Author: Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin is a writer. He writes code, fiction, nonfiction, and has been writing on his blog for more than 15 years. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, The Daily Beast as well as several anthologies. Jamie lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

My Favorite Story I’ve Written (So Far)

Occasionally I am asked what my favorite story that I’ve written is. I assume this means my favorite story that I’ve sold and has been published. This is not an easy question for a writer. It is like asking a parent, which of your children is your favorite. A common response, and one that I’ve used often, is: “The one that I’m working on now.”

Since it has been several years since I sold my last piece of fiction, and since I think of that initial period of about a dozen stories as Phase 1 of my writing career, I think can now admit to a definite favorite.

My favorite story from Phase 1 of my writing career (2007-2015) is “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” It is currently freely available at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show and I urge you all to go read it, if you haven’t already done so. The story received my all-time favorite review in Tangent Online. There, reviewer Ryan Holmes wrote:

All the little strings by which Rubin weaves the characters to each other and to the game itself create a tapestry even a non-baseball fan would enjoy, but this story isn’t about baseball. It’s about loving something more than ourselves and sacrificing everything for that love. It’s about family, the distance that can separate us from our loved ones, and yes, it’s about how baseball can bring us together

This is one of those stories that wrote itself. All I had to do was sit down at the keyboard and take dictation. The science fiction is secondary–a vehicle to sell it to a science fiction magazine. It is a story that could be told without the science fictional element, something that was more and more common with my later stories.

It is the first time I ever received the cover of a magazine, and Eric Wilkerson’s artwork for the story just blew me away. It was better than I could have possibly imagined. He captured Gemma from my words and turned her into a living, breathing person that really brings her to life.

There is a reason this story is on my mind today. Back in 2005 (pre-blog days) I went on a road trip with my brother to Cooperstown. We spent a few days there, touring the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My brother played baseball in college, and then played semi-pro ball after graduating. It was such a fun trip. It was also the last time I was in Cooperstown. (I’d been there at least twice before that as a kid.) Today, I am returning to Cooperstown, this time with my family. It is the second stop on our summer road trip, and I’m probably the only one looking forward to this particular stop. Mainly, I’m looking forward to standing in the Hall, among all of the plaques of the greatest players of the last 150 years or so, and imagining Gemma’s plaque in that space.

I’ll have more to say about my visit to the Hall of Fame in the days to come, but at least now you know why “Gemma Barrows” is on my mind. If you read it, I think it’s pretty easy to see why it is my favorite story of those that I have written so far.

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Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey

Yesterday while visiting friends, my old high school buddy, Eric, brought out a two glasses and a bottle of Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey. He poured us each some whiskey, and said, “You have to try this.”

Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey

I had to oblige so I tasted it. And it was amazing. I’m not a bourbon connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve tried my share of bourbons over the years. This one blew them all out of the water. It was buttery and sweet, and hot some kind of spiciness to it at the same time. It is a dangerous whiskey. I couldn’t get enough of it. I slowly sipped at the glass, and when I finished it, I poured myself a second (much smaller) glass, just to keep the delicious moment alive a little longer.

I took a photo of the bottle with no intention of posting it here. I took it so that I could go looking for it at the local ABC liquor store one I am back home. This will be something I’ll be keeping around the house from now on. It is fantastic!

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Reading versus Sleeping

There is a battle I engage in each night: whether to go to sleep, or read. I get up pretty early. Usually I’m awake between 5:15 and 5:30a, and I am out on my morning walk between 5:50 and 6:00a. During the summers, the kids don’t go to bed until 10p and I usually start to drag around 8p. If I could, I’d probably go to bed around 8p each night. Usually, I end up going to bed closer to 10p.

By the time I get into bed, I am usually tired. I have a small window in which I can fall asleep quickly and if I miss that window for some reason, it usually takes me much longer to settle down and fall asleep. The problem, for me, if the constant battle that goes on in my head between reading and sleeping. There is rarely a time that I don’t want to continue reading for as long as I can. At the same time, I can often feel myself slipping outside the boundaries of that sleep window. So: do I continue to read, knowing it will be difficult to fall asleep? Or do I set aside the book knowing I’ll fall asleep quickly and feel well-rested in the morning.

nightstand book stack

As much as I need a good night’s sleep, I almost always opt to continue reading. Usually, when I am on the fence, the thought that goes through my head is: At the end of my life, I’m not going to say, “I wish I’d slept more.” And then I imagine that I am on the verge of reading a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time when the lights go out. That usually puts off sleep for a time. Some nights I’ll read for a while, and the book will keep sleep at bay. Other nights, I’ll get another 15 minutes before the laws of physics make it impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer.

