Archive for November 2010

Tired at the End of November? (National Novel Writing Month)

November 30, 2010

Horse Cart? Horse Cab? So Much To Brush Up Against

Back in New York City and find myself tired tired tired.

All that physical energy that seemed so boundless in the fresh and cooked air of a Thanksgiving break in the country now seems sadly dissipated.

What has sapped me?

The grind/stress of the job?

The lack of frolicking!?  (Unpopulated spaces somehow lend themselves to dashing and dancing in ways that don’t quite work in most urban settings.)

Or, I wonder, as I drag myself to the subway through all the faces and vehicles, bodies and clothes, concrete and glass, is it the entropy of brushing up against so many different beings and energies–all that collected history, mortar, CO2?

I could point to the end of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  Am I tired simply from having scribbled and typed 50,000 extra words over the course of November?

And then I look about me on the train and see that a whole bunch of people have a slumped (non-)edge to them.    Were we all plotting throughout the past month?

(Is that why we’re plodding now?)

Did they also do Nanowrimo?

Mouse Plotter(?) on Train???

Restrepo on Cyber-Monday

November 30, 2010

It’s amazing how our culture comes up with new spending rituals– Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, National Administrative Assistants’ Day.  Even traditional rituals seem to have whole new levels of consumption associated with them–weddings planned for years, graduations celebrated from nursery school on.

Then, of course, there are holidays that have become primarily shopping days–Presidents’ Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day.

On this Cyber-Monday evening, I find myself watching the very non-festive documentary, Restrepo, a movie by Sebastian Junger and Tim Heatherington, about U.S. forces in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan.   The film documents a platoon that sets up an operation post some distance from the base camp which is named for Restrepo, an individual soldier killed in the Valley close to the beginning of the deployment.

It’s a very sad movie–so much good will, energy, and, of course, life, spent in an effort that seems doomed from the start.  (In fact, U.S. forces have now evacuated the Korangal Valley.)  The idea that American soldiers, creatures of a culture that invented Cyber-Mondays (a triumph of the insular, yet gung-ho, consumer), can persuade village elders to work against their traditional (and sometimes related) strong men is just crazy.  It’s especially crazy given the relatively short (if interminable seeming) time frame of U.S. deployment; the dual role of the military (fighters/diplomats); and the youth and cultural inexperience of many of the soldiers.

Then in the midst of the fear and digging, drawn faces, gunfire, tension, loss and profanity of the infantrymen comes repeated LEXUS commercials.  “No one ever found a gift too big,” says a voice as a beamingly groomed woman leads an incredibly clean-looking (compared to the infantrymen) guy to a huge wrapped package stationed in (alternately)   (i) a landscaped driveway or (ii) a huge and sparkling living room.  The wrapped package splits in the middle to reveal–tada!–a new car!  For Christmas!

It all has to make you wonder:  what are we doing there?  What are we doing here?

Nanowrimo Up…. Date? (Made It Through Thanksgiving)

November 28, 2010


So, what time is it?

What day is it again?

Some day at the end of November.

Thanks have been given without unpleasant incident.  Even as I say that, my ever gloomy mind comes up with mishaps and disappointments that loomed large a couple of days ago (a child who couldn’t make it, a parent who fell en route to a video call).  Even so, the holiday came and went with no regret for never having mastered the Heimlich maneuver, and with a fair amount of tap and other dancing.   That has to count as a win.

Speaking of “winning,” I amassed today the 50,000 word count for “victory” in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month.)  I cannot pretend to have written a novel,  but only a relatively large number of words.  This may account for the lack of ebullience, I feel today (whatever day it is).

Still, I have learned something important this Nanowrimo month:  that I, that you, that probably almost all of us, have a lot more free time and imagination than we generally think we do.

My gloomy side chimes in: ‘yes, and possibly we have a lot less time than we think as well.’    (Darn you, gloomy side!)

So, what time was that again?  Time to get going.


Pearl Cold and Old (Still Attending to Life’s Work)

November 27, 2010


Taking Pity on Pearl

My family has reminded me that our dog Pearl is over fifteen.  After doing the calculations, I could see they were right.  This shocked and saddened me.  I had convinced myself, and told others, that she was at least a year or two younger.  (In a similar way, I  have an increasingly hard time remembering, or acting, my own age.  It’s uncomfortable, on all kinds of levels, to feel time pass in one’s bones.  Almost as difficult to see it in others.)

We are celebrating Thanksgiving in Upstate New York, and Pearl is finding it very cold, both inside and out.   (I took pity on her above.)

