Got home the other night well after 11, after the local gamedev drink-up at an Irish-ish pub in downtown Raleigh. When I reached the front door, I remembered that this week was the Perseid meteor shower. Tuesday was supposed to be peak activity, which turned out to be not such a good thing, schedule-wise; Tuesday night here could best be described as “ark building weather”. Thick cloud cover, torrential rain and the omnipresent chance of being flash-fried by a couple of zillion volts makes for a poor meteor shower viewing experience.
Tonight, though, was clear. And it was late and it was quiet and it was reasonably dark, except for the street corner light and the neighbors’ outdoor light and our porch light, which had been left on so I wouldn’t have to try to figure out in pitch blackness which of the 84 keys I carry was the the right one for the front door.
Best viewing conditions would be, of course, out in the country. Up by Falls Lake, maybe. Away from the city. Not on my front lawn, with porch light and neighbor light and street light.
I went to go inside, thinking “there’s going to be another one.” Or maybe I was thinking “I’ll catch them next year.”
And without realizing it, I said to myself, “How many more of these things are you going to get a chance to see?” Not because there’s anything wrong, or I’m in imminent danger, or I’m feeling the weight of my creeping middle age particularly heavily tonight. It was just a thought about how taking that sort of thing for granted - assuming that the thing you skipped out on today will always be waiting when you want it tomorrow - doesn’t always pay off.
I tried taking my nephew and his friend out watching for meteors earlier in the summer. We set up too early and saw bupkis. Opportunity, gone.
But it was late, and I was tired, and tomorrow’s a school day, metaphorically speaking. I went up onto the front porch, Opened the door.
Thought about it for a second, then reached in and turned off the porch light. Turned around, marched myself back onto the lawn, and held up a hand and an iPad respectively, to block out the neighbor’s light and the streetlight.
Easy enough to just dust that off with a “Cool story, bro” or whatever, and move on. It’s another “stop and smell the roses” thing, right? Of course it is.
I looked up. I waited. And a minute later, I saw a meteor.
Just one. This wasn’t a precursor to Day of the Triffids, after all, with the sky on fire with a million bits of cosmic leftover raining down in fire and light. It was the waning evening of a trip through old cometary incontinence, left behind for us to swing through and ooh and ah about. One bit of dust that hit the atmosphere and took a short trip and flamed out.
I looked around. Nobody else was out there. On my block, at least, that moment and that vision were all mine.
Which was enough. I waited another minute, then inside and shut the door.
Except it isn’t.
Because, aging nerd that I am, I’ve always wanted to see meteor showers. They are, in a sense, important. they have a priority.
The problem being, that priority was always lower than the priority of something else I was doing at the time. It’s always a different something else, but each instance is higher priority at that given moment.
Which is how, if you look at it in the long view, “lower priority” becomes “no priority”. And “no priority” means “it never gets done, ever.”
I have a comic book spec script I’m working on now. It’s a project I’m excited about. But because it’s a spec project, it slots in behind Story X for Anthology Y or Game Project Z or Book Review Omicron, any of which may have a greater urgency at a given moment, but none of which are such high priority that they’ve got the heft to consign another project to the dustbin permanently.
But that’s the practical effect. (Note: this sort of thing applies at work, too. Check your task lists for the stuff that’s been lurking at the bottom for weeks or months or years. It’s never the most important thing, which is why it never gets done - until suddenly it’s the thing that needed to be done ages ago and ohcrap) And the end result of that practical effect is things left undone and regretted because of the always-excusable strict hierarchy of priorities. There’s no individual element of that decision-making that can be critiqued, because any given item, when weighed against the spec project, carries more heft. It’s only when things are seen in toto that the cost becomes apparent.
Which is why it is occasionally worth it to reprioritize based on on the long view, and not the short. To temporarily assign artificially high value to a particular project to keep it from forever defaulting to no value. And to, just maybe, trade a minute at the keyboard for a minute looking at shooting stars.