Hug your helpdesk

Take a moment today and thank your IT people, because it’s a thankless job. The ideal of an IT Support person is to be invisible. If you never notice them because nothing ever goes wrong with the computers at your office, they are doing their jobs perfectly.

But, of course, that rarely happens.

Disclosure: I work in IT, and have, off and on, for two decades. We don’t get accolades. Even at our best, we’re a cost center, not a profit center. We bring no new money into the company. Our job is to make sure you don’t have to spend any more than you have to in order to remain competitive. It’s a game of attrition.

And when things do go bad, no one cheers us on for the work we’re doing. If a problem drags out over hours, even days, the users typically don’t think, “wow, that must be a tough problem, or they’d have it fixed by now.” Instead, they’re more likely to think, “those stupid geeks can’t do anything right!”

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t like having the CFO breathing down my neck, fretting over the money we’re losing while some crucial system is down. If I could get it fixed any faster, I would. We’re doing the best we can, and we know you can’t do your job until we finish ours. Reminding us of that every five minutes only slows us down further.

But here’s the catch of working IT Support. Even if you’re amazing at your job and you do keep the trains running on time, it’s not enough. Then they wonder why they’re paying you so much, when they never see you do anything. Couldn’t they just replace you with someone off the street for half as much?

So keep in mind that your IT Support folks work their asses off every day just to remain invisible. Thank them for their efforts and tell them how much you appreciate it. Trust me, they never hear it.

Depression: a life without mana

For those of you who play World of Warcraft (and now that it’s free to play, why wouldn’t you), let me give you an idea of what a chronically depressed person like me lives with.

Let’s say someone hits you with a debuff that drops your mana (energy, focus, rage, whatever) regeneration down to maybe 10% of what it should be. How much fun would the game be? Everything you try to do is frustrated because you just don’t have the fuel to pull it off. Can’t cast a spell, can’t attack, can’t do much of anything. You want to, but there’s just nothing in the tank.

This is depression.

I want to be writing more, doing more out in the world with the three dimensional people. I took the train/bus to and from work yesterday, and despite the fact that the total amount of walking to and from stops was well under a mile, it still exhausted me. I’ve thought about blogging my thoughts about Google+ and some of the stuff going on right now in publishing, but I usually give up before I even open my WordPress app. Even the relatively passive act of reading has pushed my resources to the limit.

How do I get out of this? It’s a long, slow climb, like struggling up out of a gravity well. I drove today to give the blisters on my feet time to heal, but I’m buying a monthly pass and trying again next week. I’m writing this blog post, mostly just to prove I can post something. As I walk more and eat better (I bought groceries for the first time in years a few days ago), I should drop some weight, and gain more physical energy. As I keep writing, I’ll develop those “muscles” again and be able to write more.

And if I keep dragging myself back into the light, my neurochemistry should stabilize, and the depression will slowly lose its ability to siphon away my energy.

Why I’m Quitting NaNoWriMo

First off, no, I’m not quitting writing. But over the past week I’ve had some realizations that made me rethink what I’m doing.

I started off NaNo this year on a slow pace, and it never really got any faster. And with each passing day, I felt more and more pressure to catch up. I was also putting in full, mentally draining days at work (I’m half the IT department for a regional HVAC distributor) and was spending all my off hours time at write ins. It was wearing me down, and it showed. In particular, I started developing small illnesses and injuries that in the past have been warning signs that I’m pushing myself too hard.

And then it hit me. I don’t need to do this. I’ve started NaNoWriMo four times now, and “won” twice. I know I can do it. I also know I don’t have to.

A lot of professional authors like the idea of NaNoWriMo but don’t participate themselves because writing a novel is _what they already do every day._ And it finally dawned on me that this applies to me as well. When I’m done with _Crusade_, my editor and I are going to tackle getting _Revelation_ ready to post on the various ebookstores (Amazon, iTunes, B&N, etc.). Then I’m going to write _Jihad_, the third book in the Between Heaven and Hell trilogy. Then I’m going to edit _Crusade_. And so on. I’m going to be writing every day, or nearly so, all year round. So why kill myself to meet an arbitrary deadline I’ve already proven I can beat?

So best of luck to all of you still trying to beat NaNoWriMo this year, especially those of you who have never won it. I’m going to plod along at my own speed.

We interrupt this blog for a reminder from a veteran

As many of you know, I am a veteran. I wore the uniform of the United States Air Force for six years, and did so proudly. While I was not deployed to Iraq in the first Gulf War, I was active duty and I could have been. I joined up knowing we were headed for a conflict with Saddam and his, at the time, fourth largest army in the world. So every year on Memorial Day, I think about the oath I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, and how we’re all doing with that.

