Nov 22, 2000

But Wait, There's More!

But wait there's more! I had originally intended to write the main "biography" and then just supplement it with regular "What's New" updates. However, as you can see, there haven't been any updates in a long time, and after four years I feel I need to add to the main biographical information itself.

Where to start? The main reason I haven't updated this page in so long is simply because nothing worth talking about had really happened since my last update [at least nothing I felt comfortable talking about, that is]. Basically, I am still single and I spent the last four years working at the same job, and I just didn't feel there was anything else I needed to share with you, the world at large. I have to admit, though, that I was not being truly honest with myself, and that a lot of it was sheer laziness on my part. Well, that and the fact that there were some things I felt were best left unsaid, at least for the time being. But now there are some things to report, and maybe it's time to just make a full disclosure....

Let's see... First off, as I mentioned above, I am still single. I will admit that in my darkest hours I am starting to wonder if I will remain single for the rest of my life, but I have not given up all hope yet. So if anybody out there knows of an attractive, intelligent woman in the 25-35 year range out there, feel free to send her my way....

Next, I am still singing with the Cambridge Madrigal Singers, but in 1998 I also joined a small "start-up" choir which focuses exclusively on Renaissance music. There are currently ten of us, and up until recently the group had the rather improbable name of Melisuavia's Lips. After a few months of careful consideration, however, the name of the group was just officially changed to Vox Lucens [Latin for "Voice of Light" or "Shining Voice" or something like that.] Anyway, it is a terrific, tight-knit group made up of wonderful musicians, and we really make beautiful music together. The group is small enough that I often get to sing alone on my part, and I enjoy the challenge this gives me. Because it is such a small group we have had some difficulties with members leaving and trying to find replacements in a hurry, but the group is currently pretty stable and will hopefully be around for a long time.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention my other hobbies... Back in 1995, when I first got on-line, I rediscovered something from my childhood - Godzilla. When I was young I used to spend every Saturday afternoon from 12:00 - 4:00 watching old monster movies on "Creature Double Feature." Many of the movies scared the living bejeezus out of me and gave me many a nightmare [not to mention a lingering fear of the dark], but I loved them all the same. And Godzilla was always my favorite. Well, one of the things I discovered when I first started browsing the Web was that Godzilla was not only alive and well, but that they had actually started making new Godzilla movies in the late 80's and early 90's - movies I had never even HEARD of, let alone seen. I was able to get fan-subtitled copies of some of these newer movies, and I fell in love all over again. And when I decided to create my own Web site and was looking for something a little different to attract visitors, I decided to make a little Godzilla related site which I jokingly called "Barry's Temple of Godzilla."

It really was just a lark, and I never expected it to become very popular, but the Web site soon took on a life of its own. In 1998 the American "Godzilla" movie was released, along with an unprecedented amount of hype and publicity, and I suddenly found myself in the center of it all. Because my Godzilla site had been on-line longer than just about any other site, it came up first on most Internet searches for "Godzilla." As a result, I started to get flooded with visitors - at one point over 10,000 on a single day! And the e-mail began to pour in from people who, like me, were rediscovering their childhood, as well as a host of younger people discovering Godzilla for the first time. I ended up getting interviewed for the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Herald, and I was even quoted in an article in the New York Times. All of which was nice, but a little embarrassing to talk about. Due to the interest in the site, however, I decided to spend more time on it, and I even ended up writing two full-length cyber novels. These days I tend to look upon the Temple as a finished product, and only update it when news of a new movie comes out. But hopefully the site is big and complex enough to entertain people for years to come without anything new and exciting being added to it.

The other hobby I have picked up over the last few years is collecting antique pocket watches. I had long had an interest in antique timepieces, but I didn't purchase my first antique pocket watch until the Summer of 1997. At first, this was simply a single purchase and not the start of a collection. All that changed, however, when I discovered eBay and the wonderful world of on-line auctions in the Summer of 1998. Up until then I hadn't bought additional watches primarily because I simply didn't know where I could find more at prices I could afford, but eBay changed all that. Suddenly, I could browse through listing of THOUSANDS of watches for sale at any given time, and with a little patience and good luck I could purchase them at reasonable prices. I found I could also resell them on eBay -- sometimes even making a little profit in the process -- when I decided I wanted to "trade up" to a nicer watch. And the more watches I bought, the more interested I became in them. I joined the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and started attending their various meetings and "marts" to meet with other collectors and learn more about pocket watches. I decided to display my current collection on-line in a special Pocket Watch Collection Page. And I even ended up writing a 40+ page illustrated informative booklet entitled "The New Collector's Guide to Pocket Watches" which has been very well received. Overall a very fun and fascinating hobby, and one about which I am very passionate. Plus, people don't look at me QUITE as strangely when I tell them I collect pocket watches as when I tell them I like Godzilla....

