May 31, 2009

No one special...

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

I'm no one special.

There's nothing that makes what I write any more worthy of your free reading time than any other person putting words on (digital) paper. So why exactly, should you bother spending any time at all reading my posts here in the Blue Grove?

I think that answer is up to you. Perhaps you like my writing style, perhaps you feel a shared bond of sorts with me, or perhaps you are a beautiful woman with a crush on me (e-mail me! *ahem*)

I felt rather than presenting a typical discussion today, I'd break form and introduce myself, what I've done in my past, where I'm at in life currently, and so forth. After all, it's relevant to know what my experiences and outlook on life are, as it does influence my opinions on matters. And it will serve to at least help you know a bit more about the source of the content that you may wish to choose to visit here in the Blue Grove on a regular basis (and I hope you do!)

So without further ado...a mini novella:

The story of Jaym

The easiest place to start would normally be a name, one would figure, state it and be done with the matter- but as it works out in my case, it's a bit more complex than that. However, tradition has its place, so I won't be one to deny it in this instance.

I was born Jon William Esch on February 8th of 1972. Flash forward through a happy childhood living with my father and stepmother (with my mom's house a scant two blocks away and weekend visits), a half-court basketball court in my backyard (painted to specs with a key and everything!), success as an honor role student (though certainly not the smartest in my class), a few close friends, one high school girlfriend and a privacy-fenced jacuzzi in the backyard to enjoy with her, a single drama play, and an extracurricular hobby (Tae Kwon Do, in my case), and we arrive rather uneventfully at my first major branch in life- college began in fall of 1990.

Having lived in the shadow of the great University that is Michigan State, I've bled green all my life- it was no question that in the end, I'd turn down Michigan and even a scholarship from Central Michigan and head over to East Lansing. I entered as a computer science major, but quickly realized that was simply not in my interests. I'm an Aquarius, if one believes in astrological tendencies, and we're a creative bunch. I really wasn't interested in hardcore programming and creating a motherboard from scratch. I knew I loved computers, but was at a loss. I turned to Telecommunications, and began to study audio/visual production. Certainly interesting tasks within such an area, but my whole college career began to fly by and I realized I was simply not interested in trying to find a job working for a news station or being a cameraman, and my music tastes are too specific to work in radio. And I still knew my ultimate passion was working with computers.

My sophomore year began perhaps the most singularly important change in my life, which is still having lasting ramifications upon my day to day life as I write this right now! Sitting in a classroom reading the campus newspaper, with my girlfriend to one side and my dorm roommate to the other, I felt my heart begin to stop and waves of heat started radiating from within me- like the scan lines on a radar screen, starting as a dot in my inner core and radiating out to my farthest extremities, over and over again. I couldn't understand why I would be having a heart attack at 19, but I figured I'd better act before it was too late and I didn't make it to 20. I left class and headed to the nearby campus medical center, where I was submitted to an EKG and several other tests. In the end, I was told I had not had a heart attack at all, and that perhaps I simply had a dizzy spell or some such.

Over the next few months I began to experience these original symptoms, in varying forms, always feeling different in some fashion or another, on a daily basis. I couldn't focus on much, and I was in a deep funk. Next came countless doctor's visits- three cat scans, to check for brain tumors, countless blood tests and physical checkups... still, the doctors could find nothing wrong. I was about to be convinced I had a new disease of some sort when my mom handed me a magazine article of some interest to me. In the article, they described exactly what I had been going through, and they even had a name for it:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

As fast as you can say "that was quick!" I had an appointment with a psychiatrist, who indeed confirmed after the one visit that I did have GAD. In hindsight, it's interesting to note that I was not given any medicines or instructions on what to do now that I knew what I had! Even though this was the early 90's, it shows you how little doctors knew about anxiety and how to best treat it. Still, just knowing put me at ease- to enough of a degree that I could resume my day-to-day life and be "normal". Things did change a bit though- in my junior year (now single)- I remember bumping into a girl I had a massive crush on on one of MSU's main off-campus shopping streets. In the past, I certainly would have stammered and made a fool of myself (I'm shy and an idiot at speaking to women- until I get to know them!) but this particular time, post GAD, I whited-out. What's a white-out? Well, a black-out, of course, is when you pass out. I never quite managed to pass out while she was saying hello to me, but the whole world turned white until she was a good 20 steps on down the street. This was a pivotal experience in realizing that my activities in life were going to cause me to react differently than other people would in the same situation.

