Archive for the ‘nanowrimo’ Category

New Year, Old Year

Around a fire into the evening on Tuesday, a delicious and quiet Samhain with three others. Before that, a lovely group Samhain of 40 last Friday in Western MA. And one more Samhain celebration to come, with our Vermont Seed Group on Saturday, in two days’ time.

A fine invocation for Thursday evenings of the Samhain season, in Caitlin Matthews Celtic Devotional:

As the Winter closes about our ears, and the wind blows chill, I call upon my soul’s teacher to show me the progress of the day. In the depths of doubt and uncertainty, may we always be shown the next step of the road.

And we are.

Three years ago on Samhain I wrote:

We stand at the eve of winter in the northern hemisphere, with the change to standard time in the U.S. to underline the shift and bring on darkness an hour earlier in the evening. The change proves useful, I find, to draw me out of private thoughts and back toward awareness of the planet beneath my feet and all around me, awareness too of all the kin who whisper and flap and caw and bark and write blogposts and sit across the table from me.

I’m called to fast, I’m summoned to be born. Ignore the call, and I suffer, goes the divination.

Celtic-Cross-Layout-240x300So I heed my own words and listen.

What does the Tarot say? With the classic 10-card Celtic Cross spread, I ask about the shape of the coming year. Here are the cards I drew, with fairly standard interpretations of the positions first.

1–The present. Also, the self, or the querent’s state of mind: King of Pentacles.

2–The crossing card, placed over the first card; the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.: Queen of Swords.

3–Destiny; in some spreads, placed above as the “crown” of past influences: Devil.

4–Distant past; or in some interpretations, the future — to the right: 5 of Swords.

5–Recent past, or conscious focus, above: 7 of Cups.

6–Future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation — below: 9 of Pentacles.

7–The querent; self-perceptions: 4 of Pentacles.

8–External influences: Knight of Wands.

9–Inner emotions, a tangle of fears and hopes: The Star.

10–Outcome or final result: The Moon.

Detailed Analysis:

kingpentI start with seeing the major arcana as the soul’s journey, and minor arcana as individual human lives. Here, both as my own physical incarnation and as a wider representation of earthly powers and princes, card 1 with the King of Pentacles is dominant. The Court cards may be interpreted as personalities, with the king as an older male, and pentacles concerned with resources. The challenge or immediate influence of card 2 is the Queen of Swords, a feminine influence or figure in thought. As a past influence or tendency toward destiny, card 3 with the Devil is immersion in materiality, often polarized as male and female, or dual in nature. It can also represent dark magic, against and by the self most of all. Numerically his Tarot number 15 reduces to 6, linking this card, and the Devil’s influence, both to the future and to the unconscious — no surprise.

The distant past (or future) of card 4 in the spread is the 5 of Swords, a mental sorting or balancing. This can lead to a crisis or challenge all its own, because — arising from a single element — it is incomplete. It presages the later Star of card 9.

7cupsThe recent past and conscious focus of card 5 is the 7 of Cups,  magic, spirituality, results, completion, mixed with or focused on emotion. The unconscious or true influence of card 6 is the 9 of Pentacles, a fixing, ending or culmination of resources. Card 7, self-perception, is the 4 of Pentacles, stability or security — again, of resources. The external influence of card 8, the Knight of Wands, is a younger personality or presence, more fiery and ambitious. Card 9, the card of hopes and fears, is the Star, deeply important on the other path I practice, and present in our proverbs and idioms as guiding star, north or pole-star, and also as dis-aster, ill-starred-ness. Its Tarot number 17 reduces to 8, and hence influences or pairs with card 8. The final outcome or result of all of this is the Moon, whose Tarot number 18 reduces to 9 and pairs with card 9: a strong linking of the last three cards.

Summation:

RWS_Tarot_18_MoonWith 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

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1074Once again I’ve set out on the remarkable journey that is Nanowrimo, churning on toward my first day’s word-count goal of 1666 words (50,000 words divided by the 30 days of November). Not too late to join us!

 

IMAGES: The original 1910 Rider-Waite deck is now in public domain in the U.S.; these images from that edition come from Wikipedia.

Firsts, Followers, Magics

IMG_1637

Pine on our south property line

OBOD’s weekly email “Inspiration for Life” offers good advice here, but frequently my question after reading is this: how exactly do I go about practicing any insight it contains? And of course part of any answer sends me back to digging through what I’ve learned. It prods me to open my spiritual toolkit once again.

Here’s a recent weekly prompt, as I think of it, for a possible focus I might take up during the week:

Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Don’t be frightened of feeling afraid. Don’t be angry about getting angry. There is no need to give up when we are feeling depressed. Nor should we be dismayed at the grief which often accompanies the outgrowing of anything which needs outgrowing. We can be glad that our soul is speaking to us and pushing us onwards. We frequently need to persevere with a period of inner turmoil before the dust can settle and be swept out the door. — Donna Goddard

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First comes an experience, and then any emotional response to it we may have. Sometimes there isn’t one, though often one comes, just not right away. My wife and I moved out of state for a promising new job, quit within a month, and moved back to Vermont in mid-September. In various ways I’ve been dealing with more fallout from that over the past thirty days than I did in late September, when the event happened, or shortly after we returned.

