellow box in the left column of this page where you can enter your e-mail address and click "Sign Up", and let Yahoo! take care of the rest.