The Alternate Timeline Work Schedule

After years of food service and now years of office work, I’ve become increasingly convinced that my most effective work day caps out at six hours.

It’s not that I don’t want to work for right hours — not any less than most 9-5’ers. It’s more that I find it difficult to be 100% focused across an eight-hour work day.

My mental energy tends to peak around six hours, and then flag. I usually end up taking a late break, powering through morning meetings and a couple of big to-do list items before I feel my attention span slip.

So I try to take a break, meditate or exercise or just get away from my computer for a bit. Then I return to my desk and see what I can get done in the remaining hours of the afternoon to clock my average eight. Obviously, there are days when I get caught up in something and work longer, and there are days where a life priority needs my attention.

Six hours.

I sometimes wonder what my daily routine could be with a six-hour work day instead of eight.

I would want to start at the same time, get the kids to daycare and jump straight in.

Then I could work a full shift with limited breaks — a few minutes here or there to refill my coffee, et cetera — and logoff with a couple hours to spare before I picked up the kids.

Some days, I might lounge in relative relaxation. Most days, though, I would tackle all the second shift priorities that I otherwise compartmentalize for most of the day:

  • Laundry
  • Dishes
  • Cleaning
  • Exercising with a real routine
  • Appointments for the doctor, the eye doctor, the vet, the dentist, the mechanic
  • Dinner prep
  • Grocery shopping
  • Yard work

Needless to say, that is far too many things to do in a single two-hour window, but does across a week’s worth of six-hour work days? I could get a lot done.

Then I consider my alternate day job, the one so many are chasing or pretending not to chase.

Writing. What if writing could be my job, six hours per day. Six hours of dedicated writing, or world building, or publishing logistics, without the guilt over spending so much time on a hobby, or the anxiety over not spending enough time doing the things you enjoy.

That would be my schedule in an alternate life. I’m not actively chasing it, and frankly, I’d be content with just a six-hour work day.

Life has endless priorities as it is, and it feels like balancing them takes just as much effort as actually accomplishing anything.

I’m curious — who it there has a non-conventional work schedule? Part-time? Stay-at-home? Professional writer? How does the balance shift for you?

Steve D

Review: TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT overcomes Middle Book Syndrome

Towers of Midnight is the thirteenth and penultimate book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I’ve been reading this series off and on for about six years. It took me some time to get through this book, primarily because I wanted to savor it, rather than rush through it to get to the end. That was a wise decision.

I consider this installment a “middle” book for two reasons.

  1. The Gathering Storm (book 12), Towers of Midnight (book 13), and A Memory of Light (book 14) are very clearly the final act in this sprawling series, narratively.
  2. They are also the final act in their production. Sanderson worked with the editor, Jordan’s widow, to split the final act into three books, and produced these three volumes.

This review contains spoilers for this book and those preceding it in The Wheel of Time.

So when I say that Towers of Midnight overcomes Middle Book Syndrome, I really mean that as a transitionary book to build to the climax that is surely waiting in A Memory of Light, this book succeeds.

Towers of Midnight is a compelling read jam-packed with fascinating plot lines centered around our main characters, especially Mat and Perrin, but also Elayne and Egwene. Other staple characters like Faile, Nynaeve, Lan, Galad and Gawyn also build towards a rich narrative.

It is very much a middle book in that these plot lines serve to close out long-running narrative threads, such as Perrin’s rise to leadership, Mat’s shifting focus back towards Rand and the Last Battle, Egwene’s cementing of her power as Amyrlin, and Elayne’s marshaling of power around her throne in Caemlyn.

These characters are shifting, slowly and inexorably, towards the Last Battle. In doing so, Towers of Midnight necessarily takes on the hefty task of transitioning the characters, all of the hundreds of characters, and the reader into Tarmon Gaidon.

That’s not to say that A Memory of Light opens with the Last Battle and is one massive compendium of fighting. (I’m a few pages in and can confirm this is not the case.) But after 13 novels of ever-increasing length and complexity, everyone is facing the same direction: towards The End.

Some sections of the book drag a bit — Perrin’s training in the wolf dream with Hopper and his inevitable face-off with Slayer took me a bit to get through, both because of the tension that had been built and because I wanted to get past it. Still, I understood in the moment that his realization and acceptance of his true self was necessary to Perrin’s facing of the Whitecloaks.

Overall, though, Sanderson churns through these plot lines and still manages to provide some surprises, some poignant moments, and some clean breaks with narrative threads that would no longer serve the end of this series.

After the numerous books I struggled to get through, or even to understand at points because they were so weighed down with characters about whom I could not bring myself to care, I’m honestly still a little awestruck at how neatly Towers of Midnight, and The Gathering Storm before it, have brought us to this point.

Like I said, I’ve already started A Memory of Light. I’m thrilled and simultaneously reluctant to get to the end of this series. That, I think, is testament enough to its storytelling power.

Steve D

August Write Day: Closing In

July was a fun month. We started it off with a two-week road trip seeing various parts of our families from northwest PA, to Michigan, and Wisconsin, which came with some great time spent on both shores of Lake Michigan. It was fantastic to just be with our boys for two whole weeks, and convinced us to do more family road trips in the future.