Heading into my senior year, I began to feel the pressures of nearing graduation without a satisfactory plan- I wasn't about to leave without having a clue of exactly what I wanted to do. This stress, combined with a general malaise and dissatisfaction with my personality and life, caused me to shake things up a bit. I got a tattoo without telling my family (well, except my mom, after the fact, since she always understands and supports me in the end)- nothing exciting to most people, but a simple Prince logo (an older, stylized version of his famous symbol/logo you've seen him use- the "name" he changed to briefly).

I also realized that I was not happy being Jon. Not the person in specific- the name. Names are of great importance to me- I've always had ideas on what I would like to name my future children (that'd be Caydyn for a son, or Jaedyn for a daughter, but of course if I were to have one of each Jaedyn would likely go to some form of Kaylie- I told you I've put thought into this!) I never felt confident with the name Jon, and let me teach you something about being named such a common name: No one calls you by it. You instantly become your last name. "Hey Esch!" "Go get Esch to do it." Plus, in a large group setting, when someone asks "Jon/John" to raise his hand, 12 of 30 guys in any given room will raise their hand.

I needed a name change, but had to be careful... again, I was not consulting my family (except my mom, of course) but the key was my dad. He had named me after himself (though I got the non-H spelling as an effort by my mom.) All of my father's brothers had sons named after them, and so I wanted to make sure that I didn't offend my dad- I wasn't changing it due to anything concerning him. After months of deliberation and some compromise on my part (I almost took Caydyn for my own!) I had a brilliant idea. My father had always called me "JJ" growing up. I wasn't "John Junior", since I was a Jon, but he liked the way JJ sounded, apparently. I had found a "J" name I could use- and better yet, I could add it to my name, rather than actually change my original name.

So, I became Jaymie Jon William Esch. My dad could call me JJ, if he was too upset at the name change, and I got a new name- it wasn't extremely uncommon, but the spelling gave it enough individuality that I felt great. Since that time, two things have happened with my name- the first is a quirk of the state of Michigan, where I live. They apparently must hypenate your middle names if you have more than one (probably a lack of fields in their computer entry forms), so my middle name became "Jon-William", which I eventually morhped into "Jon-Wil" (because I actually tried going with "Wil" for a short while during my name hunt.) The second name tweak is the development of my "nickname"- I tend to introduce myself as "Jaym", rather than Jaymie. Now that is unique, and people definitely remember it... it's amazing how many people can easily say "Jaymie", but when asked to say "Jaym", start flailing their tongues like it's impossible to say! Regardless, the name has been resolved, and I'm highly satisfied with it now. (One last note on the matter: I'm not one of those people who demands to be called certain things, so even though I made such sweeping changes, I have never demanded anyone call me anything other than what they want- to this day my sister, grandmother and dad still let a "Jon" or "Jonny" slip out, but I never say a peep!)

Name changed, tattoo inked, I headed into the end of my senior year and something amazing happened... my brain shut down. Not in a medical sense, mind you- but I got the world's worst case of "ohmygodIdon'twanttograduateIlovecollegetoomuch- anddon'tknowwhatI'mgoingtodo". I had met most of my required courses for my last semester, spring of '94, and I got to take a huge canvas of electives. I thought how fun and cool it'll be! A fitness course, a course on Shakespeare, a philosophy course... anything I read in the class guide that sound like "me". If I recall, I had 5 courses that semester. My bout with my don't-wanna-leave disease left me skipping classes constantly, sleeping in, walking around town shopping, playing some games on the computer... anything but being responsible. When the final report card hit the mailbox, there was no real surprise for me. A large pile of 0.0's sat staring me in the face, when I realized two things- 1.) Oh crap, I failed this semester. and 2.) Oh crap, I have to come back- and I don't pay for my classes!

