This past year has not been one of my best. In fact, it had some downright miserable moments. Which is not to say that there weren't some wonderful times as well. I deepened some relations, broke others off, and even made some new ones. But overall, it was a period of disappointment and disillusionment. Looking back, I now see these as necessary emotions, as they have led me to a spot at which I arrived yesterday. It's a good place, and I had to work out a lot to get there, so since you are Jos's Official Sanity Watch, you get to trudge through his latest revelation.
Today's revelation concerns the utility of belief. This is the rod around which we will wrap the different threads of my new job, my conception of my future, my love for Gwen. It's all related, and in a strange way, it's all good.
Let's see if we can start with disillusionment.
[Click here to enlarge these details of his career path.] Up until I was 16, I thought I was going to be a doctor. More than that, I was sure that I was going to be a doctor. Until (and I remember the moment clearly) my AP Bio class started discussing (or rather, the professor started lecturing about) the partial diffusion of sodium chloride across the loop of Henle in the nephron, the operational unit of the kidney. It was at that point, at that exact moment in time, that I realized that I had absolutely no interest in kidneys, and didn't think that I would at any point in the forseeable future.
At around this same time, some seven years ago, I got in an argument with a friend, the significance of which I didn't fully appreciate until earlier this afternoon. Since I had decided that the medical profession wasn't for me, I was relishing Not Having a Plan. I scoffed at those who were already planning ahead to graduate school "What are the chances," I asked, "that what they think interest them at 16 will actually hold them when they are 24?"
"It doesn't matter responded Relly, "It's just important that you have a plan!"
And such was the crux of the debate. It's foolish to schedule your life around the things that probably won't occur, I figured. And not being able to figure out what I wanted to do, I went through life fastidiously avoiding any real long term plans. I decide to try it all out and see what I liked. And so, for the past seven years, I have tried out a lot of things. I have lived in a lot of places. There are a lot of jobs on my resume (around 17 of them). I have dated a lot of women (about the same number, actually.) And through each of these experiences, I have carried the conviction that, "this won't last". Of course it couldn't last. If it were to last, I would find myself in some sort of future which I had insisted really couldn't happen, because I hadn't yet planned what was to happen (if you're not aware of my rather strong desire to have things go the way that I want them to go, ask me about a previous revelation, sometime last year). So I found myself in a sort of temporary world.
Now, the problem with the temporary world is that it had only one thing going for it. Novelty. Novelty wears off pretty quick, and leaves one with only the desire to seek more novelty. This, I think explains a good part of my unhappiness with Washington D.C. I fell in love with the idea of DC, and the novelty of the whole thing captivated me, but once there, the novelty wore off pretty quick. It didn't meet my romanticized notions (which will be dealt with in a later revelation [never found -Popster]), and left me wanting to get out and do something, anything.
This started to crescendo this past Winter when I hatched the plan for The Center For Worldwide Shennanigans. The logic of this was that, since I would inevitably grow bored with any one locale, the trick would just be to keep moving as frequently as possible, perhaps every three or four months. The Center was essentially an institutionalization of the idea of temporary living. Since I had convinced myself that I could never have a satisfying job, relationship, or living situation, the only other choice would be to move so frequently that all of that would be a foregone conclusion.
And that is probably where I would be now were it not for the unwitting intervention of my sponsor of yore, Paul M a r i z, who now works for Microsoft in Redmond. A day or two before my graduation from college, I had a lengthy discussion with Paul about what he did. I won't lie to you, much of the conversation (at least on my end) focused on the obscene figure he was getting paid. I was not totally computer illiterate, knowing quite a bit about HTML. However, despite Paul's encouragement, I found it impossible to get a job. My interest had been ignited, however, and I spent the first two and a half months of summer working on computers, learning a little bit about perl, about java, and refining my HTML, learning some graphics arts programs, the whole bit. With the web, I discovered a medium that not only allowed me to limitlessly express myself and try out new ideas; but the scope of the technology meant that there was always something more to learn. It was almost impossible to get bored. For the first time in a long time, quite possibly since my junior year of high school, I had a concrete idea of what I wanted to do, not only in the immediate future, but in the long term.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince anyone to hire me to do this. Until last week, when I got my first job in the business, temping in the Customer Service department at WebTV. Now, WebTV, even though it has just been acquired by Microsoft for 425 million dollars, still embodies much of the quirkiness of Silicon Valley. There is unlimited free Odwalla juice for the employees in a well stocked kitchen that includes cereal, frozen burritos, and an expresso machine. There are four pet birds in the building, a cockatiel, a cockatoo, an African Grey and something else. It's green. Everyone there is under 35. Most of them well under 30. The environment is very relaxed, the hours flexible, and the conversation is intelligent.
