Five Years of Writer’s Block

First admit you have a problem

Of all of the stories I’ve written, my favorite thus far is “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” The story was published as the lead story in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show in May 2015. I finished writing the final draft of the story on Friday, March 13, 2015, and submitted to the magazine’s editor, Edmund Schubert, that same day. Just under two weeks later, Ed emailed to let me know he was taking the story. I’ve never been a superstitious person. I never noted (until now) that I finished the story on Friday the 13th. And besides, what did it matter? I sold the story, and it ended up getting the cover of the magazine, and some nice reviews as well.

I haven’t finished writing a story since. 

“Gemma Barrows” was baseball fiction, and baseball fans love their stats. Friday, March 13, 2015 was 2,137 days ago (according to Alexa, who hadn’t yet been born at that time).

I’ve attempted to write stories during that time. But I’ve never finished one. I’ve never really gotten close to finishing one.

At the time I sold “Gemma” I was coming off of what, for me, was a hot streak. I was selling most of what I was writing at the time, fiction and nonfiction. I was also drifting away from what first got me writing: science fiction. More and more my stories were “science fiction” for the purpose of having convenient markets to sell them to. But the stories were less and less science fictional. For some reason, after “Gemma Barrows” my lifelong interest in science fiction waned dramatically. I mostly stopped reading science fiction. And the stories I attempted to write, while containing a fantastic element here or there, were not stories I’d consider to be science fiction.

Whatever the reason, after March 13, 2015, I found that I had problem: I could no longer finish writing a story.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat

That is not to say that I could no longer write. I had, and still have, no problem writing nonfiction pieces, including the pieces I write here on the blog, and elsewhere. I also had plenty of story ideas. My writers block is not for lack of ideas, it seems. And it is not to say that I stopped writing stories. I just couldn’t finish what I started.

In fact, in the nearly six years since that day in 2015, I have often felt like Phil Conners waking up morning after morning to find that it is still February 2. This began with a story that I started to write (so far as I can tell from my notes) way back in December 2013, but that I started on in earnest in 2014, even before I wrote “Gemma Barrows.” This was another baseball story, and was more or less straight fiction, with one small fantastical twist. I wrote and I wrote, and then I stopped. I didn’t like the pace of the story. I knew where it was going, as I do with most of my stories, but I felt wrong to me.

To get myself back on track, I created a new document, and retyped the opening paragraph, which I liked, and which I felt had a great hook. I then tried rewriting the story from there. But it still didn’t work. I tried this again, and again, always keeping the same opening but writing beyond it without looking at what I had done before. I made three attempts, six, twelve. Looking at that folder just now I see a total of 61 drafts between 2014, and my latest attempt on December 13, 2020.

I’d long since given up on the opening I was so committed to. I’d changed just about every aspect of the story, writing and rewriting, trying different things. But never getting past a certain point. I told myself that I just wasn’t experienced enough to tell this story, and I should wait, maybe write about something else.

I started another story, one that had been floating around in my head for a few years. I conceived it as a 3-part novella, and I wrote the first part quickly, and in style and voice different from what I normally write. I reallyliked it. I submitted the first part to my writers’ group—the first submission I’d made in a long time—and got positive feedback from them on the story. I setup a lot in the 4,400-word first part, and there would have to be a big payoff. But for some reason, I could never move on to the second part.

I’d sit down after days or weeks and tell myself that in order to get that voice back in my head, I’d need to rewrite the first part. Re-type it, really. I’d open the draft in one window, open a blank document beside it, and retype what I had written. All 4,400 words. I did this more times than I can recall. I switched word processors and did it again. I wrote out the 4,400 words long hand in a Leuchtturm notebook. This dragged on over several years. In moments of desperation, I’d wonder to myself if the first part wasn’t the entire story. Did I really need anything more?

