Ten Minutes

When ideas fail, words come in very handy.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Before I created The Cheek and began cranking out non-fiction stuff about my life, I loved to write short stories. I didn’t write many of them, but the few I took the time to sweat over and shape into cheesy little morsels of literary Camembert are to me tiny glimpses into my soul. I love to dip into the nether regions of my hard drive on occasion and give them another read. I tweak them every so often in an attempt to polish and shape them into tales worthy of my respect, worth passing on to others. The problem is that the average short story in my archives takes about ten minutes to read. Ten minutes for someone to fly through what took me sometimes months to bring to fruition.

And that hardly seems fair.

So this month, like about a zillion other people, I decided to tighten my writing belt and peck out a novel. Yes, as you can tell by the picture in this post and the little badge at the top of my sidebar, I am a participant in 2009’s NaNoWriMo competition. In case you are clueless and unaware of what NaNo is all about, here’s a blurb from their website:

Founded in 1999, this fiction-writing extravaganza encourages everyone in the world to spend November bashing out a 50,000-word novel. Not for fame or fortune. But because it’s monkey-barrels of fun.

Monkey-barrels may be just a tad hyperbolic, but it’s close. I’m having a blast. And I’m almost caught up: your favorite chronic procrastinator didn’t start until November 3rd.

The cool thing about all this is that my two oldest kids are on board as well. Each signed up on to take part in the Youth Writers Program and made a commitment to write 20,000-word novels of their own. Nothing beats nibbling around the edges of a huge literary cookie with your kids, knowing we’re going to devour that monstrosity and ache a bit when we’re done but will have eaten the whole damn thing. Maybe when it’s over, I’ll print us out a certificate of completion like I did back when I tackled and handily defeated The Ultimate Colossal Burger at Ruby Tuesday.

So I thought I would post a little excerpt for your reading enjoyment. Ignore any typos and all the bad grammar; this month is about getting it out of my head and into the laptop. This section is inspired by my blogging buddy Pat who issued this challenge a while back. After a couple months of, well, procrastination, I finally found a place to take her up on her offer. So this is for you, Pat. And if you, Dear Tweaker, choose to skip reading my excerpt, please know that I’m cool with that. Not everyone has ten minutes to spare. And feel free to share your thoughts about NaNoWriMo or my excerpt in the comments. Are you writing a novel this month? Have you done this in the past? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should I give up writing and get a real job? And after you comment, please, have a safe and happy weekend . . .

