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 17 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.

The Next Writing Project

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As I ease myself back into fiction writing, I am trying to make some changes and adapt the way I’ve done things in the past. A few examples that I have mentioned recently:

  • Write the first and second drafts longhand.
  • Mark up those drafts and add my notes in longhand as well
  • Write the third draft on the computer.

I used to do everything on the computer. But I like the quiet of a pen on paper in those early drafts, when I’m still trying to figure things out.

Another thing I used to do is try to get through a story to the final draft in a relatively uninterrupted sweep. That is, once I started working on a story, I wouldn’t stop until I had the final draft. That sometimes resulted in final drafts that weren’t all that good because I rushed them, or didn’t have them entirely figured out, but I had the draft done, so the story went out for submission.

This time was different. I began writing the third draft of the story on June 15 and finished it a week later. Then I spent three days just reading what I wrote and made lots of notes. By the time I’d done that I felt that the story had problems. The first half was pretty good, but the second half still needed a lot of work. I sent the draft to my friend Michael for feedback. His feedback was perfectly aligned with my own. What do to?

In the past I would have tried to brute force my way through the next draft, but as I still am trying to figure things out, I didn’t think that would work. Instead, I have decided to stick the draft in a drawer for a while and allow it to percolate in the back of my mind until something comes up. Something usually does. In the meantime, I don’t want to lose momentum on this new writing phase, so this morning, I began (in that same notebook), the first draft a new story. This one is likley to be longer than the first, which means that by the time I finish the draft, I might just be ready to return to the first story and maybe know how to make it work.

Fiction writing has always been hard work for me. It may not seem difficult to sit down with a notebook and scribble away, but the physical act of writing is the easiest part. The difficult part, for me, is figuring out what the story is about, who’s telling the story, capturing the voice, hooking the reader and keeping them interested through the end, and then delivering an ending that is worthwhile. But it is fun work, too.

Written on June 27, 2022.

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Def Leppard Radio–And My Favorite Band

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Favorites can be finicky things. As a kid I had this idea that “favorite” meant exclusive. There could be only one favorite friend, or TV show, or band. With age and wisdom I learned that favorite is a grouping. There can be more than one. All the better if there is more than one. Still, I never satisfies my kids when they ask me for my favorite food and I tell them that, like my favorite music, it depends on my mood.

Recently, I discovered that SiriusXM had a limited-time Def Leppard channel. Unusual for me, I feel like I have been listening to it constantly all week. I can usually spend 4-5 hours a day listening to audiobooks. This past week, however, all my listening has been on the Def Leppard channel. I think it is fair to say they are among my favorites.

Sometime in the first half of 1983 my brother and I got a copy of the Pyromania album. I suspect that I had heard of Def Leppard before that album, but that was our first real rock album and we played it over and over again. There isn’t a bad song on that album, the first of 3 albums that have fantastic energy. I remember seeing the video for “Photograph” when it came out on MTV. “Photograph” is one song I love to play really loud.

In the summer of 1987, Hysteria was released and that is probably my favroite Def Leppard album, and one of my all-time favorite albums, period. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was all over the radio that summer. The summer of 1987 was my last “free” summer. I was 15 years old, and half a year later, I got a work permit and began working in a stationary store after school a few days a week, and on weekends. Beginning in the summer of 1988, I was working, and I’ve been working at one job or another ever since. So the album reminds me of those last carefree days before I started working.

My favorite song from that album is “Hysteria.” That songs reminds me of the good times I had with my high school friends–still among my best friends–on Friday and Saturday evenings. After I began working, and had some cash of my own, some of my first purchases were the cassettes of Def Leppard’s first two full-length albums: On Through the Night (1980) and Hgh ‘n’ Dry (1981). I remember listeing to the latter over and over again on the bus ride to school. The former, On Through the NIght, has my favorite Def Leppard song. More on that shortly.

