It’s never nothing

Let’s see, where were we . . . in our last episode, our heroine was tied to the tracks and a train was approaching, with no (capable) help in sight.

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Sorry, wrong story. Maybe it’s just me, but that sort of sums up how helpless I feel lately.

My dad used to say: “It’s never nothing.” It was his version of: “It’s always something.” November has proven that adage, several times over.

I know, some of you are waiting to hear the final results of NaNo. It wasn’t a complete bust, although Life sure did its best to get in the way.

First there was the election. And the results, which we are just not going to talk about, because . . . well, just because. But I eventually convinced myself to stay mostly offline, or at least not look too long or too hard at twitter and facebook, and I was starting to re-focus on writing.

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, my mom made an unscheduled trip to the hospital’s emergency room via ambulance. I’m not going to get into medical details over here — my personal privacy policy makes HIPPA look like a freakin’ sieve — but I will say that she was there for five days (mostly due to it being a holiday weekend during which certain tests were not going to happen unless it was an emergency) (I’m very grateful she wasn’t considered an emergency), and then she was discharged to a rehab/transitional care place.

And then, not even 48 hours later, in the least fun text I’ve ever received at 4 AM, came word that she was right back in the hospital again. Where she still is, as I write this. But she’s getting better, albeit slowly, and we expect she’ll be headed back to transitional care in a day or so.

Never have I been more aware of how relative is the term “better.”

As you might imagine, trying to concentrate on writing (or anything else) with all this going on more than 1200 miles away has been damned near impossible. Honestly, I haven’t tried very hard in the past week. You know, priorities being what they are.

But I did manage to write 20,057 words in November, split between two different manuscripts. Probably that’s 20,057 words more than I would have written if I hadn’t participated in NaNo. Astonishingly, some of those words seem to do what I want them to do and might not even need to be deleted during edits.

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So, no, not 50K words. But I’m calling it a win.

Don’t judge me. I need a win right now.

My plan for December is to just continue focusing on writing. And try not to panic at the sound of the phone ringing or the notification that a new email or text message has arrived. Any celebrations in December, including my upcoming birthday, are going to be small and quiet. Understated. Practically invisible.

No, I’m not being a Scrooge. I’m simply acknowledging the truth that I’m not in the mood for celebration. I’m listening to that inner voice advocating self-care over forced displays of holly-jollity.

I can’t fix all the problems in the world. Hell, I can’t even fix all the problems in my own little corner of it. But I can write stories that, if I get it right, might provide a few moments of distraction and enjoyment for someone at a time when that’s exactly, perhaps desperately, what they need.

God knows, stories have certainly helped me get through this disaster we’re calling 2016. If my stories can do that for even one person, I’ll be calling that a win as well.

 

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NaNo update

I promised to report in a few times this month about writing progress. Not that I’m convinced anyone particularly cares to hear about anything other than a finished book, one they can read, but I said I would so . . .

I was making respectable progress, up until last Sunday. Then anticipation and anxiety set in and I couldn’t focus on fiction, waiting for the election to be over. And then the results came in and, honestly, that pretty much wrecked me.

I’ve probably written (and deleted) 10,000 words since the election, but none of them fiction. There are things I want to say, things about politics and civics and our basic humanity, but so far I haven’t figured out how to say them.

I’m a political person, it’s how I was raised. I don’t want to turn this blog into a political thing, but neither do I find it acceptable to say nothing. When I try to be all calm and optimistic, I sound like an apologist for bigotry. Then I write something fiery and motivational and . . . sound like I’m advocating rebellion and revolution.

Clearly, neither is acceptable. So I’m struggling. Along with everyone else I know.

Sigh.

Until I figure that out, here’s where I stand with the fiction writing. I’ve added 7,097 words to one novel, which is not a shabby effort for the first seven days of writing, considering it was filling in and enhancing scenes and not fast rough draft writing. But now it’s day thirteen and I’m way behind what I’d hoped to accomplish.

Perhaps worse than that, the story I’ve been working on is written with a very different and distinctive . . . attitude, for lack of a better word. A departure from my usual style. It’s wildly adventurous and imaginative and confident, which is exciting to write. Except, I’m feeling none of those things right now. The scenes I’ve tried to write since Tuesday sound horrible, like not even salvageable, they’re so out of place.

After some reflection, I’ve decided not to continue with that particular story right now. It’s the kind of thing that would take more work to fix than is worth the dubious progress. In fact, I’d just end up deleting all the words.

But I refuse to let that make me feel discouraged or insufficient. Stuff happens and you deal with it the best you can.

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My way of dealing with this is to work on something else, something I had planned to work on later in the month anyway, once I finished fleshing out the first story. It’s a story that feels more familiar, more in my usual style.

It’s a romance, the second in the McIntyre trilogy, something I intend to self-publish. The kind of story I want to read right now. The one that starts like this:

The first time she saw him he was shirtless and wearing a kilt. The second time, he was wearing a custom-tailored suit and destroying her grandfather on the witness stand. She didn’t much like him either time.

