Driven slightly mad

I’ve been a mild head case — as opposed to being marginally depressed, which is my more typical state — for the last eighteen months. To be functional I need to cut that shit out, and to succeed I need to excel.

As goals go, they’re more daunting than they look.

The first twenty-five years of my life (give or take) were an exercise in staying the hell outta people’s way. Don’t ask for too much. Don’t draw too much attention to yourself. No, you’re not going to work, we want you to concentrate on school. Why on earth do you think that? You’re wrong.

I heard those sorts of things with disturbing regularity until I was nineteen. I was brought up to take responsibility for absolutely nothing more than my mistakes — so went my “put aside” comment last Friday.

From nineteen things started to get slowly better, but even now I still occasionally struggle with my family over plans and ideas. Imagine a candle being repeatedly snuffed out; that’s a good metaphor for my ambition and how my family took it as I was growing up.

Dad has always been miles ahead of the Henicks with respect to his wish to see me push my envelope, but that same terror of being forced by the rush of progress to abdicate responsibility has told in his tone of voice more times than I wish to count, too. Besdies, by the time he had scope to do things his way, most of the damage was done.

…And now you know where most of my slacker impulses come from. Why bother trying if someone’s going to cmme along and cut you down or take it away?

Looking back I see how they rationalized their actions and attitudes — they figured I was capable enough to succeed if I’d just do it by the book, and they were right, I suppose.

At that thought, I laugh bitterly. Life’s too fucking short to always do it by the book. I grasp the value of knowing how to accept and follow the rules, but the world is not made a better place by those who wait their turn.

…I know, I know. That wait is a foundation stone of a functional, civilized society. Apply some critical thinking to it, though.

I understood that about the world, even before I started school. Why else would I have troubled myself to be such a pain in the ass? It’s no secret what it costs me.

…So here I am. I jumped queue — or at least I feel like I did — and I’m freaking out. The heartfelt wish for the approval of those once closest to me, and the knowledge that I’ve acted in a way I’m conditioned to understand is contrary to that goal, puts me at wits’ end in spite of my good sense.

I grasp for a reset, a reality check, that will allow me to forgive myself completely, but it’s been hard.

That same struggle is no small part of what drove Mom to drink at the ultimate cost of her intellect. I remain ever mindful of her example.

Crystal ball

Here’s what I want to happen:

  1. Someone reads the book, likes it, does enough digging to discover that I’d really like a full-time job in a place far, far away from the Midwest or any college town, and thinks I’d make a good fit for their shop.
  2. …As a consequence, I’m offered an interview.
  3. I get past the interview in spite of my baggage of caveats, and like what I see.
  4. I receive a contract-to-hire offer that allows me to stay on remote while I prove the fit, settle my arrears, and build enough reserve to finance a move under my own power.
  5. I finish the contract phase, move, and keep going.

I have nothing against the Midwest. I’ve spent most of my adult life living within two hours’ drive of Jackson County, Missouri, and by choice. However, one is often forced to turn over rocks to find the interesting bits.

Barring an offer from a shop in New York or a few other places, even this plan will require me to obtain a driver’s license and a car after all these years. Going to NYC et al. poses other, less intimidating but still towering challenges.

This would be a good time to point out that the Vehicle Ownership Train stops at exactly one platform that’s easy for American men to board: the one where you get your license in high school, are attached to someone’s liability insurance policy, and ensure that there’s enough money to cover the extra premiums and other costs. If you miss that train by getting held back at the turnstiles as I did, your income potential plummets, your risk for depression leaps, and the cost of hitting the road doubles at least.

Most people I know who’ve been forced to meet this challenge do so by begging their friends to teach them how to drive and thence driving without insurance… but as I said yesterday, I don’t often go looking for trouble.

Here’s the game plan I’m forced to adopt:

  1. Better compartmentalize the screaming in my internal dialogue and the desperate, constant wish for anesthesia.
  2. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
  3. Go at it with both barrels, working contracts, getting my own presence up to speed, and scraping my way into something here or in Kansas City for which I will almost certainly be over-qualified (and thus comparatively underpaid), acknowledging politics at every turn with a sentiment of quiet resentment.
  4. Chip away at my arrears and my lack of a vehicle one painful month at a time while saving enough money one bite at a time to finance a move to a different market, all while figuring out the most effective ways to communicate that I’m damn good and I’m assuming most of the risk here, so just fucking hire me already.

I make the prepare-for-the-worst plan seem worse than it actually is, but it does entail a lot of one-day-at-a-time types of effort. To be entirely honest, I don’t yet have enough Zen to bear that cheerfully.

Giving the madness its due

For the better part of my time in Lawrence I’ve been working to dig my way out of the slacker reflex. I know what I can do, who I can be, when I stop seeking approvals and confirmations, when I refuse to take no for an answer, when I recongnize what needs to be done and just do it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I am hardly the first person to take up that pick and shovel.

I would also be lying if I said that days during which I feel fully capable of that task were the rule, rather than the exception.

Music

Billy Joel, “My Life”
@amazon
@allmusic

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: strtotime() [function.strtotime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 42

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/being-careful-what-you-wish-for-100706.php:67) in /var/www/vhosts/henick.net/circumscribed.net/journal/template.php on line 82
Being Careful What You Wish For

Being Careful What You Wish For —by Ben Henick, 6 July 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic