Closing Doors

Back when I worked at the University I always looked forward to the yearly SuperComputing conference. And even after I got laid off I kept following it on Facebook and news feeds to see what was going on. Today it just seemed so beyond the scope of what I have time for, or ever will again, that I finally unfollowed.

Maybe the final straw was discovering that the 2019 conference is in Denver and I’ve just never been able to get excited about Denver. The biggest highlight of the event, for me, was the roaming of a new city. Maybe that doesn’t say much for my commitment to computing excellence. I did, actually, learn quite a bit from the scheduled conference plenary activities, but the exploring seemed to really open up my mind and kickstart my creativity. We barely got checked into the hotel before taking to the streets wandering up and down looking for a meal somewhere that wasn’t standard fare. Then whenever time permitted we’d aimlessly wander streets we’d never been down until we’d seen as much of the city as we could take in. We calculated that in the eight days we were in New Orleans we might have walked nearly 100 miles. I saw a lot of cities that way: Austin, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Portland, New Orleans, but not Phoenix. Phoenix was awful. When two cab drivers refused to take me to my hotel because it was after dark, I decided that the couple times I walked the mile back from the convention center, in the dark (cowardly cabbies), was enough.

I imagine that I’ll still check in on the top 500 supercomputer list every year or so to see who’s currently winning the race, but there’s something that seems so sad about the choice to close that door completely. I had thought that my career would at least keep me in that orbit and that some day I’d be one of the old geezers like I’d see at the conferences.

I also got to wondering how many other doors are still cracked open. I closed my Rock Climbing door several years ago when I realized I’d never do that again and gave away my rack. I’d thought my Magic The Gathering door was open, but when my friend’s son told me everything was completely different now I heard hinges squeal as it nearly slammed. I think it might be jammed on an old elf deck, though. The hand-me-down upgrade to my golf clubs sits in the basement. A couple weeks ago I accepted I’d never golf again, no matter how much I’d like to. I’m similarly mocked by the fancy new clicker bindings and boots for my snowboard that sit shiny in their 1990’s boxes.

Closing doors is a part of life, only you start to reach a certain age and the doors start getting closed for you, and the frequency accelerates alarmingly. And here I reach the second crux that, I believe, everyone needs to pass. Closing the doors, and especially, having them closed for you, feels like part of you dying, and seems to leave voids unfilled behind the doors. Voids where you’d been putting memories, but never again. Maybe this seems like giving up, or failure, but it really isn’t. It’s just an ending. Things end. Like finishing a good book. The book ends, and you can think about the story, and you can walk again it’s now-familiar pathways when you need that story’s reminders, but the story has ended.

If that was all there was to it, though, it would be tragic. But there are always new doors to open. And, believe me, I can open doors faster than time can close them. (I wish I could get this idea of learning to paint in water colors out of my head.) This is the Crux Part II, bracing open the closing doors wastes a lot of time and energy that could be better spent diving through unopened ones. This is not easy. There is a lot of pain in closing the doors. It’s like a friendship that shouldn’t have drifted apart, but did. Especially painful if there wasn’t any reason for it to have done so. Maybe we need to be continually opening new doors so that the wonder of exploration offsets, somewhat, the pain of closing the finished ones.