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It’s about ten before nine as I start writing this, and I’m not in traffic this morning; instead I’m sitting in the Millbrae Panera, about 10 miles from the house, with a bagel and cream cheese and a cup of coffee. Yes, it’s a holiday, and one that I’d almost forgotten about having off—it was only as I was leaving the office and called “see you Monday” to a coworker that I got back, “Oh, Monday’s a day off. See you Tuesday.”

The power at the apartment went out this morning, just after seven, and as far as I can tell it’s still out. This means that my web sites and the Excursion Society MUCK are down, as well as [ profile] haikujaguar’s Stardancer. I did learn, at least, that the UPS monitoring daemon in OS X actually works now, as after about five minutes Parmesan (my PowerMac G5) shut down gracefully. Unfortunately, Agii (the web server) didn’t have that enabled, so hopefully it’ll all come back up without undue stress. (In theory, I back up my home directory to Parmesan via rsync every night, and I back up Parmesan to an external drive… somewhat less frequently than I honestly should. Parmesan is actually due for an internal hard drive replacement given its age, but I’m still debating replacing Parmesan itself. That’s another post, though.)

(Note: around 9:20 or so, Agii came back online. I haven’t reconnected to it to check on my own various web services, but I shall before I leave Panera.)

So what do I plan to do with my day off, you ask? In theory, write. I haven’t done anything on “Gift of Fire” since last weekend. I’ve been having trouble dragging myself out of bed early enough to get in writing in the morning, and both of the weekend days were largely committed—Saturday to a somewhat roundabout trip to Santa Cruz, and Sunday to a large block of role-playing on the Excursion Society, kicking off a long-delayed trip and some of the first interaction that hasn’t been characters sitting around hoping something would happen in months.

In practice, I don’t think I want to sit here at Panera the whole day trying to write, though. The atmosphere’s still pleasant enough in its own way but perhaps it’s become a little too sterile, or perhaps I’m anticipating the inevitable lunch rush with dread. (They’ve also taken to shutting off your wifi if you’re on it for more than 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., precisely because of said lunch rush—an understandable business decision but not one that fills me with joy, even though if I’m writing I shouldn’t be on the damn network anyway.) I’m contemplating heading up into San Francisco to check out Ritual Coffee Roasters, which I’ve been to once before, many months ago, and see if I can write there. Will it be magically more inspiring? Maybe. Maybe it’ll just be a waste of time, of course.

I’ve also brought my camera with me. I have a Nikon D70; last week I became a bit technolusty after one of the newer Nikons, the D300. (For those not up on the model line, the D70 was replaced by the D70s and then the D80; Nikon’s newest cameras are the Serious Pro Level D3 and its less buff cousin, the D300, which is nonetheless a serious leap up from the D80.) But, I didn’t use it very much at all last year; if I want to re-engage my shutterbug a little, I need to get re-engaged with the tools I have before buying new ones. And, of course, if I bought a new gadget sometime for the D70—a new lens, a tripod, an external flash—it would transfer to any newer camera body. But the point is to retrain myself to get out there and start taking photos again.

Thinking about computers and camera gear also, not unsurprisingly, makes me think about finances. That too could be another post, but the short form is that on Friday, I got my first direct deposit paycheck. Regular pay means I can put into effect a regular transfer into savings, something I haven’t done since… well, I’m not sure I’ve done it this decade. Last year on contract, I did put money into savings irregularly, but most “savings” actually went to debt payment. At the end of 2006 I paid off my car, leaving just a credit card debt that was, if I recall right, about $10K. I paid that off by the end of 2007. Given the bleak economic outlook for 2008, this is probably an excellent time to not have debt. I now might have the stability to start (gasp) buying stocks and bonds—which at first glance seems odd to think about given that just-mentioned economic outlook, but over the long-term, it’s nearly always a good bet. I’m still doing my research on that.

At any rate, even if I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, it’s definitely time to do something. Upward and onward.

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I’m working from the field today, and at the moment the field happens to be Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda. Yes, I’m back here, although earlier today I was in Walnut Creek, which is where I actually did most of the work that I’ve gotten done so far, working before and after lunch at the Pyramid Ale House. I’ve closed two tickets out of five I need to work on, with another two being pretty trivial and the remaining one being… well, less trivial.

When I was reading The Four-Hour Work Week a couple months ago, one of the “worksheet” exercises there was just listing things you’d like to do and be: to be a good (or better) cook, to write a film, to drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway. At the time I did that, I checked Sur La Table’s web site to see if they had any upcoming cooking classes, specifically something useful for a beginner like “Essential Knife Skills.” They didn’t have that one then. I checked again, on a whim, on Tuesday, and they had that specific class that evening. After a bit of waffling, I signed up then and left work a little early to get to the class. Was it worthwhile? Probably. It was fun, and while I’m not sure I was told anything that I hadn’t read somewhere, there’s a difference between reading and having hands-on instruction. There’s a few other classes there I’m going to be interested in pursuing, I suspect. I don’t have any professional chef aspirations, but I do want to kick my own ass into doing more in the kitchen than I have been. On Wednesday, I did cook—just a simple pasta primavera type dish, but it worked. I have a vague intent of using some leftover cooked pasta for pan-fried noodles, although given that it’s past six-thirty on Friday as I write this and I’m fifty miles from home, I don’t know if that’ll be tonight. We’ll see.

