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.
Where:
    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.

Object Orientation and Object Obsession

The last time I did any serious computer programming (apart from playing around with macros in different Microsoft or Corel products) was when I was in high school. Back then, BASIC was spelled in all capital letters and lived on computers that ran CP/M as an operating system, and still had line numbers:

10 Input a$
20 Print "Hello, " a$
30 Goto 10

I owned a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 from Radio Shack, which had 64K of memory (only 32K of which could be accessed at any one time), with no hard drive but a dual floppy drive. It’s fun to point back at that little device and chuckle fondly, thinking, "How cute they were in their larval stage", but, really, those machines could often be deceptively powerful. I wrote a large program in BASIC on that computer which kept track of all of my appointments and contacts, had its own (very simple) scripting language, made advanced use of randomly accessing data from the floppy disk that served as the data disk, and built display screens "on the fly", like modern active webpage schemes do nowadays. Even though it was slow (and got slower as the appointment and contact databases got larger), it was, I think, pretty advanced; I had figured out how to write programs in BASIC that were "modular" such that the subroutines were generalized enough to be re-used over and over and over by different programs (even though every single bit of a program had to be loaded into memory instead of accessed in parts from a disk); I was treating my data as objects, more or less, and even borrowing some tips I’d picked up from working with Paradox with my uncle one summer and making my database more or less relational instead of completely flat.

In short, I was awfully impressed with myself at the time, and I still am, when I look back on that program and others that I wrote like it.


In college, though, for some reason, I decided not to pursue computer programming at all. I wanted to be a doctor, and thought that I wouldn’t need to deal with computers at all. Then when it became clear that I would never be a doctor (nothing will help cure such delusions better than doing volunteer work with sick people and realizing that you can’t stand the whining — that, and flunking a class in basic organic chemistry), I still didn’t go back to computers. I stuck with my philosophy major and never really gave a thought to programming or computers. I enjoyed working with them when I did, but I never really thought about computer work as a career.


But now that I’m looking at a serious career change, from the world of a Human Resources administrator to the world of a computer nerd, I’m starting the process of learning how to program all over. My experiences in recent months with HTML, DHTML, JavaScript, Perl, and Cold Fusion have reminded me how much I enjoy sitting down and bashing out something that makes the experience of using a computer more enjoyable and useful for other people.


But programming has also changed considerably since my high school days. Objects? Methods? Threads? Superclasses? Instances? Packages? Interfaces? Huh? What? I’m not worried about being unable to pick up these techniques and terminologies, and I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do so pretty quickly. In fact, object-oriented programming is much like the predicate logic and modal logic that I used to play with in college. I’m just going to have to get used to the idea that when I want to do something in a program, I have to create an object to do it with.


Cue segue into a cheesy metaphor between computer programming and human emotion.


Object-orientation can be both a good thing and a bad thing. In computer programming, object-orientation is good, because it really does make things easier to do, and it makes playing with information a lot easier (in fact, I have recently discovered that there’s a new breed of database design, "object-oriented database management", or OODBM, which tries to treat records of data like objects instead of relating everything to everything else). In life, object-orientation can be either a good thing or a bad thing. It depends on what object you choose to orient on.


Some examples:


My fiancé’s object-orientation and obsession is towards cats. This is fine with me; I like cats and am even willing to sleep in the same bed with one or two of them as long as they understand that they’re not to approach my face (I’m allergic to cats, you see).


I, personally, have an object-orientation and obsession towards my career. Actually, I’m worried that it may not be healthy in some ways. I’ve sometimes found myself so obsessed with my future hoped-for career that I get overly upset about my current job, and even find my self-esteem wrapped up in it. This is definitely not good, as I come home from a day of work to my fiancé and whine at her about how my job sucks and how bad my prospects for future career development are. Fortunately, Jennifer is wise enough to know that I am not defined by my career or by how much money I make; and she’s even clever enough to be able to convince me of that too, at times.


Then again, there is at least one person in the world whose object-orientation seems to be focused on making me appear bad in my fiancé’s eyes. I am not a wealthy man, and I have debts, and I freely admit that up front. However, I certainly have no intention of having my future wife pay for my debts, I will never borrow money from her (nor did I ever borrow money from this other person that was not offered to me and that I did not pay back within a day), and if the unthinkable happens and Jennifer and I ever get divorced, I fully intend to leave our house with nothing but what I brought in to it. People who know me, fortunately, know that I am responsible and mature enough to own up to my own debts and that I am determined to pay them off on my own without anyone’s help, and my fiancé and I have discussed these issues on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, this other person’s object-orientation and obsession seems to be focused not only on making me appear bad to Jennifer, but to outright slandering me in public (without even doing me the courtesy of leaving out my name, as I have left out theirs). It hurts me, but it also hurts Jennifer. It’s an instance in life where object-orientation is a bad thing.


Okay, I admit that this metaphor is stretching things a bit. Fortunately for me, I have never claimed to be a literary genius, which lifts from me the burden of making sense to you, my three or four devoted readers.


But I’ll draw forth another analogy here, which harkens back to my May 22, 2000 Letter to Jennifer; when I was 18 or 19 years old, I figured that I know everything there was to know about relationships and the human heart, just as I thought I knew everything there was to know about procedure-oriented programming. Nowadays, I know that, just as programming is a hell of a lot more complicated than I had ever thought it was, the mysteries of the human heart and its vagaries are a lot more complicated than I had even suspected back then. And now here I am, making a career change into a new field that I thought I understood, and making a significant life change — from single to married — in my own heart, which I also thought I understood. I don’t understand either programming or relationships as well as I thought I had, but I am enjoying the process of ex
ploration, discovery, and learning. All over again

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…

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