Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pieces

So, my tenth Nano come and gone -- and quite a year it was, too. It reaffirmed my need to be team planner versus team pantser as I struggled to bring the two complementary story lines I had in my head together for a dance. But all was not lost, not at all: I uncovered details and backstory that had not even been hoped for in my pre-writing process, and amid all the rambling dialogue and word-padding, I've uncovered some potential bones for future work. I don't have a novel to show for the month, but I've got over 50,000 words spread across scenes and dialog that will be seeds for something bigger and better to come.

Now December's here, and I'm looking forward to really-and-truly having written every day of 2016. I'd like to say it's been easier as the year has gone on, but this has been a hell of a year to face with creativity. It's been anchoring and grounding, and more than a little therapeutic at times. And I've been doing it enough that the thought of "getting in my daily" is a sense of something I need to do instead of something I ought to do. It's become a vital piece in my life now, and I'm glad for the addition. Even if the output doesn't amount to anything, it's been good for me to work through. Fitting this year together has been like working a massive, at times frustrating jigsaw puzzle, and there have been points where I was afraid to look up to see all the work yet to do.

As always, I'm grateful for the madness that is the NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade, the collective crazies that insist on banging out their own creative pieces year after year, on manuals, electrics, wedges, or (shhh) AlphaSmarts. Literacy and creativity and the joy of making feels like it's in short supply this year, in a season of political divides, fear and doubt, accusations and blame. And more than a few creative minds were taken this year, and left holes in many of our hearts. It's been tough to spackle over all those cracks. Seeing the Brigade reform against all common sense is heartening.

I'm also glad for the relative normalcy of the typosphere, and its doged determination to keep growing despite all my shameful neglect. Social media seems to have turned largely into Antisocial Morass this year, so a cheery picture of a custom-painted Lettera or gleaming typebars or some truly dazzling typewriter art is a welcome smile. I'm glad we can all celebrate the little positive pieces of our lives, too. Thanks for being here, Typosphere, and if you're a Brigadier, too, thanks for jumping into the annual fray!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time Lowers all Bars

By the anticipatory vibratings of my youngest child, I can only assume that Halloween is nigh, a night promising sugary riches in exchange for minor scares and occasional suburban mirages. (One year: a horse dressed as Pegasus being walked on a lead.) Finishing touches on costumes are being applied, reworked, and revamped. Pumpkins have been agonizingly rejected and selected, sliced and scooped, carved and positioned. Careful attention is being paid to playlists: blood-curdling sound effects before or after the Disneyland Haunted Mansion music, and how much Danny Elfman is too much? It's more logistics than most military manuevers. As a parent, I'm obligated to carry bags and flashlights and hoods when they get itchy, and masks when they are too hard to see through, and (very likely) tote umbrellas, too. My rate is one Reese's cup or mini Baby Ruth per block walked, payable at the stop sign at the corner. I think this is being more than reasonable. And sometime after we've all walked about two blocks too far, and the kids are cranky, and the parents' arms are tired, and at least half of the group needs a bathroom stop and/or coffee, we call it a night, say farewell, and close our eyes on October.

And wake to November.

Of course I'm NaNoing again this year, marking a decade of dubious novel-writing (or the writing of dubious novels.) I "planned" my first year on Halloween night, set off into November with high hopes, and came thisclose to a full crash and burn before the end of the month. I had high hopes and grand plans and good intentions, which was all but inviting Disaster and Doubt onto my laptop for thirty days. I had not then had the experience I have now: the knowledge of just how "rough" a rough draft can be, of the power of free writing, of both the pain and the pride of a good edit. Our family grew by a child, faced all the usual things young growing families face in a ten-year span, plus the outliers. I've learned to be more flexible in my personal life, less self-critical, more outgoing. I've tried to get back in touch with my creative side, and take better care of my professional side, too. And I don't know if I can lay all of that at NaNo's feet, but I put a lot of it there, for certain.

Facing a Big Scary Thing once a year has been like a booster shot for life. My family and I have faced Big Scary Things together in these ten years, things that we anticipated and things that we did not. I'm reminded of these when we pull the big costume bin out of storage every year and remember the Octobers past, the people our kids have been, and look to who they've become. I think about all our annual rituals and how they anchor us even when we're being tossed around, and I can appreciate the importance of keeping those rituals alive even when we'd Rather Not This Year. And this year especially, we've recited our mantra of This Too Shall Pass to help us keep perspective on what matters, and what we need to do to get by. Rarely will we ever get anything right on the first try, and rarely do we need to. A best effort is better than no effort at all, and it's possible to get through even the most overwhelming task if you sit down a little every day.

I'm way off on my usual planning routine this year, a fact I've bemoaned in the NaNo forums. Ten years ago I didn't think I needed to plan. Ten years later I believe it. The bar to winning NaNo is set very, very low if you think about it. It's just words, one after the other. It's not life. It's not even a walk down the block in the rain. But you can bet there's going to be candy waiting at the end.

