All posts by Richard S. Crawford

Making a Fresh Start

Yesterday I started the new job; I’m now an actual paid web designer, working for UC Davis. Today as I was going through some Cold Fusion code and matching everything up with the databases, I found myself marvelling at the fact that I was having a blast doing this and that I am actually getting paid to do it. I feel like I’m fitting in well with the two people that I share my office with — we all seem to have similar tastes in music (which works out well since we all three of us work best with music playing), and it turns out that I’ve worked with one of them before in a cafe in downtown Davis. We’ve had some interesting conversations.

Of course, as with all new jobs, there are a few surprises. One of the bigger surprises for the other in the department, apparently, was that I had been hired at all; official word went to my office mates last Friday that I would be starting this week, which meant that they had to spend a good chunk of time cleaning up enough space in the office for me to work and for my computer. The other web developer has been going a bit frantic trying to set up a multi-user development environment, even though she is glad to have someone on board to help pick up the workload.

Most of the surprises, of course, were for me. I know who my boss is, of course; he’s the project director. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure to whom I’m supposed to directly report; the project director also manages three or four other units and doesn’t really have time to act as Application Development Director as well. So the other web developer and I are pretty much on our own to make sure that the project we’re working on is completed within the schedule outlined in the project plan. This shouldn’t be a problem, as long as we can get the three new servers up and running in time, and as long as we can get SSL, Kerberos, and SQL*Net installed and functioning before we port the code over to the new servers (making sure we can fix all of the breaks that will inevitably happen when the Access tables are converted to Oracle and the code is ported to the new servers). It will be challenging, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing so far, and it seems likely that I’m going to enjoy the next few months.

I also hadn’t expected that I would be getting a photo ID badge with the job; I haven’t worked in a job which required a badge since I worked for Lockheed for a summer back in 1985 (don’t be impressed; I got the job because my father works for Lockheed, and it was a summer job for a high school junior). And in addition to the photo ID badge is the pager; I’m now also responsible, partly, for keeping the web servers up and running which means that people are going to have to occasionally get in touch with me, which means that I get a new alpha-numeric pager. This has proven immensely amusing to my best friend, to whom I mistakenly sent the number (he’s the father of my godson, and he’s going to be the best man at my wedding, so I figured he’d probably need to get in touch with me sometimes), and who sent me several brief e-mail pagers reading "Yank!" (because I’d jokingly referred to the pager as "my leash") or "Zark!". The last time I ever had a pager was when I borrowed one from a friend of mine for a couple of days two summers ago, when there was a situation where certain friends of mine needed a way to get in touch of me in a hurry.

One of the other surprises came while my boss was giving me the tour of the division, and introduced me not only as a Cold Fusion programmer, but also as a Java programmer. I have some experience with Java, but I don’t think it’s mentioned on my resume at all; the only thing I can figure is that I briefly mentioned that I had taught myself some Java when I was in for my second interview. That’s just fine with me, though. I spent a few hectic minutes this morning downloading and installing JDK 1.1.8 on my new workstation. I was introduced to many people as "our web developer", and was received universally well. "Thank God!" one person actually said. "Now we’ll be able to get that [project name withheld] site up and running!" By that point, of course, I knew that I was already assigned to one project that was of very high importance to the division, and that other projects would probably be kept on hold for awhile.

All in all, this is actually starting to feel like an actual job; not just something I floated into, but an actual job that I got because I wanted it; and, more importantly, a job where I know that the projects I work on are going to be appreciated, and where I know I have the skills to do the job well. The department has a demonstrated committment to training and education, so I know that I’m going to get some great training here.

If nothing else, this job is a good start for me in my new career. I’m excited; I know that there are more surprises in store, not all of them pleasant for everyone involved, I’m sure, as well as some wonderful opportunities for me.

Yep, it’s a fresh start for me, and things are definitely getting better.

Ending an Era

Now, why should it be difficult for me to feel motivated at work today? After all, after today is over, I only have three days left at this job, and there is a lot for me to do here; documentation to finalize so that my replacement can fix the Cold Fusion applications I’ve written in case they break; training my supervisor on how to process grievances and run measurement reports (processes which both involve at least three different applications); and just general cleaning up. My supervisor has thanked me three times today for the work I’m doing on cleaning up one project in particular, as if she understands that as a "short-timer", I could simply slack off and hang out in my cubicle all day, doing nothing but working on my on-line journal and surfing the web.