I had started working at 14- and rather than at a McDonalds or some such, I was a Tape Librarian for a small IRA/Keogh processing firm. I was basically running those big old computer tapes through a series of computer reports and printing them on a printer the size of a typical farm tractor. A little dabbling in some computer languages and such, nothing exciting, but still, a better start to the work life than the typical fast-food route. However, my dad had always said he was paying for my college up front and my work money was entirely for myself- not a dime was for school. Since that was the case, I didn't have what one would call a "savings" account. I had to go to my dad, shortly after the name change (not that he was mad about it, but thinking I was going nuts or something) and beg for money for another semester. In the end, he (and my stepmom) came through, and I returned in the fall.

Something interesting happened in the fall, though- a course was offered that I couldn't take the prior spring I was was supposed to graduate in. It was called "Multimedia"- and it was the jackpot moment I had been waiting for in finding my career calling. Developing programs on a computer, a touch of scripting, 3D models, interface design, computer art, all sorts of wonderful things fell into this area, and I was sold from day one. I obsessed over this class- making sure not to fail my other classes mind you, I'm no fool- but put in massive extra hours that my professor took great notice in. I aced that class harder than anyone has ever aced a class- in fact, a short time after graduation, that professor called me at my mom's home and told me of a job offer in Chicago that might interest me.

After driving down for an interview and returning the same night to Michigan (it's a 4 hour drive, ignoring traffic) I had a new job... I was a Virtual Reality Developer. I packed up a few important possessions and moved down to the Chicago suburbs- actually living in my workplace- which happened to be my new boss's home. After three months of work I landed an apartment in Lincoln Park, a section of Chicago- just a touch north of the downtown skyscrapers. The apartment- my first- was easily not bigger than the bathroom at your local Applebee's. But I didn't care- I was making money, had a prestigious job ("Hey baby, I'm a VR developer!"), and was on my own for the first time- in "real" life. However, I didn't know at the time I was heading for the edge of a waterfall, as I was too busy enjoying the rapids.

The problem with multimedia software development, I came to learn quickly, is that everyone who wants to buy the software wants it done yesterday. This means that everyone who makes it undersells their deadlines in ridiculous fashion, and what should take eight months to do is expected to be done in two. And unlike a paper-based project, you can't just add more people to the project to finish it. In the end, there's only one "hot copy"- only one person can put it all together, even if other people all work on bits and pieces of it elsewhere.

So began the overtime. And with my first job, there was no extra pay- there certainly were perks and benefits, my boss was like a third mother to me, but it was moderate pay and the fun of being in the "big city" was gone swiftly with seven days a week of work. I lived in Lincoln Park for one year, two blocks from Lake Michigan- and only managed to make it to the beach one day. No, my days were spent working, and my nights were spent sleeping- the rest was commuting back and forth to the suburbs. Projects would come and go, but over the next four years, with only a few week here, week there breaks (normally with exhaustion), I was working 10, 12, 16 hours a day- 7 days a week. In the end, my boss decided she was doing to much running of a business and not enough consulting, her passion, and decided to sell the business to the company who made our development tool. The waterfall loomed ahead.

The first sign of problems heading into the acquisition was a last minute deal that sent our small company moving into another acquisition's office location. I voiced my opinion that they would be territorial and we would be "shoved into the corners", but was shushed. Over the next year, I was proven right, as my original boss's husband was let go quickly after the merger, then she left, leaving the remaining employees I had been working with at the former company- only we were being given no work to do of consequence. There were still stretches of 7 days a week working, but there was a lot of sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours with not one single thing to do. One year to the day of the acquisition, we were all simultaneously downsized/let go. They had never wanted us, just my old boss- and she left long before. It was only a contract deal made as part of the buyout that had kept us employed beyond a day.

I moved on to find what seemed to be a great situation- work for a company in DeCatur, Georgia (right in the center of Atlanta), but live in my apartment in the Chicago suburbs and work from home. I loved it! I was also making a killing- I had been hired at a $30 per hour rate, and the company was in crisis mode when I was hired, trying to finish a 27 part project- overtime was a given- and not a tiny amount. 7 days a week, for four months, no less than 16 hour days- many overnighters trying to rush a CD out in the morning via carrier... I was going to kill myself with exhaustion, but I was making money hand over fist.

Or... was I?