Growing even more desperate, I decided to return to the draft of the one and only novel I’d ever written from back in 2013. Maybe it was finally time for me to turn that first draft into a second draft. I started reading the first draft, but no new writing ever came from it. Instead, I turned my attention to a fantasy story I’d written but never sold. Maybe I could rewrite it as a play. (A play? Seriously? I’d never written a play in my life, nor had I ever had the desire to write one. What was I thinking?) Or, if not a play, maybe I could expand it into an epic novel, a la Brandon Sanderson? Nothing came of that either, thank goodness.

I couldn’t move forward. That seemed to be the crux of the problem. I couldn’t finish what I started, and when I finally did decide to move onto something else, it was not onto something brand new, but something old that I felt I could make better. Six years of this cycle: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Distraction

I still thought of myself as a writer. After all, I’d sold about a dozen stories, and three times as many nonfiction pieces, right? I filled the time I should have spent writing with writing-related tasks. I told myself the problem was that I didn’t have a good environment for writing. I should do everything in plain text with a simple text editor. When that didn’t change things, I told myself I needed more structure, and went back to Scrivener. When that didn’t help, I started using a Freewrite I’d gotten, thinking that writing on a device like that, completely offline and distraction-free would be the ticket. None of it worked, of course.

I distracted myself with other writerly tasks. I decided I would archive all of my previous writing as far back as I could manage to go (another journey into the past, instead of the future). I had Word files from 1992 including the very first story I’d written when I decided I wanted to try selling stories. I would get all of these files archived, and at least be able to look back over the hundreds of files and demonstrate to myself that I hadbeen able to write.

I distracted myself by writing a set of scripts that would look at the git commits I made of my writing each day to generate word counts, so that I could track my progress. The scripts worked surprisingly well, but scripts like these are really only useful when there are, you know, words to count.

I told myself that the enormous amount of reading I was doing was all laying the foundation that would make me a better writer.

The fiction we tell ourselves

When I was young, my grandfather would often quote Hamlet, saying, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” As I got older, he found what I always took to be an amusing and ironic corollary. He’d say to me, “There are only two people I never lie to: myself, and my doctor.”

I might not be able to finish writing a story, but I could still tell myself stories. Could I ever! Tall tales! Fish stories! I’d tell myself that I was a better nonfiction writer than a fiction writer, anyway, so don’t sweat the fiction. Focus on the nonfiction.

I’d tell myself that I had the perfect outlet for my nonfiction right here on the blog. I’d write posts about writing even while struggling with my own fiction writing. What I’d do, I’d tell myself, is not worry about the fiction and focus on the blog, make it into one of the premier blogs on the Internet.

I remind myself of all the times I’d read about other authors struggling with their own writing. I’d tell myself that quality meant much more to me than quantity. I’d always been a slow writer when it came to fiction. I could finish these stories if I wanted to. Heck, I’d been finishing stories since that first one in 1992. But I didn’t just want to finish, I wanted to write the best possible story I could write. I wanted to take it to the next level. I wasn’t writing stories for the science fiction magazines anymore, I told myself, I was writing for Harper’s—that was my new goal. I justified this by reminding myself that when I started out, I wanted my name on the byline of a story in Analog just like Isaac Asimov wanted to see his name on a byline in Analog’s earlier incarnation, Astounding. I wanted my name in Harper’s just like E. B. White had his name there. Even here I was fooling myself. The stories I was reading in the science fiction magazines, before I have it up were at least as good as the fiction I’ve read in Harper’s.

I kept (and still keep) my membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America active, telling myself it is yet another sign that I am a writer, proof-positive for anyone who needs evidence–namely me!

I’ve told myself all kinds of stories over the last six years. None of them were true. There’s the old adage that a fiction writer is a paid liar. By that definition, I’m up there with the best of them. Except, instead of lying to my audience, I’ve been lying to myself.

The next page

The truth is, I’ve been struggling with my writing for the last six years. I can’t finish a story. I can’t even move past one. I hesitate to admit this publicly because I fear it comes across as just another excuse, just another distraction, just another gimmick to fool myself into thinking that I am writing.

