Productivity Down to a Trickle, Sayonara to Lithium

My work output has been minimal for NaNoWriMo.  Whether I’ll make the goal is unlikely, but I’m determined to do the best I can.  I produced three pages yesterday while Steph was downstairs in the living room on the piano, talking to a potential accompanist.  I did half a page this morning, and may or may not–as the mood strikes me–go back to the typewriter this afternoon or evening.

I have decided to go off Lithium.  The loss of coordination in my hands (never that great to start with) has just worsened.  The hand tremors aren’t nearly as bad, but it almost seems like there’s some type of short circuit between my brain and my hands.  This especially comes up when I’m typing.  I’ve prided myself on my fast and accurate typing since I was Susie’s age, and it’s usually enabled me to get jobs.  But when I was averaging 2-3 typos per line on the manuscript, I realized the situation was out of control.

Norman Mailer (1923-2007)

And before National Novel-Writing Month is halfway through, one of the most prominent World War II-era writers passes from the scene.  Norman Mailer, author of The Naked and the Dead, The Executioner’s Song, Oswald’s Tale, and Harlot’s Ghost, died this weekend.  Susie and I were at the Laundromat yesterday morning when Steph texted me with the simple words Mailer dead.

It’s not because of Mailer, or because of the novel-writing project itself, but my depression seems to be worse.  On Thursday, I told Steph that I thought seriously about checking myself into the hospital that night.  Ironically, the only thing that truly stopped me was the fact that they wouldn’t let me bring my typewriter in.  (I only produced 2 pages that night, and that felt like I had just given a pint of blood.)

Friday night, I was at MoJoe’s in the Short North, meeting with three other writers on this “Novel in a Month” project.  Emily and Anne were sitting at a small table with laptop computers, and Bradley, originally from Cincinnati, came in, and he wrote in black ink on a leather-bound legal pad.  I did more socializing than writing, and produced zero when I got home.  Four of Ohio’s public colleges were represented–Ohio U., Kent State, the University of Cincinnati, and Bowling Green.  Emily and I were both in the “literary fiction” genre.

Oddly enough, I almost didn’t go.  I was snooty enough to dismiss the concept out of hand when it was posted on the NaNoWriMo Website, saying that if these people were really writers, they’d be too wedded to doing their writing to have the time or interest to socialize.  Another reason I almost didn’t go was because of past experience with writers’ or poets’ groups.  They tended to be like teenage boys talking about sex–the ones who were talking about it the most were doing it the least.

There was an interesting justaposition at MoJoe’s.  For much of the night, we shared space with kids from a national Catholic Youth Conference that was happening at the Convention Center, just a few blocks south of the restaurant, so it was a departure from MoJoe’s usual clientele.  The only odder combination I’ve seen was a bikers’ convention sharing downtown with the initiation of 200 new Freemasons.  I’m not sure who made me more uncomfortable!  (Then there’s the annual Jehovah’s Witnesses convocation that seems to happen on Gay Pride weekend.  I’ve never seen them handing out Watchtowers and Awake!s to the procession of leather men and topless lesbians as they came down High Street.

I did manage to write 1.5 pages this morning.  Susie stayed home and watched some cartoons and played some video games, while Steph went to church and I lingered in bed.  I hauled myself to the typewriter after I went out and bought some milk for breakfast.  It’s a gray day with cold rain, so it did nothing to enhance my mood.  OSU’s defeat to Illinois yesterday perked me up somewhat (“O how great have the mighty fallen” but it didn’t last.)  I have tomorrow off because of Veterans’ Day, so I’m hoping to have more productive results tonight and during the day.

Most Unproductive Night Thus Far

I only did about two pages last night.  I took Susie to kids’ choir practice at the Unitarian Church, and then came home while Steph was in the middle of a lesson.  I made sure that Susie was in bed, light off, at the appropriate time, and then sat down and began typing.  Steph’s student paid her in cash, so once we knew that Susie was asleep, we ordered in from Pizza Hut.  That pretty much put the kibosh on writing for the night–that and the fact that a new episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was on at 10.  There was a half-finished page in the typewriter carriage when I got home from work, so I’ll try to add more to the stack tonight.  Steph is at Covenant Group tonight, so I’m taking Susie to dinner at Wendy’s (the one at Mount Carmel West Hospital… nearer and cleaner than the one on Broad Street), and once she’s in bed, it’s me and the Royalite.  I’m taping Criminal Minds, so I won’t have that to divert me.

I wasn’t in the best emotional shape today… Steph could sense it as I was dragging myself through waking up, showering, dressing, and heading out the door to the bus.  I texted her in mid-day about my mood–that I was somewhat worried by it–and she could see it.  I’m hoping the writing tonight will be somewhat therapeutic.  Writing in the blog right now is kind of like limbering up beforehand.  My goal is seven pages–by the time the month is over, I’ll be well over 150 pages.

