Up in the depths of the night

Bedroom windowsill

On the sill of my office’s third-floor window sit three “teddies.” A Tiffany clock, a gift from an investment banker back in the dim corporate past, shows 3:12 AM. I’m up and, as usual, struggling with issues existential and mundane equally. A seismic shift in my work and life looms, as yet with only vaguely shaped. Right now, time to journal and stretch and let sleep return, dredging up existential light.

Blockage: Japan 1954

Japan nuclear energy 1954

Yesterday was one of those workdays one dreads. I’m writing up the history of Japanese nuclear energy and became horribly stuck in 1954, i.e. almost at the very beginning. Quite a lot has been written about the 50s but, I discovered, it’s all either shallow or detailed but opaque.

Japan’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy accelerated from nothing to fervor over a few frantic years. I found myself stuck, again and again, on two individuals, newspaper magnate Matsutaro Shoriki and politician (future prime minister) Yasuhiro Nakasone. Why their precipitate passion? Why their sudden confluence?

Today I’ve slowed down and dug into each of my sources. In these circumstances, I’ve learned, speed of drafting is the enemy of quality. And sure enough, a coherent picture emerges from the fog. Nothing dramatic but coherent and credible.

4:29 AM

Bathroom window photo

Up early, even earlier than my mandatory-but-often-breached normal time. Snapped this incoherent photo. Jogged, a fine sense of aloneness. Change is brewing, Andres, a major shift in my approach to life but a change no one else is likely to notice.



Thirteen weeks into the year and I’ve stuck to my guns, drafting and editing the book most days, and applying myself better than I have over the last few years; I’ve averaged nearly 4 hours/day on the core work and just over 1 hour/day on peripheral writing work, so I can say I’m happy. I am, with good heart, striving daily towards shipping a book by year’s end.

The next four months are vital. I intend to stick to this desk like a limpet.

Tough days talk to you

Calder Hall

The last week had felt like swimming in setting concrete. I’ve worked diligently but the particular slab of text I’ve worked on has refused to yield cogency or fluency. And I’ve suddenly realized why: I didn’t know how to do this particular task. Specifically (and this will mean nothing to those of you who have never done this type of writing) I’ve been trying to “describe,” in an interesting, compelling manner, a nuclear power plant. Specifically the Calder Hall plant that ran for half a century in England. I had other people’s words on the subject but those references were technical or academic. I’ve come to understand that a nuclear reactor can’t be riveting of itself, it has to be described in a certain way. And what aspects do I cover? How much detail? What if I don’t have certain information? Etc., etc.,, etc. What I thought would take me two hours has taken me a week. But—and here’s the magical ending—now I know how to do it! Hooray!

Struggle Town

Cover of Struggle Town by Choir Boys

Struggle town today, yet it’s a struggle that has traction. Today was a grandsons’ day but I piked. Missing them is horrid but Chapter 7 inches on.

Never met this Choirboys song in the day but listen: “We had this dream about a chance to go / To the city streets we’ve heard are paved with gold / And I’m walking out / I’m not looking back / I’m never going back / Back to Struggle Town (wo-oh-oh-oh oh).”

Now I prefer Struggle Town.

Will not read

Cover of The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

After a few years resisting New Year resolutions, I signed up for some this year. One of them goes: “STOP READING!” A persistent problem last year was an incessant queue of books, movies, and TV shows clamoring for my attention (and, significantly, chewing up time afterwards to produce a review). The issue was not just the time, it was the psychic pressure, somehow gobbling up my day-on-day resolve to write.

It’s taken me half a dozen iterations to reduce my culture load down to around nine items a month, mostly allocations by book groups and movie clubs. One of the first actions was to decide to not read a book I’d bought on Kindle, a novel by one of my favorite authors, the inimitable Cormac McCarthy. The Passenger came out in our spring and has been weighing on me ever since. I shifted it into another “not right now” category, then tagged it as “read” but kept it on another list, until I finally consigned it to the Kindle bin. (Perhaps it helped that many reviewers haven’t been kind to this late novel by the octogenarian.)

Ah, the relief, the relief… I’ve noticed a freeing of my focus and a much greater ability to relax after dinnertime. After so long striving to keep on top of all those genres and subjects, suddenly peace is upon me.

A massive month began today


I plan and monitor writing work based on weeks that commence on Mondays, so today was the first day of the four weeks of my February. I’ve cleared most of my decks, to use a tired analogy: resisting reading and watching TV, not much socializing, no travel, no special events. I should be able to work five to six days each week. If I can do so, I’ll make huge inroads into THE book.

Well, today was fine, a solid workday. I didn’t quite get done what I’d hoped to do, but only because I’d underestimated the task.

Tomorrow begins tomorrow morning.

Brain retraining

Complex diagram

On the exercise front, I’m increasing my “load,” that is, the total weekly kilometers, slowly and surely, seeking for once to avoid a knee or calf or tendon or foot injury. But on the writing front, today I just jumped back in and put in seven hours of labor. Should I have eased back into it? I can’t afford any delays, so no, the answer is no. I did find myself yawning, a trifle headachy, midway through the day, but I stuck with it. I guess I’m retraining the brain through bludgeoning it.