Days

Dear Person Now Working From Home;

Welcome to the club of several millions of people informed (likely just yesterday) that they’re going to have to work remotely from home for the foreseeable future. A week, a month, maybe even longer. Things are about to get … interesting.

Buckle up, buckaroos …

Or, maybe you’re thinking “Hey, this is great! I don’t have to commute, I can work in my pajamas, I can roll out of bed five minutes to nine and hit the ground running. This is a paid stay-at-home vacation!” to which I say WRONG.

Take it from someone who’s worked from home for twenty years; it’s a lot harder than you think it is, and you are going to find that out shortly.

Fortunately, you have me, and my decades of experience working from home to help mitigate this transition for you. This is:

THINGS I LEARNED IN TWENTY YEARS OF WORK FROM HOME

Keep a schedule and stick to it

Is your job a 9-5 job, typically? Then those are the hours you want to keep. You want to be up and at your computer, ready to start the day, and you want to stick to the schedule you keep at work. Do you take a coffee break around 10:15? Do the same at home. When do you usually have lunch? Take that lunch, away from your desk. Take the whole lunch break. Don’t bring it to your desk and keep working. However your afternoons shake down at your office, mirror them at home. And when 5:00 rolls around, you turn the computer off, you close the door to the home office (if you’re using one), and

LEAVE WORK THERE UNTIL THE NEXT MORNING

Or else this happens …

In my first year of working from home I did little else but work from home. I worked from sunrise to beyond sunset. I worked every day of the week. I worked on holidays, I didn’t take any vacation. I worked without much in the way of pause and it caught up with me.

Speaking of “catching up with you”:


For the love of god, SHOWER

Look, I get it; you’re home, your commute is essentially however it takes to get from your bed to your desk. But if that commute takes you past your bathroom (and even if it doesn’t), veer left or right or wherever, and take that morning shower.

Shower, shave, wash your hair, whatever your normal routine is. And get changed into clothing. Not a suit or anything, but fresh, clean shirt and pants or whatever feels comfortable. Firstly, because you likely will have Skype calls and meetings involving video so you don’t want to look like you just rolled out of bed. Secondly, because you will just feel overall better than if you don’t. I’ll skip the unpleasant details but in my first year of work-from-home I went days between trips outdoors, so naturally I didn’t shower as often as I should have. The results … well, they weren’t pretty, and they smelled worse.

“But Brad,” you say; “This is all kind of redundant. It’s basic stuff everybody knows. I’ve worked from home before. In fact, my office allows us one floating work-from-home-day a week”. To which I say “Great, but this a lot different. This is going to be a long haul. You’re not driving to the grocery store; you’re driving from New York to Los Angeles and you’re only allowed 50 miles per hour.” Incorporating good work habits from the get-go will help manage your time and workload effectively. It will also help your loved ones – spouse, children, pets – that there’s time for work and time for play and they cannot overlap. On that related note:

Give yourself time to play

Remember the little things because they will save you …

Nothing will burn you out faster than working to the exclusion of all the rest. Your after-work volleyball games are probably cancelled, and your gym is closed too. But make sure you get yourself outside at least once a day, to take in some fresh air and sunshine. Consider it part of your commuting time.

In my first year of working from home I barely stepped outside, and hardly exercised. By the end of that year I was in terrible shape. I was overweight, my muscles had atrophied from lack of use, I was sick constantly. Fortunately I resolved to make sure I was getting in at least an hour of good cardio-vascular exercise a day, and that’s the one New Year’s Resolution I’ve managed to keep, year after year for the last twenty years. Plus, exercise, fresh air, and sunshine help fight off those nasty germs, and if you do get something, boost your immune system so it can fight any infections off.

[Also, don’t forget diet. Even allowing for that outside time, you won’t be outside as much. Load up on the fresh fruits and vegetables. Prepare meals, don’t just order delivery. Use that prep and cook time to decompress from the desk a little.]