As for the music I plan to play tonight while I work, it’s going to be a mixture of Jackson Browne (“Running on Empty” is a good title for my life from age 16-33), Neil Young, and Dave Brubeck.  (I mentioned earlier that I had been listening to Gordon Lightfoot during an earlier session.  I recently learned that “Sundown,” which is my favorite of his songs, was written in honor of Cathy Smith, his onetime groupie and mistress–the same one who injected John Belushi with the heroin/cocaine speedball that killed him.  Belushi could have said, “No Coke–Pepsi”, BUUUUTTT NOOOOOOOO…)

Congratulations to my old friend Paul Wiehl.  Last night, he was elected (with >60% of the vote) mayor of Athens, Ohio.  Here in Columbus, Michael Coleman was elected to a third consecutive term as mayor.  I voted for him every time he ran.  I’ve known Paul since 1976, when he was a student at Marietta College and I was 13 years old and between seventh and eighth grades.

Much Needed Mental-Health Day

Even though I had a decent night’s sleep, I woke up feeling sluggish and moving very slowly.  So, as much as I didn’t want to, I decided to call in sick.  Steph thought it was a good idea, because she was afraid (quite possibly with good reason) that this was the first signs of another descent into depression for me.

I went to the 24-hour Marathon station and bought a gallon of milk, and got back so that I could have breakfast with her and Susie (oatmeal and cocoa).  I had a siesta after breakfast; I went back upstairs and slept for about three hours.  Susie left for school while I was sleeping.

Waking up, I went out and got some food, and then came back and spent the next 2 1/2 hours in front of the typewriter, producing six pages of the novel manuscript.  I knocked off for lunch and haven’t been back at the keyboard since, although I plan to produce another batch of pages later tonight.  (Steph has suggested a quota of 6-10 pages per night for the novel project, to give myself some leeway and not have to worry about coming up short of the 50,000-word daily goal.)  So far, it’s been harder for me to stop than to get started, but I know that is not always going to be the case.

I like to think that today is a preview of what my daily life will be like if/when I ever get to the point where I can support myself 100% by my writing.  I know that’s a long time away.  Right now, I eagerly riffle through the incoming mail to see if an essay I sent The Catholic Worker is going to be published.  (The Catholic Worker costs $.01 per issue, and its mail subscriptions are $.25 per year, so I doubt they’re famous for paying whopping royalties.  The Catholic Worker Movement does, however, do marvelous work.  But don’t take my word for it–go to and see for yourself).

I read an obituary in the Marietta paper for a woman two years younger than I am.  She was one of four kids in a family of reprobates who lived near us when I was about 11.  They were always in trouble–throwing rocks at the mailman, cussing out teachers, etc.  One of the less glorious actions of my childhood was using the adults’ dislike of this family as an excuse to bully the younger members of the family.  Therefore, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised whenever I look in the Marietta newspaper and see that the youngest one is constantly in and out of court and jail.  It reminds me of a line in W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Susie and I are at the library right now, since Steph has a voice lesson.  I’m hoping that I’ll have the strength and the stick-to-it-iveness to produce more pages tonight.  I’ve kept a small notebook on the desk next to the typewriter in which I’ve been keeping track of what music I play while working.  Gordon Lightfoot, Steely Dan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and some compilation disks I made seem to be activating my Muse the best.

Staying Productive

I’m proud of myself–although it’s way too soon to start patting myself on the back.  I have been able to maintain my five pages per day for National Novel Writing Month.  I was even especially virtuous yesterday.  I came home Friday night and was just too exhausted to spend any time at the typewriter, so I fell asleep in bed just after 20/20–although I fully intended to watch the news up until the weather (I have less than zero interest in sports), and then plod down the hall and start typing.

But I didn’t.  Steph had a choir retreat yesterday, so she was up at the crack of dawn.  I was going to lounge around in bed for awhile, but I decided to be conscientious.  Once she was out the door, I went into the office and went to work on my daily five pages.  At nighttime, once Susie was in bed and Steph had fallen asleep over the rebroadcast of The Bionic Woman, I slipped out of the bedroom and did another five pages.  So I am maintaining my quota.

I am realistic enough to know that I’m going to have to apply the blue pencil big-time with this project once November is over.  It’s a repeat of an issue that I had about 20 years ago, when I was at work on another manuscript that, by the time I had stopped working on it, took up 1.5 typing paper boxes.  I had set myself a quota of 10 pages per day.  Usually I was pretty good at keeping it, and sometimes I would even exceed it, spending many hours at the typewriter while neglecting meals and work.  Years later, I reread the manuscript and realized just how often I was typing lots of garbage and excess verbiage just for the purpose of making quota.  I’m doing some of this now, and I know that a lot of what I will write this November will end up on the cutting room floor, but it’s word tonnage that counts now.

If you’ve been following this blog thus far, you must be aware of my admiration for the movie Henry Fool.  Falling in love again with the manual typewriter has gone a long way in breaking my writer’s block, but sometimes the tools don’t even have to be that sophisticated.  Here is a scene from Henry Fool that replicates–up to a point–the first step I took in writing this novel for the contest:


               Moments later.

