I’m not a huge fan of blogs or Facebook pages that show the rosiness of peoples’ lives and nothing else.
And I’ve stated many, many times in the past that I didn’t want to allow this blog to morph an OMG-my-life-is-so-wonderful-type-thing.
I mean, it is pretty wonderful. But that’s not the point.
I typically find these sorts of displays to be … unhelpful.
I’ve always felt that sharing the weird bits of life — the parts we struggle with — are usually more useful to other people when it comes to helping them think through complicated decisions. Withholding data results in the other outcome — incomplete understanding, compromised thought processes, sub-optimal choices.
But I’m a little concerned that in my last post I shared too much meta-weirdness and not enough good stuff — the reveal was perhaps too focused on aspects of my internal world instead of cool things I’m able to do now that I have a ton of flexibility.
And since it seems there’s some genuine curiosity around what I’m actually doing now that I’ve retired, I figured I’d restore balance to the Force by doing a fun, optimistic dump.
So forgive me if the contents of this post end up looking mostly like that hypothetical too-perfect Facebook page I’d just been bashing.
It’s time to provide that additional data to complete the picture.
Mom Medical Support
I’ll start here, because this particular item means so much.
My mom is sick. For a while this was restricted to her mind — she is depressive, and a clinically-diagnosed hoarder.
But then early this summer, a physical problem was added to her challenges: She started having trouble walking.
In mid-July, over our weekly phone call, she suddenly announced she was going to have knee surgery.
Alarm bells went off in my head. It seemed too fast for me. Knee hurts to knee surgery in four weeks. (She’s 67).
I researched, found a quality doctor and convinced her to get a second opinion. Then I went to appointments with her. The new doctor had a nice bedside manner and was only interested in surgery as a last option. She recommended first cortisone shots (no improvement) and then Synvisc injections (substantial improvement) along with physical therapy (which is also helping).
Long story short, Mom’s knee is doing much better, and she doesn’t think about surgery anymore.
In addition I was able to help her find a good local analyst to help her work on some of the other things going on upstairs.
So seriously — It would have been extremely difficult to do most of these things in my old life. I burned 10+ days working through these issues with her. All weekdays. All during business hours. (And there will be more. Always more.)
It feels absolutely incredible to be able to support my mother in this way, to give back to her and improve her quality of life.
In fact, if this was the only thing I listed in this entire post, it would have made quitting my job worth it.
But it’s not.
This has been the year of medical emergencies for my parents. My Dad’s 72 and lives 2 hours away from me with my stepmother.
Early in February — actually, while I was sorting out all of my holy-crap-am-I-really-going-to-quit? issues — he was afflicted with major heart arrhythmia.
At the time I was still working and I just flat out left the office in the middle of a Monday to drive to a hospital in Connecticut where he was getting treatment. I stayed there for three consecutive weekdays, at which point he was stable.
So this is proof you can do these sorts of things while you’re employed.
The thing was, when I got back to the office, my work hadn’t gone away. I had to adapt a Death Star construction worker mentality (we shall redouble our efforts!) on projects.
In other words, I was squeezed again, having difficulty fitting everything I wanted to do every day, because there weren’t enough hours that week to do my job plus support my family. (Obvious: It pretty much blows to work from the position of being very behind on projects with inflexible delivery dates. And this has nothing to do with whether or not you generally enjoy what you do — workloads, schedules, and functions are separate aspects.)
At any rate, he went into the hospital again in June when I wasn’t working and visiting him was a completely different experience. No need to ask for anyone’s “permission” to see him. Zero concerns about how many days I can spend away from the office or how behind I’m getting. I told my wife I was heading down and that was that: Simple.
I followed that up with bi-monthly visits — every other weekend pretty much all summer just to spend time with him and my stepmom.
In contrast, while I was working, I saw my Dad perhaps four weekends a year for a grand total of perhaps six days. Compare that to over twenty days this year so far.
And I still have gobs of time left over to do whatever else I like so I no longer have any reservations about making these choices.
Score another huge life improvement — for the both of us.
Other Family Stuff
I’ve hinted at this topic in the ‘Three Months of Early Retirement‘ post, but it remains true: Since I quit, I’ve been more helpful than usual around the house, taking on the lions share of cooking and cleaning, because I had time, and my wife didn’t.