Heh. Kind of like what I’m doing right now.

Wandering around the division, I’m beginning to realize that I’m certainly not the only one who has been feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and generally dissatisfied with their job; everyone has been congratulating me on my transition to a technical position ("breaking the clerical barrier", as a friend of mine put it last night), and more than one person has expressed to me that they’re kind of jealous. One woman even told me how much she admires me for pursuing the kind of job that I want. I have to admit that this last puzzles me, since I didn’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t do. And furthermore, I whined about it a lot while I was doing it (just ask Jennifer or any of my friends who were kind enough to put up with me). If I had done it quietly and stoically and with a minimum of fuss, then there might be something truly admirable in it.

Not to belittle my accomplishment, of course. I’m very happy that I was able to get out of my secretarial job and into the web developer position, and proud of myself for having done it. I just think that there are other people more worthy of admiration than me.

Now, I’ve been doing the clerical thing for as long as I’ve had "real" jobs after graduating from college (aside from a brief stint in circulation management at a local newspaper — and the less said about that, the better). It’s been a life of photocopying, correspondence, setting up meetings, taking minutes… and now I’ll be out of that. To think that I’m going to get paid now for something that I’ve been doing as a hobby before. How weird is that? As I sat here at my desk today finalizing some correspondence for one of the Labor Relations analysts here, it occurred to me that this was likely to be the last letter I ever did for anyone. The thought of that thrilled me.

So, in a way, this transition really marks the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one for me. Transitioning to a new career will be exciting, overwhelming, and fun; I’ll be learning a lot, and probably going crazy for a bit. But it’s good, and I’m really looking forward to it.

The Stephen King Effect and a Brand New Parachute

Stephen King says that when he first heard that his first novel, Carrie, had been accepted for publication, he got so excited that he went out and bought a toaster. At the time, he was an English teacher at a local college, struggling to get by, and so on. Publication of his novel was a big break for him, and signalled the beginning of his brand new career.

Yesterday, I got the call. After two interviews — the first of which I was sure I had flubbed, and the second of which I was more comfortable with — and a week of sweating, I finally got an e-mail from the manager I had interviewed with. He told me to give him a call; so I did, and over the telephone he offered me a position as a web developer. I accepted. So in two weeks, I leave Labor Relations at the University, and move over to Information Technology to begin my new job.

Now, I already have a toaster oven, so I didn’t go out and buy one of those. Instead, I took yet another deep step into the depths of true nerd-dom, and took my new credit card to Office Max and bought myself a Palm Pilot Vx. I’ve been lusting after one of these things for months, and the new credit card arrived in the mail today; and I had been planning to use this credit card for just this purchase before putting it away to let it accumulate good credit for me. Of course, this requires some work on my part — namely, actually making payments on my card, something which I have been lax in in years gone by.

Okay, the Palm Pilot is exciting. But what’s more exciting is my new job. I finally get paid to be a web developer. A year after I decided that I definitely did not want to start climbing the University’s administrative ladder, and less than six months after I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a web developer, and less than two months after I seriously began hunting for a job in the field, I’ve got one. I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am by this development.

This new job will be a slight raise in pay for me as well: not much of one, but the training I’ll be getting through this job — in Oracle, in project management, in programming — is more than worth it. I’ve been dreaming about learning Oracle for months, and it’s really not something you can teach yourself. When I got the call, I excitedly wrote an e-mail to my boss and to my supervisor, giving my two-week notice effective this coming Monday. This means that the next two weeks at my current job are going to be extremely busy, as I put together a desk manual to teach someone else how to process staff and union grievances at the University, and documentation to cover the databases and web applications that I’ve created to make my job easier. And after that, I delve head-first into a brand new job which will probably just about overwhelm me at first, but which I have no doubt I will enjoy and master fairly quickly.

Further updates as events warrant.

