I Love It When a Plan Comes Together … Eventually

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For months I have let it slip that I was possibly moving to California.  For weeks, I told people I have a new job and a place to go.   But only yesterday could I really say ‘I am moving on XXX for XXX.”

No seriously.

For those of you who need a little catching up, because while masses of you sent well wishes and congratulations, I recently left my position with my old employer Bodycote (see Defying Gravity) and will start a new position in a couple weeks at the NASA Facility Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA (see 3 … 2 … 1 … AWESOME).  I accepted the new position back in September, but had to work through clearing background checks and final hurdles before I put my notice in at my old employer.  So, it will be nearly three months from the time they said they wanted to hire me before I actually come on.  So, I tell you what, it made this whole autumn feel like one continuous transition in limbo.  Even when it seemed like the plans were coming together, they weren’t exactly coming together.

Probably a good example of that is my relocation.  As part of the package deal, I will have my condo in Boston packed up for me and shipped to California.  Because I panic about the pup in a cargo hold, he and I will drive out before the start date.  Then we will be put up in a long term hotel for the following two months until I can find a more permanent (or as my current intent – semi-permanent rental until the pooch can find a place to buy he can feel comfortable pooping at that daddy can afford … in of course one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country).  That’s all what was laid out to me, but of course … that requires all the details to come together.

When my start date of Dec 12th was finalized, I reached out to my relocation rep and said I would like my stuff picked up on December 3rd (or this Friday).  So come this Monday when I hadn’t even heard anything yet … panic was building.  Like literally, I called and emailed a number of times checking to make sure I just didn’t have the wrong contact information.  I talked to this person before, but still … panic.  Finally on Tuesday, the office there connected up with me, and in a few kick-ass hours things started falling into place.  Yesterday the plans came together, though of course the schedule changed by then.  Which is … The Most Common description I can give for the last three months.

But I can officially say … a plan is in place, and there is no reason any of it needs to be changed … kinda.

My condo is getting packed on Monday (12/5); which will give me a day to clean-up and putter around to get the place ready to go on the market.  Hopefully we can move it quickly and I can have an offer by early January.

When we get to California, the pup and I will be living in Burbank initially; specifically at a Residence Inn (ironically, the hotel chain we have stayed in these last two years just as much as we stayed in our condo).  My goal is to find that ‘semi-permanent’ rental by the end of January, which will give us a week or two to move in before losing the hotel.

Getting out there – now that is where things are a little squishy.  By choosing to drive out, I am bound by a couple of rules set up by JPL.  First, I need to make 350 miles minimum in a day to get reimbursed for a hotel (that way we don’t play the system by nickel and dimeing our way to a vacation).  I am only reimbursed by the most direct route (and they specifically stated, it was based on Google Maps, so that makes it easy to know what they are talking about).  I can go a different route, but it will be on my dime.  The route that takes me is a good one, though:  I-90 across NY and Northern OH & IN; pick-up I-80 in Chicago, across IL, IA & NE.  Take I-76 into CO.  At Denver, take I-70 across CO into UT.  I-15 through UT, NV, through Las Vegas, and then into CA.  Then take CA-210 to Burbank.  Of course that means — across the Rockies in Colorado, through Sin City without getting into trouble, across the Great Lakes Snow Belt (in December), and of course … sigh … Chicago.  So, I doubt that will be my route — at the end of the day, I am going to take the route that will get me there in five days and not put me into any dangerous weather conditions.  Safe travel is my top priority (good scenery second … avoiding Chicago third, cause who wants to go there).

The great drive will begin next Wednesday, and you can expect that that will be blogged pretty heavy.  Stealing (shamelessly stealing, I should say) from Greg Walker, I expect to give SITREPs (if as a life-long civilian I am allowed to use that term) throughout the journey either here or from Facebook.   I really do expect that the plan on where and how far I drive will change ramdomly and frequently; but if you ever followed me on one of these trips, it would be par for the course.

