NaNoWriMo – 30 –

Yet another National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to an end, and both Susie and I (in Florida and Columbus, respectively) are trying to recover.

I am skeptical (at best) about the effectiveness of Twelve-Step programs, but the “one day at a time” concept does have its uses, and NaNoWriMo bears out its usefulness.  Every evening (mostly evenings, sometimes afternoons), I sat down and faced the laptop like it was some type of adversary.  When I logged onto Microsoft Office and pulled up my manuscript, I did it with an emotion akin to dread.

Trying to write a certain number of words per day (1667 per day is necessary to produce 50 thousand words in 30 days) is a lot like visiting a nudist colony: The first few minutes are the hardest.  I know that when I began typing, that magic number of 1667 seemed so far away.

But, as the session progressed, I usually was able to get into the activity, and when I saw I had made my quota for the night, I almost had a feeling of disappointment–“You mean I have to stop now?”  Of course, I didn’t, but I wanted material to fill the next night’s session, and not have to scramble.

The manuscript now sits on my hard drive and on my Microsoft SkyDrive.  I am following the advice of Stephen King, and I am letting the project “marinate” until after the first of the year.  NaNoWriMo is not ashamed to say that the goal is quantity, not quality, so I am sure I overran the manuscript with verbiage and asides that will have to go.  Some word-padding techniques can stay.  (For example, I did not use contractions, except in dialogue.)  Truthfully, I have no qualms about not touching it until January.  I am sure I am going to look back over it and wonder what the hell was I doing writing such-and-such?  (Susie has read excerpts of it, and so far I have received her seal of approval.)

Another thing her project and my project have in common is that they are both incomplete.  As you may recall, I decided to make NaNoWriMo the subject of this year’s manuscript.  Thus, I began with a brief prologue, and each chapter afterwards represented one day in the contest: “Day the First,” “Day the Second,” et cetera.  I stopped at Chapter V, “Day the Fifth,” so once this book comes out of lockdown, I have 25 more chapters to write.  Susie says she is two chapters away from those beautiful words THE END.  (I will end it, as a tribute to my former typesetting days, with – 30 -, which I have often thought should be my epitaph–my name, and underneath it, – 30 -, carved on my tombstone.)

I took a page from Jim Bishop when I used these chapter titles.  In his books The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Christ Died, he broke down the book into hours–each chapter represented one hour of the day he covered.  In his one and only novel, Honeymoon Diary (I met him in 1979, and he said, “Oh, Jesus!” when I told him I had read it), the titles were “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” all the way up to “The Thirtieth Day.”

Sleep has been the biggest casualty of NaNoWriMo, although my sleep patterns have been erratic for years.  I can’t lay the blame solely at the feet of this contest.  I am constantly dozing off on buses, or anywhere that I lack new stimuli.  And, as before, I can doze off straight into REM sleep, which means falling asleep and straight into dreaming.  Unless I have specific plans, on weekends I do not set an alarm.  (Even on Sunday; if I am awake in time to catch the bus and go to church, I will; otherwise, I take it as a sign and I’m content to “worship in bed.”)  So, every weekday morning, there is this Dagwood Bumstead scramble to get out of bed, into the shower, dressed, and out the door in time to catch the bus in time.  But, these past few weekends, I am wide awake before dawn, unable to get back to sleep.  Yes, I’ll toss and turn a while, but it’s a losing battle to try to get back to sleep.  And this is after not retiring until 2 or 3 a.m.

I took it easy the rest of yesterday, after submitting my manuscript to http://www.nanowrimo.org, where their template verified that I had enough words.  Yesterday was the Ohio State-Michigan game, and I was thankful it was in Ann Arbor, since the presence of drunken idiots would have been even greater had the game taken place at the ‘Shoe.  So, I thought it prudent to stay indoors, where I watched some DVDs of Homicide: Life on the Street and read.  (I kept my computer use to a minimum, since I had enough of my keyboard to last me awhile.)

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided for the first time since 1868, and this will not happen again until 2070 (Susie will probably be experiencing this).  The coincidence that Black Friday occurred on a sacred holiday did not deter the shoppers.  We here in Columbus did not experience the brawling, gunfire, and stabbings that some communities had.  I, for one, kinda sorta boycotted the whole thing.  I went to two record stores, Spoonful Records and Records Per Minute (RPM), and bought some albums there–I kept my money local, and supported friends of mine.  The haul was not overwhelming, since I didn’t buy any new material.  I stuck to the dollar bins, where I could find much of the music of my teen years.  (As if my weirdo credentials weren’t already well established by high school, my favorite groups in high school were The Alan Parsons Project and Seals and Crofts!)

“Buy nothing day” was so much easier in the years when I was usually stone broke.

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Just a Typical Fall Season–Cardiopulmonary Doctor and NaNoWriMo

We’re back to Eastern Standard Time here in Columbus.  The leaves are turning, and I habitually put on a denim jacket (and sometimes something heavier) when I venture outdoors.  I think I’ve retired the trike until next spring, so it will serve its secondary function–something in the dining room that I can run into while walking from the steps to the living room.

At the stroke of midnight, NaNoWriMo began.  As the hands of the clock neared midnight, I was sitting upstairs in my cleaner-than-usual study, Microsoft Word template onscreen, waiting for October to end and November to start.  (I admit I had jumped the gun a little by pulling up Word’s manuscript template, and filling in the variables at the top, such as my name, address, email address, etc.  But I did not do any work on the manuscript proper.)