And this arrangement worked out well — she was thrilled to come home to a clean environment and food ready. Awesome.
Since she quit a month and a half ago she’s been picking things up again and we’re again tackling the day-to-day work as a team.
The other family improvement is that I can spend a lot more time with my nephews, of which I have two — one in grade school and the other in Jr. High. They’re a ridiculously fun pair of people to hang around, so long as one of them isn’t in the middle of a meltdown. (Younger nephew, I’m looking at you…)
I now have the luxury of picking them up from school a couple of times a week most weeks, which is great for them, for me, and also their mom, because she can nap or run an errand instead.
Anyway, the big thing we do lately is football – Due to the Patriot’s fine season and quarterback Tom Brady’s play, they both simultaneously developed an interest in passing, which is not so great for me. (No offense to any readers, but I don’t have a strong interest in football, and more to the point, I can’t throw to save my life. No one ever properly taught me, and as a kid, I admit that I would have resisted these efforts anyway in favor of perfecting wall-jumping in Ninja Gaiden on the NES, but whatever… look, the point is, the kids want me to a) throw spirals to them and b) teach them to throw spirals at me, and I’m not even remotely qualified to do either of these things. So a lot of laughing and poking fun at one another ensues during our practice sessions, and by “one another,” I mean it’s mostly directed at me.)
Total topic change – I didn’t know where to stick this item but wanted to mention that I’ve also been able to donate blood every 8 weeks like clockwork — there’s no longer the slightest bit of difficulty scheduling an appointment. And I love being able to do this so easily instead of having to work harder to fit it in. I think of this as supporting other peoples’ families.
OK, so let’s move on from the touchy-feely god-im-such-a-good-person stuff and talk about true leisure.
So I used to draw in my teens. And paint sometimes. I’ve suddenly been able to immerse myself in these activities again.
For some reason I’ve been moivated to try my hand at pixel art.
Here’s my prototype of Mario. Kind of like a proof-of-concept to see if my technique would work. Acrylic.
Then I scaled things up in order to paint the character that called to me.
And that’s MegaMan, a character in an 8-bit video game who eventually defeats evil by crushing the despicable satanist mechanical engineer Dr. Wily. Life goals achieved, he runs away from Wily’s Techno-Base Hideout and returns home. Yeah, I know — it’s just a silly video game — but the ending scene has always touched me. Maybe I think there are parallels to my own life or something.
Note that I added the dog manually — he doesn’t actually appear in the ending sequence. But I always thought MegaMan needed company, so there you go.
And here’s one of Batman. This took me freaking forever and I don’t like the background much but the dark knight came out all right.
The older of my two nephews asked me to do one of Samus — that’s his favorite Nintendo character — to hang in his room. So this happened:
In contrast, back when I had full time employment, I would occasionally get inspired to paint something but found it extremely difficult to actually clear time to do it. There’s a lot of overhead to the process — preparing your workspace, mixing colors, methodically fleshing out your idea, and finally cleaning up. I’ve found I pretty much need a 3 hour chunk to get any real work done — and that block better be during a time of the day when I’m fairly alert because concentration is kind of important or I screw up body proportions on the traces.
Worse, if you manage to find half a day to work on something and you don’t finish, you may not be able to find another suitable day for like, a month — at which point your inspiration for the piece may be gone, leaving you with some dumpster-bound half-baked mess of shame and regret.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s terrific to work on personal projects pretty much whenever I want, as long as I want. It’s no longer an exercise in frustration, as I can always find the time to finish what I’m working on.
Related: I’ve also gotten back into pad-and-pencil sketching. I’ll find a comfortable spot to sit and will then draw whatever’s in front of me. Haven’t really done any of this sort of work since I lived in San Francisco in the early aughts.
The results are not always great, but the process itself is completely engaging. And it feels terrific to be creative in ways that have little to do with business. No deadlines, no external requirements, no value propositions, no evaluation or grading.
Just the good stuff — the creativity and expression — and nothing else.
I’ve gone on a few trips out of my home-base state spanning multiple days.
