Tuesday, July 31, 2007

'Obsessive Girlfriend' on Verge of Being Dumped (and Other Tales from the Job Front)

The recruiter who has earned the "Obsessive Girlfriend" moniker is on my last nerve.

On Sunday night, she sends an e-mail telling me that they want me to fly in for the face-to-face interview. She wants me to let her know what my schedule looks like for this week, and she wants an answer by Monday. I respond within a couple hours of receiving that e-mail, telling her that I would supply her with a date by Monday afternoon. I was trying to set a boundary that said, "don't bug me about this until then."

She replies on early Monday morning, telling me that she wants me to supply multiple dates and then calls me a couple hours later on my cell phone, leaving a voice mail (I am tired of wasting my minutes on her) with the same message. She then calls a couple hours again later, leaving me a message to ask me, prefacing this with "I know I should have checked this on MapQuest", whether my city and the office in the Keystone State are within driving distance. She also left an e-mail message echoing this question.

So she had not only violated the boundary, she bust out a na-na-na-na-boo-boo groove right in my face. I responded by just ignoring her the rest of Monday.

On Tuesday morning, things are quiet, but then I start getting the e-mails and phone calls. The first one said that she needs to set up another phone interview with a guy in NYC. The later in the day, I get set of e-mail/voice mail messages saying that they don't want to do the phone interview now, and I should just let them know when I can come out for the interview.

She called me at least two more times at work and once at my home phone. I just received another e-mail message at 9:30 p.m.

I have worked with pushy recruiters, but I've never had to deal with one who is this bad. Most of her voice mail messages are rattled off so quickly, you can't tell what she's saying, and she oftentimes cuts herself off before she finishes the message. Moreover, she composes her e-mails so poorly, it's an embarrassment.

Here is one from today...
HI (2am) forget the fourth phone interview we want to fl y you to (city where office is) I have not heard from you reply and let me know a few choices of days/ timeswhen you can make it to city where office is) please !!

Here is one from Friday...
a few questions, confirm your current salary , and wh y is it low, considering you do have several yrs of experience? tha t is a little puzzling, and also , what was your last salary at the previous employer, (ex-employer) ??same thing? LEt me know right away and let me know how I can call you, as we need to make a decision on the next steps right away, thank you

I'm going to call her around 8 a.m. tomorrow morning and have a heart to heart. Throughout this process, I have felt like a sheep having its ankles bitten by a herding dog. I don't know if this is just the fact that she's just that ditzy or if it's a sign of the culture of the company for whom she works. If it's the former, she's doing a serious disservice to the brand. If it's the latter, I need to run for the hills because that means they're pathologically micromanagerial.

The contract job with the local CD/DVD/Video Game Distributor has decided not to extend the offer. I'll let the recruiter's e-mail do the speaking...
We just heard back from (the distributor). Although they really liked you and your background, unfortunately, they are not going to be able to move forward. In a nutshell, they just feel that you would be extremely bored in this position. You are used to working on exciting, newer technologies. This position would just be working on older, not exciting technologies. They don't want you to go backwards in your career.

If I'm going to get a rejection, I'd like it to be for a reason like that!

Last night, I got a call from the Southern California Server Division of a Popular Gaming Console Manufacturer. I had submitted a resume to them a couple weeks ago, and they were finally getting around to me. I have a phone interview Wednesday evening.

A recruiter at the Silicon Valley Planetary Network Equipment Company has sent me an e-mail saying they turned up my resume in an "intellectual property search" and they are wanting to know whether I'd be interested in speaking with them.

A reader on this blog has kindly helped me with one of the leads I was griping about in a prior post. The reader knows who he or she is, and that person has my deepest gratitude.

This morning, I was supposed to have an initial meeting over coffee with the representative of a local consulting practice. I had to get up way earlier than I normally do to meet this person up on the north side of town. It was a no-show, and I'm none too happy about it.

I had a half hour phone screen this morning with the Bluegrass Printer Manufacturer. They're doing some interesting stuff with the guts of their high end multifunction printers. I got a call about an hour thereafter telling me that they wanted to offer me a job. It's a contract position. The hourly rate isn't too bad, but I don't have the cost of benefits. It has no chance of becoming bona fide permanent position, but it could be long term. They also won't cover the cost of relocation. Chances are, this one will get turned down.

I had a second phone interview with Up and Coming Pacific Northwest Internet Ad Company. This was supposed to be a technical screen, and it was supposed to be at 6 p.m. my time. The interviewer didn't call until 6:37 p.m., claiming that he had lost track of time playing some video game. He apologized, but it did bug me because I had hurried home to be ready for this appointment. I was surprised he didn't give me much in the way of programming or algorithm questions. We did talk about things I had worked on, and we each learned something. I educated him about the metered section object that someone at Microsoft had developed as an alternative to the semaphore synchronization object, and he showed me how one can use ordering of objects to avoid circular deadlocks.

I spoke with a recruiter in the Big Apple who is looking for hedge fund and investment bank talent. Not sure where this will lead, but I did get a form to fill out for a big investment bank. Sure would make a good GOOD[1] job.

I have another recruiter in the Windy City who is wanting me to take another C++ programming test. Maybe later this week.

Things have been eerily silent at work regarding this supposed big deal that was supposed to be hammered out on Monday. The CEO has made no noise about it. The CTO has been busy tending to his wife, who had to undergo another small surgical procedure on Friday.

[1] -- GOOD = Get Out Of Debt

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What's it Like at Home These Days?

I haven't written much on the state of my marriage since the big information dump about a week ago.

Resigned, yet peaceful, coexistence seems to be the best way to describe the atmosphere. We're still sleeping separately, but that is on my own volition. She continues to say that I am welcome to sleep in bed with her if I want to.

We eat meals together most of the time, and we even had her best friend's family over for a cookout on Saturday night. I'm still involved with the kids both in the mundane things and the fun things.

My wife is aware of my renewed job search efforts. I've been trying to keep her abreast of developments. She hasn't made too much of a fuss about non-local leads. One night after I completed a phone interview at home, she said she didn't feel like it was right for her to register disapproval.

At our joint session on Wednesday last week, we came to an agreement that separation is where this is all headed in the short run, but we don't know when the move-out will take place. A big chunk of the session was spent by my therapist trying to get my wife to communicate what she is feeling and what she wants.

In regards to the fears my wife faces in separating, she said that she was afraid of being alone. She was worried that the girls weren't going to have their dad. She worried that she wouldn't be able to make it financially, but acknowledged that I would most likely keep supporting her and the kids.

She said she felt like a failure because she didn't expect that we would one day separate or even divorce. She said she was sad that she couldn't be more "sexually there." She feels like she will be alone even if we stay married because there is so much emotional distance between us.

We will continue to meet up for join sessions, but not as frequently as we have been. The goal is to help stem the avoidance in discussing how this will play out.

West Keystone State Financial Trading Software Company Wants an Interview

The "obsessive girlfriend" recruiter wrote me early this afternoon to tell me that they have decided to fly me in for a face-to-face interview.

She asks me what my schedule looks like to come in this week, and she wants an answer by Monday, if possible.

And, just in case you think I'm exaggerating, I took a count of the number of e-mail messages she has sent me since two weeks ago tomorrow. It's a total of 49 messages over ten business days. I'm sure the cell phone call stats would show figures just as insane.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Can Program a Computer, Choose the Perfect Time

Stick with this post because there's quite a bombshell at the end.

Since I've been in a multimedia frame of mind, let's throw in a clip to start off the job search update...

So here's where things stand right now...

I trusted my gut and sent a politely worded rejection letter to the CNC manufacturer. Since then, I've gotten two more contacts from local recruiters plugging the same position. My read is that the company is desperate to find someone to fill that vacancy.

The most prized local lead, a high performance programming role with the big indigo computing megalith, remains silent. I fear that the company's automated web form may be just a black hole. I've been using Google to see if I can deduce from news reports, press releases, or local university websites who might be in charge of this project, but I can't find any information on it.

This coming Tuesday morning, I have an introduction over coffee with a manager for the local office of a consulting company who is looking for Java developers. I had a phone conversation with one of their recruiters last week. It sounds like they try to hire people locally instead of sending their staff on extended traveling assignments.

It's looking like my interview with the Bay Area software company that I mentioned in the last update will be in mid-August.

On Thursday, I had the third and final phone interview for the Western Keystone State office of the Financial Trading Software vendor. The recruiter said that the interviewer gave me good marks, but now they seemed to be obsessed about my salary.

