500 Words on Outrage

Between the political landscape and my personal situation, it’s very tempting to just type out the word “AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH” 500 times and be done with it. It’s also tempting to just fire up a video game and try to forget about the things that are taking up space in my brain and making me froth at the mouth.

However, no amount of playing cards, rolling dice, or escorting payloads contributes to the solutions of the problems at hand. And even if I spend my time writing fiction or working on programming tutorials and projects, there’s a nagging voice inside of my head telling me that my time should be spent finding more work, or doing something about my country’s political situation, or fighting for the rights of others. You know, addressing the stuff that makes me angry.

Anger, as an emotion, can get a bad rap. I remember Yoda saying in the first Star Wars prequel “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” as if there’s always a linear path that emotions take. Anger is almost always spoken of in negative terms. After all, anger fuels a lot of negative or violent outbursts.

But as with so many things in life, the proper application of anger can get a lot done. Anger is a problem, as are its causes; what matters is how we use that emotional energy to create some sort of solution. It motivates us to finish more projects, to put forward better behaviors, to act in defiance of injustice. Sure, there are those who subscribe to false narratives and let their misinformed anger push them to make bad decisions. But I’d like to think, optimist that I am, that those folks are in a small (but very vocal) minority.

I get little bits of hope, here and there. Seeing people come together in solidarity to fight back against abuse. Social media exchanges of trying to reach a mutual understanding in a civil discussion. Servants of justice constructing their cases to take down the wicked. A phone interview. A comment on Ao3. A hug and a kiss from a loved one. Play of the Game in Overwatch.

It quiets those annoying head weasel voices that try to convince me I’m wasting my time and getting nothing of substance done. I have to look after myself, stay on top of my mood, and keep from falling to pieces. It’s self-care. It’s necessary.

I have a lot going for me, when I stop to look at it. There’s a lot of love in my life. I’m in a safe place. I’m trying to keep an eye on my diet and what little income I’ve actually got, and doing my utmost not to be a drain on my family or friends.

The outrage remains. It bubbles under the surface. It seeps out through cracks in my veneer.

But at least it’s not exploding. Because nobody deserves that.

I’m using my anger; I refuse to let it use me.

WordPress PHP PayPal Payout Helper Class

View on GitHub

At-A-Glance

Platform: WordPress
Language: PHP
Keywords: RESTful API, PayPal, eCommerce, WooCommerce

Overview

We live in an international, interconnected world. We work for one another on all sorts of solutions. And we all want to get paid for our work, right? Right.

It’s not uncommon for people to use a CMS like WordPress to advertise, facilitate, and implement their business. And when doing so, an eCommerce platform handles all of the sales, taxes, and so on. But what if we’re not paying for a product, but rather providing payment to another person for a service rendered?

The client in this example is running a business in Australia, and connects those needing professional SEO services with qualified freelancers. The desired solution would not only ensure the proper flow of payment from the former to the latter, but also automate the process so that recurring contracts with a monthly or bi-weekly payout schedule would take place without requiring manual input.

Approach

The prevailing idea was to have a solution that was as seamless as possible with current WordPress and WooCommerce functionality. The modularity of WordPress and, by extension, WooCommerce means that new classes to handle a situation like this can be added onto the platform is relatively straightforward. With that in mind, I worked to craft a class that drew the information required from existing sources, work it through the PayPal API, and update all of the pertinent data without interfering with other processes.

In most instances, this is a process that is done manually. By automating things, we could make the work of the client more smooth, provided that we could ensure the success of these transactions should they run automatically as a CRON job based on whenever the appropriate payout should be made, as well as checking for the proper currencies on payout.

Result

Thanks to the functionality of WooCommerce and PayPal, the incoming currency was the only type that requires a callout. Once the recipients information is entered and the transaction started, PayPal handles the rest. However, giving it the incoming currency is crucial, in that PayPal is informed that default currency values should not be used.

Then, it’s a matter of making sure the correct credentials are culled for both payer and recipient from the WordPress database. This information is entered by both parties as part of their registration for the site. The class consolidates this information and, along with the currency type and amount, facilitates the transaction.

500 Words on Job Hunting

One thing I didn’t anticipate when I moved to Seattle was how competitive the job market would be outside of the gaming industry. I knew I’d be in for a fight if I went straight for video gaming’s jugular. It was something I wanted to get into, for sure, but first had to come gainful employment for which I was already suited and trained. So I started looking for positions as a web developer. That, too, has turned out to be a highly competitive field.