Because who needs plans anyway.

Nadcap – A Proper Goodbye

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This morning I awoke to being officially ‘between jobs’, closing another chapter in my life by leaving my job with Bodycote Thermal Processing yesterday.  Before I start opening the next one, I wanted to touch on a different chapter than may also have closed with yesterday as well … at least I am assuming so.  For most of my professional career over the last fifteen years, I was involved in a program called Nadcap (maybe involved is not the right word … ‘included’?  ‘imposed’?  ‘suffocated by’?  ‘slapped around with like a fish’?).  Nadcap is a third-party Aerospace Special Process Accreditation Program.  Basically, it performs technical audits of aerospace suppliers on specific processes to alleviate that activity by the ‘Primes’ (or the top level customers).  The program uses highly trained auditors to visit suppliers and follow meticulously created audit checklists so that risks to the primes can be mitigated without the need of each individual prime from going into each of those suppliers and doing the same thing … or at least in theory.  When I worked at Cessna, I was one of those ‘Primes’.  When I worked at Bodycote, I was one of those ‘Suppliers’.  Argue ably, my time at those companies required me to spend 30 – 50% of my time focused on Nadcap and Nadcap affected projects.

Nadcap was, professionally speaking, something I Loved to Hate, and something I Hated to Love.  It was many times a pain in my side, many times the excuse to drink, many times the reason to drink, many times my worst enemy, and most often the boost to my career.  To get a glimpse of what this program is to me, the story of my involvement has to start with the first I heard of it:

It was a Friday.  I was working at Cessna at the time, and had been there for maybe a year – short enough time that I still really didn’t know what I was doing.  For some reason, I was working late … on a Friday of all things … and it was getting to be about 5:30.  That’s when my phone rings.  It was my boss’s boss … sitting in my boss’s boss’s boss’s office.  To summarize that conversation, they said:  “What are you doing next week, before you answer … no you’re not.”  Some time before, they agreed to support Nadcap, but didn’t get budget funding until literally the Friday before the meeting started in Cincinnati on Monday.  Now desperate to provide the support, they literally went down the phone list and reigned in anyone answering the phone on a Friday afternoon.  Not only that, but even told me that I was going to support a commodity that I barely knew anything about … simply because, that was the slot that was left.  I went to that meeting, and nearly all of the 3 or 4 meetings a year through 2012.

And when I say I barely knew anything … that is an understatement.  So, I was in the commodity called Heat Treating (which is basically sticking metal in an oven to change it’s properties … kinda like cookie dough).  One of the critical parts of heat treating is a system of tests called Pyrometry.  It is what makes heat treating controllable, and gives definition to the process.  Basically – If you consider your oven at home (to make cookies again) and you are baking at 400 degrees – pyrometry is the means for the oven to adjust the heat to reach and maintain 400 degrees, measure the temperature, and then give us a way to validate that when the oven is set at 400 degrees, it is 400 degrees everywhere in the oven.  If you finished reading that sentence, then you officially know more about Pyrometry than I did after that first meeting.  I seriously have my notes from that first meeting where I wrote in the margin “Look up pyrometry in dictionary”.

That was 2002.  Practically a lifetime ago.  During that time, I watched the program move from paper audits to computerized programs.  I watched them make the dramatic philosophical change when they went from NADCAP to Nadcap (no seriously, that was major).  We churned through industry change after industry change.  I slid from one side of the audit table to the other side of the audit table.  It seems like most of my thoughts of the meetings are arguments I railed against — from the windmills I seemed to be chasing for no good reason (namely the website everyone will always think of, if you know that joke) to what became the closest thing to a motto I had in my career, namely “It’s Just F*ing Hardness”.

