Never in November

Tomorrow is November first. All around the globe, writers will be prepping themselves for NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. I won’t be…as I’m not doing NaNo. My reasons range from practical to philosophical…and in that order, here they are.

(Disclaimer against torches and pitchforks: these reflect my own experience and writing style. If NaNo works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me and here’s why.)

Word count 

Practical: I write longhand on paper. Trying to do a word count on a piece of paper is akin to trying to count a flock of chickens: it’s a lengthy endeavor that you’ll have to repeat several times because those suckers never seem to stay still. Doing a word count will eat up several  minutes of my already precious spare time. I’m also pretty sure I’d get distracted by typos, or “hey, this word is better for that sentence”, or “Dear Lord, what is this word and why did I spell it that way?” Like I said, it’d be like trying to count a flock of chickens.

Philosophical: Why a word count? That’s not how I judge books anyway. When I pick up a book, I’m not thinking “Feels like 100,000 word book”; I’m thinking “Wow, that’s a lot of pages!” I don’t work for a publishing company, but I’m pretty sure they’re looking at length in pages, not necessarily exactly how many words are on those pages. Focusing exclusively on word count seems to be missing the forest for all the trees.

Discipline 

Practical: I work two jobs, both of which get really hectic around the holidays. I’m also politically active, so there’s a lot of energy going towards Election Day. Starting something I know I’m going to really struggle to accomplish does create discipline for me, it creates defeat. 

Philosophical: 1,667 words a day every day for a month is not a sustainable habit for me. I’ve tried NaNo in the past and that pace stressed me the hell out. I’ve just got back into writing and I don’t want to destroy the discipline I’m currently learning by superseding it with one I know I can’t do. Again, that isn’t learning discipline: that’s learning defeat. Discipline isn’t just about creating a habit: it’s about sticking with it. Creating an unsustainable discipline is worse than setting yourself up for failure: it’s setting yourself up to expect failure.

Quality

Practical: NaNo is quite honest about one thing: if you do it, you’re going to produce a lot of crap. It’s hard (not impossible, but darn hard) to get high quality writing out of a break-neck pace of 1,667 words a day. That’s the kind of writing best reserved for a first rough draft…and I’m not doing a rough draft. What I’m doing right now is an odd, drunken mix of drafting and editing. Parts of the story are totally new. Other parts are being pulled together from the best versions of…too damn many drafts to count. Quality is my top priority at this stage. 

Philosophical: There’s a fine line between ignoring a glaring problem and being an editing perfectionist: I’ve been on both sides of that fence and neither work for me. What works for me, and what feels sustainable, is to learn the balance between. Honestly, this has been the most helpful thing about writing on paper. When I encounter a problem, my first reaction is a wary “Now, is this major enough to justify ripping out and rewriting the whole damn page?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it isn’t and I have to rewrite the page again with very little change. Sometimes it is and I’ve gone on anyway, only to get hopelessly mired five pages later. Now that is a real pain…a real, literal pain in the hand.  

Quantity 

Practical: As I’m rewriting this story, I’m noticing that the sections which give me the most trouble are the most…wordy. Expanding a snippet into a scene is easier for me than reducing a paragraph down to a phrase. What I’ve learned is that when I write the rough draft of my next story, it should be short, just the bones of the story. This really shouldn’t surprise me: I do most things back-assward from most people. 

Philosophical: Haste makes waste. There’s a difference between learning to steadily produce good books and cranking out crap. I’m not a capitalist: I don’t believe stories and storytelling are all about content and consumption, but rather craft and community. And if anyone tells me I can’t make it in this world with that attitude, I will refer them to The Change by Garth Brooks. Good books exist. Good authors with good habits exist. Maybe I won’t write hundreds of novels, but what novels I write I want to be proud of. 

And there they are, my thoughts on NaNoWriMo. Just what the world needed, I’m sure!

Welcome Back, Part Two: Cracks in the Wall

The strange thing about advice is how oddly it sometimes bears fruit. In other words: things never happen the way you think they should. Take my mom’s advice for example.

I set aside the novel (which was really a reframing of an old story idea, sort of a story within a story). There may or may not have been weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for years of work that would never see the light of day. The framing story had started in 2016…but the original story had begun in 2011.

I bought several eco-friendly notebooks. I bought pens. I started writing the new idea. I decided to start in a place I’d never started before: the beginning. I don’t mean page one, mind; I mean an outline. I wrote the outline…yes, I have an outline. (It’s complete, it’s beautiful and it’s laminated. Do you want to see it? It’s real!) Then, I started at page one. Starting things has always been easy for me…it’s finishing them I suck at. I wrote page one. Then I stared at page one. Then I took page one to Mom to see if she could spot the trouble. It took several minutes of de-tangling before we solved the problem of page one…and that wasn’t because of the simplicity of my mistake. No, it certainly wasn’t that.

