Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I've been thinking a bit lately about my life, and how things have gone so terribly, horribly wrong for me over the last several years.

It's bad enough that my life is in havoc, but this doesn't just impact me. My screw-ups have been affecting my wife's life and the lives of our children for a long, long time too. That's hard to swallow. It hurts a lot to realize that, not only am I not succeeding as a person -- in almost any capacity -- I’m not a very good husband, father or provider either. I’m not sure at what else I can fail, frankly.

A lot of mistakes that I made can be traced back to when I was in high school, and therein is where my introspection has fallen as of late. I realized that, had I subtly changed the course of the direction of my life, and avoided some of the horrific mistakes I made along the way, maybe I’d be somewhere different by now. Maybe not, but I find it very unlikely that I’d have ended up here, in the situations in which I find myself, had I made just a few different choices.

I don’t know what happened to my brain during the years that I spent in high school, but it certainly didn’t function the way it does now. I can look back at the decisions I made and even today I shake my head and mutter “what were you thinking, moron?” I have no idea. I don’t know if I did then, either. All I can do is try not to duplicate those mistakes as I go through what’s left of my life, but the fact is, I probably won’t have the chance to duplicate those mistakes. Many of them were one-time-only, chance-in-lifetime sorts of things, and I indeed blew those chances royally. Those that I could have avoided or changed later I just didn’t, so in some sense, I suppose I did make them all over again.

It’s a damned shame.

I can sum up the things I want to change into a handful of events that, while they didn’t seem like much to me, were cataclysmic, calamitous decisions that had long-term, life-altering impact. All of them took place in a span of just a couple of years, too; perhaps the two or three years from when I was about 16 years old until the age of 19. By then, the decisions had crippled my ability to recover from them, destroyed what flimsy and pathetic “support network” I had, and I am still paying for them today.

I’m not in this alone, however; my genetic donors could have done more to help, but being that they’re not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree either, they couldn’t pull their heads from their rectal cavities long enough to see what was necessary. This, sadly, from people that are twenty and twenty-three years older than me. So, well into adulthood, they couldn’t find a clearer path to assist me than what they chose. Or, more likely, the desire to assist wasn’t really there to find another way.

At any rate, I can’t blame them. I have the pocketful of crumbled dreams and ashes of hope in my own hot little hand to attest to the wreckage I’ve brought upon myself. They were, after all, my mistakes, and mine alone. I have to deal with the consequences, not they; I have to try and find the alternate path, not them. This is my responsibility, my burden, my millstone to bear, and no one else’s. Except, of course, for my wife and children, who had nothing to do with any of this at all. They just get to bear the brunt.

If, however, I had zigged rather than zagged, had weaved instead of bobbed, in just a couple of situations I was in, I could be a completely different man. I’ve been down this road thousands of time before. I torment myself with wondering what life would be like if I had chosen differently just once, never mind in every one of those situations. I could have been, and done, so much more, I think.

On the other hand, there is the theory that we don’t actually have choices, only the illusion of choices. We can’t really make any other decision than the one that we made, and there IS no path not chosen, road not traveled, life not lived. There is only this life, this path, this road which is traveled, and no other. While at the time there seems to be a fork, there is in fact only undeniable, inexorable, inescapable fate, and we never had the chance to do other than what we did.

Theologically, I reject this idea out of hand and soundly. It’s ludicrous, because the entire basis for a relationship with God becomes a random, capricious, completely arbitrary selection process to which we will never be privy. Since the decision in the Garden of Eden, the choices have been there, and have played themselves out. While the idea of foreknowledge can confuse some, foreknowledge and predestination are separate and distinct ideas, if intertwined. I can go much more into detail on this, but I’ll allow that to suffice for the Internet. Want to know more? Go look it up. You are aware the Bible opens, aren’t you?

At any rate, Calvinism is not for me. Perseverance of the Saints, one of the five points of classical Calvinism, is about all I can stomach. The rest leads people to irresponsible and dangerous behavior that isn’t biblical.

Now then, where was I? Oh, yes; my misery.

I believe that, now, after all the years of thinking about it, reliving the years between ages 16 and 19 would right the capsizing ship. Of course, I can’t do that, but if I had a temporal displacement device, or if I could slipstream into the time-space continuum and speak with myself, that’s probably the time in which my efforts would be focused. It would be interesting to see if anything that I could say to myself then would have impact on me today. If I return from my conversations with my younger self and there is no change, does that mean that I’ve been ineffectual, that I chose the same routes despite being warned, or that there is no way to alter the past and affect the future?

