Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Challenge of Being

20180623 typecast pt1

20180623 typecast pt2

I think my "new" blogging methodology is to try to remember my password every 6-9 months or so, post, and then vanish into the fog again. The good Professor Polt has commented that social media looks like it's usurped straight-up blogging, and I'm certainly guilty of that, though I've also given myself a hard diet from it. Except for Instagram (follow, like & share!) I have all but dropped off the Social Media train -- or is it trainwreck? -- and I attribute that to making me feel happier, too. But I'm still here, cyber-stalking as one does on teh Cyberz.

I will say that despite there being fewer voices in the blog world, the typewriter community at large feels even larger and livelier than ever. The Yahoo groups are still (still!) hanging on, and there's no shortage of restorers, resellers, and admirers out there. It's heartening, because I feel like we've adapted as a community, even as the winds of what's "cool" have changed. For myself, I do claim a much longer personal history with the image than with the written word. I truly didn't get "in" to writing until joining up with the Typewriter Brigade all those (Duffy) Moons ago.  So my gradual upgrading of a better phone and camera, and obsessively snapping pictures of office buildings and random architectural details is nothing new. It's just easier to share: practically frictionless, like social media was designed to be.

One massive disadvantage to willfully dropping off social media -- and perpetually being bad at blog upkeep -- is that I cannot pester people remotely and incessantly for personal gain. If you're still in the NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade, you may know that I attempted some Bravery last year and asked people for donations and dressed up and carried a typewriter to San Francisco on a train and talked with strangers and had a great time. I count all of these as Major Achievements, especially the dressing-up part. And I'm doing it again, or am hoping to:

I'm fundraising to attend the NaNoWriMo Night of Writing Dangerously, held in San Francisco. It took me a decade of self-convincing to believe that I could do it, and now I'm trying to stamp out that regret by going back. Last year I took a travel 'writer, and my hands and arms paid dearly. This year, we type in style -- I'm thinking Olympia SM9 -- and damn the consequences and possible hernia.

But I need your help...

I have a fundraising page set up, and all proceeds go to the fine folks at for their educational programs and outreach. I wrote more about it on the page, it's goofy and pleading, just like me in real life. If you're able to contribute even a small amount, I and the NaNo folks, would be most grateful. U.S. contributions are tax-deductible, and if you're a lapsed Wrimo, this is a good way to help out an organization and promote the Typosphere. I was the only typewriter-bearer in the ballroom last year, and I made a welcome racket (seriously: so many people complemented me on the industrious noise.)

Thank you in advance for your support, and I hope you all have a delightful Typewriter Day.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Change, and change, and change again

Well, it's been too long.

That's about all there is to say about it: it's been far too long since I've updated here. To recap the past year or so: I lost my job at the end of July 2016, which gave me a five-month "break" from my daily routine, namely "find a new routine, where that routine is job-hunting." I have to admit, it was pretty bleak, and I was feeling very down on myself. We're all creatures of comfortable habits, and I certainly had grown comfortable to the point of complacency. But a new position in the new year set things aright for me -- a new environment, a new team, new skills -- everything I'd lacked, and for so long that I didn't even realize they were missing.

Unfortunately, that employer made some restructuring decisions within my new team, and not wanting to be caught off-guard twice in under a year, I built on the experience of the five-month misery and chose my own path this time. I left the new job, and started a new-new job. For someone that agonizes for  months over how to use gift certificates, finding, applying, and accepting a new position like this is positively breakneck. Don't tell anyone, but after literally decades of resistance, I might be learning to accept change and even uncertainty into my day, even when it means tamping down my natural introversion and general unease around humans. Amazing times indeed!