I seem to recall that “Tear It Down” from the Adrenalize album was released long before the album came out. There was a five-year gap between Hysteria and Adrenalize thanks to some bad luck the band had: the death of Steve Clark partway through making the album. I was a sophemore in college when the album finally came out. This is a completely fun album, it seems to me, not nearly as serious as either Pyromania or Hysteria.

I’ve never been quite as fond of the albums after, say, Retro Active as I have the earlier ones. That said, there are some great gems among them. And one side-effect of listening to the Def Leppard channel on Sirius XM, I have had a chance to listen to their new album, Diamond Star Halos, and I liked it more than I expected to.

For me, Def Leppard’s music is good for just about anything. I frequently listen to it when I work out–it has great energy for cardio. It also makes good writing music. I don’t listen to music when writing first drafts, but will occasionally listen to music on subsequent drafts. Def Leppard is a go-to.

Oh, and my all-time favorite Def Leppard song? It is a deep cut that I have never once heard played on the radio, not even on the Def Leppard channel on SiriusXM. The song is “Overture,” the final track on On Through the Night.

Written on June 23, 2022.

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It’s All Downhill From Here

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We just passed the summer solstice and that means it is all downhill from here. From now until December 21, the days will gradually grow shorter.

I prefer more daylight than less daylight. My rhythms revolve around daylight. I wake with the sun–or with the brightening sky. These days, it means I’m usually up around 5 am. I also go to sleep early–often around 8pm, while there is still more than an hour of light left in the sky. I like falling asleep with dwindling sunlight in the window and awakening in the middle of the night to darkness.

Some people prefer it lighter in the mornings, others in the evenings. I want both at the same time, and right about now is about as good as it gets for me. On Tuesday, the actual solstice, sunrise in my neck of the woods as at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39pm. There is about an hour of daylight on the before and after, so there is light in the sky from about 5am until 9:20am or so–more than 16 hours of daylight.

I imagine that astronomers and horror writers prefer December 21, when the nights are longest rather than the days.

I am ambivalent on daylight saving time. Sometimes I’d be happy to get rid of it, other times, I want more of it. Really, I’d be happy if people just said it correctly: daylight saving time, not “savings.” Right now, daylight saving time is making it light here in my area until after 9 pm. If we didnt’ have it, it would be getting dark at 8 pm. I’ve been going to bed between 8 and 9 o’clock and whether it is still light out or dark has no bearing on my falling asleep. (Getting up at 5 am does have bearing on this.)

If I had to choose, I’d say I much prefer it lighter out early in the morning than later at night. I’m usually out the door for my morning walk between 5:30 and 6:00am, and I definitely prefer to be able to see where I am walking.

I’m rambling. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and not because it was too light or too dark, but that is a story for another time.

Written on June 20, 2022.

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Time Warp

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For as far back as I can remember, I have had the occasional odd thought that when I go to bed at night, I will wake up and it will be sometime far in the past of my life, and everything since that time has been a dream.

Sometimes, the thought comes after a particular milestone. When I turned 10 years old, for instance, I remember going to sleep that night, wondering if I would wake up and be six or seven years old, and all of the accomplishments of the past few years would be erased in the few waking moments as the dream disappates.

I’ve never quite shaken this. Even now, at fifty, I sometimes drift off to sleep, wondering if I will wake up and be fifteen, and have to do it all over again: high school, S.A.T.s, college, jobs, life. It would be nice to think that if I did have to do it all over again, I’d have some foreknowledge, thanks to my “dream”–but that is not how dreams work–at least not for me. The dream fades quickly, the details sinking like stones in water, until all that is left is the ripples on the surface that hint at something that was once there.

I wonder if this is a common thought? I’m not going Google to see if it is or not, but I have to think that it is fairly common. My all-time favorite Star Trek episode (of any of the series) is “The Inner Light“, and perhaps one reason I like it so much is because the story is another version of my dream fantasy–to live an entire lifetime in a dream, and then awaken from it to find that you are back where you started, and only a few minutes have gone by.

I suppose that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is another form of this fantasy of mine, with all of the events of the story happening in a single night.

