Lockdown: Even over rough ground

The virus is wreaking havoc upon the National Football League, which means it’s wreaking havoc upon fantasy football. Despite my dropping off to sleep very late Saturday night — it was Sunday morning not far from dawn — I was up ahead of my 7:30 alarm, set at that ridiculous hour so I could check last-minute NFL COVID news and set my lineups accordingly. In this case, “accordingly” meant “in a mad panic.”

Got back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 10:30 or so. I hadn’t made my mind up about going to the office, but as the morning went on I kept thinking of things that would be better done there. I took my time about it, and headed down at about 1:00. Picked up a phone-ahead order at Zippy’s. A custard pie and a Surf Pac. They bring it to your car.

I got out at about 6:00 after a decent amount of work. Came home, did a few chores, watched a little football and a little of A Simple Favor with the Paul Fieg commentary, took a short nap, and got to writing with the NaNoWriMo Skype people. Several of us have gone over the finish line, so there was a lot of congratulations and cheering the others on.

Since I finally worked through the horribly flawed climax, I got to write the resolution, which is much more fun. With one day left I have a conclusion and some loose ends to attend to, and then I’m putting it all aside until January so I can work on other personal writing projects.

I’ve written for at least a couple of hours every night for a month. Might as well ride that wave and take care of some long-neglected things on my to-write list.

This is the last of the NaNoWriMo pep talks I read that one night. Sue Grafton in 2009. This one makes me a little sad because she died last year.

Believe me, getting from beginning to middle to end is an incredible accomplishment in itself! Literary quality is in the eye of the beholder and who’s to say your novel won’t be right up there among the greats? All you have to do is work. All you have to do is push. Focus on the job at hand. Ignore the urge to second-guess yourself. This is not the time for introspection; it’s a time for charging on. Believe in yourself. Be determined to keep the promises you made when you first began. Your commitment to do this will see you through, even over rough ground.

So. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and write. You said you would do this so nod your head and say, “I will do this. I will do this. I will do this.” And then do this.

She wrote twenty-five novels about the same character, most of them good, a few of them outstanding, and a few of them terrible. I’d take that success rate.

I kind of skipped breakfast. Lunch and dinner were the Surf Pac, and dessert was a slice of the custard pie. Yes, I’ve been getting takeout a lot lately. Not sure what’s come over me, but I’m going to ride it for now. I did make that lovely two quarts of turkey broth, and that counts as cooking. I just haven’t actually dined on it yet.

Sunday texts included Jennifer, who sent me a photo of some beautiful box-office-sized movie poster art she framed. Harry Potter films. Yeah I have cool friends. I sent Sharon a text to tell her where Jeff’s business is so her boy could find it Monday for his job application.

Ali finished watching Ted Lasso so we spent a little bit of time chatting about that. Crush Girl and I texted a very little about her Thanksgiving.

I’m grateful the end of the month draweth nigh. Lately a month ends and I can’t believe it — where is all the time going and what have I to show for it? But this month I believe the month is over and although I’m not exactly looking forward to December, which I imagine is going to be a bit of a downer, I’m glad to be done with another NaNoWriMo.

Don’t go through the holidays disconnected. Leave a comment and I’ll send you contact deets. You can tether yourself to me as we fling through the deep space of pandemic holidays. Yikes.

Lockdown: A pirate looks at 50 (thousand words)

I intended not to stay in bed all Saturday morning, scheduling myself for an afternoon nap if I needed one. So I got up around eleven, I think, to read the news and do some puzzles. I think there was a nap but I honestly don’t remember. The day passed idly, quietly, and quickly.

I watched my Blu-Ray of A Simple Favor, that Paul Feig film with Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, and Henry Golding. I reviewed it here. I had it in my Amazon cart for months and one day it came down in price to about a third the box office price, so I pulled the trigger a month or so ago.

I only saw the film a couple of years ago but Saturday almost felt like it was the first time. I remembered a couple of details and a couple of surprises, but the general arc of the story felt new. I appreciated that, and look forward to a few more screenings. This disc has a ton of extras, including three commentary tracks. I’m about a third of the way into the Paul Feig commentary, but of course the one I really want to get to is the Kendrick-Lively commentary.

I had a few chores to take care of, easy ones but time-consuming, including straining my turkey broth and putting it in storage containers. I don’t have a freezer for the broth, so I’m going to have to use it this week. Turkey stuff doesn’t last as long in the fridge as you’d think.

Did some personal writing as I watched the evening news, then met with the NaNoWriMo Skype to try and close the loop of my story. It was difficult. I don’t know how to wite the climax of a mystery, and I was kind of a wimp. I finally declared a word war, just to try and power my way through, and although it’s messy as heck and will need major, major revision, the story does break through the climax, so Sunday night and Monday night I just have to wrap it up. I’m expecting the resolution to be much easier than the climax.

My problem is that a climax in a mystery like this needs to have some action, and action is really my weakest thing. I’m a lot like Kevin Smith: I’d much rather write about people hanging out and conversing. It’s too bad it just doesn’t work at the apex of the narrative mystery arc.

Another problem: My character is a forty-something-year-old teacher, a small geeky woman who plays video games and listens to heavy metal. I absolutely do not want the climax to involve someone else coming to her rescue, but she’s no Kinsey Milhone. Kinsey is a former cop, so she was trained in hand-to-hand, and of course she carries a gun. Her series is hard-boiled. Cozy mysteries are soft-boiled (I didn’t make this terminology up; that’s what they call them), so there isn’t supposed to be much shooting for violence. Violenct acts occur away from the narrative.