On some nights, much more rare, I just can’t put a book down. I’ll keep reading and reading, past midnight, past one o’clock, two o’clock… I know that I will regret this in the morning, but some books are just so good I can’t put them down.

Occasionally, I will give in to my need for sleep. I’ll get into bed with the thought that maybe I’ll read for a few minutes, and then reconsider, close my eyes, and be right off to sleep. Usually when this happen I tell myself that I’ll pick up the book first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night, if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. That never happens, probably because I am so tired from reading late in the first place.

When I really want to read, but am just too tired to keep my eyes open, I become envious of the “sleepless” in Nancy Kress’s “Beggars in Spain,” people who have been genetically modified so that they don’t need sleep. I wonder just how much more reading I could get done if I didn’t need to sleep between 6-8 hours each night?

Actually, it wouldn’t be that hard to estimate. Say it takes me 10 hours, on average, to read a book. And suppose that, by being sleepless, I could get in an additional 5 hours of reading per day. (I say 5 because even at my best, I can’t read for 7 hours straight without breaks.) That would mean an additional 35 hours of reading per week, or about 3-1/2 books. There are 52 weeks in a year so I would read an additional 182 books a year. Without that time, in my best year, I read 130 books. Usually I am for 100 books/year. Being genetically modified to not require sleep would increase my reading by 182%. If I lived to be 90, I might be able to read an additional 4,000 – 5,000 books in my life. Without sleep, that number jumps to an additional 7,300 – 8,300 books in the last 40 years of my life.

I know that people are wary of genetic modification, but being able to go without sleep sounds like a real superpower when I consider how much more reading I could do. I wonder if this is something Jennifer Doudna is looking into?

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100+ Days Caffeine Free

This week was so busy that I completely missed that July 27 was my 100th day caffeine free. I gave up caffeine back on April 18, 2021. This isn’t the first time I’ve given it up (I gave it up for 7 years from 2003-2010), but I think it is the furthest I’ve gotten since. I’m well past the point where I even crave caffeine. I can watch other people drink it and be happy with my own caffeine-free drink. About the only think I miss is the boost it gave me in the mornings. But my morning walks have replaced that, and I enjoy them more than I did the caffeine.

This is me patting myself on the back, and congratulating myself for being caffeine-free for a little over one hundred days. I will return you now to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Knowing When To Say When: On Giving Up On A Book

Well, I’ve done it again. I have failed to make it through Cryptonomicon. So far the third time has not been a charm. Interestingly, I stalled at almost exactly the same place as I did during my last attempt, right around page 600 in the paperback edition. I’m somewhat ashamed giving up on the book, especially since I made a big deal of announcing my third attempt to get through it. So I am giving myself one more chance at redemption. I’ve got a long drive today and I plan on listening to the book the entire way. I should be able to come close to finishing it. But this is really the last chance. I can deal with shame. What I can’t abide is spending time on a book that just isn’t doing it for me, when there are too many other books I want to read.

Most of what I read these days is nonfiction and it is unconscionable for me to spend as much time on fiction as I have on Cryptonomicon. I spent at least 10 days trying to get through it. During that same period of time, I could have made it through three nonfiction books. I made the sacrifice because the themes in Cryptonomicon would seem to be right up my alley. It’s got late 1990s tech, so there’s nostalgia from the dot com boom. It’s got crypto; it’s got information theory, which I ate up this summer. It’s got World War II history, which I enjoy reading. So why can’t I get through it? I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I broke my own rules this time. Long ago, I learned the importance of knowing when to say when with regard to a book. If a work of fiction doesn’t catch my interest after a few pages, I’m out. With nonfiction, I like the rule I once heard: give it 100 pages minus your age. This year, that means giving a book 51 pages, and then I bail. Time is too precious to waste it on books that aren’t good fits. This is by no means a slight to the authors. In just about every case, I’m sure the fit is bad on my end. Cryptonomicon is teetering on joining a cadre of eight other books I’ve failed to make it through this year, including:

To be honest, the pressure was already on even before I started reading Cryptonomicon. I should have had 50 books read by June 30. As of this moment, I’ve completed 48 books and I’m about 9 books behind my pace for the year. I gave Cryptonomicon far more time that I should have. I didn’t trust my instincts, and that always gets my into trouble, where books are concerned.

