On "Postcards from The Bleeding Edge"...
I started writing The Edge in June, 2002. I was 36, turning 37 in august. Finally, there was a technology (blogging) that would let me toss off short pieces on whatever I felt like. No editor, copywriter, or publisher. No assignments. No deadlines. No hassles with getting paid (no pay!). Just me, a a screen, and, with the aid of google and a few notably enlightened bloggers - maybe, just maybe - an audience. Finally, a backup system existed that I didn't have to maintain - google, blogger, and archive.org. I couldn't lose work in progress anymore, in fact I could publish it as it progressed, and just... write.
Joy! Bliss! Rapture!
I wanted to talk about some of the bleeding edge Linux based technologies I was working on. Exciting things were happening. Linux was blowing past the established vendors in the embedded computing market and making inroads on the desktop. The last major Unix vendors were on the ropes, and Microsoft itself, the great satan, hard-pressed in the server market, was also being thwarted in the consumer electronics market. A battle royal between the people that own things and the people that create them was taking place, and underneath that, was a sea change of nearly ungraspable proportions, an even more titanic battle.
I burned to talk about it. To write about it, and try to understand it. Whatever "it" was.
A billion non-disclosure agreements bristled around what I could talk about outside my job. The irony
... the technology was of my ephiphany over a decade ago - my primary thesis that what was called then free software really would start commoditizing the software world. I wasn't allowed to write about the latest technology!
I got writers block.
In June of 2002, I was at a third pinnacle of my career - I was weekly gratified by seeing Linux on the back cover of the Economist, all over the web, grabbing market share in every market, and I was working at the number #1 embedded Linux provider, on both our X11 graphics product and our next generation MontaVista CEE product, something that would finally blow past WindRiver and challenge Windows CE. The business future looked then (and now!) bright for this little dream.
While engaged in that decade of spade work I'd let a lot of muck build up in my own mind. I'd also stopped keeping a diary a decade prior. I'd been executing... not thinking... for that long! All the good things and bad things I had done were compressed into mismatched layers of that muck.
If people are like onions, my personal onion had been in the fridge too long. Strange things grew from my core. I had brown rot at the edges. I've never really had a normal life, rarely had a vacation, never experienced so many things that others take for granted. My two prior pinnacles of "success" were in 1999 (I feel guilty about that) and in 1995, (and I hurt about that).
By august I felt crappy physically, worn out emotionally, and intellectually? mostly surrounded by pod people, people that just didn't get it.
I kept thinking - the person not getting "it" is me.
I'd let "it" consume me.
By november I wasn't getting any sleep. Or exercise. I wasn't in love, and I wasn't getting laid, either. Hell, I hadn't had a date in months. I didn't have kids, or a place I could call home. Most of my friends were tied up in their marriages, their divorces, or had moved far away. The workload was impossible to sustain and suddenly I had sole responsibility for the graphics product across not one, but 3 product lines. And then, lastly, my nephew josh was in trouble, and... and...
Thoreau once wrote: "Most men live lives of quiet desparation". I took some heart in that - that the struggles I was having people had always had... and by comparison with some lives, mine was a good one - I had a steady job, good income, and nifty toys to play with. I'd finally bought a house. I was living out the conclusion of a dream... and maybe I was hitting 40 a couple years early.
I had no energy left over to plan, to think, to reflect on my life and something good to do with it. I'd joined the vast numbers that in the morning mash themselves awake, numb themselves all day, and mash themselves to sleep at night. I was doing things by rote, by habit, just because I had always done them.
The virtual helicopter that got me out of bed in the morning and carried me to work, one more time, on something that would do some good, for me, for some, crashed in march, and hasn't left the ground since. (I'm still employed, unlike many, and I'm planning to go back to work in a couple weeks)
This winter, I unpacked my heart and spread it across the web. My goal now: sort through the debris. Sometimes I think It's not me that's sick and tired, it's the state of the world that makes me ill. It's the fact that if we don't solve some really pressing, major, species-wide problems, soon, that this is the last generation of our civilization.. Other times I understand the serenity prayer; that the path to fixing the world, is to first fix myself. Or I think - if I just force myself back to work on what everyone else wants me to address, that I'll make the time to work on things I need to work on. Other times I think - I'll just escape - find some part of the world, or mind, or space, that will restore the balance that I so desparately need.
Most tales of personal triumph or of self destruction are written in the past tense. I'm writing in the present. I'm far more interested in how my tale ends, or, at least, reaches equilibrium, than you are, but I hope, if you've tuned in, that you enjoy/emphasise/hate/love some of the subjects that I try to write about.
I'm nearly 38 now.
Robert Frost, at 38, gave up teaching to pursue poetry full time. His family was distraught. They thought he was crazy. He wrote The road not taken then.
I'm no Frost. Most of my written output to date has been in C, Perl and Oracle, not English. I like to think that this vast sea change, this revolution in technology that I wanted to write about in the first place, is doing more to shape the world than all the poetry ever written. I've loved being a part of that. I've loved seeing the the web grow. I remember when cryptography was a felony - only that decade ago - and now it's a foundation of commerce!
Where once I had the latest cell phone, handheld organizer, PVR, tivo, car, etc, etc... where once I was working on the next generation of these devices... my home now, is in a dead spot, where celluar, satellite, radio, and dsl signals cannot reach. I barely pay attention to the internet - and now that all that noise outside of my head is silenced I seem to be able to listen... to myself... thinking about the big problems, even singing of them. Well, actually, via the Edge, I'm talking aloud, to myself, and with the aid of great machines and software sometimes I'm reaching other people. I like that.
if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings." That is what I think freedom really is. [...] If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden