Rick's Ramblings

You have found Rick's Ramblings, a Web Log.

I have been writing in this space for a few years now. Visit the archives to get a feel for my style.

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More Rick Umali web sites at:

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The World
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Email: rickumali@gmail.com

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Saturday, October 25, 2003
Friday, October 24, was Take Back Your Time Day.

This grass-roots "movement" attempted to make a dent (or at the very least, make a scratch) in the well-rooted mentality of working "extra hours", or long hours. I applaud such a movement.

At my former employer, Open Market, I was a classic "long hours" guy, especially in my last few years. I often gutted out fifty, sixty hour work weeks. On top of that, I added more hours by being "on-call" after work (I was a customer support technician for an e-commerce system). I have missed my wedding anniversary by being on a customer visit. I have worked draining technical issues ("help, my system is down!") at nearly every holiday. When I was promoted to management, the hours didn't go down, but they changed into an even more stressful version of my "individual contributor" years.

I had the occasion to read my diaries from those years. There were plenty of entries in big, angry letters: "I'm so SICK of working!" and "I'm so TIRED!". I was loyal, but I was burned out. So I had mixed emotions when the company, in a steep downward spiral, decided to transition the product I supported overseas. I volunteered to be laid off (there were incentives). Three days before the lay off date, my daughter entered the world. My work life abruptly ended, and it was incredible.

I didn't work for the next two months (eleven weeks, actually). I lived on severance and unemployment checks. Mia was her own "after-hours" operation, but it was a stress and pressure that I could share with Jenn. While I was jobless, I began to write this BLOG in earnest. I read. I avoided wearing shoes. I watched movies. I put up rickumali.com. I had so much time. But I knew I couldn't "stay on the beach" forever.

In June 2001, I rejoined the work-force, at another technical support gig. The customers, however, weren't working on "live" systems. They were developers, working on future systems. My hours could be regular, and there was no after-hours support. After a few weeks of adjustments, I found myself working exactly between 9 and 5. Sometimes earlier than 9. Rarely later than 5. I was rigid about when I left the office. I managed my workload so that by the time the 5 o'clock hour arrived, I was headed out the door.

As a result, my days have achieved a relatively peaceful and pleasant routine. I get home by 5:45 PM. I have dinner with Jenn and Mia. On the weekdays, I put Mia to bed. Then I do clean-up and laundry chores. By 8:30 PM, I settle in for television (a DVD, or sports) or run out to see a movie (my resolution this year). Sometimes I do some computer stuff, or Internet stuff. I try to get in some reading and writing.

Working 9 to 5 life has improved my work productivity. I try very hard not to slack off at work. I push myself in those hard hours (between 2 and 5PM), when the tendency is to slow down (I'm a morning person). But when 5 o'clock arrives, I am able to put down my work, and save it for tomorrow.

I feel like a hypocrite because when I was in management, I often gave more credit to folks who put in extra hours, who put in extra time. Heck, I called some part of my group for a Sunday afternoon training session. Sunday! My mores have changed, I suppose.

The premise of Take Back Your Time was to bring attention to the culture of overwork. Political solutions would be wonderful, but I believe overwork starts with the individual. We should look at ourselves closely if we're working a lot of overtime. And if we are, then what would it take for us to scale back, to take back our time?

Thursday, October 23, 2003
The last three movies that I've watched have been in the theater. This means I haven't watched a single DVD since August!

It was snowing this morning. No accumulation. Just a variety of snowfall (heavy, light, slushy, icy) for my commute into work. The snow persisted into the late morning, then petered away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
I watched Mystic River two nights ago. It was my tenth movie in a theater.

Mystic River was originally a mystery novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer from Massachusetts. Clint Eastwood, the famous actor and now director, bought the film rights, and transformed Lehane's novel into a compelling film. It was a very satisfying adaptation, expertly done by screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

The buzz about this movie was strong for folks living in New England. Eastwood decided to shoot on location, since the setting of the novel was in an area near Boston (Southie). I had read the newspaper reports and made a mental note to see this when it came out.

The novel is a police procedural, but it is also a terrifying look at how child abuse can reap something sinister. It's also a terrifying look at revenge. Lehane's novel captured my imagination quickly. The characters were well rendered, and the action and mystery were sufficiently drawn.

The movie is in acting showcase. There were super performances by Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as detectives. The acting by Tim Robbins as a man struggling with his abused past was frighteningly good. Sean Penn's performance as the father who moves from grief to anger to coldness is awesome to see. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney were also noteworthy. (Everybody tries the infamous Boston accent; I liked Robbins' take on it.)

The movie moves very deliberately. I kept thinking how simple, how sparse everything was: the photography, the editing, the dialogue, the sets. Nothing was out of place to jar you out of the Lehane's world. As a reader of the novel, I felt this movie captured the essential emotions of the novel, which for me was the real miracle.

The climax in the novel was a stunner. Bad things happen to good people. And bad things happen to bad people. Lehane's novel doesn't flinch, and because of this bravery, there's a powerful impact. I was left shaking my head at the end of the book: Oh my God. Thankfully, the movie doesn't flinch either.

Sunday, October 19, 2003
I feel as if I'm now fully recovered from the awful Red Sox loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. I won't rehash the details here. Suffice to say, the loss hurt. To some extent, this loss baptizes me into Red Sox Nation.

Having grown up completely oblivious to sports, I had no allegiance to the home town teams of my youth. Instead of becoming a Yankee fan or a Mets fan, I spent my Jersey City, New Jersey childhood geeking out in front of computers.

In 1986, the year the Red Sox lost the World Series, I was rooting for the other team, the New York Mets. I was a freshman in college, and there were partisans from both New York and Greater Boston. I rooted for the Mets because my youngest brother was rooting for them, and because (hell) I was from the area.

Fast forward five years. I moved to Boston in 1991, and I finally went to see my first professional baseball game in that holiest of destinations, Fenway Park. I knew as soon as I saw that beautiful park that I wanted to know everything about this sport and about this team.

I spent the next few years learning baseball under the tutelage of Boston Globe columnists. I read as much as I could about baseball and the Red Sox. The Red Sox teams of the 1990s were good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to take the final prize.

I learned the cursed lore of the Red Sox, the Babe Ruth trade, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and now (sigh) Aaron Boone. However, since 1991, I haven't been emotionally hurt by the team until last Thursday, the final game of this glorious season. I was devasted.

The fog of that loss is receding now. I am starting to take in other sports (so many teams in Boston). I'm starting to think about movies again, and to pick up books that I put down at the beginning of the baseball post season. And, yes, I have tuned into a few innings of the World Series, but I still feel a twinge of bitterness.

I am glad that we have a winter to rest and regroup. There will be time for baseball again next year.