Category Archives: Career prospects

Self-isolation (with apologies to every other blogger in the world)

“One night last week, some fools got the electric light in order, and there was all Regent Street and the Circus ablaze, crowded with painted and ragged drunkards, men and women, dancing and shouting till dawn.  And as the day came they became aware of a Fighting-Machine standing near by the Langham and looking down at them.  Heaven knows how long he had been there.  He came down the road towards them, and picked up nearly a hundred too drunk or frightened to run away.”
Grotesque gleam of a time no history will ever fully describe!
—H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

By coincidence, this is where I’m up to rewatching The Twilight Zone from the beginning!

I’m still alive, and the closest I’ve got to coronavirus seems to be just hay fever (and the sort of catarrh I always get three seasons out of four), but I’m certainly sick of staying indoors and being away from human contact — and the rules regarding this are now being tightened!

I know: when I’m on leave from work, I tend to just sit in front of this computer and play endless computer games, and due to aches and pains I’ve not been out dancing or climbing in the evenings lately, but at least during my breaks, I have the choice of going to the shops, or the park, to stretch my legs and get stuff (and maybe pet dogs). Plus, of course, I can still let my personal trainer torture me on Fridays, as a final penance for the reward of the weekend.

However, sitting constantly in front of this contraption 9-to-5, with maybe the chance to go outside and get food at lunchtime (which will be hard now that our local Tesco is making people queue outside), while keeping an eye on the helpdesk ticket list, really sucks — and not solely due to my having to do my job remotely over the Internet, but largely; the other aspect being forbidden from travel via public transport, resulting in having no opportunity to visit my folks (and the best dog in the world) down in Worthing.

Last week we sorted out just about all our staff being able to work from home, but at times I’ve felt anxious about either doing something wrong, or having done something wrong at some undefined point in the past — and since I can’t speak to my teammates or our flock face-to-face (the office has been closed for a week now), it’s all… well, even more uncomfortable than in the weeks before.

He’s truly been ill, not just drinnnkinnninnnge!

Mostly I’m getting things right, at least in terms of simple chores (like helping staff to restart their laptops); this is to spare senpai and the Asian Eddie Hitler-lookalike from tedious side issues while they work on far more serious tasks, like keeping our remote services running (fair play to them for enduring this and having families of their own!).  The latter’s been snappy at me even over little things (like misunderstanding him breaking his own vow on using an IP address instead of a machine name for remote access), and at times I’ve felt like chucking it all in and finally handing in my notice — but since he’s been suffering from something not unadjacent to coronavirus, I’m willing to stay in my job for now, and not hold a grudge against him.

Indeed, although “boss lady” was a bit impatient at times (as would be expected), she was otherwise perfectly nice, thanking me for setting up so many laptops during the onsite first three days of last week.  However, she’s said I can’t have a week off any time soon, because they really need me right now, due to how much work the others have taken on (senpai says they aren’t even getting paid overtime) — and due to a couple of big planned changes, there’ll be even more soon!

(Thanks again, Micro$haft, for announcing the retirement of Skype for Business and making us switch to a whole ‘nuther system — if you’d known this predicament was coming, would you have delayed it another couple of years?)

If it weren’t for sitting here in front of my computer to work, I would at least be able to, er, sit in front of my computer playing games, or watching TV (even if it’s entirely via web apps, as I’m unlikely to get the satellite dish fixed any month soon).  Fortunately I can have the radio on pretty much all day without disturbing the staff I phone (or, rarely, phone me), and between tasks I’ve got the chance, again, to learn to strum away on my guitar (which I can do without getting out of my seat) — perhaps this song being my greatest inspiration to learn the difficult F-chord.  I can also be a pen-friend instead of dating in person: I’m currently writing to a young lady teaching at, of all places, my alma mater, who needs help with both English and Japanese!

To be fair, I’m not missing the usual crowds of London, and certainly not public transport (even the Northern Line no longer being the “Misery Line” wasn’t enough!), and I do wonder what kind of fools would still want to hold big events with lots of people crammed in together, partying like the people in my Wells quote above, because they think they can celebrate the end of the world… but then again, I’ve never liked that anyway (one reason I’ve never been a footie fan).

On the other hand, I feel unhappy at the risk of being fined, or even arrested, if I’m suspiciously outside for a reason the coppers don’t like (even though we’re supposed to be allowed to get a bit of exercise and buy food at shops), or if walk past someone on a narrow pavement instead of stepping into the road (in front of an admittedly-rare car) just to maintain an arbitrary distance.  The police in this country are at risk of only caring about numerical targets, hence going after litterers because it’s easier to feel their collars than go after burglars or murders.

I guess it’s another necessary balance: follow the rules for now, out of compassion for other human beings (and one’s own safety in the same situation), BUT hold the government to account, and ensure the rules are reasonable and necessary (for example, fines should never be regarded as an opportunistic revenue-raiser) — and, unlike Trump’s yuge idea, we should be allowed to resume our lives once it’s known to be safe, for our own sakes, not purely to “save the economy” when it’s still unsafe!

(Funny how those at the top denigrate poor people living paycheque-to-paycheque for not having somehow kept savings for a rainy day, at the same time they call for big businesses to get bail-outs from the taxpayer — is this one-sided libertarianism, where “tax is theft” only when it’s used to help the little guy?)

Well, if I’m under house arrest for the duration, and getting way under 10,000 steps a day (and can’t even pet people’s dogs now!), at least I’ve got the opportunity to post here a bit more often, eh guys?  Guys?  Er, guys……..?

Disaster averted, times two?

The last couple of weeks, I was thinking of posting here (yes, I do that occasionally, even seven years after I started this blog) about how worried I was regarding not only my job, but my life here in London — not to mention my health.  Well, it looks like at least two of those potential Chernobyls have been reduced to mere Fukushimas, which may help alleviate the third, at least a little bit…

(Yes, a Simpsons reference, except with a slightly more contemporary equivalent of “Three Mile Island”!)

I’d have said I didn’t want to worry you, but merely wanted to express my worries in written form and get them off my chest, though I imagine I’d simply have made you guys worry even more about me than I intended!  Well, don’t worry, it’s mostly over now, so I can reminisce about my problems, and how I got over them.

