I'm home now from my first Netroots and I just want to say a deeply felt "Thank You" to everyone who scrambled at 30 seconds after the last minute to get little ole' me out there. It was a headache, but ultimately - at least for me - more than worth all the trouble.
I never thought I'd get a chance to go. I pretty much gave up on it long ago simply because of current financial realities. I was never expecting that to suddenly change. I was never expecting the opportunity to meet and have meaningful face-to-face conversations with Meteor Blades, Navajo, SusanS, SusanG, Will, Denise Oliver-Valez, Eric Lewis, thankgodforairamerica, Egberto, Ian, Paul Hogarth, Dave in Northridge [even though I went to High School in Northridge], our soon to be new State Senator Sandra Fluke, Michael from Raw Story, Craig from Media Matters, Sam Seder, Dave Weigel, Amanda Turkel, and so many others.
I never thought I have a chance to have a face-to-face technical argument with Marcy [@EmptyWheel] Wheeler on the NSA and Section 215, 702 and 13002 of the Patriot Act. (Which was Hella Fun - well, for me it was fun.) I never thought I'd walk into the Hall and see Markos himself in the flesh for the first time, and not only did he know me, but that he'd give me a big hug. Truly surreal.
So many people came up to me and said they loved my writing. All I could muster was a slightly sheepish "Thanks", then - but I wanted to say this more officially, and with some backstory as to why all of this was so unexpected, and why my gratitude is all a bit deeper than many of you realize, or that I can easily or quickly express.
I don't often talk about my real life hear on Kos, because frankly - it's been too depressing for a very long time. I'm also hesitant because I've realized even as an un-deputized partisan operative, personal details can - and have - been used against me in debates and conversations with the opposition.
I've actually had conservatives say to me that I should be dismissed because I'm just "A Failed 40-year-old Musician who Lives with His Mother".
Since I've never put that out on the web and we'd only been talking for 20-30 minutes - I was a little alarmed at his specificity. Is there an oppo research paper out there on me?
That's slightly chilling to consider.
Of course, at the time I had to dutifully correct him and point out two things. 1) I'm a 50 year-old musician who lives with his Mother and His Wife and 2) You're not a "failure" in Life until you Give Up or Die. I haven't given up yet, and I'm not dead either.
Be all that as it may, I'm going to try to explain anyway - as I fitfully attempted to do with some people one-on-one at Netroots - just so you all understand.
Fuck what they have to say about it, here goes.
Most of my life I made a good living, first working - just out of high school - for defense Contractor Northrop Grumman in their IT Department, and then later as an all-purpose Independent IT Contractor with the State of California and other agencies such as Kaiser Permanente. I topped out in around 1999 at just under six figures. We had a 3-Story Townhouse we rented in Downtown Sacramento, as well as an apartment in Downtown Oakland that I stayed at with my then-boss while we worked at the Kaiser Headquarters [on a Lotus Notes based project] which was a couple blocks away, and an apartment in Glendale. For about a year I was commuting weekly between all three, home in Sac, work in Oakland, and then back to LA for rehearsals and gigs with my then-band Soul Machine. I soon quit them, because they sucked, and joined a much better Sacramento Band called Planet X in 1998.
On January 4th, 2000 - all of that began to unravel. Although I vowed not to get sucked into it, I wound up working on a Y2K fix project for CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) just as we ticked over into the New Millennium. [Or technically, the year before the new Millennium - whatevs] and it was on the 4th, that the contract was very suddenly and unceremoniously ended. It's not that all the date errors had been fixed, it was just Poof, I never knew what was up - but that was that.
As a contractor you get used to having dry periods, and they're often worth it because the wet periods are pretty darn wet. But we'd already been through a couple of those right after we'd moved up the Sacramento to pursue the "big money". I'd pretty much drained my Northrop 401(k) funds down to nothing to finance the move and keep us going for the first nine months between the end of a gig with the Department of Consumer Affairs and the start of the Kaiser engagement.
After that, we didn't have any fall back cash left.
So within a couple of months we were starting to look at eviction, and I decided to get clever - we filed for bankruptcy [filing out the all the paperwork ourselves] and used it as a way to leverage our landlord into paying for our relocation to a new, less expensive apartment in the center of Sacramento. After another six months just as I was reaching the end of my unemployment benefits, another job arose. Working for a start up Dot Com that was attempting to develop a turnkey CMS (Content Management System running on Cold-Fusion/MS-SQL) for the Convention Industry. They were pithily named - iConvention.com.