The first step is admitting you have a problem. But what if the problem has no solution? If I am being completely honest (this above all else), part of me hopes that by writing this post, my problem will go away, and I’ll find that I can write again.  I doubt that will be the case. Writing fiction is hard for me. That’s the way it should be. Why do it if it is easy?

I suspect that writer’s block is different for every writer who experiences it. No one piece of advice will get me over the wall, except, perhaps, stubborn persistence. Writing fiction isn’t about word counts, or word processors, or document formats or union memberships, or contracts. It’s about facing that blank page in whatever form it may take and turning it into a story that you are proud of. Right now, that blank page seems daunting to me in a way that it never has before. Right now, I feel intimidated by all the good writers that are out there who manage to fill that blank page, whatever their other day-to-day challenges might be. It is easy to say to myself, “just sit down and write a story.” It is even easy to begin to fill that blank page.

The hard part, for me, is filling the next page. And the one after that.

Backyard Astronomy, 1979

When did you discover the stars? When did you realize that the sun was a star that was (relatively) close by? When did you first learn that there were other planets–entire worlds, some so big that they could swallow the earth–right here in our solar system? When did you find out that the universe didn’t revolve around our little world, that the Earth was part of a solar system, and the solar system part of a galaxy, and the galaxy part of the larger universe?

For me, it was sometime in 1978, and a chance encounter with a book in the Franklin Township public library. The book was the The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley. I’ve written about this book before, but I’ll repeat myself here because it is vital to the story. Indeed, it is the germ from which the rest of the story flows.

The Nine Planets

I no longer recall what drew me to this book. Was it something I picked out on my own? Was it something my mom, who would take me to the library, picked out for me? All I knew is that I liked it so much that I read it again and again. The Nine Planets1 is where I discovered the other planets, moons, and stars. The Nine Planets led directly to the backyard astronomy that took place at our house in the spring and summer of 1979.

Voyager 2 was in the news in the spring of ’79. I was about to turn 7 and I followed the news of the space probe’s approach to Jupiter assiduously. With the help of my mom, I kept a scrapbook of clippings from the Star-Ledger with pictures that Voyager 2 beamed back from Jupiter.

From those images, I got to see, firsthand, the Great Red Spot. I memorized the names of the Galilean moons. And for my birthday that year, my parents got me a telescope.

With my dad’s help, I learned how to setup the telescope, and align the view finder. We would take the telescope out into the street during the day, and point it at a street side so far away I could barely see it. Then we’d use that sign to align the telescope.

But it was the nights in the backyard that I looked forward to most of all. We pointed that telescope up in the sky and I could Jupiter, making out its fuzzy bands as the reflected light from the planet jigged about in the atmosphere. I could see the four Galilean moons as bright pinpricks of light at various distances from the planet.

It was a propitious time to look up at the night sky. I could see Saturn with its rings angled just so, casting a shadow. The thing was I could see Saturn. It was not just a picture in a book. It was there, up above, posing for me.

We pointed the telescope at the moon and I could see the mountains and craters. We pointed the telescope at seemingly dark parts of the sky and there, in the view finder, that small disc of sky was suddenly filled with stars, many of which I could name. I began to recognize the pattern of the constellations in the sky. I was given more advanced books on astronomy, and though I couldn’t make sense of much of what they were saying, I read through them again and again anyway. If someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “An astronomer.”

This adventure in backyard astronomy led to my discovery of the larger field of science. When I discovered that there were stories that involved spaceships going to other worlds, I felt as if I was in seventh-heaven. Science fiction became a passion, and while I never grew up become an astronomer, I did grow up to be a science fiction writer, at least as an avocation, selling stories to some of the very magazines I loved reading. It all traces back to a forgotten trip to the library, and the discovery of Branley’s book.

In the decades since, I’ve periodically taken to the skies again. In my 20s, I pulled out that same old telescope I’d gotten when I turned 7, and pointed it up at the hazy skies of Los Angeles. The light pollution muted the experience, but I still managed to catch glimpses of Jupiter, its moons, as well as Saturn. Older, and somewhat wiser, I sketched what I saw into a notebook.

