Alcoholism: not even once

Hi, I’m Jeremy, and I’m not an alcoholic, but…

As I write this, I’m in the LA area helping a friend who is having some serious struggles with alcohol. I have been rather out of touch with this friend for a while so I wasn’t even aware any of this was going on. But Wednesday evening they reached out and Thursday I dropped everything and hopped on a plane.

I don’t even know where to begin.

A bit over 5 years ago, I ended my own struggles with alcohol. I don’t consider myself an alcoholic, but as I describe it: “I had a bad night in San Francisco and decided that was enough of that shit”.

I was visiting SF to attend PuppetConf in 2014. It was being held that year at the Yerba Buena conference center. The night before, I met up with some folks and we ended up doing some heavy drinking and ended up at the bar on the top floor of the Mariott called The View. Named so because of the huge round window overlooking SF from 40+ floors up. It’s a pretty cool spot.

Well, by the time we got up there I was already pretty drunk. I then proceeded to drink more. I remember at one point I tried to buy a round of drinks for my friends, and told the bartender something along the lines of “fuck it, I’ll buy the whole bar a round” and someone next to me said something like “keep it under $500” and I remember just not caring. Fortunately, this bartender recognized that I was not in any position to be making such decisions and didn’t let me buy a round. At least that’s what I’m guessing, since my credit card statement didn’t have a ridiculous bar tab on it.

Later I remember getting rather depressed about a thing. There was a woman there who I was interested in but couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to. I am fairly certain she was there with someone, too, and that didn’t help my mental state. I may have said or done some really stupid things, I have no idea.

Later, I remember very vaguely talking to someone while walking down the street and I think I dropped my phone. I don’t know if the screen had broken, but I vaguely remember being like “fuck it, I have apple care, I don’t care” and spiking it on the ground, thoroughly breaking the glass.

I was staying at an airbnb in soma, so I’m pretty sure I walked back there. I say pretty sure but I’m not entirely sure. I know I walked back. But I don’t know *how* I walked back. At the time I was using to track steps and low-res gps track log of where I’d walked. Well, that next day it said I’d walked 33,000 steps. And done a straight line (as the crow flies) from the hotel to my airbnb. So who even knows what happened. For some perspective, my longest day ever was about 45,000 steps, walking almost 20 miles in Japan. So even my phone has a vague memory of what happened that night.

I vaguely remember entering the wrong room. It was one of those airbnbs where there are multiple rooms on offer and I was renting one. So the other rooms had other guests in them. I don’t know if I actually did or if it was just a dream (I’d stayed at that airbnb in the past and had worried about walking into the wrong room before).

I woke up later, extremely hungover and quite possibly still drunk. I noticed my phone. I couldn’t find my backpack. My backpack that had my laptop and my iPad. I remember pacing around the hallway trying to find it in the common area or whatever. I don’t know how long that went on, or how quiet (or not) I was being while doing it.

I went back to sleep and woke up around noon. I realized what had happened: I’d left my bag at the bar the night before. So I called and they said they didn’t have it. I’m notorious for forgetting stuff like my backpack at bars and such, so I was certain that’s what had happened.

Meanwhile, the conference is going on. The conference I was spending a lot of my company’s money to attend. The conference where I was hoping to learn some cool new things to take back with me to make me more effective at doing my job. I’d just missed half of the first day because of drinking too much the night before.

All the shame from my actions and words. Actions and words I couldn’t even remember. Feeling like perhaps I got too forward with a woman just trying to attend a conference. Being Yet Another Tech Guy Hitting On The Only Woman In The Room™. Possibly even getting belligerent. Breaking my phone as a flex because of how rich I am. Literally the worst possible person on the planet. That was me. I didn’t want to be that anymore.

After that I was ashamed because I’m walking around with a phone that looks like it’s gone through a blender. It’s the only computing device I have left because everything else was in my backpack which was still missing. I felt like complete garbage.

That evening, I decided. I was done. No more booze for me. I’d lost too many nights to losing control and drinking too much. No more.

I reached out to a friend who was in AA and was like “I think I have a drinking problem.” I still to this day don’t consider myself an alcoholic. For me it’s not an addiction, I just couldn’t retain control of myself when I was drinking. I didn’t want it to turn into an addiction, there’s enough of that in my family, I try really hard to not get into addictive behaviors. She told me some stuff and we talked, and fortunately, that’s all I needed to be able to quit. Also, someone turned in my backpack, so I got my laptop and iPad back.

Basically, I got off easy.

Not so much with my friend.

