March Newsletter: the virtuous ratchet

So there I was, washing the banister. I had my rubber gloves on, but not my face-mask because those things fog up my glasses and I was inside where the cops couldn’t see me. I had my little tin bowl full of warm water and my sponge, which I ran down the dribble of dish-soap I’d made for it. The wood didn’t look any different, but my sponge was dirty. I must be doing something.

Every night at about 9:15, I’d put on A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge and spend about ten minutes washing the banister. That was after Clapping at 9, where I’d stand on the balcony and clap along with about three other people in earshot. Before that was Bluey at 8:30, which was after reading or playing with the girls, or maybe a shower or a walk with Pavlina. After washing the stairs, I might do dishes or watch a Studio Ghibli movie with the girls until 10. After they were upstairs with their grandma, I wrote in my writing journal (“today I finished revising chapter 18” “today I finished revising chapter 19”). Then I’d read a novel while Pavlina took a shower, and we’d watch about ten minutes of a Korean drama before going to sleep. It’s all there in my calendar.

I discovered this calendar system on Monday the 19th of February 2018 (guess how I know that so precisely!), based on advice Lisa Nichols gives about “microwins.” I’ve also seen the technique called “tracking” and it’s not so different from “journaling.” When I do something good (e.g. “wash the stairs,” or “play with the girls”) I enter it into google calendar on my phone. At the end of the day, I have most of the day blocked out with things I’m proud of.

That was Wednesday the 25th of March. Look at how nice that day was. I set those events to repeat weekly.

This is Wednesday the 1st of April. You’ll notice that this day doesn’t actually bear much resemblance to the previous Wednesday. I didn’t take the repeating events as a “to do” list – I shifted or deleted them as necessity dictated, and I added new things. A few events (like ordering groceries from Ebag) are on a different cycle, and so float across the week until they find a stable position.

It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes my calendar gets cluttered and I feel like I have to do everything at once. The solution to that problem is to delete events with a free hand, but sometimes that means that I break what would be good habits. I need to devote some time every week to reviewing the past seven days and shuffling things around in the next seven. That last is really a mental health exercise, though. I spend some time each week reflecting on the good things I did and will do.

And over time, the calendar evolves. Order emerges from chaos. Causes and effects reveal each other and events fall into resonances. Habits build themselves, and I find myself meditating or exercising or doing some other boring self-maintenance that it would just never occur to me to do if I had total freedom of choice. It’s like a ratchet that makes it easier to build than destroy.

Which helped me a lot in March. We’re still scared, of course, and stir-crazy, and worried about our jobs like everyone else. But we’re getting enough sleep. We’re cooking a whole lot. In March we played more in the snow with our girls than we ever could before. I know that’s true because it’s all there in my calendar.

The banister never looked any better after I washed it. A month later, though, that wood positively god-damn gleams.

In other news

Yes, I finished Interchange delta! That’s the “muscles” draft where all the basic parts are there – the story should work from beginning to end – but it isn’t prettied up yet. I sent it off to beta-readers and my agent, and I’m letting Interchange rest for a month now. In May I’ll start in on it again, and hopefully I should have the epsilon (“skin”) draft ready to send to my editor by the end of May. Then he’ll help me put the clothes on.

If you want to beta-read Interchange, tell me. It’s not too late 😉

In the meantime, I’m working on Wealthgiver. Yes, part of that is playing with Thracian. More about that next month, but I’m a bit Thracianed out today.

Anyway, here’s a ling from a song I think the cave-Thracians would appreciate: “The Light” by Disturbed. It even fits the rhythm of the song 😉

Tamsete tithaten sho dhibrame.

“The darkness,* the light to you shows.**”

Protector! Protector 3 is out now and you can preorder 4 and 5! This is easily the most successful thing I’ve written. Maybe because it’s full of blood! Throughout March, Artyom, Simon and I slowly built up a list of things we want to do in the sequel series.

And thank you, everyone who responded to last month’s newsletter about insomnia. I haven’t entirely licked it. I still have nights where my arms and legs twitch and I can’t sleep until 3am, but now it isn’t horrifying the way it used to be. I’ve posted the resources people have sent me here.

And here’s what I read and enjoyed in March

Interference by Sue Burke – the further first contacts of the colonists on Pax. I finished it, but I liked the first book (Semiosis) much more. Interference felt rushed.

Blackflame and Skysworn by Will Wight – I am just a sucker for these books. Wei Shi Lindon stubbornly beats himself terrible foes, and there’s this girl he likes.

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge – WOW! Damn! This was the third time I read this book and I’m still discovering things. It balances oppression with hope, despair with optimism, and it has Some Things to Say about IT management! Also: the adventures of the genius spider-children!

Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany by Catherine Kleier – a Great Courses course and a really good one! Kleier loves plants and makes you love them too. The content was just far enough beyond me to keep things interesting. Her jokes are lame, but they grow on you. Heh. Get it?

Instantiation by Greg Egan – a bunch of short stories, all of them good, and including three linked stories beginning with “Bit Players.” A really, really cool concept. I won’t spoil it, but I can’t wait for the Netflix adaptation.

The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes – you got your post-colonial intrigues, your Lunar physics, and your loving exploration of H.G. Wells’s oeuvre (did I spell that right?). Barnes and Niven make a very good team, and I wish they worked together more often.

SCP-1859 – I found this one while I was trying to find more of Sam Hughes’s Antimemetics serial.

“The Cookie Monster” by Vernor Vinge – a cool short story along the same lines as Egan’s “Bit Players.”

Let’s Eat a Korean drama about food – the protagonist is a horrible, suspicious, narrow-minded misanthrope who can only connect with people when she eats out with them. This show includes the best footage I’ve seen of people eating.

All right. That’s it for now. Stay safe, everyone. Take care of yourselves. Call up your friends and talk to them. I’ll see you next month.

*There are four words for “dark” in Thracian. Arranged from most positive to most negative they are: tam (without light, pitch black), mark (dark-colored, as in cloth), axin (un-shining, dull), and dim (smoky, evil).

**the word Dhibramo literally means “I ping something with sonar” related to brinki, “a sonar ping, a musical note,” brami (music), and brinkas (a large guitar).  In a pitch-black subterranean corridor (stronge tame), you can sing (bramas) and listen to the echoes (vibramas) to find your way.

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