Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pros and Cons


Tomorrow, on the first day of 2015, nothing will feel different. New Year’s will be just another day. Of course, I’m not talking about the aftermath of all that partying. It’s just—this date; it’s not exactly magic. At least not for me. Which is really sad, because it’s my birthday.

So what are the pros and cons of having a birthday on New Year’s?

Pro:  I get to make lists.

Con:  You have to read them. (Actually, no one’s forcing you, except that ninja over there. The one peering over your shoulder. Smile and wave. He likes friendly people.)  

Pro:  The whole world celebrates my birthday. Talk about PARTY!!!!

Con:  I get antisocial at parties.

Pro:  Christmas doesn’t have long to fade before other exciting things happen.

Con:  After Thanksgiving pies and Christmas chocolate, birthday cake is not going to help my new resolution to eat better.

Pro:  I get to make my own birthday cake.

Con:  I make my own birthday cake.

Pro:  Birthday presents!

Con:  Because I have room for those amongst all the piles of books I got for Christmas.

Pro:  It’s a new year!

Con:  It feels suspiciously like last year.

Pro:  Convenience. I know exactly how old I was at any given point in any given year. I don’t have to hem and haw and rub my chin trying to figure out if June comes after April and whether that would have made me twelve or thirteen during the time of the Great Shenanigan.

Con:  Other people’s birthdays—like my friend’s—are easier to forget.

Pro:  When people ask, “So you’re a new Year’s baby?”, I get to look at them funny and ask right back, “Do I look like a baby?”

Con:  When they say yes.

Pro:  It’s really hard to forget my birthday.

Con:  I spent the last week thinking we were past the fifth of January already because vacation does that to my brain.

Pro:  My sister’s birthday comes six days later.

Con:  More. Cake.

 

Ever get those awkward family newsletters that go out around this time—the ones with the irrelevant, overly familiar personal information? Well, what a year it’s been. Thelma passed twelve kidney stones, Benjamin got arrested for drunk driving (I told him not to mix with that crowd, but when do kids his age ever listen?), and Nance is expecting quintuplets. Aside from gangrene and chronic gas, I’m recovering nicely from the liposuction incident.

I should totally write one of those. In fact, here goes—the completely true, mostly fictional account of 2014.

Well, what a year it’s been (which is basically saying it was a year—something we should already know). Just the other day, I was driving around town in my Lamborghini with my celebrity boyfriend, when I saw dozens of teenagers walking with cell phones in hand, texting as though their lives depended on it. And I thought to myself, “Goodness, why does nobody live in reality these days?”

I developed a severe allergy to O2 mid-August, but the doctor thinks I must be getting superpowers, so I’m not too concerned. The hospital bills were high though…

Very high…

If you know what I mean.

I’m sure you all got lovely presents and…money…for Christmas.

Like I said, those hospital bills were high.

 

Now that you all refuse to take me seriously, though I can’t imagine why, I would like to wish you all a happy New Year (which seems rather self-serving, since it’s like the birthday girl going around wishing everyone a happy birthday on her birthday—alas, you’ll judge me, won’t you?). Even though the start of this year might not feel different and magical—though it could for you—this is still a chance for a fresh start and a new lease on life. Actually, every day gives you that chance—every dawn and every sunset. But somehow the marker on the calendar is far more convincing.

So, happy Second Chance Eve!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!


Ever get brain cramps? Today, mine’s worse than that. After finishing my duties, I sat down at this here laptop, fully intending to write this post in a flurry of flying fingers. And…then I played hearts for an hour, “brainstorming”. Because you can totally think about clever bits to write when you’re busy naming your opponents after the Pevensie children and getting all tiffy when you lose a hand. Welcome to my brain. Usually, I go for chess instead of hearts. Though I don’t really know why I choose that as my procrastination tool, since I loathe chess. Seriously. Little Miss Computer, would you stop killing my rook—I HAD PLANS FOR HIM!!! That goes for both my bishops and my queen as well, but I suppose you can have my remaining knight if that really makes you happy since I have my pawn in line to SLAUGHTER YOU if you so much as twitch wrong. And, if you have the audacity to try a checkmate on me, well, ctrl + z takes care of that quite nicely. I’ll just undo and undo however many times it takes, even though I really need to be doing something intelligent like editing my book or playing with Legos. By jiminy, I will win that game if it kills me. I dare you to defy me, metal machine. Today you have met your match.

The sad part is that, on a difficulty scale of one to ten (one being the lowest), I only have the program set to level three.

In other news, it’s Christmas Eve, just in case you…happened to forget or something. Silliness aside, I understand this isn’t a fun season for everyone. Maybe it brings back unpleasant recollections and unwelcome emotions. Holidays just aren’t the same when loved ones are missing—and there are other reasons for staying home and gritting your teeth when you hear carolers strolling by. May I offer my condolences? Hopefully this year you will find newer, better memories to help alleviate sorrowful histories.

Despite the hard knocks of life, I still find myself aging backwards as December 25th approaches. After the lull of procrastination and denial, comes the frantic rush of last minute loose-end-tying and then, without proper warning, Christmas Eve stumbles awkwardly onto the scene. The great, bushy pine staggers under the weight of lights and decorations, towering over a formidable pile of gifts that threatens to collapse at any moment and crush those unfortunate enough to stand too near.

