When Our House burned Down

I was going to post this yesterday, and– So life has been semi-weird. Then I was going to post this today and– Well, today is easily explainable. I had to take the face that launched a thousand purrs, and her brother,(now renamed Indiana (Indy for short) for his tendency to go on adventures, explore odd places and come back very happy and bearing odd treasures. (He needs a hat.) ) to the vet for their first appointment. They’re healthy and sassy and we thought the nurse wasn’t going to give them back, because she kept kissing them…

Anyway, but then we had to book boarding for liberty con for the two older cats, and we had to stop at three stores to get stuff we’ve been putting off, and– so, oh, hi.

And on the way here, I took a detour through my discord group, where we were talking of motherhood, and I remembered how many years I spent paralyzed I was doing it all wrong, or that I’d somehow taken the wrong path.

Yes, I know any number of you are going to say “it’s not worth worrying about what you can’t change.” Wise words, but they mean plain nothing for that annoying voice at the back of the head that says “if only.”

“If only we’d gotten married earlier. If I’d stayed here and not given up the offered scholarship for tech field. If– If– If– If–.”

I kept obsessing I was on the wrong path too. To be fair, it took me 13 years to break into print with the half a cent a word short story. A good three years from there to crawl to pro. Everyone else I knew, including members of my writers’ group, were starting and getting published in three years.

In my head this was because I was totally unsuited to being a writer, and who the heck even tried to do this for a living. Also, third language and dyslexic.

Well, with the years of experience, the language had less — way less — to do with it than a weird sense of story. (Portugal has completely different tempo and beats for story. And though I read a lot of translated stories, something tot he internalized culture still made me too slow, and … odd until I acculturated. Which, yeah, took about a dozen years. But I couldn’t see that, so I thought it was the language.)

I was sure I was, to us Pratchett’s phrase, down the wrong leg of the pants of time, and headed into even more wrongness.

How long did I spend on this? Decades. I was in my mid forties when I started getting over it.

Now, I’m not going to say I have no regrets. If Dan and I had married sooner, we might have a couple more kids. And he might not have had some issues in college. And if we’d understood things better, we’d not have lost money in our first house.

But mostly the regrets we have now are of the “We’d have gotten where we are faster.”

Am I meant to be what and who I am? I don’t know. It feels like I am. I don’t know when that changed, though, and it might be survivor bias. I.e. nothing else worked, this works, well, this must be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Am I still totally unsuited to be a fiction writer here and now? Well, yes. For one I’m dyslexic and it’s my third language. For another I tend to have no patience with mass media or the fad of the moment. My time waster is politics, followed by economics. Okay, there’s also improbable history (like, the big rocks were put there by aliens) but that’s more when I’m either depressed or just being silly. And even when doing deep dives, I remain aware of how silly it is. Oh, also, I really need security to function well, which over the course of my career was maybe five minutes one of those days there.


And nothing. I’m a writer. And it feels like it’s what I was meant to be, crazy as it is. And it’s not just me, you know? The world is full of dyslexic professional writers, ADHD chess players, asthmatic runners, etc. Sometimes I think that the Author of this novel likes playing against strengths.

It just is what I is. What I am supposed to be.

Again, I have no clue when I came to this conclusion. The last time I looked for a job was…. five years ago. Or rather I didn’t look. I opened my word processor and tried to craft a resume, and realized I didn’t have one. the last job had been 25 years ago. I no longer remembered my languages, so getting another translating job was stupid. And…. well, what do I have to show anyone?

But then I also couldn’t think what job I wanted to do. Not really. “I just want to do something where I can’t be fired out of the blue for reasons not in my control” wasn’t a thing. For one, you know, I’ve looked at husband’s career. We actually tended to find ourselves unemployed at the same time. For another, I still wanted to tell stories.

I mean, I did consider just selling crafts (still considering, but more because sometimes I need to do things that aren’t words, and if it pays so much the better. I’m highly money motivated.) and writing for a hobby. But that’s about it. Then the indie writing started paying. (Yes, I know. I need to do a lot more of it. Bear with me.)

And I keep coming back to two things: the first time I met Glenn Reynolds, he came to Liberty con, and we were at a Baen party together, as part of a group, oh, 14 years ago or so. And someone asked him how he’d become THE Instapundit. And he said “Like most major things in my life, more or less by accident.”

Which gave me a great feeling of relief, because that’s pretty much me. I mean, 20 years ago, the last time I talked to my best friend from childhood (she’s alive, so far as I know. Or was three years ago when she crossed paths with mom. We’ve just lost touch and not managed to find it again. She married a Frenchman. Things happened. Some of them strange) and she said “Of all of us you’re the only one who is where she said she was going to go and doing exactly what she always wanted to do.”

