I am slowly giving up on the world. Well, the world of following things so closely that that endlessly read RSS and newsletters and press clippings. The astute of you may have noticed I follow no one in Twitter. My sense, my drive, that I have to be working all the time and on-top of things is dwindling. I am telling you this because my identity is defined by being a workaholic.
I mean, here I am, writing, editing, and sending this instead of reading some comic books or just staring at the wall here in this shitty airport on a Friday night.
That phrase - “workaholic” - isn’t used like it used to be. It used to mean some balding, harried white man in a rolled up white oxford, his tie loose, toiling away at a desk or, later, a desktop PC. Now, we have family balance and email all the time. We have Twitter and Netflix. This list of cultural ephemera that we all need to work through is endless. We’re workaholics of work and life.
I travel so much now - around Europe mostly, the point of me living here in Amsterdam - that by most standards, I still work “all the time.” (I say, this, I guess, to console my workaholic self: despite writing this, I still work a lot).
That work, traveling, is a bit like being one of those monologging podcaster/essayist types. I give the same four talks, more or less, each time. Sometimes, I have a”meeting” that’s more open ended, more thinking on your feet (your ass, of course - I’m not one of those magic whiteboarders). There’s a comforting repetition to it, a security in knowing that content works after so many refinements, and, well, it seems like useful work.
Despite how good, how practiced I am at speaking, I’m afraid each time. This is the best advice you can get for getting over the fear of public speaking: you can’t. You will always fear it. As you get better, you learn to harness that fear to compel you to over prepare, to rehearse even if this is the 20th time you’ve given this y’all, to always tweak and evolve the slides, pay attention to your gestures, jokes, and acting. Fear is a great motivator if you can control it: it’s not like a wild horse that you break and then get to be your friendly slave. It’s more like…I’m not sure: it’s more like fear.
My career was made by me working above and beyond what was required. When I was bored at work or at home, I would read tech news and blog about it. I would make podcasts. I listened to every tech podcast I could fine (in the mid 2000’s this was mostly IT Conversations) I would publish.
A therapist once, trying to figure me out, asked me what I find valuable. What I think a good use of my time is. “Publishing,” I said, “I have to publish.” They were unconvinced by this answer, it seemed. (Though, really, who knows what goes on in the mind of therapist. Being who I am, mentally, I assume they’re always thinking “this guy is so fucking boring. Just another one of this type: this successful, white, straight, upper middle class man in his middle age, doubting his self and his worth, uncertain what his place and purpose in the world is. I wish I had such problems. This shabby office could use an upgrade, and I’d like to redo the master bathroom. He could do all that, all that money he makes. And for what? Giving the same presentation over and over. Well. I should ask him some questions and write some notes. This one will be back.”) After a few more mentions of this need to publish, they finally asked, “why do you think you need to publish?”
And I didn’t know. It just seemed like the only worthwhile thing. Everything else in my life was either a distraction, research for content, or drafts that hadn’t been written. Just a few weeks ago, I was having coffee ahead of interviewing someone for a “fireside chat” at a sponsored lunch with IT executives (you see, here again, how strange my work is). We had a great conversation, so much good content.
“We should have recorded that!” I said.
“Not everything needs to be recorded,” they said.
This was confusing. I knew what they were saying, of course, but the idea that you’d be OK with all that content just disappearing is…stressful, mystifying, sad even.
And, so, even though I see my self disengaging from overworking - you know, from paying close attention to IDC private cloud TAMs for LATAM - I’m keeping in the back of my mind. These notes and vignette are for what I image are essays that aren’t tech things - I listen to Joan Didion and John Hodgman, and all I can think - all my work mind thinks - is “how can I pick those kinds of topics and do them same?” The topics they pick seem so normal, so boring, but their writing (and readings of their books) are wonderful.
Even when I work less, I work more.
One day, the story goes, my dad woke as always, sitting up on his side of the bed, and decided he wasn’t going into work. Ever again. He’d worked for 25, thirty years at IBM. Then IBM sold him off to some chip company, then he moved to Polycom. For most his career, he did planning and logistics: planning the manufacturing of units, predicting next quarter’s demand. He monitors the outsourcer from afar, making sure his chips and video phones shipped from the far shores to the States and Europe. It was inglorious, but critical work.