This will be the third day of NaNoWriMo–the aspiring novelist’s PMS–the race to write 50 thousand words in 30 days.  As of right now, I have 4306 words under my belt.  I worked at home on Friday (not all of it just after the stroke of midnight), and had a long and rather aerobic session at Kafé Kerouac last night.  Susie was going to pass this year, but my first-day word count inspired her enough to jump back into the fray.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here is a picture of the Lanier word processor former President Jimmy Carter used to write his memoir, Keeping Faith (1982).  When the machine glitched and he lost a chunk of the manuscript, it was newsworthy enough to make The New York Times.  (I have this on the brain because I am reading Charles Bracelin Flood’s Grant’s Final Victory, about Ulysses S. Grant’s race against certain death from throat cancer to finish his Personal Memoirs in 1885.)  

Work, planning the Christmas trip to Orlando to see Susie and Steph, and NaNoWriMo–not necessarily in that order–are what dominate the month of November for me.  Tomorrow, I will be focusing on something else I have mentioned in this blog.

Late tomorrow morning, I am checking in with Dr. Bryan Whitson at the Ross Heart Hospital.  It has been six months since the emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital discovered my thoracic aortic aneurysm, so it’s time to check in to see whether it has dilated any further.  He is the same physician (a cardiovascular surgeon) who saw me in May when I first learned about the aortic aneurysm.  Before the appointment, I’ll be having a CT scan, and, based on that, we’ll see what will happen afterwards.  I think he will either decide on surgery (especially if it’s 6 cm or greater), or waiting another six months.  (One friend suggested it may not be a bad idea to take my toothbrush and some clean underwear along with me for the exam.)

The CT scan is not painful, although the feeling when they inject the dye is not pleasant.  It feels like they’ve shot boiling hot water into your veins, but the feeling lasts less than 10 seconds.  And I am not happy about the prospect of going under the knife again.  The first surgery I ever had was exciting, when I was five and having a tonsillectomy.  (The enticement of all the Popsicles and ice cream I could eat afterwards sold me, as it would any five-year-old, but the reality was far different!)  I have had three surgeries since then (plastic surgery, vasectomy, and cholecystectomy), and each one has become more and more of a burden.  I am saved the worry of telephone-number medical bills, because I am blessed with excellent health insurance, but the idleness that comprises so much of recovery is worse than the immediate post-surgical aftermath.

So, I have tomorrow off, but it’s hardly a vacation day.

Vinyl, Bubbles, Urban Beachcombing, CARRIE

The now-ended Federal Government shutdown did not affect me this time, since I now work for the State of Ohio, but I did sit out one day of it.  Last Monday was Columbus Day, one of those holidays that Federal workers–but not many other people–get to take.  (State workers have the same holidays as Federal workers, except for unannounced Federal holidays, such as the death of Gerald Ford in late 2006.)  I took full advantage by sleeping in for three days in a row, prowling record stores, and acquiring more furniture.  Most welcome was a cabinet (given to me by a friend; she had foraged it from curbside in Dublin, but had never used it) to house the latest additions to the vinyl collection.

Ah, yes!  My collection of 78s seems to have stagnated at this point, but I am at least 100 albums richer when it comes to 33s.  A fellow student at St. Mary’s Middle School (I was there for seventh and eighth grade; when I was in eighth grade, he was in fifth) has been a Facebook friend for some time, and noted my frequent posts about my never-ending hunt for vinyl.  He messaged me privately, saying that he was going to get rid of much of his vinyl collection, did I want them?  I was floored and moved at the same time.  We had not seen each other since 1977, and we were not especially close at St. Mary’s, but he was willing to drive from Carroll to Olde North to leave me the vinyl he had collected since junior high.  Only through social media is such a thing possible.

You can’t bold or italic on Facebook, but I would have set my “Hell yes!” in 24-point bold were it possible.  So, late last week, I came home from work, and lo and behold there were between 100 and 150 albums sitting on my porch.  I apparently have become more anal-retentive (or more conscientious–this can be spun more than one way, I suppose), because I hefted the stack of them upstairs to my study, logged onto my Discogs.com account, and began cataloging my acquisitions.

I witnessed something interesting late Sunday afternoon, as I was waiting at the corner of S. Grant and Oak Sts.  I was in a good mood, because I had come from the library’s Bag Sale (a grocery bag full of books for $5), and I held a grocery bag that was close to overflowing).  I happened to see soap bubbles, some the size of volleyballs, drifting across Oak St.  I turned around, and there was a heavily bearded man, in a purple dress shirt and black pants, standing in a parking lot and blowing these enormous bubbles.  He had a large white bucket full of soap, and he did not say a word, but he blew bubbles so large that one driver on S. Grant slammed on his brakes when he saw it floating across the street.  I have not blown bubbles since I was a child, except maybe to teach it to Susie when she was a toddler, but I truly enjoyed watching this.

Thursday night, I went to the first showing of the remake of Carrie at the Gateway Film Center.  Carrie was the first Stephen King novel I ever read, although I was an adult before I saw the 1976 movie with Sissy Spacek and John Travolta.  I was pleased to see that this remake was more faithful to the novel, while including some of the scenes from the first movie that were not in the book.  (I am not sure how the 1976 movie did not get an X rating, since there was full frontal nudity during the opening credits.)