That all being said, Nadcap became the means for me to advance myself more than anything in my career.  You see, every one of the prime customers sent a representative to help guide the program.  Every one of the major customers would send one as well to make their challenges known.  This means the room was full of the brightest, most profoundly intelligent experts in the field.  Every discussion, every evaluation, every analysis because an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover not just what heat treating or pyrometry or auditing was about – but how we all can support and build the entire Aerospace Quality worldwide.  At that first meeting, one of the key staff members named Zia Karim figured out I knew so little, and quickly got me sitting next to legends in the field — I want to rattle off names but I will forget some (and I don’t know how may of y’all are reading this to get all pissy) but I would be missed if I didn’t mention John Gorley, a long time Honeywell expert and as much of a mentor as a friend —  and the closest thing to a ‘Yoda’ of wisdom and guidance, Tom Murphy.  Lucky for me, I did way more listening those first few meetings than speaking, and I learned … I learned a lot.

For that ten year run with Nadcap while I was with Cessna, I was honored enough to not only work with so many great people; but I got to be the vice chair of the Heat Treat Task group for seven of those years.  I maybe making it sound fun and enlightening but … well, it sucked too.  Think about all these smart people in a room, you can probably believe there maybe an ego or two in the room as well.  We spent hours arguing over the most mundane things.  We went in circles over the worst of topics.  So much time by so many great heat treating minds discussing grammar.  We picked fights, we played politics, we drew lines in the sand.  While this was the process that it takes for a program like this to improve — it still was painful.  PAINFUL.

One classic moment happened when we were on the last day of a meeting overseas, and we were all anxious to get out of the room.  The night before, a good friend gave me a gift of a bottle of Scotch Whiskey he brought from his home in Northern England, which we proceeded to share between a bunch of us – but still left one last glass in the bottle.  For some reason, the bottle was still in my work bag and with me in the room.  One of the more ‘talkative’ members of the group seemed to be on his worst game that day – and it seemed just as we were finding a reason to close out a topic, he seemed to make it all that much worse.  I pulled that bottle out, slammed it on the table and said “This is the best whisky I have ever had, and I want to drink it.  I can’t until we finish, so excuse me if I want y’all to get to the point or move on.”

And I am just getting started in Nadcap stories.  They had a tendency to schedule these meetings in exotic locations – so because of Nadcap I got to see the Great Wall of China, the Tower of London,the Lourve, the Roman Forum, Checkpoint Charlie, the beaches of Singapore, and a church in downtown Pittsburgh that sold pitchers of beer for the Steeler Games.  We laughed over falling back on a chair in slow motion, we argued over the appropriateness of posting updates from a ‘Satellite Office’, we pretended to be pirates, and we raised our glasses ‘To the Wives’.  Every time I came back from a Nadcap meeting, someone back in the office spouted their jealousy for all the adventures we had, and I would be quick to say “you want to go in my place, then take it” — while deep down hoping they didn’t take me up on the offer.

If there are regrets, looking back, it’s how it ends.  As I mentioned, I was a vice-chair of the Heat Treat Task Group for seven years, knowing that it was common for the next chair to be the last vice.  I joked for most of that run that the day I get named Chair would be the day I quit my job.  As it turned out …  I accepted the offer to move to Alaska on the first day I was chair at a meeting.  I couldn’t announce my departure awaiting the time to discuss it with my company – so I left without a word.  When I returned after my ‘Alaskan Sabbattical’, I attended a few meetings as a Supplier for Bodycote.  While I knew about this next job change at the last meeting I attended in October, again I couldn’t announce it.   Through all these years, I got to know a lot of people who retired or moved on – some that were well recognized for their contributions and service.  I don’t feel like I need to be recognized for my contributions to that program, but I feel jealous to those people because they did get that swan song.  So … I left without a proper good-bye … not once, but twice.

Where I am going doesn’t currently subscribe to Nadcap, but may choose to someday.  That doesn’t mean I won’t have the chance to come back – but I don’t want to think about that because that means that where I am going won’t work out (which is a whole post to itself for another time).  Whether or not I want to find my way back to some part of the program is not the point – the point is, I am perfectly fine to say goodbye to all those people and all that Nadcap has meant to my professional life – That’s why I needed to write this post.

