NaNoWriMo as Therapy

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

National Novel Writing Month — cheaper than therapy and you get stories out of it.

For real, though. It’s been a therapeutic month for me. In other years, when I’ve seriously pursued my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words, I’ve had one large project to focus on, an actual novel. I filled in my word count with a few smaller pieces of original writing, but had a path already started and more or less went down it.

This time, my goal was to finish the first draft of a novel that was already nearly complete and then write a bunch of short stories and essays. I’m never at a loss for ideas. I always have too many works in progress at any given time, to be honest. I knew a couple of the story ideas I wanted to work out, but hadn’t decided on all of them when I began the month.

Now I’ve completed six new short stories and three essays, two of which are memoir. If you ever want to have your brain talk to you about what your issues are, push yourself to write a bunch of new stuff in a short period of time.

Even though my short fiction pieces all had different settings, themes and characters, looking at them now, I can’t help notice a couple of things I keep inserting in my stories over and over. I love for my characters to rescue vulnerable animals. And food insecurity pops up repeatedly. I know some reasons why this might be.

Then the memoirs. Oh my goodness. I most likely will not share them with anyone ever. At least not without severe redactions. The piece I wrote this week presented me with a major psychological breakthrough. I began writing about one incident from high school, planning to include everything I could remember about it and use it in the future to mine for bits and pieces I could include in other projects. Not too far in, I realized there was a kind of sidebar that needed to be explained for context. Well, the sidebar explanation took over and became the core of the memoir.

In fact, the more I wrote, the more I saw how this thing I was explaining had influenced me. (Sorry to be cryptic. I only want to share the effect and not the details at this time.) I kept believing I was nearly at the end of what I had to say about it, and my brain would nudge me. Dig a little deeper. There’s more. I kept putting words on the page until I had a walloping epiphany about the root of many of my triggers and anxieties. There’s a situation from my formative years that has so obviously informed my life and actions and reactions for decades. But I never consciously realized the extent of it until I wrote it out.

Here’s what I will be open about. My anxiety has been spiraling lately. And now I see how my feelings about current life events are largely reactions to similar past life events. That alone has relieved a lot of the angst and was worth the price of admission.

Writing doesn’t have to be for someone else. Even if you don’t ever want to share a single word you put down, take some time to write for yourself. It’s damned good therapy.

On Today’s Walk: Leaf Blower Edition

It certainly was a lovely afternoon for most of a walk around the neighborhood. I remained comfortable, temperature-wise, with jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt layered over a long-sleeved tee.

Many area residents took advantage of the unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday to catch up on yard work, something I’ll be tending to momentarily, myself. My ambulation would have been idyllic but for the existence of leaf blowers.

One of my happy places.

I went through one of my favorite parks, across one of my favorite foot bridges, the site of many fond memories for me over the past fifteen years. It is truly one of my happy places. There’s something about the spot, standing on that bridge, I find renewing. It’s a little pocket of peace. Usually.

It could have been a peaceful afternoon, but for the leaf blower.

Why? Why do leaf blowers even exist? I could hear this one running from 2 1/2 blocks away. Even then, I’m not sure if I was out of range of the noise or if the person using it had turned it off. Considering the length of time it was running, I’m not even sure where they were blowing the leaves to. In fact, I always wonder that.

What is even the purpose of making a huge racket, burning a lot of gas, disrupting the insects that play crucial roles in the natural cycle of life, and disturbing everyone’s afternoon, all so you can blow leaves from one place to another? Any readers who use one, I beg you to stop now.

Later in my walk, I encountered a woman who was clearing fallen leaves from the sidewalk in front of her house by using a push broom. The sound was so pleasant, the shoosh, shoosh, shoosh, blending nicely with a little birdsong and a bicycle bell. It was calming for my nerves, as opposed to jangling.

I don’t want to turn this post too political, but I am looking ahead to the major elections coming up a year from now. I’m pretty sure my vote can be won by any candidate who pledges to ban leaf blowers.

NaNoWriMo Goals, Lagging and Met

Happy cat
This guy is my writing companion, or writing hindrance, depending on his mood.

Once again, I have signed up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m a semi-rebel this year. Instead of attempting to write one single new novel, my goal is to reach 50,000 words in thirty days through a mish mash of projects.

Number one on my NaNo to-do list was finish the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for a year. After that, I hoped to fill out my word count by writing a variety of short stories and essays.

I regret to say, I am lagging badly in word count and might not hit 50,000 this year. I even scheduled time off from my day job for a couple of days at the beginning of the month in order to get ahead early. Then I ended up using part of the time picking up gigs for a side hustle I do, because I need the money. I guess that’s life.

In the good news category, I’m pleased with the goals I have met. I did finish my novel’s first draft. I also have completed one long, rambling memoir/essay, which will need a lot of editing. And I’ve written complete first drafts of two different short fiction stories, both of them turning out better than I had hoped when I started. Even if I don’t “win” the word count, it’s been a great writing month for me.

