Aug 23

Opening night

I’ve mentioned that I’m working on the light crew for the Raleigh Little Theater’s production of Once Upon a Mattress. Up until now, that hasn’t required me to do very much. I helped to hang the lights a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve attended several rehearsals of the show. Last night’s rehearsal was actually what they call a preview performance; it was a full-scale staging of the play, with costumes, props, lights, orchestra, and audience, but the audience was almost all friends and family of the cast and crew, and they didn’t pay to see the show. Tonight is the real thing: the first performance for a paying audience. And I’m running the light board. The curtain goes up in two hours.
Wish me luck. I’ll post more about this later.

Aug 15

Make a wish

Dear Jen:
It’s just after midnight, so perhaps if I type fast, I can be the first to wish you happy birthday. And do make it a happy one, because I think this is going to be the best year of your life so far. Take it from me: turning thirty is cause for celebration.
Believe it or not, great things are beginning to happen for you. You may think that the emotional roller coaster you’ve been experiencing is a sign that your life is slowly-yet-surely falling apart, but you’re wrong. All of the disillusionment, soul-searching, and confusion is part of a process that’s hard to recognize while you’re going through it, but becomes clear when you look back later: you’re growing up.
Wait, don’t hit me! I know that statement sounds condescending, but that’s only because our society equates growing up with adolescence, and considers the process complete at 21, when we’re legally adults. Well, the physiological and legal transition may be over at that point, but the emotional change is a lot more gradual, and continues throughout the twenties for most of us. Letting go of the remnants of childhood and adolescence is a slow process, and one that our culture is largely unaware of.
But you can almost always tell when the transition is complete. You know you’ve reached that point when you decide to consciously reject those vestiges of your past because they’re interfering with your ability to go forward. You realize that you’ve been clinging to those things because they made you happy when you were younger — but they don’t make you happy anymore. You’re a different person now. And so you put away childish things and get on with your new life.
For me, this happened in 1985 and ’86, and it took the form of deciding to stop trying to be a college student forever. After being terribly lonely and unhappy in high school, I was fortunate to end up in 1978 at the University of South Carolina (which I loved from the moment I laid eyes on it) and find a social setting at the Presbyterian Student Center where, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I not only made friends there, but also got involved in activities that I enjoyed (dance classes, puppet shows, study groups, Dungeons & Dragons games) and even served on several committees and eventually on the PSC council, getting elected treasurer twice and being selected my senior year as one of two live-in house managers. The stresses of term papers and exams were there, of course, but I was happier than I had ever been before because I fit in. I didn’t want it to end.
But of course it had to. By 1981, most of my friends had graduated. I made new ones, but the group that had made me feel so welcome was disintegrating. After I graduated and got married in 1983, I decided to continue into graduate school at USC in part because I wasn’t ready to leave. I continued to be active at the Presbyterian Student Center, but by 1984 virtually all of my original circle of friends was gone. And something else was happening that I wouldn’t have believed possible: I was growing tired of being a college student. The routine of classes and tests and papers was getting old. I was even becoming sick of the USC campus; I felt that I could walk from dorm to class to student center with my eyes closed, and it was just no fun anymore.
In 1978 the university had seemed like paradise to me; I had thought I could be happy there forever, but now it was time to leave. Marie and I moved off campus, I dropped out of graduate school, and I started looking for a real job. We gradually quit going to PSC activities. By the time Marie got pregnant in late ’85, I was ready to let go of the student lifestyle. In June of 1986, I was a father and a full-time technical writer, but the real transition to adulthood had taken place the year before, when I stopped trying to hang onto my past and began to embrace the future.
I see the same thing happening to you now. You’ve rejected your previous habit of trying to change your life with cross-country moves. You’re questioning your previously cherished romantic notions about being a writer. You’re facing the fact that you can’t eat like a teenager anymore. And you’ve realized that living with your parents and siblings is no longer comforting; it’s stifling. You’re ready to move on.
This process may be traumatic, but trust me, it’s worth it. Letting go of the leftovers of childhood is hard to do, but it’s also liberating. Forget the over-the-hill jokes you’re hearing — the thirties are a golden age of independence, personal growth, and empowerment. You’ve been testing your wings; now you’re ready to take flight and soar. Your best days are ahead of you, and you now have the freedom to fully explore your capabilities as you never have before. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself in the years to come.
Happy birthday, Jen. And welcome to adulthood. You’re going to love it.
All the best,