If I’m going to write a female heroine in this story, as I am determined to do, I have to make her the agent of her success, but if I want to make it believable, she has to use her brains and somehow overcome the person threatening her life.

I’m not smart enough to think of a way for her to do it.

But I wrote something involving a pair of scissors and not too much personal injury. Terribly, I then had her running away to escape while the police move in. This doesn’t satisfy me. I need her to actually have the situation mostly under control by the time the police arrive.

In Pitch Perfect 3, Fat Amy is trained in hand-to-hand combat, but in addition to out-fighting her opponent, she also throws a handful of wasabi powder in his face. I need something like that. And then maybe a hit on the head with a heavy object.

Too cliche? Maybe.

I actually have another idea involving some bonsai wire, and I thought I was going to write that, but in the frenzy of getting words on the page, the bad guy forces himself on the heroine and she plays along, making out with him before she uses the scissors. I couldn’t think of a way for her to get the bonsai wire around his throat while they’re in the kissing position. I’ll work it out. I think the bonsai wire is really my best bet here, and not as cliche in this genre.

Oh, you know what might make more sense? Those super flexible saws on wires. I just Google “finger saw” and it took me to what I wanted: wire saw. That would totally be appropriate for the setting.

See? Journaling helps with all kinds of different thought activities.

Now I kind of can’t wait to do a revision. In January.

This is from Piers Anthony’s 2008 NaNoWriMo pep talk:

Here’s a secret: fictive text doesn’t necessary flow easily. Most of the time it’s more like cutting a highway through a mountain. You just have to keep working with your pick, chipping away at the rock, making slow progress. It may not be pretty at first. Prettiness doesn’t come until later, at the polishing stage, which is outside your month. You just have to get it done by brute force if necessary. So maybe your ongoing story isn’t very original. That’s okay, for this. Just get it done. Originality can be more in the eye of the reader than in any objective assessment.

You can make it from a standing start, even from a foolish daydream when you should have been paying attention to the Pep Talk. You will want to try for a bit more quality, of course, and maybe a spot of realism. Garner an Idea, assemble some Characters, find a suitable place to start, and turn them loose in your imagination. Now go home and start your engines!

His pep talk is actually not nearly as inspiring as the others I looked at that night, but for a time in the 80s he had to be the most prolific writer of speculative ficion in the world, publishing three novels a year, almost all best-sellers. He always had one novel in the first-drafting phase, one in revision, and one in proofs, so every four months, a new Piers Anthony novel.

Yes, of course he sacrificed quality for quantity, as almost any of his fans will tell you, and the beginnings of his series were always great, with subsequent novels in every series not as good as the ones before. But his good stuff is great, and I would happily publish four bad novels if it meant two very good ones as well.

He uses the same metaphor Katherine Paterson uses in her pep talk. The slab of stone. Let these words on this date be a reminder to me that when NaNoWriMo organizers ask me, the esteemed and favorite novelist of teens and middle-aged female math teachers alike, to write a pep talk, I will use the Great Pacific Garbage Patch metaphor.

Breakfast was cold pizza. A very late lunch was turkey sliders. A very late dinner was the last of the cold pizza. In between I had a few clementines, a small square of lemongrass chocolate, an impromptu cocktail with Maker’s Mark, vanilla extract, simple syrup, and bitters with lots of ice, and a few sips of turkey broth, which came out wondefully.

I texted Ali to remind her to check out Ted Lasso, which led to a long conversation about why and how, but she watched the first episode for free and then binged the rest. I’m happy I’ve gotten at least one person hooked on it.

I also texted Penny a reminder and haven’t heard back. I got one text from Crush Girl responding to something I said a few days before. She’s bee a little quiet this weekend. I’m hoping it means she’s having a blast.

I’m having a good weekend but I may take a few days of vacation leading up to Christmas. Just don’t really feel like working my butt off as this crappy year ends.

Leave a comment if you need more connection in the crappy days of this crappy pandemic. Don’t be alone.

Lockdown: Be curious, not judgmental

I woke up a few times Friday morning after putting myself to bed at just before sunrise. Still managed to get some decent sleep. I guess you can when you don’t sweat getting up at a certain time. I think I crawled out of bed at half past noon.

Did a little bit of writing. Ate cold pizza for breakfast-lunch. Watched a bunch of Ted Lasso episodes again. Laughed some more. Cried some more. Go watch it, will you?

Thursday night I put my half of the turkey carcass in the IP and used it as a slow cooker for the first time. Ran it for twelve hours, then let it rest, then ran it for eight more on Friday night. The letting it rest isn’t part of the process. I should have just let it go all that time. One cooking blogger I looked at said she leaves the carcass in the slow cooker on low for two days.

I’ve got my own method, of course, but it was my first time using the IP for turkey broth, and I wanted to see if there were any cautions. There weren’t, as far as I could tell.

I took it about as easy Friday as I ever take it, spending most the day lounging in bed or watching Ted Lasso. I did finally take Pitch Perfect 3 out of my DVD player, but didn’t put anything else in. I figured I’ll find something later. I just wanted to get out of my Pitch Perfect rut.

Readers of this space who are keeping close track will notice I didn’t go to the laundry this week. With the stress of Thanksgiving and work, plus NaNoWriMo, I figured this would be a good time to skip a week. I did have to get drinking water, so around eight in the evening I drove to the gas station convenience store on the corner, across the street from Rainbow’s, and filled four gallon jugs. I may go back and fill a few more before my next laundry night.

The NaNoWriMo Skype was low-key, but the others wrote well. I took really long getting started and I worked slowly. I was at the climax of my story and I don’t know how to write the climax of a mystery. We did a few word wars and I made my characters keep going and at about 11:00, I went over the 50,000 word mark. Another NaNo project completed.