They’re going through some stuff right now I wouldn’t wish on my WORST ENEMY. And despite wanting more than anything to do literally everything possible to help them, I know there’s only so much I can do. Especially since I’m so far from home. And I know that at some point I have to go home, and I’m super afraid of what will happen after that.

Thanks for letting me share.

New Job!

I have a new job! Like, a real one!

On Monday I’ll be starting at Cozy!

Cozy logo

Cozy is based in Portland, and is a very small company with big ambitions. They are trying to change how tenants and landlords interact, and make things a lot easier. From the initial application through lease signing to paying rent and beyond.

I’ll be on their Operations team, managing production, managing deploy toolchain, etc. It should be pretty fun!

It’s also a departure from working remotely for me. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, one of the big things I felt was missing in my life was direct human interaction. So, I’ll be getting a lot more of that soon! There are other benefits as well, and not just Benefits, but I mean a lower stress working environment, where “take the site down” level mistakes don’t (necessarily) mean millions of dollars of impact, or massive amounts of recovery work on the part of the rest of the company. It doesn’t mean I can be reckless, but it means I don’t feel like I need to tiptoe so much around making changes.

The commute is fine, about 25 minutes on my bike, with moderately good bus connection should I want to not ride. I plan to move from where I’m at, but it likely won’t be that much closer, and definitely not *too* close. One of the nice things about having to go into the office every day is the context switch that comes with leaving the office and going home. Or leaving home and going to the office. Instead of getting up and walking to my couch to start working, I get up and get to have some sort of morning routine before heading to work. I am looking forward to that aspect of things!

I’m pretty nervous, because it’s been a long time since I’ve worked in an office full time, and it’s been a long time since I even worked, but I felt pretty good about the interview process, and I feel like they’re a great group of people to work with!

Excitement, etc

So I just got rejected for a job. In seemingly large part due to my last blog post. From the feedback provided (which is totally awesome that they did this, btw, because it’s not just a “good luck in your future endeavors”, it gives me something to think about):

I just didn’t have confidence that you’re excited to come back to systems work. Uncertainty in your description of why you chose to leave your last job left me doubting that you knew what you wanted, and were committed to and excited for the opportunity to join our team.

Hmm. So, I can totally see that. I left NationBuilder because I was completely burnt out. My tenure at Stripe had many things stacked against me, and the recovery I wanted to have happen just didn’t work out.

But I’m not sure I agree that I’m not excited to go back to work. I would absolutely love to find a job where I can be happy and feel like I’m contributing to a team and maybe helping make the world a better place somehow and helping to provide people with a product that they enjoy using. A lot of my time on Te Araroa was spent trying to figure out what was wrong, what was missing. And I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted and what indeed was missing.

In this job search I’ve been focusing solely on jobs in the Portland area. I moved to Portland while I was working at NationBuilder and was remote with them for the rest of the time I was there. It worked out ok. I had been introduced to some people up here by mutual friends and was enjoying myself. I got super burnt out from work and lost the passion that had me going to meetups, various things happened and some of my friends drifted away, and combined with my usual shyness and social anxiety, I ended up becoming extremely isolated and lonely.

I started at Stripe super excited about the job. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a job. And to some degree, that was the beginning of the downfall. But one thing my time at Stripe taught me is that I actually enjoy working in an office with people. My visits to the SF office were invigorating. Talking to people in person, socializing during meals and after work, etc. But I can’t stand San Francisco. It’s just not somewhere I could ever live, for a lot of reasons. So I got this taste of awesomeness, but it was tainted with sadness that it couldn’t be all the time.

On the trail I thought I’d be fine by myself. I was the last 2 trips I’ve done. And surely I won’t be *that* lonely, I’ll probably be meeting plenty of southbounders and we’ll probably have some overlap at huts so we can hang out there. And I had some of that. What I wasn’t expecting was the “trail family” that came together out of a handful of northbounders who happened to be pacing roughly together for a week or so. At first I was afraid, afraid of judgement, so I kept them at arm’s length. But eventually they sucked me in and I felt like part of a group. It wasn’t until the group split apart with some people doing side trips, some people staying back, some people forging ahead, and I was alone on the trail again that I realized what I’d been a part of and just how much I enjoyed that.

Later on I’d reunite with a couple I’d met very early on in the trip and we’d spend a week together in the Richmonds. It was then that I found out that I still did like being alone sometimes. I would often intentionally get up later than them or whatever so they’d get a head start and I could have some alone time on the trail. Eventually I’d either catch up to them or I’d see them at the hut at the end of the day. It was great to find that balance.

