Baltimore, buzzword compliance, dot-communism, Friends, work

Nesting, flocking, and the solitary geek

i have now been a telecommuter for almost 15 years – nearly three times as long as I’ve spent in “traditional” work environments. Sure, I’ve spent time in the office on each of those jobs–some more than others. But it’s always been clear to me that I have been operating at a handicap by not physically being in the office–both professionally and psychically. The benefits to my family have usually outweighed those–we haven’t had to move from Baltimore, where we can afford to live comfortably (relatively speaking) and the kids have had stability; I haven’t had to deal with daily commutes, and have had more time to participate in my family’s life (at least until the last couple of years), and there have been other direct and indirect lifestyle benefits.

But I’ve been going out of my fucking mind.

My current company is at least geographically relatively close, compared to previous employers — a 75-mile drive, an hour-and-a-half commute off peak. I spend most Mondays in the office just so people know I exist. It’s certainly less of a grind than my last corporate gig, where I spent nearly every other week flying to New England, and the folks at the office park Sheraton knew me by name. That job drove me to the edge, to dark places I never want to go again, with the lost hours in airports, on Southwest, on the 128 to Needham, in a bad hotel restaurant, in cubeland trying to figure out why things were so fucked and what it was exactly I was supposed to be doing since nobody knew I existed even when I was there.

But I digress.

There is a great deal of what I do that is best done in isolation, with no interruptions. I find that I write best in the dark hours, when the house is quiet, and there are no interruptions– or at least that’s when I am *able* to write. But the inspiration for writing has to come from a more social world, and my brain needs other people to engage it sometimes.

That became clear to me when I stood up and guided a session at the recent SocialDevCampEast here in Baltimore, and then participated in several more. Part of it is ego, and part of it is just plain human need — I like the feedback that comes with gettting up and talking and thinking on my feet, and I like talking about things I’m passionate about. As solitary as I am most of the time, I am a social animal, and given my usual isolation, I find that I need approval and acceptance all the more so when I get the opportunity.

In other words, I’m a needy, egotistical serial loner. Quite the personality profile.

But, as it turns out, a lot of other very smart people are also needy, egotistical serial loners looking to be more social. One of the conversations at SocialDevCampEast was about co-working.

Dave Troy, who I used to occasionally co-guest with on the Marc Steiner Show (on what was then WJHU, along with Eric Monti) , is leading ab effort to bring co-working in the style of Philadelphia’s Indy Hall to Baltimore. Co-working, for the uninitiated, is a social approach to independent info-working, providing the professional and creative benefits of networking and idea bouncing for those who might itherwise spend the day talking to their cat.

So far, the Beehive group has been meeting at Blue House, a Fells Point coffee shop, and doing Tuesday and Thursday “jellies”-sessions where people loosely show up and work in each other’s company and leech off the establishment’s wifi. But plans are in the works for an actual shared space in Canton.

I, unfortunately, have yet to get to a jelly. But I think I’ll be trying to frequent the shared space when it opens, being as it beats driving to Falls Church for a day in the office.

Baltimore, Family


Last Thursday, Lucy passed out of this world, and to wherever cats go when they slip from their mortal coil.

She was part of our family for 12 years, and a constant companion of mine. She would curl up on my feet while I worked, and would burrow into the crook of my arm at night. She would climb on my chest and rub her head against my bearded chin. She was our first pet as a family, but it was always clear that she was mine. My wife, P., used to refer to her as my “girlfriend.”

A few weeks back, Lucy started showing less and less interest in food, until she wasn’t eating at all. I started feeding her, despite her protests, by hand, pushing food into her mouth with a syringe. When I had to travel on business, P. took over the hand feeding, and I hoped that whatever was causing the loss of appetite would pass. I scheduled a vet visit for when I got back.

But she was 15 years old, and had been in declining vigor for some time, and I knew when I got dropped off at the airport that things were probably not going to resolve happily.

When I returned on Wednesday, it was clear she was in trouble. She hadn’t eaten on her own, and her skin was jaundiced. I took her to the vet the next morning, alone, trying to steel myself.

Her liver had shut down. There was no telling, really, what had caused the loss of appetite without sending out bloodwork, and maybe a thyroid test, and several days of hosptitalization. The vet told me even then, the outlook was probably grim, and that her quality of life would suffer dramatically no matter what the outcome.

Plus, it would likely cost over $3000.

I was being asked to make a choice between Scylla and Charybdis. “It wouldn’t be the wrong decision to have her put to sleep,” the vet said, softly.

I assented. The vet left me with Lucy for a few minutes, and I cried some more. I pulled myself back together before they took her out of the room to catheterize her, leaving me with the paperwork to sign authorizing everything, and a number for a pet memorial service to set up cremation.

I could have brought her home for a day of goodbyes. But it was clear that would put everyone else in the family through even more emotional turmoil. I called my wife at work and told her what was going on, trying to stay calm, but failing.

She came back in, catheter in her forepaw. “She was very good,” the technician said, as she put Lucy down on a fresh blanket on the table. An assistant stood by as I called the memorial service and gave them my credit card number. And then they all left me with her.

I cried. A lot. There’s no getting around that. I pulled her into my lap and held her, with minimal protest from her, and cried. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. I stroked her ear, then put her back down on the blanket on the table when it was clear she was uncomfortable with this sort of attention. She never stopped purring, though.

I stroked her ear. She purred. The vet came in to see if I was ready. I asked for a few more
minutes. I got them. Finally, I assented, and the vet began the procedure. First, a “twilight” anesthetic to put her in a relaxed state…her eyes dilated, and her purring faded slowly. Then the overdose of anesthetic….”She is no longer with us,” the vet said, after what seemed like seconds.

I was left alone with her. “You can stay as long as you need to,” the vet said. “Just turn out the light when you leave, so we know.”

I stayed another 15 minutes or so, stroking her, looking into her darkened eyes, and then quietly gathered up the cat carrier, turned off the light, and left.

Yesterday, I picked up her ashes from the vet’s office. They were in a small box engraved with flowers, with a brass plate to affix with her name engraved. And there was a card with a poem that made me weep again when I read it. I took her home, and put her on a picture shelf.

And here I am now, all worked up again having recounted her passing. Today was a day of thanks, and I am thankful that I had her for so long, and terribly sad at the hole she left behind. The other cats here — including Pixel, the 12-week old kitten we rescued from the streets last month — have big pawprints to fill.