A half-life in three acts

new years eveThe end of the calendar year: a time for a rambling look back at what was and wiping the blackboard clean for the scribbles of a new year. It’s been thirty years (and some change) since I moved from Los Angeles to Minnesota. That was roughly half my life ago.

I realize the former is a city while the latter is an entire state, but L.A. is so much a place unto itself (call it a state of mind) that I really do think of the move that way. It took years to shed my West Coast cloak — that Los Angeles state of mind — but now I’m a full-on Minnesotan.

Looking back, those three decades form three distinct acts.

momI had intended to write a 30 Years Ago post back in March to coincide more with the actual anniversary of the move. But last February it became clear my mom was in her final approach — she died in March — so I was grieving then.

But in order for the “30 years” thing to work, if the post is to be posted, it needs to be this year (I’m already much closer to anniversary 31 than 30). Considering I accepted the offer to transfer in January, the actual date is a bit spread out.

Bottom line, I moved in 1984. Now it’s (barely still) 2014. That’s 30 years. This might be a slightly belated post, but better belated than never, eh?

three actsThe thing that struck me looking back at my life here was how neatly that time divides into three distinct “acts” of my life in Minnesota. (In point of fact, back in Minnesota. I also lived here from 1960 to 1967.) As a lover of stories, a three-act structure naturally appeals to me!

It starts in 1984, but the seeds were planted in 1980 when I began with The Company (TC) as a Field Service Technician. My corporate masters liked what I did in the field and offered me a job at TC HQ.

I’ve never had a strong drive towards any clear destination. I’m more the sort to be a leaf in the wind, to see what life brings. I’ve never had a strong answer for the famous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I still don’t. (And I’m retired now!)

when I grow up

Once upon a time the traditional answer was “fireman” or “ballerina” but that was way old-fashioned even when I was a kid!

In many ways I’ve been an observer of life. It’s all so interesting that it’s hard for me to stay on one thing or in one place. I’ve let life happen, and that’s been good and bad. Sometimes the wind blows you to strange, even nasty, places!

I was just shy of 30 years old when I moved back. There were two firsts as a result of that move: my first desk job and my first office romance. I don’t recommend either (especially the latter). In a lot of ways, I would have been happier (and outdoors!) digging ditches or building houses.

Or being a musician, which I would have loved, but which also I never believed I was quite good enough for. I know real musicians, and as much as I love music, and love to play, I’m just not in that class. Breaks my heart!

I mentioned three acts — each a decade long — of my life here.

act oneThe first is from 1984 to 1994. That act includes the disastrous office romance, the first desk job, and my showing TC what I could for them writing software (which — college minor — I’d been doing since 1978).

Again my corporate masters were pleased; they moved me into a software development role. Up to then I’d been supporting and training other field techs doing what I’d done. But by 1992 I was fully engaged in writing software.

That office romance was rough and resulted in a number of unfortunate rebound affairs. After a while I realized I needed to take a break from dating and get my mind working right again.

act twoAct Two begins in 1994 when happenstance brought a Black Labrador puppy into my life. I named her Sam(antha) after a puppy I’d shared with a roommate many years ago (and because of a childhood crush on Samantha from Bewitched — witch, I mean, which is why that first puppy got the name).

That dog, more than anything else, got me out of my romantic funk. She also helped me get back into decent shape. By 1996 we were running 5Ks every other day. We were out at least an hour every morning and then out for 90 minutes or so every evening. And we played together a lot.

My dog SamI decided to jump back into the romance pool. I met my wife-to-be on an early (homemade!) local dating site in 1997. We were married in 1998, almost exactly a year after we met. Huge mistake. We were divorced by 2003. (Her best friend married the guy who wrote the site, and last I heard they’re doing great.)

Sam died in 2004, and that was the end of Act Two.

That year was also the first time TC eliminated my job — my entire department, actually — so it’s hard to take that one personally. What was personal was the lack of, “Oh good and faithful servant! We can’t afford to lose someone with your abilities, so we’ll make sure we find another spot for you.”

It was more a case of, “Well, good luck with that.”

act threeThe last act, from 2004–2014, has been the worst of the lot in a personal sense. The position I found in 2004 was a good, even great, one, but in 2005 I realized I was averaging 12 hours of work per day. It took years to ramp that down to sane levels.

Worse, the department was in decline. (I never get “in on the ground floor” of anything — usually it’s more “the final days” sort of thing.) Despite my efforts to reduce the workload, at one point I was doing the work of three. Three others including my own.