Above all, don’t worry about one thing: I can’t even begin to contemplate suicide!  Apart from not wanting my friends and family (and dog!) to miss me, I’ve simply come to fear death itself — simply because I have no memories of being unconscious during my brain surgery in 2018: no slumber, no dreams, not even a SCENE MISSING card — just an immediate jump from feeling drowsy and tingly on the operating table, to being asked by a nurse in intensive care whether I could understand her!

I hate the thought of my memories simply ending, and me not being there to feel bad about it, or even knowing that I’m not there — but I also can’t force myself to follow any religion, so I’ll just have to hope something good happens in a few decades, when I reach the clearing at the end of the path.

(Yes, I’d be happy to wake up in Midworld, and be asked by Roland of Gilead to join his ka-tet in search of the Dark Tower — isn’t that obvious?)

However, there have been times when I couldn’t stop myself from considering career suicide, simply giving up on my life in London and returning to Worthing to live with my folks, and never, ever returning to the Smoke for even a single visit — especially if my life depended upon it, because I’d feel like simply carrying on existing instead of truly living.  I’m over that now, though it’s hardly the first time I’ve felt this way (the early stages of my misery in late 2011 being a major example, and even 2013 having a particularly bad patch).

What brought it on this time?  Well, no matter how well I think I’m doing at work, now and then I let the team down — and not always right away, but retrospectively!  For example, do you guys know what VPN means?  Ah yes, you remember — well, it seems I’d been a little over-enthusiastic in setting up this secure connection for homeworkers, when I’d actually been told to only do so for specific ones, for whom new hardware and a new Internet connection had been arranged.

But having “boss lady” angry at me in front of the office (don’t worry, I spoke to HR) somehow doesn’t seem significant compared to letting down senpai.  We’re switching to a new electronic phone system (thanks to Micro$haft planning to do away with one of their own products), but although just about everyone’s been set up now, it turned out I was supposed to have been going round helping them simplify their statuses.  I felt worthless, and panicked into trying to make up for this… only to make things worse by doing it wrong!

And even when I thought I was doing it right, I’d still screw up little things, or forget what I’d been told (or supposed to have read in an e-mail) — and I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to hear the funny ringtone I set up for him (see if you can guess it from this Family Guy clip), as now I associate it with him calling me to tell me off for not listening to him, again…

Fortunately, late last week he was a lot more understanding than before, and said I can always double-check things with him (something I’d become afraid to do) — but most of all, that my health is more important than supporting the team.  Y’see, I thought it might have been an issue with short-term memory, either due to the same thing that’s been causing my recent weird dizziness (the neurologist says it’s a possible side-effect of one of my medications), or just plain ol’ age.

(Then again, I can remember what happened well enough to write this, not to mention my nightly diary!)

I made up for things by discovering why a team he was trying to train with the new system couldn’t hear or be heard through their new electronic headsets — though since it involved one of those Win10 privacy (or lack thereof) options that I always find myself turning off when setting up people’s local profiles on PCs, it may not entirely have been MS’s fault… this time.  He and “boss lady” are being more patient with me as well, and looking for a new helper so I’m not overworked any more!

— — —

The other issue, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, has been “worst housemate” — the latest in a long line of female housemates living in the room originally occupied by the leaderene who sorted out our bills when I first moved here.  She’s been consistently underpaying me every month, and claiming we “agreed” a lower value (even if she didn’t need to pay for energy, she was still £4.60 down for March’s rent and council tax!).

The others — including “best mate” and “condescending housemate” (yes, that’s my new nickname for him and I’m sticking with it) — have nagged me to have it out with her, because the amount of money she owes me will only ever go up, and even our landlady (who at least seems to have dealt with the useless E.ON sending bailiffs after her long-dead husband) has gotten involved, saying she’s on my side in this, and that she doesn’t like the girl either (apparently she complained about the rent rise in December, despite signing the new contract with that value in November!).

Amazingly, though, it seems that being told she can either pay the money in full, or move out and find somewhere else, has worked: tonight she told me that she’ll start paying the full monthly amount, and catch up with what she owes me from before!  Perhaps this is because she “loves” her room, or perhaps it’s because she really can afford to pay (seeing as she buys herself coffees and takeaways, yet won’t put a fiver in the household kitty), but it’s a good sign that she’s finally taking responsibility for the costs of living in rented accommodation… in what is presumably her first time living away from home.

Or, of course, she’s got access to daddy’s (or mummy’s) chequebook in a serious situation such at this — but hey, if she moves out after all, “best mate” has offered to provide a van for her to shift her stuff!

— — —

But what of health matters?  Well, increasing my lamotrigine dose may not be helping as much as I hoped, though I doubt it’s responsible for my right arm hurting this week, especially when using a mouse (and it’s something I’ve noted in the upper arm when personal training over the past year or so).  It may well be some prelude to RSI, but if it happens even when I’ve been playing games with a joypad instead of mouse and keyboard, what can I do?  Avoid computers entirely?!

Fortunately, despite a bit of a sniffle and sore throat on Saturday afternoon (which could have been early hay fever), and indeed despite my daily commutes involving the crowded Northern Line, I’ve not (as yet) developed anything remotely resembling coronavirus!

(COVID-19?  That surely must be a Stephen King reference — I’ll set my watch and warrant on it!)

Never mind petty things like biochemistry, physiology and virology, though — it’s in psychological terms that I’m improving, as for now, not only do I still have a job (indeed, they need me to be able to work from home just in case we do an Italy), but I should be getting repaid by a housemate now willing to pay her share (or, more precisely, next month I won’t need to pay so much into the old bank account I use for gathering our household bills together).

With these two weights off my shoulders, I shouldn’t need to see the osteopath for a while…

The great burden

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too!
—John F. Kennedy, 1962

This is not me sitting next to the guy we lost, who wasn’t Japanese anyway

It’s partly reluctance, and partly overwork that’s stopped me writing over the past couple of weeks — much as I hate getting up early enough to make a roll for lunch, so I’d rather watch Family Guy and play the Assassin’s Creed games instead of opening this web-based editing suite to write stuff that I’ve probably already written, in multiple different ways, over the past seven years.

But I’m not quite repeating this post, although I’m certainly facing increase in one form of personal torture, and hopefully thus my endurance.  This time, it’s at work that I’m expending greater effort, in the hope that I’ll be regarded as indispensible…

It turns out that my first-line helpdesk colleague, who was absent on “career break” last year for reasons to which I was not officially privy, has now left our organisation entirely, after having begun working there in the early 21st century.  He’d been off quite a bit beforehand, but since he was in last Tuesday, and no “leave” was showing up for him in the team calendar, I’d politely assumed he was off sick (though of course I hoped it wasn’t a similar issue to the lead-up to my months-long sick leave in the summer of 2018).

