Tag Archives: Life

Am I writing enough?

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I’m writing more than  I have at any point in my life, and yet I sometimes don’t feel like I’m doing as much as I could. I suspect this is a common feeling. I’d like to think it’s particular to my current writing moment, as someone trying to transition to writing as a profession instead of only a passion. But this is something that I think will only chase me more and more as I get older. The worst head-space to be is thinking you’re not working hard when you’re actually busting your ass.

Here are some things I’ve learned as I’ve tried to both feel satisfied with the work I’m doing, while simultaneously cramming more in…

Define daily success: I’m not the kind of guy who likes to create daily writing plans or goals, but the one advantage I can see to them is that you know when you’re done for the day. For a lot of people it’s helpful to write this stuff down: do a blog post, tweet 3 tweets, write 500 words, and read several chapters of a book a day. For others keeping this inside your head will work just as well. Making some kind of a plan will make you feel like you have a direction for your work. And if you don’t make the plan, that’s probably more of a sign that you need to reevaluate the plan than a sign that you’re not working hard enough. I’m constantly making small tweaks to my routine and priorities to fit the new projects of the moment. As much as planning is a measure of whether you’ve done what you need to, it’s also not a bad way to figure out what are the things you’ll make time for.

Eliminate distractions: Yesterday morning I read undergrad and graduate level math papers for two hours in a Starbucks. When I was done, my head felt like mush, I wasn’t sure if I’d wasted the time, and I was desperately in need of more caffeine. But I didn’t get distracted by my tablet, browse around Facebook for 30 minutes, or watch TV. Writing takes a lot of work, and a lot of hours. Early self-published authors should NEVER figure out their hourly rate of pay. If you worked on the thing you wanted to for the time you wanted to, that’s good enough. And you’re likely to find you did better than you thought you did when you come back with a fresh brain.

Make a “go” bag: Make it so that you can work on all of those projects wherever you are. If I’m waiting for a carry-out order, I might whip out my tablet and take notes for a few minutes. But more important than sneaking minutes here and there (because it’s also important to relax and clear your head sometimes), just make sure that you can work when you want to work. Everything I need to work on my latest projects fits in my orange bag that pretty much never leaves my side. Sometimes I need heavy real-books, but that’s at home where my office environment is very conducive to work.

Work one day on the weekends: This means two things: don’t veg out and do nothing your whole weekend, and don’t kill yourself and work your whole weekend away. I think Sabbath’s and spending time with family are very important to the restorative part of the creative process, and just relationships in general. But I also think it’s easy to plunk down in front of the TV and lose track of time. And if you’re not working on your book, but things around the house that need to get done, that’s good too.

Communicate when you’re working: Unless you live alone, you’re with someone who hopefully likes spending time with you. A good partner will be supportive of the fact you want to write (and in my case is also an invaluable resource for bouncing off ideas, dealing with some of my crazy, and for contributing to projects). However, they will also want to spend time with you that is not writing. Talk it out between you as to what’s reasonable and if you feel you need extra time, communicate this as early as possible. Be sure to take time when projects are finished to celebrate and swing the pendulum back in their direction.

And finally, don’t worry about writing. Write, read, get better, and then repeat. I know that’s it’s not as easy as just saying “don’t worry” (believe me). But it’s something to work on. Worrying makes you crabby, and steals time from the thing you’re worrying about not working on. Some of things above may help, but it’s also important just to tell yourself you’re doing a good job. Keep at it.

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Jack of all Trades vs. Renaissance Man

Got into an interesting conversation with Mr. Buckley this weekend, which is oft to happen whenever we occupy the same space, about how we spend our time and interests.

I’ve focused my writing to a couple of goals: non-fiction books about math and other areas of expertise, and fiction mysteries and science-fiction. At the moment that means I’m working on 2-3 books, and this blog. There are many other projects I’d like to work on: designing a video game, getting old games to work on new systems and playing them, even singing again in a choir. But I’ve chosen to focus on a few key things that matter so I can give them my full attention, and give attention to non-project based things in my life: work, family, friends, and God.

Finding new projects is never that hard for me. It’s just a natural extension of the work I’m already doing. In fact this blog, and life the last few years has gotten me to think of everything in my life in terms of a blog post to write, a book to research and write about, or a new project. I have to make a deliberate effort sometimes just to do something with no thought of the broader project.