So, with Cryptonomicon finally set aside, what is on tap for me? Here’s some of what I am looking forward to reading over the rest of the summer:

My usual caveat about the butterfly effect of reading applies here. But this is the list that I am currently looking at tackling the rest of this summer.

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How To Remap Cmd-I To Avoid Opening the Mail App on a Mac

Something changed recently with respect to keyboard mappings on my Mac. A few days ago, I was writing a post, and hit the Cmd-I key to put my editor in italics mode. Instead, the Mail App opened up and a copy of what I had written had been pasted into a blank email message. That was odd. I closed the mail app, and tried again but the same thing happened. So I highlighted the text I wanted to italicize and clicked the Italics icon. That was a bit of a pain because I am a keyboard guy and have been using a form of Cmd (or CTRL)-I for decades to start and stop italics mode in editors.

I forgot about this until the next time I wanted to italicize text. The same thing happened. Instead of putting the editor into italics mode, the Mail App popped up again. Over the next several days, this continued to happen, and I eventually expressed mild frustration on Twitter:

Over the next five days, I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened. Clearly something has changed, either in a recent update of MacOS, or a recent update of Safari. In any case, I was frustrated enough to try to figure out how to stop this from happening this morning since the post I was writing (you’ll see it Saturday) had lots of italics. After some searching and trial and error, I figured out how to prevent this from happening. Here is what worked for me in case anyone is having the same problem. (Note: this applies to Safari):

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Go to Keyboard preferences
  3. Go to the Shortcuts tab,
  4. Click App Shortcuts on the sidebar
  5. Add a new App Shortcut by clicking the + icon
  6. Give the shortcut the following name: “Email This Page”
  7. Assign the shortcut a keyboard command that you are unlikely to use in the future; I gave mine the following: Shift-CTRL-OPTION-CMD-I
  8. Restart Safari

After I did this, whenever I hit Cmd-I in my WordPress editor, it actually went into italics mode, instead of launching the Mail app. Somehow, something in Safari changed to use Cmd-I to open the Mail app. By remapping that function to another key combination, it eliminated the problem.

The article I found that pointed me in the right direction was for MacOS 10.15 (Catalina), but I swear this just began happening on my system in the last few weeks, and I think it was after I updated to 11.5.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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Weekly Playbook #5: Handling Email

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I’ve been using email for more than half my life. While it was available to me in college, I didn’t begin to use it until I started at my job a few months after I graduated. That was 1994 and I was 22 years old at the time. Nearly 27 years later, I think I’ve done a pretty good job with handling email. My inbox rarely contains more than a dozen message at any given moment. I frequently hit “inbox zero.” I’ve been through a variety of models for managing my email over the years, from an elaborate folder structure to the minimalist structure I’ve used for the last fifteen years or so.

Until recently, I kept up with my email more or less in real time. I’d clear out messages as they came in, respond as they came in, prune and refile throughout the day. As I developed my morning routine, one of the things I wanted to try was to see if it was possible to handle my email once a day, in the mornings, after I’d finished my writing. This playbook is what has come out of that experimentation so far.

Playbook

  1. Reply to email messages I flagged the previous day. Use canned replies, if possible.
  2. Move the replied-to message to my Archive folder.
  3. Scan my inbox for messages that can be deleted without being read. Update filters to weed these out in the future, if possible.
  4. Delete the unneeded messages.
  5. Read the remaining new messages
  6. Take action on the email if action is quick. If it takes more time, snooze the email for a later date/time.
  7. Move messages that don’t require a response to my Archive folder.
  8. Flag messages that require a response and leave in my Inbox. I use the Pin function in my mail client for this.
  9. Compose any new messages I need to send

Commentary

Example: Handling this morning’s email

My basic philosophy here is to try to deal with email once per day. So far, this doesn’t work out quite this way in practice, but I’ve found that it means I am checking email much less frequently during the day. And it does help me to make sure I am replying to email only once each day. Here is what my inbox looked like as I composed this post:

My morning inbox, before running through my playbook.