According to the recruiter (whom I refer to as the "obsessive girlfriend" because I get no less than four e-mails and phone calls from her a day), they are concerned that my current compensation is so low.

I explained to them that I live in an area where the cost of living, especially for housing, is very low. I added the lowness of my salary is also due to the fact that I work for a startup.

I really don't understand the whole brouhaha. I've demonstrated some degree of skill aptitude to them via a standardized programming language test, a programming logic test, and one and a half hours of technical phone screens. Why they would refuse to pay the market rate for their area just because I make a lot less than that know simply befuddles me.

On Thursday evening, I had a 45 minute phone interview with an Online Advertiser that just became part of the Really Big Pacific Northwest Software Company. It was more of a get-to-know you discussion, but the chemistry was good. They are a .NET shop, but they are willing to bring on sharp people who are willing to learn it. It sounds like they have some really interesting scalability problems they're trying to tackle. I am slated to have a more involved technical interview this coming Tuesday evening. If that goes well, I think that advances me to a face-to-face interview.

During my lunch break on Friday, I caught up by phone with a local recruiter I met way back in January. He talks my ear off, but I like him because he seems genuinely interested in helping me find a role. He said a new position had come up for a company that does telephony applications for correctional facilities. It was a local position, and the pay was much more than my current job. He wondered whether I might make a fit, despite the fact that I hadn't had experience with telephony hardware. I said I'd be willing to write a paragraph that addressed that concern so that he could forward it along with my resume.

On late Friday afternoon, I had an in-person interview over at a CD/DVD/Video Game Distribution Warehouse on the northeast side of town. I spoke with their director of IT as well as the two guys with whom I had spoken on the phone a week prior. I got more detailed information on the architecture of their system and how they were trying to upgrade it. Since this is a short-term contract involving legacy technology, I'm probably not going to take the offer, but I'm sure the managers loved getting to meet the brother of one of their network admins. The comment that kept coming up was how we didn't look alike and how different our personalities were.

I also had a couple of phone conversations with a recruiter out in the Pacific Northwest who was looking for someone to do a 6 months - a year contract with the organization that helps the DOJ enforce antitrust compliance with the big software company out there. Yes, it's the same company with whom I interviewed in April and got rejected, and yes, the irony has not escaped me. From what I've learned, they have had a lot of trouble finding someone with expertise in this area, and while I am not experienced in working with the protocol they're auditing, I have a lot of low level network protocol analysis and reverse engineering experience. At her request, I provided a short introduction about myself that speaks to that. Hopefully I will have a phone interview with them soon.

I'm still waiting on a phone interview time for the Bluegrass State Printer Manufacturer.

I sent my resume and employment agreement to the recruiter representing the Local Interactive Search Engine.

The incoming recruiter contact e-mail and phone call backlog started to get pretty hairy by the end of the week. I'm turning away most of the chaff, primarily bad skill matches, undesirable locations, or legacy technology assignments.

And now for the bombshell. After the CTO got back from his trip to LA on Thursday, he called me on his cell phone to make sure I was in the office. He wanted to speak to me privately.

We had a discussion in the conference room later that morning. He said that he knew that we hadn't talked much, and he wanted to make sure everything was okay with me because he noticed that I was out of the office a lot during the mid-day. He said that the CEO and he were worried that I might be interviewing.

I admitted that the uncertainty over the company's direction had been a big source of stress on me. I didn't say that I had been interviewing, but I admitted that I had been seeking some professional help to deal with the stress, and that was where I had been during those times.

He apologized for the roller coaster ride, saying that he and the CEO had been through a lot of stress as well. He then went on to assure me that we were in the best financial position we had been in for a long time. He then disclosed that things were teetering on the brink about a year ago, which coincided with his "crunch time" memo (scroll down to "Things aren't much better at work...") from last year.

He then said that a deal was in the works with the Hollywood guy, and it sounded like something that my coworker and I had speculated about a little over a month ago. The empire builder is offering a stock swap deal, which puts our company under his control. On Monday, our angel investor heads out to the Left Coast to nail down the agreement. Our company would then oversee the integration of the IT services of his other acquisitions. The CEO and CTO would move out there to work. My coworker and I would be given the option of either going out there, too, or staying behind to work remotely.

I asked him how serious this deal was. He said that it was so serious that he was not going to pay the kids' tution at the parochial school they attend. That means he plans to be out there with his family this fall. Moreover, he said the deal was good enough that he was going to sign off on his shares in the deal. Once the deal goes through, my coworker and I would be getting raises, too.

The news really hit me hard. For one thing, it confirmed a lot of speculation. It also made me reexamine my job search strategy. Did I need to ratchet back so that I wouldn't draw any suspicion? Should I just go out with them and leave the family behind? By the end of Thursday, my mind was just too wiped out to ponder it further.

Some Late Night Listening

I've heard this on XM's Chill (Channel 84) a few times. It's a tune titled "Capumcap" by Nightmares on Wax.

I can't get enough of this music. It's sorta like a Percy Faith Orchestra "Theme from A Summer Place" for the 21st century, don't you think?

So, What's Your Google Spank Rank?

From the referral logs, we find another Google statistic for this blog.

"chronic masturbation" adolescent, # 6 on the results

Another interesting find:

wife just wants quickies, # 4 on the results

Even better, I find the point in Googlespace where I truly shine:

how to get over a sexual addiction to something # 1 on the results

I'm sure if Google had bullets a la the Billboard charts, this would certainly have one.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Then and Now

While on lunch break earlier this week, I heard a live version of Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band doing the song "For the Love of the Common People", a song I recall once recorded by Paul Young.

I always liked this rendition. Very soulful, and for some reason, the way the backup singers hold their notes after "she can" in the refrain has some sort of idiosyncratic appeal.

Springsteen's ensemble does a beautiful version as well.

It turns out that the song has way deeper roots than I once imagined.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nice Work, if You Can Get It

Current Job

And now for the latest on workplace foibles.

My coworker and I have deduced that our two fearless founders have been employing a two-pronged strategy for survival.

On one end, they are trying to find a venture captial fund that will give the some money. They seem to have found one over on the east coast, and they spent a good chunk of last week over that way.

On the other end, they are trying to secure a deal with a guy who is bent on becoming a digital content distribution overlord. It would be more of an IT services consulting gig that might help us work some on the core product, but this is more about money than mission. They are spending a couple days in Tinseltown this week having meetings on this front.

We think that the founders want the first option more than the second, but we also think that deep down, the CTO would rather do the consulting gig because it's closer to his occupational roots.

Up in the air is whether the second option forces a company relocation. My coworker said that the CTO was scoping out schools for his kids, which suggests to me that they might be headed out that way if this deal goes through. Also, when then went out to lunch last week, the CEO asked my coworker if he would be open to moving to the West Coast.

I just finished a big round of testing, debugging, and rewriting of code for their next release. Now I'm migrating a bunch of settings from the prior version so that we can get it rolled out to a semi-paying customer on the West Coast. Our CTO has yet to get us a testing environment set up over there. So this may well turn out to be a situation of hurry-up-and-wait.

Job Search 3.0

About a week and a half ago, I updated my resume and put it up on the big boards. Phone calls and e-mails aplenty. I've also put my name in a few places both here and around the country.

I applied for a position with a really big computer company, often associated with the color blue, that is supposed to be local to this area. It would be a really cool job, writing and porting scientific research software to their way out, super powerful CPU. It's the same one used in a big name game console. Big name, no relocation, interesting work, bleeding edge technology, and good pay... what's not to love. Trouble is, their job application process is one of those standardized web forms, and I have no idea whether anyone has seen my resume. I don't even have a phone number or e-mail address of someone I can bug over there.

I have another lead, which is a 3 - 5 month contract position here locally. I did a phone interview with the manager and one of the developers last week. They want me to talk to another manager on Friday. I suspect that one might be mine for the taking, but there's some misgivings.

First, it's not a job that would lead to a permanent hire. They are simply enhancing a warehouse management system to handle additional customers, and once the job is done, they won't need me.

Second, it's on a mainframe, and it's pure C. While it might result in some enhancement of skills, the skills are legacy technologies, not forward looking ones.

One nice "in" for the lead is that my brother happens to work there as a network administrator. He knows the guys in management and in software development. The managers are OK guys, according to him, but he says he stays away from the developers because both of them are kind of bizarre.

The lead with the local IP telephony company is officially dead as of late last week. I found out from the recruiter that they want someone with more .NET Framework experience.