The difference between these two stories and my own peculiar fantasy is that in mine, I’d wake up with only the vaguest, fading memories of my dream experience, while in both “The Inner Light” and “A Christmas Carol” it is the memory of the events that allow for the characters within the story to grow.

Written on June 20, 2022.

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Good Times

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This time of year we spend our Friday evenings at the pool club where we are members. There are two large pools, plus a kiddie pool. The pool is staffed with life guards. There is a snack bar and regular bar, The Deep End, that serves a variety of food and drinks. There is a large, shaded picnic area, and an even larger grounds that include a playground, tennis courts, volleyball courts, and more. We find a table in the picnic area, I head to the bar to open a tab, and the kids can run free around the grounds. We meet our friends there, hang out talking, swimming, drinking, eating, playing.

Yesterday (as I write this) was the last day of the school year for our kids and around 3pm, I headed over the pool with the girls, to get a table. It was a good thing I did. I’ve never seen the pool as crowded as it was yesterday. It was hot–well into the 90s–and everyone decided to head to the pool to swim, barbecue, and hang out with friends. I found a table in the shade, and within an hour getting there, all of the picnic tables were taken. I’ve never seen that happen in all the years we’ve been members.

We saw many of the Friday evening crowd there. We also met friends there that we hadn’t seen in a long time, and it was great catching up. While I was waiting at the table for everyone to show up, while the kids were off swimming and playing, I put on a playlist and found myself listening to music from my junior and senior years in high school. Those were good times. I would meet my friends at various places in the San Fernando Valley on Friday or Saturday evenings: Corbin Bowl was a popular spot. Or maybe we’d meet at the movies. Or someone’s house. It was the late 1980s and there were no smart phones, which in retrospect make things seem even better. We were all young, sixteen or seventeen. We had a good-sized group. Many of the people in that group are still among my best friends today.

I sat there, listening to the music (three songs in particular remind me of this time: “Hysteria” by Def Leppard “Broken Hearts” by Living Colour, and “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty), and thinking about how those were good times. part of it is the rose-colored haze through which I see that period of my life. Part of it is that I had no adult responsibilities. Whether or not I’d finished my homework, or studies for a particular test were among my biggest concerns in life. Too often, we don’t recognize the good times, even as we live through them.

As I was thinking about that, I looked around me. Kids were swimming, playing, running around. Adults circled picnic tables, pouring from pitchers of beer into clear plastic Solo cups. Some of the scattered grills had fires or hot coals. The smell of a variety of food was in the air. I saw familiar faces, friends, family. We talked and joked, drank some beer and other spirits, ate fried foods. I realized that I was living through good times, and this was one example of it. Fifteen or twenty years from now, when the kids are out on their own, I could see myself looking back on these Friday nights at the pool the same way I look back on Friday nights at Corbin Bowl. Except now, I recognized as a good time even as it unfolded in front of me.

Yesterday was hot and humid. This morning, I awoke to temperatures in the upper 60s and breezy. Also crystal clear and dry. My morning walk felt great compared to the heat of yesterday. I got back from my walk, did some writing, and then went for another walk with Zach. We’ve gotten into the habit of walking to our local McDonald’s on Saturday morning and having breakfast together there. On our way back, we ran into Grace and her friend, who were out for a bike ride. When I got home, I decided to take advantage of this amazing weather, by sitting out on the deck and reading more of The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Before that, however, I decided I should write about these good times. After all, this was another one: perfect weather, morning walks, breakfast with my son, reading out on the deck.

With everything going on in the world, it feels good to recognize the good times.

Written on June 18, 2022.

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Fueling the Fiction

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Yesterday I began writing the 3rd draft of a new story I’m working on–the first story I’ve finished in quite a few years. I handwrote the first two drafts in a composition notebook, consuming about the first 80 pages of the notebook between the two drafts and my notes. The third draft is going into the computer, and it was nice to sit down after my walk this morning with the second draft of the story open in front of me, typing out the story, cutting words, lines, and even some paragraphs as I went along, changing things here and there. I got about 3 manuscript pages of the third draft done.

