To be on the safe side

Now that our cats are gone, the native wildlife is starting to re-emerge: rabbits, squirrels, moles, mice, and everywhere, birds. Which makes me admire the cats for how much they beat back the wildlife to the edges. They would never stand for this kind of disorder, working together as sisters to hunt, kill, intimidate. The English couple up the road complained how our cats had their cat pinned down in its own yard and all I could do was half-apologize and say, we’re practicing with medications on them and soon they’ll be gone for a year.

But the medications didn’t really take. The cats would just leer at me as if they knew, through a milky film that formed around the eyes (the ‘lizard eye’ my friend Brad calls it) and OK, perhaps they licked more than normal and seemed to go granular in their licking, but otherwise they were unfazed.

And I pilled Ginger for a Saturday outing with my mom at the local cafes in her small village in southern Germany, but she cautioned me not to tell the Germans she was medicated because they already think that about us Americans, we rely too much on drugs.

With this strange mid-life detour we’re taking, pulling our kids out of school, renting our house, going on the road for nine months around Europe, it feels like we’re moving through a passageway with no idea what’s on the other side — which is not much different than normal, day-to-day life, except it’s harder to predict what will come next when you take yourself off track.

I wrote out the last 20 years of my working life, trying to get at the underlying conflict between ‘work-life’ and life after work — the life you have outside of work, and how the two go together.

As I did, some themes emerged — namely, the fact I lived through a major transition in technology that started with the pager in the mid 90s, email (which was still pretty new at that time), PDA’s in the early 00’s, cell phones, and now smart phones.

Most people changed with the technology — that is, they leveraged the technology to stay connected with work, to stay on top of things. But for some reason, I didn’t change. I spoke about this with a friend who works for Microsoft and he smiled and said it’s good you did that, it’s admirable. And yet I still feel like it was kind of foolish on my part.

I really have no problem using my cell phone to retrieve Likes, Comments, Follows. I have just enough discipline to resist checking when a ding comes in if I’m eating dinner with my family. But I have no problem being distracted by it or not being present, because I love it. And we’ll do all kinds of things for love, we might even change.

My work didn’t overtly require me to work when I wasn’t at work, being paid. But I wasn’t operating at a high enough level either through lack of proficiency or too much work; the two get confused. To be on the safe side, you should really just put in more time outside of work: that sends a clear message you’re engaged and prioritizing work. You want to move up? Throw me some more work.

I had that attitude for a while because it’s like the conditioning bell, you behave a certain way and get rewarded for it. It was some ego-stroking for me, to be assigned the biggest, high-profile projects. There was a mountaineering quality to it, but without the views — a good amount of plodding upwards, the resilience to keep going.

Dawn and I thought it would be a good idea to show the kids (10 and 7) the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a story of adventure you can parallel to a number of conquests for something rare and elusive.

For my good friend Mark Graham, it was his favorite film when we were coming of age in the early 80s. He even wore the hat, the leather bomber jacket, and had a leather bull-whip. I’d walk to his house and we’d lose ourselves in his attic farting around with D&D campaigns and talking about books. And about 20 years later when I ran into him after we’d fallen out of touch and asked what he did, he said I’m a mystery writer. I write mystery novels.

I was happy and immediately envious, then embarrassed when I told him what I did, but that I was taking time off from work (1998) to move to France and roam around, write, figure out what’s next.

Here, someone I knew so well was doing exactly what I wanted to do, had figured it out, even had a glow when he talked about it, a far-away sheen in his eyes. He’d handwritten his memoir while living in Eastern Europe, teaching English, paying someone to press his shirts, and then he destroyed the manuscript because he had to get it out of his system, he said.

I was envious of him because he was doing what I wanted to do, but didn’t have the nerve. We exchanged numbers but I lost his and didn’t look too hard to find it.

I think our dreams are most appealing when they’re seen from a distance, kept somewhere safe.

Categories: death

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22 replies

  1. It’s a very Western idea, isn’t it, that we must have ambition, always striving, climbing, working. I’ve chastised myself over the years for not having ambition. I looked at myself the other day and realized I have no room for advancement in the position I’m in, but no real desire or capacity to do anything else (administration? ugh…!). So am I here for the next 15 years? But the writing is my ambition — a turtle-like ambition. Maybe it’s Eastern ambition.


