typewriter

#am (almost) writing

Every now and then, I think about trying to be more consistent and predictable in my choice of topics for my blog. A day may come when I succeed, but that day is not this day.

I have been struggling with some doubt and disappointment related to my writing, not to mention skepticism about investing time and energy in the pursuit of publication. One result is that I realize how much I like this blog as a way to share my words among what feels like a supportive and small circle of readers. I like being writer, editor, and publisher on this space, including the chance to go back and edit or even delete as my thinking changes. Traditional publication is like a snapshot of a world that is always in flux, a historical artifact as soon as it is created. Blogging as a form of publication allows for movement.

So I think I will start blogging more often. At the same time, I love writing novels, so I have been journaling lately about how to recommit to this long process that may not, in the end, lead anywhere but still brings my life so much value and meaning.

One thing I have done is reviewed some affirmations that were meaningful for me over the years, and I thought it might make sense to share some of them on the blog. Some make more sense than others, so no telling where this will lead.

America on Trial

First, I want to share Adam Schiff’s closing words from January 24, 2020:

Sometimes I think about how unforgiving history can be of our conduct. We can do a lifetime’s work, draft the most wonderful legislation, help our constituents, and yet we may be remembered for none of that, but for a single decision we may be remembered, affecting the course of our country. I believe this may be one of those moments, a moment we never thought we would see, a moment when our democracy was gravely threatened and not from without but from within. Russia, too, has a constitution. It’s not a bad constitution. It’s just a meaningless one. In Russia, they have trial by telephone. They have the same ostensible rights we do to a trial. They hear evidence and witnesses. But before the verdict is rendered, the judge picks up the telephone and calls the right person to find out how it’s supposed to turn out. Trial by telephone. Is that what we have here? Trial by telephone? Someone on the other end of the phone dictating what this trial should look like. The founders gave us more than words. They gave us inspiration. They may have receded into mythology, but they inspire us still. And more than us, they inspire the rest of the world. They inspire the rest of the world. From their prison cells in Turkey, journalists look to us. From their internment camps in China, they look to us. From their cells in Egypt, those who gathered in Tahrir Square for a better life look to us. From the Philippines, those that were the victims and their families of mass extrajudicial killing. From Elgin prison, they look to us. From all over the world, they look to us. And increasingly, they don’t recognize what they see. It’s a terrible tragedy for them. It’s a worse tragedy for us because there is nowhere else for them to turn. They’re not going to turn to Russia. They’re not going to turn to China. They’re not going to turn to Europe with all of its problems. They look to us because we are still the indispensable nation. They look to us because we have a rule of law. They look to us because no one is above that law. And one of the things that separates us from those people in Elgin prison is the right to a trial. A right to a trial. Americans get a fair trial. And so I ask you, I implore you, give America a fair trial. Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.

Schiff’s final words are searing. And troubling. I know too well how consistently we have fallen short of what is invoked when he speaks of a fair trial. Justice for all is too often merely justice for the elite. The vote has been suppressed violently, stealthily, and systematically. The structure of our Senate and the electoral college award power based on geography, not population. The brutality of this administration is staggering, but injustice and brutality are not new to our country. What is also not new is that there have been hard-fought victories that we should celebrate and simultaneously losses that exhaust our ability to grieve.

The challenge to live up to the ideals of democracy is not new to this moment. It will always be an ambitious goal that will break our hearts again and again.

In the past, though, when we failed, we could still agree on what we were trying to achieve: democracy, fairness, justice… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even if we disagreed on how to achieve these goals. We frequently failed to see what was missing or to include everyone. We must push for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people that actually serves and protects all of its people. Democracy and justice are actions, not outcomes, an endless journey to places we cannot yet imagine.

There are some who claim power due to the absence of perfect outcomes. They say that because promises of democracy and justice were made but not yet attained, we will promise you nothing and you must be content. Since perfect isn’t possible, you have to accept despair and cynicism.