Set boundaries

Boundaries are good until they’re not

This goes for family. Your kids in particular may think “hey, mom and dad are home, let’s play!” but you have to work, and they have to understand that. A way around that that I’ve found with my child, is to grant him or her some attention during the day, during coffee break or lunchtime. Have a break to read them a story or play with toys, or something that lets them know you’re there, and are attentive to their needs. If you have a backyard space and want to go throw the ball around, do it. Take them with you on your daily walk around the block. A little goes a long way. I frequently pause work to read a few storybooks to my child; usually that’s enough for him to get bored of dad and go off and entertain himself.

Likewise, and this goes back to my first point, once 5:00 hits, call it a day. Turn off the computer, turn off your work phone. Anything sent after 5pm on Friday can wait until 9am Monday. The person who sent that email at the end of the day likely won’t get your response until the next day anyway.

Schedule social time

If you have a beach I’m envious and you’re an asshole

This is for your office co-workers; keep in touch with them in a non-work capacity. Schedule a call, be it by phone or Face-Time or Skype. This isn’t a work call; this is you just checking in, asking how they’re doing, how they’re coping (and sharing some coping methods of your own if they’re having difficulties). It’s like the virtual water cooler; work is largely social in nature as it involves you, working with other people, towards a mutual goal. If you lose that, it can make working from home feel a lot more isolating, and by equal measure, a lot more difficult if you aren’t used to working from home for an extended period.

As I mentioned off the top, I did everything wrong in my first year of writing full-time. I corrected that, in part, by scheduling that social time. Giving myself weekends and holidays off, taking vacations, were all good. But I also made sure I clocked out early on Fridays so I could meet people after their jobs for dinner, for drinks, to go to the movies to go to a bar. And related to that:

Take the weekend off

Who cares what Frankie says? You. You should care.

This is a big one because it’s one I’m still guilty of doing (I mean, I am writing this on a Saturday). Weekends are there for a reason, people; they’re for you to do the stuff you don’t have time to do during the week. Grocery shopping, cutting the lawn, doing family stuff. The weekend is the reward for all the work you’ve been doing through that week. You will be tempted to hop onto the work computer to “catch up” but you have Monday-Friday for that. It’s very easy to get sucked into working your weekends away. Even I, a person whose occupation is basically “make shit up for profit” takes his weekends off (and doing so made me a MUCH better writer).

Shameless plug, but you WILL need something to read.

Guive yourself some alone time

Breathe in. Breathe out.

If you, and your spouse are both working from home and your kids are off school, make sure you give yourself some quiet time to just clear your head. Read a book, watch some TV, play a video game, or just do nothing. If this is looking to be a lengthy stay-at-home for you, it can get very stressful and tiring to be constantly around people; even ones you love. Under normal circumstances, my wife comes home from work, we have dinner, then she and our child do something together, just the two of them, so they can have that time to themselves, and I can have time to myself. Usually I’ll read, or catch up on my watch-list. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs to be there. It doesn’t take long to feel recharged, reinvigorated. because the next day, the process repeats itself.

One more thing  

Are you sitting at your desk reading this? Here’s what I want you to do right now.

  1. Sit up straight
  2. Drop your shoulders down from your ears
  3. Stop clenching your jaw
  4. Quit pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth

There. Don’t you feel better? Good. Because you’re going to get through this.

We all will.

Delete Facebook

Let’s talk about online life, shall we? When the clock rolled forth on January 1st, 2000, none of us knew what was coming. As an avid Sci-Fi fan, creator, and reader, I can say that nobody in the genre ever predicted what Social Media would become. It didn’t even predict social media, let alone the internet. Seriously; in the grand scale and scope of speculative fiction, NOBODY ever predicted the world-wide-web accurately. William Gibson likely came closest with Neuromancer. While the internet was a thing in the 80s we just didn’t hear about it.

The Internet. It could have been beautiful. And had kung-fu.

We do everything online these days. Much of it we do through mobile technology. Through phones that carry more processing power than your standard-issue desktop computer circa 1998 did. The internet has changed our way of life, but it’s also changed the way people think and relate to one another.

