Dealing with Failure

florida beach
The beach near my house in FLA. I hang out here a lot less than I used to, and come 2 or 3 times a week to exercise by walking a few miles up and down a mostly empty beach that’s a protected nature preserve

The observable fact is that things are improving.  That is the current datum.

Why is that?

I am not sure.  For 17 long years, things were going downhill.

I am an emigrant from Egypt and the UK.

I came to this country in the late 60s.

I lived in NYC, and worked in Fintech most of my career.

In 2001, I lost a great job due to the tech meltdown. So I moved to Florida.  Went to France for the summer, plenty of money in the bank still, thinking that when I got back I could take my pick and choose my next great career move.

Now during this time, a highly mysterious French programmer wrote a piece of software called “b2/cafelog ,” and a college kid called Matt noticed.  I didn’t, though.  I was too busy trying to find a job and feeling sorry for myself.

Hundreds (or maybe it was only 15, I can’t remember anymore) of resumés send-outs later, I still couldn’t find work.

Let’s see, I had worked as a programmer and systems analyst in Manhattan for over 25 years at some of the biggest financial companies in America, and I couldn’t get a job?

Why?

Was it 9-11, you know the Arab thing?

Bad luck?

Age?

All of the above?

So I wrote to a childhood friend who, at the time, had great tech job in the Gulf and his answer was basically I’m kind of busy right now. This is a guy who I once helped by pulling family strings to make things easier for him in terms of being drafted in the Egyptian army.  Send your res to Bayt.com, he said:  that was his response, instead of, say, introducing me to any one of his many contacts in Dubai who might have offered me work.

Understandably, I got a little miffed about that.  I learned that people have short memories.  I learned that loyalty is not a two way street. I learned that people don’t always remember down that road what you once did for them, that sometimes they prefer to forget it entirely.

But I still had money in the bank.

So I said, fuck it, I am going to walk the deserts, not like some of the geezer Birkenstock tourists I recently saw in Tavira, Portugal, but like a nomad, a sort of Bruce Chatwin, minus the gay thing, with a knapsack and notebook, travelling literally to remote deserts, and spending the little money I had saved from selling the Greenwich CT house on a sort of extended Leaving Las Vegas binge. I wrote a few stories, during this time; they got published in Mizna, until that pub stop liking me and I told them to go fuck themselves.

This worked for a while, but underneath it all I was worried as shit.  I was still in my 50s.  What was I going to do with the rest of my life?

This more than kept my up at night; it ate me alive with worry.

And I did become embittered.

Finally, from all the stress, I contracted Graves’ Disease.

It almost killed me.  This life-threatening autoimmune disorder resulted in my body attacking itself; unfortunately, I exhibited ever possible manifestation or symptom of Graves, from pretibial myxedema to bulging eyes to erratic mood swings to purples bruises on my faces and elbows.

Unable to deal with the nasty behavior that hyperthyroidism often engenders in its victims , my wife almost left me — we separated for a year, and commenced divorce proceedings.

Alone, depressed, jobless, I was no longer the handsome young man with a bright future that she fell in love with some twenty years earlier.  I had become the angry, resentful old Florida guy no one wanted around any more.

My life stopped having any meaning and my vacuous days seemed pointless.

I didn’t give up completely, though.

I still emailed strangers — or, rather, company bots — about getting something akin to my old “datum” job back, but I kept getting shot down, and finally no one even bothered answering my job applications any more. My wife even suggested at some point that I change my name — Americanize it, the way many immigrants to America used to in the past — and shave years off my birth date: in old school IBM punch card terms, to fold, spindle and mutilate my true identity into some fictitious heteronym; that is to say, to no longer be who I am; to become, in effect, a living lie, instead of a human being.

Finally, a friend took me aside, when I went up to DC, in a last-ditch attempt to get a consultant subcontracting gig.

He was someone whom I had hired in the old days, when I was a tech honcho at a billion dollar company based in Virginia.

He said:  do you mind if I be honest with you?  Even if you never speak to me again, I owe you this.

I said okay.

He took a deep breath and said your life is over in tech. You were at the top, once, but now you’re not a player any more. Face it: you’re never going to be hired in a tech position ever again, let alone be considered the IT visionary you once were. That was a long time ago, before all that went down happened. Tech is a young man’s game.  You warned me about that yourself, once.

So do yourself a favor, he said.

Look in the mirror.

Ageist as this sounds, would you then have hired you as you are now?

My conclusion was that I could either turn to something like becoming an airport limo driver, or giving up and turn into the guy who goes to the liquor store at 9am and is never seen in public except for the early morning, darting beer and whisky runs.