Though I no longer bounce off the walls the way I did when I was five, I will still lie awake tonight, tingling with anticipation. Last year, after struggling for roughly thirty-seven point nine hours to fall asleep, I finally dozed off, only to dream I had slumbered through Christmas. Because that would totally happen. So it was with cold sweat and lonely shudders that I woke to the eager processional of cousins, punctuated with loud whispers and not-so-sneaky footsteps as we traipsed downstairs to the living room. There, spread out on the couches like lumpy cats, were our stockings. Traditionally, after gutting said stockings and dividing the spoils of war (that got morbid), we linger, laughing and raising a ruckus. But when the Starbucks gulped in a desperate rally to stay awake proves futile, sleepiness begins to drag at our satisfied lids, and we scurry off to store our plunder and to snatch a snooze.

Once the older, saner people have awoken and showered, breakfast finds itself scattered across the island, ignored by those with overly ambitious hopes of “saving room for Christmas dinner”. Before the meal though, and before the tryptophan-induced slumbers, comes the Grand Ceremony of the Opening of Presents (or something dramatic like that). Usually I get books (big surprise there) and the occasional strange gift. Our oddity of the year will be the custom wrapping paper with my cousin’s face on it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because even before the meal and the presents comes the most important time of all. I’ll admit—when it’s time to read the Christmas story, as vital as it is, I’m always a little antsy to reach for the largest present with my name on it. It’s easier to cling to the tangible. That box is currently bigger in my mind than some baby in a manger, distant and far away. There’s no denying that I’m human, with a limited scope and a narrow focus. Still I can’t forget: 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 *
 
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:1, 7-8). *

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4). *

 
On this day, I remind myself anew why it is that I have hope, because for some marvelous reason that still blows my mind, someone loved me enough to become human, to walk the earth, to experience persecution and torture, and ultimately to offer his life in exchange for mine, and then to rise again, triumphant over death. If that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

 

 

*Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jack Frost Roasting on an Open Fire...


...chestnuts nipping at your nose...
 
 
That’s not how the song goes? Dear me…how embarrassing!

Be that as it may, winter is hurtling toward us with icy wings outspread to engulf the world—or something equally dramatic. Days are shortening (in the Northern Hemisphere at least), and I am beginning to remember why it is that winter gets to me after a while. Sure, I like autumn; I love the colored leaves and the scented air and the tempered chill. But then snow falls. Fortunately, I haven’t had to shovel yet this season, but my body knows that, sooner or later, this will change. I get sore just thinking about it. Even with the overhead lights on and seemingly every lamp in the house glowing without the dimming hand of their proper shades, the shadows still gather in looming squadrons at the corners of my vision, about the edges of the room where even the lamps’ cold gleam can’t reach. At times like these, I wonder why I claim to love both autumn and winter. What’s wrong with summer? Isn’t spring really the most delightful season of all? (It almost is.) What on earth led my addled mind to believe I actually enjoy the cold drudgery and the weary days when even coffee takes no toll on the sluggish highway of my thoughts?

Without fail, I always forget how gross winter can be. I lose sight of the long hours scooping, lifting, shifting snow, only for it to fall anew. The process feels meaningless. I move frozen water, and it melts. All that work for seemingly nothing, since in the long run, what have I really gained? Come winter’s end, I have no lasting souvenir of all those sweaty hours torturing my arms and back as plow trucks rev their engines and squeal out of the intersection as if that will impress me. Dude, if you really want to impress me, get out and help me shovel! But I digress.

Like drudgery and misery, pain fades quickly. On Sunday, for instance, I ripped off the tip of my toe—fortunately not to the bone—and already that’s ancient history (which says nothing about my attention span). Looking back, I can’t honestly recall how much it hurt, though I know it did. Another example—after writing and rewriting last November’s project about a quarter million times, I set the work aside, spent the summer lollygagging, and promptly forgot how much effort I’d put into it. Now, my head knows it was a boatload of blood, sweat, and tears, but my emotions are in denial. So here I am, typing away, feeling as though my completed book were simply handed to me, as though it were merely dropped into my lap, as though I didn’t actually work for it as much as I should have. Stuff and nonsense.

Back to winter. Of course I remember the wonderful details:  the warm fuzzy feelings, the pleasant moments, the tantalizing smells. I tend to block the other times, the ones with tears and tissues and torment. So reviewing my life is like watching reruns of my favorite show through a nostalgia filter. It is idealized and inaccurate. Still, I wonder if that’s a measure of how we cope, if we’re meant to magnify the good times, within reason, and to lose sight of the days that ached. Just think—if the weight of every dreary winter stuck with me always, I believe I would soon learn to dread the changing of the seasons. Instead I take delight, though each year I learn anew. But alongside this painful rediscovery rests the compilation of nostalgia from all my previous experiences. That outshines the sorrow of winter and dying.

Every season is bursting with memories and happy ghosts, moments pressed between the pages of my history to rustle and breathe anew when the wind catches them just right. And winter is wind like no other. I am haunted by a thousand snapshots of icy-tipped noses above steaming hot chocolate with the sticky red of a candy cane pressed between cherry fingers. I seem to hear, even now, voices layered over each other, past choruses joining with present in ethereal harmony. Nameless nostalgic tremors seize my spine, whispers of memories filed too deeply for my grasp, but there and comforting just the same.