My paychecks kept coming two weeks late despite a very detailed time-tracking program I had been using to keep track of each specific task I was working on, and there was no doubting the veracity- after all, the work was showing up in their mailbox constantly. Still, I always had to nudge the company over the phone to send my pay. Well, after one particularly nasty deadline, I had an invoice that exceeded $5,000. My eyes literally had dollar signs in them- I had been in debt, but was going to be paid off in full with several thousand left over as savings- I was in a great position! The only problem is, when a check finally arrived after than invoice, it was for about $1,240- and that was for an invoice two weeks earlier. I had been expecting a check over $7,000. Perplexed, I called my immediate boss and asked what that check was... his response? "Your salary."

See, apparently the invoice came as a shock to them, and they tried to arbitrarily apply a salary to me. Without my discussion, and, in order to bypass the money they already owed me. I quickly flew down to sort things out, meeting with the CEO (this was a small company, so that's not as impressive as it sounds), and by the time I returned, we had agreed to a new salary, rather than hourly rate- but they would pay the $5000 they owed over the next month. No such luck. As time went on, no payment was offered, and eventually I was forced to stop working. I contacted them and indicated I was no longer working until my wages were paid in full, but it did no good. In the end, I was left with $7800 in wages and expenses that I was owed and never received. Instead of being debt-free, I had several companies which had been racking up no-payments, and adding fines and fees. My credit was ruined and there wasn't anything I could do to stop it, or fix it. Over the edge of the waterfall I fell.

I was forced back to Michigan, to live with my mom in her basement. It's a cliche you hear all the time, but anyone faced in the same situation would do the same thing. I mean, your choice is lose all your possessions and live on the street, or take them back and live with your parent. No brainer- especially when you get along great with said parent. Still, it's not easy to be on your own and then have that freedom taken away. Nevertheless, I adjusted and pushed forward, trying to find out the next thing I'd do.

I found my next opportunity through Monster, and it was in the Detroit suburbs- Allen Park, actually, where the Detroit Lions football team has its practices. In fact, the practice facility was two or three blocks away from my building. This new place was unlike anything I had done before- I'd never worked in a large company, and this was a large company. I felt safe, wanted and comfortable with my fit and the people around me. The only negative at first was the fact I was still living in Lansing. Let me tell you- never, ever take a job that requires you to commute by car 1 1/2 hours each way every day. I was so sick of driving after two months I was considering swerving into oncoming semis every so often. This situation was resolved a year later by moving to the suburbs of Detroit, in my third apartment, and everything was peachy keen. Remember that waterfall? Well, I had fallen over it at the last company, but what I didn't know was I was still falling.

Work at the new company was the same old, same old- project sold underscheduled, and the developer was expected to miraculously cram it all together in impossible timeframes. The managers never understood you couldn't just "add more people", and the resources were never ready on time, and when they were provided at the last second, most of it needed redoing- by myself. Overtime became longer and longer, seven days a week was a given, and this time holidays were not spared. But, keep in mind of course, it's not everyone that works the overtime... no, it's only the developer who is sitting alone at work on Thanksgiving while everyone else is gorging themselves at home with family.

Despite the constant annoyances of so many hours, I continued to put up with it, mostly due to the pay- this was the first job I was making really good wages at, and they actually paid me- a novel idea, if I ever heard one! The rocks at the bottom of the waterfall were approaching though- and they came in the form of yet another merger.

After 9/11, things tightened up. I developed training applications, and the first deparment any company shuts down in times of financial hardship is training. After all, you can use an old book or program and have someone say, "Oh, by the way, that page isn't right anymore, now we hook the blue wire up first." That meant that our company, that developed the training, had to shut down a division. Unlike my first merger, though, they moved in to our space this time. Coming in, the developers promised they'd learn to use our development tool, and we promised to learn to use theirs. (We used competitor's products to make our software.) Once they arrived, however, they snubbed their noses at our development tool, and refused to use it to do their work. They were making a stand- they were going to force us to use their tool.

