The end of NaNoWriMo

Today is the last day of NaNoWrimo, the day by which all participants should have reached 50k words and verified it, thus “winning” the challenge. Today I am at 42k words, haven’t written in 3 days, and have no plans to do so today. And I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you what I learned by doing NaNoWriMo.

I signed up for this challenge with some optimistic naivete. Having never written more than a short story, but wanting to write a novel for as long as I can remember, I thought this would be it. I’d heard of NY Times best sellers that were NaNo books, and I figured anything was possible. Sure 50k words is a lot, and it demanded commitment, but I had the time and the drive. I could do it.

And sure, I did do it. I got to 42k words, which is in itself pretty impressive. And if I wanted to, I would have reached the 50k mark. And after having 7k be my highest word count, I feel super proud of myself. You see, because even though I didn’t “win,” I still feel like a winner. NaNoWriMo was the kick in the ass I needed. I needed to go from talking about writing, and wishing I was writing, to actually writing. And I did.

This challenge made me go from thinking I’d never be good enough and that my writing is unremarkable, to thinking that it might be unremarkable now, but that I have the potential to make it better. That a blank paper will never be more than that, but a paper with lots of red cross-outs can be better. And my 42k words will get better. On my time, at my pace, by my rules. I appreciate NaNo for getting my engine started, but I know now that time constraints and word count goals make for more quantity of writing than quality of writing. And to be fair, no one claims to have a polished novel at the end of the month. But I felt I was putting too much pressure on myself, and that was not good for creativity.

Now, I know that all writers work under some sort of deadline. When you are working with an editor and publisher, you need to have your work completed by a certain time. I get that. I also understand that every good writer writes every day. Every. Day. But that’s just not ideal for my life right now. I could write something every day. And maybe that’s really the point. Just to get something down. But I could not commit to 2k words each day. Some days the words flowed very easily, and I reached over 2k words, and other days not so much. And it was on these “not so much” days that I felt enormous pressure. If I didn’t hit 2k, I would be behind, and if I was behind, I would have to race to catch up, and if I didn’t catch up, then I failed. That was no good for getting the creative juices flowing again.

And while I realize 2k words isn’t that much to ask of someone, it just wasn’t always feasible for me. When I left my job as a teacher and decided that I was never going back to the profession, I did so for many reasons. But one of the main reasons was that I had put my job ahead of so much else for so long. I sacrificed personal time, my health, and pushed my family to the side for ultimately nothing that gave me long-term pleasure or benefits. And when I decided teaching was no longer the best fit for me, I swore to always put my family first, no matter what else I was doing. And there were several times during NaNo that I should have been with my kids, because they were sick or wanted attention or just because otherwise I was holed up in my office and not really present; and, I didn’t honor my commitment to them. And I always felt a pang of guilt then. But in my head I defended my actions as it’s only for a month, it wouldn’t be forever. And I got through much of the month this way. But what would I say if I continued past the November 30th mark (as my 42k words is roughly only half the book)? Would I continue to justify my reasons for eschewing my promise to myself and my family? I wasn’t willing to do that.

But toward the end of the month, with Thanksgiving upon us, my kids being home for 4 days, not to mention some bouts of pink-eye, upper respiratory viruses, and then strep throat, I couldn’t see myself focusing on my writing above everything else. As the days went by, and my word count stayed stagnant, I started to realize that making it to 50k wasn’t really winning me anything but a return to the life I’d previously lived and loathed. And it was then that I made a conscious decision to not finish. My story would still be there waiting for me when I was ready to pick it up again. But these moments when my family needed me were too crucial to miss.

I know I might seem hopelessly idealistic in saying I don’t want to live a life that feels like a burden. Yes, I know sometimes aspects of our lives are difficult. But after having lived for so long with everything being difficult, I know the danger in complicity. I know how making concessions can be a very slippery slope toward feeling futile and worthless. I never will allow myself to live like that again. And when it comes to writing, I never want it to feel like a chore. Challenging, frustrating, perhaps? Sure. But never like something I have to do instead of something I want to do. I want to want to write even when I can’t, when I have something else I need to be doing. I don’t want to feel like I have nothing I want to say when I have all the time in the world. And that’s exactly why I walked away so close to the finish line, and why I don’t regret it or feel like a loser at all.

I congratulate all of the participants who will, by day’s end, have met the goal of 50k. And I also applaud all those who tried and didn’t get there, willingly or otherwise.

Hopefully we all have so much more to live. And while I know today could be our last and perhaps then I should write like I don’t have forever to finish, I choose to simply live life enjoying what I can from each day. And if writing is a part of that day, great. If helping a sick child blow their nose or catching their vomit in my bare hands so it doesn’t hit the carpet is part of that day, that’s great too. I will live my life by my rules only now, and my rule states that I always do what feels right. And today what feels right is saying farewell to NaNoWriMo. Regardless of my word count, I now consider myself a writer.

NaNoWriMo Excerpts

I’ve had several inquiries into what my book is about. I find it hard to explain it well, but can say that the main character is a teenage girl with a rare sleeping disorder who is trying to deal with her mother’s death, her father’s stifling care, new love, and figuring out who she is amidst all of this.

These excerpts are from Days 3 and 4 of NaNoWriMo, and are unedited. I do my best to correct spelling, but grammar and usage, as well as rewriting, will be done after the entire first draft is completed. Enjoy. 🙂

 

Her bedroom was exactly the opposite from mine. Granted she had just moved in and all, but I could get the sense that the mess before me was really more of a result of her ambivalence toward organization than her having just arrived.

She had clothes strewn all over her floor in various states of cleanliness. Even her bed, which was neatly made, was littered with magazines, notebooks, and what appeared to be empty Oh Henry! wrappers. She’d already started tacking posters on her walls, but instead of the normal teen heartthrobs, she had pictures of guys with tattoos, jewel-hued hair, and angry sneers covering virtually every open spot. What wasn’t covered by these photos was covered with art prints, like the type you’d see in a museum, only not like the Mona Lisa or something ordinary like that, but really weird stuff like dripping clocks, people who misshapen facial features, and bright splashes of color put together in a way that made no sense to me.

She saw me taking everything in, and looked like she was ready to defend her choices of decor if I said something, but I was too out of my element to even speak, and I think she also sensed that. She watched me for another five seconds or so, and then pushed aside the debris on her bed, tossing it all to the floor, and told me to relax and have a seat.

“You don’t get out much do you?” she asked. “You look like you’re in some sort of state of shock. What does your room look like?” she asked.

“Uh, well, my walls are periwinkle, and I have a few Monet prints that my parents decorated my room with when I was a baby. And I have a few posters of bands that you clearly don’t listen to. And just clothes, a desk, and my books. You know, normal,” I said.

She snickered. “Normal, huh? Yeah, that’s not exactly my way of doing things,” she said in a way that I couldn’t quite tell was in good humor or with a side of sneer.

“Well, anyway,” she continued, “It’s cool to have someone to hang out with so close to my house. I didn’t have many friends at my old school, and my mom and I lived way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, so it was hard to get to anyone’s house even if I was invited.” She looked, for a second, as though she regretted giving me that much information already, especially considering it made her look sort of like a loser. I didn’t want her to go back to sneering at me, so I thought it best I chimed in at this point. Plus, I hadn’t really said anything in many minutes, and I was starting to look like a loser myself. If I wasn’t careful, she’d be regretting inviting me and asking me to get out of here.

“Yeah, well, like you said I really don’t get out much,” I said. “My dad has me home schooled, and so I don’t really hang out with anyone my own age. Mr. Chotchsky across the street, and Mrs. Rosenthal next door are pretty much my only friends,” I said without thinking. Why did I just tell this girl, who I didn’t know, but who seemed way more cool than me, that my only friends are two middle-aged neighbors. Ugh. I can be so stupid sometimes.

“So, we’re really the same, you and I,” she said with noticeably no sneer and a hint of a smile even. “I think it would be best for our adolescent growth and development if we were friends. My mom is always spouting out psychobabble bullshit like that at me because she thinks I’m maladjusted, with having no friends and whatnot. But maybe if you and I were friends, she could lay off for a bit. What do you say, Addy Parker? Want to be my best friend forever? Or at least until my mom moves us away again?” she asked.

I couldn’t quite tell anything with her. She seemed genuine, but then again, I have no judgment of character since I never interact with other kids my age. But looking at her face, even though she tried to hide behind a wall of toughness, I could sense some vulnerability behind her questioning eyes and smirk. I decided to take her at her word.

“Best friends forever, Callie Fischer,” I said. And then trying out a bit of her vocabulary choices, I added, “Or hell, let’s make it best friends until death do us part,” I said and laughed.

She nearly fell off her bed laughing. Immediately I turned bright red, thinking I had misread her, and she was just messing around with me. Ugh, so stupid again.

