Category: Novel

Lost and found

Dear readers,

A number of new folks (a proportionally significant number though in absolute terms not especially large) have joined our ranks in the past couple of weeks. My plan was to welcome them (welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!), to write something explaining how we do things around here. But, as an introduction, what follows is probably the most appropriate because this is how we do things around here — life, my life, seems to dictate that certain things be written at a certain time. Often abetted by a friend or reader, life shouts: today you must write this! I try to follow suit when life’s agenda becomes plain. So without further ado…

One year ago from tomorrow, June 25, 2018, it was a Monday. I had last worked on my novel on May 14 when it had reached 78,858 words. In the time between May 14 and June 25, I had written three blog posts that had felt significant to me: Eating and other problems, 365 days, and the beginning. I had taken a break from the novel to write these, I had been to my 20-year college reunion, I had spent a week in Vermont with my family, and I had completed some paid contract work, editing a technical document about sustainability in forestry. It had been a longer break from the novel than I had wanted, it was Monday morning, the kids were in camp, I was sitting at my desk which by that time had moved to its present location looking out at the ravine and all of the trees. I can’t remember what brought it about, but I had an idea, I knew how the novel would end.

Not how the story would end exactly. But I knew that the heroine would receive a gift, a gift that any reader of the book would know was not the kind of gift she would have chosen. A gift that wasn’t what she wanted. Not only different from what she would ask for, but something that if you asked her in advance “would you like to receive such-and-such a gift?” — she would definitely say “no. that is not something I would like.”

She was going to receive this gift. And she was going to feel content, feel love. Not because of what the gift was at all. But, maybe, because what the gift was didn’t really matter. Because in looking at life and how messy it is and can feel she thought, this is good, or this is life and I accept. What mattered was the giving and the givers and the life all around her and somehow between where I was at 78,858 words and wherever this book would end, which had originally been imagined at 80,000 words but certainly, on June 25 of 2018, felt like it would take many more words, somehow she was going to learn to be part of the flow of life.

I wrote a note to myself about the ending. It is still there, at the bottom of the only saved version of the novel that remains. I can open the document now and see the note. I could tell you exactly what it says. But thinking about doing that, about opening that document, and seeing again what is not there, is so uncomfortable.

Last night my friend was sharing a story about an outing she took with her parents and her kids to the Spy Museum. She was talking about the tendency of grandparents to want to purchase stuff — any kind of stuff — for their grandkids when I remembered a forgotten scene from the novel. The grandparents tell the mother (the heroine) that they are taking the children to the library but instead they go to the bookstore and let the children choose one book each to purchase. One child chooses something like Spiderman and the other something like a book about Barbie, or maybe about volcanoes. I can’t remember. And then there is a conversation afterwards between the heroine and her mother, a sort of funny and exasperated conversation. It wasn’t a great scene. It would probably have been cut in the end. But I can’t read it again. Remembering that, last night, I felt sad. I wished that I could read it again.

So there it was, Monday morning, June 25, 2018. I had the idea about the ending. I was so excited. I opened the file where I was writing the novel, I scrolled to the bottom to write notes about the idea. And as I was typing the note, and after I was finished, I kept waiting for the tally of the total number of words, the word count at the bottom of the screen, to update. To move above 30,006. And it kept not changing.

Have you ever been at an outdoor movie, you are sitting on a blanket talking to a friend, your child is playing on the playground a little ways away? There are a lot of people, there’s movement and commotion. You realize it has been about seven minutes and you haven’t seen your son, haven’t checked for him. Okay, you think, I’ll just make brief visual confirmation that he has not wandered off into the wide world and then continue my pleasant conversation. Your eyes scan, relaxed. But his yellow shirt is nowhere to be seen. It’s bright yellow though, should be easy to spot. And then, a feeling comes into your chest and even if he were standing right in front of you you probably wouldn’t see him because you aren’t looking anymore, you are panicking, you are thinking of all of the possibilities, your eyes are searching everywhere at once and nowhere carefully, and you can’t quite breathe and you stand up and walk quickly over to the playground. He must be here, he knows not to leave, but no… You feel totally desperate and then, eventually, after probably just 200 super uncomfortable seconds, you find him right outside of the fence pretending to sword fight with three other six-year-olds.

It was like that on that Monday morning.

But I didn’t find it. 

Most people reading this already know the story but, just in case, my novel was deleted, or at least 50,000 words of it. The version from May was gone. Unrecoverable. The only remaining version was from February. I thought the cloud was a treasure chest, a safety deposit box. It’s not.

