Today the majority of my team and I were let go from work. Laid off. Reduced. RIFed. Whatever the right term for that is. This being the third round of layoffs it isn’t entirely surprising anymore, although the degree of commitment represented by the depth of the cuts does take one aback.
I have so much going on at the moment; several cool development projects to work on that I’m really excited about, numerous books on the queue, the weather is nice and the bikes and kayaks are calling, there are some recently released video games that I enjoy quite a bit, I have writing ideas that sound like fun, my foot pain seems to be improving…I’m surrounded by great shit and life is, by any real measure, great!
This year, I have a fairly light schedule at Penguicon, affording me an opportunity to relax and visit with friends and (perhaps) attend some panels! My pesky responsibilities include: Continue reading Penguicon 2016 Schedule
I have been sleeping ridiculously poorly. I am in a unique period of prolonged indecision; which it turns out is a thing that my brain does not like at all. I tend to be a pretty decisive person—I act on the knowledge that I have and course-correct based on new input as needed.
Currently, I’m working from a huge swath of unknowns and most of this decision is going to be based on gut feel. On emotion. Like a caveman. Continue reading Poor Sleep and Decisions
Things I Said on Twitter in 2015
As I say each year: The year in review, in micro-blog form. This is mostly for my own reference, but, you might be bored enough to look at this as well. Who knows!
I continue to hover in the “just shy of 1k tweets” club for the second year in a row, dropping slightly to around 870 tweets. I assume most are about teenage drama shows. Continue reading Tweets of 2015
Two thousand fifteen was a hell of a year! Continue reading 2015: A Year in Review
“…but, you know, you have that whole thing you do on Facebook where you stand up for women and the poor and different races and stuff…”
This was actually said to me quite a while ago; and it has bothered me sufficiently that it has stuck with me for several weeks. My first draft of this opening actually implied that I wasn’t initially upset by it, that it grew to annoy me; that characterization isn’t true, though. I was sufficiently off-put by it the first time that I heard it that it prompted me to whip out my notebook and jot it down for later review. We’ll see if enough time has passed for me to remain relatively dispassionate as I attempt that review. Continue reading Social Justice Warrior
Seth Godin wrote an interesting post about path finding a little while back and it struck me that I get very easily frustrated by the two path-finding extremes.
Those that never look for a new path—the typists rather than the writers—stagnate and mire themselves in complacency’s stationary momentum. I’m sure there are people for whom such quiescence is comforting, but for me it is maddening. Continue reading Path Finding
As a leader, I have been unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by some pretty amazing teams, and my current team is no exception. I have consistently asked a great deal of them, and they have always found a way to meet my lofty expectations; they have treated each other with respect, even when things are difficult; and they have remained reliably focused on our goals, even when the pace of a project and external forces work to bump us from our path. Nothing that I could do at work could have done a better job of making me look good than the excellence of my team.
I think, at times, it’s easy to look at your successes and assume them to be of your own making—it’s important to me to remember that most of mine relate more to the company that I keep than the actions that I take.
Things I Said on Twitter in 2014
As I say each year: The year in review, in micro-blog form. This is mostly for my own reference, but, you might be bored enough to look at this as well. Who knows!
Bouncing back from last year’s dip, 970 total tweets on the year excluding replies. It’s a ridiculous number, nearly 3 tweets each day. Nobody has that much to say! Continue reading Tweets of 2014
Things I Said on Twitter in 2013
As I say each year: The year in review, in micro-blog form. This is mostly for my own reference, but, you might be bored enough to look at this as well. Who knows!
A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle
This month marks 11 continuous years without drugs or alcohol. For the vast majority of you, this probably doesn’t seem to be an exceptionally huge feat—most people can take or leave drinking, and I’d wager that a sizable percentage of adults in this country have gone years and years without partaking in drug use. For me, however, this 11 years constitutes the longest period of sustained change I have ever managed. At this point, the length of time during which I haven’t been pissing-all-over-myself drunk or hitting-on-the-mother-of-my-date high is rapidly approaching as long as the length of time during which such events were regular occurrences. It’s a pretty heady feeling, this knowing that I am profoundly unlikely to wake up in a puddle of my own vomit next to someone I don’t especially know in a state of undress that inadequately conveys the full extent of the previous day’s adventures.
For obvious reasons, each year the approach of my anniversary comes with ponderous thoughts about the merits, features, and nature of change. Among drug addicts I first heard the phrase “nothing changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing” and never in my life has something sounded so ludicrous and so obvious at the same time. Of course we wait to change until staying the same is worse…but why would we be so short-sighted and stupid so much of the time?! Madness. Drug addicts are not known for their ability to plan for the future.
As it turns out, the same is true in most organizations—in fact, I could probably write a fairly lengthy article wherein I compare organizational behavior to that of a multi-year junkie (note to self, that sounds like a fun article)—most organizations act just as irrationally when faced with the formidable task of instituting change. Allow me to paint you a picture from my own life experience:
I was young—early twenties roughly—and had recently moved to a new town with my wife and young children. I immediately found the people who party and started spending my evenings at bars and house parties around town rather than with my newly displaced family.
Needless to say, that didn’t last long before my beleaguered wife, who undoubtedly hoped that this change in venue would result in a change in my behavior, finally had to put her foot down and threaten Very Bad Things if my behavior were to continue.
To my credit, I immediately put an utter and complete halt to my misbehavior. I quit drinking, I stopped hanging out with people after work, and I spent my nights and weekends with my family at home.
For about two weeks.