Some seasons trap glowing moments better than others—at least, I find it so. Spring is spectacular, and summer has portfolios of its own, but autumn and winter combined are the true archives. Perhaps that is because more events are crammed between their covers than in the other half of the year. Last NaNoWriMo (I can’t help but smile in recollection), I wrote a book. Since then, I’ve polished it to my satisfaction. This year, I finished three books and two partials, and now I have my editing cut out for me, which is by far my favorite part of the process. I can’t tell you how many wonderful feelings come from that alone. Then Thanksgiving rolls along with family, food, and fun new adventures. Christmas follows, and do I even need to elaborate? After that shines New Year’s Day, which has the added gloss of being my birthday. So I wonder if spring and summer are merely the seasons of recovery meant to prevent autumn and winter from growing old.

That’s one issue I’ve been struggling to learn, but don’t worry, because I’ll eventually forget how difficult it was. You cannot have good moments without bad; you cannot have highs without lows; dawn would mean nothing without night. For every stellar writing day, I have five lesser ones. That’s life. And trying to seize the same enjoyment every time is as pointless and harmful as trying to lift a semi. I would strain something. Consider:  if I ate ice cream every night, aside from getting fat, I would also get bored. Ice cream would stop being special, because I would soon take it for granted. But if I tasted ice cream infrequently, not even once a month, it would always be new—it would always be a highlight.

So this season, I’m trying to remember that nostalgia comes with patience and, like cheddar, it’s better aged. Happy moments aren’t fluttering birds to be caught—they are gifts dropped unexpected on our doorsteps. If I rush headlong into the holidays with the goal of accruing as many fuzzy feelings as I can, I wonder if I’ll end up disappointed. And I don’t want to wear myself out chasing something that wasn’t meant to be manufactured like that. What I am going to do is enjoy this season for what it is and what new treasures I will chance to stumble upon, knowing that retrospect will lend me the honeyed glow I crave.

I’m also going to buy seven floodlights and a lamp. Winter, beware.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ketchup Stains and Life Lessons


So I was wandering around our house, just browsing among my books. Feeling somewhat nostalgic, I pulled an old favorite from the shelf and flipped through the age-stiffened pages. Yup, it’s seen a few more years than I have. The smell has gone musty—not that fresh, vinegary scent you sometimes get with the stiffer stock. And the pages turn like bits of board, fragile and brittle.

That’s what I noticed, right before I saw the food stain.

Let me just say, I can’t stand book abuse. If you ask to borrow one of my darlings, I will invariably start to twitch; then I will reluctantly hand you the book and blurt something to the effect of, “Please be very careful with that and treat it as you would your first-born child.” Yeah, and I’m not ashamed, not even a little. (Okay, maybe a little—but that’s all you’ll get.) In my opinion, half the pleasure of a book is the newness, the feel of it, the glossy paperback all pristine and unwrinkled or the unmarred surface of the hardcover with that creakiness you hear when you open it the first few times. I like the straight cut of the pages, the way all those thin slivers of tree fit together so smoothly and neatly. You might say I’m obsessed. And the smell—oh the smell!—of paper. If you’ve read Fahrenheit 451, you’ll know what I’m talking about. (Think nutmeg.)

There are many horrors that bring a shudder to my spine:  those dreadful moments when my fingernail catches, the sight of ice cream spilt on pavement—and a well-loved book. You know what I’m talking about; it may not be old, but it sure looks that way with as many ripples in the cover as one of those Ruffles® potato chips and as many dog-ears in the pages as a pack of wolves. (Forgive me.) No, I want the smooth, unmarred spines on my many books to line the shelves in pristine splendor with no creases to mark out favorite spots or the places where the glue was at its weakest while the hand was at its strongest. And, if I lend you a book, and you hand it back to me with so much as ONE DIRT SMUDGE on the cover, so help me, I will probably…be very nice to you in person and think awful things about you behind your back as I lie curled on my bed, crying and rocking myself as I whisper comforting things to my poor, damaged volume. Yeah, no, I’m not ashamed about that either. (Okay, yes I am. Please go away now.) For some people, the dust jacket is worthless, just a papery bit that gets in the way. For me though, it is priceless. If I ruin the jacket on one of my hardcovers, even if I don’t particularly like the picture (or the book), I will suddenly suffer the urge to buy a new copy just for a fresh, unmarred dust jacket.

Yeah, Liz, I think we need to sit down…and have a long talk, with tissues and hot chocolate. As long as we don’t use those books over there as coasters. Or table wedges. Or…

Moving on now.

The truth is, that book you just bought—the one you’re holding in your hand and admiring…and smelling when you don’t think anyone’s looking (I totally saw that)—it’s only new once. The wonder you get from tracing the smooth cover and feeling the fresh turn of pages—it won’t return once it’s left. Even treated well, books age. Unfortunately. Those stiff pages will start feeling like cloth if you turn them often enough—and that’s what they were meant for, or so I’m told. Me, I wouldn’t mind having two copies of everything—one for looks and the other for reading. Like it or not, fingers get clumsy. Sometimes, you fall asleep reading in the bathtub and…bad stuff happens (why would you even do that anyway?). Sometimes you drop a book and you catch it with your ninja reflexes—by the flimsy glossy cover—and you leave a little curved crease that shows up on every angle because it’s so stinking shiny! (Which is why you loved it in the first place—and also why you hate it now.) Maybe I’m alone. Maybe I’m the only one who feels betrayed when others don’t value my books as highly as I do. Psychoanalyze me all you like, I have my reasons for this—and they are very good reasons.

