Butterfly in my eye

I just finished reading the first book of my retirement, Version Control by Dexter Palmer.  It was complicated.  Very good, but complicated, a mix of literary and science fiction that took me a while to find the rhythm of; once I did, though, it made me stay up until 2am last night and then power through the rest today.

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, though.

One reason is that I actually find it physically difficult; since I’ve developed allergies, my eyes water a lot, and extended reading sessions are a sure way to have me weeping constantly.  I put up with it when the reading’s good, but if it’s merely “okay” it’s easy to make excuses and just do something else that won’t entail me wiping my eyes every few minutes.

Another is a sort of cyclical issue that I find myself dealing with at almost all times.  Biorhythms are complete and total nonsense, but I find that my tastes for “things what I do with leisure time” follow these sort of boom-bust cycles that last days, weeks, or months.  I’ll go three months without turning my PS4 on, then (like right now) find myself having to sleep with wrist braces because I’m spending so much time playing vidja.  I won’t touch a puzzle book for a few weeks, then power through half of one in three days.  And I’ve been in a long, long drought of can-be-arsed energy when it comes to reading fiction, particularly novels I haven’t read already.

That distinction is important.  Right now I really, really want to reread the entire Culture series by Iain Banks for the… fourth? fifth? time, even though there’s a stack of unread novels sitting on my kitchen island.  The only reason Version Control happened is because it’s a library book and I already had to renew it once.  Now that I finished it, I may allow myself to dive back into that world of dry wit and unparalleled futuristic utopia as a bit of an escape.  But it’ll only take me a couple of weeks to reread all nine books, and then I’ll be right back where I started.

I wonder if it’s at least partly a move away from passive entertainment.  I don’t watch many movies or TV shows either, and limit myself to a single episode per day even when I’m in the middle of an excellent show, like The Expanse right now or Altered Carbon a couple of weeks ago.  Reading is more pleasurable, the mindscape always more powerful and expressive than a moving picture, but it’s still linear consumption of someone else’s work.

I’m not sure.  What I do know is that I want to write more, and to write well I need to read more, even if that means upsetting my own… mediarhythms, let’s say.  We’ll see if forcibly pushing myself out of that lack of desire works, or if it just makes things worse.


Apparently I really hate myself, because late last night I switched my keyboard to Colemak.

For those of you who are not keyboard layout nerds, first: how dare you? Second, it’s a remapping of the standard QWERTY layout to this:

Same same, but different, but still same.

I taught myself to type when I was six, with the help of MasterType; I didn’t take a formal typing class until middle school, on old electric Smith Coronas.  The teacher promised me I would type faster “home row” style by the end of the semester than I did my own way at the start.  She was right, but I incorporated a lot of the lessons from the class into my own idiosyncratic style, and I typed even faster that way.

Nowadays I manage somewhere around 120 words per minute on a good keyboard.  By comparison, what I’ve written here so far has taken me roughly 30 minutes, for a blazing rate of 5 words per minute.  That’s a dramatic improvement over the 2-3 I managed last night.

So: why?

I have bad wrists, and extended typing sessions can become genuinely painful for me.  Colemak dramatically reduces the amount your hands need to move for the vast majority of words; I feel my large movements on the keyboard have been reduced by upwards of 90%.  (Also, they now more resemble a sloth in molasses rather than the previous hummingbird on speed.)

Colemak is also much better for programming than the more common and more famous Dvorak; as someone who at least aspires to get back to leisure coding, that’s pretty vital.

And if I’m going to do this, I need to start now; NaNoWriMo is only eight and a half months away.  I’ve got to be able to actually fit 1667 words into 24 hours by then or it will be literally impossible.

And thus.  I have a mechanical keyboard but I’m intentionally not switching the keys; I haven’t needed to look at them since I was six and I’m not starting now.  I have the image above permanently on my desktop but I haven’t looked at it once while typing this.  I’m doing this for real.  The hard way.

(And I managed to type this last half in 20 minutes, for a rate of 9wpm.  Slow, steady, oh my Deity so slow progress.)

Sunday edit: I’m up to about 15wpm now.  Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Cats of twitch.tv/catsonurhead as the key catalyst on finally committing to switching to Colemak, something I’ve been waffling on for years.  Check out her stream if you’re into old video games played well in a friendly atmosphere.  Thanks, Cats!

Weekly status update [0002/????]

This week was quite a bit quieter than last week, which was already pretty mellow.  Those of you expecting a ton of slice-of-life updates in this blog’s future are going to be pretty disappointed.  Unless you really want to read about me solving puzzles, playing Let It Die, watching some Netflix and the occasional videogame stream on Twitch, and going to bed.  There, congratulations, that’s the slice-of-life for the past two weeks, all in one paragraph!


