Ironic

Over the past three or four years, since I decided that I no longer wanted to be a delivery driver, I’ve been focusing my career in an administrative direction: the plan was that I would start as a basic administrative assistant at UC Davis, then move up the ranks to become an administrative analyst, helping the University function on a day to day level. I saw myself as a department manager, perhaps even a vice chancellor or something someday.


At this point, of course, I have no desire to move in that direction. In fact, I doubt that I’ve been interested in it for a couple of years; I haven’t even tried to make any progress in the analyst direction, in spite of several opportunities to do so. I think that working in Labor Relations has helped me in this regard; seeing how badly management and employees are capable of treating each other has made me realize that there are many messes I simply don’t want to get into, and as an analyst, I’d be thick in the middle of them. And, so, about a year ago, I decided to move my career in a technical direction.

Of course, being an administrative assistant can be awfully comfortable; and my position was extremely comfortable, as my supervisors and managers seemed very willing to let me explore my technological inclinations as long as my "official" job got done. So while I thought about moving in a technical direction, I never felt a strong need to pursue it very aggressively.

As the one or two of you who read this journal on a regular basis probably know, the urgency for me to find a new job and get my new career going has suddenly skyrocketed. My revised position description contains no technical responsibilities whatsoever, so my comfort level has vanished. It’s now vital for me to develop a plan for getting a new job and for developing the skills and contacts that I need in order to get that new job.

The first step of the plan is obviously to set a goal. With a goal in mind, it’s easier to point yourself in a direction and, with help from as many different people as possible, develop a specific course of action which can get you from where you are to where you want to be. This afternoon, I sat down, gave it some serious thought, and came up with the following (based on where I’ve been focusing my learning and interests over the past year or so):

Career Goal: To find an exciting, challenging, and rewarding job as a database/web developer, paying at least twice my current salary, for a large, socially conscious organization, within one year.

Part of the plan for achieving this goal is to get as much practice in doing these things as possible. Fortunately, today, I was able to take a step in that direction. I received an e-mail from a professor at UC Davis who is interested in having me help him with a web-based project which would allow students to virtually explore the ruins of Rothchild Castle in England. I’m excited about this project, because I can utilize many of the skills I have already learned, and it will give me a chance to learn many new skills.

Here’s where the irony comes in.


This same professor was formerly the chief representative of a labor union at the University; and my current job involves helping the University cope with the labor unions. So now I’ll be working for this professor. Well, okay, maybe the irony is lost on other folks, but I think it’s there.


Of course, I keep thinking to myself, if I had been focusing on this sort of learning for these past four or five (or ten) years, I would be well-established in my technical career by now. This, of course, is a pretty useless mode of thought, since I wasn’t even interested in this career field four or five years ago. But, being the impatient sort of person that I am, I want to be in my new job now! Ah, well. Patience, I suppose, is something that I need to build up.


That mode of thinking — that "if only" — certainly isn’t limited to just my career; it’s present when I think about relationships as well. I found myself thinking, several months ago, that I should have followed through with certain relationships, taken certain up certain women on the offers of relationships that they had offered, and so on. And as I think about my upcoming marriage to the most incredible woman I’ve ever known, I found myself thinking: "If only I’d been looking harder before or if I’d followed through on certain offers before, I’d probably be married by now."


That last part is probably just as true as the statement that if I’d focused on technology five years ago, I’d be in a comfortable job by now instead of my secretarial job. On the other hand, if I’d gotten myself married years ago, I would not be getting married to Jennifer in a year; and in all honesty, I can’t see myself as happy sharing my life with anyone else. If I’d gotten married years ago, I would be unhappily married now; these things take time, and they have to happen at the right point in your life. I’m not a person to use terms like "fate" or "soulmates" or anything like that; but I’m pretty certain that if Jennifer and I had gotten together even just a few months ago, it wouldn’t have worked out.


So to talk about my career the same way probably carries the same irony; changing careers four or five years ago would probably not have worked out at all, but changing careers now is definitely the right thing to do.


Fortunately, though, just as I’m on my way to marrying "the one", I know that I’m on my way to the career I’ve been looking for. It’s going to take me awhile — I have no illusions about that — but I’m on the way, and I feel good about it.


And, as always, I’m always open to suggestions and ideas. Feel free to send me e-mail if you have thoughts, ideas, or suggestions.

My Parachute Just Exploded

Note: I’ve finally gone and changed the look of this journal. I personally thought that the pop-up windows for each journal entry were cool, since I wrote the JavaScript myself that opened them and allowed the viewer to manipulate them. Unfortunately, too many other people didn’t think that the pop-up windows were cool, so I’ve decided not to use them for future journal entries. The archives will still have the pop-up format until I get around to fixing them (about the same time that Hell freezes over, I imagine), but future entries will be formatted like this one — until I change my mind again.


A few months ago, the acting manager of the Human Resources division at UC Davis announced her resignation; and in the wake of her resignation, which came shortly after a massive organizational review by the KPMG Management Consulting Company and a severe budget crisis, it was announced that Human Resources would be re-organizing completely. The new structure would be lean, mean, tight, financially stable, and tremendous fun for everyone. Not only that, we were promised, but everyone within the division would have the opportunity to let their own talents and skills shine, and everyone would be happy.

Generally, I try to be an optimist. When the above announcement was made, I tried to believe it; I tried to believe that I would get a chance to shift into a more technology-oriented position which would include web development and database development, without having to go through the hassle of actually looking for a new job. And when my unit was subsumed into a larger "super-unit" consisting of our group and two others, I was told that I would be the primary technical support person, the webmaster, and the database consultant (in liaison with Human Resources Information Services). I was invited to submit my own position description and I excitedly set about writing one up, tossing all of the secretarial functions I still had to other administrative assistants and taking on all of the technological and database/web administration duties that I knew would ultimately move my own career forward at a careening pace.

