“Days Off” Are Days Off Your Life

The assertion, “I’ve earned a day off,” destroys dreams. I don’t exaggerate.

At different times in my life, I’ve managed to get myself onto a good personal schedule. My current schedule looks like this (you can breeze over it, no hard feelings!):

  • Wake at 2:30 a.m.
  • Let the dogs out, make coffee
  • Morning Pages (inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way)
  • Cook and eat a light breakfast (a banana, two strips of bacon, 1/3 cup of egg whites)
  • Meditate (3 to 5 minutes using the Headspace app)
  • Creative writing
  • Exercise (30 minutes)
  • Walk (listen to an inspiring or motivational audiobook, currently Grit by Angela Duckworth) (30 minutes)
  • Say hi to my wife and baby (they’re usually up by then, about 6:30 a.m.)
  • Fire up my laptop and get to work on volunteer stuff (I volunteer with the Young Marines)
  • Babysit my daughter (wife leaves to work about 8:30 a.m.)
  • Baby’s first nap about 10:30 a.m. (I meditate for 15 minutes, then work on my blog)
  • Baby’s up, we play, I do dishes
  • I take baby somewhere (grocery shopping, the park, etc.)
  • Baby’s second nap about 3:30 p.m. (I continue blogging)
  • Baby’s up, we play
  • I cook dinner
  • Wife is home (about 5:30 p.m.)
  • We eat dinner together at the dinner table, talk about our day
  • I get ready for bed and lie down by 6 p.m. (earlier if possible)
20180517 Me and Baby
Successful Daddy-Baby grocery shopping trip! (Easy ladies, I’m taken.)

I’ve been on that schedule (with minor adjustments) for more than two weeks now. It is awesome! My wife is so understanding. Although we spend less time together overall, the time we spend is of higher quality. We chat about our day and we play with our baby together.

Some mornings, though, I wake up tired. At 2:30 a.m., it’s particularly tempting to think, “I’ll just push the alarm out one hour…maybe two.” What would it affect? I don’t have to clock in. I just should be up (around 8 a.m.) to watch the baby when my wife leaves for work. But all that other stuff…writing, exercising, volunteering? I can skip that. I’m tired.

I’ve earned a day off.

Those fateful words have ended many previous, excellent schedules I’ve put in place in the past. Schedules that have produced a happier, healthier “me” in which I learn, grow as a person, and, well, shrink as a person, too, as those unwanted pounds have melted away (I once went from 250 to 180 lbs on such a schedule…as of now, I’m back up to 240 lbs).

After seeing years of my life dwindle away, wondering what could have been had I just stuck to that schedule, I’m fed up. I’ve done great things, but I could have done much—much—more.

Now, every morning, when I’m tired, I remind myself:

I’ve earned a day on.

I remind myself that I’ve worked hard in past days, and weeks, and (soon) months to earn this new day to be awesome again.

Sure, sick days are useful. Vacation days are important. Just use them wisely: as needed for sick days, or by planning vacation in advance, including what you’ll do (or not do) on those days.

Don’t look forward to days off. Every day should be a day on.


Being young, “a thing all by itself”

Earlier this morning, I was reading John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath and this caught my eye:

When you’re young, ever’thing that happens is a thing all by itself. It’s a lonely thing.

On Facebook, I said:

It struck home with my memories of childhood and teens. Everything did seem to happen as an isolated incident, as if the fate of my life hung in every moment…whether a girl said yes or no when I asked her out, whether first period science went well and whether sixth period math would be overwhelming again, on and on. It’s not tragic, really. I think the loneliness of youth is part of what makes us wise when we get older…wise in some ways, at least, as in the ability to appreciate both pain and joy, solitude and society.

20160119 Being young, a thing all by itselfWhen I think about my teenage years, I remember how disconnected everything felt. My world ended if a girl said no to a date. My world swelled if she said yes, or if class was fun. I felt at home in English with Mr. Roe, where my ideas had some weight, but I felt like an island in Geometry, where everything was happening five steps ahead of my mind’s ability to comprehend (my fault more than anything, really), and I prayed the teacher didn’t call on me where I sat in the back. Every day was a roller coaster, and the ups, downs, loops, starts, and stops each seemed like my entire world for the exact moment it was happening.

Probably not every teen felt like this. For reasons I won’t go into now, I know I was an emotionally unbalanced teen beyond the norms of teen angst (as in, deemed so by counselors). I’m sure that heightened my experiences of lonely frustration.

