Category: essays

Print vs. Cursive

Back on September 5, 2020, I switched my handwriting in my journal from printing to cursive. There was no real reason to do it. I think maybe I had been browsing John Quincy Adams’ diaries and was impressed by his handwriting and wanted to see if I remembered how to write in cursive. I continued to write in cursive in my journal for the next 280 days.

A few days ago, I switched back to printing. This time, it was also mostly on a whim, but there was a little more thought behind the change. I’ve often thought my journals might be interesting for my kids when I am old or have passed on. They might enjoy reading about stuff we did when they were younger, thought I had on things, maybe get to know me a little better through this daily writing. But when I look at my cursive handwriting, it is much more difficult to read than my print writing. I began wondering if I was creating an unnecessary barrier.

A sample showing my transition of cursive back to print writing.
My transition from cursive back to printing.

I learned to write in cursive beginning in 2nd grade. My older kids have also learned to write in cursive. But I gave it up as quickly as I could manage. I think it was in 7th grade when I started printing again, and I only ever printed from that point until I decided to experiment in my journal with cursive handwriting 280 days ago.

My printing is much neater than my cursive handwriting. If I slow myself down, I can make my cursive writing neater, but it never comes close to looking elegant, and really, I don’t want to slow down. I write quickly and I want to get it out quickly. One of the benefits of cursive writing was that it allowed me to write faster than printing–but at a cost of readability. And since the journals are there for reference, readability is of higher overall importance than speed.

I tend to use a lot of shorthand in my journals. I rarely spell out names of my immediate family, resorting instead to first letters. I have dozens of shorthand codes for words and phrases I use commonly. These come across much more clearly and cleanly when I print than when I write in cursive. Cursive doesn’t lend itself to my kind of shorthand. I gain back some of the speed that I lose when printing thanks to my homegrown shorthand.

I enjoy the flowing feeling of writing in cursive more than the choppy feel I get from printing. This is especially true when writing with my fountain pen. But once again, practicality wins out. I need to be able to read what I am writing, and when I start to pick up speed in cursive, my writing becomes difficult to parse. So for now, I have switched back to printing.

It is interesting to flip through the dozen or so volumes that make up my journals and see how my writing changes over time. Cursive at one point, printing at another, but more than that, the style of printing. Sometimes I print larger letters, other times, I go for weeks with microscopic print.

I know there is an ongoing debate: print vs. cursive. But for purely practical purposes, I land squarely on the side of print–even though I adore the feeling of writing in cursive.

The Old Fellow on the Bike Path

There is an old fellow I would see on my morning walks along the bike path. He was talk, lanky, with a handlebar mustache. He stooped slightly as a he walked. He always said good morning to me as we passed. He reminded me of the actor Sam Elliott. This old fellow walked slowly, carefully, and I was nearly always by himself as far as I could remember.

And then I didn’t see him any more.

At first, I didn’t think too much about this. I usually listen to a book while I walk, and depending on how absorbed I am in the book, I don’t notice much of my surroundings. Thinking about it, I don’t remember seeing much of him in the winter, and I suppose I thought he avoided the cold weather. Then I didn’t see him in the spring. He looked old to me, but I am a poor judge of age. In any case, I began to fear the worst.

Then this morning, to my great delight, there he was, walking past me in the opposite direction. We passed one another around the same spot that we always did, saying our good mornings. I probably had a bigger smile than I usually did. I felt a tremendous sense of relief, a letting go of tension that I didn’t realize I’d been holding on to. The old fellow was on the bike path again.

Walking every day is good exercise, I am told. I often think of exercise as physical and perhaps mental, but not emotional. And yet, I was delighted and relieved to see the old fellow on the bike path this morning. It probably did me more good than walking the bike has all week. I’m not sure why. As a creature of habit, I tend to follow the same path each morning, around roughly the same time. I see the same faces. I don’t know any names or backgrounds. But there is a familiarity there, a kind of camaraderie that comes from sharing the bike path at the same time each day.

Northern Virginia is not like small town Maine where everyone waves to everyone else, friend and stranger alike. But on the bike paths, things seem different. People smile as they pass. They say good morning. If they have dogs, the dogs stop to chat while they are out walking their owner. There is a sense of the familiar, even though there is no familiarity beyond passing by each morning.

