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27 November 2016

Road Trip

I'm back (actually, have been back since Wednesday night) from a trip to Wisconsin.  I've been living out of my backpack since late August, with most of that time being spent in Florida and Georgia. Seeing as it's almost December, and now that I'm far enough north again that winter actually means colder air, it was time to head north to get some warmer (and the rest of my) clothes. I also needed some computer related stuff-- extra monitors, my backup laptop, network gear, etc to set up some things. I can do a lot with just a laptop, but at a certain point it becomes more work than making do is worth. Finally, I needed to get a title and registration and plates for my new truck, and since I don't know if I'm staying in Georgia I decided to do all of that in Wisconsin where I technically still live.

So, 940 miles up, 15 minutes at the DMV (which is pretty impressive) to get my new title and registration and plates, 30 minutes at Wal-Mart getting a license plate holder and some tie wraps to secure my new front plate to the grille of my truck and replace the plate on the back. A night's sleep in one of the motels down the street from my first ever apartment in Madison, then up at zero dark early and back on the road again, southbound.  Another 940 miles and a whole lot of coffee later, back to Georgia.

I didn't tell anyone I was going to be in town, and in fact didn't even go anywhere near downtown (where I used to live) or campus (where I used to work). I had enough reasons for leaving that I had no reason to want to go back to visit, which felt really strange. Going back to Wisconsin after I'd moved away the first time was always going home, in the Motley Crue "Home Sweet Home" sense. Now, Wisconsin is still where I'm from but it's just another place. I didn't really want to be there, but that's where my stuff was/is.

I wasn't sure, given the age of my truck (it's old enough to vote), if I'd even make it all the way up to Wisconsin and back without some kind of problems. It was involved in a front end collision at some point in the past, and so I had to J-B Weld the front grille back together and reattach it with the aid of a handful of tie wraps. The GA license plate was outwardly valid until January 2017, but if the plate number had been run I'd have been in trouble because it belonged to the previous owner who had canceled it a few months ago.  So I had some concerns, which faded away as the miles did. My truck and I are now inseparable friends.

There are still a couple of decals on the back of the truck from the previous owner-- a logo from an NFL team that isn't the Packers, so that has to go, and a university sticker from some college that I didn't attend so that has to go too. In the past, I'd already have a Packers decal on the back from the trip to Wisconsin. I've been hesitant to put one on.

Wisconsin (and probably other places, too) is really two places-- there's Wisconsin proper, which is the real Wisconsin when you live in the state. Then there's the other one, the Wisconsin that you choose to see when you live somewhere else. This other Wisconsin is cheese, brats, beer, the Packers, the Badgers, and whatever else you miss about the state. It's the image you keep in your mind, and it's the image you project when you're somewhere else. It's a lot like the scene in a snow globe, always there and always the same.

In the military everyone is from somewhere, and where you are from matters because it helps give you an identity when everything else is green and two-tone brown. I was (I am) Opus from Wisconsin. You can always go back home, and in fact you always have a list in your mind of all the things you'll do when you get there. Someday you'll be a civilian again and return 'home' a much better person than the crazy or frightened or broke (or all of the above) kid who ran off and joined the Air Force all those years ago.

That my truck has Wisconsin plates might imply that I'm not from Georgia, if anyone's really paying attention. Where I am in Georgia is certainly "the country", although it's close enough that I just say "Atlanta" unless I'm talking to someone that's familiar with north Georgia. I don't think anyone's paying that much attention when I drive down the road I presently live on, or down the highways that connect places here. Maybe, if someone's really bored, they'll see my plates and just for a moment think "huh, he's a long way from home". If they're really bored, or as hyper vigilant as I usually am, they'll wonder what someone from Wisconsin is doing stopping for snacks at a country store in BFE Georgia on Sunday night.  As an issue, it's never really come up. If anything, my accent gives me away when I talk much more than the plates on my truck.

There are a lot of good things about being from Wisconsin. I'm still hesitant to advertise it. It's hard because the past seventeen years (!) I spent in the state weren't all the easiest. A lot of really bad shit happened to me in the state, and while logistically it's easier for me right now to still be a resident I'm not so sure I want to be proud of the state where I was a homeless veteran. That "other Wisconsin", the one in the snow globe, is just a mirage now. As much as I'd like to see that state when I look at a Green Bay Packers sticker on the back of my truck, it's just not real.