So what is at stake in this impeachment trial is not the question “Are we democratic and just?” That will always be a work in progress.

No, it is something more chilling, dark, and desolate. The question is “Do we still aspire to be democratic and just?”

The defenders of this White House say no.

Next episode?

I rarely binge watch anything. I am more the type to stay up late to finish a good book.

But then Perry Mason showed up on one of our streaming services this winter. This was good news because my mother has lost the ability to operate her TV or to hold a conversation, so when I bring her home for a meal, it helps to find a show she enjoys.

Seems like we watched Perry Mason any chance we got over the years. The joke was that no matter how many times we watched an episode, we never remembered who did it. On the other hand, we knew the killer was usually on the witness stand in the last ten minutes of the episode.

After awhile, I got sucked in and started watching the show on my own. I enjoy mysteries in general, and these stories entertained me. Yes, I roll my eyes, often, at the stereotypes, not to mention the shocking number of affairs between boss and secretary (not Della and Perry, for the record). I also grind my teeth more than once at the sight of Perry or Paul acting as if Della needs their help to walk. In general, these episodes depict a world that never existed, but instead replicate false definitions of gender, race, sexuality, and power. All fair critiques, but I still like the stories, even the cheesiest ones, where Perry intones deep insights like a prophet.

This time, though, I realized watching was a way for me to travel through time. I seem to be climbing into the screen to stare at this city in black and white, the long angular cars, the jazzy street scenes, all depicting a Los Angeles that doesn’t seem quite as endless as what we have now. Not that I know anything about L.A., just my own corner of the world that continues to expand and shift around me.

I took my mother to the eye doctor yesterday. “Hold this over your eye,” she was asked, several times. Eventually, she did.

“Can you tell me what you see?”

No answer.

“What about now?”

Letters changed to pictures.

No response. The questions did not mean anything to her.

It will be her last trip to the eye doctor, at least for an annual check-up. You have to be able to answer questions. You have to read.

Afterwards, I felt gravity pull me down. Maybe if I am smaller. Maybe if I roll myself into a curve so I take up as little space as possible, maybe this won’t hurt so much.

Later I queued up the next episode of Perry Mason. Only five episodes left, the peril of binging. The screen is full of black, white, and gray tones, flickering, fading. There is chaos, but it is predictable. We know at some point, someone will find a body. Usually it’s the defendant, who sometimes gasps and then picks up the murder weapon. It’s hard not to hiss: What are you thinking?

But there will be a trial. Berger will be cranky, but in the end he will be grateful, mostly, that the real criminal is revealed.

There is always a light note at the end of the show. Someone died, someone else will face the death penalty, but there’s always reason to laugh.

Another episode is over, and a small box appears, inviting me to click to watch more. My mouse hovers over the _next_ button. I am running out of episodes.

Whether I click now or later, there are only a few left.

50,891!

Hoorah! I am happy to report that I crossed the 50k line in National Novel Writing Month. It’s definitely a rough draft, but the month yielded so much in terms of new insights into what might happen in this novel, and I successfully added flesh and structure to what used to be mostly notes and fragments. So that’s pretty cool.

This November felt different because I have a nonfiction deadline that I’ve been working towards, so I could not fully immerse in the novel. I am pleased that I made good progress on both, but I hope to arrange things differently next November.

I have been pondering next steps but will talk about those in another blog post. For now, I just want to celebrate crossing the finish line! Best wishes to all the other Wrimos out there, and thank you to all of you who cheered me along this month.

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Light at the end of the Nano Tunnel

I have not found much time to write in the blog this November, even though I enjoy the chance to talk about process and progress on here with anyone else trying to write more words as part of National Novel Writing Month.

My current total is 44,184 words, yahoo! It feels as if I will, more or less, reach the end of this novel by the time I break 50,000, even though we all know that 50,000 isn’t exactly the length of a typical novel. I don’t even think it’s the right ball park for a young adult novel, which is my current project. Still, it is nice to feel like I’ve written from start to finish, even if it’s a very rough and short draft of a novel.