A Massing of Methodists

My own spiritual explorations have been all over the map: I’ve toyed with Catholicism, Unitarianism, Mormonism, Judaism, Shinto, Islám, and even the Bahá’i Faith. Even though I am a "cradle Episcopalian" — born, baptised, and confirmed in the Episcopal Church — I can’t bring myself to say that the church I identify with is any more "right" than any other faith, nor that any other faith in the world is "wrong" simply because it isn’t mine. Indeed, I identify myself as an Episcopalian for no very good reason at all except that it’s the religion I grew up with. I haven’t been to church in months.

Even so, the idea of entering the clergy has entered my head from time to time. The last time I seriously thought about becoming a priest or even a monk was probably close to five or six years ago (or longer), but that time has passed, and I’m certain now that that’s not where I am called to be. And yet, I can’t help but feel a little bit of awe for those people who are called to ministry in their own faith.

Last Saturday, I accompanied Jennifer to the Northern California/Nevada Methodist Convention in Sacramento, because her mother was to be consecrated as a diaconal minister in the Methodist church. Now, I don’t pretend to understand anything about the hierarchy of the Methodist Church, any more than I understand the hierarchy of any other church (even the Episcopalian church!); but I know that this is an important honor for Jennifer’s mother. I was glad to have been invited to the ceremony, to provide support as her "son-in-law-in-training".

Being in the same convention hall with thousands of people who share a common faith is a memorable experience. I seem to recall looking out over the throngs and muttering to myself, "Wow, look at all these Methodists!" I’ve attended Easter Mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and I’m not sure there were as many people there as there were at the Sacramento Convention Center for the Methodist conference. Jennifer led me over to sit with some friends of her family’s from the Roseville church that they had once attended; and we were soon joined by one of her sisters, and her sister’s in-laws, who immediately began to tease me; "Are you sure you know just what kind of family you’re marrying into?" they asked me. I looked over at Jennifer, who was making some sort of silly face at the moment; and over at her sister, who, with her husband, was making google-eyes at their 2-year old son; and I replied, "You might have a point…"

The ceremony began. I had been entrusted with Jennifer’s mother’s camera, and as she and the other candidates for consecration processed into the convention center and past the crowds and on to the stage, I took as many photographs as I could. Jennifer’s mother had a huge smile on her face (not an unusual thing, and, thankfully, a trait that Jennifer has inherited from her), and her husband, who was walking beside her, was beaming as well, in his own stoic way. During the consecration itself — which also involved Episcopalian bishop Jerry Lamb — I kept on eye on Jennifer’s mother, and on Jennifer herself. The look of pride on Jennifer’s face was powerful, as was the look of joy on her mother’s.

After the ceremony, Jennifer and I joined her parents for a late dinner at Baker’s Square. We had a lot of fun, made silly jokes, and laughed a lot. At times, I think our waitress was completely frazzled by our table.

So I’m pretty sure now that I know just what kind of family I’m marrying into. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. And now that I’ll be marrying a minister’s daughter, I suppose there’s some extra pressure on me.

Heh. I guess we’ll see.

Bragging Rights

It’s very hard to go through life sometimes and not feel overly proud of yourself. I’ve managed to accomplish quite a few things in my life that I’m pretty proud of, even if it has been awhile since I’ve done anything that is very exciting. But some recent developments in my life have really made me start to swell.

First of all, the whole "Zero to Hero" program I’ve started for myself seems to be working out very well (did I once write that I would do weekly updates on that? Obviously, I meant "Never", not "Weekly"). Since March 17, I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, which is more than halfway towards my long-term weight loss goal. More importantly, though, are the lowered blood pressure, the increased lung capacity, the increased endurance, the decreased resting heart rate. On the other hand, there is a downside: apparently, some of the fat that I used to carry around on my body helped cushion my oddly-shaped shoulder bones (yes, they’re oddly-shaped; confirmed by an orthopedist I saw for the pain), so my right shoulder has developed an impingement… which means that it hurts. A lot. For no very good reason at all. Fortunately, physical therapy begins next week, and this will hopefully clear up in a couple of months.

Second, I’ve got very good reason to believe that my employment situation will be changing for the drastically better within the next two weeks. I won’t go into details here until I find out for sure, but suffice to say that the new job I believe I’ll be starting very soon will be well on the way to my long-term career goals, and with a significant pay increase, to boot. What’s so special about that? For me, it’s that this will be the first job that I did not "fall into". All of the jobs I’ve held in the past I’ve gotten simply because I wanted a job and took whatever decent offer came along; I’m convinced, in fact, that many of my peers operate the same way when it comes to job hunting. This is the first time that I’ve made a definite decision about where I want to go, career-wise, and actively pursued — and gotten — a job that was in line with that direction. I’m quite well on my way to becoming the web developer that I want to be, and I feel good about that.

