Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump into the Abyss

Some thoughts on Quitting my Job

I'd been working with the same company since I dropped out of a master's program as the result of a nervous breakdown turned suicide attempt and desperately needed a job. I started in game QA, then popped over to production, thinking it was one step closer to working on actual game design. The production work was fun but extremely taxing. After a few years and some disenchanting experiences that were consequential to creeping up the corporate ladder while working for a publisher rather than a studio, I wanted out. When I started at the company, I was still very active creatively - I would routinely draw, write, read, and play video games. That declined over time until I mostly just had the energy to play competitive arena combat games in my downtime. That said, a solid desk-job was good money, and I had a mortgage to pay. I wanted to pursue my interests further, but was too afraid to strike out on my own. 

Eventually, I became frustrated enough with my desk-job in production that I decided to find a less demanding testing job to pay the bills and free up my time. When I explained my plan to my manager, my company was kind enough to let me transfer to a testing job internally. It was good but not particularly filling work. Despite the change, I still found myself neglecting creative pursuits. During this time, my house situation took a turn for the unexpected. My choices came down to engaging in a very nasty legal battle with members of the HOA or selling my condo( and seeing out a slightly less nasty legal battle). I agreed to sell, and the end result was not knowing when I would need a new home, or when I would be paid for the home that I was selling.  People brought out the lawyers and the whole situation became very disheartening and emotionally draining. Near the end of this two year period, Zack and I decided that we would go live aboard a boat. I decided around this time that my next job would be working for myself. I'm nearly 30 - I didn't want to look back on my life in ten years and have nothing to show for it but an uneventful career and a passable sum in my 401k. 

The Road to Unemployment

How do you quit your job? According to the internet, it involves a lot of covering bases and two-weeks timing and writing nice letters to avoid bridge-burning. I'd never quit a job before and have the corporate grace of a half-plucked pigeon with a club foot. Granted, I didn't have a whole heck of a lot to lose, but about half a year in advance of when I figured I'd have my money from the house and we'd have a boat to go live on, I sent a pretty awkward e-mail to my managers. I just explained that I needed to go be a starving artist for a while to fulfill my destiny, and that I wanted to do whatever I could to not leave behind a mess when I left. Fortunately, they were absolutely accommodating. So, I asked questions about benefits and stock options and all of the obnoxious logistics that come into play to figure out the ideal "last day."

Lessons Learned: 

  • Setting an end date: When I committed to leaving my job, I was mentally ready to leave much sooner that I thought I would be. This may just be my personality, but I believe I projected 6-9 months out as my end date and barely made it to the lower end of that. It was difficult to remain engaged with my work during the last few months especially, as I was mentally ready to be working on other things. If I were to do it again, I would have set my goal end date for about half as long as I thought I needed, unless I had substantial projects to keep me engaged.
  • Timing is critical: A three day difference in end dates made a notable difference in compensation, the payout of left-over vacation days, and benefits. If you're considering going a similar route, make sure you understand how your benefits and/or stock options will be impacted before you settle on a date.
  • Plan ahead - way ahead: At my company, left over time off pays at half of the hourly rate. I was able to get the most out of my time by scheduling out all of my vacation well before submitting notice. Once I submitted notice, the company had the option to decline attempts to schedule more time off.
  • What's waiting outside: People like to wish you luck, but don't expect them to actually support you on your creative endeavors. It's not because they dislike you or want you to fail - they're just busy. When I mentioned I was going to go live on a boat and pursue my artistic goals, there was a surprising response. People I had barely spoken to over my tenure popped up to wish me luck and say how excited they were about my new venture and how they looked forward to seeing what I was up to. At most, 5% of these people actually engaged with me in any capacity after I left. This is probably especially true if you work at a large company and have worked there a long time. A lot of people "know of" you, but don't know you. That said, this also applied to many of my "workplace friends". Maintaining friendships once people are not forced to run into you occasionally in the break room requires a conscious effort.

What I'm Doing Now

After leaving my job on August 1st, I started my own little company, through which I'm pursuing a number of interests and establishing (currently tiny) income streams.  The company, Creaturista, currently has a presence almost exclusively on Patreon and Facebook

Granted, this is a very a-typical business model, where the services I offer are riddle challenges and creature design work. Beyond this, my self-imposed responsibilities are writing these blog entries, writing a high fantasy novel that probably won't see the light of day for at least 2 more years, and improving my art skills. I also do some contract work on the side for design and editing. 

When I'm not working on "work" things, I've been pouring most of my free time into learning more about the boat life, learning Japanese in earnest, planning my impending wedding, and reading.

