Well, it was a very busy November. I still owe you a few book reviews, since I did still have one or two to catch up on, and I did listen to audio during the month (to totally intimidate my writerly self). But for now, I wanted to give you an update on my National Novel Writing Month experience. It was my first attempt at NaNoWrimo, and I had no idea what to expect. I had never written anything fictional longer than a short story, and that was in elementary school. To set out to attempt 50,000 words in a month seemed insane, but in late October I committed to try. And…
What does that mean? Did I write the longest novel? No. The best novel? Pretty much can guarantee that that one is also a no. Did I get to 50,000 words first? No. But I got to 50,000 words. And they formed sentences and actually created a story. In fact, though the story is not quite finished yet, I wrote (depending on who is counting, since not all programs seem to count words quite the same way, who knew?) 54,407 words to form a novel with 3 sections (in case you are wondering, that is 22o double-spaced pages).
I did it in the company of writers from all over the globe, including over a thousand in the greater Philadelphia area. We communicated on list-serves, through nanomail, in chat rooms, and live in coffee shops, libraries, and restaurants (in my case, the Panera in Jenkintown, PA). We encouraged each other, had word wars (let’s see who can write the most in 20 minutes…GO!) and generally got to know each other. We were alternately entertained and tortured by a chatroom bot named Timmy who timed word wars and spewed strange comments at random (“like XDF would be up overnight boat no thank you know, where to how is chosen warrior Yeah, it even a referendum to act of what goes it? yeah multiple levels of distracted by your weekend!”) or challenged us to include random things in the next scene. We even got some press when a local reporter came to one of our Sunday afternoon write-ins. I’ve gotta say, it was a lot of fun. Several of us locally are making plans to keep meeting and working on and reworking what we have so far. But ever since I hit 50,000, I’ve given myself permission to read again, which is nice.
So what did I write about? Here is my best synopsis: An actress in New York, currently acting in the first major role of her young career, learns that her terminally ill mother wants to spend her last months traveling to Italy aboard her sailboat and then to be buried at sea. When the show closes, she decides to take a break from the stage and the 5 year live-in relationship which has grown stale to accompany her mother and care for her aboard the boat. At the helm, to assist in medical care and serve as captain for voyage is a handsome but enigmatic friend of her mother’s, an expert sailor who works as a paramedic. The book is an exploration of relationships, identity, loss, and ultimately the value of and attachment to life.
Here is a little except (VERY rough) from the first section:
Abba proposed to her on this lake, maybe in this very kayak. It’s a sweet story. She was giving him a little kayak tour of the lake, they were watching the loons surface, wait for awhile and then dive under, reappearing many, many yards away. She leaned back in the kayak, allowed herself to drift a bit, and said, “I could stay here forever.” He, a few feet away in his own kayak, said, “speaking of forever…” and took out the ring, handing it across the water to her. Some other details of the story give more a picture of the woman who received that ring. He’d actually planned to propose the previous evening, taking her on a romantic walk in the woods, but before he had had a chance, she’d had a bit of a meltdown, fearing that she had upended a settled and secure life (she’d moved at 40 from the South to the Northeast to be with him, years after their first time dating at 19, giving up tenure in a job that she loved and a circle of friends she cherished) and that he might never end up deciding to make a commitment to her. My poor father had spent the night calming her down, but he didn’t want to propose to her in that context! The kayaks, then were Plan B, but made a much more wonderful story, so I am glad that is how it worked out. Abba also used to say that he thought he might never actually get to propose in the kayak, because Mom kept paddling away ahead of him. He didn’t want to have to shout or throw the ring, so he was out there, paddling furiously, trying to create an opening for what he wanted to do. So contained in the story is the romance, undeniably there, but also an image of my mom, a little insecure and volatile, and a little prone to leaving others behind when she is caught up in things she enjoys. Both there, both real.
It was the leaving people behind piece that I was relating to as I hauled the kayak up on the beach at the point whose sandy expanse partially divided the lake into two distinct sections, one adjoining the main road, and one, ours, in the back, accessible only by long drives down rutted fire roads. I stretched my shoulders, realizing that kayaking once every six months did not make for easy paddling. I sat down on the sand, and pulled my fleece jacket down over my bent knees, staring back at the cabin, which looked tiny on the opposite shore. Mom was quite literally proposing to leave me behind, sooner than her health required, sooner than I was prepared to let her go. My father had died suddenly in a car accident. There had been no time to say goodbye, to prepare to lose him, to ease myself into the loss. Instead, the loss had slammed into my life and thrown me hard to the pavement, just as I was looking the other way, happily crossing the street into young adulthood and thinking of other things. I could see mom’s death coming, and she wasn’t preventing me from preparing or saying goodbye, but the idea of her dying somewhere hundreds of miles away, only partially accessible even with the best technology, leaving me knowing little about her last days and hours, unable to share them with her, felt like a tremendous deprivation, nonetheless. Mom was following her passion and her vision, this time sailing rather than paddling, but once again not noticing she was leaving someone who loved her behind.
So that’s my NaNoWrimo report. I plan to do it again next year. Anyone want to join me???