~ Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC)
We are eating scones made of all-natural ingredients and drinking hot chocolate, the milk the kind that does not come from cows and costs an arm and a leg for a half gallon.
Chewy and nasty.
And then he introduces me. A local writer and student of his wife’s at the local university. This is his first reading, so let’s welcome him.
I sit on a stool that I have to bounce on the balls of my feet just a smidge to mount, and notice I am surrounded by a string of lights and hanging ornaments, ecumenical and bland. December, 2004. The young lady who read before me chose to stand off to the side, but I need to podium; I like to emote with my hands.
I read from the first short story I wrote for Mary Ann, W301 – Writing Fiction, titled, interestingly, “The Cheek of God” . . .
Those who come to the area for horseback riding or camping can no doubt see the smoke from my fires but no one braves the terrain or ventures close enough to investigate.
The soothing sounds of winter are interrupted by the distant chewing and spitting of chainsaws blowing north from the less protected areas of the forest as some cheerful family drags O Tannenbaum from the edge of the tree line, their voices ringing with joy as they tie it with string to the roof of their minivan.
Very few times has anyone come within eyesight, their bright catalogue clothing contrasting sharply against this viridian curtain surrounding them. I watch from the confines of my cave, my breathing shallow as they struggle along the distant horizon and then disappear. I imagined them thinking to themselves how on earth did I get here just before turning back toward Weatherford Trail leading them safely back to their soft suburban existence.
Mine was a simple choice, and no one defies the grieving. Emma floated away wearing a superimposed smile. It never fades but instead grows more vibrant and charming with each remembrance.
Two thousand words inspired by a news article I had read about a man found living in the woods. He wouldn’t talk about why, just packed his stuff and moved on. So I speculated, and wrote, and it came to me in an evening.
The thing that stumps me every year during NaNoWriMo is trying to do that every night, for a month, with no real plan. I can’t do plans. I have an idea, something that would be interesting to write about, and so I write. Only, 50,000 words is a lot of words, and the story in my head doesn’t have legs like that. I sprint. Endurance is not my thing.
Not that I haven’t gotten down some interesting stuff. Like back in 2009, when I hit 20,773 words about a guy who wanted to kill himself but could never shut up long enough to actually pull the trigger. Or this year, when I tried to write a YA fantasy/sci-fi sort of thing and came up with this . . .
Consider the soul.
No, seriously. Go. I have nothing but time. I’ll wait right here. So . . . GO!
(While you are doing that, I’ll spruce this place up a bit. Perhaps a splash of burgundy over the sofa. I’m growing weary of the green, which constantly brings to mind a twenty ounce Mountain Dew. I used to love Mountain Dew. I’d unscrew the lid off one about every meal. And the thing about Mountain Dew is that it is just as tasty whether you drink it cold, right out of the fridge, or at a more pleasant variety of room temperature. Something in the 60s. Fahrenheit. Which reminds me of one of my favorite books. Fahrenheit 451 by the incomparable Ray Bradbury. I had heard once that some big shots were thinking of making a movie out of that one. A movie for us modern folk, unlike that one from the 60s that starred Oskar Werner as Guy Montag. Who the hell is Oskar Werner?! Now I’m just getting angry . . . )
You’re back. So soon. Ahem. So, what did you think about.
Never mind. Stop right there. Because you’re wrong.
Something wholly indefinable and altogether wrong popped into your mind as soon as you set it loose. “The . . . soul?” You didn’t even prod your proverbial horse out of the proverbial gate, I imagine.
If you gave it a bit of a kick, you might have entertained notions of spirits or maybe even ghosts. (They are different, you know.)
Or perhaps some philosophical hogwash, such as Plato’s logos/thymos/eros trifecta, or the mind/body nonsense epitomized in Cartesian dualism.
Or maybe it was that old saw religion which reared its ugly head. Did you allow your certainties to show? Were you all set to preach to me about the soul as the seat of morality, and hence the motivation for right action when fed properly by a Spirit carried forth triumphantly upon a frequency transmitted from Heaven?
Or perhaps you embrace the eastern traditions and recognize your soul to be but Atman, your own individual slice of the majestic and faceless Brahman pie.
Or maybe you are hardened of heart. You don’t speak of a soul, for you have yet to truly taste of anything worthy of the name. For you, a soul is what most people lack, going about their days trampling each other underfoot and smiling empty smiles in the process.
These are but the highlights of a long list I could spell out for you. And they are all wrong.
I like this story, but how long can there be just this going on and on about stuff and nothing happening?! I tried to take the advice of others: just write and it will come; blow something up; create tension; blah, blah, blah.
And after this, my third attempt and my third failure, I have gleaned this: every time I try this thing called NaNoWriMo, I end up with a bunch of little snippets, each nearly exactly 1,667 words long, of really cool stories all jumbled together in one big Word document. I like my subjects, but they are small. The words come, but they are fewer than what is required.
One of my favorite writers is Andre Dubus. Somewhere deep in my creative mind, I want to be Andre Dubus. I don’t want to write long-form fiction. I want to stick with simple stories about real people with real problems and not be tied to a word count minimum that looks like that big green fence in left field in Boston, all the way out there and unreachable.
Or maybe I’m just an idealistic quitter . . .