Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Struggle, The Dream

I’m Procrasti-blogging again. I was running a system repair in System Mechanic 6 yesterday, but I aborted it because wanted to get some more work done, and wasn’t sure if the system “repair” would spontaneously reboot my system, and lose unsaved work. It got to 90%+ finished, and just sat there. For hours. Not making any more progress. Still responding, still working, just not showing progress. Today, I’m running it again. That’s symbolic. I should have read today’s news yesterday.

From, via Cao’s Blog,
The House voted 403-3 to reject a nonbinding resolution calling for an immediate troop withdrawal.
And again,
On Tuesday, the Senate defeated a Democratic push for Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal.

Dr. Sanity writes about the same thing, but compares it to the struggle between Good and Evil in the latest Harry Potter story. I never read Harry Potter. The Lord Of The Rings was much more of a heroic epic for me than anything else. The Dr. compares what the movie describes as the difficulty of the decision between what is easy and what is right with that same difficulty in supporting the war against terror.

The Lord Of The Rings may have been considered a metaphor for WW II in the period following that war, but I would argue that it is at least as good a metaphor for the current war as Harry Potter, and in general, as a metaphor for all struggles between Good and Evil. Some probably said that Star Wars was a metaphor for the Cold War. But I would agree with others’ statements made elsewhere that neither Harry Potter nor Star Wars hold a candle to LOTR. Tolkein designed a whole world, integrated a mythos, populated it with distinct races and unique languages, and created characters and cultures with complexity and depth. True, I’ve never read Harry Potter, but from what I know it’s just boilerplate pulp fantasy spun off as children's stories and mass-marketed in a never-ending, self-perpetuating meme.

Other than that, I agree with the premise behind the “Good Vs. Evil” stories. For me, the most memorable line in LOTR was when Frodo lamented that he had the burden of the ring, and wished that he had never been given it. Gandalf replied, “So do all who live in times such as these. But that is not for us to decide. We have only to decide how to use the time that is given to us.” That line, seen in the movie released not long after 9/11, not long after I lost my job, was the line that changed my life. It echoes the same sentiments of choosing between the easy and the right. Again, in The Two Towers, Frodo laments his burden and the impossibility of their mission. Sam encourages him with “We've got to go on, because we've got to believe that there's still some good in the world that’s worth saving.”

When I lost my job, on May 16, 2001, it was clear to me that my Computer Engineering career was not moving forward as I had hoped. It was clear that others weren’t interested in supporting my ambitions as much as they wished to use me to advance their own ambitions. After sending out some 600 resumes and getting fewer interviews than I could count on one hand, it was clear that I wasn’t likely to get a job in the computer industry anytime soon. 9/11 was the final nail in the coffin. I was worried that my education was becoming increasingly out of date, even as I was looking for a job. When I expressed my concerns to a friend’s aging parent, who echoed my fears in the simplicity of a bygone age by saying, “Does that mean you’re a failure,” that obscene “F- word” hit me with more force than any other vulgar obscenity in the language.

I had been working on the idea of writing and selling my own software. Being somewhat of a stock market dabbler, I had started working on some investment analysis software. I developed this, packaged it with security and licensing measures, payment options, and sold it under the “try before you buy” shareware model.

Somewhere in the middle of this is when the LOTR: The Fellowship Of The Ring, and that line that I quoted above inspired me to continue my work. I felt that the world needed something, and that I was the right person to create it. Getting yet another entry-level job at some startup company that didn't have the commitment to stay in business longer than six months would short-circuit my dream.

My success was very modest. Not anywhere near enough to support me. Marketing became a major consideration. My project wasn’t go anywhere unless I could effectively promote it. That’s when my plan took a hard left turn. I’ve had difficulties with communication skills all my life. I was fired from my first job because they interpreted my soft-spoken nature and privacy of thought as “poor communication skills.” I’ve taken jobs like sales, and customer service, as a way of giving myself opportunities to practice good communication skills. Blogging is just one more of those practice efforts. Another is my web store,, which I’ve been working at most enthusiastically in recent months. Search engine marketing is one thing. The real art of sales and marketing is in charisma, and persuasion, and most of all, cultivation relationships with customers, clients, associates, and service providers. That’s something that’s taught in certain little known courses, which I have yet to take.

The progress towards success is slow and uncertain. I have a little book titled “New Work Habits For A Radically Changing World” (Price Pritchett, 1996). In the chapter titled “Accept ambiguity and uncertainty,” he describes how people like to have their work clearly defined for them, but must ultimately define their work for themselves, especially in uncertain times. Most of the liberals and democrats want their work defined for them, their income assured, their projects unhesitatingly funded by the infinite resources of the government, their wars fought and won according to a schedule that they could fit on their Palm Pilots. It doesn’t work that way, sir. E.L. Doctorow described how it feels like to write a book as "like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." In a sense, the war on terror has become a bit like driving at night in the fog. It worries me that people like John Murtha want to immediately stop all activity because there’s no signs of progress. I'm just glad that the rest of Congress understands (according to the Dr.'s article) that if we turn around now, that we won't get there for sure. For my part, by funding my activities at this time with a mere paper route, I might be driving down some wayward dark, foggy frontage road with only a vague notion that continuing ahead can only take me to someplace new. But at least I know that by continuing ahead, I’ll eventually get there.

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