Friday, December 30, 2011

storied lives

as per usual, i'm thinking about stories. (the only two things i have anything to say about are stories or gender, which means i have a lot of stories about gender...)

and when i say stories i'm not talking about writing. or fiction. i'm talking (at least this time) about stories that happen in conversation in your everyday life. just talking to your friends, or whatever. i'm thinking about this for two main reasons: one, i'm in nola and this place was founded on the stories people tell themselves and others, and two, i've been hanging out with my friends, heather and joe. for those of you who don't know these two stellar people, they are some of the best conversational storytellers i know. and that's saying something, cuz i collect storytellers like nabokov collected butterflies. i've wondered before if it has to do with the fact that some of the more ridiculous things i've heard tend to happen to these two kids, and then i think that the events have nothing to do with it, it's how they choose to retell them in ways that have you laughing till you hurt and at the same time saying 'oh my god, that's awful!' and/or 'holy shit, i'm sorry!' they are just good at making you feel like you were there when the weirdness happened, but with their hilarity-creating hindsight leading you thru the situation unscathed by whatever trauma they have succeeded in turning into humor with the retelling. i heart them and their skill so much. it makes my life better, and i would kill to be able to consistently deliver like them. i've thought about convincing one or the other of them to write their stories down, and then i decide against it. these stories belong in conversation. they belong seated in the kitchen, standing around the grill, or bellied up to a bar. they require the audience's participation to breathe, they wouldn't exist without the tones of voice and the facial expressions used to inflect them with such humor. these are the kinds of stories that wouldn't work without the teller's eyes taking in the hearer's look of disbelief and reaching over to grab a forearm and say 'no, i'm serious, you should have seen it...' and then the verbal imagery to help you do so, or the tag-teaming that can happen when they were both a part of the story-creating moment and they are each eager to tell their version with their differing reactions.
and i know you might be saying, 'um, yeah...that's how conversation works, ray. that's what it's like when i talk to my friends, why is this so important that you feel the need to write about it?'
the answer is: i don't feel like i can write about anything else. i used to write stories with soundtracks that went with them, so that when i read them aloud i could have the music the main character was listening to playing along. they were made to be an oral experience. those stories were not supposed to be dealt with on paper. most of the best stories i've witnessed were nowhere near a computer, typewriter, or notebook, let alone a printing press. i'm obsessed with oral 'literature'* and how it works, why we can't live without it, and why it feels to me to be a superior art form to writing. and heather and joe are two talented practitioners of said art form.

[* this word is in quotes because it means writing, and of course that creates an oxymoron in this case, not because i don't think of stories of an oral nature as not on par with the quality of writing that the word 'literature' connotes.]

(this pic is of pirate's alley from inside the bar that sells absinthe right before a tour group came thru to refill on drinks along their way)

now that i have elucidated reason number two above, i should prolly get down to talking about number one, which was going to be the purpose of this post:
new orleans.
i've done a lot of traveling in the past 3 years (yes, that might be the understatement of 2011)) and have visited many a city in this country, including a few in the south, (all for the first time) and i've learned that every place has it's own mythos about itself that people are proud to believe in. it's what makes them identify with where they are from. i am pretty comfortable with my system of beliefs that are based around chicago being my place of origin, and what that means for my character, and i enjoy hearing other people profess their hometown pride.
however, there is something really interesting going on in new orleans around their stories. they are born out of a strong catholic tradition butted up against a strong voodoo/hoodoo culture, an almost literal melting (melding) pot of international/interracial folk and culture which includes most notably spanish, french, creole, african, and haitian peops. this specific and very colorful historical/cultural/traditional cocktail, with the specter of religion and superstition hanging over it like the fog that rolls in off the bayou, steeped in ritual from every angle, set in the backdrop of a busy river delta/port city in the deepest, most drippy-hot south, engenders a pretty fertile landscape for stories, legends, and myths to run rampant. taking over the city's imaginative garden with the hearty runner plants of ghosts, vampires, pirates and voodoo babies.
in the south, everything is a story. and invariably the cast of characters is colorful to say the least. but in new orleans, every reason for why something is the way it is happens to be based on something closer to legend than fact.
the oldest building in nola, theursuline convent? home of the first vampires. the story goes that some wealthy european women, beautifully dressed and very thin and pale, came to visit the convent, arriving on a ship at night in the port and being shepherded by the nuns inside with their trunks, and then never being seen again. the top floor of the convent, where they were supposedly staying, was locked up and shuttered and hasn't been opened to this day. they probably were exposed to the black plague on the boat and succumbed to it upon arrival, but the story stuck. (the combination of french folktale and voodoo tradition was a perfect mash-up for the vampire trope to take hold in nola)
the other oldest building in new orleans? lafitte's blacksmith shop. as in, jean lafitte, the pirate. sorry, privateer. the story is that he used to own the bar and underneath the brick fireplace in the center of the room is where he hid all of his treasure. i particularly like this story because somehow being able to tell that tale is more attractive than deconstructing the fireplace to see if it's true. that passing down the possibility of treasure, the imaginative power of hidden riches, is more powerful than possessing them. (of course, the building is on the national register of historic sites, so you can't really go and take apart the main fixture inside it, i guess. but still...)
[the source of these stories? heather...]

