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.