I had to get out, and this is where things really went downhill at work. I found a new position in 2011, but it turned out to be one of the least best during my time at TC. Didn’t get along with my boss, and wasn’t really given anything challenging to do.

gobsmackedIn 2012 that boss eliminated my position. Again there was no sense that TC placed any value on my abilities (which my clients would tell you are considerable). Again, barely, luckily, I found a new position.

And it was the worst of my career. I realized my sanity depended on retiring as soon as financially possible. Which I did in 2013, and good riddance.

I do not like the new millennium (Sam I am)! It’s brought me lots of grief but little pleasure.

Married!It starts in 2001 with my new marriage turning out to be a mistake. Then there was 9/11 (I was born in NYC, so it affected me profoundly).

The marriage split up in 2002 with divorce becoming final in 2003. Then my department was closed and I barely found a new position in time. Then my dog died. By then I’d moved four times, sold my townhouse to move in with my wife, and in 2003 bought my current condo. (And then my dog died!)

And then work started to go downhill, plus the economy went into the crapper and work got really scary. Then work went even more downhill, and my job was explicitly eliminated, and — especially with the economy — I barely got situated again. And then work totally sucked so I retired early.

bummerHell of a millennium, gotta tell you.

On the other hand, I got through it with only a very shattered heart and a few assorted mental bruises. Could have been much, much worse. Many, oh so many, did have it much, much worse. People I know had it worse. Some of them are even dead.

So looking back I count my blessings, my fortunes, and my joys. Sorrows are remembered as shades that color my past, that give it depth and texture (and lessons — so many lessons). But it’s the joys and challenges and good times that matter (and those lessons).

That’s what I see when I look back.

Happy New Year, everyone. May the road ahead be gentle, but instructive, and may all your pains be “sham pains.”

Happy New Year

You know, I don’t know how certain writers do it. It’s really hard to write when you’re inumbriated… inubriated… imenbriated… (D’oh!) drinking!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

17 responses to “A half-life in three acts

  • Blues Fairy

    That was such an interesting read and one I’ve been raring to do so! You’ve had a very interesting life thus far. You’ve taken chances, accumulated a couple of bad experiences which taught you a thing or two, but I assume you don’t regret things you *could have* done?

    My father is around the same age, and he is plagued with regret. He’s had a very strange life, he ran away from home when his parents (nomads) split, and spent 3 years living in the forest as a 7 year old! He hustled through childhood,was very ambitious and even though his older siblings ( and they were many because my grandfather had different wives, as was custom back then) refused to help him out with education, he’d work for free in a boarding school in exchange for housing and education. He travelled on foot through several African cities and countries ( Kenya,Tanzania,Zambia) and even worked in oil rich Saudi Arabia as a truck driver before he came back to Somalia, opened up two pharmacies,met my mother, got married, came to Sweden. Rest is history. They were planning to go back after some years, but that dream died with the outbreak of the civil war in 91. I sense the poignancy in his nostalgic accounts of his adventures and life, and I feel it in his urgency in pushing us to be independent and hard working. Maybe I’m reading into things.

    And how do you measure a life well-lived from where you stand now?Any advice you can impart on me? In many ways, I’m still a child and I wish to retain that childish naivety in living, because many see life through tainted glasses of pessimism. I think age is a mindset.

    Gee, look how I hijacked your post! 😀 Thanks for sharing that snippet of your life, and I’m so very sorry about the demise of your mother. I felt a pang of sadness reading that. Also your dear Sam 😦 The last decade has been truly taxing. But I hope it was just as insightful, if not more. 🙂

    p.s. you are SO the quintessential INTP!!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Wow, your father sounds pretty amazing! It’s sad that he should have regrets — it sounds like he has much to be proud of. Is it the challenge, struggle and freedom he misses? Hard-working and independent are wonderful values to have!

      As for me, as Elvis put it, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exception… Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall, and did it my way.”

      I can’t say I always lived up to the song, but I’ve realized in the last few years that I came pretty close. That’s part of my measure of a life well-lived. And I think about the harm I’ve done versus the good, and I feel the balance is in my favor. I think about what I’ve taken and what I’ve given, and again I find the balance acceptable. I have little to be ashamed of but much to be proud of. I’ve loved and been loved. I’ve succeeded and failed. I’ve lived — as much as possible — an honest and genuine life.

      I’m definitely a cynic (and a bit of a misanthrope), but not a pessimist. I think laughter and joy (and music) are among the greatest gifts. I believe happiness is a journey, not a destination. I believe the words of Desiderata.

      Most importantly, I believe in looking forward, not backward. The past is gone and cannot be changed. When bad things happen, learn the lessons offered and move on. Tomorrow is always a new day. Do not define yourself by your past. Define yourself positively by what you can be and can do.