The job, however, was meaningless. On my first day, I was told just to kick back and familiarize myself with the WebTV box, a VCR shaped thing (a little smaller) that allows customers to surf the web from their TV. Okay, kinda cool, now I'm bored. So they decide to take me off the box early and start training me on how to become an emailer. This is a job where 1,700 people a day write in to WebTV with their problem, anything from "My internet is broken, fix it!" to "Why won't this porn site work?" to "How do I turn on my television?". You read the email, scroll through the list of stock responses, pick the one that best fits, then slap your name on it and send it out.
The people in the department have been doing this for months. An average emailer averages 8 questions an hour, a good one 11, and a superlative one about 13. It is not a very demanding job. They figure they'll start me answering questions by the end of the week. Jano, of course, once gave me (okay, there were a bunch of us) a great piece of job advice for breaking into work in DC. Your employer will always start you out on the copier, to see how you do. You have to tell yourself that you are going to become the best damn copier that the place ever saw.
I start answering questions Tuesday afternoon. I don't notice how many I do. I do a full day Wednesday. I average 10 an hour. On Thursday, I average just under fifteen. On Friday, my fifth day on the job, I only work six hours. I do 137 emails [23/hour], nearly doubling the best hourly output of the longterm employees. I figure that I will do this another month or two and then maybe move on to Austin, or maybe Memphis. I am still living with a temporary mindset. Then at four o'clock Friday afternoon, WebTV throws a party to celebrate its acquisition by Microsoft (and the pleasant stock options that brings). They give us beer. They give us champagne. They give us a lot of food. The CEO of the company, who looks like he's about 30, gives a talk where he demonstrates the next generation of equipment. I am floored. This stuff is going to revolutionize television and the web. And it's coming out in fewer than two months. Steve, the CEO of the company, holds up the prototype next generation machine. They are going to ship them out to the beta testers this weekend. When I return to the office, I run into several of the team leaders. My team leader, a nice girl with an uncanny resemblance to Chelsea Clinton, asks what they're going to do with me. Word of my speed in emails has gotten out. Mike, the team leader for the telephone support, asks me if I would like to work phones in customer service. I politely demur (That's a lie. I outright laughed at the very suggestion.) Kyle, (a girl with blue hair) asks if then I would like to do tech support for the new machine that's going to be coming out. I ponder my career, and my friends who have been doing emails for five months and respond yes, yes, I think that would be very nice. One week, and I had been promoted.
I have reflected on this quite a bit today (it all happened yesterday), and I see that for the first time in a long time, I am moving away from the temporary mindset. Here is a company with good people who treat their people well, who treat me well, who are putting me in a challenging, interesting job. Why put a time limit on it? It is leading me down the path I wish to go, so why not just ride it out?
Which is now where we get back to Gwen. I love Gwen. No bones about it, she is an amazing woman. Of course, things are not that easy. Gwen has a boyfriend. Contact, then, is a bit uncomfortable. After an absence of 8 months after her graduation, we split a ticket and she came down for the weekend in Stanford. A magical time. All on the up and up mind, you, but just a perfect weekend. But this is not my girlfriend, I remind myself. So she flies away again. I decide (remember, my stubbornness is all part of an earlier revelation) that I will not have any contact with her for six months. That will be September 23rd. In the meantime, I romanticize Gwen terribly, think about her constantly, even make a cute little sound when her name is mentioned.
Now, when I talk to Gwen in September, I'd say the chances are pretty darn good that she'll still be together with her boyfriend, and overall, the prospect of me ever having another chance is pretty slim. So I have to ask myself, is this healthy?
And after much consternation, I answer a hearty yes. My romance with Gwen has become a useful fiction, perhaps like my current job at WebTV. It's really irrelevant to my current happiness whether or not I am still involved with computers in ten years. What's relevant is that I convince myself that I will be, and what I'm doing now is leading me down the right path. The past is prologue, as it says outside the National Archives. For once in my life, I am not living a temporary life. This job, I believe (and it is a good thing to believe so) is the first step in a career. It really changes the way that I get up every Monday. I doubt that Jesus is Mankind's savior, but hey, as my mother says, whatever it takes to get you through the night.
Gwen, you see, gets me through the night. I can think about a future together, ruminate on it while riding my bicycle. It adds a diasporic value to my actions. I can see myself talking to our kids many years down the road, and telling them of those fateful years that their mother and I spent apart. It makes these years seem all the more dramatic.
But alas, you figure. I am setting myself up for heartbreak, for my romantic notion to be shattered, just as what happened to DC. Yes, perhaps, maybe even probably, but you know what? Doesn't matter. It gets me through the night. Maybe some day, I will wake up, and Gwen will be beside me. Or one day, I will wake up and will have forgotten her altogether. Or I will wake up to a phone call from Gwen, telling me that it is never meant to be. Who knows? Perhaps I will wake up twenty years in a coal mine in China, my years spent in front of computers nothing more than a useless memory. Who cares? In my mind, I have a definite future. If it doesn't come about, that's something that I can worry about later. Right now, I feel the most centered, calm, and focused that I have ever been in my life. And I have useful fictions to thank for it.