To give Nadcap that proper goodbye.

To all of you I have ever known through this program – to all of you who have touched me, taught me, mentored me – to all of you continuing to fight the good fight and strive to make the program better every day …

Thank You, Farewell, and Good Luck
Just remember if you intend to attend the next meeting, bring your good liver.

The Word Is “Stunk”

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I am sitting in  Boston classic, Legal Sea Food, sitting down to have celebratory dinner. Today, I reached my goal of writing 50,000 words in November as part of the National Novel Writing Month.  I did it, and even, with three days to go.  That was no small feat seeing as I averaged around 1800 word a day for the last 27 days on the same project housed in the same computer.  One that came with me to South Carolina on that massive 1800 mile week of work, and the annual run to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.  Not to mention during this time I also quit my job, and dealt with all the upheaval that comes with that.  What it comes down to is just about 40 to 50 hours I dedicated for randomly pawing on a keyboard and craping out stuff that a computer counts as words.  

For the record, NaNoWriMo calls this achievement “winning”.  So they call me a “Winner” (along with the literarily tens of thousands of other winners).  It’s a poorly choice of words for a program about words – but the program is about words, poorly chosen or not.  All kidding aside, they don’t call us finishers because that is just fooling ourselves and this novel is a good example.  I am far from “finishing” it – not even fully set up the climax let alone running towards the end.  If I could guess, I have at least 25000 left to go to do that, something I am going to look at doing by New Years.  That then is just the first draft meaning I would want to revise it over and over again.  But the point of this process is to set up the revisions – a writer will always tell you that anyone can edit, getting words on paper is hard.  

As it so happens, I had my counter up as I needed the end … and as I hit 49,999 I saw the next word would be “the”.  No way I was going to let that happen.  I few rewrites later (that cost me a bar of soap in a word sprint), the best I could do was the word “stunk”.  But it still was number 50,000.

If you remember when I first posted about this before the month began I was pretty pessimistic. In fact, this month was a breeze.  I was so apprehensive going into day one, but I knocked out over 6000 words that day alone; and then broke 11k by the end of the second day.  I not only found writing easy, I couldn’t stop.  I had a good start last year too (the first year I “won”) but by the 10th I was already 8000 word ahead of last years pace.  At one point a week and a half ago I was 10k ahead of 2015 and would need to average less than 900 words a day to finish.  Now, this past week I puttered around, hitting a mid-month lull, and having a tough section of he story to write through, but found the rush again.  I went to a Write-In, an event intended to giv yourself scheduled time to crank some words out, and made it know I intended to push through the 3500 words I needed to “win”.  With the help of 30 minutes before the 2 hour event, I did 4600 words and no sit at 50,831 – validated and celebrated.

As for the Novel itself, who knows if anyone will ever see it.  It mixes something I knew better when I was in high school (Roman Mythology) and something I recently became an expert at (getting drunk in Boston).  It deals with our personal beliefs, dealing with addictions, and trying to find meaning in a world that makes no sense to us.  So … yeah … depressing stuff.  But I did get to retell all the stories when I got drunk and made a complete ass of myself … but changed the names to not make it appear like that it was me.  

Like I mentioned, I intend to keep writing on with this story; but tonight I celebrate.  I won … again.  And Even if I can’t find pretty words to describe how that feels I don’t need to.  I wrote enough words to win the month.

Up the East Coast

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Something I was going to blog about under more normal times was my planned long term stay down in South Carolina for work.  There is a 3rd part audit for that plant coming up in December that needed some help to prepare for.  As you can guess, if you haven’t been sleeping under a rock (or ignored my last two blog posts) those plans have changed.  In fact, I was trying to delay the trip there knowing a change was coming but  … well … it wasn’t until I was on the road to the SC when the great move out west was firmed.  Still, the pup and I had drove down a week ago to South Carolina, which meant we had to drive back.  While a part of it was started Friday afternoon, the majority of the drive home was yesterday (Saturday) and ran up most the major East Coast cities.  Of course, when you drive 750 miles over 15 hours, you brain goes in weird directions … and mine wrote this post in me brain (yes, I said ‘me brain’, that ain’t a typo in me head).