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That I was able to make such a trip at all was because I have a truck now, which means a lot. I haven't had a vehicle of my own since 2012 (!), and while I didn't really need one in Madison I do need one to get anywhere here. It matters that I was able to pay cash for my truck, that I own it and don't have a payment to make every month-- I'm not beholden to anyone. It's a Truck, meaning there's room in it to Haul Shit. Having a Truck and being able to Haul Shit helps bring a certain sense of normalcy to my life that I haven't had for quite a while.


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Some of the stuff I brought down from my storage unit was stuff I haven't seen since I packed it up in the summer of 2012, when I was being evicted from my apartment in Madison. So it matters a lot too, to have those things again.

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I've been back and forth about including this last section; but in terms of sorting out where I'm at vs where I'm from, it matters.

Up until the election, I kept an eye on Facebook just to see what people in Wisconsin that I knew were doing. It was, perhaps, a virtual link to that "other Wisconsin". A lot of people that I know that are either from Wisconsin, or attended UW (or both) said a lot of shit when Trump was elected. To even imply an ounce of support for Trump (or an ounce of non-support for Clinton) is enough to be called a racist or a bigot or worse. 

There's not much else to say about the election that hasn't been said by someone already, so I'll just say this: I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone a few days after the election. I haven't missed it. It doesn't help my PTSD to see people standing around a fire taking turns throwing Molotov cocktails into the flames. So I walked away, even from that link to the "other Wisconsin" (which is a mirage anyway, but it'd be nice if it existed).

Avoidance? Certainly. Justified? I believe so. I'm not going to go (more) crazy just because other people do.

07 November 2016

Noise, freedom, wheels

There is gunfire here, and...

I know, weird opening, but there was a scene in last night's The Walking Dead that looked exactly like the road outside my window. TWD is filmed in Georgia, so that's not really a surprise. Somewhere close lives someone who has zombie problems, has varmint problems, has a practice range, or all of the above-- I'm not well versed enough to identify a rifle shot only by its sound but I am convinced that whoever is pulling the trigger is armed to the teeth. Which is okay. It's not stupid noise, not random. It's hard to quantify, but I just have the sense that the gunfire I hear, here, has purpose. I certainly notice it, and my brain and nervous system and heartbeat all react to it. Somehow it doesn't feel like an immediate threat. Then again I don't go wandering far from the house on foot, even though there's enough land associated with the house to provide a sizable buffer zone, so perhaps there is some PTSD related caution going on.

I'm out in the sticks, obviously, on the far far (far) edge of what's loosely defined as "near Atlanta". Depending on where I'm going, and of course traffic, Atlanta proper is about 30-45 minutes away. Until this past weekend, I hadn't been "in Atlanta" since the last time I drove from Wisconsin to my sister's place in Florida. This past weekend I took her to an event near ATL, and then went to a hamfest in Lawrenceville GA-- the details aren't important. What does matter is that I spent the better part of Sunday driving in, through, and around Atlanta (for those of you keeping score, lots of I-75, I-85, and I-285) and it was pretty cool.

Okay, it was Sunday morning/afternoon, not Friday afternoon at 1630. Give me some credit anyway. I haven't spent all that much time in Atlanta traffic, but I've spent plenty of time in Chicago traffic (including in winter). More than once on Sunday, as I had to hit the brakes because traffic, I concluded that the likelihood of snow or ice falling from the sky made Atlanta still pretty nice to drive around in.

This brings up a bigger question-- actually several questions-- about where I'm going from here, where I want to be, etc.

With (a lot of) help from Google Maps I'm doing a decent job of getting around. Whereas Madison WI was pretty much a grid, and the scope of my travels every day stayed within a couple of square miles (I lived downtown, near campus), there's no grid here. Roads here are highways that go from point A (a given town) to point B (another given town). There is stuff in between, mostly located where roads from this town to that town intersect. Out of bread? It's a 20 minute drive to go get more. Ugh.

