Anxiety and Phone Calls

I don’t like talking on the phone. There are two reasons for this, I’ll get one out of the way quickly because it is less important than the other.

A key component for me when conversing with people is being able to see them. When you consider that I am posting this to a blog and I’m fairly active online (and have been since the late 80s in some form or another) it seems counter-intuitive. But, in my brain, this is writing, which is different from talking. I can write, and people write back, and if I get a particularly heated or spiky response from someone, I’m not on the spot to immediately reply. I can take my time and consider the position and give a thoughtful rebuttal if it is warranted. When I talk to people, how they react, in their face and body, to the things being said supply great information for keeping from kicking over too many hornet’s nests, and also to encourage conversation if the response is positive. But when on the phone, all that drops away, and I can’t see a person rolling their eyes or gritting their teeth or fidgeting with their fingers. They might be doing those things, but I can’t see them. I don’t like this.

But the larger reason why I don’t like to talk on the phone is almost a post traumatic stress response. For years, for more than two decades, I have worked in some form or another in a customer service related position. These days I do much more programming than support, but being at a smaller company I still have to occasionally answer the phone. Because my jobs have almost always leaned toward support instead of service the people I talk to usually are having a problem and not just asking a question. And more often than not they are angry about the problem. I can do my best to try to defuse their anger, but it doesn’t always work. So the bulk of my experience using phones is to have someone yell at me.

These days, when I need to make a phone call, I pick up the phone and before I start dialing I can feel my heart speed up. My foot will start to tap or my leg start to twitch. I might even feel my face flush with heat and break into a little sweat. I know, I know, that the majority of the people I speak to on the phone these days are not going to yell at me, but I’ve been conditioned. I cannot stop my physiological and psychological response.

It’s a terrible thing that I should probably talk to someone about so I can get past it, but healthcare in this country… I won’t go there, it makes me angrier than having to talk on the phone. Anyway, so that’s why, if you need me, you should email me, or text me, or catch me on Facebook, or just drop by the house and we’ll play some board games. All of these options are better than calling me on the phone.

Washington DC: The Rest of the Story

Originally I wanted to do a post per day while I was on vacation, and I did… for two days. After the third day I was so tired that I didn’t. And then day four was the same. And day five… We had a wonderful time, saw a lot, and did much, but walking almost everywhere took it’s toll on us.

In total, we got to see five and a half of the Smithsonian museums, plus about half of the zoo. We saw Madame Tussauds, which was simultaneously interesting and super creepy. We ate food at a bunch of local joints. And we saw a number of monuments.

We also got to stroll along several of the streets of Capitol Hill where we were staying, and it was lovely. The neighborhood and the city made us decide that if we ever win the lottery we will probably move there.

We happened to be in DC for the 4th of July, which was crowded and crazy and absolutely glorious. We sat on some grass out in front of the Lincoln Memorial and watched the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen in the sky above the reflecting pool.

So, final thoughts on the vacation:

  • If you go to Arlington National Cemetary, pay the $9 for the tram tour. It is the best $9 you will spend your entire vacation. Anyone who tells you that anything in that place is “just a short walk” from anywhere is a damned liar. If you decide to save the $9, bring lots of water and sunscreen, and plan to spend literally all day there walking.
  • We rented an apartment through airbnb.com and it was great. Nicely located about a mile off the Mall on Capitol Hill. I would totally do this again, and after 2 successful vacations using the site, I’m prepared to go there first before hotels for pretty much any future vacation.
  • The daytime bus tours are kind of a ripoff. Especially when you consider the air conditioning almost never works, and even though they promise live tour guides, most of the buses have broken PA systems so the tour guide can’t work the bus and you get to listen to the pre-recorded stuff. But that’s sort of okay since the tour guides make the most predictable lame jokes and they all make the same jokes. However, the night tour was pretty great, because it actually stopped at monuments and the tour guide got out and showed us stuff.
  • A week is not enough time in Washington DC. I want to go back. I will go back. There are still like a dozen Smithsonians to see.

Washington DC: Day 2

Sleep. Normally I get about 5 hours a nice, maybe 5. It is my standard running number. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. On vacation, however, I can usually manage more. 7.

The goal for the day was simple. Find breakfast. Go to the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Visit a grocery store for some food for the week.