Unfortunately, it seems that it’s the cynics who rule the workplace.

Yesterday, after all these months of restructuring, promises, and solicitations of my own input, I was finally given my new, revised position description. I can’t help but wonder whether my ideas and desires and talents were all written down on a list and then burned or possibly pulped, or perhaps even lining a litter box somewhere. Not only is there no mention of database and web development anywhere in the position description, but any hints of technical support are gone as well. Nothing remains but a brief token nod to "report generation" and "data maintenance." Instead, my position is nearly 100% administrative support: I went from being a technical support coordinator, webmaster, and database developer to secretary. It’s as if all the months I spent fixing broken computers in the unit, building applications in Access and Cold Fusion to let the manager get the data he wants when he wants it, and developing the unit website were completely ignored.

I’ve been trying desperately to figure out the motivations behind this. I’m told that it isn’t punishment for anything (though I’m not certain I can see what I would be punished for anyway); all I’m told is vague mentions of "business necessities" and so on. What I’ve concluded is that this is driven primarily by ignorance. My tech support duties have been removed because Information Services is supposed to handle these duties; my webmaster responsibilities have been removed because Information Services is supposed to handle them. Of course, my own conversations with the manager of Information Services lead me to believe that Information Services would like nothing better than to have a distributed network of technical support people and web developers so that they don’t have to tax their own very limited resources. On the other hand, perhaps that, too, is as empty a statement as, "Richard, I’d like your input on the development of your new position description."

And my own emotions surrounding this development have been pretty strong for me. I feel hurt, certainly, but also betrayed, ignored, and disenfranchised. Why did management bother asking for my input if they had never intended to use it? I found myself so upset at the entire situation that I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I told my supervisor that I was going home, and I left. Later, at home, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in the same office, and she suggested to me that I take today off as well; she even talked to my supervisor on my behalf, which I really appreciated. I’m feeling less upset today, but I’m certainly not happy about the situation.

What really bothers me most about my own reaction is that I find it very difficult to build up any concern anymore for the unit. I want to be a good employee and contribute to the unit; I want to be able to do my best and give my all and feel committed to the work. Unfortunately, it’s not happening. In its place I’m feeling nothing but indifference for the unit, its management, and the work it does. I find that I have no motivation whatsoever, and no interest in doing good work. This is bad not just for the unit but for me as well. It’s going to be a drain on me, and it’s going to hurt my career in the long run.

What I’m really getting out of all of this is a voice from God saying, "Get the hell out of Human Resources now!"

So the urgency behind building a career as a web developer and database developer has skyrocketed. I still don’t know how to start doing it, really, but I’ve taken the plunge by contacting potential employers, revising my resume, and developing a plan for learning Java, Access, and working on how I can learn Oracle and a few other tools and development applications. Ideally, of course, I’d slip right into a high-paying job that would pay me at least twice my current salary just to learn all of this, but that’s not terribly realistic. I’d also like to start this new job this coming Tuesday, but a realistic job hunt timeline is at least four to six months; and since I’m looking at an entire shift in career, the process will probably take me even longer.

I find that my emotional state is very mixed. On the one hand, I have never been this upset over a job-related situation before; I’ve never had to actually leave my workplace because I was feeling upset. I’ve never had to take a day off because of stress or burnout or frustration. And yet, here I am.

And yet, at the same time, I’m feeling happier than I ever have in my life.

The latter emotion is easy to figure out. I’m engaged to the most amazing woman in the world (see my May 22, 2000 entry: "Letter to Jennifer"). And looking at her, I know that she is one person who will never abandon me or abuse my trust; and I know that if she wants my input on something, she will actually consider it. I can trust her, and I know that she’s good for her word.

As I push forward in my career hunt, knowing that I need to be more aggressive with this hunt than I have ever been in my life, my natural reaction is to get discouraged. There’s so much that I don’t know, and the market is rather competitive, and I don’t have the overwhelming experience that would give me a strong edge.

But Jennifer tells me that she has faith in me. She tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can get that dream job, using the skills I enjoy using in a workplace that I believe in. She has faith in me.

And looking into her eyes, I know that it’s true.

Letter to Jennifer

Are you to blame for these massive changes in my life, for the sudden disruption in my life’s direction?

When I was 19, I was pretty sure I had life all figured out. I knew what love was, I knew what relationships were like and how they worked, and I knew precisely what was wrong with all of my friends’ love affairs. Never mind, of course, that I had never had a serious relationship of my own up to that point; I knew everything, and nothing was going to change that.

Of course, by the time I had turned 32 just a few months ago, I realized that what I knew about love and relationships amounted to very little. There’s no better cure for arrogance on these issues than a good dose of reality: my previous two relationships, while not outright disasters, had proven, ultimately, to be errors in judgement on my part, and with one or two outright calamities in there for the fun of it, I realized that relationships were a lot more complicated and love a lot more mysterious than I had ever thought.

I’ve had good relationships in the past; I dated one woman for more than five years and had a great time, though I never considered spending my life with her. And one other woman I ran away from when things got too serious and too good. I’ve thought, in the past, even while with other women, that I should have stuck it out with someone else, maybe thought that I could have been happy with so-and-so, or maybe I would have learned to tolerate being with whats-her-name for a lifetime.

Finally, I just figured that relationships and I should simply leave each other alone, and that the love I needed in my life was simply the love of good friends and close family. I was fully prepared to spend the rest of my life as the crazy (but cool) single uncle to my niece, the somewhat eccentric godfather to my godson, and a good family friend to those friends of mine with families. At the end of my life, I had planned to be one of the doddering old coots playing chess in the park with the other doddering old coots, never married, generally friendly and smiling and willing to play chess with the kids as long as they would put up with me ranting about damn modern music and the government.

That was my plan. That was what I was counting on. I knew that I would be content with my life like that, that I would not feel lonely as long as I had friends and family that I loved and that loved me, and I simply didn’t feel that I needed anyone to make me feel complete. I was already complete.

