Friday, May 29, 2009

The Word from the Salt Mine

It's been a week and a half since we wrapped up the project that has consumed so much of my mental energy, and my mind still doesn't feel like it's fully recovered from the experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the work that my coworkers and I put in to make things ready for prime time. We just operated on a level that is not long-term sustainable.

So, what were we working on? We were busy replacing two user interfaces that were used to approve and decline content. These were old-style web pages that were state of the art, say 10 years ago.

One interface was a confusing list of pending content items that employed radio buttons, and the other was a slow-loading form of checkboxes that showed all content, both pending and moderated.

We ripped both of them out and put into place a design that was modeled more after a web-based e-mail application, where you have a folder list, a message list, and a preview pane.

The new page was AJAX-style, so changes to the page did not require navigation from the page or wholesale refreshes. The problem was that we hand to build a big chunk of server side-support for these AJAX calls from the ground up.

On the front end, we built the user interface using some new approaches that made it possible for us to partition the labor of creating the components, meaning much of it could be done in parallel. While getting some of the interface behaviors to work in a way that people would be most familiar, getting the pieces to talk to one another worked way better than all of us could have imagined.

Emerging from this development cycle, I can certainly say that I am way better at programming in JavaScript than I was a year ago. This project pushed me to my limits in that area and then some.

As far as the rest of my life is concerned, there isn't a whole lot new to report. STBX is still job hunting, at least as much as she needs to to qualify for her unemployment benefits. I know that she actually took a skills test for a temporary agency a couple weeks ago.

My older daughter finished her first year of kindergarten last week and will be heading off to first grade. We're still waiting on the final report card, but I'm pretty sure it will show that she made good progress.

She's become a lot more self-disciplined over the year. When we first would sit down to work with her homework, it was very hard for her to focus on the task. By the end of the year, she was really enjoying it. She's getting more confident in sounding out words, and she's been interested in doing arithmetic.

We've also had some chances to break out my Schoolhouse Rock DVD to learn about things like adjectives and verbs because those things have been brought up in her homeworks. Her favorite of the SR canon is "Interjection."

My younger daughter wrapped up her second-to-last year of preschool and has taken an intense interest in art. She loves coloring, both in coloring books and creating new pictures. I keep an ample stockpile of both crayons and paper so that she can keep occupied.

She did have one bad moment about a month ago. One Monday night, I got a call from STBX shortly after 9 pm, telling me that I needed to come over and speak to my daughter right away because she was running out of patience with her.

Over the prior week, the younger daughter had become increasingly resistant to going to bed, and she had gone over the top in her defiance. She was crying, hitting her mother and throwing toys around. STBX had collected most of her toys and put them in a tote. I had a talk with our daughter and sent her off to bed. I then agreed to take the totes so that the younger daughter would be without toys for a week. It suffices to say that she started going to bed without any more hassle.

Both daughters are also wrapping up their third year at dance school. The recital will be next Sunday. The older daughter was on the competition team this year, and they've participated in four meets locally. They have gotten a lot of recognition for the routine, and in the last week of June, they will be going up a national competition up in Wisconsin.

Moving on to a reader comment, John over at Dad's Life writes:
As a long time follower, I'm becoming a bit puzzled/disappointed. After doing so much hard work in your marriage and leaving, after doing all the Schnarch work, now what? Is this really consistent with Schnarch's principle's? I don't mean to be harsh; as someone who used Schnarch himself, I often wondered what he would have us do if our marriage is not salvageable. I seem to have salvaged mine, and I'm thankful for that. But I could just have easily taken your path and so I follow and wonder: what now

It's a question worth pondering and it's one I don't have a complete answer to it. One of Schnarch's key concepts is the notion of development cycles, where one moves from comfort to growth and back. Over the course of this blog, I believe that I have been through five separate cycles.

  1. Self confrontation over my intimate relationship.

  2. Self confrontation over the direction of my career.

  3. Self confrontation over my technical skills.

  4. Self confrontation over my leadership skills.

  5. Self confrontation over my spiritual foundation.

This blog started at a time in my life where the first cycle was just about to begin. I knew that something was not right in my marriage, but I couldn't quite bring myself to destabilize it.

After about three or four months of blogging, the second growth cycle began to shift into motion. I was facing the possibility of losing a job and fearful that I might not be able to find one.

Once I found a new job, a new challenge lay before me -- thoroughly retooling my skills. I knew I had a lot to learn coming into the job, and I rose to the challenge, but I still had a lot of moments where I didn't trust my judgment because I didn't feel like I had adequate experience to make the call.

My boss, who is 10 years younger than me but very much a confident leader, picked up on this and made it a priority for us to work on me becoming more of a leader within the group. These two crucibles have been a big part of why I have sunk so many hours into my labors. While it's true that I've had a lot on my plate, that sheer volume and the stress it's put me under is part and parcel the "pain for growth" that Schnarch talks about.

I can say one thing for certain from all of this. Had I had half as much motivation as I do now some 18 years ago, I would not have lost my way in graduate school. By that yardstick, I have grown immensely in this job.

Finally, there is the spiritual crucible, and it's one I haven't put a much energy into as I probably should. The changes I have been through over the past three years have been disorienting, causing me to call into question a lot of core beliefs. Every once in a while I go there, and I wind up writing something like "Fall on Me[1]", but I don't stay there too long.

Over time, I have come to realize that some of the central issues brought up in Schnarch tie into Existentialism. How do we deal with the realization that it's up to ourselves to perform the ultimate act of self-validation and give our lives meaning in a universe where we are at a distance seemingly insignificant.

Indeed, in his larger treatise, Constructing the Sexual Crucible, Schnarch draws upon Kierkegaard, one of the pillars of Existentialism, and his concept of Teleological Suspension of the Ethical to take on the poorly differentiated approach to sexual recovery.

I'm still trying to sift out where my beliefs lie. I have moved past loneliness anxiety for the most part, but I am vexed by fears of the future and the loss of autonomy. My father's accident and hospitalization a couple months ago have weighed heavily on me. I don't want to be in that situation in my latter years, for to me the loss is worse than that of death. Life is a gift, to be sure. Yet, I don't want the cost of a prolonged subexistence to be carried by my family.

In the meantime, I plunge myself into the act of creation, be that in writing code or the raising of my daughters. For when I am creating, I feel less aware of these fears, and I feel integrated with the pulse of the universe. Things may be quiet, but I am by no means adrift.
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