I quickly found my new life boring, and over the course of the third week, I had backslid almost completely. In fact, in many ways it was worse, because I had convinced myself that I had to lie and sneak time with friends and I would often drink a great deal at work and then drive home very, very drunk so that I could hang out with my family without hearing about my drinking.
This sort of whiplash-inducing overcorrection is something I’ve observed myriad times in countless organizations. A Thing That We Do™ is just not working—and a grand, sweeping plan is devised and put into place. It seems to largely alleviate some of the problems (in the best case scenario) or doesn’t seem to be having sufficient impact (in the more common scenarios), but in either case the strain of maintaining persistent change of such enormity—of such utter completeness—for any length of time proves too great and the members of the organization collapse back into old behaviors and patterns.
Why is this? Are they lazy? Stupid? Lacking in ambition?
Change—that is to say lasting, significant change—is methodical and slow. It’s glacially paced. It is the turtle winning the race slowly and steadily while the rabbit wears itself out with too much too fast. I’ve achieved over a decade free from actively pursuing addiction because I didn’t try to change everything at once. I triaged my life and changed the most pressing thing, and I have continued to do so iteratively for nearly 11 years now.
I do the same when helping an organization to change. Often the first thing I have to do is devote time and energy to reigning in the change enthusiasts who find themselves in a cycle of changing everything, then changing everything differently until everyone is so confused and disheartened that even modest change sounds horrifying and impossible. Only once that destructive cycle is quelled can the job of triaging and planning begin.
When you feel like change is failing you, stop for a moment and look around you. If you cannot list on one hand the individual changes that are being enacted and fingers left over, your glacier has run away and needs to be halted and adjusted.
Remember, several inches of snowfall can cover my town overnight and it is a thing of beauty; that same quantity of snow in one fell swoop would be a natural disaster. Stop making natural disasters.
Things I Said on Twitter in 2012
The year in review, in micro-blog form. 572 posts excluding replies averaging over 1.5 tweets per day. This is mostly for my own reference, but, you might be bored enough to look at this as well. Who knows! Continue reading Tweets of 2012
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine started including me on an annual email blast wherein he reviewed the year and talked about the upcoming one. I loved the idea, but each time I tried to start my own—as I glanced at my blog(s) to create such a recap—I was struck by how gratuitous it would be. Back then, I was blogging and posting on social media with such ridiculous regularity that to send such an update felt like overkill.
This year, looking at how infrequently I have forced my thoughts into the unsuspecting eyeballs of others, it seems almost a necessity. Still, I struggled with the idea; as much as I enjoy getting Luke’s email, I have spent too much time telling people “if you don’t like what I have to say, don’t come and read it” to shove my writing into their inbox. So…my happy medium: I shall steal Luke’s idea for my own, but instead of email, I’ll just post it here.
I seriously overthink everything.
There are a few constants in my life: I am always stupidly busy, I am always just around the corner from a break, and I am always puzzled when the ‘break’ around the corner is just being more stupidly busy. Constants—a situtation or state that does not change.
Keep that in mind when I say that this year, I was STUPIDLY busy. I mean that however busy you have seen me in the past…I was definitely busier. Way, way busier. Remember the year that I helped wrestle three conventions into existence, worked two jobs, and went to school full time while being the single father to two children? Yeah…busier.
I’m pretty confident that things will be better really soon though. :)
2012 was the year of change for me. Stepping back from convention work to devote myself to other aspects of my life seemed like a huge adjustment, but it was nothing when compared to the changes that followed. It wasn’t until I had to step out of employment talks with the big G that I realized how much I missed coding on massive projects with a great team. I was provided with what appeared to be a chance to do the sort of development I want to do as a part of the exact sort of team with which I would like to be doing it—so I lept back into ‘corporate’ programming. It has been everything that I had hoped it could be so far. That change, however, precipited another change; I had to step back from school for a bit.
If going back to programming for others was the scariest change of 2012, certainly taking a break from grad school was the hardest. As it came down to mid-November, it became apparent that I was doing a disservice to family, work, AND school. For years, I knew that there was a theoretical limit to the amount of burden that I could shoulder for even brief periods of time, but that limit remained just that—theory. This year, I found that limit. So, with only one class and a mostly done project left to go, I withdrew from grad school until the summer. Instead of graduating in December of 2012, I will graduate in the summer of 2013. Hopefully.
Even though I know it is for the best, it still tastes bitterly like a form of personal failure. Failure, however, isn’t the end of the world.
Failure can actually feel pretty good. The past month I have spent more time interacting with my family in a focused, relaxing way than I have at any point in the past five years (ten years?). No more doing things in the same room with them while I work or do homework, I have spent literally HOURS of continuous time playing videogames with my wife and children. I have relaxed at a family dinner and not immediately jumped up to finish writing code. I have done absolutely nothing at all for an entire day. Nothing…at…all…
Sure, that probably doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a pretty big deal to me.
Finally, it has been a year of upheaval for family and friends. It’s no big secret that Ger has been going through a lot, but if there is a silver lining to everything that has happened, it is that we were able to find people that were selflessly there for support and love; and that our marriage has been made stronger through our dealing with difficulties both inside and outside of the family. It is true that amidst pressure and heat one finds diamonds—those of you that have been there for us just to chat, lend a hand, or to be a shoulder to cry on—you are those diamonds.
That was needlessly overwrought.