The tension that built up when I didn’t see the old fellow on the bike path was a kind of hidden tension. I didn’t realize it was there until I saw him again and it left. It makes me wonder what other tensions lie hidden within. And what was it about not seeing the old fellow that created that tension in the first place?

Seeing the old guy this morning made me realize how important just seeing other people is to my morning walk. It is at least as important as the exercise I get from the walk. Even when all we do is pass by, smile, and perhaps, say good morning.

Dear Marriott Vacation Club

Dear Marriott Vacation Club,

Thank you for the invitation to take advantage of a New York City vacation where we can experience an inspired stay in the fun-filled Big Apple. Regretfully, we are going to decline, but I thought it would be impolite to decline without giving our reasons. These are listed below:

  • We have no interest in attending a 90-minute timeshare sales presentation.
  • In the past, compensation for such sales pitches was typically a short vacation wherever the pitch was taking place. But in this case your invitation to the New York City vacation indications that the package will cost $499.
  • What you asking, therefore, is for us to pay nearly $500 for the privilege of attending a sales pitch. We are not masochists and would not be interested in shelling out five hundred bucks to listen to a 90 minute presentation.
  • Fortunately, we have never been to Niagara Falls, which also happens to be in New York. We have decided to take a short vacation there this summer as a part of a road trip. Our stay there will cost less than $500, and the only presentation we feel obliged to attend is the one where millions of tons of water spills of a cliff. This is a much more dramatic presentation than I imagine a 90-minute infomercial would be.
  • I note in the fine print that reservations have to be made 30 days in advance. I note that the location is “within walking distance” of Bryant Park. Out of curiosity, I checked out Marriott properties near Bryant Park for the first week in August. Interestingly, I can stay 4 days/3 nights (same as your offer) at the Courtyard by Marriott of Manhattan, Fifth Avenue for $402 (August 1-4) and do so without attending a sales pitch.
Current prices for the Courtyard by Marriott of Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in August.

My question for you is: why would I pay $500 for a 4 day/3 night stay in New York City and be required to attend a 90 minute sales pitch, when I can stay there for the same period of time for $97 less and no sales pitch at all?

I wish you the best of luck with this offer, but if other people decide to put in 5 minutes of research the way I did, you may find yourself with an empty room to pitch to.

Sincerely yours,

Jamie Todd Rubin

P.S.: If you don’t want to receive commentary like this, you can take me off of your mailing list.

Billions and Billions of Cicadas

Seventeen years ago I got to experience the emergence of the Brood X cicadas. I lived in Maryland at the time and forgot much about the experience. This time around, the emergence of the Brood X cicadas helped to refresh my memory. The constant background noise that sounds a lot like a car alarm coming from all directions, for instance. Social media didn’t exist 17 years ago so the photos of cicadas were in the newspapers and local news programs as opposed to Facebook. But there were lots of fat squirrels and birds around for months afterward. And there was the discussions that I see today about how best to prepare cicadas as part of a family meal or dessert.

There was an interesting article in the June 2021 issue of Scientific American on the life cycle of the Brood X cicadas. One thing I learned in that article somehow reassured me. I’d wondered why I’d never seen anything mentioned about cicadas when reading histories of colonial America. If my math is right, the Brood X group would have emerged in 1783, but I don’t recall reading about it in any colonial-era histories or biographies. According to the Scientific American article, however, cicadas were often mistaken by settlers in the colonies as locusts, even though cicadas don’t swarm like locusts, or consume crops like locusts.

The article talked about the billions upon billions of cicadas that emerge, first the males and then about six days later, the females. There is an evolutionary reason for this. Predators of all kinds consume this first wave, and by the time females emerge days later, the predators are largely stuffed and there enough males and females left to allow for mating and the continuing of the species.

It is the large number of cicadas that I’d really forgotten about over the last seventeen years. Billions and billions sounds abstract. Even the generalized sound they make on sunny days, despite its volume, doesn’t convey the sheer numbers. You know what does? The sidewalks.