What I understood, within days, was that I had not recognized what the novel meant to me. I had not understood how proud I was of what I was creating or how the act of focused creation was changing me. I hadn’t acknowledged this to myself, let alone to anyone else. I had not valued my work, not treasured it, not protected it. The loss taught me how much I cared. Maybe that I cared enough that I was ready to be vulnerable. Ready to say out loud that I wanted this and that I was going to do it, not on the side, not prioritizing everything else.

It’s been a year. Instead of a finished novel, I’ve published a different book, an unplanned book. I’m in a band now. I’m singing and I’m writing songs again. I started writing poetry in October. I’ve submitted several poems for publication and so far had no response, but I know it can take awhile, and I know I will keep trying. I have an idea for a new novel, or for a new direction for the old novel — and I’m really excited about the idea. I have new people in my life who talk about new things. I have old friends in my life who talk about new things, or help to remind me. I have opportunities for different kinds of work. I have people asking me to write for their blogs. I had someone invite me to speak at her bookclub, an acquaintance who heard about my book from someone other than me. I did a book reading over the weekend, reading my words aloud to a group of people who have supported me and encouraged me to keep going.

I was curious enough to be uncomfortable. I opened, just now, the file that holds what remains of the novel. I scrolled quickly down to the end, past the ghosts of all of those missing words. And now I’m going to share with you the note that I left for myself about the ending of the novel, the last words I jotted down, quickly, on Monday morning, June 25, 2018 before learning that the majority of the novel was gone:

It is totally broken, it is not what she wants, it comes together in a weird way from different unexpected sources, and it is magic and she feels love and that’s life – that’s the conclusion. She gets something that she didn’t want, from a weird unexpected source, there are conflicting emotions of joy and sadness and guilt and despair, and she feels love and connection and life.

I’m not where I planned to be. I didn’t want this gift. But this is life with its vast ocean of possibility, with its love and connection, if you choose to look for it, and I accept. With a thankful heart.

My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Still writing that novel?

Hi friends,

I wanted to send an update since it has been over a month since my last report. Yes, I am still wearing the sweatshirt (though it is warm today so I just opened the windows to let in some fresh air). The rest of the ham is in the freezer awaiting combination with red beans (mom, can you bring me some red beans when you come to visit?). Yes, we have been visited by another dread virus but this one was significantly less laundry-intensive. In other news:

The novel: Total word count is 52,291 words at present. The goal was to reach 70,000 by the end of Feb but that’s a pretty tall order on the 21st. I’m aiming for 8,000 additional words this week and think that is achievable (as a stretch goal) because I don’t have another contract to work on and both kids are just getting over the most recent sickness so they will probably not be home from school again this week. The novel (and a recently concluded contract) is the reason you have not heard from me on the blog lately; I’m learning to prioritize and also to live in a bit of an artistic bubble. Apparently this is somewhat necessary to actually produce something.

I am really enjoying writing the novel and the exercise is completely different to what I would have guessed it would be like. You learn a lot about yourself. You pay attention to the world in a different way. It is not always comfortable because you have to BE in a particular feeling to write about it well. Or pretend at least for that time that you are feeling that feeling. And maybe it is your subconscious or what I’m calling “infinite intelligence” but you are typing away and stuff is happening in the story and then you go back and read it and think — who wrote that? — where did that come from? And it doesn’t feel like it came from your mind, but you like it (or maybe you don’t).

My original expected word count for the first draft was somewhere around 80-90,000 but it is looking like the first draft will be over 100K. I think about sharing excerpts sometimes, but I’m not quite ready for that.

Clean eating: Every year (for three years running), Dave and I spend three weeks in January/February eating “clean” — that means we don’t eat gluten, dairy, sugar and a number of other foods (coffee, corn, soy, alcohol, it’s a long list) during that time. We did this as an experiment three years ago and it fundamentally changed the way we eat. What happened was that we found it to be sort of tough the first year (though much easier when you do it together) but after about a week we stopped craving sugar (and stopped craving much of anything really) and we figured out a few standard meals that we love that meet the criteria and now we eat this way 85% of the time until life gets too stressful or we are visiting friends/traveling.

We have finished our three weeks this year and as usual it was eye-opening and beneficial. This year, we followed the protocol in the book Clean Gut (with our own modifications) but for the two prior years we followed the protocol in Clean (again, modified). There are recipes in both books but we’ve also learned a lot about clean cooking in the book Clean Eats. Here’s what I noticed: My mood and energy are SIGNIFICANTLY better while eating this way. You don’t necessarily notice the improvement until you go out for breakfast and get a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel with a vanilla chai after the program is completed. You swim through that day totally exhausted and realize that you would rather spend your life feeling optimistic and energized.