you ever done something just cuz you thought it would make a good story? i really believe that all of new orleans is pretty much built on this exact feeling. and not just historically--i think the modern tourist trade here is based on it as well. the point of wearing mardi gras beads is to display a visible reminder of the story of how you got them. and walking around the french quarter these past couple days, i think the second biggest tourist attraction, besides bourbon st. (which i would counsel anyone and everyone to avoid at all costs cuz the stories that come from there are the kind your friends tell you about your drunk-ass, blacked-out self the morning after), is to take a tour--whether it's the ghost tour, the true crime tour, the cemetery tour, the horse carriage tours, or what have you. i swear to god this place is all about walking (or riding) around outside (with alcohol, cuz that's legal) and having people to tell you stories. i've never really been tempted to do something so touristy in a town i've landed in, but since some of the friends heather has attracted are tour guides (of course) it just seems to be the thing to do. but only after dark.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

merry dixie-mas

so, here i am in new orleans. but not just any old new orleans, new orleans at christmas/new years time. which is a lot different than new orleans at mardi gras time. it's funny cuz i was walking around in a t-shirt today (70 degrees) and was having a hell of a time remembering it was winter. there was, at one point, the distinct smell of southern bar-b-que, which i can only associate with summertime in my concept of the seasons. and it isn't just the bbq, but the scent of the sun-warmed soil and the plants that are blooming (i've seen pansies and camellias and bougainvillea so far) add to the general feeling of being at the exact opposite time of year than the one where holly and mistletoe reign supreme. also, being far enough south that the light hits things with the hue and angle that i associate with months closer to the other solstice. it's like i gave myself the xmas present of a week of summertime just as the weather gets really cold up in chicago.
with all this summer on my mind, i was thinking of what my friend heather (with whom i'm 'playing battleship' right now in cc's coffee shop in the french quarter) said about how to have christmas cheer in nola:

"I have always had snow to sort of make me be in the holiday spirit. without it i felt a bit lost. yesterday i realized it's in me or the dude riding by on his bike by the streetcar with a xmas deer on his bike. so crank up bing, hang the stockings with care, and make someone's xmas awesome."

this statement, combined with walking into the french quarter, made me start to see how a southern christmas has to work. which is, like she said, a very DIY cheer. what she failed to mention tho is that this spirit of cheer explodes all over the houses of the french quarter in the most fabulous way possible. and, miraculously, i started to feel more in the holiday spirit walking around and looking at houses in nola than i did the entire lead-up to christmas in chicago. this was prolly cuz there was no snow this december in chicago--there were multiple 40+ degree days--for the first time in a long time it was not a white christmas. and we didn't go to christmas eve mass for the first time in forever. (which is a whole other post about my love of ritual and tradition learned most strongly from my catholic upbringing)
i mean, i had a blast with my family last weekend. having my most-important-family-member-person-who-isn't-blood-related around was really wonderful and watching the not-quite-two-year-old nephew figure out how the holiday works was amazing and super-fun times. but the ready-made wintery christmas cheer factor was not incredibly high this year. (and btw, the last thing i'm talking about is the manufactured, commercialized, and monetized 'christmas' feeling that ads and tv and stores try to pawn off on us as spirit of the season. what i'm talking about is the catch in your throat when your favorite carol is playing or the olfactory memory boxes that get opened when an indoor pine tree hits you in the nose... and... and... this could be a whole other post as well, so i'll let it go.)

and i don't know quite how it happened, but the amazing swags of ornamented greenery and the big schmancy bows and the beautiful lights and the other tasteful but gaudy (i swear those two adjectives are not mutually exclusive) decorations all over the double shotguns and creole cottages/townhomes of the quarter felt so very merry and bright that i felt like i was walking thru snow eating a candy cane the size of the 'romeo poles' that support those iconic balconies all over this place.