I probably should have anticipated it’d be this difficult. After all, some major companies with healthy profit margins exist out here. It’s natural for people, especially younger professionals, to scramble and fight for the positions that would be available. I wasn’t adequately prepared for that. Years later, I’m paying the price.

It’s taken me a rather long time, but I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that if I’m going to be employable to a degree that will support my partner and my distant family, I need to catch myself up on what I’ve been missing in terms of development and programming. As much as I want to get paid for writing novels and making games, my imagination doesn’t need the refreshers that my knowledge of languages like JavaScript and PHP do. Plus, there’s quite a few new languages I’d benefit from picking up — Python, TypeScript, C#, and so on.

I can’t afford to take classes, especially since my unemployment ran out months ago. So I’m on my own, using tutorials and code examples forked from GitHub and posted on blogs. But I’m making progress. I know that some people go into positions like the ones I’m applying for without knowing anything about frameworks like React and Angular. The more I can learn, the more employable I’ll be when I walk into an interview.

The barriers between me and those interviews, at times, seem insurmountable. I’ve sent out dozens, maybe hundreds, or resumes. I apply to jobs on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and CraigsList every single day. I’m working with recruitment agencies. Yet, for all of that effort, since my last contract ended in January, I’ve had three in-person interviews that could have yielded paying work. That, I think, shows just how cutthroat it is out there.

I’m not about to give up. If I have to, I’ll take another office job while I stay on the hunt. But I’m not giving up this hunt. I’ve had a dearth of energy over these previous few months, and with it seemingly to be finally on the upswing, the last thing I want to do is settle for less than I can earn. If I can land the right sort of job, a lot of the problems I’m currently dealing with will be obviated. It’ll free up mental bandwidth to write more, create more, do more. I’ll have to manage my time differently, but there’ll be structure to work around.

My job’s out there. I’ll hunt it down.

500 Words on Going to Seed

This blog has, admittedly, gone to seed a bit.

So much of my energy and time has been consumed with two things: finding a job, and getting/keeping my shit together. That second part is a bigger task than I admit to myself sometimes. I’m not neurotypical, not by a long shot, and there are some days when I simply do not have the bandwidth for leaving the flat, let alone interacting with humans. It’s different when I have a dayjob, a structure; left to my own devices, I spend an inordinate amount of time just keeping myself upright and mobile.

I try not to berate myself or flagellate myself over this or that: not writing more, not cleaning more, not hunting more jobs, not hammering out my own structure. Self-improvement, especially at fundamental levels of thought patterns and behaviors, takes a lot out of a person. I go over things in my head, events from days or months or years past, and put them under a metaphorical microscope to pick out flaws and find things to learn. There’s always something to learn.

If you think you don’t have to learn anymore, then you’ve gone to seed just as much as this blog did.

I’ve seen it happen. People get stuck in their ways. They refuse to change. They begin making assumptions — a friend will always be there, a job is secure and one’s position is unshakable, “I’m one of the good ones.” They don’t consider asking questions: how can I change or improve how I’m doing what I’m doing? What steps can I take to learn more, get more perspective? Who do I want to be, and what has to be done to make me that person, who’s closer to the best version of myself possible?

One doesn’t always have the energy or wherewithal to ask these questions, and act on those answers. That’s okay. The very baseline thing is the intent, the desire to change oneself and one’s circumstances to yield growth and do away with toxicity. Have the conversations, with yourself or with others, that focus on solutions and how you can be a part of them, rather than the problems and who’s to blame for them. Take the time to consider the past, learn from it, and apply those lessons to the future. Pick yourself up and move — physically, if you have to — so you never stop growing.

That’s the way forward. That way lies change.

Not everybody can do it. Not everybody has the self-awareness to realize that change starts with the person we live with every day no matter what: ourselves. It lies within ourselves — not our family, not our friends, not the groups or organizations or bandwagons to which we think we belong — to be true vectors of change and growth. Only through thoughtfulness, concerted effort, and the determination and resilience to see these changes through to their conclusions can we avoid going to seed and truly grow as people.

Give it a try.

The Lessons Within “The Last Jedi”

Be advised: there will be spoilers in this treatise. I can’t discuss what I want to discuss without getting into detail about the plot and the arcs of the film’s characters. Fairly be ye warned.