At some point I would like to share recipes for the six “clean” dinners that our kids are now very happy to eat and that I would choose over just about any other dinner (other than dinner at a friend’s house — I would always rather go to a friend’s house and have dinner, no matter what is on the menu). I would also like to share our meal planning system because it is super simple and a game changer (for us anyway).

French food challenge: We have started playing a sort of game with our kids to encourage them to approach new foods with curiosity and also to be more interested in the different ingredients that go into different meals. I call it the French food challenge because, as we’ve all heard, “French kids eat everything” – my kids are really enjoying it and soon I will share it with you. It’s been a great thing.

Reading List: I’ve read a few books so far this year that have really shifted my habits and behavior in a positive way. In order, I’ve read: You Are a Badass, Think and Grow Rich,  The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.

I’m still slogging through Don Quixote but not because it is not amazing, it’s just dense and these other books have been from the library. I’m also currently reading 1491 (about the pre-Columbian Americas) and I haven’t quite finished my Dickens biography or my E.B. White. And I’m listening to Mark Twain’s autobiography (20 disks) in my car when I’m on my own — I’m on disk 4.

The largest changes I’ve made so far in 2018 have to do with prioritizing fewer things instead of spreading myself too thin, being more decisive, and what I’m calling “living like a pro” — based on the concept of a pro in another great book, The War of Art. It has always been easy for me to act when someone else is holding me accountable but difficult when I am only accountable to myself. But the things that I want to accomplish require me to hold myself accountable, so that’s what I’ve been doing so far in 2018 and it is working pretty well.

That’s a thousand words which is taking up enough of your time for one day. My bulbs are starting to come up and a few perennials are barely peeking through. I’m definitely ready for spring!

Nothing fancy, just some updates

So, let’s see, when last we left our heroine, she had initiated work on her novel, reaching a total of just over 17,000 words in a bit over two weeks. Unfortunately, she had also reverted to playing addictive iPad games (only twice, or for two days, before deleting FOREVER, she hopes), had developed a debilitating addiction to coffee, had said some pretty strong things about glow sticks (the people are just trying to have some fun, can you relax?), judged, possibly unfairly, modern children’s literature based on a cupcake-pooping cat,  was, in the opinion of many, justified in her anger with the Sackler dynasty, and had just about pulled herself out of the annual mid-Autumn slump, yearly heightened by overconsumption of Kit Kats or their close relatives.

And there we left her. On the edge of our seats. Will she write more? Will she keep going with the blog? The posts seem to be coming less frequently, with less regularity. Perhaps another creative project that’s run out of steam? We wondered about her Beautycounter business — is network marketing really the best use of her time? We wondered if she had any thoughts about the crush of patriarchy, the potential election of Roy Moore in Alabama. We were curious as to why she didn’t replace that uncomfortable sofa.

Well, trusted readers. Wonder no more.

Sofa: WE GOT A NEW SOFA!! Call me up if you’re ever in the neighborhood. There’s somewhere to sit. Your feet don’t even have to leave the ground.

Roy Moore: Shoot. This blog isn’t close to long enough to say it all. I have been trying, with some effort, to understand the position of the people I know and love in Alabama who might consider voting for this man. They are not dumb people. They are not bad people. They are persuadable people who, like all of us at times, allow one particular issue to matter more than character. I think we all need to shake hands — all of us pretty good people, hard working, loving people who try to live as decently as we know how — and we need to agree that we’re going to vote based on character. Because I promise you there are a bunch of a-holes without character who are super duper happy to take lots of money from people who don’t give a crap about you, about your kids (in utero, one-month old, in elementary school, or at 14) and use that money to print fliers making you feel outraged about something and then laugh with their rich buddies all the way to the bank as they turn our beautiful country into a sh*t show.

That’s probably not as eloquent as I would like to be.

THE PATRIARCHY: Shoot. This blog isn’t close to long enough to say it all. But, perhaps just one short note. SO,  over the weekend I read an article by a woman who was seething, raging, about the patriarchy in which we all live. You see, she had hosted Thanksgiving dinner and had had about 20 people into her home. Men and women, all decent folk. Now, what I am about to tell you may shock you, but she walked into her own bathroom, in her own home, and there was a toilet seat raised. Yes, you read that right. The seat was UP. This woman, this abused and tortured soul, had to TOUCH THE SEAT to lower it. Well, I can tell you she was livid. Beyond belief. She furiously sought her husband, rending her garments, tearing her hair, who would dare to treat her thus! In case you are not familiar with the term, patriarchy is when a culture is designed around the needs of men. So her hypothesis was that a man, by not lowering the seat for her after his use of the commode, is assuming that the way men use the toilet is the way everyone uses the toilet, or he just can’t be bothered to think about who comes next. My husband was quick to point out that every single time he uses the toilet he touches the seat not once, but twice. He must lift the seat before he uses the toilet and then replace it back again afterwards. So, to me, that sounds more like a matriarchy? I always assume the seat will be down. That works for me but not for the men in my house. So they, very courteously, both lift and lower, and then wash their hands.

