Unpacking the Marathon – A Weekend with Words & Wildness (#MNM2016)

13590469_10153620354132021_3189054146723959412_n

This past weekend was the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon (Search #MNM2016 in Social Media to find evidence of its existence). In short, this is a fundraising event to bring both funds and awareness to the literacy programs of the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka County. Every year, forty writers get together in a room in Huntsville, Ontario, and we each attempt to write a novel over the course of 72hrs. And, every year, we each gather sponsorship donations from friends and family. This year, the marathon brought in over $34,000.00. This is not small potatoes. That’s a huge chunk of money that will be well used for the literacy programs. Amazing! And every cent of what we bring in goes directly to the programs. We are WRITERS SUPPORTING READERS.

13613443_10153622165897021_3894977999022415965_o
Monday Afternoon of the Marathon – A Respite on Lion’s Lookout (Thanks to Paula Boon for showing me the way to the mountain!). The building in the distance below is where the marathon takes place.

Every year I go through quite a sordid variety of emotions at the marathon. This year was no exception. For the first 24hrs I had to fight through my belief that I was no longer a writer, that I was just this guy who accidentally stumbled into the world as a way to exorcise his demons. I thought that since the demons were now gone, I was not allowed (or worthy) of the sacred act of putting words down on paper. Such is the logic of the artistic wanderer—only when wandering are we allowed to wander. But this logic is so broken, I don’t even know where to begin. As much as I have struggled in recent years to write, I am as much a writer as I am a human being. It’s one of the words that define me. I discovered at the marathon that one could be a writer not writing, but one cannot be a non-writer writing.

My first day panic gave in to my fears and anxiety. I squirreled around inside two different unfinished manuscripts with zero focus. I scraped together twenty pages between the two of them…the whole time bemoaning to whoever would listen that I was over, washed-up, a has-been.

13592758_10153616720612021_7220605044950658192_n
The Scene of the Crime! The Active Living Centre, at the foot of Lion’s Lookout in Huntsville, Ontario.

My second day a fellow marathoner put a kernel of an idea in my head. “Write your story…just give it the slight tweak it needs to make it fiction.” That’s a paraphrase…and it might be from an amalgamation of conversations I had with various marathoners. The point is, I received wisdom from the great and powerful spirit that flits about the rooms at the marathon and tells us, in song and dance, that every little thing gonna be all right. And one cannot arrive at the marathon with a closed mind. One must be raw and vital and willing to open up to any little thing that may happen over the course of the weekend. It is a time of magic and discovery.

13606649_10153618761377021_3126094093261999604_n
I was so touched when I found this pack of Popeyes at my desk, along with a lovely note, that I ran away and stupidcried. I had mentioned Popeyes in my most recent post here on this blog. Whoever left this at my workstation—THANK YOU FOREVER!

So, I shut up, I sat down, and I began a story that had just a little too much of myself inside it. I wrote my story. First I turned a crank and tossed in a few lies, to disguise the real world beneath a blanket of myth and bullshit. Then I wrote a story. As I weaved the scenes together I carefully knitted myself out of it. I had finally found my pace and was on my way…

13606855_10153621780847021_5634610471992050828_n
Photographic evidence that I actually did get writing done at the marathon…

You have to understand that there are a handful of different types that go to the Muskoka Novel Marathon. We are all passionate about the cause and would do anything to raise money to support the literacy programs. We are all passionate about writing, and about words. But some of us are there to put our heads down and write like our faces are on fire and some of us are there for the social game–to be among our people. Some of us are there for both. The first two years or so, I was there to get shit done. I wrote upwards of 50,000 words at my first few at-bats at the marathon. This year? Not so much. Apart from my wasted first day where no amount of coaxing would bring forth an idea for a new project (ONE CANNOT FORCE CREATIVITY—IT IS ON ITS OWN CLOCK), I also socialized quite a bit. A group of us went down into town both Saturday and Sunday evening. And I stayed at the Comfort Inn on the Saturday evening. So, where I used to spend most of my time in my chair at the marathon…I’ve become not so focused on my writing. But this is not a bad thing. How often does one get to gather with like-minds? Sure, we didn’t always talk writing—but it was always there as the thread that brought us together.

13592691_10153622124367021_4300550121915514015_n
It was on the last day of the marathon that I finally discovered Lion’s Lookout. MUCH THANKS TO PAULA BOON FOR SHOWING ME THE WAY. Turns out I was running in circles around this lookout for years. Sometimes the mountain does not give of itself so freely…you have to find a way to go to the mountain. My way was Paula.