It hasn’t been pretty. Especially, it seems, in the last five or so years. Reducing people to names and profile pictures on Facebook or Twitter has done more to dehumanize each other than was probably intended. Or maybe that was the point

Pictured: Twitter. Where the cruelty IS the point.

I don’t really get involved online anymore. Not with debates, not with “being in a community”. It just holds no interest for me. Because I used to get involved. In debates. In “community”. I used to spend much more time online in the morass of social media than was probably healthy. I told myself it was for work; as a writer, you need to engage with your audience, you need to promote, you have to hustle. But doing all those things felt empty. Like it was just work. And it was just work, only the kine that largely gave me back little in return. So, in 2019 I said goodbye to Twitter (I said goodbye to Facebook in 2013, though I do maintain an author page though another administrator runs it). I’m still on Instagram but I’m only really there to follow art and travel and photography accounts. Comments are generally closed on my posts, I don’t allow strangers to drop in and spam me with promo. It’s “anti-social-networking”.

This all began in earnest last spring, as I was in the early stages of outlining my next book. It takes place in the 1980s; a pre-internet era. And I decided to be method in my writing in that I wasn’t going to use social media at all while drafting. I could use the internet but only for research. If I needed to know for example what the Top 10 songs in the US were the third week of April 1985, I could do that.

Pictured: a scene from my next book

But the minutia of checking Twitter or Facebook or whatever went away. And after finishing my draft four months later, it kind of stayed that way. I got used to not having social media around, and I have to say I like it not being around. I like not knowing what everybody’s up in arms about, or arguing over. I like being out of the loop. In fact, in the process I rediscovered what we’ve all been missing; the fine art of Not Knowing.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember Not Knowing. You didn’t know what was going on the next town over, or the next suburb. Heck, even venturing to the other side of your small town was a trek. Here you encountered people you’d never seen before and never would again, unless you went back. You had friends, you made friends, and when you moved away, you lost touch with them. I can look at my old school photos, from Kindergarten to pretty much Eighth Grade and only recognize a couple names, and only few faces beyond those. When I got older I thought things would change; that I’d remain closer to people I knew in high school, and college. And for a time – the early, generally non-evil Facebook years of 2007-2010 – I did remain close; re-establishing contact with people I’d lost along the way.

Even then, by 2012 I was getting tired of keeping up. I realized that these people I knew once upon a time weren’t the same people. And the thing is I wanted them to be those same people, and knew that wasn’t possible. they’d changed, and I’d changed, and shortly thereafter – as in seven years ago today – I logged into Facebook one final time, to delete my profile.

Was losing touch better? I hate to say it, but yeah; it kind of was. Because knowing those places, those moments, those friendships were impermanent is what made them special. It’s what made me cherish those moments and my memories of them.

One other positive aspect of walking away from social media is I can enjoy things on their own merits now. It seems that in the last five years or so the culture wars have migrated over into entertainment in a big way, to the point where who you are as a person is judged by the art you consume. If you like X you’re a bad person. If you didn’t see XX you’re the reason XX failed and that makes you a bad person. There’s no middle ground anymore; you’re either with the mob or against it. It’s almost like you can’t be indifferent to anything anymore.

Because we ALL have opinions …

Being outside that bubble has been liberating. Not that I ever cared what people though of me because of the things I enjoyed, but being sidelined by choice has been an eye opener as to how people related to one another now. It’s no longer enough to watch X, listen to Y, read Z. You have to declare allegiance to your tribe, you have to wear the colors, you have to gather on the field of battle and face off against Those People.

My motto is simple: enjoy the stuff you enjoy, ignore the rest. Don’t let anyone dictate what you should/should not entertain yourself with. As long as it isn’t something horribly offensive you aren’t hurting anybody by watching or reading or listening to it. And if you truly love something, love it. Don’t let the naysayers tell you “it was crap, it was terrible”. And likewise don’t tell them the same with something you didn’t like. You have the power. The world won’t stop turning because you did or didn’t express your opinion or share a thought.

