I use the Orkian curse word because, well, I haven’t been a good Nanoer this November.
Speaking of shazbot, did you realize it was the last thing Bon Scott of AC/DC ever recorded. At the end of Night Prowler, he said, “Shazbot, Nano Nano.” And then, he blinked out. Imagine, telling the world to suck it in Orkian right before you buy the farm. “Goodbye, cruel world.”
But I digress.
In ways, I’m disappointed in myself for not trying to nano more this month. But I also keep in mind that I finished a novel and submitted it to my agent at the beginning of the month. I did my Nano in October…in a huge way. And then I got lazy and justified my laziness with my October accomplishment.
How’s your Nanowrimoing going? Did you have a good story when you died? Enough to base a movie on?
I have been processing a lot. I feel another race to the finish line coming on with one of my perennially unfinished novels. I just have to get there. I have to get to that place where I feel the imperative of finishing . I am the kind of lazy that has to trick itself into action. I can go a whole eight or nine months NOT writing. But when I need to have a novel finished, nothing will stop the drive to get it done. The struggle is real. The hunger is real. I have been mapping the next chapters of my Camino de Santiago novel in my head for the past few weeks. Tweaking. Rearranging. The desk in my head is a hot mess. When I get things in order, I will be able to stream it through my fingers and on to the page. My Nano will happen when it happens.
Still, I like to make myself feel the anxiety and motivation of that November Feeling that NaNoWriMo has become for me. It’s the time of year when I force myself to feel the guilt of not writing, and to contemplate getting my BIC to write. I like the threat that the month carries. It moves me. If not to write, then to at least think about writing.
I’m winning NaNoWriMo. I can feel it. My word-count may tell a different story, but I have yet to figure out a way to count the words in my head. They’re there. They’re real. They matter.
As you continue to reach for that 50,000 word count for your 2016 NaNoWriMo, remember what the NaNo is about…motivating the writer. It serves as a reminder that time is valuable and that all you have to do to write a novel is sit and write. NaNo is about getting shit done. The real goal is to put Bum In Chair. Once you’re there…you can find a habit and carry NaNo with you throughout the year. Don’t make it about 50,000 words…make it about finding a home in your writing life. Make it about being kind to yourself and enjoying your writing life. Make it about telling a story. Make it about becoming friends with your inner-writer. Far too often, I see people talking about NaNo as though it were a war…I hear harsh words and self-hatred and self-shaming. Get over yourself and write. Shut the Negative Nelly up and put your bum in your chair and write.
30 days has November. This means that your daily goal to reach 50,000 words in the month of November is 1,666.666666666 words per day. If you don’t reach that goal every day, ask yourself if you wrote more words than you would have if it had not been NaNoWriMo. Ask yourself if you lived in your writer head that day. Put value on the words you imagined, even if you didn’t get them down. Don’t approach NaNo as though it were your enemy that you had to slay. Chill. Write. Or don’t write. Just be more WRITER.
Have fun. Embrace writing. Let’s be careful out there…
I knew it would happen eventually. He was in his 80s, right. He even announced that he might be ready. Even though he took it back…I still felt the illness of the possibility of losing him. The problem is, I was never able to imagine a world without Leonard Cohen. Today he has left us. Canada has gotten so much smaller…I can hardly see it. Canadiana itself has taken a blow today. Who we are, how we see ourselves. From the Atlantic to the Pacific…we were a Leonard Cohen nation. I don’t know how to do this without him. Who will be our voice? Our teacher? Our Poet? Our Guru?
I have just been flipping through the pages of an old copy of Leonard’s novel THE FAVOURITE GAME. All the highlighted passages have me feeling nostalgic for nostalgia. If I can read them all, take them in once more, I might bring him back to breath.
“The world was being hoaxed by a disciplined melancholy. All the sketches made a virtue of longing. All that was necessary to be loved widely was to publish one’s anxieties. The whole enterprise of art was a calculated display of suffering.” ~ L. Cohen, The Favourite Game
That one stands out quite illuminatingly among the vast sea of highlighted quotes. He is loved for his ability to stab a heart with frank honesty and emotion. He gave us himself in all his struggles, all his worries, all his anxieties.
