Sunday, November 26, 2006

2am Talks About Work Issues

In a prior post, I believe I talked vaguely about issues with work. I'll go into more detail with this posting.

Over the past year (first anniversary on Nov. 21), I've been working for a small startup software development company. They've been in existence for a few years, and I joined up with them because they seemed to be doing some very interesting development work, and I thought I would be able to make some serious expansions of my skill sets.

The personnel history has been interesting. When I signed on, there were four founders (CEO, COO, CTO, and an Executive VP), an office manager, one other onsite developer, and another offsite developer.

The office manager left in the early spring for a higher paying management job.

One of the developers left a couple months later, saying that he had grown frustrated with having to report to the COO who was not a developer himself. He also said that he had concerns about whether they had enough money to stay afloat.

Soon thereafter, the COO stopped commuting into work. His home was over 250 miles away, so he was driving in at the beginning of the week, staying at a motel through the end of the week, and then heading home for the weekend. The cost of driving his big gas guzzling pickup to and from work was eating into expenses, and they needed to cut back.

By mid-August, we received word that the COO was no longer serving in that role, but retained a stake in the company. A few hours later, we were issued new office keys, which raised some eyebrows.

None of those positions have been refilled yet.

My own work history seemed to involve lulls with occasional crises. The position for which I hired on involved commercializing some proprietary algorithms. On day one, I was given a e-mail message that spelled out what they wanted to accomplish for a demo. Apparently they had promised that the demo would be done by a date when they had not lined up adequate manpower to do the job. The demo was to take place less than three weeks from my start date.

I worked like hell, and they had to bring in a contractor with some additional expertise in Windows media APIs, but we got something working. It was ugly, but it supposedly wowed the people they were showing it to. I then proceeded to start making performance improvements to the code and redoing the kludgey things so that they would work the right way. I continued working on that for a couple more months.

Then in late February, I got dragged onto another emergency. This time it was another demo that they had promised to be done by a deadline less than a week away. The CTO had found some components that could probably get the job done, but since they were C++ libraries, it would require me to do the job. We got something working by the deadline, but it was ugly stuff. The CTO had underestimated the complexity of the project again.

I spent the next couple of months redesigning the application from scratch, writing a detailed specification document that justified the design. It was going to be flexible, modular, and robust. The new code outperformed the old design, and my boss was happy. He started dreaming up other things that the program should be able to do, and I implemented them. The changes I made required him to make changes in the core product's design (the Java code). He promised me several times that he would get around to making the upgrade, but it never happened.

Over the summer, I expanded the scope of the second project to support another application protocol. This would require some reverse engineering work because I could not find any instances of where someone had done this before. It was a long, hard, boring slog. But it kept me busy through August.

During the summer, we also drew up a business proposal for the customer on the first project, but we never heard back from them. Later on, we learned that the company was going through some financial troubles that made them the target of shareholder lawsuits. I figured that the project was moribund for the foreseeable future.

During this whole time, the CTO and the other remaining developer had gotten wrapped up in a project that was basically one big consulting project. During this time, the founders were out of the office both on personal and business trips, so I felt very isolated. With little feedback from my superiors and little followup on the two hurry up projects I had worked on so far, I was beginning to feel very discouraged.

By early August, the other developer had moved on site, so things were starting to come back to life in the office. Within a couple weeks of the COO being let go, the CTO sent out the harshly worded e-mail that I mentioned in my September wrapup posting. That's when I started putting out feelers for other jobs.

In October, we had a meeting where the CEO told us that we had received some money from one of our original investors, and that we had enough money to run through the end of the year. This was the first time I had received any direct indication of just how close to the wire we were financially. They said that they hoped to land either a grant or some venture capital money by then.

The CTO was going to be in town for a couple of weeks, so he organized a set of meetings where he wanted to map out new features for the next version of the product. He said he wanted to do things the right way this time around, and we had the time to start putting some real thought into the design, based on the lessons learned from prior mistakes.