Monday, October 3, 2016

MIlestones, Millstones, Rhinos and Hippos

Happy October, everyone, or "Inktober" for the artistically inclined, or "Pre Holiday Rush" for the retail oriented. The latter category includes my son, who has officailly joined the almost-full-time working world as he discovers his own path through life. That path now means staring Christmas full in the face for nearly the next three months as he's going to be surrounded by it at his day job. I have no love for the general commericialization of holidays, but hype at this time of year especially rankles me. It's pie season, in short. And who doesn't love lingering over a good pie? Recent shocking revelations notwithstanding -- i.e., canned "pumpkin" may legally be canned squash -- autumn is still my absolute favorite season, and adjustment move to longer nights and less sweltering days is a welcome one. Especially is one is prone to bake and consume pies, pumpkin, "pumpkin," or otherwise. I'm all in, pie-wise, and am not so eager to have that swapped out for peppermint-everything.

Can you tell that I'm blogging before breakfast today?

Of course, I also love October because for me and my Famously Flawed Writing Process, it's the kickoff of my NaNoWriMo prep season. This is the second NaNo I'm participating in since my personal pledge to Write Every Day, Dammit. Last year, I was still wrestling with digitizing/redrafting my 2011 attempt, and looked forward to October for a chance to stop and refocus. This year, I almost hate to put it down, even though it's still the same work-in-progress. I've found a good technology mix for the task: my AlphaSmart Neo for the original digitizing, and my tablet and bluetooth keyboard for the rewrite, plus some good habits about making backups. (Specifically I'm using a Belkin keyboard meant for mobile devices, which has its own supporting panel. I should do an entry on it.) The Neo, as Joe V. pointed out, is excellent for its distraction-free simplicity, at the cost of not being able to see much text at once. It's closer to the raw paper typescript than a finished product. Using the tablet lets me see about a page at a time, and get through more text at once, and having that context is important for pulling together coherent overall paragraphs.

So anyway, October. My Nano Rhino is ready, though it's not clear when he'll be starting. I do have a habit of over-planning things, and I may try for a more skeletal approach to the novel this fall. Perhaps I won't sketch out the daily writing as much as the overall big ideas, and save the specifics for November. I'm still due to dive into my notebooks and see what I've got going in there. And as I posted previously, having the known quantity of my daily rewrite chore is also keeping me mentally anchored in the face of personal turbulence. I want to see those characters through their own journey, I suppose, before I set them aside again and introduce more into my head-space. One can only juggle so much chaos. But the Rhino is itchy nonetheless. I think he may get a friend this year, a new addition to my menagerie of malapropisms. I'm keeping my eye open for a "Hippoplotamus" to join my writing totems: a creature that lurks beneath the surface, just showing enough that you know it's there, watching. One poke, though, and it erupts noisily and dangerously. You better be ready when the hippoplotamus decides it's had enough or when it's time for a snack. 

I wonder if they like pie?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Drafting Adrift

Just surfacing for air again, meeting my daily chore of writing, and feeling seven kinds of smug because despite having a very bad day yesterday -- or perhaps because of it -- I buckled down and reached the end of my 2011 NaNoWriMo draft: a long meandering through middle age, video games, love, life, death, religion, Las Vegas, and funnel cakes. It's kind of complex. It's also (surprise) kind of wordy, and it took me over a year and a quarter to finally get it into digital form, and another six months to get through that. That's the six months I just finished, and in that time there's been a few personal dramas and life changes. And maybe it's the old from-adversity-comes-strength maxim, but I still believe that some of this writing is the best I've done, at least on a micro scale. There's some turns of phrase in there that I like. I'm worried, though, that the entire mass is maybe less-than-readable. So that's the next draft. Get it all together in a file, and print/read/scrawl upon it, and try to get it in a steady state where I can ride out November.

November! It's closing in fast. I usually give up October to my pre-planning over-thinking super-outlining frenzy so NaNoWriMo can happen relatively smoothly -- thirty days of assignments, in essence, with the option to pop the chute and write randomness if I start feeling rangy, or heed the Master Plan if I feel at sea. I want to get this draft in before the next draft blows through and is added to the stack. I'm not worried about it, though. Right now I'm cruising along on the high of semi-completion, riding in the wake of a lot of hard work. I've made the pledge to myself to Rhino Every Day, and that has been an anchor in these turbulent weeks. There have been days when I found very little encouraging to look forward to, but knowing that the writing was waiting -- that I owe myself that time -- at least put a consistent button on the days. Life has been blowing around pretty hard this summer, so it's been good to have a tether, even if the other end is fastened to funnel cakes and video games.