A post shared by Michael P. Clemens (@mpclemens) on

One constant in all this flux, though, is the advancing of the year and the inevitability of November and NaNoWriMo. But this year, I'm even looking to shake up that routine a little bit. This year, I'm looking to break out of my self-imposed writing bubble. I'm banging the Nano drum at work, for example, saying "join me" instead of "please ignore the odd typing sounds." And I'm looking to attend the Night of Writing Dangerously this year, the fundraising write-a-thon held around the middle of the month by the NaNo organization. Logisitics and my own stick-in-the-mud-ness have always been my excuse, but I've outgrown the excuses. Actions are serving me better.

The other half of the attendance equation, of course, is the /raising funds/ portion, and I've even worked on my natural Midwestern resistance to asking for help to… ask for help. Or specifically, to ask for donations to NaNoWriMo, in the form of sponsoring me + rhino to attend. Here's my page for the event:

I have a lot of respect for the team behind NaNoWriMo, shaping what started as a kind of collective distributed flashmob and transforming it into a respected non-profit devoted to fostering writing and creativity, and teaching that Big Crazy Dreams aren't that unattainable after all. I truly do credit my years of participation for giving me the courage to change how I look at huge projects and to give me a mental mindset for chipping away at big problems. And I have made it a point to donate every year after that first wild ride. Is it coincidence that my donation years perfectly align with my Typewriter Brigade years? Of course not! Typing makes us kinder, more thoughtful, and (hopefully) more giving people. And that's a kind of change I have no trouble adapting to.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

I'll tumbl For Ya

In celebration of my new work situation in San Francisco, and to stave off the morass of bleakness and political despair on certain other face-twittery social media, I've been taking more digital snapshots lately and posting on Instagram. I'm not entirely sure that those pics are open to the world, though, at least without me doing more work. We're all playing in walled gardens with WiFi these days, and I prefer to lounge in gardens, not work.

Yahoo seems to have buttoned up access to Flickr after their multiple catastrophic password-hack issues, thus breaking my former Instragram-to-flickr backup. Now I've set up a new tumblr, and re-re-posted some of my favorite shots there. The weirdness of one Yahoo property working while another one fails is not lost on me.

If you like looking at square pictures of things, especially abstract forms in urban settings, you could do worse than click over:

So far it's just a visual record. I still like Clickthing as an outlet for verbiage, sporadic as it is.
If you want to hear what I think, pop in here every now and then. If you want to see tiny windows on my part of the world, tumble over to tumblr. No harm or offense taken if you want neither. :-)

EDIT: and just like that, Instagram -> Tumblr is broken, too. What the actual hell, Yahoo? Get your house in order.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Tim Gunn Was My Spirit Animal

So, last summer, I got to experience something I've never experienced before: I got fired. Let go just shy of twelve years at my employer, suddenly and unceremoniously. I was home with my son while my wife and daughters were across the country visiting family, and so had to balance the panic and fear of a destabilized routine with the projecting the calm, cool, fatherly assurance of Everything Would Be OK. I am a software developer, and I am living in a part of the country absolutely thick with software developers and development opportunities. But after just-shy-of-twelve-years, I'd also been insulated from some of the hype and glory of the industry. I'd traded a daily commute into San Francisco for a local position so I could be home more often and be "dad" more often. My elder child was about to start school, and the then-youngest was about to start talking. Priorities were priorities, and I walked away from a lot of excitement for stability and proximity.

When stability disappeared as it did last summer -- twelve years and a third child later -- I anguished about the change. I don't cope well with change. I'm a software engineer! We're practically the textbook definition of autism spectrum in my field: people who generally find it easier and more satisfying to spend their days unpacking logical puzzles than to interact with illogical humans. I'm sure there's more than a few in my field who wish we were Kirks, but know deep down we're Spocks. So I reacted in the most Spock-like way possible, looking for exactly the same job in exactly the same area so I could have exactly the same life.

And then, thank goodness, a few amazing coincidences happened.

First, a massive ego boost because of this:

He liked it! He really liked it!

I commented on some new pulp-style covers his publisher had done for re-issues of his novels. It was a total bit of fanboy sycophancy, though the sentiment was genuine. The first was for American Gods, which is an excellent, and deeply weird book. I love that this cover looks like it was pulled off a shelf of vintage paperbacks in some funky secondhand shop with a pay-what-you-like public coffeepot and a pair of bookstore cats.