What did I think?  I agreed with the reviewer from The San José Mercury News who said the movie’s biggest fault was the downplaying of Carrie’s bullying.  The movie made it seem like the bulk of Carrie’s suffering came from her fanatical mother, who seemed to think anything that brought pleasure was sinful.  I was glad that the movie emphasized how social media has made bullying even worse.  When 17-year-old Carrie has her menarche (first menstrual period) in the gym shower, not only do the other girls throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her, one of the girls films it with her camera phone, and within days the video is all over YouTube.

As one who was not popular in high school, and on the receiving end of plenty of bullying and ridicule, there is a large part of me that was rooting for Carrie after she laid waste to her school (and fellow prom-goers) after her very public humiliation.  I think of it as the ultimate Revenge of the Nerds.  The Carrie White character is also the ultimate fish out of water.  Many TV series deal with people who are adapting to new and totally alien surroundings–shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and even The O.C.–yet you come away thinking that there is no safe place for Carrie, not at home, not at school, not in the small Maine city where she lives.

I heard the name Stephen King again this morning.  At 12 midnight on November 1, NaNoWriMo (a portmanteau of the phrase National Novel-Writing Month) begins, and now that I’m experiencing the empty nest syndrome, I have no excuse not to become one with my laptop and try to write 50 thousand words between then and 11:59:59 p.m. on the 30th.  I braved the cold rain to go to a workshop at the Bexley Public Library on preparing for NaNoWriMo.  The leader was Jody Casella, who writes children’s and young adult fiction (author of Thin Space).  She emphasized the acronym BIC as the #1 must for NaNoWriMo.  (It’s not the ballpoint pen or BIC America speakers, it stands for Butt In Chair.)  For advice, inspiration, or a how-to for writing effectively, Casella recommended over a dozen books, and one of them was Stephen King’s On Writing.

A Wang word processor from the early 1980s, similar to the model formerly used by Stephen King.

I am not sure if Susie is going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year.  She has mentioned her plot idea in a Facebook post, but whether she will find the time between schoolwork and her mom’s rule that she needs to be offline by 10:30 p.m. on school nights, is unclear to me.

For my part, I have heard that it takes two weeks to develop a habit.  This is often a truism, when it comes to something like remembering to turn on the porch light at night (which I do every night of the year except trick-or-treat night) or shutting off the computer before leaving the house.  NaNoWriMo seems to be the exception to that in my case.  Susie and I were both poised at our respective keyboards starting at 11:55 on the night of October 31 in 2011, and at midnight we were like thoroughbreds charging out of the gate at Churchill Downs.  That year, I did manage to “win” NaNoWriMo, but my experience has been that I will write like a house afire for about two weeks, easily getting in the 1667 words per day necessary to come up with 50 thousand by the end of the month, and then I’ll start slowing down and slowing down, and by the 12th or 13th of the month, I’ll have ground down to a halt.

Earlier in this entry (which has strayed all over the landscape, I admit), I mentioned Federal holidays.  NaNoWriMo comes at a good time for me, because I have two holidays in November, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving.  November is also a choice month because the weather is generally pretty crummy, and more people are inclined to want to stay where it’s warm and with a roof over his/her head (especially days like today).  It’s also a palatable alternative for literate people during the height of college football season.  (Why anyone who has learned to walk upright would love football is totally past my understanding.)  I think there had been one attempt to move it back to September or October, but this would have inconvenienced Jewish participants, because the month would likely include the High Holidays.

The Columbus Marathon is tomorrow.  The closest I have ever come is walking in the 5K marathon at The Charles School last spring.  There is no way I would ever run a marathon (I don’t run because I don’t have the stamina.  Why don’t I have the stamina?  Because I don’t run), but I think walking one (or at least a half marathon) is a possibility.  I keep reminding myself of my favorite line of dialogue in W.C. Fields’ movie The Bank Dick (1940):

EGBERT SOUSÉ (played by Fields): My uncle, a balloon ascenionist, Effingham Hoofnagle, took a chance.  He was three miles and a half up in the air.  He jumped out of the basket of the balloon and took a chance of alighting on a load of hay.

OG OGGILBY (played by Grady Sutton): Golly!  Did he make it?

EGBERT SOUSÉ: Uh… no.  He didn’t.  Had he been a younger man, he probably would have made it.  That’s the point.  Don’t wait too long in life.

Bless Me, Blogspot, For I Have Sinned. It Has Been Nine Weeks Since My Last Entry…

With Susie away for the weekend, I decided that I was fresh out of excuses for not writing in my blog.  When I pulled up the Website to begin typing, I was appalled to see that it has been over eight weeks since I last wrote in here.  I have been alternating all fall between a malaise where holding up my end at work and at home is my major accomplishment, and bursts of short-lived manic energy that usually end up producing nothing constructive, either at home or creatively.

Susie is spending this weekend as a chaplain at a Junior High Youth Conference at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, on the west side of Cleveland.  She left last night, and will probably be back late tomorrow morning.  She and I are both a bit humbled by the fact that our involvement in National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) crashed and burned quite early into the “competition.”  I think she lasted a little longer than I did, but at least she has the constructive reason that she is also working on a writing project with a friend in Akron.  Their manuscript is a shared Google Document, and they work for hours each night online.  (The earliest practitioner of this that comes to mind is Stephen King.  When he and Peter Straub were working on The Talisman, in the early 1980s, their respective word processors were connected by telephone hookup–a primitive modem–between King’s house in Maine and Straub’s in England.)