Brian works just as tirelessly on the things he cares about but he also opens himself up to new possibilities more often than me. The way he describes it is that he’ll often be passionately interested in something for a few weeks, then drop it. Maybe 90% of time he drops a project, and keeps going with the remaining 10%. And it can be a little difficult to tell from the outset if it’s going to be one kind of project or another.

This process by its very nature makes Brian a well-rounded person. I love going book shopping with him, in part because we have a little fun with the stranger titles in the clearance section, and because he’s willing to stay in the store much longer than your average person. But it’s always mildly embarrassing when he walks out of the store with a stack of classic literature, scientific research, and philosophical thought, and I’m walking out with comic books and DVD’s. I do buy lots of heady books for research (mostly online), but I’ll admit I don’t make much time for classics like Paradise Lost, or even more fun fare like Alice in Wonderland. And I don’t research random topics of interest, I tend to stay focused on the areas of math or pop-culture that I’ve always loved.

I’m torn between seeing certain things as distractions, or as ways to make me a more thoughtful person. I know that topics outside of my current fields of study and writing may give me insight into my work, and that it isn’t good to be so far down into the cave that you can no longer see daylight. But at the same time, I gain great relief from being the kind of person who says “I don’t have time for this, I probably won’t enjoy it, and I don’t have to read it just because its old.”

I think it’s good to examine life and the things you’re doing on a regular basis. Not Agile stand-up meeting regular, but maybe quarterly reviews. And it’s good to have friends to talk to about these things who come at them from a different angle. Adjustments can always be made. Maybe it would be good to give myself three weeks to make a game sometime. I don’t gave to do the whole thing, or even do it for the reason of selling it, but just for the sheer enjoyment. Because life is not all about work and the things you can make.

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I’m Still Here

Sorry for the lack of communication these first few weeks of the year. 2016 has already turned out to be more hectic than most of 2015. I’ve got several new writing projects which I should hopefully be able to share with you shortly as well as a lot of life and work stuff going on.

One weird thing from the beginning of the year was the passing of a fellow member of the OSU Men’s Glee on New Year’s Day. This was a guy who was my age, actually even a little younger. He sang at my wedding. The Men’s Glee does this tradition during tailgating that I appropriated for my proposal and reception. The guys will take a girl and have her sit in the middle of a group of us while we sing “My Evaline” to her (a little livelier than Weezer). The pinnacle of that moment is the lyric “I love you, say you love me…”. After an affirmative response, all cheer and wave our arms above the lucky girl for “meet me in the shade of the old willow tree”.

For the proposal it was “I love you, say you love Trube…”, asking my wife to marry me, then cheers.

This is the first peer I’ve lost, and for so random a reason, and it’s bound to get anyone thinking about their own mortality. But honestly for me, a lot of my time has been spent trying to remember this guy I spent some of the best years of my life around.

The Men’s Glee is like a fraternity, and it’s a shared experience that still leaves so many fond memories for me. Concerts in small towns, riding on the bus, watching Tommy Boy, going to San Francisco, and singing in the horseshoe. These were supposed to be lifelong friends, “brothers in song”.

For some of us, that’s been true. Facebook and social media can give you the illusion of contact without needing to actually see or talk to anyone. You know what’s going on in their lives, you can like a photo, maybe leave an occasional comment, and that’s enough to sate your curiosity. My circle of real friends today is pretty small, the guys from church, my writing friends, and a few people from college.

I went to the funeral, which was a Catholic mass (a new experience for me), in part to connect with some of my Glee friends from the past, and to get some sense of connection with this person I’d lost touch with. Only a few of the guys came, though it was amazing how easy it was to fall back into old relationships. A lot of these guys are still around where I live. I could see them more often. But I know that in all likelihood I will let the business of my life and the “craziness” of my schedule keep  me confined to the patterns I’m comfortable with.

I learned more about this young man’s love of the outdoors and our shared love of dogs. I sat and knelt and prayed and sang. And I mourned the loss, to his family, his young wife, to all of us. I hugged my old friends, and said goodbye to another as bagpipes played “Amazing Grace”.

I’m honestly not sure I’ve processed this. My way of dealing with most experiences is to keep going from one moment to the next. There’s so much I want to do with whatever time is left to me. And a moment like this certainly teaches you that tomorrow is never promised. And there are uncomfortable revelations about my use of time, the relationships I’ve let slide, and just how things can get away from us all.