The recruiter said she knew of another lead at another company in town who was looking for a C++ programmer, and she said she would send my name their way. I got a call the next day, and I set up an interview with them on Tuesday. They are a company that makes CNC machine tools, and they were looking for someone to work on the software that is used to program their lathe.

I think I've seen ads for this kind of position on job boards for over a year now, albeit through a different company. I never applied because their desired skill list didn't exactly mesh well with mine.

The interview went quickly. I met with an Executive Vice President and a couple of software engineering managers. They quizzed me briefly on my resume and had me talk about a code sample to see if I could figure out what it was doing. The EVP decided that I didn't need to take an online C++ programming test, and he sent the other two managers to give me a tour of the facilities.

During the tour, I got another code sample to comment on, and they showed me what the software interface looked like. After about 20 minutes or so, one of the managers got paged by the HR director, and we went to her office. She told me that they wanted to make me an offer. I got a lowball value from them and worked them up some. I have until the end of business on Thursday to answer.

Maybe I'm becoming a snob, but I've become leery of any job interview process that doesn't run me through the meat grinder enough. One hour of face time really isn't much of an introduction, and the fact that HR was ready to make an offer without having the two software development managers consult on it in the meantime raised red flags. Maybe that's the way they do things? Maybe they're desperate to find someone? The company is doing well, but my gut is in a bit of a knot over it.

I took a programming test for a hedge fund up in Chicago, but they said that my score wasn't high enough. They said I could apply again in six months. I suspect they are like the investment trading software company that uses a threshold well into the 90th percentile to sift out applicants. At that point, you're just judging people on how much C++ trivia they know, but that's their prerogative.

I've been recruited aggressively by this firm that does both consulting and software development in the finance sector. They originally approached me regarding positions in the Big Apple, including the one company whose interview I canceled out on at the end of January.

I took a C++ programming test and a logic programming quiz at her request and did well on both of them. She said she would vet my my resume with her client. Then later on she came back and wondered if I would be interested in a position working for them in a big town on the west end of the Keystone State. She said they had just opened up a new development office there. I said I would be willing to consider it.

So I went through two technical phone screens. One was targeted towards my knowledge of systems programming. The second was an algorithm design problem a la some of the hour long phone interviews that I did for companies in the Pacific Northwest. I have survived both of those rounds. Next comes a phone interview with the manager at the office on Thursday afternoon. If I pass muster there, I get to fly in for an on-site interview.

On the advice of a loyal and esteemed blog reader, I applied for a position at a company that she knew was looking for talent. I found an opening on their website that covered some stuff I had worked on recently. I got a response, and I did a phone interview last night. It was a half hour technical screen, and while I wasn't able to answer every question perfectly (there were some doozies), the guy said he really enjoyed talking to me and is recommending that I come out to their offices on the West Coast for an interview. I need to figure out what day to go. I'm thinking at the end of a week, so I don't have to suffer the wrath of the Red Eye.

I've been approached by another recruiter representing a search engine based in this metro area. This is the second time in a year that I've been approached. I'm not sure if they're still as much of a train wreck as what they were last fall, but I might bite just to see what I can get.

This morning, I got a call from a recruiter representing the large manufacturer of printing devices located down in the eastern Bluegrass State. She is most likely going to forward my resume to a couple of managers there. They would be long term contract positions, but the benefits would be nice.

I'm quickly approaching the overwhelm point, so I probably need to throttle back a bit on leads to pursue. Once again, it seems like I have better luck with leads where I'm approached rather than the ones I apply for.

More Dubious Search Engine Rankings

As with a prior post, these finds are culled from my sitemeter.com log.

These are not nearly as entertaining as the finds over at Have the T-shirt, but amusing nonetheless.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dubious Milestones in Search Engine Ranking

(assuming faux Paul Harvey voice)

From the For What It's Worth Dept... My sitemeter.com log tells me that I got a visitor early this morning from someone who found this site on Google using the keywords:
marriage "dead sex life"

As of this morning, one of my post turns up sixth on the list.

Good day!

A Harrowing Week It Has Been

This is a very long post. Bear with me.

At the July 9 joint counseling session, we had agreed to start having regularly scheduled dialogs instead of waiting for one another to start talking. We had discussions on Wednesday (7/11), Saturday (7/14), and Tuesday (7/17).

July 11 Discussion

She said she had talked to her therapist about her problems with talking about sex both in the bedroom and out. This came up because in a joint session, my wife said that by "whore in bed" she meant someone who talked during sex.

She said she didn't know how to express what she wanted, and it made her uncomfortable. She said she had trouble even talking about it with her friends. She could tell them whether or not she had sex and whether it was good or not, but no details on the explicit stuff.

She admitted that she wished I was able to just read her mind and do what she wanted (note: she has set herself up for many a nonsexual disappointment because she expected me to read her mind in those instances, too). Her therapist told her that was unrealistic.

The therapist also recommended that we spend some time trying to develop a common sexual vocabulary. Neither of us really understood what that meant.

She said she had spent time talking with her therapist about her parents, including the speculation that her dad might have been in the closet. She repeated some things that came up in marriage counseling last summer about her dad, and how she felt unloved by him. She told her therapist that her therapist whom she saw in the late 90s tried EMDR with her to help work past the anger at her parents. I knew she had done the EMDR, but she never had explained why.

I brought up the counterargument (scroll to the paragraph that begins "If the consumption of media...") to the "porn warped my expectations of sex" theory that her therapist had advanced.

On the first point, which involved her exposure to unrealistic images of women and sexuality, she conceded that watching such programs may have influenced her, but she wasn't willing to buy the theory completely.

In response to the second point of my counterargument her friend's contempt for sex, she said that there were a lot of conversations that I never heard. Things like when her best friend really enjoyed sex with her husband when he took some erectile dysfunction drugs, or when her preschool mom friend initiated sex with her husband because he "looked sexy in his suit".

I said that if we were to subtract all the other things about me that she says are aggravating to her (e.g. not always readily responsive toward her and the kids, not taking the initiative in planning social activities, too opinionated, perpetually unhappy) and her baseline desire for sex was still low, then perhaps the notion of sexual activity itself is a violation of her integrity.

If that was the case, then I believed that we had a terminal situation. I couldn't say that I would remain happy or faithful in that kind of relationship. If tried to say otherwise, I would be lying to myself. She wasn't pleased to hear that, but she didn't fall apart, either.

She said if we did go our separate ways, she wanted me to stand up to my mother if my mother badmouthed her in front of the kids. Given my mothers conduct after her own divorce, I knew my wife had reason to be concerned. I said that I would do that. I didn't want anyone try to turn the kids against her.

She said it was hard for her to think about divorce when she thinks of the kids. She then lost composure and started crying. To buffer the guilt, I said that as the kids got older, they would pick up on the distance between us, and that would have negative side effects as well.

She said that it helped her some to finally admit that she was so angry at me about not being sensitive enough when her brother passed away. She had first brought this up during the fourth marriage counseling session last August. I asked her why she had refused to communicate this with me soon after it happened, rather than holding onto it for close to three years. Her response was that she thought that didn't care enough and would have disregarded what she said.

She said that the attempts to get pregnant really took a toll on her during 2001. Having sex several days in a row when the fertility meter said made sex a chore. She was then offering me sex every so often just so I wouldn't be in a bad mood.

Taking a cue from my therapist, I said that her actions seemed as if she wished I was a nonsexual being. I asked her a question that she had dodged in the past, namely if she was given the choice between killing off my sexual desire or seeking a way to increase hers, which would she take? She said if there existed a pill that would boost her sexual desire, she would gladly take it.

I said it was hard for us to find common ground because it seems like we view sex as two completely different things. I see a playground, and she sees a haunted house. She said she didn't understand the analogy. I said that I looked upon sex as something that could be enjoyed, and she seemed to approach it as a source of anxiety.

July 14 Discussion

We started off the discussion by me recapping and clarifying the points she had made during our last discussion.

Then we talked about an encounter we had the night before. I've put the story in a blockquote so that you can tell when the Saturday conversation resumes.

It was Friday night, and my wife had decided to extend the garage sale by an extra day. She wanted to update the ad on the craigslist.org website. I suggested that she take down the ad and put up a new one so it would be closer to the top. She acted as if that was a big hassle but proceeded to do it anyway. She ran into a snag while posting the new ad. The spam protection mechanisms on craigslist.org noticed that the wording was similar to the ad we just took down, and it was blocking us from putting the new ad up. She got cranky, and I worked around the problem by changing the wording and posting from a different e-mail address. The whole exchange left us both on edge.