Even so, she still enjoys the view from the porch.




Though perhaps not as much as the kitchen.

On the Prowl

Some things never change.



Black Friday – Blessed By Pines

November 26, 2010

The day after Thanksgiving.  This, weirdly, has become known as Black Friday.  I can only assume that the reason is that any day spent rushing around stores has a certain bleakness.

The original Black Friday was September 24, 1869, a day that financial panic hit the gold market due to manipulations by robber barons Jay Gould and James Fisk.  (Again, I’m not sure of the connection to post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping.  The fear of gold losing its value over the course of a single day?)

I was lucky enough to spend a lot of the day outdoors.

Above is a video of treetops, blown by wind, not searching out anything but sun; evergreens, yes, but way too tall to worry about Christmas coming.

Nanowrimo Update – Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Nanowrimo Participant At Thanksgiving (And Pearl)

Finally, a free day (well, putting aside chopping, cooking, washing dishes, socializing and trying to get some air!)

What I truly mean is that I am getting down to the wire with my Nanowrimo novel and I should focus today on upping the old word count.

(Nanowrimo, if you are new to this notion, is National Novel Writing Month–a time when would-be novelists/masochists devote themselves to their dream activity.  Sort of.)

The problem is that I suddenly can’t summon the will.

Is it Writers’ Block crashing down? The other side of the ManicD equation?  Simple fatigue?

Is it the fact that I find myself in the middle of a family gathering, with an expectation that I will do something other than work on my computer?

Is the old September NYT crossword at my side really so fascinating?

All of the above is true.

But, oddly, the main cause of my current withdrawal is a kind of success.  As I wrote a couple of days ago, I finally discovered the connection between the disparate characters in my nanowrimo novel, a connection that has some kind of emotional “rightness” (if not, resolution.)

This connection has taken the manuscript (the potential manuscript) to a whole different level.

All of this is good (I guess), but also daunting.   Suddenly, the proposed novel does not feel so much like a what-comes-next game, a free-fall through the unconscious, but a project.  Something that could be worthwhile if I could just devote about a year or more to it.

The coincidence of Thanksgiving brings me to the only helpful response I can come up with:  isn’t the human mind amazing?  All those nooks and crannies where stories, characters,types, lurk.   I readily admit that mine are all stolen–from life, reading, the heard, experienced; only somewhere in this dreamlike process of making one’s self write madly, a mishmash has occurred, a regrouping.

I don’t know if I will have the luck or drive or year (or so) that it will take to actually write the novel that started through this rather random exercise.   It’s another huge leap of faith to think that anyone will read it!   Still, something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving – Pleasing the Crowd?

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving - you can't please everyone.

Or maybe you can.

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving.

I’m reposting these pictures for the Jingle poetry site.  I’m very thankful to have gotten in touch with Jingle, and all the wonderful poetry sites on the Internet.  It’s so inspiring to be in a community of poets.   Thank you all.

Nanowrimo Update – The Saving Sidelong Glance – Tips For the Headlong

November 23, 2010

What's Going On There?

Like Pearl, I have great faith in the sidelong glance.

When her legs are working, she uses it mid-charge, mid-frolic.  It’s a feint.  She darts to one side and then another, then absolutely stops, her gaze fixed at an intense angle away, then whoosh, starts up again in what seems (to her, at least) an unanticipated direction.

When the legs are stiff, there’s the more passive sidelong glance.  This one that comes from the apparently resting Pearl, the glance that secretly watches the kitchen, always always always on the look-out for the opening of the fridge door, and then, for that distinctive swoop of cheese.

What I’m talking about here are ideas.  How to get them when novelling, especially when doing headlong unplanned novelling; when in other words, you are stalled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a bit stuck in my “novel”; the bi-furcated plot refusing to “unfurcate,”  my two sets of characters on separate, unfeeling, trajectories–never, it seemed, would the twain meet.

And then, finally, yesterday having just passed through the old Helmsley building trying to shut out the sounds of UPS’s morphed version of “That’s Amore”, having just congratulated myself on my maturity for not checking my email when walking–I glanced it: the connection–closer than Kevin Bacon–and more importantly, with emotional heft.

I kept walking, not really daring to think–well, of course, I was thinking furiously–like Pearl darting around, but all the time also trying to keep my peripheral mental vision clear.

Sidelong ideas creep over the edges of consciousness unexpectedly,  the “eureka” moment often surprisingly off-point.


