By now I have done it all ways. I have been really poor, I have been in-between, and I have been flush. In my early adult life I had so little money that sometimes I couldn’t buy food. I had two pairs of pants and one pair of shoes. I did have shelter, and usually food, and enough clothes to meet the requirements of decency (I also had shirts, btw), so it certainly could have been worse, but I was definitely poor.
Then, for quite a few years I was neither poor nor flush. I had enough money for food and clothes, and a decent place to live. I had a functioning vehicle and enough extra for the occasional evening out.
Eventually I got a job at a hi-zoot software company, then worked my way up through ever fancier jobs. I wasn’t the best paid person there, but I was doing well. I had never had this much extra money before and it kind of went to my head. I started taking trips to exotic locations, shopping at Nordstrom, going out to “it” restaurants, hiring people to do my grunt work for me.
It was fun for a while, it really was. It was new, and exciting and I would not trade the experience. That said I learned some interesting things along the way.
One is that once you start paying a premium price for things, your expectations rise accordingly, as does your capacity for disappointment. If I clean my own house, it’s pretty clean, but it’s not perfect. I probably leave a lint ball here and there, a few water spots on the bathroom fixtures, maybe miss that stubborn dust bunny that’s all the way under the couch and wedged into the corner. But if I pay someone to clean my house then by gum, it had better be perfect. I am paying good money, after all. And that attitude is its own burden.
Similarly, when I started paying someone to take care of my errands and random chores, at first I was really excited. How great it was going to be to come home and have the groceries bought and put away, the vegetables washed and chopped and the hummingbird feeders filled. How convenient to have someone else take my pets to the vet so I could relax on the weekend.
It was great until it wasn’t. Once I came home to a sticky mess of hummingbird food all over my back porch. If I had spilled it, I would have rinsed it away with a bucket of water and gone on about my business. That is what I did in the end, but because someone I had paid to relieve me of work had created new work for me, I wholly resented that cleanup task.
These days I do most things myself, and while I don’t always enjoy the chores, because my life is in better balance, they don’t feel unduly burdensome. In the days before I had enough money to pay for services, I had believed that there was a one-to-one exchange of money for time. I believed that if I paid someone enough for their time, I could buy some of my own time back. It seemed workable – work more hours at a more stressful job, to make the money to pay other people to do non-work chores in order to maximize what free time I had.
In reality, even though I was always willing to pay at the high end of the prevailing wage for the work I was having done, the added hassle of having to follow up on things that weren’t done quite right, and the cycle of expectation and disappointment took a toll and reduced the value of having things done for me. I’m not sure if the lesson is “don’t be so picky” or if the lesson is “do your own stuff.” I’m curious to hear what others think.
As my regular readers know, I have written and revised a novel. When I last mentioned it, I had finished some heavy revisions and needed to write a few more chapters. Since then I have completed the chapters and sent it out for review to some trusted readers. And, I have done a lot of research. I have talked to successful writers who were published in the traditional way and I have talked to and read about numerous writers who have taken the indie publishing route with varying degrees of success. I have crunched the numbers to figure out how much I would have to spend on editing, proofing and design versus what I would gain by not sharing my proceeds with an agent. This is to say, I am informed.
Recently, after doing all that research, I left a job I had held for 12 years and started a rigorous technical training program, and became a morning person. My manuscript languished in a virtual desk drawer, loved but neglected. In the past few months, I have occasionally thought about it, but I haven’t done anything with it.
I knew I needed to decide what to do with it, or do about it, but it all seemed so overwhelming. Self publish? Start looking for an agent?
Abandon the whole idea of becoming a writer and put my energy into excelling in aviation?
That’s crazy talk! I already wrote the manuscript. I have done one of the hardest parts already. I was getting blocked because I believed that whatever decision I might make, if it were the wrong one, that would be it. Somehow the universe would find out that I had tried to make it as a writer, and that it didn’t go well, and then the universe would somehow block me from ever writing or publishing again (this universe of my anxious imagination, she is powerful).
This week I attended a panel discussion about e-publishing. I’m glad I went because it broke up my mental logjam. One of the panelists pointed out, “you can always go in a different direction later. Self-publishing doesn’t preclude traditional publishing.” Oh, yeah … once I heard the words they made perfect sense, and the choice was clear. Spend another year looking for an agent, then wait another year or two to see my book in print, or devise a marketing plan, hire a designer and editor and get this puppy out to the world? I like option 2.
So, I am committing to it. I will hire an editor and designer over the next couple of weeks and will e-publish the book within 6 months. Stay tuned.