When she came to bed, I told her that I was dealing with some uncomfortable feelings. On one hand, I was feeling a lot of anger toward her regarding our dispute. On the other hand, I was feeling a strong desire to be sexual with her. She admitted that she, too, was feeling sexual and had thought about asking for the vibrator. She had decided against it because she said she didn't want to "send mixed signals." The conversation wavered back and forth.

Eventually, I wound up shutting the door to the room and aggressively removing her pajamas. She was responding with signs of arousal, so I progressed to pleasuring her with my hand. But after a while, she lost steam. She said she was sorry, but the desire just disappeared. I stopped. Soothed myself, and then said that I was going into the other room to take care of myself (in light of her expressed anxiety toward me masturbating in her presence).

I asked her to clarify what she had meant about sending mixed signals the night before. she said that normally she wouldn't have tried being sexual with me in that frame of mind. She would have needed to feel closer to me to want sex. She said that she was concerned that us having sex would have led me to believe that everything was better between us. I said that I didn't have any illusions that this was going to make everything better.

I then asked her to describe for me what she thought "better" looked like. This was her list:

  • I was smiling and laughing more often. I had a greater level of happiness.

  • We were doing more things together as a couple and as a family.

  • We were having sex more frequently

I asked her whether she had any insights on why she lost steam. She said that it was taking a while for her to reach climax, and she was getting frustrated and impatient.

I asked her what she and her therapist had been doing in their private sessions with regards to sex. I knew that she had talked with her about the influence of porn on me, and I knew about the therapist's desire for us to learn how to talk about sex with one another. She said that there wasn't much else. I wondered if she had given her some things to work on with regards to her anxiety in the bedroom.

I expressed surprised that after seven or so sessions with her therapist, that was all they had talked about with regards to sex. I said that I didn't have much optimism because she had already expressed issues with the touch, smell, and taste experiences of sex. I didn't see how things could improve until she made efforts to address those things.

She then said there were things that probably never would change. She said that it probably would never be as many times as I wanted (she harps on the frequency a lot when she is defending herself.), and that things that she could do to pleasure me probably wouldn't change. She singled out oral sex and said that she'd never get used to doing it and it probably wouldn't happen more than once or twice a year (it happens less than once a year now).

I asked her whether she thought that other men would be happy with the level of sexual engagement that exists between us. She said that she couldn't be certain, but she knew that with her best friend, she refused to have sex in the nude, and many times she needed to read books of women's sexual fantasies during the act to keep involved.

That left me with a really bad impression. Her statements were drawing lines that said, "don't expect me to work too hard on this." I decided to hold off an think about this some more.

July 17 Discussion
Facing any two-choice dilemma is so wounding to some people's narcissism that they just shut down -- or won't shut up. They regress and the reptilian part of their brain takes over. Some hold siege until their partner capitulates. Others verbally (or physically) bludgeon their spouse int surrendering all priorities so that their two-choice dilemma doesn't surface. Both types overlook the internal dilemma that their behavior creates: demanding that they be "loved" by their partner, but acting in ways that are neither loving nor lovable.

-- David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 299

As I hinted at in a prior posting, things started to fall apart after this discussion.

I let my wife take the lead to let her say what was on her mind. She said she didn't have anything to say.

I talked about the job search, which I had renewed a few days earlier with a refresh of my resumes on the big four job boards. I said that the resumes were generating responses, a mixture of local and nonlocal leads.

I ad libbed my way through the points of my critical mass statement.

I said that it sounded as if she was wanting from me:

  • An improvement in demeanor. Be more pleasant. Smile.

  • Be more present in the moment. Pay attention and spend time with her and the kids.

I added that it sounded like she envisioned that sex would happen more frequently, but not as much as she thought I would want. There were no signs that she was willing to confront her anxieties in the bedroom.

I said I felt like she was selfish in bed. I cited our sexual encounter on Friday night, saying that she is open to being pleasured to certain degrees, but after she lost her momentum, it would have been unheard of for her to then turn and offer to pleasure me in some way.

I said that she said she had so many issues... touch, smell, taste, fluids... about the only thing she was willing to do was be on the receiving end of sexual intercourse.

I said that I believed that her characterizations of being absent in the relationship weren't fair. Although there were times that I wasn't immediately responsive to her and the kids' requests for attention, I did spend time with her and the kids.

I was there for the kids in truly meaningful ways, in addition to chores like feeding, bathing, and diaper changing. Usually I was the one who got up with them in the middle of the night. I had worked with both kids to help learn to calm themselves down. I helped them fix their toys and such when they weren't working.

I recalled how she said she really lost interest in sex after I wasn't empathetic enough about her brother's death in 2003. She didn't admit to the anger until our marriage counseling almost a year ago, and she really didn't fess up to the depth of the anger until the last month or so.

And because she assumed that I didn't care, she chose not to communicate her feelings toward me. That happened to coincide with the 18 month drought where she was offering quickie mercy fucks on a quarterly basis. And even in the fall of 2005 and the summer of 2006, when I was asking her why she wasn't paying more attention to our sex life, she held onto the "I don't know" excuse.

I said that her refusal to communicate and then withhold sex seemed like she was punishing me. I said that I didn't believe it was right for her to do that. I didn't deserve to be treated that way.

I then referred to an incident that had happened two weeks before. I was sleeping in bed, and she got into bed after turning out the light. I started stirring, thinking about making a sexual advance. A few minutes later, she asked me if I was masturbating. I said that I wasn't. Indeed my hands were nowhere near my genitals. She said she needed to know because she was feeling anxiety. I asked her if she was interested in making love. She turned me down, saying that she didn't want to do anything before her next therapy session.

I said that the fact she experiences anxiety at the slightest suspicion of me pleasuring myself in her proximity without her consent is a sign that she still has deep codependency issues. It had been a decade since my last "addictive slip."

I then said that my problems with the "addiction" weren't her problems, anyway. She had her own issues of recovery, and as far as I could tell, she hadn't worked on that much over the years.

  • After she found out about the phone sex bills in 1994, she saw a counselor a few times through her workplace EAP.

  • She went to one CODA meeting about that time.

  • A couple years later, when we moved, she went to an S-Anon meeting for about a year, and then stopped going when she started palling around with one of the women who was attending the meetings.

I said her trouble with my sexual behavior had more to do with the fact that she hadn't done anything to deal with the codependency issues than any lurking addiction that I might have been harboring.

I said that intense anxiety is something that should be triggered in situation where life and death is key. Observing a husband sexually pleasuring himself, especially when you refuse to be available sexually, should not provoke that kind of response.

I said that I didn't have a lot of reasons to believe that she was intent on dealing with her sexual issues. The only thing about sex that they had talked about, to the best of my knowledge, was that:

  • Her lack of sexual curiosity and experimentation in her late teens and early 20s wasn't odd.

  • Porn may have warped my expectations of sex.

  • We needed to develop a better agreement on vocabulary on sex.

  • She needed to stop expecting me to read her mind about what she wanted in bed.

I said that there didn't seem to be any effort on her part to deal with the desire level or the anxiety. I felt like I was lying to myself by trying to believe that she was going to make a real effort on this. I couldn't be sure, given what I knew. I would need to make a leap of faith.

I said that I was lovable and didn't deserve to be treated this way, with affection being withheld for varying grievances.

I then I said that I would rather be alone that stay in a relationship that violated my integrity by lying to myself.

She fumed.

She said she found it hypocritical that I would be so impatient with her when she had "stood by me, forgave me, and tried to understand" all those years with my addiction. She said it was unreasonable for me to expect her to change within a matter of a few months.

I said that I had been patient for a very long time, going back as far as early 2002, when I agreed not to initiate sex because she was feeling pressured. I had waited silently for over three years, only then starting to push for more involvement when the drought had lasted over a year. Through several months of dance lessons, I had tried to reconnect with her with very little change. And then a year ago, I started to assert myself more.

Since then she had gone to one therapist for a short time, at first begrudgingly, then ceasing quietly. She had only started going to her current therapist when she got angry at me for turning down a mercy fuck. Even with this current round of therapies, she seemed to be revisiting old issues and keeping the focus on my inadequacies.

She sat there for a few minutes, and then said she would try to think of an analogy to make things clearer since I used them all the time. She then said she couldn't think of anything. She then said that because she couldn't think of anything nice to say to me, she would prefer to end the conversation.

July 18 Joint Session
Crucibles are always interlocking. When one partner goes into his crucible, the other partner goes into hers -- or gets out of the marriage.