Now, you’ve come along, and all my plans have changed.

I’ve known you for over two years. That whole time, I’ve been attracted to you and I knew that if we had a chance we would make a great team. Sometimes I would be involved with someone else and I would be happy with them; sometimes you would be with someone else and I would be happy for you as long as you were happy. But then there was that night when it was just the two of us, at the end of a busy day, watching a movie and enjoying each other’s company. It took every ounce of nerve I had to kiss you that night; and words simply don’t exist to describe how amazed, shocked, thrilled, and happy I was that you kissed me back.

Sometimes I still reel in memory of that first moment: you kissed me back.

Everything clicked and came together; like a new sound card fitting perfectly into a slot on a motherboard, or a protein binding with the right enzyme, or a picture puzzle piece which fits so perfectly with the mate that you can’t even see the seam. That’s how I felt at that moment; that’s what I had sensed all that time that we knew each other; and that’s how I still feel now.

Asking you to marry me was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken in my life. I knew how you felt about marriage: how it scared you, how you always told me that you thought the best marriage would be in a duplex, and so on. And I knew how I felt about asking someone to marry me when I hadn’t even been dating them for a full year. I knew that our friends and families might be dismayed and that some of them might even try to talk us out of it. I knew that you would probably say no, and that the "No" would be there between us forever after that.

I asked you anyway, though, because I know that we belong together. You’re the intelligent, funny, witty, stable, positive, beautiful woman that I had always dreamed I would be with but never dared believe I would find. I knew you would say no, but you said yes. And I’m still reeling from that. I’m still expecting to wake up and find that I’ve never known you and that you were nothing more than a perfect dream; or that someone’s slipped me some drug into my coffee, and I’ll wake up strapped to a bed in rehab somewhere in Vacaville, and when I ask for Jennifer, no one will know who I mean.

I know that our marriage will not always be easy. I have seen people who were married and who were still in love with each other but who still had fights and bad times. I know that there will be times when we’ll be awkward with each other, that we’ll be confused, that there will be misunderstandings and fights, and that things won’t always be smooth.

But I also know that we will find ways to handle these problems. I don’t mean to reiterate the tired cliche that says, "Love will find a way"; but I do know that you and I can talk about these things, that we can work them out, that we can solve our problems. I get to spend the rest of my life with you, my love, and I can’t imagine anything better than that.

My Parachute Has a Great Big Hole

I have to confess: I really don’t care for my job all that much.

Surely, not liking my job puts me into a tiny little minority of American workers. After all, doesn’t 99.9% of the American workforce love their jobs? Well, no. Some studies have shown that something like 70% of Americans just don’t like their job, and that a significant majority of that 70% — something like 85%, I think — feel that they are simply stuck in their job with no hope for advancement or improvement.

That I don’t like my job that much is nothing unusual. But why don’t I like it? After all, I have great co-workers that I like and that I have a lot of fun with. My girlfriend can even attest to that. I also believe that the work I do is important work, since it helps keep the University running (even if I do occasionally feel that the whole point of labor unions in California is to deliberately waste my time). The money I earn is somewhat decent, though I won’t be buying a house or a car or anything like that anytime soon — especially when I’m still paying off some large debts and putting away 20% of my income each month to save for my trip to Europe. And the benefits — medical, dental, etc. — of working at the University just can’t be beat. Free medical coverage with no deductible and a small-ish co-pay, free dental (with no co-pay), free vision, legal insurance, a nice retirement package, and so on.

So what’s wrong with my job? Simply that it’s dull. It was a challenge when I came on board almost three years ago, when I found University personnel policies and labor relations fascinating. But once I figured out the rules of the labor relations game — that for every stupid manager there is at least one psychotic employee, but that people in the work force are, surprisingly, mostly stable — I realized that I didn’t find it at all interesting anymore. I do believe it’s important — after all, in large organizations, the Labor Relations unit (if it’s run properly and the people there know what they’re doing) can keep the workplace stable and healthy. And it’s gratifying that I work with people who do care about this stuff, and honestly do their best to keep the University functioning well. But I’m not one of those people, and it’s beginning to wear me down.

On the other hand, though, I am starting to delve into areas that I do find fascinating. Web development, for example, and database design. Last week I started learning how to program in Cold Fusion to create websites that are dynamic and which pull information from a local Access database — my first application was well-received in my department and I’m trying to get the go-ahead to build more. And just last night I wrote my first Java applet (it’s not exciting, to be sure, and does nothing more than print a silly phrase on the screen), and I found that Java is surprisingly easy to grasp. Object-oriented programming is going to take a little getting used to, but I don’t think that my brain will melt when trying to figure it out. So, needless to say, I’m very excited about the possibilities of building dynamic web pages for inter- and intranet use, with Java, Javascript, Cold Fusion, and MS-Access, or whatever. I’ve even coded XML, and find that fascinating as well.

But at the same time, this is all very daunting. I have all of these books on Java, JavaScript, HTML, XML, Perl, Cold Fusion, and Access, and they all fill up at least two feet of bookshelf space. It’s exciting stuff, but the amount that I still have to learn seems overwhelming at times.

And, of course, there’s the question of employment. I could probably find a stable job with the knowledge that I already have under my belt, but probably not anything that would match what I’m earning now. I haven’t got nearly the skillset I need to find a job that pays what I need to earn to keep myself afloat, let alone buy the house and the car and the Palm Pilot and so on and so on and so on. Until I can get paid to learn what I want to learn while still contributing to something which I feel is valuable, I am stuck doing this on my spare time and writing up small useful applications here and there to impress the socks off of my co-workers.