Being the first non-travel day, we were slow to rise and get moving. So breakfast almost became lunch, until we found an IHOP. I got lunch anyway.

We arrived at the Udvar-Hazy Center and it was closed. Not really, but apparently Google Maps likes leading people to the entrance that is restricted to staff only on the weekends. So we had to call the museum to get better directions to the correct entrance.

The museum is amazing, wall to wall and floor to extremely high ceiling with flying machines. Planes and helicopters and balloons… and space.

I’ve seen in TV and movies, read in books, people who repress or for other reasons have a delayed reaction to things. In 1986, when I was 11 years old, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch. Perhaps because I was too young, or perhaps because I didn’t really understand death, or maybe because of the manner in which the news was unfolded to me, as a child I didn’t react to the news.

When it happened, our school was supposed to gather for assembly and watch it together, but for whatever reason they decided it was too much trouble or something, and we just had a normal day. The launch came during lunch and recess for my class. While we were on the playground, my teacher was with some of the other teachers who also had the same lunch and recess periods in the teachers’ lounge watching the launch. We returned from recess and Mr. Strykowsky sat at his desk, unusually quiet. The normally boisterous man who was always joking and laughing sat, his hands folded on the desk in front of him, staring blankly into the middle distance.

Kids, at least at that time, loved space. And with Christa McAuliffe on board, it was doubly so. You might dream of being an astronaut, but doing that is a long road with very few people making it. But Christa was a teacher who made an end run around the usual program. A back door into space. We were all excited about a regular person making it onto the shuttle.

One of the other kids asked how the launch went. “It blew up.” It was all he said. Because he was the type to joke around, I don’t think any of us really believed him. It didn’t become real until I got home and there was nothing else on television, the footage replayed on a near constant loop. But I was detached. I didn’t cry or even really feel it.

The Wife and I talked about photos while we ate at IHOP. We laughed as we came up with the idea of taking photos of very large things from far away while one of us was standing next to the object. Imagine a photo of “Jason at the Washington Monument” and it’s a photos of the full height monument, and at the bottom is a little spec with a red shirt – me.

There is a high walkway in the Udvar-Hazy, equivalent to a third floor. From this walkway you can look down the hall toward the Space Shuttle Discovery, its nose pointed right at you. The Wife waited up on this walkway while I headed down to stand next to the shuttle, to be the little red dot.

As I made my way down the hall, the shuttle loomed before me, growing in size as I approached. I passed people stopping to take photos, themselves large in the frame with the shuttle small in the background. I’m over a hundred feet away and my vision begins to blur. I rub my eyes and my hands come away wet. As I get closer, tears begin to roll. When I get to the shuttle it is undeniable, I am crying. And I can’t seem to stop.

I walk away from the shuttle and climb the stairs to meet up with The Wife. When I get to the top I’ve gotten control of myself and we finish touring the airplanes. When we return to the space wing, the feelings still well up, but they don’t explode out of me again.

We picked a good day to be here… well, picked is a strong work, lucked would be better. The United States Navy Band Commodores were giving a free concert in the hanger. It was lovely.

Then we went to Wal-Mart. Every vacation has to have its less than glorious moments.

Washington DC: Day 1

We arrived in the nation’s capitol just after 6pm. Quickly we settled into the 1 bedroom apartment we’d rented for the week, cleaned up a little after the 7 hour drive and headed out to dinner.

The Wife wanted to go to Hard Rock, mostly to visit and add a shirt to her collection, but we decided to eat as well. We were staying at a place on the corner of E & 10th NE. The Hard Rock is on the corner of E & 10th NW. That makes it roughly 20 or so blocks away, 2 miles. We walked.

Washington DC is a beautiful city. There is a ton of history here and lots of old buildings. Perhaps I just haven’t hung around the right neighborhoods in Atlanta but that town never had that sort of presence to me. The first 10 blocks of our journey, from our temporary home to Union Station, was through a primarily residential area. Lots of homes with little gardens on their front steps. A few were for sale and we talked about how cool it would be to live here. I picked up the flyer for one of these homes. 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, kitchen, den… $800,000. Well, maybe after we win the lottery.

Once we passed Union Station we cross from the NE to the NW side, and the once declining street numbers started to rise. I don’t know if I have ever encountered this before. It seems like it would be sort of confusing… says the guy from Atlanta, land of a thousand Peachtree Streets.