Nothing is perfect, even airplane school. The flaw is a small peanut gallery who issue snotty remarks from the left (or, in aviation-speak, portside) rear corner of the room. I don’t know these guys, and I’m not even sure if one of them is responsible for all the comments, or if they take turns, or what. I just know them as annoying chatter issuing from that quadrant. They’re not gutsy enough to actually say anything to anyone’s face and I haven’t been interested enough to investigate further. From what I can tell they direct their snottiness at the more engaged members of the cohort, which means it’s sometimes directed at me.
When I first noticed this I was temporarily cast back into junior high school. It didn’t feel good, and for a moment I worried that airplane school was going to be ruined for me.
But then I noticed a curious thing. After that first twinge of 7th-grade angst, I stopped caring. Because from 7 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, I am exactly where I want to be, in my stacking chair at my fake wood table, drinking my coffee and absorbing airplane facts. While I appreciate what I learned in college, I have never felt so self-directed and purposeful as I do in my AMT classroom. It’s that sense of purpose that overshadows any of the negatives. So, a trio of douchebags want to make snotty comments under their breath? This is my problem because …?
People can hurt you when they have power over you. You can be hurt by someone whose good opinion you value, or someone you love, or someone, like an employer, who has influence over your material existence. Asshats who snicker from the back of a classroom, not so much. During every day I am at school I have a sense of purpose. I am there because I want to be there, because being there is the culmination a long held dream. Random opinions just don’t factor in because they don’t align anywhere with my purpose. They’re just background noise.
Our attention can be divided only so much, and for this reason, we have to prioritize. Next time some asswipe tries to get you down, ask yourself, “does this person align in any way with my purpose?” If the answer is no, they can safely be ignored.
I am in my fifth week of Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) school. It’s a drastic change from my previous life, but from the first day, I have had exactly zero moments of doubt. Even when my week includes a 45-page treatise on various types of metal forming, alloying and heat treating, plus an equal number of pages on the seemingly infinite world of threaded fasteners, I know it’s all in service of the dream, so I get myself through with visions of future days knee-deep in Boeings or Airbuses.
And, it’s a testament to how much I want this that I have refashioned myself into a morning person. Class starts at 7 sharp. This is a huge culture shift from my days at Microsoft where many of us started our workdays midmorning, and few had a specific start time. Because the AMT program is FAA-certified, there are strict requirements for class hours attended. We clock in and clock out, and receive a weekly accounting of our hours for the quarter.
So, every weekday I wake up at about 6:00 a.m., do rudimentary ablutions, don my best classroom-suitable togs, blend up a smoothie and hit the road. If I’m starting my car by 6:30 I can have a relaxed drive, but if running a few minutes late, I’m taking the turns on two wheels and cursing every driver in front of me (note to self – 5 fewer minutes of sleep on the front end saves a lot of stress on the back end).
The first two quarters are mostly confined to the classroom, but there is some relief from the grind of lecture, quiet study and weekly exams. There’s safety wiring, which we can practice during study time (and which I didn’t even know was a thing until a few weeks ago). There are occasional small projects in the hangar, like this week when we got to put helicoils in blocks of aluminum. This might not sound exciting, but don’t knock it until you have done it.
And there are field trips. Last week we went to the school’s hangar at Boeing Field. It was just like a visit to the petting zoo except instead of goats and duckies, we petted Cessnas and Pipers.
The early mornings are not the only culture shift I have had to get used to. I left behind the ability to say that I am part of a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation. No more free sodas, spiffy office spaces or fat paychecks. At airplane school I wash my hands with powdered soap that must be surplus from a Soviet army barracks. We have one tiny ladies’ room that would make a gulag inmate weep for humanity. I spend my days inside on a stacking chair pulled up to a laminated fake wood banquet table, inhaling the smell of grease and steel and aluminum, old-school fluorescent tubes buzzing overhead. The coffee is bad, the mugs are greasy and the soda is decidedly not free.
But for all that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would not trade this life for all the privilege my old life had to offer. The grease and the powdered soap and the smell of airplanes in the morning all feel just right.
In last week’s post, I wondered what would make someone do something as hateful as the Boston Bombing. A reader commented that it doesn’t matter why, that the most important thing is to kill those responsible. Well, we’re halfway to that solution, but it got me thinking about forgiveness and empathy and the limits of revenge. (Note to my commenter, I think you were thinking more in terms of deterrence, but it got me thinking about revenge anyway.)