One was to New York, which I wrote about in the previous post, to visit an old friend and hike a mountain.
Another was to California. This one lasted nearly three weeks, and aside from missing my wife a bit, it was absolutely amazing. I have some old tech homies on the West Coast from back when I used to work out there. We burned four of those days on a houseboat on the San Joaquin River delta, just playing cards, swimming, eating, and chatting.
While I was out West, I also managed to walk around San Francisco itself for a couple of days, checking out old haunts, eating at my favorite restaurants (Naan-N-Curry, baby…) staring flabbergasted at the changes to the Mission, and the overall turnover of companies on the main strips. (Bye Bye Pets.com, hello Twitter, and so on.)
I also hit up the computer history museum which I must recommend as a required trip to any technology worker.
Here’s my favorite exhibit:
They also had a google car on display, a huge section of older computers, another devoted to the history of video games, the evolution of mobile devices and wearable machinery, computers-and-war, and even an entire room with working 1401 mainframes and some older, gnomish computer engineers showing them off to the public. Incredible.
Back on the East Coast, I went on a camping trip for a couple of days in Northern Massachusetts. Sometimes it’s good to remember what it’s like to spend a night pressed against hard earth, with your only cushioning a wimpy sleeping bag.
These are days when I basically wake up and decide right then and there to go somewhere and not come back until it’s very, very dark outside.
My favorite destination is this ‘classic’ arcade in New Hampshire called Funspot. They have a slew of old cabinets — Missile Command, Kung Fu Master, Pac Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, etc. The whole place feels a little old and maybe not as well-kept-up as it could be, but man, I don’t really care. It’s not about the presentation — it’s about the content.
Because that content includes Donkey Kong.
Slowly but surely, my scores are improving.
Then there’s walking. I absolutely love picking a location I’ve never been before and roaming around with my senses open. Walden Pond, Mine Falls in Nashua, smaller trails around the Charles in Newton, the Blue Hills in Norwood, Callahan State Park, and on and on. There are little nooks and crannies everywhere once you start looking. And the people you run into on hiking trips are pretty much all nice and smiling and cool. (General Life Observation: Assholes don’t like strolling around in natural environments much.)
I’ve also visited a few local museums and wandered around other locales I’ve never been to – Salisbury and Crane Beaches, Plum Island and Sandy Point state reservation. I drove to Madison, Connecticut to see an old saltwater creek where I used to spend a few weeks every summer with my mom’s side of the family. The deep smell of the marsh made me feel like I was ten years old again, ankle deep in mud, getting absolutely filthy scrambling for fiddler crabs.
I’d provide pictures for more of these excursions but I usually don’t bring a camera — my preference has been to make an effort to absorb the scenes as best as I can instead of taking a snapshot (which somehow has the adverse effect of telling my brain we’re “done here” and can/should move on to the next thing).
I don’t want to move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. I want to experience this thing, whatever it happens to be.
Video Game Vacations
I do this thing sometimes where I exercise in the morning just to shake things loose and then immediately launch myself into an epic gaming session with breaks only to grunt something in the direction of my wife and take care of the basics. (I’m not 100% sure she loves me on these days…)
So yeah I know that this is in direct opposition to the outdoorsy, nature-loving side of me, but as a once-in-a-while thing, it’s still a pretty awesome change of pace. And it’s the sort of activity that’s almost impossible to pull off as a responsible adult with a demanding full-time job and an SO and potentially children on top of it all.
But you can do it quite easily once your life is not time-constrained.
I’ve spent 3 days in this total veg-out state, spread out over August, on BioShock Infinite and Batman: Arkham Origins. (Both are fantastic games, btw. Just… wow.)
I know what you’re thinking, but please — try not to judge.
The Half Marathon
Going into this whole quit-work thing, one of my theories was that strenuous physical activity would provide meaningful goals and also a healthy amount of so-called “good stress.” On this count, I have not been wrong.
I regularly run a set of local races in Cambridge, MA with a couple and out of the blue they invited me to do a half marathon on Labor Day in New Haven, CT. As it happens, that’s just a few miles away from where my Dad lives, so I figured I’d get a two-fer out of the commitment — a great fitness goal, and another visit with Doom Senior.