The first thing I do is to reply to any email messages in my inbox that I flagged the previous day. If possible, I’ll use a canned reply. I have a few of these. One common example is when I get unsolicited requests to do a guest post on my blog. If I find that I am writing the same reply over and over, I will also use this time to compose a reply that I will turn into a canned reply that I can use in the future. Once I’ve replied to a message, I immediately move into my Archive folder. This morning was nice. I had no email that I flagged for reply.

Next, I look for email that can be deleted without being read. Often these are newsletters I didn’t subscribe to, or notifications from service I use that I don’t need to see. For the former, I’ll see if there is an easy way to unsubscribe. I’ll also use this opportunity to improve my inbox filters so that messages like these never make it to my inbox in the first place. The MetLife Dental Claim email is a good example of a message I can just delete as I know it contains no useful information (just a link to the site).

Next, I’ll read through what is left. I always enjoy Melanie Novak’s posts which is why I subscribed to her blog. No action other than to read. For blogs, I’ll use the email as a reminder to go to the blog itself to read so that the blogs get the views. Besides, I prefer reading on the blog than in email. It makes it easy to comment. Once I’ve opened the blog in a browser, I’ll delete the message from my inbox.

The Ring message requires an action on my part, but it is not something I want to do now, so I’ll snooze that for Friday when I know I will have time.

Dan Roberts is the CEO of Ouellette & Associates, a great company I’ve worked with in the past, and from which I have received some of the most practical project management training I’ve encountered, to say nothing of their outstanding customer support training, which focuses on moments of truth. I saw that Dan is starting a podcast, and the action here was to get more information about the podcast and when it drops.

The message from Capclave (my local science fiction convention) has been sitting in my inbox for almost a week now, which is rare for me. Since it is going to take more than a few minutes to handle this, I’ll snooze it until Friday.

The nice thing about this morning is that I have no email that requires a reply, so there is nothing to flag (so far). This is where I tend to dip into email throughout the day, checking to see if there is anything I need to reply to and flagging it so that I can reply tomorrow. I also don’t have any new mail to send out, so it was a quick and easy morning for me. At the end of the process, my inbox looked like this:

My morning inbox after running through my playbook: inbox zero achieved!

I don’t achieve inbox zero every morning, but as I said, I usually don’t have more than a dozen messages in my inbox at any one time. One nice side effect of this is that people can expect to get a reply from me first thing in the morning, the day after they’ve sent me a message. First thing in the morning is also when I sent out my new messages, if I have any.

Filing my email

When I began using email in 1994, I was using a Unix-based email system that allowed for the creation of folders in the same way you could create folders in a file system. I had a fairly elaborate scheme for organizing my email into folders. back then, but about fifteen years ago, I moved to a much simpler scheme, consisting of four active folders. The four folders are:

  • Inbox – where I process new email.
  • Archive – where I store all email that I want to keep
  • Sent – where I store copies of email that I sent, including replies
  • Upcoming Travel – where I store current messages related to upcoming travel (confirmations, tickets, etc.)

It occurred to me that the power of search made it simple to find pretty much anything I needed without spending a lot of time figuring out where to file a message. So if a message doesn’t go into the trash, it goes into the Archive folder. Travel-related messages take a detour to the Upcoming Travel folder until they are no longer needed, at which point they go into the archive folder as well.

If I need to find something, I just run a search and can usually find what I am looking for within a few seconds.

My mail apps

Currently, I am using the Spark mail app for handling mail on my computer. On my phone I use the Spark mail app for iOS. I just like the simplicity and functionality of Spark better than the native Mac mail app.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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My Annual Summer “I’m On Vacation” Photo

My 2021 I'm on my summer vacation photo

My vacation began just a few minutes ago and I couldn’t begin before taking my annual summer “I’m on vacation!” photo. It is nice to be on vacation after a very busy first half of 2021. We have some fun plans, which I’ll eventually write about here. There is something magical about the first few minutes of a new vacation. The waiting is over, and they entire thing is laid out before you. It is a great feeling and that is why I always look so excited in these photos.