But just as I was starting to pull myself up off her bed, she grabbed my arm, pulled me back down, and said, “I wasn’t laughing at you, doofus, I was laughing at your sudden use of expletives. Better watch out, Proper Addy, or I will rub off on you,” she said. “Plus, that was pretty funny–death do us part. I didn’t think you had it in you,” She said.

I started to scowl. Who was this girl judging me all of a sudden. She didn’t know a thing about me. Where did she get the nerve, I thought.

“Ah, there you go again, getting all bent out of shape. Relax, Addy, I’m just messing with you. Better get used to that if we’re friends until death do us part,” she said. And then, continuing, “You know, I really like the sound of that. Death do us part. No one has ever wanted to be my friend for a week let alone for a lifetime,” she said a bit wistfully.

Both of us suddenly feeling shy and awkward at having admitted to a practical stranger that neither of us had any friends, we stared down at her bedspread until Callie finally spoke.

“So how about that bowl?” she asked at last.

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“Oh, no,” I thought. I had forgotten that agreeing to that was what got me here in the first place. I couldn’t back out now, especially after having shown Callie I could be cool and that we had proclaimed ourselves best friends. No way. I was going to do this if it killed me. And it just might.

Callie hopped up from her bed,walked across her room, and began rummaging through her third dresser drawer. She turned to me as she was flinging clothes around clearly in search of something, and said, “I keep all my naughty things in my third drawer down. I’ve done some reserch, and parents always check the first drawer, and sometimes the second. Rarely do they search any further if they’ve found no cause for alarm by the second drawer. I figure my mom is definitely the quitting type, so I’m safe with the third drawer.” She pulled out a tiny container that smelled like a skunk, and a small glass pipe that was colored purple and black, and came back over the the bed. She took a tiny piece of the pot out of the container, rubbed it a little, and packed it into the pipe. Then she lit it, inhaled, held the smoke in, and handed the pipe to me. Having never done this before, I had no idea what to do.

She started laughing again, only this time she was coughing up smoke and shaking her head.

“You’ve never smoked before have you?”she asked.

I shook my head no, and shrugged my shoulders. I figured that if she was really going to be my friend, then she needed to know me for who I really am, and this was just another example of my lack of worldliness where she so obviously excelled at it.

“It’s not too hard. It might burn a little at first, but once you get used to how much to inhale, that’s not a problem,” she said.

“I’m not sure any smoke will be ok for me. I’ve never even had second-hand cigarette smoke in my lungs,” I replied.

“Ok, no worries. We’ll indoctrinate you slower then. That is, of course, if you still want to do it. When you agreed to come in and smoke a bowl, I just assumed you’d done it before,” she said.

“I just wanted you to think I was cool,” I said.

“Ah, Addy, I’m sure you’re plenty cool. And who am I to decide who’s cool and who’s not. I’m a no-friend loner like you. I just also happen to smoke pot every now and then,” she said.

I looked at her, really looked at for the first time since I’d met her, and I could tell that she was just as lonely as I was. I mean, who would invite a perfect stranger into their house to smoke an illicit drug unless you were desperate for company? And at the same time, here she was, letting me into her room with all of her personal things and willing to share all of it with me. I was suddenly so moved by it all that I teared up. She mistook this for panic.

“Whoah, Addy, it’s cool, you don’t need to do it,” she said, putting the bowl in her bedside table drawer. “We can just hang out or whatever,” she said quickly, hoping to diffuse the situation. Not wanting her to misunderstand me, I reached into her drawer, pulled the bowl back out, and told her to light it up. She looked at me with a combination of wonder and relief.

“I have an idea,”she began, “How about I shotgun your first hit, that way it’ll be less intense, and you can get used to it, see if you like it, and want to do more,” she said.

“What the hell is shotgunning?” I asked.

She smirked that infectious smirk again. “Again with the swearing. I’ve gotta say, it’s very becoming of you,” she said.

I rolled my eyes at this,but then asked again how to shotgun the hit.

“I light it up, inhale it, and then blow the smoke into your mouth. You still get the high from it, but it’s not as intense,” she finally replied.

“Ok, that sounds ok. Let’s try it that way,”I said.

Callie lit up the end of the pipe, inhaled the smoke that rose through the chamber, held it in her lungs for a second, then leaned across the bed toward me. I opened my mouth, and she gently blew the smoke into my mouth, her lips very lightly,maybe almost accidentally, touching mine as she did so. As she did this, I looked right into her eyes, seeing for the first time that they weren’t blue as I’d thought, but grey. Like the color of lake water during a storm. And she smelled like oranges and something herbal. When she pulled back from blowing the smoke to me, I could feel the stickiness of her lip gloss on my lips, and I could barely hold the smoke in from my breath catching and my heart racing.