And that’s true…. from 100 feet up. I was in Denver, and I was a professional writer. But the story was in the details. (Including the fact that me at eight had no clue about different cultures, or immigration, let alone effectively switching out your native language.)

I mean, I navigate in life by aiming myself in a general direction and running, and the route gets pretty interesting as I careen pinball-like in various directions, pushed by things.

Sure, I set out to write science fiction. Space opera to be exact. And by gum, my 20th novel was indeed that. And the most successful thing I’ve written to date. But on the way was all this other stuff that sort of happened by accident and accreted into a career.

And then there is this blog, which feels like a major part of my calling, but was supposed to be, like my newsletter is, just a cute thing to keep in touch with the fans of my fiction, and post cute cat pictures.

Then…. well, I got in my way, and here we are.

Exactly where I’m supposed to be? Or in the wrong place, doing it all wrong?

It feels like in the only place I can be, doing things the only way I could.

Could there be better? Well, this brings to mind the second thing, in Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, two successful older middle age people, a wizard and a witch, who had been sweet on each other when young but broken up for not very well defined reasons, come together again, and are talking about it. And it’s obvious he has regrets and he asks if maybe in another world, they got married, and now have children and grandchildren.

And she says, “Ah, yes, but you forget when our house burned down in the night, and we all died. Us, and all our seven children.”

Because you know, sure, things could be better, but they could be massively worse, too.

And for our country as well.

As they are right now, for what they are right now?

We are alive and doing what we can in the only way we can do it and in the place we’re in.

Keep doing that. Sure. It might all turn to dust and destruction tomorrow through your actions or not. I mean, there are no guarantees.

You are required to do the best you can where you are, that’s all. At least if you care about what you do and the world in general.

You are not required to be perfect.

Sometimes the fairy godmother will pick you up and put you in a place you could never have imagined, but to which you are perfectly suited. And sometimes all your efforts will be for nothing and everything you do will come to dross. And then the very strange fairy godmother….

I know it’s trite to say that when a door closes a window opens, but that’s literally been my experience, although often it’s the opposite, as in my inimitable way, I’m likely to find the window first, only know about it, and have been coming and in out through it for ten years, completely unaware that that giant wooden rectangle on the wall actually opens to allow people through.

I’ve never seen a complete fail with no alternative. And an alternative that often leads to people being more fulfilled in their new place.

I have no explanation for it, except we are in a novel, and well…. you’re not required to accept that, so call it the workings of a chaotic system.

The only people who fail forever are those who decide they are doing so, and thereafter close every door that tries to open then return to pumping arms and legs on the floor and screaming they never should have failed.

So, here we are. Maybe not in the best of all possible worlds, but where we have to be. In the way we have to be.

Now, sure, we want it better.

Shoulder to the wheel. Keep pushing.

77 thoughts on “When Our House burned Down

  1. Sometimes one door closing can lead to a long life of doing something else. The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson, who passed away this past Sunday at 82, only became a professional poker play because he broke his leg before he could join the Minneapolis Lakers as a pro basketball player. Ended up playing poker instead and the rest is history.


    He had an amazing life that is an example for everyone, no matter what one chooses to do in life and what paths one ends up taking.

  2. Several years ago, I read a short story about a young man who was sure that he belonged in a different place and time.

    After some time of mourning the fact that he didn’t belong here, some Cross-Time policemen and sure enough the young man didn’t belong here.

    So they took the young man where he belonged.

    The problem was he belonged in a low-tech land and was intended to be a serf there. 😈

    So the moral is to be happy where you are, you could have been in worse situations. 😆

  3. First. Glad the new kittens are adjusting well and healthy.

    if we’d understood things better, we’d not have lost money in our first house.

    In the ’80s? Won’t say we understand the housing market any better. We figure we were lucky to get out of our first house without losing money. Didn’t make any. But we didn’t make any on the sale. Even better we didn’t even come close to losing it to the bank.

    when a door closes a window opens

    Blink. So, we’re not the only ones.

    I’ve looked at husband’s career. We actually tended to find ourselves unemployed at the same time.

    When we first started out as newly weds we expected to be unemployed at the same time whether we stayed with the USFS or went where we did. Latter we only had three people between us on the seniority list, starting the same week but different days (so seniority was explicit). Then when I changed careers things smoothed out a little. Did have two close calls.

    First. When the timber company (huge international one, so did not expect it to “go away”) sold the division assets and shutdown offices. Moving not an option. Kicker? Hubby’s company put out lay off notices for 15 people because of the lost contracts with the sold division (purchasing entities aren’t contracting with them), including hubby. Sure the layoffs were rescinded before triggered. Didn’t stop the stress from causing me to throw up for 3 months.