Race day came around and conditions were hot, and humid, and difficult —
But also bright, sunny, and beautiful. I pounded out 13.1 miles alongside three thousand other participants in 1:58, give or take a couple. It’s my 4th half-marathon and, believe it or not, this is the best time I’ve submitted by about 10 minutes.
(Hey, I didn’t say I was fast. That couple I went with finished together, in an awe inspiring hour thirty.)
While there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from training for a half while simultaneously working a full-time job, I have to say, it is much, much more pleasant to gear up for one when you know you have plenty of time and energy to devote to it.
In other words, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I logged my best time on this particular half…
And I’m sure to do another next year.
Being Down For Whatever
I basically say ‘yes’ to just about anything that a family member or good friend asks me to do.
Half Marathon or Other Unspecified Painful Athletic Event(s): Let’s do it!
Cook Beef Bourguignon for dinner? Anything for you, sweetie.
Paint a couple of rooms of your house? Sure. Why not?
Help you move? Yep. What time you want me over?
Go to a 10-year-old’s soccer game at 8 in the morning on Saturday? No problem.
Do a blog post about what you’re up to in retirement? Absolutely.
I’m starting to feel a little like Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Yes, Man. (He joins some sort of cult that explicitly disallows him from rejecting any invitation to go and do something… and of course, hilarity ensues.)
That movie got one thing right. It feels great to rarely say no to people.
An incomplete list of stuff I’ve read, or re-read:
Watership Down, The Cider House Rules, Freedom, Console Wars, The Bell Jar, The Heart and the Fist, World Enough & Time, World War Z, The White Lioness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, What is the What, Million Dollar Blackjack, Filth, Mrs Dalloway, Snow Crash, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Overshoot, Limits to Growth, The Martian, Breathers
Plus, all 5 books in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, which comes out to something like 4000 pages in total.
I’m certain I’m missing a few but you get the idea. I read constantly and without guilt (at least since I’ve killed my TFB…)
I came up with this idea of person piggybacking back when I wrote the post about building a life without work.
The idea here was to latch on to someone in your life and basically follow them around like a puppy, to the extent that they allow. Do what they do. Irritate the heck out of them. Chew on their shoes.
I did this for a five days with an old college friend that lives in Salem. He works from home which gave him the flexibility to do this —
And it went great, actually. We both play guitar and were able to learn from one another, just jamming. I also got to know his wife much better, went to the Witch House and a few other tourist attractions, ate great food and became great friends with his enormous gray cat.
You can also sort of count some of my time on the West Coast as a similar activity because I was more or less attached to my Googler friend. I gave him breaks of course — I’m hardly clingy and there were some things I wanted to do that were best done solo, like traipsing around San Francisco — but still, sizable portions of most days were spent together. It’s neat — you get to directly see alternate sides of this person that you’d otherwise have to guess at.
I’d record some of my findings but it’s probably not cool to document the quirky things I learned about these fine and upstanding citizens on this blog, on the off chance that they’re reading.
My sister, who lives in Seattle, is next.
God help her.
Closing the Doombook
This post is starting to feel longer than a breezy post of this kind has any right to be, so although it’s still somewhat shy of complete — how do you capture an entire
six seven months of life into a single blog post? — I’m going to call it here.
You get the idea by now. I’m exactly busy enough.
I do what I want to do and enjoy activities for what they are. Some days are packed with travel and sightseeing and brutal exercise, and others overflow with just the basics of life — eating, hanging out with my wife, reading.
And while it’s true that were I still working I would have been able to do some of the things I’ve listed here, it’d be a fairly small subset. The multi-day vacations would have been gone for sure, along with a lot of time spent outdoors, most of the books and day-trips, and probably my mom’s knee would be missing as well — that first butcher doctor she consulted with probably would have replaced it.
This is what financial independence allows you to do: Exactly the things that you want.
And on the flip side, you can also do this: Never again engage in unsatisfying activities or work.
Conventional wisdom says that our actions define us.
And my actions say that apparently I like (drawing && nature && writing && reading && socializing && helping my family out) a lot more than (sitting in meetings && programming && complaining about work && turning business requirements into software and infrastructure solutions).
Who would have guessed?