Aug 14

Other news

I attended another job fair today, my third since being laid off. Like the first, this one was held at the IBM Recreation Center in RTP and admission was restricted to former IBM employees. I had planned to be there when the doors opened at 10:00 this morning, but car trouble intervened; our minivan developed a faulty starter and had to be repaired. I ended up arriving half an hour before the job fair ended at 2:00, and found that some of the participating companies had already packed up and left. But a printed list was available, so I can always e-mail a resume to the firms that weren’t there.
No word from SAS yet. It’s been a week now since my interview, but I’m going to wait until next Monday before I call them and ask.
As Ben recently reported, our family is being “sucked in” by the Raleigh Little Theater‘s production of Once Upon a Mattress. Tonight was Crew Watch, meaning that the entire crew assembled to watch the cast rehearse the play. Ruth, Marie, and I were all there, because we’re all involved in the production — I’m part of the light crew, Marie is doing costumes and props, and Ruth is on the running crew (the backstage people who handle technical tasks during the show). So far, my involvement has been limited to (1) helping take down lights from a previous play, (2) hanging lights for Mattress, and (3) showing up for a focus session that didn’t get around to actually focusing (aiming lights and setting the beam spread) until after I had to leave. And at Crew Watch, I just sat back and enjoyed the show. But the next time I go to RLT, it will be for a “wet tech” rehearsal at which I will be learning to run the light board. Everyone tells me this is easy, but since I know absolutely nothing about it, I won’t really relax until I find out for myself whether I can handle it. I’m scheduled to run the board on opening night(!), which is August 23.

Aug 14


I write this blog with no audience in mind beyond my family and friends, but apparently I do have other readers. This became clear today when I received an e-mail from Bruce Loebrich, a Durham blogger who had discovered my blog (he doesn’t recall how) and noticed that I live nearby. He informed me that there’s a monthly RTP Bloggers’ Lunch and invited me to the next one in early September. Other bloggers living in the area are likewise invited, so if you’re interested, send Bruce an e-mail. I’m definitely planning to attend.
Bruce’s note has me wondering: how many people I’ve never met are reading this blog? I can’t imagine that it’s very many, but (since I’ve never bothered to install a counter) I have no way to know unless I hear from you. Send me an e-mail and tell me how you discovered this blog — and what on earth possesses you to read it.