“Boss lady” didn’t officially tell us until Monday, and the rest of the organisation a couple of days later, apparently due to “legal” arrangements needing to be made before the announcement.  She said he’s moved on to pastures new, but it seems he really was crying at his desk after a meeting earlier in the month, and had been told his days at our employer were numbered.  He never told me anything, but my workmates suspected all along…

And there’s always the risk that our team will be “outsourced”, whatever the hell that means (seeing as there are plans under IR35 to make IT contractors pay employee levels of tax without having employee rights to things like paid leave), so I’ve been told by a fellow Trekkie to stay on “yellow alert”, in case I’m next to face the axe.

(Needless to say, I don’t want a five-year cycle meaning I have to relive events around this time in 2014, December being a bad time for finding work!)

However, rather than preparing to jump into a lifeboat, I’m trying to bail out the ship for the time being — hence despite the physical pains I faced a few weeks ago, a bad cough coming on this week, public transport woes, and the fact that my colleague departed at the time of several major projects, I’ve continued going in to work every day, forcing myself to get on with things, and trying to hold back any kind of snapping at people (except maybe to ask them to talk a bit more quietly), not wanting to go on sick leave like I did as the new guy in late 2015.

I won’t go into detail about the major tasks, except to say they involve (a) security, (b) homeworking ability and (c) more desks in the downstairs office (and thus more network connections); since these occur at the same time as fixing the usual problems, I’ve been very overworked lately — and having a cough and sore throat this week made it hard to speak to people.  I’ve been in trouble for that before, and at times I’ve just not felt up to apologising to people for “feeling like Death warmed up”, or even making eye contact with people with whom I normally have a humorous exchange.

This Tuesday was the worst of all, because as I, amongst many other jobs, replaced keyboards and mice for an entire team (who fortunately were understanding), I worried with all my heart about our new dog Lola, who was undergoing a serious operation down in Worthing — because if she died, I’d certainly be upset, but my mother and grandmother would be devastated, this new addition to the family having made them truly happy.  Fortunately she was fine (indeed, the operation went “surprisingly well”), which has lighted my burden in that sense, as I won’t need to think about abandoning London so I can return home and comfort my folks.

And just so you know, “senpai” is actually a black dude with a London accent, with no Japanese blood!

The two geniuses in my team (senpai and the bloke who looks like an Asian Eddie Hitler) can give me guidance and expand my knowledge beyond 1st line, and indeed have taught me some important tasks (including the most important security-based ones of all, VPN and 2FA), but they’ve got so much to take care of, they can only give me limited support — and without our missing gentleman, I’ve thus go sooo much to do at work that my ticket queue seems to be growing exponentially…

(No, VPN doesn’t mean “visible panty nine”, and 2FA doesn’t mean “two, er, nothing”!)

And no, I can’t work evenings or weekends: aside from the important hours when people generally need help being 9-to-5, apparently only those two can claim overtime pay anyway, and “boss lady” knows when I’ve been remoting onto my work computer after hours, thus I am discouraged from working too hard.

Thus I need to slow down and not worry so much about how long it’s taking to take care of minor tasks (with people who aren’t even in the office at the time, or can’t answer a simple question about their problem), and be thankful that, as a member of an IT team, I can fix many problems simply by standing nearby!  Perhaps this is why “boss lady” has been refreshingly patient with me lately, as despite my problems, I’ve kept going.

And I feel I must be available to help out with important, urgent tasks when I’m needed — such as today, when the aforementioned Asian Eddie was off without explanation just as we finally replaced an old Win8 machine with a Win10 one that could run a version of our door security software that wasn’t written around the time our departed colleague began working for our employer, possibly for Win2000 or even Win98.  That was an onerous time (which made it hard to have even a late lunch), but “boss lady” agreed at how inexperienced the engineers seemed to be about their own software!

I guess I can cover for others when it’s life or death — something I must learn, so that I’ll either be kept on as an essential member of the team, or I’ll get a good reference for my next job.  Hey, at least the staff like me, and I don’t work for a bank helpdesk — that kind of staff would demand I fix their computer NOW, as every minute costs them money!

(One reason that the collective noun for bankers is “wunch”…)

— — —

P.S. I’ve got burdens at my London home too: not only handling billing (and thanks to E.ON for not writing off their billing mistake, and insisting we pay them what they undercharged us for before), but also living with “still new bad housemate”, who’s managed to be a lot more condescending than any other housemate I’ve ever had who moved in years after me!  I wonder if he’ll even agree to monthly energy payments, seeing as he didn’t think himself liable for any fraction of the household TV licence… thus I vow: if I need a new job, I’ll find a new home!

Covering up

It’s that time of year again, and I’m very grateful to my mother (especially if she’s reading this) for getting me a nice thick coat, as the temperature seems to be dropping rather faster than usual in late October: indeed, on this very day back in 2014, we had a mini-heatwave!

I’m also wearing the hat with earflaps I got back in early 2001 (still fits my head, despite its weight loss back in May), and have my scarf and gloves on standby, in case it’s so cold walking between home/work and Tube stations that I start getting numb…

But that’s not the real reason for this blog post’s title, just a brief alternate meaning — in fact, the meaning is both covering for someone at work, and covering up the explanation for the need to do so.  In fact, I find myself wondering if I should go this far, seeing as “boss lady” could well be reading this, if she found the link on my Facebook page (or heard that Googling “big breakfast gwar” brings up this post first) — but that’d count as spying on employees outside work!

(And since my mother won a court case against her scumbag employers after they fired her in mid-2011 for saying on Facebook that she hated her job — without actually naming them — having gathered evidence against her over time, like the Thought Police, instead of just telling her to stop her posts right away…)

Yeah, I might as well come straight out with it: one of my teammates is going to be away for a few months, and I’m effectively covering for him, becoming effectively the only 1st line IT helpdesk person.  The official line is that he’s on a “career break” due to circumstances in his own life, but oh, I can’t help wondering whether it’s more along the lines of “gardening leave” — after all, he’s allegedly made some big screw-ups, despite him having worked in IT much longer than me.  I’ve told a couple of friends at work about it (fortunately almost everyone counts in that respect), but otherwise am keeping the matter under wraps, in case it really is a big cover-up for him being disciplined, and I risk getting someone in trouble — especially me!

