NaNoWriMo 2012: what the —

30 November 2012 § Leave a comment

For thirty days I’ve toiled and written,
found each one better than the last.

Now, I’ve finished on pacific time
fifty thousand one hundred six
in microsoft word I have strong,
and at ten pm they cut me off.

Two time zones or so will keep me from an arbitrary emblem recognizing that I finished writing a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days. I did do this arduous task despite a two week road trip to California and wondrous connections and terrible traffic. It’s done. And on my watch, it is 11.35 pm on the 30th of november 2012.

To hell with recognition – I just wrote a novel. And I like it. Go me.


How to be present, and write a novel: an impractical guide to life.

28 November 2012 § Leave a comment

My girlfriend Heather returned from Italy two weeks ago, and immediately suggested a road trip to California. “We have people who want to see us,” she argued. “And it’s Thanksgiving! It’ll be perfect!”

That’s how it happens: one moment, I’m hanging out in sleepy Sellwood, just blocks from the Willamette River, walking to cafes every day to pound out my daily 1,667 words for NaNoWriMo, and trying to quell my travel-envy for her 3-week, impromptu trip to Europe. “It’s not a vacation,” she told me, “it’s for work.”

As if hearing that would incline me less toward living vicariously through her. Our splotchy incoherent phone calls in the middle of the night were my covetous connection to international movement. Because of the novel, I swore to stay off facebook as much as possible for all of November, and to stay on track for my word count (meanwhile embark on a juicy road trip full of parties and dancing and tribe). Needless to say, my plan to keep focus hasn’t worked: on average I’ve been about 7,000 words behind, and have gone without writing a letter for days at a time. Now, I have three days to write 10,000. And here I am, writing a blog. Lovely.

Once again I’m just a few blocks from the water – but it’s the Pacific this time, and the surf washing up on the rocky Santa Cruz shores I can hear through the window. Heather and I spent two days on the Lost Coast, Big Sur, living mostly at night it seemed because in the light I holed myself up in a cozy cabin, smoked to trip-hop and old jazz, and wrote.

There’s a reason artists thrive in Big Sur, Henry Miller famous among them. I felt that I could spend ages there. Lifetimes, and not see it all. It reminded me of my favorite parts of the Scottish Highlands, bare fellsides and massive pine trees and the ocean crashing upon the cliffs below. I was running across the moors with herds of deer again, racing the oil tanker to Cape Wrath, where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his childhood with his grandfather the lighthouse keeper. I was alone on the moors as I was in the cabin, feeling the energy of the land around me, its magnetism. Rarely have I seen so well embodied a term I heard once from an ex-lover: seamountainsky. Neither co-existing or co-dependent, it is one entity; a focused, singular motion and stillness, like a film, with all the light and sound elements in just the right place to inspire catharsis, or nostalgia.

An hour before I left the wild central California coastline, because had I stayed another day I would have stayed a lifetime, I saw the cliffs’ dramatic fall into the sea, a walkable descent to the ocean. From our perch, Heather and I had woken up to spots of silver sunglare miles out to sea, and watched them chase us on the curvy, entertaining road north.

The road distracts and motivates me. I wonder if this trip was exactly what I needed: a hit of travel, a reminder that everything I want from life is mine at a moment’s notice, and that I don’t always need my passport to find it. I am pausing to consider my purpose. In the meantime, I will not stop following my heart. In the meantime of that, I have a novel to complete.

Tonight, we’re to have dinner with Roxanne, one of my favorite people. She’s a writer – she’ll get my slight disconnect, my mid-sentence wondering about the next chapter. And she’ll know that glint of being within grasp of victory, despite the distraction that travel provides so thoroughly.

I’m thankful for every moment, every misspelled word, the seminary at the top of the Berkeley hills, peace found in Bug Sur, this trip, and that yes, I will finish this.

word count: 41,471
goal: 50,000
days: 2

it builds character.

19 November 2012 § Leave a comment

In the backyard, I hid behind a juniper with rocks in my pockets. My cousin Catherine played alone, fifty feet away, near the maple. I was eight, a professional baseball player, and the stones weighed down the confidence I had in my throwing arm. For want of a challenging target, I chucked a rock in Cat’s direction. I heard the creamy clack of my stone colliding with a landscape of other stones its size.