Aug 09

Friday Five: Behind the wheel

Now that I’m blogging again, the arrival of Friday means it’s time to answer the Friday Five. This week’s questions are about driving.
1. Do you have a car? If so, what kind of car is it? We have two vehicles, both of which are Chrysler products: a Plymouth Grand Voyager and a Dodge Neon four-door sedan.
2. Do you drive very often? Are you kidding? Of course I do. If you live in the Triangle and you have a job, you commute every day. Now that I’m unemployed, you would think I’d be spending less time on the road, but that just means that I have more time time to run errands and drive the kids around.
3. What’s your dream car? As hard as this is to believe, I don’t have one. I can think of lots of cars that I wouldn’t turn down if someone gave me one, but I see a car as a means of getting places, not as a manifestation of my personality. So, even though I’m a middle-aged male, I really have no interest in acquiring an expensive sports car, or even a mountain-climbing SUV. My dream car is any car that fits my practical requirements (four-door sedan, automatic transmission, cruise control, power locks and windows, CD player) and doesn’t cost me a lot of money (affordable purchase price, great gas mileage, inexpensive to maintain).
I will admit that I really like the Pontiac Aztek because I think it looks cool, but I have no idea how good a vehicle it is to drive or maintain.
4. Have you ever received a ticket? Only once. I have never received a speeding ticket in the ordinary sense — that is, I have never been pulled over and given a ticket because I was observed driving faster than the posted speed limit. However, in 1982 I did receive a citation for “driving too fast for conditions” because the Domino’s Pizza delivery car that I had been driving was upside down in the ditch. The officer who wrote the ticket did not actually know what my speed had been, but he concluded that it must have been too fast. I didn’t agree with this assessment, but thought it was best not to argue. (The accident did not prevent me from delivering the pizza on time; it happened on my way back from the customer’s house.)
5. Have you ever been in an accident? Quite a few, actually. As a teenager, I was a mediocre driver and was involved in several fender-benders as a result. My most serious accident was the seven-car pileup in 1980 that fractured my right femur and caused me to spend six weeks in traction. (I was only a passenger that time; my college roommate was driving.) My most recent accident was a two-car collision in 1995, in which I was driving through an intersection and hit an oncoming vehicle that turned left in front of me. The police officer concluded that I ran a red light, and he may have been right — it’s possible that I mistook a green turn arrow for a green light.
The strangest accident I’ve been involved in took place in 1990. It was a collision that involved two cars, but no drivers. In fact, neither car was running at the time. It happened when a teenager living in the cul-de-sac across the street from our house was pushing his car with the aid of a buddy. Somehow, they lost control of it at a moment when neither of them was behind the wheel. The driverless vehicle rolled down the hill and struck my car, which was parked at the curb. Naturally, I was not happy about this, but it later occurred to me that if my car had not stopped it, the other vehicle would have jumped the curb, continued down the hill, crashed through the front wall of our house, and come to rest in our living room. As it turned out, the damage to my car was superficial (the right front fender was mangled, but the vehicle was still drivable), and my insurance covered the cost of the repair.
I am happy to say that I have never been involved in a fatal accident. This is partly good luck, but it’s also partly because I always wear a seat belt, and insist that all passengers do the same while I’m driving.

Aug 07

The brass ring

I didn’t sleep very much last night; I was too anxious about today’s job interview at SAS. Interviews don’t usually affect me that way, but this one was different. SAS is at the top of everyone’s list of the best places to work in the Triangle, perhaps in the entire country. I’ve been applying for jobs there since I arrived in this area fifteen years ago, and this was the first time I had actually been selected for an interview. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I did not want to screw it up.
The interview was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. I left home at 8:20. I knew I would encounter slow traffic along the way and had allowed extra time for that, but there was always the possibility that something completely beyond my control, like a wreck or a flat tire, would prevent me from getting there on time. (At least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost; after having driven past the SAS campus on my way to work for nine years, I knew exactly how to get there.) I didn’t really stop worrying until my car eased into a parking space in front of SAS Building B.
After signing in at the front desk and obtaining a temporary badge, I was greeted by a Human Resources person. She spent the next hour reviewing the pre-interview paperwork I had brought with me (a background check form and a work history), explaining SAS compensation policies, and quizzing me on my work history. She asked me a few tough questions, such as “How do you think your references see you?”, and watched me try to respond without sounding inane or obviously insincere.
Eventually, she let me go, and I drove to Building J for part 2 of the interview: meeting the manager. I took an immediate liking to him, and we discussed my history and the state of the technical writing field. After about half an hour, he took me to a conference room where the rest of the writing team was gathered, and left me with them. Being interviewed by half a dozen people at once sounds scary, but it was actually quite enjoyable — they were a friendly and likable bunch, and it seemed to me that I had a lot in common with them. I did my best to answer their questions about my experience and knowledge, and asked a few of my own about their procedures and tools. After an hour, the manager reappeared and took me back to his office to find out my impressions of the team and see what additional questions I had for him. With that, the interview was over and he led me back to the lobby to sign out.
By this point it was past noon, so I called Virgil to let him know I was finished, and he and Denise treated me to an excellent lunch in one of the SAS cafeteria. How did it go? they asked. On the whole, I thought it had gone very well; I had managed to avoid saying anything stupid or spilling coffee on anyone. But I was the first of six candidates to be interviewed for this position, and my chances depend as much on their merits as on my own. The manager says that he is “moving aggressively” to fill the position, and that I should hear from them by the middle of next week. I will keep looking, of course — but it’s going to be a nerve-wracking wait.