Not completed by a mile, though. Still, it feels good.

For dinner I had my entire half of the Chinese chicken salad from the Thanksgiving meal. It wasn’t going to last another day, so I just focused on that. It’s a dish I don’t have very often. I can’t even remember when I last had it, but it was really good. I love that dressing, whatever it is, and think I would like to adapt it for my next tofu salad. Thankfully, there are at least two or three recipes in the HBA cookbook.

Ali and I texted quite a bit in between my short naps. She wanted some advice on some photos she was about to share. That was a fun conversation. Sharon’s BF is going to apply for a job with one of my friends, so I was the intermediary, getting info from the friend and sending it to Sharon. I told Sharon to make sure the BF mentions Cheap Trick during the interview. Jeff’s favorite band.

I finally called it a night (sort of) at about three in the morning, then re-watched the final two episodes of Ted Lasso and dropped off to sleep around six in the morning. The timing there is weird because that’s not even two hours of video, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down.

An unremarkable day, aside from completing another NaNoWriMo project. I’ll take it.

Leave a comment if you want someone to connect with in these cold gray days of doing nothing. I may not be as useful to you as I was to Ali and Sharon, but I can try.

Lockdown: A taste of brine and the presence of the rocking, slopping bluegraygreen

A little behind again. I’m writing about Thanksgiving Day on early Saturday morning. It’s three minutes to eleven, practically the break of dawn.

I’m also listening to Mother Love Bone’s Apple LP (1990), maybe my favorite album from the 90s Seattle scene. If you were once into the Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam , Nirvana thing and haven’t checked it out, I recommend it highly. All these bands had great frontmen — Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain — but Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood might have been the best. He died a few days before Apple, the band’s debut album, was scheduled for release, and that was the end before the beginning. Terrible stuff.

Yeah, this means of the five bands I just named, four lead singers are dead.

I slept in on Thursday, as everyone should. Forced myself up at 10:30 because I had a noon pickup for the Thanksgiving dinner I ordered from Jolene’s Market. It took me all that time and then some to get ready. I really didn’t want to be out and about. I wanted to be sprawled in my bed with the football games on in the next room while I drifted into and out of consciousness.

I got to Jolene’s at quarter to one (sign-ups were spaced an hour apart, so I thought I’d let the eager twelve o’clockers get there first, then get my stuff ahead of the one o’clockers. None of it really mattered because they were backed up like crazy, causing a bit of a jam on Beretania just past Mauna Kea. I parked at the curb in a no-parking zone (with several others) and slithered my way past far too many people inside the restaurant to be informed that it would be a while. They were waiting on my mashed potatoes.

It was about a forty-five minute wait, which didn’t bug me. Being in a rush on Thanksgiving Day ruins the day, you know? I didn’t feel comfortable at all waiting inside, though, so I was out in the very warm sun. Could have been raining, though, so whatever. They gave us pagers to let us know when we could pick up our stuff, and now that I think of it, I would much have preferred they text me on my phone. You’re tethered to a short radius with those pagers. I could have wandered Chinatown Cultural Plaza, or Chinatown, or just up and down River Street if not for the pager. I’m definitely going to suggest this to them for next year when I email them to let them know what a great meal it was.

It was a nineteen-pound roast turkey with a ridiculous amount of food for sides. Mashed potatoes, Chinese chicken salad, rolls, gravy, chow mein, stuffing, and a whole custard pie. I took the whole thing to my parents’ so we could split it up. I would much rather have split it at my place then taken them half, but I didn’t want them to feel they were getting my leftovers. So we unrapped it all on their dining table and split the food up, all wearing masks, and chatted for a while. I was there too long, but I was also there so they felt like we had something like a Thanksgiving, so I think maybe it was worth it. It won’t have been if one of them gets sick, though.

I took everything home except the pie. I’ve been eating way too much pie lately, so I left them the whole thing.

On my way to my folks’, I was struck by how few cars there were on the roads. This made me think maybe the beach was sparsely populated, so I changed quickly and zoomed off to Ala Moana. Parking seemed a bit scant, but holy cow. I must have had great timing because the best parking spot, the one I seldom get even when I get there at five in the morning, was wide open.

I shuddered at the sight of volleyball players playing on the sand courts, but slithered (again) my way through people on the beach and dove into the water, which I had practically to myself at four o’clock in the afternoon and it was beautiful and glorious and refreshing and well with my soul.

I could feel the lack of exercise in every part of my body, so I went about half my accustomed distance, but I alternately took it very slowly and moderately quickly, then floated for a bit and dove for a bit and mostly just really enjoyed being salty and wet. Geez. By the time I got out of the water, people were leaving, so I considered hanging out for a while and then diving back in for one last soak, but I was a little worried about the turkey I left on my table. I put it in my cooler to keep it away from critters, but I was still concerned ants would find a way in.

Stopped at a local liquor store for a 24-ounce Corona and a bottle of Maker’s Mark, which I’d never had. Let me tell you, the stuff is very popular, and it smells totally delicious, but it has a pretty gross finish lingering for days. I’m going to try it in mixed drinks but I have a feeling I’ll just be passing the bottle to someone else. I just took another whiff and mmmm. I’m hoping it mixes better than it goes down neat or straight (yeah, I tried it both ways).

My half turkey was totally fine, so I made myself a ridiculous plate of food, went to town until I was stuffed while I read the news, and took a short nap.

The NaNoWriMo Skype was attended by only three or four of us, but we wrote. I struggled at first, then right before midnight something clicked and I finished with 2500+ words. Decent words.