The cover announcement came the day of my dismissal. I think this tweet was the day after. Mood: elevated.

And then this bit of also-fanboyism from J. Michael Straczynski ("JMS" to the Internet) who is a creative force and a writing wonder. He has touched many mediums over the years, and right around the time all this was happening in my life, he revealed that he was leaving behind comics because of severe vision-related medical reasons
that he had mercifully managed to get past, and was now literally and figuratively seeing things in a new light. I could relate to the fear and the worry that he felt, and then just to kick it up a bit, he gave a talk with a Q&A session in which an audience member presumably asked a question about "advice for the recently fired."

JMS' response was so excellent, so personally relevant, that I transcribed it, overlaid it on a still from the talk, and carried the quote with me to interviews. Here it is:

JMS advice

Mood: illuminated.

Seeing this clip, and writing these words, and feeling all the many, many feels finally clicked something in my mind. I missed San Francisco. I missed the ugly commute, the semi-permanent smell of urine. I missed the weirdos and the tech bros and the hipsters and the hippies and the tourists. I missed the energy of The City. I missed being in with "my tribe." I missed it, so very, very badly. One interview convinced me, and subsequent ones reinforced it. I wanted back in. I missed my spectrum tribe.

And it took a lot of time, and a lot of trips, and a lot of anxious night-befores and nervous whiteboard exercises and code tests and reviews and refreshers and tutorials to really lock that in my mind. And now I had the wisdom of those twelve years, plus the eight before when I was surfing dot-com 1.0. I'm better attuned to sniff out the dreamers from the doers, and hopefully am better at navigating the whole Professional Developer process. And I was also humbled. Laid low by interviewing with coders half my age, asking about now-hot skills that simply passed me by in the 'burbs. Keeping my chin up and the search going through screening after screening, interview after interview, and the dreaded "we appreciate your time, but..." email.

Spoiler: I did, in the end, find a job. A job I'm very happy with, with people I like very much, being challenged and pushed and poked out of the comfortable rut I'd worn for over a decade. I reassessed, but I reassessed on my terms. With the code-test for my current job, I did what I thought was more Kirk than Spock and made it my own Kobayashi Maru. And I thought of Tim Gunn, one of the co-hosts of our household guilty-pleasure TV Project Runway.

Tim acts as mentors for the contestants, who get gradually more and more stressed and sleep-deprived as the season progresses. Every few days, they are called upon to create a piece of clothing out of a limited budget, sometimes out of ludicrous "unconventional" materials, and often to play nice for a judge. They have a day to do this, are judged severely, and those who pass the judging move on to do it all again in a day or two (a week in TV time.) The show casts right along reality-show types: the Outspoken One, the Quiet One, the Sassy One, the Old One, the Young One, etc.. They're all trying to win, and win big, and keep their sanity in front of the cameras. This season especially, I felt I could relate. Through it all is the kindly, guiding voice of Tim Gunn, reminding the designers to stay true to themselves, regardless of the absurdity of the challenge. And so when the code challenge crossed my desk, I did just that -- stayed true to the skills and experience I had, and presented something I was proud of.

It didn't get me the position, but it gave me more confidence in the interview, more persistence to keep calling back over the holidays, and I'd like to think those lined up for a second interview for something else entirely.

Today was my first official payday in six months. Mood: relieved. Six months to the day since I stuffed the last box in the back of my car, shook hands with everyone, and drove off. Six months of stress and worry and snug budgets and tight belts and lower thermostats and postponed haircuts and resume after resume after resume.

Totally worth it. Thanks Neal. Thanks JMS. And thanks, Tim. I made it work.