“Did I hit you?” I yelled after it.

“No,” Cat yelled back. “You better not!”

I waited a minute. Breathed deep. After six or seven exhales I was sure she’d forgotten all about me. I threw again. I listened for my target: the hard knock of stone-on-tree. The wood forgave me and bounced it off. Humans, I learned that day, aren’t quite as sturdy as trees.

I threw five rocks with Catherine as my target. As I did, I bore a self-doubt so intense that I didn’t think I was even able to hurt another person, let alone affect them in a positive way. What hope was there for me, in baseball or in life, if I couldn’t fling my energy in the right direction?

Number five hit skin and bone. It’s the kind of sound that sticks with you through thick and thin. She cried and suffered for a few moments, she ran inside to tell on me. What a fantastic dread. Guilt held my neck like a gangster, fear pouring out of his eyes and into mine.

I could have ran, but I knew that I’d be caught. I would face the judges our mothers, merciless creatures with painted nails. Every atom in my body knew that I wasn’t brave enough to run behind the red truck where the hole in the fence lead out to the street.

Because pleading and bribery were my last hope, I expressed to Cat sorrow and concern for what I’d done, and begged her to not tell. She saw my worry as genuine, but didn’t understand how I could have hit her with a rock and so quickly have a change of heart.

I had no faith in my potential to hit her that I didn’t believe I could, even if I tried. I tried, and succeeded. I made a difference in someone’s life. I was glad that I’d finally something I’d set out to do, but as I thought of this, staring into the corner of wall between the door to the garage and the garbage can, I wondered if it was the kind of difference I wanted to make. I was glad also that I could feel all the feelings around it, and know what it was like to pick the wrong side of right. It felt thrilling and dramatic.

My punishment was to kill the rest of the afternoon standing in the corner to think about what I did. The mothers tended to Catherine’s physical and emotional wounds just loud enough for me to hear the shame in their voices. Not only had I changed Catherine’s day, I’d shifted the energy of the entire household. Everyone went quiet when they would go near me. I wondered what showed on their faces, and lacked the courage to look.

My corner was in the main corridor of the house, between the living room and the kitchen. The adults either wanted to keep an eye on me, or publicly shame me (I’d just learned about flogging in a history book, and found the reality of it quite effective).

In four hours I counted to six hundred seventy-eight, made shadow puppets on the trash bin, and took as much of a nap as I could on two legs. They yelled at me for entertaining myself, poked my back for talking, and someone slapped me in the head for standing on one foot. The other leg had fallen asleep, so I did what I could to take care of myself while following the rules of the punishment.

Of course before we went to bed that night I was forced to tell Cat that I was sorry. I don’t remember the apology. Later she and I worked out a deal where I would play whatever game she wanted for a whole month (without complaining), in exchange for her forgiveness. Oddly, most games she wanted to play resembled chores.

Prepubescent girls take the game of House very seriously. One moment I’d bake cookies in a plastic oven, and then sweep the floor. I didn’t understand how it was a game, but acquiesced for her clemency. The shed in the backyard served as our playhouse, and her father’s gun storage. The man was a cop, and had enough guns to fight a war in the Middle East.

In her parents’ bathroom, an AK-47 leaned against the wall next to the shower. Handguns served as paperweights while Cat’s dad prepared for work, a tendency that for some reason involved setting down his police gear next to the front door while he made himself food. That routine changed the day Cat’s little brother picked up his father’s service weapon, and shot himself in the cheek.

Five-year-old Patrick saved his dad some guilt, and lived. Miraculously, the bullet tore only skin tissue on its way out the back of his neck. The hospital room felt most stoutly our parents’ relief. Anger overshadowed love.

His wounds healed faster than his families’. The incident was soon monikered “well, you know.” Beyond that, no one talked about it. The whole thing seemed to disappear when the bandages came off, and he felt well enough to go back to preschool. When we asked Patrick about it, he said he didn’t remember anything.

Everything went back to normal. There were still as many rifles as Barbie dolls in the playhouse, and suddenly there was a new object of shame in the house. Bullets did more damage than stones. I was in the clear.

the chapters of autumn.

