It's the end of 2011, and I'm writing this from my parents' home in Nanaimo, where I'm visiting over the year-end holidays. If you ask me how this past year has gone, I'd have to say it's been mixed. Some good things have happened; some not so good; and my current situation is what I'd call metastable.
Even though I'm not right there right this instant, in a broader sense I'm "in" Winnipeg now. I moved there at the start of the year to take a postdoctoral position at the University of Manitoba. I'd hoped that this move would let me salvage whatever might still be attainable of the personal and professional dreams that were taken from me during my time in Waterloo.
And on the professional level, the move has helped a lot. I love the people I'm working with. Especially in the last few weeks before I left for this visit, a lot of things started coming together; I'm actually getting work done, not just having "opportunities" - I hate "opportunities" - and to at least some degree it is the case that others besides myself are involving themselves in the things I'm involved in. That's what really matters. This year at work I've been much less in the situation I was previously, of being a lone voice crying in the wilderness. The manekineko on my office shelf is doing her job. It's always hard to filter out the lies and bullshit and figure out the mood of a crowd, but it's also my impression that U of M is satisfied with my work. They found more money and are raising my salary. My student evaluations on the course I taught this Summer were basically favourable.
However, my current job is only good through calendar year 2012. As of 2013, I need to have a new one. My application for a permanent position here wasn't accepted, and I'm not even sure I wanted that anyway. Even if my current temporary job is good and could be extended, I think (without commitment) that doing so would probably be a bad idea. So it sure looks like I have to spend the next year job hunting, and right now I don't feel good about that at all.
I mentioned to one of my friends that I was going to have to find a new job for 2013 and she said "Well, at least with your skills and education, that'll be easy!" and I wish it were true. That was certainly what I was promised when I got the skills and education - a PhD in Comp Sci from anywhere, let alone the University of Waterloo (「カナダの東大です！」, as another friend said), plus my extensive academic and industrial and other experience, all ought to count for something. But it really isn't true. The job market sucks for everybody right now.
One place I find myself is that the jobs that are really at my level have a massive oversupply of applicants. Just being the best isn't enough; I have to also win the lottery. The job I applied for and didn't get at U of M had over 200 basically-qualified applicants for two positions. I'm as good as the best of the others, but I'm not spectacularly better than them, and just being at the highest level isn't enough. And employers with jobs below my level aren't eager to consider me because they know they can't offer me the status I deserve, and therefore they expect that I'll only stay with them temporarily while I'm forced to, while I'm waiting for better times.
I'm starting to think that academic computer science may not be the right path for me. That's a shame because I am good at it, and that world does need me; but I must think of my own needs first, and I need to be in a situation where I'm not a beggar for others' participation anymore. It's scary having to face the possibility of giving up the academic path. I have been forced to think very hard about what I really need from life, and I do know the answer to that, but unfortunately, knowing doesn't help much, and it seems like it is too late for me to actually have the life I have earned. All I can do now is salvage what's left.
Winnipeg has been an improvement from Toronto on the professional level, and a big improvement from Waterloo in pretty much all respects. But Winnipeg has been a step down from Toronto for my life outside of work, and it's for that reason that it may be a good thing I'm leaving after 2012. Winnipeg isn't home. Home is the place where people come to me; and Winnipeg is not that place. Unfortunately, nowhere else is really home for me either. Nanaimo and the West Coast in general are not. I grew up in Sooke and Victoria. Nanaimo is the place my family have subsequently moved to, and I come out here roughly once a year to see them, but I have very little other reason to do so. Every time I visit the coast, I find I have fewer connections and less support here. This time around the health food in particular has been hitting me pretty hard. I made it a high priority to come this year at all, because I wanted to see my grandmother (my last living grandparent) who has suffered some health problems recently. But I think I will plan my next visit to be shorter than the current one.
I would move anywhere if it really - not hypothetically - meant getting what I need both personally and professionally. But that is a damned high standard to set, and it's not clear there's anywhere in the world can meet it. I am profoundly unenthusiastic about the United States of America. This time last year I was thinking that opportunities in the USA might be worth considering after I finished my gig at the U of M; but that "might" was predicated on my optimistic hope that things down there would be getting better, and they have instead gotten worse. I don't think most people understand just how unthinkable the recent US legislation on technology and civil rights actually is. I think I can still say I could consider accepting a job in the USA, but the mere fact that it was in the USA would have to be the last compromise; it would have to mean a real end to begging both professionally and personally, and that's a lot to ask. Most of my contacts with industrial recruiters end with me not even answering their first round of email, because they start out pitching US-based positions and not offering any reason to think that even one, let alone both, of the two essential requirements for me to consider a US-based position would actually be met. Of course, maybe everything will change dramatically for the better in the USA during 2012. Some people expect that. Do you?
For anywhere other than the USA, I might settle for having just one of my essential requirements actually met, and a real expectation on the other. Even that is looking difficult. I don't see much way to have a real expectation of people coming to me on the social level, at the present time, in any place where English isn't the main spoken language. That narrows my choices a lot, because although many overseas jobs are happy to have an English speaker at work, they can't offer me a geographic location where I have a real expectation of not being a beggar socially. It was clear to me during my visit to Japan that I'm not yet at the Japanese-language proficiency level where I could really expect to do better in a Japanese city than in Winnipeg. My proficiency is increasing. Bearing in mind that I need to be popular, not just survive - I've already passed the survive skill level - it's plausible but not likely that in another year I could be okay to consider a job in Japan. I can certainly reach that level within five years, but I'm not willing to wait that long.
