Out with the Old, in with the New

I cleaned my home office this last week. I haven’t given it a really thorough cleaning in a couple of years. It was time to do a thorough “take everything out, scrub everything down, and put the room back together” cleaning. I started on Monday and ended on Saturday, putting in an hour or two of work each day to accomplish one specific task:

  • I had a bunch of filing to do. All the papers that had accumulated as I disengaged from working and engaged in retiring were piled up on the corner of the table. I have said this before but I’ll say it again: retiring is not an easy thing to do; the weak shall perish and only the strong shall survive. I have the paper work to prove it.
  • My office is in a converted bedroom. There is a closet that was filled with “boxes that I might need”; it may be that I’ll regret recycling all those boxes but for now the emotion is one of relief.
  • I have a desk drawer that is an attractor of “decisions delayed”; two hours of sorting and throwing ensured that everything in the drawer had a legitimate home. I could tell you that I’ve made promises to myself to not let it get that messy ever again, but I would be destroying what little trust that we have with each other if I lied to you in such an egregious fashion.
  • I cleaned the windows, the ceiling fan and the floor. I’m sure there’s some witty and clever remark that I can make about these activities but nothing comes to mind.
  • All the wood surfaces in the room got a good dose of furniture oil.
  • I took care of recycling some old technology. There is more about this topic later.
  • I sorted through the books on my bookshelf. This is also important enough to me to warrant a separate section below.
  • Finally, I rearranged the room a bit. And this too gets a separate treatment below.

Our players are a collection of cleaning supplies, a vacuum cleaner, a garbage bag, and four grocery tote boxes. In our household these are called “Red Owl” boxes because we first bought such a box from a grocery store of that same name that has not existed for over 30 years. The past seeps into us like an old stain.

Recycling Technology

For years, three cardboard boxes have occupied my office, each holding a collection of wires, chargers, and other technological debris. Every so often, as was the case this last week, I’m motivated to pick through the contents and decide what should stay and what should be purged. This funeral procession is “quick and casual” with the only sound being the thud of old technology hitting the wall of the tote box that is designated for recycling and positioned on the floor within an easy throwing distance.

The switch to cable for household Internet obviates the need for DSL converters and RJ11 phone cords. Indeed it has been several generations of laptop since I’ve had one that understood and accepted an RJ11 connection. It’s been even longer since I’ve had the need to dial up to anything. I am sure that, with sufficient time and web searches, I could remember how to connect to a service over the phone line but it seems like a waste of my time. There is a multi-purpose printer in the next room is capable of faxing, if it had a RJ11 cable to carry the archaic bit stream from the 20th century. By now the tote box is several inches deep in faded technology.

All of the information devices in the house are now wireless, rendering all of the RJ-45 cables useless, but I kept two of the cables “just in case”. I also kept the four-port Ethernet switch and its attached cables; I did not have the heart to put an item that had given such value to me in the past out to pasture, at least this time. The layers of recycled technology in the tote box grow by another inch or two.

A box of blank floppy disk drives, having survived previous purges, goes into the recycle box. I no longer have any device that read or write such media.

A box of blank writable DVDs survives. I’ve actually had a need for a writable DVD in the last year or so.

Various and sundry “wall wart” chargers join the technology to be recycled in the box of “once-treasured technology”.

USB cables are always of value, at least until a new technology comes along.

Miscellaneous bits and pieces of technology, unable to explain themselves to me, also join the recycle pile.

My heart says that the recycler will find each of these recycled items a good home; my head cautions silently that it is more likely the story will be ugly. Had I been made of sterner stuff I would’ve thrown more items in the box. I’m not sure why I hold onto these bits of technology other than to say to myself, I will be ready no matter what the challenges.

Culling Books

I like books. Over the years I have bought several thousand books. For a long time during my career, I found technical books to be the most effective way of learning new things. For you youngsters out there, there was a time when there was no Google. If you wanted to learn something new, you read articles in magazines or purchased books on the topic in question. I know that you’re gasping in astonishment at this, but bear with me.