My dad and I agree on a lot of things, and we were equally vociferous in our opposition of Bush 43 and his administration’s reckless disregard of the Constitution. But while I think the anti-immigration sentiment that led to Arizona’s unconstitutional “papers, please” law is fundamentally unAmerican, he thinks we need to get rid of all these “illegals” who are wrecking his country. This morning, he sent me this.

MEXICO IS ANGRY
This is very interesting and if Arizona can do it, why can’t the rest of America ?
Three cheers for Arizona
The shoe is on the other foot and the Mexicans from the State of Sonora,  Mexico doesn’t like it.   Can you believe the nerve of these people?  It’s almost funny.
The State of Sonora is angry at the influx of Mexicans into Mexico . Nine state legislators from the Mexican State of Sonora traveled to Tucson to complain about Arizona ‘s new employer crackdown on illegals from Mexico .
It seems that many Mexican illegals are returning to their hometowns and the officials in the Sonora state government are ticked off.
A delegation of nine state legislators from Sonora was in Tucson on Tuesday to state that Arizona ‘s new Employer Sanctions Law will have a devastating effect on the Mexican state.
At a news conference, the legislators said that Sonora, – Arizona’s southern neighbor, – made up of mostly small towns, – cannot handle the demand for housing, jobs and schools that it will face as Mexican workers return to their hometowns from the USA without jobs or money.
The Arizona law, which took effect Jan. 1, punishes Arizona employers who knowingly hire individuals without valid legal documents to work in the United States .
Penalties include suspension of, or loss of, their business license.
The Mexican legislators are angry because their own citizens are returning to their hometowns, placing a burden on THEIR state government. ‘How can Arizona pass a law like this?’ asked Mexican Rep Leticia Amparano-Gamez, who represents Nogales .
‘There is not one person living in Sonora who does not have a friend or relative working in Arizona ,’ she said, speaking in Spanish. ‘Mexico is not prepared for this, for the tremendous problems it will face as more and more Mexicans working in Arizona and who were sending money to their families return to their home-towns in Sonora without jobs,’ she said. ‘We are one family, socially and economically,’ she said of the people of Sonora and Arizona .
New Immigration Laws:
1 There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools.
2 All ballots will be in this nation’s language..
3 All government business will be conducted in our language.
4 Non-residents will NOT have the right to vote no matter how long they are here.
5 Non-citizens will NEVER be able to hold political office
6 Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers. No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, or other government assistance programs. Any burden will be deported.
7 Foreigners can invest in this country, but it must be an amount at least equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage.
8 If foreigners come here and buy land… options will be restricted. Certain parcels including waterfront property are reserved for citizens naturally born into this country.
9 Foreigners may have no protests; no demonstrations, no waving of a foreign flag, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. These will lead to deportation.
10 If you do come to this country illegally, you will be actively hunted and when caught, sent to jail until your deportation can be arranged. All assets will be taken from you.
Too strict ?
The above laws are current immigration laws of MEXICO!

My reaction was, “Yeah? So?” I think it kind of proves my point. America is supposed to be better than this. We were founded on the idea that this was THE place, the one place on Earth that anyone could come to for a better life. We were founded on immigration. Even the “native” Americans migrated here from Asia thousands of years ago. The United States of America is supposed to have open, welcoming borders, so that those “huddling masses yearning to breathe free” can get here and start anew. So telling me that Mexico’s immigration laws are far stricter than our own tells me that we’re getting it right. The people complaining that the country is being overrun by Latinos sound just like—and just as stupid and fundamentally unAmerican as—the people who complained we were being overrun by the Italians, or the Chinese, or the Irish.

Note the references to the “nation’s language” in the rules above. America doesn’t have an official language. We don’t. Never have. There was a fierce debate almost 200 years ago whether the official language of the United States should be English… or German, which was spoken in much of Pennsylvania, at the time the largest state. After a long drawn out fight, they agreed that America wouldn’t recognize an official language at all. English is by far the most common, but people who insist that it’s “the” language of the United States don’t know their history. We’re a melting pot. We’re supposed to be. The fact that the ratio of white people to everyone else in America is dropping is what is supposed to happen. (For the record, I’m white.) Now the same people in Arizona are trying to pass a law stating that people born in the United States aren’t citizens if they’re born to undocumented parents, a blatant violation of the 14th amendment.

