28 September 2009


As I ruminated on perhaps learning a lesson about which side projects are appropriate for a software engineer and father of two in a house without a soundproof music room, I realized that I have not properly learned one of the lessons I naïvely thought learned long ago, about getting work done to have in the end more -- and more quality -- time for non-work pursuits.

First, I think that I have come to believe that working on software projects as a side project from work (as a software engineer) are not right for me: (1) By the end of a day at work, particularly in the "crunch time" which has been shifting more and more to "all the time," often the last thing I want to do is sit back at a computer and write and test code, and in the other direction, after working all evening or weekend on my personal programming project my performance at work inevitably suffers; (2) it turns out that I am terrible at web design, and while this might be alleviated by study and practice, see #1, though as a personal development goal I hope to improve in this space through work-study at work; (3) potential IP conflicts with work.

Now, seeing this, what other side projects can I indulge in as an outlet for creative expression? The obvious ones to me are music and writing. Music has been hard to find time and workspace for, as having my equipment out is a disaster waiting to happen with two children under 3, and in any case playing guitar, trumpet, piano, synth, and singing after the kids go to bed is not an option. I'm still hoping to spend much of my December vacation recording new and old music and re-recording some even older songs, but it does not work out as a good fit.

But writing seems to fit. The kids demand stories at all times, so in a sense I'm "writing" all the time, even though half of those stories are "Marco plays soccer/baseball/hockey with his friends" or "Marco goes to the truck/tractor store with his friends." It's even a bedtime story which has uncorked the latest flurry of writing for me, "The Riddle of the Koi," even though yesterday I realized that more than likely that my Tolkien-reared subconscious had produced the "ROTK" initialization of the title. I can write without piles of gear and cords strewn about one or more rooms. I can write while waiting for a dentist appointment, or in an hour and a half of free time while the kids are blessedly napping at roughly the same time, or in the hour and a half after the kids go to bed. I can write! It is like rediscovering a vestigial limb, long forgotten.

Now, the naïveté. I have often thought to myself, proud of my supposed increasing wisdom, that if I had to go back and do college over again, I would actually study and work harder -- in order to in the result have more time for a personal life and personal pursuits, as well as getting the most out of the studies I was there to pursue in the first place. In college, far too often I put off work, put off studying, and in the end this caused me to spend more time and interrupt more personal choices to eventually make up that intellectual debt, and to do so in such a half-assed manner -- just enough to make the grade or pass the test -- that I missed even getting the real, life-long benefit of learning, despite the increased time cost.

But I realize that this is actually a lesson I have not really learned. At work, I too often let distractions sneak their way into my day, causing my work to suffer and slip, leading to work following me home as deadlines grow nearer and nearer, turning an 8 hour work day into 10-12, completely unnecessarily and completely foolishly and wastefully. On that note: to work! So that later, instead of paying the accrued interest of work debt, I can get to that topic which sparked the whole topic: writing the "ninja, pirates, and zombies set in feudal Japan" novelette -- and no, at least I hope not, it is not as trite as that sounds -- that wants its way out of my head: "A team of ninja sent to capture a pirate ship finds more than they bargained for when the corpses of the pirates lurch back to life, as one member of the ninja team's life comes full circle."


Michael said...

I sometimes feel strange trying to explain to people that after a long day of programming I like to relax by doing a little... programming. But it's a different kind of programming when I'm doing it because I want to: it's a series of creative exercises that I can play around with at my own pace. I suppose that's what other people use soduko or a crossword to accomplish; not doing those myself I wouldn't know.

But I know what you mean. When I want to just turn everything in my head off, nothing beats trying to play a difficult piece of music (I'm on a penny whistle stint at the moment). If you stick to classical and folksy lullaby music you can even get away with a late night session.

Writing on the other hand is too similar to programming--lots of disparate variables, combining to form convoluted threads that must all meet up at the end--and would be relaxing except for the fact that I'm so much worse at it and it takes so much effort.

montsamu said...

re: Michael

Ah, I should have perhaps distinguished between creative exercises programming and "trying to build a real world system as a supplemental job" programming. I do enjoy going after Project Euler tasks.

My feeling about drawing seems to echo your feeling about writing. I'm so terrible at drawing and the result is abysmal. So far I am not terribly horrified by what I'm writing. But maybe that's a bad thing, as one of the genres mashed up into my current story is horror, after all...