Don’t worry, it’s not my senpai who’s had to step away until early 2019: he’s most certainly still with us (working his mojo with tremendous skill), and has been supportive to me during my return to the organisation after my own “career break” from mid-May to the end of July — which was, of course, due to quite literally getting something off my mind (and even more literally getting my head together).  However, since they’re not hiring a temp to support me with my workload, I’ve got to seek advice and outright help from him and my other remaining teammates (tricky if they’re working from home, as has been the case during the half-term school holiday — good job I don’t have kids, eh?), which can make me feel like a burden.

Indeed, today — the terrifying Hallowe’en (or, as people on the Interthingy spell it, “Halloween”) — we all got stressed due to numerous problems, including a network port not working in our lecture theatre, a presentation not downloading from a web sharing resource, and external people even being cut off from the relevant “shared desktop” conference call!  Most of this is probably thanks to Microsoft, of course (who are also responsible for the abomination known as Edge, a web browser from which our users can’t print) — but don’t tell anyone at my workplace, or they’ll complain about us using second-rate technology…

My main hope in this role-covering situation is that I’ll finally prove myself indispensable by remaining calm, polite and helpful in crises, and that “boss lady” having words with me (yet again) a couple of weeks ago was because she wanted to ensure I’d get back to my old, well-adjusted self and not screw up — guiding me, instead of threatening me — so I don’t cause problems and, worst case, leave her without any 1st line helpdesk staff at all.  Perhaps she knew she was going to have to take action against this guy soon, having (allegedly) overly favoured him, and ignored his faults, for altogether too long?

The really sad thing is, I actually like the guy (even if the other members of my team seem not to) — some of my happiest days in this job have been those with just me and him (and perhaps “boss lady”) in the office, with the others working from home or outright on leave, as these days were nice and quiet!  Whereas the others frequently get rowdy and noisy when they’re in, and I have to cover my ears…

And just when you think things can’t get any more stressful, they want me to come in to help with work over the weekend (just when my folks have gone away on holiday) — which means I’ll be working seven days in a row, and that’s if I can book Monday off!  Dammit, when am I gonna have time to play StarCraft II?!

What have I done to deserve this? (with apologies to the Pet Shop Boys)

If anything, I have gained nothing
Except just for staying alive
And I suppose that is something
When you’ve tried as hard as me to die!
—Gwar, “Back in Crack” (Beyond Hell, 2006)

Okay, now it’s THREE musical references, if you think Stan’s dressed like Flava Flav!

Right, that’s two musical reference already in this blog post, and two implications that I’m having problems… when in fact, I feel like I surely deserve something much, much worse than I’m actually getting.  No, I’m not complaining, just… wondering?

I’ve said before that improvements in some aspects of my life seem to balance out with increasing problems in other aspects; things are better in this house since “drummer-trucker” moved out, but recently I was worried that “boss lady” would feel the need to have a go at me all over again, and indeed wondered if Friday the 17th would be the day I got my final notice — much like three years ago, during a Monday evening shift… so imagine my surprise when she demanded I send her a link for an expensive computer component I’d want her to buy me!

Yes, it’s just like the i7 CPU she got me for my birthday this year, and the excellent work phone she got me in May — apparently out of the IT budget!  I’d been reluctant on previous occasions, but since in November I’d already spent the equivalent of a month’s rent getting a current-generation graphics card (which means I can play modern games in 4k resolution), I decided on a 4TB SSD — a yuge hard drive with no moving parts (like the one I have as my C-drive), that works much, much faster than the “spinning rust” variety, and will store all my games on it, meaning they start up more quickly.  I will truly have a l33t gaming machine at long last!

(Without the need to buy a console or “upgrade” to Windows 10!)

But why?  Why, when the day before, she told me off again?  Admittedly on that occasion it was for offering too much help to one of our users (one they’d warned me about but who turned out to be perfectly nice), rather than my usual faults of being unhelpful, rude, impatient etc. — but still, I was worried I’d done something wrong during the preceding weeks.  After all, I got a severe talking-to back in August, in which I was warned I could face suspension — and that 19 months after the original talking-to in January 2016, when I was even closer to being fired, because I was still on probation at the time!

I was worried that this time, I’d be in trouble for sure, but take heart — senpai reckons I’m doing fine, my work improving all the time, and that I’d really have to screw up to be at risk of getting fired.  However, he’d witnessed me having one of my dizzy, confused spells while talking to him earlier that day (they happen less frequently since I cut espresso out of my intake, but they do still happen, especially at work) — so perhaps he spoke to “boss lady” to warn her of my potential mental health situation.  She’s already aware (and approved my leave to see a neurologist at the end of the month), so maybe she’s decided to be patient with me at long last… or trying not to seem like she’s discriminating against the disabled.

It’s not impossible she is, if anything, trying to bribe me into staying — I know I’ve screwed up in the past, but most users like and respect me, and are thankful when I come to help them; I’m happy to do so, and work hard at my job.  However, even though I’ve no desire to leave of my own accord, she might think I’m worried about failing, and that I’m planning to jump before I’m pushed — so it could be that she wants to calm me down and convince me to stay.  She surely wouldn’t be buying me expensive gear as some kind of leaving present (unless she was trying to atone in advance!), so I should take this as a sign that I’m not in serious jeopardy, and damn well relax at last.

(She could just be trying to seduce me… nooooooo, that’s ruined my relaxation!!!)

Of course, the most likely explanation is that she’s just trying to spend all of our IT budget by the end of the year, so we get the same amount next year; it’s not unusual behaviour in my team, and one of my colleagues reckons we should just willingly let her buy us stuff, and then sell it on down the line, when she’s forgotten about it.

I know local councils make busy-work purely to spend their budgets in the same way (as per this scene from the classic Falling Down), but since we get our money from rich health professionals’ membership fees rather than public taxes, I find I can live with myself in ethical terms.  Well, wouldn’t you?

— — —

I should add as a postscript that overall my life’s better now — we have heating that works, and a replacement vacuum cleaner that sucks (in the positive sense!); also, I’m earning enough that even though I spent loads on a graphics card and a new chair this month, I should be able to break even (albeit partly because I don’t need to pay my personal trainer until December).  I wonder why karma is being so kind to me: is it to knock me down again later, Job-style, or is it because I’ve been doing good deeds, like handling my household’s billing, and joining a group that helps the homeless once a month…?

