Tawanda!

(C) 2018 JJ Shaun
On the road to retirement.

Two weeks ago, my supervisor informed me that the Visible Means of Support™ has eliminated my position. As of today, I am retired—that’s my term, not theirs.

I’ve known for some time that this “action” was coming, so First Reader and I took steps to soften the blow and not feel like we’re falling off a cliff. We have been making the biggest of the bills disappear and looking for other ways to not only trim expenses but to bring in extra income.

First Reader found a niche when she retired, and I went looking for mine. I can write and like to do it. So why not use those skills, only diversify my platform.

I took years to realize my calling as a writer. I was never one to journal (I’m still not) or write a gazillion stories as a kid, but I read voraciously. I was always the one with a book under my nose, experiencing a fictional character’s life—or at least a portion of it. I never thought I could, or would, write stories like the ones I read—until one day it did.

Oh, I had hints throughout my life that writing was where I would land, but I always looked at it as gaining all the experience in life that I could. I was the kid who wanted to do it all. My first “zip-line” experience was when I was an eight-year-old, living on an Army base in Europe with my family. The troops I “played Army” with were para-infantry trainees, and my “zip-line” was the tower from which half of them were afraid to jump. The sergeant had a harness modified to fit my skinny little self. They would hook me onto the overhead cables, so I could swan dive off the platform forty feet from the ground. I loved it. Would I do it again now? Zip-lining? Oh, hell, yes! But I’ll do it with whole a lot more trepidation than I did at age eight, that’s for sure.

Someday I will write about my experiences as a precocious kid growing up on an Army-Air Base in the middle of Europe during the Cold War. Most likely, some of those experiences will be written into the various characters who live in my head.

Anyway, back to hints. In high school, I helped with the yearbook, not “writing” per se, but I was never really the reporter type, so yearbook it was. A few years later, about the time I joined the military, the Internet was advancing. By the time I graduated from boot camp and my training schools, local area network (LAN) cabling was being laid out in the commands where I then served. Being in the electronics field, I got to help lay that cable and test the systems. I quickly learned to use the limited software packages available at the time.

By the time I reached my second command, I was re-writing calibration procedures and submitting them up the food chain to be officially incorporated into the military calibration manuals. Later, after my service obligation ended, I worked for one of the largest manufacturers of UNIX workstation motherboards. I was asked to write the documentation for their then-upcoming ISO-9000 certifications, as well as the testing procedures used by the test technicians.

Another small company I worked for didn’t have documentation of any kind. I used notebooks, lined and unlined paper, rulers, and a lot of colored ink to create hand-written copies of the test units I built. (They wanted me to put it all on the computer, on my time, but “keep track of the hours and we’ll pay you straight time for your effort.”) Yeah, er, no thanks.

After that gig, I realized the only way to officially be recognized as the Tech Writer I had been all those years, was to go to college and get the degree to back it up. I had too much competition from people who had degrees in the field. With my technician’s degree, I would be stuck fixing radios unless I got a ton more writing experience, or I went back to school. And lucky me, I happen to live practically next door to a state university that has a great Technical Communications degree program.

Even though the program offered enough elective credits to get a minor, I chose a broad-based approach to my education; mostly because I am ever curious about the world around me and what makes it tick. I took classes in Psychology, Anthropology, Marketing, Computer Programming, and other subjects that caught my interest. Why? Well, did I mention … SQUIRREL! 😉

Finally, in college, I found myself working as a copy editor at the school newspaper. Because my lowest grade at the time was in my copy-editing class, I applied to the school paper to improve my editing skills. I copy-edited newspaper stories for two years before eventually being asked to serve as Head Copy Editor my Junior year and Managing Editor my senior year. Oh, and my last two-and-a-half years, I wrote a weekly opinion column, always at the behest of the current Editor-In-Chief. I was considered a “non-traditional” student at the time, and the newspaper thought it would be a good idea to have a different perspective for some of the younger students to read. I called my column “Bridging the Gap” because of the age gap between most of my classmates and me. It was a great gig.

Since graduating from college, I’ve gone back to my technical roots and have worked for a couple of high-tech companies. The first was a little software company a little more than an hour’s drive from where I lived at the time. I am now retired from a much larger fish writing and editing high-level technical documentation for computer and networking stuff, always on the bleeding edge technology. It makes my brain hurt. When I try to explain what I do for a living, I watch people’s eyes glaze over.

Those are more than hints. Those are Cosmic two-by-fours.

I was, and still am, fascinated by technology. I was even more enamored when the first gaming consoles were introduced: Atari and Intellivision being among the most popular of the early console era. One of the biggest draws, for me anyway, to the Intellivision was that it had the first video game equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons. I loved playing on that console. It belonged to my brother-in-law, so whenever I was home on leave, I would visit with them partly to play on his new toy.

By the time I finished my military obligation, I had my own gaming console (Nintendo) and my first “real” computer (an Apple IIe clone that I had picked up in Korea while on deployment). It had no hard drive (I don’t think they’d been invented yet), two 5.25″ floppy disk drive bays (one for the program, one to save your work), a simple keyboard (no mouse, that came years later), and a 15″ monochrome screen that had either amber or green characters showing on a black background (the afterimages were staggering). All programs were text-based, and no such thing as a menu existed—unless you programmed a batch file to make one.

Those were the computer “Stone Ages.” Technology has come a long way in thirty-five years.

So, where did my love of technology from?

Reading probably. I loved to read science fiction and fantasy (still do). Robert Heinlein was one of my favorite authors growing up, followed by Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, and eventually JRR Tolkien. I’ve always been a curious kid. I loved to run, climb, and generally get myself, my younger brother, and, ultimately, my father, into trouble when we lived overseas. My brother and I were the little rogues. He would follow me, stealing into the base commander’s backyard to snag a bagful of crab apples so mom could make a pie.

My dad was military, so I traveled a lot as when I was little. I attended five different elementary schools before Dad finally settled in California when I was twelve. For the first time, I had friends that I didn’t have to move away from in the next two or so years. But because we lived near a US military base, a lot of the friends I made then came and went, but some have stayed in my life for many years.

Some of those people, I realize now, were hurt by my actions in high school. I have apologized for my teenaged faux-pas, and some have accepted those apologies (we can be friends again, but not with the same closeness we had back then, and I have to live with that), some have not. C’est la vie. Lessons learned.

So now, here I am, at one of life’s many crossroads, wondering where the path will lead. The past is passed, and I can’t go back and change it, I can only look forward to what the future brings and try to make it better. I will breathe, don my harness, hook up the cable, and gulp down a few deep breaths before running to the edge, splaying out my arms and legs, and taking that leap of faith, all the while yelling “Tawanda!”

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