It's funny, though. I look back at Madison, and the walk to and from campus for work and class-- it (I) was miserable. It was a 1.2 mile walk mostly on a bike path, which meant I didn't need a car or the associated expenses. Traffic didn't ever really matter. Parking never mattered. The walking itself was exercise and that was of course good, but the walk-- the trip-- often was a nightmare. Every day, at some point walking towards campus, I'd come close to being hit by a car or truck or bus. I'd get honked at. People walking the opposite way wouldn't move an inch. People outside places smoking or whatever they were doing would stand pat and not move. Bikes-- technically, people on bikes-- would yell at me as they passed to "get the fuck out of the way" as if walking on a bike path was somehow illegal or immoral or both. Walking home I'd encounter the drunks, UW students, who were drunk enough to have courage. They'd say things. They'd wobble into my path, I'd push them away, and they'd think they wanted to fight.

I actually liked living in the city, liked being close to campus, because I never had to go far for anything. Groceries? Hardware store? Three blocks. Every kind of restaurant imaginable, within a mile's walk. Any kind of food delivered, almost any time of day with several really good places open until 0300. With that, though, came the constant stream of people walking past my apartment at any given hour of the day or night. Scream at your friends two blocks away on your way home from the bar? Yell at your who the fuck ever into your cellphone while standing in my apartment building's parking lot at 4am? Shoot fireworks from your porch outside my window? All acceptable, apparently. Downtown Madison was a noisy place, and people downtown and around campus didn't care about the noise. America's Greatest College Sports Town. Top Party School. Whatever-- I was in full on PTSD triggered mode much of the time.

Okay, maybe I didn't like living in the city so much after all.

So now I'm in a house with one two three four five bedrooms that's at minimum 20 minutes from anywhere. My sister lives here now; she's in the basement, and I have two rooms on the second floor. The room I'm sitting in now has a desk, so that's where the laptop and such live. It's almost as big by itself as my last apartment, and if you include the walk-in closet and the rather large bathroom it's bigger. When family-member-who-owns-the-house is here he has the large bedroom one door over that's about as big as three of my last apartments. When he's not, which is most of the year, that room is mine too. This is significant because it's stable, it's really nice, it's cheap, and because I can stay upstairs and keep to myself and have privacy and quiet. My sister is two floors away so I don't hear any noise she makes. Except for the occasional unexpected sound of firearms outside, and the occasional car that goes by, it's really quiet here (inside and out).

That "here" is out so far in the sticks means it's easy for me, or at least the part of me that's a city kid, to go a little stir crazy. I was going a little bit stir crazy in Madison too, because while I was out and going somewhere every day my life was in practice limited to the same area of the same city a large majority of the time. I like going places, exploring, discovering. I like being able to just go-- to just go somewhere, or nowhere, or anywhere other than here.

To do that, I need a vehicle. So I bought one.

It turned out that family here had a truck that wasn't being used, but that has a lot of miles and needs some body work. I'm not that much of a gearhead, but I can turn a wrench to tighten a bolt and epoxy a cracked thing as long as I have someone to call for advice (and sometimes rescue). The price was less than I expected, which helped, and in the absence of full time employment I need a project. Also at some point I have to make a trip back to Wisconsin to get some stuff-- clothes, but also a few other things. A truck means I can haul shit (and stuff) on my own instead of having to fly back and rent a U-Haul to get stuff here that's currently in Wisconsin-- for less money, and I have my own truck.

I've essentially been living out of my backpack (really nice house notwithstanding) since I moved out of my apartment in mid-August. This isn't a bad thing per se, but it imposes certain limitations on how much in terms of clothing and computing resources I can carry with me. I'm clothed but I have to do laundry every couple of days. I can do a lot of work with just my laptop, but the work related training I'm doing on my own could really be easier with some of the stuff I have sitting in storage.

At some point, I'm going to need something warmer to wear than just a hoodie, too. Even in Georgia.

I can't say for certain that I'm staying in Georgia. I can't say for certain that I'm leaving either-- I have no plans right now to go anywhere else. To me, right now, this place is as good as any other. I am from Wisconsin, and that won't change, but in light of everything that happened there I don't see a specific need to be there. The other side of the double edged sword that is freedom is that while every place has its charm, I'm not attached to anywhere. This place-- here--  is just another place.

