One day in November 2012 I was summoned from my cubicle at work to a small office where my department manager told me that my services with the company were no longer needed. I admit I was… not shocked, but taken aback. Not out of any particular vanity, but I had thought that my position in the company, the particular set of job skills and expertise I had, were necessary and not easily dismissed. In particular, by this time I was one of perhaps three CMMI experts at the facility, CMMI was still required by our customers, and the two other experts had other jobs (as project or process managers). On second thought, that I was not then aligned with a project that had continued customer financing was what made me expendable, since my salary was coming from company overhead.
I was given half an hour to pack up my immediate personal belongings and then shown the door, having to turn in my badge. I and the other hundred or so who’d been dismissed that day were all sent over to a nearby hotel, on Topanga Canyon Blvd., where the company was using a conference room to brief us about our options and benefits. I was in something of a daze; I had not thought about what would happen were I laid off. Would I be broke? Would I have a pension? I didn’t immediately know.
The days and the weeks passed and things settled down. I learned that I would get severance – a one-time pay-out of my current salary for the number of weeks equivalent to the number of years I’d worked for the company – 30! – and was indeed eligible for a pension. Though let go in November 2012, the official separation date was January 2013, so by then I’d been to the UTC website and submitted a pension request. Payments began effectively February 1, 2013, and will run forever. (And my partner, if he survives me, will get half-payments for rest of *his* life.) The monthly payments total to less than a third of my then annual salary. But it’s something. (Currently, as of 2020, I’ve not yet begun Social Security.)
My industry work did not end! About seven months after the lay-off event, in mid-2013, my immediate supervisor, Alan P, called me up and asked if I’d be willing to come back to work as a part-time contractor. It seemed that they still needed someone to do CMMI support, and both the other two experts (Alan himself, and the software group lead Mark R), were too busy to do it. OK, sure. So I went back to work, officially working for a contracting firm, Pro Unlimited, and having to submit to the standard drug tests that all new employees must undergo, and got a new employee badge with special markings for a contractor.
The contracting work went on and off for two or three years. Alan, who approved my position, had to renew it every three months, and there were some lapses of six months or more where they didn’t need my help. But it continued even for a period after my partner and I moved to Oakland, in early 2015; at one point, after a lapse, I drove down to LA to acquire a laptop so I could log in to work remotely and do additional CMMI work (by this point I was focusing on about process performance models). But at some point I wearied of the remote work, having become focused on other goals in my life (ahem), and I let Alan let me go.
Transitioning to a New Normal
From late 2012, when I received the lay-off notice and was sent home, to early 2015, when we moved to Oakland (leaving southern California, where’d I’d lived most of my life, and continuously for 44 years, since 1971!) several things began, or transitioned, toward what is now my new normal.
- My new awards website, www.sfadb.com, went live in mid-2012, and routine updates (as annual awards and polls were announced) became supplemented by grand plans to supplement the site with additional kinds of data (citations, anthologies), with the long-term goal of generating a data-driven set of ranked lists: the greatest SF novels of all time, of fantasy novels, of short works. It’s still not done, here in mid 2020, but much progress has been made. It’s one of my ongoing projects. Sfadb, I might mention, was designed to be clean and efficient, frankly inspired by Facebook, and by sites that used clean URLs. So I learned php and scripting languages used by the server, with the effect of having a page at URL http://www.sfadb.com/Hugo_Awards_2020 that is actually on the server at public_html/db/Hugo_Awards_2020.php. The displayed URL hides the subdirectory, and the extension.
- In mid-2013, just before returning to Rocketdyne as a contractor, I set up another website, www.markrkelly.com, as a personal blog and repository for photos and essays like this one. I had been writing “editorials” at locusmag.com since the beginning, and then an editorial blog when the site started using Blogger, and later WordPress. But the blog on the Locus site was generally limited to comments about books I’d read or accounts of conventions I was attending, as well as issues about the blog itself, changes, new features, and so on. In the early 2010s I was specifically inspired by Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Daily Dish (now gone, though Sullivan still writes essays for magazines), in which his posts were typically links to stories in newspapers, magazines, or similar websites, often with long passages quoted, and then Sullivan’s reactions (and then reader comments). He was discussing issues, not just his own experience. It suddenly seemed appropriate for me to discuss issues that were increasingly important to me, yet it would have been inappropriate to do so in an editorial blog on Locus Online, which would have implied (even with a disavowal) Locus’s approval. Best to go independent.
- In early 2015, almost simultaneous with moving into the Oakland house, and inspired by crisp lists of principles like various sets of alternate 10 commandments, I conceived my own “provisional conclusions.” After some refinement and much annotation these have become, if you like, the core principles of this website. Also influential in this period were several books that provided new insights into matters I’d been discussing on the blog: Jesse Bering’s THE BELIEF INSTINCT discussed how human infants’ perception of agency in the world form the basis of religion; David McRaney’s YOU ARE NOT SO SMART and its sequel expanded ideas of perceptual bias and logical fallacies that underlie so much of politics and religion; and later in 2015, Jonathan Haidt’s THE RIGHTEOUS MIND discussed how the range of moral sentiments in people explain why reasonable people have such different takes on religion and politics. My reading in subsequent years further explored such ideas, and in reflection, reconsidered a lot of classic science fiction that could be seen as anticipating such ideas.