Special mention should be made here, I think, to acknowledge my current job situation. No, it isn’t where I want to be. But I have gained an incredible amount respect for the manager that I work for, who has been willing to work with me to find me a better work situation. In a way, I will be sorry to leave my current position; after everything that’s gone on over the past few months, I’ve reached a point where I can appreciate how fortunate I am to have the boss that I have; but, honestly, I can’t remain in my position, since it isn’t the kind of work that I enjoy doing, so I won’t be happy doing it. But even if this current opportunity doesn’t pan out, I will still feel much better about my current position, and I have ideas for some great contributions I can make.

So there you go. Bragging rights.

On a completely different topic, I just want to mention that the engagement photos are in. Here is a (bad) scan of the picture; Jennifer’s the attractive one on the left. So the last thing that I have to brag about is that I get to marry this incredible woman, who is absolutely the best thing that has ever happened to me. I want to say how proud I am of her, without sounding either condescending (as in, "Isn’t it great how Our Little Jennifer did that?") or self-aggrandizing (as in, "Yo! Check out this hot babe I just landed!"). I’m not sure I can, though; so I’ll simply say there that when Jennifer and I were simply friends, I was very proud to have her as a friend. Now that we’re engaged, that feeling has naturally multiplied a hundred-fold.

There is much more cause for a swelling of pride in our lives; but I’ll write more about that in my next journal entry, since this entry is about me, and the next one won’t be.

Finally, to you, Constant Reader: I know you’re out there. I know you lurk. I have a tracker installed, and I can recognize certain IP addresses. I know who you are and what kind of car you drive. So sign my guestbook, darn it!

Until next time…

Other Obsessions

Reading back over my recent journal entries, it seems like my life has been taken over by two main obsessions: my career and my engagement. Honestly, though — and you may not believe this — I do believe in living a balanced and well-rounded lifestyle. It’s just that, every now and then, one must "unbalance" things a bit to give more attention to those areas which have been lacking, or to give focus to new areas in life. In my case, I’ve been focusing on my career because I’ve never really focused on it enough before; and my relationship with Jennifer now occupies the top priority in my life (and probably always will — but I’ll say more about that another time; suffice to say, "No! I’m not being co-dependent!").

I do have other obsessions in my life. And I have plans and goals in other arenas. For example:

  • Writing. Even though I haven’t worked on it in nearly three months, I do have a novel in the works. So far I’ve written about 30,000 words, and I had originally planned to get it finished by the end of summer. That’s not a reasonable goal anymore, so I plan to have the first draft done by December. Trust me, it’s going to be a good one, too. I also have another novel in the "pre-planning" stages for when I’m done with the draft of this one, and several short stories that I’ve got in development as well.

  • Shakespeare. Yep, I’m a wannabe Bardophile. I have read most of Shakespeare’s plays and seen many of them on stage or on the screen. One of the "impossile dreams" in my life is to become a respected independent Shakespeare scholar; that may be a ways off, but I’m already planning out my first book on Shakespeare and modern culture…

  • Mythology. I studied mythology a bit as part of my "mini-minor" in college, but most of what I know on the subject I’ve come up with on my own. Mythology is an amazingly complex subject, weaving together elements of history, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and more — not to mention comparative religions. At the moment, I’m most intrigued by the ways in which traditional mythological motifs and themes continue to pervade modern culture and folklore (UFO’s, for example, echo, in many ways, traditional fairy lore). I’m planning my first book on this subject as well.

  • Gaming. Something else I haven’t done nearly enough of lately. I’m not interested in computer games, but I love face-to-face role-playing gaming. I’ve tried on-line RPG’s, but they never really did much for me. For me, there’s nothing more fun than creating a world and a story for it, then guiding my players through it. Now, if I could only find the time… (No books planned on this subject, though.)

  • Movies. I can’t live without my VCR. I love watching old movies, particularly old science fiction and horror films; on days when I have nothing else to do I will gleefully rent two or three films from my local independent video rental shop, plug ’em in, and relax.