These delays frequently catch us off guard because of the time gap between initial event and response. Then we react to our reactions, without looking at the cause. Sometimes our secondary reaction takes up our attention and energy far more than the original experience or emotion. So we fill too many waking — and dreaming! — hours grappling with the effects of effects, rather than being cause in our own lives. And if like me you’ve truly mastered this peculiarly modern and dysfunctional art, you now feel guilty for a second, third or even fourth-level reaction: your response to your response at emotions stirred by the initial experience. How craftily we perform these perverse and twisted magics against ourselves!

Fortunately, the same skill we use in tying ourselves in knots can serve to aid us in climbing free. It needs only our fire to turn it to our purposes.

So I summon my magic, starting with the Law of Reversed Effort. Rather than resisting the guilt, inertia and listlessness, I realize they’ve become so heavy they start to drop off me, pulled by their own weight and gravity. They puddle in a mess around my feet. Stepping away, I begin to rise, calling for help if I wish from teacher, friend, familiar or other beneficent spiritual presence as I ascend.

As I rise, I pass through clouds, and then suddenly I’m above them. Here the sun shines with an intense brightness I can feel warming my skin. I continue to ascend, the earth growing smaller and smaller beneath me. It’s now a blue-green ball of coolness beneath me, the solar system around me. Then that too recedes. The whole galaxy swims around me, then clusters of galaxies, shining strands of stars and families of stars. Piercing the sphere of the cosmos like a soap bubble, I rise yet further, into another and larger universe. I slow and pause, absorbing the sense of light and freedom and expansiveness.

When I am ready, I descend back the way I came, through galaxies, back to the solar system, back to earth, and down into my body again. When I feel my physical form sitting on the chair, I savor the sense of lightness and ease, and give thanks. Then I open my eyes, savoring the gift, and record the experience.

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In this world rich with experience, it’s fine that I am not always the cause. But it’s immensely helpful, in such an interconnected world, to remember that things don’t happen to me, as if I’m a stone, but for me, because I’m an integral part of the web. It’s feedback for what we’re all doing. Just this shift in awareness can begin to free me to find useful insights, spiritual tools, and paths forward, right in the middle of circumstances that otherwise may feel like dead-ends. Because choosing to be the effect of thoughts about experiences will return me to remarkably useless perceptions, like “That’s just your imagination!” which of course is perfectly true, but not, however, in the sense that this accusation comes.

Imagination is spiritual sight. It’s never just one thing. In fact, it constantly, unfailingly, eternally (internally!), tries to show us multiple, innumerable other ways to see, to perceive, to understand, to celebrate, to create. It shows us ourselves, and everyone and everything else, as we can be. Not in a Disney, fluff-bunny or Hallmark sense, but in the truer sense of potential buried and awaiting all the transformations that human consciousness is designed to achieve and manifest.  Here, where it’s needed most. In the middle of the sturm and drang, the drama, the doom, the headlines, the media chatter. Yes, right in the middle of it all, a birth, a growth, a flowering.

Imagination at work is nudging the roll of the cosmic dice, when the Dungeon Master sets us to establishing who and what we will be in this iteration of the Great Game. Because we know we’re the dice, the throw that sets them rolling, the twinkle in the eye of the Master, and the numbers that come up which we then agree to play with, as well as the Players themselves.

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Or if that package of metaphors doesn’t work for you, fire is always burning. Honor it. We decide what to use it to ignite, warm, inspire.

Air is always breathing and flowing around us. Respect it. We decide what to breathe on, and endow with careful attention, thought, planning, symbolism, imagery.

Water is always pooling and rippling. We decide what needs nourishing at the roots, where the true dream lives, what we deeply feel, and how our hearts guide us along the paths we instinctively know already. Acknowledge it.

Lastly and most kindly, earth is ready beneath us, supporting us, stage for manifesting all we make of our lives from this moment forward. Love it.

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nano17-2

Peering out the windows of this train at strange new territory passing by, talking with curiously-attired strangers in the car, supping with voices and images of beasts and birds in my ears, dozing off with conversations still echoing. You know, the life of a writer obsessed for a time with characters and story.

At 27,201 words, I’m somewhat under my target word-count for Nanowrimo. The lovely impossible experience of any sustained period of writing means the simultaneous tyranny of daily word-sprints and counts and updates and bemoaning the calendar and days passing, along with a complete, blissful disregard for all these things, as I bathe in a refreshing pool under gentle sunlight, that has appeared in the middle of my story, a moment of solitude surrounded by moss and mists and a distant valley calling me to explore.

Nanowrimo 2017

nano17-1So I’m off on another adventure in wordcrafting with Nanowrimo 2017 — you know, that intermittently sane online community that helps (goads) you to draft 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. I’ve attempted it several times before. Twice I’ve completed drafts I’m still revising that show promise.

