First Post NaNo Story

Managed to write over 1000 words today. Of course, like NaNo itself, it was an assignment–there’s a Yahoo group for NaNo writers, and the task was to write something for the Holiday Season.

Naturally, I started a story about robots.

I think it might actually be, if not good, at least okay. You know, if you’re reading an anthology, my story might fit between two really good ones and be like a wafer-thin mint between courses. So you’d read it and think, “Huh,” and then go to the next good one.

Or explode. [Shrugs] reader’s choice.

Yeah Holidays Whatever

I’m sure I wrote about this last year, but Christmas depresses the Living Talisman out of me. Not sure why, but right after Halloween, when the Muzak starts and the decorations go up, my spirits go way down. And they don’t recover until, well, I guess much of ever. But I continue to depress each Holiday Season, so I must recover somewhat at some point. Maybe Arbor Day.

This year I had NaNo to concentrate on and so I skipped a lot of the prelims, but it just seemed to hit all the harder come December 1st. I understand there’s even an excuse for this, called “Seasonal A[something] Disorder,” or SAD.

What I don’t understand is it’s not just depression, I seem to be feeling anger as well, which just isn’t right by any stretch of any thing.

Of course, being angry at Thera for issuing sonic blasts at 1:30 in the morning has nothing to do with the Holiday Season.

Milk Run

Okay, so I bought milk a couple of days back and decided I would have a glass today. And I tear the little plastic ring off, and when I take off the cap, there’s the milk, right there (in the container). Where’s the little foil piece they put on?

I look, and it’s kind of stuck inside the cap. So I’m thinking either manufacturing defect or maybe someone put poison in the milk (at least this one container). It would be possible to pry the cap off without breaking it, but the foil container is like waxed on or something, you couldn’t fake that.

However, I’m pretty tired and I’m thirsty for milk so I decide to drink it anyway, and I did. And I lay down on the couch reading a book of short stories, and there’s this voice that says, Man, what if you just drank poison? Is this all you’re going to do?

So, after arguing with this voice for a while (“You could be one of those statistics, you know!”) I decided to take measures. I find a slip of paper and write “Check the Milk” on it, thinking all the while, Mention The RUN. I put it on the stove (next to the refrigerator).

Then I tidy up the place a bit. I’m thinking if I don’t show up to work and they can’t call me (because I’m dead from poisoning), they might call the police and I figure I should make it pretty easy on everyone. That’s why I wrote the note, so the police would check the milk and find the poison and they’d know what was what, here. And I tidied up because who wants to break in to someone’s house and not only find a dead body, but also a mess? That’s not really in the holiday spirit, is it.

I thought for a while about writing a text document on the computer and leaving it on the screen. It would go into a little more detail about how this was not a suicide and so forth, maybe have my mom’s phone number and some instructions for posting about my demise on Blogger.

Ultimately, though, I thought I’d rather have the nap and not get all involved in some text file because you know me, it would take forever and there’d be all kinds of theorizing and little asides and maybe even footnotes and stuff, including instructions for how to create a Blogger account, and as mentioned I was kind of tired. I was even more tired at this point, in fact.

So I had the nap and that worked out fine. And as you can see, I’m not dead so I’m glad I didn’t waste a lot of time with some text document that wasn’t even relevant in the end. I mean, even less so than most of what I write. And I got a tidier living space out of the deal, too.

Sometimes evil intentions result in a greater good, I guess.

Ice Storm

Well, we’re having rather icy weather today. Had to chip my car out of ice around a quarter-inch thick. I hate winter.

Decided to gather up all my NaNoWriMo entries here and put them in order in an essay. Kind of makes interesting reading, mostly as a tally of my rising enthusiasm for the challenge.

Traditionally, there should be a third paragraph to most entries. This paragraph fulfills that function admirably. I’m thinking of giving it an award.

