Occasionally, while reading or listening to a story, I’m struck by a sentence or a paragraph that is just . . . so perfect, it makes me want to throw out everything I have ever written. Or, alternatively, to fix everything I’ve ever written so that it comes closer to what I have just read/heard.
Today, on my way to work, I was listening to the Glittership podcast, episode 6: “And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness” by Lisa Nohealani Morton (@lnmorton).
The first two paragraphs of the story are as follows.
Great things were happening in the city: spaceports and condominiums and public works projects outlined their soon-to-be-erected monuments to great men and women and superior city living in holographic glows. Angels patrolled the sky, resplendent with metal wings that sparkled in the sun when they banked for a turn. Everyone seemed to be full of exciting plans for the future, but Lila came from a long line of barbers and her humble shop only seemed fitting. She called the shop The Lion’s Mane, because there were lions, once.
It was at this point that I completely lost the story. Not because it was boring or because something had kicked me out, but because of the stunning simplicity and beauty of the world building behind the phrase “because there were lions, once.” My mind wandered, imagining this story’s world. Something called the Collapse and something else called the Great Reboot are hinted at, but the single phrase “because there were lions, once” conveys important things about the character and the world and her relation to it.
It’s wistful and sad (to me, at least), and stated so matter-of-factly that there is no question in the reader/listener’s mind that the character feels this loss deeply. So deeply, in fact, that she has named her barber shop The Lion’s Mane in honor of the once-proud beasts. It tells us that lions are going to matter in this story.
The lion has long been a symbol of strength and wildness. If lions — the apex predator of an entire continent — no longer exist, what kind of world do these characters live in? I personally experienced a sense of loss upon hearing that phrase, as though lions really had been announced to be extinct. (I love big cats probably above all other animals.)
I missed the next half-minute of the story and had to rewind to that point, and nearly zoned out again, but pushed through, and listened to almost all of the rest on my remaining commute. I’m almost done with the story, and the promise of that phrase “because there were lions, once” is being fulfilled. I knew that from the get-go, of course, but this is how a skilled writer does it.
Last year (2014), I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo because . . . frankly, I 1) had no new ideas, 2) wasn’t particularly enthused with the thought of doing it again, and 3) wasn’t sure NaNoWriMo had anything left to teach me.
And this year, I was in pretty much the same mindset. Until.
Three things occurred roughly simultaneously, then a fourth one happened that pushed me to the point where I am right now; i.e., considering doing NaNoWriMo again for 2015. I’m not 100% sure, mind you, but . . . there are processes that are . . . um, processing. In my brain.
Thing the First. I went to WorldCon, thoroughly enjoyed myself (other than the trips to and from the con, that is), and decided pretty much on the spur of some moment or other to go ahead and register not only for the 74th WorldCon in Kansas City, MO in 2016, but the 75th WorldCon, as well. That one’s in Helsinki, Finland, in 2017. I’m quite excited about both of those, actually. I’ve already registered for 74 and paid my dues and all that. I’m applying for a passport in about a month for the trip to Helsinki. I already have flight alerts for both trips set up so I can get good prices. Alternatively, I check the price of driving to Kansas City, MO each Monday to see if it’s more than the price of the flight. If not, I may just drive.
Thing the Second. A friend (Karl) happened to mention on Facebook that registration was open for Paradise Lost 6 Writers Workshop. Paradise Lost is only open to people who have participated in certain other workshops (Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox), or who are a member of Codex Writers. I am both a graduate of Viable Paradise (in 2012) and a member of Codex Writers. So yay.
Once again, on the spur of some moment I wasn’t aware of until it had passed, I registered for it. It’s in San Antonio, TX in April of 2016. I already have a flight alert for the trip set up so I can get a good price. Alternatively, I check the price of driving to San Antonio, TX each Monday to see if it’s more than the price of the flight. If not, I may just drive.