- We closed escrow in late January 2015. My partner had been living in the Bay Area (for a while, in Charles N. Brown’s house, where Locus Magazine continued to operate from, and for a while in Airbnb locations), since September 2014. Those last few months of 2014 entailed trying to sell our Woodland Hills home, and find a home to buy in the Bay Area. On the first point, the house at 4976 Medina Road in Woodland Hills was tough to sell: great location and view, but with oddly oversized rooms in its 4900 square feet; it was something of a white elephant when we bought it. On the second point, we were of two minds. My partner Y’s job was in San Carlos, on the peninsula south of South Francisco, and peninsula full of pricey towns like San Mateo and Burlingame, not to mention Hillsborough. Living there would be close to his work, but finding a house in the area was difficult: smallish houses for high prices that sold immediately with several bids. Our realtor there did not properly advise us of how competitive the market was, how if we were tempted by something we couldn’t afford to wait three or four days to make an offer. Or, we could live across the Bay; while living in CNB’s house, Y had grown to like the Oakland Hills, and especially Montclair Village, as I had during the many visits I’d made to CNB since the late 1990s. During the last months of 2014, we alternated trips back and forth between LA and Bay Area. On Bay Area weekends we’d meet one realtor on Saturday and the other on Sunday to look at prospects. We got lucky with a home in the Oakland Hills that hadn’t yet been formally listed in the market; our realtor suggested an offer she thought the sellers would accept, and we made it.
The New Normal
- So the new normal involves Y making long daily commutes, some 35 miles each way, in traffic across the San Mateo bridge, to get to work and back. He leaves by 6:30 or 7 and is home by 6:30 or 7. On weeknights I make dinner. On weekends we shop or hike in the nearby woods.
- I sit at home and support the Locus website, maintain updates on sfadb.com, read books, and write blog posts. I have in mind bigger projects, like a book about how science fiction informs apprehension of the world and synchronizes with the growing understanding of that world through science. And I’ve been writing these memoir essays, in the months since the March 2020 pandemic shutdown.
- I’ve had more a sense of family connections since moving the Bay Area, than perhaps any time of my life. This has come in a couple ways. First, Y’s sons Michael and Jimmy have come to have partners, with Jimmy getting married in September 2019 here in the Bay Area, and Michael’s wedding in LA delayed by the pandemic. Second, coincidentally, several of the boys’ cousins on their mother’s side live in the Bay Area, and have been married for a few years now and are starting to have children. And one of Y’s former co-workers lives near San Jose; her baby in 2013, whom we saw down in LA, inspired me to certain thoughts and plan$, which were not to happen.
- And curiously cats have become much more a part of daily life. I’ve always been a cat person (though my family had a couple dogs as I grew up), though I never consciously acquired any until recently. In Granada Hills, throughout the ‘90s, my roommate and I fed several neighborhood cats, who came and went, and sometimes stayed inside with us. They were indoor/outdoor cats; we had a cat door. There was Miss Kitty, Mr. Kitty, Puss’n’Boots, Tramp, and Munchkin, and various times. Black-and-white Miss Kitty died of old age. Mr. Kitty, a grey tabby, died later under my roommate’s care after he’d moved out. Tramp was killed in the street. Puss’n’Boots, a large grey and white cat, escaped our house in Woodland Hills shortly after we moved there and was never found. Munchkin, a tiny cat (thus the name), was found in our backyard in Granada Hills nursing two newborn kittens. I found homes for the kittens and had Munchkin fixed. When we moved to Woodland Hills, she became in indoor cat, and did fine. She lasted until our move to Oakland, but died of old age in late 2016.
- We waited a year, then on advice from the SF writer Robert Silverberg, who lives in Oakland and with whom I’d been a casual acquaintance for many years, visited an adoption service in Alameda and adopted a brother sister pair, Potsticker and Soybean, and orange white tabby and an orange/white/black calico. They were six months old. Later that year we took in a stray black and white cat, Pixel, who liked our two cats but was feral and would not let people touch him. And he escaped the house 11 months to the day we took him in, and never returned. This time we waited barely a month. The third cat had worked so well with the brother/sister pair, who tended to fight between themselves, that we found another cat to adopt, a young grey tabby we named Huxley, at 8 weeks old. He bonded quickly to me, since I was always home, and I’ve never had more affectionate cats than these three, especially Huxley, in my life.
- I keep writing my blog and occasionally link posts there on Facebook. One of these late in 2019 led to a regular reviewing gig, of classic science fiction books from the 1950s, on the website Black Gate, beginning January 2020. I do one post every two weeks, lengthy detailed posts unlike traditional reviews. It’s nice to get a larger readership than my blog gets (I don’t know and don’t really want to know), and some positive feedback.
- I opened up my own blog to comments and have gotten hardly any, but seeing how few comments my Black Gate posts get, or for that matter how many comments the relatively famous David Brin gets on his blog, I’m not troubled. How many times do I leave comments on other peoples’ blogs? Almost never.
- And then the pandemic came. And so the new normal is disrupted, indefinitely.