18 December 2014

Another semester down, a page and a half from now

I have about a page (and a half) to write on a research paper, some cleanup to do on the works cited page, one last look-things-over review, and then I can hand the beast in-- which will end my semester. Considering I should pass the class-- I hope I'll pass the class, although I'm not that worried. I'll have completed all of the assignments and only missed class once all semester. I was still homeless when the semester started, fer cryin' out loud, me being a couple of hours of work away from actually completing a semester is pretty good. I'll be nervous, really nervous, until I see the final grade posted. I very rarely drink anymore, but there's a bottle of good Irish whiskey that's going to surrender a couple of ounces upon seeing a passing grade.

It's been a hard semester. Academically, the coursework has been easy-- reviewing journal articles and writing research papers isn't anything I haven't done before-- but I've also been trying to adjust to Life After Being Homeless for which there is no manual or textbook. I've been doing it on my own, too. My Vet Center person transferred to another city early this fall, and while the Vet Center did call me to start up going back again I've not called them back. A big part of that is just being tired of therapy, and rebuilding, and managing, and being in transition, and most of all being in 'the system'. I really do loathe the idea of having to explain my situation with the PTSD and the problems in school and the homeless thing yet again to someone who needs to be caught up on the story.  What's he or she going to say or suggest that's new? Same goes for the mental health clinic at the hospital-- I've been through all of the therapy. What else are they going to tell me that they haven't already?

I haven't been taking my meds very regularly lately either. I take a handful of pills every day-- pills to improve my mood and even out the PTSD, pills to reduce nightmares, pills to help me sleep, pills to lower my cholesterol and blood sugar. Go ask Alice. The diabetes ones are the worst, and I've thrown up the whole mess plus meals several times lately and otherwise felt generally sick most of the time because of them. I'm also tired of taking pills, and the number of them I have to take in a day seems insane. I went from an occasional aspirin a few years ago to fourteen pills a day now. I also don't take them some days because it bothers me to have other people see me taking pills constantly-- I'm on campus most of the time, and I just don't like to let people know about my business. Diabetes right now looks to me like an indication that over the past two or so years, I've aged more than normal. A lot more. I look in the mirror and I'm not always sure I recognize the face staring back at me. So many things used to be that no longer are.

I've applied for several hackathons in spring 2015 and even been accepted to one already-- MHacks, at the University of Michigan. I'm also on the organizing committee for the inaugural MadHacks at the University of Wisconsin. Hackathons are definitely not something that most people my age are into. I'm without fail the oldest participant at every hackathon I attend, and most of the time people assume I'm with a sponsor or I'm a mentor at the start of the event. After 36 hours of hacking, when I'm standing next to my laptop pitching my hack, more than one other hacker has just laughed and said "Yeah, you're a hacker all right. Damn."

Just in case life hasn't been enough of an adventure so far I'm starting to look for an internship for next year somewhere in California-- Silicon Valley, I am so looking at you right now-- but I have a research paper to finish, first.


01 December 2014

When the little voice inside your head talks...

I'm crazy tired, so this post might not flow together very well.)

I ask myself, "How am I doing?" and usually answer somewhere between "meh" and "damn, I don't feel so hot right now." Life goes on, one day to the next, regardless of how I feel. Some days I'm engaged, some I'm not. Lately I've been seriously slacking on taking all of my medications. I'm staying up all night more often than not, which indirectly means I'm avoiding the world-- it's quiet at night, and I can do things like work in a lab where I won't have face to face human contact until someone comes in for morning office hours. I'm behind in classwork, which is fixable but I'm at that point in the semester where I realize I haven't done enough and now I'm in this insane race to catch up. This of course gets everything triggered and I can't actually get things accomplished for shit. My mind is always occupied, there's a little voice inside my head that's always talking.


My trips to hackathons in California this year (HackTech in Santa Monica, CalHacks in Berkeley, and HackSC in LA) each made a huge impression on me. I really liked being on the west coast, even though it was only for a weekend at a time. Sunshine is a pretty nice thing, and as Wisconsin slides into winter I'm realizing that I really have no love for the snow or the cold, or grey bleak bleh that sets in once there's snow on the ground. There are lot of things to love about Wisconsin, and this will always be where I'm from, but it's really just another place. Take away college, and there's no particular reason for me to be here, while California has this thing called Silicon Valley where people like me get paid to do things like write code to make computers do cool things.

Madison is a good place, but for all the talk of being "progressive" here it's mostly just that-- talk. You think I'm kidding? Headline from Nov 30: Downtown Madison to see new public restroom. A committee is working on where to put the restroom and what it will look like, with a budget of $300,000 and a proposal due by March. The city hopes to break ground on the project sometime next year. IT'S A SHITTER. IT'S NOT THAT FUCKING COMPLICATED.  (Honestly, it's not. Google 'prefabricated public restroom' and you'll find a list of companies that specialize in building them to order, putting them on a truck, and installing them for you.)

