09 December 2016

Next chapters

What the hell just happened?

Let me back up a few steps.

Last night my sister, who I helped move/rescue from Florida a couple of months ago and who I share a house with now, and I were out grocery shopping. We're both between jobs-- she's only a couple of years into retirement. I'm looking for something new after leaving Wisconsin in August. These are both longer stories, but the common thread is that neither of us is rich right now. She had a lot of expenses that were associated with moving, and while we both have some income we need to keep an eye on what we each spend each month. Food we try to balance between the two of us, with the added factor of making sure we keep the house pantry filled and replace what we use from that.

Annnyway. The particular grocery store we were in is located in a far flung sub-suburb of Atlanta. We were there partly because we needed certain things that are only at that store and partly because we needed to go somewhere because we hadn't been much of anywhere this week (tangent: I'm fighting off some hard depression this week, and my sister lived in south Florida before moving here and thinks anything colder than 70 degrees is too cold). Where a Wal-Mart is more or less a place where you go because prices are low, this particular grocery store was not that kind of store-- not quite on the level of a Whole Foods, but somewhere in the middle.

As we were looking for stuff each of us had on our personal lists, and in the process counting pennies and looking for cheaper options to what we wanted (generic or store brand vs name brand, what's on sale, etc) we noticed that we were... well, underdressed. Most of the other shoppers looked like comfortably well off (or at least professional) people from the suburbs of Atlanta, which is probably just who they were given the time of day and location. My sister and I are both pretty casual and looked a little out of place in jeans and hoodies.

So maybe we just looked a little scruffy. But whatever.

I unloaded all of our stuff from the cart to the conveyor belt, and as the cashier was scanning it all a guy stepped up from in line behind us. I was instantly triggered-- who the fuck are you and why are you coming up behind me?!-- until the guy said "Hey, let me do you a random act of kindness. Let me pay for this for you."

Excuse me?

I was flabbergasted. I had no idea what to say, and for lack of anything better, that's what I said. It took me a few seconds before I could get out a "thank you but you really don't have to do that", and anyway he insisted. I made it a point to shake his hand, properly say thank you several times, offer an awkward man hug, etc. as we left.

My sister also said thank you, and once we were out in the parking lot she asked me what was wrong (I must have had one of those thousand yard stares going on). My answer was that I'd never had anyone do anything like that. Ever. A penny short at the gas station, a beer when someone saw I was a vet, sure, but no one ever stepped up behind me and put over $100 on their credit card and bought me a week's food just because they wanted to do something nice for someone else.

She wasn't surprised, and said so. My other family members here weren't particularly surprised that this happened either. Their general response was that "well, people around here are good people and do stuff like that fairly often."

Wait, what? I need to think about this.

I'm from Wisconsin. America's Dairyland. People are nice where I'm from, or at least I've always thought so. I know, not everyone in any given place are nice and not everyone in any given place is an asshole. It's a broad (and unfair) generalization to say that people from one state are nicer or bigger assholes than those from any other state-- it's just like saying that people from one state drive better or worse than drivers from another state.


I haven't been flipped off since I've been here. On the way back from my recent trip to Wisconsin and back, the closest was one time in Atlanta when another driver and I tried to get into the same open space in the center lane. As soon as we saw each other, we both waved at each other, shrugged, backed off, and went on with life. No one's even come close to hitting me crossing a street or road or parking lot when I've been walking. No one's yelled at me from an open car or truck window to "take my fucking earphones off and pay attention".

My interactions with other people here have been somewhat limited-- I'm out in the country here, where in Wisconsin I was in downtown/campus Madison-- but I'd be hard pressed to come up with a time when I've encountered anyone here  who was just plain being a dick. In Madison it was a daily occurrence.

There are a lot of other things that happened in Wisconsin-- times when people had a choice. They could be giving and helpful, or selfish and unhelpful, or to just ignore me until I went away. Mostly-- not always, but mostly-- people chose to be the latter two and that contributed to me becoming homeless, to me staying homeless, to me not being in school, and ultimately to me leaving Wisconsin. I'm not saying that everything that happened was entirely not my fault, but there are a lot more times that people didn't help than times when people did-- including people and charities and everyone else that promised me they would.

I did so much and went through so much to stay in (and at) Wisconsin, and at the time I considered it to be worth it. I could have left, but I didn't. To be fair, I had no where else to go, but I really did believe it was worth staying and fighting.

Lately I'm not so sure.


Random acts of kindness notwithstanding, I'm struggling a bit to adjust to being here.

First, I don't know anyone here in Georgia other than family, and my family here I don't know all that well. Until I got here this fall, I hadn't seen two of them since 2003 and I'd not met their spouses or kids at all. I'm that weird relative (in this case, an uncle) that shows up out of nowhere-- the scruffy lookin' long haired veteran that no one knows quite how to handle or what to say to.