I thought about women who still walk 10 miles a day to cart water back to their home on their heads so that the men can eat first and best, so that men can bathe themselves, so that men can sit and talk with their buddies, where women are forced at a young age to marry some gross old guy based on their father’s wishes — and don’t have a sink right next to the toilet (and probably some froufrou Beautycounter liquid hand soap) where they can wash their hands if there’s a seat lid up once in a blue moon.

I’m not saying we don’t have long roads to walk in this country. But I think things are pretty rough for most women AND men. And I feel this kind of indignation, over a raised toilet seat, confuses things (confuses what, well, that’s what I need to spend time writing more clearly! I have thoughts, lots of thoughts). [Significant text cut. Not ready to get all into this. Forgive me.]

Beautycounter: Promoted to Manager in November. Yes, it does take time away from my promising career as a best-selling novelist. But, truth be told, when I sat down and did a vision board to figure out my life purpose, I realized that helping more people to have dewy skin was my true calling. Everything I’ve ever done in my life, from living in tents in Africa to organizing international teams to negotiate at UN Conventions, it was all leading to this.

(I really do like it. It feels a bit like playing store and playing dress up at the same time and it gets me out of the house and meeting new people I like and washing my face. Conflicted about the industry? Perhaps. Mad as heck that companies are knowingly putting carcinogens in children’s body care products. Yep. Yes I am.)

THIS BLOG WILL NOT RUN OUT OF STEAM: But it may cut back to a twice-monthly schedule to keep up with the demands of my novel writing and cosmetics pushing. Stay tuned. Maybe I will figure something out around the New Year.

Novel: Current word count is 17,090 words. And if you’re paying very close attention and are even just adequate at math you will recognize that this marks an advancement of zero words since my last post. Yes, I do have a good excuse. It’s that I stopped writing when my mom came to town before Thanksgiving and now I just don’t exactly know how to get started again. That’s not fair to you because it isn’t the whole story (mom came, dad came, Dave got home, Thanksgiving, mom left, I don’t remember a few days, Sam got sick, I stopped drinking coffee, I don’t remember more days. I sold cosmetics. I listed coins on Ebay. I wanted to write. I volunteered in Sam’s class. I saw a friend. I helped a neighbor. I cleaned some dishes.)

I have committed to get to 25,000 words on the novel by the end of this month. A reachable goal. Also to write two blog posts (one almost done) and to finish reading Don Quixote. I’m only about a hundred pages in but I can see why people make such a fuss about this book. I mean, if you are a huge book nerd probably. You might not like it otherwise. I laugh out loud every night and profess my unending love for Cervantes. I MIGHT be more in love with him than with E.B. White. Let me get to the end first. I’m sorry E.B., I still love you. Forever. But… we’ll see.

Parting words: I really like writing to you. Thanks for reading. I hope I haven’t written anything too stupid or offensive. I’m trying to work some things out.

On glow sticks, and getting out of a funk

Hello my friends!

I’ve missed you : )

So, you might be wondering (or not), what’s up? Why no new posts in the last three weeks? How is the novel? Any chance I’ve reverted to certain addictive behaviors over the past few weeks? Am I blaming Halloween for any minor life or habit setbacks? How’s Basic Training? Still meditating? Still eating fermented foods? Have I been wearing the same shirt for a week? Do I have a not unwarranted but probably disproportionate rage against glow sticks? How is my cosmetics business?

You know, it’s funny you asked!

Here are the updates, in brief:

Novel: I am up to 17,090 words on the novel. To get to 50,000 by November 30th (the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo goal), I am about 7,000 words behind where I should be. But if I write an average of 2,194 words each day until the 30th, I’ll get there. My biggest day so far has been 4,390 but we have to keep in mind that I will have family in town, Thanksgiving to host, children out of school, Black Friday and Cyber Monday (shudder), birthday parties to attend (etc, etc). So maybe I’ll just get to 40,000. I’m pretty happy about that. Right now the main character is a mother of two who lives in Alexandria and takes issue with the status quo (I don’t know how I think of these things either!). Maybe I will include a bit of the text on the blog some day. It is fun and challenging and sometimes it makes my heart feel like it is hurting but I think that is just muscular inflammation from sitting in one position for too long at a time. It takes a lot of emotional energy to think about what you really mean, what really motivates someone. I think I like writing novels. But I’m not totally sure what is going to happen yet. We build to that. So far though, so good. There are some parts I love, that I read and feel like I don’t know who exactly wrote them. That’s fun.

