Day 15

July 30, 2015

Distractions, distractions.

Last week, there was an office off-site that I’d agreed to attend. (I mean, it’s an off-site, it’s not like I’m working, so that’s ok. Anyway, it was fun, of course.) And then this week there was an office lunch that I wanted to skip, but couldn’t. And once you’re out for three hours and your day is broken up, it makes sense to get a haircut as well, right?

So apart from those minor distractions, I’ve been very focused. The only problem is, once you start researching, you never know where exactly to stop. It’s clear that I don’t need anything like the level of expertise that I’ve acquired in my chosen subjects. There’s no point in giving my readers a dissertation on theoretical physics (or, for that matter, philosophy). For one thing, there are many people, far better qualified than me, who have done that work already. For another thing, my intention is to draw my reader in with the story, not drive them away with the theoretical underpinnings. So I need just enough theory, not too much. But when I start reading, I tend to get sucked in deeper and deeper and deeper and before you know it, I’m in the murky depths and there’s no sunlight filtering in and I’m not even sure which way is up any more.

And that’s not all. I have my working hours and I have my leisure hours and now that the working hours are up to me and there’s no commute (apart from going downstairs to the basement, which doesn’t see a lot of traffic even at peak hours), I can actually enjoy my leisure hours without falling asleep at the wheel (literally or figuratively). I’d thought I’d spend some time with the idiot box, which must be feeling pretty neglected and unloved, but it hasn’t happened. Instead, we discovered a library near home.

Growing up, I used to go to the library in the Delhi Gymkhana Club. It had rows and rows and rows of bookshelves that stretched almost to the high ceiling, and it was quite possible to get lost in the gloom cast by those heavy wooden bookshelves and the thousands of books upon them. The catalogue was in a tall wooden cabinet, with musty cards detailing each book and the row and shelf where you could find it, if you were so lucky. There were a lot of good books to read in there, but they were old, old books, perhaps as old as the building itself, many of them covered with leather binding, and they smelt like dust and sometimes they crumbled into specks of dust when you tried to turn the pages. When you’d selected the particular assortment of dust you wanted, you carried them over to the counter and an unsmiling person took your card and stamped each book with a return-by date and then handed you the pile.

The library we have found now is nothing like that library. This one is bright and airy and spacious and the shelves are half empty (but not in a bad way). There are chairs and stools scattered around and a water dispenser at the back. The catalogue is online, of course (hence the half-empty shelves). If you wish, you can search for books online and they will be delivered to your doorstep, in exchange for the books that you’re ready to return. If you really want to go to the library, you can do so, of course, but when you’re ready to issue or return your books, it’s all automated. Place the books and your card in the slot and the machine reads everything and you’re done. There’s plenty to read here as well, half-empty shelves notwithstanding. I’ve already dipped into at least two different series of fantasy for pre-teens and found them to be quite a lot of fun, actually. I’ve also snapped up a Gerald Durrell and a Janet Evanovich, and eyed a Tolkein that I haven’t come across before. There’s a row of PG Wodehouses as well, which I’ve bookmarked for future entertainment. Lots to read, no doubt about it. Unlike the library of yore, this one has fairly new books in excellent condition (no dog-eared pages, no scribbling in margins) with plastic covers and all. They don’t smell of dust or fall apart in your hands… but you can’t have everything, can you?

Given that I’m trying to write, I have to ensure that I don’t get drawn into too much reading. It probably wasn’t a good idea, then to pick up The Martian, by Andy Weir. The damn thing was pretty much unputdownable. I’ve finished it now, of course, and I’m on safer ground with Gerald Durrell, which you can cherish in little bits. But there’s another trip to that library coming up soon and I’m already drooling over the possibilities!

Day 12

July 27, 2015

Ice cream for lunch. Homemade burgers for dinner, if I can get my act together. And almost zero driving. There are some perks to being at home, after all. I could get used to this.

On the other hand, trying to understand relativity and quantum mechanics at the same time (relatively speaking) is enough to make one’s head spin.

