The Touring Machine

Personal Digital Assistance on the Business Trip to Enlightenment

Copyright 1998 by Wil McCarthy, all rights reserved.



I like my day job, let me make that clear. I write and configure and test the guidance software for Titan rockets (those are the kind that go up, not the kind that come down on people's houses and heads), and every year or so I get to support a real live space launch. You know those guys who say "guidance is go?" in the mission control rooms you see on TV? It's just like that. That's what I do, and it really is a kick. And in between launches, I do a lot of testing, particularly "accuracy analysis," where the rocket doesn't end up quite where it's supposed to, and "failure mode analysis," where the software or (God forbid!) the hardware don't quite work the way they're supposed to. For some reason, these things are really fascinating to me. I like machines that are half broken, but still carrying on somehow.

I'm not crazy about some of the bureaucratic bull-puckey, but really, who is? And there are boring and frustrating and Dilbertesquely surreal days at the office, but I think every job has those. I suppose the whole thing is not as interesting as it used to be -- I started out on a civil program, launching satellites for NASA and commercial customers, but later got shifted to the military side, which (predictably) is larger and slower and more bureaucratic. But military satellite technology has proven effective both at preventing wars, and in reducing the casualty count when they do occur, so I so still feel that what I'm doing is important in a technological, political, and social sense. I'm helping to keep the world civillized and fair, and there probably aren't many people around who can say that.

I got this job when I was twenty-one and fresh out of college, and it's seen me through a lot of changes since then. Home buying, divorce, second bachelorhood, illness, recovery, love and remarriage... I sold my first short story just after I started working here, and have sold a lot more since then, and written five and a half novels (the first, alas, unpublishable) under the patronage of this proud corporate sponsor, who only asks that I do a little engineering work in return.

But here's the deal: as my writing career has grown, so has its appetite for my spare time. Evenings, weekends, sometimes late nights and early mornings; the writing monster will eat any time it can get its hands on. I'm now working about 40 hours a week on writing and writing-related business, and if you add this to a 40-hour work week and five to six hours of cumulative commuting time, and the need to eat lunch and dinner and sleep at least a few hours every night, and the usual household chores and family obligations from which no human being is exempt, then you can begin to see where problems might arise. The time left over, the free time I spend on myself or share with Cathy and our friends, amounts to no more than about 20 hours a week, which pretty much means Friday and Saturday night, and even those times wind up on the sacrificial altar if there's something particularly big going on that week.

You know what they say about all work and no play. Jack has not only become a dull boy and a burden on all who know him, he's also getting pretty damn tired of the pace. It's hard to like your life when there's nothing but work in it, so something clearly has to break, and while I like my day job, I love my writing and my family and my wife, so emotionally, the decision is not really a hard one. No eenie meenie about it; sooner or later, either I have to completely reassess my lifetime plans and priorities, or the full-time Lockheed Martin job has got to go.

If we had to get by on just my writing, this plan would probably be untenable, but fortunately, Cathy is working part-time as a graphic artist, to pay her tuition through graphic arts school, and when all this is finished, our financial options will expand considerably. The possibilities are myriad, but in our ideal world she'll end up working part time at a place she likes, and I'll end up writing half time and working half time or possibly not at all, and together we'll make enough money to raise a proper family. We'll see, I guess.


See previous section. See next section.

Return to Wil McCarthy's home page.