So we spent a couple weeks in design meetings, sketching out all of this stuff. Then he went out of town for a week's worth of meetings. When he gets back, he tells us that he has a meeting within a couple of weeks with another potential customer and he wants to demo them code based on our new design. Both the other developer and I agree that this is insane.

While the CTO is out on another trip, we sit down with the Executive VP, who is tasked with setting up a work plan for this demo. She has an e-mail forwarded from the customer, describing what they're interested in. Some of it is so vague as to be worthless. Other parts of it, we realize, could be done using the existing code base.

During a working lunch with the other developer and the Executive VP, I manage to persuade the Executive VP that it would be better to come in with a solid, yet older, product than a flimsy Potemkin demo. She admits that part of the problem is that the CTO has a habit of promising way too much to potential customers and then assuming that everyone else is Superman and will put in superheroic efforts.

This leads to the Executive VP into opening up about where the company has been and where it is headed. She expressed frustration that the CEO and CTO were "chasing revenue" instead of working on developing a solid, marketable product. Rather than putting effort into design and following through with it, they would try to land these licensing deals with individual customers and promise all kinds of features which usually weren't implemented yet. She said that we had yet to earn a single dollar from these kinds of deals.

She said that her husband had become increasingly dissatisfied with her involvement with the company, because she could have been making a lot more money in a corporate position. However, she said that she was so far into debt with the company that she felt like she had no other option but to see it through. She was praying that a larger company, seeking to gain a position in the emerging field they were targeting, would buy them out.

It was a sobering moment, both enlightening and depressing. Enlightening because it verified the worst of my fears about the company's financial health. Depressing because I realized that these crises that I got dragged into were just part of the revenue chasing squirrel cage.

Right now, the other developer and I are working on some demo code that the CTO would like to see working by mid-December.

He has given a sketchy list of features that he wants, but we really don't know what the potential customer wants because that won't be known until at least after a meeting that is to be held at the end of this week. So, I have been working for a week or so on a project that might be for naught depending on how good a guesser that the CTO is. I suspect that the mid-December deadline was decided upon so that they would have a feel over whether this has any promise before the money runs out.

I really really want to see this project through, but I am at a point where I realize that I don't want to stay with this company. I have checked out emotionally. I don't think they'll change their seat-of-the-pants ways, which means that it will be tough for them to develop a solid product that might warrant a buy out by a bigger company. So, about a week ago, I updated my resume and made it public again. I've also submitted applications for 10 other openings around town.

Now let's turn to the comment bag...

There is an aging comment from the Drunken Housewife that I've been meaning to get back to. Quoting the relevant passages...
I have a couple of ideas for you: have you ever considered going into tech
writing? Your English skills are off the chart, and your writing is clearly good
(a little dry at times when you're covering Schnarch and others, but that's
okay). I know a couple of tech writers who work at home but fly to their clients
(in places like Las Vegas and SF) occasionally, and they make extremely good
incomes. Your software skills could make you a tech writing superstar, because
you'd really get what you were writing about.

That's a good question. I haven't given much thought to technical writing, but I think it would worth a try if I could make as much if not more than what I'm making right now. This past weekend, I scanned the big four job boards for new leads and cast a wider net, looking for technical writing positions. I found three possibilities, and I put my name in for them. I'll follow up if they lead to interviews.

One of the barriers to entry, I suspect, might be a lack of experience with high end publishing tools like QuarkXPress and FrameMaker. I'm twice brain damaged in this area. In my grad school years, I used LaTeX for publishing, and then I worked for almost 10 years for a company that uses its own software for product documentation. But I've always been open to learning new stuff, so as long as someone will cut me little learning curve slack, I'll assault the grade at full throttle.

DH then asks:
If you want to stay in software, have you played around with java? I took a
couple of Java programming classes myself when I was playing around with
changing careers, before my 2nd child, and I loved it. Java is such a fun
language (my previous experience was just a Basic class in college), and it's a
great addition to your other skills.

I'm starting to learn some of it on the job because my current employer's code base is primarily Java. The reason I work in C++ at my current job is twofold:

  1. our product needs to interact with libraries that are not available in Java
  2. in some instances, the code needs to operate with real-time (read: really really fast) responsiveness
Given that Java development tools and educational materials are available for free, I should be able to learn the language and the basic APIs pretty easily if I managed my time appropriately.

