Giving Thanks

I’m on the rig for Thanksgiving this year. It happens. I missed both Thanksgiving and Xmas in 2009, was home for them both last year, and this year it’s Thanksgiving again. It’s always a drag being away from home for a major holiday, especially a family oriented one, but the catering crew always does a great job. This year the menu was:

Assorted Fruit, Vegetable Tray, Deviled Eggs, Hot Crab Dip, Cocktail Smokies, Cocktail Meatballs, Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Cold Cut Tray, Cheese Tray, Shrimp Cocktail, Crackers, Mixed Nuts, Egg Nog, Broiled Lobster Tails and Steamed Crab Legs with Drawn Butter, Glazed Ham, Baked Turducken, Duck Tasso Gumbo, Dressing, Gravy, Mac and Cheese, Rice, Green Bean Casserole, Candied Yams, Holiday Cake, Fruit Cake, Candies, Carrot Cake, Assorted Cheesecakes, Cookies, Fudge, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Banana Pudding, Strawberry Shortcake, and Pralines.

So yeah, we weren’t hurting for good food. :)

Work doesn’t stop on the rig, of course, but only the essential work continues. The guys on the rig floor have to keep drilling, but for us guys down in the technical and maintenance jobs, we pretty much just kick back unless there’s essential repairs needed somewhere. Today I had one little thing to take care of the first hour of my 12-hour shift, so I spent the other 11 hours eating food and playing through Mass Effect on my laptop. Good times.

It also gave me some time to relax and reflect on the past year. So, in the spirit of the holiday…

I’m thankful for my health. I turned 42 this year. There are a couple of things I’m still working on, and there are mornings when I’m a little more stiff than I’d like, but by and large I’m in excellent health. I’ve lost over 30 pounds this year (only ten more pounds to my “ideal weight”); thanks to that and my work on the rig, I can confidently say that I’m in the best shape of my life.

I’m thankful for my job. There were times when I was working for Applied when I despaired of ever getting out of the hand-to-mouth financial plan. I loved working there when I started, but the work environment steadily worsened until it was just grinding me down. In the end, I worked there because I needed the money and that was it. When I took their buyout, it was more out of desperation than anything else. What I got into was better than I could have ever guessed. Working on the rig is tough, don’t get me wrong. Being away from my friends and family for three weeks at a time isn’t fun, it’s a pretty rough environment to work in much less live in, and it’s not like I can run out to a movie or something to take a break from it all. But it’s interesting, it’s challenging, the pay is great, and I only work six months out of the year. I can’t think of any other job I’d rather have.

I’m thankful for the reception my writing has received. I’ve written for years, but this year I was finally published and got some pretty good reviews. It’s been a wonderful introduction to a world I’ve only looked at from the sidelines. Half the fun of it’s been just getting to know people and make new friends. The other half is writing more. :)

I’m thankful for my family and friends, the close and extended relationships I have that keep me going. It may seem counterintuitive, but working on the rig has actually strengthened those bonds. When I’m home I have the free time to do the things I want without having to worry about work the next day or deal with an on-call phone, so I can consciously spend time with the people important to me rather than trying to fit them into the cracks of time between work and sleep. I can go to movies in the middle of the week. I can get together for gaming all day Saturday without having to fret over using my only day off for two weeks. They support me, share in my successes, and tolerate my oddities. I’m so much more relaxed and happy now than I ever was before, and I have them all to thank for it.

Yeah, it’s been a pretty good year, and I’m thankful for it.

Speak Out With Your Geek Out 0: Origins

This week is Speak Out With Your Geek Out, an online effort to pull the curtain aside on all things geeky. As its Facebook page says:

“Let us invite those who would stereotype us to sit at our table and share our interests. Let us combat being used as pawns for internet gaffes with the reasons why we’re awesome, why we love what we love, and why it’s good to be a geek.”

Hi. My name is Steve, and I’m a geek. (Hi Steve!)

I’m old-school geek. I was a geek before computers even entered the picture. I was that stereotypical kid that didn’t fit in, got picked on in school, and got picked last in gym. I think geekery has its origins in those marginalized kids. Shunned by their peers, they retreat into books, movies, anything that provides an escape or gives them some semblance of control over their lives. Tolkien’s books sucked you in because you wanted to be there, inside that world so different from yours where even chubby little dudes with hairy feet could be heroes. When D&D first came out, I think that was its main appeal. Get your ass kicked at school? Here, you can be a fireball-slinging wizard or an axe-wielding barbarian who doesn’t take shit from anyone!

When computers started to enter the scene, it was a natural draw. Here was this new gizmo that nobody really knew what to do with, but if you could program it then you could bend it to your will. (I know the programmers out there might be laughing right now, but work with me.) You could make and do things that nobody had seen before and that was empowering.

But playing role-playing games and getting into computers only served to distance geeks further from their peers. If you were fortunate, there were other geeks and you could commiserate with them, play your games together and such, but when you were out in public you had to hide all that. You were still driven by the need to fit in and be accepted, even if you weren’t being accepted for your personal truth. It rarely worked, of course. You didn’t fool anyone, but it never stopped you from trying, from trying to hide who and what you were.