With regard to work, my time with Peabody & Arnold came to an end as of October 31, 2000. I really enjoyed my time there, and I think I accomplished quite a lot. However, my dream of building up a department devoted to document automation design [with me in charge, of course] never came to fruition. Although some lawyers in the firm understood the importance of my work and were able to "catch the vision," as it were, most were still stuck in the old rut of "billable hours." The work I did made things run more efficiently, meaning that an attorney could do the same amount of work in one-tenth the time. Unfortunately, when attorneys are used to charging by the hour instead of by the project, efficiency is not always a virtue. As I mentioned, some attorneys in the firm were willing and able to switch over to a "value billing" fee structure, which meant that the faster they could do the work and take on new work, the better. But this idea just never caught on firm-wide, and it became harder and harder to convince the attorneys to put in the necessary [but non billable] time and effort up front to work with me to develop systems for them. Plus, my job was not really going anywhere. Every year I got a cost of living increase, but that was it - there was no opportunity for growth, and I was never going to make it into management. So, when my boss came into my office and told me that there simply wasn't enough new work to justify my salary, we decided it was time for us to part ways.

Unlike when I left the Capstone Group, this didn't throw me into a state of panic. It helped that I had built up a fair amount of savings and wasn't living paycheck to paycheck this time, but a lot of it was simply that I had now been working for seven years and had a fair amount of experience under my belt. The only problem, of course, was that a lot of that experience was still in a field that few people would recognize or appreciate. I briefly toyed with the idea of looking for another document automation job in another law firm, or perhaps even opening my own consulting firm like the Capstone Group, but I quickly decided that this was the perfect opportunity for me to reinvent myself yet again. Seeing as how I was now seven years out of law school without ever having practiced, my prospects for finding a legal job seemed rather dim. And, to be honest, I'm not sure the idea of practicing law appealed to me all that much anymore. Sure, the thought of making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year remained an attractive one, but having seen the life many lawyers live [or lack thereof, as the case may be, what with thirteen hour days and six or seven day work weeks], didn't fill me with quite as much enthusiasm as it once had.

The problem was, then, what exactly was I qualified to do? I met with a number of recruiters who, because of the "software training" part of my job title, kept trying to pigeonhole me into the role of a "high tech trainer." Well, there were two problems with that... First, most of the jobs for high tech trainers required very specific skills, such as an in depth knowledge of C++ or Java programming, as well as a lot of experience with cross-platform software installation. Now, I could certainly learn those skills, but these jobs were specifically looking for people with 4 or 5 years worth of experience. Second, I really wasn't all that excited about training for a living. Obviously I had done some at Peabody & Arnold, but it really was only a small part of my job and not even the most enjoyable part. I liked writing the documentation and training materials, but standing up in front of a class and teaching never gave me much of a thrill. I mean, I felt I could probably do it full time, but I also felt it wasn't something that would actually enjoy doing. I did end up getting some interviews with companies that were interested in me, but I just wasn't comfortable with the idea of being a full-time technical trainer. Sure, it was better than being unemployed, and the pay would certainly be nice, but I was still trying to think of something else I could do with my life.

After some careful consideration, thinking about the various skills and interests I have developed over the years, I began to think that I should look into technical writing. Basically, I had developed a love of writing over the years (having written two complete on-line novels, a collector's guide to pocket watches and numerous training manuals) and I have always had a love of technology. And so I figured that a job which combined these two interests might be perfect for me. The problem, of course, was finding such a job at a pay level that I could live with. I was not looking for an entry level position, but without specific qualifications as a tech writer it was difficult to get my foot in the door with many of the companies I looked at. In fact, a lot of the companies were specifically looking for people who had years and years of experience with particular programming language [which, to be honest, I thought was a little silly -- if I had 5 years of experience with C++ programming, for example, I'd be better off as a C++ programmer]. Basically, I was looking for a company that would appreciate my years of experience and was looking for somebody who was intelligent, had good communications skills, was a quick learner and who had a general understanding of high-tech issues. Whether there actually WAS such a company out there, of course, was the real kicker.