That saved our bacon. And it was fun. Doing 50 hours of week coding, building a platform that we could turn into a nice fat IPO in a few years. We were Living La Vida Dream once again.
And then there was 9/11.
One of our key clients had an event scheduled for the Marriot at the World Trade Center. Tower 2 landed on that Marriot. It was now an ex-Marriot. And 9 days after 9-11, I was a laid-off ex-employee of iConvention with nothing to show for it but a letter of recommendation and a voucher for stock options that never materialized as that company limped it's way through the next couple years until finally collapsing just as the towers had done.
A couple months after my COBRA had run out my wife fell from a chair while trying to put something away and suffered a spinal fracture. He spinal cord was fine, but the compression fracture has never fully healed and required her to be on a constant regiment of pain killers including vidodin. She couldn't stand for long periods, couldn't walk long distances, and couldn't sit upright even without the bringing her to edge of tears, and sometimes screaming.
And there's been a lot of screaming.
But still we weren't done yet. Not even.
I got another programming gig, working in Downtown Sac for a project to take the Girl Scouts Access Database that used to literally count their brownie points, which would be applied as credits for their camp, as well as tracking membership dues and fees, into a web application.
That was a far more complex and daunting task than it seemed at first. The GS Access Database had been gradually developed over many years and was kluged by people who weren't experienced programmers or DBA's with little add-on and patches like crazy. Gradually the client grew frustrated with delays and expenses and we had to unravel and emulate at these little specific elements. Then he grew paranoid and sued the developer company. Me being a contractor, I was not part of that suit - so I, and another contractor who come over with me from iConvention, were free to work directly with the client. Unfortunately, due to his increasing paranoia, that lasted about a week and a half -- and he stiffed me for my work during that time which came to over $1,500.
So ended that gig.
And within another couple months so also ended our residence at that apartment. Again we moved, as the eviction papers worked their way through the system.
We regrouped yet again, my wife, step-son and I. We began to cannibalize our belongings. Selling our possessions on Ebay or at the local pawn shop, while I tried to find yet another gig. I considered telemarketing. [No Money, Too sucky!] I actually took a job as a "Talent Scout" for a company owned by the guy behind the Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync, but it was really an elaborate scam. "Scouts" were to go out and invite people who we had been "trained" [with one 4-hour session] on how to spot who might be good candidates for various types of modelling. Not just fashion models, but spokes models or print media (such as in catalogs were people look actually like people instead of stick figures with eyes). The catch was the cost, which was about $800, and I didn't get paid until I got at least ten people - per week - to sign up and pay the $800 signup cost. I stuck with it a lot longer than most, but ultimately I was burning through unemployment and general assistance funds on this gig while not earning anything. Eventually the dude behind the Backstreet was indicted.
So we were down to selling the guitars, basses and my comics collection. And that lasted us longer than you might expect, nearly two years before I ran out of my really nice X-men. [Giant Size X-men One paid for our rent for a month and half all by itself] And to date, I've still got a really big beef with Ben Afflect for messing up the Daredevil movie, that stinker cost me big time. Planet X had broken up after a four year battle over the name with a former member of Dream Theater, I joined a new band with some of PX's former members called GliTCheD and began to start to gain a following.
But yet, again, eviction loomed. We gathered what we could into temporary storage and moving van - and lived in a Hotel for two weeks. Homeless.
Once the last of our cash ran out one of my old bosses, the man who recruited me to work as contractor in the first place personally bankrolled us taking all our belongings, what was left of them that we hadn't sold, me, my wife and our cats, back to L.A. where we could crash out of my mom's place. "For a while" or so we thought at the time. It broke my heart to give up, and to give in. It broke my heart to leave Sacramento, which I'd grown to love. It broke my heart to leave GliTCheD the best band I'd ever been in - and I could only blame myself for ending that group - I did it, I was the one who had to leave town after being evicted for the third time. It was my fault. It just plain fucking sucked. We cried our way halfway down the state in the U-haul. We gave it everything we had, had managed to resurrect and reinvent ourselves twice in a row - but still went down in the end. I was functionally broken for a good long time after that. Spent. Burnt. Depressed. Pissed.
That was 2004, and we're still - today - living in that same house all together. Me and my mom and my wife. The cats unfortunately, have all passed on. My wife's health issues have worsened, she's suffering from a degenerative condition in her knee which led to her failing down the stairs and giving her a second back fracture. And there's plenty more to that list of injuries and conditions, I'm not even gonna go there. Eventually we had to get her a wheelchair. To say things haven't been tense, as the years go by and my mom begins to wonder "will they ever get it together?" after all this time is a gross under-statement.
