Point of View

Under normal circumstances, I’m a highly energetic, ferociously physical guy. This affects my writing, both in terms of voice and in terms of what I choose to write about.

These past two days, I’ve been alternating between periods of aching recovery, frustration with how slowly I have to move, and hazy drifts through pain-medicated fog. Overall, this is not the most pleasant experience I’ve had this year.

But…

It helps with point of view. Joe R. Lansdale, a martial artist speaking of writing bad fight scenes, once said “You can tell when a virgin is writing a sex scene.” This feeling of helplessness, of low energy, of weakness, will help me write better characters in my fiction and write more effectively for some audiences of my nonfiction.

A lot of the best authors suffered throughout their lives, giving them the empathy to truly understand each and every one of the challenges and conflicts affecting their characters. I’m not comparing my routine hernia operation to the lives of those giants, but it’s a small piece of the same page.

As writers, we have the advantage that every hardship we suffer now is fuel for your creativity later. Even if it never makes it into a particular story, simply knowing this can help us better handle the situation as it happens.

Thanks for listening.

Friday Fun: Science Fiction

After last night’s rant about poor design, I figure I should balance the scales with some good design. As a life-long science fiction fan, I’ve spent much of the last ten years saying “WOW!” at how many things are part of our world that were once just features of my favorite pulp fiction.

Here are three devices still in the research and pre-production phases that impress me, even after the past ten years of progress that borders on the ludicrous.

Andrew Vachss received a rejection on his first novel, based on the editor thinking his predictions were too far-fetched. Ten years later, they describe the social situation for urban gang life to near perfection. We live in an age of wonders, and it blows my mind to think about the tech my sons will find boring when they’re my age.

Thanks for listening.

More About School Lunches

Readers of some of my earlier posts are by now aware of how alarming I find the school lunch situation in our public schools. I’ve found a couple more videos by experts in the field about what’s wrong and what we can do about it.   Enjoy.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Time to Write

Professional writers are lucky – we don’t have to worry about squeezing time to write in the corners left over by our job. Writing is our job. For those who want to become professional writers, developing a portfolio has to take place between your other demands.

The hosts of “Writing Excuses,” a podcast I recommend in an earlier post, have this to say about finding the time to write…

If you say you lack time to write, what you mean is you value other activities more than writing.

In some cases, this valuation is dead on. A contest between my writing and my sons is by no means a fair fight. On the other hand, I’ve sometimes made the wrong choice between re-watching Firefly and working on an impending deadline. To find time to write that breakout novel, or develop your portfolio, it’s likely that you’ll need to set aside another activity – like television, video games or sleep.

I’m currently in the middle of an aggressive productivity cycle, one that requires so much work that I feel like I’m squeezing writing time into the corners left over by my writing job. It reminds me of when I was running a full-time business, and writing in my spare time. Here are a few of the steps I’ve taken to find the time I need to write as much as I want:

  • I get up two hours early. I used to sleep until my toddler son woke me up, but those two baby-free hours in the morning are seriously productive time.
  • When baby Gabe goes down for a nap, I’m writing again rather than relaxing with a video game or Ted Talk on the youtube.
  • Before I pickup my “bedtime book” to read myself to sleep, I take some notes on the assignments I’ll work the next day. This may be pure superstition, but I feel like my conscious mind works on them overnight.
  • I split my daily workload into three segments, then only allow myself to check email, facebook and my favorite forms after I’ve finished a segment.
  • I work out daily, except when I’m sick. A daily 20-minute bit of exercise improves how fast you work, and how you feel about the work you’ve done. Also, I get cranky when I skip a day – and the wife notices.

These steps have found the space I need to literally double my productivity for the past few days – and it feels like they’ll be sustainable until I’ve reached my goals. I also employ some hacks to how I use that time to best advantage…but that’s a subject for another post.

Thanks for listening.

Work at Home Dad

My wife and I reverse the traditional arrangement. She has a career-type job, 40-50 hours per week, and brings in reliable income and insurance for our family. I work from, writing. At this point, I do bring in a respectable income. I also take care of the house, the kids, the cooking and our budget.