The trip started in Hillsborough, NC just outside of Durham (and yes, I totally forgot my friend Cindy lived just down the road, I only cared about finding a dog friendly hotel on the cheap).  Flipping on the GPS, the mileage stated 711 miles and arrival around 7:15PM.  It basically followed I-85 and I-95 up until things got weird north of Delaware.  The one thing that stood out in the morning was how big Virginia is.  Like, for serious.  I spent nearly 300 miles in Virginia yesterday.  While on the way down, we were treated with the views of the Blue Ridge mountains, the views were mostly of … well … marshes.  If we were further south, I’d feel confident to call them swamps but … Virginia.  Like most the interstates in this country, that stretch wasn’t new road for me (except for the stretch near Richmond), but it’s been nearly 20 years since the last time I was there.  Back then, I was a little Civil War focused, and was doing a road trip to many of the most famous battlefields.  So, riding by Petersburg (home of ‘The Crater’) and Fredericksburg (site of the battles of Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotslyvania Courthouse, and … erm … Fredericksburg ) was a great memory of that trip.  Though no time to visit this time.

We did have time to make a run through Washington DC.  Letting the pup show no regard for the different monuments around the National Mall.  The main point of interest on this little detour was best summarized by the following Facebook Post I made:

I got to drive around Washington DC today, and I saw something horrifying. There was not one, but two separate people walking around (in public mind you) wearing Northern Michigan University shirts. Just another sign of how this country is going into the crapper.

Somewhere in Northern Maryland, the drive was starting to get to me.  I started taking more frequent and longer breaks.  But it was the numbers that were concerning.  After driving for nearly seven hours, I wasn’t yet halfway … and the sun was going down.  Still, just north of there we got to tick off another milestone — Auggie took a ‘break’ in Delware, marking his 35th state … that’s right, my 4 year old dog has been to more states than you.😛

Part of the reason I drove on a Saturday was to avoid traffic.  So … that worked against me.  Washington DC slow downs started it, then what seemed way too many people stopping and going up the Washington-Baltimore Pike made things a bit frustrating, but it all started clearing up North of Delaware.  That is, until NYC again.  When the mile posts started saying ‘GW Bridge in 10 miles’ and the traffic sign says ’50 minutes’ you know you are in trouble.  Thing is, that run up the NJ Turnpike was a strange set of memories.  Back in my Drum Corps days, I spent many trips in the winter flying into Newark and catching rides to Teterboro.  Running along the NJ Turnpike, it seemed it went from the ‘marshes’ and country side to the more memorable refineries and tank farms.  I saw the turnoff for the Staton Island Expressway, a road that was the site of one of the most tramautic nights of my life (think 20 years old, 1000 miles from home, and your car filled with nearly everything in your college life is smashed beyond repair on the side of the road … and you have no idea how you are going to get home).  I passed by that exit, and continued on.

As it turned out, GPS these days are fearless of reroutes.  That 50 minutes to cross the GW Bridge because 40 minutes to cross the Tapen Zee Bridge further north; but to get there meant the back roads along the Hudson River for 20 miles.  It also meant the Merrill Parkway in Conneticut – a highway that seems like everything you would love about driving, but in a way that is everything you hate about it.  Four lane expressway, twists and turns and tuns and bridges.  No trucks or buses.  Controlled entry.  Should be fun cooking along that windy road, but instead you get too tight of turns, too quick of construction slows, people going below the limit, people destroying the limit, and in the dark when you can barely react in time for what you want.  By the time I left the Merrill, I was looking for a long break, long enough for a nap.  Cranking the windows down, I the mist started to fall.

