NaNoWriMo 2019 Updates

Hello!! It’s almost that time of year again, that most wonderful time, National Novel Writing Month (AKA November). It’s always a highlight of my year, and a wonderful reminder to keep creating, because our stories matter.

This year will be a little different for me because I’m taking on the role of Municipal Liason for the Skagit Valley region. (Whether that new role will help or hinder my word count remains to be seen.) Regardless, I’m looking forward to getting to know fellow writers in the region and helping them tackle their novels.

I haven’t formally decided on what I’ll be writing this November, but that’s what October is for. Preptober, as it’s often called for NaNo purposes, is all about setting yourself up for success in November. For me, it involves two main areas:

  1. Novel prep: Brainstorming, planning, and outlining, as much or as little as desired
  2. Life prep: Planning everything outside the novel to carve out as much time as possible for writing in November!

Since I’ve seen a ton of resources online for novel prep, I’m going to focus more on the second point. For me, this usually involves meal planning and prep, event planning for big events (for Thanksgiving and my daughter’s birthday, as well as ML-hosted NaNo events), general housekeeping, and self-care. It also involves coordinating with other people (partners, writing group, babysitters, etc.) to create a team to help support you during November.

I plan to post more on these topics during the weeks of October as I’m going through the process myself. Happy prepping!

First Poem for James Wright

I went to your river

and marveled

at its lonesomeness,

that wildness reflected in

the bingo halls, the Wheeling factories

all empty now.

I looked for your grave

and wished for words.

I thought I heard

something. But it was just

that dirty river, moving past,

keeping its own secrets,

like the dead. I wonder about

my own wasted life.

What can I say to you?

I’ve loved you like no one

else since I first heard

your voice, one dark wing.

Ever since, I’ve searched for you

in truck stops and back alleys,

the polluted waterways of America.

Did you ever really leave Ohio?

When you return, will you find

the same thing as I?

Looking for Lost Graves

In 2012, I went to Martins Ferry, Ohio, looking for James Wright’s grave. I never found it.

For those who don’t know, James Wright is a poet who died in 1980. He grew up in Martins Ferry, right across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia. Though he left his hometown at age 18, rarely to return, the place looms large throughout his books.

I’ve been thinking a lot of poets recently: I must have been about 20 when I declared, rather prematurely I suppose, that I was going to become a poet, as in a profession. No doubt James Wright’s work, and the feelings it inspired, loomed large in that declaration. (Of course, less then five years later, I was filling out applications for law schools on the East Coast. I’m certain I would have been better off a penniless poet than a debt-saddled lawyer, but that’s a subject for another time.)

But James Wright was one of the first poets for me. I heard him first in Mr. Lampert’s AP English class, where we read Wright’s “The Accusation.” Strangely enough, not one of my favorites by a long shot, but it still contained this eerie balance between fear and fondness, at once both longing and revulsion.

How can I ever love another?

You had no right to banish me

From that scarred truth of wretchedness,

Your face, that I shall never see

Again, though I search every place.

IMG_2549.jpg
At the Martins Ferry library, where a picture of Wright hangs, partially obscured by a computer monitor. 

I was also struck by the fact that Mr. Lampert called him one of America’s great contemporary poets and I had never heard of him. I found Above the River, his complete poems, and read it straight through.  And then I wrote my final paper on the significance of the word “wing” throughout his body of work. (Wings = a vehicle of both observation and escape.)

I fell in love, in some kind of way, with this man who wrote about rural Ohio like it was the most beautiful place you could go. The saddest, most gut-wrenchingly beautiful place.  There’s something really authentic underneath it all–through all his poems, you can see a man who is searching. He is desperate, he is compelled, he would tear himself open to get to the heart of it. He’s wild like Whitman, recalls beauty like a Romantic, but there’s a deep foreboding that you won’t find in Whitman or Shelley. I love him because he unabashedly searches and tells the truth about what he finds. Through his sensitivity and sincerity, he has gifted me indescribable hope.

He is a man who searches for god and goodness, in spite of everything. Something drives him to obsessively wade further into the darkness, the gloom of the mines and the factories and the polluted Ohio river.  Ultimately, despite all the confusion and lostness, the pain he presents on the page like an offering, I think in some ways he arrives at a place of understanding, maybe even love. It’s a special kind of love reserved for home, for the soul of yourself, for that place in your childhood both bewildering and precious, this elusive thing we might search for our entire lives and never find.  His final book, published after his death, sums this up perfectly in its title, “This Journey.” I hope he came to believe that life is more about the search than what you find.

Many men

Have searched all over Tuscany and never found

What I found there, the heart of the light

Itself shelled and leaved, balancing

On filaments themselves falling. The secret

Of this journey is to let the wind

Blow its dust all over your body,

To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly

All the way through your ruins, and not to lose

Any sleep over the dead, who surely

Will bury their own, don’t worry.