At some point, that old telescope vanished, but I got new one, as a gift from Kelly back when we were dating, and once again, I made time to look up at the sky, this time the skies over Maryland, where the light pollution wasn’t so bad.

A few years back, we had a big family reunion at a place we rented in rural Vermont, and I brought a pair of strong binoculars and tripod with me. At night, the sky was clear, and moonless, and the stars I could see took my breath away. I setup the tripod and pointed up toward Jupiter. The binoculars were strong enough to make out the Galilean moons, but not strong enough for the gas giant to appear as much more than a fuzzy sphere. My kids, as well as my brother’s and sister’s kids were all there, and I gave them turns looking up at the planets and stars. They each took their turn, but I could tell they didn’t feel the same sense of wonder that I felt when I seven, and that I still felt when I looked up at the stars on that clear summer night in Vermont. Then again, none of them had read The Nine Planets.

Is there a book that has had a particular impact on you? This question comes up from time-to-time, and I never have to hesitate with my answer. Other books have made stronger emotional impacts, or excited my sense of wonder, but none of them have had the impact that Branley’s book had on me. I’ve often wished I thought to send Branley a letter of thanks for writing the book. He died in 2002, after writing more than 150 books on science and astronomy for youngsters. I can only imagine how many future scientists, astronomers, astronauts, doctors, artists, and science fiction writers he inspired through his writing.

Of course, I would never have discovered the book were it not in the library to begin with. I have tried, in a small way, to payback the Franklin Township library by donating to it every year. Libraries always seem to be on precarious footing, and yet they contain multitudes. They are temples of inspiration just waiting to be tapped. In my case, the library inspired a bit of backyard astronomy in 1979–and a lifetime of discovery ever since.

  1. Now, clearly dated, in not just facts, but in title; Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

Latest Addition to My Stephen King Doubleday Years Collection

My 4-volumes of Cemetery Dance's "Stephen King: The Doubleday Day Years" collection.

For several years, Cemetery Dance has been putting out a special edition of Stephen King’s book during his “Doubleday” years. This week, I received my copy of the 4th entry in that series, Night Shift. These are beautifully done editions, with limited runs (I think there are only 3,000 copies of each) and often with new art commissioned, and even new material like deleted scenes added an appendix to the book. Night Shift is no different, with some additional stories appearing at the end.

Each volume in the series is a book-lover’s book. It is a work of art. It is a delight to hold in your hand. Even the pages are thick and textured. The books come in custom slipcases, and every now and then, I’ll sit with one on my lap, flipping through just because it is a beautiful thing to see and feel.

Four books in the series have been produced thus far:

  • Carrie
  • The Shining
  • ‘Salem’s Lot
  • Night Shift

The most recent entry is King’s first collection of short stories.

Two more volumes are planning, and indeed, I have already pre-ordered both, as they sell out very quickly. (I checked my records: I pre-ordered Night Shift back in 2016!) The remaining volumes are:

  • The Stand
  • Pet Sematary

Cemetery Dance takes its time in producing these volumes, but the time is well-worth the wait. They are not producing mass-market editions, but beautiful, carefully crafted pieces of art. After eagerly opening the package with Night Shift, I immediately began wondering what the next volume would look like… and when it would arrive.

Movienite.txt

In an effort to watch movies I’ve never seen, and to avoid making decisions, I wrote myself a little script the other day called movienite I grabbed a list of 600+ movies under the TCM Channel on HBO Max. I randomized1 the list and created 2 text files: movienite.txt and watched.txt.

I wrote a little command-line script (hat tip that to that decades-old, but reliable sed command) that shows me the first line of the movienite.txt file: the next movie to watch. Since it is very unlikely that I will watch a movie every night, I wrote a second script that that moves the first line of the movienite.txt file to the end of the watched.txt file.