I’d written in first person, mostly because I’d never written fiction in first person and I thought it’d be a nice break. The character was quite firm that this story wasn’t to be told in first person present tense. I agreed because my CNA Edge writing had all been first person present tense and past tense would be a nice distinction. But page one was about a woman who was reflecting back on her life. Double-past tense. Double reflection. In trying to figure out how to do that, I’d managed to insert every single verb form into the same paragraph…and a few more verb forms yet to be invented.

When we de-tangled all the verb forms, Mom and I had a good long laugh. It was either that, or burst into more weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I was rusty. I was really rusty. Out of practice, out of habit. I crumpled up the page and threw it away. (I wish now that I’d kept it and laminated it as well.)

The wall was still there. Oh, there were several large cracks in the wall, but it was still there, still looming between myself and my stories.

The next week was a Peter week. (At the nursing home, I have a two-week rotating schedule: week one I work four 12 hour shifts, week two I work two 12 hour shifts.  In addition, I work two days a week at the coffee shop. So one week I’ll just have one day off both jobs, the next I’ll have two days off both jobs. I call it my “robbing Peter to pay Paul” schedule.) Work left me little time to solve the problem of my own writing rustiness…although I had plenty of time to mull things over. I kept running into the same two thoughts.

One was how a visual artist would perceive the world, as opposed to a written word-artist. A couple months back, my best friend had suggested for our monthly adventure that we go painting and the experience stuck with me. The protagonist of the original story in the novel was an artist, but it wasn’t until that painting class that I realized how little I’d understood of how she perceived the world. Since that painting class, I’d begun to see where I’d gone wrong in that story. The second thought was the problem of the double past tense. I knew how other writers had done it…but how could I do it?

The two problems merged and morphed while, of all things, I had a resident up in the hoyer lift. I consider it a great testament to my professionalism and caregiver abilities that I finished taking care of her before I ripped my little notebook out of my pocket. Five minutes later I had the rough draft of two chapters. I also had the intense curiosity of a mystified old woman.

It was the original story, the first novel I’d set out to write. I hadn’t heard that character’s voice in five years. She’d changed, just as I had changed, but in the whole we both approved of the other. Character and writer were both well-content to interact with each other once again. The wall had collapsed, and now I could see each crack was a story waiting for me to learn how to tell it. Behind the wall was not one story, but five. The original novel, the frame set all by itself, the new story idea and its sequel, and the story of the wall itself.

I’ve writing steadily since then. The pace isn’t quick, but it’s balanced: not so fast I burn myself out, not so slowly the story burns out.

Welcome back, Part One: Well, This Is Awkward

15 months.

That’s how long I’ve gone since writing in this blog. To be honest, that’s how long I’ve gone without prioritizing my writing.

How did that happen? Why am I back? Well, it’s awkward, it’s painful, it’s messy. In other words: it’s human. (And no, I didn’t have a baby.) Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

I took what I intended to be a short break from bloging and writing because everything was coming out political. I wasn’t ashamed of my views, but the current political situation wasn’t what I wanted this to be about. So I took a break. It was an easy choice, because things had gotten pretty hectic in my work life. I’d decided that it was time to buckle down and get to work on some major bills. That meant pulling 50-60 hour work weeks every week.

Then, last June I had to leave my job unexpectedly, and I was unemployed for six weeks while a situation resolved itself. I’m not going to get into that situation here, but suffice it to say it was a fairly emotionally traumatic six weeks. Then, in mid July of 2017, I got another nursing home job. This time, I deliberately chose a nursing home that offered 3 days/12 hour shifts. I still loved nursing, but I needed not to be surrounded by it five days a week…not when those days were often double shifts.

Then, to both recover from the six weeks of unemployment and make progress on those bills, I picked up a second job at a coffee shop. Experience, they say, is what you get when you don’t get what you want. That certainly held true for me. My financial situation still requires me to work 50-60 hours a week, but I will never again put all those hours in one job. 36 hours at a nursing home and 15-20 at a coffee shop is MUCH less draining than 60 hours all at a nursing home. Plus, you meet different people at a coffee shop. It’s like mandatory socializing. After 7 years of strict health care only, being a barista was like being paid to have fun. (Even after a year, it still feels like being paid to have fun. It’s an odd feeling, to make mistakes at work that don’t harm or at least negatively impact another person.)