I have now been working on this story every morning for the last month, eagerly looking forward to it when I go to sleep at night, and getting started as soon as I am back from my morning walk. Typically, I’ll start working at around 6:20 am and finish sometime around 7 am, maybe 7:15am if I’ve really hit a groove. I don’t worry much about where I stop. I alternate the color of the ink I use each day, and also note in the margin the date where I start each morning. Sometimes, I’ll stop mid-paragraph and just continue on the next day. You can see an example of this in the image below from my first draft.

Stopping in mid-sentence and continuing on the next day.
Stopping in mid-sentence and continuing on the next day.

After such a long drought of fiction writing, I got to wondering why things seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. Probably I shouldn’t question things, and just enjoy the ride, but I can’t help myself. After giving it some careful thought, an interesting developed on what fuels my fiction writing. The answer I came up with is: caffeine.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a caffeine addict. For most of my life, I drank regular Coke throughout the day. At some point in my early thirties, I gave up caffeine thinking it would help me to sleep better. I did sleep better, but looking back on that time, I’m not sure it was the caffeine that was giving me trouble in the first place. After seven years without caffeine, I started up with it again not long after the Little Man was born. Since then I’ve been on-again/off-again with caffeine. Most recently, I was off of it for nearly a year, before starting up again (slowly) in December.

How does this relate to my fiction writing? It occurred to me that when I started up with caffeine again in 2010, it was the beginning of a very productive fiction writing period for me. I sold my first story to Analog during that time. I wrote a bunch of other stories, quite a few of which I sold. I started writing nonfiction articles, too, and sold them from time to time. During those years–call it late 2010 – 2015, I also wrote a complete novel draft in about 6 months.

During my fiction drought, I was mostly off caffeine, with a few minor exceptions here and there. Then, this year, I started up with it again, and the fiction drought ended, and I’ve been more productive with my fiction writing than I have since that 2010-15 period. The one consistent thing I can point to at each of these periods of creative productivity is caffeine.

This makes me feel good. I often feel guilty when I go back to my caffeine fix. There really isn’t any reason I should feel guilty, but I do. Thinking (believing!) that the caffeine helps my brain somehow with the creative process involved in making up stories relieves me of that guilt. Now, when I have my morning caffeine, I think of it as fueling the fiction I’ll be writing as soon as I am back from my morning walk.

Written on June 15, 2022.

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Burned Through the Backlog

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I am writing this post about 45 minutes before you will read it. It is the first time I’ve done that in nearly 6 months, and the main reason is that I’ve burned through my backlog of scheduled posts. There are several reasons for this.

First, I have spent the last month writing a new story. As of this morning, I am one scene away from completing the second draft of the story, and I hope to start the third (and final) draft later this week. The new story has grown hand-in-hand with a new morning routine. The time that I used to spend writing blog posts is now being used to work on the story.

Second, other time has been hard to come by. We have had a busy May and June. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday after school there are multiple kids’ activities. Saturdays and Sundays are also filled with activities: soccer games, gynmastics events, and countless birthday parties. All of the kids’ friends, it seems, were born in May or June. So I haven’t had much excess time to sit and write more posts.

Third, I apparently have a limited reservoir of creativity, at least at the moment. When I was writing every day for the blog, that creativity was spent there. Now that I am working on fiction, it is spent on the story. What that means is that even when I find some time to write a post for the blog, I haven’t felt the desire to write.

Put all of this together and it explains how I managed to burn through a backlog of nearly 3 weeks worth of posts, and how I find myself rushing to get this one written before my usual 8 am publishing time.

I’m not overly concerned about this. The new schedule I have for the blog (new posts on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Sundays) is easier on me than trying to have a new post every day. I’ll get this post out this morning, for instance. I plan to carve out an hour tomorrow to write a couple of more posts, and that will allow me to begin building up my backlog again. My goal is to have 2-3 weeks worth of posts in reserve at any given moment. I just need to work my way back there.