I am a creature of goals. I have a constant supply of them, both lofty and realistic, floating about in my head at all times. Some that I had for 2012 include:
- Finish grad school
- Transition into teaching more, consulting less
- Do more personal programming projects
- Spend more time with my family
- Take on less convention responsibility
- Write more
Clearly, I’ve had mixed success. Some goals had to be sacrificed in order to pursue others. Teaching is still something I really, really want to do…and after a break from it, the desire is no less strong…but some opportunities are of the here-and-now sort. The chance to work for one of my dream companies was one, and the opportunity I’m enjoying now is another. Neither allow for more teaching time at the moment, however.
Similarly, I have never worked LESS on personal programming projects and writing than I have this year. However, failing these goals coupled with stepping back from convention planning has meant that I have had significantly more time for family and self. I call that a win.
So this year’s goals won’t resemble the goals of the last few years very much, but insomuch as that feels like growth, I won’t lament the change too much. For 2013, my goals include:
- Spend hours each week exclusively with family and friends – not solely while working on any projects or half-way being there
- Make time for hobbies – not just programming projects, it’s time to get back into cycling, kayaking, hiking, reading, etc
- Two days of complete relaxation per month – no trips, no plans, nothing on the schedule…just do NOTHING at all
- Become a great employee – I’m really, really good at what I do (and humble)…I want to be really, really good at what my company does too
- Continue to learn – dig in and research new things whether they be tech related or not…I love doing it, there is ample opportunity, I need to make time for it
- Write – I love doing it, and I am terribly rusty…maybe stick to a blogging schedule or work on book(s)
- Finish grad school – at a reasonable pace, not insanely paced
Note well that the second list is ordered, because the order matters. It seems that when I simply list goals, I find it easy for the relative importance of those goals to become murky throughout the year. At year’s end, I am almost never happy with the specifics of which goals I chose to hit and which I chose to miss. Hopefully, the sequence of this list will be a reminder that the order matters, and that the hierarchy I invariably choose in the heat of the moment is always, always wrong.
If I accomplish the first several, and fail almost entirely at the last few, that is far preferable than to only succeed at two in the middle and blow numbers one and two. One goal that is not enumerated above, but stands as a constant in my life is simply keep taking chances. Nothing positive has ever happened in my life while playing it safe, so, it is important that I don’t stop taking chances now. Don’t turn down opportunities and don’t stick to the path.
If you have made it to the bottom here, well, congratulations. I owe you a coffee or something. There are a lot of words up above, and since they’re mostly about my favorite subject (me), that would be a lot to get through. Well done. Know that I love you best, and you…yes, you specifically…are my favorite.
Thank you all for being a part of my adventure this year, and I look forward to you all being even more a part of my adventures in the year to come. Here’s to a great 2013.
This was a really, really long post #2013isRuined
On Friday, I had yet another followup appointment with the Doctor. It went about as well as I could have hoped…but wait, let me back up a little bit first.
It’s no particular secret that my body has made the (probably accurate) determination that I am a absentee landlord/slumlord and has largely given up trying to support my hedonistic1 lifestyle, but in the past several months it has gotten to the point where I really felt like I had to do something I tend to avoid doing…I went and saw a doctor.
Now, it’s not that I specifically have a problem with doctors. I recognize that I’m not immortal and that they serve a very necessary purpose in my life, but I maintain this knowledge while at the same time having precious little real desire to go see one for trivial things like flat feet, insomnia, tendonitis, or weight gain.
So, around three weeks ago, I took my flat feet, insomnia, tendonitis, and weight gain to a local doctor that I met when taking my daughter to her office. We have a good rapport and she seems smart, trustworthy, and not liable to be entirely aghast at my shenanigans. Some orthotics were prescribed for my flat feet, some cortisone was injected into my elbow for my tendonitis, and we started what was to become multiple rounds of blood work to establish the cause of my recent rapid weight gain, my inability to lose any weight regardless the circumstances, and my inability to sleep for periods of time longer than 4 hours.
My weight became something of a concern almost two months prior to the visit, when I decided that I’d finally had enough of a break in my schedule to do something about my massive weight gain. After spending two weeks recording my food intake (and doing little else), I decided to cut my caloric intake by 1000 calories (from an average of about 3200/day to 2000-2200/day) and add walking 2 miles each of two to three times per week.
I nailed it. Over the course of about six weeks, my highest intake day was just under 2400 calories, and that was the only day that it was over 2200. Most days I was under 2000. I missed only one complete week of walking during that time, but every other week walked my 2 miles at least twice, averaging around 30-35 minutes per trip. I went in for my follow-up expecting to see a nice, gentle 2 pounds down per week (I’d have been happy with 1, but I secretly hoped to see 3). The grand total I lost after what amounted to a fairly extenuating change?
Can I get a drumroll!? (And if you don’t see where this is going, I’m awfully disapointed in you.)
I lost a grand total of -1 pounds. That’s right, I was a pound heavier than when I started. Well, technically speaking, 0.9 pounds, but you catch my drift.
Needless to say, I was annoyed. My bloodwork showed very mildly elevated liver enzymes and NOTHING else. My cholesterol was great, my blood pressure was great, my fasting blood sugar was fine, my iron was okay—everything was peachy. So we sat down and we went over my diet. During the time we were discussing, I wasn’t excessively carb heavy, but I didn’t limit my carbs. I don’t really do sugar, so there were no sweets to speak of. The fat content of my daily intake was within the range we discussed most days (generally in the middle of the range). I’d even started eating three meals per day at more regular intervals than in the past.
