NaNoWriMo? + first page of a novel

I’m playing around with the idea of joining NaNoWriMo for the first time ever this year. Back when I was writing daily I didn’t worry about putting myself through this exercise since I was already writing regularly and substantially, but ever since my first pregnancy when I gave myself permission to “take some time off” I’ve had trouble with writing regularly again. In the last couple of months I’ve committed to writing at least a page a day and it’s working out decently. For a while I was beginning to wonder whether I’d actually ever write for pleasure again (beyond this blog, of course) – not because Grace and running a household and working full-time take so much time (they do!) but because I felt flat-out of ideas. I thought maybe the memoir and the novel I wrote were “it” – and I was oddly okay with it, even playing around with the idea of taking a sketch comedy writing class or evening acting classes instead. Then slowly, gradually, ideas started coming back to me. At first, an article idea for my local paper. Then, a couple of essay ideas. Now, I have a novel idea, a nonfiction book and a wide variety of shorter pieces bouncing around in my head 24/7, and I’m “writing in my head” again – constantly writing stories and scenes for plays and articles in my head. This “writing in my head” is something I’ve done that is as long as my memory, and the reason why I still write – if my mind is going to go there anyway, I might at least put some of it down on paper for my own pleasure.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t consider NaNoWriMo, since I’m moving along slowly and steadily with writing, but in a few month’s time I will be giving birth to our second child and I know for several months our lives won’t be normal at all. Since I have a novel idea – one I would like to pursue- I like the idea of using NaNoWriMo to get its general idea out on paper, and then return to it sometime post-baby to see if it still appeals to me. What do you think – does NaNoWriMo work in this situation? Have you participated in the past and, if so, did you find it helpful?

For fun, I thought I would include the first page of the novel I am currently working on…it’s totally different than anything else I’ve ever written – I’m “writing what I know” without it being a shaded autobiography.

Ginny Fletcher flaunted her cancer survivorship like it should be a learning lesson to others, and it was this personality trait that wore on Allison the most, making it difficult for her to focus on their already lengthy phone conversation. Instead, she found herself reviewing the many ways an attitude like Ginny’s was damaging to other cancer patients, from her belief tht a positive attiude could defeat the disease to her often shared opinion that an overindulgence in chocolate during middle aged caused her breast cancer.

“What I’m trying to tell you, Allison,” Ginny said on the other line, bringing Allison back to the task at hand, “is that I think bringing Max here, either prior to the race or the day of it, will affect moral substantially. Hisperformance in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic was transformative. I’m telling you – he becomes a dying white blood cell!”

“Ginny, I’ve told you, I’m not even sure we are sponsoring this race yet, let alone bringing Max Carter to town,” Allison said. “Hospital leadership hasn’t made a decision about this yet.”

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Syria, oh Syria

I actually started writing this post prior to the tentative agreement between the U.S., Russia and Syria and the possible international oversight and potential destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons – I also started writing this prior to the U.N.’s declaration that Syria used chemical weapons in an attack against its own people. I’m not sure if this post is relevent or not, any more, but decided to continue with it, regardless.

When I was a little girl, my dad would sometimes take me with him to pick up donuts for our family. Back then, the town I grew up in had a local bakery – Bud’s Donuts – instead of the Dunkin Donuts there now. I wasn’t a huge fan of donuts as a child so I generally went to make sure my dad remembered my cranberry muffin so I didn’t have to face an abomination like a sprinkle or jelly donut, but one of my more distinct memories is the old men who populated Bud’s in the early morning. At least, at six, eight and ten years of age, they seemed old to me (and they probably were) – proper grandpa-looking men in plaid shirts and overalls, their faces deeply lined, hats flaunting their membership to the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Eagles. Some of them smoked, of course, and their cigarette smoke would mix with the steam from their styrafoam cups of coffee and the sugared morning smell of the bakery. They were like almost every old man I knew back then, from my grandfather to my great-uncles to the men who sang in our church choir. Of course, they were World War II veterans. At the 4th of July and Christmas parades they walked down our main street tossing dum-dum suckers by the handful, and more than one of their organizations awarded me scholarships to college.