Thing the Second-and-a-Halfth. When I registered, there was the option of registering for the workshop only or the critique track. For critique, you have to read some other people’s submissions and critique them, and submit something for critique yourself. The workshop is in April. On the spur of yet another moment, I threw caution to the wind and clicked on “critique track.”
Which means one thing: I better get my butt in a chair and my hands on a keyboard.
Thing the Third. I started reading — and very much enjoying — Debra Jess‘s wonderful book Blood Surfer: A Thunder City Novel. It’s an urban science fiction . . . fantasy . . . kind of a thing. Basically, super heroes plus romance. It’s very good, so far. I’m going slowly because I’m also reading another friend’s novel at the same time, this one for critique.
Thing the Fourth. A lot of my blog posts contain this phrase, but it is, nonetheless, true: so, I was in the shower . . .
So, I was in the shower and this . . . idea just popped into my head. Not quite fully formed, but my brain decided to dwell on it during my commute to work. And while I was at work. And on my drive home from work. And as I lay in bed that night waiting for sleep. And the next morning. And . . . well, you get the point. And then, this morning, after the spectre of NaNoWriMo had been broached by the Forum Writers (my standing Tuesday night critique group), my brain went into overdrive and I dictated many ideas into my little digital voice recorder on the way to work.
I won’t go into great and glorious detail on what the idea was, but I will give you the first sentence that was what popped into my head in the shower that morning: “Hero Man often wished the press had given him a more . . . well, magnificent name.”
That’s all you get. :)
I will, however, add that all this comes just two short weeks until November 1st, which leaves me very little time to actually plan out anything, which is where my reluctance to commit comes in. Also, my Apple MacBook died. With Scrivener on it. I write everything in Scrivener. So I need to get a new laptop, regardless.
- I keep meaning to post a write-up of what happened at the con. And I have started the posts. But I keep having interruptions. (Stupid work. Stupid real life.) But I’ll get to them. Eventually. Probably.
- Debra was in Viable Paradise with me in 2012.
- I listen to podcasts on the way to and from work. The one I listened to this morning happened to be a back episode of The Round Table Podcast during which the guys brainstormed and workshopped a superhero novel. If I believed in such things, I’d think this was the Universe sending me a strong message. Good thing I don’t believe in that sort of thing. :)
A little past the halfway point of the month, I’m pleased with my progress. An embarrassing amount of stuff has been removed from the room. Some of it books that went into another room. Some of it trash that is still being dealt with. A lot of it needs shredding. And I do mean a lot; there’s no way I could do it with my small shredder at home, so I’m taking it with me to work in small batches and dropping it into the shredder bins at work.
What remains in the room has been put into strategically placed themed piles.
For instance, the computers, the printer, all the cables, keyboards, mice, and other assorted computer-related equipment are all in one corner. The read books are all stacked together. All the souvenirs from cons are together. The bags are all together. The notebooks are all together. The desk toys are all in the same box.
And the Pisa-esque, somewhere-between-two-and-three-foot tower of past critiques perches precariously at the precipice of the portal.
Perusing that will be the most time-consuming part, considering some of it is a novella I wrote, had critiqued, and then promptly lost off my hard drives. But once I transcribe whatever commentary I choose to keep from critiquers long past, the gods of recycling will receive them as my tribute.
I still gotta find places for all this stuff, mind you. But the paper is a huge part of it. And I’m making major inroads on it.
There are also an awful lot (most of a seven-foot shelf) of computer books that are now obsolete. Those probably need to either go away entirely or be donated or rehomed to someone who will use them. Anyone want a Visual Basic 5 book? SQL 6.5?
It’s actually getting harder and harder to FIND things to disposition because at this point “disposition” means “find a permanent storage solution,” and I’m not quite to that point, yet.
As for the other goal . . .
It’s getting there, I think. Every time I run across a scribbled note for the novel (series), I transcribe it in one place and toss the original. I have quite a file of ideas I forgot, a good number of which are really great ideas that I’m going to work in as I write my outline and refine it.