“Wait right there,” she said, “explain ‘started eating three meals per day’ and ‘more regular intervals than in the past’ for me.”
So I explained. I explained about how generally I’m not hungry in the mornings, so I rarely eat breakfast. Around lunch time I’m pretty hungry, but usually busy, so if I eat, I don’t eat a ton. I explained about dinner time, and how when it rolls around I’m usually starving, so I eat a TON. I explained about how I often eat again later because I’m still hungry. Throughout the telling, she inquired about various things, and I labored to answer as fully as possible given how little attention I’ve always paid to such things. In answer to what percentages of my daily food intake I thought took place before noon, before 8 and after 8, I guessed 20%, 40%, and 40%, roughly?
She immediately interjected, “Hold on, so if you were eating 3000 calories, that means you were eating only about 600 of them in the morning, and at night, after 8pm, you were eating 1200 or more calories?”
I acknowledged the accuracy of her math, and we discussed the factors that could be contributing to my weight. As she described it, if she were to explain to someone how to best gain fat as quickly and efficiently as possible, she would basically describe my lifestyle (only she would add cheesecake, an amendment I heartily endorse): limit sleep as much as possible, work a sedentary job, add a ton of stress, and load as many calories as you can as late as you can and in as few meals as you can. It’s the Jer Diet, guaranteed to boost your weight or your money back!2 My metabolism, as she put it, no longer metabolized; I had essentially made it dormant by keeping it in a sustained fight-or-flight food hoarding frenzy through stress, starvation followed by binging (alas, no purging though), and torturing my body with exhaustion. Food came in, and my body screamed out “MINE!” and resolved to let as little out as possible since I was constantly tricking it into thinking we were starving to death.
Fair enough, but what about the six weeks wherein I didn’t do that? What gives?
She opined that my metabolism, after nearly a decade of such abuse, might need a lot more to kick back into normal gear. So we developed a new plan.
She said that I needed to pull three areas of my life together. First, I needed to start sleeping. Perhaps I wasn’t the sort of person that needed 8 hours per day, but obviously I need more than 4 or I wouldn’t survive on caffeine and sarcasm (probably just the sarcasm). She put me on an anti-depressant (whose name escapes me) that, as she put it, “is not a very good anti-depressant, but makes a pretty good sleep aid.” More importantly, she felt that with the way my sleep issues manifest and the fact that I’m a recovering drug addict, this was my best bet for some much needed sleep.
The second area: stress. She reiterated back to me the list of things to which I’ve whittled my responsibilities and pointed out that it was still a lot. Quite a lot. I agreed. My doctor and I both agreed that since I was unlikely to cut MUCH more from my plate, what I had to do was actually schedule relaxation and stress relief. She wants me to get a massage (and sure, money permitting, I’ll get right on that…I’m guessing insurance won’t cover stress relief massages), do a relaxing hobby, spend time with friends and family—all on a schedule. The premise being that if I schedule this time, it’s time into which I can’t schedule other things, so I’ll be forced to relax some. We shall see how that works, but I’m game to try.
Finally, there was my diet. I simply had to get my metabolism going. To do so, I had to schedule my meals better, consume less carbs (not a low carb diet in the Atkins or South Beach sense, but low carb in the “only one serving per meal and make it a non-white carb if possible” sense), and eat much more protein. I looked at Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb Diet (or 4 Hour Body), and while it intrigues me and is close to what my doctor prescribed, it is dissimilar enough that I want to wait until I’ve given her program a run before I diverge. In order to kick-start things metabolically and supress my appetite some, she gave me a prescription for phentermine once per day in the morning. While I’m on that, I’m not doing energy drinks so as to minimize the chances of some of the more heinous potential side effects.
So, for about the last week, that’s what I’ve been doing: trying to relax, taking my go pills in the morning, taking my stop pills shortly before sleep, and concentrating on fixing my eating. So far, I feel great (but when in the history of dieting has the first week ever not been the best week, eh?). Last night I slept an uninterrupted 7.5 hours and I feel really good today. After getting over the initial hump of taking phentermine (when taken on an empty stomach, it makes me feel unpleasant and drug-trigger-y), that is settling in. I’m still consuming 2000 calories or less per day (closer to 1800, atually), but now it’s pretty close to even across all three meals, and there’s no second dinner. I’m consuming at least 40 grams of protein within a half hour of waking up to get things moving (a big protein shake is really helping there) and am making my meals pretty carb-light and protein heavy. The upside is, I generally feel more full despite the fact that every night this week I’ve noted that I’ve fallen short of my caloric goal by around 100-200 calories.
Will this work? Who knows. The only real diet that I’ve ever been on in the past was when I was lifting and trying to get more muscle definition. At the time, it worked great. At the time, however, my principle caloric load was beer and protein—heavier on the beer than the protein. That said, I was a super lean 185 and very, very drunk. I forsee a very different result here. Ideally, I would like to end up having dropped 80-90 pounds. When I was under 200, I looked emaciated. I think 200 to 220 is a good weight for my frame, but I have a fairly long 75 to 95 pounds shed on the way there. What I won’t be doing is daily updates on my social media feeds. I hate seeing it, and while I know that it is supposedly meant to breed accountability, the fact is that I don’t feel particularly accountable to you guys and gals, no offense. I have one friend that does it ‘right’ by my reckoning: she has lost something like 100 pounds and periodically she’d just point out that she was up or down X pounds. It was like a normal status update; like it should be. That’s what you can expect, normal Jer-like lamentations about how I want to make sweet love to a Double Whopper while eating a (different) Double Whopper or how I’ve gained 2 pounds and am going to go slice off a moob3. Perhaps, if we’re all lucky, you’ll get notices about how I’m losing weight like crazy, looking all buff, and sending pictures of my weiner to interns…but now with SHIRT OFF! You know, business as usual…
[Updated 11 Sep 2011]: If you’re interested in how it’s turning out, there is a follow up here.
