Last week, I said goodbye to the boss who hired me several years ago and who took a bit of a leap of faith on my fit into the organisation I figure, but for whom I really enjoyed working over the last six and a half years. It was one of those rare occasions in a career where styles meshed comfortably. My boss’ retirement gave me a bit of a wakeup call on the speed with which time chugs along, since the last several years seem to have vanished in the blink of an eye, even if I can remember some painful episodes that took their toll on my patience. Those of you who work in IT and deal with clients can surely imagine what I mean. My boss is only three years older than I am, and that means my retirement from my day job is also potentially only three years away, and long as that may seem as I deal with yet another unreasonable client expectation, it will be quick when placed in perspective with the years that have gone by.
I got my second wakeup call last week as well, at a symposium, where I saw one of my course officers from my early days in training, more than thirty years ago. He was young, freshly promoted and only a few years older than I was at the time, and now, he’s one of the top men in the organisation. I suppose I could say that for many of the folks I saw last week, and yet I remember the days I served with them or under their command at a time when the USSR still rattled its sabre loudly, though one could argue we’ve come full circle with Mr. Putin in that respect.
It got me to thinking about time and how it’s been portrayed in fiction, and more importantly, how a person reacts to the passage of time. I used to read lengthy sagas at one point, the kind that cover generations of one or several families, James Michener’s well known epics being the most notable example, although Edward Rutherfurd is probably better known these days. However interesting these historical panoramas were, and I learned a lot from them even through the fictional veils, even if it was only where to look for actual information about an era that I found fascinating, I never really connected to the characters. They were there for a few chapters, and then the story jumped forward and they were gone. In terms of science-fiction, Asimov’s Foundation stories occupy a similar space, with a similar difficulty in connecting. I think the first series that really caught me in terms of a story arc going over a long period of time where I cared enough about some of the protagonists to feel the immensity of the gulf of years was Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. I found that there was a sense of loss as the story moved centuries and then millennia beyond the original setting, a sense of people long gone to dust whom one still felt for. It’s a bit hard to explain, or put in words, but reflecting on the passing years, and seeing the people around me age, or looking at the young generation just starting out at Royal Military College who have their whole life in front of them carries its own sense of loss. How much more would one feel that dislocation, if one were to be immortal while most of those we’ve known die at their appointed time? Immortality would certainly give one eons to experience loss.
It’s been said the best life lived is one with few regrets, and I regret little of what I’ve lived so far. My father remarked, the other day, that the fact Mrs Thomson and I are still together after thirty plus years is increasingly unusual in this society and something to celebrate, and this may be one of our greatest victories. When I think about it, on top of a partnership worthy of celebration, I’ve achieved what I wanted in the Army, had a tolerable career in IT so far, and now finally, decades after the ambition first struck me, I’m a published author with some success. Yet I can’t help looking back at my life, and thinking about how different the life of those who follow in my footsteps decades later is and will be. There is no value judgement attached to those thoughts, just idle musing about what ifs.
Considering my ramblings about the passage of time, I wonder if I could write stories that are far from us in time, or that cover an immense span. I feel more comfortable spinning tales that occupy little space on the wheel of time, but a lot of space in terms of the main characters’ development. The same could be said about the vistas that provide a backdrop for my stories: they also are limited to the small slice in which protagonists and antagonists live or die. I guess I’m not a big picture kind of guy, but that’s okay. There are plenty of authors out there who like to paint gigantic canvases. I like small, but exquisitely detailed pictures and if you’ve ever seen my hobby room, you’d know how much I love intricate miniatures. Isn’t it funny how much my deeply held, lifelong likes and dislikes inform my writing?