Our team had a well known expert in their development tool (Authorware, for those who care to know) come in and give us a crash course. The basics were easy enough to pick up, but the only true way to learn is to do, so a project was needed. I was assigned to a big new project with a very large company that was not our normal client (we dealt with one client for 98 percent of our workload). It was a big, big deal. However, when I returned from being out sick for two days one week, one of the other developers and my project manager had decided the new project would be done in the new developer's tool. I voiced my concern, that I would need a lot of help from the new developers, and was assured this would occur. After all, I was an expert in the other development tool, not this new one. And, to complicate matters, the new developers had a custom code template they had created "to ease production along". If you've ever programmed or scripted anything, you'll know the worst thing in the world is trying to understand someone else's code. It's a nightmare- every developer has their own style of programming. An initial first client presentation deadline roared towards me.

Never. Came. Close. In the end, at one particular deadline, i was summarily yanked off the project for not meeting goals (that had never been set in the first place)- all because I never received the aid I had needed, requested, and documented all along. But it was too late. The trust in me was broken, and despite my not having done a thing wrong, I was going to be let go at some point. Mentally exhausted, I gave up and waited, and the day came in late November of 2002.

I haven't had work since.

Now, that surprises a lot of people. But, I need to pull you back to earlier in my life and remind you of my anxiety disorder. It's never gone away. So all of my professional woes, that obviously would have caused anyone a boatload of stress, have caused me ten times the amount. After that last experience, I snapped a bit inside and became stuck in a type of catch-22. I need to be able to do what I am great at, and what I used to do, I was great at. But other people- the way the industry is run- prevent me from doing so. Combined with the massive overtime, that I'm not able to abide by anymore, and I have been unable to figure out how to proceed foward with my career.

The most common response is, "work from home". This would seem logical- but again, the anxiety disorder rises its ugly head. I'm not really capable of calling clients to sell a service, or travelling around meeting strangers in strange places and all of the things that other people can do without worry. So, it's been a long, boring, and annoying stretch of self-examination, analysis and general worry.

The most frustrating part of my life to date is the "on hold" feeling that I've fallen into. Consider dating. When I started working, I was working seven days a week the majority of the time, and couldn't date. I also couldn't shop or cook healthy food, and gained weight. Being that I am not attracted to overweight women, I entered into a double standard. I either had to find a girlfriend that didn't mind me having a beer belly while she had to keep in good shape- while never seeing me since I was working around the clock- or, give up and not try to date. So, I gave up. The last date I had was in 1997. Obviously, when my work stopped in 2002, I was going to run out of money and ended back home in mom's basement yet again- where I still am, penniless and silently shouting at the world. Trying to date when you're 35 and live with your mom, and have no money... not so easy. So, for ten years, I've been "on hold"... and I feel like time is running out. I've always considered that I would have kids- that kids are the measure of a successful life... "hey, look, I've passed on my DNA and will impact future generations".

Well, time will tell if I get that chance in the future (after all, I do prefer younger women!) but it's all moot without resolving some of the more pressing issues- like finding myself again and getting work I enjoy and can handle. I've spent the last four years constantly running ideas through my mind, and the good news is this: I have a decent idea of what I'd like to do next. The only problem arises in the same areas I fell into traps with before- I need to find the right company, the right people, in order to make sure I don't have the same abuses occur. And, it's not easy- especially here in Michigan, where our job market is terrible- and high tech is not a priority profession.

All things considered though, I keep a positive attitude. I still have a strong passion for life, and I find great enjoyment in the things I am interested in. As an intellectual (or so I'd like to consider myself), I love expanding my mind and thinking on all matters- and I have a little bit of knowledge on all matters, as it so happens.) So while I'm no expert in all things, who is, I ask you? I present this blog as a site to gain "wisdom" or offer your own. But this is window dressing- ultimately, none of us know anything. But, that doesn't make it any less interesting to share what we believe on matters, and then hear what others think in response.

And this is all I offer to you, now that you know who I am and what I've done in life to this point. I offer my insight on topics as I see them in our world- but that only matters if you consider what I offer, chew on the mental flavor a bit, and offer your own take. Because all of us are capable of bringing something unique to the table when it comes to discussing life- we're all interesting in our own way, due to our life experiences. I want to hear what you have to say, because your take is just as interesting as my own. And why should you listen to me?

Because I'm someone special.