Collapsed into bed at about half past five in the morning.

I got a Happy Thanksgiving greeting from Crush Girl when I came out of the ocean. That was nice. I also got Thanksgiving greetings from Jennifer and Vicky, then sent one to my sister. My uncle and I traded a couple of DMs in IG.

I had cold pizza for breakfast. It didn’t sit well at all, and I had some bad acid reflux. It’s one reason I didn’t dive into my Thanksgiving dinner until after the beach. I just wasn’t in the mood to chase that with anything. Dinner was all that. I didn’t even go for a late-night plate of seconds, just had a couple of clementines for a late dessert.

It was a good day, and I’m glad I was forced to get out of bed and over to my parents’ house. This is just how it’s like for me, most of the time, no matter who I’m supposed to see. I have to make myself go, and then I have a nice time. You’d think that would make it easier the next time, but it never does.

I’m going to throw a few things into a glass with ice and some Maker’s, and toast to the well-being of us all in these waning days of this crappy year. I’m thankful for my family’s continued good health and for digital connectedness with friends and crushes. If you need some of that, leave a comment and I’ll give you my contact details. Don’t drift untethered through a pandemic daze.

Friday 5: Pandemic daze

From here.

early in the lockdown, i thought skulls were an appropriate mask theme. i own several skulls masks.
  1. Where do you get most of your pandemic-related news?
    I read Google News a couple of times a day, clicking only links to sources I believe in. I subscribe to the online editions of the Washington Post and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, ‘though for local news on the pandemic, I’m more likely to go to KITV 4 News. The Star-Ad’s mobile app is kind of a pain to deal with.
  2. How do you feel about your local government’s leadership during this pandemic?
    I know a lot of my fellow residents will disagree, but on the whole I think it has been almost as good as could be expected. Our governer is a terrible communicator, yet overall, we erred on the side of safety, and I’m here for it. It helps that our lieutenant governor is a physician, and his daily lectures kind of gave me more confidence that at least informed knowledge was in the decision-making room. The mayor’s gotten all kinds of hate, and I get it, but this is an unusual city. Our geography is the reason for the economy, and our geography is one reason we’ve been able to keep numbers comparatively low. We have laws about bringing in non-native pests, and they can seem crazy restrictive, but we also have never had an instance of rabies on this island. You wanna mess with that? I don’t. I say this because the seeming dick-ness of the mayor may actually have been necessary. He just didn’t do a great job of communicating it well, although his “no peaches on beaches” was pretty brilliant.
  3. What does your favorite mask look like, and about how many masks have you accumulated?
    I think I have close to twenty. I like most of them quite a bit, but the ones I’ve worn the most are my two Las Vegas Raiders masks (one black with white print; the other white with black print), my Oakland Atlhetics Masks, and my My Neighbor Totoro mask. I like the designs but what really does it for me is the way they fit, and the ease with which they slip on.
  4. Where have you most often had takeout during this pandemic?
    Counting drive-throughs, it’s undoubtedly McD’s, which I’ve gone to at least once a week, but more like twice a week, since this lockdown began. I do my laundry in a laundromat each week, and McD’s has been my distraction of choice while my clothes do their tumbling dance at 3:00 in the morning. Not counting drive-throughs, it’s probably Rainbow Drive-In because it’s super close to home.
  5. What new interests, skills, or hobbies have you picked up since mid-March?
    I’ve always loved cooking, but this stupid lockdown has sent me seeking new dishes and new methods, which has been interesting. I’ve also set up two new blogs which I haven’t begun posting to yet because who has time for that anymore? They may never launch. They were sort of spontaneous what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-day decisions. But I’ll announce them here if I do kick them into motion.
this was advertised as a darth vader mask, but it really doesn’t look like vader to me. reminds me of the album cover for fates warning’s The Spectre Within album, which is even better.

Lockdown: The liveness of story

Truth. This is from my stats page at NaNoWriMo.org.

I slept decently Tuesday night. I think I got five solid, uninterrupted hours after a bit of a rough start. So Wednesday’s workday should have been super productive, but it wasn’t.

Darn it. I’m going to have to put in a few hours over the long weekend. As I always do during this long weekend. I did the proofreading on the staff newsletter, which I think came out great this time. Lots of good contributions from different corners of the company. But I did the hard part early in the week, so the proofreading was cake.

Took a nap after work, then watched Pitch Perfect 3 again for reasons I can’t remember.

The NaNoWriMo Skype got going early. I jumped in to chat but not to write. Writing didn’t come until later, and it was a bit of a struggle. I didn’t really get going until everyone else left, and hit 1667 words just past midnight. That’s exactly the daily average you have to hit in order to cross the 50K line on the 30th of the month. Happily, I’m comfortably ahead of that pace, so 1667 was just fine with me.

This is from the 2009 NaNoWriMo pep talk from Robin McKinley. Her novel, The Hero and the Crown, is one of the less-talked-about Newbery winners (1985) but it is quite good. Real fantasy for young adults the way it should be written. This makes the second pep talk from a Newbery laureate I read that one evening. Katherine Paterson was the first, and she’s one of a tiny number of writers to win it twice.

…every writer is different as every human being is different, one from another. (Some writers make their deadlines. Some writers know where they’re going. Some writers don’t mind not knowing where they’re going.) But the chief thing I would like to get over to you, as you look to me to say something inspiring about this maniac—I mean, this energizing and felicitious project to write a first draft of a novel in a month, is the liveness of Story, and therefore the unpredictability inherent in writing any story down.

