What I learned from the Labyrinth

Labyrinth-poster2Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies.  I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now.  A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days.  While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie-  Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood.  As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it.  She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!”  Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her.   Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.

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I need a portable fan for dramatic entrances.

When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City.    This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.

Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.

When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her.  Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion.  Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.

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The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…

Take nothing for granted.

Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth.  When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.

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How does he tie that tiny scarf?  He’s a worm, he’s got no hands!

Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm.  He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall.   She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.

Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.

The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either.  At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose.   She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction.  Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”

If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.

Life isn’t always fair.

Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother.  When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that  it isn’t fair.  Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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Goblin King Sass!

It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life-  fairness rarely enters into it.  Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.

You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.

When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog.  While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time.  Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all.  Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

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This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it.  Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.

Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.

Your stuff is just stuff.

During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie,  Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing.  She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back.  There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.

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The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back-  after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady.   She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.

This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you.  They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you.  And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk-  the important thing is the people you meet along the way.

Love can be a subtle control.

In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship.  Gaslighting, in a nutshell:   “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others-  you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad.  The things you love can control you.  Pretty things are often bad for you.

The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing  Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie:  “You have no power over me.”

What lessons did you learn from Labyrinth?

So long, 2017. Hello, 2018!

My friend Jade posted her year in review  a few days ago, and it made me realize that my year has actually been quite a bit less busy than some of my previous years.    Some things haven’t changed at all-  things are still great with Amelie, and nothing major has changed for either my family or hers.

I only had two major life changes this year-  We moved to Orlando in May, and I spent the last two months of the year completely unemployed and job hunting like a fiend.  I should have a job starting on 08 January, assuming nothing goes wrong with the paperwork, so I’m looking forward to that.

I don’t do “resolutions” any more, because they fall through way too quickly, but I will give myself a list of suggested “goals” based on the areas that I feel like I was a little bit stagnant this year.

I wrote 21 blog posts in 2017, not counting this one.  If not for my travel posts, it would have been far fewer.    Goal for 2018: Write more.  Even if it’s only one post a week, that’d be better than this year.

I read fourteen books in 2017.  Goal for 2018:  I plan on doing a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to drastically increase that number.  I’m thinking 52 books is a good goal-  one a week.

We only took two trips out of Florida this year- Los Angeles in June, and New York City in July.  I can’t do much on this one for a little while, because first I need a regular paycheck and the accrual of vacation days.  I’d like to travel some more, but time and money are at a premium.   Goal for 2018:  At the very least, we should do some little trips around here on weekends.  For example, I’ve never been to Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.  These are all places that I’d like to see, and that don’t require an overnight stay somewhere.

The one area where I feel like we did a lot in 2017 was concerts and show attendance.  During this calendar year, we saw all of the following:   Cabaret, Alan Cumming, The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring Ramin Djawadi, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, Neil Diamond, Bastille, The Head and the Heart, The Birthday Massacre, Bob’s Burgers Live In Concert, Queen with Adam Lambert, Kinky Boots, Green Day, Arcade Fire, An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Love Never Dies, La Nouba, and The Blue Man Group.   Goal for 2018:   Change my concert-going methodology to be more about quality than quantity.  Last year, we grabbed a bunch of show tickets that we didn’t end up using because the event came up and we realized we just didn’t care enough to deal with the crowds-  concerts should be a delight and a treat, not a chore to get through.  I forgot that at some point.

I was crappy at going to the gym this year.  I was strong early in the year, but then we came to Orlando, and I never wanted to leave the apartment.  My parking space is on the sixth floor of the parking structure, and leaving the apartment means I have to loop down all six levels.  It takes a minimum of five minutes just to go from my parking space to the street, and I hate it!  Goal for 2018:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.   I’ll be moving to a new apartment in May, so I’ll keep the parking lot nuisance in mind as I search for the next place.

I also slept really poorly in 2017.   I have lost all sense of what day it is, or what time it is.  My apartment has poor sound insulation, so every emergency vehicle, every small-dicked jackhole with more engine noise than brains, every drunken sidewalk fight-  they all keep me awake.  Goal for 2018:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.  If I do well with the exercise goal, that will help with the sleep goal.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier overall, and I’m better than I used to be.  However, I am terrible about cookies.  If they’re in my house, they’re in my mouth.  The leftover Halloween candy was especially bad-  I ultimately had to put it in a sealed box on a high shelf in the closet, because I would just grab a handful any time I walked past the bowl on the counter.  It’s too easy to snack.  Even worse,   I’ve noticed a definite trend between my sweet tooth and my mood.  It turns out this is not just me- there were lots of articles this year about how there is a link between sugar and depression in men.  This tracks from my own experience- if I have a lot of sugary stuff, such as cookies or candy, then I feel terrible later.  Emotionally, too, not just physically.  Goal for 2018:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!  I’ve started this already by simply not purchasing them in large amounts.  I try to keep them out of my kitchen, so the temptation isn’t there.

