Bitter Bazille

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Go.

Up the stairs. Or take that new, fancy elevator.

All the way to the new, fancy wing.

They’ve given them all a fancy, new wing.

With their pastels and harshly-lit nudes,

Their dappled tea-drinkers and bronze ballerinas,

And of course, those sloppy water lilies.

Don’t worry about me.

I’m just fine here on the first floor.

I have my own room and everything.

My gatherings of families in their fine attire,

My own attempts at naturalism,

My relevance is just as valuable.

Sooner or later you’ll all at least pass through.

Or walk on by, because of course

They put me right next to that stupid marble fawn

and his stupid, adorable bear cubs.

So go, or stay, whichever you choose.

It’s not like I hope to make…an impression on you.

While at the Musee d’Orsay, I wandered into a room of works by Bazille. There was no one there.  Everyone was upstairs seeing Monet, Degas, etc. It occurred to me that Bazille might be less than happy.

In the Hall of God

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I see my faith in pieces,

Like so many shattered porcelain teacups

That were once perfect in form and function.

I weep for the lost wholeness.

Or I would, if I could remember how they looked before they fell.

Buy my memory is weak.

I have a sense of grace, now long departed,

And of surety, of a thing complete.

I wonder if I’ll ever get those pieces put back together,

Or if I will be forever cutting myself

On the sharp edges

Of a childlike, beautiful faith.

The Great and Terrible NaNoWriMo

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Last month was National Novel Writing Month, and you can find out more about it at their website. I think that it’s a great program, a lofty goal, and a fun project for any writer to try. I heartily recommend making a donation if you are able.

I also think there are dangers to doing the NaNoWriMo, at least serially. I want to outline them here, but first some history:
My first NaNoWriMo was exhilarating. I had a novel which had been floating around in my brain for a good long while, and with dedication and some very long nights, I put it all down onto paper. I promised I would edit it up in December, and I sort of did. I was also quite exhausted mentally, and editing fell by the wayside as new ideas moved forward.

My second NaNo was nerve-wracking. Having pushed through and won the previous year, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to repeat the process. And I was so busy that November! Still, I set aside time every day, disappearing into my room for long stretches of time, and I put my certificate on my office door.

My third NaNo was easy. I wrote an escapist piece of self-starring science fiction. It had good bones, but by that point I knew how to get things done. It was perfunctory. I didn’t revisit the story for six months.

My fourth, and last, NaNoWriMo was two years ago. I tried to write a novel I had wanted to write for a year, a daring adventure and political intrigue caper. And I did, but there was no magic to it. I felt no thrill at hitting the 50,000 word mark, no joy at seeing the “Winner” on my home page. And my story, to my dismay, was not particularly good.

I have friends who use NaNoWriMo to get through their projects, and they are successful at it. I have friends who can’t get past 20,000 words after a month. 1600 words a day is a tough quota if you aren’t writing on a regular basis, but it is doable. Here are my personal issues with NaNoWriMo.

Learning the tricks
My first problem with doing multiple NaNo’s is that my writing became more about utilizing the “short cuts” I learned than telling the story. My characters would talk about everything except the plot. There would be side adventures to the grocery store, tangential essays on the nature of unrelated matters. My writing morphed after four novels from tight to meandering. My characters stopped doing things!

That’s because when you have to write 1600 words a day, you have to find filler on the days when you can’t write – you graffiti that writer’s block! Filler is fine, and fun to write, but if you are not careful your writing will turn into nothing but filler, with very little story.

There’s also the desire to win. I’m competitive. I don’t like admitting defeat. For me, I recognized that my desire to complete the competition was negatively impacting what I was saying.

Burnout
So you complete the novel – you wrote 50,000 words in a month! Maybe with even a day or two to spare! Good for you! Now you want to decompress. My third NaNoWriMo, my decompression lasted six months for that project. I couldn’t look at my writing. I couldn’t make myself sit and put the words down. Poetry, goofy things – I didn’t stop writing, but I found my brain unwilling to revisit old projects, or start new ones in depth.

The second danger would be burnout. For me, the mental energy of writing a whole book in a month balances with the backlash which follows on December 1. I needed a break, but as any writer will say, writing is something that must be practiced regularly or we fall out of practice. I fell out of practice, and it was difficult to get back into the swing of things.
I have come to the conclusion that NaNoWriMo is great for a year or two – it’s a challenging exercise (1600 words a day!), a practice in making good habits (writing every day!), and a wonderful environment with an engaging and active writing community. The forums are full of helpful advice, tips, encouragement and positive energy.

And I think that if you have a loose marble of a story bouncing around in your head, the NaNoWriMo is a great way to get that marble out of your system – like a “writer’s cleanse.” It might not come out polished, but the goal is to put something on paper.

However, I am not convinced that doing the NaNoWriMo repeatedly doesn’t lend itself to some bad habits over time. As with any event where quantity is the goal over quality (though of course quality is desired as well), there are pitfalls.

My advice? Be mindful.

I started this blog with the intention of doing NaPoWriMo – and writing a poem a day was a bit more freeing because poetry does not require a quota of words. It was a bit more challenging because it requires, at least, a quota of ideas. I haven’t decided if I am going to do it again, though given my enjoyment of challenging myself, I probably will. Four years from now? Well, we’ll see.

Now, go and write!

What Wonders

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What Wonders

So up we fly, up through the snow

The ground in grey and white below

Till all that’s left is a golden glow

Of all the world I’ll ever know

What wonders will she show

What wonders will she show

Celestial lights and moon’s good glow

The clouds with violent undertow

Till stars above and lights below

Are all that I could wish to know

What wonders will she show

What wonders will she show

Of sky and Earth and winds that blow

Of ground that sleeps and storms that grow

So up I fly, up through the snow

What wonders will I know

What wonders will I know

Apologies for the delay, everyone. It’s been busy.

The above started with the couplet: “7 miles up and through the snow  / The world is Hades down below.” I was leaving Detroit and there was snow and low clouds. From above, the thin clouds  glowed pale yellow and grey because of all the light from the cities and suburbs. It was alluring and otherworldly, and so I let my rhyming mind roam unchecked.