The first movie that popped up (and, yes, I did watch it) was a Charles Bronson film called 10 to Midnight, a police thriller which was pretty terrible writing, and pretty bad acting, but that made it that much more fun to watch. Wilfred Brimley was in the film as well.

I like the randomness of it. It’s once less decision to make. I joked with Kelly that it’s like the old Saturday Night Movie in the 1970s: you get what you get, that’s it.

If you are curious, here are the next 9 movies that I’ll be watching at some point. I did peek at the first ten, but I haven’t looked at the list after that, and I don’t plan to. I like the element of surprise too much.

  • Hobson’s Choice
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
  • The Kid
  • Modern Times
  • The Man with the Golden Arm
  • How to Be a Player
  • Cheyenne Autumn
  • Swordfish
  1. It’s pseudorandom in that sequels aren’t picked before the previous film has been watched. So movienite won’t put Superman II before Superman: The Movie.

Initial Thoughts on the Mac Mini

The new Mac Mini has been up and running for 10 days now and I have some initial thoughts. For context and clarity, I bought the newest Mac Mini (M1 2020), which is running the Apple M1 chip. I bought it with 16 GB of memory (way up from the 4 GB I have on my MacBook Air). The internal disk has 250 GB, but I’ve got two external disks connected to the machine, each of which is 3 TB giving me a total of 6.25 TB of disk space. One of the external disks is for media files and archived data; the other is a local Time Machine backup disk.

As far as performance goes, this machine flies. Applications open so much faster than on my MacBook Air. There doesn’t seem to be any performance hit with backups running and with the various services I have in the background. I really like how fast the machine is.

There are a few downsides I’ve discovered, however.

The M1 chip is the biggest blocker so far. While it is super-fast, not every app has caught up yet, and several still expect an Intel processor. For instance, I use Docker for development work, and I have to run a preview version of Docker Desktop because there is not yet a production version compatible with the M1 chip.

There are some quirks with homebrew as well. Homebrew can be run natively or using Rosetta2 which makes apps compatible, but at a performance cost. Running homebrew natively takes a couple of extra steps to setup, and some bottles have to be built locally to allow them to run natively.

MySQL runs fine on the Mac Mini, but there is not yet a compatible Docker image for MySQL for the M1 chip.

These are relatively minor issues, which only apply to someone doing development work. It appears that most places are working toward making their apps natively compatible with the M1 so I suspect most of these issues will go away with time.

For other tasks: writing, photos, general productivity, I am very pleased with the Mac Mini thus far. Given that it cost significantly less than the newest MacBook Air, it is well worth the cost so far.

I have set up the machine as a home server. I’ve got an internal web server that I am using to build a custom reading list app (that I plan on moving to my domain eventually). I am also using it to host an app for home document archive. Screen-sharing works well with it (I can use screen sharing from my MacBook Air to do development work on the Mac Mini when I am not in my office). I’ll have more to say on these things in a future post.

You can see the new computer in the photo above, peeking between the monitor and the external disks. At some point, I need to clean up all of the cables.

At this point, with the exception of a few development quirks related to the M1 chip, I am very pleased with the new Mac Mini.

Upcoming Reading: January 2021

I spent much of December reading the first 3 books of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series. Early this month, I started on the 4th book, but gave up mainly because I needed a break. For those not aware of the series, it is a fantasy series, and each book is over 1,000 pages long. That’s about 3 times the length of your average book. I wanted a break from fantasy anyway, and to get back to nonfiction, so I started reading Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land. So far, I’m enjoying it.

Earlier today I was thinking about what I want to read next. This is often an effort in futility for me because of the Butterfly Effect of Reading, but I went through various lists that I keep. Here, for your amusing, is the list that I came up with. These, book, in no particular order, are the books that I want to read now. We’ll see how many I get through before the butterfly flaps its wings.

  • Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin. Attracted by “Field Notes.” I’m not a birder, but I have been fascinated by birders ever since reading “Mr. Forbush’s Friends” by E. B. White in The New Yorker.
  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. This book came up in several books I read late last spring.
  • An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by H. Paul Jerffers. I went to Cleveland High School in Reseda, California, and it would be nice to know a little more about the person for whom the school is named.
  • Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant (with Mark Twain in the cheering section). This book has been on my list for a while.
  • Rogue Heroes: The History of the S.A.S. by Ben Macintyre. I thought Macinytre’s book The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War was outstanding, so I figured I’d try something else he’s written.
  • My World — and Welcome to It by James Thurber. Thurber was contemporary and friend of E. B. White. I feel like I should read some of his writing.
  • Vactionland by John Hodgeman. It’s about Maine.
  • If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien. I read O’Brien’s The Things They Carried back in 2014 and it was outstanding.
  • Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. I love Steinbeck’s writing. Looking forward to learning more about the writer.
  • The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. This has been sitting in my ready to read list for a while, and I just haven’t gotten around to it.
  • The Presidents vs. the Press by Harold Holzer. Every president, with the possible exception of George Washington, complained about the press.
  • Land by Simon Winchester. I’m a big Winchester fan, and this new book of his comes out on Tuesday.

Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments.

BREAKING NEWS: Disturbance in Christmas Village

I’ve got a busy day today, but I didn’t want to break my streak of posting every day. So here’s some breaking news. There has been a disturbance in our Christmas Village that I noted when I woke up this morning. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The NTSB is on-scene investigating. This story is evolving.

Footage of the disturbance in Christmas Village

For the record, I suspect the Little Man, who was last seen attempting to fly this plane after dinner last night. The Dairy Queen escaped unscathed.

CrashPlan to the Rescue

We have been using CrashPlan for our home computer backups for nearly 8 years. During that time, it has come in handy on a couple of occasions when I needed to restore a file, or was transferring data to a new computer. Mostly, it sits in the background unnoticed. Backup software is like that. It’s like homeowners insurance for data. You have it and you hope that you don’t have to use it.

This weekend, I was making my way through a bunch of tasks that I’d been meaning to take care of for a while. I was getting my new Mac Mini setup the way I wanted it. I also knew that Kelly’s MacBook Air was behind on its system updates. So on Saturday evening, I set about running an update on her laptop.

By Sunday morning, I knew something had gone wrong. The OS upgrade to BigSur kept getting stuck at the “Less than a minute remaining” mark, and would sit there for hours. Everything I found online said this had happened to many people. Of course it would happen when I was upgrading Kelly’s laptop instead of my own. The only solution was a clean install.

I already had a bootable thumb drive with Big Sur, so I booted from the thumb drive and did the clean installation. It finished smoothly. I keep a set of “bootstrapping” notes in Apple’s Notes1 app and the first thing I did after the installation completed was go to my bootstrapping checklist. The first thing on my list after completing a clean install is to install CrashPlan and restore data, if necessary. I got CrashPlan installed, and started a restore of data, and a couple of hours later, all Kelly’s data was back, she had Big Sur running on her laptop and was ready to go.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Back in 2017, CrashPlan did away with their individual plans. If you stuck with them, you moved to CrashPlan Pro. At the time, I decided to stick with CrashPlan for a several reasons, and this weekend proved out the value of that decision. We currently have 3 computers that are backing up to CrashPlan2 and I feel good that the data is there if I need it, or if something goes wrong. CrashPlan has always been easy to use, easy to restore data when I need it, and once again, it came to the rescue for me this weekend when I needed to do a clean install and full data-recovery. It also helps to have a fast fiber optics Internet connection so that it doesn’t take long to restore all that data.

So, nearly 8 years after first starting with CrashPlan, it is still proving its value. I’m glad I stuck with it, and I still recommend it to others looking for cloud backup solutions.