Confession: I played THE GAME. About five days ago I played the cursed iPad game. The one I was addicted to that I used to play before starting the blog. I can’t remember exactly what happened. But i did it. And then i kept doing it. For hours. Hours. And the next day, maybe for just one or two hours. And then I knew I would have to tell you about it. So yesterday I deleted the game (ok, the two games) from the iPad forever. I had not touched the games since starting the blog last spring, a huge achievement. More about this below.

Coffee: In the past two weeks I have unintentionally switched from being a tea-drinker who dabbles in an occasional weekend coffee to a full-blown coffee addict. I did not have coffee on Tuesday and I woke up on Wednesday morning in excruciating pain that could only be taken away by sweet, sweet caffeine. So this will have to be addressed but for now I’m a coffee drinker. Again, don’t know what happened. I just felt like being reckless so I started drinking a big mug of coffee every morning and – bam. I think i thought I was being kind of naughty because I know I’m super sensitive to caffeine. Well, what’s done is done. I will have to figure a way out of this.

Halloween: Used to be my favorite custom/tradition. Now I kind of hate it (for so many reasons, many of which are discussed in my upcoming novel). Also, I cannot resist a Kit Kat. So I get hooked on Kit Kats and then I become a coffee addict and play farming games until my arms hurt. I’m weak I guess. But I fight this battle every year and it is never pretty. The Kit Kats are gone now (and not in the trash) so it will be back to smoothies soon. Oh, I should mention that I haven’t had a smoothie all week. Or any fermented food. Nor have I played the piano, meditated, spent time outside, danced. I have done a lot of singing in the past two days. And I’ve spent time with two friends, which was probably the only antidote I needed.

Glow sticks: Can we talk about glow sticks, just for a minute. Please, if you care about me, please vow to yourself – right now – that you will never buy another glow product again. Please, just do it. Or rather, don’t do it. Glow sticks are one great example of something that it is possible to make. Yes, human beings, ingenious creators, have figured out how to make a little plastic stick glow in the dark for a few hours before it becomes trash. Yay! Kids love these things for at least 5 minutes before they throw them on the ground and forget about them forever and then they are just garbage. YET, I do not rail against the glow stick because they are just dumb trash. I rail against them because the chemical inside a glow stick that makes the glow is a phthalate, in most cases dibutyl phthalate, and these little chemicals are pretty horrid for human beings. True, most children do not eat glow sticks. But when you throw them away, they don’t magically disappear! They go SOMEWHERE. And that somewhere is the water we drink. Pthalates are linked to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. People, it just isn’t worth it. Twenty seconds of sheer glee (for a kid who, most likely, is way overstimulated already whether it is Halloween or not) versus a population exposed to chemicals that we know are making us all sicker. If I see you buying glow sticks (I’m so sorry, I’m working on this, truly, but) I will judge you. Maybe you’re judging me right now. I know, all this judging is the worst, maybe I should just work on being at peace with the glow stick. I’m just being honest. It will make me feel sad. So keep that in mind.

Moving on…

Roadrage: PEOPLE — we are all in agreement that watching a show on your phone while you are driving a moving car is not an ok thing, right????? I was so happy this morning, singing a song after dropping my kids off. Driving back home. And this lady was driving very erratically and I needed to get over so I looked at her to see if she saw me signaling and she was watching a show on her phone — not at a stoplight (I do not condone this either) — she was driving on a road that has a 45 mph speed limit. She was driving and watching a show!?! I got upset. I tried to feel lighthearted again and sing my song, but it just wasn’t in me. Then some other people drove like selfish jerks (I, meanwhile, drove perfectly, faultlessly). Then I saw a friend and felt much better.

Cosmetics: My Beautycounter business is going pretty well, thanks for asking. If you are curious about the line that I have chosen to represent, I encourage you to take a look at my Beautycounter page. I like that they are trying to change the industry and to make products for people that don’t contain known harmful ingredients. I have a thing about businesses that know – full-well – that certain ingredients/behaviors/substances are seriously damaging to the population as a whole and they just don’t give a crap. Please see my note below about the Sacklers.