So geekery became this sort of “hidden shame.” You didn’t discuss it with outsiders. In trying to find a place for ourselves, we ended up distancing ourselves from the places we wanted to fit into most. It wasn’t until the advent of BBSes in the late 80s and early 90s that geeks really began to meet each other. Suddenly it wasn’t just you and your buddies at school. It turned out there were other geeks across town that liked the same kind of stuff, and it helped to know there were other bastions of geekery out there.

And once the internet burst onto the scene, it turned out there were other geeks across the state, then the nation, then the world. Increased communication started exposing everyone to the way of the geek. On the internet, we were finally somebody. Everyone knew Bill Gates, what he did, and how much money he made doing it. He was proof that we could be more than just skinny dudes wearing lame clothes who had our lunch money stolen, proof to others and proof to ourselves. Even today he still looks like the quintessential geek.

But language is a funny thing. It describes, and in doing so it perpetuates. Geeky things are a lot more popular nowadays, but culture changes slowly and geeky things are still strange to a lot of people. Even today, geek is still a derogatory term at times. The word geek is being reclaimed by the geeks, worn proudly even, but there’s still a ways to go. Acceptance comes from exposure. Don’t hide what you geek out on. Show it, share it. Joy isn’t something to be ashamed of. Let your geek flag fly.

Ten Years On

So here we are, ten years on. It’s a convenient place for people, us, to stop and reflect. Ten fingers, ten toes, ten years. We’re decimal, it’s part of being human.

I’m not going to ask you where you were on that day. I think it’s safe to say that everyone alive on 9/11/01 knows precisely where they were and what they were doing before, during, and after the attacks. For some, it continues to be a traumatic memory of an event that has no place in a sane world. For others, it’s just a conversation starter, a thing where they compare notes and shake their heads before changing the subject and moving on. For most, it’s a particular memory that they’ll never be rid of simply because of its part in the collective consciousness of America, and maybe the world.

I’m not going to fill this space with my thoughts on the politics of what happened then and since then. Every pundit that can put finger to keyboard is sounding off on that today, sharing their opinions with you, wanted or not. You’ll agree with some of them and disagree with others, just like you would with me. If you know me, you probably know my feelings on the matter. Politics has become a greasy sport in America, getting all over everything it touches and staining it. I’d prefer to keep spots, at least those spots, from tarnishing this blog.

Instead I’m going to talk about progress, and hope. There are times I despair for humanity. I watch the news, I read about some crazy thing in some corner of the world where two groups of people are in conflict over something ridiculous and trivial. They don’t worship the same god, or the right god, or they were born on this side of the river or that side of the river, or they think things should be run by this guy in a funny hat or that guy in a funnier hat. And I look around at the world at all we still have to do, all the hungry mouths to feed, the poverty, the resource depletion and I think, “Man, we’re screwed.” How are we ever going to realize our potential and become better than we are when we can’t overcome our basic Neanderthal nature? Why are we still fighting for scraps around the campfire and bashing each other with antelope bones to have the biggest cave?

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture out here on the rig. Your attention is always turned inwards, at things on the rig, and you tend to lose track of what’s going on around it. I try to take a little time out of each day to enjoy the scenery though, and I’ve been fortunate to see some pretty amazing things. This morning I was up on the drill floor and as I came around the corner I saw this:

Sunrise over Grand Isle 91

I’ve learned in my time out here that sunrises and sunsets are something pretty special. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the weather cooperating, but when it all comes together it’s a real treat. It’s Mother Earth putting on a show for you, a one-woman show, one day/night only. I always try to stop and enjoy it when I see it. No matter how busy I am, I’ll take at least a moment to stand at the railing and just bask in the glory of it all spread out before me, the reds and golds spilling across the sky, the black brightening to blue or the bright blue fading out. That’s where we come from, in that picture up there, and when we see that it flips a little switch buried in our hindbrains that reminds us of how our distant ancestors gazed in amazement from the mouth of the cave as the Sun returned to warm us after the cold, dark, frightening night. That’s the Source, and we’re all just little critters scrambling around on a big rock trying to make sense of it all while the Sun wheels above us, as oblivious of us as we so often are of it.

I was about to head back to work when I looked down and saw this:

Roustabouts enjoying the sunrise, 9/11/11

Three roustabouts on their way to work, stopping to enjoy the sunrise too. I could probably count on one hand the number of things I have in common with those guys. We’re all American and speak English, but the similarities end not too far from there. We grew up in totally different environments. We live in totally different communities. We have different religious beliefs, different political beliefs, different family structures. And yet there they were, partaking in one of the most basic of human things, enjoying the beauty of the sunrise.

It gave me pause, and it made me think, “Maybe there’s hope for us yet.” We’ve come a long way in the last ten years, and the last ten thousand years. There’s still problems around the world. There always will be. There’ll always be something beyond the ability of people to deal with and it’ll take more people, or even other people, to come together and make things right again. We don’t always know how it will turn out, but we do the best we can. Even when we’re so different from each other there’s always things that can bring us together, even something as simple as the beauty of the sunrise. We’re all created alike; our differences we manufacture ourselves, and because of that we can manufacture bridges to get past those differences and bring ourselves closer to each other. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Be that change. Build your little piece of the bridge and when someone else wants to add their piece to yours, hold it in place so they can bolt it on.

If you take anything away from this post, take that. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.