Once again, though, the process of writing a novel in a month (add air quotes) has yielded many insights into what could or should happen to my novel. I also created a folder in the Research section of my Scrivener file labeled “Fixes for Later.” As I fast draft this novel, I realize there are some parts that need changes, some minor names or background fodder, and some more significant. There’s no time now, but I try to capture those ideas as I go since I will likely forget later.

I hope those of you who have aimed to write more this month have made progress, regardless of word count. And let us all cross our fingers as we enter (at least in the U.S.) holiday season that we will still get a few more words written. In my case, here’s hoping I find time to squeeze in 6000 more by November 30th. Part of me hopes I knock it out in the next day or so, but I have to admit, the secret to my success this year has been to take it slow & steady, averaging 1700 words a day.

Write on, everyone.

40k word screenshot

Screen shot on the Nanowrimo website when I logged in a total of over 40,000 words.

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Back on track

I have been juggling multiple commitments lately because, as I feared, life would not screech to a halt just because it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I’ve watched my progress falter on the novel. I tried not to pout and to appreciate the good things that were happening in my life that have nothing to do with the novel, but you know, it’s all about the word count.

I also wisely made myself take just a little time to ponder the plot points and articulate what scenes might fill in some gaps, also discovering the need for a few new scenes based on what I’ve already written. Once I had the right focus, it was easier than I thought to get going.

I’ve also been noticing that having a word count goal is helpful if I generally know what I want to write because it encourages me to flesh out parts that I might otherwise want to skip. So that’s been cool.

At any rate, I am now at 20,322 words, which is a couple hundred above par, which means if I can keep up this pace, I will reach 50,000 words by the end of November. In general, I find that writing around 1700 words a day is very manageable, so I just need to keep at it. It’s the catching up that is harder on me.

I have had to spend less time on the blog, but that’s okay. I will pop in when I can.

I also did find that I could take some notes and make progress just typing into my phone when I found myself having to wait around yesterday, so that’s a good feeling. I always know in theory that I could use my phone as a way to catch ideas or write a short draft on the go, but somehow in practice I never do. But thanks to this random word count goal, I’m all in.

Hope your November is going well for you, word count or otherwise!

clock set at 9 am

Writing in the flow

Writing about my prime time of 9 am yesterday made me think about the concept of flow. It feels as if I am most likely to experience flow at 9 am each day, and I even have a clock in my office stopped at 9 am to remind me of that feeling.

The concept of flow is often attributed to the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. My understanding is that flow refers to the experience of being immersed in a task in a way that is so satisfying that you lose track of time. You are caught up in the flow.

My impression is that flow, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so it is not necessary to read too much into it if you aren’t sure you have ever experienced flow or the only examples that come to mind are watching a movie or playing a video game, both of which can be enjoyable and deeply engrossing activities but don’t necessarily involve creating something new. At any rate, I know you can be highly creative and/or productive without experiencing flow.

Still, it is a nice concept to consider because it feels great to be immersed in a task, to get carried away by it. Dare I say it? To enjoy what one does! For some reason, this is reminding me of a line from a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza says he always looks mad when he is at work because otherwise people think you aren’t working. It sometimes seems as if it is inappropriate to experience joy and satisfaction from work. Yet I am radical enough to think that everyone should find an activity that generates the experience of flow (or something like it), whether as a profession or as a hobby.

At any rate, I am most prone to experience flow when I’m writing. This fuses a bit with my interest in time management strategies because I have discovered that routine and momentum boost the likelihood that I will experience flow. To paraphrase “Field of Dreams,” if I build it (the space to write), it (flow) will come.

This also explains why I love writing first drafts the most. That is when I am most likely to get lost in the moment. Editing, on the other hand, is not conducive to flow. For me, it’s usually conducive to feeling grouchy and channeling self-doubt, not to mention requiring many stops and starts. On the other hand, writing new drafts without interruptions is when I can get lost in the moment.