I know the endings of all three books. And the beginnings of two of them. I know a good deal of what’s going on in the world of my story, and realized that I’ve been ignoring a whole category of conflict that, in retrospect, I’ve been just stupid to ignore. I know the motivations of two of my bad guys.
Now I just need to come up with some more case characters and secondary characters to play in my world. The Magical Crimes Unit is a new division, after all, and has to share space with the other FBI agents, some of whom aren’t as friendly as others.
Internal strife. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
And lastly, I’ve cut severely back on my YouTube viewing. I don’t think I’ve watched a single video in about a week. I’ve read, I’ve listened to podcasts, and I’ve wasted time on the Internet in other ways, but I’m definitely scaling back on YouTube.
Onward and upward!
Last night, I was up fairly late catching up on a podcast and some YouTube channels. When I went up for bed, I kept my self-promise to disposition at least one thing in the office. Since I wasn’t leaving again until the morning, I decided to shuffle some things around that I knew would either be staying in the room or staying in the room until later. Call it “consolidation” of similar items.
I moved all of my old computers into one corner. With the old printer and the old speakers, and stacked old keyboards and mice nearby. Shuffled a bunch of boxes of photos to one place. Stacked back editions of magazines together. Stacked books I’ve read together.
Then I came to this box that I knew hadn’t been opened in quite a while, if ever. I think it has been in the room since I moved in, and has had stuff stacked on it since.
Upon opening it, I immediately recognized every item inside. Stuff I haven’t seen since probably 1999 when I moved to Georgia from Alabama.
Without even having to go through each of them laboriously, I knew I had found:
- A spiral-bound notebook from 1983 containing a travelogue I wrote while on a trip to England and France (graduation gift from my parents). Pictures from that trip. Souvenirs from that trip.
- A spiral-bound notebook I used to carry around in high school (ca. 1980-1983) and in which I hand-wrote stories in pencil. It has several in there that I had thought long lost. For the good of humanity, they shall remain so. I was amazingly, overwhelmingly, stupendously fond of utilizing really overly dramatic and annoyingly overabundant abverbs and adjectives back then.
- A spiral-bound notebook containing story notes from a novel I have had in my head since I was about eleven years old, and which eventually became my (unfinished) NaNoWriMo novel for 2008, The Third Prophecy.
As an aside, judging from the writing, I probably should have been writing the story as a screenplay. I did things very cinematically, starting the story with a wide, exterior establishing shot, then zooming in to a medium distance, and finally into a close-up of the character starting his action. That it took me five pages to get there is a testament to how far I’ve come since then.
- World maps I drew of my sci-fi/fantasy world(s) from the larger universe surrounding The Third Prophecy. The alphabet I came up with for the language spoken by one of the races on one of those worlds. Notes I wrote for the sounds of that language and several more. A few rudimentary words in said languages. The numbering system used by the race that speaks one of those languages. (Have I mentioned I was a huge Tolkien fan?) Pseudocode for a computer program to create random words for said language. (Somewhere there exists a program I wrote that, given any number, generates the words to say it in this language. Have I mentioned I’m a huge geek?)
But the pièce de résistance was another spiral-bound notebook in which I had done my “first sentence” exercise from 1995 until I got my first Franklin Planner. Archived in this notebook are probably hundreds of first lines of stories that were never intended to be written. Just looking through them reminded me how creative it felt to do that.
But if I start that again, where to put it? My planner? Evernote? Dropbox? Google Docs? Scrivener? Somewhere else? Heh! The same notebook, nearly ten years later?
Anyway, I look forward to going through these old treasures and finding a proper place to put them. Perhaps the recycle bin is best for some of it.
NaNotWriMo seems a lot easier on the brainpan to try to decipher than my earlier choices for what to call this month.
I’ve kept up with my plan. Every time I go upstairs in my house (where the master suite, including my office, is located), I disposition at least one thing in my office. It has even resulted in me bringing things in from outside the room, but it’s because the things I’m bringing in are part of a set of things that need to be in that room (e.g., writing books). It’s all about the ensemble, see.