A good bonus for this trip was the weather.  I literally had as good of weather as you could hope for running such a distance in November.  It was clear skies for most the day, in fact, I didn’t even see a cloud in the sky while the sun was up.  The temps were kinda funky.  Southern Virginia dropped from 55deg to the low 40s in about an hour.  Around DC it was in the 70s, and then back to the 50s when the mists happened in Connecticut and Mass.

Walking the horse into the stable, I drove down I-90 through Boston like I have a hundred times.  Being late on a Saturday, the usual suffocating traffic was missing and it made the trip very surreal.  I was uncomfortable making the run into Dorchester at 45 mph, while the speed limit was 60 … meaning, I have never gone above 10 mph in that 6 lanes of interstate, so why do the speed limit now.

We pulled up, the pup and I, at just before Midnight.  Too tired to pack, we just dragged out butts to bed and promptly … kept waking up for the next five hours until I finally got up and started laundry.

In the end, you could say this is just a warm-up.  When we move to California in a few weeks, we are driving – though a route isn’t set, we are going to go where the weather allows us to go focused on the JPL requirement of a minimum 350 miles a day to meet their relocation requirements.  While I don’t expect those days to be as long distance as yesterday was, it was nice to know I can still get a long run done.  Cause after that … probably that will be it for one of those for a while.

Laundry’s done … got to run.

3 … 2 … 1 … AWESOME

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Okay  … I can’t wait anymore.  The news of where I am going is too awesome.

It’s NASA!!   It’s NASA as part of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California.  That’s where I am going, that’s who I am going to be working for.  There’s no professional way to say except, It’s Frickin’ NASA!

Starting mid-December, I begin work as a Procurement Quality Engineer at JPL.  That is the same role I worked when I lived in Alaska with BP Exploration, and for the last seven years with Cessna in Kansas.  So, it is a return to the position I know, and a position I love.  This time in a new-ish industry with new challenges and new situations.  And it’s NASA!

JPL should be a division of NASA you have either heard of, or heard of what they do.  Most recently they got a lot of big screen time in the Matt Damon movie “The Martian” (anytime they showed nerds building or calculating something, they were based at JPL in the movie).  The main objectives of JPL are more for the Unmanned projects, specifically interplanetary studies.  All the Mars Rovers were run through JPL; the deep space probes like Cassini and Juno are JPL projects, even the newer space telescopes are controlled by JPL.

So, for the record, just to technically correct, I am not going to be working for NASA in as far as, they aren’t the direct employer.  JPL is actually a part of California Institute of Technology (or more well known as CalTech).  See, CalTech formed JPL to study jet and rocket technology at its infancy in the mid 1930’s, nearly twenty years before NASA was formed.  It had been funded and contracted by different branches of the government over the years, but has consistently worked under contract to NASA since 1958 – and NASA is it’s only direct contractor.    So while I am going to be badged to do work for NASA, I will be an actual employee of JPL / CalTech … so you could say I lived out my dad’s dream of going into education.  But while you can split hairs on technicalities, and I know some of you in particular will, it’s still NASA.

Now, this means, I need to move to California.  The pup and I will be heading out in early December after we get the Boston condo in order and ready to go onto the market.  When we arrive, I should be put up into temporary housing – likely a long term hotel (I know … that’s new and different) – for a couple of months.  After that, we will likely find some place to rent as I get the lay of the land and get my current mortgage off the books.  It’s a little bit of a twist, to take time like that, compared to what I did in Boston or Alaska – but the focus for me is strictly about finding the right long term plan.

You see, I found this job, it didn’t find me (kinda).  I originally pursued JPL for a different position that I was knowingly underqualified to really compete for – but still made it from a candidate pool of over 10 down to the last two.  At one point, I had an onsite interview for that job, and it was the most enjoyable & fun interview experience in my life; not just because of what the job was, but the interactions and play between the panel and I.  Yes, I didn’t get that position, but it was pretty clear I made an impression.  While that fell through, when this position opened up … They Called Me.  We had a few bumps getting through the background checks, but here we are … locked in … and ready for takeoff.