Sunday evening, those who were brave enough to participate took part in the annual midnight reading. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when three of us took part in a reading in a corner. We go around the table and share 3-5 minutes of our raw WIPs (works in progress) that we have just penned at the marathon. It’s important that we all feel safe to share during this reading, as we are reading words that are not yet edited…so there is no critiquing allowed—just listening and appreciating. It was a fabulous turnout this year, with over half of the 40 writers participating in the marathon in attendance. Beautiful words were shared…tears were shed, laughter was laughed, sighs were heard. It’s one of my favourite parts of the marathon.

13613530_10153622351877021_9213638528621173884_o
Captain My Captain! I first met Sue Kenney at the Pickering Winter Novel Marathon (2006?). I was immediately drawn to her kinetic energy. She was my guide in 2014 when I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago. She takes peregrinos (pilgrims) on the journey of the Camino twice a year (In May and in September). LOOK HER UP. She is life-changing. Being around her is to know what it is like to live the dance of life. (-: She has been leading a creative walk at the MNM for a number of years. This year, she also participated as a writer at the marathon. She was BIC throughout the marathon, pounding away at the keys. BEAR —that is all!

 

In the end, I wrote over a hundred pages. I have the kernel of a novel I may or may not pursue. I like the story thus far, I’m excited to be writing creatively again. So there is that. You go to the marathon not only to expend a great deal of fuel and run yourself ragged and exhaust yourself to the point of tears—but also to fuel up, to store-up a powerhouse of energy against the coming year. It sounds incongruous, I know, but the marathon is like that. It is an onion, a constantly shifting reality that loses its layers faster than its attendees can write ten pages and award themselves with a 10-page strip (see below)! One realizes, after a few marathons, that it is kind of like Bits & Bites—“You never know whatcher gonna get.”

IMG_20160711_155551
The 10-Page Strip. Whenever a writer reaches a ten-page milestone, they mark it with a strip. 🙂

The Muskoka Novel Marathon. I can tell you about it, but it won’t accurately describe what happens there. It’s a 72 hour weekend of magic and words and laughter and tears and food and words and food and words and coffee and friends and food and words and sunshine and rain and laughter and tears and tomfoolery and words and snapshots and food and wonder.

Preliminary Tally of Funds Raised for Literacy in 2016

– $34,081

THANK YOU FOR CARING, YOU LOVELY PEOPLE!

Don’t Read This Blog Post – Muskoka Novel Marathon – Another Year, Another Novel, Another Fundraiser for Literacy

It’s so strange that another year has zipped past since my last Muskoka Novel Marathon. It simply disappeared. In thin air. Kind of like that there/not there thing I always find so fascinating. But that’s another story. I don’t have time to tell it. I have two more sleeps before I dive into my 9th Muskoka Novel Marathon! NUMBER NINE! (Why do I hear the Beatles when I type that?!)     (-:

cropped-10517508_10152184227062021_17293005252762155_n.jpg
Writing by the dock of the bay…

It’s been a crazy year. I recently lost a parent. To make the sting more painful, we were completely estranged from one another for a good many years. I still don’t know how to deal with this. We had a few moments in the end to make peace with one another…but I’ve been a bit lost ever since. I’m also turning 50 in two months. I can’t even fathom that one. 50!? Where did the time go? That question is about as cliche as one can get, but there it is. I still remember clothespinning hockey cards to my bicycle wheel spokes like it was yesterday. I remember button candy and Popeye cigarettes like I’m chewing on them as I type this. All the things that I have done are so close to the surface right now, that it seems implausible that I’ll be hauling my ass over the half a century signpost up ahead in so few days. I am literally giving my head a shake over that one.

SAMSUNG
Muskoka Novel Marathon is a Fundraising Event for Literacy Programs in Simcoe/Muskoka County, Ontario.

I’ve convinced myself lately that I may in fact NOT be a writer. I may have been someone WRITING for these past 13 years…but also, someone who is not a writer. I told myself that the act of writing does not a writer make. I convinced myself that if I kept moving my fingers across my keys, it meant nothing to the validation of the title WRITER. What if I was just some random guy writing? This would mean that if I stopped writing, it would simply be over…I wouldn’t be a writer not writing, I would just be a guy who wrote for a while but stopped. My so-called Crisis of Happiness has outlasted all reason. It’s turning me insane. I think I should officially call it, but there is something in me that wants to own writing…even though I’ve been away from it for so very long. The struggle is real. And I nailed the reasoning for my lack of writing early on in the drought too…a happy me is a non-writing me. I wrote my fucking fingers off for so long because I was lost. Now I’m found…and the crown on the sharp edge of catharsis seems to be the putting away of the keyboard. Maybe. I don’t know. Therein lies the crazy. Even as I type this I am writing but also not writing. Meandering is not writing.