    Second close call was the next company where the job ended because that company went bankrupt. We swear hubby’s company realized I wasn’t working and therefore hubby couldn’t make a fuss over a transfer. Well not true. He could and did make a fuss, but went anyway. Also put in for volunteer transfer back before he left. We also never expected hubby’s job to have layoffs every single year he was employed. Supposedly layoffs were suppose to decrease as you move up the seniority ladder. After 10 years employment both layoffs and forced transfers were suppose to be a thing of the past. Industry changed. Until hubby’s last few years, hubby was on the bottom of the seniority list. Company went from 270 field employees to around 45 field employees; 150, including me, lost seniority. Hubby would have been one of us, but about 10 above him didn’t come back when called.

    only people who fail forever are those who decide they are doing so, and thereafter close every door that tries to open then return to pumping arms and legs on the floor and screaming they never should have failed.


    Never give up. It has worked for you and Dan. It has worked for us. Never. Give. Up.

    At this point we are not dependent on a paycheck. We (honestly) did not think that SS would still be available, or it would be severely reduced. We are getting SS that is not severely reduced. We win. 🙂

    Oh. I also had a front row seat of what happens if you do go out in debt. Well your children will be disappointment. Even then personal property, which is more emotionally valuable, the financial entities won’t touch. Other than that? Nothing.

  4. Once upon a time I was in love, or so I thought, with a number of the pretty and not-quite- pretty girls in my schools. I imagined life together. And now, roughly 47 years after graduating from high school, I see how well each of us has aged. I am blessed to live with a wife who sat with me through months of inpatient chemo, more months of radiation therapy, multiple surgeries, good jobs punctuated by months of unemployment, and so on. I “won”.

    Is any life perfect? No, of course not; but a life without challenges is not worth living. How we endure or overcome proves the value of our religion/philosophy/whatever.

    To quote a good friend, “Life is too important to take seriously.”

  5. Haven’t had any spectacular phoenix from ashes moments or super-narrow escapes, but a lot of the skills and life hacks I rely on at current (reasonably paying, with health benefits) day job were things I learned at a succession of not-so-impressive temp jobs back in the day, or just by being a college-aged internet addict in the AOL era or a little later. At the time, I kind of felt like I was wasting my time, might have been pushing forty by the time I realized that what I thought were frivolous jobs and pasttimes had actually been valuable.

  6. About jobs, as bad as I have had it was in the early 80s, working offshore oli drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, when the active rig count went from 1,250 to 400 with exploration drilling banned.
    That year I had 22 W-2 forms, from five different types of work, but I was never out of work.

  7. Good post with a lot to think about for sure and this is a subject I think a lot about too, especially if I’d been able to start taking better care of myself earlier or if there had been something I could have done to keep my mom from dying in the way she did. It’s true without a lot of things going the way they did I probably wouldn’t have joined this community or moved to a place that’s far and away the most comfortable I’ve ever lived, though. Same for me wondering if things working out the way they did for a certain someone I know, too. Add in my current job actually letting me make LC after all (something I wasn’t expecting given how frequently you have to build up to that kind of time off) and, well… I guess we’ll see if that one last area that’s been haunting me works out soon.

  8. I’m in the process of cleaning up after a flood so the title of your post really struck home. I’ve decided to use the necessity to finally purge the books down by at least a third, possibly half. That will make me a person with too many books as opposed to a person with stupidly too many books. It’s hard since these books are my friends. In many cases I know exactly when and where I got them. It’s like being at a wake. Still, they’re just things.

    Back in HS career day I came across demographer and thought that was right up my street. Looking back almost 50 years later after a career on Wall Street and working all over the world, and many highways and byways I find that is essentially what I did and do. Strange how life goes.

    I think I’m very lucky since, despite all the anger in me and there’s lots, I’m basically content with my life. Regrets, sure, but not many really. The three of four really important decisions one make in life have turned out well for me.

    The biggest one is finding the right wife, Proverbs has it exactly correct “He that hath found a good wife, hath found a good thing, and shall receive a pleasure from the Lord.”

    1. I left a case of childhood/adolescent books at my parents’ house. I left them too long: the room caught fire while my brother’s girlfriend was using it. I did go back and rescue a few, all smoke damaged. But the rest are gone. Given there was a second fire and the place has been empty for several years I never want to go back. But since he died intestate and I’m the next of kin, I don’t know what will happen.
      They’re just things….but some of them are important things.

      1. I managed to save two of my childhood books. A fair few of what I lost had been my parent’s. It’s really hard. Still, they’re just things, important things but things.