Clinging on

Maybe that’s why I feel so strange
Got it all, but I still won’t change
Maybe that’s why I can’t leave Detroit!
It’s the motivation that keeps me goin’!
This is the inspiration I need
I can never turn my back on the city that made me, and—
(Life’s been good to me, so far…)
—Eminem, “So Far…” (The Marshall Mathers LP 2, 2013)

Despite the concerns I expressed last time, I’m hopeful I won’t get fired, suspended, or reduced in pay grade as long as I keep my nose clean and stop myself from snapping at anyone — and this is essential, because without my current job, I can’t imagine remaining in London, something I definitely want to do.

I know I don’t get everything right, but enough people seem to like me at work that there would be serious repercussions if I were punished by “boss lady”.  That’s why, in my darkest moments, I’ve contemplated offering to hand in my resignation on the grounds that I allegedly have to return to Worthing, to take care of my folks, as a compromise to her firing me — the benefit to her being that I’d be seen to leave of my own accord, and so she wouldn’t get blamed for firing me by all the staff members who are so fond of me that they open their helpdesk tickets with “Dear David”.

However, I’d much rather not have to go through with that at all, and stay in my job for as long as possible, paying my rent right here and not having to worry, controlling my emotions and making it clear to the users that I like each and every one of them, and am doing my best to help them.

(A better solution might be to promote me to Level 2 tech, where I’d have much less interaction with staff than Level 1, seeing as (a) I’m likely to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and (b) human contact is what’s been stressing me out!)

As I’ve doubtless said many times since starting this blog, I’m getting better all the time — and I feel I owe it to this damned city, hence why I want to remain in London for as long as possible.  It’s partly for social reasons (who’d I hang out with in Worthing?!), partly to keep my family at a respectful distance (who’d date me if I lived with my mother?!), and partly because this is my life now: one reason I was hesitant for my American “second family” to work on getting me a green card was that I’ve made a go of things at last, right here, where I used to feel such despair — a good wage, a good career, and even a half-decent commute!

I’ve also grown tougher and more responsible, believe it or not: I’ve offered to take on the responsibility of managing our household bills, such as rent (since “drummer-trucker” moved out), using an old bank account to gather the money together, instead of letting someone else worry about it.  Somehow I doubt this would have happened if I was living in Worthing with my folks, probably getting lazier and less ambitious by the day.

This is what happens when you take acupuncture too far… what, too obvious?

I thus need to overcome my stress-related aches and pains, so I can focus on my day-to-day life and make the most of living here, instead of getting into a self-reinforcing stress spiral, stressing about the aches and pains both increased by and increasing my stress levels, rather than giving up, returning to Worthing and “not caring” any more.

I made a start by seeing my old yoga teacher, on one of his rare visits to London, for a bit of acupuncture.  This actually helped me feel rather better, at least for one night, and while it’s clear I still need some kind of proper massage to get over my neck-and-shoulder aches and pains, I can recommend getting pins stuck in you by an expert (as long as it’s someone you trust) — even if it’s quackery, it’s the thought that counts.

He also gave me advice on reducing my stimulation level… no, wash your minds out, he’s just concerned that I spend my entire waking time listening to music, reading books, playing video games and watching TV, none of which are actually “restful” activities, even if I’m sitting still for the duration!  My brain needs a proper rest, and it won’t get that unless I slow things down and do less intense stuff.

(On that basis, I wish I’d taken the time to sit out in the sunshine during the Bank Holiday weekend, thinking of nothing in particular!)

Having said that, I’ve bought some softer pillows than the ones I got earlier this year (and also 1/12th the price of those damn things!), as well as massaging my own neck (the most probably source of the dizziness) as a stopgap solution, and these seem to be helping: although I still feel weird now and then (always as a prelude to a dull headache), I seldom have all-out bursts of memory-related static going off in my brain, and can thus maintain adequate face-to-face contact with my fellow human beings.

On the other hand, the hot weather over the weekend seems to have disturbed my sleep pattern all over again: as in July, sometimes I find myself waking about four hours after I fell asleep, unable to get off again and getting agitated as a result.  Despite the advice I’ve received, this can happen even when I’ve had dinner earlier than usual (and no caffeine), with a banana for dessert instead of chocolate (indeed, having chocolate ice cream during the Bank Holiday weekend seemed to help me get a good night’s sleep!), and gone to bed a full eight hours before my morning alarm time.

Of course, it’s partly because I’ve been using Fitbit for ages now: the device I bought earlier this year gives a rather detailed estimation of my sleeping patterns, which just gets me worried.  This kind of thing never seemed to bother me back when I used to stay up until 1am watching Family Guy, and then wake up with enough energy the following morning to make lunch before setting off for work…

Ah, to be in my, er, mid-thirties again!

It’s all happening again

Is the Faceman failing again?

Every time I feel confident that my life’s getting better, it seems something goes horribly wrong — or rather, several things at once, just as I’m approaching my second anniversary in the job I supposedly love.

I’m still getting headaches, and while the dizzy spells have largely (but by no means entirely) retreated, I’m still worried about my health — for example, the fact that for no apparent reason I can wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep.  This happened last night, and I felt a great depression come over me, almost wanting to give up on London entirely and go back to live in Worthing (yikes!).  This was at least partly thanks to taking ibuprofen to combat the pain, and as you will remember, I’ve experienced this before, and know not to do anything “drastic” (aside from cursing), because the feeling will pass.

I still felt miserable when I managed to drag myself to work, having made several mistakes this week, and feeling like I was letting down senpai (the guy I look up to, for those of you who Nihongo o hanasenai).  I was genuinely unhappy in the office, rather than my usual helpful, chipper self, and at one point experienced nostalgia by sitting alone in a small room, almost crying.  However, that turned out to be cathartic (as in the subtitle of this blog), and from that point on I actually felt a lot more cheerful, and found myself more than willing to help people…

Right up to the point that “boss lady” took me into a side office for a talking-to, just like in mid-January 2016.

Yes, folks, it seems I’ve had complaints all over again, and have one more chance to sort things out — the difference from a year and a half ago being that this time I’m permanent staff, rather than an ex-temp now going through six-month probation, and feel like I’ve earned my job and so shouldn’t be on a knife-edge.  It doesn’t feel any less dangerous, even though they’d have a harder time getting rid of me entirely now than they would have done back then.  I guess I should have realised that she wasn’t just trying to keep me on the straight and narrow before, she was genuinely unhappy with my behaviour, and it’s all come to a head now.