I told this story before, but I will tell it again…to illustrate the profound effect Leonard Cohen has had on my creative life…
During the 2007 Muskoka Novel Marathon I listened to Cohen’s ANTHEM non-stop. For 48 hours. Looped over and over and over and over again. I wrote my novel SEBASTIAN’S POETin a fugue state…channeling the Canadian icon all the way through the marathon. For those of you who later read SEBASTIAN’S POET, you will know that the only thing that made the main ‘Poet’ character different than Leonard is the character’s name. TEAL LANDEN is Leonard Cohen in every way. It’s blatant and see-through, how much a modeled my character after Leonard. I had always seen Leonard as a father figure…a saviour figure. He is someone who would swoop in and save you. I needed to have his type of character in a story. I wrote the novel because of him.
I was thrilled when Cohen’s manager gave his blessing/permission for me to use the line from ANTHEM that I love so much as an epigraph at the beginning of my novel. THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN. Using it was a nod to what was to follow it…the theft of a character. I also went one step further and had the line tattooed on my forearm…so I could read it whenever I felt the weight of the world dragging me down. I will be reading it a lot in the coming weeks.
I was blessed to have seen Leonard in concert a couple times. I was humbled to be in one of HIS audiences! It was the most diverse audience I had ever been in. Not only were there ten year olds and eighty year olds, and everyone in between, but it seemed every race was represented, every walk of life represented. There were businessmen and bikers, nerds and rockers, grandmothers and drifters, school girls and hooligans. It felt like a cross-section of the world had gathered together in his name. And it overwhelmed me. There was a man in front of me at one concert who was too big to fit into his chair. He had obviously struggled to get there. And he was uncomfortable and in obvious distress before Leonard came on. Once Leonard took to the stage, the gentleman forgot his worries and woes and he leaned down upon the arms of his chair and he began to listen. And then he was moved to tears to be in the presence of the greatness that was Leonard Cohen. It moved me to see him forgetting his distress and losing himself in the song and the voice he had come to see, at a great expense to his own personal well-being and pride.
Then I continued to look about me. The overweight man was not the only one with tears streaming down his face. I soon realized it was a thing. It was a Leonard-Cohen-Concert-Attendee thing. And in realizing it, I fell victim to it. I wept too. We had ensconced ourselves into the Church of Leonard Cohen. And it was beautiful. It left me wordless, breathless, empowered. It left me CANADIAN.
Poems I have written for Leonard Cohen…
POET (FOR LEONARD COHEN)
He is not yet comfortable
in his sparse new threads,
his Emperor’s clothing
borrowed from a man
no longer in need of illusions.
He is tempted by the romance of ellipses
those awkward little word bridges
like lead-bellied butterflies
on either end of his fractured thoughts.
He dreams of Cohen,
spots him dancing
on dimly lit street corners
spouting bravado to passers-by…music to his hibernating
but only when he’s sailing past Mont-real
through the orange glow
of veiny French highways.
refuses to accompany him
past the tunnel’s luminous threshold.
The crusty St. Lawrence–shrewd river mother–
stands guard over its aged Icons,
especially in the realm of dreams
where such beatific creatures
tend to get lost,
caught up in the fancies of dreaming poets
hurling recklessly throughout the darkened night
There’s a monster poet in town,
a laureate linguist, circus clown.
You can hear his heartbeat
in the city’s newfound heat,
the strum of bellows
in his liquid lungs, in flex.
I’ll take communion
within the milky thighs
of his every waking word,
take refuge in the spring
he calls to life
with his fervent golden voice.
There’s a God of light in town,
an ancient thread to beauty gone.
You can see his glow
above the night,
lift your hands into the bright,
and with nothing on your tongue
but a cold and broken hallelujah.
The Farmer’s Wife
(A retelling of an incident in the lives of Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton)
The farmer’s wife,
perhaps with a hint of a smile
on her wind-hardened face,
traces her willowy hands
through the work-stained apron
that covers her solid frame.
She has but one word
for the marauding poets,
stranded by the highway, laughing.
consecutive trips find them wanting…
what with opening the cosmos
with their wakening words,
they drove on in the midnight dark,
not stopping for the needed fuel
that would bring them to their now-forgotten destiny.
Running a hand across her weary brow,
looks to a sky not yet bruised
to the plum of dawn.
“Poets!” she exclaims
with a weariness bred of morning labour.
She walks away from the door,
leaving Layton to lean on its splintery frame,
while Cohen, sitting still in the dew
of his wakening mind, titters,
unable to believe the fortune
of landing, yet again,
on this kind woman’s porch.
Poets traveling onward of a night
can never be trusted
to find their distant shore…
but a beacon in dust,
a work-weary Mother of men,
they will trip upon lightly,
She, a harvest of needful things,
brought forth by the patron saint
resurrected to protect
the flighty of mind,
the absent men of omnipotent vision,
and masters of words un-spun.