I grew up with men like these – distant with their children, less so with their grandchildren – solid providers, strong of character. Many of them passed their sense of service onto their sons so men like my dad joined the service just in time for the Vietnam War. If you followed my other blog at all, you’ve heard me write about the influence growing up under a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran, but I’m not here to write about that today, at least, not as directly as I have an the past.

The combination of growing up in a small town Northern Michigan, with a strong family history of military service, has left me with an embarrassingly strong patriotic streak. Honestly, I didn’t realize quite how uncool it is to be so pro-U.S.A. until I entered a graduate M.F.A. program less than a year after 9/11 and realized how many of my fellow students were completely against going to war with Iraq. Don’t get me wrong – I found George Bush an incredibly difficult president to support, and I don’t think at the time I supported our invasion of Iraq, but the disdain many of my held for service men and women, and the U.S. as well, shocked me. I tended to keep pretty quiet, about the faith I had in our miliary, and the overarching belief I still hold to this day, that America stands for something, to myself.

It’s a tricky thing, certainly, to figure out what conflicts we should involve ourselves in, and which we should leave alone. When I opened up the paper a few weeks ago and saw the front-page pictures of little children gassed to death in a chemical weapons attack, though, every iota of my being thought the U.S. should intervene. Why Syria and not the many other places across the world involved in civil warfare? I don’t know – perhaps it was mostly a gut reaction to seeing little girls Grace’s age gassed to death before their lives even truly began, but if I’m being entirely honest, I also experienced a really raw reaction to the coverage, thinking if the U.S. won’t do something, then who will? I like to think that one of the reasons my grandfather and great uncles served in World War II, and my father served in Vietnam, is because America still stands for the beliefs it was founded upon, and when blatant genocide occurs, we do something.

I was completely behind a targeted attack on Syria, and honestly shocked by how any of my fellow citizens didn’t support such action. I kept thinking, if my government suddenly turned against us and committed similar atrocities, we would want other countries to act – to come to our aid – and not just feel like the world had turned its back on us completely. I’ll never forget reading accounts of the Bosnian War, and how people kept waiting and waiting for the U.S.A. to help – I’ve read similar accounts from survivors of World War II, who couldn’t believe it took us as long to act as it did.

But I also understand how war-weary our country is, and I will readily admit that the circles I run in haven’t been as overtly affected by our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – I only second-handedly know people who have actually been involved in the war, and I certainly didn’t have the heart-wrenching experience of seeing my son or brother sent off to war. I also don’t have to deal with the aftermath of a loved one returning from the war, physically or mentally (or both) compromised. I empathize with the communities throughout our country who are war-weary and life-weary and simply not ready to enter another war when across the nation our expenses our up, our salaries are down, high unemployment rates still linger and the feeling that the middle class is disappearing can’t be shaken.

It breaks my heart, though. I watch my daughter do the simplest, innocent acts – like singing “rain rain” go away to the news while her father and I watch the flood coverage in Colorado, hoping my brother is somewhere safe and sound in all of that mess (he was), or asking for extra kisses when she’s had a hard day, and I know that my experience with motherhood is no different the billions of mothers around the world, caring for their young children. It is at once by the grace of God and the fortune of living as part of the middle class in the western world that means I worry about my daughter somewhat less than other moms do – gang rapes on crowded public transportation, the cruelty of female castration as part of a culture, being considered less than simply because she was born female – I don’t worry about these things when it comes to Grace nearly as much as I do peanut allergies, princess saturation, table manners and kindness.

If my facebook feed is anything to go by, a lot of people think the U.S. is broken, and before we make any further messes abroad we should work on nation building here at home. But from where I sit, which admittedly is a more privileged seat than many, the rest of the world is more broken than we are. I wish we could work on our problems here, but still not turn a blind eye to Syria.