What all of this told me is that one of the big things that was missing was working in an office with people. Maybe if I had a well established local social life outside of work I could work remotely and be fine. But I don’t have that. So I think I need to work amongst people again.

The main reason I’m also exploring other things is that for a good portion of my time at Stripe I was really struggling, and trying to figure out what I could change to improve my life. What was missing? I’d been wanting to ride my bike across the country for years, and my spontaneous decision to travel to New Zealand and walk around for 4 days got me hooked on backpacking. My “fallback” then was “I’m just going to go walk somewhere or whatever.” However, I also wanted to make that a thing that I actually did for more than just 1-2 weeks while on vacation or something. So I then worried about things like when am I going to have the time? I need to save super aggressively so I can do a mini retirement or extended sabbatical (read: 1-2 years), or whatever.

So while I was there I was worried about my work performance, super lonely, and afraid of alternatives. But I wasn’t doing anything to solve any of those problems, I was just stuck in a loop of worry.

The Te Araroa trip helped be break that loop. It also helped me figure out what I was missing. Or at least some things I can try, as opposed to just recognizing that something is wrong and worrying about that. So, if anything, I’m actually more excited about the idea of going back to work than I have been in a long time, maybe even as much as I was about going to work for Stripe. Now, that’s not to say I am as excited about any particular company, but I *am* excited about going back to work, meeting new people, learning new things, and seeing if my changes make a difference. A best case scenario would be finding fulfillment and happiness that keeps me in Portland, with the occasional bit of continent hopping of course, but one that helps me make a connection with a community, be part of something.

One of the other things the trail taught me I was missing was a creative outlet. Sure, building stuff with computers is creative, sure, but there’s a difference between creative for work and creative for fun. I’ve tried lots of things. Knitting. Learning a new programming language. Trying to build a website about interacting with friendly cats around town. Ham radio stuff. Whatever. And none of those things has really stuck, for various reasons. Knitting and programming because while I could learn the basics, and did, I never could figure out what I wanted to do with that knowledge. Other things had other forms of Resistance which contributed to the project or hobby ultimately resulting in failure. And because of those failures, I am hesitant to try something new, afraid to add another failed idea or project or hobby or goal to my long list of those. But the trail taught me that it didn’t matter. I needed something. So I’ve been exploring a bit. I’ve been trying to explore something that can be practical in a “Plan B” sort of scenario. Hence, Spanish. And my “Plan B” is actually the creative outlet itself. Not only am I learning new things, figuring out logistics of whatever, thinking wild thoughts like “maybe I could get someone to pay me to write a book about trails in Japan” or whatever, but I’m instead of *worrying* about what my Plan B might look like, I’m actually creating the Plan B. During my NET training one of the things they taught us was giving someone something to do, no matter how trivial or seemingly unimportant, can help them handle the stress of the situation they’re in. The act of exploring possibilities helps me focus my energy on creativity or problem solving, rather than just worrying about what if.

The idea of going back to work, with all of this newly gained wisdom, and testing the results is extremely exciting to me. And if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, well. There’s always Plan B.

Signing bonuses are bullshit

Signing bonuses are bullshit. They masquerade as an incentive to join, but in actuality they are a guaranteed pay cut at best, and at worst a way to lock you in to staying at a job, or put you in a really bad financial spot if you need to leave earlier than expected.


You’ve just finished the interview process for a new employer and they’ve given you an offer! Awesome! Congratulations! I knew you could do it!

Here’s the details of the offer:

  • Salary: $100000
  • Equity: 5000 options at $.50 strike price 4yr/1yr cliff
  • Signing Bonus: $5000

You think to yourself: “Wow! $5000 just to get started? I can pay off that bill I have laying around!”

But I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t pay off that bill just yet, and that the signing bonus is not as great as it seems on the surface.

Why not?

Most signing bonuses aren’t just cash in your hand. If they were, people would start jobs, work for a day, and collect their signing bonus on their way out the door. Over and over and over again. So it makes sense that businesses will want to try to prevent that from happening.

A typical signing bonus has a 1 year vesting schedule, vesting daily. If you leave on day 36 of your employment, you need to return 329 days worth of your signing bonus to the company. Seems reasonable.

Except you just used that signing bonus to pay a bill. Oops. Guess you’re stuck at that job for 329 more days. Or now you have to take out a loan to pay your signing bonus back. Or … something. Not a situation I’d want to be in.

