Working for God

Before I went on vacation, the company owner told me that I was responsible for my own anxiety.

I thought about that while I was on the road on Wednesday. I have several reasons to feel anxiety at work, but late that night, as I struggled to find the peace of sleep, I realized that they were all attempts by others to poison public perception of my conduct.

Putting those anxieties aside, then, what I was left with was this: standing in the door of my colleague’s office, telling him that I despite three books, a web site and three blogs, I have failed to build any interest in the truths that have been entrusted to me. That, and the images of the destruction wrought be hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with the fear that many would believe that God had forgotten them.

And I saw myself going to the camps of the displaced with boxloads of my Love Returns t-shirts for the children. The message was simple: the waters of death and destruction had risen against you to drown your faith, but the waters that Jesus offers are the waters of life. You are not forgotten – you are beloved.

The sermon on the boat in Galilee also came to mind: not from the perspective of Peter, but from the perspective of the fishes that hid from the nets all night until Jesus commanded Peter to let them down again. The vision was of children hiding under blankets in the corner when their parents came to look for them. When the children don’t show, the teacher sends the parents outside. The children remain under the blankets until the teacher goes to the door to tell their parents to “Try again.” Then the little class rushes forward to happily embrace their parents.

With these visions, all the negative thoughts vanished.

But I woke at 5 AM. Entering the town that the retreat I was attending was located at, I drove up Interstate 80 for ninety minutes, past Rocklin and almost to Truckee. Following the directions, I found myself at the supposed destination in the middle of an empty stretch of road. Checking my e-mail notices from the retreat, I learned that it was actually outside Sonora, almost four hours away.

Having left early, I was still going to make the first Thursday session, but I felt foolish and ashamed. I pushed that aside and focused on my good fortune: I was still going to be there early. As I approached Rocklin, I began wondering whether there wasn’t a reason this happened. As I entered Rocklin, I decided to search for some Christian music on the radio, and found AirOne. After a few songs played, a notice came on: AirOne was looking for two big data analysts to work in Rocklin.

Those that have been following this blog will remember that I had been taking courses in this field through eDx last year before I started the video series at Love Returns.

No prize to those that predict that I’ll apply. It’s the only way to clear up my deepest anxieties.

Balke, Principal of Uncertainty

After seven-and-a-half years of working with ancient technology at my current employer, I began putting my resume around in February. The process has been discouraging. I was truly excited about a start-up in San Francisco that was looking to help self-generators maximize the return on their excess electricity, but the HR manager wasn’t interested in organizing a plane flight up from Los Angeles. The hiring manager broke off contact with “Let me know when you’ve got yourself relocated to San Francisco.” I’ve also looked for opportunities in the motion control industry, applying to half-a-dozen positions. I didn’t even get a call back.

The real action is in Java and cloud services, but when I began to work on updating my skills in these areas, I came down really sick in the beginning of March with symptoms that hung on until just this week. Not wanting to be taking interviews while sick, I put the job search on hold. But it might be deeper than that. My brother is also looking for work, and calls me occasionally to share experience. The last time I found myself saying “I don’t know, Ben. I think that I’m getting messages from the world that I’ve been investing my energy in the wrong places.”

With some extra time on my hands, I decided to take up the charge placed on me by John Zande, who insisted that I should try to drum up support for my ideas on fundamental physics. His recommendation was to focus on the Templeton Foundation and its awardees. So I went out to the Foundation’s site and discovered the Fundamental Questions Institute. The mission of the institute seems sympathetic to my goals, but when I contacted the academics that dominate its board, their responses were “I can’t participate in this.” I didn’t even see any hits on my New Physics page.

I understand the reticence of these men: they probably deal with a lot of cranks. But I led my invitations with a list of serious deficiencies in the standard model that should have demonstrated that I am a serious commentator. You would have thought that they would have at least been curious. Of course, I can invest in developing a presence out on their forums, hoping to establish myself in their community, but the conversation seems to be dominated by philosophers rather than physicists, and – dammit – I’ve got a full-time job already.

As this was unfolding, I met with a life coach named Jamie Wozny down in the little garden next to the contributors’ steps at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Still wobbly with my illness, I chased her down standing next to the parking elevator facing a sign that said “Tired of Waiting?” Feeling frustrated with life, I just let it all hang out, telling her a lot of things that I’ve never shared with anyone else, culminating with the laughing observation “You know, the angels love me. If people don’t want me here, why shouldn’t I just wander off to be with them?”

Jamie’s advice was to get myself registered as a minister (thank-you, Universal Life Church), purchase some insurance, and hang up my shingle as a minister at Weebly or one of the other free web-site hosting services. “Your tribe will find you,” she assured me. Remembering the excitement I felt when I designed my t-shirt, the “Love Returns” theme came to mind. I spent my spare time over the next two weeks learning HTML5 animation syntax to build an introductory page, and outlining the content for the rest of the site. Today, I’ll be heading down to a workshop run by Jamie and her partner in Santa Monica where they rent out space in a healer’s studio. That might be a good place to hang up my shingle. While it’s a little distant from home, it’s close to the community centered in Culver City that I’ve been dancing with over the last ten years.

I got another push in this direction from Ataseia, co-organizer of LA Ecstatic Dance, when I told him that I was probably going to be relocating in the near future. He looked at me seriously and said “That’s going to be a real loss to our community.” It was the tone that gave me pause. Robin and he have always made a point of thanking me for my presence, but I had always assumed that was just because I come to all the events.Nobody had ever explicitly recognized the energy and love that I share on the dance floor, except the rare participant that comes up to tell me “thank-you” (and those that do I usually never see again). But at last week’s event, the staff went out of their way to honor my presence among them.