You need that live, tensile, surprising strength between you and the story you’re trying to write, or it’ll die on the page. But this doesn’t make it easier. It makes it harder. It’s more exciting—more thrilling, more appalling: on good days you’ll fly higher than a peregrine cruising for dinner, on bad days someone will have to scrape you off the floor with a spatula. This is what writing is like. You have to write on through the highs and lows, the careens and the meditations of your stories. And that’s what you’re here for now: to write. Go for it. Good luck.

If I can do these impossible things, you can do the impossible thing of writing the first draft of your novel in a month. It’s a first draft! It does not have to be a thing of beauty! Don’t worry about the spelling (or the consistency)! Just write it. I bet you can even get to the end, and find out what it is.

And may you have an absolutely brilliant time doing it. Writing can be the worst, and often is—but it can also be the best. May you come out of that month knowing what you want to do next, and eager to keep going. Try to remember the peregrine days on the days that your husband/wife/roommate/dog needs steel wool to get you off the floor. And keep writing: the only way you can learn how your stories work is by letting them tell you. By putting live words together.

I really like the first part because I’m learning more, each time I read one of these, that every writer is different. But I also like the “liveness of Story” and the “unpredictability inherent in writing any story down.”

In my NaNo project, a cozy mystery set in a public Honolulu high school, I didn’t know who the killer was until I made my character sing an impromptu song about the people she worked with and why each of these people was the custodian’s murderer. It was silly and spontaneous and fun, and in the middle of writing my character doing it, I knew who the killer was.

I didn’t exactly know why, and as I approach my final few thousand words I still don’t quite know, although I’ve kind of mapped it out in my brain. I’m eager for the characters to figure it out so they can tell me.

I skipped breakfast, mostly because I spent most of the morning trying to decide what I wanted to eat. Then it was sorta too late for even me to call it breakfast. Around 1:30 I settled on pizza delivery. It’s only the second time since lockdown began in mid-March I’ve ordered pizza. It’s kind of strange; you’d think it would be a regular go-to, but I think the price turns me off, even on sale days, which this was. You pay the $5 delivery fee and then you tip the driver some amount expressing your gratitude for contactless delivery and businesses staying open, and it adds up to more than you thought you were paying.

I ate too much, too, which is another pizza problem. So I skipped dinner but by the time I was finished noveling, I was hungry again so I had a couple more slices for a midnight snack. Gave me incredible heartburn. Served me right, I guess.

I also had a late slice of pumpkin-custard pie, not because I was hungry for it (I wasn’t) but because I needed to clear room in my fridge.

I got a text from Sylvia. It was a photo of one of two Muzak control knobs in our office. The office is in the Interstate Building, which used to be the First Interstate Building, the home of First Interstate Bank. Our office is in the basement, and it includes two vaults (one for document storage, one for the server room) and other reminders that it was once a bank. The Muzak dials are others. Sylvia only started working in this main office a few weeks ago so she’d never seen them. She was properly amused. Although why she thought I wouldn’t have seen them is a mystery. They’re not in hiding or anything. Also, they don’t do anything because why would we subscribe to Muzak?

A friend of mine has a fancy cookie business in Texas, even though her day job is as a software engineer, and she posted some cookies related to Crush Girl’s favorite TV program, so I texted Crush Girl the link. She was appropriately impressed. Later, she texted me to tell me this thing she was working on for her Thanksgiving dinner had turned out great. We shared some thoughts about it and it inspired a few ideas in me. Good conversation.

That was it. Slow texting day. Slow writing day. Slow work day. But at least there were the Barden Bellas, I guess. And pizza.

Daily reminder to leave a comment if you need someone to connect with. I’m here for it. DMs, IMs, or texts. Let’s go.

Lockdown: Be a goldfish

I woke up several times Monday night into Tuesday morning. Got rolling a little later than planned but it was fine. Tried to work on two stories concurrently (it works sometimes), then had a couple of short meetings, one on Zoom and one on the phone. One of the Maui newspapers adapted one of my donor stories and ran it Tuesday, and you can see how the priorities of a local newspaper and a development writer are different. The story used some quotes I got from a scholarship recipient, so I emailed the student with the link, to let her know the story out.

I rewatched a few episodes of Ted Lasso, which you should totally see if you haven’t, whether or not you have an Apple TV+ subscription. I ordered a Ted Lasso t-shirt on Amazon and can’t wait to get it in the mail.

The NaNo Skype chat was very chatty for the first hour. Most of us didn’t start writing until ten, and I didn’t really get started until half an hour later. I did somehow put 2120 words together, leaving me slightly more than 5000 words from the goal. I can’t wait until this is over.

This is from Rainbow Rowell’s NaNoWriMo pep talk in 2013. I’d already read this one but I have it bookmarked because it reminds me of a few things about my own writing. As I’ve said, this pep talk actually convinced me to participate in 2013 when I wasn’t feeling it.

I was very skeptical about NaNoWriMo at first.

It seemed like something that amateur writers would do. Or young writers. People who needed to be tricked into finishing their books. I’d already written two books by October 2011, and sold them to publishers, and I couldn’t imagine writing either of them—or anything good—in a month.

That’s not writing, I thought, that’s just piling up words.

But then I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a pile of 50,000 words.

What I noticed right away was how easy it was for me to pick up. One of my challenges as an author is staying inside the fictional world I’m creating. I have to write in blocks (at least four hours at a time, at least four days in a row) to make any progress. During NaNoWriMo, I never left the world of the book long enough to lose momentum.