I carry a copy of the United States Constitution on my iPhone, and refer to it from time to time as a reminder of what this nation is supposed to be about. That we’re supposed to be free from unreasonable search and seizure—which Arizona’s “papers, please” law contradicts—and we’re supposed to be dedicated to making sure the first amendment’s freedom of expression and assembly is sacred.

Phil Plait, of the popular blog Bad Astronomy, gets this.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, where we take time to remember those who have died, and specifically those who have fought and died for the country. In my opinion, they didn’t fight to protect our country, they fought to protect the idea of our country. The principles for which it stands, the ideas and ideals that give people the chance to reach their full potential. That’s what America is supposed to be about, and the framework that provides that chance is the Constitution.

The issue Phil links to is about a Christian high school student objecting to an official school prayer at his graduation ceremony, because the kid knows his Constitution and knows that religion is supposed to be kept separate from government-sponsored organizations like schools. It’s galling how often we forget this, or choose to ignore it.

So today, in honor of the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, read over our Constitution, or at least refamiliarize yourself with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments. These are the founding principles of our Republic, and they are not optional. This is what we fight for, and what so many have died to protect. Respect their sacrifice.

Suddenly I see

I had just walked out into the sunlight after watching “Iron Man 2”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was still thinking about the film, about heroes, about inspiration, when I got into my car and turned on the radio. And I heard KT Tunstall sing,

Suddenly I see,

Why the hell it means so much to me.

Since coming out of my depression, or at least breaking out of the deep and starting back to the surface, I haven’t written much. I intended to write. I wanted to write, or at least I told myself I wanted to write. But something was stopping me. I blamed it on my recent spate of injuries, which make it difficult to sit for extended periods—kids, pushups and crunches are your friends; you do not want to deal with pulled or strained core muscles—but that was just a convenient excuse. Something else was standing in the way.

When I decided to start writing again—even if I didn’t actually start writing—it was with the intention to forgo traditional publication. I would write my books for myself, and post them to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. only to mark them as “done” and quit fiddling with them so I’d be forced to move on to the next book. Anyone who has written I book will know what I mean. In theory, I didn’t intend anyone to actually read them.

And I think that intention is exactly why I’ve been—remained—stalled. Books aren’t paintings or sculpture. It’s not enough that they simply exist. Books must be read. The experience needs to be transmitted to readers. (I’m looking at you, Salinger.) Fundamentally, I knew all along that writing just to write was a pointless waste of time for me.

I write because I want to entertain on my worst days, and inspire on my best. In order to do that, I need readers. I don’t necessarily need to know who they are, or even how many of them there are, and I don’t need to make my living as an author. In some ways, I think intending to make my living as an author was one of the worst things I ever did, putting too much pressure on the writing and sucking all the joy out of it. But the books need to be read.

I don’t know what this means yet. Thankfully, I don’t need a plan right away. I still have a lot of writing—and rewriting—to do before I get to that point. But I know I’m not just writing for myself. I’m writing for you. And I want you to be impressed, entertained, and yes, inspired by the stories I create.

In which the blogger peers out from behind the curtain of depression

O HAI.

I’ve been gone for a while. I haven’t written here, or really any anywhere else, for about three months. During most of that time, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever write again. I’ve been the slap-bitch of that old dog, depression.

Depression is a weird thing. It’s part mental, obviously, but also part very much physical. My brain, thanks to a genetic mutation passed down on my mother’s side, doesn’t either produce or retain enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin suck all the color out of life, leaving the sufferer in a gray twilight—sans sparkly vampires—where nothing much seems to matter. No drive, no ambition, no dreams of something better.

In my case, the symptoms of depression are normally held back by the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) I take every day. But they can be pushed over the edge by an emotional trigger, the likes of which I got the first week of January.

I was already teetering on the edge, because I’d just finished writing a novel, the first one I’d actually finished in thirteen years. Writers often go through something very much like post-partum depression when they finish a book, for largely the same reasons. We just finished this really intense emotional commitment, and now it’s just… over. Now what? This is especially hard to deal with if you, like me, get stalled trying to immediately jump into the next book.

Queso, I was already a little fragile dealing with post-partum writer’s block, and then I lost my job. I mean I didn’t actually lose my job I mean I know where my job is still. They just don’t let me go there anymore. Instead of transferring from Old Job to New Job as expected, Old Job instead recalled me and then laid me off. Word had come down from On High that IT Support had to cut payroll by 20%. If you want to do that and lose as few people as possible because you’re barely hanging on as it is, you cut the people making more money than their peers. And who has two thumbs and was the highest paid person on the Helpdesk? This guy!

