Telling All

Years ago when I worked for Boeing, I had to file paperwork for a government security clearance to work within the Peace Shield program. This involved writing down every address I’d lived in, all my previous jobs, my current friends, and family members. It also meant answering some rather invasive questions about personal drug use, membership within certain organizations, as well as recent travel activity.

I had experimented with drugs when I was in my teens and I debated whether to put this information in. Eventually, I decided it was best just to be honest and accept the consequences. Sure enough four months later the Department of Defense contacted me and told me an investigator would be flying to Seattle to discuss my application.

I was relieved to find the agent who arrived to be both pleasant and courteous, even friendly. She basically asked the same questions asked in the form and I answered truthfully. In fact, I was very comfortable in the interview, probably because I knew I was telling the truth and she wasn’t as formidable as I thought she would be. After five minutes, she said that she was satisfied with my answers and I’d get the clearance. She also told me it was the shortest and easiest interview she’d given because she could tell, immediately, that I wasn’t holding anything back. And she was right, I wasn’t.

As much as I wanted to work on Peace Shield, and I enjoyed my time on the project, I didn’t enjoy the security process. I was determined from that point on that I wouldn’t answer these types of questions unless I felt the job justified the invasive process. When I became a contractor, I made it a point never to go after contracts that would require a security investigation because I had no interest in going through this process for a job that would only last 3 to 6 months.

Last week, I interviewed for a contract lasting 3 to 6 months. I talked about it in Long Week, and though I said I wasn’t going to continue in this field, I decided to accept the job anyway. All things considered, I need a job and I decided that no matter how much I might dislike the job or the work, no matter how burnt out I am, I am also an old pro — I have enough discipline to do a job and do it well regardless of personal interest. I wouldn’t have pursued the job if it was a permanent position, but I can handle anything for 3 to 6 months.

(Besides, I thought, maybe I would find that my burn out is due to this depressingly long period of time looking for a job, and feeling less than worthwhile when never getting called. )

What I didn’t mention in the previous writing is that the job was for a department of the federal government, but none having anything to do with any enforcement branch of the government, or the department of defense, or working on anything that could remotely be considered ‘sensitive’ or having to do with the public trust. In fact, the application I would work on would become part of the organization’s public web site.

I was told last week that I would have to take a drug test and be fingerprinted for a criminal record, but that’s not unusual for jobs related to the government and I had no problems with this.

The person contracting the job phoned Tuesday to tell me he sent the offer letter through the mail, which I thought was surprising. In all previous contracts, I’m usually sent the contract via email and then I sign it and send it back. However, when I received the ‘packet’ with the letter, I knew why. In the packet were several documents requiring signatures authorizing investigations into various aspects of my life, as well as asking questions such as the following:

Since the age of 16 or in the last 7 years, whichever is shorter, have you illegally used any controlled substance?

In the last 7 years, has your use of alcoholic beverages (such as beer, wine, liquor) resulted in any alcohol-related treatment or counseling (such as for alcohol abuse or alcoholism)?

In the last 7 years, have you consulted a mental health professional or have you consulted with another health care professional provider about a mental health related condition?

I was also asked to provide the names and addresses of all my family members in addition to the names and addresses of people I consider ‘good friends’ who know me well. Any takers in the audience?

I would also have to provide complete details of all my financial information including bank and credit card information, every incidence when a payment was late for a credit card or a loan, as well as having to give the authorization to allow investigation of my credit history. This is surprising because, by law, this information can’t be used to make an employment decision. I guess the laws don’t apply to the federal government.

I would need to list every place I’ve lived for the last 7 years in one document, my entire life on another. I would also need to list details of every employer I’ve ever had. Considering I’ve moved quite a bit, and have also worked for a lot of companies as a contractor, my roommate and I estimated it would take about 3 months just to fill in the paperwork for this section.

I would have to list all the foreign countries I’ve visited, and why.

I was particularly impressed by one document I would need to sign providing my permission for the investigators to discuss me with my doctors:

Does the person under investigation have a condition or treatment that could impair his/her judgement or reliability?