It turns out, Wright’s grave isn’t in Ohio. I don’t know if he wanted to be buried there or not.  At the very least, his relationship with his hometown is fraught. I think he missed it and longed for what it represented, but also it haunted him. Part of him was already buried there long ago.

Oh all around us,

The hobo jungles of America grow wild again.

The pick handles bloom like your skinned spine.

I don’t even know where

My own grave is.

Bamboo Blossoms

when bamboo flowers, famine follows

 

those flowers bring the rats

every thirty years or so

the rats devour it all

flooding the landscape

squirming black appetites

bequeathing us disease

 

we dwelt in phapian paradise

shrouded by our excesses

as the flowers poked carmine noses

out of stalks that lingered

relegated to the garden

gratuitous satanic clockwork

 

we knew we were doomed when

the bamboo leaked indoors

a suffocating canopy

stalks snaking up furniture

angry roots in the carpet

catching ankles and breaking toes

 

once it’s here you can never be rid of it

you have to tear it out by the roots

or burn down the damned house

 

relinquish your sackcloth and gather the ash:

hold it in your cankered hands

it is more precious than gold

it is more filling than dirt

it is more natural than sin

Solitude and Fear

This weekend, I went on a one-woman writer’s retreat. There’s a cabin on Whidbey Island that I found listed on Airbnb a few years ago. It’s a single-occupancy dwelling nestled in the woods, complete with a strong wifi signal and three thesauruses. It’s designed specifically for writers. I bookmarked it and periodically came back to it, thinking, one day, I would go there.  Not today, though. Not this month.

I told myself it was because of my toddler. Wouldn’t it be cruel to leave her behind for three whole days? How could I explain my absence to her?  It seemed a luxury I couldn’t afford. But truthfully: I was afraid. I was afraid of being alone, for vast stretches of time. I thought I might die of boredom, or of missing my daughter. More realistically, I thought I might have a mental breakdown being alone with my thoughts. The more I thought about it, the more I began to dread the specter of my own company. So I avoided it for many months.

My husband kept bringing it up, every so often, but I always had a good reason why now wasn’t a good time. Eventually, my sister told me I’d be crazy to pass up an opportunity like that. Of course, she was right. It was a little counterproductive, me standing in my own way. So, I booked it, even though the decision itself was made with much trepidation. Even, at times, regret. But the cabin had a very strict no refund policy, and so it was decided.

I cooked three day’s worth of food ahead of time and braced myself for solitude. If I was going to do this, I was really going to do it.  I didn’t want any distractions. (I didn’t even pack wine.) Instead, I packed several notebooks and several more books. I wanted to brainstorm my next writing project, journal, and read. Maybe do some yoga and meditation. And I did all those things. But mostly, I just sat around and thought.

I thought a lot about fear and how difficult it can be to express when you are afraid. It feels somehow humiliating, an infantilizing admission. I also felt a bit unreasonable in my fear, like I didn’t deserve the opportunity if I was only going to be angsty about it. (Funny how the mental admonitions of adult-me sound like echoes of emotionally neglectful parents.) Of course, it’s not patently unreasonable to be unnerved at spending three nights alone in an unfamiliar cabin in the woods, away from everyone you know, without so much as a car or reliable phone service.

Regardless.

I was able to parse through my thought processes and really analyze the fear that I hold inside of me. The fear wasn’t the problem so much as the denial of it was. The avoidance, the minimalizing. That’s what people have been doing to me my whole life, but it’s weirdly terrifying to realize that I do it to myself.

But fear is so human. When we avoid our fear, when we attempt to will it out of existence, we only succeed in diminishing our own humanness.

There are a lot of things I fear, many of them I don’t even think I can acknowledge properly. Some of these feelings have been forced down for so long that I no longer recognize them for what they are. It’s a long process to unravel the knotty threads that kink and bind your perception. Solitude helps. Facing yourself–your true, human form–honestly and gently, is perhaps the best antidote for fear.

NaNoWriMo: Halfway Point & Excerpt

25K written, halfway through.

Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote today–obviously very rough, weird draft. Sorry, if it’s not clear what I’m going for, it’s supposed to be a page of a letter from the main character, this wellness guru/religious leader. It’s roughly modeled off of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and Song of Songs, so hopefully that explains the strange tone somewhat.

Love is another illusion. It is one of those grasping, desperate attempts to outwit your natural solitude. You may fool yourself for a while, but sooner or later you will recognize love is an illusion that cannot be sustained for long.

Ultimately, it is a betrayal. Sometimes this betrayal is like cold, slick metal between your ribs. Other times it is a dull constant aching, like a cyst, like a cancer. Either way, it will eat you from the inside. You will be changed. Look at me. I was in love once, I was cut from the inside out. My whole body, a thousand tiny cuts. I will bleed away, eventually.