Susie’s site (work experience) at The Graham School this fall is a twice-weekly stint in the Human Resources Office at the main library downtown.  She is finding the work–mostly filing and compiling packets for new employees–to be quite boring.  I come down on both sides of her predicament.  I can understand her dread of boredom.  As I have learned at my own job, especially in the last two or three years, extreme boredom leads to severe depression for me.  As I age, I find myself less able to combat or offset depression than I did when I was younger.

At the same time, the realist in me wants to tell Susie that there is a name for going someplace you really don’t want to go, and spending the entire day doing something that bores you to tears.  The name for this is employment.  (I have often wanted to say this to parents of gifted children who wring their hands about how bored their children are at school.)

There is probably a cause and effect at work here, but when I decided not to continue with NaNoWriMo this year, ideas for the novel I began (about four or five pages, altogether) began popping up.  I have begun to jot these down in notebooks, and will keep filling them in as they come my way, and in October begin working on some type of outline.  And at midnight on November 1, 2013, I’ll begin the book again from scratch.

I bought this Jack Kerouac Bobblehead from the Lowell Spinners, and put it on my desk in the hope (vain, thus far) that it would inspire me to keep my nose to the keyboard, much like Schroeder’s bust of Beethoven atop his toy piano.  Still has yet to happen.

Steph made a brief trip to Columbus last month, and all went well.  She made the trip so Susie could apply for a passport.  Since Susie is a minor, both parents have to be present when she applies.  Susie will be going to Costa Rica in January on a school trip (“Winterim”), and we wanted to make sure that the passport was in her hands well before her departure.

The only frustrating moment was when we applied for the passport itself.  Steph and Susie went to the FedEx Office downtown for passport photos, and then met me outside the post office across from the building where I work.  According to the State Department’s Website, we could obtain a passport at this post office branch.  When we got to the counter, the clerk told us that they hadn’t handled passports in years.  After venting some frustration, we took a taxi to the main post office on Twin Rivers Drive, where we knew they processed them.  The clerk behind that counter was a joy and a delight, and we finished the process in less than 10 minutes.  (Susie’s passport came in the mail last week.)

The passport will also come in handy next summer, when Susie and the youth group in Columbus hopes to fly to Romania, which is the first place where people first began to call themselves Unitarians.  This will include tours in Transylvania and Hungary.  In a way, it is analogous to a trip to Rome or Jerusalem.  Once Susie comes home from Costa Rica, I’m going to put an ad in Ohio State’s student newspaper, the Lantern, looking for someone to tutor her in Hungarian.

One place where Susie and I differ is that she still has not outgrown trick-or-treating.  I never cared much for it after I got to be about eight or nine, despite my love for sweets at the time.  Susie turned 15 last month (I bought her Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, and my friend, comic book writer Ken Eppstein, graciously signed a set of Nix Comics for her), but she was glad to walk around with a 12-year-old girl from church.  Columbus was quite the exception, in that trick-or-treat took place on Halloween’s actual date, October 31.

I usually mark the occasion by listening to a compact disk of Orson Welles’ infamous dramatization of The War of the Worlds, broadcast October 30, 1938, which scared the nation to death by describing an invasion from Mars in the form of news bulletins and the diary of a survivor.  (I was pleased to see one Facebook friend posting allusions to the broadcast: “Listening to Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.”  To show him I was in the loop on this, I quoted the voice of a ham radio operator after the Martians conquer New York: “2X2L calling CQ, 2X2L calling CQ.  2X2L calling CQ, New York.  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there… anyone?”)

But on the weekend after Halloween, I went to a very festive post-Halloween party at a friend’s house that is about a five-minute walk from home.  The young woman who hosted the occasion is fun to be around, and you are always in a good mood when you leave.

Saying goodbye to Amber, hostess extraordinaire.  (I have been a teetotaler for almost 15 years, but usually in party pictures, I’m the one who looks like he most has his load on.  This is one of the rare exceptions.)

 


Susie and her friend are working on a novel that includes a heroin addict as one of its characters, so as part of her research, I showed her Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955).  She watched with one eye and kept her other eye on her laptop for most of the movie, but she sat in rapt attention and stunned silence during the withdrawal scenes.  This was not Reefer Madness’ silliness.

I was happy about Obama’s re-election, although I did not stay up to wait for the announcement.  I went to bed a little after 10 on Election Night, and at that time Mitt Romney was leading by some 80 or 90 electoral votes.  Susie was awake before I was on Wednesday morning, and I asked her on my way out the door.  She told me that she learned sometime around 11:30, from one of her friends on Tumblr.

What struck me that morning was that regardless of who won, I still would be getting up, catching my bus, and going to work, making payments on Susie’s trip to Costa Rica, and mailing a check to my landlord.  (The governor’s race in 2014 is another matter altogether.  Governor Kasich has announced that he plans to run again.  His dream for State workers is for us all to be living under bridges and drinking Night Train while his cronies run privatized State agencies.)

More Productive Than I’ve Been in Months

I will be back on the job in less than 12 hours, and I mentioned in my last entry that I was banishing all mention of “work” from my vocabulary for the four-day Christmas weekend.  That does not mean that I’ve been completely idle since I left work at 5 Friday evening.