The novel has a fair amount of dark humor. The short memoir/essay piece has a theme of thumbing one’s nose at “the system.” One of the stories has characters working to save a cat, and the other has characters just trying to eat their lunch, damnitall. So basically, adhering to the “write what you know” adage.

Happy wordsmithing, fellow NaNo participants!

Book Rec Because I Look Fun or Like a Cowgirl

I don’t go out a whole lot. But three friends in one of my writers’ groups all have birthdays in the first half of November. So we decided to have a non-writing brunch yesterday at a locally owned restaurant.

Here’s a fun thing (for book lovers anyway) that will happen if you eat at Cafe Berlin in Columbia, Missouri. Instead of bringing your bill in one of those vinyl folder things, the waiter will tuck it into a used book. I must look like a fun person or a cowgirl, because this was the title presented to me.

Of course, the danger to the restaurant staff in presenting books to avid readers is that we spend time reading before paying our bills. The six women at my table had a few hoots from this before we left.

It’s a quick read, full of wise, pithy bits of advice.
“Avoid becoming emotional over a jackass.”
“Convincing yourself that a bad idea is a good idea is a bad idea.”
You get the idea.

On a final note, how great is the name Gladiola Montana?

p.s. The food was also excellent.

On Today’s Walk: Surreal Edition

No original photos with this post. I was in a slight hurry walking back to work from my dinner break, which is 4:00-5:00 on Mondays. And taking photos just didn’t seem appropriate to the weirdness I encountered.

Two incidents:

First, I passed a middle aged couple, man and woman I’m pretty sure, standing on a corner, both of them looking at a piece of paper the woman held, and speaking quietly to each other. The man was carrying two smallish portable file boxes, the kind with handles on top that you might use at home to store letter-sized documents. In addition to the paper they were studying, the woman held a similar file box and…a gas can?

I’ve seen too many crime shows. My first thought was that they were going somewhere to destroy evidence. Burn the files, you know. Evidence of what, I’m not sure. Or maybe they were giving away some items to a neighbor. But that’s a boring explanation.

On down the block and around the corner from that mystery was a dead squirrel in the middle of the street, obvious road kill. I’d seen it on my way home already and successfully wiped it from my mind. It was a little harder to forget on the way back however, due to the man who was just coming out of his house and struck up a conversation with me about it.

He was late middle aged and badly in need of a hair cut or a hair clip or something, as his bangs fell down over his eyes. He walked right up to me, waving his hand to get my attention. His verbal greeting was, “See that squirrel there? It’s dead.”

I tried not to be too obvious as I shifted my gaze around scouting out the best escape routes should I need to run. I just nodded at him. “Yeah, that’s too bad.”

“Someone killed it. I don’t know why.”

“Looks like it just got hit by a car,” I told him.

He shook his head. “No. Someone killed it deliberately and put it there. I don’t know why someone would do that. Do you?”

“I sure don’t,” I said. “But I’m running late.” I almost added, have a good evening, as I walked on, but stopped myself from saying it. It wouldn’t have been the right thing for the moment.

So that was my 15-minute jaunt through Weirdsville. I’m a little amused and a little shook. And it’s still three days until Halloween.

On Today’s Walk: Artsy Fartsy Edition

I finally decided to try to learn what I’m doing when I’m taking photos. By great fortune, two of my co-workers decided to teach a class on smartphone photography. I didn’t even know I could have gridlines on screen while taking the picture until they pointed out the setting. I thought that was only when editing!

It was a basic, two-session class. Information in a classroom last week and a photo walk this week. When I came home, I deleted approximately 60 pictures, and kept a small handful.

Here are my four favorites:

I don’t know what kind of berries these are. But I like the color.

Unidentified berries

 

Catalpa leaves and seed pods, with tunnel in the background:

Catalpa and tunnel

 

I liked the shadow here:

Plant and shadow

 

Playing with editing. Feeling all noir:

Leaves and seed clusters

 

Thanks for humoring me.

On Today’s Walk: Corn Maze Edition

The 25th wedding anniversary is silver. The 50th is gold. The 33rd is corn maze. Or at least that’s how the spouse and I celebrated, along with our younger son.

Shryocks Farm has a different design each year. This time around it’s the United States. We found all eight checkpoints, persisting through a couple of periods of light rain. I might have slowed our progress a little by stopping to take pictures along the way.

Since each checkpoint had a trivia question related to a well-known U.S. landmark or geographical feature, I wanted to scout by random factoids as they popped into my mind. Plymouth Rock! That’s famous! The Liberty Bell! How far are we from Philadelphia? My two guys mostly ignored me and compared maps, searching in a grid pattern. I won’t give spoilers by saying whose method was more successful or whether any of the sites I mentioned were memorialized on corn maze checkpoints.

 

Fun was had by all. Even the toad, I’m pretty sure.