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20 June 2016

Building.

I found something out today that I really wish I'd known in 2013 and 2014. I returned to Wisconsin in Spring 2014, which would turn out to the the semester I'd be evicted from transitional housing right before finals. When I was readmitted, I was automatically on academic probation since the last time I'd attended I was booted for not maintaining GPA. The Wisconsin GI Bill (from the state, not the federal one from the VA) had been changed so that effective January 1 2014, if you didn't have a 2.0 or better you were ineligible for tuition remission. Instead of not having to pay tuition, you had to come up with other financial aid options or your own money.

I didn't know about the details of change. I'd assumed that I'd get the normal tuition remission that had gotten me through school so far. The veteran students coordinator (or whatever his title is), via my useless person at the Vet Center, had told me that since I'd failed my classes that semester the Wisconsin GI Bill wouldn't cover my tuition-- because of the change in the law that required attaining a minimum 2.0. What I didn't know then that I know now was that even if I'd aced all of my classes in spring 2014, I would still have been on the hook for paying for classes on my own that semester.

No one mentioned that part. Not the CVSO, not the financial aid office, not the campus veterans coordinator. Certainly not any of the social work people from Porchlight-- they were convinced I was getting a huge wad of cash for college that I was hiding, and they didn't know shit about paying for or dealing with college anyway.

None of this changes anything. I'd still be leaving this summer without a bachelor's degree. Perhaps the best description is that it's one piece to a puzzle. I trusted a lot of different people in 2013 and 2014 that I now often wish I hadn't-- people that said they were on my side, that said they supported what I was doing in going back to school, people that said they would help me get back on my feet and pointed in the right direction.

Maybe if I hadn't trusted these people, maybe if I'd done things a different way, maybe if I'd have left then things would somehow be better now. It's a useless question to ask. I was homeless. What the fuck else was I supposed to do?

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I come from what is essentially a broken home. I was an abused kid, and my parents cheated on each other long before they finally divorced. From middle school forward I had two homes. During the week I was at my Mom's house, which I hated, and on the weekends I was at my Dad's house, which was where my computer also lived. I never had "home", I just had "where I was at any given time".

Since then, a lot of things I've done have been concerned with trying to build some sort of stability and purpose into my life. Going to college the first time. Joining the Air Force. Getting married. Leaving the Air Force. Going back to college again. Moving back to Wisconsin again, getting divorced, and eventually going back to college again. Learning about PTSD and depression and social anxiety. Getting into therapy and on meds. Getting out of therapy and off meds. Good moments, times when I thought I had it figured out. Bad times, when I didn't know if I was going to be alive to see next week.

Much energy has gone into trying to get from where I am, to someplace better. Some of the time, that energy has been in the form of running from someplace bad to just someplace else (which hopefully turns out to be better, too).

There's a voice (there are several at any given time) in the back of my head that asks, every day, if the idea of packing up a suitcase and moving to California where a) I don't have a job, b) I don't have a place to live, and c) I don't really know anyone is a good idea. I've asked myself this same question over and over again, every day, for over a year. The answer is always the same-- it's either that or stay here, and here doesn't offer much promise.

It's true that I have a job, and a place to live, and I know a few people here.

Work is all right, if you take away the difficulty I've had with ADA accommodations-- the work I'm doing is interesting and over the past year I've learned a lot. I'm a better software developer as a result of having the job I have. It's a lonely job, though. No one asks me questions. No one talks tech. I often feel like I'm the only hacker in the room, even though I'm actually surrounded by people who are often pretty technical.

I am sensitive to this kind of thing. I tend to be a pretty quiet person at work, partly because I need quiet in order to get anything done. Overall it's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you're quiet. Right now, if anyone's concerned about my project they're not expressing it-- I honestly wonder if it will even be used when I'm gone. It's hard enough to get up every day and take life on. I absolutely don't like being micromanaged, but it does help to know that someone wants the software I'm writing. I do want to do things that make a difference, change the world, make the place a little better than it was before I got here.