I did get to drop into a couple apartments on Alameda today, and I persist in having an attraction to Shoreline Drive there, the road that runs along San Francisco Bay. The apartments, as usual, really aren’t cheap, although given that they may be facing the bay, or at worst just a block away, they’re surprisingly affordable. (Again, by area standards—in most other areas, they’d be blanche-worthy.) These are in part because they’re, well, old: most of them are 1960s-era, don’t have air conditioning, don’t have laundry connections, may not even (gasp) have dishwashers. They’re mostly all independently-managed, so maintenance, office hours, and so on could be highly variable. Many of the buildings have character, but one man’s character is another man’s dilapidation, and I’d certainly have to think about where on that side of the line I fall for a given unit.

All of this is moot while I’m still in debt and without the resources I’d need to not only pay a deposit on a new place but buy furniture, since I’m without most of the basics beyond bedroom stuff now. Even so, my debt’s lower now than it’s been in years, and I expect to knock another big chunk out soon. (I’m realizing just now I’m failing to account for the still outstanding car A/C repair, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.) As fall approaches, I’ll have to take stock of where things are in my life in terms of savings and job security.

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a real post; I’ve started and stopped a few of them, on various topics, but I think I should probably just spit out a quick life update type of post.

Today is, of course, tax weekend, and I’m facing something I haven’t in a couple years: the fun of 1099 status. For those of you not up on IRS lingo, your employer usually sends you, at the end of the year, a W-2 form showing how much you made and how much has already been sent to the IRS on your behalf. If, however, you’re working as an independent contractor, you are effectively your own employer, so the people paying you are not taking out any money, and they send you a 1099 form. And either you’ve been paying an estimate of what would have been withheld quarterly (the right way) or you pay it all at once (the wrong way). Since I started my 1099 work in August, I didn’t think about the quarterly estimated tax thing, and I am paying it all at once. Actually, I am also paying the quarterly estimated tax for the first quarter of 2007, which is also due April 17th. Last year, I only worked about nine months at varying pay rates, four months on W-2; this year I’m estimating my quarterly taxes based on continuous work at my current pay rate, which makes what I’ll pay every quarter this year about equal to what I owe for last year.

I don’t know that I will work all of this year, which is the fun of contracting—but things seem to be pretty stable at work. Being 1099 theoretically puts me in control of when and where I work; that’s part of the legal/tax distinction between “employee” and “contractor.” I’m not sure how far that can be pushed in practice, though. (“I’m moving to Napa and telecommuting three or four days a week, okay?”) Even so, I like the job and it’s paying pretty nicely.

Actually, over the last month it’s been slowly sinking in that my finances are… good. Assuming no negative change in the next few months, my credit card debt of doom will finally be paid off and I’ll be able to throw a lot of my income into savings and I’ll still have money left over to Do Cool Stuff. This is a position I haven’t been in for years.

I’ve started a little of the Cool Stuff Doing already; not too long ago, I went on a somewhat spontaneous weekend trip to Santa Barbara, which I should probably write up as its own little post. I’m rekindling my attempts to find more interesting slightly upscale restaurants in the local area. A couple weekends ago, I bought an Apple TV. And, I’ve been working on spring cleaning for my room—which may include getting some new furniture, as I try to figure out how to maximize the space I have available. Getting a 10′×11′ space to act as both bedroom and office is a challenge.

There’s also trying to find “personal project space,” which connects back to getting the bedroom into shape. My muse is starting to tug at me about my collection of unfinished projects, both writing and programming. I’m hoping to get some of them shoved forward soon.

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It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated my journal, so this entry will be something of a hodgepodge. And, since it's a bit long... click through to read of work, living arrangements, and plane trips. )

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It’s been another long time since I’ve updated, at least in a relative sense. I’m not consciously trying to stay under the radar; I suppose I’ve been busy enough that I haven’t had my typical time for leisurely navel-gazing.

Work continues apace. A deadline is coming up in two days—yes, Friday the 13th—and another one follows two weeks after that. The previously-mentioned office move sounds like it’s set for mid-November. I suspect as a sanity measure, I’m going to put off thoughts of any personal moves until the new year.

My Acura RSX is now five years old and has 125,000 miles on it—yes, I do drive a lot, why do you ask?—and, as of last month, was completely paid off. I’m expecting to take this sucker to 200,000 miles, because dammit, I want several years with no car payments.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop putting money into it, of course, even discounting repairs: I just bought a new car stereo. I know, I know. But I listen to XM radio more than I listen to FM and listen to my iPod more than XM, and my current setup is a hodgepodge of cables and low-power FM transmitters. The new system I’m buying, a Pioneer DEH-4800MP, comes with an (optional) iPod controller and (optional) XM receiver so everything will go through Just One Box Dammit. The sound quality from both XM and iPod should improve noticeably, and no more fumbling around with the iPod control wheel while driving. (Instead I can just fumble with the deck’s control wheel.) They get installed tomorrow at a Best Buy about a mile from the office, so tomorrow morning I get to see if I can actually walk the path between here and there. (There does seem to be a sidewalk the whole way, at least.)

