The trajectory of my protagonist’s life changes at her first great confusion, which happens off-stage, and in the past.
My first great confusion must have happened when I was close to 4. My older sister (by 4 years) was going to spend the night at a friend’s house. Or maybe she was only going to go for a few hours. The amount of time is irrelevant. What matters is that I wanted to go too.To either be with my sister or to do what my sister was doing or to simply take a trip, an adventure. Maybe if I could remember the exact reason I wanted to leave I’d solve some great mystery about my current emotional life. Alas.
My mom was sitting at the kitchen table and I went up to her and communicated somehow that I wanted to leave too. She told me that one day I would be able to go.
So I went into the room my sister and I shared and I grabbed my plastic Fischer Price picnic basket (thick and clumsy and small; yellow vessel; blue handles) and pushed my favorite stuffed bear into it. I didn’t know what else to put in it and so I went back into the kitchen where my mother still sat and I grabbed my dad’s newspaper and I rolled it back up and put it into the basket too. I told my mom I was ready to go. And I was. I thought I had everything I needed.
My mother gently explained to me that I could go someday, but not today. It was S____’s chance to go and play, not mine. I think my first reaction was anger and then jealousy and I cried and screamed and I didn’t think it was fair at all. I thought that because I had prepared and packed I would definitely be able to go. But no. I had misunderstood. —I had misunderstood for no other reason than I simply didn’t understand. There was no preventing it, and yet I also quickly felt embarrassment and shame and this propelled my anger and my jealousy.
I don’t know what all this means except for that it was a moment that was fully emotionally realized almost immediately after it happened. And it happened at such a young age—automatically.
Here’s what on the latest How to Novel post: life is exhausting, people. So take some time to relax where you can.
What I’ve been working on lately:
Take things one day at a time.
Seems easy enough. It’s not. Look closely: how often do you find yourself comparing what you’re doing right now, this very moment, to how you did it last time (yesterday, last week, last year) or to how you should be doing it in order to…fill in the blank.
Listen. Let’s die satisfied. Yeah. That’s right. I said die. I’ll say it again. Ready? Go: fact is, we could die today. So ask yourself: what are you doing today that’s keeping you satisfied with yourself and the work you’ve done? What one small decision can you make that will keep you on track to right now, right here satisfaction.
Bodies break. (Depressing much? At least I didn’t talk about dying again.) Right now, my body is in good working order. Like—total blessing-ville. It’s in my best interest to work it while I’ve got it. Plus there are things called endorphins that we’ve all been reading about in Cosmo or Glamour or some other stupid how-to-be-a-skinny-pretty-girl magazine since the late nineties, and as it turns out, there’s something to this whole endorphins thing.
Course, like I said, I’ve known about them for a while. But how come I continue to work ten hour days thinking, I have to get this done, I have to get this done—knowing that by working ten hour days I’ll probably be too tired to go home and work out the way I’d like. That’s a choice, and it’s not a good one.
Mantra: I’ve done enough today. If I hold myself accountable to creating a healthy, balanced life, then I’m doing myself an injustice by skipping the gym in order to stay at work an extra hour because there’s work to be done.
Fact: there’s always more work to be done. A good boss told me that once when we were talking about how bad I felt about taking a vacation when I knew how busy we were. “It’s never going to be a good time,” she told me. “So take your vacation.”
Take your vacation. Go to the gym. Write a novel! Even if it’s only one sentence a week. (I’m hitting about 3 sentences a week right now. That’s a lie. I did like 50 sentences 3 weeks ago and that’s it. So far!)
I was complaining to a friend recently about how I hadn’t been putting enough time toward it lately because I simply didn’t have the time. He said, “What’s the rush? It’s going to take me a few years to right my novel.”
And, like, yeah. What’s the rush? Beat myself up today and feel like crap because I didn’t write today? Or put in a reasonable work week, move my body, and due weeknight chores (that are not related to writing) so I can have a chore-free weekend to write freely? I choose B.
Also, sometimes instead of going to the gym when you’ve been good about going to the gym lately, skip it. Go to O’Charley’s with a friend. Live wild.
“Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.”
—David Oglivy, Oglivy on Advertising
Reason #214 why I love my day job: it continues to apply to all realms of my life.
As to this quote, today a new character was born: one who will be present through all of book one. She swelled up inside me in a matter of seconds, and I have to say here that it is truly a strange sensation—creating a person who is real as memory, who will never to be born but through the minds of strangers, who I already feel a very strange tenderness for—like she was one of the originals, meant to be part of this cast from the very beginning.
In any case, I was eating lunch outside one of my favorite local co-ops. I was sitting at a picnic table just outside the back door, staring into the distance as I’m prone to do, pen posed above the page without the will to drop, when who I believe to be a Chinese exchange student passed by talking on her cellphone. As she passed by, and speaking in English she said, “Yes, I know, and then I said to Quarter Pounder, what the hell!?” Then she disappeared inside.
Quarter Pounder. What an unfortunate nick name, I thought. And then—well, there she was. Quarter Pounder. I scribbled her name down. Then I scribbled down her real name, and how she’d enter the story.
Her complete backstory is yet to be determined, but her role in the plot is fairly etched in stone.
When the woman came back out of the co-op and passed back by, her conversation had ended. My empty salad box sat right beside me, and so when she called back over her shoulder to me and said, “That looks good!” I couldn’t help but insert some magic into what she could have been referring to.
I actually didn’t write one word while I was away on my vacation.
But I did
- Eat a cannoli in Little Italy
- Have an herbalist in Chinatown blend me a white-bottled, unlabeled concoction
- See the Statue of Liberty with my momma
- Learn about the history of Battery Park
- Walk alongside the suits of Wall Street
- See dissected human bodies in the Body Exhibit
- Walk through Central Park
- Get my first ever pedicure and manicure—a lovely birthday gift from my lovely sister
- See Ice T get into his Law and Order SVU trailer
- Understand the meaning of fizzled friendships
- Watch season 2 of Game of Thrones
- Buy street art from a Mongolian acrylic/water color painter
- Watch Bourne Legacy (again) with my amazing brother
- Drink classic brewskies at one of my favorite lady’s engagement party
- Stand on both side of the Hudson
- Make homemade frenchfries and hush puppies with my momma
- Drank hot coffee with my poppa
- …and more.
Through all of this, I discovered
- More about the complexities of my story’s setting
- More about the character defects of my protagonist
- More about what will happen in the first, second, and third act of book 1—as well as the general narrative arch of book 2
- Themes that will most likely manifest in book 1, which include loyalty, trust, and betrayal; isolation and community; family and friendship; survival; confronting change; what it means to be good, and what it means to be bad, and what sort of line exists between each.
Hoping to meet with my pal tomorrow for our weekly coffeehouse dates; she reads for her dissertation, I stare off into space and occasionally write frenetic bursts of chickenscratch in my moleskin.