What do you do when your life is over, except commit suicide on the installment plan, or be the codger who packs shopping carts at the checkout line at the supermarket?

In 2016, a lot of people were like me.  The 2008 housing bubble had wiped them out financially. For some, it was the lack of construction work; for others, it was globalism that outsourced their well-paid union jobs; for white collar workers, many had simply gotten older and were no longer welcome in the offices where they once made other people rich.

And so, many of them voted for Donald Trump.

They needed to believe the con that he would make it all better.  That he would put the screws on those guys who were responsible for your life turning to shit.  Because that wasn’t your fault.  What had happened had nothing to do with you.  You had played the game fair and square and they came with their Moslem and Mexican and Jew ways and fucked your life up. It was Them that did it, those fucking bastards who wanted to take your place, and live in your house, and fuck your white daughter, while leaving you out on the curb with no place to go except rot like a piece of garbage.

Somebody had to answer for that.

Or so it went for many.

Others vanished.  They became zombies, which is essentially what I did.

I stopped taking care of my physical appearance.

I stopped reading, because it was too hard for me now to do so, and I couldn’t afford the cataract operation.

I pointlessly walked the beaches, first for days, months, and then years.

For no reason.

With no purpose, except just to not to sit around.

Sometimes I saw the carapace of dead turtles that had washed up on the beach and were being picked clean by the seagulls and crabs.  Sometimes I saw small boats that had shipwrecked.  But mostly I saw old guys like me, either fishing or walking the beach for no reason other than there was nothing else to do.

What do you do when your mind is still alive yet no one wants you anymore because no one wants to deal with what everyone perceives is a loser?

Many people say they would rather starve than be pitied and turn into charity cases, but the soup kitchens are full people who had to swallow their pride for the sake of their families.

How do you stop from going insane, as everyone around tries one way or another to pry ever last dime you have on some car or insurance or payday hustle and you finally find yourself alone waiting to die in some 600 dollar a month studio with barely enough money left over to pay for food, your  meds, and the beer you drink now to make all the hurt go away because you don’t matter anymore to anyone except every few years when some politician in a smart suit says this or that or the other thing and then goes away till the next election?

Of course not everyone my age went down that route.

Some started taking steroid shots, so their knees could withstand logging those he-man mega clicks on their expensive bicycles; others administered themselves testosterone injections and even Viagra, to get rid of the moobs and still be able to fuck that trophy wife or girlfriend; while others still pumped iron and did everything in their power to make the comeback that never happened, until they realized that there comes a time when not even Michael Jordan can play basketball any more.

So where did that leave me?

With all the gun shops in Florida, taking yourself out is a real easy option.

But… ultimately…. I finally ended up going another route.

Stay tuned for Part II of this maybe completely fictional, maybe not, post, when the reference I made earlier to the history of WordPress will start making sense and I’ll start to talk about positive solutions, despite still being trapped in a suffocating world that was slowly killing me.

leaving america

I got a rock

This morning I went to the beach where I have spent much of the past 17 years.

Unlike the situation in Tavira, you don’t have to get a 2 euro ticket to hop on a ferry filled with the Birkenstock people to get to the beach here.

It was empty; usually this time of day, and in season, there are lots of fishermen around.

florida algae warning

Only two today, and one of them had his nose and mouth wrapped with a towel, which made him look like an American Bedouin.

I walked around, but didn’t see Ozzie, my old Osprey friend, but did come across the usual sandpipers scampering about.

He and I go way back, Ozzie and I do, from the time I used to come here alone and sit for hours, thinking of my life in Manhattan that had now disappeared, thinking about how promising everything looked, before my life fell off a cliff.

After a while, I felt, or imagined I felt, a slight burning sensation in my lungs, and my nose started to run.

Then I noticed my shadow on the beach, as I have seen it many times before.

Not to get all lugubrious on this hallowed day, but one day I will only be a shadow that once walked on this earth.  What will they say I’ve accomplished?  Anything? Did I just take up space, and then that was it?

I have been having this (decade-long) debate about writing a novel that takes place in Egypt along the Red Sea, and it occurred to me that I might write the idea I had about ten years ago as a sort of Zombie Apocalypse comic-serious book.

That would relieve the literary pressure of trying to come up with “the novel” that would cement my reputation as a writer — which is now zilch, unfortunately — that would prove… what exactly was it, again?

I have also been trying to keep away from working on this software idea that has I haven’t been able to stop myself from noodling with since before leaving for Portugal a month or so ago.

It’s not that I wish I were this guy…

… but last night and the night before that I spent hours creating an interface for the application. It’s now done.