        On the other hand, I am salvaging the few that are irreplaceable, I am the proud possessor of a “stinky book box” and an amateur book binder — I have the skills and tools — presses mostly — to fix them, All this has finally forced me to come to terms with what I’ve acquired and that can only be a good thing long-term,

        The mass of them had become a burden. I was taking no joy, only anxiety. Now I can get it down to something I enjoy. Lemonade outa lemons basically. Or so I tell myself. We’ll see how it goes,

        1. “Several” years back I lost over 1,000 comics in my collection to terminates. So many of my Uncle Scrooges. The good news about it all was that there was minimal damage to the house, as the buggers did an almost surgical tunnel up the side of the house and right into the boxes of comics. They gave themselves for the good of the house.

        2. The one I most regret losing was, “Classic Secrets of Magic.” Sixties-era, very straightforward book of standard magic tricks and how to do them. Never tried any, but I just enjoyed pulling out the boo, and reading it now and then.
          It just hurts. I wasn’t close to my brother and he (or his addictions) did some crappy things to us, but it just hurts.

    2. Whereas a bad marriage is a bit like building a home, then setting it on fire.

      Hm. That would have been cheaper, actually.

      Oh well….

  9. Great writing. I always enjoy your perspectives and your Instapundit links are fresh and welcome.

  10. I never lost money on a house, but the first two were washes. The first was in an awful neighborhood, and I sold after a year. Got into a less awful neighborhood, remodeled the place and sold it 8 years later. Got the original price, plus what I’d put in for the remodel. Sweat equity reimbursement was about $0 per hour. OTOH, I learned a lot.

    Sold that house and moved to a good neighborhood into a 1936 vintage house. Let life happen instead of remodeling, got my MSEE ticket, and found She Who Would Eventually Become $SPOUSE. We took a long time to a) find each other, and b) to get married. Still, it’ll be 22 years (in August) since “I do”, and we’re making it work. Sold out after 17 years, mercifully at a peak in Silly Valley prices, and a trough in Flyover County prices.

    If I had been the super star at HP (then Agilent as HP decided to stay with computers), I might have lasted another 12-18 months before being laid off in an industry-wide shutdown of semiconductor work in the now grossly misnamed Silicon Valley. And 10 of those months were fairly highly paid on a consulting gig. That paid for the renovations the place needed to be salable (replumbed most of the house and had to replace two termite riddled exterior walls; not fun at all) and we moved to $TINY_TOWN. No major renovations, though still a lot of work. Redid the roof once, built a few outbuildings, and last fall I removed the wrap-around deck. The damage to the siding caused by water splashing off the deck means the place gets a new skin, by a contractor. I’m crazy, not stupid. And, the place will look goorgeous when they’re done.

    I do wish I had never started smoking. Did so for 14 years or so, eventually leading to loss of some teeth and contributing to various other issues. OTOH, I’ve been a non-smoker for 40 years now, so as much as my body can heal from young Pete’s mistakes, it’s happened.

    1. Your statistical risk of anything smoking-related is now identical to that of a non-smoker’s. So hooray for that!

      (I will give cheers and encouragement to anyone who wants to give up smoking. Not damage I would wish on anyone.)

      1. Smoking killed my dad. His family has a history of cardio vascular problems without the smoking added on. Stroke at age 50 from choroid arteries clogging; one side 100% (not “fixable”), the other side partly open. Hail Mary to rooter out the partly clogged side. Could have stroked out on the table because of the procedure. Either do nothing and let him die or try. He survived that stroke and procedures. Smoking killed the inlaws. Heck neither I or hubby, their son, even knew they’d smoked that is how long it had been. Have two uncles and an aunt who still smoke despite the fact they are dying from it.

        1. My Aunt B didn’t die of smoking, but it sure contributed. For reasons unknown to me, she only had one working kidney. She smoked for maybe 30-40 years until the working kidney started waving the white flag.

          After lots of waiting and associated issues, she got the transplant. It didn’t go well, and she ended up back in the hospital for various problems. I got back there the year before she died when she was in a nursing home recovering from that hospital stay. (Am I being cynical? Maybe.) Her heart packed it in around Mom’s 92nd birthday. She was the kid sister, and was 78.

          Mom’s younger sister also smoked; not sure of cause of death in that one, but between the alcohol and the cigarettes, she didn’t give herself much of a chance.

          Killing teeth due to smoking a pipe probably means I got off light. Dad said he smoked maybe 5 cigarettes in his life, but he passed from his third heart attack at 53. Mom died at 99. AFAIK, she never smoked. Lots of other medical issues, but 99.

          1. Smoking. Already stated paternal side of the family. Smoking not good.

            OTOH. Maternal side. Both her brother and her sister smoke, a lot. Going strong at age 77 and 85. Mom is 88 doesn’t smoke. She is healthier than her siblings because she doesn’t smoke but beyond that. Grandma & grandpa were in their 90’s when they passed (never smoked). Their older siblings were in their 90’s when they died too (have no clue about smoking or not).