Report on Probability B

Writing Work: 0
Painting Work: 0
Recording Work: 0

Those are my numbers since the end of NaNoWriMo. To be honest, after November, I’ve felt so drained of creative energy that I haven’t tried any of them, though I have projects in mind for all of them.

Of course, I wrote my little piece on No Face, below, and I have written two lengthy movie reviews, but those don’t count. As Truman Capote once famously observed, that’s not writing, that’s typing.

It’s the writing I’m most concerned about. I haven’t looked at any of my old projects, afraid that I’ll just stare at the screen and nothing will appear. If that’s the case, however, so be it; if I can only write one book a year, in November, well, that’s certainly better than nothing at all for six or seven years. It may take longer than a single thirty-day period to rehabilitate me.

The level of concern has not risen to anxiety, yet.

Even When They Aren’t







You probably recognize this guy as No Face, from Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen Spirited Away, you should stop reading now, sign off the computer, go find a copy and watch it. It’s that good. It’s one of the very, very few films that I recommend without any reservation at all. If you haven’t seen it, please don’t read any more of this, because this film really deserves to be seen with innocent eyes.

There are many wonderful characters in the film, but No Face is my favorite. He’s an example of what I’m starting to think is my favorite kind of character: the monster who isn’t.

As a monster, he’s very powerful, as demonstrated in the most destructive scene in the film, when he runs amok in the bath-house. Even Yubaba’s magic can’t stop him.

Also like most monsters, he has a limited ability to communicate. He can’t really speak, except by using someone else’s voice (in, shall we say, rather special circumstances). He communicates mainly by gestures and a kind of soft moaning. (His mask also changes a little bit from the normal somewhat happy look seen above to surprised, confused, angry, or sorrowful. It’s quite remarkable how expressive this simple mask is.)

What he seems to want most desperately is a place to belong, and a small measure of acceptance. He doesn’t demand love or admiration, he seems as if he would be happy to be ignored, as long as he was ignored among friends. We get no hint of his origins and he remains a mystery to the end, but that he’s very lonely, and has been for a long time, is quite apparent.

In his first interaction with Sen, she shows him kindness by leaving a door in the bath-house open so he can come inside out of the pouring rain. In return, he helps her to get a needed bath token when the guy in charge of such things refuses her. Sen’s gratitude—I get the impression this is the first emotional reaction No Face has ever been given–inspires him to procure a whole handful of tokens, thinking that this is what one does to be accepted—give people things. And he’s genuinely puzzled when she tells him she doesn’t need (and can’t use) any more tokens. Confused, he continues to insist but she still can’t accept the tokens. He simply hasn’t interacted with other beings before, so he doesn’t know the rules–but he also doesn’t give up.

He somehow takes note of the how the River God’s gift of gold was received, and tries his gift-giving again, creating gold nuggets which he gives to an eager bath-house frog. He’s much more successful this time. He then swallows the frog whole, and begins taking on his physical characteristics (and speaking with his voice). And he seems to take on the frog’s greed as well, figuring (I think) that he’s finally hit the right note, that this must be the basis of friendship.

Soon, the other bath-house attendants are fawning and fussing over him as he produces gold from his palms. When the realization dawns on him that it’s the gold that’s been accepted and not him, that’s when he becomes monstrous. He seems intoxicated by actually receiving emotional responses, and is distressed that they’re turning out to be false. He demands to see Sen, the only person who has shown him genuine kindness—he wants to be liked by her, that seems to be the one thing in his world that has any meaning for him. But he doesn’t know how to be likeable; all he’s learned from the bath-house is greed, so he tries to offer her enormous handfuls of gold (the one gift that has never been turned down).