1 For a loosely-defined version of “hedonism” that basically consists of swearing, petulance, energy drinks, and leering.
2 Not a diet. There is no guarantee. You’ll get no money back. You probably won’t even survive it. Do at your own risk. Unless I hate you…then, fire away!
3 Moob: Man Boob. If I shaved them, I could probably get off to pictures of them.
A warning for most of my readers: this particular post is a note to my wife. You’re welcome to read on, but I imagine it will be boring if you are not Ger.
Ger, the background music for this post can be found (at least for now) right here (opens in a new tab).
Now, back to the letter…
Happy anniversary baby,
Two years ago, you did what is generally considered to be the stupidest thing a young lady can do and married me. It could not have been a better move on my part.
I love you more than you could possibly imagine. The understanding I’ve had of what it means to be married was so woefully shy of what marriage could actually be like; it is amazing. I have a partner in life that is in every possible way my complement. You take care of my considerably whiny ass when I’m sick. You remind me that I’m a bit demanding when I’m out of control. You keep my ego in check, but not too in check. You allow your one special weekend per year—this anniversary of our marriage—to be a weekend consumed by planning efforts for the convention at which we met. I can think of no stronger expression of your love and understanding of all that is me than that. You are a strong, intelligent, beautiful, and wonderful woman, and I can no longer imagine my life without you in it.
Thank you for sharing your life with me, for standing beside me when I’m exhausted, overworked, unhealthy and showing no signs of correcting it, and for accepting me when I’m not doing a particularly great job of showing you how important you are to me. You remain the most amazing person in my life, and I love you. You truly would somersault in sand with me.
Here’s to another year…and next year, an anniversary without a convention.
Ahh, technology. There are about a thousand ways to get in contact with people anymore, and all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Add to that the fact that most of the time we all find our own ways to use (and abuse) that communication tech, so what works for one person might not work at all for another, and you have quite the recipe for confusion. I often lament about the myriad ways that various people fail entirely to live up to my unspoken, secret, and quirky code of contact; so today it occurred to me, perhaps I could elucidate (and more importantly, spawn some conversation to boot).
There are countless different methods of categorization of modes of communication (which I will refer to as “com-modes” here [wait, commode means something different, doesn’t it?]) so I will address four major methods that I find important: transience, reliability, professionalism, and usefulness. I will evaluate these by relating them to the primary modes of communication by which folks try to interact with me: social media (which includes mostly Facebook and Twitter), SMS, telephone, IM, and email; then I will attempt to give my assessment of each by the aforementioned standards. Afterwards, I will outline my personal communication standards (so that you can then continue to ignore, causing me untold grief).
For me, transience really boils down to two essential parts: the duration of time the message remains available and the duration of time it can be usefully maintained. Social media, for example, has moderate transience by the former scale—messages sent last for a reasonably long time—but a damnably low rating by the latter—it is nigh impossible to find the right message when needed. Email has excellent transience in both categories. Telephone calls have virtually none. IM, as I use it, has fairly high, albeit unreliable, transience (I log almost all messages that hit my laptop, but none that hit my mobile phone), whereas SMS has falls fairly in the middle. Were I to organize the communication modes from highest to least transience, it would be:
The reliability of a mode of communication should focus both on whether or not the messages arrive reliably and on if there is a way to establish whether or not communication has been made. By these measures, a phone call is clearly the winner; either you have made connection and had a communication (which is profoundly reliable in this age of mobile phone technology) or you have not; very little room for ambiguity. IM does an excellent job of providing reliability only when used synchronously—when used asynchronously, there is literally NO way of knowing if a message has even landed, and the reliability of message logging is severely suspect. I often have the following situation occur: I leave my computer on, it collects tons of IMs, I suspend my laptop without having read them, then when Ubuntu decides it doesn’t like waking up from suspend I never see those messages at all. Messy. SMS has far too high a failure rate to be considered even slightly reliable, and social media has such a high level of noise in the signal (in volume alone, even if one ignores spam) that it is easy for messages to be missed (“What’s that, you tried to contact me? I’m sorry, my friend Jen decided she needed nails for her WhoreFarm or whatever”). Add to that the fact that most social media is treated as a toy, often social media messages are the first ones ignored when things get busy. Organizing by reliability, then, would look like this:
|Social media||Social media|
Ignoring, for the moment, the simple appearance of professionalism, I would prefer to focus on the accoutrements of professionalism: does it allow for one to get the job done? By that measure, SMS and social media fall woefully short—SMS due to character lengths and difficulties in collaboration and social media due to the platform specific nature and quirks like character limitations, difficulties collaborating, etc. Various IMs suffer the same problem as do social media methods—you have to hope the person you need uses that platform and they use it regularly enough for it to be reliable. At this point, though, everyone has a phone and virtually everyone has an email—and those are cross-platform, so individuals on Verizon’s service can speak to those on TMobile; folks who use GMail can speak to those on Hotmail. Email and telephony are the hands-down winners in this respect.