While it’s easy to get depressed over this, I find that I’m not. Sure, I’m a long way from the exciting high-paying job where I travel to dangerous parts of the world and solve tough database/web development problems, Indiana Jones style, and it’ll probably be a couple of years, at least, before I can seriously think about getting there. But, on the other hand, I’ve managed to get places before that seemed daunting and impossible. When I first graduated from college, it seemed downright impossible that I would ever find a good job at all, let alone one that would give me decent benefits and where I might have a boss who does, in fact, support my efforts (as much as she can, at least, without sacrificing the needs of the unit). I once thought that I would never own a car of my own. And even less than a year ago, I was nearly convinced that it would be completely impossible for me to ever be involved in a healthy relationship with a wonderful, stable woman. But all of these things happened, so, in all likelihood, I can probably improve my job situation as well.

Until then, though, I’ll keep fobbing off less interesting responsibilities of my current jobs onto other administrative assistants who find the idea of using the University’s centralized accounting software really, really exciting (while I myself find it tedious and mind-numbing), or who live for setting up meetings. And in the meantime, any ideas you might have for helping me develop my web development/database design career would be more than welcome.

Until next time, I remain,
Your obedient and humble servant,
Richard

P.S.: Shortly after posting this journal entry for the first time this morning, I received a telephone call from a recruiter who had seen my resume, and who was recruiting for a web development design position in Sacramento, which would use some of the very skills that I’ve been developing recently. The Universe excels at irony, and this is just one more example. Please keep your fingers — and whatever other digits you find helpful — for me. -RC

P.P.S.: And very shortly after posting my P.S., above, I received another call from another recruiter. This is simply too weird: two recruiters calling on the same day that I post my whiney job-hunt-related journal entry. I turned the second one down, though, because it is a Unix-heavy position down in Menlo Park; and I am certainly not any kind of a Unix guru (I’ve used "vi" and "chmod" and that’s it), and right now I have a vested interested in staying in the Sacramento area…

…And They Let Me Keep the Hose

As part of the weight loss program I’m in through the hospital, I went in yesterday morning for a "Basal Metabolic Reading". This process lets you see how many calories your body burns in a day just by being still, or by lying down and sleeping all day.

It works like this. You lie down on a bed in the back room of the cardiology unit, next to a huge cylinder. The cylinder is transparent, and inside of it is a bellows which rises up and down; it looks like part of the set from one of the old Mike Hammer Frankenstein films: Frankenstein Must Die(t)!, possibly, or Death to Adipose Cells!.

Next they hook you up to this device by a long plastic hose. Your nostrils are clipped shut, and a nozzle is inserted into your mouth. Then you breathe. In and out. As you breathe, the bellows expands and contracts. This is pure oxygen you’re breathing in now, folks, 100%. I’ve done it before, when very bad asthma attacks kept my lungs from doing their job. Pure oxygen is dry stuff, and after fifteen minutes I had a really bad case of cotton mouth.

Now, somehow this Hammer device measures the oxygen that you breathe out, and calculates the percentage of oxygen that your lungs absorb. And somehow, this number will let the machine determine how many calories per day your body burns in a resting state. The trainer explained this to me and I found myself thinking that it makes a great deal of sense; in my college days, I took at least one course in human physiology, which included a section on energy production. Oxygen is part of the process by which your body converts fuel to energy. Or something. Anyway, in my own case, if I were to spend the day in bed, not moving a muscle, barely even breathing, my body would still burn about 2,000 calories per day just to keep essential functions such as digestion and neural activity going (though I suppose there are some who would claim that if all my neuronic processes stopped, no one would notice the difference; to them I say, "Very funny, Mom").

I know you’re thoroughly fascinated by this already, but now here comes the really interesting part. During the two years that I was out of the Healthy Weight program, I managed to gain about 30 pounds (I’m not ashamed to mention that, especially since more than half of that is gone again). The trainer and I decided to conduct a little mental exercise to see how many calories, total, I had consumed during that time; since a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, we worked out that I had managed to consume something like 105,000 calories above my daily maintenance level. Or, an average of only 14 calories per day above my basal metabolic rate.

Fourteen calories. That’s something like a single potato chip. Can you imagine that a single extra potato chip consumed every single day for two years can add up to thirty pounds in weight gain? Is the human body incredible, or what?

Of course, your body doesn’t burn just that basal metabolic rate each day. After all, your days are filled with walking around, working, typing, possibly even exercise, which bring up your daily burn by a few hundred calories. And if you work out, you can burn even more. The whole point of this program I’m in is to create a deficit between the number of calories that you burn in a day and the number of calories that you take in. Now if you lead a really sedentary lifestyle, like the one I’m trying hard to shed, you can’t afford to eat a whole lot; but if you lead a very active lifestyle, it’s easier to create that deficit, and lose weight.

And, of course, as you exercise more, increasing your lungs’ efficiency and your heart’s strength, your basal metabolic rate will actually go down. Especially if you lose a lot of weight: just carrying your bulk around gives your legs a good workout every time you walk to the bathroom.

So I got my Basal Metabolic Rate read. It was an enlightening experience, and I learned quite a bit. And because God only knows what kind of germs I breathed out during the process, they even let me keep the hose that I was connected to the cylinder with. It’s sitting in a big plastic bag in my car even as I write this, awaiting a time when I will come up with a practical use for a six-foot translucent hose with a mouthpiece on one end. Suggestions are more than welcome.

The Best Way to Experience Northern California

What can I say about Sunday that hasn’t been said here, here, and here? It was one of those days that you expect will start out one way, and ends up another. In this case, I had expected to have a miserable time, because I, personally, hate moving with a passion: there’s got to be a better way to spend an afternoon than lugging boxes and furniture around. Usually I help out if asked because the people moving are friends of mine, and they’ve promised either to feed me or to give me beer for my troubles. Those of you who know me already know that promising me good beer (not something like Michelob or Budweiser — contrary to what the advertisers would have you believe, most American produced beers are simply not beer; in fact, I’m certain that if you sent a pint of Miller Genuine Draft to a laboratory for analysis, the results would come back saying something like, "Your horse has diabetes." Guinness counts as beer; I like beer you can eat with a fork) is a good way to get me to do something. But in this case, the people moving were people I didn’t know, there was no mention of food, and nearly every single one of the people I was going to be with that day takes a perverse pride in declaring, "I just don’t drink beer". This is usually said with a haughty sniff, a tone reserved for the cultural elite who usually consider themselves above, say, Shakespeare or Thomas Pynchon, and who claim to have never heard of Star Trek.