  • Adult Literacy. This is my cause, though I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it aside from tutoring individual students right now. I intend to get more deeply involved within the next couple of years, though. I have been doing some research in how computers can be used to assist in literacy education; however, there is a part of me that wonders if that particular line of thinking might be a dead end, since so many illiterate Americans don’t even have access to a computer. It is something I’ve been in touch with the literacy council about, though.

So, see? I’m not a pathetic "two-issue-loser", after all. *grin*

But back to the question of careers and jobs anyway.

Things are getting better at my job here at the University. It’s still certainly not what I want to be doing, but my supervisor, unit manager, and I all sat down and had a meeting last week where we discussed this. To my boss’s credit (and her boss’s credit as well), they both agreed that I am not a good match for the job I’m in, but I do do a decent enough job to keep around instead of firing; and they also agreed to support me in my job hunt in any way they can, including allowing time off to take classes that aren’t even related to what I do here. Then the unit manager and I had a separate meeting, where we discussed some strategies for moving me out of the department and into something more rewarding.

Yes, I’m well aware of how fortunate I am to be in this situation. 🙂

And neither is it a one-sided arrangement. For my own part, I did agree that I would maintain a positive demeanor and morale while on the job here. I spoke with a career counselor who gave me some tips on how to do that — for example, reminding myself that this job is just a temporary one, and that even while I’m here there are some important job skills that I can learn that will help me in whatever career I choose down the line: things like project management, organization, setting priorities, and so on. This has, in fact, helped tremendously, which is good.

I am still headed out soon, though. I have no doubt about that. I may be a year or two away from the dream job, but I feel like I’m tangibly on track at this point.

On an aside, I’ve created an on-line mailing list for career changers. More information is available here, if you’re interested.

When Did This Happen?

These past two months have been two of the roughest months of my life. All of a sudden, everything I had thought was true about my world and my role in it has changed completely upside-down, and things are suddenly a lot different than they once were. I’ve gone from sure and certain knowledge that I would never marry, let alone live in a beautiful house with an incredible wife, to being deep in the midst of planning not only a wedding but also the house that my fiancé and I are building together.

Her house. Our house.

Her patch of dirt. Ours.

My future alone.

Our future together.

It’s just one of those things that I had assumed would never be a part of my life. I used to get very depressed about what I thought was true, that I would never marry; but then I got used to the idea, and was even happy about it. Then along came Jennifer who, in her refreshingly straightforward way, said, "It’s no longer your own life, Richard. You now share it with me, the same way that I share my life with you."

Frankly, it was an impossible dream that I was happy fantasizing about, and not really worrying about making come true.

Upside down. Topsy-turvy.

It’s not as though my upcoming marriage to Jennifer is the only area in my life where major, hoped-for-but-unexpected-anyway goals have been achieved. In the area of my personal health, I had assumed that I was doomed to be very overweight for the rest of my life. Then I went and joined an exercise program through the hospital, hoing mostly just to bring down my blood pressure, and wound up losing something like twenty pounds in six weeks. Certainly nothing to sneeze at. And certainly an achievment that I’m quite proud of.

And achieving these goals has given me tons of courage to take on the other major area of my life where I’ve usually been lax: my career. And with lots of encouragement from friends, family, family of friends, and a surprisingly supportive boss, I’ve made surprising headway in advancing my career; I’ve learned, for example, to avoid headhunters and go straight to the employers themselves, which has gotten me much better results. I’ve found that I have a lot more to offer than I had originally thought. And I’ve learned that things just aren’t as bad as they seem.

In a way, major achievements and victories in your life can be just as frightening and difficult to cope with as major losses. Either way, you may find that the patterns and ways that you had used to handle your life before are no longer adequate, and you must now find new ways of doing things. And that can be frightening: what if the new ways don’t work? What if I try something and I fail? If I start doing things in a new way, what happens to that part of my life which was so comfortable doing things the old way?

At some point, though, you’re going to have to simply bite the bullet and come to grips with the fact that the old ways aren’t going to work any more, that you need new ways of doing things and new ways of being. You need to let go of the old ways, move away from what’s comfortable and familiar, and come to grips with the new. And, I think, that’s a large part of growing up.