Of course, the latter is true. There is nothing we can do to change the past and get the future back on track. This is what we have, and in that regard, the future -- or the present, I suppose -- is set. Like the time travel theory (if you want to call it that) in the movie 12 Monkeys, there is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable outcome of the choices of the past.

Which, of course, brings me to the future. As murky and uncertain, dark and foreboding as it is, it is the only timeline upon which I can affect any deviation. I can alter that timeline. I just wish, as I sit here and realize that the present has indeed crept into the future and the future has eroded into the present, I had some lantern, some dim candle, even a matchstick to light the inky blackness ahead of me. I just wish that, somewhere along the way, there was a method for piercing the veil that separates past and future, at least my own, such that I might see what it is I’m supposed to do and which road to choose. Even if there aren’t as many as there were once upon a time, the choices are far more frightening. Fewer choices equates to more dramatic mistakes, and less time to recover from them. If I haven’t recovered from those that I made a quarter of a century ago, and if I may not have a quarter of a century left to live, what chance will I have to correct the listing, sinking ship in that shallow, turbulent, violent sea of the future?

No, there is no way to see ahead. We can only guess, and do our best.

P.S. - Don’t even get me started on psychics. Have you ever seen the headline “Psychic Wins Lottery”? I haven’t either; case closed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yeah ... About that Last Post ...

So, it turns out that I really AM good at messing things up. And it turns out that God really DIDN'T fix it, after all.

The job fell through; actually, the recruiter's exact phrase was "retracted." The offer was retracted. I no longer have a long term contract with a large company doing work that will greatly benefit my career going forward. I have to start all over again, and begin the painfully slow process of searching for a job again. I know how little is out there right now; it's always that way for me at the end of the year. Monster.com is full of job offerings, but nothing for me. Recruiters are busy enough to earn THEIR paychecks somehow, but me? I'll be lucky to make rent next month. The month after that is doom.

Ah, nothing succeeds like success, eh?

If you pray, please do. If you don't, I'll pray for you. Thanks.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Patching the Holes

Okay, so I have a penchant for messing things up, and being a bit ham-handed at some things. Fortunately for me, I have a God who is great and sorts things out, making the most of even the things that I screw up royale.

That being said, I’ve made some decisions lately that I thought, after “careful consideration,” were good decisions. Mostly in the area of my career, if you can call it that. I’ve blogged before that I had what I considered an embarrassment of riches before after messing up my last assignment: three jobs were in the offering, and all I had to do was to sit down, examine them all, and make a decision. Easy, right?

Wrong. For one thing, I wasn’t really sure what any of the jobs being offered were going to provide in the way of career enhancement. Two of the three weren’t long-term, and the third was never assured. (As it turned out, they hired someone else, so it’s lucky for me I didn’t place all of my eggs in that basket.) While the long-term deal I wanted so badly didn’t come through, I had two offers that were viable, there-for-the-asking jobs and all I had to do was pick one.

Looking at both of them, I decided that, in the interest of future marketing, taking less money and a longer drive over higher wages and something that was infinitely better suited to me was probably a good choice. Now, I didn’t say that I was accustomed to making these kinds of choices; I’m kind of a rookie at it, actually, and usually end up taking whatever I can get. While that certainly isn’t an excuse for being stupid, it allows you to see that with two (and at that time, potentially three) roads to choose from, it’s easy for me to make a bad decision.

Okay, it’s not easy; it’s easier than it is for someone with experience in having to choose the best of two or three good things. Offer me a filet mignon, a prime rib eye, and a tender, juicy strip steak and the choice is akin to what I was facing here. Is that going to be chocolate ice cream, or rocky road? Ah, the choices! Decisions, decisions!

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem for most anyone else. I mean, c’mon; you’ve got one offer that pays more, is closer to home, is something easy to do and very undemanding (depending, of course, on the manager for whom you’re working), and wouldn’t look all that bad on your resume. The only problem is, it’s fixed at eight weeks. The other job is a lot farther from home, much more mentally draining (and some people like that sort of thing), and is a lot more high pressure, not to mention it pays less. But, it was doing something that (I thought) would be very titillating on the ol’ CV. So, weighing the options, talking it (to death) over with my wife, and trying to do the right thing for the long(er)-term, I chose the lower pay, longer commute job.

Like I said, I have a penchant for screwing up.