So I’ve been trying to shift my perspective regarding that community, wondering how to introduce myself as a commentator on science and theology with the goal of encouraging people to interact with me. It’s not easy – one of the few people to have read Ma told me that there were very few authors that could write the gamut from the intimately personal, expanding into broad social concerns and beyond to the eternal. There is just so much to say. And so maybe the right way to start is with “I love you all. I express that love through dance and touch, but it’s rooted deeply in my understanding of science and theology. I think that it’s time to share that understanding with the world. If you’d like to hear what I have to say, or know of a forum that would be receptive, let’s talk.”

Then on Thursday morning I came out to check the site stats and discovered that I had almost two hundred hits overnight. When I checked my e-mail, I found a note from Jeffrey Nash that he had printed out all of the essays listed in my “New Physics” and “Faith” pages. We’ve been chatting about quantum mechanics and the basis of spiritually at his Awakening Process sessions and before the Improv Jam on Sundays. He tracks a number of researchers, and wanted to meet with me to discuss my ideas. When that was delayed due to upcoming travel, he said that he would print out some of my writing and read it to prime the conversation. His obvious enthusiasm is deeply flattering. Jeff is a profound healing presence for the people that gather around him.

Among those are a number of young ladies that have strong and expressive bodies. I’ve generated some confusion among them, which I finally addressed while cuddling after an exhausting duet. The woman began to ask probing questions, and I found myself saying “Well, one of the things that an older man can do for a young lady is to encourage her to recognize just how precious she is.” After we broke up, I danced with a few more people, but having already spent three hours on the floor at Ecstatic Dance, I began to cramp up and creak in the knees. Looking to pack up and go, I wandering to the back of the room and found Sophie, a recent addition to the community, beckoning to me from the edge of the “squishy hug-fest” that forms towards the end of the dance. It turns out that she’s working on her Ph.D. in Jungian psychology. As the squishy mass rolled off, we stayed behind, she eventually allowing me to pillow my head on her belly, and talked about psychology and spirituality until the Jam rolled up at 9 PM. As we stood, she asked me about my Ph.D., and laughingly admitted that she didn’t know anything about particle physics. As I offered to explain it to her sometime, I realized that maybe I’d found another community of receptive people.

So here’s a summary of my life over the last two months:

PingPongBall

Being Boxed In

The management guru fad of the ‘80s wound itself up just at the turn of the millennium. This may have been due, in part, to the rise of information technology that shifted analytical emphasis away from the personality of the leader toward those directly involved in creating value. That was evident in the last book I read on leadership, which warned managers that knowledge workers would simply walk away from organizations that did not adopt collaborative management strategies.

I find myself in such a situation at this point. When I started my current job, I sat through meetings that devolved into pitched shouting matches. Such altercations were a daily event between some of my peers. When I intervened with the HR staff to bring this to an end, I exposed patterns that dated back to the formation of the company by people that used competition to maintain control of knowledge workers. Circulating to upper management an essay on triangulation and its consequences did not make me a popular person. When I put a copy of “Breaking The Fear Barrier” on my desk, they just stopped coming into my office.

They kept me on because I sat in my office and did what I do best: create a garden in an overgrown software jungle. The application that I manage, which has always been a critical part of the user’s experience of our products, has gone from being something hidden until the sale is complete to an essential part of the sales process. At the same time I have created component libraries and leveraged them to build new applications, algorithms and regression test suites. Having gone eight years without a pay raise, however, it’s time for me to move on to a place that understands and appreciates the principles that I use to understand the needs of my customers and create success for them.

So I’ve been working on my resume and trying to visualize the kind of place that I would find success in. I have a certain sympathy for Microsoft, and went out to the Research site on Saturday to see whether I could put up a resume. The site indicates that researchers are expected to be recognized experts in their field with a substantial body of publications. Well, shoot, most of my career has been spent in top secret facilities or in small companies that use trade secrets to protect their intellectual property. Microsoft Research does have a category for applications developers, but that link led me through to the main Microsoft site.

And so I find myself where I was eight years ago: a really smart guy who was told by an honest recruiter that “if I knew someone starting an R&D program, you’re the guy I would recommend, but you just don’t market well as either a manager or a software developer.” Where most developers focus on coding efficiency and the arcane syntax, most of my effort is invested in understanding the application domain so that I write the right code. Whether it’s produced in JavaScript or C++ or C# is pretty irrelevant – once I’ve established the design, I evaluate and select an implementation platform, read a book, start writing code, and use the web to find answers to arcane syntax questions when they come up.

Most hiring managers don’t have a clue how to evaluate a person like me. They want a known quantity – a specific skill set that will allow someone to come in and deliver value on day one. They’re not willing to take a risk on learning, and don’t know how to evaluate that capability by probing past experience to determine whether a resume represents individual contribution, or simply takes credit for work done by others.

So I’m resolved to find my own opportunities this time – searching the web for job openings and pushing my resume through directly. I’m making culture an explicit issue by declaring that my loyalties lie first and foremost with the customer.

To those of you who have been following this blog, this probably resonates. I’m hard to pin down because I don’t specialize narrowly. Rather, I examine relationships (personal, institutional and intellectual), and advocate for deepening them where others pick a side. But, damn it, I don’t want to be in a conveniently packaged box that can be moved easily around (itinerancy being the biggest problem faced by software companies). I want a home, and I’m willing to meet people where they are.