If so, please describe the nature of the condition and the extent and duration of the impairment or treatment.

What is the prognosis?

I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Considering that this job is working on an application that has nothing to do with sensitive information or with the ‘public trust’, and that if a modicum of security procedures are in place I wouldn’t be able to hack into computers with sensitive information, you can imagine my chagrin when I saw the multitude of pages and pages and pages of requests for extremely sensitive and highly personal information.

What was worse was, according to one document, this information, once collected, could then be given to any other government agency requesting this information, or to a congressional office, or to Office of Management and Budget, or to a labor organization for investigation in labor disputes (the list goes on literally half a page of organizations this information could be released to).

I don’t think it’s a surprise that I declined the job.

Privacy. Thanks to the Internet as well as the ‘war on terrorism’, privacy seems to be a thing of the past. Increasingly we’re meeting demands to tell more and more about ourselves, beyond that which we’re comfortable sharing. Holding anything back is equated with being unpatriotic, or deceptive, or being less than honest. After all, what have we got to hide? Our lives are open books. Right?

Wrong.

The only details we have to provide about ourselves are those we choose to share. There is no covenant we enter into with the “public” that says we have to bare all, just because one person asks or another is interested.

Telling All

Years ago when I worked for Boeing, I had to file paperwork for a government security clearance to work within the Peace Sheild program. This involved writing down every address I’d lived in, all my previous jobs, friends, and family members. It also meant answering some rather invasive questions about personal drug use, membership within certain organizations, as well as recent travel activity.

I had experimented with drugs when I was in my teens and I debated whether to put this information in. Eventually, I decided it was best just to be honest and accept the consequences. Sure enough four months later the Department of Defense contacted me and told me an investigator would be flying to Seattle to discussion my application.

When the agent arrive, I was relieved to find her both pleasant and courteous, even friendly. She basically asked the same questions asked in the form and I answered truthfully. In fact, I was very comfortable in the interview, probably because I knew I was telling the truth, and she wasn’t as formidable as I thought she would be. After five minutes, she said that she was satisfied with my answers and I’d get the clearance. She also told me it was the shortest and easiest interviews she’d given because she could tell, immediately, that I wasn’t holding anything back. And she was right, I wasn’t.

As much as I wanted to work on Peace Shield, and I enjoyed my time on the project, I didn’t enjoy the security process. I was determined from that point on that I wouldn’t answer these types of questions, unless I felt the job justified the invasive process. When I became a contractor, I made it a point never to go after contracts that would require a security investigation because I had no interest in going through this process for a job that would only last 3 to 6 months.

Last week, I interviewed for a contract lasting, most likely, 3 to 6 months. I talked about it in Long Week, and though I said I wasn’t going to continue in this field, I decided to accept the job anyway. All things considered, I need a job, and I decided that no matter how much I might dislike the job or the work, no matter how burnt out I am, I am also an old pro — I have enough discipline to do a job, and do it well. I wouldn’t have pursued the job if it was a permanent position, but I can handle anything for 3 to 6 months.

(Besides, I thought, maybe I would find that my burn out is due to this depressingly long period of time looking for a job, and feeling less than worthwhile when never getting called. )

What I didn’t mention in the previous writing is that the job was for a department of the federal government, but none having anything to do with any enforcement branch of the government, or the department of defense, or working on anything that could remotely be considered ‘sensitive’ or having to do with the public trust. In fact, the application I would work on would become part of the organization’s public web site.

I was told last week that I would have to take a drug test and be fingerprinted for a criminal record, but that’s not unusual for jobs related to the government and I had no problems with this.

The person contracting the job phoned Tuesday to tell me he sent the offer letter through the mail, which I thought was surprising. In all previous contracts, I’m usually sent the contract via email and then I sign it and send it back. However, when I received the ‘packet’ with the letter, I knew why. In the packet were several documents requiring signatures authorizing investigations into various aspects of my life, as well as asking questions such as the following:

Since the age of 16 or in the last 7 years, whichever is shorter, have you illegally used any controlled substance?