Coming back to work was not so great, of course. I feel like I’m still getting used to wok again in my third week back, but we have a relatively quiet month ahead. So that’s encouraging.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 3,600 words.
  2. Read three books. Road trip audiobooks! I’m already thinking about which books I want to download to my phone for uninterrupted listening time while we’re on the road.
  3. Exercise at least three times each week. That’s kind of my bare minimum right now, to the point that I’m counting 15-minute runs as a full workout. I’m basically starting from scratch at this point.
  4. Disconnect. I feel like I really need to disconnect and just enjoy time with my family for an extended period, and I’m looking forward to it.

So how did I do?

Write 3,600 words?

YES! I wrote just over 4,000 words, in fact. Almost all of that came from two long writing sessions this past weekend, but it still counts! July was the first month this year that I actually hit my word count goal.

Part of the reason is that I’m closing in on the end of New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2. I always get excited to be nearing the end of a story, and I’m more motivated to finish it.

Read 3 books?

Nope! I listened to far fewer audiobooks on our road trip than I had anticipated. I’m nearly finished with Tower of Midnight, and not really reading much else at the moment.

Exercise 3 times per week?

I don’t think so. While on vacation, I was pretty good about being physically active most days. Aside from the loads of walking we did, I kayaked, swam, hiked, ran, and still did some stretching. Outdoor activities are my favorite way to exercise now. I just wish I had more time to do them.

Disconnect?

Yes. Two full weeks — the longest vacation I’ve taken in ten years — allowed me to just focus on being with my family. Traveling with a 3-yaer-old and an 11-month-old is still hectic, but we made sure to enjoy ourselves and appreciate our time with the boys as much as possible. We did manage to relax a little bit, too.

Goals for August

  1. Write 4,800 words. I think this should be enough for me to finish New Earth, so that’s my real goal this month.
  2. Take the next writing step. This will probably be to read through Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1 and incorporate some edits/details that I know I need to flesh out more. But, this will depend on me finishing goal #1 above.
  3. Read 3 books. Same as usual. I already have the hard cover of A Memory of Light on my shelf waiting.
  4. Exercise 3 times per week. I have a basic routine formulating. I just need to stick to it.

Steve D

The MCU and the Multiverse of Expectations

I’ve mostly been following along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they’ve plotted their course from Avengers: Endgame through Phase Four – otherwise known as the Disney+ era. Of the Phase Four properties, I have yet to watch:

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home – because honestly, this movie is impossible to find without buying the DVD/Bluray outright, which I’ll probably end up doing. I feel like I’ve absorbed most of the major spoilers through pop culture osmosis, however, so there’s that.
  • Thor: Love and Thunder – which, if you’ve been here recently, you know I was excited about. I still am. I just need to get to a theater.
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – because it’s not out yet, but is definitively the best MCU trailer ever.
  • What If…? – because I wasn’t that interested or into the animation style.
  • There are also the upcoming She-Hulk and Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, neither of which strike a chord with me at this point.
  • I am also on episode 6 of Ms. Marvel – but I had to write this post instead of watching it!

Obviously, I haven’t watched everything, but from what I’ve and heard about Phase Four, I have some thoughts. Specifically, I have reservations about the wider story that Marvel seems to be building, or crucially, not building to this point.

Seriously, just watch that trailer if you haven’t yet. Or if you have.

Spoiler warning – From here on out, I will talk freely about Phases Four, Five, and Six (and previous phases) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To me, Phase Four feels like a bunch of individual stories with very little connective tissue. There have been some very good origin stories (Shang-Chi) and some moderately good passing of various torches (Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye). There are tons of really interesting new characters, such as Yelena, Oscar Isaac’s multiple personalities, Kamala Khan, alternate timeline Loki, Sylvie, and Shang-Chi. And I’ve had a lot of fun watching most of these people do superhero things.

What feels sorely missing is the feeling that we are actively building towards something bigger. Phase One was all origin stories for the first Avengers team that were independent of each other, but used specific characters, like Nick Fury or Coulson, to tie them together and build anticipation.

Now, I’m fully aware of the announcements Marvel just made for Phases Five and Six, respectively, telling us that we are building towards Avengers: Secret Wars and Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Those are coming alongside a lot exciting titles over the next few years, but I’m not really interested in stories that haven’t come to the screen yet.

What I want to know is how all of the characters we have seen so far coexist in their world. How can they coexist without any overlap? Why was no one aware of what Wanda was up to for a few canonical years in isolation? How did two Egyptian gods coming to life over the Cairo skyline not elicit some response from Dr. Strange, or anyone else?

Who or what will be binding these characters together, aside from Kang the Conqueror as the eventual Big Bad and the Secret Invasion as the Big Crisis?

Marvel hasn’t tried to start planting these seeds yet, at least not with any consistency. Loki met a version of Kang. Dr. Strange (and Kamala?) have traveled the multiverse. Captain Marvel, Wong, and Hulk are interested in Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings. Nick Fury is still off-world. Hints have been dropped along the way, but it’s really not clear at this point how they’re all related. Will half of the superheroes be off fighting Kang while the others deal with the Secret Wars? Or will all of them come together in two gigantic team-ups?

I know the overall path because Marvel has told us, but not really because that’s what the storytelling has shown us. With Phase Four wrapping up this November, it feels like an assortment of stories, rather than the beginning of a new saga.

Those are my feelings on the MCU. What are yours? Have you enjoyed Phase Four?

Steve D