I blew the smoke out as quickly as I could without letting on that I was already feeling its effects. Or was I feeling something else?

Callie looked at me, eyes searching mine for an indication that I wanted to continue. My head was swirling, and I wasn’t really sure to what I was agreeing, but I knew that I didn’t want this moment to end. So I smiled, nodded, and said, “Let’s spark it up again.”

Callie smiled that smile with all those perfect teeth, took a hit, and passed it back to me. By this point I had watched her enough to figure out how to do it myself. I took a hit, mind reeling, and passed it back to her, brushing my fingertips on hers.

I sat back and leaned on her headboard trying to process everything that was going through my body. How could I possibly feel relaxed yet my heart was racing like a greyhound? I wanted to giggle like a toddler every time I looked at Callie, but I could barely keep my eyes open.

Too late. By the time I’d figured out what was actually happening, there was no way I could get out of her house and into my room in time. “Damn it,” I thought, “how could I have been so stupid to overlook the most obvious signs?” I’d been through this so many times that I should be prepared to react at the first indication that all was not right in my body. But because I just assumed my symptoms were a combination of the pot and my new feelings for Callie, I ignored it, and I was about to have made the biggest mistake of my life.

The last thing I knew, my head hit the floor, and all went black.

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In the beginning stages of an episode, I don’t lose consciousness completely. It’s almost as if I’m Comatose, unable to move, speak, or respond, but like those people who believe you walk into the light when you die and can see and hear everything that is going on around you, I could hear the panic that Callie was in.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!,”she yelled. “What the fuck happened? Oh God! Is she dead? Addy, can you hear me? Are you breathing? Oh, God! What am I supposed to do now?” she continued.

I could tell she was really freaking out, but there was no way for me to tell her  that I wasn’t dead, just on my way to a very long sleep. It’s been so long since I’d had an episode in front of someone who wasn’t aware of my condition. My dad had made sure my tutor and our immediate neighbors were knew what to do so that they could help me if it happened too suddenly for me to deal with. But it really hadn’t crossed my mind to tell Callie yet. There was no way I was going to be like, “Hi, I’m Addy, and I have a rare sleep disorder that the doctors can’t properly diagnose or treat. Want to be my friend?” Anyone with any sense would turn right around and shut the door in my face.

And besides, I’d just had an episode last week, the day Callie and her mom moved in, so I shouldn’t need to worry about another one for at least another few weeks. Uh oh, come to think of it, I’d had one the week before too. What’s going on? It’s never been this bad. What’s happening to me?

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Obviously I don’t know what happened after that, but from what my dad told me, it went a little something like this: Callie called 911, as the ambulance roared down our street, sirens blaring, the neighbors came out to see who it might be for. When they saw it stop between my house and Callie’s, Mr.Chotchsky and Mrs. Rosenthal came over, thinking, rightly so, that it might be me again. It had been awhile since an ambulance had been called for me, and they were worried that maybe I’d fallen in the street and clocked my head on the pavement. Honestly, that would have been a welcome alternative to what really happened: passing out and scaring Callie half to death, thus probably ruining my chances of really being her friend. LIke being a teenager isn’t hard enough, I have to deal with this too. Ugh.

I guess after the paramedics got to Callie’s house, Mr. C and Mrs. R informed them about my condition, and they then noticed my medical bracelet. Thankfully, instead of taking me to the hospital, racking up a bill my dad would be even more burdened with, they brought me into my house and put me in my bed, calling my dad to let him know of the incident.

When I wake up from an episode, I don’t have any immediate recollection of what happened. But as soon as I opened my eyes three days later and saw Mrs. R sitting next to my bed, knitting, I knew what happened. Whenever I have one of these episodes, Mrs. R watches over me. My dad has missed too much work over the last few years for me, and is dangerously close to being fired for it. Luckily he and Mrs. R have made an arrangement that keeps him employed and me from being alone.

Usually when I go into a long sleep, Mrs. R starts a new knitting project so that by the time I wake up, I can gauge how long I’ve been out by the amount she has done. Socks and mittens are the easiest. She can usually get through one set of each by the time I wake up. I’ll first look down to my feet and over at my hands to see if that was her project of choice because once she’s done with them, she likes to put them on me. I don’t mind because my circulation slows down a lot when I’m in a deep sleep, and I usually wake up freezing otherwise.