My advice? Find your happiness, embrace it, and never let it go. Likewise, anything that makes you miserable, sets you on edge, get rid of it. I know that’s not always possible. Your boss could be an asshole but you need that job. But there’s always another job, another town, another place.

My life has improved in many ways because of this. Just in the case of time. Because don’t realize how much of your life you can waste in a day by hitting “refresh”.

Far, Far Away …

Here’s a confession that will shock everyone who knows me (and probably more than a few that do not): I don’t like STAR WARS.

The Saga, I mean; I’m talking Episodes I through IX, its spin-offs, its TV series. I’ve certainly enjoyed them, but once you’ve consumed 99% of Star Wars-related content you’re kind of left with an “ehh” feeling. A couple of hours of escapism, some robots, some aliens, some mystical mumbo-jumbo made up on the fly, the end.

Oh, and there’s usually a big explosion too.

Now with that out of the way, I will admit I love STAR WARS the movie. The first one. The one I saw in 1977. I’ve seen it the most of all of them, and 43 years on I still don’t get tired of it. I speak of the one called Star Wars. Not “A New Hope” not “Episode IV”. STAR. WARS. I love its low-tech (pre-special editions, of course) feel. I love its fast pace, its leap from planet to planet, location to location. I love its iconic set-pieces which remain memorable decades later, to a degree few of the other films in the lengthy series recapture.

Star Wars is one of those movies I’ve seen so many times that I can close my eyes and roll film from beginning to end and know every shot, every musical cue, every FX shot. On my list of desert island movies, it’s near the top. If fleeing my burning home I can only save one movie in my collection, it’s Star Wars. If I’m tasked by the government to save the world, bring world peace, end climate change, by keeping just one Star Wars movie in existence and obliterating everything else, well, the choice would be easy and obvious.

STAR. WARS. Period.

Why does Star Wars still hold my imagination? I think because it was my first major gateway to storytelling and being a storyteller. I was four. I’d seen TV, I’d had bedtime stories read to me. I’d possibly seen other movies. But nothing had that impact as Star Wars did. It got me interested in stories, in sci if and fantasy and that flood of SFF films and TV that followed well into the 80s. It certainly was the most instrumental and influential piece, for me, that led me down the road to a career as a storyteller. It’s what got me into film school and that 20 year career that followed it. It’s what got me to want to tell my own stories. Magicians Impossible is hugely influenced by Star Wars in its initial incarnation, that “we join our heroes midstream” pulp vibe. Not part of a series, no prequels, no sequels, just this rich mythology world. There’s a backstory, there’s a hint of the story continuing, but really it’s just a story set in a much larger universe.

To clarify; I don’t hate the other material – I just don’t need them to enjoy Star Wars. I don’t need sequels, I don’t need prequels. I don’t need the spinoffs, the TV, the CANON. I don’t even need The Empire Strikes Back (arguably the better film) or Return of the Jedi (arguably the weakest). I don’t need Darth Vader to be Luke’s father. I don’t need to know what the Clone Wars were; they’re a throwaway line in Star Wars and that’s all you did need. I think it’s a testament to that film that we wanted to know more. It had worked its magic on us all.

Pictured: all the backstory you need.

With the sequels, things changed. When Star Wars ended, Luke and Han got their medals (Chewie didn’t, but to be fair Leia was quite short), the Rebels had won, the Empire had their white-armored butts kicked. The galaxy beyond was wide open. You got an all-too brief taste of what was to come in the ancillary materials – the Marvel comics, the serialized newspaper strips (my personal favorites), the execrable Holiday Special, and – most importantly – the action figures. The adventures they went on, in suburban sandboxes and basement rec rooms were sequel enough for me. Even when pretenders to the throne – the “Killer Bs” of Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and The Black Hole just gave the Star Wars figures more enemies and allies in their 3 ¾ inch adventures.