In the last 7 years, has your use of alcoholic beverages (such as beer, wine, liquor) resulted in any alcohol-related treatment or counseling (such as for alcohol abuse or alcoholism)?

In the last 7 years, have you consulted a mental health professional or have you consulted with another health care professional provider about a mental health related condition?

I was also asked to provide the names and addresses of all my family members, in addition to the names and addresses of people I consider ‘good friends’ who know me well. Any takers in the audience?

I would also have to provide complete details of all my financial information including bank and credit card information, every incidence when a payment was late for a credit card or a loan, as well as having to sign an authorization to allow investigation of my credit history. This is surprising because, by law, this information can’t be used to make an employment decision. I guess the laws don’t apply to the federal government.

I would need to list every place I’ve lived for the last 7 years in one document, my entire life on another. I would also need to list details of every employer I’ve ever had. Considering I’ve moved quite a bit, and have also worked for a lot of companies as a contractor, my roommate and I estimated it would take about 3 months just to fill in the paperwork for this section.

I would have to list all the foreign countries I’ve visited, and why.

I was particularly impressed by one document I would need to sign providing my permission for the investigators to discuss me with my doctors:

Does the person under investigation have a condition or treatment that could impair his/her judgement or reliability?

If so, please describe the nature of the condition and the extent and duration of the impairment or treatment.

What is the prognosis?

I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Considering that this job is working on a application that has nothing to do with sensitive information or with the ‘public trust’, and that if a modicum of security procedures are in place I wouldn’t be able to hack into computers with sensitive information, you can imagine my chagrin when I saw the multitude of pages and pages and pages of requests for extremely sensitive and highly personal information.

What was worse was, according to one document I would need to sign, this information, once collected, could then be given to any other government agency requesting this information, or to a congressional office, or to Office of Management and Budget, or to a labor organization for investigation in labor disputes (the list goes on literally half a page of organizations this information could be released to). I don’t think it’s a surprise that I declined the job.

Privacy. Thanks to the Internet as well as the ‘war on terrorism’, privacy seems to be a thing of the past. Increasingly we’re meeting demands to tell more, and more, and more about ourselves, beyond that which we’re comfortable sharing. Holding anything back is equated with being unpatriotic, or deceptive, or being less than honest. After all, what have we got to hide? Our lives are open books. Right?

The only details we have to provide about ourselves are those we choose to share. There is no covenant we enter into with the “public” that says we have to bare all, just because one person asks or another is interested.

Archived with comments at the Wayback Machine

When Truth Conceals, Lies Reveal

So many excellent comments associated with my previous writing, Shadow Talk, as well as exceptional writing in other weblogs such as Jonathon’sDorothea’sAquarionicsElaine’sLaura’s, and (soon to be) Chris’s. I only wish I could do justice to the debates because there’s a rich story unfolding among all the different views, but I’m not sure I’m the one to tell it. All I can do is give my own understanding of the topic of ‘truth in weblog writing’ and that’s difficult enough as it is.

When I tell a story from my past I try to describe events accurately; however what results is inevitably ‘tainted’ by my personal viewpoint of the event. Someone else reading my story might say, “I don’t remember it that way”, and I’m sure they’d be equally correct. Chances are a videotape would prove us both wrong.

The important part of the story isn’t necessarily any individual fact; it’s my experience of the event, my image of it, which I then share with my readers; to me, the image is the truth, though the facts, if recorded, might not completely agree.

Am I practicing a deception if my view of the events differs from the actual facts? No, because what I’m writing, my feelings and responses, they are very real. They are the essence of what I’m trying to convey with my stories.

Of course, one could say that this isn’t the same as deliberately creating a story and putting oneself into it. After all, the former is nothing more than writing from our own personal perceptions of an event, while the latter could be said to be writing from a lie. From …bits of alibis and consistent lies, as Jonathon would say. Still, I’m not so sure the two are that different.