But this everyday truth—sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that new stuff gets old. The seeming perfection of an unsullied book fades. We fade. Our lives are short and measured in the span of a breath compared with history. We begin young, and already we’re dying. So maybe it’s easier to fuss about my books and ignore the bigger, larger problem; we are all of us mortal.

Sorry—that got deep. And morbid.

Moving on.

Back to the book I was so obliviously flipping through (Watership Down by Richard Adams, in case you were wondering), I found something—gasp! I found a—it was a… Oh goodness, I can’t even say it. It was so awful. I—I think I may need to sit down.

I found a ketchup stain in my beautiful book. Excuse me, perhaps you didn’t hear me right—you over there, the one sitting at your computer NOT FREAKING OUT. See, with me, I don’t have an overabundance of time. What with classes and writing and that thing that interferes with those two tasks (I’ve heard it called life), I don’t get much chance for pleasure reading. So, during mealtimes, I used to sit and read while I ate. And I like egg sandwiches—thus the ketchup stains. (Yes, I am one of those people.) It bothers me, because sometimes I don’t see the stuff on my finger…until I’ve turned the page. And it’s not like you can put a book in the washer just to get the stain out. Doesn’t work like that…or so I’m told. When it comes down to the marred perfection, well, unless I want to be a total dweeb and buy a new copy for so small a reason, I have to suck it up and accept that pristine isn’t permanent.

Truth be told, as I look at this ketchup stain and remember a charming poem called “Marginalia”, I start to feel a little ashamed at my lack of focus. Because, let’s look at the facts. I was reading that book, loving the story and relishing my sandwich, and yeah, the two components of my enjoyment had an…encounter. But I was swept up in another world at the time; ketchup-stained fingers weren’t even on my radar at that point. Now that—that’s the real purpose of a book. You can bind anything and make it pretty—but pretty doesn’t always mean valuable. It’s what’s inside the book that makes it lasting and special. Watership Down wouldn’t be around anymore if it were just another pretty face. At some point, I’ll be able to grasp that and ignore the shiny cover completely (like that’s going to happen.)

Until then, I’ll be repeating “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love”* one hundred times.

 

Note:  I’m not even going to mention annotation. I’m just going to plug my ears and sing a little song and dance around, all the while pretending that such atrocities do not exist.

 

*Quote from “Marginalia” by Billy Collins. A must read.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Overdue Rebellion


Status:  Final NaNo word count—404,404

Mental State:  Not quite as exhausted as I would have expected—close though. Mostly I’m just sad it’s over. *sniffles*

 

So, I’m sitting in my room with my feet propped up drinking tea, not that anyone really cares. In fact, if I took a picture of myself right now and posted it on the internet, I doubt anyone would give it more than a passing glance or go out of their way to Google it. Maybe a couple friends would like it on Facebook. No biggie. But, if I were—say—Louis Tomlinson, almost every thirteen year old in existence would probably stare at my photo for a good solid five minutes. Its Facebook likes would number in the thousands (at least). Probably a few creepers would print it out and post it on their wall (yes, you know who you are). Big difference huh? Just…change the person, and you change everything.

While you may not care about what I had for breakfast or what my favorite color is (green, by the way) or the number of marshmallows I can fit in my mouth, you probably would if I were someone famous. And I get that, so don’t think I’m griping. Isn’t it at least a little bit intriguing, though, that if Louis posted a video relaying those exact details, a couple hundred thousand individuals would probably watch it at least once while I might get two views?

But what’s the difference between him and me aside from the obvious things like gender and facial hair? Well, he’s famous, yeah—a heartthrob. What else though? Is he a better person? Maybe. Since he’s rich and all, he can give gobs of money to charities, and he has significant influence he could use for good. That’s not really what I’m talking about though. I’m not referring to morality or talent. Actually, I’m talking about him…as a person. And me too, as a person. And you.

Countries like India have caste systems where those at the top are rich and privileged, those in the middle less so, and those at the bottom untouchable. Other countries, like the United States, are a little more covert about this—we have our upper class, our middle class, and our poverty stricken lower class. Granted, that’s a broad generalization. But the people in these different levels—it’s not like they’re some different species. They are all human beings—made in God’s image just like you and Louis and I. Both fame and obscurity can do nothing to change that.

So what makes some special and others not? Well, Louis is a halfway decent singer (some would disagree—but I wasn’t asking). Also, never underestimate the power of great hair and good looks. Those can often go farther than a decent batch of brain cells, but I digress. And I’m not like the haters. Don’t think I’m going to stand here and argue that Louis has been handed fame and fortune and adulation without just cause, all the while trying to mask my own jealousy.

Sure, he’s famous—that is something. But even if you’re not famous?—doesn’t mean you’re any less than he. Some day you may have the spotlight. Or perhaps you prefer the shadows. You know what though? Maybe the singers and the actors and the writers and the politicians are the ones we end up remembering at the end of the day. But the lady at the cash register who says something nice to the depressed teen? I think that puts a platinum album to shame.

