The past several years have been an up-hill struggle. But I am nearing the crest of this mountain. Physically, I bottomed out four years ago. That was the year my body quit working. Everything became so difficult to do that anymore, I wasn’t able to do anything. I woke up tired every morning. Sleep apnea, brought on by weakening muscles in my face and throat, and two or three dozen extra pounds, had me waking up gasping for air whenever I would fall asleep on my back. I would doze off, the wind pipe would constrict, and dreams became nightmares about dying. Wake up! Adrenal glands would pump me with a hormone and neurotransmitter. I would wake up choking.
Waking up was not enough. My body needed to breathe. Alerting the mind and synching it with body was just the first step. Generally, I needed to sit up before I could breathe again. But I had lost the ability to sit up. So instead, I would roll myself off the bed or couch and onto the floor, and get up on all fours. It never failed. That first breath again was so calming. So welcome. Over time, this became routine. Falling back to sleep was becoming an act of conscious faith that the driver of events in this world still wanted me to live. What seemed to sustain me through these dark times was a story that wanted to be told.
Stories are mystical in nature. As a writer, I am aware that I am writing a story. It is a conscious process. It is an every damn day decision to write. But I am driven to write by the story itself. She began by seducing me. And then, once she had me, she tormented me and twisted our relationship. She gained a certain power over me. And she used it to beat my ego into submission. I am not telling my story. I am telling hers. Hers is the voice that whispers to my intuition, not often enough, telling me to pay attention. Pay attention to this or that. There is something of significance here. And then she would vanish. I was being seduced by an elusive and unheard voice. She was teaching me to listen.
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This past weekend I attended a writing conference, at Wrightsville Beach, put on by the North Carolina Writer’s Network. This is now my fifth writing conference in the past nine years. My first in North Carolina. Their conference pricing was an incentive to join. So I did. I joined an incredible community of writers here in my new home state.
My last conference was in Tucson, Memorial Day weekend, 2016. The Pima Writers Workshop. That was the first (and still only) conference in which I submitted a manuscript to be critiqued by an agent. An agent looking for special stories good enough to market. I wasn’t looking to sell my manuscript. I was looking for an honest opinion. And I found it in an agent who took the time to tell me that I need to re-think my approach. He told me that anyone who can write well can get published in fiction. But that in order to actually sell a manuscript in non-fiction, you have to be someone. And I was no one, he told me. My professional background is in mathematics and computer science. I am writing about philosophy and religion. But he also told me that the opening of the book could stand alone on its own as a magazine piece.
A lot has changed since then. When I heard these things, I thanked the agent for his time. Later the next day the conference ended, and I headed back to Tempe, where I was doing everything within my strength to change my situation. I was still married then. I made the decision to separate in 2010, with only inklings of what was to come. We still owned a house together. I was still working on that set of problems.
Now, I am divorced. I sold off or gave away almost everything. Many things, like bicycles and power tools, I could no longer use. Other stuff had simply become clutter. I am down to a bed, two couches, a table for the kitchen, some kitchen tools, some clothing, and my grandmothers old dresser. I also have a desk for writing, and an incredibly comfortable chair. A few simple hand tools for gardening. Now I have a small house centrally located in Chapel Hill. I can carry out my daily routine most of the time with just my wheelchair. The only time I need to drive anywhere is to go to church on Sundays, to visit Mom or my sisters family, or to attend writing meet-ups. Groceries, banking, most shopping, coffee shops and much much more are all within a mile or so of my house.
My muse is no longer elusive. She has become something of a live-in partner for this project. She like’s to stay in my head. She’s always nagging. Write. Write. Write! The problems I had just solved were preventing me from closing a writing chapter, and moving on.
I am writing. I have been writing. But what I thought was just a book is actually so much more. The book that I was working on will now be published in pieces. I am going to plant the seeds of this story in journals and magazines, and let it begin sprouting in the minds of others. Meanwhile, a kernel of fiction is sprouting in me.
Until now I have never had both the time and energy needed to tackle NaNoWriMo. At the writing conference in Wilmington, after the business of Saturday was done, there was a NaNoWriMo launch party. We didn’t write. But wine was served and people who were launching a book got together with people who have completed NaNoWriMo projects. I got home late Sunday night. Monday was my official start. I have 1388 words.