Taking the Starving out of "Starving Artist"

In my case, I didn't go into business for myself to make money. My intention is to make enough to live on and pursue my interests. Tossing out the promise of a paycheck, a substantial healthcare package, 401K matching, and all of the other niceties that come with office-life for the promise of... well, nothing but freedom, really - it was not a decision that came easily.

Thanks in large part to my upbringing, I am very financially conscious. When I received a raise, I might get a few things to treat myself, start a new hobby, or maybe eat out a little more often, but the bulk of the money would go to savings of some form and bypass my wallet. When I was in school, I made most of my own meals, bought most of my clothes secondhand or from discount stores( or just wore old ones until they wore out), and had few expenses aside from utilities. These habits mostly followed me into adulthood.

The condo I bought was bank owned and sold as-is before the market had fully recovered from the 07-09 recession. It was a good deal, despite the years of stress it brought me. I poured pay raises and bonuses into building equity, expecting that I'd need it for future repairs. By the time that I was forced to sell, the real estate market had shifted dramatically in Seattle, and I made back my equity and then some. We had enough to buy the boat outright and a stash to live on, cheaply, while I found my footing as a new business owner. Living off of savings is something I've never done before, and it is strange to be making this sort of investment in myself.

The "As many hours as I feel like" Work-Week

Most days, I wake up with nothing that needs to be done. I don't need to catch the 7:15 bus, or pack a lunch, or even put on pants, for that matter. Nearly all of the deadlines in my life are now self-imposed: I need to finish a blog entry by the end of the month because I want to. Certainly, this is a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it's incredible to have the freedom to drop whatever I'm doing at the moment and learn that there is, in fact, a freshwater seal species. Who knew?! Probably a good chunk of Russia, it turns out. I may spend entirely too much time thinking about seals (Don't judge me!). On the other hand, it can be appalling to realize that I just wasted 3 hours dinking around with facebook and Reuters on my phone because I was having a crappy morning and couldn't find the motivation to be productive.

Setting goals and a rough schedule allow me to keep things more or less on-track. Even though I rarely follow the schedule to a tee, having spent time thinking about the goals that I want to accomplish helps me to refocus when I am unmotivated. 

I tend to find the months of October and November particularly challenging from a mental health standpoint. It might be the changing of seasons, the stress of impending holidays, the lack of sunlight, or all or none of these factors, but during this time of year, I tend to be at my most sulky and depressed. Has it gotten better now that I don't have to go into an office and be surrounded by people all day while I'm at my worst? Yes and no. 

I still feel horrible for stretches, and it can be difficult to get out of bed. Not because I'm tired, but because the thought of attempting to do anything feels pointless. It's also easy to feel isolated when you don't necessarily interact socially with others every weekday. That said, I can afford to have unproductive days. When I spend a sulky day wasting time or doing nothing at all, it does not cause the same stress that sitting at my desk and barely scraping by during a funk would. In fact, this lack of stress enables me to be more productive when the fog does lift. Removing myself from the workplace and breaking my routine has not changed much about how I feel, but these moods are easier to manage with my current situation.

Nowadays, my productive hours start at 10 or 11 and end by about 6 or 7, with lunch somewhere during that time. Some days, I'll end up working later, and other days not at all. Often, work gets done on weekends. Running errands and fetching groceries take up time, as do sailing and finding firewood. 

Writing this, and really thinking about it, it's hard to believe that only three months have passed. It feels like it must have been at least six months. This has been a very busy year, and all that said, it's been very fulfilling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - Some Assembly Required

On July 1st, Blackthorn arrived at Seaview Boatyard, set to be relaunched on July 5th. On July 13th, we moved aboard with all of our belongings. Shortly after, Robin and Jackie headed back to Europe to look for Blackthorn's replacement.

A Boat out of Water...

still looks ridiculous to me. But, the boat arrived right before the 4th of July Weekend and the boatyard was closed for the holiday. This meant several days of Blackthorn sitting up on blocks without any rigging. The Sir was out of town for work until Sunday the 3rd, the same day that Robin and Jackie would be arriving to help us get Blackthorn back in working order. On Saturday, I bused over to the boatyard, climbed up the ladder strapped to Blackthorn's side, and had a heck of a time remembering how to open the companionway. A boat's companionway is designed to be secured from the inside or out with a variety of latches on either side and a sliding top that can also be latched into position. Thankfully, no one was around to watch me try to break into my  own home.