8 November 2012 § Leave a comment

In Spanish, there are two words for the verb ‘to know’ –

ser – which is to know of something, but not personally: que la música de Opeth, pero yo no he oído. (I’ve heard of Opeth, but not listened to their music.)

The second is conocer – to meet, to feel, to experience: Conozco San Clemente; yo he estado alla. (I know San Clemente; I have been there.)

I love it when words, ideas, and concepts cannot be translated into another language – they were born of a specific culture, and unlike their speakers, they cannot travel and truly know, or be known, by strangers. There is some elitism in that, for those who do not venture to another language, who do not seek the intricacies of another culture, could be missing out on something that is important, even vital, to someone else.

Yet, if they do not reach out to learn in that way, they miss nothing, and still carry the secrets of their own language.

As the temperature drops toward freezing, and as the mist rests inches above the grass on black fields at night, and as the falling leaves hint that someone is following, watching, even in the cold and starry orangeglow, I am certain of my love for this season. Autumn has seldom been so beautiful as in the city of roses and trees, many of which are closing their eyes, shedding their petals and shade, and inhaling deep the last warm breeze before falling asleep.

I once chased autumn to every corner of the Atlantic Ocean my meager budget would take me. It lasted no longer than usual; all the trees were empty by 6 December. The snow arrived the next day, and blanketed the crunchy, yellow earth. Inebriated on travel, love, and plenty of holiday drink, I decided that it was time to go home. I’ve been looking for a season like that since. Breathe in the cold; the taste is divine.

All that to say:

Conozco la textura del otoño, y la amo.


[and now, back to your regularly programmed onset of winter]

rocketing toward couch-dom at the speed of a useless ballot

6 November 2012 § Leave a comment

“Imagine never having to get off your couch to look for your VIN number. Infinite couch-dom.”

That is a direct quote from an advertisement on Pandora, in between Random Rab and the Desert Dwellers. I think we should reconsider what kind of culture we want to create.

Or have we, and this is the direction?

I suppose that tonight we’ll know more, like which scapegoat certain very large groups of US Americans will have on which to pin their hopes, dreams, and tendency to blame.

A Canadian friend of mine is throwing an election party. In Canada. They care more about our politics than their own. How many nations are watching what’s happening right now? According to Mike, the gangbanger-turned-Christian volunteer at the local community center, the whole world hinges on this election. How will we be affected? How much of that stress will be self-induced, or unnecessary? How will, say, Syria be affected by our presidential campaigns?

If our advertising is any clue as to the frequency we’re tuned to, we’re a large and divided group of name-callers and blame-slingers, the majority of whom do not have passports. We love our couches – and watch our elections from them! – and are inconvenienced by having to retrieve our VIN (all the way from our car!) when we wish to buy insurance online. Oh, how busy our lives are in the throes of infinite couch-dom!

I had a friend in elementary school named Shado. He wore mismatching socks, and his clothes were often dirty. Rumor had it he lived in a teepee (he brought a photograph – remember those? – to school one day to show everyone that he did not, in fact, live in a teepee, but in a stone cabin his father had built by hand.

Most everyone in school “hated” Shado. They avoided him at all costs, and when he had his milk carton open at lunch, it was considered cool to close yours, because no one should be like him.

Years later, Shado was the fastest runner in high school. He didn’t care what people thought of him, then or ever. He did exactly what he wanted, ran as fast as his body could go, and if your eyes couldn’t keep up, then perhaps, as he said to me once, “you should just close them.” The boy was peaceful and centered. Had the best grades out of anyone I knew.

When people aren’t looking, and they’ve made it clear that they aren’t, there’s no one to show off for. They’re not looking over their shoulders, secretly wanting to be a part of this.

People are watching, America. They’re listening to us, and consuming what we create. And we’re totally living into that – the showoff in school who crosses the jungle room a hundred times to impress bystanders. Eventually, they’ll grow bored of our antics, our pretty lights, and our government’s lack of ability to manage itself. They’ll shine the spotlight elsewhere – China, maybe – and look to them for guidance. Perhaps then we can be Shado, and reevaluate what we’ve been spouting off, and why.

I didn’t vote, and I feel ashamed for it, as well as disillusioned, unimpressed, and apathetic. My culture has seemed to do all it can to shake the rug to shed me. What values I learned were good from it (equality, opportunity, democracy) are rarely exemplified in true form. If my government wishes to pull the veil over my eyes, I’ll happily step out of line. My apathy is my scorn.