Written on June 14, 2022 (at 7:30 am Eastern time).

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A Little Birdhouse In Your Post

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Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a bird nest in our mailbox. It all started with a bird feeder that the Littlest Miss made in school. She came home with it one day a month back and that evening, we tried to figure out a place to put it where birds might find it. I noticed that the mailbox mounted next to the front door had a hook, so we put it there.

The next morning, after coming back from dropping the girls off at school, I noticed birds at the feeder. It took them only a few days to clear it of all feed, but I got a few pictures of it, and the Littlest Miss was delighted that it had been put to good use.

Time passed.

One day, a few weeks later, while pulling the mail from the box, I noticed the mail seemed to be sticking out a little more than usual. I peered inside, and saw what looked like a bird’s nest crammed into the bottom of the mailbox. Then, last week, I went to get the mail and as I pulled it from the box, a bird fluttered out, nearly crashing into me, before veering to its left for a nearby tree. I watched it perch on a branch, looking back it me. I went inside.

Thereafter, each morning that I head out for my morning walk, I peer carefully into the mailbox and can see the bird in there. What’s more, there are eggs in the nest! I counted at least five of them.

The birdhouse in our post.
The birdhouse in our post.

Now, when the mail comes, I am quick to pull it from the box so as not to disturb the bird or the eggs. It will be interesting to see if the eggs hatch and if the little birds make it out of their nesting place. At this point, I am not quite sure how they will do that, since the nest is down at the bottom, but nature abides.

Written on June 8, 2022.

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Substitute Voices

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Not every writer is a great reader of their own work. (This writer, raising his hand.) In listening to audiobooks, I have found over the years, substitute voices for writers who don’t narrate their own work. I think of these voices as if it is the writer’s own voice. There is a comfort and familiarity to them that make listening to such books a pleasures.

I’ve been reading (and in some instances re-reading) Roger Angell in light of his recent passing at 101. For his book, This Old Man: All In Pieces, Author Morey is the narrator, and on this second pass through this book, Morey’s voice has become that of Roger Angell in my mind. There are few Angell audiobooks, but I don’t think I could bear to listen to one that wasn’t in Morey’s voice. Indeed, I have a small stack of Angell books accumulating on my desk that I’m making my way through, and when I read them, I don’t hear my “inner voice”, I hear Arthur Morey.

Similarly, Malcolm Hillgartner has because the substitute voice of E. B. White. One Man’s Meat is probably my favorite collection of essays, all of them narrated by Hillgartner, all of them in a way that seems to me to channel the casual clarity of White’s writing. Hillgartner narrates several of White’s essay collections so that he has become the voice of E. B. White in my mind, the way that Morey has become the voice of Roger Angell (who also happens to be White’s stepson).

This works for fiction, too. I can imagine no one besides George Guidall as the voice of Walt Longmire. I’m not sure I could bring myself to listen to a Longmire book that wasn’t narrated by Guidall. Guidall is more Longmire in my mind than Robert Taylor, who played Longmire on the television series.

George Guidall is also my Roland in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Guidall narrates the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series. Another great narrator, the late Frank Muller, takes on books two, three, and four. Muller does a good job, and his Eddie Dean beats out Guidall’s, but for my money, the voice of Roland Deschain is George’s voice, not Frank’s.

In Stephen King’s 11/22/63, Craig Wasson is Jake Epping/George Amberson. He does such a phenomenal job with that character that I have not been able to listen to Wasson’s other performances. I just can’t. He is and always will be Jake Epping to me. This is a shame, as I am sure I am missing out on other great Wasson performances.

Now that I have started to write fiction again, I find that I sometimes imagine who might narrate the audio version of my stories. I read a line, and try it out as Guidall, or Hillgartner, and finally settle on Arthur Morey for this particular character. The story may never see the light of day, but it is a new way for me to think about the voice of the story. About the only think I can say for certain: the voice will not be mine.

Written on May 26, 2022.