I’d like to say that I’ve been creative and productive and all that, but outside of work, that hasn’t been the case. There’s nothing particularly angstful implied there, though. It’s not that I feel that all my energy has been sapped away by work (the opposite, to some degree). It may be simple writer’s block, possibly caused by too many things that I want to work on and not enough patience to prioritize them.

Anyway, it’s about time to shut down here—despite the brevity of this update—and head out to meet friends for dinner.

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I’ve more or less taken care of what I needed to have before work; I have some things I should probably be reviewing, though, so I’ve come to a Panera to do some of that review.

In Stockton.

Why in Stockton? I’d say because it’s just such a cool city, but that’s not true—not that it’s a bad city from what I’ve seen, mind you. Definitely a different vibe from the Bay Area, though. Honestly, though, I’m here because I want to be out today. I won’t have the opportunity to go out during weekdays again for a while, I suspect.

Actually, I’m not sure how vacations are going to work with this contract. There are no benefits so obviously it’s unpaid, but the payment is scheduled as a flat biweekly rate. I suppose I’ll ask if it’s prorated by day (which would make sense). In theory, the definition of “independent contractor” means I have latitude in setting my hours and working conditions. That’s a prime part of the legal litmus test: if the person paying you controls the way the work is carried out, that person is hiring you as an employee, not a contractor. In practice, that’s something one can’t push too much, but I may see if I can take advantage of it within reason—experimenting with commuting hours and inquiring about telecommuting options.

But at this point, it is time to start investigating what else is in Stockton. I’m not hungry enough to eat yet—which is perhaps just as well, budget considered—but I can explore the town a little more. I may be hungry enough for a milkshake at the Sonic Drive-In in Tracy on the way back, the closest Sonic to the SF Bay Area. (I have explored Tracy a bit, and as unkind as it may sound, I suspect Sonic is one of the better food options there anyway.)

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About a month ago I ended a journal entry with, “If I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.”

So, it’s time to play Emo or Not! With our special guest host, Morrissey!

No, wait.

Something that I occasionally do to try to keep perspective is figure out just how much I have to be spending per month, making realistic allowances for food, gasoline, and so on. I love spreadsheets. If my car was paid off and I wanted to save $500 a month, how much would I need to net monthly? What happens if I pay off that credit card? What about if I raise or lower my rent? My “good salary”—even allowing for a reasonable savings rate and food budget—is consistently lower than I imagine. On the other hand, my necessary salary, with no savings and very little fat, turns out to actually be higher than what I made in 2002-2004, which explains that never-diminishing debt.

But while it’s good to know the dimensions of the hamster wheel, you still have to figure out how to get off it. My plans for that are prosaic. Step one, get new income, as high as can be managed. Two, attack debt desperately, without making any new “big” purchases, until the card’s minimum payment is down to an arbitrarily-defined non-scary number. Three, pump money into my high-interest savings account until…

Until what?

Until I deem the cushion “enough,” and take a half-year off to wander the country and find a new path? If I get a solid high-paying contract and run it for a year, that would take care of the debt and at least start on the cushion.

Or until I deem the cushion “enough,” and then start pumping money into my long-dormant IRA? It’s grown from $7K to $11K left unattended for about six years now, but we’re clearly not talking retiring to Tahiti any time soon.

This may not be looking at the problem the right way. My life’s out of balance; I need to be in balance with the life I have, not the life I might one day get. I need to learn what I need to be doing and where I need to be to be happy, but these are not monetary questions—even though it’s hard to pay attention to them without being financially secure.

• • •

So am I cutting my losses and hitting the road? Not quite yet. I have a couple résumés still out there and I had an interview this morning that I believe went well. I have what I think will be a witty ad to post on Craigslist (nothing risqué, mind you, just a slightly unorthodox approach), which I'll put up on Monday if I haven't heard back from the company by then.

Emo or not? As Morrissey would say, “Reply hazy, try again.”

No, wait. That’s a Magic 8-Ball.

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So on Saturday, [ profile] dracomistle, Dave Bryant and I went out to go to a couple places in Oakland, Teance and the Bittersweet Cafe. This went fairly well. Coming back we stopped in Fremont at a Fry’s to see if they had A/C units for Dave. I didn’t think they would by now, and I was right, as it turned out: we’re in a big heat wave here, and it was actually 110° in Fremont that day.

On the way back from Fry’s, it seemed my car’s A/C wasn’t doing all that well. I figured it was just overwhelmed. But, on Sunday when I went out for lunch it started blowing hot air at me. This when it was over 100 here in San Jose. I was not happy.

And, last night the internet connection at home went out. The entire power grid is being stressed, and that affects the cable companies, too; Comcast has their 24-hour crews out just like PG&E, and the battle’s apparently just as futile in both quarters.

