In my forty-odd years of employment, I kept a list of things I wanted to do, but for reasons of expense or time, I had to put off. “Fly an airplane” was one of them. “Write a novel” was another.
When I retired at the beginning of 2015, I reviewed the list.
Some things were immediately struck off. “Travel and see the world” went away because, in my work, I’d pretty much done that. While I haven’t trod every square inch of the planet, I have been lots of places. Some I would re-visit–Singapore was fascinating, the highlands of Scotland still beckon, and the Gulf Coast of the US remains one of my favorites for seafood as well as the North End of Boston–but, for the most part, I will forego the travel to avoid the interminable airplane sits, drafty airports, and the challenges of foreign customs and languages.
I attempted some prioritization. “Flying an airplane” shifted down toward the bottom for a couple of reasons. While I would enjoy the technical and mental challenges, I’ve found that its the “being there” that I like, not the “getting there.” Traveling at private airplane velocities is slow, sometimes bumpy, and for much of what would be in range, I’ve already been there and done that.
I then began working my way through the list.
Some were accomplished fast. “Put our long-term finances into capable hands” required some research, consultations, and careful study, but was completed within a couple of months. Nine years later, I am confident we made a pretty good choice. Barring unforeseen disasters, the collapse of our financial system (!), or outright nuclear war, we’re gonna be Okay. Not rich, mind you, but Okay.
“Write a novel” made it to the top of the list in short order. And it’s stayed there for all of this time. In the process of doing that, I discovered that writing fiction is a totally different skill than writing non-fiction such as this blog, or the training materials I helped create during my employment.
Some days I work on that goal for just for a few minutes. There are still bills to pay, grass to cut, and slowly increasing medical diversions to the otherwise “best laid plans of mice and men.” (Cancer took a big bite out of our lives a few years into retirement, but we’re both done with that [for now] and the consequences have only small effects on us now.)
Some days, I find myself immersed for hours in a fictional world with letters spewing from my fingertips into the computer. When I’m “in the flow” as writers call it, having to stop and go take care of a different flow is a major annoyance. My neighborhood coffee shop is great for writing, but their single, unisex bathroom can leave me dancing in place for someone else to vacate.
And the education continues: I’m still learning how to write fiction.
Some things in the list will, I can see from this vantage point, never happen. To put it directly, the time has passed. Accumulating the 1,000 points needed for “Mountain Goat” status in amateur radio’s SOTA (Summits On The Air) program isn’t gonna happen. While I may garner some dozens of points by hiking up mountains worth from 1 to 10 points and, once there, setting up a ham radio station with what I’ve carried on my back, and making four, two-way contacts, doing that more than a hundred times will exceed my physical limits.
But the other side of that coin and staying home to be the other end of those contacts, through that I could gather a different 1,000 points and be awarded “Shack Sloth” status. That remains do-able. I’ll need to advance my morse code speed from the 15 words per minute I learned decades ago which has since decayed and “get it up” to 25 or so. But I can do that. Practice makes perfect, they say. That’s do-able.
What else is on my list?
Suffice to say, not only lots of things, but also an increasing number of them. As the world changes, new opportunities arise.
Cheap computing is a reality. Raspberry Pi computers are well under a hundred bucks, and I have lots of experience with the Linux that runs on them. And I know “hard real-time,” again from my career time, and my training in electronics—Ohm’s Law, transistors, ham radio and all that—mean I have the knowledge to do interesting things with the even more affordable Arduino platform. While I won’t be creating robots the likes of which you might have seen at Boston Robotics, I lack only the priority in my daily schedule to build things of that ilk.
What’s on your list?
Are you satisfied with merely flipping channels and barking complaints at politicians and news anchors who can’t hear you? Or are you out there doing something about it?
While you probably can’t unseat a President or prevent a newly elected one from moving into the White House, you can use gentle, patient persuasion—covert manipulation, let’s call it—on your friends and family to try and bring about change. They say that, in the long run, it’s the little changes that really make a difference.
So, write a few words today. Listen to a friend. Give someone a hand, or peer over your glasses at them with an obviously skeptical look to some outlandish, unfounded, and patently false statement they’ve made.
The world is still my oyster. And there are more pearls to find.