The wisdom on the street is we all have a store of crap we need to write through in order to get to the good stuff, so I’m shoveling away. You know — the “there’s a pony in here somewhere” school of writing. Some days it’s “Neigh, pony — I can’t find you!”

Here’s a mostly self-contained excerpt touching on the relationship between two of the three main characters, Jack, a photojournalist, and Andie, his friend-with-benefits, that I’m reasonably pleased with. (This is a subplot in the larger story of a former U.S. protectorate in the Pacific now opening to eco-tourism, where Jack’s sent to do a write-up and photo-shoot for the travel magazine he works for. Main plot concerns a shamanistic encounter he experiences there. The fight with Andie mentioned below takes place shortly before Jack departs on his assignment):

In a burst of anger after their last fight, Jack deleted his pictures of Andie. All except one. That was a professional image she’d texted him, asking if it belonged in her portfolio. It showed her outdoors, a forest scene, in profile, modeling party wear, showing off her lovely proportions, along with a good percentage of thigh. Yes, he could easily concede, the way his gaze kept returning to her shape, that it wasn’t love, despite his protests to her, but simple physical attraction. But what he also kept returning to again and again was the repose in her face, a calm he’d rarely witnessed in person. What had centered her so deeply in herself? This was an Andie he liked very much. Why did he see it so rarely? Only once had he surprised her that way, when they lay cuddling, unmoving, barely breathing even.  She’d been facing away from him, but then he happened to look across the room and caught her expression, mirrored on the dark TV screen. The same.

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Posted 3 November 2017 by adruidway in Druidry, nanowrimo

Tagged with

Nanowrimo 2015

bard-with-luteBard-twoYes — at it again. A rough draft of a novel in 30 days. 50,000 words. No, you don’t need a concept or a website like National Novel Writing Month — Nanowrimo for short — to write any time. But the sense of a community and a horde (300,000 people online qualifies as a horde in my book) of other writers madly hyped on caffeine or other stimulant of choice, all tapping and scribbling out uncensored, fervent prose, can help stir the synapses towards actually getting the words down. Think of it as one possible demonstration of Bardic arts.

nano15pic“Not a problem for you — after all, you maintain this blog, right?” you say. Try 1667 words a day of fiction for a month. Not such an impossibility– serious writers often set something like that as their daily word limit every day of their writing lives. Never done something like it? It can firm your resolve or leave you in the dust. I’ve been in both places. “So how ya doin’ so far?” you ask. Well, everybody starts small. That’s an hour’s work. Onto the rest of the month!

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Images: bard on left; bard on right.

Nano-ed ’14

nanowidge50KwootFinished a day early, with a solid push for most of the day. Spent three hours at an informal Write-In at the Brattleboro library, which helped a lot. Tired–check! Glad I Nano-ed again this year–check! You can always learn more about process and the reaches and tricks of self-discipline and the divine gift of imagination. Looking forward to revising-check! But not yet.  First: sigh. S-T-R-E-T-C-H. Relax. Binge-video-watch. Ah!

“Oh no, ya can’t always git whatcha want”

nanowidge34k“but if ya try sometimes …” Well, the Stones’ song is a good piece of writing advice for your main character. Give her what she wants too soon, and your story’s done before you’ve gotten to chapter two. But let her find out what she needs? Well, that’s at least as interesting.

When a regular blog doesn’t deliver the goods, some accounting by the blogger is in order. So here’s a quick Nano-update: I’m in the home stretch, a few thousand words behind, but that’s manageable. Eight days more! At this point I feel I have at least as many questions as my main character Emily: about the other world she’s been dragged to, about the people behind the scenes and their motives (because, let’s face it, how many people do you know who openly share their motives with you, alert you when they change, and generally keep you in the loop?). Yes, I’ve already written 30,000 words about her experience. Could you do justice to your life in 30,000 words?!

Of course, that’s half the reason to write: to find out what’s gonna happen next. And depending on whether the ending of the monster-lovely thing you’re birthing is clear to you, how it’s all gonna work itself out.  In my story, the girl gets the boy. But that’s when her real problems begin.

“Here, everything has a container”

artofdreamsemBack from a seminar this weekend on the art of spiritual dreaming, with a series of quirky, honest, challenging speakers and panelists.  “Intimate” was a word I heard more than once to “describe the vibe”: the distance between speaker and audience collapsed in a remarkable way, so that we were all participants. Or as one speaker remarked, talking about his experience with dreaming and comedy and comedic training with the improv group Upright Citizens Brigade, “you show up, listen and tell the truth.” If the truth isn’t yet funny-sad at the same time, you keep showing up, listening, and telling and digging. You bring it with everything you are. ‘Cause otherwise, what’s the point? Except maybe chocolate.