My friends in Toronto still think I'm only away temporarily, and will be coming back some day. That is heartwarming, but it remains the case that what needed to happen when I lived there in 2009-2010 did not happen. I could have stayed another two years and chose not to for important reasons. Money is not the issue, but for those who are impressed by it it's worth mentioning that I chose to take a substantial pay cut in order to come to Winnipeg and leave the situation I was in with Toronto-Waterloo.
Still of the places I've been, Toronto came the closest to being home. I'm seriously considering that maybe my plan should be, after my work at U of M is complete, to simply do what it takes to get myself back to Toronto long-term. I think that would mean giving up the academic career, because there just aren't the positions. Even looking for professor-type positions in Canada seems like it may be too much to expect. Fortunately, that's not such a big disappointment: I don't need to have an academic career and would gladly give it up if it meant I could have what I really do need - and if that could be the last compromise.
It's clear to me that what work I do isn't so important to me as the status I have in my workplace. I need to be someone whom people come to, and who doesn't have to run around knocking on doors. "Code monkey" would be perfectly satisfactory if it really met that description; but I still hope that at least I don't end up spending my days writing someone's damn shopping cart. And social popularity (an end to begging; no more "oh, it's what you put into it") would still be a necessity - dropping all the way to code monkey is another of those compromises that would have to be the last compromise, and Toronto was the best social environment I've been in but still not really good enough last time I lived there.
The bottom line there is that I don't know where I'll be headed as of this time next year.
Let's talk about 2011 instead of 2013. My novel Shining Path remains at the query stage. As of a year ago I had just finished the draft and was starting the query process; now, I'm still looking for an agent. I can't claim that I have a lot of enthusiasm for this, but it's something of a necessity. I'm gradually putting together notes for what could be the next book, but I don't think I can really justify what it will cost me to write that one, until the current one is sold. It remains a thought in my head that if the novel does really well and I could make writing novels a significant part of my professional activities, that could be another path to achieving some of my goals that seem to be out of reach by other means. I hope to explore some of those possibilities during 2012. Literary success has the big disadvantage, though, that it's absolutely dependent on the voluntary choices of persons other than me. To the maximum extent possible I want to eliminate, not increase, that kind of dependency in my life.
Off the top of my head, the 2011 travel I remember (besides this current West Coast visit) was CCCG in Toronto, and my multi-purpose trip to Japan. Both were basically successful, and you can dig around in my photo gallery and see the pictures. These two trips each involved my presenting a paper at a conference, and I've also gotten my name onto several other publications. I always wish that my publication list could be longer, but this year has been one of the best on record for that.
Much of my spare time has been going into the Tsukurimashou project, and I'd say it is on schedule. At 776 kanji in basically one year of work, I'm running at a little over two per day, and it's reasonable to expect it to be something like complete in a couple more years. That'll be a heck of an accomplishment and I hope it attracts some attention. Already I've gotten one invitation to visit Poland next year associated with that work, and although it's not so likely I'll have the chance to do so, it can be regarded as a measure of success. I'm hoping that in 2012 I'll work out some way to get some academic credit for this work as well; that will multiply the value of the time I'm putting into it.
In other Japanese-language news, well, I've finished reading the first two Haruhi books in the original, and I can't honestly say that I'm really understanding all the words, but I'm understanding enough that I can not only keep my place in the story given I've watched the anime several times, but I can also sort of get the gist of what's going on even in the parts that don't follow the anime closely. It's really not a huge trick (comes down to understanding just one katakana word) but I was very pleased with myself for recognizing that in the book, they spiked Mikuru's orange juice with tequila. In the TV show they used amazake, which technically has a nonzero alcohol content but it's so low as to not count for the purposes of the no-underage-drinking television censorship rule (which was the reason for the change in the first place) and which made her subsequent drunkenness, though amusing, implausible.
One thing that comes through reading the books in the original, which didn't come through for me when I watched the anime, is just how socially unacceptable Haruhi herself really is to the people around her. Maybe having gone to Japan and having seen the culture close up helps too, but I was noticing this even before I left: from a Western point of view watching the show, okay, she's a bitch, but bitches are basically known to exist, and that's not so unusual or shocking. When I read the books in Japanese, both because the books pull fewer punches (for instance, the text doesn't bleep out what she threatened the computer club with) and because reading the words in Japanese causes me to think in different ways, it's really clear that here is a character whose basic personality and way of interacting with the world are really out of bounds. She comes across as less cute.
I don't know yet whether I'll start book three of Haruhi next, or attempt the first Boogiepop book. I'd really like to be able to read Boogiepop in Japanese, and I have a fair bit of faith in going ahead and attempting books that are beyond my reading level - that's basically how I learned to read English, and I learned a lot of other things along the way - but I fear it may still be too big a jump. I've been reading a few pages on the bus in to work each morning, so I guess I'll just have to see which one I feel like picking up when I head out the door on my first day back in Winnipeg.
I feel strongly about keeping promises and about only making promises that one can keep, and as a result I don't make so many promises as some people do. It is not my usual practice to make "New Year's resolutions." But I do make plans sometimes. Last year I planned to reduce my tolerance for people who treat me with contempt. That seems to have made my life a little better, so I think I'll keep it up, and also (because I've seen this a lot recently) in 2012 I'll be quicker to shun those who hate men. You have been warned. But of course, it's very unlikely that anyone for whom the warning is relevant will have read this far.
And so, 2011 ends and the new year begins. It seems 2012 will be interesting times, one way or another. 今年もよろしくお願いします。