Louis’ popularity—and the popularity of others—has nothing to do with worth. Like Louis and like me, you are a person. And we are all equal, no matter what anyone says. Granted, you might pass your evenings calculating pi to the millionth digit while I spend mine progressing my campaign to burn every math book on the planet. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. While Louis can sing, maybe you can’t carry a tune except to take it out back and bury it. Or perhaps he can’t make a decent soufflĂ© while you can. Then comes the whole issue of appearance:  fat or skinny, tall or short? What does it matter? What do these things say about you—you as a person?

Living in this world, seeing all the gorgeous Hollywood people and the stick-thin shop window dummies and the talents everyone seems to have aside from you, it can get pretty depressing pretty fast. So here comes the point where I say something controversial. Before you shoot me, though, allow me to explain. This culture—it makes self-esteem a thing of the past. (Just so you know, that wasn’t the controversial bit.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt there’s any way you can look like the gals and the guys on the magazines. With all that airbrushing, they don’t even look like themselves. To try would be to drive yourself crazy, or worse. But people do. I do. And that’s a mistake.  

I’m not saying it’s wrong to look your best or to work out and be fit. Those are great things, just, not the most important. Rather than trying to live up to the lie that is the tabloid, the lie that the actors can’t even seem to live up to without collapsing on set or whatever, why don’t we try something else? Why don’t we rebel? Seriously. Who sets these standards anyway, the ones where you have to kill yourself to be pretty? Who made the ruling that beauty is something you put on your face instead of something you wear on your heart? I think it’s about time we stopped letting them pull this one over on us. I think it’s time we let them know how sick we are—us girls and guys—of being held to unreal standards. Why don’t we just let ourselves be human for once, stop trying to be gods? You do realize, don’t you? Things like this only happen because we let them, because we just accept the lies and don’t speak out against them.

So my challenge? Measure the thickness (not the width or length—the thickness) of a magazine cover. Sometimes that’s as deep as outward beauty goes. Why not find out what it really means to be pretty—on the inside? Age will take that face from you—what will you have left when it’s gone? And to help free ourselves, why don’t we message our friends and tell them how wonderful they are, the bits about their personalities that make them unique and special, the traits that make them better than a shop window dummy. Why don’t we rebuild our culture from the bottom up on a stronger foundation, one where we all have a little more room to breathe and actually be ourselves.

 

Note:  Please don’t misconstrue this post as a slam on Louis Tomlinson. I assure you, it is not. I just figured that using someone like Taylor Swift would come across as criticism rather than mere example. As for Louis, I do still intend to marry him some day. *grin*

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Different Sort of Rat--One Last Pep Talk


 
Here we are, wrimos, on the final stretch—the very last leg of the race. And though we are exhausted, we are determined to sprint across the finish line with all the grace we can muster before we pass out on the grass at the end of the track. Likewise with our characters. All through this month, they have fought monsters and obstacles and deadlines of their own. This is called the RAT—the race against time—and it’s something that most books need. Usually they have goals with teeth—save the world in twenty minutes or it burns, become queen or the kingdom breaks apart, save the endangered owls or the housing development seals their doom.

You have not been immune to this rat race yourself. December is closing in, bearing with it promises of presents and holiday pounds and too much pie for anyone’s good. At the beginning of the month, you probably felt excited. Thirty days can seem an eternity to the hopeful writer’s mind. So much can happen within that span of time; books can develop and spring to life; love can begin and end. All of eternity seems encapsulated in this November collection of moments that has become all yours.

Yet, here and now, looking back at the preceding days, no doubt you wonder where they have gone, why they have rushed away in such a flurry of fluttering paper and clacking keys. The potential of time resources that you foresaw has now been tapped nearly to the fullest. Coffee is scarce. Nerves are taut. For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, schedules are packed. But if you’re like me, you have so many stories left to tell—not even half the words in your head have been committed to paper thus far. This month will end, and it seems that with its demise, the glow of creating will fade, and life will return to its normal mundane routines locked tightly in the spinning of the world. All those bright moments in your head will fly off like faeries once the month is passed. A tough pill to swallow, huh?

December will come and snatch away the thousands more words that you so wished to write but couldn’t. Your work of genius will sit abandoned in the dusty archives of your computer—finished or unfinished, it matters not. The window has passed for fantasies such as these, and it is time to move on and answer the call of reality. Can’t you already hear the phone ringing? Perhaps you believe that if you don’t get those words in your head written down before the close of November, you may never get another chance. For some, that may encourage you to write like your life depends on it. Because it does. (That was mostly a lie.) But for others, and sometimes I hold myself among your group, the fear and the gravity of this reality is enough to freeze you in your tracks with dread. And while you sit unmoving, time rushes by in the never ceasing whirlwind of commitments and obligations.

Regardless of where you stand on this matter, November is almost over. Nothing can change that—not even coffee. Our kitchen is filled with smoke from my German apple pie, and the strawberry rhubarb is sizzling nicely. Soon pumpkin bars will join the mix. And the cooking, yeah, it’s eating my word count. So is blogging. That’s life. The thing is, you’ve worked yourself hard all month. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy family and these moments that, like this NaNoWriMo, you will never be able to retrieve or redo if you miss them the first time.