The cicada are in their dying phase now, and the sidewalks and bike paths in the neighborhood are black with their pulped bodied. You can pass patches of blackened sidewalk chasing away clouds of flies feasting on the carcasses of dead cicadas. There is even a smell subtle smell of decay in the air from all of the death going on around us.

The cicadas song provides a constant, steady background noise that works well for a home base when I sit on the deck in the morning to meditate. But I’m ready for it to go away, and to take with it the earthly remains of the dead cicadas. Nature is now doing its work on that front, and hopefully, within the next few weeks, the only proof of the cicadas presence will be the fat squirrels that can barely climb the trees, and the chubby birds that need extra runway space for takeoff.

The next time the Brood X cicadas emerge, our kids will be 29, 27, and 22 respectively. I wonder what memeories they will have of Magicicada septendecim.

The Perfect Night’s Sleep

I don’t recall thinking much about sleep when I was a kid. Except for having to wake up early for school, which could be annoying, I rare had trouble sleeping. I put my head down on the pillow and drift off. There were occasional bouts of sleeplessness, but they were rare. I even have vague memories of taking naps when I was five or six years old. I close my eyes and the next thing I knew nap time was over.

Now I observe this behavior in the Littlest Miss. We lay down for our nap and we are both usually asleep within minutes. We put on some music, lay on the guest room bed, and she tucks her head on my shoulder. I usually wake up when the music ends, but she is still sleeping and always looks peaceful (although lately, also very sweaty).

It has been well over twenty years since the last really good night’s sleep that I can remember. It has become something of legend in my memory, the sleep to which all other sleeps are held up in comparison. It came at a time in the late 1990s when I was working long hours. During this particular stretch, I headed into the office one day at 5:10 am, and didn’t get back home until around 2 am. I was heading back to the office 3 hours later after a restless few hours of sleep, and finally made it home at 6 pm that evening. I remember going into my bedroom and flopping down on my bed thinking I’d rest for a few minutes before dinner. I awoke the next morning, fully refreshed. I had no dreams, and it wasn’t the instantaneous time-skipping sleep of anesthesia, either. I felt perfectly at peace, my mind clear, as if I was floating in a timeless, featureless space, until I woke up.

I’ve never had as good a night’s sleep since.

For the last 15 months or so, my problem has been actually falling into sleep. I feel tired, but I just can’t sink into unconsciousness. I hover above it sometimes for hours. It got so bad that I eventually told my doctor about it. I tried out about 3 or 4 different prescription sleep aids, and none of them worked. Eventually I gave those up. I gave up caffeine, too, which shows my level of desperation. My sleep improved, but only a little. I can fall asleep now, so long as I don’t miss my window. That is, I can fall asleep if nothing disturbs me during the windows when I feel most tired. But of course, with three kids, that never happens. Once I am stirred, I have a hard time getting back to sleep.

What I find particularly frustrating is the fact that I can fall asleep within minutes when I nap with the Littlest Miss after lunch. I don’t sleep long, but it amazes me how quickly I do fall asleep.

Lately, it has been better. I’m falling asleep faster, and staying asleep longer, but my sleep is always unsettled. I have strange dreams that seem to go on all night, and continue even if I wake up and head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I sleep, but the dreams themselves are exhausting. Now that I am writing again, the dreams have subsided a bit. That tells me, as I have always suspected, that my writing is an outlet for what goes in in my head.

Our kids like playing the game of “would you rather.” Often, it is something like, “Would you rather get a million dollars, or… fill in the blank.” I sometimes imagine them asking me, “Dad, would you rather get a billion dollars or be able to have the perfect night’s sleep each night for the rest of your life.” I wouldn’t hesitate in answering: “the perfect night’s sleep.” I know they’d be disappointed that I’d so quickly discard their substantial inheritance, but at this point, I think I would turn down a trillion dollars if I could be guaranteed a lifetime of nightly sleep like I had on that on night in the late 1990s.

My Morning Fix

It has been 54 days since I gave up caffeine. Ever since, I have been relying on my morning walk to take over as my morning fix. I look forward to the walk before I fall asleep at night, in the same way I used to look forward to a Coke in the morning.