Except learning two new jobs and recovering from an emotional trauma takes a lot of energy. Stories…and words in general…came sporadically. The novel that I was so proud of in January 2017 became a source of constant frustration. Something wasn’t right in the story and something wasn’t right in me. It got to the point where opening up the writing apps would fill me with a deep disgust. I thought for several months that the stories would never come again. I thought that 2017 with all its assorted anguish, both political and personal, had broken the words inside me. That lasted until mid summer of 2018.

If 2017 had built a wall in my psyche, 2018 has been a series of small events chipping away at that wall. In June I started trying to write again. I tried working away at editing the novel. I wrote more on a fun story that’s been kicking around for years in my head. I tried writing a new story idea. Progress was slow and painful. I was out of practice, and out of patience with myself. Writing wasn’t bringing me joy, like I remembered it doing before. I wanted to write, and I didn’t want to write. I couldn’t quit either job to focus on writing, like some online writing blogs talked about…because I’m an adult with adult responsibilities, and that just wasn’t (and still isn’t) feasible.

That’s when I woke my mom up in the middle of the night with my writing woes, and asked her advice.

“Put the novel aside for good. Put the computer away. Write this new story on paper. Don’t write with an aim to get published; write to see if you still love it.”

Painful advice, but I took it.

 

Beauty and the Bully?

Wow, it’s been a while! It’s been a busy few months since I last wrote here and while I am meaning to do a catch-up post, this is not that post. Sorry?

Ever since I saw Emma Watson’s speech to at the UN launching He For She, I’ve been a fan of hers. She seems eloquent and invested in social justice causes…particularly those relating to gender equality. I was a bit surprised when it was announced that Watson would be playing Belle in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. She is so careful about the roles she chooses, I couldn’t help but wonder “Why this one?”

While I certainly enjoyed the original Disney movie, it did not stay a favorite as I grew up. However, I decided I would see the live-action movie because Watson was in it. When I heard that La Fou had been reimagined as gay, I was more than a bit leery. Many people I know were displeased because he was gay at all…I was worried that he would be a negative stereotype and not represented as a three-dimensional character. As movie critics and I often have wildly different impressions of a film, I decided to avoid spoilers and speculation and make my own judgement after watching.

I’m glad I did. While the original film is, as I’ve said, not a favorite of mine, I adore the new version. It fleshes out the characters, fills in the plot holes and is just a lovely movie that I felt promotes empathy and compassion. And, to my great satisfaction, La Fou is presented as a whole character, with a satisfying arc and (I felt) a positive, if understated, representation.

My opinion was hardly universal. I like to read a wide spectrum of thoughts on any given issue, to make sure that I don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias. In this case, I delayed my opinion sampling for a couple months, because I knew some were likely to be…fiery. After the digital download became available, I started my research.

“Fiery” is certainly a good way to describe the following blogger’s feelings regarding the movie and La Fou’s character.

Beauty and the Beast: A Review

Obviously, I disagree with them on many levels. Aside from simple disagreement, however, I thought their tone left much to be desired in the way of common courtesy. I left a comment detailing a few of my disagreements.

Three weeks later, my comment is still pending  moderation and, as they’ve posted since then, I must assume they have no intention of letting my thoughts see the light of day. So…here it is, on my own blog.

Anti-bullying movie becomes the bully by presenting LGBT characters as 3-dimensional people? No.
“Bullying” is treating someone as less than human. Bullying is forcing them to hide for fear of being killed, tortured or shunned. Sorry, but these arguments sound just a bit too similar to ones that racists used. “Let’s not show the Arab as likable, because then our children won’t know to fear terrorists.” Yeah, no.
You say that children are going to come across a gay person eventually: very true. And that gay person is going to be first and foremost a PERSON, often a decent, compassionate human being.
Like the lesbian who brought me food after a tornado and stayed five hours to help clean out debris.
Like the gay man who paid for my groceries when my card was denied.
No matter what you believe about the spectrum of human sexuality, let’s not constrict any person to a single role just to make our lives easier.

As the sister of an autistic man, let’s just say I am leery of putting artificial binders on people and absolutely no patience for slanted portrayals that leave people with a false perspective. If you always show gay charactersas vile people, that is what you will expect to see in real life. If autistic people are always shown as weirdos, your  children will be more likely to discrimate against them.

And this is something I will never be okay with.

 

 

Jewelry Box Grief

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about death and grief, it’s that it lingers. Death has a way of haunting life, and not always in a bad way or even an extremely painful way. Grief can both wound and heal.

Take today, or instance. I’ve been wearing the same earrings for a couple weeks (simple sapphire studs) and I decided I wanted a change. I also felt like a necklace. That’s the way I am with jewelry…I wear what I feel. Most days it’s simple, practical and not likely to be ripped off me by an agitated resident. Other days it’s more eclectic: dangling earrings paired with a necklace that doesn’t quite match. Rings…only when I really feel like it. Or, more recently, when I’m really missing my Grandma.

That’s another thing about me and jewelry: it’s always been a connection with my Grandma. It’s from her that I get my love of jewelry, sweet wines and going to see movies. So now that she’s gone and I inherited a fair portion of her jewelry collection…every time I open that box, it’s like a blast of pure Grandma. Yeah, it still hurts and yeah, I still might sniffle a bit going through that jewelry box, but it’s also a healing kind of grief. It’s a vibrant kind of life, that can keep people chuckling at a fiery temper more than a year after her death. It’s a good woman whose memory can still provide comfort; and whose fantastic taste in jewelry still good…even when I pair up the pieces in ways she never would’ve thought of.

Salaam

Salaam, my friends.
This word means peace, or peace be unto you and yes, it’s a traditional Muslim greeting. No, I’m not Muslim, either by culture or religion. I’m an American Christian and I have never been more ashamed.
Salaam, my friends. Peace. You and I have it, right now in this country. Sure, we are a nation divided. Some of us are feeling triumphant, pleased with the way our society is going; some of are learning to live with the constant feeling of dread. Still others are scratching their heads in confusion, unsure about what the hell is going on and wishing life would go back to the way it was before. But we still have peace, fragile and thorny though it may be.

Salaam. Peace be unto you. It’s a greeting not unlike the one found at the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Salaam. Peace be unto you. Well, peace be unto you unless you’re a Muslim from anyone of the countries that our president has banned from our shores.
For them, for the refugees from war-torn areas and victims of horrors such as we cannot imagine here in the US…for them, no peace. No salaam. “But they might be terrorists!” I hear people say. I don’t know whether a small fragment of them might be or not. I don’t know how many might become terrorists now, out of anger and desperation. But I do know what they are, right now: people. People with kids and dreams, failings and gifts. People with nothing left and no place to go. Children who are huddled in airports, denied entry to a country that still dares to call itself foremost of the free world.

I can’t believe this is happening. I remember life in Turkey—I remember living among Muslims. I’ve loved Muslims. I have trusted my life to Muslims. And how many ordinary families like my friends are now sitting in airports right now, their dreams of life lying like shattered glass at their feet? How many will die, because the United States of America closed its border to them?
Maybe this seems like a political post on social media, just one of a million liberal snowflakes complaining about a policy she doesn’t like. But its not political. This is personal, like it is personal to every desperate person who now has nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.
So Salaam, my Muslim neighbors on this fragile planet. Peace be unto you. It’s poor comfort, but please know that there are Americans who are lying awake right now, hurting for the wrong their country has done to you. With all my heart and all my prayers, Salaam. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. This Christian’s prayer tonight is simple. May God bless you and bless those who are good to you. May God protect and keep you. For you my heart is broken.
I cannot believe our Vice President got up in front of a crowd yesterday and said that he valued the most vulnerable lives and then countenance this travesty of our beliefs? Forgive us.

Tears and Fears

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.” ~ W.B. Yeats.

There’s a reason I chose this quote to go on the header of my blog––ever since I heard Sean Bean recite this snatch of poem in the movie Equilibrium, I’ve loved it. It’s just so me, that sense of desperate dreaming. I’ve never been rich and occasionally I’ve dipped below the poverty line…but I’ve always had my dreams. Now, more than ever, I cling to this poem. I am not okay and I cannot pretend to be. I’m doing better than I was in the first three days after the vote to begin defunding the Affordable Care Act…by this I mean that I am no longer swinging from raw anger and helpless weeping. But just because the tears are now controllable doesn’t mean they have dried or that the fear is gone. “Don’t be afraid,” I hear people say. “Be brave,” I tell myself. But courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of it. When repressed, fear does not vanish but instead transmutes into despair. They say confession is good for the soul so I will make a clean breast of it, hoping that in the telling of my fears, I will find my courage. And maybe, along with it, my hope and a way to move on––a way to cope with the new normal that has been forced upon me. I am giving myself permission to cry one more time, now as I write this. So if this is a little less coherent than my usual, at least you’ll know why.

