Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The writing project is failing miserably, so no need for secrecy any longer. I was attempting for the second year in a row to win National Novel Writing Month, and for the second year in a row I have fallen short.

"Wait a minute," you object. "There's still nearly two weeks left in November! Keep writing!" I appreciate the encouragement, I really do. After all, that's what I asked for in my last entry, right? 50,000 words in a month is daunting to say the least, but each passing year it seems more doable. Why, then, am I throwing in the towel halfway through the month?

I started out fast, nearly matching all of last year's output in the first three days. I was trying to get ahead, because friends were coming into town and then there was Thanksgiving, and November (as always) was going to be crazy. I was not even accounting for the fact that our country would elect its first black president and I would reel at the significance for nearly a week afterward.

Reality - last year when I did not win NaNoWriMo, I noted that I seemed to be more geared toward shorter pieces. Poetry, essays, short fiction. I think I can echo that realization this year, though I feel like a long piece of fiction is within my abilities, however uninteresting it might be to read. At the very least, I seem to be capable of creating characters that I enjoy spending time with, watching them react to alternately predictable and improbable situations. I can't always put them on paper, but they have begun living with me in my head, working their way into becoming lifelong friends (as if I didn't have enough voices in my head already).

Which brings me to a different conclusion this year. What I lack in writing a novel is not time. It is desire. Motivation. This may seem obvious, but it is helpful for me to articulate. People describe the artistic urge in so many different ways. Often we hear that a writer can't help but write, an painter can't help but paint. I think there is some truth in that, but I think these are also the result of cultivated affections.

Within the melange of competing desires, we make a choice of sorts. We must give space for some of them to grow roots, prepare themselves for the treacherous journey upward from heart, mind, and soul to expression, to action. Certainly, some desires impose themselves upon us more stridently, more insistently. Yet in the end, most people choke out their own desires every day, let all manner of unattended weeds overthrow the garden of their passion.

It often feels like the process is out of our control, but I wonder if we would find with honest self-examination that we gave ourselves over to our omnipresent fears, let them take our most valuable impulses hostage. I wonder if we would find our love to be polyvalent, diffused and unfocused. I wonder if we would find our discipline to be soft and pliable, unable to resist the powerful seduction of inertia.

I wonder all of these things, and yet I do not feel like I've failed this year. I am making a choice. I chose to soak in the atmosphere surrounding the election, field the comments and questions from friends, call my relatives in Arkansas who survived Jim Crow and the dissipation of communal strength born of common opposition. I chose to spend a week with my friends without trying to squirrel away a couple hours each day to write, without the raincloud of guilty inactivity dogging our travels. I chose to let other things grow than a novel this month.

In the process, I had a much needed break from work and an even more necessary rekindling of parts of myself that have grown anemic through disuse. The musician. The confessor. These are parts of me that have lain dormant in the absence of shared history. The reluctance toward openness, toward performance, are symptoms of my inner fragmentation.

My friend Dave was one of the three visitors to Portland this past week, and we shook our heads in disbelief at the decade that has passed since we met awkwardly in the Beaumont basement freshman year. This man has seen me at my lowest, staying up all night to watch movies and their directorial commentary consecutively while the incompletes keeping me from graduating stood firm on unfinished papers and final exams. He has seen me at my best, hitting three bullseyes in a row while playing darts with his hometown friends. We have seen each other struggle and helped each other celebrate. The composite of our memories feels closer to the the self I've been struggling to express since I left the Grand Canyon in January.

My time with Dave, Natalie, and Lindsay was reinvigorating, but also somewhat paralyzing. I know it's futile to wish friends like these would always be around, never be separated from me by timezones and mountains ranges. But in the flood of emotions released by our reminiscences, how can I do otherwise? It's so easy to keep digging deeper with these three, to keep making more space for our roots to grow. For all the people I have come to love in Portland, for those who have loved me so warmly, I have yet to figure out how to release the parts of me that have been hiding throughout these three years in the Pacific Northwest.

Facebook is a trip too. Friends from elementary school in New Jersey have been finding me and it's been releasing memories from even further back. The longer ago the events, the less coherent the attendant narratives. All that comes are images, flashes of seemingly insignificant moments. Why do they come? Why are they remembered? I think these are truer memories than the stories I've compiled for my internal autobiography, and I try to let this montage float to the surface from even recent memory.

They are usually without meaning unless I try to impose it. Paper football matches on the desks in Mrs. Wood's classroom. Poor attempts to shave our heads bald at George's house. Jumping on my new neighbor's trampoline in Little Rock. My first taste of rose milk at Naveen's house. The moment when Dr. Buhro explained that electron shells are visual representations of probability, not solid objects. Sean and I sprinting down the hallway of Nemerov 3. Finding my office at Mosaic covered in Hello Kitty and Care Bear posters. The drive up the Columbia River Gorge on my final approach into Portland as a new resident.

These moments require room to grow. Space to happen. November would be a great month to write a novel, but it's an even better month to create new memories with my friends. To continue writing the story of my life in greater detail, richer hues.

I am bowing out of National Novel Writing Month, assured that what is being written in me far surpasses what I am able to write. At least for today.

1 comment:

Sarah K. Asay said...

this essay has so many beautiful lines that hit something in me. good work ramon. i'm stoked i'm lucky enough to know you.

and this:
"but they have begun living with me in my head, working their way into becoming lifelong friends" made me laugh out loud. i have several of these. it's a little unnerving sometimes.....