This is probably a moment I need to do more with than just write about it. But that may be all I do.

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The Light, It Burns

For about the last two years the bulbs above my cubicle at work have been blown out, as have many of the others in my part of the office. This resulted in a nice cozy workspace, soft light from my two desk lamps and my computer screens. Not dark, but comfortable.

When I arrived at work this Monday I was dismayed to find that someone had replaced every single blown out bulb, bathing the office in a bright artificial glow. Worse still, because of the placement of my light, the light balance in my cubicle is thrown off, really bright to the left, still kinda dark to the right even when I switch on my desk lights. It’s a sudden and disorienting shift to my environment. It’s giving me a headache.

Now was a writer I pride myself on being able to work anywhere. I have configured my gear and what I carry to make writing on the go a snap. And my work programming environment is tuned to my needs as well. Two screens, whimsical desk decorations and my own coffee maker. I don’t want to be some fragile baby bird who can only survive if the conditions are just right. But like a bird I do like to nest and my cubicle was one of those nests.

My office downstairs at home is comfortable. The desks are a dark color and my three desk lights provide enough illumination for the surfaces but not so much as to blind me. I have the option of an overhead light when I need to see more of my under the desk spaces, and I can easily switch it off when I don’t. The whir of the dehumidifier is comforting to the point that it’s jarring when it isn’t running.

On the go I like dark coffee shops, or book stores with are illuminated but not oppressive. I like white noise, the only thing my office at work still has going for it with all of the blowing fans. The worst place I ever tried to work was my library’s quiet rooms. Bright, quiet and feels like you’re sitting in a tomb.

Part of my annoyance is that the change was sudden and since all of the bulbs are new, they are at the point of being their most oppressive and artificial. The office used to be this bright when I started working here, and truth be told I don’t have that much control over my environment here. I’m trying to get used to it, though I’m seriously considering unscrewing the bulbs or coming to work wearing sunglasses.

Do you like where you work? What makes it a comfortable space for you?

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Did I tell you about the new dog?

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His name is Murphy (the one on the bottom of the dogpile underneath by beagle-boxer mix Riley). We’ve had him about two months now, and other than a little toy aggression on Riley’s part (used to being an only child), they get along great. Murphy is much more respectful of Dax (our cat) than Riley, who still hasn’t figured out that hissing and swatting are not a game.

On a side note my cat is a bit of a badass. About three weeks ago she came inside with a wound about the size of a quarter in her side. She didn’t meow or complain about it, even when the vet had to put three staples in her. She didn’t pick at the wound or anything, and is now well on the way to recovery. Both my wife and I have a greater respect for her, though we still have no idea how she came by such a battle scar.

And in case I didn’t mention it, Coonie, who graced our house for about three weeks was adopted from the shelter a couple months back. We would have loved to keep her, but Dax wouldn’t have it, which in the long run is for the best since Murphy came around.

So here’s how Murphy happened. I was out at Starbucks working on my sermon when I get a call from my wife telling me I had to come home immediately. She was getting Riley into the car, and was going over to the shelter to meet this new Beagle she’d spotted on the website. I wasn’t sure we had enough room in the house for two dogs (even though we have a four dog yard) but my wife has always loved purebred beagles. Truth is, though I was a bit grumpy about it for the first few weeks, Murphy has been a great addition to our home. If he’d been as energetic as Riley I might not be so thrilled, but he’s a real snuggle-bug. He’ll latch onto you on the couch and huddle close all evening. And he’s pretty tolerant of being flipped to the side so he can get some back-scratching along with Riley. And he’s adopted the laz-y-boy in my basement office as his new favorite spot.

Probably most of my reluctance at first was that he reminded me of our previous dog, Simon, who I’d known for eight years and missed a little more than I’d realized. Still Murphy is his own dog and he’s a great companion. He’s definitely more of a mama’s boy, but both of them barrel to the door to jump on me when I come home from work.

So two dogs, a cat, and maybe in a year or two a mini-me. Life is good.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

I’d say one of the things I’m already learning in my 30’s is the truth of an old programmer’s adage: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

When you’re younger you can do pretty much anything you want and get away with it. I’m not saying that drinking too much caffeine, or eating too much, or not getting enough sleep don’t have an effect. You just have a better ability to power through.