But here’s where it gets screwed up. If they just transferred me, as had already been approved, they’d lose my salary, but it wouldn’t count towards the 20% cut. So they had to lay me off instead so the bookkeeping would work out. I lost my job in the Great Recession because of friggin’ accountants.

As you might expect, the sheer cosmic insult of this was enough to push me over the edge. At first, I watched a lot of TV. You see, the last thing a depressed person wants to do is confront their own life, their own problems. Life becomes an almost manic struggle to keep oneself distracted, anything to avoid actually thinking about your life. You cling to these distractions like a life preserver in shark infested waters, because they make the pain go away.

Eventually, and this surprised me too, I ran out of forensic shows in syndication to watch. I know! Between NCIS, the various CSIs, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, etc. you’d think I’d be set, but over time I started to recognize the ones I’d already seen. And once you’ve seen @wilw run over by a semi, you really don’t need to see it again.

In February, I got into the beta for Star Trek Online, and zeroed in on something else I could lose myself in. I now understand those guys at SF cons debating the finer points of Trek canon, like why the Gorn are so damn angry. Trek has nearly fifty years of backstory, and the game ties into quite a bit of it. To get the full experience—and, as mentioned, avoid my own experiences—I immersed myself in Star Trek.

I’ve always been a casual Trek fan. I watched most of TNG and the early seasons of DS9, and of course all the movies. I remembered sitting with my Dad as a kid while he watched the original series in syndication, but didn’t really remember anything specific. And I loved the JJ Abrams reboot last summer.

Now, in my desperation to avoid thinking about myself, I went full-on Vulcan salute Trekkie. I bought all the TV series on iTunes and started watching them in chronological order: Enterprise, TOS, movies, TNG, DS9, Voyager. I redownloaded all the Trek novels I’d bought over the years from eReader and arranged them in chronological order, and bought the dozen or so books that take place in the 30 years between the end of Nemesis and the beginning of the game.

And I played a lot of the game.

Star Trek Online isn’t the first MMO I’ve played by a long shot, but it’s the first one where I’ve hit level cap, gotten a character to the point where they can no longer progress because the developers haven’t built that content yet. But after weeks of shooting Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and Borg, something at the back of my mind started to itch. A few weeks more, and I started to listen.

That itch was telling me that it was time to start writing my own stories again. Time to start blogging again, time to go back to the Unification Chronicles universe and finish telling the story. I have my own centuries-long sprawling space opera, dammit.

My tentative plan is to go back and finish rewriting Revelation, make it as solid as I can, then post it to Smashwords/iBooks, Amazon and Fictionwise/eReader/Barnes&Noble. Once it’s out of my hands and "in the wild," I start on Crusade and ride it all the way to release as well, then Jihad and so on until the series is done. I have absolutely NO timeframe in mind in which to do this. I have no illusions or intentions about getting any of it published commercially or making a living as a novelist. This isn’t about business.

It’s about the itch. It’s about telling stories. And it’s about time to get back to writing.

Thrown

I lost my job last week. Or, to quote Bobcat Goldthwait, "well, I didn’t actually lose my job, I mean I know where my job is still. It’s just when I go there, there’s this new guy doing it." I won’t go into the details, other than to say a lot of people got let go at the same time, and I’m not sure it was a coincidence that nearly all of them made more than the average salary for their job title. #justsayin

Even though I know it had nothing to do with me personally, it still threw me. I was already down in the dumps over looking back at the last decade (it wasn’t the best time of my life), and even though my people (I have people) are already working on getting me on board somewhere else, I let the accumulated self doubt knock me off my stride and didn’t write for days.

Part of it was that I’d already stalled out on Unification Chronicles. I was bored with revisions on Revelation, and scared of continuing with Crusade. I’m starting to think I’m still too close to the story to revise it properly, and yet burned out on it after writing the whole first novel. I need a change of pace. Maybe I should start work on something really different, like Ghost Ronin, Titanus or Homeworld.

Or maybe I’m just wussing out again. I’m making it up as I go along here. Now that the "seven books in ten months" marathon is out the window, I’m trying different things.

On a similar note, I’m back to writing everything in one monolithic Word file rather than individual chapter documents in Evernote or Google Docs. Just feels more natural. Maybe I’m old fashioned. I am still keeping the Word documents in Evernote to keep them synced anywhere, and if I need to write a little extra, I have a new jailbreak extension for my iPhone that lets me quickly scroll down to the bottom of the Word documents to see where I left off before typing in the new stuff in Evernote.

On the tech front, I’m working on a review of the new Bluetooth keyboard driver for the iPhone, which allows me to use my Stowaway in situations where I’d rather not carry my netbook. Sometimes that three pounds matters. What?