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.