      Welcome to my side of “the pond”! I think you’re right about INTP. I’ve not quite been able to remember if I’m INTP or INTJ. The latter is a pretty good fit, but the former is probably a better one. (There’s really no doubt about the INT parts! XD )

  • Doobster418

    Fascinating post, Wyrd. Sorry that your last decade, the third of your three since returning to Minnesota, sucked, but you’re still alive, you’re blogging, and you’ve got your wits about you, your head seems to be squarely situated on top of your shoulders…or perhaps more anatomically correct, your neck, and you still have the all important sense of humor. So good for you. Maybe decade four will look better than decade three.

    Just an interesting side note that struck me when you talked about moving from LA to Minnesota. As you know, I now live in San Francisco. But when people ask me where I lived before San Francisco, I say Massachusetts — the state, not a particular city. Because in Massachusetts, you either lived in Boston, or if not, you simply lived in Massachusetts. It didn’t really matter where in Massachusetts if it wasn’t Boston. And I didn’t live in Boston.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think we do see major cities as places unto themselves. If you ever move from San Francisco, I’d bet you’ll mention the city rather than the state. I actually have a similar situation to yours in Massachusetts. I don’t live in Minneapolis or even St. Paul, which are the best we have for “big cities” around here. And there are actually several “Twin Cities” in America, so that’s no help. (I suppose I could say I live in “Twins Country!” 😀 )

      I’ve placed humor and laughter as my most important thing in life for a long time (since high school, at least). I can tell when I’m really, really down when I stop seeing the funny in life. Fortunately it’s rare (it takes an astonishingly bad day to make that happen) and never lasts. A night’s sleep usually resets me.

      A guiding principle for me was always the famous Niels Bohr quote, “Some subjects are so serious that one can only joke about them.” (Same guy who said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” 🙂 )

  • Hariod Brawn

    Go easy on that sham pain Wyrd (I’m on the sherry myself); and I look forward to much discussion with you in this New Year (4th. minute in as I write here in England).

    • Wyrd Smythe

      [hic] Hey, Hariod! Happy 2015 my good sir! Welcome to the party! Just slightly over three hours yet to go here. Plenty of time for another round or four… I’ll see you again down the blog!

  • dianasschwenk

    Oh Smitty. Life can sure hurl its share of crap at a person. I love that you see the lessons learned when looking back and you’re a good mensch Smitty, I mean you could have let all that stuff turn you into a jerk, but you didn’t! Here’s hoping this next decade is the best ever!
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks, Lady Di! It’s a funny thing; for all the curve balls life throws my way, it sometimes seems I’ve been protected from truly great harm. My parents, two of the most genuine Christians I’ve ever known, were always poor, but it’s amazing how they seem to have been provided for. That my mom was a school teacher in Los Angeles meant she and dad were life-long members of Kaiser Permanente, and that was a major blessing in their later years. Success and wealth were never theirs (nor ever sought), but they had an almost charmed life nevertheless. And loved each other and were happy for over 60 years.

      Heck of a role model, and I owe a lot of my personality to them. And to others along the way. And now, as I’ve said before, to people like you who remind me of a better way to be. The end result is that I can look back on my life and — for all its trials and travails — feel good about it.

      • dianasschwenk

        My dad used to say that there’s always someone who is worse off than you.

        He also used to look in the mirror and say, Man you’re beautiful and then kiss the mirror. He also said, Nobody’s perfect, just call me nobody…where am I going with this?

        The more I learn about your parents, the more I wish I could have met them Smitty. 😀

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Just pity the poor guy who’s at the bottom of that “worse off” list! o_O

        It’s like the George Carlin joke about how, mathematically speaking, there has to be a “world’s worst doctor.” (And someone probably has an appointment with him tomorrow!) 😎

        You wanna meet my folks now! We must be getting serious! 🐱

        Clock is counting down… just over an hour to go for me. About two for you, I guess? (I’m watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy channel — no watching the ball drop for me.)

      • dianasschwenk

        I went to bed an hour early haha!

  • Lady from Manila

    Having sauntered through all your posts in the past, it’s good to see you’ve summarized some of the most important eras of your life. The reason I love reading about a person’s history is because it’s easier to find or feel a connection with a true word artist who is willing to risk exposing his mind, heart, and soul to the world.

    And like you, I am thankful for every chance that humor and laughter are able to sneak their way into my everyday existence.

    My words to an astute, younger blogger this morning who had seemed to be losing faith in humanity went something like, “So do I. Now’s not the perfect time for me to find others I can trust, believe in, or have total compassion for. But I still have hope.”

    I love posts like this that give off the message “This is my story, both good and bad. which makes me both happy and a bit sad; nevertheless, I’m looking forward and trying to make things better.”