You can believe I am excited about this job … I mean, who wouldn’t be really.  But what drove me down this path was a few things that stick with me.

First I remember as a kid getting asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said “Astronaut”, having absolutely no idea what that really meant.  Over the years, that was clearly not going to be the path for me – but I remember seeing a movie called October Sky where a kid from West Virginia had similar dreams, and ended up in a trainer position with NASA.

But just as much, a conversation I had with one of the greatest people I met through my work history, John Gorley.  When I met him, he was already in his 70s and had decades of experiences to share, and he was never afraid to share any of them.  From his college football days, to his escapades in the early days of air travel, to working different jobs to get by, to this long tenure at Honeywell.  But when we asked him what he was most proud of, he didn’t even blink an eye – he got to design parts that went on the lander that landed on the moon.  It is the greatest achievement in the history of mankind, and no matter how small a part he played, he got to play a part in it.

I get to play a part in the great achievements to come.  I may not ever slip the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God, but I can be part of the way that man continues to do so.  That … THAT is why I am excited about this job.

It’s Frickin’ NASA.

(See … didn’t I tell you it was going to be awesome?)

Defying Gravity

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It has been over two years since I made a major life changing announcement … so you could say I am due.  Well guess what …

Today, I gave my notice of resignation to my current employer, Bodycote Thermal Processing. It comes nearly on the two year and one month anniversary of my start in the position. In it’s context, that time feels too brief and too abrupt; but it was a change I needed to make for more than a few reasons.  I do have a new job I am going to, but I am going to save that for the next post – just because saying goodbye and saying hello are two different things.

If you are keeping track, this is the second job in a row that I left after only two years.  While some would argue that such short lived posts are now the common trend, there’s no doubt that some of you, professionally close or not, would raise an eyebrow on that kind of track record.  Well, believe me, that is a trend I am not wild about either.  But without a doubt, this was a change that was necessary.  My loyal Bearfeeders know that this job required loads to travel, and loads of time away from Boston. The position also had some difficult challenges for support and scheduling.  Boston created it’s own challenges, most of which were a direct result of the time I spent away.  So, now that is coming to an end.

But it does mean saying farewell to many of those I worked with and drew close to over the last couple of years.  My role was as much a consultant as it was a mentor to many on my team.  While I had no one directly reporting to me, covering twenty-five plants meant I had at least twenty-five people I got to work with, learn from, and develop.  Many of them were an absolute pleasure to work with, and I feel absolutely honored to do so.  I am still in the process of talking to many of them and letting them know but understandably the range of reaction is expansive …
One nearly got teary eyed
One thought I was just pulling his leg
One seemed more intent on getting back to work
One laced enough profanity to make a pirate blush … mostly because he was trying to get  a project done just to get me off his back, and now he won’t have me to congratulate him for it

As the news continues to get out about this change, I was reminded of a song from the big musical Wicked called ‘Defying Gravity’.  The show, based on the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, has a key point where the witch flies for the first time on her broom at a turning point of the story.  As she does, she escapes those who are after her but gives hope to what will come ahead with the lyrics:

So if you care to find me
Look to the Western sky!
As someone told me lately
Everyone deserves the chance to fly
And if I’m flying solo at least I’m flying free
To those who ground me take a message back from me!
Tell them how I am defying gravity
I’m flying high, defying gravity
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!
So that’s the news … keep an ear out for where I end up … and come watch me fly.

Another NaNo Looms

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Tuesday marks November 1st.  While most of you are going to be seeing it as either the day after sugar shock, or the beginning of the end of the political mess, or the countdown to celebrate Guy Fawks Day … November 1st is going to be the start of something that seems right now as doom filled as it is exciting to me.  I take another shot at NaNoWriMo.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.  It is a program started in 1999 to help develop and encourage the writers, whether amateur, professional, or no-talent-hack, to achieve the goal of writing a novel.  Since it’s start, it has grown into a non-profit organization to help students develop writing skills and encourage creativity in the written arts.  In 2015 NaNoWriMo had nearly 450,000 participants and raised millions in educational grants.  But that is the fluffy, feel good side of it … you are probably asking still what is it.

