James's super-crappy, jumping-the-shark, stream-of-consciousness post: in 3-D!

I love trying to explain my job to people. It's like a contract of a subcontract, but I work in the building of the contractor, even though I don't get paid by them. When the funding gets cut, my group is the first to get laid off, rather than the regular employees. That's what led to me working in MFing Reston for most of last year.

But I made it back to my new old job when the position re-opened. I figured this would be a good thing, not only because it's closer to home, but because the environment is a little less poisonous and a little more flexible. Plus, I figured there was a chance of getting a halfway decent raise come Scheduled Mandatory Raise Time, since the people in charge here like me better, instead of what happened last year, when they made up some lame excuses not to give me a decent raise.

Sadly, nuh-uh. I have two bosses: one does the evaluations, the other gives the raises. My evaluations were pretty good, but it turns out that there's competition for the subcontract contract this year, and in order to better re-compete for it, my company decided to give shitty raises at the scheduled mandatory time.

Thus, my raise: two percent. Two fucking percent.

Guh. Fine, whatever; better to have a job with a crappy raise than not have one at all. So much for my dreams of replacing the Maxima with a car not made from papier mache. But, feeling daring during the Scheduled Mandatory Raise Time Talk, I mentioned to Raise Boss that it was disappointing getting The Shaft two years in a row, and that the last raise I was really pleased with had been two and a half years ago. And that it would be nice to get some extra salary thrown my way after we know for sure that we still have the contract.

Only then... ONLY then, after I'd dared to suggest that a raise outside of Mandatory Raise Time might be nice... did he pull out my evaluation and start looking for ways to shoot holes in my hopes and dreams. Well, you see James, you only got 4/5 in Quantity of Work and Quality of Work... you really have to get 5/5 for me to consider breaking all the Mandatory Raise Time Rules. I wasn't sure how to respond... I always thought the quality of my work was great, and the quantity was pretty much based on whatever they gave me to do. But it's hard to argue when they have a sheet of paper that says otherwise, isn't it?

What sucks is that now I feel like a chump and that they're taking advantage of me. I took this job almost four years ago because I was positively desperate for someone to hire me... it was the only interview I was able to get after about six months of looking. I took a maybe-lower-than-average salary because I was so happy to just have found a job. But now, after all the shafting, I'm definitely getting below fair market value for what I'm doing (software engineering).

And it super sucks because I can't understand why my company doesn't find me to be valuable. For example:

- I can write good. I love to write, and I'm good at communicating ideas... especially at taking complicated ideas and making them easy to understand. This is unique in my field, where most of my co-workers are borderline illiterate and can't form coherent sentences. There aren't too many people with an MS in computer science who also have an English degree, but I'm one of them.

- I have an eye for design. I did page design professionally for a while, and I pay close attention to colors, layout, things like that... which is useful when you're designing a user interface for a piece of software. It has to make sense and do that whole conveying-complex-ideas-into-layman's-terms thing, but visually.

- I don't consider myself a pure scientist, but I am a good problem solver. Even though I don't have a hard-core scientific or mathematic background, I'm good at organizing and executing programmatic solutions in a logical way. I've never been stuck unable to solve a problem of my own making. Plus, once I get used to a new system or language, I'm super-fast... there's only about a three-four week learning period before I feel like I'm in Turbo Mode, and could crank any kind of program in record time.

(BTW, I don't usually do the self-flagellation thing, but I'm currently in a desperate struggle to feel better about myself. Please forgive me.)

Bottom line: I don't know too many people who have my combination of right-brain and left-brain skills. (Just don't ask me which half does which.) I can do the creative thing, and I can do the logical thing. So the question is... why doesn't anyone find that useful?

OK, there are people who appreciate what I can do. But most of them are related to me. The most rewarding work-related things I've done since I took this job weren't even work-related. My brother has been doing website-building work. One time, he was having trouble with a piece of Javascript code and was stuck trying to figure it out. I jumped in and found the problem in a couple of hours. In another case, my wife was trying to solve a complicated database problem while crunching some numbers, and I was able to construct an SQL query to do the job and save her a lot of time.

And both of those things were 100 times more rewarding than anything I've done at this job, because the people I helped really appreciated what I did. I love hearing "James, you're the best," and then I can kind of look down and put my hands behind my back and say, "Awww, I'm OK."