Well, I think I have found just such a company. I was contacted by somebody from AMICAS, Inc., a local startup company which designs medical imaging management software. They had seen my résumé on-line at one of the various job search Web sites, and they were looking for a senior technical writer. I ended up meeting with the gentleman in charge of hiring for 2 ½ hours, and we really clicked. He said that he was NOT looking for somebody with years of experience in a particular programming language, but instead was looking for somebody who was intelligent, had good communications skills, was a quick learner and who had a general understanding of high-tech issues. Sound familiar? The pay would be a bit better than what I was making at Peabody & Arnold to start, but there would also be stock options and -- most importantly -- the opportunity to grow and take on new responsibilities over time, which would eventually mean a higher salary as well and not just a cost of living increase. It really sounded like a match made in heaven, and after a little consideration I decided to take the job. In fact, I start work on November 29, 2000. Because I don't actually have a lot of experience in technical writing, I will be working as an independent contractor for the first three months. Assuming everything works out, I will then come aboard as a "permanent" employee. Although the thought of working as an independent contractor doesn't exactly fill me with joy, I think it will really work out well. Not only will it give them a chance to see if I can do the job, it also gives me a chance to discover if this is really what I want to do for a living. And if, after the three month trial period, it doesn't work out, neither of us will be any worse off than before. I am assuming., of course, that things WILL work out....

Finally, and this is the hard part, I suppose I need to talk about current religious status. As described above, I was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [a.k.a. the "Mormons"]. Growing up, I did all the things I was supposed to do -- I went to church regularly, I paid my tithing, I kept the Word of Wisdom [i.e., refrained from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea]. I even served a two-year mission to share the teachings of the church to other people. Much of my life, including the people whom I associated with and my political views, revolved around the church, and there was never any thought that I would be anything other than a faithful Mormon. I fully intended to find a nice Mormon wife, settle down and have tons of kids like my older brother [six kids and counting]. In fact, I had never even dated a non-Mormon in my life.

Unfortunately, as time went on I found myself growing more and more unhappy with my life. The church is a wonderful institution, and I don't have any problems with it. I think that the things it teaches are very important and that by living the principals of the church one will be a better person. But I just began to feel uncomfortable attending church each week. Part of it was the fact that I was 31 years old and still single, which is considered rather unusual within the church. And, the older I got, the less likely it was seeming that I would ever find a nice Mormon girl [or at least not one who hadn't already been married and had a bunch of kids]. And, as a result, I began to feel a bit out of place, as if something were wrong with me.

More than that, however, was the slow, inexorable realization that most of my life I had followed the precepts of the church not because of any deep and abiding faith on my part, but simply because it was what I was raised to believe. Yes, if I looked carefully I could see what could be interpreted as signs of the hand of God working in the background of my life, but there was no great revelation, no firm conviction that God existed and cared about me in any personal way. I found that, more and more, I was attending church simply to socialize and not out of faith. And I felt like a hypocrite because of that, something which is perhaps more abhorrent to me than any other possible character flaw.

And so, after a GREAT deal of soul-searching, I decided I need to take a sabbatical [and yes, I am well aware of the irony of choosing that particular word] from religion. Basically, I decided I needed to determine how much of who I am is intrinsic to me, and how much is merely a result of my upbringing. If I choose to act in a moral way, if I chose to love my neighbor as myself, is it because I am basically a good person, or is it because that is how I was raised? If I choose not to drink or smoke, is it because I have made an informed decision to avoid those substances out of health considerations, or simply because I was told not to. And if I find the "right" woman to marry someday, will it be because we truly love each other, or simply because we are both faithful Mormons doing what we are supposed to be doing?

Thus, in April of 1998, I told the bishop of my local congregation that I was planning on taking some time off from church. I was not asking to be removed from the rolls of the church, and I certainly wasn't becoming "anti-Mormon." But I just didn't want to disappear from sight and have people worrying about whether I had died or something. I also felt I needed to be up front about my reasons for leaving. The REALLY hard part, of course, was telling my parents about my decision. Not to trivialize the problems of others, but for the first time in my life I began to appreciate the pain and anguish people who "come out of the closet" must experience. Telling my parents that I was basically rejecting everything they had taught me was neither pleasant nor easy, and it actually took me many months before I got up the courage to tell them. In essence, I was afraid they would take it as a rejection of them, personally. Fortunately, however, my parents were very understanding. I think they both are hoping that I will eventually come back "into the fold," so to speak, but in the mean time they have accepted that I am basically a good, decent human being even if I don't attend church any more.

Since that time, I have been on a journey of self-discovery. Sometimes I feel as if I am merely floating aimlessly through life with no direction, while other times I feel a great sense of freedom to do whatever I choose. I still haven't resolved any significant issues, but at the same time I haven't locked any doors behind me, either. As I said before, I don't harbor any ill will toward the church, and there is always a possibility that I will choose to return someday. And in the meantime I haven't joined any other churches, nor do I have any desire to do so. For once in my life I am simply being me, with no labels attached. It's a bit scary, like walking on a tightrope with no safety net, but I kind of like it....