The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Old files = old memories

As strange as it may seem for a fantasy writer, I spent many years working in the computer industry writing help files and documentation. This included a ten-year period when my wife and I ran our own custom programming company.

While cleaning out my file cabinets, I came across many of our old customer files, now almost 15 years old or older, and I can’t help but think how things have changed.

Our customers included attorneys, health care, and heavy industry and so writing programs and manuals to handle daily operations was always a learning experience. We learned how foreclosures work, how customers need to be placed at restaurant tables, how major products are shipped, and how classroom courses fill up via reservations and tracking of students.

There’s no need to keep these files now. We’ve kept them too long already. They represent “us” in what seems like another lifetime. Since then, we’ve moved on to a different town and different jobs. My wife worked in museums. I wrote grant applications and National Register applications, and (of course) fiction.

Those old memories

I look at those files and see myself as I was. Testing and re-resting computer programs requires a very logical focus. One has to enter data in every possible way it might be entered to see if every possible circumstance works properly. One has to think of every possible thing a user might do that could cause the program to crash and test that as well. In one respect, testing has something in common with editing and polishing a manuscript.

As an intuitive person, I feel slowed down by logic. Fortunately, I can use it for writing grants and editing manuscripts. But there’s less joy in it than there is when one is flying along at warp speed on the wings of his or her imagination. I was in the computer business for a long time, but it was usually a trial by fire kind of career.

Perhaps we all have jobs that really aren’t us that end up making us stronger. Fantasy–any kind of fiction, actually–requires a sound anchor to settings, plots and the research needed to make the story real, so my logical computer-days focus was a good training ground.

We see ourselves as we were when we find old letters, old yearbooks, old resumes, and drawers filled with the music we used to listen to. As I look at all of this, I feel like a character in one of my stories who has changed over time. Maybe that’s just part of getting older. Old objects and old paperwork and old manuscripts are somewhat like a time machine.




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2 thoughts on “Old files = old memories

  1. Your blog reminds me of Lev Grossman’s opinion piece in the New York Times this morning, “Finding My Voice in Fantasy.” How many of us have been intimidated by fear of judgment in giving our intuition full sway? Does age grow us, letting us shed thinner skins, or are the times a-changing? Or both?

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