And I studied — quite seriously, not in some cursory fashion — what would be involved in terms of the necessary underlying tech stack that it would take to realize the idea.

Daunting.

Even with a team of programmers who can code like greased lightning, the effort to implement this would be non-trivial.  I used to be the CTO for a small Internet company in Manhattan, after years of being a data modeler and programmer in the fintech space, but now am 67 and haven’t developed software since 9-11 — not an ideal time in life to consider implementing a complex WP plug-in, solo.

But the more I researched what would be involved, the more my interest was piqued.

I do feel younger than my years, nowadays; that’s one thing. When I was 30, I felt like I was 70 on some days, but that is what burning the candles at both ends when you are young will do.

Maybe I’ll do both things, or maybe just think about doing them, alternating the heavy lifting of creating vapor ware with the equally exhausting task of vapor writing.

The beauty of this plan is that I can accomplish all this without the pressure of having to fly to Gouna to raise angel funding and promise them a unicorn, while slaving away during my spare time, like a dog in a junkyard filled with Smith Corona typewriters, just so that one day I can say to the doubters at Mizna, see, it was in me the whole time, the gift.. it was there all along: you just never saw it; or rather, I chose not to let it be seen.

I kept walking on the beach — whose contours I know intimately — and found a coral rock that would fit perfectly in my garden at home.

I picked it up, and upon returning with it to the parking lot, a woman my age who was driving a brand new silver Merc pulled up and parked next to my beat up old Escape.

She got out of the shiny Merc, looked at me, and said, without even a good morning, even though it still quite early in the day… you know, you look just like Charlie Brown on Halloween with that rock.

People remember the oddest things.

Sometimes it takes living a long time to make connections you never saw while growing up.

So that’s me, today:  a kid on Halloween who got a rock, just like it’s always been.

The lady in the Merc said so.

leaving america

The Dignity of Sand Cranes

Sand Cranes outside my house in Florida

Since returning from Portugal, almost two weeks ago, I have been engaged in a ferocious internal debate:  what should I focus my energies on next (other than preparing to move to Portugal next year)?

The choice is ternary:

a) Do nothing; hang out; chill; exercise; lose weight; ignore whatever happens with the coming election and the daily fulminations of the orange asshole and his friends and supporters; or,

b) develop a WP plug-in idea that I had a few months ago, one that I think has realistic commercial promise; or,

c) Write the novel I have been thinking (and talking about endlessly) about since 2005.

The first choice is the easiest.  Gripe about Trump, while spinning around in a state of powerless fury and resentment, and spewing forth the occasional rant in this blog that few will bother reading.

The second, ambitious, but — at age 67 — unlikely to happen, except very slowly, if at all.

There was a time when I was quite good at designing and managing the implementation of large-scale financial database applications; alas, tech is nothing if not a young person’s game, and with my eyesight such as is it is nowadays, and my grasp of modern computer languages and paradigms poor to nonexistent, I take an, er, dim view of the likelihood of accomplishing anything notable in that regard anytime soon, even on a hobby basis.  I was good at it, once, and was well paid for it; but that train left the station a long time ago.

The third choice is more promising (and quite frankly, engaging at an intellectual level) — providing I keep my expectations low, keep at it every day, and allow my imagination to run free of any constraint, to go where it wishes, without any self censorship, which has been a big problem in the past.

While writing a book in one’s dotage is perhaps the most clichéd of all endeavors — I find that I continue to have a great interest in literature;  beyond that, the urge to write has never left me.  I can’t stop doing it, literally.

For example today, as I was bicycling past one of the Sand Crane families that live around my house, I was able for the first time to picture the opening scene for that novel I have been thinking about since those أفيون-filled days, when I hung out in hippie Dahab a decade or so ago, before it fell to commercialization and lost its many charms.

So… the answer is clear.  Read widely, write every day, and stay healthy.  Who knows:  maybe, at last, 2019 will the year that I complete a novel.

Should that miracle happen — the one that in fact no one is holding their breath for — I will make sure I send a signed copy to the good folks of Mizna — who rejected a story of mine this year, making it the third submission in a row that they tossed in the trash bin.

My memory is quite long about such things, and I will show them could be a great motivator, except that, at my age, such a sentiment would be unseemly.

Besides, there are a lot of things that need to be talked about through the medium of fiction… horrible things, for sure, undignified for sure, scandalous no doubt, at least to a person holding a stereotypical American or Arab/Egyptian frame of reference, yet insistent on being expressed nonetheless, instead of being swept under the magic carpet of neocon bombast and fascist suppression of whatever stripe.

Let’s see what happens.

 

leaving america