What Dost Thou Do; What Hast Thy Done?

Attempts at Self Portrait (6)Invariably, people who have reconnected or just connected with me have gone through the Q&A with me that I used to find painful.

Whether I’m married (no), how many children I have (looks around), what I’ve been doing with myself (where do I even start?), what I’m doing…

These questions have never made sense to me, particularly the last two. Whether I’m married or not is no gauge of completeness or even content – I have empirical evidence on both ends of the spectrum. Whether I have children assumes that I would want to try to explain the mess of humanity to a little human without having to apologize all the time – and nevermind the biological requirement of said little human having a mother who I would have to put up with, and more importantly, she would have to put up with me… I’m sure I don’t know. Absolutely sure.

The last two, though. Now, all of these questions are related to how people view the world, their lives, and what a life is. In that, the last two are bothersome.

So here’s how I’ve come up with my new answers.

What have I been doing with myself?

How many times have I thought to say, “that’s a rather personal question… what have you been doing with yourself?”, but opted not to?

I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

No, really, I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

See, as a kid, when everyone was being asked what they wanted to do, and the answers ranged from policeman to fireman to doctor to lawyer… I wanted to be an oceanographer. And then life happened.

I ended up working with electrical motors, then offset printing, then computer programming, then software engineering (there is a difference, kids)… In college, I started as a EET, then went to CIS, then dropped out. then I joined the Navy as a Sonar Technician, switched over to Naval Nuclear Propulsion, then switched again to Hospital Corpsman.

Then life happened again; I worked at a blood bank where I trained phlebotomists and made custom furniture for mobile blood drives – then went to Honeywell, where I got to play with Inertial Navigation and GPS stuff, then went to…. well, I did a lot of things. And then somewhere along the way, someone started paying me to write, and I picked up photography and people paid me for that, too. Then I inherited some land, and I applied a lot of what I know about learning to learn more about agriculture, land management, and generally, how to get results without confrontation.

Just a few days ago, a lawyer sat across from me and said, “You don’t need me, you do all of this stuff by yourself.” No, no, of course I need her. I just think her talents are wasted on the mundane things I can solve myself by simply not being a jerk and working with people. It’s a novel concept that most religions were centered around at some point – we see how that went. But I digress.

And all this time I’ve been reading, thinking, exploring the world as much as I can in all ways that I can – not just physically. So what have I been doing?

The answer is looking for something. It’s looking for some sort of answer to gauge where I am in society. Am I someone who wields influence? No, not really, I wouldn’t like to think so. Am I rich? No, my bank account is something that I have a detached relationship with. What sort of car do I drive? How big is my house? How much tax do I pay?

So yeah, I’ve been living and growing. I might as well tell people I’m a nomad.

“I’ve been nomadic.” Leave that right there. Give them the hand wave with it and look at them as if they should know what that means. It should be fun.


What am I doing?

Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. No one wants to hear that. The truth is that no one knows what they are doing. We’re all winging it. Some are on the beaten paths, though, so that’s what’s really being asked: “Which beaten path are you on?”

Well, I’m not. Truth be told, I never really have been – a few times I tried them, but they just didn’t suit me. They smell wrong, they make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and the authoritarianism within them fills me with dread. Beaten paths are boring, too.

Meanwhile, I’m the sort of person who just pops up out of the brush now and then to see where everyone is.

Clearly I need a better answer than that. Clearly people want me to impress them somehow, tell them how awesome what I’m doing is, but they won’t see the value in not knowing and figuring it out as I go along.

One of my initial thoughts to answer this question was, “Avoiding answering this question”, but that just seems a bit too… jerkish.

I don’t have an answer to this other than moving stones, and I think that’s the answer I’ll go with.

Silent Tiers of Sea Ghosts

six years of imprisonmentWe are all

Doing things we do not like,
Holding ourselves from those around us,
Living within the bounds we have chosen,
Chasing things we do not need.

We are all
Castaways from our own lives,
Derelicts from those around us,
Captives within the prisons of our own choosing,
Wandering hungry ghosts within those prisons.

We are all

Choosing how we are castaways,
Who we are separate from and by how much,
Architects of our own views,
Engineers of our own hunger…

And we all
Make our own keys and
Steer our destinies.

Arrested but not Convicted Development

34/365 Feb 3, 2011You knock on the shell.

You know it’s there, you can feel it restricting you, but you don’t know what it is.

It frustrates you.

You know you have to be free of it, you know that you have to grow and that you’re being held back. Not the feeling of frustration from bouncing around in it as you move, but that restrictive pressure even as you try to breathe – a key difference lost on the young. You can’t see, everything is hazy, and your hearing, feeling… diminish.

It’s crushing despair. It’s unbearable.

You have to breathe. Have to. There is no question. You draw in that breath and push outward, feeling the restrictions fall away. Feeling space to… breathe. To move around freely. To bounce against the new outer wall in time.

Time served.

The Constant Redefinition.

Kayak fishing at sunrise: NSBIt’s been a busy month.

The Problem

Looking for work is an odd thing for me; so many of the jobs related to software engineering require specializations whereas I’m a generalist with many specialties. Sure, I could fit in at a lot of jobs, but the HR departments may not think so. And whether or not they think so, it may simply not be a good fit for me. So I’ve been doing some introspection, looking around, poking around.

In this article, Liz Ryan makes some valid points:

Five Signs You’re Unemployable, For All The Right Reasons

1. You cannot keep your mouth shut when you feel strongly that your boss or client is about to make a mistake that will hurt them.

2. You have little or no tolerance for the viewpoint “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

3. You hate to be boxed in by routine policies and procedures, by unnecessary measurements and/or by strict rules (like the rule that says you’ll be written up and put on probation the third time you walk into work five minutes late).