Again, Sen doesn’t accept it, and again No Face can’t understand this, especially in contrast to the other workers. When it’s demonstrated that simply giving gifts is valueless as a means of friendship, my impression is that he wants to smash the entire hollow world that he’s constructed around himself. And it’s the bath-house that suffers (he does manage to cough up, whole and unharmed, everyone he’s swallowed). His rampage at the bath-house is not the result of his monstrous nature; instead, it comes about because his desire for acceptance is only partially fulfilled—partially because he seems to be the center of attention, but this attention isn’t about him. We’ve seen similar sequences in other movies where the unpopular nerd is treated nicely by the cool kids, only to discover that they did so only because he just bought a cool car or has a winning lottery ticket or has a famous rock star hiding in his house. In other words, it’s not because of who they are but what they have. It’s only natural that the bitterness that results is much more than simple disappointment. You had everything you ever wanted, and it all turned out to be hollow.

Purged of the rage and greed (as well as all the physical stuff) he absorbed in the bath-house (“This place makes him crazy,” Sen observes), he returns to his usual form, meekly and humbly following Sen as she undertakes a difficult journey in order to save Haku’s life. And at the end of that journey, he’s the one who finds a home, a place where he’s accepted and his talents are appreciated.

If only all such monsters could find such a place. Probably the “monster” that comes closest to No Face is Boris Karloff’s version of the Frankenstein Monster. He’s another powerful being who’s not monstrous at all, he simply isn’t beautiful looking and he can’t communicate in erudite language, which is (ironically) the one thing that probably best hides a man’s nature from others. But I digress. I do that. Rather a lot. You’ve probably noted.

Of course, No Face has one advantage over Frankenstein’s Monster: he doesn’t look like a human being, so we cannot look at ourselves and compare him (unfavorably) to us. We are apples and oranges. Frankenstein’s Monster, on the other hand, was created specifically to look a lot like us, and has clearly fallen short of any ideal with which he can be compared. So, yes, it’s appearance in this case that determines standing among monsters. No Face, as the Other, can be seen more objectively than the Frankenstein’s Monster’s parody of humanity. Interestingly, the Baby in Spirited Away learns a similar lesson. Transformed into a mouse, he’s disappointed that his mother doesn’t recognize him—appearance, and not our true nature, has become the standard of judgment.

(Some might include Godzilla or King Kong in this misunderstood-monster company, but for me they’re disqualified because the destruction they cause is clearly the end of their actions, rather than a reaction to being disappointed by the world and themselves. The Hulk? Maybe. Ben Grimm? Definitely. Day of the Dead‘s Bub? Yes.)

Why do I like such monsters? Probably because I am such a monster. I have no idea what the social contract entails. I just make up something that seems plausible or, more likely, copy what I’ve seen others do on television. I’ve unwittingly caused pain because I didn’t know what to do, and I’ve also stood there not knowing how to respond when a response was clearly needed. Each and every time I feel like I’m just something odd hidden in a regular envelope. I’d sure like to find the place where I really belong. This doesn’t seem to be it.

I suspect a lot of people feel the same way. Like No Face, we’re not destructive because we’re monsters. It’s just that that is what monsters do, so we must be monsters when we are destructive.

I also seem to create such creatures. In my NaNoWriMo project, I had a monster. A destructive killing creature that could not be defeated, no matter how brave and determined my hero. But something changed my hand as I wrote, and I suddenly found myself with a No Face. He immediately became my favorite character, and story and world suddenly shaped themselves to accommodate his new nature. Except for the fact that he can’t talk, I would eagerly do another novel all about him.

Well (I say with a shrug), they say all art is autobiography and every painting is a self-portrait. Who am I to argue with them? I like monsters.

NaNoWriMo – Post Aftermath

Henry points out that for NaNoWriMo winners, you have the option of having your book printed up as a paperback.

Honestly, my first reaction to that was something like “Eaaurrrggh!” However, the idea wouldn’t be so easily dismissed. It would sure be nice to have something tangible, a book I could hold in my hand, I thought, but then followed up with I’m just not sure I want this book in my hand.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like the book I wrote, and I think (with a bit more polish and a bit less gab-fest) others might like it too. But it’s definitely not ready for prime time. Which is what made me ultimately decide to forgo the printed copy, not without a touch of regret but only a touch.