Additionally, depending on the wording of the signing bonus agreement, you might have to pay back the pre-tax amount, which means now you’re out the taxes that were withheld until April comes around again…

But what about…

If you’ve got a decent handle on your financial situation, one thing you could do is set that money aside, and only taking out / using the money that is “yours”. That’s a reasonable approach, to be sure. That’s what I do. And that’s what you should do, if you want to make sure you don’t get stuck in a bad situation regarding the signing bonus.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Say you give yourself 14 days worth of your signing bonus every 2 weeks, just to make the accounting easier. Maybe even on payday.

How is this any different from making $105000 instead of $100000 + $5000 signing bonus?

It’s not, really. And, if you want to be safe with your money, this is exactly how you should look at it.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Are you going to get another $5000 bonus at the end of your first year? The second? The third? The fourth? Is that going to be in addition to any sort of raise you might be eligible for? Probably not on all counts. And your raise will almost certainly be based on that $100000 base salary.

What a signing bonus actually is, is a guaranteed pay cut after your first year.

So, what do I do?

If your offer contains a signing bonus, try to negotiate it away. If they won’t, then maybe ask for a higher base salary anyways. Or just think of it as a pay cut. It’s not great, but it could be worse. Also, make sure to discuss this as part of raise negotiations in the future.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you asked for $105000 and they gave you $100000 + $5000 and it’s the same thing. It’s not. Your salary is $100000. That $5000 is not factored into anyone’s numbers but the IRS.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can go off and spend that money right out of the gate, unless you have a strong enough handle on your finances to be able to pay it back out of other places if you need to leave. Even then I would say don’t, because leaving the company costs you money. Maybe money that you had when you spent the signing bonus, but Shit Happened™ and now you don’t. If you pretend that money isn’t yours to begin with, you’ll be fine.

But mine is different!

Sure! I would love to hear about other signing bonus structures that people have encountered. Assuming they’re not just differences in the vesting schedule and term, unless the vesting is somehow non-linear over time. RSUs and other such equity things are also separate from this discussion, as you can’t sell those before you have vested them, meaning you can’t spend the proceeds until the money is really yours.

Over a year!

Oops, it’s been over a year since my last post! Oh, well!

Some things I’ve done since the last post:

  • Bike camping trip to Nestucca River Road and Willamette Mission State Park [days: 1, 2, 3]
  • Volunteering for Cycle Oregon’s Joy Ride and Weekend Ride
  • Volunteering for PDX World Naked Bike Ride
  • I climbed Mount Tabor on a big, heavy, orange bike.
  • Volunteering for Bridge Pedal
  • I bought a new bike!
  • Bike camping trip Salem -> Breitenbush -> Milo McIver State Park [days: 1, 2, 3]
  • Rode Cycle Oregon’s Week Ride
  • Spent 2 weeks in New Zealand, including a 4 day backpacking trip on Banks Peninsula [days: 1, 2, 3, 4]
  • Participated in the Portland Women’s March
  • I moved. Partially by bike. During the week we had 10 inches of snow on the ground. Studded tires are awesome.
  • Volunteering for the Worst Day of the Year ride
  • Bike camping (probably illegal camping, oops!) out at Molalla River Recreation Area [days: 1, 2]
  • Aborted bike camping trip to Gaston, OR and beyond.
  • Spent 2.5 weeks in Japan, including 10 days of backpacking (9 days on the trail and a rest day) [quick summary post coming soon]

Despite how I feel, it’s been a busy year!

Current status is that I’m trying to get psyched to work on a WordPress plugin to layer posts on a map. So something like post which embeds a map which embeds other posts (photos, videos, text entries, and, importantly, gpx/kml/whatever tracks), which is something I want for ride reports. I recently heard an episode of the Sprocket Podcast talking about RideWithGPS’s new ride report feature which sounds very much like what I want, but I want to own the data and everything, so I may take inspiration from that feature, but would prefer to host it myself.

Probably see you again in a year! But hopefully before then!

Taking the weekend off

I’ve been trying pretty hard to get out of the house, especially on nice days, and especially on weekends. For the past several weekends, I’ve done a pretty good job of doing it. Two weeks ago I went bike camping with Ted, last weekend I was out at Filmed By Bike and getting my new wheels and a bunch of other stuff.

However, all of this “leaving the house” stuff has left my house in a pretty rough state. I’ve been trying really hard lately to keep up with some basic housekeeping tasks and my busy weekends have been making it difficult to do.

So this weekend I’m taking the weekend off. I am giving myself permission to do absolutely nothing. I have a few small things at home I want to do (and, I do *really* want to do them) but if I stay in all weekend and read, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

This all ties in with some stuff I’m working on around “intent”, and I hope to have some more to say about that soon. This weekend I’m giving myself permission to stay inside. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s supposed to rain all weekend!