I wasn’t exactly a white tornado, but the too-long cluttered living room is almost presentable for company now. Part of the reason I launched into this project was to find a notebook from earlier this fall that seems to have been buried under all the flotsam and jetsam that Susie and I generate.  (I think being a bureaucrat is hard-wired into my DNA–I can generate paper and other paraphernalia almost logarithmically.)
My longest (but most welcome) respite came on Friday night, courtesy of my across-the-street neighbors.  I was taking a break from excavating cleaning the living room, and was walking to a convenience store up the street, and my neighbor was tending a barbecue in the postage stamp of front yard.  “You alone tonight?” he asked.  I told him I was; my daughter was in Florida visiting her mom.  “Well, party going on.  We’ll be serving the food around 11!”  I bought some Coke Zero to bring to the party, since I figured (correctly) that I would be the only teetotaler in attendance.
But that didn’t matter.  The company was fantastic, and, although I was probably the oldest person there, most of the music was from my high school and young adult days–lots of ELO, Gary Numan’s “Cars,” and a series of one-hit wonders, such as The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.”  The turkey and the spare ribs filled me up quite well, and I enjoyed the many conversations.  The down side was that, since I was drinking Coke all night, even though I came home around 2:30, it was well after dawn before I actually slept.
Earlier in this blog, I posted the dilemma faced by every bipolar person’s spouse: What do you do when your bipolar significant other, not famous for cleanliness, goes on a cleaning jag, quite likely as a result of swinging toward the manic end of the arc?  I do have a clean(er) living room, master bedroom, and office to show for it (pictures are forthcoming in an entry or two, I promise), but the down side is that I ended up missing both Christmas Eve services at church.  I didn’t want to lose the head of steam I’d managed to generate, because I know from bitter past experience that if I stop work on a project like that, it takes forever for me to resume the work, if at all.
The worst part of missing the Christmas Eve service was missing the dedication of my friend Ramona’s little daughter.  I learned about it the next day, when her folks, Steve and Kittie, invited me over for Christmas dinner.  I ate quite well, and enjoyed the company of Ramona, her daughter, Steve and Kittie, and Steve’s grown children (including his daughter Amelia, my companion on the journey to Washington last year for the One Nation Working Together march).  I ate buffalo meat for the first time, and loved it.  TBS was running A Christmas Story over and over for 24 hours beginning at midnight, and after seeing it for three or four times in a row, Kittie got a little bored with it, so she popped in a DVD of The Polar Express, which I had never seen before, but which I enjoyed.
Susie left me a voice mail message thanking me for the books I sent down to her in Florida.  (I made Steph promise to hide them from her until Christmas morning.)  In the message, she told me where she had hidden her present to me.  It was a book that was ideal for someone with a love of trivia and other minutiae–World War II: 4139 Strange and Interesting Facts.  It’s not the type of book you sit down and read from cover to cover, so I’ve enjoyed going from entry to entry.
I guess I’m still a little shell-shocked from the ordeal of NaNoWriMo, but other than this blog and diary entries, I have not done any writing.  In my defense, I am already planning next year’s NaNoWriMo project, but I am not going to tip my hand here, so publicly.  The rules say that you can take all the notes and write out all the outlines, etc., you want, but writing the novel proper cannot take place before 12 midnight on November 1.  I was hoping to get back into the mood by re-reading James A. Michener’s generically titled book The Novel, which I enjoyed when I bought it in Cincinnati in 1991–one of the few hardcovers I bought new.  I liked the book (and I was in the minority, even with Michener fans), and I’ve been carrying it around in my knapsack the past week or so, although I am not all that interested in Pennsylvania Dutch culture–the backdrop of much of the story.
This is the ultimate “Keep it simple, stupid!” when it comes to titling a manuscript.

I’m hoping it won’t take the next NaNoWriMo for me to start producing again.  The title of this entry is a little misleading–I was more productive on the domestic front than I have been when it comes to anything literary.  As I was getting my study arranged, I found the fat New Yorker diary from 1983 that I’ve used as an idea log and a place to write notes for future projects.  (I thought I had left it behind when I left Weinland Park.)  Maybe I need to keep it in my pack so I can jot down ideas for next fall’s NaNoWriMo project.

Who knows?  Maybe now that my work space isn’t quite as much of a shithole, I may actually be able to bear to spend time in it!

An All-Too-Short Breather From Moonlighting

I can tell that the end of the academic quarter looms at Columbus State Community College when I begin logging 12-hour workdays–my usual “day job” at the Industrial Commission, and the 2½ hours I work afterwards at the Discovery Exchange.  I wasn’t expecting to be back at the bookstore until Christmas, but I emailed my supervisor there to find out when he wanted me to start, and he asked me if I could start the first week of December.  My finances–or the lack thereof–made that an easy decision, quite a no-brainer.

So, starting Monday evening, I have been working at the bookstore, arriving home just before 9, and by then I’m usually so exhausted that I tumble into bed right away… and still don’t feel all that refreshed when the alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning.