But the statement I heard during the seminar that has stuck with me is the line that provided the title for this post: “Here, in these worlds of duality, everything has a container.” Or to put it another way, “soup needs a pot.” My wife and I riffed on this on the drive home. Relationships, stress,  jobs, life: we’re just having “container issues.” The center around which the storms rage witnesses it all. Uncontained, it doesn’t get slimed or cracked, burnt or broken, stolen, ripped off, bungled, overpaid or underappreciated. Container issues, these. How to shift attention off the containers, even for a moment, is a source of great freedom and possibility. Don’t, say some. Can’t, say others. Shouldn’t, say still others. We listen, and we don’t, can’t — until we discover a “why not?” lying at the bottom of the bag, like a stale fortune cookie, or a light-switch felt for, in a strange house or hotel room, in the dark. And we do.  And so it begins.

Hence the “art” part in the “Art of Spiritual Dreaming.” As an art, it needs practice. Really improves with trying out and adapting and personalizing, missing and picking up and proceeding in fits and starts, in the best human tradition.

The first stages of practice can be squeaky, atonal cries, like the noises from that violin you or your nine-year-old has just picked up and attempted to drag a bow across. Or grunts and groans, as when you move into that yoga posture, and you suddenly can count every damn one of the 206 bones, plus assorted tendons and ligaments, in the human body. Your body, thank you very much. Sometimes the art consists in not crying. Or doing so, with all the tears and sobs the situation calls for. If you’re a puddle, you’re sometimes half-way to “soup without the pot.” Then you climb back in. Repotted.

Your art may be different. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” said a certain wise teacher not so many millennia ago. How your art comes to you is your life, what you’re doing today and tomorrow. And after that, maybe.  But when this art we’re all practicing becomes dogma, the artist — who’s the point of it, after all — gets lost in the bans, inquisitions, burnings, purges, pogroms, reformations, downsizings and re-organizations. (Looked at one way, it’s all church/work.) Let me out, says the Artist. I need to breathe. And when we confuse cop-out with drop-out, we’ve confused what Tolkien called the “the flight of the deserter” with “escape of the prisoner.” One is weakness, though sometimes we need to acknowledge weakness, too, just like with crying.  (Show up and tell the truth.) The other, the escape, is a necessity. The bush may survive in the prison yard, but it blossoms in open air. You and I dream every night (proven, documented, everyone single one of us, every night — remembering is just another art to practice) to escape the container into more open air.

We talked in the seminar about techniques.  They’re not hidden, not anymore. Half a hundred schools and temples and ashrams, synagogues and retreats and workshops teach them, sometimes try to claim them, copyright them even, if they’re reeeeely insecure, or greedy and want your $ or other equivalent metal and paper tokens.

Silence. Chant, kirtan, song. Prayer, mantra, favorite refrigerator-magnet team-building-button go-to verbal icon for centering. Icon, image, idol, focus, mandala. Posture, breathing, zazen, yoga, tai chi, krav maga, judo, karate. Ritual, rite, gesture, mudra. Dream, metaphor, lucidity, shift, imaging, visualization. All of these can rattle the container, making us aware of it if we mistake container for real deal, for the truth of what’s going on right now. Pursued with sufficient discipline and zeal, they begin to open doors. Too many! you may say. I’ve just begun with this one, and you’re dumping a truck-load on me.

All you need is to master just one technique, says the Teacher. Just one, and that will be enough.

Enough for what? Suspicious that someone’s selling you something? For me that enough leads to pure experience. Opinions just not needed till after, if at all. Tolkien describes his sense of new/familiar in one of many instances in The Return of the King, in the chapter “The Houses of Healing”:

… as the sweet influence of the herb stole about the chamber it seemed to those who stood by that a keen wind blew through the window, and it bore no scent, but was an air wholly fresh and clean and young, as if it had not before been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam.

And if this metaphor, which is simply another technique, happens to work for you, you catch another glimpse that can be strengthened by one of the techniques here. Or if you’ve swallowed long years or lives of dogma and you practice denial as one of your (powerful) techniques for self-defense against liars and their lies, or simply if your spiritual taste is nourished by other food, it may not work, and you need to look elsewhere, and maybe else-how. And like so many things that may have started for you way back in high school, “you’ll know it when you find it.”

All of this is simply a larger over-technique. And because it’s shaped in words in this post, it may trip you up as much as help you. So with that caveat I pass it along for what it’s worth. Sometimes even an echo is enough to keep us going down the hall and out the gate and along the next path.

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nanowidge-mon11-17If you’ve been following my nano-progress in the last few posts, you’ll see by the numbers here (showing up and practicing my telling the truth) that I’m lagging in the numbers game. Words, word-count, Nanowrimo, this novel, writing — all containers.  Necessary, but not the final story. I’ve got plenty to write, but it’s coming slower than usual, because it feels good to get it right.

Like the story’s already out there, Emily’s sitting here in the living room, curled up near the fire on a snowy, rainy, yucky Vermont day. She’s cradling a mug of tea in one hand, reading or sketching or listening to music, waiting for the next segment I’m just finishing up, and I’m trying to tell it accurately so she’ll recognize it. Or I’m transcribing from a dream what she told me in detail, in Dirnive, which she granted me a pass to enter last night, and I have to punch “replay” and re-enter that dream to check the experience one more time against what I’ve got so far.