The Sacklers: I have been very upset this week. I do believe the iPad game relapse was due to an article I read in The New Yorker about the Sackler family. These guys are well known as generous philanthropists who give tons of money to art museums all over the world (think the Met, Louvre, Smithsonian) and have their names on all this stuff and are knighted (etc), but their names are strangely absent from the webpage of the pharmaceutical company they privately own, a little company called Purdue Pharma that developed OxyContin and, it turns out, knew pretty well from the start that it was extremely addictive but had a very targeted campaign to convince doctors across America that it was safe to prescribe, even though the doctors had very legitimate hesitations. This drug is the primary driver of America’s opiod crisis and the family now has $13 billion dollars (that number growing every day, along with the number of Americans dying from overdoses, the number of babies born addicts, the number of families destroyed, etc). And now they are expanding to foreign markets (oh, also there’s a new pill for kids over 11) — even with all that is known. SO, read the article. You are probably not as soft as me so you won’t fall into a virtual agrarian, Kit Kat fueled, despair. It’s important stuff.

What Next? Well, by the very fact that I am writing this post you can rest assured that I am now on an upward, rather than downward, trajectory. There are many possible explanations for why we get into “funks.” Could be related to the time of year, could be you get a huge credit card bill, could be how you are eating, or not eating, could be that you are lonely and feel isolated, could be that you are reading too much news, or not reading or thinking or doing enough to remember all that you do have, could be you are super tired, could be someone you know is sick, could be you are sick.

I also don’t know what it is that gets you out of a funk. Could be talking to a friend. Or just getting to the end of the candy and making a decision not to get more. Or making a decision to help someone else. I think usually (always?) there is a point where you make a decision and then you follow through with that decision. Maybe you have help or maybe you do it on your own. Well, once again I’ve made a decision to crawl out and, luckily, this funk was short lived. (sigh of relief.)

Children’s literature: My kids have been discussing a book they are enthralled with, one I have never read. Apparently the main character is a cat who poops out cupcakes. Look, there may be a great lesson in this book. It might be Shakespeare, or Beatrix Potter, say. I cannot help but wonder. Kids used to be told stories that helped them understand their place in the universe. To learn values. To learn how humans behave, how we interact with other people, creatures, the Earth. Now people make money figuring out how to make characters that kids will think are funny. Give the four-year-olds what the four-year-olds want! I like that we value childhood more now than in, say, Victorian times. I love to laugh with my kids. I’m all about creativity and imagination. But I guess I feel like there is maybe a middle ground that we’ve missed. A cupcake-pooping cat? I guess I’m old fashioned but it feels like somewhere we went a bit off the rails.

Messages from Everywhere 
light up our backyard.
A bird that flew five thousand miles
is trilling six bright notes.
This bird flew over mountains and valleys
and tiny dolls and pencils
of children I will never see.
Because this bird is singing to me,
I belong to the wide wind,
the people far away who share
the air and the clouds.
Together we are looking up
into all we do not own
and we are listening.

Naomi Shihab Nye

One thing that helps me get out of a funk is this blog. So thanks very much for being here.

Now back to that novel…

One way to write a novel

PART 1: In which our heroine lays out the project and multiple objections

On Saturday night, we decided that I will write a novel. I stated my objections:

Objection the first/primary: What about money? Do I not need to exchange my time/life for money?

I have, on a notecard taped above my desk, a quote from Alan Watts recently sent to me from the Universe via a wise soul: Under all circumstances one should behave like the water, one should adjust to the requirements of the outer world, keeping safe his/her unchangeable essence in the meantime.

Adjusting to the requirements of the outer world is a tricky thing. Which are the REQUIREMENTS and which are not?

Outer requirement: One must meet the basic material needs of oneself and one’s offspring (and possibly other immediate family members, and pets, and neighbors in trouble?). Food. Water. Shelter. And immaterial needs. Love. Safety. Belonging.

Ah, belonging. There’s the rub.

Human beings exchange their time/life for belonging. For security. For experiences. For freedom. For stability. Of course, money can help provide some of these things, to some extent, but on its own cannot provide any of them. Lots more to think about here.

Decision: I have three months to write the first draft of a novel. I will continue to sell cosmetics. I may accept editing contracts that are proferred during this time, but will not pursue them. I will sell my coin collection.

Objection the second: a novel? An essay? A short story? A song? An album? If I spend time on one, I’m not spending time on the other. If I don’t write music now, will anyone want to hear (me perform) it in five years when I finally make the time? If I pick the wrong project now, and it doesn’t work, will I have to get a “real job” and the song/story inside will remain unsung?