-- David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, p. 316

My wife and I did not speak further until our joint counseling session.

The therapists started things off by asking how things had been going. A rare consensus between my wife and me indicated that things were not good.

My wife said that she wanted to separate.

She then said she was angry from the previous night's dialogue, and said she felt like I had been saying everything is her fault. She said she felt on the defensive and didn't deal with it well. She said that I thought sex was the only issue, and that actually there were several issues that had been there for a while.

She said she had been selfish for wanting to have a family so bad, that she overlooked the problems between us in a rush to have a second child.

She said she didn't want to do this anymore.

My therapist asked what kinds of problems there had been. My wife said that I didn't want to do things with her, like go to the grocery, watch TV, or play board games. There had been more downs than ups over the years, and I didn't do "giddy" very well.

She said she was having trouble being nice, and that she didn't want to be hateful. My therapist said that regardless, counseling was a place where she needed to give an "honest representation" of where she stood.

She said, "I want to shove his 'integrity' up his booty."

She said that I acted like all of our problems were due to a lack of sex. She was angry that she waited for so many years for me to be happy. She said I didn't acknowledge the "baby steps" she had been taking to work on the problem. She said that she didn't think we'd ever have a connection.

My therapist asked in what ways did my wife feel like we were still connected. My wife responded by saying that we were the parents of two beautiful girls, that I was the provider of money and help. She was the stay-at-home mom, and that everything else was just a bonus.

My therapist asked her how things were different before the kids came along. My wife said that we might do things together as a couple, perhaps go to a movie or sit together while watching TV. In the car, sometimes she would try to strike up a conversation about something that was being discussed on the radio, if she could stay awake. We used to kiss good-night instead of going to bed at different times.

(I didn't say anything during this time, but my recollections were quite different. The different bedtimes started long before the kids came along. Once we moved to our current location and started telecommuting, she tended to work three or four hours in the evening while watching TV rather than trying to get her hours out of the way during the day so that we could have the evenings free.)

She said that we struggled with sex even back then, though. She remembered being more in the mood, but it never seemed to be enough for me.

She said she didn't feel like she withheld sex from me. She admitted that she sometimes had sex with me so that I would be in a better mood. She noted that in the first few years after my addiction, things were lean, but they got better as she lost some weight and didn't feel as unattractive.

She said that she didn't think the sight of unrealistically thin women on TV had much of an effect on her self esteem.

She said that things started going downhill after the move in 2000. We'd have occasional good spells, but she said I was becoming jealous of all the time she was spending with her best friend.

She said that our early years of sex seemed freaky because it took me so long to climax. She said she would talk with her friends, who said that their husbands didn't last nearly as long.

I admitted that during the years I was using phone sex services, I had masturbated a lot, to the point where I was desensitized. Soon after she found out about the activity in 1994, our sex life throttled back, and I ceased masturbating, when we resumed sexual activity a few months later, I was lucky to last more than a couple of minutes.

I got onto the subject of her friends' attitudes towards their sex with husbands. I discussed how my wife and her friends openly made light of turning down their husbands and their husband's sexual inadequacies. On one of my birthdays that fell a year or so after my staying power plummeted, I got a card from one of her friends that joked about an aging man being like a microwave... just set it for two minutes and it goes "ding".

My wife's therapist went on an extensive discussion of how our society had become too open about sex lives, and that there needed to be boundaries about what spouses shared with their friends. She asked my wife if she had ever asked whether it was okay to share details with her friends. My wife honestly answered, "no".

The therapist also talked about how guys tend to get a little too loose with locker room talk. I said that I didn't engage in that sort of thing back in my high school years because most of the people I ran around with didn't talk about their sexual exploits. I speculated that one of the big reasons was that many of them were in the closet and knew that such things probably wouldn't go over well in a small town on the northern fringe of the Bible Belt.

My therapist said that my wife must feel like she's in a very lonely place. My wife agreed. My wife described me as "passive aggressive." My therapist asked for clarification. My wife replied that although the tone of my voice was calm, it sounded to her like I was trying to make everything her fault.

My therapist asked her whether she thought I used my ability to communicate in manipulative ways. She said that sometimes she felt overwhelmed by what I was saying. She added that she hated when I tried to restate things in terms of analogies. When I used them, she got angry and just blocked me out.

We got on the subject of the masturbation anxiety/sex rejection incident. In this area, both her therapist and mine seemed to be confused utterly about what my wife was saying. She claimed that she had no problems with people masturbating, but she had issues with me masturbating on a regular basis when we were having troubles and not having sex. She viewed it as me saying that I didn't want to be close.

We got on the subject of foreplay as a means of building closeness. I said that in the past, I had taken my wife's rejection of foreplay personally... that she must be doing that because there's something wrong with me. I said that I used to put too much emotional investment in foreplay as a source of validation. If I could make my wife feel good and get her aroused, I must be a good person.

I said that over the past year, I had changed my view of foreplay. I understood it to be a means of negotiating the level of connection between partners. Given that my wife had become so proscriptive about what could and could not be done, I understood that she didn't want us to be close.

My therapist noted that time was running short and asked where things were headed. For all of the discussion about sex and boundaries, she noted that my wife had come in with a very different set of thoughts. She wondered if perhaps we should be coming to some sort of agreement on whether these sessions should be trying to repair the marriage or leading to its dissolution.

My wife's therapist said she wanted to have at least one more joint session, so we agreed to have some sort of decision by the time we met on 7/25.

That night, my wife spent an hour or so talking to her other best friend who is currently separated from her husband.

July 19 Post Mortem

We talked briefly before going to bed Thursday night. She had seen her therapist earlier that day.

I said that I thought we should hold off on me moving out until I can get the job situation straightened out. We were having a hard enough time affording things with one household, and I didn't want to worsen things with the cost of two. She said she was okay with me staying here for now, and that I could even sleep in the same bed so that I didn't hurt my back by sleeping on the couch.

I said that I'd be okay on the couch. I then said that given the current circumstances, I would no longer be attempting any sexual activity with her.

She said her therapist thought that I was fixated too much on the frequency of sex, and that we needed to focus more on the content of sex.

I said that I thought her remarks about her issues with masturbation set up a paradox. She has said she doesn't want to have sex unless she feels emotionally close to me. She has also said she thinks my masturbation lessens the closeness between us.

In a way, she's saying that she can only feel close when she has veto power over our shared and my solo sexual activity (a classic dodge of a two-choice dilemma, I might add). There's not many people who would put up with that lack of boundaries, so it makes a close relationship nearly impossible. She said that wasn't true, but didn't offer any counterargument.

I asked her whether her friend had any insights for her from their phone call. She said that her friend, who is a child psychologist, said that problems with sex usually have more to do with other things in the relationship. She said that she and her husband had had a lot of sex over the years, but that they had a lousy relationship.

I told her that she didn't have to worry about it anyway, because I wasn't going to bother her for sex.

I told her that I wasn't going to fight over most of the household things because I wanted her and the kids to have a home. She said she was worried that she would be able to afford the house. I said that I would do my best to help them out, but that as time progressed she would need to take on a greater role for supporting herself.

We've been sleeping separately since.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What a Way to Mark One Year of Blogging

Yes, today marks my first anniversary of blogging in this space.

My wife and I had a scheduled discussion tonight, the third in a series since Wednesday of last week.

To start off, I asked her whether she had anything to say. She said she didn't, so I took my turn.

I started with a more mundane beginning, talking about the leads that my updated resumes had been generating.

Then I transitioned into the heavy stuff. I walked through the points of my Statement of Critical Mass, with some revisions to take into account things that I had learned from subsequent dialogs.

I spoke calmly and slowly. It was done mostly from memory.

You cannot imagine how much my anxiety dissipated when I concluded by saying "I would rather be alone than be in a relationship that violated my integrity." That was my "I can live without you" moment.

My wife had the most stonefaced look after I finished speaking.

She paused and then said she found it hypocritical that I was expecting her to make a turnaround in a few months when she "stood by me" for so many years regarding my addiction.

She vehemently disputed my claim that she avoided communicating the extent of her anger at me and chose to punish me by withholding sex under the claim that "she didn't feel close to me" and didn't bother telling me about why because she "didn't think I cared."

She said that I "selectively forgot" about all the times that she said she wanted me to be close. She said she expressed a desire to be closer during a conversation that we had in June of last year. My recollection was quite different. To her, the path to greater closeness was going to the grocery with her.