So. Today I went to Sears to get an A/C recharge, and I figured I’d stop by the Apple Store in the mall to check my e-mail and respond to some things: the net connection was still out at home this morning. (The cable modem thinks it’s connected to something valid, but the packets ain’t gettin’ out.) Sounds good, except that the Apple Store never opened. I don’t know what the hell they were doing in there, they just didn’t open by 11am, which is when I went back to Sears to pick up my car.

And that’s what I did, to be told that my A/C system doesn’t just need a recharge. The compressor isn’t coming on. They checked the fuses and they were all good.

So. I am job hunting on the internet without an internet connection, and driving to an internet café will require driving back out in the heat wave. It’s quarter past noon, already 90° and expected to keep a-climbin’. If I go back out, I’m probably staying put wherever I go until after sunset (8:21 PM, for those keeping track). The staff will surely love me.

Anybody know a good and cheap A/C-handling garage in the Los Gatos/Almaden area?

(A bit before 2pm, the internet at home started working again, and that’s where I’m at now—although I’m suspecting I should force myself to work on some non-internet projects anyway at this point. It’s now over 100° out, and I’m disinclined to drive anywhere.)

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A few months ago I wrote about having picked up the book Getting Things Done. Since I don’t have the excuse of no free time now, I spent the last couple of days using a GTD plugin for Mori, a strange notebook/outliner program I have.

Does “GTD” work? It has a strong geek following: it’s an engineering approach to task management, built on the premise that what we actually manage isn’t time or projects but rather actions. The Excursion Society MUCK is a project of mine, but the individual actions I need to take for it involve better testing of the web interface, beating old Bandari players into getting onto ESM, beating myself into finishing porting pieces of Bandari over to ESM, etc. GTD is a formalization of the common sense notion that you get things done by breaking them down into small concrete steps and taking them one at a time—it’s a guide to turning your projects into actions, and then managing those actions. The idea is to get things “captured” on paper and thus out of your head, breaking the worry loop cycle. (There’s an explicitly acknowledged Zen component to the GTD approach: “mind like water” is the mental state you manage for. That also appealed to me.)

All well and good, but does “GTD” work for me? Outlook hazy. Ask again later. If I manage to make checking my “next action list” a habit, and make a habit of sticking everything I need to do, want to do, or think might be something to look at doing into my GTD notebook, I’ll have a good test for it. For the whole three days I’ve been doing this, it’s been working. I’m feeling some mild sense of accomplishment, which is definitely a positive thing.

I really am planning to advertise ESM, but that’ll be in its own forthcoming message. (Initially I’m just going to “advertise” here on my own journal.) One of my hopes for GTD is that it’ll clear enough mental underbrush away that I’ll be able to focus on my other projects better. Famous last words, I suppose. Even so, some little things that I’ve been failing to get done for months have been done now, and other ones are being captured.

In other news: a “next action” for today—now completed—was getting a writing sample together for an interview tomorrow. It sounds like this is with a company looking for ad hoc, project-based technical writing, not an offer of steady work, but I’ll see. I’ve also gotten a contact from someone at the company I did the 15-month contract for that took up all of 2005 and more, although my impression from the job description is that they’re looking for someone who’ll have specific technical skills I lack. Even so, I’ll review it and probably send a résumé.

My lost paychecks still haven’t arrived; in theory they’ll be sent to the personnel company’s office and I’ll pick them up directly Monday or Tuesday. I’m hoping I’ll hear from the unemployment office next week, too. In the interim, I’ve been doing the equivalent of looking for lost coins under the sofa. The little ad hoc subcontract I’d been working on is finished, from what I can tell, with just 15 billable hours. But I suspect I could probably make a living wage with just 15-20 hours a week if the rates were high enough (these weren’t, quite).

Final odd toy of the moment: I’m also playing with WriteRoom, a freeware program from Mori’s creator. It’s a simple fullscreen text editor, whose premise is “writing without distraction.” I’m not convinced that this sort of thing is necessary—one can, after all, hide the windows one isn’t writing in, and turn off e-mail and instant messaging programs—but this is an elegant implementation of the idea. I have to say that there is something focusing about having nothing but text in front of me. I frequently stop when writing to collect my thoughts, and I don’t have the opportunity to be distracted by anything else on the computer. There may be something to be said for that.

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Yesterday was a more social July 4th than I’ve had in a while, and overall a pretty good one at that. [ profile] tugrik grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch; Skorzy was still in town, and Reality Fox and Frang came over (with alcohol and weird Japanese food products, as is tradition—clam jerky?). While later in the day I retreated a bit to antisocial stereotype, sitting in the living room on the laptop (like I am now), I observed the new tradition of detonating lemons with big firecrackers.

I wasn’t sure what plans were—there had been talk of going to see a movie, which I probably would have passed on—and I’d started to think about sneaking off to Morgan Hill to watch their fireworks, but it turned out they were thinking of an expedition to downtown San Jose to watch the fireworks there. So, I went along via light rail to join the mass of people in the Guadalupe River Park; we found seats along the river itself, relatively uncrowded but still with a great view of the fireworks when they went off.

