Joy of Gantt charts: documenting a Summer Writing School as a project

 

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Gantt chart of tasks for the Summer Writing School project, 2018

Why did I get such delight out of creating my very first Gantt chart — let alone admit that I’m proud of it?

  • If you use Gantt charts (made by someone else), it’s a big “ho hum” from you.
  • If you make them, I see an indulgent head-shake, because you know this is the simplest Gantt chart in the world, using a template from Someka.net (bless them).
  • If you don’t use them, I caught you rolling your eyes.

A Summer Writing School: analysing the project

About my summer writing school, January 2018, in Wellington

I wanted to break down the jobs involved in running a summer writing school in accordance with the principles of project management. The thinking took most of the time required to construct the Gantt chart, of course. After I succeeded, I spent the next week in a glow of self-satisfaction. And I think that’s fair enough.

  1. I found a template that worked — what an achievement.
  2. It’s something I have admired for years.
  3. I don’t have an IT department to help me.
  4. It took a week: long enough to require perseverance, short enough to avoid frustration.
  5. It certainly helped me to analyse what I need to do to make the summer writing school a success.
  6. It also showed me what a massive project this is going to be.
  7. Mastering a new skill is a pleasure: end of story.

Now I just have to do all those jobs, untouched since I created the Gantt chart! The danger is, half of me now believes that I am ready, all those tasks done and dusted. Not so fast, lady…

 

 

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Great times for old feet

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All Rachel’s usable shoes plus one antique

What a glorious time for old feet, especially of the female variety! Remember the days when nothing but heels would do for a social or semi-formal occasion? If you were into heels, that was fun, for sure. Well into my fifties I was a fan of naughty schoolmarm laceups, otherwise known as witchy heels.

But came the day when good fat, defying gravity, migrated from the soles to the belly. When the bunions stuck out like elbows. When a shoe salesperson announced that your feet were one size bigger, literally. When despite those monstrous insoles, you noticed every pebble underfoot.

‘Bye, heels. Stilettos, kitten heels, even platform soles— take ’em away. Wipe away the tears and face the fact: your feet will from now on be an embarrassment, graceless, styleless, ugly. They will never look pretty again.

Put your best foot forward

Not so fast. That was not a fact. For years now, alongside impossibly frivolous modern shoes, manufacturers have been designing flat footwear that young people love. That make people of any age look good and feel good below the ankles. Trainers that keep you steady at the gym and on walks. Boots you can wear with your best dress to a wedding. It’s a revolution.

I’m enjoying this. Are you? And can you pick the shoe that I keep for purely nostalgic/aesthetic reasons?

 

Trump’s ageism: not an aberration

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OK, so President D.T. was called an old lunatic by Kim Jong-un. He was deeply hurt, and who can blame him? Not by the label of lunatic: that’s not a new accusation, so it is easily overlooked. But by the awful implication that at 71 he falls into that untouchable class of—oh no! heaven forbid!—the old.

His response: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?”

Now don’t imagine this is a Trumpism. It’s not a sign of lunacy, either, whatever that may mean. This attitude is ageism pure and simple, and it’s the norm.

Old as applied to human beings no longer means having lived a certain number of years. In our English-speaking western world, it now means repulsivefeeble, pitiable, ludicroususeless, a condition to be dreaded above all others.

Ageism trumps even racism as a widespread prejudice. Here’s one teensy bit of research to support this statement:

In 2008, an ongoing study by UCLA and Stanford University researchers of 20,000 registered voters has found that far more of them would vote against Sen. John McCain because of his age than would vote against Sen. Barack Obama because of his race.

Why is the dread of old age so powerful?

Why do we dread and fear the old so deeply, despite the fact that we will all grow old—that’s if we’re lucky?

Ageism is hatred of the self that we will become.

But perhaps that’s not a paradox. Perhaps this is the very reason for our hatred and contempt: deep down, we know we too are ageing, and ageing implies that one day we will die, and we cannot bear to face this. Perhaps the human condition offends us particularly in today’s market-driven era of competitive self-improvement.

Understanding is just a start. Let us forgive our bodies for their inevitable decline, admit that we too will be old one day, and regard old age as an achievement, not a failure.

(And by the way, mental illness is an illness, not a failure.)

Bullied by technology? You be the judge

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This has been a terrible horrible—well, rather difficult—year for me and my writer’s technology. I love my computers and software, love them to bits. I look after them like a devoted slave, I praise them to their face and to anyone who will listen. And in return, what do they do? This year they all joined forces to torture me month after month, taking it in turns to deceive and fail and crash and burn and betray me, their devoted protector and caregiver. Don’t read this. It’ll only depress you.

ACT ONE: HARDWARE. I used to have two laptops and a phone. I upgraded the phone last year, with only minor problems. Endured a couple of months when both laptops were running slow and crashing: but where was the problem? Incompatibility between laptops and certain software? Problems in the network with my Time Machine backup drive? Ditching the Air and changing security software seemed to help.

ACT TWO: REPLACEMENT. Decisions, decisions. A new MacBook Air, for travel and working on the fly? Ouch, Apple appeared to be deliberately dragging the chain with upgrades. Old screens, limited hard drive capacity and other clues steered me towards the new swept-up iPad Pro — that’s where the action is for lightweight portable work computers. OK, I got one. And a keyboard. And an Apple Pencil. Looks like fun. I never never never used my old iPad, so there’s a lot to learn: I’m an iPad virgin. (Sh, don’t tell anyone.)

ACT THREE: SECURITY ALARM. Hack attack on the iPad Pro (what happened to Mac immunity?) and it took three hours on the phone with a very nice technician in California to fix it. Plus new security software, again.