I love it. There are days I don’t love, full of sick kids, frustrating repairs and tight deadlines. But my time is my own and I go to work each day with my baby in my lap. In another post, I’ll go into detail on work-from-home tricks that aren’t scams – ‘cos seriously, this is awesome and you should try it. Today, let’s talk about a few ways to make full-time daddy and full-time work not add up to full-time crisis.

Act Like You’re at Work

I don’t mean stand by the water cooler and make passive-aggressive remarks about the other people in the house. I’m talking about setting goals and holding yourself accountable the way your boss and team would in a work environment. Without this in place, you will not make enough money to sustain your work-at-home lifestyle.

Organize, Organize, Organize

I came to this lifestyle after years of running a small business, so it’s possible I’ve gone overboard on this. I have job descriptions for my cleaning tasks, profit and loss sheets for my budget and a pretty solid schedule organized by week, month and year. You don’t have to get that detailed, but the more systems you put in place, the less energy you’ll spend on figuring out what to do. Energy is at a premium as a work-at-home dad, so do what you can to save some.

Get to the Gym

Make a workout every day or two a priority. There’s a host of research indicating this will make you more productive, resourceful and patient. It doesn’t matter if you run, lift weights or play some pickup ball – but it does matter that you get out there. Most health clubs these days have a child care room, so you can get a short break if your kids are under school age.

Go to Lunch

The hardest part of being a work-a-home dad is the sense of isolation. Sure, you’re with your kids, but you need to interact with other adults. Make plans to grab lunch with friends – especially working friends on their lunch breaks – two to three times each week. This will keep you grounded and hedge against the depression that often hits stay-at-home parents.

Take a Day Off

For me it’s Thursdays – a day I found myself tired and frustrated during my business management days. This doesn’t mean you actually take the day off from responsibilities. Just avoid scheduling any tasks for one day. This gives you a chance for guilt-free relaxation and provides a window for catch-up on any projects that ran long.

There are hundreds of other little tricks for managing home, kids and time. These broad-stroke guidelines form just an introduction. I hope somebody, somewhere found them helpful

Thanks for listening.

Library

  • The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen

Real Self Defense

The other thing I do is martial arts. I’ve taught for more than 12 years, including a stint coaching a Japanese high school team in Kyushu. I spent years running a full-time martial arts studio.

I’m always interested in seeing good training put to use. The video below is a perfect example of a martial arts master using what he knows. R-rated due to language, but work safe.

Let’s review what the bouncer demonstrated about real self defense:

  • He didn’t let his ego or emotions get into the confrontation.
  • He used humor in an attempt to defuse the situation.
  • He kept his body language neutral and inoffensive.
  • He refrained from using violence all the way to the point where he discovered violence wasn’t necessary.

Somebody with less training might have had to put hands on the young idiot. Instead, both walked away – and maybe the idiot walked away a little bit wiser.

Thanks for listening.

RANT: School Nutrition

There’s a new program at my oldest son’s school called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) that encourages dads to come in and volunteer some time during school hours. Since I have a flexible schedule and I kind of like my kid, I signed up. It’s a good deal. I spend more time with my boy, help out in class, and provide a positive male role model for some kids who have to go without.

Here’s my problem.Part of the program means I get a ticket for free lunch at the cafeteria. Here are some examples of  the entrees available at my son’s school:

  • Palm-sized disks of pepperoni pizza.
  • Chicken nuggets with tater tots
  • Cinnamon roll with chocolate milk (this is breakfast)
  • French bread with tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni
  • Yogurt with a “granola mix” consisting mostly of Froot Loops, Cheerios and chocolate chips.

You can click here to visit a page where you can access menus in the top left corner. Ironically, it’s titled “Nutrition Services Offers Healthy School Meals.”

There’s an optional salad bar on the way to the entree line, boasting iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and some bell pepper sticks. Drinks are milk, chocolate milk or fruit juice.

My question is very simple:

How do they expect students to succeed full of that much grease and carbohydrate in the afternoon?

It’s no wonder kids have trouble staying awake or sitting still during the second half of the school year. Where are the whole grains, the lean proteins? Where’s the freaking water?

I don’t know what to do about this, or even if I can do anything – other than have my kid start packing a lunch from now on. I once shared a plane ride with a reporter from Colorado Springs who was getting an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins just so school boards would listen to him about things like this. Makes me pessimistic about my chances.

Any black belts candidates out there who need an idea for a project?

Thanks for listening.