On Hitting Day 50 of #100DaysOfStories

I hit day 50 of my challenge #100DaysOfStories last week. I’d let off keeping track of the days that I actually managed to write for a full hour, although I hadn’t stopped using that time frame as the goal. Also, because the Daily Writing Challenge spreadsheet I use was originally created for the 250 words a day challenge, getting at least 250 remains a goal as well.

So for instance, in writing “The Gods That Made God” (aka “Young Gods”) I might write for a full hour for several days. But once the story reached its end, the most important thing I can do during the daily hour is read/review/re-write. So then I would do a free write on some other essay or story (I also like to do this in order to prime the pump even when not doing re-writes) to get up 250 words, and then I can spend the rest of the time combing through the story and not think about whether I’m meeting my word count.

I’m tired.

I was up last night, not because of my younger son, but awake for 3 hours just because. I suspect this is the inevitable return of my monthly hormonal cycle; while I’m neither ovulating or menstruating quite yet, the ghost of the hormone machine is beginning to crank up, getting ready for full gear in a few months, I suppose.

What have I learned in these first 50 days? That it took 5 months to get those hours. That many days all I can muster 250 words, or about 15 minutes. That in order to do anything at all, I have to abandon whatever story I wanted to work on, and just free write a blog post on my feelings or reactions to the news.

What I’ve learned is that like marriage, the only thing in writing is getting back up and starting over again. There is no there-there; some days I feel it, feel the deep soul of my relationship filling me up, illuminating each aspect of my life. And a lot days I just tread water. Like my marriage, I riot and complain and threaten to leave … and then get right back to it in the morning. These 50 days have taught me that like my marriage or running, the comfort is not in what is accomplished, but rather the routine itself, the repetition.

What I’ve come to respect in these 50 days is how crappy a writer I am. I’ve written about it in this blog, but I can’t stress enough how hard that simple fact is to face. As I discussed with my brother, and he agreed he faced the same, when you realize that you will never glamorously succeed, that the fantasy must be retired, a gush goes out of you. Like a dam let loose, you watch that power rush away and standing in the trickle that barely covers your ankles, you think, man, is this enough force? In the end all the energy was in the dream.

I’m tired.

I also think there maybe something important in enjoying the story that I’m writing, finding the whole process not a chore or a drag, but a simple, indulgent joy. But I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to get there. Maybe like running, there’s days for knowing that everything hurts and that all you can do is a maintenance run and there are others where you realize you soar.

good weekend

Macron!

Macron!

But that’s not only the reason it was a good weekend; that was just the icing on the cake, the feeling that maybe the world isn’t upside down after all. I saw it’s been 6 months since the election; which to my mind means M was just 3 months when I woke up and thought I woken in the wrong world.

but this weekend was the first in a while that felt truly relaxing. it’s embarrassing of course to complain: we’re employed, which we weren’t always, and not only employed but doing ok. We’ve actually made purchases other than food and diapers, which, for my husband and I, means we are actually doing ok financially. And our kids are healthy. For all the sleep we didn’t get last night, and haven’t been getting for some time, our kids, impossibly young at 9 months (M) and 3.5 years (N) are not sick. I had wanted to have them closer together, but this weekend, I thought, no, three years is the perfect distance between children. Because nine months is a lovely, social, happy age: he has movement and choice, but does not yet know that his will can be exerted just be screaming. At 3.5 years old, the my older son does not turn every task into a battle of life and will, does not need to throw himself against us for no reason. He listens, mostly complies, is fun to be with, and much less exhausting than the long trek from 18 months to 3 years. It’s true I should, and would, could I do it again, handle everything differently.

 

who’s afraid of the big bad tired? And, the exercise of wonder

I’ve been trying to get my younger son (9 months) to sleep through the night. but last night my husband finally asked me to intervene and stop the screaming. I am so tired that an email to my boss this morning was nearly incoherent. Random word placement, necessary words missing, bizarre grammar.

Still. I want to have another child. Hard to know why, but maybe it’s an argument for giving one’s self over to evolutionary determinism. that is to say: Peter Watts and other may talk about sex as having primacy, but, really, it’s about the reproduction. (along those lines, I’ve come to realize that whenever I hear the words “single mother” I want to beat the face out of the now-missing father. And I realize that in certain ways, single motherhood is progress from a world owned by men and that many women choose to be single and mothers. I don’t fault the women; given different circumstances, I would absolutely make the same choice. I fault a world in which men shoot off genetic material and feel no, nor are pressured/required to assume, further obligation.)