Rest In Peace, sweet Prince and King of our Great Nation. You were loved. You were needed. You were appreciated. We will miss your golden voice forever. May you find your rightful place in the Tower of Song. You did well and you did good, Leonard Cohen. I will miss you always.
I have been madly editing my latest novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Having just completed it a week or so ago, it is material that should be fresh in my mind. But it isn’t. Not at all. It’s actually quite frightening to be reading along and have no idea what’s coming up WHEN YOU WROTE THE THING THAT’S COMING UP! Mere days ago. And when I say NO IDEA, that is exactly what I mean. Whole scenes are surprises to me. Entire chapters are foreign and unrecognizable.
From an editing standpoint, this makes part of the process easier. Because as I read, I am not doing that thing writers do when they read what they meant to say instead of what is actually on the page. When you know what’s coming, you can accidentally read a line the way you meant to write it instead of the line you actually wrote…thus perpetuating your error and keeping it in your manuscript.
That’s not happening, because I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’m just over 200 pages in with the edit, on a manuscript that is 308 pages long. I vaguely recognized a few of the scenes. I remember feelings I had while writing some of them, even though I did not actually remember the scene itself. I remember things I contemplated putting into the story, but didn’t. Those are the phantom limbs I spoke of in THIS POST. So, essentially, I am waiting for scenes to happen that will never happen because I didn’t write them. I’m a hot mess.
I will often blame this lack of connection with my writing on the way in which it is written. This floats when I write a novel in 72hrs under duress of getting it completed in a weekend with sleep deprivation, distractions, and intensity. Yeah…then I can say, “What the hell did I write?! I don’t remember a thing.” But the lion’s share of this novel I wrote over the course of an entire month. I can’t use that marathon brain alibi.
Times like this, I have to admit to myself that this not-remembering entire chunks of a novel I just wrote is one of those longtime symptoms of PTSD. It’s actually a bit painful to read your work and not feel familiar with it. Where did I go when I wrote it? Where the hell am I?
This is something I don’t only realize when I’m editing my work. The looming deadline for getting I WILL TELL THE NIGHT back to the Muskoka Novel Marathon people has me fully concentrated on editing this book to the best of my ability…so it’s the thing that is making me think of this NOW.
But if I were being completely honest with myself, I find it very difficult to have conversations about ANY of my published novels. Someone will say something about one of my characters and I have to chase a thread going nowhere inside my head to try to figure out what novel that character is even in. I often come up empty and just pray that as the person continues to speak, a clue will be offered up and I will figure out what novel they’re talking about. Then, I try to piece together a response that sounds halfway intelligent…as though I know what the hell they’re talking about. I don’t.
I guess I’m just destined to be like this. I do have an overall impression of my works, but just in the vaguest possible of ways. I carry something akin to a fractured synopsis around for each of my novels. But if I am required to go outside that gossamer description, everything gets lost in the shadows. I become the unreliable narrator. Unreliable, because I don’t recall. I believe Peter Gabriel said it best…
I don’t remember, I don’t recall I got no memory of anything at all I don’t remember, I don’t recall I got no memory of anything Anything at all” ~ Peter Gabriel, I Don’t Remember
This is not something new to me. I wish it was. I guess this post is just to vent on this truth that has always effected my writing life. It is my coming out. I have a shattered memory processor. It will never be better. As passionate as I am about the process of writing, I’m as attached to my words as I am attached to John Doe and Jane Doe. I don’t know John Doe. I don’t know Jane Doe. They are unfamiliar to me.
I am editing away…discovering my novel for the first time. When I ask what the writer’s motivations were for including this scene or that character, I ask because I want to know. When I think, ‘Whoa! That’s intense! I did NOT see that coming!’ It’s because I didn’t see it coming. I get slightly mildly depressed when I edit. Wanting to be attached to something and realized you’re not…that’s at times a really difficult reality to accept. Because it makes you remember the why of it all. It makes you remember that you are broken and your old wound is never going to go away, no matter how healed you believe yourself to be. Parts of you will always be collateral damage.
If you see me and you would like to ask me about one of my novels, go gentle on me. You will most definitely know more about the novel than I do. I can’t answer many of your questions. It makes me feel small. It makes me feel less. It makes me remember how much I’ll never remember and how much I will always forget.
For me, my memory lies squarely and surely in the FEELINGS I had while I wrote the thing that I wrote. The process. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It’s all about the process for me. It can’t be about anything else. I don’t have that luxury. I’m broken in the places where my stories live. I can tell them, I just can’t retell them…