Decision: You have an idea for a novel (well, lots of ideas but one that you would like to start now). Your songs are nice but (per counsel) your writing is better. Write songs if you want. Focus on the novel. Get a draft done. Find out if you can do it.

Additional note: NaNoWriMo (that is, National Novel Writing Month) begins November 1st. The objective is to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. There are tutorials, support groups, resources (etc.), and generally some community supporting creative endeavor so it seems fortuitous to begin at a time when there might be some human engagement more readily available (rather than sitting at home alone rocking and laughing at all the hilarious lines my amazing characters will be delivering).

Objection the third: Write a novel? Don’t you know the world is kind of in trouble?

I was in the carpool line to pick my kids up from school yesterday. From private school. Their school is located along a street where approximately 0% of the population are likely to be able to afford to send their kids to the school (many of the families at the school likewise cannot afford the tuition and many, like us, receive some not insignificant financial aid). Before pick-up begins, cars wait along the righthand side of the street in a long line, sometimes blocking driveways.

This was the case yesterday. We all shifted, some forward, some back, to allow a highly incensed man to pull his tall, very shiny, black pick-up truck into his driveway. It did take him an extra 30 seconds to pull in and I can definitely relate to feeling frustration when you get home and there is something blocking your parking space. It IS frustrating and it would be annoying to have all these Audis and Lexi, and the odd Tesla, blocking your drive each day at 3 pm. So he said something rude to one of the ladies in the line, I believe it was a nanny, in an unpleasant and not totally unthreatening tone, and then went inside the house.

Directly after this incident, I had pulled forward and there was a car parked on the side of the road next to me (a parent who had walked up to collect children rather than waiting in line, motor running, exhaust wafting up to wrap our planet in just a tiny bit thicker of a sweater) and so my car was about a foot more towards the left than most of the other cars. I was sticking out, ever so slightly, to the side when, from behind me, comes a towering monster of a truck. Grey. Chevy? Or Ford? Who can say. I don’t know much about motors or the mechanics of producing sound therein. I think, if you have your car in very low gear and you press the gas, say to the floor, you can create what turns out to be an unmistakably intentional and incredibly hostile sound. A chest-tightening, stomach-flipping sound that pretty clearly indicates to the lady in the car sticking out an extra foot from the line that you wish she would eat s**t and die. You hate her and her f***ing private school brats and she should go f** herself. I think that’s what the car was saying but I don’t speak engine so I could have some particulars of the translation wrong.

If you are me, next you start thinking about people who are mad and about guns and about children and schools. And then you start thinking about solutions and what could change and what is making that person so upset and what can be done and misinformation and power and people profiting from being divisive. And then thankfully your kids get in the car so all you can think about is keeping their bodies separate, explain why it is too late to change their minds and both be Odd Squad agents for Halloween, try to give a lesson in economics and explain the difference in cost and value, explain that while some kids do, in fact, buy whatever costume they have in mind each year for Halloween that’s not how it was when you were little and that’s not how it is going to be for them but you are happy to help them make something out of all the dress-up clothes at home. Explain that it is less about the expense than about the disposability and the consumer aspect of buying new costumes on a whim each year. You know you are no fun. Why can’t anything just be fun. So you spend the afternoon putting jewels on a crown with your daughter who has decided that she will use a dress she has and be a queen, even if the boys don’t like things like princesses and all that. Son still undecided.

So anyway, there are problems. They are big and they are scary. There are helicopters flying to the Pentagon all the time I can tell you. Let’s not get into this anymore here, I think we all know what I’m talking about.

So I’m going to write a novel. It’s not going to solve anything. But there have been some pretty awesome people in history who have thought it was a useful idea to write a novel. I am, statistically if for no other reason more closely linked to ability, unlikely to join in their ranks in terms of longevity and impact, but if many of my heroes and soulmates have been writers, maybe I can be excused from saving the world for a few months and try my pen.

(Silent and unspoken objection (the fourth)): No, I don’t think I’m Jane Austen, or Charles Dickens, or William Faulkner, or Umberto Eco, or Tolstoy, Forster, Byatt, Woolf, White (etc., etc.). I just want to write. Can I please just write? Can I?

PART 2: In which, after some slight delay, our heroine does, in fact, begin to write a novel

SO, Monday morning was my first morning for novel writing. I had it all blocked out in my calendar. 9-12 is for writing each day, five days a week (for three months, and if you can’t do it then DOOM!). I sat down to write. I found the four handwritten pages I had started two or so weeks ago, ready to type them into my laptop (still undecided whether to write by computer or hand), screens off after 9 PM as you know. I placed the sheets on the desk, directly next to the computer. And I had a thought. Maybe, just for a few minutes, I might have a quick peek at some Jane Austen. Just to get myself into the mindset. I picked Persuasion off of the shelf. I opened it to the first page. I read the first half of the book sitting at my desk. I got up and went to the bathroom. I sat on the pull-out sofa and read the second half with my eye on the clock noting I would have to leave to get the children by 3. I finished the book around 2:30. The whole book. And then I ate something, maybe some nuts.