Still, with strife came wisdom…though on a delay of several years. I appreciate solitude more now, but I don’t cling to it quite as much as when I was a teenager. I value society now, far more than I did—than I could—as a teenager. Back then, everything was “a thing all by itself.”

Now the ups, downs, and loops are all connected. Not always a smooth ride on the roller coaster, but it feels like a complete ride, one that I can gauge the joy and horror of by seeing what’s ahead or remembering what’s behind.

Life may be up, down, and around, with sudden stops and starts—but with the adult wisdom that comes from teenage strife, the perception of life becomes more balanced, and the roller coaster feels more like a straight road, such that each jerking motion isn’t the world-ending calamity it once was.

Thanks for reading. Do you feel very different from your teenage self? In what ways? If you’re a teen, do you feel like you’re in a whirlwind, or do things seem calm in your life?

20151221 The Woman Alone - SavannahBy Christopher Chinchilla, an adventure set in the savannahs of Africa…

Available now for Kindle and in paperback

You accomplished more than you think this year

Being a writer isn’t easy. The truly enjoyable moments have to be earned through consistent work. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a little lazy. I have bouts of passion-powered productivity, and then drop off like a bear in winter.

Given the greater effort I’ve put into my writing career the last two months, though, I expect I’ll be much more productive in 2016. Still, 2015 had its writing triumphs, too. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to list them.

At first, I wasn’t going to. I thought, “I haven’t done enough to take a victory lap by announcing ‘accomplishments.'” Then, after a few minutes going back and forth, I decided I’m not going to dismiss my own accomplishments like that. Whether it’s been a super productive or embarrassingly lazy year, we all achieved something, and we shouldn’t forget that.

So, here are my writing accomplishments for 2015, such as they are:

1. In February, I wrote and published the prequel to my novella, The Woman Alone, called Susan’s Lover: A Valentine’s Day StoryHardly the “romance” it sounds like, it explores elements of the inner lives of three main characters from the first novella in a way that, I’m not ashamed to say, had me teary-eyed. I learned a lot about myself from writing it.

20151221 The Woman Alone - Savannah2. I released a beautiful new paperback edition of The Woman Alone that features both the novella and its prequel, with an afterword by the woman it’s dedicated to, my mother.

3. I read three new books on the craft of writing, as well as dozens of novels, plays, and short stories. Reading sharpens writing skills.

4. My blog limped along, but a month ago, I committed to writing a new post every Monday, and this is Post #4. Consistency is key to progress!

5. I attended nearly every meetup of the weekly writer’s group that I organized.

6. I wrote several short stories, but I can’t boast any publications this year…because I didn’t submit anything. You can bet that will change in 2016!

7. I returned to my love of writing science fiction and fantasy. I self-published two books in a new fantasy series. (Check out my alter ego, Chris Raiin, and read the first book free.)

20151221 Bachelor's Degree8. Most of all, I completed studies for my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English on December 1st, 2015.  A long journey coming to a close.

I’m glad I wrote these down. Seeing them makes the year behind me shine in new light, and motivates me for the year ahead.

What are some of your achievements this year? I’d love to hear about them!

My Grandma, a Costa Rican immigrant, has died

A year later, this all still holds true… Miss ya, Grandma.

Coffee Together

My grandmother, Flor Chinchilla, died yesterday. She immigrated from Costa Rica decades ago with my dad who was then about 5 years old. She was a small woman who barely learned English and could never operate a laptop or cellphone, barely a DVD player. She lived in a small house in Los Angeles that is floor-to-ceiling full of old dolls and pictures of my dad and my sister and me, tending lemon trees and caring for five little dogs. The stories that woman had to tell… The history she lived through… An African proverb says that when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. It is the same with an old woman from Costa Rica, and the stories told and not told have left this world with her. I didn’t know her as well as I wanted, didn’t spend as much time with her as I should…

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Another Marine has reported to Heaven…

A good friend and mentor passed away last Saturday. My friend, “Top” Cooper, was an old World War II Marine. I miss him greatly. The end of The Marine’s Hymn says, “If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s gleams, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.” Top Cooper reported for duty in Heaven the morning of April 4th, 2015, the day before Easter.

20150405_142645aWe who loved him await his funeral, but in the meantime, I visited a special place dedicated to Top Cooper called Cooper’s Landing in Palmdale, CA. My fiancee took this picture of me there.