If you then factor back in the appearance of professionalism, there’s no question that communications via Facebook or Twitter (or even SMS) suffer from the suggestion of trivialness. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter are often outright banned by many employers.
|Social media||Social media||Social media|
This is the most vague category, but possibly the most important. Usefulness, as I’m defining it here, means how effective is it in helping communication happen. Asynchronous modes of communication are, necessarily, the most useful in my experience, as they allow the recipient of the communication the power to decide under what circumstances things are continued. Text-based asynchronous communications are better still, if one wants to maximize the possible opportunities by which communication can continue. When I’m sitting in a meeting or lying in bed next to my sleeping wife, I am unlikely to answer a phone call or listen to a voice mail. I can, however, glance at an email, text, tweet, or IM and determine what the degree of urgency is. I can even give complete or partial responses in such cases—something as simple as “call you back in 20 minutes, in a meeting” can be of inestimable value. There is a certain sacrifice that is made by losing tone and vocal cadence, just as on the phone body language cues are lost; but that is a small price to pay for such a large degree of convenience and usefulness (and, as often happens, conversations can be moved into verbal modes as a result of successfully making contact via a more useful method.)
The usefulness can further be ascertained by additional features, such as enhanced formatting, ability to include links and/or attachments, ability to collaborate, etc. Clearly, methods with more features would be more useful, so long as those features don’t IMPEDE conversation. If all of this is to be assumed accurate (and why wouldn’t I assume myself correct) then the hierarchy would favor asynchronous communication modes in a fairly arbitrary way:
|Social media||Social media||Social media||SMS|
Assigning not-entirely-but-awfully-close-to-arbitrary values to these rankings allows me to mathematically estimate the overall “worthiness” of a form of communication for general, professional purposes…for doing work, that is. Treating the top two boxes as generally comparable and therefore both worth 3 points, the next box as worth 2 point, the next as worth 1, and the bottom ranking as worth 0, we end up with the following scoring:
|3||IM||Social media||IM (9)|
|1||Social media||Social media||Social media||SMS||Social Media (5)|
The results I find relatively unsurprising as I strongly prefer email and I’m confident that my approach and the measures I chose to include heavily weight things in my preferred form’s favor. The questions I have for the reader, then, include: What measures are important to you? Should I have weighted these differently? Should I have included other measures? Recognizing the statistical instability of this ludicrously unscientific model, should I not have used a top-two box? Comment below and let me know!
Regardless of the above, the realities of contacting me are pretty straightforward. Email is beyond a doubt the best way to contact me. I sometimes go weeks without checking up on my social media (and in fact pretty much never check the private messages I get through them), and I avoid answering the phone entirely. Often I get a voicemail, think “Oh, I’ll answer him or her later today” then remember that I had a call to return a week later. For anything important, send email. Also important, send email to the right place: if you send email about official Penguicon business, for example, to my private email address, I will delete it if it suits me or respond if I feel like it. This is true even if you also included a penguicon email address as well. I don’t reinforce bad behavior; if you want a response, stop cluttering up my personal email.
For “fun” communication (meaning non-professional, or non-business), SMS or social media is fine. SMS is more likely to get a response, and infinitely more likely to get a prompt one. Private messages should all go through SMS, though—I pretty much never check or respond to private Twitter/Facebook messages.
IMing is also fine, but don’t use it as a messaging service. If I don’t respond to your IM, there’s a high percentage chance I’ll never even see it. If you have a question, comment, or link to leave me…find a more permanent method.
Let me begin by thanking Scott, Lucy, Randy, and Sheryl for their help yesterday. Without them, the party that followed my graduation ceremony could not have gone anywhere nearly as smoothly and a relatively hectic and busy day would have been infinitely more chaotic and stressful. Of course, that is pretty much the theme of the achievement that I’m celebrating—to paraphrase the Beatles, I got by with a little help from my friends.
I know it is the standard cliche…“blah blah couldn’t have done it without my friends and family blah blah,” but nothing could be more literally true than that. Each and every one of you—all family by varying definitions—played an integral part in the creation of this achievement, and you should all be proud. Everyone suffered; my poor, beleaguered children bore the brunt of five years of me being tired, distracted, stressed, and busy, and they did it while finding countless ways to ease our collective burden for example. My wife walked into this relationship IN THE MIDDLE of all of the stress, looked around, and said, “Yeah, why not, I’m in.” Next time you are mistakenly thinking your significant other is the best, remember that Ger not only tolerates all that goes into the hot mess that is me, not only does she tolerate that all at my absolute ball-of-stress worst, but she does it without ever having seen me at my now-we-can-relax best1.
All of you have been amazing though. Each one of you that has, for years, gone out of your way to make your schedules fit my lunacy. All of you who have braved my calendar’s oppressive, colorful, and packed pages in order to set up dinner plans or a meeting for an event. Those among you who have dealt with cranky Jer, tired Jer, not-entirely-coherent Jer, and finding-his-stress-relief-at-the-expense-of-strangers-in-social-situations Jer because, in theory, there’s a fun to be around Jer somewhere in the mix too—despite the growing infrequency of his appearances.
Let me not ignore the fact that many of you have at times shown support in tangible ways too! Some of you have helped bridge financial gaps, been a sounding board when I wanted to pull heads off others, or have just been a set of helping hands when the number of balls I have kept in the air2 proved to be a few too many for even me.
So I mean it when I say that you should all pat yourself on the back, because all I did was the homework3, you guys made a college graduate. Congratulations. Now…about these student loans…
2 <Jer> tag.
3 And make no mistake, I did a LOT of homework. And tests. And notes. And studying. Well, maybe not the last one.
Gonna make a change
For once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
–Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror”
The problem is, I bought into my own myth.