After the fireworks, people decided to go to Denny’s for a late night dinner.

Me: So I am going to Denny’s for my sins?

Tugrik: No, you are going to Denny’s for your country.

I had Denny’s version of scattered and smothered hash browns—covered with country gravy, onions and cheddar cheese. Not as good as Waffle House’s ode to excess (topped with onions, cheddar, diced ham, diced tomatoes, diced jalapenos and chili), but quite acceptable as a cheap, late-night, all-American artery clogger.

So. I’m working on my subcontracting project, although in part I’m waiting for feedback. I do have a “work on this when you’re out of other things” document, though, which I’ll attend to this afternoon. With some mild trepidation I’ve re-activated my résumé on, bumping the freelance catchall position up to “10/2002—Present” (it’s true, after all, even if the Cisco and Global Locate contracts were full-time during that period and get their own separate listings). I’m going to start quietly advertising editing services again shortly; I have a simple iWeb-built static site ready to go, and using iBiz, an invoicing program designed for consultants that I’d actually bought a couple years ago, I should be able to keep track of just how much I’ll need to take out for taxes. (So far this year I haven’t made enough to worry about this, but it won’t take very much before I’ll need to start.)

Why mild trepidation? Simply put, I’m finding I rather like the idea of working at home as compared to working in an office. As long as I get my work done in a timely fashion, the conditions under which I’m doing them—for instance, sitting on the couch, taking breaks at completely random times to write LiveJournal posts—are immaterial. It’s said that most people only work productively five or six hours every day; given my druthers, I’ll spread that out over twelve or more hours, rather than eight, and at the office this tends to manifest itself as me failing to look busy, even if I am in fact getting work done. I also prefer to work on concrete tasks: give me as much latitude in getting to a goal as you’re comfortable with, but give me a goal. This is again something that freelance work is good for, although a lot of my worries about financial management in that approach come to the forefront. (I really, really prefer having an employer handle the taxes.)

Well. Speaking of distraction and spreading out work, it’s time to get lunch and then back to said subcontracting. My last two paychecks, both for short weeks (before and after Anthrocon), haven’t arrived yet, and are both being stopped and recut—so I’m not getting that final money until Tuesday, more than likely. Hopefully by next week I’ll find out if I’m going to get unemployment benefits or not, and I’ll have tracked down “missing” money in a couple accounts I’ve managed to lose contact with over the years.

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I’m skimming through my LiveJournal entries over the last few years and there’s a recurring pattern there, which goes something like this:

  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
  • Hmm, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life and figure out what I want to do, and—
  • Look, an IT job! This could lead somewhere good! Let’s take it.
  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.

It’d be nice if, instead of just telling me I’m heading the wrong way every few months, fate would consider giving me better directions.

You know, I didn’t wake up one day in high school or college and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had trouble ever holding a job for more than a couple years? And wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if those positions were just contract work with no chance of permanence? It’d be just great if, twenty years after I graduate high school, I could be one of those statistics in newspaper articles about people with a negative net worth!” Twenty years ago I didn’t even expect to be working in the technology field, despite having been a computer nerd from a very early age. It’s not what I failed to get my degree for.

If I’m frustrated, it’s in part because I’m surrounded by people who came from very similar places to me and have done a lot better. The wall I run into is often less a lack of degree than a lack of portfolio. I have very little I can point to as examples of my past work; what I’ve done has usually been proprietary manuals or UIs I haven’t been able to keep samples of.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few years in particular stuck with most of the drawbacks of a tumbleweed existence, but few of the benefits. If I was able to roll around the country in a VW conversion van doing odd jobs—or if I wanted to be a 21st century bum, doing just enough freelance web work by remote to pay for wireless internet along with gas and food!—for a couple years, that’d be absolutely terrific, but that’s not what’s happened.

So what if I pick up on my idea of going back to school and pursuing something completely different? I don’t know. At this point I’m having trouble seeing how to get off the hamster wheel without, well, a lot of money I keep failing to secure. What I’d really like, I think, is a short-term contract that would pay me an ungodly hourly rate through the end of this year, so I’d be in a better position next year to go back to school, move anywhere, what have you.

Could I just move back home for college? Yeah, and I might, even though the idea of moving back in with mom at my age is a bit wince-inducing. Yet now I’m a California resident, rather than a Florida one, so I would pay in-state tuition rates here and out-of-state rates there. Pasco-Hernando Community College’s’s costs for me would be over $200 per credit hour, for instance; Foothill or De Anza’s cost would be about $20 per credit hour. Even so, if I’m not paying rent there and I am paying it here, the finances still marginally tip in favor of such a move.

But hold on, my spreadsheet says: working part-time retail won’t pay for tuition, expenses and debt reduction in either place. If I got 10-15 hours of work a week at consulting rates, it’d work out, but I haven’t had much luck pursuing that approach in the past.

And, of course, if I got an AA in English, say, what could I do with it? Go on to get a BA in English. (In Florida, you’re automatically accepted at a state university with an associate degree awarded from a state community college; in California it’s not automatic, but it is more likely.) Or not. Then what? Journalist? Staff writer… somewhere?

