My brother, Curtis, has a new blog, which I just discovered this week. Those of you who know Curtis won't be surprised that he has a lot to say about certain things, mostly regarding topics philosophical and/or political. I love that he's begun writing these things down and putting them out there for quasi-public consumption. He and I differ on a lot of things, but that's what discourse is all about. Intelligent debate. Not these vitriolic spit-fests leading up to political primaries, or the partisan finger-pointing and name-calling which inevitably arise once the elections are over. I'm talking about thoughtful, reasoned discussion.
Today, I commented on Curtis's blog for the first time. It's really a response to several of his posts thus far, but I enjoyed writing it out, so I thought I would share it here for fun. (Also to encourage anyone who likes to read Libertarian treatises on modern society to visit pCoast Compelled.)
In Curtis's most recent post--Thanksgiving. To who?--he makes the case for personal responsibility and congratulation. An excerpt:
My comment is as follows:
Wow. Well, first, thank you for spilling your optimism about the average individual human all over the interwebs.
As I read through these initial posts, I found an interesting pattern. You're writing to a certain subset of people, and that subset holds close to a rubric set by your own life experience and personality. On Thanksgiving morning, you'll be patting yourself on the back for choosing a job which pays you enough money to be able to buy a new home. And you'll be praising yourself in the mirror for taking care of your own health. And you'll be looking at your brainy, beautiful wife and thinking, "It's a good thing I've actively made myself funny and handsome and successful enough that she wants to be with me." All across America, there may well be similar people giving themselves similar affirmations, but the grave weakness of this fallacy is in its incompleteness.
Allow me to apply what I'm talking about to my own life first. There are plenty of good things in my life which are here in spite of me or my choices. For example:
It will never cease to amaze me that I have the choice not to have children. Until the 1960s, married women either had kids until their bodies gave out, or they stonewalled their own husbands to reduce the odds of conception. Worldwide, women had only one dependable option to limit their family size: abstinence. A close second was abortion, which was illegal and, therefore, not widely available or safe when it could be obtained. The invention of the birth control pill and the legislative victories which made it legal are two things I can take ZERO credit for, but which affect me every day of my privileged life.
I am also thankful for the existence of extraordinary people who do good things for the world and spend their lives selflessly in service to their fellow man. Malala Yousafzai is one. Nelson Mandela is another. I am thankful for public defenders, inner-city teachers, first responders. I am thankful for my friend Jeremy, who pulled an unconscious woman from her burning vehicle and dragged her to safety. And for victims' rights advocates. And for people who pay for the coffee of the person behind them in line at Starbucks. And for whoever gave the homeless man on my street a new blanket and shoes last week. These people are empowered and making their own choices, and what they do has no direct effect on me whatsoever, but I am grateful to them. Humbled by them. Hopeful that there will always be people like that, because--on my worst days--I might need one of them, and--on my best days--I might be one of them.
Time flies when you're writing thousands of words every day. It's all because of National Novel Writing Month, a masochistic writing commitment which I've attempted and failed to complete twice before. But this year, I told myself, would be different. This year I would be joining several wonderful friends in the NaNoWriMo attempt, and would benefit from their encouragement and solidarity. Also, I would be publicly stating my intent to do NaNoWriMo as part of my work for The Postmasters Podcast, and our audience would hold me accountable. On top of all this, my writing life is better prepared now for such a mission. In years past, I'd tried NaNoWriMo while working on my master's thesis or trying to jumpstart other new projects simultaneously. Huge mistake. This year I've got my head on straight, my priorities aligned, and time in the day to write write write write write. And then write some more. It would be different this time.
I was right. Since November 1, I've averaged almost 2,500 words a day. That's nearly 1,000 words more than the required daily average for a successful NaNoWriMo (1,667). It's working. I haven't missed a day. My novel is developing. Shooting up into the air like some kind of jungle plant, thriving under the pressure and the heat and all that unselfconscious first-drafting.