My dad’s job involved a lot of spreadsheets, PowerPoints, late nights on the phone with Thailand. My step mother, in the other room during those 9pm calls said he yelled a lot at the suppliers. “Where are my video phones?” I imagine him yelling, “I know where they’re not: Rotterdam!”
Before all that, he was supposed to be in the diplomatic core. He’d studied political science and Mandarin in college. His dad was an engineer in the merchant marines - he would inspect ships for insurance before they left port. They’d lived in Taiwan, Panama, those kinds of places.
I don’t know why my dad didn’t get into the diplomatic core, but he ended up being a manager at a Western Auto, then at the Sears cafe. Both in Austin, at the Capital Plaza locations. He got a job at IBM on the factory floor, then moved up and up. It’s easy to think that he did this because of his kids, the need to actually work instead of pursue dreams in State.
Most of the stories I have about my dad are him working. Even on the weekends, it was working in the yard, mowing (always mowing!), building fences, breaking up rocks for fence post holes, painting the house. Infamously, he’s wear very short cut-offs and no shirt. It was Texas in the 80s: this wasn’t ironic or stylish at all. On Sunday he’d play water volleyball with the neighbors. But soon enough, he’d go back to Lotus Symphony to make foils with his plotter.
When he got that plotter, allowing him to work on his presentations at home, I remember him being so happy. This was a magical device, and he loved showing me how it worked, down to the little felt pens clipped to the print head.
We played computer games often. The Sierra games, always with those cheat books that you’d use a highlighter with: you moved the highlighter over a blank page, and it’d reveal the walkthrough. The computer was, really, the center of our relationship.
My mom and dad divorced when I was two and he had remarried. I had two, later, three sisters after that and, as my dad would remind me when I complained about going to softball and volleyball games on the weekends, time was shared among all of us. To me, an only child in my mother’s life, this was odd. (Now, as an adult, I’m not complaining, that was as it should have been.)
Lining the walls next to his desk, below that plotter, were years of PC Magazine. Those of you wearing OK Boomer t-shirts won’t know what that is, but imagine Twitter and blogs made three dimensional and lining shelves like decoration.
Every other weekend, when I was at his house, I’d sleep on that room on a roll away mattress. I’d sleep with those magazines, you see, looking through them over and over. I’d sleep with the PC, the plotter, and the weekly coverage of the computer industry.
Later, I got a series of my own computes at home (rather, at my mother’s) and slept with them too, in my room, forever editing .ini files and running and calling BBSes.
Anyway, my dad woke up and decided he wasn’t going to work. This was not like him at all. It was astonishing. He didn’t like work, he just went every day. It was who he was. Later in my life, when I was obsessed with reading programming and business self-help books, I recommended some of those books. “I don’t read those,” he said,”I’m not interested.”
He wasn’t interested in improving at work. But it made sense. He didn’t actually like his job, he just did it because, as he would say, “I make a lot of money.”
He’d read In Search of Excellence, or at least had a copy, but this was a totem to 80s IBM. He probably had it - like his overpriced IBM XT and then AT - in case his boss came over for dinner. He did like Doonesbury and Bloom County, later Calvin and Hobbes. I could never get into those: Doonesbury was over my head and the other two were so sterile of, I don’t know, content.
He retired that morning. This wasn’t the best timing and the finances were great for the rest of his life as a result. Nonetheless, he was so happy after that. Like all people, there were ups and downs, but you could see how relaxed he was.
He hated working.
I’m not a sophisticated person. I, of course, fear waking up one day like my dad because he’s one of the three or four people I have to model my life after.
(I wonder, often, if the narrow slice of my dad’s life is accurate. I have no idea what happened during most of his life, every day. I know five, at most, ten percent of it.)
The compulsion to publish, coupled with that fear of stopping working, it’s what compels me. But, it does mean that at present I have an odd romance going on with slowing down, making sure I don’t overwork myself into waking up one day and quitting it all.