A few weeks back I wrote about two essays — one by Virginia Woolf the other by Annie Dillard — that had enormous impact on me when I read them in college years ago. The subject was the same, a first person narrative about watching the death of a moth; but each writer’s written description and interpretation of the event differed enormously. In Woolf’s the moth dies nobly, quietly, and with dignity, while Dillard’s moth died with passion, with a fierce resistence, burning brightly at the end.

I would give anything I own, including the soul I don’t believe in, to be able to write as well as both of these women did in these particular essays. However, if you were to tell me that the incident of the moth really didn’t occur for either author, that they ‘made it up’, it wouldn’t matter a bit to me. I would still love these stories as much, and they would still have as profound an effect on me.

In my comments Language Hat brings up a very valid point about the introduction of fiction into our personal narratives:

Most of us, on the other hand, use fictionalization as a means to make ourselves look better or somehow impress others, and since we don’t have the insight and imagination of a Joyce or a Faulkner, the results tend towards a homogenized “story-telling” mode that can be mildly amusing but doesn’t hold the attention for long.

I agree with Language Hat, this type of fictionalization becomes all too obvious at some point and rather boring, even embarrassing. I saw this once with another weblogger, someone who I haven’t read in a long, long time. But then, I’ve also seen this happen with webloggers who have no idea that they’re ‘fictionalizing’ themselves. They cast themselves as the heros, the shining knights, in their own stories and they are no less sad for all their belief that they are being ‘honest’. (I have a lowering thought that I’ve done this a time or two myself.)

If another weblogger tells me that they’re an agent for the FBI, working undercover to hunt terrorists, but in actuality, they’re a security cop at a mall, I would be furious, and they would be foolish, because that kind of lie will out. The same as saying you’re not married when you are, or that you have children when you have not, and so on. Even saying you have a cat, when you don’t, is a foolish lie that has nothing to do with writing, literature, or weblogging for that matter. A person pretending something they’re not isn’t writing, but a sad admission that they think little of themselves.

This type of lie, this personal fictualization as Language Hat so aptly calls it, is completely different from the subtle storytelling in the essays about the death of the moth I mentioned earlier. In these, it doesn’t matter if the event was real or not because what the writer was feeling, the thoughts and images they wanted to communicate with these stories were very real. More so, the stories reveal rather than conceal the author. They didn’t seek to hide behind the story of the moth — they sought to use it to tell a story about themselves, and how they experience life. Both writers used the moth to describe their own fears of death, their own views of how they see themselves dying. And that’s as authentic as you can get in writing.

I think this is the point that Beerzie Boy was making when he said:

I like to think that for myself, when I change facts it is fairly superficial as far as the “factual” aspect, and the purpose is usually to make the underlying meaning (theme? message?) more concise or clear. In my view, changing facts for self-aggrandizement is intellectually wrong, but it really hurts the writer more than the reader; generally if writing is insincere it undermines a work’s artisic qualities.

I’m not sure if the story of the moths is the same as Jonathon’s bits of alibis and consistent lies. He’s the only one can answer that and I am looking forward to hearing his answer, and exploring the concepts further, if he chooses to share them. Regardless, I have a feeling that Jonathon’s ‘consistent lies’ are closer to who he really is, and far more authentic, than recent posts that focused on the war in Iraq, for all their truthfulness.

Long Week

Too hot tonight. My bedroom’s under the attic and once the heat soaks in, it wants to linger awhile. However, as warm as it is, it’s way too early for the air conditioner.

I obliquely (there’s that word again) mentioned a job interview and contract offer this last week. I haven’t said yay or nay on it yet, but will most likely say nay. First, there’s the hourly rate 30% lower than my minimum hourly rate. And when the group decides not to fill a ‘lower paying’ job and have me do it in addition to the duties of the job I interview for, but don’t put this burden on the guy going for the same position (with less experience), well, I just don’t know if I’m hungry enough for the job. I once mentioned I was worried about finding a job, and here one is. But there is some shit I will not eat.