It’s coming through like a dream, not linear — that’s for later, with editing — and with textures and colors and sounds that will loom up suddenly and ask for space and time I hadn’t anticipated. A scene with her parents and brother, casually shopping in an antiques store. A class at St. Swithins that seems to link to Emily’s absence for about two weeks’ earth time, but nearly a year on Dirnive. To conceive and give birth to a child there. Because if she doesn’t, given the difference in time passage between the two worlds, her love will age and die quite literally before she herself is out of her teens. Which makes her parents grandparents — her mother would adore a grandchild, only not so soon — but grandparents of a baby they will never see. Because Emily can come and go between worlds — her worlds — but no one else can. I think. Emily doesn’t want to risk it, yet. She says. See what a novel can do to you?!

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Image: Art of Spiritual Dreaming — John Pritchard

Nano ’14 Update and Fragment

nanowidge4-14Reporting in from the depths of Nano-ing. My goal is 25K by this Saturday, the halfway mark, and I’m obviously behind, though not impossibly so. Woo-hoo!

So here’s a recent fragment from my deeply drafty work so far. On Dirnive (that DEER-nee-veh, if things like names matter to you like they do to me), Emily’s private “other world,” a council tasked with contacting her fails in its first attempts. But the fallout from their efforts on Emily’s emotional and mental equilibrium is nonetheless severe. Medication and therapy have succeeded only in making her sleepy and angry respectively. Here she meets with yet another in what is becoming a string of therapists who can make little headway with their young patient. Of course, there’s a simple reason for that: Dirnive is actually real and not merely a disorder or complex or hormonal imbalance. Oh, and Char is one of Emily’s friends from St. Swithin’s.

“Well, Emily, this second session is where we have a chance to begin to get to know each other. Is there anything you’d like to say to get us started?”

Emily gazed at Dr. Ericson, her new therapist, and sighed to herself. Another expert.They’re all alike. She smiled sweetly and decided to play along. She turned on the sweet biddable teenage girl charm. But not too much. Understated. That’s the trick.

“There’s this repeating dream I’ve had,” she began, “three or four times now. Maybe that will give us something to work with, doctor.”

Emily took a deep breath.  Just improvise, Char always says. Well, here goes. “In the dream I’m always in the same place at the start. On a shore, just gazing out to sea, and there’s a single small cloud on the horizon, off in the west. And I know pretty soon I’ll be flying over the water toward the cloud. And I hear Lara’s theme playing. You know, from Dr. Zhivago? The weird thing is, it’s being sung by some of my St. Swithin’s classmates, and they’re all dressed in formal wear, like for a prom, but they’re all in Russia for job interviews. Weird, right? And then Zhivago, you know, the actor I mean, what’s-his-name, Mom and I just watched it last year. Omar Sharif! Yeah, that’s it. So Omar comes out in a cowboy hat and spandex but no shirt. Love the name!  I’m so gonna call my firstborn Omar. So anyway, he interviews the Swithiners for a script-doctor position for the film we’re making. Only it becomes a film about my left big toe, not the Pasternak novel. And my toe has a sad little face painted on it, like a clown’s, along with a period costume for the movie. And he, Zhivago I mean, or Sharif, not my toe, he promises them all a salary that will be paid in cheese blintzes, as long as no one cuts off my toe before the scripts are finished. Which I’m worried about, my toe that is, and I want to tell Lara about it, ’cause she’s been standing there the whole time, rocking the blonde thing and nodding sympathetically at all of us, but she’s off to a mouse festival. Which makes sense, kind of, in the dream anyway, at least with the cheese in it. So I wake up crying ‘No cheese blintzes!'”

She paused. “Wild, huh? What do you think it all means?”

The therapist looked perplexed. Emily barely managed to swallow a shout of laughter. She coughed to cover it. Dad would be absolutely hysterical by now, she thought gleefully.

Nano ’14 Day 6 Update

nanowidge2-14When you start bleeding caffeine, you know you’re in the thick of writing …

Here’s a rough “back-cover blurb” I pulled together today for my own use:

Emily Fioretta Zhang-Salzano, 15, is living her day-student nerd-life at St. Swithin’s School, until another world named Dirnive (that’s DEER-nee-veh) comes calling and pulls her into it. Literally. Repeatedly. Without warning. Can she stay sane, pass chemistry, reassure her parents, friends and teachers about her strange absences, and halt — or lead — a war?

And I crawled out of a slump and reached the 20% mark today on day six with over 10K. Some of it, not surprisingly, is notes towards a novel, but I’ve got enough (as you can tell from the blurb) that there’s an actual story there. Though the “war” part is a stopgap for something I don’t yet see clearly.