This side was pretty much all business, but rather than the skyscraping towers of glass and steel you might get elsewhere, here the buildings all have a more storied and solid look. The city feels grand even though it isn’t tall. The business side also has homeless people. And a couple of sketchy areas, especially during the walk back after dark. Even so, I never felt in danger, but then I’m a guy and I’ve been told a semi-scary looking one too. It’s the shaved head and goatee.

It’s nice to be in walking distance of so much and I look forward to exploring over the next week here. I brought two pairs of shoes but I suspect I’ll be wearing the hiking boots most of the time. I like the look of my black sneakers and they are good for the office, but the padding is inadequate for long foot journeys. The Wife brought six pairs of shoes, none of them are hiking boots. And our first night walking she chose to wear sandals.

The blisters are epic. The last block or two I thought I was going to have to carry her, or leave her behind to save myself. Luckily we weren’t being chased by Nazis or zombies or Nazi zombies or zombie Nazis – there is a difference, one are Nazis who died and reanimated, the other are zombies who decided to become Nazis – so I didn’t have to make that choice, just walk a bit more slowly.

We returned to the apartment and tumbled into bed.

Kids Today

This post probably isn’t going to go the way you think…

I’m at the gym. I’ve just spent 30 solid minutes swimming. I’m tired. As I’m at the locker getting ready to shower, two gentlemen in the same aisle are having a conversation.

Gentleman 1: I just don’t get it.
Gentleman 2: Me either.
G1: They just want to sit at home and stare at screens.
G2: Yep.
G1: When I was their age, sure I had an Atari, we even had a computer, and TV, but I still went out riding bikes and playing with other kids, and sports and camping and all that.
G2: The kids today have changed. It makes it hard on us parents.
G1: It was never this hard for my parents.

This was the point where I stepped in.

Me: You mind if I jump in?
G1: Your kids spend too much time inside too?
Me: Oh, it’s not that. Let’s me ask. You have kids, right?
G1: Yeah.
Me: And they have bikes?
G1: Yeah.
Me: And when they ride them, do you make them wear safety helmets?
G1: Of course!
Me: When you were their age, you had a bike?
G1: Indeed.
Me: And your parents, did they make you wear a helmet when you rode it?
G1: No, but things were different then.
Me: How?
G1: It was more safe.
Me: No, it wasn’t. Riding a bike today is exactly as dangerous as it was when you were a kid. The only thing that has changed is that science now understands injuries better, and studies have shown that kids on bikes can survive bruises and scrapes, but a head injury can be traumatic and lasting. Wearing a helmet significantly reduces the chance of sustaining a head or brain injury.
G1: So?
Me: That was true back in the 70s and 80s too, we just didn’t know it yet. You should have been wearing a helmet back then. Your parents were terrible parents.
G1: They didn’t know any better!
Me: Right! And if they had told you to wear a helmet, you probably would have thought it was dorky. And if they said you couldn’t ride the bike without the helmet then you probably would have ridden the bike less and played more Atari.
G1: What are you saying?
Me: Kids today have changed, but not entirely on their own. Kids today are sometimes reacting to how parents have changed.
G2: What’s wrong with parents changing?
Me: Nothing. Just stop blaming the kids for it.

Then I went and showered.

I admit, I don’t understand a lot of things that kids do these days. But I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t understand what I did all the time either. And so, when I see a kid do something that I don’t get, rather than lament “Kids today!! Ugh!!” I try to understand why they’re doing it instead.

 

Time Keeps On Slippin’

I felt like I needed to say something before I got to being absent from my blog for four months. I’m about 15 days shy of that, so anyway, here I am.

Things have been…

In 1996 I got my first real official job in the IT field. Before then I’d been kicking around retail while pursuing my degree, but in 1996 I signed up for a work-study program with the college and got placed into a gig fixing computers and doing network stuff for a healthcare company. For the next 5 years I would climb upward in the systems administration side of the IT world, and then through a confluence of events of which I am only partly responsible, I had to switch silos and started climbing the software developer side of the IT world.

18 years I’ve been working in IT. For a brief moment I had an office of my own, something that I didn’t think I would ever get. Then I had to give that up in order to get help. So I don’t have an office any more, but I’m a department head. Sure, I’ve only got one guy working beneath me, but it is more than zero. The last time I had people working for me I was managing the video department in a Kroger.