(fyi--the candies that make up that garland in the pic have paper plates and bowls put face to face inside that clear, colored wrap--totally brilliant)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


"Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task." --henry james

if you play the "if a = b and b = c" game with this statement, our doubt is our task.

now you could take that to mean 'our task is to face and overcome our doubt', and you wouldn't be wrong, per se, but i don't think that's what mr. james was getting at here. not quite.
i think he is trying to say that the things we take the time to doubt are the ones that we want most to put our faith into. they are the things we want to throw ourselves at wholeheartedly, to delve into fully, to plumb the depths of, in order to have our doubt proven wrong*. those things we will grope in the dark for, forge paths, possibly trip and fall, the ones we are willing to do whatever we can for because they are the things worth failing at. cuz when something has caught your passion, there isn't a damned thing you can do about it, except to just hunker down and work at it. by virtue of becoming something your whole self can be thrown at, by taking hold of you, your passion becomes the thing you must do with all your might: your task.

further proof:

"what you risk reveals what you value" --jeanette winterson from The Passion
"what will you risk? ... i like to smell the urgency on them [the gamblers]... it's somewhere between fear and sex. passion, i suppose." --ibid

now we have the 'equation' of passion revealing your desire to risk something, and risking something revealing the fact that you value it. which actually means that valuing something creates passion. and that sounds a bit like a 'duh' moment, but i don't think it is, quite. it does, however, seem to mesh well with the first 'equation'.
both of these quotations and their associated logical conclusions have key steps, namely, doubt and risk, which are related concepts dealing with the unknown. passion, being the only element these processes share, seems to traffic in the currency of the unknown. or at least, it is in the business of desiring to know (biblically or no) and i can't think of a better way to understand something standing right in between fear and sex**.
which means now we have passion standing right in between, not just fear & sex, but between risk & value, and doubt & task. which sounds about right. i'm not saying these pairs are the same thing necessarily, but that in all three cases one starts with a feeling of uncertainty and ends with a decisive action. passion is what gets us from one to the other.

so how is it that passion has become such a catalyst? i have no fucking clue. except what i said earlier about once it has kicked in there is really nothing to do but follow it thru to its logical conclusion--to do the thing that has you so enthralled. i've finally stopped avoiding the thing i'm most passionate about and am working on the follow thru. cuz the thing about big tasks, the things you really value, they take a lot of work. and they deserve a lot of work. and sometimes halfway thru them you realize the fear and doubt and risk are greater than when you started. cuz now you have something you have put your energy, your passion, into and now there is something to lose if you quit. so the key to keep from despairing before finishing this thing you were passionate about starting is to make this doubt/passion/task cycle a self-perpetuating feedback loop that can keep you motivated all the way to the end of the task. doubt creates passion which motivates starting the task which breeds doubt which triggers passion which pushes to finish the task...and so on, till you are done.

at least that how i'm hoping it works. halfway thru a first draft on the hamlet novel and i fell prey to doubt about my ability to finish the book. december has been a breather, a time for breeding the passion to continue the work that will lead to the completion of my task. my best gal and sounding board for every idea i've ever had just spent a week talking story and character with me--getting me back in the habit--starting with movies we watched, then moving on to a movie we want to write, then this afternoon allowing me to spew about the book, which got me passionate about it again. cross your fingers for me that this bout of passion will last thru the rest of the first draft before the doubt sneaks in again.

JaNoWriMo, let's do this.

Make it happen, vanek!

* much like the c.s. lewis brand of apologetics: coming at faith from a skeptic's point of view
** fear, like doubt and risk, is also based on the unknown, and sex deals with the knowledge of another. so passion is the step in between not knowing and knowing, ie, the desire to know.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

mirror me

what follows is a complete fabrication. from any way you look at it. but it was fun to write from both sides.