My walk takes me through the park next to the house and then I follow the bike paths northeast about a mile and a quarter until I come to our local 7-Eleven. There, I buy myself an orange juice for the walk home. It is another mile and a quarter back, making for a round trip of two and half miles. It takes me about 45 minutes. I usually listen to an audio book while I walk.

I am especially fond of bright, sunny mornings. The sun feels rejuvenating. There are lots of people out, walking, running, biking. I see familiar faces, even though I don’t know the names that go along with them. Overcast mornings aren’t bad, but I like the sunshine better. In 54 days in giving up caffeine, weather hasn’t really prevented my walk.

Going to bed last night it was raining, and the rain was supposed to continue throughout the day today and into Saturday morning. I was a little worried I might not be able to get out for my walk in the morning. It was reminiscent of those days when I went to bed knowing there was no Coca Cola left in the house, and that I’d need to run to the store in the morning if I wanted my caffeine.

And, indeed, I woke up to a steady rain. I paced the house, feeling restless, wondering what I’d do if I didn’t go for my walk. It wasn’t pouring out, but the rain was steady and showed no signs of pausing for 45 minutes for me to squeeze in my walk. Finally, my desire to walk overcame the rain. I got a sturdy umbrella out of the car, and set out.

I made it less than half a mile before the skies opened up and it poured. I tried to keep myself under my umbrella. The sound of the rain was so loud on the umbrella that I couldn’t hear my audio book and had to give it up. But I kept walking. I saw maybe half a dozen other people out braving the weather on the bike paths. Only one of them had an umbrella. The others embraced the rain. I wasn’t rushed. I try not to rush my morning walks. I accepted that my shoes were soaked, but the rest of me stayed relatively dry.

I made it to 7-Eleven, got my orange juice, and headed back. On my way back, I paused on bridge that crosses a stream to watch the normally placid water churn. I often pause on the bridge on the way back. You can see the my 15 seconds of Zen in the video below.

I made it home with wet shoes, but otherwise very happy that I got out for my walk this morning. I feel like I got in my morning fix and I can now proceed with the rest of my day.

15 seconds of Zen on a rainy morning

A Picture Is Worth Four or Five Words

In an essay titled “The Ancient and the Ultimate”, Isaac Asimov tried to imagine the future of books. After progressing through increasing stages of sophistication, what remained was–well, the kind of books we have today: the ones that sit on shelves and are made from trees. They were, he was arguing, already as good as they could possibly be.

When I think of the future of books, my vision isn’t quite so rosy. What I imagine is pages filled with nothing but one animated GIF after another. Why use words when a 5-second animation of Jeff Daniels slapping his forehead is so much more descriptive?

It seems to me that nearly everyone I know communicates primarily through animated GIFs. (Is it pronounced “Jif” like the peanut butter, or “gif” like a present minus the t? More than three decades in I.T. and I still don’t know the answer.) They are particularly common in comment threads of Facebook posts. Typing out “get the popcorn” is no longer adequate to convey ones meaning. A 6-second movie is required so that you can watch someone with maniacal eyes reach over and over into a box of popcorn, trying to stuff it all into their mouths.

Half of the GIFs I see come from popular television shows or movies. Steve Carell seems to be particularly popular for his wide variety of facial expressions. I guess our own expressions aren’t good enough. I don’t people making animated GIFs of their own expression. It is as if we can’t think of a good way to express ourselves, so we will let someone else do it for us.

I was thinking about this, and it occurred to me that there is some amount of convenience to this kind of appropriation. Animated GIFs are like clichés. Now there are people who abhor clichés, but I don’t really mind them. I think of them as syntactic subroutines. When someone says, “It is what it is,” we all know what they mean because we are all familiar with the function of that particular subroutine. I suppose that animated GIFs are just another iteration of the cliché, a modernization of the verbal subroutine.

I tend to avoid animated GIFs because it seems to me that I can type whatever I mean faster than it would take me to find an appropriate GIF. I am easily distracted (especially when writing) and a search for one animated GIF would likely lead to half an hour down a rabbit hole. I’d end up with a dozen GIFs that I thought were good for some purpose, but not the one I set out looking for. I’d then find an excuse to use them. Those GIFs would burn holes in my virtual pockets. The thing I intended to say (“Can’t wait to see you!”) would not only never get written, but would be forgotten.