Aug 06

Job fair

I attended a job fair today at the Raleigh Convention Center. This one wasn’t particularly useful to someone in my line of work; there were no representatives there from any employer in the computer or telecom fields, which are the ones I primarily focus on. I did give resumes to Progress Energy and Bayer, and stood in line at the Glaxo SmithKline booth to learn that they were only recruiting sales people. Most of the other recruiters were representing employers like Eckerd, Burlington Coat Factory, O’Charley’s, Starbucks, and FootStar (a shoe store chain).
The online announcement of this job fair included a recommendation to “dress in business attire,” but I’m not sure anyone knows what that means any more. I went with my standard IBM uniform: polo shirt, khaki slacks, and boat shoes. This fit in well with what the Progress Energy representatives were wearing (matching company-logo polos and navy slacks), but not with the folks at the Glaxo SmithKline booth (pin-stripe suits and wing-tip shoes). The attire of the other job seekers was equally varied; some people were wearing suits and dresses, while others wore shorts. I saw one woman there in a sleeveless top with the word “Bootylicious” emblazoned on the front, sweat pants, sneakers, and a straw hat.
I don’t really expect any job offers to result from my visit to the Convention Center, but no job fair is ever a complete loss; you can at least get some free stuff while you’re there. I picked up two rather nice pens, a note pad, some Post-It notes, and a cup of free coffee from the Starbucks booth. On the other hand, I had to pay two dollars for parking, which is probably more than that small cup of coffee would have cost me if I had skipped the job fair and just gone directly to Starbucks.

Aug 06


Bob reports that, while sorting through some old documents, he discovered a scrap of paper that reads as follows:

“Everything explodes eventually.”
— P. Berry

At first glance, this would seem to be an insupportable assertion. After all, it’s not difficult to find examples of objects that have existed for centuries or millennia without exploding: the Great Wall of China, the Rock of Gibraltar, Strom Thurmond, and so forth. But before we dismiss the notion out of hand, we should examine our definitions of “explodes” and “eventually.”
“Eventually” means that there is no time limit whatsoever. We have to consider the explosive tendencies of any object not just over a period of centuries or millennia, but over the entire remaining lifetime of the universe. On that time scale, no object can endure forever, no matter how durable it is.
With “explodes,” there is also a question of scale. When an object like a bagel or Adam Sandler’s head explodes, we know this has happened because it’s an event on a scale that we’re able to perceive. But if the explosion takes place on a microscopic scale, we may not notice it. Individual atoms explode all the time; it’s called nuclear fission, and every atom of an unstable isotope does it sooner or later. If theories about proton decay are correct, even stable isotopes eventually break down at the subatomic level (although this will take place over a period of time far greater than the current age of the universe). So it is possible to maintain that everything explodes eventually — with the qualification that most objects will do so very slowly, one particle at a time.
I can’t say whether this is what I had in mind when I made the statement; I don’t remember saying it, so I have no idea what the context was. At one time, I had a journal in which I recorded everything I said to anyone about anything (along with the date, time, place, and circumstances), which would have been enormously helpful in investigating this matter. Unfortunately, the journal spontaneously detonated in 1997. I’m afraid the origin of the quotation will have to remain a mystery.