|Newer page:||version 7||Last edited on September 5, 2016 10:19 am||by PhilHollenback|
|Older page:||version 6||Last edited on August 4, 2016 12:35 am||by PhilHollenback||Revert|
I took this picture in February of 2009 and I want to tell you about what was going with my mental state on when I took it.
2009 was the beginning of the end for me in a lot of ways. I had moved back to California from NYC in July of 2008 and taken a job at Yahoo, largely as a last-ditch effort to appease my then wife. After a few months it became clear that things were not getting better. Our first son was two years old at the time, things weren't going great in New York, and I was desperately trying to figure out how to survive an abusive marriage with a mentally unstable woman. I had not yet discovered how Wellbutrin could help my depression so I was in a very low place.
To add to the stress, I had just had my first review at Yahoo and was basically told that I needed to do better. My boss was a kind and understanding person but I could tell that I was not living up to expectations. There had just been a layoff at Yahoo and I was frankly surprised that I wasn't let go. My manager had faith in me and for that I am eternally grateful (thanks Mike!). In time I would go on to be a senior engineer and a very competent manager at Yahoo, ultimately staying there for six years, but at the time I felt like a complete failure in my career.
The Yahoo campus is on the edge of the San Francisco bay in Sunnyvale. That far south, there's not much of the bay to see - just the remains of salt ponds and the Sunnyvale sewage plant right next door.
One benefit of the campus location was that it was next to a series of trails that ran around the old salt ponds and up and down the bay. You could walk out of the parking garage and in five minutes be out on the water, surrounded by marshland and birds. It was the ideal place to go if you were the sort of person who found solace (and escape) in walking.
I remember this day very clearly. Every morning, I would take the train from San Francisco to Mountain View and then take a Yahoo shuttle bus to the campus. Sunnyvale is always exactly the same - 72 degrees and sunny. It's hard to keep trak of the passage of time when you are there.
On this particular day I had spent a few hours in my cube working on some sort of relatively meaningless project. I felt my life was a complete failure. I had failed in my marriage, I had failed at my job, and I had failed in life in general. I was at a very low point. Not suicidal, but as close to giving up hope as I had ever been. I could think of no way I would ever be able to get away from my abusive wife, and I had nowhere to turn. I loved my son but felt like I had completely failed him. In that mindset there was no way I could do any useful work in the office so I just said fuck it, I'm going for a walk.
I wandered out on the trails behind Yahoo for a good hour or so, barely thinking about anything. I found a radar tower out in the wetlands which presumably is part of the nearby San Jose airport. For some reason I was just struck by the alienness of this modern but also somehow dated technological relic in the middle of a swamp. At the time I still had my Treo 650 (first smartphone I ever owned). It took pictures, but it took really, really terrible pictures. I got it out anyway and snapped a few shots of the radar tower as I wandered in the wasteland.
I must have spent at least two hours out on the trails behind Yahoo that morning. I distinctly remember being in a daze the whole time. Whether that was because of my lack of sleep due to the psychological warfare my wife subjected me to on a nightly basis or just a general malaise I don't really know.
Something happened to me that morning out in the swamp. I think in a way I gave up while at the same time deciding to continue to fight. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but somehow I snapped, surrendered to the failure of my life, and began to think about the future. It would be another two years before I was finally able to start the divorce and another year after that I got the restraining order against my ex-wife that finally got her out of my home, but I somehow started the process that day.
I decided I was going to fight to reclaim my life, and that's what went on to do. I didn't even understand that day how I had planted those seeds, but looking back on it that is clearly what happened that anonymous day in February of 2009.
That Treo 650 didn't have bluetooth or any simple way to transfer pictures off the phone, so it was probably a few days until I got around to doing something with the pictures. I would have taken the SD card (that's SD, not miniSD or microSD) out of the Treo, plugged in it to a reader, and finally pulled all the pictures off the card and onto my mac. I remember being immediately struck by how weird the pictures looked. The Treo of course had a phenomenally poor camera, like every other phone of that era. For some reason on that day in the marshes, it decided to distort all the colors in the photos it took. I don't think that phone ever did anything like that before or after. The picture you see at the top of this page is the picture I got directly from the camera, with no image processing.
I titled that picture 'Fevre Dream' because of the trancelike state I was in for those several hours. Well, to be fair I also used that title because I had just finished readiing George R. R. Martin's 'Fevre Dream' about vampires in the civil war, and I thought 'Fevre' was a cool way to spell it.
Anyway, that's probably beside the point. Ultimately this picture captures a moment in time, as all photos do. It just happens that this moment was a particularly important one for me.
I'm still here and I'm still fighting.