I stayed immersed in the story all month long, and that made everything come so much smoother than usual. I got a much quicker grasp on the main characters and their voices. The plotlines shot forward…

I mean, I still didn’t know whether what I’d written was any good. (I hadn’t even read it all in one piece!) But I was so excited about the novel, I wanted to write every day. And even when I wasn’t writing, my brain was still working on the story.

So… I didn’t actually finish my book that November. I met the word goal, but was only about halfway done with Fangirl. I continued working on it through January, then did a pretty heavy rewrite the next spring. Here’s something that really shocked me during my revisions: I kept almost every word I wrote during NaNoWriMo.

That 50,000-word pile I made wasn’t a mess at all. It’s some of the bravest writing I’ve ever done, and it includes my all-time favorite character, a guy I think I would’ve second-guessed to death under normal circumstances. NaNoWriMo helped me push past so many of my doubts and insecurities and bad habits. And I think that’s partly why I love Fangirl so much now—because I remember how swept away I felt when I was writing it.

Pretty neat trick.


That pile of 50,000 words is one thing. That flow of thoughts and ideas is another, and that’s what does it for me. Getting them on (figurative) paper so they’re not just a bunch of disjointed ideas among hundreds floating around in my head. Flinging them against the page to see how they look and read and feel so I can get a sense of whether there’s a novel in there or not is the real value for me.

Most of the time they just stay there, and that’s okay. I flung it, it stuck, and I realized it was a good idea but not enough for a novel. That’s going to happen. Better languishing on the page than teasing me in my brain.

I went to Taco Bell for breakfast again. It was the third time in a week, I think, and I’ve enjoyed it more each time. Skipped lunch but ate like a madman at dinner. I made angel hair pasta, dressing half with the remainder of my bagna càuda and half with some leftover jarred sauce (with red pepper flakes, brown sugar, garlic flakes, and tequila). I ate it before the Skype, saving the leftovers for Wednesday, but then I ate the leftovers when I was done writing. Way too much food.

Vicky and I continued our conversation about the products in her MLM line, via text. Jennifer sent me some great photos of a pizza she made. It’s giving me ideas. Crush Girl texted me a few questions about alcohol for some drinks she was making for a thing. Why she thought I’d know the answers is kind of a mystery, but, um. I did know the answers.

Not much of a day, but it’s the Tuesday before a very long weekend so it usually isn’t.

Hit me up in comments if you don’t have enough connectivity in these here times. It’s going to be a long winter.

Lockdown: L & L & L & L & L & L

I actually got nearly four and a half hours of good, hard sleep Sunday night, probably because I was so, so tired when I finally crashed at five in the morning. It wasn’t enough, but ah well. The day had begun and it demanded seizing.

I worked on this info sheet that’s been a lot more difficult than I expected. It took far too large a chunk of my day, and it was late and I was annoyed with myself. Normally I’m good at just making up stuff I don’t know, and then I send it to people and they correct me while leaving my organization and structure intact. It’s not a bad way to work when I’m out of my realm. I just didn’t like my organization and structure most of the day. Ultimately (and by this I mean seven in the evening) I just put the headers I had in mind and sentences like “something in here about honoring loved ones” and “quote from UH president or maybe an endowed professor.”

Then the joint proposal for three funds. This was in second draft stages so it was just a lot of slow, tediuous detail-attending-to. I think it came out okay. I can’t decide if the three different voices (three development officers each wrote a part) is cool or if it’s sloppy editing on my part. I mailed it at nine, just in time for the NaNo Skype.

Without the forced structure my days take in response to waking up for sunrise swims, I find myself shifting into vampire mode again. I just didn’t realize it until sometime Monday. I’m trying to get up and get started at my usual time, but I’m working later and getting to bed much later. Can’t keep this up.

The NaNo Skype session was a struggle for me. While the company was great, I mostly let the others hammer out their words while I struggled to stay awake. I decided I needed a break, needed to do a few chores to get my blood flowing and my brain thinking about other things.

I filled the trash bin, mostly, with a lot of stuff that’s been waiting ages to be tossed. Worked on a few other things and finally sat down to write every one of the other had already signed off. One of them (the one Skyping from Korea) signed back in and we kept each other company as we worked. I wrung 1700 words out of my body and called it a night.

This is from Katherine Paterson’s pep talk for NaNoWriMo participants in 2008. I’m surprised I never read this one because she’s one of my favorite.

I live in Barre, Vermont which calls itself the “Granite Capital of the World.” Outside our town are enormous quarries, so when I speak in local schools every child has a mental picture of a granite quarry. “You know how hard it is to get granite out of the quarry,” I say. “You have to carefully score the rock and put the explosive in to make the great granite block break loose from the face of the stone. Then you have to attach the block to the chains so that the cranes can lift it slowly out of the hole and put it on the waiting truck. That’s the first draft. It’s hard, dangerous work, and when you’ve finished, all you’ve really got is a block of stone. But now you have something now to work on. Now you can take your block down to the shed to carve and polish it and turn it into something of beauty. That’s revision.”

But first you’ve got to get that block of granite out of the earth, friends. You won’t have anything to make beautiful until you do that. Now go back to work. That means you too, Katherine.

I thought it was a nice metaphor, but I imagine a block of granite is much neater and cleaner than the stuff I end each November with. You know that floating garbage patch in the Pacific? My 50,000 words are more like that.

This is Kevin Kwan’s pep talk in 2017. It’s not the most inspiring of the pep talks I looked at but it has a couple of good moments.