            The difference between maternal and paternal genes? Paternal side has cardio vascular problems (not helped by propensity for sleep apnea, which now can be addressed). Maternal side does not have the same tendency. Smoking doesn’t help either, but it hurts the former a whole lot more.

  11. We can always dream, but to succeed we need to put in the work. Is it what we WANT to be doing? Maybe, maybe not… But fates/choices/luck have brought us to where we are today. FIDO!

    1. There was a band once that my sister managed, bar band level, but they did make a demo tape that I had a copy of. Their lyrics on a similar title were:

      I’m burning down my house
      Packing up my things
      Taking all my dreams
      I used to know
      And throw them out

  12. Both my career and my spouse were due entirely to luck. In college, I was an Industrial Arts major (basically studying to become a shop teacher) when the worst teacher I’ve ever had (an Algebra teacher, as it happens) had some serious health issues and had to be replaced for the last third of the semester. The replacement was from the computer science department and talked up computer programming as a worthwhile thing to do. I gave it a shot – and changed majors. I’m now a retired computer programmer. Without that teacher getting sick, there’s no telling what I would have done for a living.

    I met my spouse in a similarly random fashion. She and her then boyfriend (B) were coming to town for a science fiction convention and needed a place to stay. B stayed with another good friend (D) in the dorms, but since it was a male-only dorm she couldn’t stay there. D asked if she could stay with me in my off-campus apartment, and I agreed. That was the start, and a few years later we got married. It’s been over forty years now (and we’re both still good friends with B and D), so I’ll chalk that up in the win column.

    1. my career and my spouse were due entirely to luck

      Mine too. Both.

      Spouse. We did meet at the School of Forestry. Never had a class together (he is older). Never worked together until after married. We did work the same USFS district the summer before I graduated and we married, but it was a classmate of mine that got me to switch districts. He is from San Diego. Decided teaching was so not a career for him after his first student teacher practicum and came up to Oregon State. We met through the school forestry club, and the same classmate’s spouse kept throwing us together. Took 4 years, but she did succeed. We’ve been married 44 years.

      Computer Career. When timber came apart one of us had to get out. Since I’d lost my seniority but husband was still working most the year, I went back to school at the local CC (did not want to commute to Portland). Intent was accounting. If I couldn’t work in the field I wanted, work in something that was easy for me. The counselor suggested computers. Based on my one class required for the forestry degree, I actually laughed at the thought. Counselor’s comment was “you have to take these 4 classes regardless of which way you go”. Three accounting intro classes, one after another, during the summer. One Intro to Computers that was a summer long class. Talk about a flip. I can not emphasize enough how much I hated and despised the computer class I had in ’75. In ’83? The reaction was different. Not only got the CC programming degree, but ended up getting my CS 4 year degree and proceeded to complete a 33 year programming career before retiring.

      1. Sounds a bit like how I got into English. Hated all those classes and tested out of most of them via AP (didn’t take the AP class, just took the test, which caused some puzzlement and resentment among a few of the hardcore AP class veterans) and avoided the ones they wouldn’t let anyone test out of — which meant that when I went back to college for with the idea of turning my college drop-out-ness into a degree…any degree, as long as it was quick and got me off the low-wage blue-collar treadmill I was on…well, there were those darn English classes. Figured I’d get those out of the way quick, and by midterms I had converted to “I have to find a way to keep doing this stuff!”

        Well, an English degree doesn’t get you off the low-wage treadmill as a general rule, so being underpaid has been a lifelong theme until the last couple-three years, but I’m not sure how I ever thought I’d be happy doing anything else for a living. I was MADE to work with words. Apparently also made to be stubborn and slow. I wish I could’ve done a lot of things better, but there are actually very few I’d just wish undone. They all got me here, and here is far from the worst place I could’ve been.

        1. I was going to be an archaeologist. Discovered I had a gift for languages. Was going to be a military linguist and intel person. Tried 3X to get into military, didn’t each time for reasons outside my control. Became a pilot for ten years, that fell apart, became a history prof candidate just as the job market tanked, turned to writing and substitute teaching. And have been telling stories, with and without footnotes, ever since.

          I am SO glad I live in the US, where that sort of change is possible! If I’d been “tracked’ like they do in Europe, I’d never have ended up where I am, doing what I do.