But what I really wanted to write about this morning, if I can manage to write a sentence without having to backspace 5-10 times (no exaggeration. i’m that tired. and you figure, that’s only the errors I’m catching), is the idea of exercising wonder. Not the experience of wonder, but of thinking wonderfully. Hmm. I’m not sure I’m getting the words right here.

Let’s talk in the concrete.

I like stories that push my expectations. This can unfold in different ways: Adventure Time likely has its own set of rules, but it’s so far outside the world of my reading material that I get consistently surprised. Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, almost anything by Jeff VanderMeer. There’s so much expectation of the same, a feeling of (dreaded) predictability, but all these works caught me by surprise.

I find, too, that what I like most in writing is catching myself by surprise. Catching one’s self by surprise is not a good writing strategy; for longer works, it’s probably not even viable (note that in my Fire God and Nothing, I’m completely stuck because the length of the piece requires SOME degree of forethought and planning). I would never, ever argue (anymore, that is) that the snowflake method of writing (which is to say, extensive planning before ever writing a word) should not be used. It should. You should not waste your own time the way I waste mine. I should not even waste my time. I’m just pointing out that the surprise is often what I relish the most.

And so, I wonder, can I cultivate the an unbound mind? That is to say, the creation of territory that thrives outside expectation. A practice of flipping the expected? Darting off in an unexpected direction? I don’t know. A character started compulsively throwing up bugs this week (Adim, the only mortal that’s named in “the Young Gods” or “The Gods that made God”, I’m still not sure of title).  I have no idea why he is doing it, but I hate to eliminate the scene just because it’s completely irrational and, well, irrelevant. I’d much rather push the point and figure out if there is a reason. (Actually. Let’s be honest. What I would like far more is to not explain it at all. but the feedback I get on these kinds of things is always bad)

and let me go work.

skeptical of meaning

until I had kids, I was skeptical of life having extrinsic meaning. I smoked heavily, drank in a way that would make fishes sick. Before I got married, I routinely trashed my body in other ways: cutting up my arms, going home with random strangers (not always and only pretty and charming ones).

In retrospect, I wish I’d done something more interesting with my youth. I’m not sure why I was so bent on self destruction rather than building or making.

maybe, though, it’s just about trust

maybe, though, it’s just about trust.

maybe, like in marriage and work, where you rush up against your anger, and decide that this, no, this is the day, this is the instance for which you will quit. This is the end. No more, thanks, not any more.

And then. You wake up and return.

Maybe that’s what Butler means by habit: habit will serve when all other reasons for writing fall away.

waste

I wasted years praying not to god but to this illusion of meaning. later you learn it isn’t there but long habit has made that retreat into the irrational belief not just custom, but a comfort.

god, you realize, was a puppet to bully, or like all the extrinsic forces, something someone to blame.

belief was never in cross-eyed redemption for the sake of sins against others but a self-serving phantasmagoria in which null time is redeemed by a sudden success. The real sin I want alleviated is being wrong, and wasting an incredible amount of time in being wrong.

I went out seeking content not wanting to simply be a writer without life, without things to say. But what you find in scouting out is that the world is not where you left it. Ideas you passionately defended turn out to be terribly, hideously wrong and the voraciousness with which you fought the hunger of the young dumb, nothing more.

it was never god to which I prayed but a misplaced saint. A hole in the wall into which I keep push pushing my wants.

But I have known this before and the knowledge has not set me free from the repetitive fantasing, into the falling. I don’t know how to solve this, how to come out on the other side.

I want to stop. I want to break free. (and yes, you should here that in Freddie Mecury’s voice).

What do I think?

I think there will not be freedom without progress. I never stopped wanting to love & be loved, but I changed how I approached it and what I wanted love to mean. I never wanted to stop being thin, but I did come to understand that thinness both was and was not everything I thought it would be, and from there, could have a realistic relationship with my body.

My writing is still not what I want it to be. And in all honesty, the time line of making progress looks like ten years of hard labor, not six months of dashing off a few pieces that get accepted for publication so that I ca have bragging rights.

What is it you want to write? I don’t know–no, no I do: the brutal honesty but head turning beauty of angela carter’s essays, entertaining but illuminating, investigative like  Racoona Sheldon/James Tiptree, Octavia Butler, Ursula le Guin. Immersive, like VanderMeer.