Monday, December 26, 2016

'Tis the Season

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
"Yes ma'am. I said it looks like you have elves."
"Yes ma'am. About a dozen or so I'd suppose, th0ugh it's hard to tell for certain. They tend to keep out of sight, most times."
"Yes ma'am, you heard correct. Right around Boxing Day we start getting the calls in. Looking for a place to nest down for the season, you know." He looked around at the home: brick and neat white cladding, two-storey with shutters over the windows, icicles dangling along the edge of the roof. Pretty as a Christmas card. "Yep. This is the sort of place they flock to, your basic elf."
That he parked in plain sight in the driveway was bad enough. Now this? What would the neighbors think? She lowered her voice. "This is a good neighborhood," she hissed. "The realtor said nothing about… infestations."
"Oh, it's a fresh bunch," he said. "Probably smuggled in on one of them Alaska cruise ships. Real problem up north, you know. But global warming… well, they're losing habitat."
She shivered in her robe, clutching her cocoa for warmth. The candy cane tinkled against the edge as she shivered. It had taken hours to roll them out and get the twists just right, and dammit, they were going to get used. Except they'd been disappeared. A few here and there -- easy enough to blame on the kids -- but then this morning, over two dozen, just vanished. And two empty cookie tins, out in the yard. And all the decorating sugar, gone. The gingerbread village disappeared without a trace. Rats, she thought. Or mice. And she called the exterminators, and they sent this… person.
"I'm really having trouble with this," she said. "You know, yesterday was kind of a busy day…"
The exterminator nodded. "Perfect time for them to slip in, you know. All the hustle and bustle. But you can't miss the signs." He'd showed her the gap in the basement wall, lined with leftover tissue paper like a paper wasp nest. The neat piles of cedar shavings in the corners ("Probably tinkers," he said. "Mind you lock up your tools.") And of course, the little piles of peppermints stacked neatly under the stair. ("Droppings," he told her. "Fresh ones. Still sticky.")
"Isn't there anything you can do?" she said. "A spray or something?"
"Oh no, can't spray," he said. "They're a Protected group, your basic elves. More'n my job's worth to cross that line."
She felt a headache coming on. "Traps, then?" she said. "What do they do for raccoons? My sister had a raccoon up the chimney in their cabin once."
"No good," said the exterminator. He was filling out a complicated-looking form. "Far too clever to fall for that. Most of 'em could build better, anyway. You can't get 'em by outsmarting."
"Well, what am I supposed to do, then?" she said. She tried to ignore the noises coming from the dryer vent. It sounded suspiciously like Christmas carols, being sung by tiny, childlike voices.
"Well," said the exterminator. "There's no guarantees, but if you get all this down and packed away, nature tends to take its course, if you know what I'm saying."
"But these wreaths are handmade!" she said. "White pine from Scandinavia! Hand-woven grosgrain! Blown-glass bulbs from Austria!" It was enormous, too, and well-lit. She made sure the whole neighborhood could see it.
"I understand, ma'am, I truly do. But there's nothing for it. They look well moved-in now. Maybe you'd have a chance with an artificial tree…"
"An artificial… we are not barbarians you know."
"No ma'am, sorry ma'am. I'm just saying that you've made it all so nice, it's no wonder they flocked to you."
"Flocked? You said it was six or seven!"
"I said 'probably' six or seven, but there's no way to be sure. Two tins of cookies and a stack of peppermints. You have any sort of chocolate in the house?"
"Cocoa powder, of course. Baking chocolate. I know the kids have some candy from their auntie."
"Make a list," he said. "And check it. Twice. Basically, you need to get your supplies down now, before the hibernation season. See, they fatten up good for winter, maybe wake around Easter for a snack, and then again at Halloween before their migration. That's your best chance. Make sure you don't bring out any decorations until at least December first. Maybe St. Nicholas' Day, to be safe. The last thing you want to do is give them an excuse to stay through next winter." He tore off the back sheet of the form and gave it to her in a mittened hand. "Giving that it's the holidays, this call's on me. Merry Christmas."
She snatched it from him. "Christmas was yesterday, and thanks for nothing," she said. She slammed the door hard enough to dislodge a few icicles from the roof.
"You're welcome," he said to the door knocker. From a vent down by his feet, he heard the sounds of jingle bells and laughter. Checking that no one was watching, he left a stack of cookies next to the basement window. Chocolate chip. Still warm. "See you next year," he said to the window. A pair of tiny hands snatched the cookies and disappeared again.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, he climbed into his van, and out the cul-de-sac he drove.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Unwrapping Ire, A Resolution for 2017