It may some lingering NaNoWriMo mindset.  Even though I no longer have to type at breakneck speed to produce writing of questionable–if not outright nonexistent–literary merit, I still feel like I’ve expended an enormous amount of energy during the day, and just the proximity and practicality of sleep is enough of a suggestion that I tumble into bed at an early hour, often times before Susie.  (Even when I do stay up late, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly she falls asleep.  She often dozes off reading or writing in her journal, so there’s light coming from under her bedroom door regardless of how late the hour.  If I’m passing her room at 2:30 a.m. en route to the bathroom, I’ll see the light, and long ago I came to realize that she’s sound asleep and has no problem sleeping in a brightly lit room.)

Susie and I are at Kafé Kerouac right now, just north of the Ohio State campus.  This is a good post-NaNoWriMo location, and a good place to host a write-in next year.  Kerouac wrote the version of On the Road that catapulted him to literary fame (and fortune–most of which he drank) in a style that NaNoWriMo writers would make famous over 35 years later.  After many false starts, Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, fueled by amphetamines and black coffee, writing on a long scroll of Teletype paper and getting up from the typewriter only for trips to the bathroom.  I am 48 years old now, so I have outlived Kerouac by a year, but I doubt that I would ever have had the spontaneity or the stamina to try such a project in such a radical way.  Several years ago, Viking published Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, and the work notebooks show that the writing of On the Road may have been spontaneous, but the text and the story was quite premeditated.

The famous scroll manuscript of On the Road.

This is the calm before the storm at the bookstore.  I have spent most of my workdays (-evenings?) re-shelving returns as students return them.  There are usually about five of us working on the second floor at night, and as one quarter winds down and the new one has yet to begin, there is not much customer traffic.  Sometimes I have to combat boredom, but shelving is a task that I genuinely enjoy.  During the lull in activity, when there aren’t even any books that need to be put back, I remind myself about how much I’ll relish moments like that once the onslaught starts again after Christmas.

One of my favorite isolated lines in Stephen King’s The Stand describes one of the heroes, Larry Underwood, tending to his mother when she becomes ill with the flu that eventually kills her and 99.4% of the human race.  Before anyone realizes just how deadly this is, he helps settle her in bed, moves the TV to her bedroom, buys her some paperback books at the corner store, and fixes her a small meal.  “After that,” says the narrative, “there wasn’t anything to do except get on each other’s nerves.”  To a much lesser degree, that’s kind of what we’re like on the second floor when there are no customers and no books to shelve.

The cashiers and customer service people downstairs place returns on a library cart, and when one is full enough, that’s when someone from the second floor (lately, me, but not exclusively) will come down and get it, exchanging it with an empty.  Because a loaded cart weighs so much, we take it up in the bookstore’s freight elevator.

One of my coworkers is a young woman from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, who is taking pre-med classes at Columbus State.  She was a little scared when I told her the books had to go up in the freight elevator.  (I had seen her wheeling the cart toward the passenger elevator.)  Having worked at the Cincinnati post office, I have no fear of freight elevators.  The one at the Discovery Exchange could accommodate a small Toyota, but it has a mesh gate that raises and lowers, and the heavy steel external doors smash together with a sound that can make you jump.  As she and I waited for it, I’m sure my casual references to the “Elevator of Death” didn’t put her at ease.  (I suppose I should never let her see the L.A. Law episode featuring the death of Rosalind Shays.)

When I was 15 and living in Marietta, I helped a friend of mine deliver newspapers in the business district.  He had several customers in the Dime Bank Building at Second and Putnam Sts., across from the Washington County Courthouse.  The Dime Bank Building had an old, antiquated hand-operated elevator, complete with an old, antiquated elevator operator.  You got in, he would slide the accordioned gate shut, flip the lever (I always thought it looked like a ship’s engine order telegraph), and up you would go, watching the floors go by as you rose.

I made an all-too-quick trip to Cincinnati the first weekend of November, while Susie was at a church Coming of Age retreat in the Hocking Hills.  One of the people I took to lunch was George Wagner, who managed the apartment building where I lived.  George worked part-time as a clerk at Ohio Book Store on Main Street, and he had a healthy fear/respect for its freight elevator.  He emphatically stated he was not afraid of the elevator.  “I burn incense to it.  I pray to it.  I recite the 23rd Psalm before I get aboard it.  But no, I am not afraid of it!” he told me many times when I lived in Cincinnati.

NaNoWriMo – 30 –

And this year it ended triumphantly for both Susie and me!  Completely in character for me, I was working on my project until the bitter end, logging 50,028 words when I submitted it to the NaNoWriMo Website for verification.  I sent it in around 4:40 on Wednesday afternoon, and Susie followed around 9 p.m. the same evening.  Very little incentive to cheat, since bragging rights and a neat little graphic for your Facebook page are really the only “prizes” you win.

The contest has not been without cost.  Susie has been sick with a sore throat and a headache (she even stayed home from school today, which has been completely out of character for her since she started at The Graham School), and I have been rather draggy and unmotivated in both physical and mental energy.  I’ve had a hard time focusing at work, and seem to want to sleep more than usual.  I’ve always liked wintertime, so I can’t rightly attribute it to seasonal affective disorder, but I do find myself in a bit of a slump mentally.  My way of celebrating the completion of the project was going to bed before midnight for the first time in God knows how long.  I am hoping that this cafard will only be temporary, and, since Susie is going down to Florida for Christmas break, I really need to keep it from getting out of control.  (Again, cafard is a word that I picked up from reading The Journals of John Cheever.  He experienced enough of it for 10 people.)