Currently, it seems like all sides are compromising – I hate how President Obama’s decision to back away from striking Syria “destroys his credibility” when so many people in our country were against him making such a call. I have no idea how this will eventually end up (if I did, think of the money I could make!) but I have always believed, and will continue to believe, in my country, and the idea that it stands up for things greater than the sum of its parts, like justice and equality and democracy, and those things are worth fighting for abroad now as much as they were when my grandfather and father served.

These Sandwich Days – Recent Conversations

Grace and me:
Me: Grace, what do you think the baby in mommy’s belly will be? A girl or a boy?
Grace: A girl. It can only be a girl. No boys!
Me: Well, I’m doing my best, but I can’t really control it. It could be a boy.
Grace: Then I want an all-growed up boy brother. No baby boys!

Well, that would hurt.

My dad and me:
My dad: The thing is, I have all of these tomatoes from my garden, but I don’t want to make salsa! I’ve made chili sauce, tomato sauce – what else is there to make? I WOULD make salsa but it always turns out watery and really, why make salsa when store-bought is so good? I like that Mrs. Renfroe’s salsa just fine!

Me: I think you’ve done your due diligence, tomato-wise. Just don’t make the salsa.

This conversation wouldn’t be notable except for the frequency with which we had it – three times in three days. Normally this might send of warning signals in my brain about potential dementia onset, but knowing my father the way I do the guilt he has over these tomatoes knows no bounds and the only way for him to reconcile himself to the fact that he is wasting a few home-grown tomatoes is to continually reassure himself that (a.) homemade salsa is runny and (b.) he likes store bought salsa – in fact, he prefers it!

Grace and me:
Grace, in her stern, dad-imitating voice: Mommy, stop talking! I don’t like your talking anymore!
Me: Well, that’s too bad for you, little girl. I’ve been talking for a long time and don’t plan to stop.
Grace: I don’t like it, and I’m the boss!
Me: Ha, no, I’m the boss.
Grace: No! I’m the boss! I’m first boss, you’re second boss and daddy’s third boss.
Me: Ha, hardly. You are definitely third boss.
Grace: Well, okay. For now.

Me and my mom:
My mom: Don’t get me wrong, we want to visit your brother in Colorado. It’s just so difficult figuring out what to do with the dog.
Me: You could bring him down here while you are gone. He and Skylar get along so well!
My mom: Courtney, he’s not a city dog! He wouldn’t get enough exercise with you!
Me: Our dog is walked every day. EVERY DAY. I guarantee that is more excercise than your dog gets right now. He’d be fine.
My mom: No! He isn’t used to so much traffic.
Me: We won’t let him run in it, then.
My mom: Nope, I just don’t know what we are going to do with him. I guess we could board him…
Me: Well, that’s what you usually do, and he likes his boarding family a lot!
My mom: But we’ll be gone so long this time, camping our way out there and back! I worry he’d think we had abandoned him!
Me: You could take him with you.
My mom: And be tied down to a dog the whole time? A lot of camp grounds don’t let you leave your dog in the camper, not even for a short walk! He’d have to go everywhere with us!
Me: You could bring him down here…

wash, rinse, repeat

My dad and me:
Him: You know, I don’t think the zoloft has cured my stomach issues like the doctor thought they might, but I’m going to keep taking it because my golf game is so much better this summer!

Well really, what does one say?

My mom and me:
Her: You know, our minister gave a really excellent sermon in church the other day discussing the value of forgiveness and how important it is for Christians. He did a lovely job and really made me think – if my friends want to be good Christians then they will just have to forgive the fact that I don’t want to bring fruit to next week’s party and I’m bringing my margarita machine instead!

Grace and me:
Me: Did you have a good day at school, sweetie?
Grace: No. Connor touched my taco!
Me: The tacos you had for lunch?
Grace: Yes!
Looking at her menu posted on our fridge: But honey, it says here you had hamburgers for lunch.
Grace: Mama, he touched the taco I COOKED.
Me: Oh, your pretend taco?
Grace: Yes! Connor touched my pretened taco! So I had a mad day.