Inside Blackthorn, I eventually found a very confused and sleepy bumblebee tangled up in the companionway's mosquito-netting cover. However, the immediate impression was that I had just teleported myself across an entire continent and stepped down into a place that existed in Portsmouth, Virginia. It felt very unreal to be standing several feet off the ground in a deserted boatyard, removing dust-covers and tidying up our new home. There were bags with sails in them on the settees, the gaff and several other long poles occupied the floor on the starboard (right) side, and the walls and bookshelves were practically empty. In similar fashion, the deck was covered in rolled up and secured sections of galvanized wire rigging. 

On Monday, all four of us met at the boatyard and went over Blackthorn, figuring out which tasks needed to be taken care of before she went back in the water. Some bits of anti-fouling were coming off and needed to be reapplied, the mast and boom needed a thorough scrubbing to remove road-grime, seacocks needed greasing (What the heck is a seacock, you ask? Keep on reading!), the prop needed some protective grease, and for the most part, the rest needed to be done once she was back in the water. 
Seacocks and Cooking with Jet Fuel 
Unfortunately, seacocks are neither aquatic fowl nor an awesome euphemism. Instead, they're valves that are put on thru-hull fittings (a fancy word for holes in your boat). As an example, Blackthorn's diesel engine uses raw-water cooling. Similar to how a car's engine has cooling water that runs to a radiator to dissipate heat, the diesel engine has a seawater thru-hull which brings water in so that it can go through a heat exchanger, cooling the engine, then out the back of the boat. Seacocks are a common point of failure and are notorious for seizing up, so they need to be greased and exercised regularly. 
As for the jet fuel, our boat has a Taylor cooker with 2 burners and an oven. It's designed to run on kerosene, but our boat god-parents let us know that it runs cleanest on jet fuel, which is what we currently have in stock. Before Blackthorn even went back in the water, Jackie gave me a lesson on refilling the cooker's tank. The cooker itself is quite unique in its operation if you're used to propane and/or electric, and I plan on writing about it specifically at a later time. Thankfully, refilling it is as simple as hand-pumping fuel from the storage tank in the bilge into a little jerry can. It can then be poured into the cooker's pressurized tank, which must be pressurized by hand-pumping. The only downside to this is that the pump can only be easily reached with my left arm. I have weak nerd-arms and am right-handed, so it takes a while. 
In transit, four patches on the hull had been polished smooth where they sat on the supports. These would need to be roughed and re-painted before launching again, but due to environmental restrictions in the boatyard, we could not do the work ourselves. The antifouling paint contains a large amount of copper, a natural biocide. This works great for keeping barnacles off of your hull, but too much copper finding its way back into Puget Sound gives the local wildlife a rough time. We took care of the tasks that could be performed while she was on land and then turned in for the night. 

We showed up to the boatyard early the next morning. After a long weekend of being nearly deserted, the yard was lively with workers taking care of various tasks. The mast and boom were lifted aboard using a crane, a painter came by to take care of the patches on the hull, and before we knew it, the boat was being loaded up onto the travel lift. It was about this time that they said they needed me in the office to take care of paperwork (and paying bills). In the general confusion surrounding the holiday, things hadn’t been entirely squared away, so I spent the next 10-15 minutes sorting out the invoice. The entire boatyard visit came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, which wasn’t unexpected but was still a large sum to swallow. 

Blackthorn, about to take her first Pacific plunge.

Blackthorn was lowered into the Pacific and Robin, Jackie, The Sir, and his brother climbed aboard while I finished getting my card run. However, when they tried to turn the engine over, nothing happened. We’d checked the voltage on the battery the day before and hooked up the solar panels, and everything had seemed to be in order. So, ropes were tossed and pulled and Blackthorn was pulled up to a dock where we weren't exactly supposed to be. We plugged in and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the diesel glugged and grumbled to life after a short refresher, and we were on our way. Robin helmed Blackthorn to her new slip just a few minutes away in the marina and the real work of recommissioning the boat began.  

Fiddling for Days

Thankfully, our slip neighbor was gone, and we’d ended up with a 50 foot slip due to an overwhelming lack of availability. This allowed us to angle the boat diagonally and leave the masthead dangling above the finger pier where it could be easily worked on. Everything needed to be put together in a very specific order. Electrical systems had to be disconnected so that rigging lines could be looped over the top of the mast and slid down, the crosstrees (the two little boards sticking out to the sides well up the mast) needed to be reattached, but not before they were re-coated with cetol and some of the rigging was slid down past their fittings. I may have mentioned this previously, but Blackthorn has A LOT of lines. And backstays and shrouds, and so on, and so on. We would put things together, then realize that a vital piece had been missed, and so take them back apart and reassemble them. At one point, I'm fairly sure I had reassembled the masthead light three times in the course of a day. 