Anyway, I can now actually see the top of my desk. As it turns out, there is one under there! And it’s brown! And covered with glass! Hmm. Very dirty glass. I’ll clean it later. It’ll probably get worse again before it gets better (flat surface = a place to put things that are being ‘dispositioned’).
And as far as the other thing goes — the outline — I’ve been making copious notes (in longhand; there’s just something more . . . real, I guess? . . . about making notes by hand instead of typing them). Defining world events and potential conflicts, characters and their flaws, looking for conflicts between and among them. On the way to work this morning, a gaping hole in my world design opened up and let me peer into its abyss. So I have to come up with something to plug that.
Or, alternatively, find a way to fold it into my world in a way that complements what I already have.
But at least that’s progress. I’d rather see those holes now than when my alpha readers get hold of the book and say, “Dude, really? I could drive the Death Star through this hole.”
The vast majority of clutter that’s in my office, by the way, is — get this — old critiques! It’s where I’ve handed out 1500-word segments of my stories to my Tuesday night group (The Forum Writers Group, a.k.a. The Fountain Pen 2.0) and have received back written comments. There are stacks of these going back . . . longer than I’m willing to admit, really.
Although one bonus of that is that I now have the complete text of a novella I somehow managed to completely lose from all my electronic storage. As much as I would very much like to use this as an excuse in support of paper-hoarding, I know that it’s a bad thing.
The recycle people are not going to know what’s going on at my house for the next three weeks.
I’ve also started looking at comfortable chairs for the room. Ideally, I’d like a nice, leather chair-and-a-half with a small end table and lamp so I can sit in there and read. There’s plenty of room if I get rid of the old computers (plural) and rearrange the room slightly.
But I won’t be getting any of that until the room is done. And rearranged.
Whoa, Nellie! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. :) The current light sage color that was perfect in 2001 is too pastel for me, now. I think I’d like a dark mocha. Make it more of a man-cave. With, like, six windows. :-/
What goes with dark, hunter green carpet? (Not my choice; the people who sold the house left me dark, hunter green carpet in that one room.)
A few days ago, I went to a Chinese buffet near my office for lunch. It’s not what I’d call great, but it is fairly good and filling. They have good peanut butter chicken, hot and sour soup, broccoli chicken, garlic and zhà cài (榨菜) green beans, chicken on a stick, and mashed potatoes.
Hey, don’t judge me. Good mashed potatoes are a thing of beauty and one should not look a gift potato in the eyes.
OK, that really took an odd turn.
. . . Where was I?
Oh, right. After I was done, the server brought a fortune cookie. I opened it and got what you see to the right.
Seems like even the cookie is judging me. :)
Since I decided not to write (or edit, as one friend suggested) a novel for NaNoWriMo, I’m trying to figure out what to call November. PeNoNotWriMo sprang easily to mind (Personal Novel NOT Writing Month).
But given my “goal” (for lack of a better word) of making my home office a place where sane people (such as myself) want to be, I might call it “MaMyOffLiMo,” or Make My Office Livable Month. :)
It’s a working title. I’m sure I’ll come up with something far better the instant I press “publish.” :)
Anyhoo . . . one way I’m going about this is that every time I have to go upstairs for whatever reason — laundry, bathroom, book, brushing my teeth, etc. — I go into my office and disposition one or more items of clutter. Disposition means that if I lay my hands on it, I have to decide — then and there — what to do with it: keep it, store it, toss it, donate it. “Keep” means it stays in that room. “Store” means it either goes into storage in that room or another room. “Toss” means it goes either in the trash or in the recycle bin. “Donate” means that I’ll either donate it to Good Will (or someone like that) or find a friend who might want it. Hey, Geoff or Phil, need any airplane propellers? (It’s an extremely inside joke.)
Hint: It’s mostly going to be ‘toss it.’ Probably about 80% of it.
