Nate Dickson Thinks...

Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

I've been using Evernote off and on since it was in beta and only on Windows. The fully-networked, store-your-stuff-on-the-cloud version has been a part of my life since... well, it looks like November of 2010:

A very plain photo of a chair in some sunlight.

I took this picture to see how Evernote dealt with photos on an iPad. It wasn't meant to last forever, it wasn't really meant to be anything, just a test of the system. But it got caught, and now it's been faithfully copied to every computer I've owned in that time, every mobile device that has had Evernote installed has had that as well.

Not that Evernote is perfect. It thinks the orange rectangle in this picture:

Some pinecones in a blurry picture.

Is the word “chair”. Which is funny and fascinating at the same time.

Aspen on Mulberry on deck.

Summer is well and truly here.

I've actually tiptoed back into working on Painless Git again. I enjoy writing, but it's daunting when I look at the overall state of the project. There's so much left to do! There's so much left to think about and perfect and publish!

And that's fine. On the whole I'm okay with big projects. I just get caught up in the excitement and want to do it all right now. I want to convert it to Markua , the new Markdown dialect that Leanpub is using. I want to convert it to a course instead of a book, or as well as a book, I suppose. I want to put in a whole bunch of images and awesome stuff.

But I have to do school stuff. I have to take midterms this week. One tomorrow, one on Friday or Saturday. And assignments are still due every day.

There is so much to do, so little time in which to do it. But I think I prefer that to the alternative: a boring life, nothing to do, no aspirations, goals, or hopes. Sounds terrible.

I should be chasing kids around, getting them fed and dressed and ready for the day. But that can wait.

Or I should be getting myself up and dressed and ready, but that too can be put off for a few minutes more.

Instead I’m looking at the sunlight make patterns on the wall. Coming through the Venetian blinds, and through the leaves outside it looks like a photo from the 1980’s, so it’s very stylish right now.

This morning could be hectic and stressful, but I’m trying to choose quiet instead. It’s not bad.

I’m in my final semester of my masters degree program. When these classes are over I’m done with school, this time probably for good. For the past two years I have put everything other than school on hold. So I have shoved my writing into corners. Okay, I did NaNoWriMo both years, because I need to keep some sense of who I am.

But mostly my writing has been gathering dust on some hard drives. That’s not the interesting part.

The interesting part is that some characters in my books have refused to go into corners. So, Angel Liz, Cylee, And Wane Early mostly. Angel Liz you can read about on Monday Stories, the other two are from a series of books I’ve been working on… whooosh, for almost a decade now. Somehow these three characters have been sitting in the back of my mind, gathering my experiences into themselves, doing a little here and there to remind me they exist even though, in a strictly technical sense, they don’t. I keep having ideas for Liz’s central conflicts. I keep seeing things the way Wayne would see them, inspecting the world the way he would. Cylee is always trying to break free, get out, find meaning somewhere else… okay, yes, I do know how insane this sounds, thank you so much. Anyway. I‘m excited to get back to actually writing in just a few more weeks.

But the real kind. The kind that involves being in plays in front of other people.

Two of my kids love it. Me?


Which is odd because I used to love it. Many years ago I would do school theatre and enjoy it. I never cared about the audience or making a fool of myself, I just liked playing in the space and pretending to be other people. It was a natural extension of my love of sorry, I think.

And I think that’s where my kids are right now. They are young and fearless and I love that. I’m so glad they feel like they can be themselves, that they feel safe pretending to be other people.

You can't abbreviate your hair.

Even though that's what abbreviate means. “Make it brief” and brief means short.

Except I guess that brief generally means short in terms of time, huh? A brief moment, a brief note.

Oh, a brief note...briefcases! Named for carrying legal briefs, briefcases are full of shortened versions of the full case files, which were shortened, much like hair is.

I guess these days you're probably just putting a laptop in your briefcase. Do people do that? I just use my backpack. briefs are physically shorter, right? I guess we think about written things in terms of reading time, not physical size, huh?

Oh, we're done? Should I say “thanks for abbreviating my hair?” Nah, that's stupid.


A couple of weeks ago a friend/co-worker of mine was interviewing for a promotion. A few minutes before this friend's interview they started panicking and asked me in a chat:

How is it fair that your WHOLE FUTURE depends on the answers to a few little interview questions?

And while I understand their point, I had to disagree.

Eight months ago I interviewed for a promotion and didn't get it. While I was waiting for the final confirmation I felt exactly like my friend. I felt like my whole future, my career, everything, depended on that decision. And when I didn't get the job I was understandably crestfallen.

But the next day still came. That particular “story” ended and I was able to go on.

And last month I got a different promotion, one more suited to my overarching career goals.

I'm not saying that it always works this way, of course. Sometimes you lose and then you lose and then you lose again. I've been there too. Even in that state I've found that there is a certain value in just surviving to the end of a “story” or “event” or whatever you want to call a certain set of experiences.

Hence the Title

It's important for us to work towards our goals. But when a specific effort doesn't pan out we should learn from it and move the heck on. Let's be glad that things end and that we can go on to other things. It doesn't matter if things end well; when they end you have a chance to look around, shake it all off, and start again.

For a few years now I've been a proponent of leaving my work computer locked but running when I go home for the night. After all, that way I can access if it I need to, and everything is where I left it when I come in the next morning.

But about a month ago I had a realization: I don't want to access my computer from home, and having everything where I left it is actually more of a problem then a help.

The first point comes down to the fact that I am trying more and more to leave work at work and live my life at home. The second point is more interesting to me.

It feels like it would be more effective to get to work, see where all your windows are, and get right back into what you were doing the night before. But it doesn't work that way. I found that I would get to work and have to pick through the various things that were left open, detritus of meetings and fleeting thoughts and three different lines of work all going on at once. I have to decide if terminal window is doing anything useful or is just open because I didn't close it. Why do I have an empty spreadsheet open? No clue.

So now I close everything down and turn the computer off every night. When I get to work the next morning I open the windows I need and start on the projects that, in the light of a new day, are the most obviously pressing. As an added bonus, all of the apps that only check for updates when they're restarted are more up to date.

So yeah, nothing huge or earth-shattering here. I just like the sense of “done with that!” that comes from shutting my work machine down every night, and the fresh start every morning.

My wife said the other day that she's figured out part of why we're all so stressed these days, and it has to do with how we fill our free moments. In the past, she said, we always had those moments to ourselves. We had time with our thoughts when we were walking from place to place, or waiting for something. But now we have phones that are instantly and endlessly full of distractions, things that very effectively keep us from having the introspective thoughts we used to have.

So we discussed this idea for a while (after both of us turning our phones off and setting them aside). It seems that we're more fragile, because we never get the processing time we need to come to grips with things going on around us. When life gets too real we hide in our devices and their endless diversions instead of dealing with what's actually bothering us. We allow ourselves to be distracted with small, vapid social media things, and hope those fears, stresses, and complications from which we are hiding will disperse without our ever having to deal with them. I mentioned that, on some level, I'm trusting my subconscious to work through those things, hoping that when I'm done being distracted the problems will be fixed.

But they aren't. We keep carrying them, still present if slightly sublimated.

Since this conversation we've both been declaring certain parts of the day processing time. For me this has been times like the walk between the office and the train, or other little moments where I used to dive into podcasts or other distractions. I've also started asking, before I pull out my phone or tablet if I have something I need to do, or if I'm just using the device to hide from what's actually bothering me.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.