This is what I did. I went home and turned on my email auto-responder. The next morning, I got up at 7:00am, made a cup of tea, and sat down at my computer. I did not turn on my phone or load my emails. I told myself I would check my messages and emails only after 4:00pm, and even then I would only respond to emergencies. And then I wrote. Or on some bad days, I at least tried to. I wrote and wrote from morning to late at night and paced around my apartment and screamed and cried and laughed and kept on doing it for thirty days straight. I didn’t shave for a month, I did not bathe sometimes for three days in a row, I did not see any of my friends, and I ordered way too much bad Chinese takeout. But at the end of those thirty days I had somehow, miraculously, finished my novel. And I had written far more than I had even intended to—my final draft came in at a little over 140,000 words, and yes, my agent kept her word, found an amazing publisher, and a year later Crazy Rich Asians was published.

I collapsed without putting myself properly to bed, then got up at about three and did it correctly. I think I got four decent hours of sleep before the alarm went off.

I picked up all three meals from L&L for reasons I can’t remember. I had a loco moco for breakfast, then chicken katsu and rice for lunch and dinner. Too much food. I had leftovers.

Sharon texted me to ask for help with some work stuff I couldn’t help her with. It led to some talk about our weekends. Sylvia and I chatted about one of our new coworkers and how crazy Sylvia’s work schedule is. It’s pretty demanding. Vicky and I talked a little more about the product she sells with her MLM. Ali sent me a photo and we chatted a little. Crush Girl and I texted a little about some takeout she had over the weekend. I’ve actually had some takeout from the same place, so we compared notes. Susannah texted to encourage me in the last week of NaNoWriMo. She’s done it, so she knows what it’s like.

Honestly, I can’t wait until it’s over. I’m pleased about producing this work, and I think I have something I can really turn into a novel. But geez I need that time for, ugh. Probably wasting to be honest. Wasting time is restful. Writing a novel is strenuous.

Don’t go through the pandemic without connections. Leave a comment if you need someone.

Lockdown: Just win, baby

I stayed up too late Saturday night, of course, then woke up a few hours later than has been my Sunday wont, lately. Rolled out at about 9:30, not in a hurry to check the football games but neither in a hurry to get busy on stuff I wanted done.

I did put on the Dolphins-Broncos game as I lazily mapped my day, and it was surprisingly engaging. I think people expected the Dolphins to win in a blowout, but the early part of the game, which is all I saw, was competitive and decently played. Broncos ended up winning but I was gone by then.

Hunger won out, as always, and I got out the door mostly to get a Subway sandwich on my way to the office. Picked up a second sub to consume later.

I got right to work when I hit the office after first inhaling enough of my delicious turkey sandwich take the edge off. Set a goal to leave in two hours, but I needed an extra half hour to finish updating stuff. Still, only two and a half hours of Sunday office time when my usual is closer to five. I’m mostly quite pleased. I won’t care as much when football season’s over, but that won’t be until February. so bringing that number down habitually would be nice.

Got home a few minutes into the second quarter of the Raiders-Chiefs game. Man, that was a stressful game, and the Chiefs won in the final minute. It would have been a great game if it were any two other teams. Kinda sucked from where I was.

I did a couple of crosswords and read the news, then goofed around on my phone and finally took the nap I was trying to resist, at about 8:00. I wasn’t worried it would keep me up late; I had a feelnig I was going to be up late anyway. Plus, it was only going to be an hour — the NaNo Skype group convenes at nine.

It was a good nap, but not satisfying enough. I reeeeeally wan’t feeling it when I sat down to write at 9:30 (yeah, it’s sometimes a half hour commute from the bedroom to the desk), so I spent half an hour reading some of the NaNoWriMo pep talks.

Beginning many years ago, the NaNoWriMo organizers have sent pep talks via email for NaNo participants, from notable published writers, one per week. I almost never read them, although I remember something Rainbow Rowell wrote in 2013 about a pile of words and how it convinced me to give this craziness another go. Wow, seven years ago.

Nine. I read nine pep talks (they’re archived on the website), including the Rowell. Some takeaways:

From Alexis Daria in 2020. I didn’t know who she was, but her profile photo is rather fetching. She’s a romance novelist.

…stories provide another function I didn’t mention above: Stories can heal. And we are in desperate need of healing right now.

When the writing gets hard, or when it all feels like too much, remember why you write, and that there is value in what you’re doing. Stories matter. Your story matters.

It’s time to write it down.

From Dave Eggers in 2010.

Is procrastination a problem for you? Really? You think you have a problem?

Here’s procrastination: The organizers of NaNoWriMo asked me three months ago to write this pep talk, and I’m only writing it now, after blowing three deadlines, after avoiding 10 reminders. I was asked to write a pep talk for NaNoWriMo, and I’m actually writing it after the month started. So whatever procrastination problems you have, I probably have you beat. I’m the worst, and I’m getting worse every day.

It’s a very strange thing, because we all think writing should be fun. That is, when I was temping through most of my twenties, wondering what it would be like to write for a living, hoping for such a life, I thought it might be pretty sweet. I thought if I ever got to write for a living, I would feel pretty lucky, and that I would be so appreciative that I would bound out of bed every day and, like a goddamned adult, I would write as much as I could every day, and get work done in a reasonable amount of time. Again, like an adult.

Instead, I need, on average, eight hours sitting on my writing couch to get one hour of work done. It’s a pathetic ratio. I stall, avoid, put off and generally act like someone’s making me do some terrible job I never wanted to do. I blow pretty much every deadline I’m given.


Knowing there are thousands of others out there trying to do the same, who are using this ridiculous deadline as cattle-prod and shame deterrent, means goddamnit, you better do it now because you know how to write, and you have fingers, and you have this one life, and during this one life, you should put your words down, and make your voice heard, and then let others hear your voice.