However, getting a Java development job requires more than just language and API knowledge.

Most Java based business apps are developed within a framework known as Java 2 Enterprise Edition (a.k.a. J2EE). From what I've read, this sounds like a much more daunting learning task.

Another skill that I need to sharpen badly is database access programming. That means getting a better understanding of relational database management systems (e.g. Oracle, SQL Server, etc.) and SQL, the lingua Franca of database interaction.

Should I stay in the software development field, I'm going to have to expand and hone my skill set because I am still way too constrained to the enviorns of scientific computing and low level system programming.

College Roomates Versus Spouses Who are "Like Roommates" (with belated Thanksgiving note)

The Saturday edition of the Washington Post ran an article on the growing frequency and nastiness of college dorm roommate squabbles. Among some of the article's findings:
  • Roommate conflicts are increasingly being brought to the attention of college student affairs staff.
  • There are more instances of parents injecting themselves into the argument.
  • Conflicts are spilling over onto the internet in the form of hostile instant messages, derogatory weblog postings, and negative content on social networking websites.
  • The inflammatory actions are usually small matters.
  • The problem seems to be more prevalent between female roommates.

The following article excerpt offers an example of the kinds of conflicts that erupt and serves up some speculation over why this might be more prevalent among women (emphasis is mine).

Michal-Ann Newman, a junior and resident assistant for 42 young women at Howard University, shakes her head. "That stuff makes my job a whole lot harder," she says. "Last year, two of my girls had an altercation in the kitchen about a boy. One put a message on Facebook calling the other one all kinds of names. So Number 2 posted a message on her Facebook page. Then Number 1 went to Burn Book. . . . They started writing about each other's family issues. . . . As usual, they didn't speak to each other about any of it."

Newman finally heard about the feud from a dean who had been called by a parent of one of the students. "That's female conflict for you," she sighs. "Little things can wecome big things."

That's partly because unlike guys, who tend to blow up and then be done with it, girls avoid conflict but continue to nurse a grudge that may metastasize into more grudges or even irreconcilable differences.

Broad brushstrokes aside, the paragraphs above made me think about the genre of blog which involves a frustrated husband venting about an domineering, sexually unavailable wife. In fact the first month's worth of postings on this blog would fall under this rubric.

One of the complaints among such bloggers is that their marriages have degenerated to the point where they are more like roommates than spouses.

Moreover, when these guys deal with their wives, they tend to take the passive rather than the assertive route. They are, in the words of therapist Robert Glover, suffering from Nice Guy Syndrome. Indeed, Glover lists these behaviors as symptoms:

  • He is the relative who lets his wife run the show.
  • He is the guy who frustrates his wife because he is so afraid of conflict that nothing ever gets resolved.

Is it any surprise that college roommate squabble dynamics play themselves out on the frustrated guy blogs?

Many of the posts are complaints about a wife's annoying behaviors. Lots of times it's small things. Instead of other family members, these bloggers get their validation from a of group sympathetic female readers who provide a steady flow of uncritical affirmations.

Labeling the petty roommate proxy war as a female problem, as suggested by the article, is unfair to women and misses the point. The real issue is passivity (maybe even passive aggressiveness). Instead of emplying levelheaded assertiveness by calmly communicating and enforcing boundaries, passive personalities take the easy way out and opt for short term, fake peace by pretending the conflict doesn't exist.

I think these men do themselves great harm, show disrespect for their wives, and set bad examples for their children when they engage in this behavior.

As for the causes, I can't be completely certain. I don't buy the handwaving argument presented in the article about the increase in amount of private space in the home. If that were the case, I don't think we'd see these kinds of dramas being played out in suburbia by married adults who have way more square feet per person than a typical dorm room.

To quote Julia Grey's essay on heroism, which is linked from this blog's masthead:

You are looking at your wife as if she and her emotions are chess pieces you could move around on a board of your devising if you just knew the rules of the game or the "tricks" to try. But the answer is that you don't "move your wife out of her comfort zone," you move yourself out of YOURS.