    My purpose in the blogosphere isn’t to become some pseudo-smart gal trying to belong where I clearly don’t. Nor is it to solicit sympathy for the dramas I’ve gone through. I am in this realm because, like most everyone else, I’ve been feeling broken. And there’s a lifeline to be found in an ocean of words, to keep me going. No matter how much we get uncomfortable with it, people handle life challenges in different manners. People process grief in different ways. Nobody really wants to dwell on their pain. Depending on one’s own experience and sensitivity, there remain some struggle when it drops by every now and then without invitation

    Still, my philosophy these days: As long as I have my eyesight, my limbs, and enough good health to move around, I am hanging on.”
    Sometimes, we could only keep trudging, pine for a sensible tomorrow, and let the mild wind blow into our face.

    Btw, the disastrous office romance is new to my awareness. There was no mention of it in any of your previous posts. 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      How about becoming an actual-smart gal who belongs any place you want to belong? 🙂

      People definitely do blog as a (pretty damned good) form of therapy, and there’s no question the blogsphere has a major social media component. The former isn’t the case for me, and the latter takes a back seat to the desire to publish. As any artist, I’m here because I can’t not express my art in some fashion, and words seem to be my paintbrush. (I’m not saying I’m a good artist, but I am an artist with an artist’s need to express my inner vision.) And there is a sense — as I have no other progeny — of wanting to leave a record, of leaving my scrawl on the interweb wall.

      Given how few people go back and read anyone’s entire blog (present company excluded, obviously! 😀 ), I’ve come to realize this may be more akin to writing on beach sand near the water. Each new wave washes away the previous text, so my “time capsule” may vanish largely unseen down the internet river (to badly mix metaphors).

      Oh, well. I can’t not write. 🙂 I’ve gone through times where I seriously consider stopping, but somehow the need to write always pulls me back. Even during the “taking a break” times, I find myself composing posts in my head. If nothing else, I have to let them out — it gets too crowded in there otherwise!

      • Lady from Manila

        A certainly good decision to let them all out, Wyrd. Plenty of your followers and visitors (including me) have, no doubt, learned so many things from you, this blog, and from some of your commenters in the discussions.

        I’ve figured this is also the best time for me to make up for what I failed to do in my academic years: Read up on a few challenging topics; well, more like cramming actually. No harm in trying. Nothing to lose, except my face. 🙂

        You’ve done quite well, and I’m earnestly glad you’ve found a new set of blogpals that complement your thinking style and support your love for science and philosophy. Way to go!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Thanks, Marj! After three-and-a-half years and 434 posts (and 29 pages), it would be really crushing if I hadn’t managed to gain some sort of audience! Hard work almost always has results of some kind — even if just to improve my ow writing. I look back at some of my early posts and realize I’ve changed (grown, that is).

        FWIW: Tackling challenging topics is easier if you pick things that truly interest you. I’ve found it hard to really invest myself in things I feel I “ought” to do (like, for example, reading certain classics such as Moby Dick or The Three Musketeers — I start them, put them down and don’t pick them up again for so long that I have to start over if I finally do pick them up again).

        But I do love science and philosophy (and movies and science fiction and weather and lots else), so those things are easy to pursue. So what have you always wanted to get into, but never got Round Tuit for?

      • Lady from Manila

        Yeah, as your long-time reader, I’m well-informed of your myriad passions in life. 🙂

        Since I got caught up in reading blogs and have come to know two or three bloggers, like you, who are endowed with bright minds, a number of topics have become interesting to me. Nah, I just try to read as much as I can – good serious topics that catch my attention while blog surfing. Lack of time by reason of my mundane duties slows me down though, despite the fact the number of sites I follow remain minimal.

        “I look at some of my early posts and realize I’ve changed (grown, that is).” My exact sentiment from time to time. Sometimes I go: I didn’t know Wyrd was this smart :-D.

        Seriously, there are many instances when you are more eloquent in the comments section. That’s why I had suggested you put Like in it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sadly, as I age, I often feel I’m getting dumber!

        For example, I kept forgetting Cameron Diaz’s name. I spent months muttering to myself: What was the name of that actress in Something About Mary?! I think I’ve finally re-trained a new part of my brain to store her name — apparently the original part gave up the ghost somehow. Stuff like that happens more and more. For someone whose best — if not only — gift is his intellect, that’s truly terrifying!

        Likes in comments. I dunno… Likes on posts are seductive enough. Putting them in the Comments just seems too much to me. They make it too easy to start counting them, wondering why some comments don’t get them. Just too distracting, and I’d rather hear from people. As you say, the Comment sections are sometimes the best part, and I’d rather focus on discussion than popularity contests.

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