One good thing about this experience though is that it’s forced me to make some decisions I’ve been putting off. One was a financial one, and the other has to do with profession.

The computer technology field has one of the highest burnout rates of any profession. At some point, you just get tired of punching in the code, or learning yet another new technology, yet another new language, or specification, or tool, or model, or whatever.

In the last 20 years I’ve worked on 14 computer books, written I don’t know how many articles, spoken at conferences and worked at companies like Nike, Intel, Boeing, Harvard, and so on—actual work building big systems and small. I’ve worked with 20 different programming languages, on most major operating systems, against most databases. Yet after all this, when I interview for a senior developer’s position, and interview well, I’m still given what amounts to tasks that are normally assigned to project assistants. This wouldn’t be terribly significant if the guy I interviewed with shared in the tasks, but such is not the case.

Was the reason for the discrepancy because of gender bias? Because I haven’t worked in a position for a year? Because I was too easy going in the interview, and not arrogant enough? I don’t know. But I think the real reason why is that I’m burnt out on the profession, and it shows.

I read Sam Ruby’s weblog and Mark Pilgrim’s and Danny Ayers and I see this wonderful interest and enthusiasm for the technology they write about. At one time, I would have joined in, but lately, there just isn’t anything there. Between one moment and the next, it was gone.

Oh, I still like to tinker, and I have a fun and whimsical article on RDF and poetry and photographs I’ve been working on — but my days of typing code into a computer from within a cube are gone.

The odd thing is, rather than being sad about what is the end of a 20 year career, I actually feel relieved. More than relieved. Sometimes you just have to face the fact that you need a change. That maybe you would be happier building furniture, even if you make less money.

Of course, this means I also have to face some tough financial facts, too, which I also did this week. My creditors will be paid, just much more slowly. I still have to find work, but the focus of the work will be changing. For instance. one job I am looking seriously at is teaching English in South Korea, work I’m exploring with the expert help of Stavros the Wonder Chicken.

I’m also exploring the option of returning to school, but I’m not sure what I would study. My interests are, in order: writing, photography, history, politics, cooking, marine biology, and astrophysics. And I’m lousy at math so we see how far I would get in astrophysics. Let’s face it, cooking’s about the only interest guaranteed to get me a job in this lot. Maybe I should run for office? Would you all vote for me? Are you in my district? If I studied writing, I can find out my writing errors. Same with my photography. Photo Journalist, perhaps? Lot’s of call for them I bet.

The possibilities for the profession are endless. The possibilities for employment are less so, but change isn’t easy. If it was, chaos would be order and order would be chaos.

Joking aside, this was not a lightly arrived at decision. And, being honest, I’m more than a little nervous about it, and about my future. I need to work, I need to pay my bills, and I need to feel worthwhile. I just can’t code anymore.

Through these weblogs I’ve read about the experiences involved with changing professions from people such as Jonathon Delacour and Jeff Ward and Allan Moult. Others such as Dorothea Salo and Steve Himmer begin new adventures in academics, or move to new locales such as Stavros and Gary Turner. Even among those that stay in the same field and country, sometimes decisions that are difficult but necessary have to be made. Decisions not always aimed at putting money in one’s pocket.

Through their willingness to share their experiences with their writing I am both encouraged, as well as forewarned by frank discussions about the difficulties. Starting over again at 48 is both exciting and scary. If I can only figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

You know, all of this is just a long winded way of saying I don’t got code.

There were a thousand things I could have done today

There were a thousand things I could have done today,
but all I did was sit at my window and watch
the storms move past.

Instead of doing my laundry
I watched the wind rip the blossoms
from the tree across the road
forcing it into full green.

Instead of cleaning house or reading a book
I stood out on the deck to better see,
forgetting to close the door behind me,
getting everything very wet.

cloud1jpg.jpg

If I closed the window and turned my back
I could have finished my taxes, or written about war and injustice
but all I did was look at the sky
and listen to the thunder.

cloud6.jpg

Archived with comments at Wayback Machine