Your comfort zone is the one where you"avoid conflict at all costs."

Maybe in some part of yourself you LIKE being a quiet, self-righteous sufferer, clutching your virtue to your bosom and resentfully telling yourself how your spouse is so awful to you, how her behavior or personality limits you so fatally, how she makes it just impossible for you to...(fill in the blank).

You break the marital routine by breaking your own routines, especially the routines inside your head, the main one being the childish fantasy that if the other person could just straighten up and fly right --"flying right" defined as behaving in consonance with your pleasure -- you would finally be happy in your life. Meanwhile, YOU don't have to do squat. You can wash your lily-pure hands of the whole thing and sit back, secure in the knowledge that The Problem of the Marriage is the other person and their failings.

Reading Schnarch, Glover, Grey, and several other anonymous netizens saved me from being just another whining husband. Thanks to them, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and started the path to personal growth, realizing that there will be pain and no guarantees of success. It's a scary place to be. The anxiety has taken its toll, but I am grateful to all of them for having persuaded me to take the journey. It wasn't a gift that I asked for, but it is certainly one I needed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

2am Catches Up on Comments

We'll lead off with remarks from the Drunken Housewife...

I wonder if you have ever had good sex, and the thought that you might not have makes me sad (this is not a come-on, but an honest feeling of empathy).

I wonder if your wife is lesbian and has never had the guts to explore it.
I've wondered about that (whether I've ever had good sex) for a few years, and it's been a source of self pity and resentment. I have to let go of that thought in order to grow. My past is something I can't change. If Schnarch is to be believed, most people don't experience really good sex until later in life anyway, so there is still hope. Quoting his writings...

Most people never reach their full sexual potential, and those who do are usually well into their 50s, 60s and 70s. Cellulite and sexual potential are positively correlated.

The lesbian question has crossed my mind, too. During our first marriage counseling session, I said that I thought her sexual orientation was one of five possible reasons for her lack of interest in sex.

If homosexuality has a genetic basis, I said, then that the idea was plausible. One of her sisters is openly bisexual, and there was some circumstantial evidence that her father may have been involved in a gay affair prior to his stroke.

My wife has very strong emotional ties to her best friend, whom she's known for about 15 years. At times, I have felt as if I was competing with that friend for time and attention.

It goes beyond the usual girl talk.

Back in 2000, we moved here specifically so that we could be closer to her best friend, going so far as to target our home shopping to an area that was only a few minutes away from where her best friend lives.

Soon thereafter, their lives became highly integrated. She invited her friend and her husband over for dinner frequently. After a while, I noticed that the only time she really put effort into cooking was when they came over.

Then in 2004, my wife tried to persuade me to sell the house and move to a new subdivision where her best friend was planning on moving to. Moving then would have been an insane proposition for us because we would have most likely taken an bath on the sale of the home.

Perhaps the weirdest moment came in early 1999. Her best friend was about halfway through her pregnancy and was about to have an ultrasound done. Since it was to take place on a Friday on the weekend when my wife's birthday was falling, she asked me to take a day off with her so that we could visit her friend and go to the ultrasound.

We set out on Thursday night. On our way out, one of the tires developed a problem. We doubled back to the city where we were living and had the tires checked. The problematic tire needed replacing, but the shop couldn't get around to fixing it until the next day.

Since the ultrasound appointment would be early Friday morning, my wife would miss the ultrasound. She was distraught and called her best friend, crying over the situation. Her best friend persuaded her husband to drive over (two hours, one way) that night and pick her up. I would stay the night and get the car fixed the next morning.

In retrospect, this kind of behavior should have raised red flags, but because I had no spine to speak of, all that mattered was keeping her happy.

During that counseling session, my wife denied that she was a lesbian and joked about it with her best friend about being lovers several times thereafter. I crossed lesbianism off the list after that experience.

I have several friends from high school and grad school years who wound up coming out of the closet, and she's been comfortable around them, so I don't think she would be that hung up on it. You never know, though.