Heaven

Did we have questions? Sure we did. But answering them was our job, or it should have been. For a time it was ours. Luke could have found his mother. He could have tracked down the Emperor, or could have turned bad, brought back by his friends. Before we even heard of a sequel, we were going on new adventures with our favorite heroes and villains.

But what would have been really daring was to not have those questions answers. I often like to ponder a world where Star Wars was neither a flop nor a massive hit; it was something that made its money back so George Lucas could keep making movies, maybe focus on running ILM. A world where Star Wars was enough of a success for those toys and comics, but something that didn’t make enough money to justify a sequel

*Really, what would have been interesting is to have a Star Wars universe where they did make more movies but they were stand-alone ones cataloging further adventures. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was famously initiated as an idea for a lower-budgeted sequel to Star Wars should it just do “okay”. You may have seen further adventures of Han and Chewie minus Luke and Leia and the Rebellion (maybe mishaps along the way to paying off Jabba the Hutt – who we did not see in Star Wars). Darth Vader would have remained the Bad Guy with no familial connection to Luke other than being the guy who offed his Jedi Knight father, exactly as Obi-Wan said. Vader could have been Ming the Merciless from Flash or Baltar from Battlestar, or Princess Ardala from Buck ; a foil, and a threat, and a constant reminder that these adventures were always meant to unfold in situ. That, while there was a history, it remained a history. Something as backdrop.

Episode II. Seriously.

I think it all gets to the heart of what I don’t need in my stories these days, which is a deep and detailed exploration of backstories. The dramatization of backstories has, to me, become the worst thing about popular genre entertainments today. We’ve become accustomed to expecting to have all those questions answered in some official capacity. We can’t just imagine what was and what might be. It has to be part of a canon. You rarely can sell a fantasy or sci-fi book without having some plan in place for a second, a third, a series of books to follow should the first hit. And I have to confess that my fandom brain is the same as my writer’s brain; I only need one very good bordering-on-great story. I don’t need the same wine in a different bottle. I need that pure experience, that, when the book is closed and the house-lights come back on, I feel like I was on a journey.

If a film hits me so hard that I can walk out of the theater on a total high, I don’t need to see more of the same. I didn’t need more adventures of Robocop or Neo or John McLane on-screen, because I already have those in my mind. It’s what was in my mind after seeing Star Wars. I had my toys, I had adventures with them. They’re a part of who I am.

I recognize that creative work is a hustle. It’s about the paycheck, about spinning gold when you have the materials and the interest. It’s about paying those bills and socking some away for your golden years. But writing to me has always been an intensely personal experience, driven by a lot more than just dollars and cents.  

Every Star Wars fan has their “era”, the era where they discover it (and when and how they do). If you discovered them on video, where you could pop your VHS or DVD into the machine and watch one after the other, it’s different than if you had to wait three years between chapters. When the Prequel trilogy came out, by and large the older fans weren’t too crazy about them (and I say that very, very diplomatically).

Exhibit A

But if you were five or six when Star Wars came out, you were pushing 30 when The Phantom Menace arrived. The Prequel movies weren’t going to be your favorite ones. You’d grown up and come of age in a decade of Dragonslayers and Terminators, Robocops and Predators, Goonies and Gremlins, Alien and Aliens.

But now, the kids who were five or six when The Phantom Menace arrived, are now in their mid-late 20s, and have the same nonplussed reaction to the Disney films we older fans had to the Prequels, because they LOVE the prequels.