For those who may wonder what my vacation means for the blog, it should be business-as-usual. I am on vacation from my day job, not from writing. And I’ve worked up enough of a lead here that I already have posts throughout most of my vacation just in case vacation fun eats into my writing time.

Here is a collage of various “I’m on vacation” photos from the last 6 or 7 years.

Can you tell that I am already having fun?

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The Weight of a Streak

Back on April 10, WordPress notified me that I had a 100 consecutive day streak of posting underway. I thought it was nice of WordPress to notice this and let me know about it. Thereafter, for the next 108 days (as of this writing), WordPress has sent me a daily reminder of my posting streak. I was happy with the alert at 100 days. I appreciated the notice at the 200-day mark. But every day? After a while, the weight of a streak becomes a stressor itself.

My folks visited recently and while my Dad was here, he mentioned that his streak of 600 days of walking was finally broken–on the 600th day.

Streaks are good ways to form habits. As I write this, I am on a 45 consecutive day streak of meditating each morning.

“Don’t break the chain,” sometimes referred to as the Seinfeld Method can be a powerful incentive for people to do whatever it is they want to do. Following that method is what got me my 825 consecutive day writing streak that ran from 2013 in 2015.

Heat map of my 825 day writing streak
Heat map of my 815 days of my 825-day writing streak.

I voluntarily ended that writing streak. I learned a lot from it, and not all of it was about writing. The most important thing that I learned is this: performing an activity just to keep a streak alive is a bad reason to perform the activity. For me, my writing became about the streak, and not the writing. When that happened, I woke each day feeling the weight of the streak press down on me. Each morning that streak was one day heavier. Streaks can be nerve-wracking as they build up. Winning streaks in sports sometimes built on their own momentum, but ultimately crash under the pressure of their weight. I often wonder how Joe DiMaggio felt each time he entered a game during the later part of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941.

For me, a streak is a precarious thing, balanced on a knife edge. I am fine if I keep it going, despite the pressure. But I can’t miss a day. If I break the streak, I am not likely to get it started again, and that is bad.

These day, I try to treat streaks not as tools that keep me going, but as side-effects of activities that I enjoy. Thinking about a streak in this way puts it in a different perspective. If I miss a day, it’s no big deal, I’ll get back on it the next day. There is no disappointment in breaking the streak. It’s not a crutch and I can get along fine without it. That was a difficult mental pivot for me to make.

My writing streak taught me that I could be disciplined about my writing. Yet I think the pressure to get something written every day diluted the quality of what I wrote. Sometimes I was just worn out and had nothing to say, but forced it anyway. That’s no way to do it, at least not for me.

What of the current streak I have going here on the blog? This post marks the 210th consecutive day I’ve posted on the blog? How do I handle the weight of that streak? Well, it isn’t really a streak. Yes, I have had a new post up every day for the last 210 days. But I haven’t written every day during that time. Often, I’ll write more than one post during my morning writing time. Usually, I am 2-3 days ahead in scheduled posts. That way, if I need a day off, or circumstances prevent me from writing, I’ve still got several days worth of posts already scheduled. (More about how I manage the blog is coming next week.) I’m slowly trying to work my way up to a 7-10 day lead time. Just knowing that I can skip a day or two of writing if I need to means that there really is no writing streak weighing me down here, even if posts are appearing every day.

More important than a streak is finding the joy in whatever it is you are trying to do. That, it turns out, is more motivating than any streak I might find myself in. I really enjoy writing here. It is the most fun I’ve had of any of the writing I’ve done, including writing that I’ve been paid for. Joy, not streaks, is my real motivation.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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Failed Attempts at Digital Journaling

My Moleskine paper journals

It is important to know what you are not good at, if for no other reason than to decide either to improve, or to stop wasting time on them. Over the years, for instance, I have made several attempts at keeping my journal in digital form, instead of in notebooks of various kinds. My reasons for doing this always seem pure. I type faster than I handwrite. It My typing is not illegible when I type faster. My hands grow less tired when I type. I think this means I’ll write more on a computer than I would in a notebook.

But it never works out. Take my most recent foray into digital journaling. I was looking for small efficiencies in my day. I thought that by being able to type my journal, I’d get it done faster, possibly write more, and also have a place where I could easily search my journal for what I was looking for. All of these were perfectly sensible. And still, things turned out much worse than if I just stuck to writing in my Moleskine notebooks.

