Hey, Don't I Know You?

I've just had a revelation. No angels or skies opening up. (That would have been cool, though.) Just a regular ordinary revelation.  A recognition.  Yeah, I like that word-- recognition.  Like you've met somewhere before, and you realize, oh, that's right.  That's what I've been waiting for. This is the beginning of week 2 of NaNoWriMo-- National Novel Writing Month.  I started out amazingly well, for me.  I am a slow writer.  I dally. I dilly. I dilly-dally around  words, around thoughts, around characters.  That's okay.  All writers have their own style and pace.

All last week while I was trying to get my daily production of about 1700 words a day on-screen, I realized that no matter how I tried to steer the work, I kept coming back to the same themes and characters I've been working on in my novel-in-progress.  I have about 23,000 words that I'm relatively pleased with (countless words of notes and trial and error and scenes that went nowhere), so, I thought, I'll cheat.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to be 50,000 new words churned out with the internal editor away on vacation, too far away to interfere with the writer who's hiding behind the censor.  My editor/censor doesn't take vacations. My censor like to work. What a pain.

But, that's where I am.  So be it.  I can still try to shake up my censor and get one over on her once in a while.  Like, this morning.  I was so sure I had my first chapter written and the novel would proceed from the themes I set up in that chapter.  But, I was stuck.  Which is one of the reasons I started the NaNo process.  I want to become unstuck.  Free those words and ideas that the censor has cowering in the corner with the threat of being sent to the principal's office if they squawk.

They squawked.  The principal was kinder than the censor.  HaHa!

Here's how the revelation/recognition happened.  Gene transferred my NANo words to Scrivener.  Scrivener is this fairly new tool for writers that is supposed to be easier and more intuitive. This morning I was looking at this new creature and I could not find the last chapter I had written.  So I summoned it from my Word files.  I re-read it.  I liked it.  And then, (drum roll, please) I recognized that this chapter should be the first chapter because it introduces themes and characters that play out in the rest of the work.

So, thank you NaNoWriMo, for jiggling loose some thoughts that might have stayed in the wrong place if I hadn't taken your challenge, and then modified your challenge to my own purposes. It's good to recognize a friend you've met for the first time.


I belong to a marvelous writers group.  We call ourselves Salon Quatre (adding a little French somehow makes us more literary).  In less than two years Bill has published a book about a young Marine’s experience in the Pacific theatre of World War II (whose story is featured in the HBO series The Pacific). Drema has twenty publications of her warm and witty stories of growing up in the coal country of West Virginia and has won a nice handful of prizes along the way. Judith has continued to write her compelling poetry and has taken her ambitions to a new level—and will, in a bittersweet way, be moving across the country to pursue her dreams. Then there’s me, who comes to you every week here at Grace Notes and is getting closer to the finish line of a novel that has been churning around my brain for quite a while now. While driving to our first meeting since our summer break I was filled with gratitude to be part of such a group of writers and dear friends.  My ‘career’ path has taken so many more turns than I could have expected since the days of eating lunch in Marillac Hall at St. John’s when we talked about our futures, our plans and whatever issues that piqued our young minds before we were launched out in the wider world.  I didn’t realize at the time how important those lunch meetings were.  But now I do.  We met over common interests, common geography (school, liberal arts majors, having lunch in Marillac Hall because that’s where many of our classes met) and a buzz of the electricity of youth and ideas and philosophies that are some of the best prizes of tuition.

In the order of priorities of the pleasures in life, I rank great conversation and exchange of ideas pretty darn close to the top, just a tiny notch below reading, which is as important as breathing and sleeping to me.

My ‘career’ such as it is, has always incorporated the world of ideas, meaning, connection, history, philosophy—oh, you get the idea.  If I had to work on an assembly line I would probably get fired for trying to start conversations with my fellow workers.  I would linger over lunch just to keep the conversation going.  If I didn’t have intelligent people to talk to I think I’d bust.  Really, I’d pop a blood vessel or the top of my head would burst open in frustration.

Since Judith is moving across the country, the nature of our writers group will be different.  Ah, but here is something else to be grateful for: e-mail and ‘meeting’ rooms where we can deposit our latest work and continue the critique & feedback process that has contributed greatly to the progress each of us has made over the last two years.

Ain’t life grand?