I could do that, of course. I might like it more, in the long run. Computers are in my blood at this point, but maybe taking on an open source project or two would be sufficient for that. (I have a perverse temptation to implement a generalized version of the document management system I’d started to design for the company I was just let go from, although on a practical level I should only do that if I can apply the lessons from it to other personal projects like Claw & Quill.)

I am, in any case, starting to wonder if my California adventure is coming to a close. I haven’t been a miserable failure out here; I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully, I’ve worked for some interesting companies, and I’ve grown to really love the area. But I’ve barely been keeping my head above water. Every job has managed to leave me in a slightly worse financial position than when I started. And it looks like I may end up having to fight to get the last 6-7 days of pay for the most recent contract.

If I can get support to stay out here and go to school, I may very well do that. And, if one of those high-dollar contracts really does happen, terrific. This upcoming week I’m likely to talk to a college or two near here, and I’m going to be dusting off the resume and getting myself back in circulation. My experiences in March were fairly encouraging in terms of my “marketability” now.

If, however, I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.

chipotle: (Default)

So I’m mentally lining up those personal projects I haven’t been attending to well enough. And I think: finally, time to clear those away! Part of me is beginning to look forward to at least a brief break from the job. People in other countries routinely get three or four weeks of vacation, don’t they? When I’m employed I tend to take “vacationlets,” rarely more than three days off at once. A bigger chunk of time might be a fine thing. And I wonder: hey, could I take a few days to drive along the coast like I’ve written I wanted to do? If I was really conservative, and if I get unemployment benefits and figure out how far they’ll let me stretch things…

Then I look at my finances and I think: how the heck do I think I’m going to be able to coast a few months without pushing things on that? I don’t need to be thinking about vacations, I need to be thinking about ramen. I go back and stare nervously at my Excel spreadsheets, but they don’t feel very convincing. I talk to friends who have cash reserves five or six times the size of mine and look back and try to figure out just where it is I went wrong with my planning. Hitting just a five-digit figure in savings some time would be an accomplishment.

On job boards, I alternate between hey, this isn’t going to be so tough and everything either wants experience I don’t have or requires a degree. (And generally a specific degree, not the general humanities one I’d have ended up with.) This morning I was feeling irrationally cheerful about my future. Right now I’m feeling irrationally downbeat.

Were I able to quantify my emotional state and plot it out, though, I think the moving average over the last few days would be creeping toward the positive side. I’ve applied for another job, have some others to think on, haven’t yet looked at a couple job boards I intend to get to. I don’t have a strategy, per se, but maybe I’m moseying toward one.

I’m strongly considering a self-imposed blackout on news for a while, though. This’ll be tough—my home page is historically My Yahoo!, carrying AP and AFP wires; I’ve become a NewsGator junkie for reading various weblogs (my “blogroll” is exposed on my home page) and I can see a high potential for NewsVine; I listen to NPR more often than not on my drives into and out of work. Why would I do this crazy thing, then? Because it’s too easy for me to get stuck in a mental loop thinking about current events and politics, to spend all my time sitting around reloading news web sites. There are enough things to become nasty and bitter about without seeking them out. I’m sure I’ll return to browsing those sites (I’ve even thought about trying my hand at writing a blog “column” on one, although just for my own amusement), but I suspect I’ll be in a better head-space if I do some mental decluttering for a few weeks.

chipotle: (Default)

It’s been two weeks without an update from me. Sorry about that; I’m still here.

I should have written about my last two weekends; I’ve taken spur-of-the-moment train trips into San Francisco and car trips down along the Pacific Coast Highway, made it to a great tequila bar, and done slightly more cooking than I have been. I saw the beginning of the Chinese New Year parade, and spent a couple hours in an eclectic coffee bar in a loft over an art-house movie theater in Monterey. I was snowed on halfway up Mount Diablo, and saw snow in the Santa Cruz mountains on my way to a breakfast in Santa Cruz’s beach-beatnik downtown area.

At the office, I’ve been reacquainting myself with Perl and Ruby and realizing that I really do like Ruby more. Unfortunately for me, the company is pretty standardized on Perl as a scripting language, and from a practical standpoint it’s better for me to adapt to them rather than to try to get them to adapt to me. This is good, though, because it’s something different. A little scary for the same reason—it involves an engineering problem I’m not sure how to solve yet—but, challenge is good, right?

The downside was fights with two friends two weeks ago online, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. If you’d asked me then which one I’d expect to be talking to two weeks later, I’d have guessed the one on Saturday. As it’s turned out, though, the one on Sunday and I had a bigger fight later which ironically seems to have resolved a few things. We’re getting along much better now than we have in months.

The one from Saturday, meanwhile, wrote me off; I finally opened up about some things he’d done I found hurtful, and it went downhill. Apparently, from his point of view I can’t admit that I’m wrong and I don’t want to reconcile. From mine, getting painful things out is the only way toward reconciliation; I’d said what I wanted from him to move past that, and my feeling is he finds my “terms” unacceptable. Is that just a case of me not admitting I’m wrong? Some old lyrics from a Don Henley song always stick with me: There’s three sides to every story: yours and mine and the cold, hard truth.