The afternoon passed. The kids were fed, bathed, put in bed. Sam lay upstairs and sang himself to sleep (NSync’s Bye Bye Bye his current lulla(bye) of choice). I was tired and a bit off kilter having read the entirety of Persuasion that day. Well (I thought), I’m not going to type now (screens and all), I will read a different author. I revisited the same shelf, selected A Tale of Two Cities, unopened (by me) since 1990, and read until just after Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton have had dinner after Darnay’s (very close) reprieve from being quartered, meaning to be cut into quarters, your guts pulled out and burned while you’re still alive (book the second, chapter 4) – about one-third of the book. I slept fitfully (in case you are unfamiliar, this is not a ‘light’ book being mostly about human appetite for torture and beheadings and prisons, etc.).

The next morning, Tuesday, I KNEW that I could not spend another day in the same way. The novel must be begun!! But I just so happen to own a two-volume biography of Charles Dickens. I have had these two volumes on my “to read” shelf for several years. The shelf containing over one hundred books (with new books frequently added and old books rarely subtracted), it was not clear when reading about the life of Dickens would become the top priority. Well, it turns out Tuesday was the day. Just one chapter as I’m insatiably curious about his earliest childhood when his dad went to debtor’s prison and he was pulled out of school to work in a factory. I want to know a little bit about that. To imagine a mind like Dickens’ sitting in a blacking factory, glueing labels onto pots and sealing them for twelve hours each day, at age 11, not knowing if he would ever have another opportunity to do anything else. So I read for two hours and then went to the doctor, had some lunch, read just a little bit more.

STOP! (I reprimanded myself.) No more putting it off!! Start your novel already.

So I did. Tuesday after lunch. I re-read the handwritten stuff, adjusted, and got to 1,268 words by 3 pm. Again got the kids, kept them alive, fed, bathed, read (I forgot to mention we started reading Stuart Little on Monday night, Sam is LOVING it, so that’s three of my favorite authors in one day). I then spent the evening reading more about the life of Charles Dickens.

Let me set the scene carefully for what next precipitated (ha ha, you’ll get it in just a sec): In bed, Tuesday night, I was propped up against my (multiple) pillows, reading my little heart out, resting the book in an upright position against my body, most likely with one or the other eye closed (I rest them that way when I am tired) when something dirty fell out of the book and landed on my chest. Some brownish bit of grass or old leaves. I moved another page and more earthy material fell out of the book.

Four-leaf clovers.

About 10 four-leaf clovers were either tucked into or had just fallen out of a page towards the middle of the book. The last person to have intimate contact with this particular volume before me had amassed a collection of four-leaf clovers and pressed them in between the pages.

I don’t know if this was my grandmother’s book. Or my great-aunt’s book. Or my great-grandmother’s book (or some dude who liked to collect four-leaf clovers, it could have also been a man, of course). What I do know is that someone, and, knowing the tastes of my living relatives in terms of their likelihood of having read a Dickens biography in this lifetime, someone a long while ago, pressed a bunch of four-leaf clovers into this volume, sending me a message decades later.

Do you remember when I found that lucky quarter at Trader Joe’s and stopped playing addictive iPad games and healed my gut flora? Just imagine how much more powerfully some 60-year old four-leaf clovers found in a Dickens biography I had begun the same day as starting my novel might affect me. It’s a sign!

I wrote again on Wednesday (up to 2,993) and then Wednesday night began reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I want to reread To the Lighthouse but fear I gave my copy away in a clutter-clearing binge and so looked for fiction, by a woman, about the life of a woman. Slim pickings. There was only one choice on the “to read” shelf. I’m pretty sure I’ve read Their Eyes Were Watching God before but I recently took my sister’s copy from a shelf at my parent’s house – it feels familiar but I guess it would have been years and years ago that I read it. A little over halfway through with that one. Add it to the bedside stack.

So here it is Thursday and I’m writing this to update you on the latest and will move on to noveling next.

I like what I’ve written so far. I’m not sure what I’m doing exactly. I don’t have a plan. I’m sort of trying to excavate the bones (as Stephen King describes in On Writing). I’m sort of trying to write what I know. I know there are things to say. So I guess I’ll get to it now…