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

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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
1977-198040
1981-198330
1984-198645
1987-198960
1990-199480
199515
Total270
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
1972-1981*50
1982-1991*165
1992-2001*273
2002-2011256
2012-2021652
2022-35
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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The Evolving Morning Routine

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About a year ago I wrote about my morning routine. Routines evolve and change, even as the habits form, which I find both comforting and ironic. I thought it would be useful, therefore, to describe how my morning routine has changed over the last year.

In July 2021, my morning routine looked like this:

  • Walk (45 minutes)
  • Meditate, guided (10 minutes)
  • Shower (10 minutes)
  • Write (1 hour)
  • Journal, email, blog comments, etc. (30 minutes)

Back then I had my morning routine listed out in my Field Notes notebook; I had it taped above my desk so that I could see it from where I sat. How have things changed?

My current morning routine is not written down anywhere. It is a set of activities that have evolved from that July list in a kind of natural way. Now, the routine feels comfortable and natural. I don’t need to have it written down, it just works for me.

Of course, I am going to write it down now (from memory) to illustrate how it has changed:

  • Walk (45 minutes)
  • Write fiction (30 miunutes – 1 hour)
  • Read with older daughter (20 minutes)
  • Cardio on elliptical (20 minutes)
  • Light strength workout (10 minutes)
  • Shower (10 minutes)
  • Breakfast (10 minutes)
  • Journal?

This routine feels much more natural to me, with each activity sliding into the next. Along the way, I’ve tried to optimize my tasks to make things more efficient. Let me walk you through a typical morning, like this one.

  • I wake up around 5:15 without an alarm; the brightening sky wakes me, which is always better than an alarm; indeed, I can’t recall the last time I used an alarm to wake up.
  • I read the papers on my phone for 20 minutes or so, then I dress (having laid my clothes out the night before) and head out for my morning walk at about 5:45am.
  • I listen to my current audiobook (this morning, it was The Age of Voltaire by Will and Ariel Durant) while I walk. My walk is about 2-1/2 miles round trip. I’m back at the house at around 6:25am.
  • I head into my office, pull out my current composition book, and began to write–longhand–on the story I’m working on. I try for a minimum of 2 handwritten pages. Sometimes I write more, rarely less. Sometimes I’ll scribble notes on previous pages in red ink, noting changes I want to make.
  • When I finish writing, I’ll turn to the blog and do some writing there, or maybe I’ll reply to comments.
  • At 7:45am, I sit down with my older daughter to read with her. This morning, she read on her own because I was dealing with a work issue.
  • After the girls head off to school, I head downstairs. I put a fresh set of clothes in the bathroom down there, and then hop on the elliptical for a 20 minute cardio workout. I listen to more of my audiobook. I’ve found that covering the timer on the elliptical screen makes for a much more pleasant workout. This morning, I happened to finish my book just as I finished my workout.
  • Since this was a Monday morning, I then went into the family room some light strength workout. 3 sets of crunches and 3 sets of pushups. I’m taking it easy. (I do these on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I do light arms and legs.)
  • I shower, dress, and then head upstairs and make breakfast.
  • At this point, I may write in my journal or I may just get started with work. Either way, finishing breakfast usually marks the end of my morning routine.

Because I am up so early, I’m usually finished around 8:30am or so. What will I do when it is dark early in the morning? I’ve given this some thought, and I think the only real change is that I’ll swap the writing time and the walking time, writing as soon as I get up and walking a littler later, when the sun is coming up.

Incidentally, I follow this routine on weekends and holidays, as well, except that I don’t do the elliptical or light workouts on the weekend. No matter what, I can’t seem to sleep in later than 5:30am or so, nor do I really have a desire to do so. Maybe it’s my age.

Written on May 23, 2022.

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The Fork in the Road

photo of pathway surrounded by fir trees
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

If someone asked the seven-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be an astronomer. There was a time in my senior year in high school when I carried around a large paperback edition of Grey’s Anatomy. I would study it in spare moments, and if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be a doctor.

As a freshman in college, I was a physics major, closer to an astronomer than a physician, but that didn’t last. I hit a wall with integral calculus, which did as much as anything to tell me that I was not cut out to be a physicist. I considered a degree in computer science, but I found the classes too rigid. I liked hacking away on my computer without the constraints and formalism of theory.

Early in my junior year, I began a minor in journalism; at roughly the same time, I began to write stories with the idea of submitting them for publication. I joined the college newspaper as a lowly reporter and gave it up halfway through my first assignment, where I was supposed to interview someone in the adminstration building about some trivial matter. It never occurred to me to be a writer for a living.

I think about that decision a lot. With thirty additional years of experience under my belt (a larger belt than the one that circumnavigated my svelt figure at twenty) I realize that, trivial though the assignment might be, it was the experience of it that was important.

I’ve aruged that there is a practical value in reading biographies as a youth and teenager: that they allow you to experience all different kinds of work through the eyes of those that have lived the jobs: from presidents to pilots to janitors and journalists. By my estimate, I’ve read about 300 biographies and memoirs over the last 26+ years. When I finish one, I frequently come away with the sense that I want to be whatever it is I’d just read about: if I read about a soldier, I want to be a soldier; if I read about an astronaut, I want to fly into space. Of all of the biographies and memoirs that I have read, however, there is only one that, in hindsight, I truly regret not pursuing:

A sportswriter.

Specifically: a baseball writer.

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I love baseball and I love writing. Baseball writing is a uniquely American art form. For those who are not sports fans, this may seem impossible, but I’d say reserve your judgment until you’ve read some good baseball writing.

And so, I frequently lament the day I decided to blow off the interview with the administration person for the small article for the college paper I was assigned to write. Everyone has to start somewhere. That was my beginning. It was my fork in the road. Yogi Berra famously quipped, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I did not take it, but I wish I had.

Written on May 21, 2022 – with a tip of the baseball cap to Roger Angell, baseball writer extraordinaire, who died yesterday at 101.

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