4. You have a big idea that’s dying to come out (and that won’t very likely pop out when you’re performing a structured job).

5. You feel that your contribution to this planet could be much greater than what it’s been so far.

With some margin for error, that fits.

So, really, I’m a person with a lot of experience, who has a diverse technical background in a period where HR departments don’t advertise for that diversity, etc. And, to make things more interesting, I want to feel like I have more of a purpose than a cog in a machine.

Granted, we are all cogs in a machine no matter what we do, but I’d like to feel like the machine is going the right way. Oddly enough, someone wrote something great about wanting purpose from work – and I’m not alone. Here’s a link to a PDF on Purpose at Work.

The Solution

The first part of the solution was identifying the problems, and that took a little time. It’s amazing how noisy the world can be, how demanding it can be, and how stuck in patterns a person can become as we grow. It’s amazing how little we can be in touch with ourselves and the people around us if only because we’re stuck in our own little caverns of habit built on expectations that may not even exist anymore.

So I had to identify the changes in myself since I was 16 – I got my first paid programming job when I was 17 (family doesn’t pay). At 16 (in 1987), all I ever wanted to do was become a computer programmer. Since then, quite a bit has happened, but for the most part, I’ve been told by people to tell computers what to do. Since then, I’ve grown. I’ve:

  • Written well enough to be published, and perhaps enough to be read.
  • Spoken at public events, and have gotten involved in things I never would have expected.
  • Gotten to understand myself at a very deep level, which allows me to understand others very well. I can be the diplomat, and more often than not I have been for the good of a project.
  • Seen a lot of software projects, some succeed, some fail.
  • Learned the art of observation, through people-watching and through my photographyAnd the photography has become good enough that I’ve been paid for some.
  • Almost always ended up being the person who researched and wrote things down.

That’s a pretty short list, and it’s purposefully not complete.

So, what am I going to do? First, I’ve already incorporated, which allows me to pursue interests in a more business-like fashion.

That’s about as specific as I can be right now as this evolution begins. I simply needed to write it, if only as a landmark along the way to wherever I end up being.

‘Older Heads’

deepartIn Trinidad, you have the ‘older heads’ – those that, by virtue of living longer are attributed a wisdom that the ‘younger heads’ do not have. People go to them for advice on all manner of things about life, be it business or pleasure. ‘Older heads’ are the ones with the answers, the advice, those that have had the privilege of living through choices good and bad.

Not long ago, I sat with two younger cousins, an Uncle only 13 years my senior and his wife – our Aunt. We had gone to Annie’s Restaurant for dinner where our connections allowed us to simply let our host pick out the dinner for us. We sat there, joking with each other, telling each other stories about things past. Being the 2nd eldest at the table, I had my own stories to share – we all do – and on the way up with my younger cousins, I spoke about the land and the respect for the people on it, and the way I have learned to do things… and how it allowed me to grow in ways that I would not have.

My second youngest cousin had prompted me in a conversation a day before, so at the table I said to the youngest, “Well – we used to have the older heads to ask about things. And now, look around. These are the older heads.”

I looked around, unsettled by the fact maybe more than those younger at the table. I’d just done my Will after I was reminded of my mortality and the fact that despite trying so hard otherwise, I would likely die of old age. My mind was on those I cared about, near and far, a context that I had been completely unprepared for. I’d had the pleasure of playing with my youngest nephew, a gift that allowed me to see life through younger eyes again, that reminded me of the trust and care that every child should have and so many do not… so many did not, including myself.

I had become an ‘older head’.

I had become someone that was respected by those that meant something to me. I had become someone that people listened to, whose words where important and even in that moment I wondered how everyone had changed so much… but we all had, and the most change was my own in my context. There was no pleasure in it, just a daunting responsibility to do the right things, to say the right things…

And even as I was trying to make a point to everyone at that table – that we were it, that we were now what we used to look up to, the responsibility felt heavy on my shoulders – an unannounced burden, an unsettling weight that was easy to carry and worrisome because it had become so easy to carry.

thosemountains.jpgIt was heavy on my mind throughout my trip to Trinidad. The thought of how a very small action could become either something very good or very bad – about how a word in the right place could move mountains, and a word in the wrong place would doom you to carrying the mountains. The thought of how a life I so recklessly lived for others meant so much to people who mattered, the thought of how a life I gave so willingly from meant so little to those who I gave it for meant so much to those I did not give it to… and the rare and pleasing occasions when I gave and received in amounts I found good enough. There is no equal. There are simply returns not to be measured.

Many will say that I’m not old enough to think some of the thoughts that I do, or to feel as I do, and I can’t argue their frame of reference.

My frame of reference is understanding that I can never go home, but that I can choose to be at home wherever I am. I have learned to take sacrifices for what they are, to know that some decisions might have been better with more knowledge and wisdom without the sting of regret that wounds so many. I have learned to embrace the unrequited, to be silent when words will have no effect, to deny what I want to get what I want, and to be myself and accept the good and bad within myself.

older headAs I told a younger person over a bottle of Angostura One on my last night in Trinidad in a rare moment when I could shoot straight with someone elusive even when there… we are not limited by those who have gone before. We are not doomed to their shadows by anything but ourselves, and within we have the capacity to dare to find the amazing human beings we are, to revel in the good and accept the bad.

And most of all, I have learned that while through attrition I have become one of the ‘Older Heads’ at some tables, I still have much to learn and that everyone and everything has something to teach me.


Shadows in Frankfurt | 2013

Behold, the door opens,
Light shines through,
The sun comes to visit,
Sears darkness away
From the cold dark corners

The shell cracks as growth
Hits that certain point,
Opening to another world, a
World that has always been there,
Changed now
By the very eyes that view it.