What up

Loyal readers might have noticed that I’ve been unusually quiet lately; at least with regard to personal things. There are a number of reasons for this, none the least of which is a decline in my interest in talking about myself on this blog. But it’s also because I’ve been pretty busy lately.

About a month ago, the axe fell at my place of employment. I, and about a dozen others, were unceremoniously “let go.” I got an embarrassingly small severance given the seven years of undying service I gave to that company, but as we say in Cape Breton, “it was better than a boot to the head.”

It was my first unplanned release into the unemployment wild since about 1991.

My first interview for another job was held the same day, a mere five hours after getting canned. Over the next couple of weeks, I interviewed with three different companies, and finally accepted a position as team leader of a technical documentation group. Yes, I’m switching out of marketing (due in no small part to my recent existential tailspin) and am returning to my roots. Go me. My daily commute will be longer, and my new office is, sadly, not downtown, but I’m looking forward to feeling useful again. The product I’ll be documenting has redeeming social value (which is to say, it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with goddam mobile phones). In fact, it is used to help save lives. That’s all I’m going to say, as I have a policy of not explicitly talking about my day job on this blog.

I’ve also been pretty busy around the house, helping Martine with some landscaping and gardening work, and doing some geek stuff like reinstalling operating systems and upgrading our WiFi network. It’s surprising how busy a person can be when there’s about two years’ worth of un-done things on his “to do” list. Still, I wish I had another month as there are still a lot of outstanding chores.

Strangely, I haven’t been reading very much. However, I did managed to finish James Meek‘s occasionally rambling but otherwise very excellent new novel, “We Are Now Beginning Our Descent.” It’s the story of a Scottish born, London raised writer who has spent a lot of time as a foreign correspondent in some of the most interesting places in the world. After a harrowing stint in Afghanistan (just as the war began), he hangs up his flak jacket and writes a novel. (To this point, it could be autobiography.) Complications ensue with regard to his hopes for success with the book and with his pursuit of a romantic desire. And, most importantly, with his frame of mind. The “decent” referred to in the title is not really a reference to the many plane rides he takes; it’s a reference to his character and circumstances.

It’s a great read. A lot more talk than action, with several layers of interest happening simultaneously. And rest assured that the romantic angle is, like a lactose intolerant’s pizza, entirely without cheese. There are many memorable passages in the book, but a couple really stuck with me. What follows is one of them, from a scene late in the novel when Kellas (the protagonist) has just shared a meal with his intended, Astrid, and a strange older man who, despite being an atheist, insists on saying grace before dinner:

Kellas asked about Bastian’s grace before the meal. Astrid glanced at him and smiled (…). She explained that Bastian didn’t believe in God, but believed the flaws and limits of man required him to have some way of filling the needs that religion otherwise supplied. These were hope, gratitude, humility, restraint, confession, and atonement. He’d found such a way for himself, and it came out in his graces, his conversations and his counsel.

That strikes a chord with me; I’m essentially an atheist too, but I’ve always struggled with the the same notion that people have a need for those things. That need, which can be described as a flaw, is what makes us human. It is our imperfection that separates us from machines. But without a religious framework there is no compelling reason to act on that need, or to even articulate it. (“For the good of humanity” doesn’t cut it, as most animals, humans included, are primarily out for themselves at the base level. Socialization has to be learned, whether you’re a wolf, a thug in the ‘hood, or a preacher’s daughter.)

I worry that a population that is utterly devoid of religion would be one with moral dissonance; with a need for things like hope, gratitude, humility, restraint, confession, and atonement being present but with no framework in which to exercise the compulsion. Meek’s passage doesn’t provide an answer, but it is a nice way of presenting the problem in a way I can relate to.

Speaking of books, I marked a new milestone a couple of weeks ago with the launch of Mark Abley’s new book “The Prodigal Tongue; Dispatches from the Future of English.” Abley interviewed dozens of people while researching the book, from hip hop artists to text-frenzied kids to bloggers. I was one of the bloggers, so not only am I quoted across two pages in the book (pp. 180-181), but I have my very own index entry. “Big deal” you might say, but do you have an index entry in anybody’s book? Right. (OK, maybe it only resonates with book nerds.)

I don’t start my new job until June 9, which gives me one more week on the lam, so to speak. On a whim, Martine and I poked around the Web a couple of days ago and came up with some cheap(ish) airline tickets to Paris. Like I’ve always said, if you’ve got a week to kill, you might as well kill it in Paris. So that’s what we’re doing. It means we’ll miss YULBlog, but we plan to look in on Paris-Carnet instead.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you. So; what do you think of me?

;-)

My Paradox

Going forward, we achieve significance by leveraging translational services to deliver bleeding edge value-add from c-level points of interest to highly targeted c-level receptors. This arises directional queries as to the procedural efficacy and ROI going forward. Resultant to this is a directional correction phase which is expected to be temporary going forward.

Or…

A big part of my day job is the translation of executive buzzspeak into human-readable English. But the people who read my translations are primarily executive buzzspeakers themselves. That begs the question of the meaning and usefulness of my work. And thus, dear readers, is the stall that led to my current existential tailspin.

Dilbert

Cranky rabbit

I used to think I might be a good cartoonist. Years ago I discovered I could draw goofy and cartoonish characters pretty well – certainly better than some of the cartooning superstars out there like Scott Adams.

Unfortunately there was something missing – the joke. Or more specifically, the point.

Sure, I could draw a polar bear sitting on an ice floe eating a banana, or an airplane flying through the ears of guy in a suit. But it was never very funny or clear what the intention was. I also had the problem of not being able to draw “on demand.” So even on those rare occasions when I came up with a punch line, I couldn’t draw the corresponding picture. Nor could I draw something that someone asked me to draw.

So my doodles were perpetually just characters, drawn on the fly, and perpetually in search of meaning or at least a punch line. Frustrated, I instead made a career writing software manuals because hey, that was easy.

Here’s one of my characters, hastily scrawled onto a white board a few years ago. He’s a curmudgeonly rabbit who hangs around in bars making cranky wisecracks at people. I was going to call him “Doug” or “Ron” or something like that. I left him up there on the board for a few months, waiting for inspiration. None came.

Hey, it's just a sketch -- first draft!

Frankly, I think I’ve done better with this blog. It won’t make me rich or famous (neither would the cartooning have done so), but at least with the blog I’m not at a loss for words. (Recent dry spell notwithstanding).