While this isn’t a goal as such, I need to spend more time on my friends.  I have more friends in Orlando than I had in South Florida, but we never see each other because most of them are incredibly busy.  Friendships need to be fed!   Some of my Orlando friends haven’t even met Amelie because the busyness has taken hold.   This shall not stand!

That’s all of the things that I can think of for a general recap of 2017.   I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!

Do you want to change anything in the new year?  What goals have you set for yourself to do so?

[#AtoZChallenge] A is for Afterward.

On Thursday night, people who had worked at my previous Mr. Company all gathered together in a bar for a happy hour.  The last happy hour.

I say the last one because we were let go in waves.  The first group of people was out the door in the middle of August.  There was a farewell happy hour.   The next group, the largest group, was mine, in the middle of December.  We had another happy hour.  There was a tiny group let go in the middle of January, so another gathering.

Last night was the day before the Boca Raton office closed its doors-  the last dozen or so people in the office had been busily clearing away the remains of twenty years of business.   Over the last few days, I’ve seen pictures posted on Facebook of an empty data center, rows of empty cubicles, and the lead developer wearing shorts.  These are all equally traumatic and heart-breaking.

I’ve talked about my own departure from the company in previous posts, and I mused back in December that the grieving process would probably hit me later on.  It has.  Up until now, I was still interacting with many of these people on a professional level, but those meetings have ceased.

I wanted very much to go back to the office one last time, to see the empty spaces for myself, and to walk the old familiar hallways.  I realized halfway through the happy hour that this was pointless, though.  Right now, it’s just an empty building.   The thing that made it home to me for so many years was the people, and they were all around me.

When we got together for this last farewell happy hour, it was really a wake.  A very Irish wake, because quite a few people had quite a few drinks.  I highly recommend the Red Sangria; it was delicious.  There was reminiscing, and hugging, and more than a few splashes of emotion.  People who had left us in years past turned up, because this was more than a company to many of us.   For a lot of us, it was a family.

I started with Mr. Company when I was 29 years old.  My entire life for the last fifteen years has been shaped by working with this amazing bunch of people.  Thanks to the Internet, I won’t lose touch with many of them, but I’m sure gonna miss working with them.

What’s your favorite mixed drink?

Administrative note: This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each Monday through Saturday in the month of April, I will write a new post- one for each letter of the alphabet. If you would like to participate, it’s never too late to start. Just look over the guidelines at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/.

So this is what having free time is like.

I meant to keep writing on a more regular basis, but the first half of December has been absolutely ridiculous.  I moved out of my apartment with Amelie’s help, and Thursday was the final day at Mr. Company, after more than fourteen years.  I’ve been keeping busy since Thursday afternoon, so I don’t have a lot of emotions to process yet.  I suspect it will hit me later.  Like any long relationship that comes to an end, there will be a grieving process.

It’s difficult to really frame fourteen and a half years in your mind.  We’re used to shorter hops in time-  what happened in the last week? What happened in the last year?

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My ID badge. July, 2002

When I started working for this company, I was in my late 20s.  It was the summer of 2002, and my ID badge photo was taken on July 1st.  I worked for Mr. Company at first in technical support.  I moved from a tier one job to tier 2, then tier 3, and within four years I was a supervisor.  I wrote reviews, did hiring interviews, the whole lot.

During that time, I worked with dozens of people who have passed in and out of my life over a span of years- the tech scene in this part of Florida is not so large that you don’t run into each other from time to time.  I made friendships at Mr. Company that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I didn’t really like being a management type, though.  The job wasn’t technical, favoring delegation of tech work instead.  I much prefer to be responsible for only my own work, and I missed getting into the technical work.

In 2007, I moved over to operations and became a UNIX administrator.  Right away, I was given the chance to travel to Dulles, Virginia to do a bunch of work in the data center.  The next year, I went to Hong Kong for two weeks to work with a team of colleagues on a big server installation.   Hong Kong was my first-ever trans-Atlantic hop.  My only international trips before that were the Bahamas and Canada- international traveling for beginners.   Hong Kong was the first time I ever went to a place where I didn’t know the language and it was fascinating and awesome.