That is perhaps why, when I hear the sound of someone outside shooting at whatever they're shooting at, it doesn't bother me all that much. Compared to where I most recently came from, the occasional sound of gunfire isn't that bad. That I now have a vehicle and at least freedom of both movement and stuff carrying ability is also a positive.

The question of school-- college or otherwise-- is still open. I am educating myself right now/again, studying (generally) information security and (specifically) how people exploit flaws in software for fun and profit. As I'm learning new things security related I'm going back to the hackathon projects I've worked on over the past few years, auditing my own work. It's admittedly ugly sometimes. I look at the code that I wrote, that's my fault, and I cringe for a minute before remembering that everything I wrote at (or after) every hackathon was something new that I learned. That I'm able to critically evaluate and penetration test code now that I wrote a couple of years ago says that my effort wasn't wasted.

I actually have a lot to say about PTSD and information security-- there are both parallels and intersections to explore. It'll have to wait, because my new truck has a really nice stereo and I'm really feeling driving around Georgia with the windows down and that stereo on for a few miles first.

12 October 2016

Georgia

I have landed (or come to a stop, if you prefer) in rural Georgia.

The simple answer to the question why is that I have a place to crash here, a house that belongs to a family member who spends about 50 weeks a year somewhere other than here. The house isn't empty of furniture and there are several cans of black beans in the pantry, and dishes and pots and pans and so on. It has been empty of people for a while now, and so when I arrived a day or so ago the house contained a lot of cobwebs that I've since cleared out.

The family member I've been helping move is here too-- she's going to be staying here for an undetermined amount of time. It took September to get all of her stuff sorted and packed into a 20-foot U-Haul. Packing a truck with random household goods is a lot like playing Tetris, except that the blocks are boxes and bins that are different sizes and weights. The additional challenge is that she hasn't moved for a few decades, which makes deciding what stays and what goes a few orders of magnitude harder. There are things that are in the house somewhere that need to be located. These things are never where they are expected to be. I've been through this before, and it's not fun moving when you've been settled somewhere for a while.


I have become accustomed to moving. I hate it, but I've moved enough in the past few years that I at least know what needs to be done and can come up with a plan eventually. It took me a lot-- in time, money, and effort-- to get things in order so I could get moved out of my last apartment. That experience helped here, but ultimately it wasn't my decision what stayed and what didn't because it wasn't my stuff. I've been through the process of saying "fuck it" and leaving a house full of belongings behind that were once important, and starting over. So while I was ready to cut bait and leave, my dear family member was not.

There's no anger here from me. You don't know, can't understand, someone's situation or why they do the things the way they do if you haven't been through it yourself. I've been through enough of the same kind of situation to understand, mostly, but I'm at the point where I can grab my backpack and haul ass and figure it out from there. Not everyone is at that point.

I'm repeating myself, I know. I've been in enough places now where people who said they were on my side and claimed they were helping didn't want to understand where I was or how I was feeling. There's help, real help, where you do something that can or might or will make someone's life better than it is. You don't always get to decide what the "something" is that accomplishes that when it's not your life.

My mission was to help a family member get moved from one state to another, and helping for this mission meant helping pack, load the truck, drive the truck, and get it unloaded at the destination. That there was a hurricane in the Atlantic complicated things. When to leave (vs "when everything is loaded") changes. My deciding factor in leaving came when Hurricane Matthew started meandering through the Caribbean, bumping rather quickly from Category 3 to Category 4.

My first experience with tropical weather was landing at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS after boot camp at Lackland AFB. Coincidentally this was around the same time as Tropical Storm Florence had arrived and so my new squadron's new people inprocessing area was under water. Not long after that, Hurricane Gilbert threatened Biloxi (and Keesler AFB) and so in addition to filling a lot of sand bags I also got to spend a night in a shelter.

My second encounter with a hurricane was Hurricane Hugo, a category 5 storm that stomped on South Carolina in 1989 just before I arrived back in the states from Turkey on leave. I wasn't there for the storm, but I did see all of the aftermath. It wasn't pretty, and it made a lasting impression: hurricanes can really mess a place up so don't ever take one lightly.