That is, unless I change it.

So, onward.

 

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Once more unto the breach

Well, it’s the end of October and time to answer the question we all ask ourselves this time of year: How many “extra” bags of chocolate Halloween candy should I buy?

No, wait. Not that question.

This one: Should I participate In NaNoWriMo this year?nano_logo-830912ef5e38104709bcc38f44d20a0d

That is, if you’re a writer, probably you ask yourself that question. I’ve been going back and forth about this for a week or so, given that I’ve had mixed results with NaNo in the past. Setting a marathon goal of writing 50,000 words in a month — and not just any month, but November — seems a bit unreasonable. Like, stupidly masochistic. Kill-me-now foolish.

But then I figured, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll become even more of a hermit? Give up planning nutritious meals, abandon personal hygiene, ignore the menacing accumulation of dust bunnies, forego sleep, snarl vaguely at the cat’s demands for attention . . .

. . . and maybe write a bunch of words?

I’m not normally a “write every day” kind of writer. So I’m not the best fit for NaNo, where the usual reassuring advice is to write 1,667 words a day, consistently, and you’ll be just fine. I tend to do a lot of intense thinking, composing and moving words and ideas around in my head before I commit them to paper, er, the screen. Then, when I do write, words pour out in the thousands. And then I pause again to refill the well.

Except that’s not really working for me right now. And if a thing no longer works, it’s time to try something else.

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I’ve been thinking back to April and the A to Z Challenge, and how surprisingly productive I was, writing to a deadline every day like that. There wasn’t a word count requirement, but I wrote roughly 43,000 words in April. It was insane. Although, that was very different from NaNo in the respect that I also had to edit and polish and post those words every day. I won’t be doing that during NaNo, so in theory should be able to write MOAR WERDZ without the editing slowing me down. In theory.

So anyway, I bookmarked the NaNo site and made a wild guess as to what my user name was four years ago and got a new password and I’m all set to go.

STAND BACK, Y’ALL. WATCH THIS.

Ahem. Actually, there won’t be much to see. I’ll try to post a few word count updates during the month (not daily, that’s ridiculous) in an attempt to make myself accountable over here. Wish me luck?

If any of you writers out there want to . . . follow me? . . . friend me? Huh, looks like the correct term is “be my buddy,” my user name is KD James. I’ll kick your butt be all supportive, if I can figure out how to do that without breaking anything.

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What about you non-writers? Is there anything you want to accomplish in November? Some momentous task you’ve been putting off and need a little push of inspiration to get going? Let me know and I’ll cheer you on in the comments.

Oh, and the answer to that first question? Two, of course. Unless you’re doing NaNo. Then probably the answer is four. Yes, four sounds right. Four family-size bags of chocolate.

 

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Ten years ago . . .

In September of 2006, I signed up for a Google ID and somehow also ended up with a blog of my own. I had no intention of writing a blog and this was the entirety of my first post:

“Not sure how I ended up with a blog, I didn’t ask for one. Blogger must think I have something to say here.
Blogger is mistaken.
Go read something else.”

And I meant it. I was not going to start blogging. I didn’t have time for that. I was convinced I had nothing to say, never mind knew anyone who would read it.

Pffft. As if that was going to stop me. A mere two weeks later, I wrote another post that began:

“All this white space has been bothering me, you know. It’s just sitting over here waiting for words. So I’m thinking maybe this blog is good for something after all.”

I would not have believed anyone who told me then I’d still be blogging ten years later. And enjoying it.

But I’ve been writing over here, on a somewhat regular basis, ever since. I switched to WordPress after three years with Google (best decision ever) and the stats say I’ve published 307, now 308 posts. Seems like way more than that. Then again, at an average of 1,000 words per post (yes, I do go on, and on, and on) that’s well over 300,000 words.

I’ve made friends, good friends, by way of this blog. And also by commenting on other blogs. Some of those friends have wandered off, as people do. Disinterest, busyness, death. The latter are the tough losses. The people who live on only in your memories. And your heart.

Margaret. Louis. Bryan.

Gone too soon.

But some of the people who have simply wandered off and no longer read my blog, or who do so only rarely, have remained good friends. A handful of them came to visit me, and each other, last week. We had lunch for five hours and it seemed too short. A few came bearing gifts, including this gorgeous orchid, which I have not yet (it’s only been a week) managed to kill.

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The instructions say to give it three ice cubes, once a week. You’d think I’d be able to manage something that specific. Far more helpful than the advice “don’t overwater.” I’m cautiously optimistic.

After ten years of writing blog posts, I feel as if I should be able to impart some similarly specific advice or wisdom. Other than the obvious, “Don’t try to post every damn day, it will destroy your will to live.”

What makes for a successful blog? Hell, I don’t know. I stopped caring about the “success” of this blog so long ago, it’s not even a distant memory. That’s not why I do it.