  1. Why Apple Notes and not Evernote? Apple Notes is part of a clean system install, and once my iCloud account is connected, the notes are there. I don’t need to install any other software at this point, so I have access to what I need to finish bootstrapping the rest of the installation.
  2. As my new Mac Mini acts as a kind of home server, in addition to backing up to CrashPlan, I have an external drive on the machine that is setup with Time Machine backups so that I can restore locally, if needed. That external drive is not backed up to CrashPlan, but the rest of the system is, so is provides a level of redundancy in data protection.

Cobra Kai and 80s Nostalgia

A few years back I’d heard vaguely about a new show called Cobra Kai that was a kind of update of the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Specifically, the show starred Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, the two rivals from the original film. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I’m not, as readers know, a big TV person.

Recently, however, I’d heard a lot of buzz about season 3 of the series dropping on Netflix, and the buzz was generally positive. I asked around, and the people I talked to liked it. I needed a bit of a break from the reading I was doing, so yesterday evening, I settled down to watch the first episode.

I can’t think of another television show that has surprised me so much by exceeding my expectations as much as Cobra Kai did. I realize that much of it is an exercise in 80s nostalgia, but for me, it hit all of the right buttons. Consider:

In the original film, Daniel LaRusso had just moved to Reseda, California from the east coast (specifically, Newark, NJ). When the movie came out in June 1984, I had been living in Granada Hills, California, not far from Reseda, having moved less than a year earlier from the east coast. So his character, not much older than me at the time, resonated with me, the outsider in a new place.

I went to high school in Reseda, California. My single favorite line from a Tom Petty song is from “Free Fallin'”, when Petty sings, “And it’s a long day, living in Reseda / There’s a freeway running through the yard.” All those places that showed up in the film were familiar to me, as they would be to any kid who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-1980s.

Watching the Cobra Kai episodes brought all of that back in unexpected ways. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are now in their 50s with kids of their own. (I’m not quite in my 50s but I’m getting very close.) But they are still there in the Valley, and still tied to the people and places they knew growing up. There were clever parallels and reversals that made the show that much more enjoyable. And who doesn’t love an underdog story?

The music in the series is perfect, with touchstones to the past. I some ways, I think of the 80s nostalgia in Cobra Kai the way the previous generation likely thought of the 50s nostalgia in Back to the Future. The show is dotted with clever humor. It is, for me at least, a complete delight, a surprise, and I can’t wait to watch more of it. (For those wondering, I’ve made it through the first season, so no spoilers, please).

I’ve been wanting my kids to see the original Karate Kid films for a some time now. They’ve enjoyed other movies from that era–The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Ferris Buller’s Day Off to name a few–and I thought they’d like The Karate Kid and that afterward, the might like Cobra Kai. Having watching it, however, I realize that they’ll lack the sense of nostalgia for the time and place. I think there is something special about The Karate Kid for kids who were around my age and living in the San Fernando Valley in 1984. Everyone else might enjoy the film and the show, but they lack a certain visceral context.

I’m not particularly fond of the trend in movies and television of rehashing what has worked int the past. It shows a decided lack of originality and creativity. But when it is done as well as it has been done in Cobra Kai, it can really be something enjoyable and special.

Tim Conway’s Elephant Story

I know that this is a classic episode of The Carol Burnett Show, and it has floated around the Internet for some time now. But every now and then, when I feel the need for a laugh, something to really revitalize my mood, I’ll turn to a video like this, and it is incredible how well it works for me. They say laughter is the best medicine, and in my book, this video and Tim Conway’s genius (and Vicky Lawrence’s one-liner at the end) prove this adage true. If you are in need of a laugh, well, you’re welcome.

Guest Post: Remembering Tommy Lasorda’s World Championship Mouth by Jason Ashlock

When I saw that Tommy Lasorda had died, I knew I had to write something about him. He was an icon of the game for 70+ years, and especially of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I lived in L.A. for nearly 20 years, but as a lifelong Yankees fan, I didn’t feel I had the chops to write about Lasorda. Fortunately, I know someone who does. Jason Ashlock has a great Tommy Lasorda story to tell, and he tells it below in a way that epitomizes Lasorda. In addition to being my brother-in-law, Jason is a creative director at big ad agency. You’ve probably seen his commercials before (this is one of my favorites), but unfortunately, commercials don’t run credits. I’m delighted that Jason agreed to my request to write something here about Tommy Lasorda. Enjoy! –Jamie


When the news hit that Tommy Lasorda had died, the very first thing that came to mind was, “Fucking Tommy Lasorda.” And I mean that in the most loving way possible, because as a kid I loved the Dodgers. I loved Tommy Lasorda. I loved everything about his no bullshit f-bomb-laced approach to the game. 