Just by re-reading the two paragraphs I just typed, I can see that I’ve made some progress in coming out of NaNoWriMo mode.  To wit, I am using contractions again.  As a way to pad my word count, during the narrative of the novel, I stopped using contractions.  (I continued to use them in dialogue, and I admit that dialogue has never been my strong suit when it came to writing.)

My manuscript was called Founder’s Day, and Susie’s was/is Vengeance is Sweeter.  I am not sure what the fate of mine will be.  Even as I was writing it, I knew that I am capable of much better, and that I was pouring on the excess verbiage for the mere purpose of increasing my word count.  If you have ever seen You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, or listened to a recording of the music, you would understand what I was doing by following Lucy’s part in “The Book Report.”  Right now, Founder’s Day is hermetically sealed on my hard drive, and I can’t even bring myself to open the file, let alone start editing it.  I have a feeling that I may be working on it from the ground up if I ever decide to write it with an eye toward publication.  (And yes, I do have fantasies that it ends up being my breakthrough book, and then years later, I’ll do what Stephen King did with The Stand and publish “the NaNoWriMo edition.”)

I left work early today to run some errands (paying rent and getting a long overdue beard trim headed the list), and when I came back home, Susie was fast asleep in her bedroom.  I followed her lead and collapsed for an hour or so in my room.  But, she is awake now, and it is amazing what a little food did to perk her back up.  (I think the fact that she wants to go to the Marriage Equality rally downtown with me tomorrow morning, and see her friend in Romeo and Juliet at Dominion Middle School tomorrow night, may also have played a role.)

Another temporary casualty of NaNoWriMo has been that–completely out of character for me–I have barely written in my diary for all of November.  I guess what energy I did have, I poured into the NaNoWriMo project, and I was either too written out or too exhausted to turn my attention and energy to the pages of the composition book that always comes in my knapsack with me.  One of the reasons I’m writing in the blog tonight is to see if that will kick-start me toward resuming daily diary entries.  I don’t want to be as meticulous or as compulsive as the late Robert Shields, but when I go back and open the book, with my pen in hand, I am going to feel like I’m meeting someone and having to explain to them why I haven’t called them back.

I posted on Columbus Underground about needing to find someone to repair my Royal Royalite manual typewriter, and have yet to follow up on the suggestions folks posted in response.  I wish I could have used it for NaNoWriMo, but that would not have been practical, since you need to cut and paste your finished product into their Website so they can verify your word count.  Here is a picture of the Royalite, which has been on the receiving end of much abuse from me, in my old home office in Franklinton:

I loathed almost every TV series he produced, but, in the pre-YouTube days, I always loved seeing the ending credits of any Stephen J. Cannell program.  (Cannell, who died last year, produced 21 Jump Street, Silk Stalkings, and The A-Team.)  It is especially appropriate to post, as someone who “won” NaNoWriMo:

(I can never decide which one I like best, so this one seems to be the most inclusive.)

Blog is the Victim of NaNoWriMo

National Novel-Writing Month–the annual race to write a 50 thousand-word manuscript in 30 days–is what literate people do in November instead of following college football.  It is also what has consumed all of my writing strength and energy.  Not only have I neglected the blog, I also have not written in the holographic diary since very early this month.  After working like mad to get in x number of words per day, I am too exhausted to produce any other writing.

Susie is participating this year as well, and she is ahead of me in terms of word count.  I currently am at 28,894 words, or about 58% of the minimum I need to “win”, so I will be at the laptop keyboard any moment I can/should be between now and 11:59:59 p.m. on the 30th.  (The “prize” for winning NaNoWriMo is bragging rights, plus, I believe, a nice little icon to put on your Facebook page.)
So, I’m posting to the blog before I start tonight’s writing.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so I can stay up as late as I want and sleep in during the morning.  Susie and I are having a quiet fête at home, which probably means eating off our laps and watching a DVD of The Social Network.  I have to produce about 2700 words daily between now and the end of NaNoWriMo to be able to “win.”
This is because I went entire days (never more than one at a time) without writing, and playing catch-up is a nightmare.  On the fifth of the month, I was in Cincinnati for a Marriage Equality rally on Fountain Square, which meant leaving Columbus at 8:30 in the morning and not getting home until nearly midnight.  (Susie was at a Coming of Age retreat with the church, so she was in the Hocking Hills all weekend; otherwise, she would have come to the Cincinnati rally with me.)  The following weekend, both Susie and I were in North Olmsted for a youth conference (I was a sponsor, she was one of the youth) at the Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Church.  I brought the laptop along, but there was just too much going on, including lots of kids going in many directions at a mile a minute, that I didn’t have the privacy or the concentration to get anything done.
For the first time with a writing project, I began keeping a work log with this NaNoWriMo manuscript.  At the union convention last August, OCSEA’s Office of General Counsel gave away neat little black spiral notebooks, and mine has sat on my desk, blank, until NaNoWriMo started.  Some days, I record more work information than others:
The first few days, I was keeping meticulous track of what music I listened to while I worked.  You probably have noticed that my working music is quite catholic, lower-case C, when I’m going to be at the keyboard for awhile.

Last night, I felt really cruddy after dinner, with no energy and feeling lightheaded.  So, I decided to go out and see if some fresh air would perk me up.  Susie was in the living room, busily working at her laptop, being a role model to me by writing, while I was outside.