Not everyone does that. Some of us choose a set path early on in life, and do things in one way forever. Sometimes the old ways stop working and start leading only to failure, but it’s simply easier to hang on to what you know, blaming the world around you for your misery, not understanding that it’s the choices that you continue to make that place you where you are now.

I’m in a strange place. I’ve never been this happy before in my life: I’ve found the person who fills that hole inside my being that I didn’t even know was there, and who completes me in ways I never even thought were possible. But on the other hand, there are more changes happening now in my life than have ever happened at any one time before, and it’s sometimes a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, I know I’m quite ready for it, and I know that when it’s all over — if it is ever over — my life will be much better than it ever has before.

So what I find myself wondering is this: when did my priorities suddenly shift? When did I become a person who thinks about mortgages and career advancement more often than he does about role-playing games and eating cold pizza until the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t it just last week that my first roommate and I were wandering all over the UC Davis campus singing Monty Python’s "Lumberjack Song" at the top of our lungs? Not, of course, that I’ve stopped doing those things altoghether; it’s just that my values have changed, my priorities have shifted, and my life has moved on.

What I find myself asking most often is this: when did I start growing up?

There are, of course, those people who claim that I am no closer to being a mature adult now than I was at the age of three (hi, Mom!). But who cares what they think? Ultimately, my life isn’t being led for them. And now it’s no longer being led for myself, either. And that is probably the best part of the whole process.

Teaching Lessons

Generally, I’m the sort of person who prays, "Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!! My friend Ivymoon tells me that I simply have an addiction to instant gratification, which might be true. This impatience of mine has certainly affected me in many arenas of my life; in career, for example. I get irritated if I don’t get that interview today, and I’m especially irritated that I’m not in my dream job right now.

Of course, the second part of my prayer usually reads something like, "Well, God, if you haven’t given it to me already, I guess I just won’t ever have it." This fatalism can be pretty destructive, I know. The part of me which is irritated at not being in my dream job today is also convinced that I’ll never have that dream job. Simply because I don’t have it now. The logic runs something like this:

A, therefore B.
    A = "I do not have x (a possession, a situation, whatever) at this time"
    B = "I will never have x."

Yes, I know the logic is really twisted; in fact, this kind of logic has frequently led me to take the "path of least resistance", or to simply be lazy. But I’m working on it. I’ve recently had the logic demonstrated to be absolutely false in a couple of instances, so I know that it doesn’t work. Nevertheless, it’s hard to break out of the mindset.

I’m working on it, though. I really am. I’m not giving up on the job quest this time around; and I’m not settling for anything except my "dream job" (or at least something that will put me firmly on the road to achieving that dream job).

One of the best ways to learn patience, I’ve discovered, is by teaching. Especially teaching adult literacy.

Adult literacy is probably the most important cause I can think of. I think it’s obscene that the United States, one of the most technologically advanced can be so socially backwards as to have a nearly 20% adult illiteracy rate. So I do what little I can to remedy this injustice, which is to help one adult learn how to read. (Here’s another way to look at it. A friend of mine once told me that he was addicted to books, and had come up with a "self test" to determine book addiction. I took the test, and found that I, too, am seriously addicted to reading. I then asked my friend if the fact that I’m a volunteer literacy tutor makes me not just an addict, but a pusher. My friend answered, "But of course!")

My current student is a native Spanish speaker who did not complete school, and who only arrived in the United States very recently. Not only is my student a non-native speaker of English, but he never really learned how to read Spanish, either.

I have to tell you, though, that I am seriously in awe of this guy. He’s several years older than I am, but has taken on this tremendous challenge: learning how to read and write English. My past experience has shown that native English speakers have a hard enough time learning how to read as adults; but for someone who has never learned how to read in any language, learning how to read in a non-native language has got to be near impossible. And heck, I remember how hard it was for me to learn other languages when I was immersed in people who spoke my own language. If I’d had to learn German by going to Germany instead of taking a class at the University, I would have been overwhelmed.