          1. I had intended to be an astronomer. In High School the father of two of my buddies was an astronomer at Yale University. He very kindly talked to me and explained that as things stood (late 70’s) astronomy was a hard path. Doctorate 1-2 postdocs and then MAYBE you’d get a position. I then stumbled into fiddling with our high schools Ti-59 calculator and programming that (essentially assembly) and went to a couple computer fairs with my dad up in Boston at BU. That and a buddy with a TRS-80 convinced me this is what I wanted to do. Honestly The Astronomer ended up wrong because computers made things like the scopes on Mauna Kea and radio telescopy really common as well as Hubble. I don’t regret it though, I got to work at the computer equivalent of starting in WWI aviation and ending up at space craft. and if I hadn’t gone to my alma mater (an engineering school likely NOT where I would have gone for Physics undergrad) I wouldn’t have met my wife.

        2. The worst thing about school is how much you learn to hate classes about things you should love.

          Twain had it right when he said, “Never let schooling interfere with your education”.

          1. Yep. That was the whole of it, right there. I didn’t hate English or writing or literature. I hated the CLASSES I had to slog through.

            Once free of the slow, painful slog and into an environment where the teacher (professor) not only knew a massive amount about the subject, but also clearly thought it was fun, and then pointed you at a book, a Shakespeare play, or what-have-you and said, “Go read it. We’ll discuss Thing X on Wednesday, along with any other questions you have,” it was off to the races.

        3. What? All writers aren’t like JK Rowling or Diana Gabaldon, etc., with people throwing money at you? I’m shocked.

          Just like us programmers. Never made a six figure salary. Our combined income rarely went over the minimum six figure salary, and hubby had to be employed most the year, and worked a bunch of overtime (salary not exempt). Yes, if one looked at our annual salaries as they were set, it would look like we should have been right at that 6 figure salary. But add the annual and sometime multiple times during the year layoffs, and not so much.

    2. Back in 2005 I was looking for a job. Saw a posting for a photographer assistant on Craigslist; turned out to be a short-term position helping with fall school photography with the then-new digital cameras (only their second year of use by that studio.)

      The lab director found out I knew some basic Photoshop. They only kept a few of our group and I was one and I went to the print lab. Did that for several years, had a couple of kids, eventually faded back to nothing because the studio moved up 40 miles away and that was becoming a problem as the kids started to need schooling.

      Couple of years ago, got a call from my boss asking if I wanted some work. Sure—but the commute’s a killer. Well, he said, we fixed that… and now I have a partial-year part-time task-based TELECOMMUTING job that has garnered me raises and praises (the latter is nice, but especially backed by the former.)

      Work spreading over eighteen years of a technological development is a career, right? I mean, when I started in the lab, they didn’t even know how to organize files in a reasonable fashion, so as the newest employee, I dictated naming conventions. Now I work from home on my computer simultaneously on a computer in another city (split screens, different programs), using programs based on a server in West Virginia. It’s been a lot of fun and telling people about the “hardships” we had to deal with is fun. (Love the new stuff, so many fewer things to fix in post…)

      Heck of a ride for a random Craigslist ad.

  13. My parent’s retirement home burned to the ground in the California fires in 2003 – and everything but a few items that my mother salvaged was gone. All the Christmas ornaments, pictures and relics from both sides of the family, the letters that Mom’s brother wrote home before he was killed in WWII, all the books and keepsakes, the family Victorian christening dress, Mom’s wedding dress … all gone. But as a commenter on the blog I was writing at the time, said – they were all things. Cherished and loved things, and missed – but things. It was people’s lives who really mattered.
    And as my younger brother cheerfully pointed out – there would be little enough for us all to fight over inheriting.

    I am so glad that the kittens are such a satisfaction to your family. I almost think that they became so sweet-natured because their mother allowed us to handle them almost from the moment they were born.

  14. If there was ever anyone who didn’t have any regrets, or who never thought “What if…?” about alternate possible paths their lives could have taken, they’ll be sure to have a single one when they wake up: “Why did I sleep my life away?”.

    Everyone has occasional regrets and “what ifs”; it’s the curse of having intelligence combined with memory.

    1. who never thought “What if…?” about alternate possible paths

      I only have a few “what if…?” Every single one is answered with “I, me, myself, and I, made a choice. I am happy with my choice.”

      1. That’s the only sane way to think; agonizing over “what ifs” can’t do any good (except for the local psychiatrist) even if you do have those thoughts.

        I’ve occasionally thought “What if I had taken that job in management I was offered, and given up on engineering? I could have a lot more money now!”. Then I always think, “Nah; this way I still have my self-respect. Plus it was a helluva lot more interesting.”) 🙂

        1. The Reader managed to save his self respect by getting out of management and back to engineering. The biggest regret he has in life is taking a bit more than a decade to figure it out.