In memorial for his passing, I’m posting this article I wrote three years ago, about Cooper’s Landing and how it helped a few good kids change their lives for the better. This article was first published in The EGA, the newsletter of Marine Corps League Detachment #930. 

Cooper’s Landing

by Sgt. Christopher Chinchilla

Over 75 people showed for the graduation ceremony of 11 new Young Marines on Saturday, October 6th, 2012. After six grueling weekends of training, these youths have earned the title “Young Marine.” They did not train at Parris Island or San Diego, but their journey did begin in a familiar place: on a few good pairs of yellow footprints.

As the crowd of parents, siblings, and friends of the recruits turned their attention to these footprints during the ceremony, AV Young Marines Training Officer and Marine Corps League member, Mr. Danny Chinchilla, explained, “Any Marine, at some point in the beginning of their career, landed on footprints like these. They mean a lot—not at the moment that you’re there, but one day when you go back.” Author Jack Shipman, in his book, Yellow Footprints: 1969 Marine Corps Boot Camp, recalls the experience this way:

“The young men, bumping into each other, jumped off that bus so fast they appeared to fly out of the windows. They ran hard to line up on the yellow footprints, which were painted on the asphalt at forty-five-degree angles, facing the open barracks doors. There were forty-eight young men in all, evenly spaced, due to the pre-spaced yellow footprints…. With hearts pounding and beads of sweat forming across their foreheads, these Marine Corps recruits had just exercised compliance to their first order in the Marine Corps.”

For many of us, this is a memory we won’t forget. And the boys and girls of Young Marine Recruit Platoon 1201 have now had a taste of that experience.

So how did this small unit of Young Marines come to have its own landing of yellow footprints? Chinchilla says, “During a staff meeting, we were having a discussion about how great it would be to begin our new recruits on them, and to give them a feeling of what it’s really like.” He continues, “And Master Sergeant Al Cooper thought, ‘That’s a great idea’…and off he went.”

DSC_0853Retired Marine Master Sergeant Alvin Cooper joined the Marine Corps in 1943, before the Corps even had its now-famous yellow footprints, which were first used at Parris Island in 1964*. Sitting in that Young Marine staff meeting 69 years after he joined the Corps, MSgt. Cooper decided to take an idea and make it a reality. On his own initiative, without the knowledge of the staff, “Top” made his plywood cut-outs of the famous footprints—measured exactly at a 45̊ angle—and proceeded one afternoon, by himself, to paint them in yellow on the deck of the far back grinder of the Palmdale VFW Post. “And then one Saturday when we were all meeting,” Chinchilla continues, “Top came by and he said, ‘Danny, come here.’ He walked me back there and, lo and behold…,” there stood 20 pairs of yellow footprints, covered and aligned in five rows of four columns, facing East toward the building.

Chinchilla says, “For the staff, we all agree: it made the beginning of Young Marine Boot Camp. When the recruits came over here in that van and they got out, boom—that’s where they landed.”

Seven of the 11 youths of Platoon 1201 were the first to “land” on these footprints at the start of their training on DSC_0842August 10, 2012. At their graduation on Oct. 6, 2012, MSgt. Cooper was asked to stand before guests, Young Marines, and fellow Marine Corps League members for a special dedication. Indicating the youths standing tall at graduation, Mr. Chinchilla said to MSgt. Cooper, “These are the first recruits to stand on these footprints. From here on, every recruit that comes through Antelope Valley Young Marines is going to begin here.”

Marine Corps League member Ms. Yvette Goins and Young Marine PFC Curtis removed the paper covering the curb next to the yellow footprints, and Mr. Chinchilla announced, “This is now going to be known as Cooper’s Landing!” To the cheers and applause of Marines and guests, a curb painted in red was revealed to the Master Sergeant, in the center of which shined the words in yellow:


DSC_0847aTop’s reaction was timeless. As 16-year-old Young Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Bellaflores recalls, “Top just took a step back and you could tell he was getting emotional. He loved it! It was so great to see…” YM/LCpl Bellaflores was one of three drill instructors the recruits met first on the yellow footprints.