Meanwhile, I’ve been awarded 13K rupees and I haven’t a clue what to do with it. It’s the sort of award where you need to spend the money in order to get it. Huh. I’m fairly hopeless at spending money. I dug out my wishlist and looked really hard at it, but all it said was:

  • Write a book
  • Get all existing books published
  • Write another book

I suppose it is not impossible to spend 13K on clothes, especially if I include the spouse and kids in the lucky recipients. But while it might not be impossible to find clothes to spend the money on, it is completely and utterly impossible to find the kind of time it takes to accomplish this. I mean, just because I’m on leave from work doesn’t mean I have all day to go shopping for clothes.

What’s that? Weekends? Did you say weekends?

Look, don’t even get me started on weekends, ok? I’ve just come out of one weekend and it took two scoops of ice cream with caramel sauce and almonds to recover from that catastrophe. The next weekend is a safe 5 days away. Let’s not think about that right now?

It’s not that it was a particularly stressful weekend. I’ve had worse. In fact, it should have been a fun weekend. We went for a kiddies movie – Minions – and we rounded up some friends so it was 10 of us occupying practically the whole front row. As 3-D experiences go, this one was the best I’ve had so far – at one point something shot out of the screen at me and I actually ducked.

So anyway, the movie outing was fun, and that’s all I have to say about the weekend. For now, it’s back to work.

Day 7

July 22, 2015

One week over!?! Where did it go?

I’d thought it would be difficult to disengage myself from work, but surprisingly, it hasn’t been. It only took a couple of days of telling myself to forget about it, and a weekend, and then it was done.

It helps that I’ve immersed myself in my various research topics. I’m literally swimming in information – in over my head, in some places, wading purposefully through in a few. It’s fun and it’s amazing. There’s a whole other world out there – several worlds, even entire universes, perhaps, if one believes all that one reads. (One might, if one could in fact understand the half of it. Did I mention relativity?)

Usually, when I’m writing a book, I shoot for a thousand words a day. Everyday. Weekends and all. And usually it’s while I’m working, so that’s a stretch, a tough stretch. Now this time I have three months. That’s 90 days, but if you take away weekends, it’s about 65 days. And that’s not all.

A three month break from work is too good an opportunity to pass up, right? So obviously I’m hoping to sneak in a bit of a holiday. Two weeks is not too much to hope for, is it? But my deal with myself is that I only get a holiday if my book is in decent shape – done or almost done and doable. If it’s in a half-baked state, I have to stay at home and work.

So that’s a very powerful motivation to get the book done by the end of September. Now, considering that I’m expecting this book to run to about 60k words, and the end of September is only nine weeks away… things are not looking so good right now.

Because how many words have I in fact written so far? None at all. I’ve been busy, mind you, it’s not as if I’ve been wasting time. It’s just… this book, if it ever gets written, is going to be all over the place and I’m trying to figure out where all it’s going to go before I dive in.

The trouble with figuring out is, you never know how much is enough.

So, I might start writing tomorrow, or I might start on Monday. Or, what the heck, I might start right now.

Day 5

July 20, 2015

Humph. My first full working day of LOA and I’m off to a late start. A full half hour late.

So here’s the plan. I’ve started yoga as of today and plan to keep that up for two months. My class is 8-9 a.m. I will get up at 5 or 5.15 every day, as usual. Mon-Wed-Fri I go for a walk and get back by 6.15-ish and then send the kids to school. Then yoga. Tuesdays and Thursdays I go for tennis, come home, and then go for yoga. Saturdays are for tennis, no yoga. Sundays? Might be for sleeping late, not sure right now.

So by the time I bathe, dress, eat breakfast, wash breakfast dishes etc, it will be past 10 a.m. The morning work session – 2 hours from 10.30 to 12.30 – is for the book I’m going to write. Then I get a 90 minute lunch break. It’s a long lunch break because, knowing me, there’s never going to be anything to eat in the house and I’m always going to have to scrape up something, possibly involving shopping or cooking or both. I want to minimize ordered-in lunches.