At this point, you may be asking if this is a pep talk or a stress talk.

Here’s the crux. No one (at least no one important) ever said that you couldn’t keep writing after November. Many of you already plan to. Good on you. Sprint to the finish line—yeah—but the race doesn’t have to end there. Oh no. After all, you wrote a novel, and I’m sorry to tell you this (not really), but it’s not over yet. Unfortunately, if your work of genius is anything like mine, it has a face only a mother could love. You may think it’s fresh and exciting, but it is probably going to take many drafts and tons of revisions before anyone else will see it that way.

But in the end, where’s the fun without a challenge?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

News from the NaNo Front


Hello wrimos, I see you made it out of week two alive. Congratulations. Sorry to say this, though, but it’s not over yet.

In fact, we’ve only just begun. Because week three…

Oh yeah, I lied about week two…

Week three—there’s the kicker.

All the way through week one, you probably soared on the winds of an exciting beginning and a fresh mind ready for adventure. Then, of course, week two came along—right out of nowhere—and boxed you around the ears a bit. I imagine your head is still ringing. Dreadful sorry.

Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing some rather disturbing news from the writing front. From the snippets of tattered notes brought to me by my fearless carrier pigeons, I have caught wind of a desperate situation. So I stand before you today, observing how nice you all look in your NaNo uniforms, designed specifically to help you blend in with your room and disappear from normal society. Bravo for your ingenuity! And I especially love the Viking helmets—nice touch, those. But I also see something else that reminds me of my own reflection in the mirror, all gaunt from lack of sleep, with those over-caffeinated eyes that seem to stare into my soul. *shudder* Most of you look a little battered, a little down for the count, if you ask me. Sure, some of you have a charming freshness about you and a ruddiness to your cheeks. You’ve been running full tilt, having the time of your life, and the exercise suits you. It really does. So I would like to award you an honorary medal for your bravery.

But war is never as glorious as they make it out to be, and many of you understand that, now more than ever. Come, sit. I’ll grab bandages and cocoa—we can talk about it if you like. I hear the forces of writer’s block have been converging on our location—I suspect foul play on the part of a few inner editors. Also, I realize the plague has been sweeping through this camp and taking down our numbers. Last week, I myself became a statistic. After all, there’s nothing like a good old head cold to wreak havoc on your word count.

So today, troops, I would like to address two issues. Afterwards, you will be free to line up for the chocolate buffet. (I hear there will also be coffee, but don’t quote me on that.)

The first problem smacks of OCD. You see, if I write a certain number of words on one day, then for goodness sake, I will—I must!—write exactly that many words (or more) the next day or else THE WORLD WILL END! I admire those of you who can skip a day without suffering an aneurysm. Unfortunately, I am not like you. On Thursday, I looked ahead at THE ARMY OF COMMITMENTS that was blackening the horizon, and—fueled by the sound of distant, clanking armor and the feral snarls of word-count-eaters—I wrote almost double what I normally write. As I did this, I told myself that I was building up padding so that I could relax on Friday.

But is that how it worked out? No. Of course not. You are talking to Liz, after all, not Superman. Because the next day, I looked at my graph, saw how much ahead I was, and decided to up my goal (for like the fifth time this month). The surplus was nice, but my brain wasn’t going to let those extra words go to waste. And this whole new dynamic started to throw a wrench into my enjoyment of NaNoWriMo.

So you know what I did? I slacked off—I made myself. I went to bed early, having written just about half my normal daily count. Did it bother me? Yes, of course—but not as much as I would have expected. Far less, in fact. I almost felt good about it—lighter and freer. And the next day, rested and invigorated, I popped out of bed, wrote extra words that more than made up my deficit, and enjoyed my time immensely. On Sunday, I slacked off again. Then—wonder of wonders!—I did better on Monday.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. If you’re feeling tired or trapped—take a break, read something, rest. Treat yourself like a human being rather than a workhorse. Eat ice cream and check your social media platforms and dance while washing the dishes. Make cookies. Procrastinate with intentionality. Writing takes discipline—yes, of course. But working yourself to death isn’t going to do you any favors. And if you don’t make your goal of one million or whatever…? Let me let you in on a little secret. You are not going to die. Not from that.

 

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The second, and more disturbing issue that I have been hearing about is the sad malady of novel malnutrition. Like scurvy, this seems to be a common occurrence during war. Chances are, you may have started out with a robust, beefy storyline that really tickled your fancy and made your fingers fly. But at around 25K, some of you came to the realization that your wonderful book was actually going to be a novella. You suddenly felt as though you were choking and drowning and spontaneously combusting at the same time. I feel your pain. And sometimes, the sad truth is that your fantasy trilogy really is only a short story.

But in many cases, all you need is a simple vitamin injection. You’ve been writing fast and furious. Now it’s time to slow down and look at what’s gone wrong with your novel. Your story of a frog trying to find his way home after escaping a little boy’s room may have had so much potential in your mind. But Ferdie found his family in chapter eight, and now your only recourse seems to be writing a 25K epilogue in which you meticulously describe the party thrown for him upon his return.