So far, I’ve moved two stacks of read books out of my office and into the “library,” which is one of my guest rooms. Which currently has a whole separate issue with clutter which I can address at another time. One of which is insufficient shelf space for the books I have.
There are old computers (plural) in my office that were last useful when Windows 95 was new. I have floppy disks. Actual floppy (5.25″) disks. I have manuals for electronics I last used when I lived in another state (15 years ago).
It’s time. Oh, yes, it is very much time.
I sincerely doubt I will be posting pictures, because the clutter is pretty horrible and I’m embarrassed by it. But one way or the other, I’ll post a picture at the end of November. There. I’ve said it in public. And now it’s a commitment.
I might have some sub-goals once I’m able to picture the room as it will be instead of as it is.
So. Where have I been? I made all those posts about improving stuff and then, basically, disappeared.
I have made quite a few changes. The first one was ordering the FitBit Flex. I received it in the mail before the last couple of posts went live (I pre-wrote them and had them scheduled to publish). I wore it for a couple of weeks to get a “base level” of sleep and activity, just to see what it would say. More on that below.
I also implemented the sleep schedule thing, where I quit using my alarm clock altogether. The startling innovation was to simply go to sleep early enough that I would wake up naturally in plenty of time to get to work at a decent time. That was the biggest, most wonderful change. I haven’t awakened tired a single time since I did that. The alarm always made me feel kind of logy all day, because it would wake me up in the middle of deep sleep. More on that shortly.
I’ve cut back severely (as in more than 50%) on my YouTube subscriptions. I went through and ruthlessly deleted any channels for which I didn’t automatically think, “I must watch their latest video.” I’ve also added some new ones, but for the most part, they’re shorter videos. And every time one of my remaining subscriptions puts up a new video and I think, “Meh,” I unsubscribe.
I rearranged all of my podcasts into eight categories, and prioritized those so that I have playlists for various activities. The Fiction and Serialized Fiction categories are mostly for driving, since that’s when I can pay deeper attention and I’m not distracted (mentally) by other things. The other categories (General, Writing, Education, Skeptical, Entertainment, and Video) are for when I’m doing other things, such as working or browsing Facebook or whatever. To handle all of the back-issues of podcasts I have sitting on my hard drive, I add one old, unheard episode of each podcast to the proper category so that I pretty much have to listen to all the archived stuff before I get to the new ones. So I’m making good headway on getting through all those back episodes. Plus hearing some great stories and interviews and such along the way.
I did join 750 Words. The site’s owner was willing to work with me on the whole PayPal thing, and I was able to mail her a check for a year’s worth of membership. There’s a slight problem with that right now, and I’m unable to get to the site since May 1, but I’m hoping that will get cleared up post haste.
What I have discovered in all this is that I do not, as I previously thought, sleep seven hours. I sleep until the sun wakes me up. It didn’t seem to matter what time I went to bed, if it was after midnight. I’d wake up when the sun came into my bedroom and thwacked me right in the face. So I put a dark curtain on that window, and that has helped me sleep past sunrise. The earlier I go to bed, the more contiguous, good sleep I get. (Kind of a duh, I know.)
The FitBit has several options, such as wearing it on your dominant or non-dominant hand. Well, thanks to Things (see below), I’ve been wearing it on my non-dominant hand but claiming that it is my dominant hand. I find that it’s not very accurate, but it’s not accurate in a consistent way. So having the base level helps me more accurately define whatever step-based (or distance-based) goal I might want in the future.
But since shortly after I did all of that, everything has been on pause. Back in July of 2013, I fell at work and caught my entire body weight on my outstretched right arm. This . . . did things to my shoulder and elbow joints. Bad things. (Compression fracture in the elbow and torn rotator cuff and tendon in the shoulder.) Exacerbating the healing process is the fact that I am exceptionally right-handed. As I’ve said in other places, if my right hand is Albert Einstein, my left hand is that one weird kid who eats bugs and has conversations with hammers. It has not been a fun nine months.