My student, though, is very bright, and quite intelligent. He’s helped me understand some of the difficulties he’s had with learning to read English (the English alphabet, which is slightly different than the Spanish alphabet, confuses him from time to time), so we’ve been able to work out some strategies to help him learn faster. On several occasions, I’ve deviated from the prepared script the literacy council has given to me, and I’ve used Spanish words and phrases quite often when working with my student (what little of Spanish I remember, at least). All in all, it’s been a very interesting and rewarding experience. Nevertheless, I do sometimes find myself getting frustrated as I find that some concepts must be explained anew each session; these are some concepts that are common in English, but which aren’t as strong in Spanish. Fortunately, my student is persistent and intelligent, and has a good sense of humor about the whole process. When he understands something, or gets a new concept, the feeling is very rewarding.

I, personally, don’t remember ever having learned how to read; some of my earliest memories are of me with books, and I was always a much more advanced reader than most of my peers throughout school. So, it’s something that I’ve taken for granted, and it’s difficult for me to even imagine not knowing how to read. Still, I can imagine that learning how to look at symbols on a piece of paper and trying to figure out how they translate into words, and how these words even convey meaning, like a story. I can only imagine that it must be almost overwhelming. And illiteracy has such a terrible stigma in our society; it must have taken my student a lot of guts to even pick up the telephone, call the literacy council and say, "I would like to learn how to read."

So. While I’m teaching my student how to read, I am also learning from him: lessons in patience, persistence, courage, and risk-taking. While I’m working on making my career switch, these are going to be very valuable lessons; I just hope that I can learn them well.

G Words

  • Gray, Spalding. Spalding Gray turns 59 years old today. In honor of that occasion, I’ll let you know that every event in this journal entry is true, except for the part about the grapes.

  • Gout. With which I was officially diagnosed today. Well, not really officially. And not just today. Last year when I had a serious pain in my foot, so bad that I couldn’t put any weight on it at all and walking around with this foot was like walking around with an iron ball stuck onto the end of my leg. Seriously.

    Last Saturday, this pain flared up again. Not so bad this time around, fortunately, but bad enough to have to put ice on it and to ingest quite a cocktail of pain-killers (Naprosyn, ibuprofin, and Excedrin) and whine about it to my poor fiané. So today I went in to the doctor to have them look at it again. The doctor can’t say for certain, but he said, "If it hurts like gout, swells like gout, reddens like gout, and responds to painkillers like gout, then let’s treat it like gout." So I was given some drug called Relafen, told to stay off it for awhile, and told that it might go away within a few days.

    So now I get to add gout to my list of chronic illnesses with which my body is afflicted. Asthma, hypertension, and now gout. Fortunately, these put me in some good company: Robert Louis Stevenson had pretty bad asthma, after all; and didn’t Benjamin Franklin have gout? I need to identify at least one historical figure with hypertension. Suggestions are welcome.

  • Grandeur, Delusions of. Something suffered by a person with whom both my fiancé and I are acquainted. Honestly, I watch this person’s antics with the same sort of morbid fascination that keeps me watching the wars on the African continent, and I wonder: "How is there room in that space for both you and your ego?" This person has a survival advantage over the rest of us, though. When the universe collapses into a singularity at the end of time, this person’s ego is powerful enough to overcome the infinite gravity that will dominate and crunch the universe.

  • Goose. My fiancé’s parents gave her a cement goose for her birthday. You really ought to read all about it at A Cat By Any Other Name. For my part, I should say that I really like this goose. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps it’s the comaraderie that I feel with it, having carried it out of her parents’ house, down the driveway, slipping on a couple of grapes that someone had inadvertantly dropped on the way in from some store, and barely keeping that 50+ pound goose upright and intact even as I fell to the ground. The goose made it all the way home to Jennifer’s house, where it sits in her garage, bare, awaiting clothing and a safe porch to live on. But I think that the real reason why I like the goose is because I know that it will live on the front porch of the house that Jennifer — to whom, I keep realizing with delighted astonishment, I will be married in just over a year — and I will be sharing. Living in. Together. And it came from her parents, who have given similar cement geese to both of Jennifer’s sisters, making this whole thing a tradition. I suppose that being there with Jennifer when she received the goose and knowing that it will be part of our household really makes me feel like part of the family; and that, perhaps, is why I really like the goose.

If Only I Weren't So Nice…

One of the most fundamental axioms of my life is this: that no matter who you are, and what you are doing, there is someone in the world right now who, for whatever reason, is pissed off at you.