There is also the fact that I moved here in 2004, so it's been past ten years that I've lived here. Two of those years I was homeless, five of those I've been busting my ass to get my bachelor's degree. I've had some success here, but there are a lot of memories attached to a lot of places here. I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of my life seeing street corners or doorways or parking structures and recalling that "Hey, that was one of the places I slept one night".

It's deeper than that, though. I have some latitude in where I want my life to go, probably more than I've ever had. I'm on disability, which isn't a lot of income but it's there in my account every month. I could, as my last Vet Center person suggested, consider myself retired. Take classes and complete my degree, yes. Keep attending hackathons and building things, yes. Other than that, chill. Let this be how life is for a while. Lean back, raft on a lazy river style. This is a choice I could make, but it's a finite one, and I don't think the therapists and the counselors quite get it when they suggest this as a good idea for me. Someday, college will end. Either I'll graduate or they'll tell me to just give the fuck up, and since I won't just give the fuck up, graduation is the only option. This, whatever life this is for me right now, has to end. Outside of UW, I don't have a life built in Madison and I don't particularly want one (even if the city actually figures out the public shitter issue). I've been here long enough, probably too long. It's too fucking cold here and I belong somewhere else.


Earlier this summer, I had an informal phone interview with Google. A couple of weeks ago, Apple Inc. contacted me about an internship opportunity. I interviewed for the position, and some of the skills required are skills that I just don't have yet. I'm all right with that. I actually wasn't actively looking for an internship for 2015-- I'm trying to put together a year of stable living, working, and studying so I have something to build on-- but they called me. 

That's what's making it hard right now. It's frustrating, having to rebuild so much just to be able to build. I want to just put this PTSD shit in the past where it belongs, get busy and get graduated and get out of here and have a normal life getting paid to do what I love to do and not freezing my ass off. Am I running from my problems? No-- I'm not-- I'm sticking this out, staying the course, whatever you want to call it. It's just really time to start taking steps forward and I'm feeling frustrated because I can't take them all at once.

06 November 2014

California Dreamin' Part 2 - Flying Solo

Travel by most means for me is pretty routine-- the first time I flew I was too young to remember, and the first time I flew across the country alone I think I was about eight years old. It was on Ozark Airlines and I had to wear a dorky button that identified that I was an unaccompanied minor, and there was Concern about my changing planes on my own in St. Louis, Ozark's hub. I knew even then that airport signs follow the same general rule as road signs, and I knew how to read those, so it was all good. I was far more worried about whether I'd get a plastic set of pilot's wings, a bag of peanuts, a full can of Coke, and what food was being served. Since then I've been across the Atlantic Ocean six times and I've honestly lost track of how many times I've been across the US by air. Flying isn't quite the same as it used to be-- Midwest Express and baked in-flight cookies are a thing of the past, sadly. It's still kinda cool though, and while I usually spend a large part of any flight asleep I always want a window seat so I can take pictures and look around.

There's enough of the eight year old me left that flying places is pretty freakin' cool.

This weekend (as previously mentioned) I'm headed back to LA, specifically to the University of Southern California for HackSC. I'm discussing this hackathon with myself, in the back of my head-- I've more or less hacked solo at the hackathons I've participated in so far. There's nothing technically wrong with working alone on projects at hackathons, but if I'm going to make a living writing software I'm going to be working on teams with other people-- an important statement, certainly, but there's a lot hidden under the surface in that statement.

One of PTSD's biggest symptoms is avoidance. Shit seems like it gets unreal, part of your brain runs into a problem in some algorithm or some API isn't working the way it seems like it should. Your brain looks at the situation and starts making decisions based on the danger that existed in the past-- whatever caused the PTSD in the first place. You can flee or you can fight. Better still, says the brain, you can avoid everything altogether and not have that problem. The brain wants you to avoid potentially bad situations, like being around other people because you can't trust anybody. Raise the shields. Close the gates.

Hack alone. That way, when you run across problems, no one's there to see that you're struggling. No one sees you struggling, you must be okay. You're okay, so you're safe. You're safe, so life is good.

It's time for me to call BULLSHIT. On myself, for doing so much at hackathons and yet doing it all solo.

My current situation is this: I have a disability (PTSD) that limits how much of anything I can handle at a time. Ramp my stress level up to a certain point, and past that point I'm toast. Over the past two years, my ambient stress level has been insanely high because I've been fighting for survival, not just in school but in life in general. People who end up homeless often end up homeless and dead, and no one knows and no one cares. That's a lot to deal with, and being homeless very nearly kicked my ass. It didn't, though, and because I am still here I can make some decisions.

First, stability. Getting my life to a stable point is, and will continue to be, priority one. Rent paid, bills paid, laundry done, food shopped for and cooked, reading and assignments in classes covered, projects and exams passed if not with flying colors, at least with passing grades. I have the option of my life being just that-- keep it simple, work on school slowly, keep going to hackathons, and not really worry about much else. Once things are stable, I have enough income to survive on-- if not like a king, as least in a livable castle. I could stay here in Madison, do my own thing, and let that be my life. Some people (including my most recent Vet Center person), have suggested that it wouldn't be the worst life ever.