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A New Story Draft at Last

Back on May 26 I finished writing the first draft of a new story. This was something of a milestone for me. I’ve written about my five-year bout with writer’s block when it comes to fiction-writing. This new story represents the first story draft that I have completed since 2015–even before my soon-to-be six-year old daughter was born!

On May 12, I pulled a blank composition book from the shelf, and scribble a short outline of my idea for the story. On May 13 (Friday the 13th), I wrote the first scene. Each morning over the next 12 days (with the exception of May 15, when the day got away from me) I wrote, adding more scenes. When I finished writing, I would review what I wrote, making notes in red ink in the margins of the pages. I wrote in cursive, using my trusty Pilot G-2 0.7 pens, alternating between black ink one day and blue the next.

The story filled 35 pages in my composition book, and while I didn’t worry about word count day-to-day, I estimate the first draft at around 9,000 words, which is somewhat longer than I had intended. My job in the next draft, therefore, is to see what I can cut out.

I can’t say for certain, but this may be the first story in which I handwrote the entire first draft since a story that I wrote in Mrs. Taft’s 3rd grade class for a social studies assignment. It was the spring of 1981, we were studying the Soviet Union in our social studies book, and my story was about two friends who took a walking tour of Moscow. From an early age I was never a believer in “write what you know.” It was written in an incredibly neat, loopy cursive that I incapable of reproducing today. That original manuscript–written on tan newsprint paper with those dotted lines to help with your penmanship–has been lost, but I have other papers from that time, and that is how I know my handwriting was once legible.

I think my newish morning routine played a big part in helping me get this story written. I rise just before the sun, when the sky is lightening. I’m out for a morning walk before sunrise (out the door at 5:40am this morning) and I’m back at 6:25am. I sit down to write for the next 30-60 minutes, when the house is still quiet. I avoid the computer, the keyboard, and just scribble in my composition book where I left off, using whatever color ink I didn’t use yesterday, and noting the date in the margin where I started the day’s writing.

Tomorrow morning, I will sit down with my composition book and begin reading what I wrote in the first draft of the story. I will have a red pen in hand. I’ll clarify those words that are too hard to read in my scribbled cursive. I’ll add reference numbers in the margins to lengthier comments and notes I’ll make on subsequent pages. And when I’ve gone through the entire story, I’ll begin writing the second draft, notes in hand.

I plan on keeping this pleasant pace that I’ve found, even in the editing. Thirty to sixty minutes tomorrow morning, see how far I get, and then take a break until the next morning.

It feels good to be writing fiction again.

Written on May 26, 2022.

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Problem Solving in the Shower

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For as long I can remember, my showers have been orderly affairs of strictly utilitarian purpose, varying only by season. In the depth of winter, I take them scalding hot. In the heat of summer, I don’t even bother with the hot water faucet. Aside from that, I’ve tried to make my showers as quick and efficient as possible: wash hair, scrub body, shave (if necessary), and done.

If shave, my shower might run five minutes; if don’t it is usually closer to three minutes. I multitask while I am scrubbing and lathering. Showers are a great place to think great thoughts. Thoughts and ideas come to me more frequently in showers than anywhere else, perhaps because my mind, like my body, is totally unencumbered beneath that virtual rainstorm. On occasion, I may linger in a shower as an idea catches, I turn it this way and that in my mind, forgetting everything else. Usually, a good idea forces me out of the shoewr quickly. I don’t want to lose it.

And that is just the problem: sometimes, I lose things in the shower. The most common thing I lose is my memory of washing my hair. Though it only took place four or five minutes earlier, as I get older, I frequently find myself wondering, Did I wash my hair? I had the same problem trying to remember if I took my vitamins in the morning. I solved that problem by crossing out the day on my Field Notes work station calendar immediately after taking my vitamins. I have no such tool readily available in the shower to make note of the status of my hair.

This morning, I decided to push the shower to work for me on the problem. As I do with various thoughts and ideas for stories, essays, blog posts, I considered the problem of remembering whether or not I washed my hair, even as a scrubbed away at my scalp. Is there some trick or mnemonic that would work?