To me, the problem with revenge is that it presumes a shared humanity with the perpetrator that may not exist, while ignoring the shared humanity that should make us want to be better than they are.
Empathy is the golden ingredient that keeps one person from causing deliberate harm to innocent people. Someone with empathy could not set off a bomb intended to harm and grievously injure the innocent because they would be able to empathize with the pain that such a thing would cause for the victims and their families.
Revenge is an inversion of empathy. We imagine that if we can exact something on the perpetrator that would hurt us then we will have somehow exacted a just price for their crimes and the losses they caused. But, the problem is that for this to work, the perpetrator has to be playing with the same moral and emotional deck that we’re playing with – you can’t hurt someone who doesn’t feel pain, so the thing that hurts us, would not hurt them.
That to me, is one flaw with revenge – if the person had the capacity to feel the pain you’re trying to inflict you wouldn’t need to inflict it because they would not have inflicted it themselves. The other problem with revenge is that all the while you’re trying to hurt this other person, you have just turned in to someone who tries to hurt other people.
I understand the impulse. I have had a few revenge fantasies in my time. It’s very satisfying to imagine the pain of someone who has caused you pain, but it’s like junk food – once the initial rush has passed, you just feel empty because you haven’t fixed anything and now you’re someone who got some enjoyment out of hurting. Killing Tamarlan didn’t bring back that little boy.
There’s also the question of deterrence; that if we are harsh with these people we’ll show others that they had better not mess with us. Again I think this presumes a shared consciousness that’s not always present. The Boston bombers did seem to have some sense of self-preservation, but in many cases, the perpetrators don’t care whether they live or die because they want to martyr themselves in service of their crazy cause.
Adam Lanza. Jason Kleibold. The Green River Killer. The Tsarnaev brothers. They all did horrible things, but I can’t help but think that living inside their heads was a horrible experience too. This doesn’t mean they are excused, ever. Forgiveness doesn’t mean inviting further abuse or letting hateful or cruel or criminal people ever do harm again. It’s more about wishing for the world at large to have less anger not more, even if that means giving up some of your own.
At first I read the headlines figuratively – remembering how last year many runners suffered acutely from the heat, and not having the context to conceive of an actual bombing at the Boston Marathon, I assumed the headlines were about something quite different. Too quickly the truth became apparent. Terrorism at the Boston Marathon. Even when it doesn’t hit close to home, it’s horrifying. This time one of my best friends was running. The round of Facebook congratulations was still in full swing when the news came in.
We still don’t know who did this, or what sort of person or group is responsible. Maybe it was a lone crank – lashing out at athletes, lashing out at the government on Tax Day, or making some horribly misguided statement on Patriots’ Day. Maybe it was someone who chose this event specifically because they were angry to see other people successful and happy. Or maybe it was a coordinated attack – multiple cranks, either domestic or foreign. We don’t know but what I’m struck by is the poignancy of such an attack, at such a time and place, at such an event.
Because for anyone with even a tenuous connection to marathons in general and Boston in particular, it’s all about the joy of motion, and the joy of life. It’s about fitness and dedication and finding balance. I was with my friend in Portland when she qualified for Boston and I remember her elation, but I also know that it was one moment out of thousands – countless hours training in the worst weather that the Cascade foothills have to offer.
Ten mile runs, 15 mile runs, 20 milers, with nary a complaint – wind and rain that would defeat someone less dedicated – meaning almost everyone else. The point is, you don’t get to Boston casually. You get there because you are a person who can make a commitment and stick to it – who can choose vitality over sloth, optimism over defeat, courage over exhaustion. You’re a person who can do this, over and over and over again, for weeks and months without reprieve. It’s a huge deal, and an honor for those who make it.
The families and friends on the sidelines know this. They’re there to encourage, but in a larger sense they’re there to honor. The bombs were placed to cause maximum damage to the spectators – targeting a population who is there only out of love.
Is evil born or made? Nature or nurture? What could cause such a shutdown of empathy? According to Stephen Pinker, humans are getting better at it, but that’s cold comfort to those whose lives are destroyed by these pointless acts of violence. I wish them peace and the ability to maintain their own humanity in the face of evil.
Airplane school is taking up all my mental energy right now, so I am posting from the archives of my life’s odd happenings.
Once upon a time, I skied at Mission Ridge, in Eastern Washington. It was a great weekend, but I had an experience that more than proved the maxim about last runs.