Before I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I heard about all of the negative takes on it, all of the review-bombing, all of the neckbeard hatred getting spewed all over the Internet. It made me more than a little angry; the troglodytes and trolls who march to the drum of GamerGate and the myth of misandry and the Nazi party simply can’t take a hint, which is frustrating. I resolved to avoid spoilers as much as possible before I finally saw the film.

And now that I have, the vile vitriol of these chuckleheads is just downright amusing to me.

The whole point of The Last Jedi is that we need to let go of our pasts. In order to truly move forward, to be better versions of ourselves, we have to do away with preconceived expectations and deal with the now, in order to build a better future for ourselves and those we love. Above all, we have to learn from our mistakes.

And everybody in The Last Jedi makes mistakes.

Courtesy Lucasfilm

Let’s not mince words, here. The mistakes made by Poe get a lot of people killed. From the very beginning, Poe’s “take the fight to the enemy” attitude costs the Resistance the bulk of their fighting forces. He goes one step further when he disobeys Admiral Holdo’s orders to support her and hold their course. She knows Poe is reckless, that his macho never-say-die swagger and desperate plans are an unknown factor she cannot trust. And that lack of trust got under Poe’s skin so much that he sent Finn and Rose on a wildly dangerous mission and lead a mutiny against Holdo’s command. Poe made his mark in our lives, and in the life of Finn, by being an ace pilot and a bit of a maverick; it is these aspects he must face and overcome in order to grow. He — and we — erroneously believe that those things are always good things, when the reality is that it pays to dial back the recklessness and seat-of-the-pants ‘handsome rogue’ routine when other people are counting on you. That sort of thing, in times of crisis, can be downright toxic or even deadly.

Finn makes plenty of missteps in his own story. He is “a man who wants to run,” and that’s still his first instinct. Granted, it’s to undertake a desperate plan to get the First Order off of the back of the Resistance, but it’s still running away, on his own. Rose intervenes and finds a way to go with him; this does not stop him from continuing to fail. Even after he finally decides to stop running and dedicate himself to the cause of the Resistance — which, incidentally, is why the sequence in the casino matters — he keeps making mistakes. At the climax of the story, he puts himself in a position to make a “heroic” sacrifice in a suicide attempt to destroy a First Order weapon; Rose denies him that, doing serious damage to herself, but “saving what we love” is a better way to seek victory. She’s right, Finn screwed up one last time, and you can tell from the expression on his face that he’s going to learn from this mistake.

Courtesy LucasFilm

Learning from failure is something Luke Skywalker needs to do, as well. He got ahead of himself and operated under the assumption that the old Jedi Order was something that needed to be preserved. In his hubris, he completely mishandled the training of his nephew and gave rise to an individual who ultimately becomes the Supreme Leader of the First Order. He is so struck by the completeness of his failure that he removes himself entirely from the rest of the galaxy. It is only through Rey, her determination to carve out her own place in the scheme of things, and her unflagging belief in the idea of the Force as something that guides and protects, that Luke is shaken out of his depression and forces himself to come face to face with his mistakes. It is only through Rey — whose lessons are reinforced by Master Yoda — that Luke learns from those mistakes and manages to make a difference, saving lives in the process. Even perhaps, in the long run, the life of Kylo Ren.

Few characters exemplify toxic masculinity as completely as Kylo Ren. His power and potential are regarded with fear by his parents and his uncle. Snoke takes him in only to abuse him and exploit him. His alienation and isolation cause him to turn to the memory of his grandfather and the fascist scheme that created Darth Vader. Moreso than Armitage Hux, a power-hungry despot who fetishizes the Empire’s military might and comprehensive brainwashing, Kylo longs to be relevant and powerful. Since so much of his life has been out of his control, he wishes to seize control, and the only way in which he’s been shown to do so is by force. He and Hux both want to be bigger, badder, more powerful, and more famous than their predecessors. If that’s not a manifestation of the alt-right zeitgeist, I don’t know what is.