So, why did I agree? Probably because Lisa IM’ed me and said, "Hey, Richard, can you help my friends move? Your girlfriend already said that she would."

Yep. Lisa blackmailed me into it. Pure and simple.

Okay, no, not really. But as I was lugging the umpteenth box of heavy hardback books (with lead covers, I presume) up the tortuously narrow — quite attractive — staircase, I found myself wishing that Lisa had blackmailed me into this. That way I could have said, "Hey! You made me do this!" And, I admit, my temper did get stretched a bit thin a couple of times.

But, you know, it really wasn’t that bad. My friends have mastered the fine art of amusing themselves under the most trying circumstances, and I like to think that I’m pretty good at it myself. Mishaps became adventures, and the day we spent in the rain moving perfect strangers ("Nobody’s perfect," my mother reminded me later that night) from Oakland to Berkeley is now the stuff of legends.

At one point, for example, Lisa’s new "housemate" (Lisa is very firm about this point), Michael, managed to vanish, just as we were about to try moving the couch upstairs. A search of the new apartment — small as it is, the apartment is riddled with dozens of hidden nooks and crannies, and it reminded me of something out of a Clive Barker novel — revealed that Michael was literally in the closet. He’d gone in to look at something, the door had shut behind him, and there was no handle inside. Apparently he’d been stuck for something like ten or fifteen minutes before he was finally rescued. After the inevitable joke about being "in the closet" had died down, Michael finally showed his face to us again, looking somehow wiser for his experience.

And I got to experience a moment of self-righteousness, which I always treasure. When a dolly full of books that I was leading down the ramp of the moving truck fell over onto the asphalt, and everyone else was still dry and safe in the truck laughing at me, I was able to say, "I’d just like to point out that while you’re all laughing at me, I’m the only one who’s actually moving anything at the moment." I live for opportunities to feel morally superior to other people, so I felt very pretentious and proud of myself as the laughter of the others simply increased in volume and derision. But at least I knew that I was in the right. Moral superiority is a lonely call, sometimes.

At the end of the day, some of us discovered that we had musical talent, or at least claimed to; between the wind instruments, the percussion, and the name of an ex-Beatles wife, we found that we could form the Yoko Ono Double-Oboe Bongo, Bones, and Whistle Band. Our first album, Can’t Get Enough Coffee (featuring "The Prig Song", which Lisa can’t get enough of), will be out sometime in the next fifty years. Our band sang loudly and proudly as we left Oakland for Mountain View, to indulge in some of the best sushi in Northern California, and then on the way down to San Jose to drop off Lisa and her new housemate.

Things became more sedate after that, as the new girlfriend and I decided to swing by and visit my parents (who live near Lisa) and my sister (who lives near my parents), discovered that various emotions can ooze out of one’s various orifices like various substances (pride, for example, oozes out like mint jelly), and had a quiet drive back from San Jose to Davis, thus completing our circuit of Northern California.

We had originally planned to go to San Francisco this past Sunday, to play and hang out. At one point during the move, while I was finding myself sprawled on the stairwell with a couch in my lap, I asked myself whether I would ever let Lisa plan another day in the Bay Area for us again. And looking up at all of my friends and feeling overcome with giddiness, I realized that I certainly would. Anytime.

Until the next time, I somehow manage to remain,
Richard

Note: For other perspectives on Sunday’s adventures, check out Thursday’s Child, Lisa’s Journal, and Jennifer’s Journal. Most of what they say is true. Most.

Clear Cutting and Sweeping Away

Yes, I know that I used this very same graphic in my last journal entry; but I felt that it might be appropriate to use it once again.

This past Thursday — yesterday, in fact — was supposed to be a fairly normal day at work. Install a few applications on my users’ computers, do some routine maintenance on a couple of other systems, make sure that the database is up to date. That sort of thing.

I opened up my mail program and saw a virus warning. Now, I’ve been fed too many scare stories of viruses with names like "Good Times" or "PenPals" to ever believe a virus warning that comes to me via e-mail. This new one was called "ILOVEYOU" and was supposed to do all kinds of horrible things to your computer: zap your hard drive, wipe your memory, eat your processor, seduce your dead grandmother, all of the horrible things that viruses which spread themselves through e-mail do.

Surprise, though: the ILOVEYOU virus turns out to be real. Within fifteen minutes getting the first warning about this virus, I received eight copies of a single message — subject line, "I LOVE YOU" — from a co-worker who had received the e-mail, opened it, and run the attachment. And within seconds after that, everyone of my users, not to mention every computer in the building, had received the same e-mail from the same co-worker. Some had received it eight times, like me; others had gotten up to fifteen copies of the damn thing.

Fortunately, I’d trained my users well, and all of the other Technical Support Coordinators in Human Resources had, too. No one else opened the attachment, so while everyone received multiple copies of the e-mail, no other computers were actually infected. I have a vague memory of running from user to user, instructing everyone to shut down Outlook, until we had an idea of what, exactly, this nasty little program would do.

To add to the confusion, the University is actually between anti-virus software site licenses. About 18 months ago, somewhere in the arcane machinations which control the bureaucracy of the University’s Information Technology division, someone decided that Dr. Solomon was no longer good for the University, and every department had to un-install Dr. Solomon and install Norton Anti-Virus. Now, recently, NAV has fallen into disfavor, and we must now all switch to McAffee. Except that when ILOVEYOU hit, our licenses for McAffee had not yet been completed and our licenses for NAV had all expired. So getting anti-virus protection for our computers was an exciting experience to say the least. All I personally have to say is that I’m very happy that I am not in the position where I would have had to repair a broken Exchange server.