ACT FOUR: WRITING SOFTWARE. Good news: MS Office has finally upgraded their Mac suite of software. Bad news: now you can’t buy it outright, have to pay an annual fee. Meanies. I did so. Then I thought, I hate Scrivener, the gold standard for writers’ software, hate it with a shudder and a retch. But maybe there’s something better now, something aesthetically tolerable that’s fully compatible with the iPad Pro, I thought. After a few days’ research I bought Ulysses, rather excited about the whole concept.

ACT FIVE: 1PASSWORD. So it’s now about six months since a perfect storm of technology problems attacked me, and I’m dying to start my new book. On the iPad Pro, you understand: after all this hassle, nothing else will do. But wait! On any new computer, storing passwords is high priority, and that should have been a breeze. I’ve used 1Password for years and it’s great. I’ve got a licence. So, just install the app on the iPad Pro and get going, right? Wrong. “They” have decided we must also have an account (what’ve I had all these years?) aka a subscription. OK, I’ll do anything — but I can’t. Two hours later I’m in the queue for help.

That book is screaming, “Write me! Write me!” But I’m determined to do that on my new toy, not on my faithful workhorse.

One day it’ll all be over, and I’ll be able to write again. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll practise using the Apple Pencil. That might cheer me up. Bye now.

Love thy neighbourhood

Spring is here, and don’t we appreciate it. Today was my first long-ish walk on the hill behind my home for a few weeks. I’m a Polyanna at the best of times, and today I’m glad I was alone, because (internally at least) I was insufferably happy for far too long.

My hill: Mt Victoria, Wellington
My hill: Mt Victoria, Wellington
My path
My path (shared with other walkers and mountain bikers)
Old pine tree cut into seats for weary walkers
My future seats. Old pine tree half-processed for weary walkers.
My mate: periwinkles and me are  like THAT.
My mate: periwinkles and me are like THAT.
Oh! You took the words right out of my mouth.
Oh! You took the word right out of my mouth.

I hope that you can see these photos, and I haven’t over-taxed your computer or smartphone. Because they are everyday, ordinary, and special.

Do you love the neighbourhood you’ve got? I think it’s usually possible.

Air travel style: from glamour to practicality in one lifetime

In Singapore Airport T1,I was admiring the confident, relaxed travellers all around me and remembering my first trips on a commercial airline, in the early 1960s. At the time, air travel seemed impossibly glamorous and we were all strongly aware that these journeys were changing the world of travel forever.

We bought special outfits or at least wore our Sunday best. (Don’t ask.) For my first trip I wore my “going away suit”: Mrs McAlpine ascended the steps to the entry dressed in a sage green two-piece suit, with a short straight skirt and a perky shaped jacket with collar and bow. Her outfit was topped off with a multicoloured raffia hat to hold her golden hair neatly in place for the long journey to Australia. Her handsome husband Grant wore a crisp navy reefer jacket with silver buttons, a polo necked sweater, and classic trousers in khaki wool gaberdine.

One turned at the top of the steps to wave farewell to the sniffling relatives left on the ground, then one disappeared into the bowels of the plane. As the plane taxied on to the runway, a uniformed official ran ahead waving a red flag to shoo stray cattle off the tarmac … just kidding. Then we were in the hands of the Air Stewardesses, the most glamorous, modern job available to ambitious young women.

Jump ahead 50 years. Comfort rules, and most travellers wear jeans, shorts, T-shirts or sweatshirts, and sneakers. Backpacks and roller cases and rolling tracks and golf-carty-things make carting luggage around a fairly simple business. One tiny device acts as portable phone, map, ticket, boarding pass, camera, wallet, newspaper, book, movie theatre, games room, insurance policy, address book — oh stop me or I’ll go on all night. Coffee comes in a cardboard cup. Airports unrecognisable.

You know what I mean. We moan and groan about new inconveniences around travel (security checks, cancelled planes, bad this, bad that, jet lag, leg room not…) — fair enough. But it’s good to remind ourselves of those long ago days, when every air trip was noisy and slow and wildly exotic, and we knew exactly how great was our privilege.

Which cabin bag?

Green cabin bag, denim bag, Doctor bag, vinyl bag, antique Webstock bag and 3 day backpacks
Ten hand bags: which ones to carry on the plane to Malaysia?

Shortly I’m off on a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur, always a great pleasure. But this entails torturing myself over the issue of The Travel Bag. I take the same dirty little green wheelie bag everywhere: that’s not a problem. I will take my usual wallet on a string for passport and phone and tickets: that’s not a problem.

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I will take an ancient pink WETSUIT bag that holds the electronic stuff (ipad, keyboard, Kindle, adaptors): I will love it until death do us part.

But where to put the WETSUIT bag, plus water bottle, snacks, toothbrush, and neck cushion?

For a mad day or two I thought of b-u-y-i-n-g a new bag, since my everyday brown vinyl bag is mighty shabby. Then sanity prevailed: I recalled all the other bags in my possession, and threw them on the floor in a beauty parade. Half of them are used every week as a gym bag, dance bag, swim bag, choir bag or daily bag respectively.

  • Green bag: perfectly designed as a cabin bag, is colour coded, totally naff and a hefty 1.2 kg. OK OK, I will consider it.
  • Sloppy brown vinyl bag: old and familiar, the default choice.
  • Doctor’s bag: cool, but zip’s too short. Na.
  • Bright blue $5 gym bag: tempting.

Not short of bags, no. But which one to take on the plane? No trip is complete without a certain amount of neurotic self-torture of this nature. What do you recommend?