As for the other four causes I listed during that session:
  • past sexual abuse -- She denies any recollection of this happening
  • hormonal imbalance -- She is supposed to have tests done at her yearly OB/GYN visit, but she's been putting off that appointment. I'm betting she forgets to have the tests done.
  • extramarital affair -- The usual affair red flags aren't there. Nothing turned up when I was looking over the credit card charges. She does seem to enjoy getting out of the house without the kids and me on the weekends, though.
  • she's not that into me -- This is a possibility, especially if normal marital sadism is a factor. It's easier to torment someone for whom you don't have strong feelings for in the first place.
I used to obsess over this a lot, but I've managed to let go of most of it over the last couple of months with the reading, blogging, and therapy. I've stopped wondering why she doesn't want me and learned to accept that she probably doesn't and won't fess up to it.

The questions for me to resolve are:
  1. Do the perceptions that shape my emotional state match up well with reality?
  2. Are there things I can change in my relationship to improve the climate?
  3. If the answer to (2) is "no", is it a violation of my integrity to stay in this marriage?

Friday, November 17, 2006

What Do You Think You're Worth?

Something is changing in the way that I view the sexual relationship with my wife.

In closing an October 30 post to this blog, I talked about the possibility that normal marital sadism (NMS) might underlie my wife's lack of sexual desire. The term was coined by Dr. David Schnarch to describe when one expresses hatred of a loved one through tortuous behavior while denying the existence of the hatred. We are all guilty of it to a certain degree.

In the book Passionate Marriage, Schnarch provides some stories to illustrate how the behavior can be passed from one generation to another. A parent tortures a child in a certain way, and that torture becomes part of the child's erotic map later in adulthood. The adult child then tortures his or her own spouse in the bedroom.

The phrase that keeps coming up in his discussions of NMS is wanting to be wanted but not wanting to want. Why the imbalance? If I read his writing correctly, it originates in the hurt that comes from having played the role of masochist. Sadistic treatment is a form of rejection. If you're getting treated badly, you get the feeling that your partner may not want you.

Later in life, the masochist may assume the role of sadist as a form of protected healing. He or she gets the desire that was lacking earlier in life, the catharsis for past abuse. Wanting implies some form of dependency upon the desired. Refusing to reciprocate, i.e. not wanting to want, helps the masochist turned sadist avoid vulnerability.

In looking back over the course of our relationship, I can see this dynamic at work, even up to our most recent sexual encounter almost a week ago. Intercourse is emotionally disengaged because she tries to tune me out. On many occasions, she has resisted foreplay. When she is receptive to foreplay, it is geared toward her. If I express a desire to be pleasured, she avoids by saying that she's falling out of the mood. Sometimes she will promise sex at a future time, only to somehow forget about it later or find an excuse to back out on her commitment.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, this is not something I can confront her directly. When I have tried to confront her in the past, she has used the tactics that some of the sadists used in Schnarch's book. They put the blame on the other spouse, saying that a bunch of other things need to be addressed before they can be sexual, or they break down in tears, inducing guilt in the other spouse for having been so mean. Schnarch says that this won't ever work because a mobilized high desire partner decreases the low desire partner's desire to change.

The change has to begin from within. In his own sessions, Schnarch often helps the high desire partner self-confront with the following question:
Why are you willing and eager to have sex with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you?
In the book No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Robert Glover confronts the reader with a similar question:
Why are you settling for bad sex?
I have meditated on that question a lot the past couple of weeks, and it is clear to me now why this question is so important. It comes down to poor differentiation.

Sex plays a powerful role in deriving my sense of self worth. My adolescence and early adulthood was a large series of rejections by the opposite sex. By the time I reached graduate school age, I was so desperate for female validation that I called phone sex services. It gave me a short-lived form of validation without the fear of rejection.

I took my wife's rejections personally, thinking it was a reflection of my lack of attractiveness, or perhaps my inability to arouse her. After all, she was the only one who had chosen to be sexual with me. If I didn't do it for her, then certainly I must be unworthy.

