“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


20160111 GhastlyTwo images recently inspired new stories for me. Both images are ghastly—at least, to my usually tempered sensibilities. The stories do not use these images for the sake of being ghastly, but instead serve legitimate thematic purposes. Still, they shocked me, and I wondered if I’d be able to write them. Additionally, I wondered if I should write them. Do I want to put such tragic images into the world, even if they serve legitimate purposes?

Ultimately, I decided I would be able to write them (though it might take a lot of editing to write them well, since they go against my nature), and that, yes, I should put the images out there, because they serve legitimate purposes.

Let me segue for a moment to explain what I mean by “legitimate purposes.” In my view, presenting a ghastly image for the sake of being ghastly is inappropriate in any art form. This is why I don’t enjoy most horror or action films. Regarding action, for example, if Jason Statham is the main star, I know it’s a movie with action for action’s sake, and thus, it’s crap. Some people will say, “Well, it’s just mindless fun.” Well, not for me. I’ve never had mindless fun, and I don’t think it’s possible except for mindless people. Regarding horror, I consider Saw to be a movie that (barely) uses horror for legitimate themes—for example, the movie questions how much we value our own lives, and whether anyone has the right to challenge us in that regard by hurting us (they don’t). However, the Saw sequels are generally horror for horror’s sake, and thus, crap. I’m sure I’ve offended a few people here. Feel free to argue the value of horror/action for its own sake in the comments and I’ll read them.

Returning to my main purpose for this post, the epiphany I came to was this: a writer should tap into the extremes of his sensibilities.

I’m fairly levelheaded. But every now and then I find myself enjoying something shocking, because it balances right on the line of what I can appreciate versus what makes me sick to consider. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the movie Pan’s Labyrinth are examples. Sometimes, my own ideas are like that. The two stories I recently conceived would be my first forays into the ghastly fringes of my otherwise tempered nature.

I think a writer should, from time to time, dare to write his own extremes. Don’t let a legitimate story go to waste because it has a horrific or explicit element. Dare yourself to write it and to publish it. You can always return to center, and you need not go beyond your own extremes… Just, every now and then, take a walk along the fringes.

Have you ever shocked yourself with something you’ve written? Is it an experience you would like to repeat, or are you glad it’s done and gone?

Blood at Christmas

20151228 Blood at ChristmasSome think that family is simply defined as being blood-related, and “you do anything for blood.” Others say that family begins with blood, but eventually relies on people’s character, such that a friend might become family while a father becomes an acquaintance. I am of the latter conviction. Since Christmas has just passed, I thought I’d reflect on what makes family, and see if you have anything to add to that reflection.

The conviction that “we should do anything for blood” is flawed. It demands sacrificing yourself for people who don’t necessarily deserve it. If your sibling is a wreck, you stand beside him anyway. If your parents crush your spirits, you still help them when they need it, especially as they get older. Sure, the friend who has been by your side through trials and tribulations deserves your loyalty, too, but no one deserves loyalty more than blood family.

I consider such a view of family loyalty to be immoral. It asks a person to be, as the philosopher Ayn Rand puts it throughout her work, a sacrificial animal.

Family is a matter of choice, and loyalty is tied to that choice.

We’re told that children should remain loyal to their parents. Christian theology is especially fond of hammering this into children, as it demands that a child honor his father and mother for no other reason than they are his father and mother. The reverse is true, though. Parents, honor your children, simply because they’re your children. Parents chose to bring the child into the world; the child didn’t choose it. Parents owe loyalty to their children for that reason alone.

Children, however, owe their parents nothing, unless their parents have earned it. “Earning it” doesn’t mean changing diapers or providing food, shelter, and a basic education. These make up the foundation upon which the parent must then build a history of earning their child’s loyalty and respect. The father who crushes his son’s spirits or the mother who clings too tightly to her daughter has not earned these things, despite the number of diapers changed or hours of sleep lost.

Still, parents’ loyalty to their children does not have to be absolute. I’ll discuss this in a future post.

With Christmas behind us, I’m glad to have spent time with my parents, despite the cracks in our relationships. Nevertheless, the cracks remain, and it is no wonder why my best friend feels more like family to me than some of my closest blood relatives do.

There is no easy summation to this post. It barely scratches the surface. How do we earn loyalty, for example? Different people will have different answers to this question. A person will say they have earned loyalty, and their family members will scoff. It’s a lot to consider, but whatever the specifics, the proper foundation is simple.

Family is a matter of choice, not blood.

Family earns loyalty; it does not demand sacrifice.

What do you think?

"In a quiet café, Johnny tells his religiously-oppressive wife, Jessica, that he wants a divorce—and he's taking their daughter, Lily, with him."

For more thoughts on family bonds, check out my short story “Coffee in the Afternoon,” first published in Fabula Argentea in 2014. Read it now for free or get it for Kindle.


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!

Look alive there, children

In Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, she writes, speaking of her husband and herself,

We teach our children one thing only, as we were taught: to wake up. We teach our children to look alive there, to join by words and activities the life of human culture on the planet’s crust. (22)

It got me thinkiBoy with bubblesng about what I want to teach my children.

Tritia and I recently married (Nov. 15th, 2015). While we’re in no rush, we both want children in the next few years. There is never a time when you’re “ready,” the platitude goes, but we’re as ready as we’ll ever be. Now in our early 30s, with my military service and our college educations behind us (for the time being), at the beginning of our careers, and having sailed a tumultuous ocean on the relationship front, we’re eager for the next adventure.

We want to pass on our morals, values, and experiences to our children, and provide guidance for their lives. It’s easy to get swept up in that, though. I have seen people with children and have found that, for some of them, their children have become their entire lives. In other words, the parents’ adventures have ceased. They pour their hearts into their children’s wellbeing, but I wonder… How much can parents offer their child if their own adventures have stopped?

Of course, I’m on the outside looking in, and perhaps the parents’ adventures continue in moonlit moments after the kids have fallen asleep, adventures tucked into silent kisses before heads hit pillows, or clasped between warm palms and interlaced fingers before the alarm goes off and the day starts over again…

Whether these adventures are real, or are evasions of the fact that the real adventures stopped in favor of the children, I won’t claim certainty, because the relationship isn’t mine.

No matter the fate of Tritia’s and my adventures once we’ve had our first child, I know that I want to “teach our children one thing only[:] to look alive there, to join by words and activities the life of human culture on the planet’s crust.” I’m thinking I’ll commission a small, wooden sign, with this quote engraved in it, to hang securely above our child’s crib, where it will hopefully serve as a reminder to his parents to lead by example and continue the adventure, always.

Work Cited

Dillard, Annie. “Total Eclipse.” Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. Annie Dillard. 9-28. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. Print.

Thanks as always for reading. Please leave a comment and share!