I’m here with the daring suggestion that maybe your novel doesn’t have enough conflict. Yes, Ferdie got home—yay, Ferdie!—but did you really make him work for it enough? Sure, there was that part you especially liked about the housing development and the belligerent construction workers, and that other bit you didn’t like so much about the swimming pool incident and the rabid pelican. (Seriously, do birds even get rabies?) But, he pretty much just hopped along and weathered these issues. And then he got home, 25K words too early. Stupid Ferdie.

But what if he gets to his little rotten log, and he finds that no one’s there? What if his whole family has been captured—by the same boy!—during his absence, and now Ferdie must save them as well? Or, what if Ferdie returns to watch his family celebrating at his funeral, to see his fiancĂ© marrying another frog, to find his possessions stolen? Or what if they are happy to see him, but, mid-celebration, those construction workers from the housing development come along and start surveying his nice little woodsy habitat? Or! What if Ferdie has come back angry, plotting his revenge on the frogs who made it possible for the boy to capture him in the first place?

I realize you’re tired, and at this point, it’s easy to rush to the end, write the climax, and call it a wrap. But I’m challenging you, today, to call your story’s bluff. What you have might be a false climax. There might yet be plenty of good stuff to come. You just have to dig for it.

So that’s your assignment for today, troops. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to dredge up all that ammo from the slushy ground of the battlefield where you dropped it when you beat a hasty retreat, because you’re going to need it in a few minutes. Writer’s block is swarming the camp, and it’s up to you now to save us all. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to the Land of No Return


No doubt you’ve discovered week two of NaNoWriMo, my current home. In fact, I see those muddy footprints you tracked all over the carpet, and I also see the discarded pile of coffee cups that seems to be growing even as I look. Oh my. Of course, I would offer to give you a tour, but since your laptop looks quite natural plunked onto that desk in the corner with the inspiring lava lamp, I realize I might be a little late for that. Well, welcome anyway. And next time, make sure to wipe your feet on the mat—that is actually what it’s there for. Or so I’m told. I, for one, do not venture frequently into the great outdoors, because why would I do that when I could merely rule a hundred realms within the confines of my comfy chair?

Oh, you say you’ve already been here five days? How embarrassing! Still, I’m not surprised I didn’t notice you sooner. You see, I’ve been shunning all forms of real civilization and carrying on conversations with nonexistent people in my head. But I digress.

Perhaps, though, you don’t know your way around this place quite as well as you think. Allow me to point out some interesting oddities. For instance, come join me in the kitchen, and we’ll inspect the contents of the fridge. See this coffee creamer? It’s Pumpkin Pie Spice—no surprise there. But you may not have noted the brand. International Delight is rather lovely, don’t you think? It’s much better than Coffee Mate, which I call Paper Mate because it doesn’t actually taste like a substance I should be ingesting. There’s also orange juice, and grape juice, and V8, plus lots of milk. Frankly, I think there might be a cow living in this fridge somewhere, because that is seriously a LOT of milk.

Ooh, come take a look at these cupboards—aren’t they marvelous? Let’s look at the tea—Earl Grey, Raspberry Royale, Pomegranate Green, and Chocolate Mint Oolong! They are a caffeine rush just waiting to happen.

But we’ve lingered too long down here, and I’m sure you’re eager to return to your laptop. Or your notebook. Or your papyrus scroll or cuneiform tablet or… Perhaps it would be better if we moved on.

When I am writing, I like small enclosed spaces and rainy days and that perfect blend of darkness and brightness, like the wedding of moonlight and shadows. Here’s a handy dandy tool to help with the mood. Be mindful, though, the thunderstorm can be rather frightening when cranked too loud. Cozy, huh?

Somewhere in this house, there is a newspaper I would love to show you, but the page with the article in question is the only one in the entire pile that I seem to have misplaced. Though perhaps I had help from the gremlins who also stage a multiplicity of phone calls during lunch break. Who needs phone calls? (If you haven’t read “The Murderer,” a short story by Ray Bradbury, I suggest you do so posthaste.) What was I saying? Oh yes, newspaper. I was procrastinating yesterday—a fine art that was developed long before NaNoWriMo but only reached its true glory when the site began in 1999. First I read an article about con men in the early nineteen hundreds. Then I skimmed one about Ebola. And then, I stumbled upon this little jewel. I mean, seriously—I live in Maine. Maine is full of deer. Due to an unfortunate grocery shopping incident, our new Subaru Forester now answers to the name Deerslayer. But shooting a doe with a rack is about as common as meeting a woman with a beard. Though not quite as awkward.

Well, you’ve been kind to me on this abbreviated tour of NaNo week two, also known as THE LAND OF NO RETURN. The inertia of a new and shiny story idea has probably begun to wear off, like the thin nickel plating on that expensive bracelet the salesman assured you was solid silver. You may well be rolling in great vats of words or struggling just to manage twenty. Regardless of where you are, you are most likely getting tired. I know I am. Even though I’m maintaining a steady speed, I still feel like I’m losing ground. This is because I’m forging into the wilds of a rough draft where anything could happen, which could be either good or bad. And right now I’m thinking bad. A few days ago, I accidentally began the long slow process of killing off one of my favorite characters, and now I need to think of a clever way to save her life, or else a meaningful way to let her die. So you see why sleep and sanity are absolutely out of the question right now.