Because the accident happened at work, I’ve been having to wade through the constant red-tape-laden swamp of dealing with Workers Comp. It took me until after I made my last post to get approved for surgery to fix my shoulder (the elbow healed on its own).
On April 18th, I finally had shoulder surgery. Outpatient, arthroscopic surgery.
After about 3 days — and several doses of the good pain meds — I could type for short periods of time, and over the intervening two weeks, I’ve gotten slowly more able to use my arm for longer periods of time and for things which require more flexibility and strength. It’s not by any means back to normal, yet.
But what this does mean is that my sleep schedule is screwed up majorly because I don’t sleep well on my left side or with a shoulder that hurts if I put it in the wrong position. I can’t write much because my shoulder aches if I overuse it. It’s hard to put on shoes or a belt because of the shoulder muscles I apparently use to tie shoe laces and tighten a belt. I’m getting better, and fairly quickly, all things considered. But it is a process, and so certain things have had to take a back seat.
As soon as I’m able to drive, wear shoes and belts, and work again, I should be able to put some of these other planned things into play.
But for now, I’m mostly working my way slowly through the podcast backlog and napping a lot in my armchair.
If you’re at all interested in the amazingly “fun” process I’ve gone through in dealing with Workers Comp, I’ve blogged a lot of it over on my LiveJournal blog. It’s for ranting, which is what I tend to do when I talk about this whole process for very long.
Warning: For the first few parts, I don’t think I use too much NSFW language, and I try to make each rant as amusing/entertaining as possible, because I know people don’t like to read long rants. Part 8, however, is mostly a profanity-ridden tirade. I just wanted you to be forewarned.
The last two buckets that I mentioned on an earlier post were “Social” and “Family.” I’ve rambled on about ways to gamify the others, because I tend to do better when there are goals with deadlines and rewards (SMART goals, maybe?), but not necessarily punishments. Writing, Health, and Work were fairly conducive to doing that.
But Social? Family?
Not so much. How do you gamify that kind of thing?
What it boils down to is that I don’t really need to. If anything, I actually need to reduce my participation in some social things and transfer that to spending time with my family. We all have busy lives, and as we get older, with more responsibilities and more activities that claim our interests, we — or at least I — tend to have a busy schedule for eight or ten weekends out, and finding times to do stuff gets harder and harder. My D&D gaming group went for nearly ten months without meeting because there was just no weekend where all of us could meet.
I don’t consider myself a social butterfly, but I have several circles of friends, and if possible, I want to spend time with each of them.
Back when I first moved to Atlanta from Alabama, I had been visiting my mother every other weekend or so. At the time, that was approximately ten hours of driving round trip. I don’t mind driving, because that’s time I can listen to podcasts or catch up on audiobooks. That kept up for a while, but these days, I’m “so busy,” I don’t get down to visit her but every six weeks or so. So instead of turning anything into a game, what it comes down to is scheduling mom-time first, even if it conflicts with other things, and my friends will understand. :) I don’t have to be at every critique session or whatever. My mother is reading this, and I’m sure she’s in total agreement.
As far as the social bucket goes, most of that is just a matter of learning when to say “no” to things. I almost always say ‘yes’ to events on the weekends, because I like doing stuff with people. But when it gets to be every single weekend, it makes it hard to find time to do things like visit my mother. Or just to have a breather.
Just in March, 2014, the first weekend was free, but only because something else fell through. The second weekend had an all-day gaming session on Saturday and a critique session on Sunday. The third weekend has three social events, two of which conflict, so I had to choose between them. The fourth weekend is free, and finally, the last weekend of the month has a critique session for which I’m potentially submitting something (Deadline!). So that third weekend will be when I go down to visit my mother.
My “Social” bucket contains such things as spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, and such. The TV watching happens mostly on week nights after dinner. We’ll watch an episode each of Buffy and Angel, or two Jonathan Creeks or a Doctor Who or two (we’re deep into David Tennant’s second season, at the moment, with Martha as the companion, in case you care). That can easily be put off until after I’ve written for the day.
