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Elsewhere-Minded

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Very late last night I remembered that I had not yet remembered my evening meds. Pulled them out of the drawer and set them on the nightstand so I would remember them. Found myself staring at them twenty minutes later, unsure why I had not yet just taken the meds when I first pulled them out. Ah, the empty glass would explain that. Found myself staring at the empty glass twenty minutes later, unsure why I had not yet refilled my glass so I could take my meds, even more unsure when the last time was that I had drank anything before it went empty. Which got me wondering, when was the last time I had eaten? I couldn’t remember. (A small bag of popcorn, for a snack, it was; but I had to be reminded that I’d had that.)

I could have gone the day with nothing else to eat. Quite easily, even, if I had turned back to working on the book. And would only have filled the glass and taken my meds just before finally turning it all off to go to sleep. Which would have happened god only knows when.

The pace on this book won’t be near so intense as I did for the nondiscrimination book, I do swear. But my head doesn’t have an off switch, and doesn’t tend to recognize any gears or brakes. It just floors the accelerator and doesn’t let up. And doesn’t look to either side to take into mind such incidentals as eating or drinking or sleeping or meds. Even a good cup of coffee can sit undisturbed within reach, go cold and still be sitting there full hours after I took the time to brew it.

I’ll have to work on controlling that. If my brain will allow for me to.

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Written by macheide

4 January 2009 at 9:19 am

Posted in littérateur

Chick Counting

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Waking thought, neither dream nor the first conscious thought, rather the words that were just there on the edge between sleep and being awake, as evident as if spoken aloud: the words I’ve used as this post’s title.

Along with what it was attached to, again not as though I had dreamed this, nor as though I had to decipher what that title meant. It was just there beneath those two words, like the body beneath the blanket: that if I do get this Inner Actuary book published, I’d like to take advantage of the publisher contacts and the momentum to turn right around and push out a revised edition of the nondiscrimination book.

That waking thought lasts about as long as it takes for me to roll out of bed and make it to the bathroom. By then I’m awake enough to remember that I can not publish a book on nondiscrimination while I remain employed by the IRS. A balloon inside my head gets a little hole in it, slowly deflates, goes limp. Eh, whatever. I’ll use the momentum to at least get the revised edition ready to go, then just work on maintaining the publisher contacts by working through one of the dozens of other books I’ve dreamed of writing, then have the nondiscrimination book ready to go the day I leave the IRS.

That bedhead plan lasts about as long as it takes me to return from the bathroom to relax in my rocking chair with what’s left of last night’s coffee. By then I’m awake enough to remember that by the time I am finished working with the IRS, there won’t be enough pension plans left for any book on nondiscrimination to have much of a market. Another balloon inside my head gets a little hole in it, slowly deflates, goes limp. Eh, whatever. I’ll shift the focus of the book toward nondiscrimination as applied to profit-sharing and 401(k) plans, if those survive the current financial collapse, fill the book out with nondiscrimination for the few dinosaur DB plans, and the publisher won’t know enough to say no anyway.

That new year’s plan last about as long as it takes me to pop up out of my rocking chair to let Dylan out, discover I can’t ease into the holiday in the peaceful cocoon of the family room since Kelly has taken over there, then waste my first writing of the year on this post instead of working on Inner Actuary drafting, before I realize I’m already behind schedule. I should have been awake and working four or five hours ago. Another balloon inside my head gets a little hole in it, slowly deflates, goes limp. Eh, whatever.

I collect up all the loose rubber and start making myself a set of bicycle tires.

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Written by macheide

1 January 2009 at 10:06 am

Posted in littérateur

Making It Not Work

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Just before I start approaching publishers to seek those rejection letters, I’ll need to go to my own employer for permission to proceed. This would be necessary even if I were to write this book as a children’s book (which might not be a bad idea). They simply need to make sure there is no questionable connection between my work and any outside enterprise in which I involve myself. As an easy and very relevant illustration, I would not be allowed to publish a revised edition of my nondiscrimination book, not while I am serving in the government in a position where such a book would too easily look like I am speaking on behalf of the government, or using my government position to improperly benefit myself outside my job, or prejudicing work I do for the government on cases involving what the book might express opinions about, or any of a truckload of other potential conflicts of interest.

This book I’m now working on would be about actuarial thinking. Which obviously is the basis of my work for the government. Yet I have every reason to hope that I will win approval to seek its publication while remaining in my current position, since the book is not really about what I do, but rather about how I do it. There will be nothing in the book that should affect or be affected by any specific work I do for the government, any more than if I were to write a book about breathing although obviously I need to breathe in order to perform my duties for the government.

But to make that line clearer, I’ve settled on a specific goal that will need some special attention: I plan to avoid discussing pension plans anywhere in the book. Not only in the conceptual chapters, but also in any background material about what actuaries do or used to do. In fact, I am going to aim toward not even having the word pension appear anywhere throughout the book’s text.

Stretching that a giant step further, the book would not be balanced well if it mentions insurance – life insurance, health insurance, or casualty insurance – without also at least waving a hand in the general direction of pensions. So I’ll take this goal to its extreme: I will plan to avoid discussing insurance, will avoid even using the word insurance.