I said that I had waited more than just a few months for her to deal with this. We had a big argument over a year ago that launched this current phase of the marriage. As far back as early 2002, I had been trying to communicate with her that I was baffled by her resistance to foreplay and lack of interest in sex.

I countered her claim about the addiction, noting that when she first found out about the phone sex activity in the fall of 2004, I immediately sought out counseling, and within three weeks, I was going to 12-step meetings. She went to one codependency recovery meeting and saw a counselor a few times, but never worked on her own issues on a sustained basis. I said that her refusal to deal with her codependency was one of the reasons that she probably developed intense anxiety at the thought I might actually be pleasuring myself.

She sarcastically responded by saying that I must just be OK and she's the only one who needs fixing. She then added that her problems with the masturbation wasn't just that I was feeling good. She said she viewed the activity as driving us farther apart, that I wasn't focusing on the relationship. She then said she'd try to come up with an analogy. After a few moments, she said she couldn't think of one.

She sat there for a few more minutes, looking like she was ready to cry. She then said she didn't want to say anything at the moment because she was so angry with me and was afraid she would say something she would regret. I asked her if she needed a few minutes to regroup. She sat there a few minutes more and then said that she didn't have anything more to say. She watched a DVRed episode of Big Brother and then went to bed.

We have joint therapy at noon Wednesday. I won't back down. I can't betray myself that way.

It's over. After a year of agonizingly harsh self confrontation. I can feel it's over.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What about Future Relationships?

Michelle asks in the comments section:
My question is, if you were to leave your marriage, what would you want to happen in terms of your relationships? I mean, would you expect to find another partner?

This is a good question, and one my wife posed (with some sarcasm) to me last night during one of our scheduled dialogues. She was curious about what a post marital relationship would be like for me, arguing that since I placed such an emphasis on sex, wouldn't it just be a bunch of one-night stands.

I've taken a look at the history of this current relationship, and I've come to realize just how immature I was at its inception. I didn't have much regard for my own self worth. I was longing for someone in my life, and when it happened, I compromised my personal integrity to achieve superficial harmony.

I've challenged myself on the divorce question many times, asking whether its allure is due to some false expectation of a catharsis. If that were the case, I would be leaving the relationship for reasons just as unhealthy as when I entered it.

The question is how do I deal with the anxiety of feeling lonely once the marriage dissolves. I don't doubt for a moment that loneliness will be involved. Reduced contact with my children, the rejection of friends and relatives who may not approve of this decision, and the prospect of geographic relocation will make this something I will do on my own.

The early days will need to be spent developing and reinforcing that which is solid in me. Self validating acts, like getting in better shape, making a new home for myself, and reinvigorating my professional life will be very important.

Because this change may involve the loss of what tenuous social network I may have had in real life, it will be important to counter the loneliness with constructive togetherness. That means finding some regular activities or hobbies that involve live interaction with others. I need to conquer the anxiety of making new friendships that comes from the nagging, but false, presumption that people would reject me if I just was myself.

While I could foresee dating, I would be in no rush to head back to the altar, and that is something I would make clear up front in a relationship that took a romantic turn. I don't think it would be wise for me to commit to something as deep as marriage when my kids should be my top priority both emotionally and financially.

In other words, all of this stuff that I picked up during my therapy work has implications once the marriage is dissolved, otherwise I really won't have grown that much.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What about a Job in the Railroad Biz?

Ever insightful commenter, and occasional blogger, sixdegrees writes:
You know, it strikes me that your interest in trains is an important part of your mental landscape. Do you have opportunities in your present life to develop this further?

While the interest in trains did play a large part of my younger mental landscape, it doesn't pack the same heft as it used to.

My interest in railroad operations and photography hit its apex in my early-to-mid high school years. It began to slide into the background as I broke out of my shell and got more involved with extracurricular activities at school.

It enjoyed a big resurgence in graduate school in the early 90s because I was living in an area that had a very high volume of rail traffic, almost 80 trains a day, between two rail lines. I also managed to connect with other railfans in the region by way of Usenet newsgroups.

After I left graduate school I spent four years over in a neighboring state to the west of us. I have some photos from trips taken during that time, too.

Several things worked to put the hobby on ice.

The first was industry consolidation. The 90s saw a large number of mergers and acquisitions that reduced the number of major railroad carriers to four. The Burlington Northern and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe merged. Union Pacific scarfed down both the Chicago & Northwestern and the Southern Pacific. Conrail got carved up into pieces by CSX and Norfolk Southern. Fewer rail lines meant less variety on the main lines. As locomotives got repainted, it got less exciting.

Second was 9/11/2001. For the first time since World War II, the idea of a bunch of guys gathered near a high traffic rail line with cameras quickly became suspect activity.

Third was the arrival of our children. Gone were those days off where one could sneak off for several hours or a whole day on end to spend some time trackside. They were replaced with daddy time.

Fourth was a realization that interest in the railroad industry is a case study in loss. Although the railroad industry is in pretty good health nowadays, it is depressing sometimes to think about just how much of it has disappeared. The mid-to-late 19th century was a period of overbuilding and corporate abuse. That left the railroad shackled with excess capacity and several decades of heavy regulation that kept them from adapting to changing market conditions.

The deregulation of the industry in the early 80s provided respite, but it also involved the massive rationalization of physical plant (read: abandonment of rail lines, shutdown of signal towers, and demolition of sometimes beautiful railroad stations). The overly aggressive downsizing proved to be shortsighted, as capacity problems started to appear in the mid 90s and overwhelm the leaner and meaner rail systems.

Not that I haven't tried to rekindle the interest. I've toyed with the idea of building a website of photos that I took over the years, but haven't been able to summon the energy to do the job well. I even got a copy of Microsoft Train Simulator when it came out a few years ago, but I've only played with the diesel locomotive simulations a few times.

This past year has been one of deep reflection on my life's story, recognizing the good and bad in the choices I've made. From a mixture of curiosity, family events, and obligations to reduce garage clutter, I have been brought into contact with several momentos that I've accumulated over the years.

The railroad photos are one portion of these artifacts, but they are perhaps the most compelling because they can be used to give meaning to events both in the past and the present.

The idea of working for a railroad or some railroad related industry has crossed my mind over the years. Had I studied mechanical or civil engineering as an undergrad, it would have been easier to get a foot in the door.

Within the software development field, there are opportunities.

The major railroads hire developers to work on back office and centralized traffic control (CTC) applications. The latter would be more appealing to me. The employment ads I've seen for these companies suggest that they rely heavily on mainframes. Being a UNIX and Win32 guy, it would require a major retooling of the skill set.

The other area is within the field of railroad equipment, such as locomotives and public transit. The bulk of these positions require embedded systems experience, which is also outside my domain.

Had I gone into mathematics and specialized in Operations Research, I could have been at the forefront of Scheduled Railroading.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Railroad Photos... 80s Mtv Edition

Well there's people... and more people.
What do they know know know?
They go to work in some high rise
And vacation down in the Gulf of Mexico.

-- John Mellencap, "Pink Houses", Uh Huh

My wife has been trying to get the garage cleaned out for a sale she's having on Friday and Saturday. Today, she requested that I sift through some of the boxes I brought back to our house just before the end of last year.

I pared back quite a bit, but looking through old newspaper clippings and photographs brought back memories.

I'm not sure where the train photos fall on the readership boredom scale. Maybe not the most interesting thing, but perhaps more exciting than my digressions on Schnarch's writings. I dunno. I do know that there are a lot of 80s music fans out in this corner of the Blogosphere, so maybe throwing in some music video references will make this post more tolerable.

Today I'd like to reveal a little bit about my past. I grew up in The Small Town. If you watched John Mellencamp music videos from the early 80s, chances are you saw many of the scenes of The Small Town. His video for "Pink Houses" always had a soft spot in my heart because it included vignettes of railroad activity there.

A couple years ago, I figured out how to use a command line program on Linux to slurp videos from a Real Video server, and I captured "Pink Houses" on my computer for all time.

In a pair of posts a while back, I provided a photo of a railroad signal and some background information. In the latter post, I wrote:

Just shy of the grade crossing is a signal used to regulate the movement of trains on the line. The signal is called a position light, gaining its name from the fact that it uses the alignment of lamps to emulate the positions of the semaphore signals that they replaced.


This purpose of this signal is to serve as an early warning to the oncoming train. A little over two miles north of here, there is a crossing with an east-west rail line. The crossing is protected by a similar signal.