It was the last run of the first day. Two of us meant to take the blue runs from the top but, in the waning light of a late March afternoon, we accidentally headed for one of the blacks instead. Clouds had come in a bit earlier in the day and conditions were icy. It was quickly obvious to both of us that the run was above our skill level. My companion took off her skis and walked over to an easier run. I wish had done the same, but I believed I would be able to side-slip down to a less treacherous area.
I had descended only about 20 feet when my skis went out from under me and I began to slide. My bindings were set too high and I was completely out of control. I was sure I was going to go home with broken limbs, but I flailed for purchase and was able to grab onto a small tree and arrest myself.
I was relieved but didn’t know what to do next. My skis were still on my feet, but one was above the tree and the other was hanging below. My first thought was to get them both below the tree. I wasn’t strong enough to push myself off the tree with one leg, so instead I took off the uphill ski, thinking that I would drop my foot below the tree, then put it back on. Within moments that ski was had rocketed off down the slope, the brakes useless on the ice. Thinking that one ski is worse than no skis I took the other one off. The second ski immediately set off to join its twin hundreds of yards downslope.
Having seen the fate of the two skis, I was not anxious to join them, so I redoubled my grip on the tree and waited for help to come. The few skiers who passed by that way didn’t hear my cries for help because the sound of their skis on the ice drowned out everything else, but eventually someone on the lift heard me and promised to send the ski patrol.
They came and they were wonderful, but mine was a new situation for them, so it took a few minutes to figure out a course of action. Finally they decided that one of them would face me from below, holding on to my feet while herringboning down to a safer area while the other took my poles and rounded up my skis. I didn’t love the herringbone idea, but I didn’t have a better one, so after some coaxing I let go of the tree and we started down.
As they say, it all happened so quickly. We had gone only about 30 feet when the patroller lost both his footing and his grip on my right foot. I saw him falter and start to slide just before I started to slide myself. As I whipped around him on the axis of my left foot there was a split second in which all I could see was this pair of big, sturdy, reassuring ski patroller legs. It took everything I had not to throw my arms around him as I had earlier embraced the sapling up the hill but somehow I willed myself to go limp as I headed down the most exciting run of my life.
I was pointed head first (this was before ski helmets). First I thought I had better turn myself around, but every time I got perpendicular to the fall line, the incline would roll me over, from front to back or back to front. I flipped in this fashion 6 or 7 times, finally picking up so much speed that I just kept rolling, coming to a stop about 20 feet uphill from a tree.
With some trepidation I tested my limbs, and, finding them all functional, burst into hysterical laughter just as the ski patrollers skidded to a stop next to me. They complimented my luge skills, reunited me with my skis and poles, forgave my poor judgment and accompanied me back to the lodge to be reunited with my worried friends.
I am in my first week of airplane school and so far it seems like one of the best decisions I have ever made. I don’t miss my old job at all (sorry Microsoft!) and even though this is only the third day, I feel as if this is just the thing I do now. I get up, I drive through the Duwamish Industrial Vortex and over to West Seattle where I spend 6 hours absorbing airplane goodness.
Speaking of that vortex … I am pretty sure that if I make a wrong turn on the route between my house and school I will be sucked into it, to join other hapless commuters in limbo. Here we will all be forced to bale cardboard boxes, sort recyclables, load rail car containers, smelt iron, and fill out bill-of-lading paperwork for all eternity. Some might dodge this fate and instead be condemned to swirl around on the area’s roads – entering and exiting highways 99, 599 and 509, and East AND West Marginal, almost making it to the oasis of Burien before being cruelly shunted off to the South Park transfer station, over and over and over again. Occasionally we’ll be allowed to go to one of South Park’s cantinas for lunch, but mostly we’ll have to survive on 3-eyed fish from the Duwamish Waterway.
Seriously though, who invented the street layout for this area?
Impressions from my first few days:
1. From the SSCC Aviation Division Student Handbook: “Do not use fire-fighting equipment for other purposes. Example: do not spray at beehives.” The bees will thank you.
2. I have an FAA-approved excuse to go shopping for tools.
3. “Nut-rotation” is a real technical term.
4. Sometime in the next couple of years, I will acquire the skills to work on all of these:
5. And, these:
Note, airplanes are for demonstration purposes only. Do not attempt to fly these planes.
In case you were wondering, the reason we have these in the shop is because while they’re small, they have many of the characteristics of full-sized transport (see, I just used a fancy aviation term) aircraft, including a pressurized cabin – so, they give us a way to learn about transport-class aircraft without needing a 747-sized hangar.
That’s all for today, but stay tuned for more tales from airplane school.
