Taking stock

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and try to look at things objectively.

About four months ago talks started with a client. They needed a major overhaul of their online space, ideally for it to coincide with the launch of their product. It was a big project, probably the biggest I’ve worked on in a freelance capacity.

And here we are. Two weeks post-launch, and it’s officially safe to say I botched it. While their website is working better than ever, their community is burning. It’s not good. There are many reasons for this (an extremely tight deadline, several assumptions that have turned out to be wrong, and miscommunication about expectations, to name but a few). But none of that matters in the end. I botched it.

Yesterday my client contact and I started exploring alternative options. Which would mean scrapping the entire community part of that’s been built so far. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but letting my pride and ego get in the way of doing the right thing will only make an already strained relationship even more unbearable.

The good part is that it doesn’t look like they’re ready to cut ties with me just yet, which I must admit is surprising to me. I’m not sure I would have had the same patience if a provider of mine dropped the ball as spectacularly as I have.

It’s not that I don’t see where I went wrong. I was too ambitious, combined with an extremely tight deadline with very high requirements. But damn if it isn’t an orbital strike to your confidence being forced to admit that not only was a recommendation you made horribly and woefully wrong, it’s been actively damaging to clients relationship with their community.

My usual mantra; Simple is Complex, and Complex is Simple, has quite simply screwed me over. It still holds true, except when it doesn’t.

So where do we go from here? Hopefully, we’ll be moving forward with an entirely new solution to the community issues, and hopefully they’ll want to keep me on board for that process. It’s not a total disaster after all. The hosting setup that’s been built for them seems to hold up fine, though it has it’s own set of challenges. Secondly, the website is purring like a kitten, and has several fairly impressive features and integrations that seem to work really well for their workflows.

Privilege

We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up one’s privilege to be ‘outside’ the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is part of the system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and equalitarian my intentions.

Harry Brod, “Work Clothes and Leisure Suits: The Class Basis and Bias of the Men’s Movement,” in Men’s Lives, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael Messner (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 280.

The worlds oldest cinema

An unexpected benefit from the dental trip to Stettin is that down the street from our hotel is the world oldest cinema.

It opened in 1909 under the name Helios, at a time when Stettin was in Germany. And here 107 years later it’s still going. My inner filmbuff is unreasonably excited.

Facing a demon

One thursday morning in 1997 I was sitting at morning assembly at my boarding school (it wasn’t as fancy as it sounds). I was tonguing around inside my mouth, applied a little pressure to my front teeth. That’s when I hear a small crunch, and the next thing I know I’m holding a piece of tooth in my hand.

I’ve always been terrified of dentists. I can’t remember how or why it got to be that way, but it’s just one of those things. My last memory of visiting a dentist is sorta kinda like what I imagine dying is like. Being blinded by stark white light, blood pounding so hard it causes a headache, while lying down unable to move. Not exactly the thing you want to actively pursue.

This irrational fear has motivated one poor decision after the other. It’s coming up on 11 years since I’ve last set foot in a dentists office. As a result, my teeth … well, let me put it this way; Aleppo is in better shape.

And while it started as fear and phobia, shame has since creeped through the door those two bastards kicked open. And it’s been compounded as time went by. I feel self-conscious about my smile, which is filled with discolouring and chipped teeth. And so it became easier to justify not doing something about it. And that excuse moved onto a financial one, as it became readily apparent that the work needed was going to be ridiculously expensive. And so the situation deteriorated.

I really want to be able to smile again. Smile without thinking about what others might think. Especially since I have so much to smile about these days. My business is doing well, I have the Doctor in my life (and she is just amazing) and the days are looking brighter and brighter, even as we’re moving towards winter.

So now I’m facing the demons Shame and Fear. They’ve been riding me for more than twenty years. I’m terrified, and anxious, and excited, and nervous. But something has to change. And so on Sunday I’m taking the first of three trips to Poland, for extensive dental surgery. Wish me luck.

On the subject of self-care

One of the ways that stress has affected me, is that it’s taken my general lack of care for myself to new levels.
Which is weird, seeing as it wasn’t something I spent a lot of time on before, and when I neglect myself I lose the tenuous grasp on myself I already have.