I already wrote a post about signing up for COBRA, which was the biggest thing I did all week.  Other than that, I:

  • Opened up Giles’ source code, thinking about doing some leisure coding on it, and went “nope”;
  • Thought about cleaning up one of my old short stories for posting here, and went “nope”;
  • Thought about getting my tires replaced on my car, and went “nope”.

I think I’ll want to do all of those things sooner rather than later, but for the time being I’m honestly loving the low-involvement lifestyle and I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

do sorely miss playing board games every day at lunch.  I love board games and I don’t get to play them anywhere near as frequently now, which makes me sad.  If any of you readers would be up for some Tabletop Simulator, or Giles, just let me know.  I’m available, uh, whenever, I guess.

Still not bored, though, and in no danger of becoming so.  That’s important, because if everything goes according to plan, that week counter is going to go into quadruple digits.

Finding a voice over the years

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2004.  My only failure was 2012, when I was too stressed out about my impending move across half the country for the job I just retired from, and in 2005 and 2006 I wrote two novels in November rather than just the one.  So: I have fifteen novels under my belt, never mind the short stories and vignettes and the like I’ve also written over the years.

What I don’t have–or didn’t, for quite a long time–was a consistent voice.  It became obvious to me early on that if I read too much in October, I’d end up writing novels that read a whole lot like what I imagine The Asylum’s take on those authors would be if they published novels instead of movies: low-budget knockoffs that mainly make you wish you were just watching the real thing.  So I stopped reading novels a month or so before most Novembers in an attempt to keep myself from just aping the authors I like.  (My one explicit attempt to do such aping was the year that Iain Banks died; I reread the entire Culture series in October and set out to write an explicit pastiche.  I failed miserably.  Turns out that Banks’ voice is pretty unique, funny and sharp and clever all at the same time, and copying that is really really hard, particularly when you only have thirty days to do so.  Who knew.)

And, at least in recent years, I’ve found that I do have a voice.  It’s not particularly strong yet; I think that its development is definitely hampered by the fact that almost all of my writing is done under the severe time constraints of NaNoWriMo, and so I value vomiting as many words as possible onto the page at the highest speed over clever writing for the ages, assuming that’s even something I’m capable of.  But despite that high-pressure high-velocity environment, something of my character still shines through.

Perhaps some day I’ll even have some examples worth sharing to make my point.

It’ll be interesting to see, first, whether I’m actually capable of sustained writing without time constraints; back in 2010 I challenged myself to write a million words over the course of the year, and only managed a little over 300,000, but that was just a much longer constraint.  Now, well… I’m not entirely sure.  Will I need to set artificial deadlines for myself?  The advantage for someone like me of being a published author is that your publisher and editor set those deadlines for you, given that they generally want to see the work they paid for before the heat death of the Universe, but I have no such constraints.

And if you’re wondering: hey, Phil, is this longish meta-post about writing just another way for you to procrastinate when it comes to actually working on your fiction? then, uh, go bake a batch of cookies and then give yourself one.  And send me the rest.  A writer’s gotta have fuel, after all.

Weekly status update [0001/????]

My first week of retirement draws to a close, and I’ve gotta say: it feels good.  Real good.

Of course I miss the hell out of a lot of people; some have kept in touch, whether via email or Hangouts (and even a few via comments here on the blog–hi, Beth, Chris, and Derrick!), but we all know how much easier it is to just not communicate.  Staying in contact with others is work, real work, and life in the modern era is easy to fill with so much other stuff that unnecessary communication falls by the wayside.  As someone with free time now, it’s incumbent on me to keep those channels open as best I can.  And I’m going to try.

Work, though?  I’d be lying if I said I missed having a job.  Maybe I will, as time goes on.  Right now, not so much.

The only Real Adulting I did this week involved picking up some prescription glasses I procured on the cheap thanks to my ex-employer’s excellent benefits; I now have what amounts to eight different pairs of glasses with the same prescription.  You know, Just In Case.  In life as I did at work, I plan for catastrophic failure.