I was sitting in my favorite spot at the coffee shop, (you know, the one, right near my house) which is the seat at the table right in the window, which is perfect for people watching. You can watch everyone who comes in, you've got a good view of the kids behind the counter, and you can even peek out the window at the bus stop right in front. Anyway, I was sitting there, drinking coffee and reading a book—or more accurately, staring out into the rain with a book on the table in front of me—when I noticed this kid walk up to the bus stop. Well, not a child, a young adult. A cute boy, in fact, which is what made me notice him. He had on grey tennis shoes, blue jeans, a black shirt under a grey hoodie under a blue jacket, and a black messenger bag all of which seemed to be getting pretty well soaked. The hood was up but his dark bangs were still wet enough to drip onto his pale cheekbone. His hands were deep in his jacket pockets and, shoulders hunched, he looked pretty miserable out there in the wet day.
He joined the small group of people standing in different attitudes of waiting, looked with kind eyes and a tiny half-smile at the lady nearest him, then backed up when her man kinda got in his face, leaning in and putting his arm around her, not so much in a marking territory sort of way, but more as if protecting her from something distasteful. I found myself frowning at this treatment, now too invested in random strangers to go back to my book.
I watched him check his phone as if it were a pocket watch, wiping the raindrops from his eyebrows, his starry eyelashes shadowing the tops of his cheeks. I averted my eyes as he turned towards the door and came into the shop, presumably to keep dry and avail himself of the bus tracker display screen mounted on the wall above the coffee grinder (This bit of technological brilliance was something I was excited to use as the winter progressed). He stepped up to the counter about 15 feet away from me and ordered a coffee to go. His voice was a husky tenor though it sounded like he favored the low end of his range, maybe in order to seem older. He looked like a student, though was almost certainly of drinking age. Maybe a grad student. I wondered if he was a TA and had a hard time maintaining authority.
His features were fine (like a pen with a fine tip), not to the point of delicate, but bordering on pretty. He had a straggly mustache and a congregation of hairs on his chin that were not quite the beginnings of a beard, as young, not particularly hairy, men sometimes do. His face was devoid of baby fat, but still had that 'fresh faced youth' thing going for it. His hands were long but not broad, showing strength without muscle, and stayed active without appearing fidgety. When he pushed his hood back I was somewhat shocked to see his hair was already greying.
“what's with the throwback jams? Every time I'm in here this week you are playing old-school stuff. Yesterday you played some Phish, today, it's OK Computer. Reminds me of college...” he addressed the shrugging barista as he received his cup.
“you are so not that old!” It came out of my mouth before I had time to stop it shut.
He looked over at me, startled, with a broadening lopsided grin. “thirty-three last week.”
“shut the front door!” I probably looked as shocked as I felt cuz he chuckled as I shut my mouth. I opened it again to say, “I would have guessed about ten years younger.”
“yeah, standard. My theory is that will happen to me until I go truly grey, which will be in just a couple years. Then everyone will guess ten years older.” he shook his head in a resigned but amused way.
“but how do you do it?” I wondered aloud.
“do it? I don't do anything. I just am. It's what you see that does it.” while speaking that pretty boy's entire face broke into the most radiant smile, white teeth showing, rosy cheek apples making crescent moons out of twinkling, laughing eyes. Her merriment was plainly beautiful and my flustered wonder was trumped by the contagiousness of it. I smiled back and laughed. Mostly at myself. We just looked at each other for a moment, then I received a subtle and, I must say, somewhat flirtatious wink as the damp hood was pulled back into place. And then a quick checking of the bus tracker one last time and a mumbled, “have a nice day” before the door opened to let out this random stranger and let in the cool damp outside air. As it hit my face I realized I was blushing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