This most recent adventure began about a month ago, and at first, it seemed to work well. Between June 29 and July 16 I banged out nearly 7,000 words in my digital journal, far more than I probably would have written on paper, although I’m not completely certain of this. So far, so good, right? Well, since July 17, I haven’t written a word–the longest stretch I’ve gone without writing in my journal since possibly 2017.

This is part of a recurring pattern. Ever since I first started keeping a journal in 1996, I’ve been repeatedly fooled by the paradox of journaling, in much the way Charlie Brown is lured by Lucy’s promises that she won’t pull the football away this time. Every now and then, some whisper in my mind tells me it will be much easier if I type it into a computer than writing in a notebook. It hints at time saved; it hints at the ability to search my journal using regular expressions. It is an alluring voice, the dark twin of the call of the wild. The problem is, I can never sustain it for very long, and ultimately give it up.

I cannot explain why this should be. When I write in my notebooks with pen and ink, I can go for years without skipping a day. It took all of two and a half weeks for me to give up my digital journal. I’ve tried to think about what causes this. The answers I have thus far are weak and uncertain, but two are worth contemplating

  1. I spend enough time on computers that I want to be done and so I don’t put in the extra time to write my journal.
  2. I somehow feel that there is more permanence to what I write in a notebook, and am therefore more committed to it as a lasting repository of my writing than digital media.

I think the latter point may be the crux of the issue for me. When I read Walter Isaacson’s fantastic biography of Leonardo da Vinci, I was impressed by a point Isaacson made the importance of which seemed all out of proportion with the rest of the book. Isaacson wrote:

[Da Vinci’s] mind, I think, is best revealed in the more than 7,200 pages of his notes and scribbles that, miraculously, survive to this day. Paper turns out to be a superb information-storage technology, still readable after five hundred years, which our own tweets likely won’t be.

Somehow, I have internalized this. Indeed, I’ve had the experience where some of my digital writing is forever lost to the ether. While I have most of the stories I’ve ever written going back to 1992 in digital form, I have nearly none of the digital journaling I’ve ever done. Instead, I have diaries and notebooks filling with my journal writing. The one exception to this strange rule is my writing here on the blog, which covers a span (as of this writing) of 16 years and is, in some respects, a kind of public-facing journal. Still, I have this suspicion that because my physical notebooks have weight and texture, they, and what they contain, are more valuable than intangible bits stored in clouds.

I suppose that if you were to search this blog, you’d find among the nearly 7,000 posts, a few where I confess this problem, only to write later on about yet another attempt to migrate my journal into the digital realm. This is me in the role of Charlie Brown, to the digital world’s Lucy, holding a virtual football, and then pulling it away at the last moment. Sometimes, even when I recognize my mistakes and failings, it is hard not to repeat them.

All of this to say: as of this morning, I am back to fountain pen and ink in my Moleskine Art Collection large sketchbooks.

In the future, if you see me eagerly writing about how I am once again going to move my journal into digital form of some kind, kindly drop a comment on that post with a gentle reminder of the inevitable results. I think a simple, “Good grief!” would do the trick.

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One Last First Trip to the Library

One of the great pleasures of having a child five years younger than the next oldest child is that I get to revisit things that I did with the older kids, and maybe savor the moments a bit more than I did the first times around. Yesterday, for instance, I took the Littlest Miss to get her very first library card. She will turn five next month, and I’ve been promising to take her to the library for several weeks now. I’d been busy with work and other activities, but told her that we’d do it yesterday. She woke up excited to go to the library, asking over and over if it was time to go yet.

Libraries are incredibly important to me. My mom took me to our local library when I was about the same age as the Littlest Miss, and libraries have made a huge difference in my life. I learned to read in grade school. I learned to think critically in high school. I learned how to learn in college. But books gave me knowledge, took me around the world, deep into the atom, and far into space. The library I frequented in Los Angeles as a teenager even provided a haven during the hot summer months. I could walk there under the blazing sun, and then explore the rows of books for hours in the cool air conditioned space.

So I set out for one last first trip to the library. I took both my daughters to our local branch of the Arlington Public Library, my younger daughter to get her first library card, my older daughter to renew hers. The Littlest Miss could barely contain herself as she emerged from the car. Holding my hand, she pulled me along the sidewalk, down the small flight of stairs, and into the main entrance. It was hot and muggy out, but the air inside was cool and dry.