The unseen crossing... drawing near, yet still unseeable. It represents the choice I will need to make with respect to my family and my career. The east-west direction of the other line represents opportunity, something that is commonly associated with the westward direction in American culture. On a more literal level, some of the more radical choices I could make involve moving far westward.

I failed to mention that the intersection in question was featured in "Pink Houses". I pulled some screen captures to give you an idea.

The scene in this first still takes place just after the second verse has completed. It is a ground level view of the rail line intersection. The tower that controls the signals can be seen in the left background.

The large structures in the background are the bins of a long defunct grain mill. That large black object just in front of the bins is the position light for which the other signal in my earlier post served as an earlier warning.

The intersection makes another appearance at the very end, as a southbound train makes its way across the diamond, the special piece of track that allows two rail lines to cross.

Does anyone remember when through freights still had cabooses?

The next photo comes from my own collection. It was taken at about the same time period as the filming of "Pink Houses". You can see the intersection way in the background. The signal that guarded access from the north was a graceful cantilever structure, and it can be seen in the foreground.

You can get a larger version of image by clicking on the graphic.

The cantilever still stands today, but the position light signal it hosted has been removed, so it is now more of an undignified, decapitated corpse rather than a stately, ever sentient guardian.

The cantilever signal makes a cameo appearance just before the beginning of the third verse, albeit from the other side.

My photo just happens to have been shot from the vantage point of the Lynn Hotel, which is also featured in the video. During the interlude between the second and third verses, you get a full view of the building.

At the time the video was shot, the hotel itself had been closed down. Long after the hotel's closure, a cafe and lounge continued to operate in the building. The lounge entrance can bee seen on the lower right. The cafe was accessible from the south side of the building (unseen, off to the left).

In the evenings, older guys would congregate with lawn chairs just below the old HOTEL marquee in this photograph to talk. The video captures this, too. However, it was earlier in the day, and there was only one guy sitting there.

The building was razed sometime in the late 80s, if I recall correctly. My hometown has a horrible habit of letting old buildings decay to the point of irreparability, and then tearing them down for parking lots. If they keep it up, the Small Town will be all parking lot sometime around 2047.

Ain't that America for you and me?

Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm Not Proud... or Tired

Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog. And then at twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, 'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn't going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

-- Arlo Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant" [1]

Well, maybe I'm a bit tired because I'm not going to blog in great detail about today's events, let alone catch up on things that have happened since Friday.

I will say that I didn't get a chance to read my critical mass statement. This week was my wife's turn to lead off the discussion. She talked about how we had discussed things a bit on Friday night, but not much else. She said she didn't know what to do from here.

Our therapists suggested two things for us to try, both of which are described in Weiner-Davis' Divorce Busting. The first, found on p. 150 et seq., is time-limited conflict resolution dialogues. The other, found on p. 157 et seq., is to add a step in the sequence of events, in essence asking the spouse what is going on inside when a negative situation is perceived.

We also talked about how the lack of interaction between us worsens the distance. My wife said that I didn't seem to enjoy doing much, so she sought to get her needs met through her friendships. My therapist asked my wife if she felt lonely in the relationship, my wife agreed. I think I needed to hear that from her. From the perspective of loneliness, I better understood why she was asking for more time for us.

That was the bulk of our session. My wife started to talk about her lack of sexual desire towards the end of the session, but her therapist put a stop to that, asking that be raised in the joint session next week.

This evening, we agreed to have discussions at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday.

[1] -- Hat tip to blogger Tom Allen, whose comment from a posting back at the beginning of this year inspired this posting.

My Statement of Critical Mass

Here is the text of my remarks for today's joint counseling session...

Relationships thrive on healthy giving and taking. Over the course of a marriage, a couple will encounter areas of disagreement. It is an inevitable result of our uniqueness as individuals.

When it comes to thoughts and feelings, it is possible to agree to disagree respectfully. When it comes to shared behaviors, it's hard to have it both ways. Some therapists refer to really difficult disagreements as two choice dilemmas.

The use of the word two emphasizes that the choices are mutually exclusive. The word dilemma calls attention to the difficulty in making a choice. Usually each alternative entails some form of anxiety.

Conventional marital therapy attempts to shy away from two choice dilemmas because they can give rise to intense disputes. However, the cost of dodging them can weigh heavily on a relationship. Within the confines of marriage, spouses will frequently do things to torture each other while feigning ignorance.

The therapy I have undergone for the past eight months takes a different viewpoint. Two choice dilemmas can actually be used to help the partners become more mature. Facing anxiety, rather than avoiding it, forces one to self confront and identify what's truly non-negotiable. Greater authenticity entails risk, because it can destroy just as well as it can renew a relationship, but it becomes tolerable when one realizes that preserving a relationship at the expense of personal integrity is corrosive to both parties.

I have been working my way through two of these two choice dilemmas. The first dilemma could be stated as:

  1. Remain married to someone whom I believe is minimally sexual or just doesn't desire me.

  2. Seek a divorce and start out all over again financially.

The second dilemma is:

  1. Continue to seek employment locally, in a comparatively weak software development job market, possibly endangering my professional career.

  2. Relocate to someplace both unfamiliar and more expensive, where there is a more lively job market and better career opportunities.

A little over a month ago, my wife linked these two dilemmas by saying that neither she nor the girls would relocate with me if I were to take the second choice of my second dilemma. In other words, choice two of the second probably would force me to take choice two of the first as well.

The primary reason she gave for not wanting me to take choice two of dilemma two is that she did not want to give up her circle of friends, from whom she derives much emotional support. During our conversation on June 30, I noted that her apparent willingness to place more faith in her friends than in me suggested that she didn't have much confidence in the strength of the marriage itself.

The natural response for most of us is to avoid making a choice. We trick ourselves into believing that the absence of an anxiety free choice is really no choice at all. We might defer the choice, with the hope that a better choice will emerge with time. Because the alternatives have an impact on the spouse, we sometimes resort to tactics that try to make our partner give up a choice altogether.

This can bring out an unpleasant side of ourselves. the part that resorts to covert actions to inflict discomfort or pain upon the other. We're all guilty of it. It can surface in many forms:

  • procrastination or forgetfulness

  • manipulation of the partner's reflected sense of self (“If you were good enough, I would do...”)

  • sexual withholding in frequency and involvement (mercy sex)

Sometimes we justify this behavior in our mind by saying, “It's happening to me, too.”

At the end of our second joint counseling session, I set out four conditions that I needed from her to continue working on this marriage. Two of them addressed the two choice dilemmas that she faced in conjunction with mine.

  • Start working seriously to address her issues with touch and sexual desire.

  • Start putting our marriage ahead of friendss. I viewed her refusal to relocate as an indication that she values her friendships over her marriage to me, my career, and our financial security.

The other two:

  • Stop blaming my unhappiness on depression and telling me that I need medication.

  • Stop using guilt and intrusive tactics to induce shame over my sexual behavior.

Addressed ways that I believed my wife tried to keep me from making a self-validating choice in dilemma one. They were her forms of inflicting pain on me.

One of the things that keeps me stuck in ambivalence is the question of whether my wife is serious about addressing her lack of sexual desire. She claims that she is.

My past experiences make me feel as if she would just rather me be a nonsexual being. The recently renewed emphasis on past compulsive sexual behavior and the intrusive monitoring of my habits reinforce this.

I have asked her which she would prefer:

  1. An increase her enjoyment and desire for sex.

  2. A reduction in my sexual desire so it's no longer an issue.

She has answered by saying she wants the first choice, adding that she wishes there was a pill that she could take to make her want sex more. No such miracle remedy exists. Even erectile dysfunction drugs can't do this in men. They only help with the physical aspects. Desire is something deeply ingrained in the mind. Her gynecologist suggested drinking a glass of wine before hand, but that really isn't a solution. It's just a way of temporarily anesthetizing the anxiety.

As time has passed I have come to the conclusion that while my wife's words say “Yes, I am serious about this.” Her actions suggest that she is not.

  • Last summer, when I said that I wanted her to seek out therapy, she did so only begrudgingly. She went to a few sessions, said that she wasn't getting much out of them, and then quietly stopped going. She resumed going at the suggestion of my therapist after we had a fight about me declining mercy sex.

  • Last fall, she started reading Michelle Weiner-Davis' book The Sex Starved Marriage, saying that it seemed like it was easier to read than most self-help books. She eventually stopped reading the book, leaving it marked a few pages shy of the section where it talks about ways to improve things. She was willing to concede a problem, but not really motivated to explore solutions.