jesus year

this is it. i'm now 33. that means i'm the age jesus was when he was crucified. i mean, supposedly...i dunno who came up with this idea, or how, but it's now a popularly held belief among christians of many stripes. prolly cuz 3 is such a magic number. you know, all that stuff about the trinity...
anyway, in thinking about this idea, you know, equating myself with jesus and all, (heh) i could say the past two years of my life have been nomadic, moving around talking to folks about how to live life, discovering things about myself, finding ways of interacting with people inside that self, putting experiences on the compost heap for later on when they have matured into ideas ready to nourish stories. and if that wasn't what much of jesus' ministry was about, i'm not christian. (then again, i never purported to be, i just grew up catholic...)
this fall, becoming settled into my work after all that wandering, is the first time i've felt like i can actually make some real shit happen in my life. at least, in my writing life. forget the rest of it. job: i have one, it's fine, whatever. relationship: who needs one. housing: on temporary lockdown via renting cuz ownership is further off than i'd hoped, but at least i can check it off the list of things to worry about. family: nearby, hallelujah. friends: either scattered but available thru fun avenues like the post office and short trips, or near enough to have a beer with once in a while when i can't stand occupying just my own headspace anymore. all these things are taken care of.
but my writing life is another story. within that are the job, the relationship, that i need to put some real work into, the place i need to inhabit as much as humanly possible, the family and friends i've neglected for so long. starting in force last month with this concept of getting shit done where it needs to get done, on the page, has been incredibly eye-opening. mostly in the realms of: 'oh, shit. i can actually do this.'
which is cause for both celebration and further motivation, like, 'all right, vanek, it's clearly time to get it together and make a real effort. this year you better get out there and do what you need to do. no excuses anymore. time to make something happen.'
in thinking that it's at least somewhat fitting to call this my 'jesus year', this statement is possibly something similar to what jesus would have said to himself on the eve of his last big push to make his ministry count. a lot happened that last year of his life. i mean, he got to the point of raising folks from the dead for christ's sake. (heh) and the fact that he was killed meant that he was a success, really. but here there is no 'or else' at the end of my pep talk to myself, no real correlation to crucifixion on the horizon, unless i want to equate getting published with getting killed in the most excruciating and drawn-out way possible. (which i'm going to refrain from doing, if only for my own mental health)
which isn't to say my goal for the year is to get published. really, it's just to finish at least one goddamned project that i've started. and i mean, to the final draft, finish. cuz putting words on paper isn't actually the hard part, it's shaping them into something readable. which, i'm starting to realize, is harder to do the longer your piece of writing is.

i had this moment last week, tho, that was pretty stellar. felt a bit like jesus might have (or maybe just the narrator in this zine). i was at my friend az's house for a short story club night, where we all bring food/drink and sit around and listen to everyone read a short story. as in, each of us picks something to read for the evening, and then we take turns reading aloud to everyone else. it's a great night. and though most people bring things by published authors (greats like nabokov and dahl and steinbeck and tina fey and many others), az asked me to read something from this goddamned novel i'm working on. so i read the eulogy scene i posted a few weeks ago. now it's basically a monologue, written to be spoken to people. to move them, if you will. and i love reading aloud and prolly put more than a little performance into it. but when i finished reading the last line, there was this moment of silence. a glorious, reverent, silent acknowledgment of my work that was one of the more heady things i've experienced in a long time. not that the audience's reaction to my work was any different than that of any of the other stories, but just feeling the entire room of people thinking about what i'd read to them felt really marvelous. like i had a super power. like i could change the world somehow. like i said, it was heady. (read that as me getting a big head if you want, that's okay, i've already likened it to feeling like jesus) but in a good way.
point is, it's pretty obvious when you get something right. even if it's just something small. enough small things in a row and you've got something big. finishing this novel this year is not impossible. it's actually a hell of a lot easier than starting a brand new religion (we don't even need to mention the possible raising from the dead moment).

so yeah. this, my 33rd year means realizing that 'what would jesus do' were he in my place = write like a motherfucker.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

love letter

this is a letter i wrote sometime in october (it's not dated). i never sent it, but it seems to have been answered. <3

Dearest Love,
My muse, my bedfellow, my dream's delight, my main character in life and fiction, how i love and miss you more each day that we are apart.
I call for you, sleeping and awake, and i hear no response, save my own heart beating for you. I make everything in readiness for your visit, hoping you will call upon me without warning, as the delightful surprise you know it would be for me, and still I see you not. My room, my table, my desk, my bed, all exist for you to frequent, and yet you scorn the sight of them. I pine for your companionship like no other in my life, and yet it constantly eludes me.
Why must you torture someone who only wants to make you happy? Don't say it, I don't want to hear a treacherous name. Do you not remember, just after I first found you, the times we spent in ecstasy together? Can the hours have flitted by so fast they didn't even linger in your mind? For they have lodged themselves in my heart and I have given them shelter there, a home to call their own. I always believed you would follow the scent of their memory back to me, for there is room enough for you here within.
Come to me, my love. Let us two make a world where we can live together in happiness, oblivious to the outside, to those that would tear us asunder for the sake of...what? propriety? decency? sanity? They all speak falsely. They know nothing of our love, our connection, our desire, our need.
Come, the time draws short, let us fly to that far-off place, that sunny shore, you remember the one, where we met in a dream that felt like waking, calm and clear, our future spread across the horizon, our past already laid on the sand beneath us.
We belong together. And i can't not have faith that you will come back to me, bringing the sweet scent of faraway places with you to further spice our romance. But i need you with me now. I have made you a place. Come quickly, my dear Novel.