And something more besides. The poetic honesty in storytelling like Toni Morrison.

The unbound silliness in Adventure Time. The worldbuilding and emotional gravity of Carla Speed McNeil. The list of admiration goes on and one.

But.

Can you really decide a thing like style? VanderMeer and Carter’s decadence are quite distinct. Both styles are far from the others.

And could you write something truly great, something that pulled elements you admire from these writers, who would be the audience? Who would care?

The better question might be: are you strong enough to be nobody? Will you create what will never be read simply because you want it to exist?

And that too seems self devious: because can you actually write it at all? Admiring is not the same as imitation. Could you, would you imitate for the sake of learning? Ca you give yourself the century you need just to walk on two feet?(that from Beauty and the Beast)

Today

today I feel for all the world that [my] writing does not matter. it seems as though without the fantasy of publishing and success that I find little motivation to sit down. Is writing, then, only about the perfidious illusion in which, having published, I have some level of bragging rights?

my husband keeps mentioning a friend from his childhood that has made a career of painting. what he says, over and again in his amazement, is “you should have seen him back then, you never would have thought he’d turn out like this, he was the fat kid…” Yes. Much like my brother in high school, that I worried about in his loneliness, his withdrawal. But he’s the one that has achieved anything.

another thing: had a nice afternoon this last sunday with another family. the wife/mother in this family works with my husband. she’s 31 weeks pregnant and planning to return to work because, like any sane person, she finds it awful to be at home with an infant. I don’t fault her for this decision, even though it is the opposite of my own. but this placed on the table for discussion, mothers who do stay home. we didn’t discuss it out right, but the topic would glide toward the subject and then leap away, because in the end, we are talking about my choice. So what was said? that women, American women, that is, because this family is not from here, only want to get married and have babies so they can stay home. Therefore, there was nothing to discuss with them, because they haven’t had careers. A similar thing was said about American’s generally, that because they don’t travel and have no sense of the world, they have nothing, really, to say. They, the Americans, live in small worlds and have small minds, miniature concerns. was noch? oh, the husband pointed out that he would rather have his wife work and make money and pay someone else to take care of the kids. I suppose I could have spoken up here for the feminist argument of not pushing childraising on the less economically valuable (ie, black and brown women that, presumably, cannot make as much as his wife). But I didn’t, I was too tired to argue with anyone, and anyhow, I doubt it would have mattered to him.

It was this same family’s house only a few months ago that I encountered a number of women with careers, who gladly handed their infants over so that they, the women, could do real work, be taken seriously. In one conversation a women pointed out that it was normal in her country to simply give away the kids and have the women work (since I know a number of her countrywomen, I know for a fact that this is bullshit, that women there struggle with the decision just as much as here). She implied that it was sentimental to stay home, stay attached. In another conversation, a man, on finding out that I work part time and stay home with an infant the rest, immediately turned his attention elsewhere.

Yes, you could point out what is wrong with this, create an argument for the seriousness of mothering, for the anti-woman, anti-feminist sentiment that underlies these comments. We simply do not think that mothering or childcare is important or real work, and this comes from a combination of misogyny and capitalism.

But my point is this: I can think all the refutes I want, but these people and their position did/do pose me with a question: am I making the right choice? don’t I, too, want to be taken seriously?

And: don’t I walk away from these interactions and immediately begin the production of a fantasy? A dream in which I get to prove that I, too, have value, worth? That their estimation of me in that moment was wrong, because I am important, they just didn’t know it.

the shallowness of my desire, my need, disappoints me. I let out a sigh and go, ok. I know this vision will never come to pass. Should i manage to finish something and get published, it would impress no one. No one will notice, not even the rain, and should that feat which seems so entirely insurmountable to me (that is, getting a body of work finished AND published) actually happen, these people, with their nannies and nice cars and good retirements certainly would not impressed.

Because I am, as always, behind on work and need to get to it, let me finish with one final thought for myself. I heard a small part of Obama’s speech in Chicago, and what stuck with me was the line “don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.” And this, I would say, is the challenge before me. Because I will not, in the end, win as a feminist or a reader of interesting books, or a writer of semi-coherent mediocre stories, or a mother or a drupal admin or front end developer. These things may make me what I am, but there will never be any particular value attached to them, and as such, will never impress anyone or make me feel worthy.