          1. Hey, you did figure it out, right? Thart’s what counts.

            Some people are born managers, frequently good ones; I was lucky enough to work for some. Then there are the others; I was unlucky enought to work for one of them. But only for a little over a month; then his manager figured him out and dumped him. The cheering was restrained (professionals, y’know) but it was there. 🙂

            1. Pretty much the way I felt about it. At least the refusal wasn’t held against me. Maybe the fact that my boss’s boss was a guy I’d been fishing with for several years before I went to work there had something to do with that… 😉

        2. Job in Management.

          Shudder. No. Just No.

          I still have my self-respect

          🙂 Yay!

    2. And of course Whittier’s ” “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” ” Except It is only that way sometimes for me. There are paths that I MIGHT have taken (often not taken because I didn’t understand they were open to me). I do think of some of them curiously from time to time and yet not wistfully. Perhaps I have been inordinately lucky. Mind you I have had some ugly times, though my worst really go back to middle school (only vaguely remembered now I can hardly even remember all the tormentors names). Would have been nice to have been a 1983 employee of of Microsoft? Maybe, of course having lived there and been a liberal to start maybe I’d be a total asshat. Would it have been nice to have worked at the NSA? Maybe at first though what was once a bulwark protecting the US has shamefully become an electronic STASI. Maybe I’m boring, but I think I’ll be content with what I have. Like our hostess some part of me dreads whats to come even though I cant really pin down what that is…

      1. “We never know what could have been/ but looking back we see/
        What could have been but never was/ was never meant to be.” Kathy Mattea.

        1. “What could have been but never was/ was never meant to be.”
          Cue Mark Twain: The Mysterious Stranger.

  15. I’ll admit to spending a fair amount of time regretting the road not taken. It’s easy to say, “Well, the road is still there. In ten years, you don’t want to regret not taking it now.” The problem is that, once you hit middle age, you know you can’t make it as far along that road as you would like. And there are some roads that really are closed; I doubt I could have more children at this point, even if I could get my blood sugar under control.

    Still, there’s nothing you can do but go forward, so that’s how I’m doing. I still wish that I’d figured out a lot of this stuff about writing in my 30s; when I was in my 20s (though I could have done better than I did), these opportunities didn’t really exist, but I still feel like I was about a decade late in grabbing for them.

    1. Note that most women on their death bed express a regret for not having MORE children, regardless of how many they had or how it turned out. So, you’re normal.
      And to all young women reading that: yep. Now think about it.

      1. to all young women reading that: yep. Now think about it.

        I can’t regret not having more children. Did I want more? Yes. More children just weren’t coming. Is there regret we didn’t push for more invasive procedures? Not really. Back then not only was it extremely expensive, the odds were not there. If did hit the jackpot, there were dangers. This was a time where the options weren’t options unless there was a clear diagnosis of “you are not getting pregnant and here is why”. We had the former. Didn’t have the latter. Compared to now where it is “looks like it isn’t happening. In vitro is an option.” We talked adoption, started the process but didn’t complete when we got pregnant with our first (and last). Sister & BIL did adopt their first one. Not sure we could have handled the scrutiny. I can say “I wanted more children.” I can’t say I regret not having more children. I refuse to regret something I had no control over.

      2. I have been trying to convince my daughter she will regret deeply not having at least trying to have children. You never know if they will be granted, but never trying for a family is something I know women have very much regretted.

        A lot of “child sacrifice” going on for fleeting material gain these days.

        Very sad.

        1. My daughter became pregnant two years and nine moths ago … and it finally lit a fire under her that was awesome to behold. She stopped drifting, got her qualification as a real estate agent, and got serious about adult obligations. Within hours of reading the home pregnancy test, she had everything sorted for herself and the -son-to-be. Who will be two years old, tomorrow.
          He is adorable, my baby grandchild.

        2. I never met a suitable father, and so it’s a bit of a mild regret.

          besides, I would not have been a good mother.

      3. I currently have the number I wanted, and it seems to be the correct number. #3 is a bit further spaced than the other two, and that’s mostly because we got so busy with the first two that my husband turned to me at one point and said, “We wanted three, didn’t we?” and we looked at each other and went Oops…

        (We have proven late fertility on both sides of the family, as a reassurance and a warning. My husband was, shall we say, a very late surprise. It does still get harder on the body as you get older.)

        1. Paternal grandmother had 6. But kids came in groupings. Not twins even though grandpa himself was as twin (and had sisters who were twins). If only (yes possible, cousin had a twins). Groupings as in a year-ish apart for the oldest two, then 8 years before the next pair, again 2 or so years apart, then more years until the last set who were 2 years apart. As in there is 20 years between dad and his youngest brother. Youngest uncle is only 6 years older than I am.

  16. Alternate histories are always fun. But I stopped dwelling on them when I realized that my fantasies about them were centered on me being the one constant in a universe of wildly changing variables. I got rid of that and realized that it just wasn’t so.