With much love and expectation,
Your Author

writing fatigue?

"Sometimes - and now is one of those times - I really think that, if we looked a bit closer, and were a bit more honest, we'd realize that maybe, just maybe, exactly where we are is not only where we want to be? - but it's our dream, being lived. We just haven't given ourselves permission to admit that our dreams may be a hell of a lot simpler and more attainable than we had convinced ourselves they had to be."

this musing was posted on facebook by my friend jac (jessica aimee cakuls), an incredibly wise fellow groper-in-the-dark. my comment was as follows:

"my one big dream is for my writing. all the dreams for my life are tiny and everyday in comparison, and in the service of the big one. (which is so what rilke advises)"

i had just given jac a copy of rilke's 'letters to a young poet' because she needs it and i have copies lying around for when that happens, and the quotation i was referencing is this one:

"this above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: *must* i write? delve into yourself for a deep answer. and if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "i must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it." --r. m. rilke 'letters to a young poet, #1

i have asked myself this question my whole adult life and have never trusted the answer. i've in fact distrusted it so much that i have done everything in my power to prove that the affirmative answer i continue to give is a lie. to the point of depriving myself of the time/space/permission/what-have-you to write with any regularity for weeks, months, even years at a time. but i always come back to it. give it the respect, if not priority, of something important to me. however, i've seen this half intentional deprivation as a failure of will, or proof of unworthiness, the flightiness of a dilettante. and it has kept me from identifying as a writer for more than a decade.

and then, unknowingly, i set myself a test. i decided to become nomadic and remained homefree for more than two years. in all that time i didn't live any one place, tho i came back to chicago a lot, and for the vast majority of this two years i had no actual space of my own. and i don't know if this happens to other people as strongly as i realized it happens to me, but physical space = psychic space. if i don't have a spot to be out of the way and alone, i cannot for the life of me focus on my self and my work. and somehow within this too-long time of no space i found just enough time to write that it served to highlight how desperately i needed to do it more. but i was raised a good catholic who feels that deprivation is virtuous. i'd dream of a room with a door and a desk set up near a window. that's all i needed. well, walls would be important, to keep people out and to put up huge pieces of butcher paper for mapping out plots. anything else, superfluous. but i didn't give it to myself for at least a year after i could name it as my one real desire. kept moving, kept traveling to stay with other friends (or the same ones again) and ignoring that little voice saying over and over, 'i must'.
thankfully, five months ago, something finally broke and this tirade came pouring out of me. after that, i finally started to build my life according to this necessity. in september i moved into an apartment with a room that has a mattress on the floor, a couple overflowing bookshelves, butcher paper on the wall, and a desk by a window with my typewriter on it. there is also a bedroom for my roommate, a kitchen, a porch, and all the other things an apartment is supposed to have. all gravy in my book.

and the miraculous thing is, that after starving myself for so long, the moment i had a real way of feeding myself, i actually did just feast and feast and never want to stop. i spent all of september and october planning and plotting and character sketching this novel that grew directly out of one of my oldest artistic obsessions, which just kept making more and more sense and fell into place exactly in time to start drafting it at the beginning of november. my dear friend polly mentioned NaNoWriMo and i latched on to it like a wolf on the jugular of a rabbit.

this was it, the final test. if i could write 50,000 words in 30 days, then that would prove to me that this desire to write wasn't about the cache of calling myself a writer, or wanting to be 'artistic' somehow, but actually feeding a real need inside me. if i didn't give up on this goal then this was something i was legitimately committed to. something inside me that surpassed the infatuation of a dabbler, the instant feedback loop/ego stroke of a blogger, the consolation of a failed actor.