There does seem something catching about the animated GIF. Once one person posts one in a thread, everyone else feels the needs to post one. They are like digital yawns in that regard. I also sense a bit of competition when it comes to the animated GIF. Who can find the GIF that best expresses the thought most precisely. I find this to be a daunting competition because without the words on the screen to express it, I’m never quite sure what that thought it.

I realize that I might come across as a grumpy old man with these thoughts on animated GIFs. To that all I can say is:

New Patio Furniture

We recently ordered new patio furniture and yesterday it arrived. It was quick and easy to put together, and I think it looks pretty good. I like Adirondack chairs, and as far as Adirondack chairs go, these aren’t too bad. I just wish they were wooden chairs instead of some hybrid. It turns out that the authentic, wooden Adirondack chairs are very expensive for some reason. The version we got cost about half as much. As far as I can tell, they don’t feel any different when sitting in them, and they look just as good, so it seemed like a good deal.

Our new Adirondack chairs on the front patio.

We put these chairs in the patio area at the front of our house. We don’t sit out there often, preferring to use the deck in the back, but perhaps by having nicer furniture in the front, we’ll sit out there more than we have been. We have a small portable fire pit there as well, which doesn’t come in particularly handy in the blazing hot summer. And there isn’t much shade out front this time of year, except for early in the morning before the sun gets too high.

I think we could use a table, between these chairs, one that could hold, say, a bottle of beer or a glass of Prosecco. I joked that we should look for an Adirondack table to match our Adirondack chairs, but it turns out that was not joke. There are such things as Adirondack tables. (So far as I can tell, however, there is no such think as an Adirondack fire pit.)

Our plan was to give two of these chairs a try, and if we liked them, we would eventually add two more. That would give us four, and since there are five of us, will lead to loud arguments among the kids about who gets to sit in the chairs and who gets left out. These arguments will shatter the calm and quiet of the evenings and make us not want to sit out there in the first place.

We’re considering obtaining some kind of shade we can put across the patio area to cut down on the direct sunlight. If we can eliminate some of that it only leaves the blistering heat, humidity, and the bites of the mosquitoes.

We got these Adirondack chairs because they remind us of the place we stay at when we go to Maine in the summers. There, four brightly colored Adirondack chairs are arrayed in the grass facing the water. The air is generally cool, even when it is warm out. The black fly season has passed and there is a cooling breeze from the water. The sound of buoys and lobster boats fill the air. It is peaceful and relaxing

Adirondack chairs in Maine.

The Adirondack chairs don’t have quite that effect on our patio. Our two chairs are arrayed on the patio bricks instead of grass. They face the driveway, and look directly into the side of one of our cars. The air is humid and hot, even when it is cooler out. We are just entering mosquito season, and the only water we can see is whatever happens to be dripping from the hose the kids left in the driveway. The sound of cicadas fills the air.

It isn’t exactly peaceful and relaxing. We always have our deck.

Writing is Easy?

Once in a while I encounter someone for whom writing is easy. Sometimes these are fellow writers who just a have a knack for the craft. Sometimes, they are not writers at all but imagine that if they were, writing would be easy for them. My reply used to be envy, since writing certainly doesn’t come easy to me. But having giving it more thought over the years, I am less envious than I used to be. If writing were easy for me, I don’t know that it would be worth doing.

The act of writing is not terribly difficult. I can put words together to form sentences and I feel pretty confident about those sentences most of the time. For me, the really hard part is storytelling. I imagine a lot of people think that they are good storytellers, but that is the hardest part for me. Getting ideas isn’t too difficult. Decades of experience has taught me how to weed out the bad ideas and keep the good ones around. But telling a compelling story that keeps the reader interested–that is the real difficulty for me.