Top Cooper is in the rear left corner, behind me (the tan-shirted Marine)

So MSgt. Cooper had never stood on yellow footprints. It wasn’t until two decades after he’d enlisted that the yellow footprints were first used by the Corps. Yet he was the one that laid them down for us. Later that beautiful October afternoon, joined by the dedicated staff of the Antelope Valley Young Marines, the Master Sergeant—dressed in his MCL blues and shining black corframs—stepped onto a pair of yellow footprints for the first time. These footprints will be the starting point for youths looking to change their lives for the better. The beginning for a few good kids.

WDSC_1007e all have our memories of the yellow footprints, but I wonder if Top’s first time on them doesn’t beat them all—at Cooper’s Landing in Palmdale, CA. Semper fi, Top!

*Special thanks to Susan L. Hodges, Vice President of Administration, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Stephen R. Wise, Museum Director, MCRD Parris Island. Upon contacting them, they found out for me the year that the yellow footprints were first used. (The exact date is unknown.)

A walk this morning…

Source: phototrekker.com

Source: phototrekker.com

When we walk in the morning, I enjoy the company, the sound of her voice, the sight of her among the morning clouds. I wish a little that she hadn’t come so that I could talk to myself, making plans for the day or even for years ahead—but having her with me makes it easier to focus on something, and besides, I know I’ll have time coming up later in the day to be alone, think, and make plans. I’m glad she’s with me, glad she asked if she could walk with me this morning… I’ve found it’s better to let her come to something on her own. It’s something I’ve learned in our years together and apart. It’s something that should be obvious, and maybe is obvious but still hard to accept: people have to convince themselves of something before they make it part of who they are. The best thing I can do, to convince her or anyone I care about to do something I’d like for them to do is simply to first do it myself. If I go for a walk every morning after we exercise, then that opens up the option for her. If she never takes it, that’s fine, because I’ve already convinced myself of the walk’s importance. It’s important to me. If she wants to make it important to her, she can, and like I said, I’m glad for the company—I’m glad for her company.

There’s a little sunburst in the pink morning sky—it bursts over the top of two-story houses. We’re walking diagonally through a desert field of Joshua trees, dry bushes, and little yellow pffs that look like dollhouse flowers, but are simply weeds—tiny, pretty weeds, lovely jagged patches of them on either side of the path. Our tennis shoes scrape and crunch along the snaking dirt path as we make our way back to the street near home. The rising sun is at our left shoulders. We notice the morning’s biting chill. After our exercise and the walk, we feel trembly, but invigorated, refreshed, clean. I’m not talking about how your body feels after a shower. I’m talking about how your mind and soul feel after exercise and a walk at sunrise. Clean.

We’ve talked about nothing, nothing important. Just little things, important because they’re little:

“There were more clouds Monday morning…”

“We should bring the dogs with us…”

“I read that fat-burning doesn’t begin until 45 minutes into exercise…”

“I haven’t been in this field before…”

Perhaps the poet would say, when we got back home after the walk, that we’d never left, since home is with each other. For me, I just liked it. That’s all.

I liked it.

My Grandma, a Costa Rican immigrant, has died

My grandmother, Flor Chinchilla, died yesterday. She immigrated from Costa Rica decades ago with my dad who was then about 5 years old. She was a small woman who barely learned English and could never operate a laptop or cellphone, barely a DVD player. She lived in a small house in Los Angeles that is floor-to-ceiling full of old dolls and pictures of my dad and my sister and me, tending lemon trees and caring for five little dogs. The stories that woman had to tell… The history she lived through… An African proverb says that when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground. It is the same with an old woman from Costa Rica, and the stories told and not told have left this world with her. I didn’t know her as well as I wanted, didn’t spend as much time with her as I should have, never had that conversation in fluent Spanish with her that I’d hoped for, never walked through Costa Rica with her as I’d intended. She was 75. We thought she had another decade in her. Time is not so kind as wishes. I’ll miss her. But it’s the living I’m worried about, my dad, her son, the young immigrant boy born in Costa Rica, who grew up in Hawaii and Los Angeles, who joined the Marines at 17 by forging his mom’s signature, who became a leader of men who built rocket engines to space, who stood with me once in the Oval Office of the White House and shook President George W. Bush’s hand, who cared for his mom and kept that old rickety house that she refused to leave patched together…that man’s the one I grieve for now, with Grandma’s passing. My dad’s a mountain of control. Last night, that mountain’s voice shook over the phone with grief. I’ll miss Grandma. Here’s to Dad, now the oldest living member of my family. Life has come into greater perspective.