In an operations sense, the next hurricane I had a connection to was Hurricane Katrina, which was another category 5 storm that stomped on New Orleans LA (as well as Biloxi MS, Keesler AFB, and the rest of the neighborhood). At the time Katrina happened, I was active in things like the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). I didn't actively participate in Katrina relief efforts, but as a ham I had the tools to monitor what was going on very closely.

The one thing I'd always heard from people in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi went something like "if we ever get another Camille through here, we're fucked" (Camille having visited the area as a category 5 storm and leveling most things in its path in 1969). Katrina was just that "another Camille". Many people were unprepared for a storm as strong as Katrina. Many more thought it would just go somewhere else. Very few people though that the worst possible outcome would happen.
Now that things are settled down a little and I have a desk to sit at and a coffee maker to make coffee
The people who didn't think the worst could happen found out they were wrong in a really bad way. There are still people who haven't returned to where they lived before Katrina. I monitored a lot of emergency radio messages that came from within the area affected by Katrina, and it was frightening and heartbreaking. Between that experience and my experience seeing what Hugo had done, I developed a sense of both awe and respect for hurricanes. You can't beat them. They are simply too powerful.

There are also a lot of people in Florida that say similar things about hurricanes, things like "it won't hit here, because they always go by or aren't anything" and "it's been n years since we've had a major hurricane here so this one won't affect us either." These are statements of faith-- blind faith. It's true that you can't often afford to react with full on battle readiness to every storm, and it's true that forecasters are often wrong. I found myself in Florida watching Matthew develop and saying "we need to go, we need to finish, we need to geNow that things are settled down a little and I have a desk to sit at and a coffee maker to make coffeet out of here" for days, always receiving the response "don't worry about it, it's nothing, it won't do anything". It turned out that Fort Lauderdale didn't get much from Matthew, but a lot of other places in Florida did. And it could have been far worse, had Matthew turned just a little more west and run right up the coast instead of staying offshore. Saying a hurricane won't get to you because none have before is like saying "none of the scud missiles so far have hit me, the next one won't either."

It is true that not every street or restaurant is dangerous. Danger does not, in fact, lurk around every corner. That being said, every gun is always loaded. In order to not shoot yourself, the safe and wise thing to do is assume that every gun, no matter what, is always loaded. That keeps you from doing stupid shit with guns, or at least it should.

Every missile is going to land on you. Every hurricane that's pointed towards you is going to make landfall where you live. Missiles and hurricanes are a lot like guns. Always loaded.

I did all I could to get the truck fully loaded, and then I left in the middle of the night without the family I was there to move. The message boards above the highway on I-95 North exclaimed "HURRICANE WARNING", ominously speaking to no one. Everyone, family included, had decided for themselves that Matthew wasn't going to be a problem. Me, I was in a loaded U-Haul doing 75, gas tank full, coffee cup full, headed for the Florida Turnpike (and ultimately,
Georgia), alone. Missiles and hurricanes are a lot like guns. Always loaded

At a certain point, the first rule of first aid applied: in trying to help someone else, don't put yourself in a position of danger. Playing chicken with a category 4 hurricane (or any hurricane) met that criteria.

The drive? More or less uneventful. I've made the trip driving from Wisconsin to Florida and back before, and so I know that there's nothing to see from the Florida Turnpike. I stopped at a couple of the service plazas to eat and rest, and check in with the family that I thought would be following closer behind than they turned out to be following. I sent updates: the food service places at the service plazas are closing, fuel isn't rationed but they're not staying open all night like they normally do. Continuing north on I-75 all of the rest areas were filled with hurricane evacuees from farther north in Florida into Georgia, so I kept going until traffic got terrible and I let Google Maps find me another way here. I've lived in my car for weeks at a time, I can handle being in a truck for a day or two (although I don't like sleeping in the car/truck, because it reminds me of being homeless).Now that things are settled down a little and I have a desk to sit at and a coffee maker to make coffee

I made it here safe. So did family, although a day or so later. Mission accomplished.