  • Last winter, I offered to share with her some things I had been reading that I found useful in my own therapy work. I thought it might help her understand some of the changes in viewpoint that I was experiencing. She never read the material. Within the past couple months, when I tried talking about some of the material, she said that she wanted to throw away the book because I was treating it like some sort of Bible.

  • In our discussions of joint counseling, she hasn't been very toward with her own thoughts. I feel as if the only way to get her to make disclosures is to ask her questions, and I don't like that because that makes me feel as if I am interrogating her.

The conclusion I draw from these actions is that she is willing to do token gestures to buy time, but she promptly stops doing them when the anxiety level goes down.

During a discussion this weekend, (my wife) told me that (wife's therapist) had suggested that we abstain from sex for now. I'm not exactly sure of the motivation behind this, but if this is for an indefinite timeframe, I don't think that it will accomplish what (wife's therapist) thinks it will. Putting sex on ice removes (my wife)'s two choice dilemma from the situation, and she has no motivation to address her anxieties.

(My wife) also said that (wife's therapist) wondered if my use of phone sex and porn may have warped my expectations. I believe that several years of therapy and 12-step group work actually went to the other extreme, because I started looking at all my sexual thoughts and behaviors through a lens of suspicion. Indeed, Carnes' writings encourage the recovering addict to assume a guilty-until-proven-innocent posture.

If the consumption of media can warp expectations, then it might be worth taking a look at more recent and sustained behaviors my wife has engaged in.

  • She spends several hours a day each day watching television programs that feature women with unrealistically thin bodies and sexually charged themes. This includes soap operas and reality shows. Indeed, her daily consumption of this content far exceeds whatever behaviors I might have engaged in over a decade ago.

  • She associates with a circle of friends who openly express contempt toward their husband's sexual desires. They also ridicule their husbands reactions to sexual rejection, even in the presence of the husbands themselves.

If I had to guess, (wife's therapist)'s therapy sessions with (my wife) don't ever touch on things like this because they are too focused on (my wife) as a victim. True self confrontation looks at both sides of the sadomasochistic coin, acknowledging that we are perpetrators of hurtful behaviors to ourselves as well as others.

I also think it is unfair to characterize my expectations as unrealistic. I have been very patient through all of this. I believe that most men, given my circumstances, would have either walked out by now or dodged the dilemma through self destructive behavior.

To put it bluntly, unless there has been some severe degradation in physical health or personal hygiene, it isn't too much of a stretch to think that a woman would be comfortable with touching her husband's penis after 11 years of marriage. Moreover, it's not too unreasonable to expect a woman to be willing to learn how to pleasure her husband, especially if he has been eager to do the same for several years.

Returning to the question of whether (my wife) is serious about this. I want to believe that she is, but my experiences in both the past and present make me believe otherwise. If I give my wife the benefit of the doubt in this situation, I believe that I am lying to myself and sacrificing my integrity.

(my wife)'s sexuality is hers. I won't use our wedding vows as some moral bludgeon that force her do something that compromises her own integrity. I would have liked her to be more up front with me, even if it exposed her to the vulnerability that I might not want to stay in the marriage. Tolerance of that kind of critical vulnerability is what makes real intimacy possible. Instead, she has taken on a defensive and reactive posture.

In closing, I would like to make the following disclosures.

  • I'm at point where tactics and posturing won't work anymore.

  • I realize that I am mortal, and that life is too short to be stuck in a state of indecision. That just prolongs misery.

  • Sometimes you don't get the luxury of complete information to make a critical decision. You have to take a leap of faith and trust yourself.

  • Despite my flaws, I believe that I am a lovable person. I am patient, hard working, caring, and thoughtful, and obedient. I am a good father.

  • I don't deserve to be in a relationship where affection is withheld for an ever changing set of disqualifying circumstances.

  • I am not the same person who entered into this relationship 15 years ago. Back then, I was someone who desperately wanted to belong to someone. As we know from my history with phone sex, I was willing to deceive to hold onto that relationship. I was willing to cave in, too, even if it led to resentment. I have grown since then.

  • I would rather be alone than be in a relationship where I violate my integrity.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Job Search Takes Discouraging Turn

You may recall that, last week, I wrote in a post about job leads:
The guy at the Online Payment Subsidiary with whom I would be doing the interview on Friday just e-mailed me to let me know that the time that I agreed on won't work now. So it will either be later on in the afternoon on Friday or possibly a half hour after my joint counseling session on Monday (yech). I expressed a preference for the Friday afternoon time, but I'm making myself as flexible as possible.

I forgot to post a follow-up that the person in question failed to call me at either time. On Tuesday, I e-mailed the interview coordinator to let her know that I had not been contacted by the interviewer and was still interested in carrying out the interview. I got an e-mail Thursday evening giving me a choice of Friday afternoon or sometime on Monday. Figuring the sooner, the better, I opted for the earlier time.

Last week, when I received the reschedule e-mail directly from the interviewer, I ran the guy's name through a search engine. I turned up two pieces of useful information. One was good, the other not so good.

The good info was that this guy had given a presentation recently at a company sponsored development conference, and his talk materials were available for download. This would give me material from which I could prepare and dream up well targeted questions.

The bad info came in the form of a personal website maintained by he and his wife. It was pretty clear from the content that they were quite publicly pious. I have no problem with people who have deeply held religious beliefs, but to paraphrase a couple lines from a recent post over at Mr. Nice Guy, there are two different varieties of this species:

  • Pretty sharp people who have some pretty thought provoking things to say.

  • Not so sharp people who think they have thought provoking things to say but actually are full of hot gas.

Therese and Recovering Soul and others who frequent this blog belong to the former. My interviewer clearly belonged to the latter, folks who could find obscure verses from the book of Leviticus to determine which brand of oil filter to use. I started to worry that he wouldn't be fond of my current family situation

The call came on Friday afternoon as planned, and sure enough, it was one of the first things that came up in the interview. He asked me about the history of my interviewing process with the company. He knew that I had received an offer with the another department in April, then turned it down on the basis of cost of living, got another offer with the same team in the desert Southwest, but then asked for a position in the Silicon Valley again.

I tried to stay away from references to family, emphasizing the poor quality of the job market here and the need to move into an area with better opportunities. He started asking questions about whether my family would be coming with me and wondered how well I would fare being away from them. I think he made some reference to his own role as a father and how difficult it would be for him. He said that he had serious concerns about such an arrangement.

We burned up 10 - 15 minutes of a one hour interview just on that topic. He touched on it again about 3/4 of the way through, asking me whether I had plans to move the rest of my family out there. I talked about the possibility of them moving out at a later time (more lie than truth, cringe), but I said that there wasn't a fixed plan.

Other than those awkward exchanges, the conversation went pretty well. He let slip that he would have liked to have me come out to their Silicon Valley offices to do another interview cycle in person with his group, but that the HR guy had told him that due to budgetary constraints that wouldn't be possible. With this in mind, I let him know at the end of the interview that if he or his team members would need additional information to make a decision, I would make myself available.

He gave me a chance to ask him some questions, and I asked him six or seven ones that dealt with the specifics of what they do, how they fit into the bigger picture of the company's goals, and what he looks for in evaluating the fitness of a candidate. I wanted to drive home the notion that I was truly interested in both the company and the work of his team.

After I got off the phone, I felt ooky, as if I could feel the job was slipping through my fingers like dry, fine grained sand. I remember feeling angry and struggling to soothe myself.

I got home around 6 p.m., feeling drained. I tried my best to interact with the kids and converse with my wife, but all I could think was, "I WANT OUT OF THIS MARRIAGE. I DON'T CARE IF I GET OUT OF THIS PLACE. I WANT TO WASTE AS LITTLE OF MY FUTURE LIFESPAN MARRIED TO THIS WOMAN AS POSSIBLE."

In retrospect, the probing questions of the family situation probably would send a seasoned human resources professional into a fit of EEOC-induced apoplexy. If the HR folks contact me next week to let me know that I was denied the position and there are no further options for hiring, I am tempted to make them aware of interviewer's gaffe.

On Friday afteroon, I got a call from the recruiter who was representing the Local Growing Network Telephony Software Company. She said that she had in her notes that she was supposed to follow up with me earlier this week, but she could not remember what for. Now there's a way to build confidence! Loose track of your contacts and count on them to remember all the details.

After I summarized what we had talked about last time, she said she would send me some links to a programming tests. It looks like she sent me one for C++ and one for the .NET Framework, even though I told her that I had no experience developing for the latter.