Facebook doesn’t really take that much time. I spend more time on it than I should between stuff at work, but it falls away during the evening. Twitter I mostly use for those times when I’m waiting somewhere and I need something to entertain me for twenty minutes on my phone. Podcasts I do while I’m doing other things.
YouTube, though. That’s the biggest time-suck. I’m subscribed to 332 channels on YouTube. Now, in my defense, not all of them are active channels. And I only get notifications in email if new content is posted on 124 of those. And of those 124, most of them are short subjects, like science updates or song covers.1
But it does underscore a problem. I spend far too much time watching other people living their lives and less time living my own. So my first order of business is culling the 332 down to maybe just the active ones that I care enough about to be alerted when they update. And then we’ll work on figuring out which of those 124 can go.2
I mean, they could all go. It’s not like I absolutely must watch the videos. But I do enjoy them, and it is my main form of entertainment, so cold turkey doesn’t make sense. Maybe I could use the Social bucket as rewards for success of the other buckets?
Now that’s an idea. I’ll give that a try. :)
This concludes my ‘gamification’ series of posts. I know they weren’t much about writing, but I’m sure I’ll get back to that topic post haste. :)
- When I wrote this post, that was all true. Now, I have 217 subscriptions, so as you can see, I culled a lot. Still working on whittling it down even more. If I have even a moment’s pause over clicking a link when I get an email, I unsubscribe. I should also point out that not all of these accounts that I get notifications for are daily, or even weekly. The largest percentage of them are ‘weekly’ or ‘periodically,’ meaning that the owner posts videos when s/he feels like it. Sometimes months go by with nothing.
- As with the subscriptions, this number changed. It went up, I think (I didn’t actually count). I operated on the assumption that if I didn’t delete the subscription, I want to be notified when new content is posted, and if I am annoyed by it or don’t like it . . . that’s the time to cull.
The title of today’s post is a quote by John C. Maxwell (an American clergyman born in 1947).
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and . . . wait. This isn’t The Shining and I’m certainly not Jack Nicholson.
So, in my last post, I asked a question: how can one gamify work?
I consider my writing part of my work. But it is not (yet) what I am paid to do. One day I’d like that to be the case, but realistically, I’ll be doing this job or one just like it for many years to come. Because, frankly, I like to eat, have clothing to wear, shelter over my head, and affordable health insurance. Just little stuff like that. Anything after that is gravy. Mmm, gravy.
Where was I? Oh, right.
I’ve been working in1 this company for going on nine years. In fact, depending on how you calculate the number of days I’ve worked in various places, on April 21, 2014, I will have been working for my current employer longer than any other.
When I interviewed for the job back in 2005, I made it clear that I’m not a ladder-climber. I didn’t want my boss’s job. I don’t have a big desire to be The Guy Everyone Comes To For Answers™. I mean, we already have several of those, so why encroach on their territory?2 And I certainly don’t want to be someone who has the power to hire and fire. I’m not cut out for that; it’s not in my personality.
That can, however, lead to a certain degree of stagnation. I’ve basically been doing the same type of things in my job for my entire tenure. Maintaining existing code. Writing new code, sure, but usually nothing exciting and different. Doing documentation. And putting in my eight hours per day (and no more, because although I get paid for overtime, if I work overtime, I have to justify why I needed it3).
I’ve definitely been going through the motions, walking through the part. Sitting at my desk, doing what I’m asked, but little more. Being useful and productive enough that they have no desire to get rid of me, but not so useful or productive that anyone feels the need to promote me or pay me a higher salary. I admit it. I’ve become complacent.
And it’s not about the money. I’m overpaid as it is, for what I do. I know this and go through bouts of being uncomfortable with it. But to live in certain areas, one has to either believe the hype and one’s own inflated self-worth, or one has to be OK with looking at one’s paycheck stub and thinking, “I can’t believe they pay me this,” while simultaneously being OK with the fact that the person in the next cube might be getting half or twice that number. And also being OK with the fact that much younger people who’ve been with the company for less time have been promoted while you’re still in the same position. Or they may have moved on to greener pastures, if this place doesn’t value their contributions adequately.