It takes discipline to write a book. It takes discipline to read a book. More times than I can count, I have found myself bouncing from one website to another, snatching a glimpse here and a glance there, to get just enough information to solve a particular problem. It is the ultimate in empiricist philosophy: make it work. If you understand why it works, okay. But first make it work. There is an aspect about books that says, you’ll need to do more than just skim. There is substance here and you will be expected to master that substance.

I did a similar purge of books on my bookshelves several months ago, but those books could be fairly characterized as being “old technology” which I would very likely never go back to. This round of purging involved books that touched on “new technology”. This purge represented the dividing line between “maybe I can still do some work in software development” and “that is a past that will not be re-lived.”

For the first time in years, there are no books stacked on the floor and there are gaps in my bookcase. There are other books that I will buy and to some extent they will fill up these gaps. For example, on my last run to Half-Price Books, I spent some of the money for my re-cycled books to replace the 53-year-old thesaurus that I had been using with one that is only 7 years old. But it is likely that the digital nature of today will leave some of those gaps unfilled for a very long time.

Re-arranging the Room

I have had an “office in the home” for several years. Until my retirement, it was a place to store my stuff from work with the expectation that it would be kept out of sight. The office represented a secondary location for work. My “real” work location was at Magenic’s office or at a client’s location. When I came home my home office was a “temporary” place to store my Briggs and Riley roller board briefcase stuffed with everything I needed to survive at a client site

After my retirement, the space became the primary work place. Of course, from time to time I have packed my Surface Pro 3 into my Patagonia man purse and taken up residence in coffee shops. I am writing a novel. I am pretty sure that there is a federal law that requires me to write at least a portion of that novel in one or more coffee shops. I am just trying to follow the rules here.

Because it has become my primary work location, I needed to fix the little things that have irritated me but that I was able to ignore. I don’t have a lot of choices about how I can arrange the room, but I have repositioned the table, the chair and the filing cabinet. This effort does not rise to the level of feng shui but it is better than it was.

A life well lived is a stream of actions, each of which make things a little bit better.

A Sense of Finality

I write about all this because there is a sense of finality to these actions. I’ve gotten all of my medical items switched over to Medicare. I’ve made and implemented all the financial decisions so that I will be comfortable in my retirement. So far as I can tell I’ve transitioned all of the day-to-day ties associated with being a worker bee to a post-retirement world. I am well on my way to establishing a rhythm of activity in my retirement.

Cleaning my office this last week was the final brick in the wall that separates my life before retirement from my life after retirement. It is an event worthy of note.

It is Time to Put Up or Shut Up

The title of the blog says that I am a writer.  And I have written some interesting blog posts. I have have been writing my novel with some diligence. Parts of it are good, parts are only so so, and a few parts are very good.  At least this is my opinion. My wife who has been reading along thinks that some of the chapters are very good as well. That might not matter to you but it matters immensely to me.

At some point in the process the baby bird has to struggle up on the edge of the nest and fly into the sky. Or fall screaming to the earth to die. OK, it has been a long day and my rose-colored glasses are caked with sardonic cynicism. The point of all this is that it is time to show the world some of what I have been working on.

Last weekend my wife and I were visiting in North Carolina. North Carolina is known for its beautiful waterfalls. We went off to visit a waterfall that my relatives had not seen before. It is Pearson’s Falls. It is beautiful. It is about the most non-commercial attraction that I have ever been at. The one item upon which you can spend money on is a $0.25 post card. There is a selection of one. Pearson’s Falls is owned and maintained by The Tryon Garden Club. The link to the web site just a few words back is well worth visiting. They have videos and pictures and much more.

The head of the falls is located in a gorge cut by the water running down from the top of the hill. It is a bit of a hike up the hill (given that the average age of the group was around 74) but we had brought stout shoes and walking sticks and were rewarded with a wonderful morning. I knew from the first few steps that I had to write about the experience. The protagonist of my novel, Eric Stapleton, had to visit this place.