About then I'd first started with my own blogspot page that year after discovering a page by an Iraq War Soldier called My American Iraq Life which documented their experience on the front lines of the war in a way that had never been done before, online, in real time. Back then Glenn Greenwald had a blogspot page and was starting to get big with it. It was inspiring. It was something to think you could, regardless of your circumstances, you could reach people and make a difference.
Then I found DailyKos.
It just felt right. It just felt like home. I can't really explain it well. Yes, people disagree, yes we fight sometimes like cats, dogs and wolverines. [ WOLVERINES!!!! Go Michigan.. sorry I digress] But we disagree without being disagreeable. Usually. From places like Democratic Underground, of even FireDogLake I just felt a stridency, and I don't know - orthodoxy that isn't nearly as frequently obvious here.
I mean, I'm not a "Liberal" in the traditional sense. I guess you could say I'm a "Centrist", but really I'm more of a "Reality-ist". The realities are what they are. The Facts are the Facts. People might like to cherry-pick and choose their Favorite Facts but you really need to be open and aware of all of the facts or else your conclusions will be flawed. I've learned this from programming all these years, if you think your bug and flaw is on one line, but it's really somewhere else entirely - trying to force the issue to be what you wish it were is not gonna fix the code. It's still going to break, and in fact, you may have just made it worse. [Like that GS Access Database, whew!]
So, I don't always start from the Liberal position and then try to justify it. I start with the facts I have and then try to confirm If I'm right or not, because I just might not be. I'm not down with "Orthodoxy". Not anyones, because staying true to any orthodoxy takes you away from where the facts might lead you. Orthodoxy leads to Confirmation Bias, which is exacerbated by the Paradigm Effect, presuming you know something that you really don't know, which is the heart of bigotry and prejudice and also just really baddy bad bad. I don't assume that the truth is with me, I always hope to try to make sure that I'm with the Truth.
DailyKos is open to bucking even it's OWN trends and preconceptions, at least sometimes, but even that sometimes is enough to help it self-correct and improve. It's enough to allow us all to see the truth, even if it's an unkind truth, a nasty truth.
So I wrote. I had to write. It was not voluntary, it was a moral imperative. I had to take my mind off of constantly trying to figure out what in the world I done wrong to go from where I had been to where I was now. "Who the HELL had I ever FUCKED OVER so badly to deserve THIS Crap-filled Life?" and "What Fresh Karmic Hell is this?" was the constant questions I asked myself without a single answer because the day-to-day I was now dealing with, being paid peanuts for soul crushing work while dodging gang bullets, was just stupefying. It was maddening. I had to have something to take my mind off this shit that my life had turned into. As the years dragged on, I could hear the whispers even among my own family.
Maybe he's not a smart as we all thought he was when he was a kid.
Maybe he's just gonna end up a drunk on skid row like his father did.
My mom saying she sometimes wished she hadn't had an only child, because then at least one of them might have been "successful".
That kind of stuff used to really severely piss me off. Not anymore. I realize now that's her drama, not mine. I can't allow that poison to fill up in me, I have to let it pass through, like water through a net. I can't let it become an infection of resentment and frustration in my own soul. I have to let it go. breathe it out like like air as I exhale.
But until I figured all of that out taking my focus off of it was what worked, I put my energy into Policy issues - from Enron Bankrupting the State of California - effectively shutting down my ability to be a contractor anymore. From Bush ignoring the August 6th PDB because he was so obsessed with Iraq and letting al Qeada take down the Towers - which ended my burgeoning dot com "millionaire-dom". I soon realized that my struggles, were not just being born by me alone. This was rapidly becoming America's struggle, America's challenge in the new era of Outsourcing, Offshoring, Automation, anti-Unionism, anti-Workerism, anti-Middleclassism and Creeping Feudalism.
My crashing fall, from one rocky outcropping to the next down and out of the Middle-class and into the growing Drowning Class were become common even a decade ago. It's become far more common since that time.
It has became an epidemic. Realizing that stemming the tide of that epidemic was far more important than my own self-recriminations - became a balm.
I've been here at DailyKos because of all of this. Because of something that was once said on the West Wing by the late John Spencer [Leo McGarry] to Bradley Whitford ["Josh Lyman"].