183b611ba18c4a4e75404a48f0579e1f
Stay tuned…I will be imploring you for MONEY. ❤

Speaking of turning 50…remember grade school and how simple it was? Creation was just something you did. You didn’t quibble about the why of art. You just made art, you did art, you were art.You took a sheet of construction paper. You glued macaroni to it. You poked holes in it and threaded pipe cleaners into it. You painted a bit in one corner by blowing through a straw to move a blob of paint around on the page. You glued a feather to another corner. You shot the whole thing up with glitter before sticking a cut-out of your latest Wish item from the Sears catalogue into the centre. You didn’t care. You used all materials available to you. And it looked…well, bloody fantastic. It looked amazing. Art at its finest. High school was even more glorious…your body was not only a wonderland, but also a canvas…a place to explore and discover your individuality. Dress it up how you wished, become a new person every day…transform yourself through the fabrics and accoutrements of your whim.

kc2
Me, hard at work at a previous MNM. This is NOT writing.

High school is over. Life is past the middle point. The leaves are falling. And still I find myself screaming that old refrain into the windblown night.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Always and forever. For as much as I often wanted to remove myself from this mortal coil, I have also always blazed like meteors to stay and bear witness to its light. To stay and be taken into the light of living. It’s such an obscure thing…to lose sight of life, though it be there in your grasp the entire time. Still…there it is. While crawling, I was able to string a golden trail of popcorn in my wake… alighting the path behind me like a dance of fireflies in the night sky. You know, in case I ever had the inclination to return.

Though nothing I write today makes any sense at all, I write it. Because this is the calm before the storm of words I will enter into in two days. My synapses are crashing into one another…words once written are mingling with those not yet born and all these thoughts and feelings and withering notions are colliding. It’s kind of a prep-stage that my pre-marathon brain goes through. Think of NASA testing all the what-not before they have a major launch. These words today are my jet-fuel being shaken, not stirred, as I prepare for the sleepless nights of this, my ninth journey into the darkness of the cavernous heart of the unwritten novel. I am. And I am writing…even if I not be a writer. I will be writing.

And now my ear-worm of the day persists. I try to carve out meaning in this post, but my mind is singing…

And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell
Pulling mussels from a shell

…and because my mind is singing this song, I am thinking of my childhood and how us four boys would go clam digging. No…clams are not mussels, but surely to God they are in the same family, no? I loved watching the suction of the spade as it lifted the water-heavy sand and how the rising bubbles always gave the clams away. I loved the grit of sand you would sometimes get when eating them. I loved the jingle jangle sound the shells would make as you transported dozens of them together…it was the song of my people…the song of the Maritimes. New Brunswick in a bucket. I won’t even go into the noises and the smells and the glow in the kitchen of my paternal grandmother as families converged on her small house and we would have the biggest clam-bake, clam-fry, Clamageddon you could possibly imagine. And look at me now, singing about pulling mussels from a shell…

There needs to be a point to this blog post. Much like there really necessarily needed to be a point to the game played by Pooh and his peeps in which they would throw a stick from the bridge. Poohsticks. It’s a thing, dammit. Even Wiki says so…and if Wiki says so, it’s so…

It is a simple sport which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner.

So the point of Poohsticks is to see which stick passes under the bridge and comes into view first. The point…is to bear witness to the stick and its sacred journey.

20150712_082908.jpg
From a previous Muskoka Novel Marathon -Sue Kenney leads writers on a walk every year…a way to break from our desks and enjoy the company of others. Barefoot, if desired. Open-hearted.

Mayhaps the point of this post is for me to bear witness to a life lived. Mayhaps the point is for me to get my head in the groove so that I can sit the hell down come Friday and stop whining and actually write something cohesive for a change. Mayhaps the point is to bear witness to those who need our help. We should ALL be very uncomfortable…because when there are people living in our midst who cannot read or write perhaps we all need to carry the burden of that travesty. As a society, we have left certain of our members behind us. And society should walk forward together…leaving no one behind. We need to improve upon our idea of who we are. We need to reach out into the darkness behind us and bring forward into the light those who struggle and cannot read the signs. It’s plain. It’s simple. We need literacy…to live in this life, to bear witness to this life, to share this life, to be.

I have two days left to collect sponsorship funds for this year’s MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON. All funds raise go directly to the literacy programs in place in the region. While you’re contemplating mussels and clams and feathers and life and bicycle wheels and popcorn…I implore you to give me a boost, so that I may in turn give a boost to someone who needs help navigating the world of words.

We are WRITERS HELPING READERS. But we can only win the battle against illiteracy with your help. Each of us are charged with bringing in sponsorship donations for the Simcoe/Muskoka YMCA literacy programs. You can donate online by clicking on the pic below and going to the link set up for my donation page for the event. ANY amount would be appreciated! We start writing Friday July 8th at 8pm. And we don’t stop until Monday July 11th at 8pm. Our part in this is to write…for 72 hours. You are the important much needed element in the equation. Your donations will help us writers help readers. Thank you in advance for your generosity. It is greatly appreciated!

Click the pic! Give a little…I know you wanna…

mnm