i went from the mindset of an ascetic to one of a marathon runner. and the most surprising of all was that i was actually in shape for this task. i dunno if it was all the (admittedly unhealthy) stopping up of my voice for so long that when i finally let it flow it came so easily, or what. well, not easily--i've been working hard--but right. good. working on this novel has felt for my mind and soul exactly what eating well and exercising feels for my body (and incidentally, i'm taking better care of my body too--an added bonus/corollary) and it feels kind of amazing. i've been high on the feeling of working on this book all month. at 2am on a musical november sunday night outside of the california clipper, my writer-friend mairead witnessed me literally bouncing up and down with excitement about my novel, its existence, its potential existence, and my ability and desire to bring it to fruition. she laughed out loud at the sight. then she said, 'we've been waiting for this'. and at that moment i knew that my little voice has been quietly telling me the god-honest truth for at least 15 years. i walked home teetering on the verge of laughing and crying and apologized over and over to it that i hadn't been able to believe it until now.

but here i am, believing it wholeheartedly because i've gotten 50,000 words in and things are just now getting interesting and the last thing i want to do is stop writing, or even slow down much. i think i'll try to average about 1,000/day this month, which should at least get me to the verge of the 'fencing' scene (for god's sake, i hope) by new years.

an incredibly huge 'thank you' to everyone who has given me any kind of encouragement this month. that has been a huge factor in getting it through my thick skull that i'm finally doing what i should be doing. that this work is important, not just to me, but to people who want me to be happy/healthy/purposeful. you all know that you are the reason i think this life is worth living, that the stories i tell are basically love letters to each and every one of the people who has ever shared any part of themselves with me. because in my book, our stories are life, love, and food, which basically is my definition of god. cuz stories are meant to be shared and i want to (when the second or third or final draft exists) share this really long one with you. yes, you.

in it to win it.

10 things i learned while doing NaNoWriMo:

1) there are almost no legitimate excuses for not getting your shit done. if i could travel for 7 days and be dead sick for 2.5 and still reach my 30 day goal, then what the hell have i been doing every other month of the year?

2) keeping in mind the idea of a first draft is crucial to the work flow. 'fix it in post' might be bad for film and music, but for me is essential to getting past the critic within that is really good at killing ideas before they even get off the ground.

3) write thru the problems. if you are stuck, it's highly possible that throwing words at the problem might just loosen whatever was keeping it from going forward. if trying something from a different angle or throwing another character into the mix doesn't seem to work, leave it alone for a bit. go write a different part and come back to this scene when you can see further along its trajectory. (corollary: this proves that i am a long-winded bastard, but i'm okay with that. see #2)

4) writing while listening to music is a legitimate distraction and should be avoided unless the scene you are working on has a soundtrack and you need it in your ears to get the right rhythm/tone. also, scenes with soundtracks are awesome, but not appropriate for every story.

5) calling yourself a writer has very little to do with your actual word output, but goddamn, does writing a shit-ton help you believe that the moniker might actually be true.

6) the phrase, "i'm working on a novel" creates a lot more excitement and encouragement and curiosity than cynicism and challenging comments. in fact, none of the latter were addressed to me, as i had feared.

7) writing everyday is like doing yoga for my internal life.

8) spending as much time alone it takes to write at high volumes is not just possible, but becoming preferable. especially cuz it's not alone, per se, it's hanging out with 'people' i love. cuz i made them up.

9) my emotional health is much better when i'm obsessing over fictional people's relationship dramas than my own or my non-fictional people's. (this is a corollary to something i learned last fall: conversations are a lot easier when you control both sides of them.)

10) this is actually how my brain is supposed to work and when i'm not denying that fact and pushing my mind into other ways of functioning, i can do a pretty damned good job of coming up with shit. ie, writing fiction. my mind thrives on story and character and if i'm not feeding it on books and tv and movies all the time it will revert to auto-generation mode and go buck wild. (example: i've had 3 ideas for other novels this month)

extra bonus 11) the secret purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get you to realize you can actually write an average of a more-than-reasonable number of words a day and still (more or less) function in your everyday life. therefore, writing a reasonable number of words (on average) is not only possible, but preferable to writing none. fooling yourself into having a writing practice is the best use of a month and 50,000 words i can think of. (see #7)