Sliding the stay hoops down the mast.
Our very mess deck.
Up close and personal with the masthead, minus several lines.
Some of the many wires and lines running to the top of the mast.

After 3 or 4 days we were ready to raise the mast. We’d attached all the lines and taken care of filling some no-longer-used holes with epoxy, and touched up spots that needed a coat of protective cetol and some rust spots that needed painting. We brought The Sir’s brother along to help, and the lot of us were able to walk the mast back far enough that the base would rest over the tabernacle - the big metal fitting that holds the mast to the deck. We then set about raising up the a-frame. This large tube of metal is incorporated into the Wylo II for the purpose of allowing for the easy raising and lowering of the mast. On a boat without it, you normally step the mast using a crane. Using a block and tackle, we brought the a-frame perpendicular and then attached the forestay, a piece of rigging which normally runs from the crosstrees on the mast to the a-frame. The ship’s windlass, normally used for raising and lowering the anchor, then attaches to a block and tackle on the a-frame, and as the a-frame is pulled back to its original position, the mast is raised. 

The a-frame all set up and ready to go. 
I operated the windlass while The Sir kept tension on the line running to the windlass. So, mostly I was pressing a button and watching to make sure the plethora of cables, wires, and ropes didn’t become terribly tangled as they went up. Once the mast was vertical, we ran a large bolt through to secure it and went about securing the stays, large galvanized wires which help to stabilize the mast. This was about the time we collectively realized that we had screwed things up majorly. 

The ascent begins!
The mast-raising in progress.
Watching the lines and rigging for tangles.
Securing the tabernacle. 
On each side of the boat, two stays run from the cross trees to the deck. Each set of fore and aft stays are connected to each other by the pinrails, literal rails with metal "pins" that lines are secured to. Each stay has a large hoop at the end that loops over the top of the mast, and all four stay hoops stack onto each other. When we tried to secure the other ends of the stays to the deck on the port side, it quickly became apparent that one stay wouldn't reach. We had somehow managed to stack the stays in the wrong order. And that's how we ended up taking the mast back down, and disassembling and reassembling a fair number of parts before putting it all back up again. Needless to say, it was a disheartening realization, after finally getting the mast up.

Robin holding up the stays with pinrails.

We did eventually get the mast up, in any case, and then were able to begin working on a multitude of other tasks: securing and tightening rigging, putting on the sails, and much more. Robin and Jackie had some boats to check out and another Wylo II owner in the area to meet, so they headed out for a few days. In the meanwhile, The Sir and I wrapped up what tasks we could and enlisted The Sir's family to help us get moved aboard.


The initial moving day left us without any open horizontal surfaces on the boat. All of the settees and births were populated with bags and tubs and boxes of stuff. It took about two days to figure out what to stow where for the majority of our belongings. The Sir dealt with the items that would reside below the forward berth, while I sorted through how to organize the contents of the lockers under the settees and in the galley. Let's just say that I like to be dynamic, and my storage selections are an ever-evolving work in progress. 

Aside from a few items temporarily stowed in a garage, everything fit well enough. In the months since, we've slowly migrated or gotten rid of many of the items that were not moved aboard initially. 

The Little Pipe That Failed

When Robin and Jackie returned, we set to getting Blackthorn ready to sail in earnest. I had to return to my job at the office for a portion of the time. The Sir and Robin spent one of these days installing a new exhaust manifold on the diesel engine. So, I came home from work to learn from them that our engine had developed a pinhole leak in a proprietary part... which we filled with epoxy and taped over as an interim solution. Robin said he would get in touch with the manufacturer in the UK about replacing the faulty part. Thus began our first lesson about engines and home builds. 

Wrapping Up

As is often the case, we managed to have things in good enough order just before Robin and Jackie were set to head out. Parkinson's Law, or something like that. By some act of God, the weather cooperated, and we were able to go out on a sail before seeing them off. Granted, I also came within 3 inches of knocking our bowsprit into the piling at the end of our pier on the way back in, but the image of Blackthorn sailing majestically across Puget Sound is much more romantic. We spent about two hours out on the water with the sun shining and a light wind carrying us along. 

We saw them off and took over Blackthorn's care in earnest. 

Robin, hanging out in the shade.
Jackie, over in the sun. 

And The Sir, split down the middle.
Blackthorn's first outing in the Pacific Northwest.