Like Peter in Chapter 11 of Passionate Marriage, I was faced with a two choice dilemma. Stay in a nonsexual marriage or lose the marriage. I am running up against two patterns: a childhood fear of abandonment and an early adulthood fear of inadequacy.

Also like Peter, my dilemma comes down to the big question: "What do you think you're worth?" The emphasis on "you" is mine, and it contains the kernel of my developmental task. For too long, my fears have driven me to surrender my self appraisal over to others, many of whom probably didn't want that power anyway. I need to self soothe and reclaim that power.

For too long, I have sat there like a dog, waiting for a sexual scrap to fall from the table. I can count on one hand the number of times I have turned down sex from my wife. Accepting what little she offers, mostly mercy fucks, only reinforced the notion that I had no respect for myself.

On Monday morning this week, sensing that I was unhappy because she had not followed through on a promise to have sex on Sunday night, my wife asked me what was bothering me. I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts, and said this to her in a slow, non-accusatory voice:
When I ask you to pleasure me and then you say you are falling out of the mood, I feel as if you want me to want you, but you do not want to want me in return.
She tried to turn the tables on me both with shame and guilt.

First she asked me whether I had masturbated in the middle of the night. I admitted that I did because I woke up aroused. I also knew that she would be a grouch if I woke her up. I was unshaken by this.

So she then started to get weepy, saying that I sounded as if the sex we had Saturday night didn't mean anything at all. She said that she doesn't know why, but she gets uncomfortable when it comes to touching me sexually. Later on, as I reflected on this, it didn't seem credible because when she wanted to shift the focus back on herself, her voice expressed boredom, not anxiety.

I then told her this in the same measured tone:
This is my problem, not yours. I need to ask myself why I want so badly to have sex with someone who does not want to have sex with me. I will not pressure you to have sex that you do not want to have.
Ever since then, I have felt my burden lighten some. The dilemma remains, but I feel that I am developing the courage to hold onto myself. She is free to make her choice. I will no longer operate from the standpoint that our wedding vows bind us to some sort of sexual obligation. If she doesn't want to have sex with me, so be it. If I truly still want to have sex, then I may have to face the possibility that this marriage is nearing its end.

Schnarch says that crucibles are interlocking. When one spouse goes out of the comfort cycle into the growth cycle, the other must also, or terminate the relationship. He also notes in Chapter 13:
Poorly differentiated couples seem to need to play "chicken" with each other, where the possibility of divorce is high. In fact, testing the waters of divorce seems to bring them to their senses -- if the don't become totally reptilian and bolt from the marriage.
It may seem like a high stakes gamble, but sometimes you have to lay it all on the line to push forward growth.

d/dx [ self(x) ] = 0

The basis of my therapy is learning to become more differentiated. Differentiation of self is a term that Dr. Murray Bowen used to describe a balance between individuality and togetherness. A lack of differentiation is referred to as fusion. When you're fused, your emotional state is tightly coupled to the emotional state of others.

I first learned about this notion through David Schnarch's book Passionate Marriage. The focus of Schnarch's book is on how differentiation preserves the emotional bond and sexual dimension of marriage. But the significance of differentiation, or lack thereof, reaches far beyond the bedroom. I was reminded of this in a very powerful way through some events that took place during the first week of November.

My family of origin, especially on my father's side, is highly fused. How badly? So bad that there is a high degree of emotional cutoff. It's something that has been handed down through the generations.

My paternal grandfather was the oldest of 10 siblings, and he maintained contact with only a few of them because the others had done things he didn't approve of. For a few years after my mom and dad divorced, he refused to sit in the same room as my mother because she had left my dad.

When my dad decided to marry a woman 13 years younger than he, both my grandparents cut off communication with him. It wasn't until a family emergency four years later that broke the ice.

The tradition carries on, with my brother having little to do with our father for reasons my brother has never really explained.

A conflict over the resolution of my late grandmother's estate a couple years ago put a huge rift between my aunt and my father. My aunt was verbally abusive toward my father because he would not accept her desire to change the terms of the will. With my wife and I present, my aunt derided my father's post stroke disabilities, saying he only had half a brain working.