I drafted this post almost a year ago, but have debated publishing it because it’s so personal. I decided to go ahead with it because 20 years ago, reading something like it would have given me a much-needed glimmer of hope for a life less burdened with fear and doubt . Maybe it will provide that glimmer for someone reading it now.
I don’t mourn my lost youth much, partly because that would be futile, but mostly because I spent it under a cloud of undiagnosed self-loathing. I wish I had known that the constant drumbeat of anxiety and harsh reflection didn’t have to be there – it wasn’t normal and it was escapable. I didn’t know. I assumed everyone held themselves to the same standard and that my only problem was that I wasn’t trying hard enough, not that the standard was impossible.
I believed I didn’t deserve sleep. In college my days were a grind of work/brief nap/school/study/brief nap, and then back to work for another round. Sometimes, after going two days without sleep I would conk out in the library and this would seem like a failure. I thought that friendships would live or die on the size of my ankles. Really.
I believed that the secret to self-esteem was perfection because perfection would make me unassailable, but all it did was make me miserable and probably annoying.
These days I look at pictures from that era and it kills me because now I see what I could not see then. I was fine. I was more than fine. I was hardworking and effective and tough and funny and smart. Despite my large catalog of perceived physical defects, I looked good. All of this was completely wasted on me because it was never enough. I worked hard and accomplished a lot, but it didn’t mean anything to me because the imperfections loomed huge in the foreground and the accomplishments were puny background accoutrements.
We are all entitled to like ourselves.
No one cares that much about what you look like, and if they do, they’re not worth your time. Nobody will ever notice your mistakes or your flaws as much as you do, and again, if they do, that says more about them than it says about you.
Despite what some of us seem to believe, there is not some omniscient, critical monitor who will discover that you dare to like yourself and ensure that you are swiftly and cruelly corrected. Youth is beautiful. Wisdom is beautiful. Humanity is beautiful. You are not any less beautiful or vibrant or worthy because of the distance between your eyes and your nose, or because your chin sticks out, or recedes, or because gravity has gotten the upper hand. You will notice these things in yourself more than most other people will, and those others who are fixated on your chin or your spare tire or the texture of your hair probably have problems that you don’t need to worry about.
In fact, you don’t need to worry about much of any of the stuff you worry about because it doesn’t matter right now and later it will matter even less and you will regret every minute you spent not being happy with yourself because really, in the end, that’s the only sensible way to be.
It started furtively – I would spend secret Saturday afternoons near the airport, standing under the ILS towers, head thrown back, watching the lineup coming in to land, staring at the bellies of 737s and 767s and little regional jets as they roared overhead; would crane my neck every time I passed Boeing field, hoping for a glimpse of one of the flagship planes; would skulk around the backside of Boeing, on Marginal Way, tramping around the parking lots, seeking better views, closer contact. I lurked on professional pilot message boards – never having anything to add to the discussion, but loving all that airplane talk.
I’m not sure why I was so secretive about it – I wasn’t buying porn, or conducting drug deals. Maybe it was because it was so far from anything I had ever been interested in before, or because it’s the purview of young men and boys, and middle-aged men, and some women, but not usually women like me – not middle-aged desk jockeys.
But, the thing is, I never dreamed of being a desk jockey. It was what happened when I followed the money, which was the right thing to do, given how little of it I used to have. That said, for me the main reason to make a lot of money was to broaden my range of choices. The money wasn’t the end in itself, and the things money can buy stopped being exciting after the first rush of new wore off.
It was the freedom I was after and after a while I had it – not whole lifetime’s worth, but enough to step back and assess and go in a new direction. When I realized I had some freedom, I started thinking – what do I do when no one is paying me? I write, I ride my bike, I play music and I obsess about airplanes. Of these interests, what could be a living?
Someday I might be paid to write. No one will ever pay me to perform music or mountain bike (really, I’m just being practical here). And then there are the airplanes. What living can be made with airplanes? Well, for one, they need to be maintained and repaired. And, sometimes they have mishaps, which need to be investigated.
So, I am making a big career shift. I am leaving Microsoft, where I have worked for 12 years, and enrolling in aircraft mechanic school. My last day of Microsoft will be March 22. (Yes, THIS March 22!) I’ll start school at the beginning of April and plan to complete the two year program and pass the FAA exams that will enable me to work on any aircraft.
From there, I will go find an airline to work for. But, that’s all a ways away – for now, I am saying goodbye to a great run at Microsoft and getting excited about school. Auspiciously the first day of class is my birthday – and it’s the best birthday present ever!
I will continue working on my fiction, and I promise, if school yields up any interesting stories, I will share them here.