    • Hi Ross – thanks for the chat. Yes, you could call it Western or perhaps something post-Industrial and capitalist. I’ve been reading just enough to get myself into conversations I’ll regret probably – things like “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts just jump into my hands, and then it all feels like it’s Meant To Be. Ha. It’s a good time for me to step back and take a good, long drink of what-the-heck?

      Today, I’ve been packing up our house – unplugging the nooks and crannies (like our closet) so our friends can have an inhabitable space here in two weeks. There’s just so much stuff, all the clothes I’ve donated…all the devices, old digital cameras that are no longer useful…it’s kind of hard to stop, but your comment was a good excuse to open a beer and sit down and chill for a bit.

      I think if your ambition is in your writing, stay there. You are what you write. I would guess it brings you more joy than your day job. We just have to find balance in things — easier said than done. You turning 50 this year probably has you stewing on this more than normal. It was a good exercise for me to write out my ‘work memoir,’ and do it without any kind of anger or hostility, because I really own where I went adrift with work, and I’m lucky it afforded me the lifestyle it did. Now, it’s like that Mr. Potato Head toy where I’m taking myself apart and trying on new looks. Would be good if I could make some money at it too, but all in due course.

      Cheers to you and yours. – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • My 40s were good and had some forward momentum. I’d like to keep in that direction but realizing that it’s all finite.
        Last night I dreamed I was skiing. I’ve only ever skied once, at 12, and hated it, found it humiliating, so have never tried again. In my dream, of course, it was a piece of cake. “I’ve been missing out all these year!” I thought. Oh, you conscience, you!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember resisting my first work cell. I saw it as an electronic leash. Nowadays, it’s my way out of 24 hour work – I tell everyone that if it’s important, call me, and I’ll open my inbox. Almost no one uses a phone for calling now.


    • So ‘call me if you want me to read an email?’ That’s funny, if I’m reading you right. My wife got her inbox down to 2700 active ones yesterday (on Sunday). I’m really lucky now I don’t have to live like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i think if it is something you really wanted to do, you would have done it, or worked towards it. otherwise, it’s one of those things on an emotional list of things you may want to do or be, but not badly enough to make them happen, and maybe that’s a natural sort of filtering system, the ideas that seem appealing and those that you’re willing to give something else up to do. my hope is that you do happen upon an adventure in the upcoming year. that leads you in a direction you want to go.


    • I think you’re right Beth – thank you for the considerate words and the well wishes. I think I learned mostly you can’t pretend your way through something; it will come around to a reckoning. I appreciate your kind input, as always.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We share the aversion to instant adoption of whatever technology comes along. My wife and I have one primitive cell phone between us, and we both hate to imagine we’d ever become the types to walk along a city street with our eyes on the iPhone screen instead of on — the city street! Watch where you’re goin’, doofus! Strangely enough, I was an early adapter of the Internet, but after that it all just seemed like variations on a theme and required annual purchases of the latest gear. It’s the stuff that offers freedom — like email — that I appreciate. Freedom = time, and time is King.

    Good point about dreams too, Bill. By definition they’re not well thought-through, and if you achieve them you stand a good chance of being disappointed…


    • That’s heavy Kevin, the point about dreams and disappointment. I like it. Thank you — it’s a strange but liberating thing, whittling down your wardrobe, shedding cell phones (we’re about to do that before we move to Europe, or at least go to one), reinventing oneself. Time is King, you’re right.


  5. It’s funny, when I was in middle school (early 80s) I bought a computer with my own money. It was just a keyboard that plugged into the tv. I used a tape recorder to save simple programs I wrote in BASIC. I had a modem with two suction cups that hooked onto the phone and I called “websites” by dailing their phone numbers and used random Sprint codes to skip the long distance charges.

    Then something happened, I don’t know what. I fell off the tech wagon, and by the mid-90s, when the internet was making folks eyebrows perk up, I was telling it to talk to the hand. By the late 90s, I was adamant about my goal of not getting online until after the year 2000. I didn’t get my first cell phone until around ’04 when my wife (then girlfriend) made me, and I mostly refused to use it.

    I admit I am a bit addicted to the phone now, but just for some things. There are only, like, four apps that I need. I don’t think anyone really needs more than four apps, and then I would question what we mean by “need.”