My aunt has a history of reptilian behavior in the past, saying things like that to her own mother when her mother's dementia had caused her to get confused.

It suffices to say that since the "half a brain" incident, I haven't made much of an effort to visit my aunt. She's been at a couple of family functions that were hosted by my brother. The first one, I avoided her entirely. At the second, I was civil, but I didn't act like everything was peachy keen.

Set the mental TiVO to the morning of Thursday the 9th. I'm talking to my mother, and she asks whether we have made any plans for Thanksgiving. For the past five Thanksgivings, we have stayed home and served a meal to ourselves and my wife's best friend's family. A couple days earlier, my wife had said that no definite plans had been made. I made the mistake of telling my mother that we didn't have any plans.

A couple hours later that morning, I get an e-mail from my aunt asking us to come to Thanksgiving at her new house. She wants to serve a big meal. This is quite the 180 from previous years, where she's gone out of her way to tell everyone that she's not doing anything for the Thanksgiving holiday.

That few bytes opened up a big can of anxiety in me, and I realized that the fusion was in play. I was paralyzed, not wanting to respond because I didn't want to look bad. The fearful thought process was that my mom and my sister-in-law would be mad at me for refusing to make nice. On the other hand, I also wondered if saying "no" wasn't a fused action in itself since it would reinforce what might be an emotional cutoff of my own.

I sagged emotionally. I brought it up with my therapist earlier this week. I self confronted. I realized that putting off a reply was a form of emotional cutoff. Declining an invitation was not. In the end, I had to make a decision that was true to myself. I lost respect for my aunt because of her hurtful nature. It would be a violation of my integrity to pretend nothing was wrong.

I needed to let go of worrying what my mom and sister-in-law would think. The paralysis was the wounded, childlike part of me fearing emotional cutoff from others... a form of abandonment. To paraphrase something I learned from Glover's No More Mr. Nice Guy, in the mind of a child, abandonment = death.

In order to recover from this, I needed to realize that the grown up, non-wounded, part of me could take care of myself. I didn't need to withdraw into a catatonic state of self pity. I didn't need to lean on my wife emotionally as I had done in the past. I could handle it. I finally broke through the anxiety and sent my aunt a brief e-mail reply declining the invitation.

When reliance on the reflected sense of self is a reflex, one requires a revolution to reverse course.

The second fusion lesson came to me in the form of a job application. Some management craziness at work, which led to the "Feeling Weak" posting a couple weeks ago, motivated me to put my name in for a few more job openings.

I got a call back from a recruiter who claimed to have a good working relationship with the HR director at a software development company in town. She said that they would need me to take a programming examination before they would consider me for the interview. I agreed to take the test, which she said should take about an hour.

It was an online test provided by a third party testing service. Registration for the test was initiated by a hyperlink in an e-mail message. When I went to the site, the instructions page informed me that the test was to be 180+ questions long, a mixture of psychological evaluation, problem solving skills, reading skills, and programming knownledge in both C++ and SQL. It took almost three hours to complete the test.

I got a call back from the recruiter saying that I had done really well on the programming section, but she apologized for having given me the wrong test. She said that the test they had intended to give me was a programming only test that had over 40 C++ questions instead of the 12 that was in the larger test. Moreover, the larger test report did not reveal the questions that I answered incorrectly. The more focused exam would.

I said that I would take the other test, and I asked if she could send me the score the test I had just taken. She said she would send me the complete results. I scored 73rd percentile on the C++ portion, 57th percentile on the programmer/analyst aptitude, 82nd percentile on the math problem solving, and 98th percentile on written English. The big disappointment was "attitude personality factors", where I registered a 20% match, according to the report.

I remember that the attitude personality questions really rubbed me the wrong way. Each question was phrased as a statement with which you indicated level of agreement on a five-point scale. Many of the statements seemed to be worded unflatteringly. "I think it's okay to break rules." "I'm usually current on the gossip at the office." "I wait until the right time to get even with someone." Some of them were so vague as to be void of meaning. "I think that it's better to place more importance on the profession than the employer."