Which, in my opinion, is where the bulk of our own problem lies. The Human Resources division, like — apparently — just about every other major business in the world, including the English Parliament and the United States Department of Defense, is hobbled with the Microsoft suite of Office applications. We’ve weeded out any sort of diversity in our network, and replaced all of the sturdy independent applications — like Eudora, WordPerfect, Netscape, and so on — with Microsoft’s Juggernaut, the Office 97 package. This is sort of like clear-cutting an ancient old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest and replacing it all with acacia trees all bred from the same stock. Yes, technically, you’re replacing the wood; but your new forest is obscenely vulnerable to a single attack. In a computing environment, it’s nice to be able to reduce your tech support expenditures by paying people just to learn a single package, but there’s a price to pay for such unnecessary functionality. Without locating and disabling the obscure default setting needed to make the system truly useful (a feature which all Microsoft products share), you make your system vulnerable to just this sort of malicious attack.

The lesson to be learned here, is the variety and diversity, whether you’re working with a forest or with a computing environment, is good.

Cue segue. I’m going to draw a really ugly analogy between human emotions and old-growth rain forests and computer networking environments. Wish me luck.

Sometimes, upon the end of a relationship, we find ourselves desperately wishing to get together with someone who was Just Like My Last Love: someone who acts the same, who looks the same, who does the same things… Genetically identical to our last love. We figure, after all, that if such a person made us happy once before, then they will again.

At the end of my last relationship, I spent some time doing just that. I wanted to find someone who was just as attractive, just as intelligent, just as sexy, and so on. I wanted my next relationship to be very similar to the last one, if not exactly the same.

But if all of your relationships are identical, you open yourself up to all of the same hurts and problems again and again. We’ve all heard stories of the women or men who enter abusive and dangerous relationships over and over and over again, never learning their lesson, and so on. I’ve never fully understood the tendency myself, but after watching computer networks fail all over the world because they were, well, genetically identical, I think I see the sense: if all of your relationships are the same, then you don’t have to learn new coping techniques or ways of communicating. And, sadly, if you’re too full of pain, then you probably don’t even have the energy to learn these new techniques. In a way, it’s simply a matter of economics.

But by varying your relationships — by keeping yourself open to all possibilities, even ones that you thought had slipped you by years ago — you keep yourself flexible, you can continue to grow and learn and enjoy, and you find yourself better able to handle your newer relationships.

This is the theory at least. Take it for what it’s worth.

On a more pragmatic level, there is a new relationship in my own life. There are some similarities between this relationship and the one that I ended just recently. The new woman in my life is very intelligent, very attractive, very sexy, but in very different ways than the last. I hadn’t intended to enter into anything new — in fact, I had planned to stay away from all hints of any new relationships for at least a year. This came as a complete surprise to me, and it has, indeed, been a very pleasant one.

Change is good. Diversity is good. I don’t want to imply that the last woman in my life was a bad person in any way, of course, nor that novelty is the reason for my feelings now. Hell, I don’t want to draw any comparisons at all, or analyze anything too deeply. I just wanted to point out the benefits of keeping yourself open to variety, change, and new — or old — possibilities.

There’s very little talk in the way of diversifying our departmental network. We’re sticking with the Microsoft behemoth, keeping diversity at a minimum, maximizing our exposure to deadly attack; and when such attacks come (because they inevitably will), we’ll be terribly vulnerable. By sticking to just what we know, we’re putting ourselves in danger.

Well, perhaps I’m stretching. All I can really say is that while my department’s computing environment has been clear-cut, I’ve been swept away. We’ll see who lasts longer.


Here’s hoping that it will be less than three weeks until the next time…

Zero to Hero and Tempestuous Happenings

As usual, the hero business is up to me. It all began, really, about six weeks ago, when I realized that at the age of 32, my body was about where it was going to be for the rest of my life in many ways (yes, wrinkles will show up and gray hairs will appear and arthritis will probably set in at some point as well… but you probably know what I mean). I wasn’t going to suddenly grow six inches, lose fifty pounds, get perfect vision, and suddenly be cured of my asthma and hypertension. If anything was going to improve or change, I was going to have to take some drastic action on my own.

This is why I’ve enrolled in the exercise/diet program that I’ve written about earlier. This is going to be a year-long program, you see; and at the end of the year, I plan to be in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. One year from now, I leave for my three-month backpacking trip through Europe, and I’ll be damned if I go weighing 240 pounds, and unable to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

This is why I’m starting up another series of weekly entries to this journal. I’m calling this series "Zero to Hero", after the song in Hercules. This will be a more-or-less regularly updated journal of my progress through the program I’m in. I doubt that I will get too intimate (sorry, everyone!) but I’ll certainly chart some essentials, along with whatever thoughts about the entire project that I may have along the way. Any tips on fitness or dieting or lifestyle changes that I pick up along the way will also be entered in the "Zero to Hero" column. My first entry is here.


Tempestuous Happenings

Last night I got to see one of my favorite bands, Tempest, perform. Tempest plays a style of music which the band itself describes as "Celtic rock" but which is really a fusion of Celtic, folk, and rock, with sometimes a bit of Cajun and even Arabian thrown in for good measure (one of their albums — my favorite, actually — is called Surfing to Mecca; that should give a hint of their musical style).

Generally, a concert is only a good concert if, afterwards, your voice is hoarse and your ears are numb (ideally, of course, you’re also surrounded by about two hundred of your closest friends, and pickled beyond recognition by the end of the show as well — though that’s my own opinion). Tempest provides that kind of show; my friends and I sat in the front row, about three feet away from the band, and in the venue that they played in — a converted old barn known as The Palms Playhouse — the music can’t really help but be overwhelming. Just the way I like it when hearing live music.