On November 9th, during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and in the middle of my work day, I broke down. “There goes my brother’s health insurance,” I sobbed, shaking so hard I thought I was going to throw up. I knew that repealing the Affordable Care Act was at the top of the Republican agenda…and they had just won control of Congress and the White House. I knew what was coming. Many people tried to tell me it would be okay, that the Republicans wouldn’t repeal the ACA without a replacement plan in place. They told me I was over-reacting, that things wouldn’t be as bad as I was saying. “Repeal and Replace” is the motto I have heard since the election. And yet last week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to defund the ACA…with no replacement plan in place or even drafted. When I called my representatives and senators and asked if they had a plan and what it would be, I was told “Oh, it’s coming, just wait”. There is no plan in place. They will repeal the ACA and then, maybe, come up with a replacement plan. Eventually, after they push it through all the levels of government.

And I am afraid.

I am afraid for the present because I have a brother with autism and a mother with auto-immune diseases. I remember the days before the Affordable Care Act. I remember the discrimination, the outrageous premiums, the denial of services. Finding insurance companies who would even cover their diagnoses was difficult, painful. Those that would charge outrageously high premiums…and they would often deny services. Anything related to autism (or be linked by the most slender of threads) was often refused, leaving us being charged out of pocket, while still paying for insurance. I remember laughing aloud with joy when the ACA passed…because now we had options. I know that the ACA isn’t perfect, and I’ve never claimed that it was. Still, it gave me something precious: it gave me hope and help.
Now that it is being gutted without a replacement waiting in the wings, that help is gone…gone with the suddenness of a rug being ripped out from under me. Now it is back to the bad old days of unchecked greed and discrimination. Without the ACA to help, my brother’s insurance will go from a little over $100 to half my monthly paycheck. And what about Mom…will she be able to get treatments now if she needs them again? What about all the other people I know who depended on the ACA even more than I did? What’s going to happen to them now? How many will suffer?

I am afraid for the future. I am afraid because I have begun to think about starting a family of my own. Now…now I don’t know what to do. You see, statistically any children I might have are pre-disposed to have something on the autism spectrum. I am not afraid of having a child with autism: my brother has it and even if I could, I wouldn’t exchange him for a “normal” one. I know autism is not a curse and that levels of ability do not determine a person’s worth to society, or make them broken in the eyes of God. An autistic person’s full potential is not to become neurotypical.
But while I know the joys that come with autism, I also know the challenges. I know what it will take to give an autistic child the best shot at a good life: early intervention. If I have a child and that child has autism, I want to be able to give them every opportunity to make the most of their unique gifts and limitations. Good prenatal care, holistic environment, good diet, early access to therapy and personalized education––the works. All that is obviously quite expensive, ranging from difficult to impossible when you aren’t wealthy; but the ACA and similar programs made them more accessible to low income families. With the ACA, I thought that I would be able to focus less on the basics of good health care and focus more on education for any children I might have.
Could I live with myself, knowing that my finances and the political climate placed more limitations on my child than nature did? It’s a question without a wrong answer––which makes it more difficult. I don’t know what I’ll decide, but my decision will be made on a knife’s edge between fear and recklessness, hope and naiveté. It’s one thing to say that children are a blessing and quote all the pro-birth slogans…but I could very well bring a child into this world that would never be what we call “independent”. That is the reality of the choice I face.

Either way, all I know is that before this election, I didn’t think I would have to choose. With the ACA and the legacy of Obama’s progressive equality, I liked my chances of protecting and expanding my family. And now it is going, going, gone. My trust has been shattered and along with it, the dream that I could have it all, the dream that I wouldn’t have to struggle like my parents did to raise a wonderful person with ASD. The dream in which a child of mine would be valued by society at large the way they would be valued at home––no matter how their brain was wired. No matter where they fell on the spectrum of human sexuality or what color their skin. And maybe this “amazing” new program will be unveiled in a year’s time, or six months…maybe it will even be the ACA, just repackaged under a new president’s name. But even six months without insurance can be a literal case of life-or-death, financial ruin or success.
This vote has taken from me my peace of mind and replaced it with only a promise…but a promise won’t help me in the meantime. A promise from people who dismissed my concerns does not compare to the lifeline they ripped from my hands.

What’s a dreamer to do? I guess I just go on. I have my family, my friends and my God; I have my dreams and my words to describe them. I guess I step up and try to throw myself into the ACA-shaped hole in our lives: I tighten my budget and I decide what I am willing to sacrifice for my dreams. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr day…today of all days I have no excuse for allowing fear or the political climate to kill my dreams. Today, I am reminded that I am not the only one with a dream or the only one hurting right now.

It’s just so hard. There. That’s all my tears and fears laid bare to the world. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.