My thoughts keep returning to Brené Brown and her TED talks about the power of vulnerability, and understanding shame, and how those things are important, even necessary, for creativity. For establishing connection.

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And I think, if there’s any measure of success to communicating on the internet — via blogs or twitter or facebook, or even through fiction — it’s that. The connections you make with other people.

Speak your truth. Even if people ignore or disagree with you, maybe especially if they do. Be vulnerable. Find your connections.

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And if the world gives you a blank space, fill it. Be courageous. Create the thing that only you can create. However long it takes.

 

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Filed under blogging, creativity, deep thoughts

When you least expect it

Today is the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death and I’m surprised to find myself feeling all nostalgic and melancholy. You’d think, after so much time has passed, that feelings of loss and grief would have faded. And, of course, they have. But there are still times — odd times, not necessarily the times you expect — when it all comes flooding back, as fresh and raw as if 20 years were just a blink.

Today is one of those times.

Here’s an old picture of my dad and mom (holding my son, who is now an adult) and me, squinting in the bright Arizona sunshine. Dad looks shorter by comparison than he should (I’m 5’8″ and he was 6′), as he’s standing in the grass and we’re on the sidewalk. Dad hated having his picture taken almost as much as I do and it was a rare event that someone managed to torture capture both of us at the same time (photo credit: my bossy older sister).

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So many memories and such excessive eye moisture I’m having today. My very stoic father would be rolling his eyes at me with an expression of affectionate but pained tolerance on his face. So would my mom and sisters, for that matter, if they ever read this. I’m telling you, it’s not easy being the sappy emotional one in a family of Scandinavians. Whatever. Might as well just wallow for a bit and get it over with.

I guess it doesn’t help that earlier in the week I asked my older sister to send me a copy of the eulogy the two of us wrote, and delivered at his memorial service, because I couldn’t find mine. Twelve typed pages of memories, so many things I’d forgotten saying. I had thought I might share some of it here, but it’s too personal. Too evocative. Too much an invasion of private grief.

But the day feels like it needs some sort of tribute, so I decided to share something else instead. My dad knew a lot of people. Quite a few of them were involved in politics, as political and civil rights issues were a passion of my dad’s. He never ran for office, preferring to remain behind the scenes in the role of teacher and advisor.

One of the people he knew was Pete Stark, a US Representative from California. We discovered, quite some time after dad died, that Mr. Stark made memorial remarks during session that became part of the Congressional Record. I’ve decided to share those remarks below, redacting dad’s name and some details– not in an attempt to protect his privacy, but mine.

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to pay tribute to an educator, activist, and my longtime personal friend, [xxx], who passed away recently in [xxx], MN, at the age of 68.

I was privileged to know [xxx] at a special time in our lives and in our Nation’s history. As a grass roots activist, Mr. [xxx] took special interest in civil rights issues and the anti-Vietnam war movement. In 1970, a group of 31 Americans, including [xxx] and myself, traveled to Paris with the People’s Commission of Inquiry to discuss solutions to the war. [xxx], along with our group, participated in a week of talks in France with North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese delegations and the American ambassador. During our stay he encouraged an open discussion in which he questioned, challenged and explored solutions to this problem of international scope.

[xxx] . . . dropp[ed] out [of high school] during his senior year to join the Navy. He was stationed in Bermuda for part of his tour and was chosen to run the admiral’s launch that took President Truman deep sea fishing. An avid sportsman, he played offense and defense and was captain of the Navy football team. He contracted rheumatic fever during his service and suffered from its effects for the rest of his life.

[xxx] finished his high school equivalency degree in the military. He went on to the University of Minnesota, the Wahpeton State School of Science, and graduated magna cum laude from Moorhead State University. He later earned a master’s degree and completed doctoral work at the University of Minnesota. During his early college career, he played AAA baseball with the Minot, ND, Mallards and pitched against such notables as Satchel Paige and Roger Maris.

As an English, drama and debate teacher at [xxx] High School for 30 years, [xxx] was a mentor to students in and out of the classroom. He led several debate teams to State championships, served on the faculty senate, and supported the American Field Service Program.

[xxx] will be remembered as an avid reader, a lover of language, and a remarkable individual whose ideas reached far and wide. His genuine enthusiasm for American politics prompted people of all ages to become interested in government and civil service. Because I experienced [xxx]’s vitality and wisdom firsthand, I’ve no doubt that this tireless role model made [xxx], MN, a richer place to live.

As friends and family reflect on his lifetime of achievement and scholarship, it is only fitting that we also pay tribute to this great man and good friend.

Quite a tribute to the legacy he left. Dad would have been touched and deeply honoured. But it’s just a small sampling of who my dad was, publicly, the things other people knew and admired him for. And why the world was a richer place for him having been in it. He was by far the most intelligent person I’ve ever known and among a handful of the wisest.

I can’t even begin to find words for what he meant to me personally and why there will always be days, like today, when the void he left seems immeasurable. Other than the obvious ones: I miss you, Dad.

 

 

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