Tempest has a way of getting up close and personal with their audiences. The lead singer and double-necked-electric-mandolin player Lief Sorbye loves to interact with the audience while playing, and even came up and sat down in my friend Jennifer’s lap during one song of the first set. Jennifer announced that she would never wash her jeans again. I suspect, though, that she was being facetious.

Another friend of mine who had come to the concert was lucky to be sitting where she was. Michael, the fiddler of the band (Tempest is the first band I’ve ever known that has an electric fiddle as one of their instruments), whom my friend perceives as a sort of fiddling deity, stood right in front of her and even looked down at her several times. I’m sure my friend was elated by this; this was the same friend who, after seeing Tempest perform for her first time, went up to this same fiddler and asked, "Hey, Michael! What did you do with the golden fiddle that you won from the devil down in Georgia?".

Tempest was not the only live band I’ve seen perform this week. Last Monday, a friend of mine and I went to The Fox and Goose in downtown Sacramento (great bar — check it out if you’re in Sacramento) to check out Open Mike night. Generally, I love open mike events, and Davis hasn’t got a single decent regular open mike night since the Blue Mango closed down in 1995. Open Mike at the Fox and Goose started, that night, with a fellow who seemed to be tuning his harmonica through most of his set (turns out he was actually performing), and ended (at least for the two of us) with a woman who desperately wanted to be Aretha Franklin but was far too white to pull it off (no, I’m not racist — but this woman’s voice simply did not have the sort of range or depth which the great female jazz vocalists have had; and most of the female jazz vocalists I know of are African American). Instead of sounding inspiring, exciting, or thrilling, she came off as flat and… well… stoned. She was accompanied by three fellows who looked as if they really wanted to be somewhere else. At one point I leaned over to my friend and asked her how much she thought the singer had paid the band to stand there with her.

In all fairness, I suppose that this woman is probably just getting started and hasn’t had a chance to really find her voice yet. She has a good voice, and when she stops trying to imitate Aretha or Ella in order to develop her own style, she will probably be a great singer.

My last live music event of the week is going on as I write this, here on Lucien in Borders Cafe in Davis. I’m sitting here, watching a soft jazz band perform some of my favorite tunes (only one of which — "Girl From Ipanema" — I actually know the name of, but that’s okay). It’s great fun, though not as much fun as screaming "Hal An Tow" at the top of my lungs to the fiddler while the double-necked-electric-mandolin plays, but Tempest simply can’t be a nightly event, can it?

I love live music; probably for the same reasons that I love face-to-face conversations over telephone or internet conversations, or why I prefer sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of sitting at my computer playing in a MUSH. Far too much happens in a personal setting, in a one-on-one situation, that simply cannot be conveyed through a stereo, telephone, or computer screen. Music, just like conversation, is a form of communication; and to get the full message that the musician is trying to get across, you really need to sit up close to them, watching their movements and facial expressions, just as communicating by e-mail will never convey a full message.

Please, though, don’t think that I’m trying to make a point here or anything. This is my personal journal, and I simply ramble on. Perhaps I could tell you more, if we met face to face.

Cinderella Need Not Apply

When it comes to relationships, I am not a Nice Guy. Or, at least, I try not to be.

Every now and then I browse through the personal ads on various sites on the web. I don’t answer any or place any of my own because of some bad experiences I’ve had (details available only in face to face conversation, I’m afraid), but it’s interesting to read through them and see what people think they want.

How many ads from women, for example, do I see that claim they want a "fairy tale romance"? Quite a few (I don’t have numbers, but this is a personal page so I’m not obligated to prove anything). A "fairy tale romance", I think, based on conversations I’ve had with women who want them, is one in which Prince Charming rides in on a shining white stallion, sweeps the princess off of her feet, and the two of them ride off into the sunset forever.

I am convinced that people tell themselves "stories", with themselves in the starring role, which explains the world to them. Sometimes these stories are helpful and healthy, and sometimes they are downright harmful. I’ve met many women, for example, who tell themselves the "Rapunzel" story, in which they are the beautiful princess who is locked in a tower by evil forces (sometimes these forces are cruel parents, sometimes a heartless society, and so on), waiting for the perfect Prince Charming to come along, rescue them, and take them away to live Happily Ever After. The Rapunzel women never leave their towers; they wait their whole lives for Prince Charming to come along.

A variant of the Rapunzel story is the Cinderella story. Women who tell themselves the Cinderella story at least get to leave the tower, but they still need to wait for a Fairy Godmother — sometimes the Fairy Godmother comes in the form of a great job, or a windfall of cash — before they think they have a hope of going to the ball where Prince Charming will meet them and sweep them off their feet, and take them away to live Happily Ever After…

There are other stories, of course, but the main theme is that the woman is the hopelessly misunderstood and helpless, downtrodden, and misused Beautiful Princess who will one day find Prince Charming and live Happily Ever After. The problem, though, is that Prince Charming is never perfect (he ends up being unable to keep a job, or laughs a bit too loud, or spends a little too much time watching football). And "Happily Ever After" is a mythical state of being, in which a romance lasts forever, and there is never any fighting or negative feelings, and the head-over-heels in love state of mind never fades. Unfortunately, there is no such state of being, and the feeling of "being in love" will almost always fade.

Generally, I think of such women as "Fairy Princesses", and I’ve had far too many experiences with them. Fortunately for me, very few such encounters have turned into long-term commitments.

To be fair, men also tell themselves these sorts of stories. It’s harder for me to find fairy-tale counterparts for men, but I’m sure they’re out there. Some men I’ve met, for example, tell themselves a story in which they are a misunderstood Prince who must battle a horde of hags until he meets the True Fairy Princess. These are the men who go through life in a haze of misinterpretation of the women they meet, and each relationship they get involved in invariably ends when he founds out his partner is, after all, only human (I have to admit that the story I tell myself is probably a variant of this one). Some men cast themselves as a male version of a Fairy Princess, and wait in some tower for Princess Charming to come along.