I read what the report said about me. It said I probably preferred solitary, repetitive work. I probably just did enough to get by. I wasn't assertive. I could be rude and impatient with others. I wasn't creative or flexible. The picture that it painted really got to me. I expressed my disappointment to my wife, who said that maybe it was a blessing because it would give me an idea of what I needed to work on. I just wanted to crawl under a rock.

After a day or so, I was able to digest what I had read. I took the hit, challenging the assumptions that were driving my emotional state. I realized that while I can be introverted, passive, and stubborn, I was not the caricature in that profile. It was me looking at a reflected sense of self with one of those fun house mirrors, and shrieking at its grotesqueness.

I knew from the past that I could interview well. I could come up with new ideas and had done so over the years. I was learning to be more assertive. I was also learning to modulate my anxiety, the big thing holding me back a lot of times. I shared this with my therapist on Monday as well, and she gave me some perspective on how those tests arrive at their scores.

I also went back to the testing service's website and found an FAQ that is pretty amusing in retrospect (emphasis mine):
Should I show the applicant their results?

This is your choice. Generally, however, results are not shown to the candidate unless the candidate can benefit from them. For example, it may be appropriate to share unsatisfactory skills test results with a candidate to enable them to learn the necessary skill and improve their ability to score well in the future. Personality assessment and employment behavior survey result, on the other hand, may only make the candidate angry because they do not understand the relevance to the job, or they do not agree with the result.
I guess I'm not the only one.

Instead of using the low score as an excuse to fall apart, I took stock in the progress I have made over the past few months. I realize that learning to stand on my own by self confronting, self validating, and self soothing, helps me to heal and differentiate.

Back to the Blogging

It's been a couple weeks since the last post in this space. I'm still out there, and I'm still working on my issues.

Thanks to all who have dropped me a line to check up on me. A special thank you goes out to sixdegrees, who kindly posted some uplifting Bob Seger lyrics in a prior comment. Not only were they relevant, the song itself was a pretty deep cut. I have a soft spot for obscure and underappreciated music.

It's been a mixture of hardware problems and writer's block that has kept this place so quiet.

About two weeks ago, my home computer went dark for no apparent reason. The lack of responsiveness to pressing the power switch led me to believe that either the power supply or the motherboard had gone bad.

Given the tightness of our financial situation, it wouldn't be possible to purchase any new hardware until the next pay day. Consequently, I didn't even bother cracking open up the case over fear of what I would find. If it did turn out to be the motherboard, that would have just stirred up anger over my wife's past excessive spending. Better to keep the charcoal starter fluid locked up.

With the PC temporarily kaputt, I chose to keep my mind distracted by rereading portions of Schnarch and getting a grip on projections that stir up my anxiety. I also did some thinking about how I could self soothe myself better. Unfortunately, I fell out of the habit of staying up later, going to bed perhaps an hour or so after I had tucked the kids in.

Some testing over the previous weekend showed that it was a bad power supply, so on Monday, I purchased a new one by cashing in a rebate gift card that I had received several months ago. After the credit, it was only $27 and some change.

Even with the PC operating again, I found it hard to get back into writing. Most nights this week, I wound up going to bed well before midnight.

The writer's block stems from a bunch of ideas that have been bouncing around my head that have failed to coalesce into something coherent. I've been able to express facets of them on comments that I've posted on other blogs. When you don't have a good definition of yourself, it's much easier to see the dynamics play out in others' relationships than it is in your own.

Tonight, the wife and kids are spending the night at her mom's house, so I'll try to break the dry spell and clear out the mental backlog. Well, that and some much needed housecleaning.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Feeling Weak Today

The past couple of days have been stressful for me. I don't have enough time to pound it all out in a blog post right now. I'll just say that work has been downright depressing.

I heard "Calling All Angels" by Train on the radio this morning, and felt a wave of tears well up inside of me. This lyrical excerpt summed it up so well:
I need a sign to let me know you're here
'Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me
I must pull myself together and convince myself to keep moving on, even if the anxiety is overwhelming.
I won't give up if you dont give up