If I quit it all, who would I be? I’d cease to be who I am.
That’s the danger in the “work life balance” concept. Something I’ve never understood as an effective tool, a model of reality. Too much life, and your work will suffers. If your work suffers, you life will suffer as you loose money and long term security.
That’s my thing, right there: the only people who say money doesn’t matter are people who have it.
So, I’m trying. I’m trying to relax a little, so I don’t wake up and relax too much. “Relax,” is an odd phrase: be “normal,” I guess.
There’s another part of the world I’m trying to give up on. A sort of caring about anything. This mostly involved other people. “The world,” after all is people. The earth has no sentence or mortality to care about us.
A lot of this shift is figuring out moving from being accommodating to being selfish. I need to practice things like getting upset at bad customer service, defending their child in the face of school bureaucracy, negotiating.
It seems wrong, but perhaps it’s an etching stamp of how meek I am: it’d be fun to always try to get what I want and get other people to comply. To impose my will instead of be part of theirs. That’s a giving up on the world. Giving up on focusing on making sure other people are happy.
My mother always praised me for being “flexible.” This was required for our life, her being a single mother, going back to school to get a master’s degree, and then being a special ed teacher.
My mother, of course, was a workaholic. All teachers have to be. We don’t call that being a workaholic, though- I think you have to enjoy it if you’re a workaholic and you have to have the chance to escape it. I’m not sure.
She worked all the time, so I had to fit into the cracks of that life. To be flexible.
Giving up on the world, then, is also trying to ask it to be flexible. I think. How do I insist that I get what I want?
My wife would rightly correct me here. Her of the giant family upbringing. You’re not imposing your will - to even think that is to show your odd way thinking. You’re just being “normal.”
This was a word she of hers that used to confuse me, and evoked fear in me when I thought of being normal. I don’t like talking to people. I really don’t. I always hear their voice in my head, judging me, creating hassles for me, making my life harder.
Other people are always an obligation. That’s not normal, I think. I feel like normal people are the opposite: other people are in their way, stealing from them. Other people can even be helpful, happiness, the reason they exist and a critical part of their of life-project
Again, my wife would tell me that the way I think of that says more about me than anything else.
So, maybe giving up on the world is the opposite: maybe it’s just being normal. Maybe it’s just never thinking of the world as an obligation, a trap. And then, somehow, magically, figuring out what it is I want to do - other than publish, work.
We’ll find out.
This week’s Software Defined Talk episode is just Matt Ray and me:
Why does SDN even exist? (No, not SDT, but Software Defined Networking). Also, we discuss a recent Google Anthos interview as well, some kubernetes stuff, and the Mongolian Grill restaurant concept. Sorry for all the plosives. Coté needs to get mic cover for his portable podcasting studio and that Tesla truck thing.
Check out the episode!
In 2019, 24% of developers working on internal software tech said they report to a business unit outside of CIO or IT departments.
The heat. I think that’s the way the whole thing began. There’s a lot of landscape that I never would have described if I hadn’t been homesick. If I hadn’t wanted to remember. The impulse was nostalgia. It’s not an uncommon impulse among writers. I noticed it when I was reading From Here to Eternity in Honolulu just after James Jones died. I could see exactly that kind of nostalgia, that yearning for a place, overriding all narrative considerations. The incredible amount of description. When Prewitt tries to get from the part of town where he’s been wounded out to Alma’s house, every street is named. Every street is described. You could take that passage and draw a map of Honolulu. None of those descriptions have any narrative meaning. They’re just remembering. Obsessive remembering. I could see the impulse.
“[It is] obscenely irresponsible it is to allow anyone to control this much cash.” Unbundling banking, finding new revenue from the under banked. “Irish Goodbyes are the opposite of Irish welcomes. They are fast, quick and final..” Coffee is no friend of monarchs.. Reprogramming your brain. Making comics. There’s interesting use of the language of SREs and providing a service instead of licensed software support. Meanwhile: “the complex, dragon-filled, rabbit hole.” Yacht Rock.