    But as for leveraging technology? I can’t be bothered. I don’t want to have to leverage anything, ever, for any reason. I don’t want to be a brand. I don’t want to have a “social media presence.” I don’t mind being connected on occassion, when it’s convenient, but I sure don’t want to have to work at staying connected. All this new fangled tecnology is cool and all, but a lot of it sure is a whole bunch of bullshit. Sorry for my French. I’m just getting an early start on my Grumpy Old Man years. Kids these days. Sheesh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you on the apps. I check the weather, use the WP app, and then the Utilities as a timer when I nap. I sometimes use the map, but it sucks and I resent using it. And so here we are, two gits about 45 complaining about the Internet to one another, on the Internet. But without it, I likely wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting you and your thumbnail (or Anton’s). I like your story about BASIC. That’s very neat. I had a ham radio my uncle gave me, that’s it. And a reel-to-reel from my stepdad, but the cats knocked it off the mantel and one of the nubs got bent, so the reel wouldn’t fit right anymore which is too bad; I was just starting to get into that warm sound.

      I’ve been trying to read Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen but part of me just thinks it’s bullshit. What did these guys know, these Tao people? We made the Internet, so there. All the self we need is in the Void of that. This. This no-thing for no-body. Your French needs some work, by the way.


      • My favorite mentor was not only a brilliant businessman but also a Zen master. No kidding. It’s what he did in his free time. He did The Zen and taught others to how to make Zen, or some such. I’m kidding, but I’m serious. He was a Retail Jedi. And he used to send out these emails on the subject of leadership that knocked my socks off. He would be driving from Cincinnati to Columbus and dictate an email into his phone and send it to the district while driving. I printed them out and keep them in a binder I call my Retail Jedi Bible. Maybe I will send you some, just for grins.


      • Well isn’t that something? Yes, do! Send me a clip of that goodness if you would, kind sir.


  6. “I think our dreams are most appealing when they’re seen from a distance, kept somewhere safe.” So true! I’ve had this and similar (“what was I thinking”) thoughts every time I’ve started something big and new, but it’s always been worth it so far!


    • That’s right Cali – it’s got to be worth it somehow, no doubt. The ‘what was I thinking’ is common and normal, but I don’t know how helpful. I’m just trying to appreciate the good moments in the present with all we have aflutter. Life is good!


      • I thought I was reading some echos of that uncertainty in your closing sentence. Perhaps I was wrong, but I was trying to be more encouraging than helpful (that’s what the Tao is for *wink*). That’s really all you can do and the best thing I would agree, be present and enjoy the excitement! I’m sure you’re going to love it.


      • I like it. I said that and didn’t need to rely on a button, felt better to type it, so there.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s your normal day-to-day life except with better food. And more interesting scenery.

    I try to impress my kids with the fact that I remember when computers first came into our houses. They’re uninterested. I’m in the same space as you. I should have embraced new technologies. Instead, they ran roughshod over me. It’s the oldest story in the oldest book.

    This was an excellent, thoughtful piece. So few of us are lucky enough to get paid for something we’d do for free. That’s the trick, innit? Last night I was listening to this year’s crop of graduation speeches (the New York Times compiles them). They’re mostly bland affairs but a few of them really ring true. It makes me wonder what I would have done with such excellent advice. Someone told the crowd that fear of failure will motivate you onward. He forgot to mention that fear of failure can also make you crawl under a rock.


    • I like you incorporated that line from the commencement speech in your Potpourri post. What a terrible thing to say, about fear of failure as a motivator. I could cite that as the poison that deflated my balloon time after time. But there I am mixing metaphors, bad. Technology runs roughshod, alright. There are a few peeping birds here and there like you and me, and we’ll be paved over.


      • The New York Times has a really great feature every June. They print excerpts from the various commencement speeches given all month. They usually cherry-pic the best pearls of wisdom. You can also click a link and view the entire speech. They can be seen here:

        (Sorry. Doing this from my phone and creating a fancy word-link is a giant pain in the rear.

        Were’nt we just discussing how we didn’t pay attention to new technologies? Sometimes, that’s not always a bad thing.


  8. “I think our dreams are most appealing when they’re seen from a distance, kept somewhere safe.” That line is an absolute cruncher, Bill. I’m not saying more beyond the fact that dreams need to become intentions, and intentions should be acted upon. I need to tell myself this of course.


    • I like the dream > intention, that’s good Tish. Thank you for that, will take it to heart. Most people can relate to the idea of following their dreams, and it’s a fun one to noodle on – made better by riffing with you on it. Thanks! – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

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