Here at Kimberly’s request is another fragment, continuing from where the previous post left off:

Across the hills to the west the late October sunset faded to a wan streak of amber. The three miles along Spruce Ridge Road to Callahan’s meant two switchbacks and a single-lane plank bridge just before the road turned to pavement. Halloween decorations glowed in yards and windows. A few more nights. Emily was too old for trick or treating, she thought regretfully – had been for some years, because everyone saw her height first and misjudged her age. But Kev at twelve loved the holiday untroubled by such things, and she still enjoyed it through him. His homemade vampire priest costume hung on his bedroom door, ready to go, with a real clerical collar he’d borrowed from Father Andrew, and makeup from last year’s school production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The brief parent-teacher controversy that flared over that choice had brightened two weeks of otherwise dull classes for Emily with its predictable arguments, letters to the editor, and overblown opinions. For her own amusement she argued both sides to herself, uncertain which one deserved to win solely on logic. The production itself was a rousing success. Branston Central enjoyed an excellent theater program.

A dip in the road recalled Emily to the moment. She loved the subdued colors, the listening landscape of autumn, even the shorter overcast days that made a return to a warm house that much more inviting. Her headlights parsed silhouettes of dark tree limbs, then the deeper darkness that was the road. Mist rose off pastures and meadows, glazing and scattering the twin beams in front of her. The wet road shone faintly.

Five minutes later Emily glanced at the rearview mirror and came to a stop. Where was Pickering Lane, or Roubidoux’s farm, or anything familiar? She got out. No lights from windows in any direction. She knew this road, lived on it since forever, played in its mud and puddles as a child, grew up on it, walked it, biked it, now drove it. How could she be lost on it?

Nanoeing (like Canoeing?)

nanowidge1-14So here’s the opening scene of my drafty 2014 Nanowrimo nano-novel. Yes, that means it’s still reeeeeely small.  But it’s getting bigger!

Here’s a bantering exchange between 15-year old Emily Zhang-Salzano, the main character, and her father, to set the stage of dark foreboding (not that dark) for what’s to come, when Emily is whisked off to parts unknown by powers unseen. You know, first a light at the end of the tunnel, but then more tunnel. As the Wise have said, if you want interesting characters, make them suffer …

“Emily!”

“Living room, Dad.”

“Honey, I need you to break the law for me.”

“Way to get a girl’s attention. Does it involve removing mattress tags?”

“No.”

“Downloading adult … cat videos?”

“What? No, that’s so last year.” Neil Salzano appeared in the doorway, a towel slung over one arm, and a dusting of flour on his nose. “Listen, your mom will be home soon, we’ll be eating, but I just discovered we’re out of whipping cream and–”

“You want me to steal a cow?”

“Exactly. Preferably one that also gives chocolate milk, so your brother will consider it a fair trade while you’re serving your sentence.”

“Ha! Nobody would miss me. That’s the beauty of your plan.”

“Clever child. Actually I need you to drive to Callahan’s and pick up a pint of cream.”

“You know I just got my permit.”

“I do. I also know you’ve been driving tractors, pickups, sailboats, dirt bikes and Voldemort knows what else since you were eight. You’re a safer driver than your mother. I’d go myself but I’m expecting a call I can’t miss. Strictly land-line. You know the cell reception in these our dearly beloved hills. Hence the highly illegal nature of your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

“You’re contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

“So don’t get caught. Three miles, on a dirt road.”

“I’m the poster child for family values. Really. Candidates hire me for photo ops.”

“Just the Libertarians. Honor your father, that your days may be long. Look, you can park in Bill and Angie’s driveway, then walk across the highway and the last hundred yards to Callahan’s. No one needs to see you all unchaperoned and teen-terrifying behind the wheel.”

“What would Mom say?”

“She won’t say anything if you get the cream and I manage to finish making dessert.”

“I can’t get into Harvard or Yale with a criminal record.”

“You’re a misdemeanor waiting to happen. This is your chance to demonstrate your obvious maturity and independence.”

“What a sweet-talker!”

“You know it. And no stopping in at the town library on the way. I’m serious, Em. It’s Thursday evening, I know they’re open late tonight, but I’ll drive you into Branston on Saturday and you can have the whole day to hide away in the stacks at State if you want.”

“Ah, ’tis bribery now. ‘The Corruption of Emily’ miniseries, based on a shocking true story. Branston’s a promise? What about all the yard work?”

“Mrs. Breckenridge is our last this year, but she says she wants to compost her leaves herself.”

“OK, then. Deal!”

“You’re my favorite daughter. Here are the keys.”

By the time Emily pulled the battered Honda out of their circular driveway, darkness settled in and was getting comfortable. Recalling the conversation of a few minutes ago, she smiled again. Mom’s English was really good, but she still couldn’t always follow the banter between Emily and her father. It felt wonderful to be this light and easy again with at least one of them, finally, after all the fights and prescriptions and appointments and drama of the last year. St. Swithin’s had officially ended her medical leave with an invitation to return this fall, and classes were going well. Maybe she actually had her life back again.

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As Patrick Rothfuss says, “Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.”

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Nanowrimo ’14

Participant-2014At it again: another novel in the works with this year’s Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month. Though as the website banner so humbly announces, “the world needs your novel” definitely qualifies as a claim that’s “off the chain,” my students would say.