In 2011, I was in my fourth year as a UNIX administrator and our partners in Zurich asked us to assign a sysadmin to the local German office.  Volunteers were requested, and I was in a perfect situation to go- I had just sold a condo and all of my stuff was already in storage.  I said sure, and by the middle of November of that year, I was living full time in Regensburg, Germany. I was promoted again when I moved, giving me my fifth title change sine I started working for the company.

Including Germany, I visited 23 more countries during my three years living and working in Bavaria, and I made still more life-long friends.   I compiled an incredible variety of experiences in that time, and it’s all chronicled here in this blog.

At the end of 2014, after three years in Germany, I returned to the US.  I worked in the Boca Raton office again.  During the summer of 2015, I spent five weeks in Japan to work on a migration of their customers to a new platform.  While I was there, Mr. Company announced that we were divesting all of our web hosting business, and I knew my time at the company had an expiration date.

Fourteen years is a long time.  While I was working for this company, I bought a home, lived in it for about seven years, and sold it.  In fourteen years I’ve moved nine times, two of them internationally.  I’ve attended weddings of friends and family.  Also funerals.  And births.  My oldest niece has graduated college and purchased a house.  My youngest niece just turned six.   I’ve purchased two cars, a 2005 Civic and a 2015 Mazda 3.  I met my girlfriend just before I moved to Germany, and we got to know each other while I was across the ocean.  We’ve been together since 2014.

Trying to recap a span of nearly a decade and a half is not an easy task.  It’s just too much.

It’s finally the end-  the company has eliminated the positions and the entire office is closing.  I’m not the last person out of the building. but there’s only a dozen or so people left to clean up the mess we all left behind.  I’m glad that I’m not the one left behind, because that’s going to be the most difficult work of all.

The goodbyes on Thursday were difficult.  I mostly wasn’t emotional, until Daryl started saying nice things about me.  That was enough to make me almost lose it a tiny bit.  (Damn you, Daryl!  Why can’t you just hate me like a normal techie person?)

The picture at the start of the post was me on the first day in 2002.  This one was taken earlier this week, in my last days at the company in 2016.  I look like I’ve seen some stuff.  And I have.

Fourteen years later, December 2016.

I also got the best sleep I’ve had in years on Thursday night, because there was no reason for me to wake up early on Friday.  For the moment, I have nowhere to go.

So how’s your December going so far?

A Fork in the Road

As we roll into day 30 of National Blog Posting Month and Nanopoblano, I find myself surprised to have completed the entire month.   When Rara asked me in late October to participate, I initially said that my life is too crazy-busy right now to do a blog post every day.  Nevertheless, on the first of November, I posted a thing.  On the second of November, I posted another thing.

One a day, every day, until we reached today.   I didn’t even write ahead and schedule posts to go up in the future until Thanksgiving- I wrote a new post each day, or had three-fourths of a post almost ready to go in the drafts folder, needing some polish.

The truth is that I’m kind of grateful to this little project, because it’s been a wonderful distraction.   I’ve mentioned only a few times in the blog that my employment is ending on the fifteenth of December, but I haven’t really shared just how terrified that makes me.   Writing something new every day has helped me to stay sane and to keep the stress at bay.  I didn’t know that my blog could do that-  I’ve never really used it that way before now.

I didn’t realize until just recently how much of my identity is tied up in what I do.   And I also wrote a while back about how my highly specialized product knowledge will be useless after this job ends.

This is a fear that I have-  I worry that my skills won’t transfer to a new job, or that even after more than fifteen years doing tech work, I won’t be any different than any other resume on some hiring manager’s desk.   I worry that I won’t stand out enough to get hired.  I worry that if I do get hired, I’ll hate the job and be stuck in a soul-crushing perdition from which I cannot escape.

I worry, also, that this might be the last time in my life that I can really choose a career path different from the one I’ve been on.  I’m two days from 44, and I still haven’t got the foggiest idea what I want to be when I grow up.

I don’t really know if I want to keep doing this kind of work.  I don’t really know where I want to live, although Orlando and Portland are both very appealing to me.  (And, frankly, Orlando is the more likely of the two because it’s right there and it has Disney!)

The image attached to this post is my laptop wallpaper right now, because I find myself  at a fork in the road.   For just this moment, I’m not attached to a lease.  I have, thanks to some creative application of time off, roughly six actual days left in the office before I’m unemployed.

And I don’t know what to do next.

Except to keep blogging,  I guess.   Probably not every day, though, because I have a feeling things are about to get a lot busier around here.

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What was your favorite post from my last thirty days of bloggery?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?