And now, everything’s different. It’s bigger, and smaller at the same time. With Star Wars you have this huge volume of movie and TV and video games and comic books and toys and novels. It’s everywhere. There are Original Trilogy fans, there are Prequel Trilogy ones, and there are Sequel Trilogy ones. That fandom has become a lot more fractured as a result. There’s fans that up and hate everything Disney has done with the property. There are fans that worship the Prequels. There are fans that ceased being fans after Return of the Jedi left theaters. For me, Star Wars: The Saga is essentially a big carnival midway. There’s rides, there’s games of chance, there’s food. You can’t take in it all, so really you should just find what booth appeals to you and focus on that. For my part, I’m a fan of a lot of the ephemera from the Original Trilogy; the Making of books, the Art of books, the Illustrated Screenplays. I love the collected editions of the Newspaper strips and the Marvel comics. I’m less enamored with the Prequels and while I’ve enjoyed the Sequels, I feel exhausted by the overkill. By the end of 2019 we’d had five Star Wars movies in as many years. Star Wars used to be more of an event. Now it’s just another film series.

You can only pick one.

And yet, while I’ve become largely indifferent to “Star Wars: The Saga”, I remain ride-or-die with Star Wars the movie; that singular experience. That type of movie experience that comes along with less frequency now than before. And at the risk of sounding like one of those old guys, I have to say that unless you were there in 1977, seeing it on the big screen with no knowledge of what was to come, and no idea what it would all lead to 42 years later, you didn’t really see Star Wars at all. At least not the way I saw it.

And that’s okay.

Top 10

Without preamble, my Top 10 movies of the teens.

10. Boyhood

A bold experiment that shows just what film can do that no other art can.

9. The Irishman

Scorsese’s masterful swan-song and farewell to the genre that made him.

8. What We Do In The Shadows

A Spinal Tap for the teens, this one still makes me laugh my ass off.

7. Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood

Still can’t believe how much I enjoyed this one. Surprisingly sweet too.

6. Cloud Atlas

It’s a big sprawling mess of a movie the likes of which we’ll never see again.

5. Headhunters

The twisty film/novel that made me want to write something just as twisty.

4. The Social Network

Biting satire that became re-life. Delete social media. You’ll feel better, trust me.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The movie I never get tired of watching. Anxiously awaiting the Criterion treatment.

2. Mad Max Fury Road

The one time this decade a movie overdelivered on what I was hoping to see.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The story of my life and that’s not an exaggeration. Also Llewyn is the cat.

I could elaborate on these films, individually, for days. But all I will say is each of them surprised me, moved me, and reminded my why I fell in love with the movies in the first place (a love that sadly has diminished since the start of this decade).

See you in 2020.

Summertime Rolls


So I haven’t updated my website or social media in a while. Actually, I’ve taken a temporary – possibly long-term – hiatus from social media in general. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to spend more time living in the moment. To put the phone and tablet and internet down and focus more on the here and now.

To that end I’m spending a lot of time at the local pool with my child. He’s currently enrolled in swimming lessons which means a daily visit, followed by some recreational time. We’ll head home for lunch, but have frequently found ourselves back at the pool in the afternoon. And why not? The weather is hot, sunny, and dry, so what better place to spend it than at a nice clean municipal pool a five minute walk from our doorstep.

The other reason for the radio silence; I’m writing a new book. One that’s occupying much of my non-parenting time. I’m keeping mum on the details for now, but as it’s set in a pre-internet era, that’s one reason why I’ve given social media the boot. Call it method writing, but I’m trying my hardest to engage with the world in a similar pre-internet era. I keep up with email, because I have to, but I couldn’t tell you what the latest daily outrage on Facebook or Twitter is these days because i haven’t looked at any of it since late March.

[In fact, my advice to writers, artists, all creative types is to ditch the social media entirely but that’s another story for another day. But I will say that your future as a creative DOES NOT depend on social media, and if it does, you probably didn’t have that much of a future at it. The work is what matters. The work. The work. THE WORK.]

As of this writing it’s July 8th. Summer is just getting underway. And I have no plans to return to the daily grind (outside of writing that is – I’m on track to finish the first draft of this new novel sometime in early-mid August) until after Labor Day. Hopefully by September I’ll be able to spill some news on (among other things) the MIXTAPE TV series, this new novel, the relaunch of the MIXTAPE comic, and the future of the MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE series.

So until then, have a safe, happy summer. It only comes around once a year. Enjoy it while you can.