Still, there’s an undeniable badass nerd adrenalin rush that comes with hitting that daily quota of 1667 words. You watch a story grow in spite of itself. I say in spite of itself because without generous intervals of Muse-seducing, -teasing and -taunting, an idea just as often topples abruptly from its perch like a bad drunk, and sprawls on the floor of a blank page after a day or two of that oh-so-glorious writing high. What vile false hope! No wonder out of the 300,000 or so Nanowrimos*, about a fifth of that number finish the “winning” rough draft minimum of 50,000 words in these thirty days of November. Of those, even fewer go on to revise.  But “nothing ventured” still has the same outcome, after all these millennia. Funny thing, that.

Over decades of bad writing, the only kind you can do in order to get to the good stuff, you learn to interrogate your story, go on a date with it, blindfold it, tie it up against the wall and threaten to execute it, propagate its most bizarre roots and shoots and runners, name its characters vividly, trust it implicitly, play fifty-two card pick-up with its themes, and generally treat it like the first 11 lines of the following Billy Collins poem every high school English teacher uses (guilty!) at the start of a poetry unit in order to seem cooler than Antarctica:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

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*the addicts of Nanowriming

Nanowrimo ’13

Yes, I’ve once again* entered that artificial arena of neurotic constraint and gratuitous creativity sponsored by the good (though by now addled) folks at Nanowrimo.  National (though it’s gone global) Novel Writing Month.  A 50,000 word draft of novel in 30 days.  Join nearly 300,000 other dreamers doing the same thing and keeping tabs on each other at the Nanowrimo website, its forums, messages, Q and A, and so on.  Giving out free advice, titles, sympathy, inspiration, horror stories and pep talks.  The whole project runs on a shoestring.  You can read a little more about the details here.

I’m at 10,500-something words right now, some 6000 words short of where I should be, if we were keeping score.  Which I am.  But not.  1667 words a day is nothing more than many novelists write all year round, so do not take too seriously the self-pity and the indulgent whining heard from your marginally stable neighborhood ‘Wrimo.  He or she need do only one thing:  keep writing.  Nothing else is acceptable.  “Someday I’m going to write a novel,” meet your moment (month?) of truth.

And, to tell the truth (available in good novels everywhere), I’m on my second plot, after severe crash-and-burn a few days ago, but at last words and ideas are flowing.  All my strategies and tricks from three decades of writing went on strike and picketed my brain.  But now I’m back (breakdown averted once again) and I’m on it. And that first story?   Not stillborn, just arrested, delayed, challenged, developmentally disabled.  “Differently scripted.”  I still have hopes for it.  With surgery, therapy, time …  “Your children will disappoint you.  Love them anyway.”

Novelist and blogger Chuck Wendig waxes vulgarly eloquent on the pitfalls of The Nanowrimo Simplification (sounds like a title for The Big Bang Theory) in this 2011 post, “25 things you should know about Nanowrimo.”  For anyone interested, he’s dead on target, and the four-letter words underscore the realities of the writerly world.

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResStill, if you plant butt on chair and do the writing, in one month you will undeniably clutch in the form of hot little electrons what your dreaming-of-writing-a-novel-before-I die self did not have previously:  material to work with, to cudgel and trim, exercise (exorcise) and massage into a draft of what could become a novel.  With time and much more effort.  O Grasshopper, the draft is only a beginning.  But thou art now A Writer.

I’m off to drive my wife to a weaving workshop in Massachusetts.  Then it’s back home to move the story forward another 500-1000 words before Sunday turns into Monday and its 1667 additional words.  Wish me luck.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

*Here’s one of several posts from my 2011 Nanowrimo experience.

Stranger than Fiction

If you’ve read previous posts here, you’ve heard about my Nanowrimo experience.  One of the perks of such an online endeavor — beyond the solace of knowing that thousands are struggling right along with you, engaged in the same mad attempt, maybe chewing the end of a pencil like a trapped animal gnaws off its own leg to escape, or staring blindly at a computer screen, in either case despairing of ever writing another readable word — is the series of pep talks by published novelists.

Towards the end of the Nano-month, author Janet Fitch posted one such talk which I’ve copied and saved — both for my own benefit and for the writing classes I teach.  As I was re-reading it recently, it struck me as peculiarly applicable to our own lives.  You probably suspected we’re all just characters in somebody’s novel — it’s not a new idea.  But this should be no surprise in any case — we tell stories constantly.  Why shouldn’t storytelling advice also bear some connection to living IRL?

Here’s Fitch writing about “getting stuck” with a character, and what to do about it:

So you have these options, but which one to go for? When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don’t let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. That’s my advice to you now. Make trouble for your character. In life we try to avoid trouble. We chew on our choices endlessly. We go to shrinks, we talk to our friends. In fiction, this is deadly. Protagonists need to screw up, act impulsively, have enemies, get into TROUBLE.

The difficulty is that we create protagonists we love. And we love them like our children. We want to protect them from harm, keep them safe, make sure they won’t get hurt, or not so bad. Maybe a skinned knee. Certainly not a car wreck. But the essence of fiction writing is creating a character you love and, frankly, torturing him. You are both sadist and savior. Find the thing he loves most and take it away from him. Find the thing he fears and shove him shoulder deep into it. Find the person who is absolutely worst for him and have him delivered into that character’s hands. Having him make a choice which is absolutely wrong.