I have been slugging along accomplishing—DOING—for so long that I began to believe the tales of my own legendary productivity. Apparently, somewhere, there was a campfire around which people sat and spun yarns in hushed tones of Jer Lance, indefatigable doer of things and achiever of objectives. Far and wide, these stories spread, so when things needed doing, I would get an email in my inbox or a mention at a party…just this little thing that needs doing. “Email it to me and I’ll look into it,” I would say; and I would. All of them. Every single one.
Now, it just so happens that I am fairly well connected. I am not sure how it happened, but after a few short years around Michigan fandom, I hang out with or communicate with the people who make so many of the local (and to a lesser degree, non-local) conventions and events happen that I tend to have a pretty good informal relationship with them. As a result, I have a pretty effective track record of finding a solution to those ‘little things that need doing’ that get brought to me, so the legend grows.
And it is entirely my fault, because—as I started this out by stating—I bought into my own myth. I came to genuinely believe that I could survive endlessly on 4 hours of sleep and no actual breaks. I have been under the illusion that using my relaxation time as time to pretend to relax while secretly working would actually fool my body and my mind into thinking that I’ve really been socializing when I have been doing anything but. I legitimately convinced myself that running an audio broadcast at a party was the same thing as socially hanging out at a party. In the universe of people who have hugely sold themselves a bill of goods, I am a hall of famer, and it has exhausted me. I am now just fundamentally incapable of being that guy. I have finally hit that wall, a wall that I have been warned about time and again but never truly believed I could hit—I am a fucking legend, remember? My response time is getting slower. Things are slipping by. I am taking on less and less, but still not able to accomplish it. My legendary 4 hours of sleep has stretched to 6, and I’m still left waking each morning feeling entirely unawake. My relentless productivity is flagging and my mythical 16-hour, full-court-press attacks on mounds of work have softened to 2 hour micro-bursts interrupted by thirty minutes of staring like a zombie into space trying to muster a combination of will-power and coherent thought.
I am failing. I am failing you guys and I am failing me. Worse, I am failing and beating myself up about it considerably; nobody has been as hard on me about this as I have been. I am working harder than ever and getting far less done. I am genuinely upset with my body for needing so much sleep. I get so frustrated I want to cry when I can only find the creativity and ability to write so rarely that I am almost never at a keyboard when it happens; so much is left unwritten. I want to punch things when my mind doesn’t have the acumen to make the sharp, decisive leaps that it was capable of a year ago. I am so unbelievably angry with myself for not having enough will power to just FORCE MYSELF to work my way through my to-do list. This is who I am, why can I not be that person now? Last night, while trying to get some of the massive pile of work I had before me completed, I was forced by my body to lie down on a couch at a friend’s house in the middle of a crowd of people and take a brief (oh, oh so very brief it felt) nap. I woke, and still was so wiped that I could get nothing done. I was near tears for the hour I spent dropping my son off at his mother’s place because of the frustration, the tiredness, the soreness, and the hopelessness of not being able to do what it is that I do.
It is taking a toll on my health, too. I am eating healthier than ever, but my body is falling apart. I am getting random nose bleeds. I have gotten even fatter despite a healthier diet and cutting out most fast food. The persistent headache that has gone on almost entirely uninterrupted for a couple of years now has now become stronger and added to its repetoire the combination of occasional spots in my vision and waves of nausea. I am cranky. I am frustrated when I have to explain what I need from people more than once. My low-grade level of dickishness has turned into full-on assholery when dealing with the people that frustrate me. My tolerance for ineptitude has waned to near non-existant levels.
I am not even me, anymore…I am some critically exhausted, pathetic simulacrum of me. And when I say exhausted, I am not talking about the standard ‘I am in need of a night of uninterrupted sleep or a weekend off’ I keep talking about. No, I am ‘I need to make functional life changes before I collapse in on myself like an imploding star, with all of the requisite fireworks that coincide with such an event.’ So I need to make some kind of change. Last night, Ger and I discussed exactly what that change is going to have to be.
I need to stop taking on the little shit. As I evaluated where my time goes, that was the big thing that stuck out…none of the hats that I wear are specifically time consuming. Work, School, Penguicon 2010, Penguicon 2011, ConFusion 2011, and AASFA are all relatively time-light. They each have their moments, but those moments rarely flare up all at once. No, what beats me down is the steady flow of ‘little things that need doing’, both externally and internally. So I need to divide all of my tasks into things that will remain, things that I am quashing or delaying indefinitely, things I will add, and things that I haven’t really decided about yet. To that end:
| Things that stay:
|| Things I am delaying indefinitely (but certainly until the summer) include:
| Things that I am adding:
|| Things I am unsure about right now:
So there we are. Hopefully, this will help…I know sharing it has helped lift a load from my chest that I’ve been carrying for quite a while now in relative silence (or, at least, as much silence as I have ever been capable of), so by that measure, it is already a success. Thankfully, my wife has agreed to be my gatekeeper on new tasks, by which I basically mean that when I think about taking on a new task, she has undertaken the job of saying “No!” or to forward me a link back to this so that I can avoid being stupid. This is going to be a good thing. It is going to make me happier, more productive, and hopefully healthier…
…but I still want to be super-me again. :(
Today marks seven consecutive years free from drugs and alcohol. Eighty-four months. Three-hundred, sixty-four weeks. Two-thousand, five-hundred, fifty-seven days. Over sixty thousand hours. Over three and one-half million minutes.