This time, when I woke up, I had new socks and mittens, and she was half way through a new sweater. I knew I must have been out awhile.

“Ergh,” I mumbled, sitting up. “What day is it?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” Mrs. R answered.

“Tuesday?! It was just Saturday! Please tell me you’re kidding.” I exclaimed.

“Sorry, honey, I’m not. You had a doozy of a sleep this time around. At one point you even sat up, and started getting out of bed as if you were awake, mumbling about something I couldn’t understand. I could tell from your eyes that you were still unconscious, and got you to lay back down. Had to tell you dad about that, I’m afraid.,” Mrs. R explained.

I couldn’t believe it. I never sleep for more than a two days at most, and I’ve never so much as rolled over in my sleep let alone tried to get up and walk away. Something really was going on, and I knew my dad would be worried and probably force me to get more tests done. I hate it when he’s worried. I look at his tired eyes, deeply creased at the corners, the thinning, greying hair, and his slumped posture, and I know that most of these changes are because of me.

But I had to push that from my mind. I had to get up and try to piece my missing days back together. My mouth felt like the paste I used to eat when I was in second grade, and it tasted even worse. Rubbing my eyes produced a streak of black on each hand that was rubbing off from my eyelashes. My hair, usually silky and straight down to my shoulders was balled up in knots on the back of my head where I’d lain for four days. Worst of all was my smell. Mrs. R never complained, but I was still embarrassed every time this happened because I had to wear an adult sized diaper or risk peeing all over myself. My heart rate may decrease dramatically,but my body was still a comedian and needed to rid itself of waste. I needed to get into the shower ASAP.

I pushed back my down comforter, and swung my legs over the side of my double bed. Mrs. R rose to take my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. I had to have my stats done before I was allowed to get out of bed. Once I’d gotten up too quickly, lost my balance from low blood pressure, fell, and broke open my eyebrow on my dresser edge. Since then I’ve needed to have these quick tests done before really getting up.

“Stats all look good. Now for the cognitive test. Ready?” Mrs. R said.

“Yep, shoot,” I replied.

“Full name,” she said.

“Adelaide Amelia Parker,” I answered.

“And your age?” she asked.

“16. 17 next month,” I said, smiling.

“Your address, please, my dear,” Mrs. R asked.

“123 Sesame Street,” I replied, giggling. She shot me a look, so I gave her the real answer: “45 Cottage Lane.”

“Thank you, Miss Addy, I do believe you are fit enough to get yourself up and on with your day. If you need anything, as always, I’m right next door,” Mrs.R said.

“Thanks, Mrs. R, as always. And thanks for the new socks and mittens. I really like the bursts of tangerine with the rose. Looks like a sunset,” I said.

“You’re very welcome, dear. You’re sure you’re good to be on your own? I can stay longer if you need me,” she said.

“Yep, I’ll be fine, thanks.You’ve already done enough. Thank you again,” I said and gave her a big hug. She felt thinner, more frail than the last time. I put that observation into the back of my mind to look into later. Right now I needed to focus on showering, and getting over to Callie’s house to explain myself.

Mrs. R let herself out, as she always does, and I hopped into the shower. I always turn the water up as high as I can stand it, steaming up the mirror and window. My skin looks like a baby mole, swollen and bright pink by the time I’m done, but it helps to get my blood flowing again after my partial hibernation.

After showering and drying off, I took pains to dress myself up. There was something about Callie that made me want to look my best. So even though I often just throw my hair up in a ponytail, throw on some yoga pants and a hoodie, and forget makeup on the day I wake up, I carefully chose my outfit this time.

With my indigo skinny jeans, salmon chiffon top, and my glittering silver ballet flats, I looked amazing. I always get compliments when I wear this outfit, so I knew it would impress Callie. I carefully styled my hair in a side fishtail braid and even put on tinted lip balm, which I only do when my dad takes me out to my favorite sushi restaurant for my birthday.

I needed to sit down for a second because my heart was racing, and I was beginning to sweat. I was afraid I was relapsing already, and certainly didn’t want to make the same mistake I made on Saturday.

After reading a cooking magazine of my dad’s for a few minutes, I felt certain that I wasn’t going into another sleep. I guess I was just nervous. I liked Callie a lot, even though I’d just met her, and was hoping she wouldn’t slam the door in my face after what had happened.

I stood up, straightened my clothes, checked my hair and makeup one last time, and was just about to head out the door when the doorbell rang.

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