Needless to say, this has increased my stress levels again, and brought back anxiety to accompany my depression — as you would imagine, anxiety and depression together make a horrible mixture.  Thus, the stress I’ve been under, and the headaches and dizzy spells as side effects, has created a whole new reason to be stressed — but I daren’t take any more ibuprofen to combat the headaches, as it definitely brings my mood down and thus makes it harder for me to interact cheerfully with the users, thus exacerbating the problem.

Unfortunately she was unsympathetic to my situation, saying that I need to either manage this stress and remain perfectly polite to the users, or find a whole new line of work… it’s like it doesn’t matter how much good work I’ve done, or that she hasn’t had to talk to me like this for eighteen months, a couple of mistakes can bring everything down!

It sucks being back in this situation, but two things keep me going.  Firstly, I got through this back in 2016, and recognise that it’s only since I came back from holiday that these things have been happening all over again; it’s a difficult spiral to break out of, but if I can conquer my resurgent depression and/or anxiety, or at least make sure to get a good night’s sleep, I’ll be better able to interact with others.  Secondly, senpai is largely on my side here, and thinks that “boss lady” was out of line threatening me with “disciplinary procedures”, because although he knew I still had problems sometimes, we’re better off correcting each other as-and-when, instead of amassing evidence like this… and in any case, he agreed that she was unreasonable taking me to task over bantering with the bloke at reception via phone!

(Not to mention, she believed a lady upstairs who claimed I’d told her to “go away” and held up my hand, when this was blatant exaggeration — I’d just said I was very busy, and if anything had an anxiety attack, as she’d hemmed me in at my desk!)

Furthermore, although “boss lady” wants me to ask my team for help more readily, rather than rushing off trying to help users myself and making us all look “incompetent” by not knowing things (like the fact that one team had bought their own iPads while I was away), senpai reckons I’m not being supported properly by one particular member of our team, a gent he’s very annoyed with at the moment for palming off jobs to others, and making system changes without telling the rest of us.  Sad thing is, I like that guy too, and at least some of the time find him useful and helpful, but I’ve been told that “boss lady” likes him a bit too much, and refuses to see his flaws… damn, what do I have to do to get that kind of quasi-nepotism?!

I just have to hope I can cope with feeling this way all over again, and that I can keep my head together (despite the occasional dizzy spells) and win back the users I’ve offended, at least to “boss lady’s” approval.  I guess I should never imagine I’ve won her over again, and always keep one eye on her.  2017 comes three years after 2014 and 2011, both years in which I suffered during the autumn and winter months and, at times, wished it would all end; I don’t want that three-year cycle to be repeated, or for my 40th birthday to signal the start of bad times, like my 34th and 37th (and, to some extent, my 31st).

On that basis, only if I’m still in my job and earning the UK average wage by my birthday in October, will I even think of building a better PC!

— — —

P.S. I know many think of it as quackery, but my old yoga teacher (back in the country briefly) is planning to give me an acupuncture session, as he’s good at curing stress headaches — so, if I can make it to the weekend…

P.P.S. Maybe, just maybe, I should let my “second family” in Michigan sponsor me for a green card after all, even if the USA is an increasingly right-wing country these days!

The see-saw tilts again

mpfc_swing

“…and a tendency to wobble up and down in the middle because the screw’s loose.”

Sometimes it seems that I can never have an unequivocally good time at both home and work; as one thing improves, the other develops a problem.

Yes, I know, everything’s in cycles, but they usually change any time I comment on them to someone close — how I used to bicker with my UMich roommate in 1998-9 one day, and the next find him being civil and chatty.

And similarly, my former-drummer housemate, having been a jerk to me last Thursday, seems to have mellowed a bit now, probably because I haven’t managed to get on his nerves in a while, thanks to avoiding him outright whenever I can.  I did try to apologise on Sunday for the pie incident, but he threw it back in my face, and also accused me and our Turkish housemate (with whom he’s had major arguments in the past) of being “anti-social”, despite the fact that he seems to be more reclusive than either of us, since ending his career as a session drummer and drumming instructor.

Maybe I should pity him, as I know how hard it can be to interact with people after spending a lot of time alone, and he’s leaving music behind to drive trucks for a living… but at least tonight he’s been relatively decent, not having a go at me for cooking in the kitchen (beyond the usual implied criticism for eating Quorn).  In US military terms, I’d say we’re back down to Defcom 3 — not exactly peace, but not overt conflict.

(I just wish I hadn’t become so paranoid that I’d downloaded a sound recorder app onto my phone, in case I needed evidence…)

But as that situation goes up, so the other end of my life see-saw, work, goes down just a little bit.  Those of you who have worked in helpdesk roles will understand the ticket system: broadly speaking, your “flock” e-mails the helpdesk address with problems, tickets are created and assigned, and you’re judged on how quickly you resolve them, and also on the rating that the original senders give upon completion.  Maybe the details are different for you, but that’s my lot in life, and I either pass on tickets to my teammates (where it’s their speciality or otherwise beyond me), or shoulder the burden myself.

I deal quickly with a hell of a lot of tickets, including layman stuff like changing printer toners (though I monitor those myself anyway, and thus usually obviate tickets being needed at all), adding people to or removing them from e-mail groups, troubleshooting simple problems with people’s computers, setting up and deploying new hardware, training people to use the infernal Skype for Business, installing the infernal Windows 10 updates, creating new starters’ accounts, setting up equipment for video conference calls… all the stuff you’d expect Tier 1 to do, and a bit of Tier 2 as well, as they’re happy for me to take on more tasks where I know what I’m doing.

However, every so often a ticket will come along that I’m supposed to deal with, but which taunts and frustrates me.  There’s one young lady downstairs whose PC I set up for her when she started (one of the first I did, in fact), but which seems to give her no end of bother.  Every time I think I’ve fixed something (e.g. by reinstalling Firefox), either the same problem or a worse one arises.  It’s probably not unrelated to her habit of having 20-30 e-mails open in Outlook at any one time, along with 20 or 30 tabs open in Internet Explorer…

And my boss is getting concerned about the time it’s taking me to resolve this… but even though we now have some brand new Windows 10 PCs ready to set up, she wants me to “do something drastic” to resolve this, and re-image the girl’s PC.  This is despite it having started life as a Windows 7 machine, re-imaged with Windows 8, and then upgraded to Windows 10 during the “free” period — which means I have no way of knowing which of our (expired) Windows 8 keys I could put in, even if that’d work with Windows 10 installation media.  I can also try telling Windows 10 to “reset” itself, but even if either of these techniques works, I fear it’ll serve to do nothing save undo all the tweaks I’ve put in to overcome problems (such as changing graphics card options), and just bring back every problem we’ve already overcome — and how will that lead to a quicker resolution?

Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely boss when things are going well, and she (mostly) respects me and my opinions (even if she’s one of those people who tends to treat me like a naive manchild); but she’s very much a manager first and a computer expert second, and doesn’t always appreciate how difficult some tasks are.  On the other hand, she’s allegedly a lot nicer and more understanding than other IT bosses, and the team whose member has this issue is one which always seems to find things to complain about (especially another member, to whom my boss refers with a preciousss nickname), so I’m motivated to get it taken care of, for her sake as well as my own.

(However, I’m not averse to simply outright replacing the girl’s PC and lying about it, perhaps in conjunction with another of her teammates whose PC definitely needs a replacement… results are what matter, right?)

And that’s not the worst part: I’ve had other tickets open altogether too long, thanks to users not responding when I’ve asked them for updates (or re-opening tickets that I’ve tried to close as impossible to fulfil), combined with my tendency to procrastinate if I need someone’s advice but he’s too damn busy with a more important task (it doesn’t help that I work in the office five days a week, while the others frequently work from home).

face

What I really need to do is remind myself that one bit of honest criticism doesn’t mean my job’s hanging by a thread again: even if my boss wanted a pretext to get rid of me (despite my having made it successfully through 2016), a lot of people at my employer seem to like me, give me good reviews on my successfully-closed tickets, and sometimes even refer to me as a “hero” — so there’d probably be a rebellion if she got rid of me so unceremoniously (especially considering how bad my predecessors were).

However, I also shouldn’t get complacent: while it’s certainly true that I close a lot more tickets than my colleagues, that’s simply because I take care of all the easy “low-hanging fruit” tickets, while they focus on the more complex tasks (like university e-mail servers bouncing our messages, in a kind of arms race), or specialised tasks that a sub-team deals with (like the members’ database).  I’m part of the team — the face, as you’ll remember — and while I work hard and do my best, now and then I do need a bit of a kick up the rear to remind me not to procrastinate, that I really do need to pester my colleagues for help (or pester users for more information), rather than let things slide due to a lack of confidence.

And confidence is something I need at home as well: if I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I be intimidated and stay in my room until that guy’s gone, or worry about cooking stuff in the oven if he’s around in the evening?  In all probability he’s the one suffering from confidence issues at the moment (truck-driving sounds like a lonely, thankless and unrewarding career), and putting on loud bravado to cover his fear of human contact — so no sense in treating him like I’m afraid to be alone in a room with him, as he’s annoying at times but relatively harmless, and he does still coordinate paying the rent and other bills on our behalf.

(Or, on the other hand, he’s on drugs?)

I hope I’m wrong about work and home being the see-saw of my life, and that both can in fact be good at the same time.  Of course, there’s other aspects to my life, such as my ongoing attempts to find a girlfriend — could it be a triangular see-saw? — but I don’t want one thing to suffer just because the other things are going well: I want it all…

— — —

One way in which I’m trying to improve my confidence is to just “go for it” whenever I’m reluctant to finalise something — like an e-mail to a user, or a post in this blog that I’ve been picking at for far too long.  I just think to myself: “I like to live dangerously”… in reference to this classic Austin Powers scene.  And on that basis, I’m going to stop worrying about typos or word usage (or accuracy, which never bothers me normally), and click “Publish” for this post…

Going up in the world

climbing

Okay, this is the Castle, but it’s the only climbing picture I’ve got, so quit your whinin’!

Even as the world goes to Hell in a handbasket, my life seems to be returning to the relative calm and enjoyment of 2013.  No, I’ve not got another camping holiday in the western USA planned (though my old roommate’s brother wants me to visit Michigan again), but once again I’m getting paid a decent wage and no longer having to worry about making ends meet — and for this reason I’ve been able to go back somewhere I hadn’t been in years…

I’m referring to the Westway leisure centre, a place I hadn’t visited for climbing (aside from one rare evening in 2015) since that horrible night in November 2014.  For those who need reminding, I was recovering from four night shifts in that 24/7 job I was already regretting taking on, and I was so delayed getting to the Westway by the dreadful Circle Line that not only did I have to queue for 15 minutes just to get in (behind two lines of obnoxious beefcakes), but they had no lockers free for me to put my stuff in, and there was no way in the aforementioned Hell that I was gonna leave my bag ON TOP of the lockers, and risk having my stuff nicked!  I knew I couldn’t climb if I was having an anxiety attack, and so went home (fortunately getting a refund on my entry fee) to berate myself for not going to a more familiar place for my evening socialisation.

Fortunately, even though it’s a similarly dark time of year, I had no flashbacks this Tuesday as I travelled there after work (maybe because we weren’t sitting at Edgware Road for ages), and was able to climb without issue… so why hadn’t I been back there more often since that fateful day?  Forget anxiety, it was cost: I was already paying monthly membership at the Castle, and so didn’t feel I could justify an entry fee somewhere else as well while I was living hand-to-mouth in two successive jobs, even when I went permanent in my current role.  It’s only now I’ve had a pay rise that I can bring myself to pay £10 (give or take) to cheat on my usual climbing centre — and since I can now afford to eat out some evenings as well, I can stay in London for events instead of rushing home for dinner and then rushing back out again!

Another positive outcome of my pay rise has been the confidence to buy myself that new monitor I was on about before — or rather, a better one: I have joined the 4k generation, with a whole extra inch on the screen size, and the only problem I’ve faced (aside from finding 3840×2160 wallpaper that isn’t just badly upscaled from 1920×1080) has been convincing Windows 7 to display things at a viewable size, as it was designed back when 4k was a multi-monitor pipe dream.  Windows 10 may perform better at higher resolutions, but I value my privacy too much…

(And yes, I still have every intention of taking the old monitor down to Worthing for my mother to use, instead of selling it… because hey, I’d get twenty quid at most!)