NaNoWriMo is pretty simple.  Over the month of November, a participant has to write 50,000 words towards a novel, screenplay, collection, non-fiction work, or whatever.  What you write is up to you.  How you write is up to you.  When you write is up to you.  As long as you write 50,000 words from 12:01 AM November 1st to Midnight November 30th.

I try to make it sound simple … it is not!  Breaking it down, you would need to average 1667 words a day.  As a point of reference, this blog is 995 words … so think this, plus 674 more, but not just today, but every day, over and over again.  Now, those words don’t have to pretty, nor be any good, or for that matter spelled correctly.  The purpose is to put the symbolic pen to paper and get the words down.  It’s well known that the number one means to prevent a writer from finishing a story is that they get caught in things that limit the creative activity.  Editing is one of those things that can get someone caught up.  So it is encouraged to literally vomit up your words and get them down … because you will have the rest of your life to edit your novel, and you can’t edit something you haven’t written.

Officially, this will be my 3rd attempt at NaNo.  The first time I heard of it was four years ago, and sadly not until November 10th – way too late to really give it ago.  In 2014, I had a good start but got rocked by some work issues that sucked me in too deep to stay creative, so ended with 23,000 words.  2015 was way more successful, even if I was extremely challenged.  During that month, I was away from home nearly 20 days, bounced between four time zones, and even had gastric bypass surgery.  With three days left, I still had nearly 10,000 words to go, but a crazy last push got me to 50,454 and made me a ‘Winner’.

Now there are some misnomers on what you get if you write 50,000 words.  They call you a “Winner”.  I didn’t win anything.  I mean, they give you some discounts for ‘winning’ but you only really get the satisfaction that you wrote 50,000 words.  It’s just a term folks … cause you definitely aren’t a “Finisher”.  If I ever do finish the 2015 story, it will likely be in the 80k to 90k range. But I have to edit the hell out of it to remove the suck.

I am dreading this year, because my confidence is lower.  Yes, I had more challenges last year, but I do expect some major challenges (to be named later) this year to finishing.  Also, I am just less confident in my story.  Last year, I ferreted out most of the characters and stories through some side projects and online story-writing forums.  This one is basically a pre-qual (or Book 1) to last year, but it doesn’t mean it is made easier by this.  This one I walk in with a blank slate.  I have researched the hell out of key points, know what I want for characters, outlined a plot, but I feel like this is a series of pieces and bits that won’t have the breadth and depth my 2015 story did.  Heck, I don’t even really have a good plot line.  There’s other reasons there too.  Like most writers, I write based on personnel issues that need resolution, and the topics I chose are weighty, difficult, and I don’t even know how the heck I am going to resolve them let alone my protagonists.  In a way, though, that was true last year … and writing became part of the therapy I needed to advance from some of what I faced.  In the end, the dread that I have is wondering if this story even has 50,000 words in it – at least in the form that I am ready to draft.  Last year, I had whole sections I tried out before starting.  This year, not a word has been written.

Yet I am still going to try.  And this is as much a call to arms to all of those looking to try as well.  The irony of NaNo is that it is a process where we all isolate ourselves in our writing, but are bolstered by the support and attention of our fellow writers.  I go to ‘write-ins’ locally, where at some random library 30 people sit around laptops with ear plugs in and bang out words in silence … until someone reaches a word goal where they ring a little bell, everyone claps, then goes back to their desperate attempts to crank out a few more bits of pretty things.

So if you are out to give it a shot yourself – give me a shout.  Find me on the website (look for ‘thatmitch’ as a tag).  We’ll work on ways on staying up with each other, find ways to help through the blocks and struggles.  Then come November 1st, see if we can win this thing.