I was nearly finished rinsing (no need to shave today) when the shower came up with the solution, and a completely obvious and workable solution. So obvious, in fact, that, creature of habit that I am when it comes to my showers (and other things), I might never have stumbled upon the idea on my own. The idea, elegant in its simplicity, was this:

Wash your hair last thing instead of first thing.

It will take some getting used to. I’ve been washing my hair first thing in the shower for more than forty years now. But if washing my hair at the end of the shower instead of the beginning will help to guarantee that I won’t forget if I’ve washed my hair by the time my shower is over, then I’m all for giving it a try.

Having written this out, I do spot a flaw in my plan: will I forget whether or not I scrubbed my body by the time my shower ends?

I think I’ll leave that problem to tomorrow’s shower.

Written on May 25, 2022.

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Before My Reading List

books on wooden shelves inside library
Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on

For more than 26 years now, I have kept a list of all of the books that I have read. There is only one criteria for a book to make it onto this list: I have to have finished the entire thing. Many are the books that I made it two-thirds, or three-quarters of the way through that didn’t make it on the list because I didn’t finish them.

Still, after more than 26 years, there are, as of this writing, 1,163 books that made it onto my list.

But what about the books I read and finished before 1996? It sometimes seems as if I only started to read beginning in 1996 because I have the evidence of my list to remind me of exactly what I read. But I was just a year and a half out of college when I started my list. I read a lot of books in college, of course. And I was a reader growing up. What about all of those books?

I’ve made mental lists of the books I read before my reading list, but I have never tried to write them down. Each time I start, I find myself distracted by something else. I went to write the list this morning, for instance, and instead, I find myself writing this essay.

Looking for a shortcut, I decided that I could estimate how many books I read before my reading list existed. I could use some of the data from my list to make this estimate even more accurate. For instance, my goal, when I started keeping my list, was to try to read one book per week, or 52 books per year. I didn’t actually hit that goal until something like 20 years into keeping my list. The first several years I hovered around the 35-45 books per year mark.

Keeping in mind that this was an aggressive goal for me in 1996, I think it is fair to say that I read fewer than this number each year prior to 1996. In college, there were books I had to read for classes, and there were books I read for leisure, but without a specific goal to aim for, I felt no rush, except for those books that had to be read for classes. I’d guess that for the four years of college, I averaged 20 books per year. That makes 80 books between 1990-1994.

I think 20 books per year is also a fair estimate for my 3 years of high school, so from 1987-1989 we can add another 60 books.

From 1984 to 1986, I was an assiduous library goer, and I checked out lots of books–many of which I didn’t always finish. I am just trying to estimate the number of books I could have actually finished. During my late middle-school and junior high school years, I estimate 15 books per years. Over the course of those 3 years, that’s another 45 books.

Before 6th grade, things get more difficult. Between 3rd and 5th grade, I’d estimate I made it through 10 books per year on average. So from 1981-1983, let’s call it 30 books that I finished.

I was eight years old in 1980. I learned to read pretty early, and was checking out books on astronomy from the public library when I was 6 or 7 years old. Then, too, there were plenty of children’s books that I read, including just about the entire ouevre of Dr. Seuss books. So from 1977-1980, I think 10 books a year is a fair number. That makes for 40 more books.

Before 1977, I’m not really sure I was reading books myself, more than having them read to me, so this is a good stopping point. Tallying things up, we’ve got:

YearsEstimated books finished
Estimates books I finished reading before 1996.

For a grand total of 270 books finished before my reading list existed. Adding that to the 1,163 books I have read since my list began, I have read, in the half century I’ve been around, about 1,433 books.

Here is another way of looking at this, by decades of my life:

DecadeBooks finished
Books I finished reading by decade. *Contains estimates.

At some point, I will take the time to try to list out all of the books I can remember from before my reading list. But for now, I’m satisfied with my estimate. Reading nearly 1,500 books in the first 50 years of my life is a pretty decent achievement.

Written on May 24, 2022.

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