I drifted over to Mirror Lake.  The Ohio State-Michigan game is Saturday at noon, and I have zero interest in it, since I have zero interest in football, and because I attended neither school.  On the Thursday before the OSU-Michigan game, the students at Ohio State jump into Mirror Lake, regardless of the temperature.  Channel 10 had predicted thunderstorms, and the Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, thought that lightning would deter anyone would making the jump.

There was no lightning, but I knew that would not stop anyone.  I remember inviting myself to an after-hours party in the spring of 1986, after the bars on High St. (the bars themselves razed a long time ago) had closed for the night.  The party was in the courtyard of an apartment building near High and W. 10th (where the Taco Bell is now).  There was a hot tub in the courtyard, and there were about eight or nine people in it, even though the sky was very cloudy and at some point before dawn, there was thunder and lightning.

I came early to Mirror Lake.  I had no plans on diving in–I would not go in Mirror Lake if you paid me.  At its best, it smells like Roadside Rest pump water.  The bacilli that live in it, and all the rocks, broken glass and other trash that line the bottom, would not make me go in it at all.  (I remember during Comfest 2010 seeing some high school kids swimming in the pond at Goodale Park.  I had the same feeling, and thought someone should have a booth offering free tetanus and hepatitis shots.)

Maybe I was too early, but I didn’t see that many people there at 10 o’clock.  I have seen videos of previous jump-ins where kids were shoulder to shoulder in the Lake, but I don’t think I saw more than 20 or 30 people in at a time.  It was very popular to jump in groups of four, so you could stand in the Lake and do the O-H-I-O with your arms.  (O = Arms over your head with your hands joined together above your head.  H = Arms over your head, the palms held parallel.  I = Like O, except that your fingers form a point.)  What I found funny was how many people would swear up and down they had no intention of going in the water, and then would suddenly bolt in and do it, often holding hands with a friend as they jumped.  Two young women planned, I think, to swan dive into the Lake.  They had stripped down to bikini briefs and sports bras, scampered hand in hand to the lip of the water, and then decided to sit down and slide in, like they were entering a wading pool.  When they came out, their teeth were chattering and they were running like mad to put on their dry clothes.  (A lot of people who jumped in fully clothed didn’t have that option.  The temperature was in the mid-50s when I got there, but it dropped almost into the upper 40s by midnight.)

I never saw the allure of football, college or otherwise.  When I was younger, my dad took me to Saturday afternoon games of the Marietta College Pioneers at Don Drumm Stadium, but I was not very good at masking my boredom.  (I went on my own when I was older, but because it was free to me, since my dad was on the faculty.  Since it was free, I would take advantage.)  I went to a few Marietta Tigers games my sophomore year of high school, but paying to be bored was even sillier.

When Susie was first learning to read, I went to Abebooks‘ Website and ordered a copy of All Through the Year, the Harper and Row reading textbook I had in second grade.  I had always liked the book, and put off ordering it until I tired of reading the Berenstain Bears and Mr. Brown Can Moo!  Can You? repeatedly.  The only section of the book I disliked as a second-grader was called “Captain Sam,” and it was about one of the major characters’ hero worship of the high school football captain.  Besides the fact that I didn’t care about football, I remembered one scene that bothered me.  David, the boy who looks up to Captain Sam, will have his birthday the same day as the high school home team goes against their arch-rival.  (It’s apparently their version of OSU-Michigan, or Harvard-Yale.  In Cincinnati, the big high school sports rivalry seemed to be between two boys’ Catholic schools, Elder and Archbishop Moeller.)


In the story, David tells his parents that he doesn’t want a party or a birthday cake.  All he wants to do is go to the game.  His parents agree, but also add that he would not get any presents.  At the time, I thought that was a bit mean, and I still did when I read the story to Susie–knowing a story about football would put her to sleep with little difficulty.  I came around a little when I saw that David’s parents paid for all his friends to go to the game, plus paying for their hot dogs and soda pop, I suppose, which does demand a significant outlay of money.


Football and writing in the same blog entry…  I am as surprised as you are, folks.  I first heard about NaNoWriMo when we were still living in Franklinton.  I was at the library, using the computers there because we didn’t have any Internet at home, and I overheard one of the kids that worked behind the counter tell one of his co-workers that he knew a woman who entered this contest every year.  I Googled “novel writing in one month” and that was what led me to NaNoWriMo’s home page.  It was mid-October by then, so I didn’t have long to prepare for the project.


I usually have tanked by now.  In 2008, I didn’t even make the effort, since my mother had died on October 30, and I was preoccupied with her memorial service and cleaning out her apartment in Athens.  Today is the 23rd of November, and I’m farther along than I ever have been before, but I am not going to get cocky.  I guess it’s good that this guy never attempted NaNoWriMo.  It sounds like he won it on a weekly basis.


I am multitasking while I write this.  Susie and I are having a little pre-Thanksgiving meal tonight, so I am upstairs with the computer, typing away, and trying to keep track of the turkey and potatoes I have in the oven in the kitchen.  Unless the next entry describes a house fire, you can safely assume that we had an edible meal tonight.

My very amateurish footage of the beginning of the Mirror Lake OSU-Michigan jump-in last night.  One of the funniest moments I captured was a guy berating his friend for losing his lab goggles in the Lake, and insisting that he submerge himself to locate them.