Then there are the Nice Guys(tm).

Women — especially the Heartless Bitches of the world (i.e., the Real Women) — probably know who I mean by the Nice Guy. These are the guys who worship women, who place them on pedestals, who do everything they can to please a woman and completely ignores his own wishes and desires for the woman he’s set his sights on. One such Nice Guy told me, "All women are angels"; another said, "All women are angelic creatures who could not possibly ever be corrupted". Honestly, setting women apart like this really is degrading, in my opinion; it implies that women are not human.

These Nice Guys have no backbone, no spine.

This is why I try not to be a Nice Guy. For one thing, I’m certainly not perfect enough to be Prince Charming; I won’t even try. I won’t place a woman on a pedestal. I won’t worship a woman. I’ll freely get angry and pissed off at a woman if need be, and happily admit I’m wrong when I make a mistake. I don’t believe in Happily Ever After, and I can’t live my life pretending that I’m there. But I can do my best to treat a woman with honesty, respect, and dignity, just like I treat any other sort of human being. I can learn from my mistakes and do better next time around.

I’ll never be perfect, of course. So any Fairy Princess looking for a Prince Charming had probably just look elsewhere.

(Just to address a rumor that I heard over the weekend: No, I am not dating anyone. I am not currently in love with anyone, despite what some people may think. It is true that I have been on a few "dates" with a couple of different women since ending my last relationship, but I’m not actively pursuing anything serious right now. Hope that clears things up.)

A Correction

In my last journal entry, I mentioned a Pablo Neruda poem which began "Today I am going to talk about pain" and ends "Today I am simply in pain". Man, was I ever wrong!

First of all, it’s not by Pablo Neruda; it’s by Oscar Vallejo. Second, it begins, "Today I am going to talk about hope". And third, it isn’t even a poem, for crying out loud. It’s an essay.

My apologies for any confusion this might have caused.

Today

I’m in an unusually introspective mood today, so today I’m going to talk about something different. Today I’m going to talk about grief.

There is a Pablo Neruda poem which begins, "Today I am going to talk about pain", and ends, "Today I am simply in pain". While I don’t consider myself a pain-ridden, angst-infested person, there are times when I need to think about pain and grief.

I am, on the whole, a positive, optimistic person; I have a good attitude towards life, having learned that the only way to really enjoy life is to choose to do so. But every now and then people will say strange things to me: "Richard," I’ve been told, "you are one of the saddest people I know." A former girlfriend once told me that she could see that I had a lot of sadness inside of me. And so on. (Of course, I’ve also been told, "Richard, you have a great attitude", and "Richard, you’re the bravest person I know" — but those self-aggrandizing statements are for another time.) So I’ve wondered what it is that people see in me that makes them say that I’m a sad person, because I don’t, on the whole, feel sad.

Then again.

What I do feel, often, is grief. It’s a strange feeling, something that I frequently have trouble quantifying or describing. I have not suffered any major tragedies in my life outside of the loss of close family members; nothing more than anyone else. My childhood was a good one, and I had a great family. I like my life, and I look forward to the future.

So, why should I feel grief, especially to a level that is detectable to other people at times? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think I’m beginning to get a sense of it.

Grief comes from loss, or the awareness of loss. I look forward to the future with eagerness and joy, but I’m aware that all of the good things that I have now and that I will experience in years to come will, at some time, come to an end. I love my mother deeply, but I know that one day there will come a time when I will realize, "I haven’t thought about my mother in months, and she passed on years ago." Or, one day, I will have a family of my own: and I know that there will come a time when I’ll look into my son’s or daughter’s eyes, and realize that I no longer know that person. It’s a powerful feeling, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

Is it a stupid or a silly feeling? I honestly don’t think so. It may seem absurd to feel grief for events or pains that haven’t happened yet, but, at the same time, I think it has served me well. I have become acutely aware of the times that I have lost people close to me, or failed to say "Goodbye" or "I love you" to someone who is leaving me forever.

Say your goodbyes when you can, tell them you love them while you still have them with you.

I suppose that I have at least two choices in the face of this neurosis of mine. One route — which I think would probably be the easier — would simply be to avoid contact with everyone, to avoid loving wherever possible, to become a solitary hermit, to withdraw completely. This would certainly ensure that I never lose anyone that is close to me, simply because I would never have anyone close to me.

That, however, does not seem like a good idea to me.

The other choice is to feel the fear of loss and plunge ahead and be close with people anyway. I may feel pain when I lose a close friend or lover or child or pet — but, all the same, my life will have been richer for having had that closeness in my life. I become very close to my friends, although I may sometimes have trouble expressing that, and I know that I’m really quite blessed to have those friends and family in my life.

What brought on this introspective mood? Part of it was thinking about an old friend that I’ve lost touch with; this person used to be my best and closest friend, a person with whom I could share my deepest feelings, fears, and hopes. Then… something happened. I’m still not sure what; but this person apparently decided that I’m an asshole, and subsequently severed contact with me. Conversations with people who knew both of us very well convinced me that the fault really lay with the other person and not with myself; but the loss lingers. I enjoyed the time I spent with this person, and I regret the loss. But perhaps the end of that friendship was for the best anyway. (Trust me, you don’t know this person.)

You cannot prevent losses in your life; you cannot prevent the pain that they will cause. But you can strengthen your appreciation and love of the things that you have, and face a future that will be filled with more blessings, most of which you have no clue of today.

That may be why some people have told me that I’m a very sad person; or, perhaps, I’ve missed the mark completely. But these are my own thoughts on this.

Once again, I hope I haven’t bored you or embarrassed myself utterly in this semi-public forum.

Richard