One more sign of improvement is that my boss now trusts me to work from home in an emergency, even if she jokes about forcing me (and the other newest member of the team) to come in at all costs while the rest of them go to a burger joint.  We’ve figured out why I couldn’t remote onto my workplace PC through Citrix (DNS, don’t go there), and so I can do almost everything from right here on my home computer that I would normally need to be in the office to do.  Much of my job involves remoting onto other people’s PCs, or their Citrix sessions, or indeed onto servers for various functions — so, think on this: one day, while working from home, I might remote onto one of the Proxy PRO servers in order to access someone’s home-working laptop, and thus go three deep!

Obviously while working from home, I wouldn’t be able to do physical tasks like replacing printer toner or moving equipment around — but if the Tube strikes were still going ahead next week, no-one else would be in the office to need those services anyway, would they?  No, I’m fully prepared and able to keep the important systems of my workplace running, even if events conspire to stop me physically coming in… oh, wait, my password expired over the weekend, and now I can’t log into Citrix.  Argh!

I just wish spring would hurry up, as only the gradually brightening mornings (and the fact that it’s only twilight when I leave work) signify that we’re coming out of winter.  I haven’t had the usual 1st February five-minute sunlight-on-windows sign this year, presumably due to the cloud, and the weather’s due to get cold again this coming week, as bad as January and far worse than December… how I wish I had a home of my own, where I could sort out the insulation and have the heating on whenever I want — that’s the way in which I want my prospects to improve next!

2017 starts… ambivalently

ss_ffI’ve got good news, after a long period of keeping on keeping on: they’re increasing my pay at work — and not just by a “cost of living” increase, but by a couple of thousand a year, backdated to October!

It seems the recent reappraisal of pay rates at my employer has worked in my favour, and now I’ll be on £26k p.a. instead of less than £23k (with all the same benefits as before — for one thing, they’re paying for my new glasses!).  My boss was in my corner for this process, and naturally I’ll be eternally grateful to her — not just for the added moolah, but also for not firing me last January!

Obviously I’ll wait until I see it in my bank account before I get complacent, but the backdated pay (along with the money I’m owed for my December overtime) will mean I can buy myself a new 1440p monitor, and give (not sell!) my old one to my mother; the overall increase means I’ll no longer feel like I have to space out paying for my personal training sessions, or somehow give it up entirely and exercise on my own initiative (what a ludicrous notion!).  I’ll even be able to save up for a proper holiday, perhaps even outside Europe…

Of course, this leads to a certain compulsion: I feel I must defy the Tube strike on Monday in order to journey to central London for my job, instead of taking the day off.  I wouldn’t say the place would fall apart without me for just a day*, but I reckon anyone who can be there ought to at least try, just to keep things running — especially Citrix, as a lot of people will undoubtedly be working from home!

(* Obviously I know my own worth, but it needs to be said that some staff members are a lot happier when I’m in the building — presumably because I deal with all the little problems, while my teammates work on the bigger projects)

beavis_christmas_carolOn the other hand, I’m still not having any success finding a woman: I’ve just had two dates on consecutive days, and both have been one-offs that have not led to anything more.  As far as I’ve advanced emotionally over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I still feel down when this happens — indeed, even more as the big four-oh approaches in the autumn, and I wonder if I should even bother trying after that point (since I’m so shallow that I won’t ever be happy “settling” for an older woman, except maybe Courtney Cox in Cougar Town).  After all, it’s not just women who face ageism in the dating game… maybe I should use some of my newfound wealth to see my dating coach again, for the first time in three years?

Mind you, my gloom is nothing compared to that of “best mate”, whose car (to which we always refer as a name similar to “Batmobile”) conked out while he was on the M6, driving back after visiting his family in Ireland over Christmas.  He’s in a bad way now, as not only was the journey back to London horrendous (he nearly needed a third tow truck to get his car all the way!), but there’s every possibility he’ll need to buy a new vee-hickle, and while he can afford to do that, it’d cut into the money he’s saving to become a homeowner.

(Maybe I shouldn’t tell him I dreamed last night that we’d been driving up a hill when he’d hit-and-run a pedestrian, and I had to convince him to turn around and go back…)

Even if he does pay for a new car, he still might end up getting his own place sooner than I thought (with family help), which would leave us with the prospect of needing to find TWO new housemates this year, neither for desireable rooms (his is always cold, while the former drummer’s is a box room).  It’d be like late 2011 to early 2012 again, as I might have to find somewhere else entirely to live — and I doubt somewhere even further away from the centre would be cheaper, or even warmer!

And, just to rub salt into the wound, he’s considering Greenford — a miserable dump that I would call “a wide spot on the Central Line” (easily the worst Tube line, except maybe for the Bakerloo) after personally experiencing it in September and October 2014, as you guys may remember ($DEITY knows, I’ve tried to forget!).  Am I going to lose touch with him, like I lost touch with “good housemate” (who I’ve barely spoken to in years)?  At best, will it be like when he lived in Willesden and had to drive over here when we went to the cinema or otherwise hung out?

Remember in 2012 when I posted about “potholes on the road to happiness”?

Never mind 2015 or 2016, this really seems to be the long-awaited rerun of 2012: I’m getting mo’ money at work (albeit this time permanently, instead of for helping to cover maternity leave), but potentially losing a close friend from my household and facing upheaval.  Believe it or not, it happened in 2007 as well: I went up in the world (from Scale 2 to Scale 4 during one of Camden’s endless reorganisations), but it was a bitter consolation after “female best friend” moved out, having never really settled into that pad on Caledonian Road.  At least she stayed local until she went to Sheffield in late 2008… but it was hard to get to see her after that, and of course then she met her future husband, and I felt like there was no place for me in her life any more…

(And worst of all, we never got to watch the second season of Space Battleship Yamato together!)

Am I now discovering a five-year, or even ten-year cycle in my life (major life changes), to go with the four-year (specific events) and three-year (emotional states) cycles I noticed before?  Or am I just down because it’s a dismal, cold January, and that’s getting everyone else down as well?  Will this be “my” year, or is the money just a consolation before I get fired?  Will I go through the worst “girl troubles” of all time, the final end of my futile efforts to get laid, or will I have another chance with an American girl (like the one I never even met face-to-face in mid-2012), and this time actually get it right because of all the confidence (and muscles) I’ve built up?

Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t do these “then and now” attempts to figure out mystical cycles any more, but hey, it gives me something to post about here, doesn’t it…