You’ll find the story will take on an energy of its own, like a wound-up spring, and then you’ll just have to follow it, like a fox hunt, over hill, over dale.

Imagine this as the rule of thumb that God (fill in your favorite entity to blame — corporations aren’t exempt, now that they’re people too) follows with us, and our lives may start to make a lot more sense.  If it’s true that all the growth is in the hassle, maybe we should seek out a moderate degree of hassle from time to time, rather than letting it back up and accumulate and swell until it spills over and clobbers us when we’re least expecting it.  Instead, take it on in smaller doses.  But whatever we do, you’ll have noticed that we end up in relationships with people who manage to uncover our weaknesses with uncanny accuracy and poke and prod them in their most sensitive spots, as well as with people who will love us regardless — quirks, warts, fetishes and all.  And we provide the same service to others.

As we become more fully conscious, and assume at least some of the responsibility for the characters we play, we even get to revise them.  Meanwhile, when you think your life’s a disaster, it may just be going through some heavy rewriting behind the scenes.  Whole chapters get chucked.  Motivations get rearranged.  You’re on your way to a normal daily ordinary even humdrum lunch, and something changes in your life forever.  Or, on the other hand, if nothing is happening and nothing just keeps on happening in your life, maybe the show is on a commercial break, or mid-season hiatus.  Don’t change the channel yet — stay tuned for the next episode.

Writer and AODA Archdruid John Michael Greer observes in a 1/11/12 blog post:

As human beings, we think with stories as inevitably as we eat with mouths and walk with feet; the stories we tell ourselves about the world define the way we make sense of the “blooming, buzzing confusion,” in William James’ phrase,  that the world out there throws at our sense organs. In what we are pleased to call “primitive societies,” a rich body of mythology and legend provides each person with a range of narratives that can be applied to any given situation and make sense of it. Learning the stories, and learning how to apply them to life’s events, is the core of a child’s education in these societies, and a learned person is very often distinguished, more than anything else, by the number of traditional stories he or she knows by heart.

In one very real sense, then, Druidry is “merely” a rich source of stories that provide alternative ways of understanding our existence and experience.  The important thing is to have, ready at hand and from a tried and wise source, an ample supply of story alternatives that teach us and help us and entertain us as they do so.  The “single story” of much modern life just isn’t enough.  I’ll be talking more about this in a coming post.

Nano Finale

Did it! Amazing experience, helped by the online Nanowrimo forum, with 200,000 other people doing the same thing all around the world.  Dutch high-schoolers and Malaysian retirees and New Zealand farmers, Singapore lawyers and Hong Kong engineers.  Everyone talking about it as they’re doing it. Egging each other on.  Telling funny stories.  Making and soliciting suggestions.  Cries for help.  Competitions.  Excerpts for critiquing.  How-to’s for people writing about medieval French history, chameleons, murder by deuterium, dragon mating, the proper warping and beaming of looms, the spices in chicken tikka, etc.  Writing Buddies.  The online support videos and posts from published authors. The sense of an immense online community engaged in huge set of magical creative hopeful acts against the naysayers and wannabes and critics, and our own doubts and inner censors and resistance and procrastination and  sloth.

Word by word.  And now, 50,260 words of the first draft of a fantasy novel.  Or 106 pages in a Word document.  A month of writing.  Virtually no editing whatsover, beyond what spell-check does in true robot fashion.

Haven’t looked back at it.  Not sure I want to.  In any case I need to spend some time away from it.  Catch up on this blog, on laundry, dishes.

Free at last!  No, not free at all:  finished with the first step.  Let down a bit, to tell the truth.  Adrenaline and all.  Time to rest up, pull back from writing for a week, so the first symptoms of carpal tunnel subside (mostly my left arm).

Most productive day — over 5000 words. Had about five of those during the month.  Nice to know I can do it.  Wow.  OK, onward.  Get a fire built later (it’s sunny and in the 40s outside), shave, take a shower, write a letter, pay bills. Take a walk.  Breathe.

Thank you, Powers of the Worlds, human and incorporeal. Wife, friends, the earth, the gods.  And you, my readers, for all good thoughts. (It feels good to thank, to be grateful.  An annual holiday for it isn’t often enough, of course.  Daily.)

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Posted 30 November 2011 by adruidway in blessing, creativity, Druidry, fiction, nanowrimo, writing

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Nano Home Stretch

With just under two thousand words to get down tomorrow, I can finally see the finish line and the completion of a month of Nano writing.  I started with a character-driven story, knowing that with a vivid enough character, things would start to happen, and she was strong enough to make things happen herself.  Now plot detail has been flowing in abundance, complexities I hadn’t foreseen or imagined, backstory and unusual motivations and sacred mathematics and a dream sequence that foreshadows all hell about to break loose.

Posted 29 November 2011 by adruidway in creativity, fiction, nanowrimo, writing

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