That's also why blogging has been so much fun for me: because it's more rewarding than anything I've been doing professionally. It basically started just as a way to exercise the... er... left? side of my brain? (Nope, right side. Dammit.) But it's also helped me become a better writer, and it's helped me get in touch with something I had been sorely missing: being appreciated for my creativity by completely random people. Writing, and having other people enjoy my writing, is just a great feeling.

But I do have some problems. Namely: trying to recover from a lifetime of people telling me how much I suck. This is not good, because those are the opinions I tend to think of when I want to blog. I've gotten a lot of e-mails from people telling me they love the blog... but, of course, the way blogs work is that you tend to attract people who agree with you. When people don't agree, or want to call me a stupid moron, it tends to be in the comments or on their own blogs. I don't feel the need to get involved in some kind of dramatic blog-fight, which would be about the lamest thing ever, but the way my mind is wired, it's those people I tend to think of more than my fans.

And it's the criticisms in my own mind that keep circling around until I can't get anything accomplished. Why would anyone want to read what I have to write? Does anybody in the entire world agree with the opinions I'm about to post, or am I just going to get lauged at and thrown in the trash again? Is anybody going to get this obscure pop-culture reference?

Well, this blog has answered many of those questions. Yes, some people want to read what I write. Yes, some people will agree, and some will not. Yes, some people will remember that Barry Bostwick, host of last night's "A Capitol Fourth", was the bad guy in the direct-to-video werewolf movie Project: Metalbeast. But the criticisms in my head are still paralyzing, in terms of taking the next step as a writer.

Because, let's face it: blogging is the easy way out for a writer. I said to myself at the beginning that I would spend no money and make no money off why.i.hate.dc. I figured it wasn't fair to myself to spend money on something that should just be for fun, and that it wasn't fair to make people pay to read my stupid writing. And then, I just started writing. It was short things at first, culled from articles; later, I started getting into essays, until I became a full-fledged long-form blogger. But there was still no risk or reward involved; I could write for a couple hours, get the instant gratification of people reading my stuff, and then forget about it.

But now I'm questioning that philosophy. Maybe if people aren't going to take me seriously as a computer scientist, I should start taking writing more seriously. I don't know whether I could turn that into a profitable full-time endeavor down the road. But in the meantime, in the immediate present, it couldn't hurt to try to...

oh God... couldn't hurt to try to...

write a book.

Yeah, I know, I know. It's a cliche, isn't it? Bloggers going on to write books. But see... Wasingtonienne has a book. Wonkette has a book. They both started blogging after I did. And am I a better writer than they are? Hells yes.

And there are a lot of reasons why I should not write a book. Believe me, they weigh heavier on my mind than the positives. For one thing, I have only the foggiest idea how to get published (I hear "sample chapters" are important?). But dammit... I've written so much over the past couple-plus years, and so many people have actually enjoyed what I've written, that I have to try this.

It's going to be difficult. For one thing: I hate books. Books are so pretentious. They’re all, "Oooooh, look at me! I’m a book! I’m sooooo important and socially relevant! You’d better read me, or you won’t be able to have an intellectual conversation about me with your peers!"

Then you read it, and at the beginning the author rambles on for nine pages in detail about exactly how green the grass was on some particular day, and it takes days just to get through the whole thing. You have to break it up into several readings, and if you’ve put it down for a few days, it’s hard to remember what was going on when you stopped. (“So wait, Bilbo begat Frodo, and Frodo begat… who?”)

But I have to try, even though there will be detractors. Oh, there will be detractors. Many, many detractors. But I'm realizing that, when even your biggest detractor resorts to "borrowing" your material, it's probably a sign that you're doing something right. (Oops, I said I wouldn't start a blogfight. Oh well.)

So yeah. I've gotta do this. I'm going to try to put together a why.i.hate.dc: the book. It may be slow going, and it's going to suck staring at an empty Word page and thinking, "What the hell am I doing? Typing, with no guarantee that anyone will read it?", but I've got to give it a shot. It could be the start of a more fulfilling future, in which I bring joy and happiness to the book-reading world. (Or, failing joy and happiness, at least a lot more profanity.)

So... yeah. Maybe I'll start tomorrow. At least I won't feel guilty about working on it while on the job.

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