LIFE aka WRITING
November was a weird month. I spent most of my free time in coffee shops writing, or reading Twitter while pretending to write, thanks to NaNoWriMo. I didn’t even write all that many words, certainly not 50,000. I didn’t calculate the final total, but the novel & outline words probably added up to less than 20k. Not setting any records, but I am still so, so glad I participated. Here are some Life & Writing Lessons I learned from the failed attempt:
* I don’t think I have a writing voice, not when it comes to fiction. Pretty sure every sentence is just mimicking one influence or another. With more practice, I know I’ll settle into my own rhythm, but for now it feels like I’m just compiling snippets of better writers’ melodies.
* Structure? What is structure? Sentence structure I can do — but story, plot? Huh? Why am I so bad at this? Don’t they say the best thing you can do to be a good writer is to read a lot? I’ve read books! Why aren’t I good at this yet! Do all frustrated would-be novelists resort to this many question marks & exclamation points! I can’t even tell the difference between the two anymore? !? ? Quick, someone get me an interrobang!
* I am the three-toed sloth of writing, cumbersomely dragging myself across syllables while hares and cheetahs rumble past in paragraphs. I enjoyed the one in-person write-in I went to (yes, even little introverted me enjoyed hanging out with a bunch of eccentric strangers — and by “hanging out,” I mean “collectively staring and swearing at our screens and dumb Great American Novelist ambitions”), but apparently everyone else writes really quickly. We did a few word wars, and everyone else was typing away at like 473 words/second, while five minutes in I was still like, hold on, I’ve just gotta figure out how to start this sentence!. ? !???!1!
* Science-fiction is dumb because you have to make everything up and predict the future and because other dumb reasons.
* Making everything up and predicting the future and other dumb stuff is really fun!
* The joys of novel writing, much like those of Christmas, can be shared with the whole year, not just one small winter month. Quick, someone make that inspirational sentence into a Lifetime movie!
In other mundane news, the holidays are here! (On the hierarchy of People Who Love Christmas, I am seconded only by Buddy the Elf and maaaybe also by Ralphie in the seconds after he unwrapped his Red Ryder BB gun but before he broke his glasses.) I worked most of Thanksgiving but got some delicious feastings at my roommate’s family’s house, and had a great Friendsgiving. The Christmas Tree Hunt of 2013 and house-decorating game night with the roommies included our two cats hilariously horrified by their reindeer costumes but my cat totally chill with his ugly Christmas sweater — um, hello excuse me? You can stop acting so unsurprised that I’m single, thank you very much! And also there’s cat fur on your coat.
I only read two whole books and parts of a few others in November. Thanks a lot, NaNoWriMo. How will I ever learn how to structure a book if I never have time to read any ever again? Ugh, #wannabewriterproblems, amiright? Here are my meager highlights:
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: My friend Megan and I decided to start an inter-state book club, with this as our first selection. I finished it in a few days, she stopped after a couple of chapters to re-read the entire Harry Potter series. Thanks a lot, Megan! You’re the best(insert interrobang here) But seriously, as disturbing & criminal as the subject truly is — HOLY NABOKOV’S PROSE, LITERARY BATMAN. All I want for Christmas is to construct sentences half as beautifully as does he (Nabokov, not the Caped Crusader). I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but I cannot praise the author’s writing highly enough.
Collected Poems, Wendell Berry: A friend posted a short poem of his on Facebook, which I loved so much I immediately jumped into my car, drove to the library, and checked out an anthology. As one does. I don’t read nearly enough poetry generally (maybe that’s why I can’t write novels[interrobang here]). Favorites include “To The Holy Spirit,” “The Morning’s News,” “The Peace of Wild Things,” “The Guest,” and “Elegy.”
SCREENS, BIG & SMALL
Parenthood, Parks & Rec, HIMYM: You know, the usual. Also, how did I start watching/liking Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
The Walking Dead: Am I the only person on this pre-apocalyptic planet who enjoyed The Governor’s storyline and am disappointed it’s over, even if it did end with some poetic justice?
Winter’s Bone: Ohhh. So that’s why J-Law was nominated for an Oscar.
Gravity: Space nerd squeeee. The science may be iffy or whatever, but Sandra Bullock’s will to survive is not. And can I just say? Girl can rock a pixie cut.
ARTICLES & INTERNET
Wild Girls Dancing by Esther Emery at 1000 Strands. Not a post goes by that I don’t learn to breathe deeper and see brighter and stand prouder from Esther. This one is no different. There she goes, fighting the ubiquitous lie of women as pornography, declaring a better world for her daughters. “How old were you, when you learned about the dark power of a woman?”
The Disconnectionists by Nathan Jurgenson on The New Inquiry. I fully believe taking time away from the Internet can be valuable, in the same way that taking a break from anything can refresh your perspective or allow you to focus your energy on other areas. But this article nicely deconstructs the assumptions behind the pomp & self-flagellation that so often comes with someone “taking a break from social media for a while, guys!”: that the Internet is inherently a vice to be managed, a poison to be detoxed, a false life to be replaced with realer experiences, a sin to be atoned for with fasting. Plus there’s some stuff about identity theory that’s somewhat over my head but very intriguing.
The Flight from Dallas by Chris Jones in Esquire. So here’s a thing. I’m an Esquire subscriber. Whaaa? you say. What kind of straight woman/alleged feminist/human person are you? Well, remember Megan, she of not-reading-Lolita infamy? She got me into Esquire back in college. I came for the design and stayed for the content. (Not to mention occasional appearances from my spirit animal A.J. Jacobs!) Yes, there’s some sexism and other objectionables, but man can those dudes write. Maybe someday when I learn to write like Nabokov, I’ll get to do A Thousand Words on Culture. Anyway, I finally got around to reading my October issue around the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, and of all the articles that crossed my radar that week, this piece chronicling what happened on Air Force One affected me the most deeply with its visceral detail & intimate anxiety.
My mom was emailing me creepy old nativity paintings last night, as all good mothers do, which made me think of the classic Ugly Renaissance Babies. If you’re sensitive to crude language, ignore the captions — but the pictures, man, did all babies just look like disproportionate gremlins in days of yore?
What have you been into lately?
Don’t miss Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into and browse a whole lot of others, too.