I’m knee deep in RESTful APIs and mobile app development. It is frustrating as all hell, but I’m learning on the run again, which is one of the things I do well.

And I’m sitting again. By that I mean that the great standing desk experiment has ended. Did it work? Maybe. As I’ve told people, after standing all day it felt good to come home and relax. I was less restless the past year. But, I’ve embarked on a new venture – going to the gym – which is going to necessitate that I don’t spend all day standing. A convertible desk would be ideal, but also expensive and in some ways annoying. You can’t win ’em all.

Anyway… I’d spent a little time today looking at WordPress themes, for the main site, but ended up setting up a new one here, which led to me renaming the blog and making other changes, and realizing that I hadn’t written in a while. So here, I’ve written.

Tomorrow…

A Sequence of Events

My father passed away on November 28th in 2013. In 2014 the 28th was Thanksgiving and I was worried that I would have trouble with the day. And while others in my family seemed to struggle, even if they hide it fairly well, I found myself no worse off than I had been on Thanksgiving the year prior, where we had a good time but missed the presence of my father who was in a nursing facility recovering from surgery as he had been for some time.

That night, a year prior, we got in our cars and went to visit him, taking him a plate of the Thanksgiving feast. He was very happy that we had come, as he’d been very upset that he would be unable to attend. I was glad we’d gotten everyone to come.

The next day I came to visit him, because I needed him to sign some checks. A few for bills and a couple for Christmas gifts for out of town family, his children from his previous marriage. I didn’t stay long. Then on Saturday I was sick, and being sick I couldn’t go see him, so I called him and told him I couldn’t come by and probably wouldn’t be by on Sunday either. I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me too. These weren’t things we said often, he and I, and I couldn’t tell you why I said it that day, but I did. I suppose that’s about the best last words to have with someone.

The flu or cold or whatever I had hit me hard, and I was down for the next few days, taking time off work to get well. Then on Wednesday morning my brother called and told me dad had been taken to the hospital. Or maybe he called to tell me about the first incident of dad passing out. I honestly don’t recall the phone calls of that morning. We went to the hospital, my wife and I, both sick and wearing masks to hopefully limit our possible contagion. He was in the ER when we arrived. He’d coded four times, once in the ambulance and three times in the ER, or at least that’s what I recall, and then we was taken to the ICU. He was alive, but dependent on machines. He’d had, they believed, a blood clot, and we waited on a doctor to come assess his brain function, to let us know the chance of recovery.

Later that morning, we had them turn off the machines and allowed my father, whom the doctors gave no chance of recovery, to pass.

So, as I said, Thanksgiving, on the anniversary of his passing, went much more smoothly than expected. By the weekend I was sick again, another flu, and Saturday morning I broke down as I recalled our last conversation. Then on Wednesday after Thanksgiving, I broke again. The date, it seems, doesn’t matter as much as the repeating of a sequence of events. I suspect in the coming years that the Saturday and Wednesday after Thanksgiving will continue to be rough for me, especially if I get the flu.

Over three years ago, someone who had been my best friend for a decade died on Christmas Day. Every year I expect the day to be difficult, and while I have a moment or two of sadness, I’ve never broken down. In 2010, when it happened, we heard about it while driving home from Christmas with the family, and it had snowed, and was still snowing. My wife wishes for a white Christmas every year, and if we every get one I wonder what it will do to me.