Over the next few days, I drafted and revised a chapter in the book. As is often the case, the contents of the chapter twisted and turned before becoming what it is now. It started out as an inconsequential decoration and became a key turning point for Eric’s development. I had heard other writers (how cool is it that it is “other writers” rather than just “writers) say that the words sometimes go where they want to go, despite the intentions of the author. I had mocked them, “whose fingers were on the keyboard?” That was then, this is now. The fingers may be mine but the ideas that flow through them sometimes seem to come from a dark place deep in the cluttered vault that is my mind. More than once I have marveled at what has shown up on the manuscript screen.

In any case, the chapter can be found at Escape, in Asymmetric Time. While not exactly essential, you can read at the master page for the novel, The Shepherd of Arisa, about some background that may add some seasoning to the chapter. That page has the same link as just above, and will have additional links as new chapters show up.

Please enjoy! I will probably post a new chapter every couple of weeks.  I also may publish some of the chapters of the background “bible” that I am writing to keep track of the world that I am building. My guess is that some parts of the bible will make it into the book but it will be said of the rest of the chapters that “they also serve that stand and wait.”

Confessions of an Off-kilter Soul

I have a new love in my life. I’m not sure that I like admitting this in such a public way but this love is one of a long series of loves. My wife of five decades understands, I hope. But it’s not as sordid as you might think. I am 70, after all, and it’s hard to sustain sordid at that age for very long. My new love, as well as all the old loves (other than my wife, of course), are technological in nature.

When I retired, my plan was to become a writer of fiction. I am doing just that in the form of a novel of time travel. If you’re patient, in a week or so, I should be putting up a sample chapter that is not so entangled with the rest of the book as to be incomprehensible. I am not surprised by the fact, but writing is hard work. I am writing a novel that span several millennia as well as several temporal points of view. The timeline is complicated enough that I had to sit down and write some software to keep track of it. (Yes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! The fact that it was fun to do some programming again had nothing to do with it. Really!) The plotting and the actual writing of words have their challenges but are such fun. What has been the most challenging, in part because it is too much like work, is the bookkeeping .

The book has dozens of chapters. Each chapter has a work flow: dictate, cleanup, check spelling and grammar, read and revise, read and revise, and repeat until most of the crap is removed. Certain chapters need additional attention: Are the time-line dates consistent? Is each proper name spelled consistently? Does the chapter adequately reflect the themes of the book? Have I used enough descriptive material of the senses: sight, sound, touch, and taste? Have I introduced topics in the correct order? How can I associate the links to research and notes about approaches to the chapters that they support? Such is the windstorm that is my writing.

I had spreadsheets and sticky notes and scribbles in my paper notebook to keep track of all this. But all those messy distractions are slinking away into the darkness, defeated by the shining light of my new love.

I have found Scrivener. Scrivener is a software package that is designed to help writers like myself. Scrivener provides word processing that is suitable for writing long form material. The various things about status and notes are all baked into Scrivener. In fact, Scrivener’s so chock full of features that some people regard the package as being too complicated. I spent my life dealing with “complicated” and quite frankly I am reveling in all the goodness that I find in Scrivener. I keep thinking to myself, “I should take care of that particular issue in my writing. I wonder if Scrivener can help me.” I’ve had to do some digging in the documents and some searching of the Internet, but so far Scrivener has come through for me.

I am not going to divulge the details of our evolving relationship; that is not something a gentleman would do. Besides, there is a reason that romance and candle light are so firmly associated: Details tend to derail romance. Each of us has an image of what beauty (or some other ideal) is about; the world is much more comfortable for us if we can overlay what we imagine over the awkward reality that we inhabit. Harsh lights reveal the details that puncture our bubbles of illusion. Only a madman would pursue that line of behavior.

Rather it is the complications of a relationship that make it worthwhile to go on exploring it. One does not stay married for five decades if the story has been fully told in the first two. Scrivener is a substantial program and the effort of creating and exploring a relationship with her, I mean it, promises a long and lasting relationship. I’ve heard it said that “confession is good for the soul”. I have a new love in my life and I’m not ashamed for people to know