The afternoon session – 2-4 p.m. – is for the book(s) I have to edit. My own books. Like any halfway respectable author, I have a trilogy, all of it in manuscript form, some of it in very early drafts.I need to give the whole 200K words a thorough going over. Three months suddenly doesn’t seem like a very long time at all.

But I’m not all that worried about the trilogy. My publisher has signed on one, and for the other two right now the future doesn’t look very bright. If they ever get published, it will be several years from now, so I needn’t lose much sleep over the state they’re in.

The book I’m trying to write is another story (literally and otherwise). It’s going to be a crazy piece of writing and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, or how, or even if I can. In fact, taking three months off from work (without pay) is an insane risk for something that is still a very hazy notion in my head and which, if it does get started, is going to take a lot of pre-work and research. Generally speaking, this book is going to tie together: particle physics; philosophy (which is, of course, closely related to particle physics); dreams; liberal arts education in the US; and the profound impact that Night Film and The Wind-up Bird Chronicles (which, of course, is closely related to Night Film, right?) have had on me. If you haven’t read those two books, you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but, chances are, if I ever get done writing this book, you still won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. So that’s quite alright.

So yeah, that’s the plan. Now to the execution. Step One: Get started on time!

The 90-day journal: Day 1

July 16, 2015

This is the first day of a three-month leave of absence from work. In this break, I’m supposed to write a book.

Ok, fine. So, I know that I’m on holiday now, but I’m not quite sure how to go about it. What does a holiday feel like? I’m not going anywhere, I’m faced with the prospect of sitting at home for the next three months. I’m supposed to write a book… but more about that later.

It’s nice that I can sleep till 6:30, but that’s only because I pulled a calf muscle while playing tennis on Tuesday and I still can’t walk properly, let alone play tennis.

Once up, I breakfasted and packed the kids off to school and then it was all I could do to not sit down at the computer and log on to my office network. I’m seriously hooked to work.

I forced myself to lie down and read a book instead, but by 10.30 I’d finished the book and there was nothing else to do but log on and check email. I had, of course, also committed to doing at least one little piece of work this morning, even though my leave technically started yesterday when I left office. Well, I mean, I can’t just stop cold turkey, can I? It does all sorts of horrible things to the central nervous system.

So I read office mail, chatted on whatsapp with a friend, spent quite a bit of time on Facebook, and finished the little bit of pending work, and by then it was just 1:30.

On work from home days, I struggle to keep my lunch break to 40-45 minutes. Today, because I had absolutely nothing else to do, I finished lunch in half an hour. How does that make sense?

On the other hand, it’s not entirely true that I have nothing else to do. There’s absolutely no veggies in the house. Last weekend I assured myself that I’d buy veggies mid-week. After all, I was winding down, heading to a longish break from work, I’d have plenty of time to shop for veggies. Right. So on Wednesday, I left work at 5.45 and got home at 6.45. No time for veggies. There were two carrots in the fridge. Good enough. There had been a packet of frozen peas, but we ate that on Tuesday.

Thursday I’m on holiday, I assured myself. I have all the time in the world to shop for veggies on Thursday.

Yeah, right.

It turns out, shopping for veggies is not something I do even when I have all the time in the world. I’d rather be on Facebook. Sheesh. Abominable.

So come Thursday evening, I’m going to be scrambling to buy and cook veg and get the kids to do their homework at the same time, which, so far, has been a recipe for disaster the last four hundred and eighty seven days. Of course, I’m home tomorrow, so tomorrow it will be better.

Yeah, right.

Tomorrow I’m sending my car for servicing. That would sound more feasible if I’d remembered to go out and get some petrol. The tank’s almost empty and the service centre is not exactly right next door. It’s one thing if I’m driving it to the service centre, but it’s not the same thing if some random guy is going to come and pick it up at 7:30 a.m., is it?

Hmm. This holiday is not exactly off to a flying start, methinks.

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