Read Write Play: Q3 2019

In just a couple of months I will have been tracking my RWP for two years. Not bad for a silly little trope that nobody (except me) cares about. I try to be consistent in what I do, though, and being conscious of the RWP is just as important to me as the RWP itself.

To put it another way, when there’s so much noise, so much to care about and be stressed out about and want to care about, it’s nice to be able to shove it all aside because I’ve already distilled it all down to three things that actually matter. Indeed, these three things that are always going to be alone-time well-spent: Reading, writing, and playing (music).


Well, I basically failed my design curriculum. I really meant to get into it, but I got distracted. I’m not sure if or when I’ll pick it back up. I want to learn to draw better, but that kind of itch is getting scratched by my piano playing, which I’ll describe below. I feel like that’s my physical art, and when my kids are drawing, I can be in the same room with them playing piano. It’s what I want to do and it makes me happy, so I’m not going to fight it.

Instead, I started reading Save The Cat, a book about screenwriting that could be applied to any kind of writing. It was recommended to me by a neighbor and I thought it prudent since I am working on my first novel and am about halfway through writing it. Save The Cat has good ideas about character and story development. I think about it as I edit my half-written novel. I’m also about halfway through Save The Cat. Someday I will finish it.

One night I didn’t feel like working or watching television or playing chess. I pulled up the Kindle Store and quickly settled in on The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s a long book. It took me about three weeks of reading at night to get through it, and I thought the ending dragged on a ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a book about people and the environment. More specifically, it’s about different peoples’ interactions with trees. Many parts of the book are moving and beautiful. The writing reminds me of Paulo Coelho or Gabriel García Márquez.

As soon as I finished The Overstory, I started reading a book, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that Richard Powers referenced. I’ll write more about this book next time.

So, true to form, I read one long book in Q3. The march continues.


I’m happy to report that there was a lot of writing happening in Q3 2019! I started a novel and gave a 5,000 word speech at Diablo Valley College. If I include the smattering of blog posts I bet I wrote more than 40,000 words last quarter. That’s a hefty amount.

I mentioned my novel in this blog post about the radioactive iodine treatment I had to endure in August 2019. This wasn’t a physical hardship. There was some mental stress, I suppose, but fortunately everything worked out fine, and I got to take advantage of a “doctor’s orders” excuse to be secluded with my dad at my family’s cabin in Pinecrest. I had four nights and five days up there, able to set my own schedule, unbound by the family routine back home.

I used this reprieve to start a novel that had been banging around in my head for months. I wrote a short outline and gave myself at least five hours each day to sit and write. In all I cranked out over 25,000 words and I managed to write another 7,000 after I got home. Progress has slowed down significantly since then, but I’m not too worried about it. I’ll pick it back up at a writing retreat or something similar this winter. I really want to get the first draft done.

Part of the reason it stalled is I had another writing project, a big speech at Diablo Valley College. I wrote about it here. I had over an hour to stand in front of a bunch of people and talk. I did the math and figured if I had no slides, I would need a speech of about 5,000 words to fill that time. So, I wrote it. I felt pretty good about how it all went.

That speech and my follow-up post about public speaking anxiety performed relatively well on my blog. My personal favorite, though, is the post I wrote about playing music with my neighbors on one sunny day at the end of summer. I really enjoyed it. The blog post has some videos.


In September I bid farewell to the Baldwin 7 foot parlor grand piano that I inherited from my grandparents. It just wasn’t practical to have a piano this size in our small home. And although we kept it for nearly four years, it was time to let it go and let the room where we kept it turn into something else.

I still needed a piano, of course, and looked all around for good uprights. I played some at the Music Exchange in Walnut Creek but since the grand was all I knew, these pianos just didn’t sound right. They were tinny and shrill compared to the broad, warm tones of my Baldwin. It was really disappointing to make the step down. Then, one day at Music Exchange, I sat down at one of the Yamaha Clavinova digital pianos in the showroom. I loved it. I loved everything about it. The weighted keys, the tone, the look, the sound. Best of all, they were priced the same as a used upright piano. I had to convince my wife that this wasn’t some dinky synthesizer, that it was basically the same thing as an upright piano, except a lot better.

She agreed to trust me and I was able to find a family in Alamo who had the space and the desire for our piano. I sold it and with money to spare I bought the Clavinova. I’d like to say I miss my grandparents’ piano, but I don’t. I love the Clav, and since I can adjust the volume and play piano in the same room where my girls are drawing, I play a lot more. Like, a LOT more. This is all that would have mattered to my grandparents. They just want to know that music is being played. I know it.

So, I paused my piano lessons while this transition took place. When I contacted my piano teacher again, I was happy to introduce her to two new pupils: my wife and my oldest daughter. All of my piano practicing has finally paid off: two more people are learning to play.

In the meantime, I’m going over the same songs I’ve been playing since the first RWP, but doing a lot better. I’ve been wanting to play Bennie and The Jets for years. Just this past month I settled in and focused on it, and I had it down within a week. I’m now able to play multiple inversions of common chords by sight. Crazy chords like F#m7 will trip me up, but I’m seeing now how relative minors factor in. That F#m7 chord has the same notes as an A chord. So I play an A, which I already know, and put an F# octave on the base. Boom: F#m7.

I also continue to sing along with the Elton John tunes, even though they’re out of my range. I keep hoping one day I’ll wake up and be able to sing a high G as well as Billy Joel, but that day hasn’t come yet.

I’m still playing guitar too, mostly because my oldest daughter has become obsessed with The Beatles. It’s the cutest thing, and a proud dad moment for me. I bought a book of Beatles songs on a whim at a music shop near my house that was closing. I figured it’d be nice to have on hand. What I couldn’t have known then, and what I still can’t believe, is that my daughter would use this book to teach herself to read by listening to Beatles songs and following the lyrics. Often, instead of asking Alexa, I’ll play along on guitar and sing with her.

Tonight, when I put her to bed, we sang “You Like Me Too Much” and “Here Comes The Sun.”

The girl loves George Harrison.

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