Courtesy LucasFilm

Is there a redemptive path for Kylo Ren the way there is for Luke, Finn, and Poe? It’s difficult to say. He comes across to Rey as someone who wishes to help her, to become her ally. Partially due to seeking a relationship that is not abusive, and partially because he merely wishes to posses her, he reaches out to her, coming dangerously close to being ‘seduced’ by the Light. Rey, for her part, feels the pull of the Dark Side, the quick and easy path to power that promises to fix all of the problems in her life and in the galaxy. These are two characters who have been tossed about by tides of life far beyond their control, and who wish to make their own way forward. Kylo’s biggest mistake is in trying to tell Rey that his way is best. He both offers her insight and mansplains the Force to her. He does everything he can to win her over — not necessarily in a romantic sense, but to prove that even in recruiting a follower, in using methods other than abuse and force, he’s better than Snoke.

Rey, for her part, holds onto her belief in herself. She’s always been a person who reaches down into the depths of her own being to find strength, power, and answers. She turned to Luke because the Force was something she barely understood, and he encouraged her to feel it on her own terms to find her own purpose, as he did when he was young. It occurs to me that if he’d taken this approach with Ben, rather than adhering to what Jedi Order teachings he was trying desperately to preserve, things might have been different. But having made that mistake, he tries to learn from it and gives Rey the instruction she needs — the answers lie within oneself, in our own light and darkness, and it is we who must make the choices that decide the course we take. To Rey, discovering that the Force is not unlike the path of self-reliance that’s guided her until this point is the sort of epiphany we all seek — it’s as simple as it is empowering.

Courtesy LucasFilm

I know that I’m not the first to see The Last Jedi in this way, but I hope that in taking things point by point, character by character, I can illustrate why I feel this is a better film than Empire Strikes Back — it has more to say. To me, the best science fiction, even a fantastical space western where people hack off each other’s limbs with laser swords, says something about our society at large. If anything, Empire Strikes Back is a time capsule that latches onto the fears of its time. The characters are betrayed by friends and crushed by enemies. But these are things that happen to them, not because of them, with the exception of Luke’s decision to try and rescue his friends. The Last Jedi gives us active characters across the board whose choices, especially their wrong choices, shape the story that unfolds, rather than allowing it to unfold around them. If the story of Empire Strikes Back is one of fear, The Last Jedi is one of determination. And that will always be more empowering and more meaningful than fear.

Poe, Finn, and Luke all become determined to learn from their mistakes, to turn their failures into lessons that can be applied towards making the galaxy a better place. That’s what makes them heroic, not the explosions they cause or the sword fights they have. Kylo is blind to his flaws and failures, for the most part, and that’s what makes him villainous. The film is not merely saying “here is what toxic masculinity is”; it goes on to say “and here is how you can be better than it, if you stop and think and learn how.” Our heroes need to fight themselves just as much as they need to fight their enemies, and as exciting as their face-offs with their enemies might be, their struggles to overcome themselves and their pasts is, to me, far more meaningful.

Courtesy LucasFilm

I love this film. I love that its female characters are strong, determined, and supportive. I love that its male characters are flawed, insecure, and emotional. Nobody’s dumb, and nobody’s a caricature. These feel like real people. You can understand them, empathize with them, and desire to see them improve and grow — even a character like Kylo Ren. “You can be better than this,” I want to say to Kylo, as much as to many other people that have been in my life. “Why aren’t you better than this?”

The Last Jedi, in addition to being an exciting sci-fi adventure, a well-shot and nuanced film, and a worthy continuation of one of the greatest sagas of our time, is a living example of how we can learn from our failures and overcome our flaws. It shows us people, men in particular, who have fucked up and possess the strength and wherewithal to learn from it, to do better, get better, be better. This isn’t just something that applies to us now, even if the film is cast within a certain encapsulation of our current socio-political climate. It’s a timeless lesson, one that I myself have had to learn, and that will never lose its edge or its power as we move into a future that, one hopes, is better and more prosperous than the past we will, and must, leave behind.

Courtesy LucasFilm

That’s the whole point of it. Learning from our mistakes means letting go of our past. Stop fetishizing those things you hold dear, stop falling back on old habits and lines of thought, stop trying to force the world to conform to your point of view. Instead, look within yourself at your failures and flaws, learn what you can from those choices, and dedicate yourself to overcoming the obstacles you’ve created for yourself on a path to being a better person. Only then will you make the world a better place. You won’t do it by screaming at everyone else how wrong they are about things and calling them names.

As much as I laugh at the enraged fanboys, I can’t help but pity them. They completely miss the point.

That, to paraphrase Master Yoda, is how you fail.

Learn from those failures, or be defined by them.

It’s your choice.

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