When I set out to write, I have the general sense of the story that I am attempting to tell. The challenge for me is to tell it in a way that will keep someone reading, keep them turning pages. This is where I struggle. I am sometimes surprised that I managed to sell a dozen or so stories over the years because the hard part, for me, is making that story compelling. With longer form fiction, that is even more difficult. As I work on the first draft of this novel, I have tried to pay attention to the editorial voice in my head, the one I think of as the Director of the story. Here are some notes that I’ve taken over the last week or so that illustrated the constant direction this voice is giving me as I type:

  • That opening is fine for now, but you’ll need something a little stronger in the next draft.
  • Is that really how that character would say that? It sounds a little too formal to me.
  • This part here is just plain slow. Is it even necessary?
  • You are being too coy. You are holding back too much information. The narrator has said they intend to tell the truth, but they are acting as if they don’t want to for the sake keeping the pages turning. Too obvious. And annoying!

Perhaps the most difficult part of telling a big story like this one is keeping it all in my head. Not that I don’t jot notes, or make little outlines of what comes next here and there, but keeping the big picture in front of me at all times. Many writers I know speak of acts and inciting incidents and character arcs, but that’s not the way I think of the story as I write it. I do it by feel, I always have done it that way, and whenever I have tried to think in terms of acts and arcs, what I emerges is, well, junk.

No, the craft of writing, which includes storytelling, is not easy for me. But I’m kind of glad that it isn’t. I watched my steady improvement writing short stories over a period of 14 years until I finally began to sell them. I am hopeful that I can take that experience and apply it to longer form fiction, and see even more improvement over the next ten years, each draft better than the one before it.

Just Wait Till You Have Kids of Your Own

Among the things frustrated parents say to their frustrating kids is, “Just wait until you have kids of your own.” The same parents regale their non-parent friends with what an utter joy parenthood is. Parenthood is a joy, of course, but there is something of the con artist in the parent who tells their non-parent friends about the joys of parenting, while at the same time snapping at their kids, “Just wait until you have kids of your own!”

I haven’t yet reached the point where I’ve uttered those nine words to my kids, but I have thought them several time. They are all good kids, but that does not preclude them from being frustrating at times. The Little Man is a pre-teen and no longer little. He is at that age where he needs to argue every point or direction or instruction. Another things frustrated parents sometimes say to their frustrating kids comes to mind: “You have all the answers, don’t you?”

The most frustrating things about being a parent is realizing that no amount of your own experience does any good for your kids. Experience isn’t something that can be transferred from one person to another. It has to be lived to be effective. These seems terribly inefficient, and while physicists ponder the ultimate reality of the universe, I offer this as another possible avenue of exploration.

Our two older kids were easy-going by comparison to our youngest, who will turn five this summer. She has, it seems, found a way not only to allow experience to be transferred to her. In doing so, she has examined this experience closely and unlike our other kids, have found simple methods for exploiting said experience to her great advantage. Asking the older kids to do something was always easy. Asking the Littlest Miss to do something is also easy if it is something she wants to do. If it not, she simply says no.

She generally says it calmly and without malice, but it is a firm “no” nonetheless. For instance, after her quota of screen time is up, I’ll say, “Time to turn off devices.”

“No,” she says.

I turn on my parental frown, which is often a feeble attempt to mask a grin. I always feel like a charlatan when acting like a parent because I still think of myself as a kid. “I guess that means you don’t want to use devices anymore.”

“I do,” she says.

“Well, then it’s time to turn it off.”

“No,” she says.

“Okay,” I say. I take the device away. “Now you’ve lost the device for tomorrow.”

She looks at me calmly, and in her voluable five-year old voice, she says, “If that’s what you want, fine, but I urge you to reconsider: after all, if I can’t use devices, you’ll have to entertain me. And I know you have to work, and have a million chores around the house to do. So really, if you think about it, taking away my device tomorrow punishes you more than it does me. And believe me,” she adds, “if I don’t have my device tomorrow I’ll come up with a long list of activities that we’ll need to do together. Beginning with you taking me to the playground after lunch when it is approximately 175 degrees in the shade.”

She says all of this, maybe not out loud, but with her eyes. She’s very good at communicating with her eyes.

I open my mouth to reply and she raises an eyebrow in warning. I pause. I reconsider. I check the time. I’ve got a meeting in two minutes. “Fine,” I say, “you can stay on your device until I finish my meeting.”

She smiles serenely.