Also on the same page at NaNoWriMo, it mentions January as another novel writing month. The only stipulation is that you have to be a member of LiveJournal. Well, still feeling a tad stoked after November, I went ahead and signed up for both LiveJournal and JaNoWriMo (as it’s known), thinking that it would be fun to participate.

So there I am, all signed up and all, and I happen to read the FAQ a bit more closely. And it turns out I have to post my writing to the site. Well, for someone who thought his book not ready to be read by the great unwashed, this is a tad of a dilemma.

I mean, here I go from a book that will be read by none, to a book that will be read by, ooo, nearly, gosh, [counts silently on fingers], nearly, ooo, I should say, hm, carry the five, nearly…nearly one. One? Call it none, then. That’s quite a leap!

UPDATE: LiveJournal is confusing. For all its faults, Blogger definitely has the “ease of use” market cornered. I guess it’s like the AOL of blogging stuff.

NaNoWriMo – Aftermath

So, what did I learn during the month of November?

I learned that I can write, given the proper motivation and proper preparation. In this case, the motivation was NaNoWriMo, and the preparation was (pretty much) none.

That’s right, none. I joined at the last minute, thinking I’d work (if at all) on an abandoned project, then I read the FAQs that say that the novel can’t be anything previously written. I think the organizers’ reasons for this are excellent—it makes the author concentrate on the act of writing, rather than agonizing over character arcs, back-filling and what-not (though with a new project that also has to be done, somehow there’s a lot more psychic baggage with an old project—one has to not only write the work, one has to somehow regain the mindset one originally had when the work was conceived).

So I think a great part of my ability to achieve this goal was the simple fact that I’d jumped out of the plane without a parachute and needed a bale of hay to land on, and by the gods I was going to have one when the ground (labeled “November 30”) and I finally met. Put it another way, the only way to dive off the high-dive is to do it without thinking about it. Thinking about it leads to fears and anxieties, and they become overwhelming, and in the end, one backs down the ladder and goes back to the shallow end. A third analogy (“Have you noticed how everything about them seems to occur in threes?”) would be an attack by an animal. If you analyze why the animal is probably going to win, you’re probably going to lose. If you snarl and fling yourself at the creature—well, who knows?

Actually, upon reflection, I think that the lack of preparation also meant a lack of concern. If the whole project collapsed, I had no real emotional stake in it; this wasn’t one of the stories that I really cared most about (though I did grow to enjoy it great deal). So I had no fear of falling elsewhere than on that bale of hay, since I would simply tear through the fabric of the world and find myself sitting in a comfortable chair.

(Just to take a moment here and say that THE greatest impetus for me was the accumulation of so many wonderful notes of encouragement from all of you. More than likely I would have given up without you guys, and I thank you all.)

Oh, and as to the “pretty much” bit above—I had a concept from some years back which I used as the backbone of my novel, but the concept’s details were almost completely discarded in the first few moments of writing.

What does this mean in terms of my other stories? Since they fall under the aegis of “preparation – a lot,” are they dead? To be honest, I don’t know. I’m no longer physically exhausted, much, but I feel as if my creativity has been given a good, hard squeeze and wrung out of shape, like one of those sponge-things people have on their desks. It’s slowly resuming its normal shape, but right now I have no desire at all to write a sentence of fiction. There was not a single day in November when I did not write at least a little, while doing a lot of thinking about what still needed to be written.

So I’m tired of writing and tired of thinking and just plain mentally tired in general. My internet surfing has also dropped to almost nothing–I just don’t want to think about anything, I just want to be mindless for a while. But I’m thinking this is just due to the lifting of panic at the end of NaNoWriMo, not due to the Block easing back into position.

Only time will tell. In a few days, maybe, I’ll drag out one of the old stories and see if I can bring it back to life.

In the meantime, NaNoWriMo was a wonderful experience, exhilarating, and I highly recommend it to anyone serious about writing. For at least one month out of the last six or seven years, I actually wrote a story and finished it. There’s no feeling in the world like that.