Basically, because I don’t have much of an appetite I forget to eat. This leads to my blood sugar crashing. Which leads to hypersensitivity and bouts of unstable emotions.

Now, I am normally able to identify what’s going on when its about 5-6 hours too late. At which point I overeat to the point where I start feeling shame, because I am still about 30 pounds overweight. It’s a delightful circle of stupid.

Back on the horse

I haven’t been very good at keeping this thing up to date. That despite the fact that it’s incredibly healthy for me to get my thoughts out of my brain and “down on paper”.

But hey, what’re you gonna do?

Anyway, I’m still alive, and doing fairly well (all things considered). Trying my very best to get back on my feet, and get things settled in some sort of routine. The Doctor is also working her ass off, but we’re still good. It’s been difficult adjusting to the boyfriend thing, while also dealing with stress induced insecurity and self-doubt. There’s no doubt in my mind, that I am my own worst critic. Most of the time I feel like I’m holding up a facade, because if I didn’t things would quickly come tumbling down.

My memory’s been getting worse. I forget the simplest things. I switch around words. It’s super disconcerting. But the Doctor and others around me have been fairly good at dealing with my broken mind. In that regard I’m extremely fortunate.

It’s not all bad, though. I can feel how my mind is still slowly picking up speed in other departments. Ideas are coming, and motivation follows. Kin has gotten som help in the form of another developer signing on and helping out on the project, and I finally got around to ordering the parts for a prototype Smart Mirror.

4AM panic attacks

I’ve been trying to sleep for the past four hours. I’ve been doing the insomnia shuffle. It’s become a familiar pattern for the last couple of months.

You see, I’ve been out from work on sick leave. Stress, it seems, has finally done me well and truly in.

Normally my nights consists simply of me tossing and turning until something snaps and I collapse into a state of not-really-sleep, that’ll last anywhere between four to six hours. Then I’ll wake up and be awake for anywhere between sixteen to twentyfour hours, before collapsing again. Rinse repeat.

I’m shaking as I’m typing this. About an hour ago my heart was racing a thousand miles an hour, my fight-or-flight response was triggered, I was hyperventilating and all my senses were on high alert. Why? Who the fuck knows.
I’ve had a few of these lately. I say lately … I mean within the last couple of months. But it’s gotten increasingly bad.

Maybe it’s all the changes that are happening? Maybe I’m just losing my mind?

It’s unusual for me to not be in control. I mean, not complete and absolute self-control. But at least have some sort of vibe about how, what and where. I feel like I’ve lost that. Many times I get that same sensation you get when you’re almost asleep, and your brain somehow get’s tricked into thinking that you’re falling, and it wakes you up to brace for the impact. That second of shock, disorientation and panic, yea? That’s been my ongoing sensation for at least 70% of the time for the last 2-3 months.

It’s a real treat, I tell ya. I am genuinely terrified. I’m starting to think I can’t trust my own thought processes, because idiotic and irrational ideas keep creeping in, and if I follow them to their conclusion I know I will permanently damage relationships with people I hold very dear. It’s not going terribly well over here.

Stress is the mindkiller

We’ve all read Dune by Frank Herbert. And if you haven’t, you should. Go do it now, I’ll wait.

In his amazing book (and the somewhat okay movie) we encounter the Bene Gesserit and their Litany Against Fear. It is recited during times of tribulation and trials, in order to clear the mind and maintain focus in situation where fear might grip the heart of our would-be hero. It goes like this …

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

But to me, fear is not the greatest mindkiller. Fear is just another face of uncertainty, and is quite often overcome be mere confrontation.

To me the greatest mindkiller is stress. I know this because I have encountered this beast quite a few times by now. And every single incident has, and is, worse than any fear I’ve ever felt (including the one time I was mugged at knifepoint). Stress creeps in, often under the radar and absolutely destroys every single productive thought in my brain. It shuts me down. It drains my energy, creativity and productivety. It effectively reduces me to a drooling mess. It’s not pretty. Trust me.