When I wrote “cooking” it’s not strictly true, as I’ve been doing a few things that don’t involve cooking, or involve very little. Two nights ago it was my apple and grilled cheese sandwich again (mostly spurred by a conversation with [ profile] ladyperegrine in which she mentioned them). I’d also bought some of Lunardi’s prepared salads, a carrot and raisin salad and ambrosia salad, but both were resoundingly mediocre. That did spur me to make my own ambrosia salad last night, with an improvised recipe I figured would be better than the ones I was finding online—and it is, although in the spirit of never leaving well enough alone I’m thinking of a couple tweaks. (I’ll put the recipe up later if people are feeling sufficiently 1950s homemaker to be interested.)

This morning I woke up from a dream which involved [ profile] tugrik, [ profile] revar, [ profile] reality_fox, and my friend and housemate of a decade ago, [ profile] chastmastr walking to Chili’s. For some reason we split up into two groups, and [ profile] chastmastr and I were walking alone. It was dark and the landscape was flat and mostly wooded. Before the group had split, [ profile] chastmastr had been repeating the same joke in multiple ways, and I’d been explaining as we walked that one time was enough, and at some point I said, “But that’s just a suggestion.” “Selection?” he said. “No,” I said, but somehow this led us both on a tangent about selections. (Anyone who’s heard us talk together knows we could go on for hours this way.) Then I realized we’d been turned around—I was theoretically the one who knew where we were going—and we set off down another street. I woke up about when we could see the Chili’s sign in the distance.

I have no idea what any of that means, unless it’s a suggestion I should go to Chili’s for lunch.

While I was in Santa Cruz, I managed to lose my check card, so I’m waiting on a replacement. As of right now, the online banking screen is refusing to tell me anything about my checking or savings account, which I find somewhat alarming—I know there was money in both accounts when I called the bank and had them shut off the card, but this is still a little nerve-wracking. Wherever I do end up for lunch, it has be some place that accepts credit cards…

chipotle: (Default)

Around 1998-1999, I had a feeling that I needed a change. It wasn’t a “things will change” feeling, but rather a “things should change,” that my work was becoming progressively less fulfilling, that I had no real way of moving forward by staying there. Even so, I wanted to stay there; stagnant or not, Intermedia seemed to have the potential of a career job, and I was happy to have been there going on four years while so many friends and acquaintances were doing a frantic dot-com tango I expected could only end in collapse. (Mind you, I wasn’t expecting the kind of economic meltdown that did happen.) So I ended up staying there, until Intermedia was bought, and one of the opportunities I occasionally pursued came together shortly thereafter.

While getting out of Intermedia at that time proved a good idea (the company that bought them was WorldCom), the company I moved to had more than its share of problems; looking back at my journal during that time shows an amount of acerbic unhappiness that surprised me when I read it recently. At the start of 2002, I had the same kind of feeling, but this time it was definitely a things will change; I wrote in March that I’d started the year with the strong feeling that I’d finish it living somewhere else. And, of course, in the middle of that year I was laid off, and by the end of the year, I was living out here.

This is on my mind now because that feeling of impending change is back with me. In some ways it’s never left. Since I’ve been here, I’ve never felt completely settled. My life has continued to feel “transitional,” even though I’ve been in the same place for two and a half years. I’d expected, with no timetable, I’d get a stable job which would pay me enough to move out on my own if I wanted to.

Well, that could easily be another $500 in monthly expenses. This job could actually cover the money part, I think… but the stable part, not so much.

So what’s bringing on this feeling of impending change? In part, the project that I’m on at work is winding to a close, and I have to know whether they’ll be interested in keeping me for the planned second phase or for other projects. (When I was hired, the contract was described as being “two to nine months,” and I’ve been here over six.) There’s some change coming, although I don’t know what it’s going to entail.

I’m also not sure what my housemates might be thinking of doing. This is not to suggest that I’m expecting them to do anything like sell the house and move together to Alaska, but from the degree of restlessness both of them have evinced recently, it wouldn’t completely surprise me, either. (Well, okay, Alaska would.)

So between the possibility of a lack of income, and the more remote but greater than zero possibility of housemates looking another place to live themselves, I suspect I need to be ready to move. Not to plan on it, but to… y’know, contemplate contingencies. Think about where I’d go, both in the Bay Area and, if necessary, elsewhere. I like a lot of what I’ve seen around downtown San Jose, even though this boggles many friends when I say it. There’s some interesting places lurking around the East Bay, too. Of course, I liked Santa Fe when I visited there a few years ago, and I liked Portland a lot when I visited there just a few months ago. Moving there would be starting just about completely from scratch, but that doesn’t scare me as much now as it did three years ago.

You know, if I had about four times the savings that I have now (and a quarter the debt), I’d probably be more prosaic about this feeling, but as it is, it leaves me… prickly. The part of me that half-jokes about selling everything but the laptop, getting a used camper van and driving around the country is in ascendance these days. (Or another country. One might argue that there’s never been a better time to become an expatriate.)