I always have trouble sleeping at this time of year. My long-suffering wife blames it on the very true fact that mentally I turn into a raving seven-year-old during the Christmas season (actual quote from me yesterday: "Why is there no Christmas music playing [in the living room]? How will Santa know we're ready for him?") It's anticipatory now, knowing what's waiting for my family under the tree and looking forward to the surprise, the laughter, and the inevitable meltdowns as we try to take our family through the motions one more time: the 6:00AM sharp commencement of activities enforced by the youngest child, the mandatory extra coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls required by the adults. This is life in a normal year.

Of course, 2016 has been far from a normal year.

With dread and anxiety, we're all hoping we can just make it through the few days we have left without some new bleak piece of news. I won't rehash all the terrible events of the year. I'm already sleepless, and there's no reason to get miserable before the sun has even risen. I'm sure you have no shortage of reasons to want to see the memory of 2016 dropped in a hole and buried as soon as possible. My more faithful friends say that this has been a year that Tests each of us, and I would not be surprised if that's the tone and tenor of the Christmas Eve service we'll be attending later today. But even they are struggling with the ongoing drumbeat of terrible things that happened this year, and which continue to happen. The horrible news and pictures from Aleppo leave us all haunted and feeling powerless, for example. Any cheer and seasonal joy we muster feels artificial and fruitless, honestly. This is the legacy of 2016 -- one ass-kicking after another, for those of us left who can still stand.

And here this gets political, especially United States-political. If you have the stomach for it, hear me out. Have some coffee and a cookie if it helps. I'll wait.

The political pendulum swings as always, and for a large number of American voters, we feel that we're now swinging in a very bad place, dangling over the very swamp infested with the worst sort of creatures. It's just One More Thing, and it's haunting and demoralizing. Social media drains directly into that swamp. The water's turned foul, and just keeps pouring in. It's easy to feel like you're doing something when you're fighting the current all day, and the echo chamber of outrage, dismay, and anxiety grows in sound and fury, if not significance. It's no accident that my nation chose a President-elect that can think only in easily digestable and resharable word-bites. This is where discourse has landed now. That haunted and powerless feeling is here at home, too. And this is what woke me up this morning. Not the promise of excitement in the next 24 hours, nor joy, nor breakfast with my loved ones -- the fear that we've all slipped into a place where everyone is yelling, and nothing is changing.

And then I realized the True Meaning of 2016. 2016 existed to Piss Us Off.

2016 showed us the frailty of life, the horror that man is still capable of in the name of "peace" and the throwback ugliness that still lies beneath the surface of voting populations of the world. And we have a choice, here, with about a week to go in the year. We can look to the turning of the calendar and pretend that all the terribleness is behind us and that 2017 cannot possibly be as terrible as 2016 -- and I admit, that's a high bar -- or we can be realistic, and realize that 2016 may have just been a warm-up for tough times ahead. Much as I'd like to believe it's the former, I'm steeling myself for the latter. I'm tapping into the despair of 2016 and planning to punch back in 2017, and I want to encourage you all to do the same.


* To become a better-informed citizen by following local, state, and federal legislative activity
* To post my elected representatives numbers by every phone and to call, regularly
* To do the same with the office of the President
* Not to confuse "shares" and "likes" and "retweets" with direct action
* To donate blood as often as I can, and encourage others to do so

This year was terrible. Next year will probably be terrible, too. But I'm kicking back.

What do you pledge?