Letting Go

My resolution for 2017 was to publish something.  I failed to meet the deadline.  But this past February, I finally did submit my first manuscript for publication.  I had been working on this paper since about August of 2015, when it began life as the opening chapter of a book.  The last little bit of work was easy, and yet so difficult.  I had put a lot into this project, and a psychological block was preventing me from closing this chapter and moving on. I finally did.

Then, I took some time off.  I kept writing daily.  But nothing specific, and not very imaginative.  My mind needed a break.  I needed a break.  Sending off the manuscript felt like victory, even though I can’t really celebrate until it is published.  It has been two months, and I haven’t been rejected, yet.  My fingers remain superstitiously crossed.

One of the things preventing me from blogging more had been this paper.  I needed to finish it before I could say anything meaningful here.  Until it is published, I can’t really discuss it in detail.  But this manuscript was a personal thesis.  The more I put into it, the less there seemed to be to say here, until it was done.  Blogging about this unfinished project felt self-defeating.  Why?  I would ask myself.  Am I writing for this blog when I could instead be finishing one of my dream goals?

Now that the work is behind me, I have had a chance to re-orient.  The thesis is finished. Now I want to test it out.  I want to challenge how we see religion.

My parents raised their children Catholic.  I began life quite devout, but with a burning desire.  I wanted to understand my world.  I wanted to understand my faith.  Originally, when I began this journey, I began with the assumption that my faith was true.  This is what I had been taught as a child.

For years my mother defended Catholicism as ‘the one true faith.’  How could this be the one true faith?  I would ask.  How do you know which version is true Christianity?   I have met Protestants who steadfastly proclaimed that their own versions were true, and who condemned Catholicism as everything from misguided to the work of the devil.  I would ask them the same questions.  How do you know that your beliefs are true beliefs?  I could never get an answer that made sense.  People defend their faith in many ways.  I was looking for something rational.  When I realized that there was nothing rational about it, I let go, and my faith fell away.

Letting go of my faith was perhaps one of the most important decisions of my life.  It forced me to confront my own spirituality more directly.  I was changing my thinking by challenging my assumptions.  I wanted to be able to defend my words.  This meant discarding indefensible beliefs, in order to speak truthfully.

NaNoWriMo Update #6

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I was upset when I tried to update my word count shortly after midnight, today.  NaNoWriMo.org shut that feature down.  Had I been allowed, I would entered 11,968.

This morning, NaNoWriMo sent me a consolation letter informing me that I did not win.  (?!!)  They define ‘winning’ as writing 50K words.  So, I guess they have a point.  I certainly did not win.  But, at the same time, I didn’t lose.

Nobody said I was done, either.  I will tell the world when this story is finished.  I will define whether I win or lose.

NaNoWriMo Update #5

Good afternoon everyone.  I hope everyone here in the U.S. had a good day of Giving Thanks.  Thanks to the NaNoWriMo community doing this every year.

Confession:  I did not write yesterday for my book.  Only for my journal.  So, I didn’t update my word count yesterday, marking the only day I have missed since beginning this project on November 6th.

Confession number two:  Until I update my word count later tonight, I only have 9033 words.

Confession number three:  I am undaunted.  At current rates, this should only take four more months to complete!

NaNoWriMo Update #4

Everyone can laugh at me.  There are people with 20k words, 30k words, or even 40k words by now.  And then there is me.  I passed the 8K mark today!  While the pace has been slow, some amazing things have happened.  My muse is working overtime for me.  As I have worked up this story, several times a good night’s sleep results in waking with a completely re-arranged and deepened understanding.  Several days this past week were spent describing the story in broad strokes, or doing character sketches.  (Character sketches do not show up in my word count.)  I had my main character doing all of these amazing things.  And then I would sleep on it.  The next morning, these amazing things were in the hands of other characters.  Stories are developing within the story.

All week long I found myself pushing late in the evening to make a difference that day’s word count.  Two nights ago I asked myself why I was doing this so late in the day.  After all, every day I begin writing early.  But writing in my journal, and writing this story, are two different forms of doing.  Writing in my journal is second nature to me.  I look forward to it each day.  I haven’t missed a day of journaling in about four years.  Writing creatively is a different matter.  There is a voice for this book.  Some days, writing with that voice is next to impossible.  On those days, it is just so easy to waste time in my journal, fooling myself into believing that journaling is good enough.

Two nights ago I made a renewed commitment to write early.  My new motto is: Create Early, Create Often.  I don’t write fast.  But I am making progress.  No more broad strokes, though.  The focus now is on creative writing.  (Until the next day that the wheels of my mind inevitably gum up on me.)  I begin each day with a few paragraphs in my journal.  Just enough to verify that I am capable of documenting my thoughts.  And then I begin by reading my opening.  Reacting to my own writing.  Fixing what I don’t like.  Changing wording.  Providing more context.  Then I get to the end of what I think of as ‘the book.’  Everything after that is just broad brush strokes.   And then I work on the next paragraph of the story.  Tomorrow I will edit today.

NaNoWriMo Update #2

Last night the word count reached 3196.  I wrote another scene.  Then I began sketching scenes and characters.  Today’s work will be similar.  The hero of my story is a guy in his late twenties.  He needs a love interest and an ally.  So I am putting a lot of thought into her, and the dynamics of their relationship.

This week, starting today, I need to step things up.  Yesterday I proudly declared myself a tortoise pen.  This coming week i have a relatively open calendar.  But a week from today my brother and his family are coming to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.  I have to get ahead of the curve this week.  During Thanksgiving week, daily high-volume-output will not be sustainable.

 

NaNoWriMo Update #1

Between yesterday and today my total word count is up to 2370.  I spent a lot of time tilling the same ground, not contributing much to my overall word total, but improving the story told.  Better to feel good about 2370 words and a quality opening, than 5000 words that will need to be cut by half.  I don’t see any way around this.  I am a plodder.  Call me tortoise pen.  I am proud.

NaNoWriMo 2017

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.