The lesson in all of this is that a lot of the things that make PTSD a bad thing-- hyper awareness, avoidance, etc. -- can sometimes be assets in civilian life just as they were on the battlefield. One of the things in therapy that I heard over and over again was that the world isn't as dangerous as PTSD wants us to believe. Okay, so maybe the crowded and loud restaurant where we ate dinner last night wasn't a dangerous place (although it was triggering), but there are times when being in battle mode is exactly what you need to keep yourself safe. Fear of hurricanes didn't keep me from volunteering to go to south Florida to help my sister move, but I damn sure kept an eye on the weather and knew when Matthew began to look like a threat. When Matthew was a threat I took action on my own to make sure I was safe and in doing so protected an entire truckload of my sister's stuff. (If Matthew had leveled her house, at least she'd have all of her stuff safe and dry.)

It is sort of strange being where I am now, in someone else's house that feels like everything here (including the house itself) is here just in case. If all else fails they always have this place to come back to.

I'm finding myself thinking about maybe I should have a place like this, some small house out in the middle of nowhere that I can drive to any time of day or night, to find the power on and non-perishable food in the pantry and a few cases of bottled water in the closet. A car in the garage, gassed up and on a battery charger. Clothes. Tools. A generator. Internet. The extra expenses every month would be worth the peace of mind know it's there.

There is always the question of what's next; the answer to that is the same as it's been for a while now, I don't know. It's quiet here, out in the country, which at this point is pretty nice. I have a vehicle to drive, even if it is borrowed. I have a desk to sit at and work. I have a coffee maker and coffee. I have internet, although it's just me tethering to my phone. I'm setting up a work schedule, trying to get into some sort of routine, where I can work on the training I have available and get some resumes out.

More to come.

14 September 2016

Unwritten endings

I'm in Florida now, helping my sister get packed up and moved to Georgia. Moving, especially after being in one place for long enough to accumulate a lot of memories (some good, some not) is something I have some experience with. Driving a 20' rental truck is also something I have experience with, as once you've driven things like military trucks and school buses commanding a U-Haul is reasonably easy. Helping someone else move also means that I have a place to stay and something useful to do for a while.

The initial plan was to leave Florida early this week, and be in Georgia at the very latest by Thursday. We're behind schedule. The new plan is that my sister will continue to pack up stuff over the weekend and then we'll leave Florida on Monday, after I'm back from Hack the North at the University of Waterloo, ON.

The other part of the initial plan was that I'd fly from Atlanta to Chicago to get on the flight I already had booked from Chicago to Toronto for Hack the North. Now the plan is that tomorrow I'll fly from Ft. Lauderdale FL to Atlanta, then resume from there. I'm going to be spending a lot of time on airplanes and a lot of time in airports over the next week. This is not a bad thing, because I actually like airports and because I'll have some quality time to read and think.

There's a lot I have/want to read, and a lot I need to think about.

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I sent a good-bye email to one of the non-production-related work mailing lists on my last day at work at Wisconsin. Doing so is an unwritten tradition, one where people say thank you and good bye and invite soon-to-be-former coworkers to connect on LinkedIn if they haven't already. Some people skip the email; I figured after seven years, I needed to say something about something, so I did.

While I'd been thinking for a long time about what I wanted to say, versus what I could and/or should say, I never really considered what would happen after sending it. I've also been relatively lazy about adding each semester's new student employees on Facebook. As a result I didn't know what to expect-- a bunch of new Facebook friends, a bunch of new Twitter followers, lots of people added to my LinkedIn network? Turns out a couple of people who I wasn't friends with on Facebook added me. One person sent a short note, a couple of weeks later, saying thanks.

Then I got an email in reply to my good-bye email late last week, nearly a month after I'd left and nearly six weeks after I'd given notice that I was leaving-- from my boss's boss. My team lead, the same person who had given no indication of caring or planning to do anything about the problems with my ADA accommodations, never said a word. His boss at least acknowledged that I'd given notice. That's the person who emailed last week to wish me well wherever I was headed next.

There has been nothing from the software development team I was a part of, no questions, no concerns, no "um, how did you want us to deploy this monster?", just robo-notifications from Trello that I'd been removed from the board that we used to track our projects.