All this is getting around to saying that it’s time I make a change on this front as well. Those 8 hours per day that they pay me to sit here and do my job can also be spent learning new things. We have all kinds of training courses available for employees of my company. I could even get involved in Six Sigma, if I wanted to, and help identify and eliminate wasteful spending. They always need new green belts.
And that doesn’t even count me just buying a book and studying it at my desk, on my own copious free time.4 As long as I’m doing something that the company sees as valuable, they’ll be OK with it.
And it’s not all work-related training, either. There’s a Weight Watchers group here at work, and they meet onsite during work hours every Thursday. There’s a group who does fitness training on-site during and after work hours out in the parking lot or in one of the conference rooms if weather is bad. They have a trainer and everything.
There’s even a ToastMasters group that threatened to form, but no one wanted to take the reins. Maybe that person is me. The company is providing all of this for massive discounts or for free. And that doesn’t count stuff I don’t know about because I haven’t really looked into what’s available. (See ‘going through the motions’ above.)
And I’m not a moron, I know that there’s something in it for them, as well, or they wouldn’t offer it. Lower healthcare costs for healthier, happier employees. Better employees with greater knowledge and training. Go-getters instead of loiterers. Higher profits, happier customers.
So I’ll be looking into training courses, first. The other stuff will have to wait until I can take care of a slight medical issue. I’m being vague on purpose, yes. Suffice it to say, strenuous exercise is right out for the moment, but perhaps the Weight Watchers is a place to start.
It’s funny how all this circled around back to health, isn’t it? Maybe not. Having an active, engaging work life is a good part of mental health. Most of my active, engaging mental life comes from hanging out with friends, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos. I love learning. I’ve just been looking at work-related learning in the wrong way.
So. Gamifying work could (heh) work as long as I keep track of it. I’ll work (more heh) on that and let you know what I work up (heh . . . yeah, three was one too many).
And to bring this whole post back around to writing, which is what this blog is specifically about: The happier I am, the more likely I’ll be to enjoy writing more, and do more of it. I’m continuing to use 750words.com daily. This post was written after 5 pm while waiting on a unit test to complete. As of the end of this sentence, it was 862 words (on the first pass).
Which is quite adequate, I think. So I’ll stop here, and save the topic of my family and social buckets for another post.
- The choice of prepositions was quite deliberate. I worked for my current employer for about eight and a half months as a contractor before they hired me permanently. So ‘in’ but not ‘for.’ It’s a tiny distinction, but it’s there.
- More importantly, why be the person they wake up at 2 AM when something goes wrong? That used to be me at my first long-term job. I’m pretty much done with that.
- A few years ago, thanks to a lawsuit in California, tech workers below a certain level were redesignated as hourly workers and were therefore eligible for overtime pay. Rather than wait for this to percolate through all the other states, my company (which I believe is based in San Francisco) preemptively did this a few years ago. And paid us back pay for any overtime we had reported for the prior two years. Because I’m very diligent at recording butt-chair hours, I got a rather sizable sum of money, while all the people who just reported straight eights per day got bupkis. But now, they view working overtime as evidence of bad time management skills or an inability to do the work. So if you do have to work overtime, you keep it to yourself. Which is exactly the same thing we had when we were salaried, but without the implied threat.
- I’m only being partially facetious. There are weeks that go by with very little in the way of billable hours (as it were) for me to do. Earlier this week, I asked my team lead, “What should I be working on next?” and her answer was, “Nothing’s been approved yet, but I’m sure something will next week.” It goes like that: some weeks, there are tumbleweeds blowing through my schedule; other weeks, I’d have to be three people to get everything done on time.
Ten points if you caught the subtle Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Ten more if you have the music in your head right now.