When I got my first full-time job as a teacher, during my first (blissful) summer off, I got into a routine of writing first thing in the morning. I was working on a novel, and I always stopped each day, Hemingway-style, with a sense of what I needed to write next. I found the experience so rewarding that I got up at 6 am without hesitation. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the words.

I don’t always feel that same enthusiasm and satisfaction, and I don’t always experience flow when I write, but routine and momentum (and reducing interruptions and ignoring doubt) help.

Prime time

On a day when I have complete control over my time, which does not happen as often as I wish, I am most focused, most inspired, and most productive around 9 and 10 am in the morning.

I can surprise myself and channel my inner busy bee at other times in the day, but really, by afternoon, I’m much more in an eat-chocolate-and-wish-for-a-nap kind of mood.

I have several important projects on my plate this month, so I find myself wishing there was such thing as a day full of 9 am’s—me at my prime, knocking out the words, drinking coffee (hmm, there may be a correlation, coffee in the afternoon is never worth it, sigh), living the dream.

Perhaps I can’t have that, but I can still try to channel that 9 am energy every hour–that feeling that the entire day lies before me, and I am off to a good start.

And perhaps keep the Ghiradeli out of sight.

10k badge screenshot

Nanowrimo, Day 7

Just a short post to say hoorah that I broke 10,000 words! I’m actually at 11,104 right now, which is about five hundred short of where I should be but life happened so I’m fine with where I am.

I finally tried out a new part of the Nanowrimo.org website. On the same space where you can update your word count, you can now click on a timer and set a timer for a writing session. I know timers are anathema for some, but I often find them a positive focusing tool, so I said, sure, I’ll put in ten minutes now.

When the time was up, a small pop-up window appeared where I could evaluate how I felt, where I wrote, etc. as well as my word count, and then that information also showed up on my stats screen. I love geeky perks like that, so I may try to use the timer more often. Maybe!

Hope your writing and your week are going well.

Did you vote yet?

It’s voting day, and I just spent a few hours encouraging people to vote.

I already voted during early voting because nothing scares me more than missing the chance to vote. One time I drove past my voting precinct and saw what at first glance looked like campaign signs and volunteers, and I literally clutched at my chest, wondering if I had forgotten to vote. (Long story short it was not a vote but some kind of fundraiser. Phew).

I don’t care if it is a vote for second assistant insurance fire commissioner, someone I don’t know wanting to do a job I don’t understand—I plan to cast a ballot no matter what.

Another vote here signThere are no perfect candidates, but there are usually those who are willing to work hard to make sense of sometimes mindlessly boring policy issues, and sometimes a few no-win situations. I will have to accept that none of them see the world exactly as I do, and we won’t agree on everything— but it usually is easy enough to identify which candidate will do the most good for the community. Yet even the best of them will make mistakes, or run up against systemic challenges that will take generations and a few miracles to overcome. I know that the least I can do is show up to vote. And, of course, vote out anyone who violates the public trust.

No one can promise me any candidate will be perfect, nor any problem easy to solve. To me, though, there is one thing that is perfect, and that is my vote. The vote matters so much that American history is riddled with bloody battles to gain the vote in the first place, and then to expand it (too slowly) to include more and more people.CDE810FC-6952-4331-B6C2-EBA8BCA122DD.c9088e8f602e4755bd25acb43a9d6047

Even though the constitution says most of us can vote, there will always be people both foreign and domestic who attempt to interfere with our access to vote, not to mention any chance to be well-informed as voters. And fighting for the vote means engaging in an imperfect and endless battle, but it is one I believe in because I believe in the vote, both as a symbol of faith in what humans can do together and as a practical matter that says in this one small way, I can make the world a tiny bit better.

Which is just to say, did you vote yet? You should.