“But,” I add, “you just wait till you have kids of your own.”

The Littlest Miss shakes her head and puts a disapproving expression on her face. “Daddy,” she says, “I’d never let my kids get away with such behavior.”

Four Days of Writing

I’ve gotten in four days of writing since starting on this new story. So far, I feel pretty good about it. As of this morning, I’ve written a total of 5,000 words since starting on June 2. I was too busy to write on June 4, but wrote yesterday and today, which is a good sign because sometimes, if I skip a day, I don’t get started again. I was glad to see that the desire to write was strong enough to continue even after taking a day off.

There was one false start, where what I was writing seemed like the wrong way to begin telling the story. I began to see the right way to tell the story sometime yesterday, and I spent my entire half hour dedicated to thinking yesterday morning figuring this out. I made a new start this morning and things are much better. In part, I think I’ve found the voice I was looking for, which is always important for me to get a grip on the characters.

I’m using Obsidian to write this story and it is also working well for me. I’m not breaking the story into separate files, but instead, using markdown headings to fold and unfold pieces as needed. I’m using split screens I need to refer back to one part of the story while writing another part. And I’m using markdown comments and document links for notes to myself as the writing does on. The folding of headings also allows me to maintain a practice I’ve used through all of my writing: throwing nothing way, but moving things that don’t work into a “Deleted scenes” section. Folded up, my current manuscript looks like this:

A look at the folded sections of my document in Obsidian

Although I have a target of about 1,000 words/day, I haven’t been stressing too much about word counts. I’ve written four out of the last five days and with 5,000 words so far, that’s about 1,250 words/day on average. Some days have been less, and some days, like this morning, has been more.

Setting aside time each morning to let my mind wander over the story has helped prepare me for the day. It is much easier to come to the story warmed up than cold, which is often how I worked in the past.

I still feel like the story is in a fragile state. Like a newborn, it needs a lot of my attention, even when I am not sitting at the keyboard, but I am hoping that another week or two will see it standing on its own and that is when things usually begin to flow more easily for me. The story begins to write itself at that point, with me as not much more than someone taking dictation. If I hit 10 days and am close to 10,000 words, then I think I’ll be in good shape.

I’ll try to provide another update on the story then to let you know how things are going.

An Evening at the Pool

Friday evening at our pool club.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed over to our pool club to enjoy a Friday evening among friends. It was the first Friday evening outing at the pool since September 2019. We re-up our pool membership every February and in 2020, we did this before COVID broke out. Afterward, the pool gave members the option of transferring memberships to the following year and we chose that option. We didn’t go to the pool at all in 2020. It was good to be back.

Our pool is about a 10 minute drive from the house. It is on the grounds of a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus. The grounds are sprawling. There are two large pools, with lifeguards in attendance. There is a bar and snack shop. There is a large, shaded picnic area with tables and a forest of barbecues spread out among them. There is a tennis court and playground. The kids can swim, or run around with their friends. The adults can stand around talking about their kids. It always makes for a fun evening.

Under normal circumstances, we head to our pool several times a week in the evenings when things are a little cooler. We also go on the weekends. But Friday evenings are my favorite. We get there before it gets too crowded. The kids swim. We migrate to a picnic table and begin milling around with friends. Some of the friends we saw yesterday we hadn’t seen in a while thanks to COVID.

I like the small pleasures in life. Among these are sitting on a shaded bench on a warm summer afternoon, sipping a beer, surrounded by the family and chatting with friends. I enjoy watching the kids find their friends and run around the grounds, making up games. I enjoy waiting for the inevitable request for ice cream or ring pops from the snack bar. I enjoy the smells of the different meats being grilled on the surrounding barbecues. All of this seemed more vivid yesterday than on previous occasions.

With all of the stress and turmoil (to say nothing of sickness and death) the pandemic has left in its wake, it was nice to return to a few hours of normalcy. Conversations touched on the pandemic in the past tense, but mostly, people talked about plans they had for the future: trips for summer vacations, camps for kids, sports, returning to the office, or continuing to work remotely. It seemed like we were all looking forward. We ended up spending about 3-1/2 hours there and it made for a wonderful evening. I’m already looking forward to next Friday.