July 15th, 2013

Retiring to Channel Rex Stout


This blog announces my retirement. Bear with me.

Herrlee Creel was a Sinologist, an expert on all things Chinese. In addition to his more scholarly works on early China, he wrote a book on Confucius, another on Chinese philosophy that began with the Confucians and stretched all the way to Mao Tse Tung. Both of those books appeared on the New York Times best seller list. He is now fading into the past, replaced by younger scholars who have the benefit of new archaeological discoveries, thawed relations with China, and renewed interest in China’s past, but his books are still in print.

He was both my undergraduate advisor and my PhD advisor. I turned in a first chapter of my undergraduate thesis to him. I wrote about that event earlier in the Vine Maple Studio. If you are interested he Rex Stout, he has a large following. Read about it at The Wolfe Pack.

When I became a graduate student, Creel was not so forgiving. He had a reputation for severity with his PhD advisees. After I turned in a second or third thesis chapter, he demonstrated his severity just for me. I have never, before or after, felt so inept, unsuitable, devoid of aptitude, unworthy and generally like something we’d shoot if it got near the granary.

He said nothing about the content of the chapter, but he took apart almost every sentence and word in it. I had written in the usual abysmally pretentious graduate student style. Abstractions were piled on abstraction. Subjects were carefully hidden. The pipes were clogged with meaningless word and pointless adverbs. Creel did not direct me to Strunk and White. I suspect he did not approve of Cornell. He said that I had missed the point of his old advice to read Rex Stout and said that he expected me to pay attention this time.

I abandoned my PhD not too long after that when I realized that I was not on a path likely to lead to gainful employment, but I spent the next forty years ruminating on Creel’s advice.

Last May I was summarily retired from my job as a software architect by being laid off. This was a blessing. Retirement doesn’t merit a gold watch or a pension anymore, but you get a severance package when you are laid off, and severance packages for 23 year employees can be better than winning at Jeopardy. Since I already had been thinking about retirement, when the rumors of a layoff began to circulate, I knew my opportunity had come and I dropped hints that I would not mind being on the list. Retirement came suddenly, and I probably would have put it off a few years, but here I am.

I can now pursue Creel’s advice with the diligence that he expected me to apply. I am writing a mystery in Rex Stout’s style. This will be the PhD thesis I did not complete. A first draft is close to half done. The characters and setting are all different, but I am trying to use every bit I have learned in four decades of study of Archie and Nero. I imagine I will publish it on Kindle and maybe a few people will enjoy it, but, no matter who reads it, I will meet an obligation.

As an aside, I am also working on my second technical business book. If you are interested, check out my technical site, Cloud Standards.

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