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  • Today marks the transition to daylight savings time. It also happens to mark six months to the day that I started writing the novel

    Mahmoud's Jihad (not available on Cowbird, sorry to say). Though it may not be apparent to you, I'm still at it and it's now in fourth revision. At least half the words I previewed on Cowbird have changed or gone away, and new scenes and 14 chapters have been added. It takes up almost all my time, not much left over to write new stories, which explains my relative absence from these pages. But today I'm taking a little break to tell you about a day in the life, if you can stand reading yet another Cowbird diary.

    Last year, corporate America and I parted ways. After a few futile forays in the tech writer job market, I decided to just write for myself for a while, and soon realized I liked that way better despite its lack of life support. So that's my job now: writing about whatever takes my fancy instead of technical manuals for software that helps corporations shed workers. I became part of the gig economy, only without gigs. I'm still working, mind you, but under my own discipline, which is in some ways stricter than showing up at the office every workday. Now, almost every day is a workday, only less alienating and boring. And this is what they're like:

    Every morning, pretty much without fail, sleep sloughs off sometime between five and five-thirty AM. It doesn't seem to matter what day it is or when I went to bed. No alarm needed, but around three-thirty there's usually a false alarm, issued by my bladder. So I appease it, tumble back in, and hit my internal snooze button.

    At the waking hour I stumble to the kitchen and yell up the back stairs to wake up my kid. Then I stir some icky fiber into a glass of water, gulp it down, and then boil water for tea, a special elixir I've started my days with for the last twenty years. When I can stand it—every other day or so—I work out in the kitchen for twenty minutes with free weights or aerobic stretching. Depending on the particular exercise and my mood, I'll do either sixty-four or eighty reps, eight counts of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or some other ditty to a bar of breath, sipping my tea in between sets. By the time my workout's over, the tea's almost gone and I gulp the rest of it along with my five vitamin pills.

    Then it's time to put up more water for coffee, grind my Trader Joe's beans, and, taking care not to let it boil, pour the hot water into my French press and busy myself while it does its magic. It used to take two days to finish that liter of coffee—I rewarm it gently so it doesn't taste too old—but that was before my daughter started to caffeinate herself. So nowadays I share it with her and make a fresh pot every day. While the coffee water heats, I wash up, shave, slap on some bay rum, and return to the bedroom to dress, quietly, so as not to awaken my snoozing spouse who I'll rouse around six. She'll have come to bed after midnight, once her nightly narcotic—which involves falling asleep on the couch watching old sitcoms—wears off. My nightly narcotic—scotch and soda—assures that I won't stay up too late, because I love getting up early.

    I pour my coffee, stir in some sugar, and go out on the back porch to greet the day with a few puffs of tobacco. It takes me three hours to go through one slow-burning cigarette the way I smoke. Fully charged, it's time to breakfast my kid— cereal, waffles, boiled egg, toast, and/or cut-up fruit, depending on what I think she might like, which isn't actually predictable, so sometimes I choose what I'd like in case I end up finishing it.

    When I do eat breakfast, it's usually between eight-thirty and nine, after the kid goes to school and wifey has left for work, but some days I don't feel hungry and just skip it. By then, I've usually been in the saddle in my study, writing, for an hour. I keep that up for a couple of hours, uninterrupted except for breakfast, kitchen cleanup, shots of coffee, drags of nicotine, and correcting my posture in the saddle. I keep myself from checking email until after ten or eleven, after having done enough wordsmithing to afford a break. At the rate I work, I can polish off half a new chapter a day or revise one or two old ones. Usually I find myself going over yesterday's scrivenings in the morning, and beginning new episodes at night. It's easier to see what I wrote the day before that was garbage in morning light.

    Of course, writing's not all I do. Like everyone else, I have bills to pay, library materials to return, the kid to cart around, correspondence to attend to, and of course food shopping. As principle cook and bottle washer here, it falls to me to plan meals and collect ingredients, and that can take up to a two-hour bite out of my day, not that I mind. It's recreational to wander supermarket aisles finding just the right stuff for a sauce or a side dish, and make sure that no alimentary need my family unit may have goes unfilled. My shopping obsession can be a cause of marital friction, as I described here a few months ago.

    My afternoons tend to fritter away. Not much writing gets done. Sometimes I'll sit back with a book or magazine—usually I'm wading through two or three at a time, mostly nonfiction, but recently I've been reading spy stories to see how the masters do it. After lunch, usually just a sandwich, hot dog (all natural, of course), or leftovers, is when I do the shopping. Between five and six is prep time; reading recipes, washing produce, soaking beans or legumes, peeling and chopping, setting up sauces—that sort of thing, which I attack leisurely as I take in the afternoon news on NPR. Not much time left over for keyboard work, but that's OK.

    Most weekdays the wife comes home around six or six-thirty, and we usually sit down to supper by seven. It starts with prayers and then we debrief. I may tell them about my action-packed day (recurse here). After Wifey describes her day at the bioscience lab, we play a frustrating version of twenty questions with the kid trying to divine something of her inner and outer life, but usually without avail. She's fifteen, you know, not an age that admits to much of anything. Dinner done, my spouse dons her pajamas and starts zoning out with the TV. Daughter scoops out some wet food for her cats and ascends with it to her space to attend to homework or whatever she does up there. I'm left alone in the kitchen to clean up, and then it's back in the saddle to slough off all the email that came in and make another stab at writing. That goes on for an hour or two, with frequent breaks for pacing about and refilling my drink.

    I call it a day. Visit my wife dozing on the couch. Turn off the TV she's no longer watching. Kiss her forehead and cover her up. Brush my teeth. Don pajamas. Fill my glass with water and put it on the nightstand. Log out and shut down.

    Rinse mind and repeat steps.

    @image: Not that I can write like the Dickens, but here he is at his writing desk, artist unknown, from publicdomainpictures.net

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