It doesn't help that it's the "holidays"; I don't usually do anything special for Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I usually avoid dealing with either, which makes things a little awkward. Everyone was traveling for Thanksgiving, so that wasn't a big deal, but I don't know how Christmas is going to happen (or if I'm expected to participate). Information flows indirectly between me and the rest of the family via my sister, and as far as I know nothing's been decided.

My sister and I were invited to a musical Christmas program at a family member's church in Atlanta this weekend. I've tentatively said yes, even though probably the last thing I want to do is go to a musical performance and be around noise and a ton of people I don't know (especially around Christmas). My sister has been around veterans for a long time, knows about my PTSD, and has conveyed that I'm not big on noise and crowds. Word has been passed back that the church is very chill, and there's another room besides the main one where the program will be shown on video. (My PTSD hasn't been specifically mentioned, but my niece is smart and can fill in the blanks.)

So I'm going.

As much as I enjoy the quiet of being in a mostly empty (of people) huge house out in the country in Georgia, being here isn't an end in itself. It's not forever. I can't just stay here in my bedroom office hacking and ignore that there's a world around me-- to be perfectly honest, it's lonely sometimes. I don't know what kind of a social life is outside these four walls, if there's a place where I'll fit in, if there are new friends to make, if there's a woman who would even start to put up with my shit.

I don't trust people. 

Many of the people I've been around the past few years have been people that weren't worth trusting. People that said they'd be there that weren't. People that said they'd help and did the opposite. People that would say to my face how important I was, and behind my back ignore me. People that said they loved me, but when it came down to it they only loved what I did for them and not who I am. People that could accept me when I agreed with them, but wouldn't when I didn't.

So I don't trust people, and it's the PTSD and it's the experience, and it's hard to imagine even remotely trusting people ever again.

The second issue is that of trying to find a job-- not knowing anyone here makes it hard to network, and the sheer size of Atlanta makes it hard to know where to start. I'm not even sure I want to stay here, or if I'll even have that option. I've had several nibbles that led to phone/video interviews at companies on both coasts, without much luck even after multiple interviews.

Let's just be fucking honest here, they find out I'm 48 and a veteran with a disability (PTSD epecially) and I'm done. Discrimination? Probably, but I had enough of fighting that battle at Wisconsin with my experience there getting disability accommodations. It's not worth the fight just to be somewhere you're not wanted.

I acknowledge the person in the back of the room who correctly points out that having all of the bad things about PTSD (as well as the good ones) written in a blog for the entire internet to see isn't something that most career guides would recommend.

However, I disagree.

There are a lot of things that worked together to get me this far, that kept me away from drugs and alcohol, kept me out of jail, and overall kept me alive. One of the most important factors has been that I've been increasingly honest with myself. I look in the mirror and I see myself, a veteran with PTSD and depression and anxiety. I'm not happy that I have these issues. I didn't ask for them. If there was a way to turn them in to supply, I would, but there isn't and I can't. The only option is to look myself in the eye and accept who I am, problems and all.  You can't run from yourself. 


There is a bigger issue here; being this far away from Wisconsin (both in terms of time and in distance) has given me time to think but more important time to look at where I was. It was a situation with no good end, and I feel comfortable saying that leaving was a good decision. It's hard to say that where you're from is a bad place for you to be. I moved back to Wisconsin after having left once before.  The best I've got is that given what I knew then and what I was ready for then, I did the best I could where I was. 

Case in point: for all the time and energy (and money) I put into hackathons, I got a lot back. I learned a million new things, built some awesome projects, met a lot of other hackers and sponsors and employers. I even helped build and organize a hackathon. I even won a couple of prizes! It was certainly worth the effort. That I made that effort for a long time while living in shelters and on the street, well, that didn't matter so much to anyone but me. My exit from school means my exit from attending hackathons, and when I tried to continue with that community I was pretty soundly rejected. I'm the guy who blew the "age of participants" bell curve, that outlier at the edge that got airbrushed out. It's apparent to me now that within that community I was tolerated and that's about it. When it came down to brass tacks, there wasn't room for an "old guy", no matter how qualified or how much he could offer. 

So a chapter in my life closes. It's not the first, won't be the last. It's still hard. It took a lot to get my life arranged, in spite of everything that was happening, so that I could put my energy into hacking-- learning new things, catching up, making my skills current. There was only so much I could do, and I did that and more. 

There's a hole in my life where all of that used to be. 

I try, even when talking to myself, to come up with some kind of answer to go along with all of the questions. It's like when you see a documentary that does a really good job of describing a problem but at the end never proposes a solution-- so what I'm trying to do lately is study and learn and pick up new skills. One of the things I've learned from working with hackathon projects, including and especially my own (!) is that there's a lot of shitty code out there and a lot of potential vulnerabilities to find and fix. Security has always been an interest, and this seems the right time to pursue it.

(That and working on what needs to be fixed on my truck, and keeping the leaves from covering the driveway, and putting BB holes in beer cans out back.)




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