Despite being a “creative” I have a very quantitative mind when it comes to this stuff. It’s hard for me to make generalized changes like “eat better” or “drink more water and less soda” without quantifiable goals, plans and known results. Ironically I like my plans clear and my results fuzzy; “I feel better” not “I lost X pounds”.

Today I started my new work schedule which is an hour later. I could tell from the way I felt during the week, and how much better I felt on weekends that I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep. And I know from my own patterns that the solution to this couldn’t be “go to sleep earlier” since pretty much no matter what I do I can’t fall asleep before 10:30pm. I may have inherited some of the Trube “gift of sleep” but so far that only seems to affect the strong desire on Sunday afternoons to take a nap. I do feel more rested and less like a narcoleptic today, and we’ll see how the siesta time in the afternoon goes.

Another change was a hard one, cut down the caffeine and limit when you drink it. Like a lot of cubicle dwellers every time I get up and walk by the coffee pot I come back with some. Sometimes it’s decaf but that’s still 4-6 cups of coffee every work day (which in terms of the actual cup unit of measure is more like 10-12). My solution, brew my own coffee at my desk. I have a little 4 cup (the unit of measure) coffee maker from my college days and I brew a full pot every morning. I try to drink it before noon and don’t drink anything but water the rest of the day (2 water bottle’s worth). I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks and find I am sleeping deeper (less waking up in the middle of the night) and I am feeling a little less high-strung. One down side is that I seem to be having more vivid dreams, not all of them pleasant but that may due to other kinds of input (shows I watch, news I hear, media I consume).

But what seems to have changed in my late 20’s and 30’s is that these kinds of changes actually have an immediate positive effect, or if I go the other way, an immediate bad effect. This might sound like a bad thing but actually it’s kind of helpful. Some of the stuff we do to be healthy can seem theoretical. At best it seems to effect only one arbitrary variable and not the systemic qualitative way we feel. What’s the basic goal of life? Be well, live long, and enjoy your time. That’s going to look different for all of us but it helps to get feedback from more than just external sources.

We’ll see long run if these changes actually result in better health, but feeling better is a good start. It’s a good lesson to learn at 30 rather than 50 (though I wouldn’t have minded really learning it 5 years earlier).

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Happy 1st Anniversary of my 29th Birthday

I turned 30 last Saturday, and rang in the start of a new decade with burritos, a bottle of single-malt scotch, Rocky Patel cigars and the company of my friends and family.

A couple of questions asked with varying degrees of seriousness from my friend Brian and others is what wisdom I feel I’ve gained up to this point and what are my goals going forward.

Truthfully it’s just more of the same. I do want this to be the year that Surreality sees the light of day, and is something I can share with all of you. I’m considering the possibility of smaller versions of myself either through losing weight or other conventional means. I think it’s a good year to read more, including a pass at reading the Bible all the way through. And I’ve got about 8 books I want to write. Maybe I can get them all done or at least drafted by the time I’m 40, though by that time I bet there’ll be 10 more ideas.

I’m extraordinarily blessed. I have a wonderful wife of more than 6 years. I have good friends and family, and a great church home. I’m curious about the world and the kind of stories I can tell, and I have a dog and cat who provide endless amusement and companionship (well, the dog does anyway). I have a home, and a big yard where I can enjoy my wife’s handiwork. I have an office where I can be surrounded by books, and still be able to carry a library with me in my pocket. Life’s pretty good.

Once nice thing is that I might finally get people to stop looking at me and be surprised that I’m in my 20’s. I don’t know if this means I’ve looked 30 or maybe even 40 for years, but it is nice to be a little more settled without being rigid. I do feel like I have a slightly better idea of what 40 will look like and maybe even 50. Not physically yet, but those people are feeling less like senpai’s and more like peers.

Like all adult birthdays this feels like both a milestone and just another day. It’ll probably take me a while to even think of myself as a 30-something, though in some ways I’ve been doing it for a while. And I had my first senior moment last week (well actually probably not the first). I put toothpaste on my toothbrush, and then raised the brush to comb my hair. I stopped myself maybe an inch from my head.

It’s all downhill from there.

Actually, I can’t wait for another day. Especially when that day includes leftover burrito fixings.

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