It was honestly a little weird to receive a "good luck!" email nearly a month after my last day there. Maybe artificial is a better description.  It was pretty clear to me that no one was really concerned about me leaving, so why send such an email after that much time?

Honestly? I don't care.
 
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I envisioned that one day I'd post a picture of myself here, in a cardinal red cap and gown, smiling, holding the cardinal red diploma holder I'd just received after walking across the stage at the Kohl Center during a UW graduation ceremony. That post would be the last I'd make to this blog, and it would serve as notice that I'd made it. Maybe it would inspire others with PTSD, especially other veterans, to pursue advanced education knowing that someone had done so successfully.

There will be no such post, no such photo.

In the end, I learned a great deal about programming, and human-computer interaction, and computer science in general at the University of Wisconsin. I will note that the majority of that learning occurred because I did research on my own. I read page after page of blogs and tutorials and books and reference manuals. I participated in as many hackathons as I could, went to as many tech talks and lectures as I could, built and maintained as many of my own personal projects as I could. I helped create and build a hackathon, and helped two other schools start their own hackathons.

In the end, it is me-- my actions, my determination-- that got me through PTSD messing up my life, putting me out of school and being on and off of the street. I kept working and kept learning and kept going even when the music stopped and there was no reason left to dance. 

Hackers gonna hack.


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Epilogue

I'm in classes this semester again, Fall 2016, at the same community college where I finished an associate's degree before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. Both of my classes are online, so I'll be making arrangements to physically take the exams somewhere else. I don't know, actually, where I'm going to be living after next week when I've finished moving my sister to Georgia. I have a couple of options, so I won't be homeless. None of the options include a return to Wisconsin beyond going back to pick up my belongings from my storage unit in Madison and pointing the loaded U-Haul towards somewhere else. I don't even plan to stay overnight in Wisconsin.  

I've taken being in (and at) Wisconsin as far as I was able. 

When I first started writing, posting my thoughts about PTSD and college, it was because I couldn't find much to read on the subject. There's still not a lot out there, but now there's at least a little more. I still don't claim to be an expert on this stuff, just someone who's spent several years living through it. Writing has given me a voice that I didn't otherwise have. 

Although I've been admittedly terrible about replying to feedback from you, the people who read what I write, I have read every word you've written in comments and tweets and emails. I know that some of you have cited my writing, and used my answers to your questions, in scholarly research. I am humbled and honored that my words were worth being added to The Literature. 

It's been and will continue to be a source of strength for me that I am not alone, that there are others out there that experience the same frustrations that I experience. I hope that you who read this will know that you too are not alone.

I don't know if I will continue working towards a degree again at a different college after this semester. It's not easy being old in tech. I'm proud of the gray in my beard; after all, I've earned it. Even so, college in the traditional sense may not be the best next step for me. Work in the traditional sense-- getting an internship, getting hired at some hip startup in The Valley-- may not be the best next step either. My experiences at Wisconsin, both academically and professionally with regards to having a disability and the Americans with Disabilities Act (and accommodations) give me pause. Maybe I'm better as a consultant. Maybe I'm better starting up my own tech shop with my own rules.

I don't know what's next, and so I don't know what's next for this blog. There's not much to say about PTSD and college this semester that I haven't already said. If there's nothing past that, well...

I have considered both continuing to write, maybe changing the title to "PTSD and ...", and perhaps starting something new and different. I haven't decided either way.

For right now, then, I'll just leave the ending unwritten. 

21 August 2016

I'm on the move (again) (still)

Left my help desk/software dev position on the 12th, just shy of seven years there. Someone got me a card and had a few people sign it, which was really nice. I was able to say goodbye to a few of the people I'd worked with (and particularly enjoyed working with). Other than that, my second to last night (the 11th) was my last working on software there, and still nothing about anything I'd been working on (and fighting over disability accommodations to work on).

So that story is over.

I'd had nearly all of my stuff moved out of my apartment a couple of weeks before, but I got the rest out and got checked out/turned in the keys on the 15th so I wouldn't have to deal with the stupidity that is moving day in Madison. Checkout was done by 1030, and after a trip to the laundromat (which is deserted on moving day) I got on a bus to Mom's house.