This weekend at HackSC, and at every hackathon hereafter, I'm going to try to find someone to form a team, and I we are going to build something. I'm going to sweat, and probably pace, and probably be nervous about it for a while, and there will almost surely be a point where I will be anxious enough to want to scrap the whole fucking thing.

Eight year old me was probably pretty nervous about flying alone that first time. Breaking out of my shell and seeking people to hack with, I'm pretty nervous about that-- but if I'd never gone ahead with flying alone that first time, I might not be flying to LA to hack tomorrow.

01 November 2014

California Dreamin'

Time flies. October went by, as many months do, really really fast. The rent is paid though, as are the other bills, and I'm headed to LA next weekend for HackSC at USC. Someday I expect I'll head west and stay there-- I'm going to finish school, eventually, and get a job. It's beautiful where I am, but there are a lot of memories here. I am increasingly all right with leaving them behind.

The onset of fall/winter in the Great Lakes  is a pretty strong motivating factor, too.

I am slowly getting life put back together. Most of my stuff is still in storage, but I'm working on getting access to a car. Easy way: rent a truck and do it all at once. Harder way: take lots of trips with a Prius.  Moving sucks. Far too many bad memories. So a little at a time might be the better way for now.

I feel better, sometimes. Lots less stress. Slowly beginning to get used to having an apartment without worrying about being evicted tomorrow. The past two years took a pretty heavy toll on me, there's some healing that has to happen.
I still flip off the surveillance cameras whenever I pass Porchlight where I used to live. Passive aggressive? Yeah. Harmless though, and doesn't cause anyone any damage or harm.

Hugely looking forward to HackSC next weekend. I have a secret project in mind, something that as far as I know, no one has tried before. Won't know for sure if it works properly until I build it, but it'll be very cool if it does. Hacking is what makes me tick, and hackathons are the best therapy ever.

It feels strange still to say that I'm doing ok. Not doing great or fantastic, and not high on life just yet. Headed in that direction though. Headed west someday, too. Maybe it's all the same direction.

16 October 2014

What is it with landlords being assholes?

It appears I'm now feuding with my landlord. I know I'm ranting, but fuck this. Apparently I'm supposed to answer the phone no-matter-fucking-what when he calls. News flash, buddy-- I live a 60 hour week. I'm in classes, I have a job. Anything related to housing is just as much a PTSD trigger as hearing "Scud Alert" over a loudspeaker. I lived on the fucking street on and off for two years before I got this apartment, and my biggest fear right now is that I'm going to lose it right before winter arrives. (There's no way in hell I'm going back to Porchlight.)

I generally don't answer my phone if I'm at work or studying. I also don't answer if I don't recognize the number (ie, it's not in my contacts list). It's nothing personal. Leave a voicemail. Send me a text message. Send me an email. Tweet me. Facebook message me. Tell me what you want from me and why you called. Calling me three times in a day, and leaving me three voicemails demanding that I call you right back? What the hell is that? Who does business and treats their customers that way?

From the latest voicemail, this morning: "We don't discuss the kinds of issues using voicemail". What kind of issues? If you can leave me three voicemails in a day telling me how ridiculous you think it is that I'm not answering, and how you feel I'm irresponsible for not calling when you think I should, what issue is there that's too sensitive for voicemail?

This whole rant isn't me. It's not who I am. I can work with dam near anybody as long as there's a middle ground, and there always is. I hate hate HATE feeling like this, which makes me feel even worse. I've been up all night because I'm so triggered over this. 

Back in the day, my Dad lived in an apartment where he was also the on-site manager/maintenance guy. If he had EVER talked to a tenant like my landlord is talking to me, my Dad (and I) would have been looking for a new place to live. 

If I ever talked to a help desk customer and said "I won't tell you what to do to fix your computer unless you call me at a specific time. I won't leave the information on your voicemail, and no WAY am I going to email it to you!" how long would I be employed? As many seconds as it would take for the boss to tell me to GTFO.

It would be all right if my landlord and I were on friendly terms. I'd like that, but I don't expect it. I really don't need this shit right now, or ever. I pay you money. You let me live in this apartment. If I don't pay you on time or I don't pay you enough, then yes you can ask me where your money is and when you can expect to get it. If I'm doing something stupid like growing pot plants in my apartment (for the record, I am not) that violates my lease, yes you can be upset.

That doesn't relieve you as a landlord of being respectful towards the people who make your nice life possible. 

I can't just go on to the next place to live though. I'm trying to stabilize my life, which has been for the most part pretty chaotic the past couple of years. No one else would rent to me two months ago, and no one else will rent to me now. So I'm stuck.

That doesn't mean I'm going to settle for being disrespected.