That is, as a friend said to me, a long time without a beer.
Last night, in search of something to play as background noise while I tried to fall asleep, I turned on the most trite and easily ignored thing I could find; I put on Confessions of a Shopaholic. I ended up staying awake throughout the entire thing, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It wasn’t until Isla Fisher made a statement near the end that I could figure it out; it was because the movie’s treatment of addiction really had some resonant moments amidst the goofy action and lame plot points.
The statement in question was (and forgive me, as I’m quoting this from memory here)
When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.
Simple, but ridiculously accurate to boot. When I was using, I used to make the world that I saw better. When I began, better merely meant more fun or more exciting, and that is an easy mark to hit. Hell, when you are teen, anything makes the world more exciting. So I drank, smoked pot, dropped acid, ate shrooms, smoked banana peels and various kitchen spices, and generally did whatever I could not to have to face the day without chemical help. It made the world better in my eyes. Then I’d sober up and have to start again.
This is the part where the narrative degenerates into the story of progression; where I needed more and more just to feel good. I won’t bore you with the details, but recognize that it is a cliche for a reason. Things do progress. In my life they progressed to a point where I was getting loaded just to make life tolerable—and by all measures, my life should already have been tolerable. Hell, my life was better than tolerable; I was making a considerable amount of money, I had a nice place to live in a nice neighborhood, two great kids, the physical trappings of suburban life, friends, hobbies, a senior level office job at which I had earned the respect of my co-workers…yet nearly every night I got trashed to make the world better.
So the movie was uncomfortable to watch, because while it showed all of those addict moments in a humorous light, it still showed them. I share pretty liberally from my life as a dope-fiend; but I tend to share the stories that are humorous (at least in hindsight) and not the stories of desperation and shame. It isn’t that I am embarrassed by them so much as they do not make for great party stories, but those stories are readily accessible in my mind. You don’t forget stuff like that. You can’t forget it, even if you try (and believe me, there are times that the using is simply to help you forget this stuff, and that doesn’t work either), so it remains there for you to deal with.
It is so hard to forget because it isn’t some external stuff that happens to you, it is a pervasive, aggressive feeling of helplessness. I could never impart to you the phobic feeling that comes with addiction; like love, you have to feel it to understand it. You have to know that you should not take the next hit—know it to the very core of your being—then you have to rationalize taking it anyway. You have to convince yourself to do it all the same; using trickery, manipulation, and lies on yourself. And make no mistake, you know that you have just lied. You have to come to an agreement with yourself that you are going to overlook that lie, that you are going to believe your own pathetic rationalization, because it is the only way not to hate yourself for what you are about to do. Then you take that hit, and you go ahead and hate yourself anyway; because the agreement that you made doesn’t make you stupid—you know that your excuses were bullshit. So you live with that, too. You live with the knowledge that you are too pathetic, worthless, and weak to stop using, and you hold onto that until you feel worthless and weak enough to do it all again.
You have to know the feeling of sitting in front of a drink trying to come up with some rationale that will allow you to consume it despite the fact that you have promised everyone you love that you are done and that you have it under control. You see, as an addict, there was never a doubt that I would take the drink, but I had to find some reason that would allow me to do it without being obliterated by the guilt. I DESERVE this drink for putting up with my wife’s shit (amusingly enough, her shit was usually about my drinking, go figure…). I am OWED this drink by a world that puts too much pressure on me. Why shouldn’t I have it, I mean, I’m an adult, right? Then once you have selected your excuse, and once you have agreed to ignore how trite it is as far as excuses go, you can go ahead and take the plunge. The upside is, the more drinks you have, the easier it is to convince yourself of the legitimacy of your excuse; of course, sometime you will sober up, but that is a problem for future you.
The simple fact is, as I ultimately learned, you can never drug yourself up enough, have enough sex, buy enough stuff, or eat enough to make the your perception of the world better. At a certain point though, you recognize that fact, but the world is so intolerable by that time without any chemical “enhancement” that there is no way to just stop. So you continue along in a self-reinforcing cycle of doing things that make you hate yourself more so that you use more to mask the self-loathing so that you hate yourself even more so that you use more…well, you see where I am going here.
So today marks the anniversary of a moment in my life that is amongst my proudest: the first day I stopped using and did not pick back up again. Seven years ago today, I sat on my front porch crying because I had not yet used that day, but I was on the verge of doing so anyway. I was physically shaking from the horror of my certain knowledge that in a few minutes I was going to get up, wander to the cupboard, and get a drink. On this day seven years ago, instead of going to the cupboard, I gave a friend a ride to a 12-step meeting (you know, entirely for his sake, because I certainly didn’t have a problem or anything). Seven years ago today I clung to my sobriety with knuckles as white as printer paper and only noticed years later that my grip had slowly relaxed; that blind obstinance had turned into a way of life. That I was no longer merely not using, but actually recovering. Seven years distant from the trenches of what is known as “active addiction” (a fancy term for the time spent actually using).
So today is something of a dichotomy for me, as much somber retrospection as holiday. It is a celebration of seven years of freedom from actively pursuing my various addictions to be certain, but it is also a day of reminder for me. It is rough, remembering the people I hurt, the things that I have done, and the feelings I felt through over a decade of abusing drugs and alcohol; but it sure feels nice to have stopped being that person. Today, I will celebrate my clean-time, and I will strive to make the rest of the year my time of remembrance.
Now, to quote my friend Dave, back to working on getting day two-thousand, five-hundred, fifty-eight…