Writing and Mortality

headstoneLast week a friend congratulated me on publishing my second book. He then asked me how many more books I had in me. Off the top of my head, I said fifty. He was surprised by such a big number, and I countered, “It mostly depends on how long I have to live.”

Ideas for books are actually pretty easy. At least, they are for me. Maybe they’re hard for you, or maybe they’re simply flying right past you without you noticing them. I don’t know, but I’m not worried about running out of ideas. Right now I have ideas for twenty books simmering on the back burner, and that’s not including the twenty-two book ideas I discarded before I actually managed to finish my first novel. I see no reason to believe that I’ve exhausted my pool of ideas. More than likely, some of those twenty simmering novels will never be written because there will be even better books to be found in the hundred ideas that will follow them.

But my point is not that ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s just to say that, for me at least, they won’t be the upper limit on how many books I write. Instead, it’s going to be how many years are left in my life. Barring Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, I should be able to keep writing up to my final months. It’s hard work, to be sure, but it’s not physically taxing work. When I’m shopping for my third set of knees and an artificial pancreas, I should still be able to pull a keyboard onto my lap and pound out another tale or two.

IainBanksSo, how many years do I have left? While I can’t put a number on it, I can tell you this: it won’t be enough. Iain Banks died a few days ago. He was 59. Octavia Butler died at age 58. I’m 45. Maybe I’ll be lucky and hang on into my 90’s like Arthur C. Clarke, but whatever the final number is, it will be finite.

Given that the ideas seem much less exhaustible, I can state with confidence that I will die with books unwritten. I suppose that’s true of almost all writers. I feel sad for those for whom it’s not. I would hate to come to the end and feel I had nothing left to say. I suspect that, more than anything, would be enough to hasten the end for me. Sure, I suppose I’ll grieve the number of books unwritten, orphaned by my demise, but if I’m lucky, I’ll have written more than I leave unwritten.

So I’m writing, from now until then. Yes, I’m doing other things as well, but I hope to never again lose sight of the writing. Right now I’m trying to write and publish two to three books a year. If I have another twenty to thirty years left to me, then I could get to fifty books fairly easily. If I’ve got another forty years, then heck, I might even reach a hundred books.

But fifty would be good… especially if I go out working on the fifty-first.

Standing Up

I’ve been reading articles lately quoting studies that show how sitting may be in itself bad for you. They’re showing a correlation between hours sitting and the risk of untimely death. Google will turn up many, but here is one from the Mayo Clinic.

Again, it’s correlation, not causation, but the fact that sitting is a major part of my computer-centric day means that the well-known woes of a sedentary lifestyle may be the causative link. Of note, exercising several hours a week does not seem to lessen the effects, so it really does come back to the sitting in front of the screen, whether it be computer or television.

So, what am I doing about it? Well, I’d like to say I’m not taking it sitting down, but I still mostly am. Yet today, after a few weeks of fiddling, I finally got a second computer set up in my office to use while standing.

StandingDeskIt’s not ideal, but I did not want to make a big investment without first seeing how well it worked out. So, I simply grabbed an extra Ikea table a friend had given me during a move. It’s essentially an 18-inch open cube, and I set it on top of my standard 30-inch high desk. The computer was one that had been effectively killed by viruses last year, but I have since revived it for this purpose. So far, my only out-of-pocket expense has been a new UPS to replace the flaky one. (Short story: Never buy the Tripp-Lite brand!)

My initial impression is that it’s about an inch or two too high. I read that the ideal standing desk should be at about the level of your elbow, and at 48-inches, this setup is a touch too high for me. Also, it’s not wide enough. It certainly supports the keyboard, but it needs at least another six inches to the right for the mouse. As it is, I’m reaching forward to use a small patch to the right of the monitor.

But after letting it catch up on four months of updates, I was able to use it for about an hour. Without easy access to the mouse, it’s not appropriate for gaming or web browsing, but it is quite useable for writing text. As such, I imagine most of my testing will be done via writing. Well, it’s not like I don’t do any of that.

Certainly, an hour or two a day is not going to make much difference in my overall lifestyle and metabolism, but it should be enough for me to judge whether it’s worth making a larger investment. I don’t want to go so far as to buy a complete standing desk (or a half-and-half desk), but I figure I could get a different table to stack instead of this Ikea one. Say, 16.5” tall, 18” deep, and about 28” wide. I might not find something on the market, but I know enough woodworkers that I could get something custom for not too much money.

The news of Iain Banks’ terminal cancer is hitting a little close to home for me. I’m not ready to say that I’ve written my last book. I suppose I never will be, but I’m really not ready now.