Usually I’m calm, laid back, chill—except when it comes to answering the phone and killing massive spiders the size of mimics. But I’m starting to get anxious now. The newspaper is calling to me. My music collection is begging me to come sing along. In a great feat of avoidance, I made cookies yesterday. And then I walked for forty-five minutes to “clear away the cobwebs in my head.”

So I’m really saying this for my benefit as well. While it’s nice to distract yourself reading about the Bubonic Plague (which is still around, by the way), and the bloke who wanted to get swallowed by an anaconda (we must be terribly bored people), your novel is calling to you. Or maybe that’s just the trance induced by twelve too many cups of coffee. Be that as it may, now is the time when fear is at its strongest. And now, when you most want to quit, is the time that you cannot let doubt win. Because if you walk away today, in the height of your glory, you will regret it forever. All those unwritten words will eat a hole in your brain. Literally. (Okay, not really.)

So go out. Write. Conquer. Make a glorious mess, because with no mess there can be no further glory (or so I tell myself). Drag that book kicking and screaming into this world if you have to. Show it who’s boss. And together, we’ll make it through this. Then, when it’s all over, we can eat as much ice cream as we like, right before we sign up for rehab to treat our caffeine addictions. Wait, what?!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Avengers, NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Writing Two Books at Once—A Message to my Fellow Wrimos


Status:  Since no one asked me to write a NaNoWriMo pep talk, I have taken it upon myself to do so. And to my non-writing readers, I promise, come December, I will write about something other than books for a change. But for now, it’s November, and this is what’s on my mind. Also, be forewarned of mild Avengers spoilers.

                       

Glossary of relevant terms: 
 
Wrimo—An intrepid adventurer on the path to 50K words.

Nanoverse—The universe of NaNoWriMo, known for its magical properties and slightly insane inhabitants.

NaNoing—The act of participating in NaNoWriMo.

 

Yes, it’s that time of year again, that magical month of crazy and unexpected happenings. Which reminds me of the day I actually found the end of a rainbow (with no pot of gold—of course.) But let’s not talk about that.

I’m sure most of you have seen The Avengers. If you haven’t, now’s the time. Because today, the Avengers are going to give us a pep talk about writing…  Or something like that.

Consider: 

1)      The world is in peril. (But isn’t it for every wrimo in the nanoverse?)

2)      The stakes are high. (Um…because…50K, and then you have overachievers like me who are then overshadowed by the over-overachievers who make 100K on the second day. Shame on you, whoever you are.)

3)      Failure means consequences. (No success—no book. Those are pretty steep consequences if you ask me.)

4)      A superhero (because let’s face it, that’s what we wrimos are) must join with his friends (writing buddies anyone?) to save the world from destruction. (Here is where I refer back to my original point.)

See, it’s all there. You wrimos have embarked on your dangerous battle against Loki (your inner editor) to save the world from the…okay, so it begins to break down here. But hopefully you get my point.

Not only does The Avengers parallel your journey this month, it also applies to your novel and its plot. No doubt, your characters are striving against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The stakes are high, with tangible consequences. (And I’m generalizing here, because literary novels are different, and also much harder to write in a shorter period of time.) At some point, your character will go through “the long dark night of the soul”, in which he feels he will surely fail. (Spoiler alert:  I’m thinking of Agent Colson’s death and the following events.) You yourself may feel that way somewhere between 25K to 35K (or try anywhere in your novel, when you’re me and you realize that you’re not freaking out and you probably should be freaking out because THAT’S TRADITION, ISN’T IT?)

Though I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, since we all have different writing habits, I personally am working on two books at once. Tada! I have now revealed the true depths of my insanity. But here’s what I have found. At first I was seriously concerned that I was off my rocker, that writing two novels at once was akin to eating two pies at once—delicious but deadly. However, come Day Five at 50K plus, I know something I didn’t on Day One. By adding another story, I have more than doubled my efficiency, for this reason. Last year, I spent ages staring agonizingly at the screen, wondering why the muse was taking so long on her coffee break. I mean, seriously, ten minutes is plenty. I had one story on which I focused all my energy (which wasn’t a bad thing—I got it done), but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened next, getting mired down by doubt and dry-brain-syndrome. (It’s totally a thing. You’d know that if you ever did NaNoWriMo. Am I right?)

This year, though, when I get stuck on one book and need to take a step back, I don’t have to walk away from doing what I love. I can simply switch to my other story, tap away at that until my brain cramps, and then switcheroo again.

Before I leave, because yes, I am in a hurry to get back to my NaNo baby (sorry guys), I would like to make a tie-in. When The Avengers came out, the movie makers had built up to it with Captain America and Thor and Iron Man and The Hulk. While one movie comes out, another is in the works. There’s some overlap. Here’s the part of the show, I know, where you’re expecting me to make some deep comparison between this and my dual-NaNoing strategy with a swift last-minute tie-in to something coffee-related. But all I have is this—the different movies kept us interested, kept us waiting for the next one. That’s what happens with my two books. They feed off each other, like little baby piranhas (or not really). They are their own entities, of course, with different characters and different plots, but they keep me intrigued—they keep me moving. So happy NaNoing you wrimo Avengers. And knock that word count dead.