  1. If you want an idea to swoop down, you have to leave an open runway, that is, a brain that is not actively digitalized.
  2. When I don’t want to just wait for an idea to just swoop down, I find it helpful to think of random images of characters, and especially, dialogue.  Yes, I do go through repeated plot possibilities, but these can have a very arbitrary feel.  I am more successful (or at least excited), when I just let myself hear characters talk.   Amazingly, all kinds of flashes of people and dialogue will arrive, which are somehow “writeable” even if I don’t know yet exactly how they will fit in.
  3. It is also helpful to give characters certain physical and vocal characteristics based on people I know, even if the characters are not really like these people.  (They grow farther and farther away as the story progresses.)
  4. The sidelong doesn’t really like the “headlong” – either the rush of the intensely driven, or the overly-cerebral.   Try to be a little less pragmatic with your characters; let them have a little space, wasted time.  (Don’t tell them you may cut all of that.)

Nanowrimo Update: Adrift

November 22, 2010


Another  busy work week begins and my Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) novel is seriously adrift.  Fulfilling the word count (50,000) by the end of November will likely be possible.   As any follower of this blog has probably guessed, I’m pretty good at quickly typing words.

Getting the story right, getting A story,is more difficult.

On my last update, I complained about the plot problem of arranging for  “California Girl” (who was not truly from California but has been staying in LA) to meet up with my other crew of characters traveling through Nevada.

Everything was happening too slowly.   The Nevada crew was not getting to LA fast enough to have their crisis there.

The bigger issue is that I haven’t been sure of the connection between the two sets of characters  even as I’ve danced between the two stories, writing them in one manuscript, in typical Gemini indecisiveness.  (Sorry, to you decisive Geminis.)

What to do?  I couldn’t just leave California Girl eating corn dogs on Venice Beach.

After a long walk below a clear sky, it became clear to me that California Girl was just going to have to be in Nevada; and since I couldn’t think of a reason for her to run off there, she’d have to be there all along; be, in other words, “Nevada Girl” right from the start.

(At least, I thought this had become clear.  The sky is a bit cloudy today.)

In the meantime, my Nevada crew has also stalled.   I am at the point of writing endless dialogue, thoughts, internal connections–something that would be Woolfian if I did it better–even as they race to an ambulance!

Maybe it’s a good thing I have to get back to other work today.

If these characters can’t make up their mind where they are or what they are doing, let them just stew for a while!  See if I care!  (Ah….good question.)

Nanowrimo Update: The Quandary of the Corn Dog

November 21, 2010

Corn Dog?

Agh!  Everything changes.

Especially when you are writing a novel in a month.

Which brings me to being a Gemini (the sign of the twins, twins encapsulated in a single person).  I do not particularly believe in astrology as a means of foretelling the future–at least not since the big stock market crash in 2007 which was totally NOT foreseen by Jonathan Cainer.   Nonetheless, I have always found myself to be an absolute down-to-the-bone Gemini:  quick, shallow, communicative, changeable, inveterately bi-tasking.

The propensity to do two things at once is reflected consistently in my fiction writing.  Almost every manuscript I’ve ever written, whether for children or adults, tends to be told in two voices, the perspective of two characters.  I can’t somehow stick to one track; as a result, I’ve grown to like the kind of interchange that two different points of view, or even stories, provides.

But when you are writing a novel without much of a plan, and with limited imagination, this kind of structure can be a problem.  In my current nanowrimo manuscript, for example, one of my two subplots has become quite a bit more compelling than the other.  I just haven’t quite gotten the gist of the other one yet:  who are these people?  What are they doing with each other?

They started out in a suburban house in Sherman Oaks, California (part of LA).  The swimming pool went green; one decided to leave, the other tied her to a chair.  She has escaped now to a motel in Venice Beach.

But this move to Venice Beach really is too early in terms of the other subplot–that’s the crew traveling through Nevada, troubled by modern art (among other things.)

So what now?  While California girl is in Venice, she has to DO something.  She can’t just sit there awaiting the arrival of characters she’s never even met!  And, btw, I realized today, she is also  going to need a whole different past, and a whole different vocation, a basic remodeling.

So, once more, now what?  Do I just forget about California girl for a while, give up my typical back and forth, and focus on the guys in Nevada?  Do I go back and re-write California girl’s whole first half, move everything forward (or backward)?    This makes a certain sense, but would probably require me to give up whatever unconscious structure has happened in the initial writing.

Alternatively, do I come up with something new and exciting for California Girl to do right now?  At the moment, all I’ve been able to come up with is the eating of corn dogs.

(In case, you don’t know, these are hot dogs on a stick, dipped into corn meal, deep fried.)

Not somehow enough.