So that story is over, too.

Mom is retired, and lives in the woods in northern Wisconsin where the internet reaches, but you occasionally have to look for it. My phone says it's connected to 4G, but fast it ain't.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop where they don't take credit cards for purchases under $5.00 (wtf?) and you need to ask for a password for the wifi-- which really isn't that big an issue, it's just that after being around a university where few people use cash ever and even the gas stations have free open wifi, it just seems silly. (Honestly it's been sort of nice not being connected all of the time, but only to a point.)

Life here (Mom's place) is a lot different from mine-- it's almost as if there's an unwritten rule that "we're retired so we have to to retired people things". She lives on a lake and has a boat but doesn't fish (or in fact ever use the boat), lives in the woods but doesn't do outdoors things. Keeping up appearances. Look at how good things are here. If you've ever read Gaiman's American Gods some of the small towns here bear some resemblance to Lakeside. I feel a bit like Shadow, laying low and out of sight. (It's a good town.) *sigh*

Sitting on the pier that sticks out into the lake, it feels odd. Here's all of this nature-- national forest, a lake that only has a few houses on it, fish, berries, etc-- and a huge house and a barn where everyone stays inside and watches TV and ignores that there's all these good things right outside. It seems like such a waste of resources. I'm reminded of that public service ad from the 1970's, where the native American guy sheds a tear at what "modern" civilization has done to the land and water. It's not that it's polluted here-- it's just ignored, which is perhaps worse. Nature gives you all of this, you work for most of your life to be able to move here, and then you spend most of your time in a bingo hall.

Case in point, I'm sitting in a coffee shop a few miles away because there's nothing to do but watch TV at the house that's on the lake. 

There's been some discussion of when I'm leaving-- consensus is on the bus tomorrow morning. It's one of those "well you could stay longer if you wanted to" things where it's implied that you won't. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mom. Right now I'm a drifting hacker/veteran/student who isn't due in class until October, and she's got a schedule of things that doesn't involve worrying about me. Historically I haven't gotten along well with the yayhoo she married after my Dad, and while we've reached some sort of detente over the years it's a peace that can wear thin if pushed too far. So leaving tomorrow is probably pretty reasonable.

It's beautiful up here, but I like it best when I'm alone in the middle of the national forest, camping and hiking and being bitten by bugs as opposed to sitting in a coffee shop. So I'm ready to get on the road again.

-----

What's next? Still working on it. I've applied for a few new gigs. My experience asking for, fighting for, and dealing with ADA accommodations at UW-Madison really changed my outlook on things. It's really important that I find a job slinging code, but it's also really important that I find the right job (and employer).

After leaving here I'm headed back to Madison to transfer buses then to Milwaukee for an undetermined number of days. I've been basically on vacation since the 15th, so I'll need to start keeping known-only-to-me office hours again and finish getting some things organized. September is going to be busy, and then classes start up again for me in late October.

Not sure of the exact date yet (first week of September sometime) but heading to Florida to help my sister move in a week or so. She has an entire house of stuff so a truck plus towing a car; I get to help load the truck, but that means I also get to help drive the truck-- across Florida, the long way, and likely through Atlanta. Which also means we'll have lots of time to talk about lots of things (I haven't actually seen her for quite some time).

After that it's back north to Chicago, to get on a plane to Hack the North at the University of Waterloo-- then back to Chicago to get on a bus to Madison again. I'll finally get all of my stuff out of storage and into a UHaul (meaning it will rain whatever day that is), and from there I'll be in the mid-Midwest where I'll have a temporary roof over my head (and a place to unpack my stuff and figure out what I'm throwing away) while I look for a new job, new school, and more or less permanent new home.





Ultimately, stability is something that's still a work in progress, but that's okay right now. I've seen enough people lately that have everything laid out-- this is what will happen now, this is what will happen tomorrow, this is the way things will be twenty years from now. That's not how nature works, and that's especially not now PTSD works. Change is constant. What works today likely won't work tomorrow. It's taken me a long time to realize (and learn) that.