Last week I did something I hadn’t done before. I removed a blog post. Why? Because it was ill conceived and poorly constructed. And, I have come the point in life, or the age, in which I think it is not only a good idea to admit my mistakes, but it is necessary. Necessary? Yes. Because if we stick to our mistakes and if our egos are too fragile to take correction, then we have just added a traffic jam to any meaningful conversation. Meaningful conversation is one of the treasures of life. I enjoy a good conversation about as much as I enjoy reading. And I enjoy reading quite a bit.

As Craig Ferguson (comic and naturalized American citizen) likes to say, in America you get a second chance. And a third chance. And if you are tenacious, as many chances as you want.

I should be more cautious, I suppose. Boy, that’s difficult when words just want to burst and spill all over the page. My oldest son Michael, who takes after his mother in this, had a comeback line that has become part of the idiom in our family: “I’m just saying, is all”. This became a regular defense when he said things that irritated his brother into a brawl. “Just saying” has started many a war, many a romance, many a confession.

And many a needed conversation.

In this age of political correctness, where great swaths of topics are off limits lest you be considered unenlightened, we need to keep the conversation going. We need to think things through and articulate what we think. If we do not, we will be silenced by those who grab the microphones and talk their way into power. Then I’d really be in trouble. The gatekeeper of my words is usually off duty or taking a nap. Words slip out. Whole heated monologues and arguments break loose from my unrestrained tongue and untethered fingers.

There are still places in this world where that quality would land me in jail or in front of a firing squad. So before our freedom of speech slips away because we stop exercising it, let’s keep the conversation going.


A Nice Problem to Have

A writing friend of mine sent me the following quote: A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947

Well, that sounds a little self serving, doesn’t it? I mean, if you are having trouble writing, if the spigot won’t spig and no words or clever phrases pour forth, then you can claim association with the likes of Thomas Mann, and say, I’m having trouble writing because I am a WRITER. (Back of hand to forehead, profile to the audience, a loud sigh and eyes pleading to the heavens for a more productive muse.)

This friend of mine is a marvelous writer. Reading her work you might think she sits at her computer and great characters and dialogue jump from her fingertips and appear on the screen, ready for publication in one draft. That’s because she’s a master craftsman. By the time we get to read her work she has gone over each and every word, phrase, telling detail of character and place with deftness and we laugh or cry rolling along her narrative arc to a clever conclusion. Then we want more.

But, talented and hard working as she is, sometimes nothing comes. Her muse goes to the Caribbean to work on his tan.

It’s good to have writing friends, writing circles, critique groups. We have a Salon. We have aspirations of being literary. And occasionally, we are. We’ve granted the term enough elasticity to include us. And we’ve granted each other enough grace to affirm each other’s status as writers. That’s because we know what it takes to get a story, a poem, a book ready for anyone besides trusted friends and a tight circle of like-struggling word crafters to read.

Writing difficult? Well sure it is. But what a fortunate and precious thing to complain about. We get to play with words, phrases, phonetics, meter, rhythm, subtle meanings contained within the exact choice of word. To most writers I have encountered, these are the ‘things’ that have delighted and amused us since we could hold open a book of nursery rhymes in our little round baby hands.

Blaze of Light

[For Sophia Ann] There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah! Leonard Cohen

In the beginning was the Word. Gospel of John

And God said…Book of Genesis

When I taught Adult Ed courses on spirituality and theology, one subject, theme, if you will, that I kept coming back to was: God spoke us into being. Our name thundered in a mighty whisper and here we are. Romantic view of conception? Perhaps. But it resonates with me. Resonates as in resounds somewhere deep within. Deep within beyond my conscious mind. Further back. Then further back from there.

As far back as I remember (and I have some very early memories), words have fascinated me. The way they bounce around your mouth, play with your tongue, escape over your teeth. The way they look on a page. The origins of words and their associations in history that thread us together through time. The language we speak now is built on many languages and cultures mixing words while they mixed the gene pool. And the simple reality that sounds bind us together or separate us dependent on what they mean and the manner in which they utter forth. What power.

Now, I am a slow writer. Thoughts, memories, words, ping around me and make connections while I try to compose. If I am lucky, and patient, words will just pour from my fingertips onto the ‘page’ like water from a fountain. But, often, I just wait. Oh, I’ll scribble—that is jot down all sorts of non-sequiturs and lines of songs, nursery rhymes, and bits of conversation that pop up in my mind like jack-in-the-box—but something else has to happen in order for me to write something that feels true.

And that something feels like a blaze of light. Well, not always a blaze, sometimes a small lit candle or the proverbial light bulb. But there is heat and warmth and illumination. There is a yes, and if I am mindful, an amen.