On certain kinds of epiphanies.

The death of Steve Jobs got me thinking.

Here's a guy whose name I have known since I was fifteen and eagerly opening the box containing my first computer ever, the Apple ][+. I still have it, in its original box, one of Steve Jobs's first projects. I wrote my first fiction on it and I wrote my first computer programs on it. In my pocket right now: a tiny glass-faced computer that is mindbogglingly beyond that first computer, one of the last projects that Steve Jobs contributed to.

We all know the story of how this guy, who'd already had a smash-bang career in the industry, who was already going to be a big name in the history books about the early development of personal computing, had his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and his epiphany. An already focused person became even more so. What had been a household name for Silicon Valley people like me became a household name for non-geeks. He changed even more of the world than he had before.

Then he died. But this is what happens to us all. We are all going to die. Some of us know slightly more than others about when and how. Jobs got the wakeup call then had six or so more years to do something with his life.

So. This is what I was thinking. How do you have that Jobsian epiphany moment and focus yourself without the imminent death scare part of it? If I had that scare today, right now, what would I get rid of in my life? What would I regret having spent time on? What not? How could I spend the rest of my life so that I won't be on my deathbed thinking, oh shit, wasted it.

I would not regret a single moment I spent writing fiction of any variety. Or writing software, for myself or for startups with good ideas. Or driving my car/riding my motorcycle across country. Reading good fiction. Talking with my husband. Listening to good music. Working out or playing sports myself.

I would regret almost all of the time spent gaming. (Some exceptions made for gaming experiences that had their own emotional arcs because of storytelling. E.g, Half-Life 2, Thief. No puzzle game qualifies.) Reading Internet forums of most kinds, and random crap on the Web. Reading crappy books. Scrubbing the stupid bathroom. Sitting in traffic. Sitting in project meetings or company all-hands or any other epic workplace wastes of time. Writing crappy software for idiotic giant corporations. Arguing with my husband about the motherfucking causes of World War I. Watching sports on television.

I had a moment once, years ago now, when I realized that the way to get over things that happened in the past is to just decide to get the fuck over them. And then you are over them. Once you know it's possible, it happens. Knowing it's possible is the hard part. This is one kind of epiphany. Jobs had another. But this is a meta-lesson. If you know this kind of change is possible in one area, you know it's possible in another. For instance, one day you can say, "Fuck this being unable to walk up a single flight of stairs without getting out of breath nonsense. I'm going to do what it takes to get in shape." Then it happens.

QED. The next move is mine. (The next move is always yours. This is one of the great secrets of life.)

Tune in next week for more exciting navel-gazing!

Not so random: The Guardian interviews Terry Pratchett. I think he'd count as an example of focus in the face of eventually-terminal diagnosis. Damn, I cannot think about that without tearing up.

I haven't read the last two Pratchetts, never mind the latest. I am saving them for when I need them. I did that for years with Sense & Sensibility and it came in handy at a bad moment, so I am sticking with this plan.

Tools: A while ago I wrote about Markdown editors for writers, and listed a bunch for OS X & iOS. For those of you not using Macs or an iPad, you might check out Sublime Text 2. This is a text editor that runs on OS X, Linux, and Windows. It has a Python engine running behind it so it's madly customizable if you're slightly geeky. It's themeable and will do code highlighting for a zillion syntaxes, including Markdown. Most importantly, it has a distraction-free full-screen mode. Preference-setting might or might not terrify you, however, depending on how comfortable you are with Python dict & list syntax. Or with not changing preferences.

If that didn't scare you, here's a screenshot of the distraction-free mode with a file of prose and here's one of some syntax-colored code. Content of the files depicted might or might not be amusing.

 Overture / It's a Boy by The Who from Tommy (Rating: 0)
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I try to do the same thing - live without waste.

I already regret most of the time I've spent playing computer games, so I've gotten much better at avoiding that. When I was a teenager, I spent four full days conquering a Sega game, and then looked around and wondered what the hell I had to show for those days, and since then it's only been stupid computer stuff while procrastinating that wasted my precious hours. Was it Steve Jobs who pre-installed Solitaire on computers? 'Cos if he did, I'll punch him in the face.

I regret any time I spent reading the comments section for non-fandom parts of the web.

I'm not going to regret time spent writing (except maybe a little bit the stories I never actually finished). Or drawing. Or reading books that I enjoyed.

I regret time I wasted in shitty jobs but not jobs where I really liked my co-workers, like this one, or any of the time I spent working outdoors at camp, doing hands-on stuff.

I regret time spent indoors.

I think I'll regret time I spent being angry about things I couldn't change, but I'm still looking for someone to explain to me how to let that one go.

I think if I was told I had a time limit, I'd pretty much explode with indecision over whether to spend that time trying to finish stories I was writing, or getting the hell out of the house to be with friends and enjoy the sunshine.

There's an entrepreneur in Australia, Dick Smith, who founded our answer to Radioshack, and when he was 38 he sold it for $20 million. Since then he's spent his life doing cool stuff: fighting pseudoscience, flying the first solo helicopter flight around the world, climbing mountains, lobbying for the environment, founding 'Australian Geographic' (our version of National Geographic) and whatever else pleased him. (You have to love a man who released 'Dickheads' brand matches.)

At a talk last year, he was telling us about how many of his rich business friends tell him that they wish they could have his life. It completely escapes them that it's a choice.

We're all stuck with the need to make money in order to support what we want, and health is a crap shoot, but past that, I think realising you have the power to choose is the key to happiness.

I believe you can blame Microsoft for the Solitaire/Minesweeper bundled thing. My last Mac came with software like Garage Band & iMovie bundled, which are far neater toys because they allow you to create things.

Anger is a difficult one. Anger is usually a signal that somebody somewhere is violating our standards. It's a sign that something is wrong. Fixing it is usually the right next step, fixing it or at least saying to somebody else "hey! you're violating my standards here!" Anger about something you can't change... ugh. Find a way to change it anyway? A way to get away from it?

Or maybe just note this: The past is past. Can't be changed. Resolve not to make the same mistakes twice and walk on.