Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Just Mainframes -- and then a Huckster" -- proposed chapter conclusion

I want to report on my progress with my third DADT (non-fcition) book, so here is a draft of the "conclusion" of Chapter 4, titled, "Just Mainframes, and then a Huckster".  

My life – both professional and personal – had been in a sump in the early nineties, partly over anxiety over a partially flubbed elevation at work, resulting in long-term babysitting, which I hate (as a pun).  The issue of the military ban woke me up, as a writer, and that gave me a second wind as a “computer professional” for a while, particularly after I moved to Minneapolis in 1997.  That started one of the best periods in my life.  Even three weeks off because of a hip fracture (after a convenience store fall) in January 1998 didn’t stop me.

My life plan would be seriously challenged by my mother’s illness (next chapter), even before the layoff.  After the layoff, it gradually became apparent that my self-promoted publicity would indeed create irreconcilable conflicts with any sort of job that required submission to the marketing purposes dictated by others.  The constant unsolicited approaches that I got from people trying to recruit me to sell their “stuff” seemed to be an attempt to challenge me, and dare me to keep going, to remain outspoken without “paying my dues” and earning (by supporting other people) “the privilege of being listened to”.

A more obvious effect of the layoff could have been the descent into grunt work, and the need to prove that I could deal with the regimentation of “the proles”, as we called “them” back in my days in the Army.  My own father had always preached the moral value of “manual labor”, partly because he understood that the world can be a fragile place, and it’s easy to get into life-threatening trouble if you don’t learn how to fix things with your own hands.  It seems curious in retrospect, that my father didn’t make me do some things like set furnace pilot lights, change oil, and even fire our one 22-caliber rifle.  (I did have to change a tire with a jack after all.)  In 2003, I actually did work three shifts at the Metrodome as a “fast food worker” in fund raising for All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis (shortly before I returned to Virginia). 

Earlier, there had been attention to the “manual labor” aspect of I.T. – being able to code assembler, being able to solve dumps without abend aids right from registers, being able to take full responsibility for nightcall.  In the final analysis, this did not count for much.  One of the guys laid off in 2001 had actually been on nightcall the day before.  They just spread it out among the people that remained, without paying more, because they could get away with it.

Oh, some will say, isn’t this an argument for unionism?  Maybe.  Unions can be as exclusive and exclusionary as employers.   They certainly demand the loyalty that would be alien to my nature.

In my “conventional career” based on answering “what is my profession”, I did not advance in a conventional way. I was formally “promoted” only once.  I, instead, broke away and promoted myself as a self-publisher.  I did find that when you “go it alone”, you depend on how well others do their jobs.  The level of customer service from telecommunications and utility companies becomes particularly critical.  A small slip by a contractor can knock you off line and affect how you look, your public reputation.  You feel like you’re watching your back.  In the long run, you have to get results through others, even when you go solo. 

When I worked for a large stable company for a long sequence of years (surviving or even benefitting from mergers)  the workplace seemed to become “the universe”.  After all, the workplace is “the hand that feeds you”.   Matters that seemed small in retrospect always became big deals at the time, with lots of social and political nuance, most of it internalized.  I would often become preoccupied with the degree of perfection required in outputs that could go to users, particularly after elevations and then facing the prospect of running  my work past millions of customer items.  It was definitely on me, and a preoccupation with perfectionism in the present could cut down on learning new things – very important for future career challenges. But with time, the sense of crisis always passed.  Once I retired, I was confronted with my “apperception” of how the rest of the world really lives, and how I depend on people to do things that I can’t do, would find demeaning or distasteful, or physically challenging or too regimented.  There was certain a “moral” point to all this, harking back to the moralizing of my own father, about “learning to work”.  But what really ambushed me was the personal aspect of “real world” careers – particularly salesmanship.  My flamboyant father (a glassware manufacturer’s representative for decades) used to brag he could sell anything to anyone, a point that offended me, but I do get his drift.  There seemed to be no ultimate truth, no “Theroy of Everything”, that one could prove; there was only faith, and the “relative” truth that lived in social and familial hierarchies. 

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