Yes, it was the wrong choice. I know how much I hate technical support, how sick of it I am, how demanding and exacting it can be. I know how stressful I find it, I know how tortured I am over it, how I lose interest in it (quickly), and how turning what was once a hobby for me into work ended up being a disastrous and tormenting decision (there’s that word again) that I made all those years ago. Nearly a quarter of my life has been spent working in a field I don’t like anymore. If I had just stayed the course, I’d be a programmer now, with about ten years experience and probably making a whole bunch more money than I am now. Of course, on the other side of that same coin, if I’d stayed the course, I’d probably be a physician now, and making a lot more money – and difference in the lives of people – than I am now.

As it turns out, I hate the job I’m doing. It’s not because I don’t like the place I work – I do, the people are really nice there. It’s not because I don’t like the manager I work for – he’s a good guy, and not that hard to work for at all. I feel a bit guilty, in fact, that I’m not farther along with his requests than I am. It’s just that I didn’t get a real sense for what I was doing until it was much, much too late. It’s basically hardware troubleshooting all over again; and I’m at a different level now than I’ve been before, because the “root causes” of the problems need to be determined. That means I spend a lot of time recognizing that I didn’t ever really get very deep into troubleshooting before, and that I’m probably not as good at this sort of thing as I should be after 10 years of doing it. I’m not anymore than a problem-solver; I figure out what’s wrong and fix it. I don’t care why it’s wrong, I just fix it. That’s not very good technician mentality; very good technicians want to determine why something’s wrong so that they can fix it, prevent it from happening again, and document the problem so that other techs can fix it too.

I’m basically lazy; while my colleagues were at home, studying hardware forums and exchanging ideas with other technicians, playing with new configurations and settings to determine what they’re for and what they impact, and setting up home networks and servers to broaden their scope of knowledge, I was getting laid, working on a novel, practicing my marksmanship on the firing range, and later trying to raise a family and scheming to make more money somehow. (That’s an incredible run-on sentence, and Word didn’t catch it.) None of that paid off, but in consolation, what they did probably didn’t get much benefit from their efforts, either. They’re most likely steadily employed, though.

In short, I’m not a geek. I’m just not; I was good at finding the problem and fixing it. And I wasn’t too bad at remembering that problem when I saw it again at some future point (depending on how much time had gone by). I wasn’t too afraid of dorking around with something to see if the settings could be made to work, and I was good at passing my knowledge on to other techs. But I wasn’t a geek; I didn’t live and breathe computer science and hardware. I didn’t really … well, care about that stuff too much. And as I’ve said in previous posts (you’ll have to read them all to see), being a tech really means you need to care about that sort of thing and work to stay atop it. Like my colleagues did.

So I hate doing what I’m doing, and I think it shows. I’m always allowing myself to get distracted with other things, most of which aren’t work-related, while I’m supposed to be working on figuring out problem root causes and documenting procedures, working to figure out how to break a software installation (yes, that’s right – BREAK it, after spending my entire career trying to figure out ways to FIX them) so that as many possible paths of eventuality can be mapped as possible for when that software is rolled out next year. I go into work every day, and try to convince myself that it’s okay; it’s really possible to do that, even though it sounds like an exercise in futility. Even though the combination of things that can go wrong is so impossibly huge that not even the creators of the operating system can give you every eventuality. Even though this isn’t my favorite thing to do and I’m overall pretty crappy at it. It’s all right, I tell myself, this is what you chose and what you do until something else comes along, hopefully soon.

The year is waning; the days are short, the nights are long, and the job offers are drying up and companies are starting to sit tight until next year. There is nothing on my radar. I’m going to spend time out of work again, in all probability, at the end of this year and the first part of next, unless by some miracle this job is extended.

As I fought my despair and tried to make myself feel like the decision wasn’t so bad, a man named Paul called me. I’ve mentioned this in other posts. He had a job offer. Something interesting. Something I would like to do. Something that pays more – a lot more. And something that will benefit my resume over the long haul. And, best of all, it’s a year-long contract, barring doing something incredibly stupid. You know … like I did on my last assignment.

Friday, things moved forward. I had a phone interview. I found out, in the course of that interview, that the decision would be made on the strength of that phone interview. I was on the phone for 35 minutes, and told that a decision would be made fairly quickly. Monday or Tuesday, in fact. Very encouraging, and very exciting.

When I heard nothing today, and knowing that the interviewer was speaking to another candidate on Friday, I assumed the worst. I always seem to lose out when the interview seems to go well, so why not assume that? It’s happened to me a couple of times already over the last few months.

At about 1:15 p.m., my contact Paul called me back. In his very English accent, he told me that he had good news.

You see, even though I have a penchant for screwing things up, I have a very great God who can make even my worst decisions work out somehow.

Thanks, Lord. I really, really appreciate what You’ve done here today.