Very very very happy morning for a “highly” unusual reason.
But it’s not what you might think.
Writing has always given me great pleasure. Well, I just re-discovered the 100,000+ word draft of a novel about a crooked sheriff and his weed-growing operation that I wrote on the clock during 2003-2004. It was my first attempt at writing a novel and I never finished it, but I’d plotted it out in detail, I was only 25,000 words from the end, and if not for having a kid and finishing up my FI/ER journey, I’m confident that I could’ve completed it.
Not long after quitting my last job I thought I’d lost the draft to an external drive crash (pre-Dropbox; I’d rather not talk about how stupid I was to rely on only one backup), but yesterday it occurred to me that I might’ve Gmail-ed it to myself, and sure enough, I’d done so one time. I’d found it.
The burning question in the context of this blog is: how the hell did I have time to write a novel on the clock?
I worked in a niche financial services industry. During ’03 and ’04 the bottom fell out of everything: a massive widespread credit crisis, meaning nobody could do business with anybody else.
Our executive management decided that for the moment we were better off retaining all of our employees because we didn’t know when the crisis would end and we didn’t want to be caught flat-footed with no staff when business resumed. And also, projections said it’d be cheaper to keep everybody on for a year than to pay out all those severance packages and then to hire and train new employees.
So that’s what we did. Word came down to “keep your people as productive as possible in the interim.” We sent people to daytime college classes, developed a new tracking system, streamlined old deals, attended conferences, sent front-line employees on field visits, and generally got our shit together.
I did some of the above, and I was busier than average because I was a director in charge of a department of roughly thirty people, but I still had an hour or two of free time each day. So I filled my time with refining my FI/ER plan, participating in EarlyRetirement.org, and writing 500 or 750 of fiction.
I’ll include a short excerpt of my novel below, but the simple and obvious thought I want to leave you with is this: your downtime at work–even if it’s just a few minutes–doesn’t have to be a drag. Keep it productive, even if it’s a short burst. Go for a quick walk and take a few pictures. Solve a physics problem. Anything that stretches your mind. There’s obviously a lot to learn and do out there.
And as I said, if you’re gonna get it on you, get it all over you.
The gist of the novel was this. In the early nineties a crooked Appalachian sheriff is selling protection of a weed-growing operation to two local Vietnam vets. Their “plantation” is way out in the backwoods of the sheriff’s county. But after an act of domestic terrorism in a nearby city, the bomber hides out near the plantation, is caught by one of the growers’ booby traps, and held captive there.
Naturally an enormous manhunt is launched, and now the crooked sheriff has to protect the growing operation from the search while appearing cooperative to the FBI, et al. In this excerpt we open with the bomber’s capture by the growers: Silver (an ex-army sniper) and Grag (a former field medic.)
In boot camp they’d practiced ways for two able-bodied men to carry an incapacitated third across uneven terrain, but Silver and Grag just grabbed him under the arms and by the crooks of his knees and muscled him. It was a goodly way back to the camp and they lacked backboard, neck brace, or any other trauma equipment. Nor did Silver want to risk starting up the ATV. He still wasn’t convinced that the intruder was alone.
It took them almost an hour and they stopped many times. During one pause, while Silver bent double with his hands on his knees and panting hard, Grag stooped low and held his penlight very close to one of the man’s sluggish eye while peeling back the lower lid with his thumb and peering at the underflesh.
“I thought so. He’s yeller,” said Grag, looking up. “Yeller as a squash.”
Grag peeled back the lid of the other eye. “Yep. It’s jaundice. He ain’t just hurt, he’s sick, too. Got somethin’ wrong with his liver, I’d say.”
“It’s busted half in two, most likely.”
Grag shook his head. “Jaundice’s caused by a excess a’ pigs in the skin.”
“Pigs in the skin? What in the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Pigs…p…pig…ment,” Grag sputtered. “’Body waste the liver ain’t cleanin’ out. Point is, it builds up in there gradual and a sudden injury can’t cause it. This boy’s sick, I’m tellin’ you. Has been for a while.”
“How come he to be wanderin’ in the woods, then, if he’s ill?”
Grag shrugged. “Run off from the hospital, maybe?”
When they made it to camp they laid the man out in the dry dirt under the kitchen tarp. Silver went into the tent where the gear was stored and rummaged out the old spare cot and a couple of army blankets and a kerosene lantern. He thought briefly and then made up a bed in the big tent where the rows of plants hung drying, but back away on one side where the bed wouldn’t be dripped on.
Grag came in bearing his little first aid bag. He set it by the cot and they went out together and hauled the man up one last time.
Silver sat and yawned while Grag worked on…well…on their prisoner, as Silver now thought of him. Grag mumbled to himself as he worked. It took some time for him to work the tattered clothes off the man’s limbs, and when Grag slid his left arm out of the coatsleeve the man gave a tortured gasp, but when Grag was through he examined him from crown to sole under the flickering light. The cast from the lantern on the man’s naked skin made him glow even more yellow than he’d seemed out in the woods under their flashlights.
“Mmph. Looky here,” said Grag, pointing to a turgid and shining purple knot on the man’s left shoulder. “Bust his collarbone good. Coupla ribs, too, I think.”
Silver could see that the log had also torn the man’s left ear half off and had ground a big abrasion into his cheek. “Be kinder just to kill the fucker,” he said. “What’s that there?”
Grag lifted the man’s right arm by the elbow and he craned his neck over it. “Well, how ‘bout that?” He twisted the arm so it was in Silver’s view. The arm was ropy with old muscle and on the forearm the anchor and seal tattoo was faded to a blurry indigo, but Silver recognized it immediately.
“You ever kill a SEAL before?” Grag asked. “I know I ain’t.”
“I hadn’t either. It ain’t easy, I hear.”
“Think we oughter start now?”