I'm also finding out what sort of writer I am, by at least better-defining what sort of writer I am not. There's a pretty good chance that this November's draft is going to veer sharply away from the magical realism underpinnings of this novel. I'm not sure I have enough imagination to keep up with everything that Real Life can dish out. I'm looking forward to it, even though I don't quite know the hows-and-whens of my writing schedule this year, or even if I'll be able to Brigade it. The social acceptability of a typewriter on a commuter train seems unlikely. But the Rhino doesn't care about Real Life, just the Writing Life. Real Life can go blow on the wind, carried away on endless drafts.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In Which Change is Experienced, Resisted, and Begrudgingly Embraced

SO...

This has been an interesting month, as in the old proverbial curse "may you live in interesting times."

Our family dynamic is shifting around, as my firstborn is now attending college, a reality that seems unreal, as it can't have been long since I graduated college and (mumble mumble counts on fingers) ah, yes. Well, it's a change, anyway. And I have explained this to my children endlessly in true Expository Dad Fashion, that as a parent, it is very difficult for me to separate the reality of the child/teenager/adult standing before me with the memories of this same person as a smaller child/toddler/newborn. It's as if all that time is compressed on top of their being, and I am unable to stop the temporal disconnect when I look at them (to wit: "where has the time gone," "I remember your first day of school like it was yesterday," etc.) This mental timehop is the reason that I call the children by the wrong name. That excuse is less believable when I call them by the dog's name.

And so that's changing. Letting go of the oldest one as he does his best to push away and define himself, while I unhelpfully respond by clinging all the harder. Why can't we stuff all those reality-genii back into the bottle? I demand a do-over! We're adapting to this change in our own ways (I choose denial.)

Personally, the bigger change for me is that I am right now between employers. This is a situation I haven't been in since... well, since the older one was starting school, over a decade ago. I've been feeling untethered and buffeted in these weeks, a balloon come undone into a stormy sky. There's more people depending on me, and the world has changed, and my field has changed, and old Mr. Imposter Syndrome comes a-whisperin' in my ear his little hurtful lies, like: the only thing that hasn't changed is me. Tiny stinging lies are the specialty of Mr. I.S., and they are extra sharp when you're already a little raw watching some young adult stride off to college with a small backpack while you're also seeing him skip off to kindergarten with a giant one.

Parents of school-age children, be warned: the school-Feels are deep and poignant. After their twelve-year slumber, they emerge like soppy emotional cicadas right up on your face. #UglyCry

I am not a believer of signs and portents, though numerous found pennies have crossed my path, and inspiring and courageous words are popping up right when I needed them most. Maybe I'm just more attuned now. Like our sleepy cicadas, I also feel that I've been dozing for years, and now I get to shed the skin and start over. It's a messy process, and I have to confess that more than once I've thought about retreating to the same familiar hole I've just come out of. But holes are dark and close and hard to move in. I'm out in the sun now, flexing my limbs and hardening my skin and even singing my own song. There's a new melody to it, one that I didn't realize it had before. It's louder than stinging lies.

And through all this change, I've found support in the likeliest place, though not the first place I would have turned. My son was there, though he's dealing with his own life changes, his own new job, and the scattering of his friends to all points. He was there for me, backing me up, and is seeing me off to my own new adventure.

So thanks, buddy, for everything you did, for everything you do. For the kid you were and the man you've become. And I'm sorry I keep calling you the dog's name.

Some things never change.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Because This Week

I think it might be tragedy fatigue, watching the UK reel from Brexit, and France from the tragedy in Nice, and the ramifications of chaos in Turkey, and America's increasingly violent live-streamed summer. I don't know if creating in the face of destruction is courage or denial, or an appreciation of the relative safety and calm of my own life.

I don't know. But it's been a hell of a week in a hell of a year, and we're only half through 2016. Our national elections are still months away, and the levels of toxicity and division are the highest I can ever remember. As a country, we've gone from memorializing the Civil Rights movement to reliving it. And I hug my kids, and try to breathe, and take the time every morning to be glad of the sun and the sky and even the mundane details of my neighborhood. And I'm still wrestling with a rewrite of a book, because I have few things I can do right now except to create.

In Dreams #garden #succulent #surreal #walkabout #coolneighbors #clickthing

Melody and Counterpoint #blackandwhite #abstract #shadow #fence #industrial #walkabout #lofi #clickthing

Celluloid #colorful #abstract #hypersaturation #architecture #contrast #visualecho #synesthesia #clickthing

"Ethylene" #fordfalcon #martinez #coffee #vintage #van #statescoffee #statescoffeeandmercantile #walkabout #clickthing

#dvc #statue #publicart #blackandwhite #tinted

Set Piece #dvc #blackandwhite #theatre #backstage #foundart #automobile #vintage #contrast #clickthing

Green Gate #sunrise #pleasanthill #cityhall #colorful #bluesky #perfectmorning #clickthing

Sunroom #sunrise #lensflare #suburban #red #adirondackchair #summer #cali #clickthing

Moving Day #blackandwhite #lofi #plastic #horse #wtf #movers #clickthing

Fields of Cotton #sunrise #mtdiablo #lasjuntas #summer #clouds #bamboo #clickthing