2014, or the Year Fink Beats the Stomach

2014Resolutions

A tradition since 2002, here are my resolutions for the year…

  1. Fitness: this is the big one. I’m going to be 40 in October, and I want to be able to take one of those “this is what 40 looks like” photos that make people jealous. I’ve got a spare tire around my gut that I’m weary of carrying. To that end, I resolve to…
    • walk/jog/run the neighborhood, every street, 3 times a week
    • go to the gym at least 1 time a week, I get up at 6am every weekday but don’t go to work until at least 8, so I figure I should be able to fit a gym visit in there somewhere, especially since I’m already paying for it, and when I don’t go to the gym I will be doing the 5BX, I bought the book last year and figure it is time to do it, I’d like to make it a habit
    • do 10 pushups, 10 situps and 10 squats for every TV show I watch, either I will watch less TV or exercise more, so it’s win-win
    • do random exercises while working, I already stand for 8 hours a day, so throwing in the occasional set of squats or dropping down for a few pushups should be easy to incorporate
    • eat better … I loath nebulous goals like this, it just isn’t S.M.A.R.T. but after a bout of buying veggies from the farmer’s market, I know it is something that can be done but can also waste a lot, so I need to spend some time educating myself on diet and figure out how best to change in a way that doesn’t result in so much compost
  2. Writing: I think I resolve this every year, but I don’t actually follow my own advice and make a plan that is capable of being followed, so this year I resolve to…
    • write in the mornings, I get up at 6am every weekday but don’t go to work until at least 8, so I figure on days that I don’t go to the gym I should be able to fit some writing time in there
    • blog about the fitness stuff, this is a good excuse to write, so as I walk and hit the gym and eat better I will write here about it, something I should be doing anyway
    • start using my phone, or buy a special device, to record things I think about in terms of writing, lots of times I have ideas when I am not in a position to write it down, and I need to solve that

I think that’s a good set of things to resolve to do. I wanted to include something about publishing a piece of writing, but I really need to just get down the habit of writing first. Perhaps at the mid-year 4th of July update on my progress and course correction I will feel like adding it in.

The Ultimate MMO Launch

What if you built an MMO that had everything at launch?

I don’t mean every feature, expansion, class, land, etc… I mean literally, it had everything it was ever going to have. Not one thing would be added to the game (except possibly as a resolution to game bugs/problems). What if you built a game world as big as the world and filled it with all of the things?

What would you do with that world?

Personally, I’d fill it with zombies. Seven billion or so of them, scattered around the world based on population data. Then I’d build the most “real” zombie survival game ever. Players would join the game crawling out of their hiding place where they’ve just begun to run low on supplies. Randomly assigned they would be in abandoned fallout shelters or other cramped holes where they gone to ride out the chaos of the apocalypse. That would be there home to start, and they would need to go back there and lock the door when they logged off. They would need to search for food and supplies, and they would need to fight off zombies when they ran into them. The slow kind, walkers, who alone are easily handled but in groups they can overwhelm you faster than you can scream.

Players could choose to move to new locations, either new single survivor hiding spots, or more spacious group homes. And while there is safety in numbers, there is danger in responsibility. Whose turn was it to get food? Why are we out of food?

And with industry gone, so too would be the endless supply of goods. Once the stores and cupboards are bare, you better have secured some land with a fence and started farming. Things don’t respawn. Neither would you, by the way. You get dead, you stay dead. You can roll up a new character, even make it a clone of your original and keep your friend list, but your gear is gone… or rather, it’s on your body, which hopefully your friends have looted or maybe your old character is still carrying it, shambling around the wastes. And your new character might start on another continent, and you’ll need to travel if you want to meet up with your friends again – or just make new friends closer.

Then, someday down the road, when the bulk of the zombies have been laid to rest and the players have made the world a “safe” place again… you reset the server and start all over.

Memorial Park

I had an idea. I’m pretty sure it is crazy. I’m also pretty sure that’s why I like it.

A Memorial Park.

Imagine a place, a decently sized green space. With flowers and trees, open grass spaces, maybe some picnic tables, a bit of playground equipment perhaps, and all surrounded by a wall.

Now imagine this place is a cemetery.

Not filled with tombstones with coffins buried beneath them. The only people interred here are ones who have been cremated, and their ashes mixed in with the soil. When you brought a loved one to be laid to rest here, you would bring the container of ashes, you’d be allowed to inter a small portion of it yourself at a ceremony at the location of your choosing. The rest would be interred later by the staff, spread out all over the park. Your loved one would get an engraving in a brick on the wall, or in a sidewalk or path.

And the park would be open to the public, for picnics and play.

Would you want to bury your loved ones there? Would you want to be buried there?

There are, I think, some beautiful cemeteries in the world, filled with gorgeous statues and crypts. But most cemeteries are lines of bland headstones, markers on a patch of earth beneath which a coffin, often expensive, rests holding the remains of a person. They are, by and large, generically depressing places, devoid of life, and I just don’t think that it how I would want to spend my eternity.

I want to build my Memorial Park, but I have no idea how to go about it or if it would be worth it. Is it even legal to have an area where cremation ash is interred into the soil and people are allowed to play there? Is it sanitary?

These are questions I suppose I should look into, though at least on some level is has to be okay because 6 years ago there were people interring ash beneath trees.