Currently this beast is riding me hard. And I’m doing my best to curtail it’s efforts to destroy me.

Setting Sun

She grabbed the leash from the hook by the door and stepped outside. “Buddy, come on, boy”, Rose called. It was late and the dog needed his walk. She smiled as the bassethound came careening around the corner of the farmhouse.

She clasped the leash to his collar and started down the dusty road leading to the village. She’d often imagine herself in fairytales when taking Buddy for his evening walk. Evening walks were something special to her. They had been ever since she’d started meeting the old man. He’d always be there, on the bench by the pond, cane resting by his side. The stories he told her were filled with adventure and excitement. One time he even tried to convince her that he was a wizard, plucking a gleaming red light from behind her ear and putting it in his pocket. “For safe keeping”, he’d said.

As she walked past Stevensons apple orchard she remembered a story he’d told her. About a young Knight on a quest to save a beautiful Princess. The Princess had fallen terribly ill, and all the doctors of the land had tried to save her. The Princess was dying and the Knight, loving her dearly, had vowed to do all he could to prevent that from happening. The Knight had travelled far and wide on his quest for something that could save the Princess. During his travels the Knight had heard stories of an ancient jewel, that possessed magical healing powers. Believing it to be the only way of saving the Princess the Knight set out in search of the stone.

Rose loved that story. It was full of fantastic adventures and magic. The old man hadn’t finished it yet, but she very much looked forward to hearing more of it.

She crossed the small town square, and remembered another of the old man’s stories. It was one of the scary ones, and she didn’t like this one as much, even though she found it very exciting. It was about a band of heroes. Beset on all sides by monsters and villains, they fought a desperate battle. In the end they’d won, but suffered greatly along the way. They’d been trying to do right, but being young and scared, they chose poorly and ended up causing more harm than good.

Rose had remarked once that the old man’s stories never ended as fairy tales normally ended. He’d asked what she meant by that, and she said “They’re all so sad”. The old man had thought about that for a while before replying.
“You don’t need half a kingdom when you have great friends standing by your side”, he’d said.

She remembered another of his stories as she crossed main street. A story of a brother and sister trapped in old catacombs beneath an even older city. They’d been on a quest for the Book of Knowledge and fallen into the hands of brigangs. The sister had been kind and caring, the boy scared and reckless. The bond had been what kept them from succumbing. The boy’s fury had almost been their undoing, but she had pulled them from the Darkness, and brought them into the light. She thought of herself that way, guiding her little brother, holding his hand.

She crossed out into the park, and felt a surge of warmth as she saw him sitting where he always sat. The light from the streetlamp made him cast a long shadow, but it was him.

She walked the path around the pond, with Buddy going this way and that, sniffing out squirrels and marking his territory. It was a clear night, the moon shining brightly in the sky. His cane was resting on the ground in front of his feet.

She sat down next to him. He looked at her and smiled, a gleam in his eye. “So, Rose, another night, another story”, he said.

“Yea”, she said, “I was hoping you’d finish the story about the Knight and the Princess”.

He smiled warmly and said “Well, it’s your lucky night”.

“Really? Does he save her”, she asked.

The old man put his hand in his pocket, and said “It’s not one of those stories, young one”.

“So … he doesn’t save her?”, she asked, feeling fear grip her.

“Not in the way you would think of it, but it does have a happy ending”, the old man replied, with a wink of his eye.

A wind rustled the trees and Buddy barked somewhere across the pond.

“No, the Knight’s story will be a sad one”, the old man said. “You see, once he found the Jewel and returned to the kingdom, the Princess had died”.

Rose gasped, and felt a tightness in her chest. She had wished so badly for the Princess to be saved. “So … the Knight failed?”, she asked.

“Yes, he did. Some times no matter how hard you try, things don’t turn out the way you imagine”, the old man said. He looked out across the pond at Buddy chasing the ducks.

He pulled his clenched fist from his pocket, drew a deep breath, exhaled and relaxed his grip. Hundreds of tiny red motes sprang into the air and danced away into the evening sky. The old man sat there. Still.