Is that a depressing thought? I don’t think so. I’ve never been depressed by that particular thought, because I always knew that it was perfectly possible for someone to like me and still be angry at me. Personally, I don’t get angry at other people very often, but it does happen, and sometimes I even get angry at the people I desperately love. It just happens, and life goes on.

What does take me by surprise, though, is learning that there are people who actively dislike me. My reaction to that sort of revelation is usually something like, "What! You mean there are actually people out there who aren’t thoroughly charmed by me? How is this possible?". I occasionally worry about it, but when I realize that there are people that I dislike, it only is logical to assume that there must be people who dislike me.

But never before have those people who dislike me gone out of their way to actually get other people to dislike me as well. Unfortunately, this is the position I find myself in now. Someone that I was once close to has chosen to actively dislike me, has slandered me on their website, and has even gone so far as to tell outright lies about me. I’m not sure what this person’s intentions are, but as far as I can tell, their goal is to drive a wedge between myself and my fiancé. Fortunately for everyone involved, this particular goal has failed.

Watching this other person and how they behave when I’m around is instructional to a degree. Having never been the subject of such ire before, it is interesting to see how it works. But, at the same time, it’s something like watching a train wreck or a bad accident on the highway. I know where to go to find this person’s "anti-Richard" tirades, and even though I promise myself that I won’t look at them, it’s like peering at the broken, mashed cars on the side of the highway when driving down I-680.

It’s also instructional for me to observe my own reactions and emotions in response to this sort of thing. I had always imagined that if someone behaved like this towards me, I would be very upset and sad and angry at the other person. Instead, what I’m feeling is a combination of, well, pity and annoyance. I feel pity for this other person, because I’m sure that there are better things they could be doing, and because this person has not only alienated me, but others that used to be their friend. It seems to me a very self-isolating exercise, and very depressing.

At the same time, I feel annoyed, knowing that there are people who are out there, reading this person’s on-line journal, finding out all kinds of falsehoods about me, and getting the wrong impression of me. I don’t worry that much about this; I’m reasonably sure that if someone read this other person’s journal, then met me, they would discover the vast disparity between what is written and what is real. And I also feel annoyed that because this other person has focused on my relationship with Jennifer, Jennifer and I must cope with it. Yesterday, I felt obligated to correct for Jennifer some of these lies that had been told about me, and that took energy that I didn’t really wish to expend. Fortunately, Jennifer is much wiser than this other person, and much wiser than me, and knew the truth without my having to defend myself.

If I weren’t such a nice guy, I would actually take the time to write this person an e-mail, or even confront them in person: "Do you realize how pathetic you are?" I might say; or, perhaps, "Isn’t there something better you could be doing with your time?"; or, "Do you honestly think you’re fooling anyone?" I honestly don’t know what this person’s motivations are (unless it’s jealousy, or revenge for an imagined wrong); but I do know that confronting this person would certainly do no good.

So perhaps it’s not even that I’m such a nice guy; perhaps it’s simply that I’m lazy, and don’t have the inclination to figure this person out or correct any misperceptions that they might have. I do admit that I hope that this person reads this journal entry; I can imagine the smug look on their face, as they think to themselves, "Feh. What a moron. If he were nearly as intelligent as I, he would realize what an asshole he is."

At any rate, it seems obvious to me that this person, even though they were once very close to me, is certainly not worth any attention or concern from me. Even this journal entry is too much. There is that part of me, perhaps a petty and angry part, which hopes that this person has read this entry far enough to read the following words, which I have never said to anyone, and which I had earnestly hoped I never would: I understand the anger you feel over hurts you imagine I have given to you, and forgive the insults you’ve given to me. But going out of your way to hurt and offend the people I love is going too far. It’s not my place to forgive you for that; but it is certainly my place to tell you that you are no longer welcome in my life; that I hope for healing and happiness and health for you, but that I will not contact you or respond if you try to contact me.

In the past, I’ve chosen to break contact with people that I’ve known would cause me harm or insanity. This is the first time I’ve chosen to do this with someone because of lies or deceit on their part. I feel grief for having felt the need for it, but, at the same time, I feel some relief.

Come back next time, when I’m sure I’ll have more cheerful things to write about.