I don’t have quite the same feeling that I did in 1999, and in 2002, but it’s close.

I hope this isn’t going to end up being a three-year cycle for me.

chipotle: (Default)

It’s about 8:40 as I start this, and I’m sitting at the Ohlone/Chynoweth light rail station waiting for the next train. This is actually the one after the one I should have caught, so I’ll be later than planned into work. Fortunately they seem to be okay with “flexible hours”; this just means I’ll end up staying late, or working through (part of) lunch.

I’ve ridden light rail into work every so often since I’ve been working at Cisco; they pay for the rail costs, so it’s mostly a matter of getting up early enough to take it in (that old bugaboo of waking up on time haunts me once again). It doesn’t go right by the house, but it makes the driving part of my commute just about three miles to the park-and-ride lot rather than 18 miles. With gas prices what they are, I might be saving even if Cisco didn’t pay; as it is, this should be a no-brainer. (The fact that I’m still driving in a lot of the time says something unflattering about me, I suspect.)

Common wisdom holds that public transit only works in dense, highly-populated metro areas—San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, New York. Other areas always try it, but you have to live within a convenient distance of the nearest transit route and work within walking distance, and most places can’t manage that—so their ridership is low, which means they don’t have the resources to run more routes with more frequent stops. Which makes it all that much more inconvenient. This perfectly describes Hillsborough County, where Tampa is, which has a couple dozen bus routes that run hourly at best and almost guarantee that, if you’re actually working, they’ll be slow, distant from your start and destination, and poorly-timed. Which, in turn, guarantees that you won’t take public transit unless you’re forced. The only times I rode Hillsborough’s transit by choice were times I was working downtown, when they had a free “downtown only” bus that ran every fifteen minutes at during business hours.

San Jose is a much bigger metro area than Hillsborough County, of course, and not only has moderately more convenient bus lines but has several light rail lines. These lines are even more subject to the only useful if you live near them Catch-22, but the routes are better-chosen than I’d given them credit for—most of the more populated parts of Santa Clara County are within quick driving distance of a park-and-ride lot (although some areas are waiting on a spur line that’ll open this summer).

Over this fairly short time, just five months, I’ve been able to watch ridership increase and the demographics of the riders shift. When I first started doing this, the park and ride lot was getting light use and the riders seemed to mostly be elderly and low-income people, following the expected stereotype. There’d be moderate use from where I boarded north to downtown, then almost nobody else on the train north to Cisco Way. (Yes, that’s the name of a light rail stop, literally in front of my office building.) This morning, the parking lot was nearly full when I got there, and ridership has been approaching standing-room-only. I see a lot of university students taking rail in rather than driving. And past the downtown area, the train is still pretty packed, with a lot of riders who are clearly other professionals.

The moral of the story is that it’s not just population density that makes public transportation really attractive. Gas for $2.59 a gallon makes people a lot more interested, too.

I’ve been somewhat neglecting this journal; I’m going to try to do better about updating it, because I think it helps keep me focused. I’m self-conscious about the length of my posts sometimes—when I’m “into” journaling, I have a tendency to write what amounts to columns, like the one above. Hopefully those of you who aren’t used to that from me will forgive the excess. (Longer-time readers have surely gotten used to this, and either enjoy it or roll their eyes and skip over these without telling me.) To me, 600-800 words on a post isn’t that big a deal, but if you think I should be putting these behind cut tags, let me know.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m trying to see if I can set up BBEdit to allow LiveJournal posting from within it. We’ll see. (Fear the pseudo-Emacs.)

I finally did the taxes that I’ve been putting off. The good news is that it’s less than last year. The bad news is that it’s more than twice my savings. Have I mentioned how much I hate working on 1099 contracts?

Part of today I wandered around Palo Alto. I was very tempted to spend money that, well, I don’t have. Part of me wants an iPod mini. Part of me also wants a new PowerBook to replace Peroxide, which has served me well but has more damage than mere cosmetics at this point—the most serious problem being that it can’t load CDs anymore. And sometimes the battery falls out. Really. There’s also a couple dead pixels on the screen and the keyboard is starting to get flaky, but I can live with that for now. And of course the latch is broken (probably from being dropped a year ago), and the plastic bezel looks like hell. I might be able to get all of the problems repaired for $300; what I’m tempted to do, though, is try to keep working on it as-is until the battery starts going (as opposed to merely falling out). Then I’ll take stock of my finances then. Which, since I’m at least on W-2 tax terms now, hopefully won’t be quite as terrible.

This is all contigent on my not deciding to leave my job, sell everything I can, and spend a few months cruising around Mexico looking for really good tequila. I’m kidding, I think, but I’ve rarely felt quite as much at loose ends as I have been recently. Terrible restlessness with no direction. I’m supposed to be planning a vacation with my mother that’d happen in May—I’m inclined to tell her to put a hold on the thought until summer, and take a few days off to be entirely alone. Maybe off in a remote cabin in New Mexico.

If I get a network connection there, can I convince my employer to let me work remotely there for a week or two? I’m not sure “midlife crisis” is considered a sufficient justification.


chipotle: (Default)

February 2018

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