And the only way any of that’s going to happen is if you actually do it. People can’t read the thoughts in your head. They can only read the thoughts you put down, carefully and with great love, on the page. So you have to do it, goddamnit. You have to do it, and you can step back and be happy. You can step back and relax. You can step back and feel something like pride.

Then of course you’ll have to revise it 10 or 20 times, but let’s not talk about that yet.

Write your goddamned book now. The world awaits.

From John Green in 2010.

At this point, you’ve probably realized that it’s nearly impossible to write a good book in a month. I’ve been at this a while and have yet to write a book in less than three years. All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you’ve started? Because in two weeks, when you are done, you will be grateful for the experience. Also, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.

So here’s the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.

Best wishes, John Green

That’s a lot of positive energy. There’s more, but I think I’ll share it in pieces. Anyway, I avoid these kinds of pep talks because there’s a class of writers who spends more time reading about writing and talking about writing than it does actually writing, and I decided twenty years or so ago that I don’t want to be in this class. The thing that makes you a better writer is writing. Talking about writing, or (worse) passing along writing quotes you see on Tumblr, or retweeting writing advice you see on Twitter: these are not writing. They make you an expert at talking about writing but they don’t make you a writer.

I’ve been feeling a little down, not to mentioned drained and unmotivated. The nine pep talks I looked at Sunday evening before getting started really helped.

It took a while, and I had to keep working even when the other Skype participants signed off, but I hit 2389 words, taking me past the 40K mark. Now it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’ll finish November with 50K words. My challenge now is to wrap the story up, as crude a wrapup as it is certain to be, so this ugly pile of decent ideas has a beginning, middle, and end.

Then, although it was nearly one in the morning, I did some work-work. Stuff I hoped to have done before the weekend was up. Stuff people were waiting on. I got good work done and sent emails out at 4:00, and finally crashed into bed at close to 5:00.


Breakfast was the turkey sandwich. A very late lunch was a chicken sandwich. A very, very late dinner was cold pork and beans, not right from the can this time — I poured them into a bowl and dumped room-temperature Vienna sausage on it. Yum.

Not much texting. Ali and I sorta got into it over some COVID -19 issues I don’t really want to drag up. It was not one of those times when we communicate well. Bleah. Sylvia and I chatted a little about exercise and the unfair shortness of the weekend.

I think it was a good weekend but dang. I need more weekend. I need more sleep. I need more time to do work. I need more time for decluttering. I need more time to watch DVDs. I need more time (and better water conditions) to swim. I need more time to vegetate.

I have good connection with friends and coworkers. That’s a big plus for me. If you want in because you aren’t connecting enough, leave a comment. It’s keeping me sane. You might need some of that.

Lockdown: I am an island

My Saturdays of late have been the kind of mellow I almost always wish my Saturdays could be, going back to the beginning of my teaching career. That they are strangely lacking in something I can’t nail is a mystery to me and kind of a disapointment, but I suspect it has something to do with just not enough in-person contact even for my people-shunning self.

Most of the day I’m blissfully alone, free to do whatever I want whenever. Then I get these moments where I realize that if I were to drop dead, it would likely be several days before anyone knew. Part of me wants to embrace the thought. Most of me fears it.

I hate to say this, but it’s important to me to matter. Yes, I know if I suddenly dropped dead it would matter to all kinds of people, but this isn’t quite what I mean. I mean most of what I do in my free time is utterly self-centered, almost by necessity. NaNoWriMo is maybe the ultimate self-centered activity of my every November. These are times when a spouse or some offspring would create instant meaning, instant mattering.

But then I couldn’t write this novel.

I stayed up until two-thirty Friday night finishing Ted Lasso. Amazing program.

I slept okay for some of the night and not okay for the rest. Got myself up at about 9:30, pleased to know I could (and would) take a nap later. Jumped in my car and headed for the Taco Bell drive through again. Two mornings in a row. Woo. I don’t regret it, either.

Did a bit of writing, then the Saturday crossword. Read the news. Did a little more writing, reorganized my Feedly feeds, did the Sunday crossword, and took a nap. It was a decent nap but it felt great just to take it, to roll myself up and spread myself out and just not have to care about getting anything done.

Got up to do the Friday 5 and watch the news. Rewatched parts of Ted Lasso and wrote a recommendation of it to post on FB.

I skipped lunch because breakfast was so substantial. For dinner, I put some fresh tatsoi on a plate and dumped leftover Korean veggies on it. Cucumbers, bean sprouts, choi sum, kim chi, shoyu potatoes. I also cubed some cold tofu and threw on some grape tomatoes. It was pretty tasty, and an enormous plate of veggies. Took me most of the night to get through it all.

The raw tatsoi went really well with these things. I wish my neighborhood supermarket sold it. I had to get it from Foodland Farms after last Sunday’s swim.

The Skype was fun this evening, and I hit 2525 words, although it took me longer than usual. Everyone else signed off by the time I called it a night. I had kalimotxos all evening while I wrote. Good noveling fuel.

I texted briefly with Crush Girl to tell her more about Ted Lasso. Jennifer texted to chat a little about the bagna càuda, which I encouraged her to try.

I’m not fully sure what I’m doing Sunday, ‘though I have some writing for work to finish, so I may hit the office for just a few hours. Raiders have the late game. Ah yeah, I guess I’ll have to get my house stuff done before then so I can do NaNo in the evening and still go to bed at a decent hour.

Weather here is getting windy and rainy. It’s feeling like autumn. It’s going to be a long winter. Don’t go through it disconnected. Leave a comment if you want my contact info, and I’ll be happy to connect with you via text or DM.