I drove through a car wash the other day. And for the first time it wasn’t one of those automated jobs where you delicately attempt to slide smoothed-out dollar bills into the seldom-functioning slot or swipe your debit card. I went to the new one out on Highway 10. Dave’s or something like that. Where someone actually greets you when you drive up and smiles when they ask you if you’d like to try the Dave’s Deluxe with the undercarriage wash and tire shine. “Sure,” I said and handed over a ten to the young lady with the retainer and pigtails held tight with strips of towel that matched the trim around the neon sign advertising Dave’s Deal cards – SIX DELUXE WASHES ONLY $50. I rolled up my window and then drove into the wash bay, inching over the front lip of the metal doohickey buried in the floor and then into the center where the pressure makes the light panel switch from green to bright red and you’d better damn well be stopped or there could be damage to your car, which Dave’s was in no way shape or form responsible for. I thought this is what it must be like to be invited over for dinner by someone who wants to get to know you a bit better and they smile when they invite you and tell you they can’t wait for you to come and then you get there and you have to do all these things like take off your shoes at the door and let them hang up your coat which you’d rather keep within arm’s reach and then eat off the fine china which they seem to keep worrying about every time you use the knife to cut your steak and then they fret when you almost forget to use a coaster when you’re sitting in the living room on the couch with the fabric that seems to change colors when you run your hand over it. Welcome, but mind your P’s and Q’s or you’re outta here. But I stop on time and there’s no new damage inflicted upon my car as I sit inside a coccoon of spinning brushes and flying soap and steamy jets of water that come so fast that they lift the windshield wipers out of their little notched holders when your window gets rinsed. And then I get to drive again but this time, unlike at the automated place, there is no blower the size of a Honda blasting my own Honda with hot air fired from cannons that do that automated twitch from side to side like eyes watching you warily as you drive through really slow in order to eke out every last puff of air that you paid ten bucks for. I wonder for a second how Dave expects me to drive safely out of this narrow hallway lined with bright red concrete with rivers of water with soap residue streaming down my windshield trammeling my vision. And my savior is a kid with a bright red baseball cap turned backwards guiding me a little to the left and then a little to the right and then waving me forward like a traffic cop at an intersection holding back the tide for a passing funeral procession. He’s not smiling quite as brightly as the young lady at the starting line but I guess I wouldn’t be smiling either is I had to concentrate so much. I pull forward until he puts his hands up suddenly, palms out, and then with an aw-shucks sauter comes alongside my door and grabs the towel draped over his shoulder. He stares at me for a half a second too long. I start to turn away from his gaze but don’t do it instead. I stare back. Our eyes locked in some sort of mutual assessment. Maybe he’s a bit self-conscious about the hat and that’s why he wears it backwards. Possessor of a rebellious streak, this one, I think. My cheeks rise, bringing my lips along in a sort of half-hearted attempt at a smile, but he doesn’t snap out of it. What began as a moment of lingering contemplation has turned into a daydream. He’s not really staring at me anymore but toward me and perhaps through me at whatever he sees that isn’t me but beyond me. Outside of me. Not even here in the car with me but trapped in his head as he just stares. I take out my cellphone and roll the ball to the camera icon and then hold it up to face the glass and think maybe he’ll come back to earth if I attempt to make contact. I press the ball and the camera makes its little faux click noise and I see him now both on my phone, frozen in pixels, and right there outside my window. I think of Hume and how he would say that I have a perception in my mind that is based on an impression, an outward sentiment if you will, of a kid standing outside my window staring at me. And how later, if he ever gets to wiping my car down with his bright red towel and I don’t have to see him staring at me anymore, I’ll have an idea in my mind of the kid standing outside my window and staring at me, because he’s not actually doing it at the time that I’m thinking about it. Right now, for instance. I remember his standing there, with his hat turned backwards and his blank stare that seemed to last longer than the director’s cut of Dances With Wolves, and it is an idea I’m entertaining based on a previous impression. But then I can take my phone out and look at his picture and experience him again just as I had when he was actually there, for I’m entertaining and outward sentiment of him, albiet on my phone. And I think about all the stuff that we think about and how much of it is just an idea based on some shitty perception through a window streaked with soapy water. And how I really butchered Hume and would have embarrassed old Professor Moore with such nonsense. Like when I’d ask him questions about God and he would hem and haw and listen to me try and elucidate what I really wanted to say but ended up on some tangent that sidetracked the class so that he had to rein it back in while giving me that look that said, “Save it for later, will ya?” but later never came because he had a meeting or a conference or needed to go and get a beer with a collegue and I wasn’t invited. But I found God without Dr. Moore. And I’m not ready to write about that yet.

9 thoughts on “Ten Minutes

  1. Two promises: 1) I will not abandon The Cheek this month, and 2) I will not post any more excerpts. Unless someone sends me money to do so . . .


  2. love the fact that you’re writing novels as a family project! that’s just beautiful! someday, i might… but my problem is that i simply don’t have the imagination for fiction. suppose i could write non-fiction, but…. that’d be personal… go get ’em!

  3. Good for you to take this on; and your kids also doing their version of it will help you chivvy each other along when you enter into the writing doldrums, hysteria about not meeting your word count on a specific day, or when you feel like throwing in the towel on this crazy notion that you MUST, MUST, HAVE TO keep writing no matter how you feel or are inclined on a particular day.
    I did a full month of NaNo in 2007 and found that once committed to daily writing, some daemon begins to reside in one, the stuff just disgorges without too much prompting. You have to watch out for the inevitable exhaustion that overtakes you between week 2 and Week 3, and just barrel through.
    Have fun, you lot! G

  4. No paragraph breaks is a killer on my eyes, dude.

    Jack Kerouac’s entire novel “On The Road” was written on one looooong scroll of paper. No chapter breaks, no paragraph breaks. One long piece, like a road.

    Best of luck with the novel, just keep on going.

  5. Good for you! The kids too!

    “And I think about all the stuff that we think about and how much of it is just an idea based on some shitty perception through a window streaked with soapy water.” !!! 🙂

  6. One of these days I’ll do this NaNoWriMo thing. Kudos to you for giving it a go. Best of luck!

  7. Brian! I’m with Kitty! No line breaks. Hemingway would have failed without line breaks. You are the only one I know who would be thinking Hume in a car wash.

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