The Green Monster or: NaNoWriMo Can Stick It

manuscriptinbinderGrasp the subject, the words will follow.

~ 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 . . .

[Flickr photo is by sidewalk flying and is protected]


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.


Nope, I didn’t do it.

Corina did it, big time. She managed to also do the NaBloPoMo thing.

I think Jennifer did it, but I have yet to see any official confirmation from her end. If not, I know her sister did it.

Even the Struggling Writer ceased his struggling and did it.

A 50,000 word novel in thirty very busy days. Broken down, that’s about 1,670 words, or about 5-1/2 double-spaced pages of prose, per day.

Impossible, I cry. And yet as of this morning, 1,643,343,993 words had been written and submitted by NaNoWriMo participants.

I’ve done my share of fiction writing, mostly short stories for various writing classes, or pieces written and posted here at The Cheek. But a novel?! Hell, no. Nothing even close. Not that I’m short on ideas. I’ve got a million of ’em, all funky and fermenting in a carafe somewhere in the chilly, nethermost corner of my mind, abandoned behind all the school work and the work work and the daddy work and the husband work and the paying-the-bills work. Or, to borrow an image from author and creative writing professor Heather Sellers, my ideas are like a bunch of perfect roses turned to ash; I know they are beautiful, so I lock them away for safe keeping – awaiting the perfect time to flesh them out and commit them to paper – only to discover that they have returned to dust when I go to smell them again. She writes, “It’s comfortable, satisfying, and fear-reducing, like a baby pacifier, to have ideas for books. Book ideas are reassuring and interesting, like imaginary friends.”


I am jolted by the realization that so much of my life has been nothing more than a bunch of ideas. And as philosopher David Hume suggests, ideas aren’t things; they are merely “a perception of the mind which involves thinking of something instead of actually (first hand) experiencing it.”

There is much to chew on here, but the clock is ticking and finals week is swiftly approaching – and experience that I will. Even as a harbor a greenish tinge of envy toward those who are not only smelling the roses, but replanting and watering them with pen and ink.

I tip one of my many hats to those of you who are doing the work of writing . . .

[photo credit]

Another Brick in Our Collective Ruins – A Guest Post

One of the best things about surfing around Blogland is having the opportunity to meet people who become so much more than just avatars and screen names. Through reading posts, leaving comments, and interacting by email, several people I’ve rubbed digital shoulders with in recent months have moved beyond faces and words on a webpage to kindred spirits . . . soul mates.

One such person is Christine, known around the blogosphere as Flutter. Her posts push me, motivate me, and tickle the part of my brain that loves writing and those who do it well. To visit her blog is to experience a broad spectrum of emotions.

Life, work and school have been handing my ass to me as of late, so I asked Christine if she’d kindly write a guest post for The Cheek of God. She’s a very busy gal, so I’m thrilled that she agreed.

So, in lieu of a “woe-is-me” post where I bore you with the details of why I haven’t posted since last Tuesday, I’m privileged to offer you the words of a friend . . .

The act of writing is an inspired thing. You either feel compelled, or you don’t. For those of us who feel compelled, writing is an act akin to breathing.

Sometimes labored, sometimes natural, always necessary. Expression is historically documented, our written history the labor of love of those who took it upon themselves to archive. This creates a different perspective when evaluating history. When we consider the personal perspective that leaks into the gathering and the telling of fact. How fact changes depending on the view of the person telling the story.

Memoir is a blessing of history. Our own personal histories gathered, archived, shared. Memoir writing is an act of therapeutic healing. To tell our own stories is to give credence to the experience. To tell our truths is an act of bravery. Even if the story seems mundane to our own eyes, our stories have the power to heal, to unite, to teach.

My own memoir is a history of sexual assault and the subsequent decade plus of self abusive patterns. I am finally putting them to rest by placing them on the table. When brought to light, our own personal tragedies lose power. They become yet another brick in our collective ruins, ready to tumble. Such has been my experience in telling my own stories on my blog, and as I work on my book.

Bravery is essential in the memoir, as is delicacy, brutality, sensitivity and honesty. But all of these are essential to you and only you. You are not writing for your audience, in a memoir. You are writing a resonant truth. Your truth will resonate with your audience when it resonates with you. When you are touched, they are touched, when you are full, so are they.

It is the best kind of therapy, our personal histories. They are born of our eyes and can only be told by us. They are stories that need to be heard. They are history in the making.

To experience Flutter in all her finest “delicacy, brutality, sensitivity and honesty,” visit her blog and spend some time getting to know her. You won’t be the same . . .

Today, my post from last week titled “A Boring White Wall” was featured on Indie Bloggers, a website dedicated to promoting those of us who do this blog thing as a means toward becoming better writers. I like the site because it’s stripped of all the frills and thrills that usually appear on blogs (mine included). There are no links in the posts, no pictures, no distracting badges, banners or ads, and no sappy comments; just a new piece of quality writing, usually updated daily. Stacy does a fine job of keeping the content fresh and consistently unique, no small feat I imagine, and I applaud her efforts on behalf of all of us who love writing.

So add IB to your favorites (it’s in my blogroll, or click the badge to the right or the link above), or simply subscribe to the feed, and enjoy a bit of fresh writing every day. You won’t be disappointed. Heck, you may even be inspired. Your call . . .

</shameless self-promotion>