Tell me what more I can do in the land of equality but sit on the couch and watch presidential candidates represent each other as inferior, themselves as buffoons, and me as something other than a consumer.

did you know butter molds?

5 November 2012 § Leave a comment

I’d never seen it before!

It was green and gold – like young grass growing on idyllic Caribbean sand. Condensation rolled over and between the knifed ridges in the cream oil. I spooned the green stuff out, and sniffed it again. The pollution was gone. If only cleaning the sea was so easy.

Mold is a pesky lifeform for humans. Many of us ignore it, or deny that it exists until it’s too late, and suddenly walls are covered with it. Humid climates suffer worst; fishermen had better be immune, and some cupboards in tropical climates are never opened. Whoever thought wooden-hull boats wouldn’t eventually succumb were delusional.

The stories we gather about mold, and the associations we form, are as diverse as the surfaces it decorates. One elderly couple I know are nearly blind to it: vegetables and leftovers are left in the fridge for months; when their grandchildren secretly clean it out and throw the slimy plastic bags of rotten fruit away, the dear woman, upon finding a clean, slightly less empty refrigerator, puts them on trial. “What did you eat? Did you throw anything away?” She’s almost 90, and keeps an inventory of all that she’s acquired in her head. Sharp as a tack, that one. Say the word “mold,” though, and she’s as defensive as a child refusing to accept the shattered window’s damaged. He husband agrees, takes the plastic container of green, fuzzy tofu, and places it gently back on the shelf. “It’s still good, we’ll warm it in the microwave tomorrow. There’s no mold on it.”

Years ago I worked with an insurance repair company. This basically meant two of us were given an address, a hammer, and a crowbar, and were told to “remove” all the mold. Ready the place to be put back together. My coworker and I destroyed apartments, emptied closets of clothing into dumpsters, smashed wall mirrors with two-by-fours, and wreaked whatever havoc we could, usually to the tunes of Iron Maiden. It was the highest-paying – and most fun – day job I’ve ever had.

In my hunt for a place to live in Portland, mold has come up a lot. In basement rooms, the person showing me the spot says, without exception, that there isn’t any mold in the place. Sometimes I can smell it as they say it, like inhaling a fart just as someone says ‘excuse me.’ Except they deny it.

I don’t want to destroy every place that I see. I left that job happily, my stress level far reduced, my pent up anger gone from the physical activity and joy I got from our destruction. Our making way for re-creation.

Before I left the moldy boat that I rented sight-unseen and mold-unsmelled, I cleaned as much out of it as I could, bleached the hard surfaces and painted over the dry spots. The landlord has been so kind as to agree to return my deposit (but not the first months’ rent), arguing that I “occupied” the space for a month before deciding that it was “unlivable.”

“And,” he added on the phone, “apparently it’s not unlivable, because I just rented it out again, and the new tenant is fine with the condition of the boat.” I was paid for my work with an angry, restrained “fuck off, please.”

It’s a lovely evening in Portland. It is five o’ clock in the darkness a few days ago was six. I passed eight thousand words today in the novel, and am likely still behind to finish on time. But at least my toast has butter.

NaNoWriMo 2012: Apocalypse

1 November 2012 § Leave a comment

November is here!

Translation: it’s time to undertake the challenge of writing a novel in 30 days. Again.

Last year I scooted past 50,000 words a few minutes before midnight on the 30th of the month, plugging away at a school computer at Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica. I had no computer of my own, was in university full-time, and had all of Central America with which to distract myself. On good days I consider this a fine accomplishment.

So fine, in fact, that I’m going to do it again – with a computer of my own, and without anything to distract me (the Pacific Northwest notwithstanding). At the moment I am 1110 words in. To stay on track for the minimum word count (5ok), I have to average 1667 words a day. And there’s a poetry slam at the Blue Monk tonight. Damn it.

Happy Halloween, happy autumn, etc. It’s time to write the story that’s been swirling in my mind since Panama. It might hurt. It might offend. It must get out of me.

If I don’t return an email this month, or am absent from facebook and other social vacuums, forgive me. Or don’t. I’m doing something important. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

Here we go.

Where Am I?

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