A book about actuarial concepts without using the words “pension” and “insurance”? Yes, I think it can be done without having it feel distorted or silly. In fact, the discipline of the effort would help shift the focus precisely in the direction I want anyway: away from the standard job description and the traditional career path, concentrating instead on the person and the concepts. If I can discuss the future perspectives of financial risk and uncertainty as a broader universal concern without collapsing it into the pre-packaged notions of insurance and pensions, I might find more freedom to present my material without all the baggage that those specific “actuarial” topics carry.

Sure, any thoughtful reader is going to bring insurance and pensions to their understanding of my content. Like, if I were to ever go out on any post-publication speaking circuit on the book, questions about insurance and pensions would be inevitable. But I’m nowhere near needing to think any of that through. For now, in part because of the need to win my employer’s approval to proceed, but in equal part because it will help focus the material the way I feel I need to do, I will avoid insurance and pensions altogether in any of my writing for the book.

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Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 5:48 am

Posted in littérateur

Pro Not Con

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Yes, a spark that lit the keg of gunpowder on this book spun out of my reading of The Black Swan. But the gunpowder was there already and would have gone off sooner or later anyway.

Even so, I’m going to continue reading this other book, since I know I will be able to carry on my own writing without fear of that book overly influencing my own, certainly no more so than reviewing Descartes and actuarial textbooks and other background research I plan to conduct while writing.

Whereas I anticipate my consumption of most of the other background reading I’ll be doing on this project to be supportive, quite obviously I’ve had a very strong visceral reaction against Taleb’s superficial over-projection of his personal experience. But I aim to use Taleb’s insults of those he views as beneath him as a model of what I ought avoid in my own writing, little more.

I will be writing with the aim to describe what I believe can be understood and shared, that is, what actuarial thinking stands “for,” rather than to waste effort in a vain attempt to argue “against.”

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Written by macheide

30 December 2008 at 11:25 pm

Posted in littérateur

Mapping the Chapters

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When I wrote the book on pension nondiscrimination, I first mapped out all of the chapters I intended to do, extensively detailed, that outline itself a more valuable reference tool on the topic than most any other content, both then and even to this day over 15 years later.

Someday maybe I’ll write a book differently, perhaps build a chapter or two without knowing the full map, then just follow my nose. This book might even be that way a little within each chapter. But not for the overall layout of the whole book. Like with the nondiscrimination book, I’ve started by mapping out the chapters I’ll be writing.

Got 15 so far. Might add several more before all is written and packed up to go to print. But this first set of 15 pretty much scopes out the territory I plan to cover, plus the sequencing I want through that territory.

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Written by macheide

29 December 2008 at 10:51 pm

Posted in littérateur

Finding Its Voice

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This book moved from back burner to active boil in the instant I voiced out loud its working title: Releasing Your Inner Actuary. Whether or not I keep that title through to publication, what that title has in it that moves me from dream to action is the slightly tongue-in-cheek mix of the odd with the universal, the implication – which will be not only an implicit theme throughout the book, but also its hope for finding an audience – that there is really nothing all that unique in how an actuary addresses and manages uncertainty and risk, that the actuary’s ideas and methods are quite universal. At the same time, I intend a degree of lighthearted teasing of the actuary in any and all of this.

Even if I wind up changing the title, I anticipate aiming for the same feel, since that was the spark that launched this into turning active on me: just light enough or just strange enough to remain far clear of actually being an actuarial mathematics treatise, while still trying to reach out to common ground that brings the actuarial mind to the general public, as it were.

For the nondiscrimination book, I started with chapter 15, worked out from that core in both directions, and wrote the preface last. That felt so natural to me that I was picturing doing the same here, reserving work on any preface until after everything else had been written. It didn’t fall out that way: I opened the file for my writing on this book with a first draft of a preface. Alright, now I’ll probably write out 20 different variations of a preface as I proceed, so even portions of this first draft might never make it to the final proof. For now, it helps me find the voice I think I want. Mine. How I would say it if I were to write it. Which of course would be appropriate, since I am doing so – just, I know I may have to work on it to aim toward something anyone else might care to read.

But it’s a start. A good solid start.

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Written by macheide

28 December 2008 at 10:16 pm

Posted in littérateur

Releasing My Inner Blah Blah Blah

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So yeah, I’m doing it again: working on writing a book. At any given moment, I’ve got several dozen rolling around in the cement mixer atop my neck; but this one is starting to pave some serious road, I think.

If I do it right, this one’s got the two key elements I look for. First, nobody else has ever written this book, at least not in the way I plan to go about laying things out. Nobody else has ever been crazy enough to, one might say. But conversely, it’s got a real chance of finding an audience, people who might actually find reason to read it.

This one is not completely new on my project list: I’ve at least two other concrete book projects I could point to that this might succeed in combining and moving off the stove. But now I see where I want to go, and I’m giving it serious attention, and it’s moving, and I won’t let go my grip on its throat.

So like some of my dreams, I heard myself saying out loud what a working title might be for this book, and at the beginning of that sentence I was half joking, but by the end of the sentence I knew this one to be dead serious.

Except I promise not to put myself in the hospital doing so, like the last time.

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Written by macheide

27 December 2008 at 8:57 pm

Posted in littérateur