    Example: Flying cars, or trips to the Moon for the cost of a first-class plane ticket – oh, I so want those. But – if I had them, I would have no sense of wonder about them; they would be so commonplace that I wouldn’t even notice.

    I’ll gratefully take the wonders that happen – big or small – that happen to the me. Knowing that my children will see them as commonplace, and (hopefully) see those two things as wonders – and my grandchildren will see them as just another part of the world.

  17. I was introduced to my hubby our senior year in high school. We’ve been together since we were 17. Married at 19, first child at 20. Last of six living children at 34.

    I guess the best way I can describe it was from a meme I saw that said, “While you are growing up, your parents are growing up too”.

    Certainly true in our case. 😜

    I can honestly say that it has been a great life and nothing beats having someone to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with all these years. And we have had a lot of slings and arrows and not really a fortune, nevermind an outrageous one. Twice we lost our carefully planned investments when companies went under. So, because of that and horrendous medical debt I went back into the workforce where I ended up getting a computer science degree, working as a network administrator, and now as a middle school Librarian. Two dream jobs I never would have had if I hadn’t been forced out of my comfort zone. And, honestly, I don’t know what I would have done with myself when the last kid flew the nest without my work.
    I didn’t have the life I thought I’d have a sixteen but that’s because there is no way I could possibly have planned one this great.

    I know that God must have been planning this out for us because the only thing dumber than a 17 year old boy is a 17 year old girl and almost NOTHING we planned actually happened other than the happily ever after part.

    But I guess that is always the fuzzy part at the end of fairy tales.

  18. After a mostly undistinguished life, I’ve gotten the chance to help a new writer. She’s been imagining stories all her life, but never learned the narrative and composition skills to tell them for others. Our paths crossed two years ago on a workshopping site. Late last year, after a lot of work and a bit of gracious help from two Mad Genius Club authors, she published the first book of a planned trilogy. The second is in progress.

    I feel deeply blessed.

  19. Still waiting for the surprise opportunity. I’ve had plenty of seeming doors of opportunity slammed shut in my face, but windows never seem to open. My “favorite” was when I got both a raise offer and a new job offer on the same day. Took the former, and then got informed weeks later that corporate had blanket nixed any and all raises.

    Despite that, there were still some very strong indications that things would work out in the long run at that job over the coming months. Except things didn’t work out for me personally, and after several months I found myself abruptly on the unemployment list.

    I’m getting used to it at this point, to the extent that the constant disappointment is coloring my expectations.

  20. ” I have not yet begun to Fight ” John Paul Jones said while the ship around him was burning. He didn’t want to be in a fight on an old ship against better ships and with better crews. His ship was on fire, the other captain asked him for his surrender. That was his reply, “I have not yet begun to fight”. The Marines and sailors he had on board opened fire from the rigging and took over the British ship.
    Fate is fickle, Love is as well, we’ve all had loves and we all have lost, the what ifs and regrets are the fire on the deck, it just focuses you when you need it.

  21. It’s hard not to look back and wonder how you could have done better (with the added sideline of “how many bullets did I dodge”…tech job I lost because I had issues with the commute but the company got bought out a month later and moved to LA, girl I dated and thought was The One but realized that she wasn’t and the last I heard of her she was unhappily married to a guy that flunked out of Marine Corps Boot Camp for not putting on enough weight, etc, etc, etc…).

    I do wish there was a magic wand and I could change a few things. Got my degree earlier, managed to find a doctor that realized my issues were anxiety and social and gave me the right medications, was more hard-core about dealing with Crazy Roommate’s issues, didn’t invest in several RPG game lines…

    But I can’t go back, even if I wanted to. All I can do is go forward.

    I’ve got a new novel coming out in a week or two. Probably sooner. And the sequel is coming together rather quickly.
    I’ve got a second novel series I’m writing. It’s not going as fast as I’d like but it is getting written.
    Mom’s home, she’s getting better and that’s something.
    I’m back looking for a new job…but I have a few possibilities coming up. As long as I have MediCal, I’m…not bad.

    Gotta keep moving forward. The only other options aren’t good.

  22. The only regret I have is that I didn’t know how close I was to a philosophy minor with the required classes I had. A few more under my belt would not have gone amiss, because I was learning it from good teachers, and honestly that’s been some of the more lifelong useful stuff.

    Everything else… eh. Don’t wanna lose the good things that came out of bad beginnings.

  23. Sarah – some people are blessed to have inherent skill in their chosen profession / calling. I think that’s not the case for most of us. If you want to pursue your passion, it will require more work than the lucky sod born with the gift, but maybe they’re only in it because they COULD rather than they CARED. Passion sells – and will ultimately get you where you want to be – if you let it.
    Great post (as usual.)

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