We went first to the circulation desk where the girls obtained their new library cards. They were given a choice of colors. The Littlest Miss chose pink. The Little Miss chose yellow. Once they had their cards, the Littlest Miss asked the librarian at the circulation desk where she could find the kids books. Then it was off to the races. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the rows and rows of books. I expected her to wander the aisles, trying to figure out what she wanted, but in less than a minute she had a book in hand.

The Littlest Miss among the books
The Littlest Miss among the books

“Can I get this one?” she asked, holding up a copy of Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway by Tim McCanna (and illustrated by Tad Carpenter).

“Of course,” I said. “Do you want to get another one, too?”

“Can I?” said said, eyes wide.

“Sure.”

So she quickly picked out two more books. Meanwhile, I helped the Little Miss locate a book that she was looking for. When they were ready, we headed over to the self-checkout station. I showed them both how to scan their library card, how to scan the books, how to get a receipt so that they know when they need to return the books. The Littlest Miss was delighted with all of this, and wanted to do it all herself. We thanked the librarian for his help, and then we headed back into the hot, humid air for the drive home.

I’m not sure what the Littlest Miss was more excited about, getting books, knowing that she can get more books when she is ready, or having her very own library card, which she put in her backpack so she’d know where it is.

Kids are so busy with activities these day that I suspect mine won’t spend nearly as much time as I did in the public library. But I try to encourage them to use it, and it was certainly an exciting morning for one little girl in particular. It is nice to see the kids excited about something that isn’t a YouTube or TikTok video. Over time, I’m hoping they find that the library is more than just a place to get free books. It’s a place to learn new things, read about people and places that they may be unfamiliar with, and maybe even discover a passion that they didn’t know they had. This is the real value a library provides: discovery–about the world and about themselves.

I’m grateful that I had one last first trip to the library.

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Milestone: 3 Million Views on the Blog

Over the weekend, the blog passed a major milestone: 3 million views over its nearly 16 years life. It is creeping up on a second milestone, 1.5 million unique visitors over that same period of time.

When I started the blog (on LiveJournal! remember that?) I had no plan. I just thought it would be fun to have a place to write in public. The blog migrated from LiveJournal to WordPress (self-managed) back in 2009, and more recently to WordPress.com earlier this summer.

In the early days on WordPress (circa 2009), I remember getting 10 or 20 views a day and being happy that there was a handful of people out there enjoying what I wrote. Over the years, those numbers steadily climbed. I didn’t do much that I am aware of to make that happen. I just tried to write things that interested me. I remember when the daily views hit about 100/day that I was thrilled. After I began writing my Going Paperless posts, things really picked up and for several years, I was seeing 3,000 or 4,000 views per day on average, something that astonished me, but that also made me nervous. I knew most of those views were for the paperless posts, but I still wanted to write about whatever interested me.

As life got busier, as more of my attention was taken up with my kids and family, I wrote less. I “retired” as Evernote’s paperless ambassador, and retired the paperless column, which had always been an experiment in my mind. Readership went down on the blog and along with it, the daily views. I think last year (2020) was a low-point for the blog. I wrote less than ever before, and I missed writing here. That is part of the reason that I decided to try to write here every day in 2020. These days, the daily views on the blog are a tenth of what they were at the blog’s peak readership, but I’ve noticed a definite trend upward, and that pleases me because I am writing about what I want, and not trying to focus on one niche.

I used to obsess over the blog stats. I try not to do this anymore but sometimes, I can’t help it. I’m amazed that the blog has lasted as long as it has, and I’m grateful for all of my readers, especially those who have been around for a very long time. I’ve never tried to compare my stats with other sites, so I don’t know where I stand. I’m sure there are sites out there that get 3 million views in a single month (and possible in a single day), but I’m happy with the slow-but-steady accumulation I’ve managed over the last 16 years.

The first million views could have been an accident. The second million maybe showed that I was on to something. The third million just helps to convince me that there are people out there who enjoy what I write. What can be better than writing what you enjoy for people who enjoy what you write? I am eternally grateful to everyone that comes here to read what I write, who leaves a comment, or emails me with kind words, or questions. You have all made this more fun than I could have possibly imagined when I started out.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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