After this project is done, there are no new challenges at work. The software development side of my job isn't a priority for my employer. What I'm learning at work is almost entirely due to me going out of my way to learn new things. So it's time to go, even without all the other factors in my life that make me want to move.

I have a decent apartment; it's small, but it's all I need. As long as I'm working, I can afford it. It's in a pretty safe neighborhood. If I moved all of the stuff I have in storage out and into my apartment, I'd have everything I need as far as stuff. It's the first apartment I was able to get coming off the street, and so it's attached to the street in a way.

As much as there are a million things to do in Madison WI, I'm honestly not interested in most of them. There are a lot of outdoors related things that I used to do, that I'd like to get back into doing, but they take a lot of resources. My experience has been that people here who like doing outdoors things are Quite Serious about it, and if you're not, well, you're free to try to keep up on your own.

I don't drink, and I don't suffer fools drunks well, which eliminates a lot of social environments here. When I did drink a lot, years ago, watching football and going to festivals, and being in bowling, softball and darts leagues where all social events but they were primarily excuses to drink. I should note that I don't have any moral objection to alcohol-- you want to drink, go ahead, but keep your noise and silliness to yourself.

Outside of work, and a couple of things I still do at Wisconsin, I don't know that many people here. Most of the people I know are students who are going to leave soon anyway, and/or don't socialize with people twice their age who don't drink. Many of the friends I had before I returned to school, I lost contact with once I did return to school and no longer had time to go to a beer tent or camping trip or whatever every weekend.

If you take away the University of Wisconsin, which I'm leaving and not returning to, there's not much in Madison that isn't available in a lot of other places.

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So, California: I don't know what will happen.

All of the advice I read and hear is that the best way to find a job in tech is through referrals, and I don't disagree-- but my "network" isn't that strong. It's hard to make personal connections with people when you're in the middle of the Midwest and they're on the coast. I have a few contacts from hackathons, many of which were made when graduating this fall was still a possibility, so they're under the impression that I'm graduating when I'm not. I get refered to recruiters who are used to talking to kids who are graduating from Wisconsin, not old hackers.



It's even harder when you're an introvert anyway, and then there's social anxiety and PTSD and depression on top of that. I've had so many times in my life-- starting with a home that was broken-- where I trusted people and/or opened myself up and got burned that it's hard to open up to people and expose sell myself. There's also the very real fear that at some point I'm going to have to talk about ADA accommodations, a process that has at its best been a nerve wracking experience where I work now. It's a constant thing that I have to overcome, which takes a lot of energy. It's exhausting. So things are moving slower than I'd often like.

There are a couple of people that I used to work with that I can get in touch with and talk to in person here-- it's been my experience that being open about my disability has been the best policy even if it's the most difficult. Like anything else I try to learn, it takes repetition and refinement and practice. It might be that I only buy a couple of people coffee for the rest of the summer, to pick their brains and get advice, but I'm going to try. Hopefully, talking to people I know to start will create something to build on.

I'm also going to try contacting (basically cold calling) some of the people at various companies that I've met at hackathons over the past couple of years. I've collected business cards, scanned them, and stored them in Evernote which I also have connected to LinkedIn. (Even if I have problems with the social aspect, I at least have the technology nailed down.)

If nothing comes of it, that's okay. It's practice. Talking to people is something I can do, selling myself and my skills is something I can do, even though over the past couple of years I've become a little out of practice.

So maybe it's better in the long run that I didn't know about the change to the Wisconsin GI Bill that happened in 2014-- had I known about it, maybe I wouldn't have gone through the process to get readmitted and enrolled in college. It was that process, and the need to survive after that, that gave me the motivation to keep learning and working. Find the silver lining.

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Porchlight and the VA can still go to hell for evicting me, though. That's anger that will take a while longer to resolve.

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