               Simon comes downstairs into the quiet, dark kitchen and sits
               at the table. He listens to the traffic on the highway and
               stares off into space. Finally, he takes the notebook Henry
               gave him from his pocket and places it before him. But then
               he just gazes off into the dim living-room and scratches his
               head. Returning his attention to the notebook, he digs down
               into his pocket and retrieves his short stub of pencil.

               He opens the notebook and carefully flattens back the cover.
               Lifting the pencil, he pauses and stares at the blank page.
               Then, after more intense hesitation, he brings the pencil’s
               dull tip to the very top left edge of the page and begins
               writing in a slow, laborious hand.


               The next morning.

               Henry barges in the kitchen door with two containers of coffee
               and some jelly donuts. Simon jumps up from where he sits
               asleep over his notebook at the table.

                         Good morning, Simon! Glorious day,
                         huh? Here, have a donut. Can you
                         lend me twenty dollars?

               Simon rubs the sleep from his eyes, blinks, disoriented and
               reaches for his wallet.

                         Thanks. Where’s the library in the
                         scruffy little burgh?

                              (handing him cash)
                         Down the highway about a mile and a
                         half and then make a left.

                         Excellent! I’m polishing up the final
                         chapters of my ‘Confession’ and I
                         need a reasonably well-stocked
                         reference section.

               He lifts up Simon’s notebook.

                         What’s this?

               Simon hesitates, shyly.

                         I thought. Um. I was. I wanted to.

               He gives up, sighs and gazes at the floor. Henry flips through
               the book, impressed. It is full from cover to cover, every
               page dense with Simon’s cryptic scrawl. Henry frowns,
               intrigued. Then…

                         Can I take this?

               Simon looks up, terrified. But his friend puts him at ease.

                         I’ll correct the spelling.

Susie has read about half of The Sad Hospital since I finished it.  I Xeroxed it at work so that Steph would have a copy to proofread–had to make it darker because the ribbon on that typewriter is on its last legs.  She’s fascinated by it, especially since she has lived some of it.  The main character in the story is a girl named Michele, which happens to be Susie’s middle name.

After I’m done with my five pages, I don’t dare touch anything until I’ve scrubbed my hands, surgeon-style.  The ribbon on my Royal Royalite keeps jumping out of the slot, so I’m forever replacing it so I can keep typing.  I’ve already had to gear down my speed, which is probably a good thing–I get to think more about what’s going on the paper–but constantly having to adjust the ribbon is quite frustrating.

I wrote two poems this morning while I was waiting for and riding the bus.  I used the 2008 date book that the Industrial Commission gave me.  (They also gave me an ’08 calendar pad, which I will use.)

Hallowe’en & Novel-in-a-Month, Day the First

 For the first time that I can ever remember, trick-or-treat was actually on Hallowe’en itself, the 31st!  Truly, this is front page news.  When I was a kid, it was always on the 30th, and it’s all over the calendar that week in the townships and municipalities all over Columbus.  But here in Columbus itself, someone finally said, “Hey!  Let’s have it on Hallowe’en!”

Susie and I were in Beechwold with Pat and Tanya (and Tanya’s friend Dee, visiting from Lima, Ohio).  Susie and Gianna pretty much became best friends for life when we stayed there during the heat wave, so they were all too happy to trick-or-treat together.  Gianna’s six-year-old brother Sasha went as Spider-Man, while Susie dressed up as a Gypsy and Gianna as a raven.  After a filling bean soup dinner, Tanya and Dee took the kids out on the first leg of trick-or-treating, while Pat and I stayed behind to distribute candy.

Only one bumpy spot marred the evening.  A little ways down the street from where Pat and Tanya live, there was a house completely darkened except for black light and a gray strobe, with all this ghoulish music coming out and Dry Ice floating all over the lawn.  On the lawn itself was an inert, scary-looking figure.  The kids all checked, experimentally, and just when they were convinced it was a dummy lying there…

…it leaped up in the air and howled and roared at them!  The screams almost shattered my eardrums.  For the rest of the night, if you heard this sudden burst of loud shrieks coming from that part of the street, you knew what was going on.

That happened when Susie was about four.  We took her trick-or-treating, and there was a guy lying very still in his yard.  He was dressed up like Leatherface, of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame.  It was the same deal, and Susie was petrified, and wanted to go home that very minute.  Steph went around the next day and ripped that guy a new one.

Pat gave me a PalmPilot Professional.  It works perfectly well, it’s bigger than the Treos and BlackBerries that are sold today, but it does all I need it to do.  It came in a little vinyl case, and in my slack time, I’ve been adding addresses and date book entries to it.  My main electronic organizer now is my cell phone, which is a little easier to carry.

I wrote my five pages last night while Steph was at choir practice.  It was hard at first.  I’m using a different typewriter, my too-long-neglected Royal Royalite, so the interaction between the typewriter and me was a lot like a teenage boy and girl’s first time in the back seat of the car.  I think it’ll go a little more smoothly from here on out.  The machine doesn’t quite “feel” right yet, so I’m gearing down my Pete Townshend style of typing until then.  There are a few drops of Liquid Wrench on p. 1, since I had to drip some inside to lubricate a sticking key.  (Imagine that explanation when they’re poring over these manuscripts in the future!)