Tommy Lasorda was the living embodiment of profanity. His expletive laced exploits are well documented. But, I like to think that his greatest set of swear words were directed at me. That’s right. I got cursed out by Tommy Lasorda. I was twelve years old at the time. 

In the early 1990’s, every year for my birthday my Dad would reserve the first two rows behind Dodger dugout. My Dad worked for Unocal 76 and those were the corporate seats. Every Dodger fan knows the orange 76 logo above the scoreboard—a staple of Dodger stadium since its inaugural season in 1962. 

But the first two rows behind Dodger dugout! Those were amazing seats. So for my birthday I’d invite a group of friends and we’d go early for BP and get autographs. Hershiser. Scioscia. Piazza. Strawberry. Pedro Martinez. Brett Butler. So many great players. 

During the game we’d buy Cracker Jacks, malted ice cream and giant soft drinks. We’d place it all on top of the concrete Dodger dugout during the game. This was before cupholder technology became ubiquitous in baseball stadiums. 

One year, some random lady bumped into one of my friends and knocked over one of those giant soft drinks. Imagine, 50 ounces of sticky soda pouring down into the dugout. It didn’t take long. 

Out pops Tommy Lasorda. He’s full-on red in the face. His cheeks are vibrating. And he singles me out. “What the fuck are you doing, kid. My fucking players are covered with your fucking soda pop. Get that shit out here. Fuck you.” It’s still one of my most vivid and enjoyable memories. I loved every moment of it. 

Fuck you back, Tommy Lasorda. You will be missed.

25 Years of Reading

This almost passed unnoticed, but when I was updating my master list of books I’ve read the other day, filling in the counts for December 2020, I realized that I have been keeping my list now for a full 25 years.

I took this data and put some totals together to look through:

A few observations:

  • Wow, I’ve read 1,049 books over the last quarter century. That’s not too far shy of the goal that I originally set for myself back in 1996 of one book per week. (1,300 books over 25 years, so I got 80% of the way there.)
  • I started using audiobooks in February 2013, and it is clear that from that point on, my reading picked up. I broke the 25 years down into 5-year segments and the two largest segments make up the most recent decade: 193 books between 2011-2015; 419 books between 2016-2020.
  • The longest I’ve gone without finishing a book appears to be the last 4 months of 2007, when I apparently finished nothing.
  • The last time I failed to finish at least one book in a month was way back in January 2015. (Although, I came close in December 2020 because I spent most of that month reading Brandon Sanderson’s massive Words of Radiance.)
  • When I started keeping my list, it was to track my goal of reading 1 book per week–something that I failed to achieve for the first 17 years of my list. I finally hit (and exceeded) that mark for the first time in 2013.
  • The most books I’ve read in one year is 130, back in 2018.
  • The most books I’ve read in one month was 19 books back in May 2020.
  • July appears to be the month I do the least amount of reading–or finish the fewest number of books. (I’ve read 72 books over the last 25 Julys).
  • November appears to be the month when I manage to finish the most books (I’ve read 107 books over the last 25 Novembers)
  • Seasonally, I read more in the colder months, less in the warmer months.

As you can see from the first image above, my notebook is already setup to track the numbers for the next 25 years.

One thing I plan to do this year is put together a new site for my reading list. I’ve been hosting it on Github for several years now, but I want something a little flashier, searchable, and easier to navigate. I’ll let you know when (and if) I get that completed.

(P.S.: This post is the first written on my new Mac mini.)