Definitely Not Adulting things I did this week:

  • Watched a non-trivial amount of serialized stuff via the magic of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  Strong recommendations: Altered CarbonThe AmericansTransparent.  Less strong, but still enjoyable as a not-quite-as-good Black MirrorPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.  Altered Carbon is on Netflix and the others are on Prime Video if you want to follow along at home.
  • Played a tremendous amount of Let It Die, Suda51’s most recent weird-ass video game.  It’s free-to-play, but in a way that you could easily never pay a penny and enjoy the game completely.  I’m actually in danger of burning out on it due to putting so many hours in–I’m somewhere north of 70 right now and less than halfway through the game–so I’ve intentionally backed off some in the last few days to give the game some room to breathe.
  • Got back into solving pencil-and-paper puzzles.  I have a Japanese sudoku magazine that has less than ten puzzles left before I’ve completed it from cover to cover.  I can’t remember the last time I completed every single puzzle in a puzzle book.  Of course the ones left are the hardest, but that’s part of the fun.  After I finish it, I plan on moving onto Djape’s first Trigons book.  Trigons are fascinating and pretty brutally hard, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me.
  • Ate a bunch of junk food that I shouldn’t have.  Malt-o-Meal’s Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys are maybe the best sugar cereal I’ve ever had, and my newfound love for them terrifies me.

Things I didn’t do but plan on maybe kinda sorta looking at next week, you know, if I feel up to it or whatever:

  • Getting back into leisure programming.  Probably something simple at first, like some code cleanup on Giles.  Like many things in my life, I have lots of grandiose plans, but now I also have way less in the way of excuses to not actually execute on those.
  • I should probably, like, look at Rewind (AKA the novella I always talk about as being “actually pretty good”) or something?  And, uh, think about how the hell I’m going to expand it to a novel?  Yeah, this almost certainly isn’t happening next week, because it’s big and scary and I need to work up to it.

This entry is already too long, so I’ll leave you with a question: what would you, the reader, like to see here?  I’ve tentatively settled on a few-times-a-week schedule, but I’m open to feedback as to what sorts of things I should be writing.  Personal reviews of games and movies and stuff?  Musings on game design?  More slice-of-life bits?  Feel free to either reply to this blog entry or send me Philback.  There’s no point in writing this stuff if no one wants to read it; I already have entire novels that are never going to see the light of day and I’m not sure I need to add to that volume.

An oblique reference to that Simple Minds song

I’m sitting at home, shivering; I didn’t bother turning the heat on, because I thought I would be throwing up a quick WordPress install, dashing off a quick blog post, and then heading immediately to snuggle under several layers of blankets to protect me from the North Carolina winter.

Sigh.  Turns out there really isn’t such a thing as a “quick WordPress install.”  Mea culpa.

Anyhow, I’m writing this the night before my last day of work.  I’ve been at my current job for slightly more than five years, and I’ve made a lot of friends there.  (And no enemies, as far as I’m aware, although that’s the sort of thing that it’s easy to be oblivious about.)  Deciding to leave was simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest decisions of my life.

On the one hand: I’ve been planning on this early retirement thing for years.  YEARS.  And working in the tech industry is a sure-fire way to accelerate that sort of plan, especially if you’re a somewhat thrifty single person such as myself.  In addition, my excitement at doing my job has been declining for a while, to the point where it was starting to impinge upon my performance, which meant it was time to Make A Decision, something I had been putting off for as long as I could.  And that decision ended up being pretty easy: when you’ve been planning on doing a thing for a long time, why not do that thing?

And yet.  Never mind the free food, the camaraderie, the ability to learn about cool new things way before the rest of the world sees them.  There’s something deeply satisfying and invigorating working in a high-energy high-skill environment, where just about everyone you interact with is smart as hell, challenging you on a daily basis to learn, to be a better person, to understand the way everything works just that little bit better than before.  My previous job was at a university; there, I could sometimes just glide through an entire day, interacting only with the UNIX systems I maintained and my regular lunch-time card game crew.  Not so much here.

There are a lot of unknowns still.  How will I handle simply not seeing people for days at a time?  I keep telling everyone that it’s crazy to “be bored” in this modern era of video games and, you know, the Internet, but will I actually be able to stave off ennui?  I’ve got plans to polish up one of my many novels and try to get it published; will it turn out that, as much as I enjoy writing, I simply can’t handle the editing/re-drafting process?

I’m not a person who deals well with change, and I’m changing just about everything about my life effectively overnight.

This blog, too, is a change.  I’ve never been able to write one consistently, although I’ve tried over the years; I had thought about bringing one up as I neared my planned retirement, then never followed through on the idea until now.  Enough people have asked me over the past week about how they could keep up with my plans that I figured, what the hell.  Surely I’ll have enough time when I’m retired to actually post something on the regular, right?  If nothing else, it’s an excuse to flex my writing muscles at some time other than during NaNoWriMo.  (Knowing me, it’s likely to also be an excellent way to procrastinate.  I could teach a master class in productivity as procrastination.)

I’m excited, and terrified, and excited all over again.  Perhaps we can see how it all works out together.