It is like that wonderful dream where you have found the Other, the one who completes you, the one who can look into your eyes as if they were her own, the one who seems like they can reach into your heart, and gently, gently, cradle it. They have entered your bloodstream, and you feel overwhelmed with joy. You feel as though you have found what you had been missing all along. That precious, vital thing that had been cut out of you so long ago, returned and now you are whole. You are, at last, yourself. Only, of course, you wake up. Everything is the same as before. You are not changed. You are the same person you’ve always been, half empty and bewildered. You grieve the loss of that feeling of wholeness, like a sawed-off appendage, even as you realize it was never really something you possessed to begin with. That is the essence of love. That is when you realize what the poets say is, somehow, true. He cannot contain you. You will vanish into thin air.

Ask yourself, for how long can you keep your beloved? You cannot possibility expect him to stay in there, inside your head, alongside those incessant thoughts, the gruesome doubt, the internal screams that keep you up all night. There is no room for him, either.

Writing Routines, Odd Research, and NaNo Update

First update of the week! I got a little behind this weekend on my word count, not really by doing anything fancy, but just throwing away the little bit of routine I have during the weekday does make for more of a challenge. I finally just got caught up today and am days away from making it halfway through!

As for my story, I’m essentially in the same boat I was before. Very little plot. It almost seems like I am writing the backstory for my characters, like the actual action starts long after the parts that I’m writing. Does anyone else do this? While definitely not a useless exercise, it’s a little discouraging. If the whole month goes by and I haven’t made any progress in terms of plot, then I suppose I will try my hand at outlining a plot in great detail and see how that shapes up. But no time to think about that until November is through!

Also since I made it back on track with my word count, I have some spare time to do my favorite thing: Wikipedia research! Look what I’ve found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Hazzard. Linda Hazzard started a sanatorium in a small town in Washington State where people from all over would go for her fasting remedies. She went to prison after over 10 people died in her care, due to starvation, over a period of four years. This has sparked a bit of inspiration regarding alternative medicine and quack doctors. An interesting read and definitely relevant today.

My story is set in a sort of alternative wellness center in middle-of-nowhere Washington, so this’ll be good inspiration.

I’ve also been on the NaNoWriMo subreddit, which has had some interested conversations that I hope to later turn into posts, such as revision plans after November, time management (e.g., what to do when you fall behind), and how to schedule the time to write, for example, with a toddler. Stay tuned for future posts!

Nano: Eventual update

Despite all odds, I’ve been keeping up with my word count. I’m now at 13K and counting! Though my story is in tragic shape, the actual part about putting the words on paper (normally very hard!) is coming much easier than usual. So I suppose I can’t complain…but I’m going to anyway.

My story itself is a mess. It’s just a collection of shorter stories about a variety of women and their various problems (all could be individual stand-alone stories in the own right, if I wasn’t so set on something else). As of yet, they are not related, so I need to think of a way to connect the stories (you know, a plot or whatever). Ugh. I am so worried that I am going to get to the end of November with 50,000 words, and think, “what the hell was I doing?” Well, too late now.

Today I wrote a little piece that was basically this retelling of a kabuki play that I learned about on NHK’s Kabuki Kool.  (By the way, one of my favorite shows). It’s called the Zen Substitute, I think, and it really resonated with me because it concerns deceptions, broken promises, promiscuity, and all sorts of fun relationship stuff. But mostly, it struck me because the husband never calls his wife by her name, he calls her this not-so-flattering pet name, “the mountain god.” Actually, it sounds kind of flattering, but I think he’s basically saying she is terrifying. And he goes to great lengths to avoid her wrath. It doesn’t stop him from keeping a mistress, but, whatever. I’m not completely sure why that stuck with me, but it did. Something about how female rage can be elevated into a sort of godlike status, almost mythic proportions. I want to make strong female characters in my story, but I also want them to have depth. Through their own shortcomings, through their own missteps and failings, they emerge into their full, dangerous potential. That’s the gist of what I’m going for, at least.  More on mountain gods later, I’m sure!

10,000 words

Hi there! Here’s another quick status update on how NaNoWriMo is going. Today, I hit the 10,000-word benchmark–that’s right, I’m 1/5 of the way done!

I wish I could say that my story is coming together. It’s not, not really. I’ve still no clear plot to speak of. But I do have a host of interesting characters, and these images and ideas keep popping up. I hope that at some point it’ll just come together, or at least I’ll be primed to put all the pieces together and get to the true heart of the story after November is through. So, to those of you still plodding your way through NaNoWriMo in the dark like me, keep at it! It’s not a sign of failure, just a sign that you’ve got more writing to do!