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.I'm at DailyKos because I've been down in the hole. Way down. Deep. Where there isn't any light shining. And I think, maybe, I might have found a way out at least for me, and maybe - emotionally if not technically - for others as well.
"A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
I've been climbing my way back, bit by bit. About five years ago I wrote, performed all the instruments for, sang, recorded, mixed and mastered my first solo album and put it out on iTunes (My avatar is my album cover - it's out there under "Vyan") Since then I've done four additional cover tunes and I'm just starting to begin writing my second CD [Do we even call them that anymore?]
Last December I finally left that Silkscreen Company and I've gone Independent. I've started my own company for graphics and web application design, which is so far just me and sometimes my wife, applying what I've taught myself to create a do-it-yourself platform for website & blog creation that includes many features equal to a combination of Blogspot, Tumblr, Shopify, Constant Contact and Etsy.
The money isn't flowing in like a river yet, more like a leaky faucet, but my self-respect has returned.
But after all this I never thought I'd get the welcome I did at Netroots. Couldn't have imagined it. You see, I left all my real friends in Sacramento a decade ago. Facebook is no real substitute for actual human connection IMO. No one in my day-to-day life back in LA, not even my wife or mother has an interests in the policy issues that I do. At least not as intensely as I do. So I have almost no one to talk to about the things I truly care about, not face to face. I've been alone for a long, long time. I'd gotten used to it.
And it's been cool to write a post occasionally and see it get Rec'd. Yeah, I get a lot of them, but I figured I was just lucky sometimes and or it was a slow news day. Many of the posts I work the hardest on sink like a stone and disappear. Happens all the time. But when it doesn't, and I do hit a triple or a homer it's still hard to equate that little Rec number with the the real live people that it truly represents who've effectively "voted" for my work. Sure, I'll admit to being vain enough that I would occasionally check the "People" page and see whether I was still at number 22 among the sites most popular, or if I'd moved to 21. I do look to see if I was finally ahead of EclectaBlog or not (And I discovered at the Volt Bar from him that he checks his position on that list too and he knows we're neck-and-neck all the time and yet Chris is like a Demi-God to me... he's accomplished so much of what I wished I could), but it's all been abstract. Being number #25 or #19 was just a number, it's been a small piece of satisfaction, there was no way to feel that transfer into tangible reality. It made me sometimes feel that I was somewhat effective, but I couldn't really tell by those little numbers just how effective, just how much many people really like what I try in my own fitful, stumbling way, to accomplish here. Yes, I'd get comments, and always appreciate them - but really the one primary and direct feedback I've usually gotten [through the message system] is when I've had a typo, grammatical error or a misspelling [which is frankly, too damn often - and keeps me humble], so I just really didn't know just how deeply some of you felt about my work.
I had. No. Idea.
How could I know?
Now I do. And I'm grateful. Truly. For having found a place, a home if you will, where I've been able to do what I had to do, to deal with what I've had to deal with and find a way to make a big giant pile of financial and emotional pig shit, into shinola, not just for me - but I hope, for others as well. I can't truly tell you all what it feels like to be appreciated, because in my day-to-day life - except for my wife - that just doesn't happen, Ever.
So for everyone at Netroots who chased me down in the hallways to say "Thank You, I Love your work" - ^^All the Above^^ is what I felt when I said back "No, THANK YOU!" for reading and caring, and being in the good fight to help so many who are still going through what I've been going through for a decade now.
Thank You Daily Kos.
[And lest you think I've now started to grow a big-head, reality wasted no time in bringing me back down to micrometer size on my way out of Detroit as the entire heel of my worn out right shoe broke as I tried to take it off at the TSA checkout forcing me to fly home with one stocking foot, I lost my boarding pass and momentarily panicked - but had it easily replaced by the kind lady at the counter - when I finally got home and opened my ever-so-carefully packed laptop I found my screen is now cracked and useless [luckily I just bought a used G5, so I'm still up and running as this diary shows], and while I was gone my mom went on a Netflix Binge that overtaxed our new Sprint Wireless Wifi Account by 28 Gig. SO.. everything is back to normal again, yes it is! And I don't even care because it felt so good to have a Vacation from all this merde, even if for just a few days.]
Home again, Home again, giggity gig.
4:18 PM PT: And Robin, my wife, wanted me to note that she does care about many of the same issues as passionately as I do, but I have to admit I'm just obsessed and probably tend to refrain from rambling on and on about it constantly with her because if I brought it up as often as I thought about it - it would be kind of oppressive. Hence I write diaries and obsess about it with all y'all.