I wake in the morning, shuffle into the office, close the door, sit in the chair and turn on my computer. Scrivener (the software I'm using the first time this year) is already open to my project. There's a fresh text document ready for me (titled the night before with the day's date and a few key words to remind myself where my characters are and where they need to go next). I begin. Tap-tap-tap-clatter-clatter-backspace-backspace-backspace-tap-clatter-tap. New leaves and branches and blooms on the jungle plant, out of my control, from someplace sincere within my writerly heart. When I write, my personality splinters, and I hear the voices of writers from Hemingway to Kingsolver to O'Brien hollering at me, whispering to me. Do it like this. Not like that. Go further. Write faster!
Forty-six thousand words so far. And a lot of it is terrible!
For instance, I've wasted time on sentences like this:
Closer they came, but slowly, and Dottie found herself staring at them, trying to guess what was passing between them. The mood was tense.
That's a whole lot of ugly, bad grammar in one place. And boring to boot!
I've also been typing so fast, I've managed to garble perfectly good sentences with duplicate words, like so:
Triage. The moment when when mere moments made a difference, and if you wasted them with the wrong boy you might lose the right one.
Don't worry. I've tried to keep the word count padding to a minimum, though, I have allowed the crutch of cliché to creep in when I need to keep up my momentum:
Her mind was running wild and she knew she couldn't afford that now.
If I weren't obliterating the minimum each day, I'd be unable to afford such lame sentences, too. But it's all okay, because occasionally I've managed truth and beauty and, hopefully, some of the gravity I pray will be integral to this story.
Planes she couldn't see droned above her in the night sky, shadowy as fish in a river, but she caught herself looking up anyway as the buzzing drew closer, so close she wondered if she could reach up and feel her fingers pass hotly over the slick belly of an enemy aircraft.
I have faith the gravity will be present if I'm honest and follow my instincts and try very hard not to try very hard.
One evening this summer, I led my writers' group through several back-to-back short exercises. This was easily the favorite of the night:
Create a story that is 26 sentences long. Each sentence must begin with the next letter in the alphabet. For example, the first sentence should begin with A, the second with B, the third with C, and so forth.
Here's what I came up with:
"And stay out," Pa yelled at the tail-end of the escaping dog. "Bloodhounds aren't good for anything. Call Peterman and tell him to get these mongrels off our property. Dammit. Enough is enough."
"Fella's just doing us a favor." Gripping the open door screen, Ma shook her head, her white hair fluttering in the aimless breeze like dandelion fluff.
"He comes around here one more time and I'll shoot him."
"I'd like to see you try," said Ma and reached for her husband's soft shoulders. "Just come back inside, Xavier."
Keeping the screen open with her hip, she guided him into the house. Liver spots shadowed his shaking hands. Many years had passed since either of his deep brown eyes had seen a thing.
"Never will understand why that man sends his dog over here."
"Oh, Pa," she said. "Peterman means well."
"Quit pushing me," he said, swatting at her hands.
"Really, he's trying to do right by us. Service dogs cost money is all. Tramp don't cost a thing," she said and walked toward the bathroom, but then stopped and looked back.
Underlit by the glow of the television set, where the football game had suddenly changed to static, Pa appeared alien to her all of a sudden. Very odd to have a blind, ornery stranger in her living room after sixty-four years. Wind picked up at the corners of the house, as she expected. Xavier hunkered down in his chair as the tornado siren sounded.
"You know, I think this time we're heaven-bound, Ellen," said Pa over the high, fearsome whine, and his voice tugged her heart once again, bringing her back to his side; she knelt on the floor and held his hand.
Zeb Peterman pulled Tramp into his root cellar next door, let the doors bang shut above them both, and whispered, "Well boy, at least we tried."
Someone must be last. That's the rule. And in my kingdom, this works out fine, because the last shall be first. Yet, this little leaf, now brown and curled around the edges, dampens even my spirits today. Perhaps it is the way it clings so hopefully to the branch. Well, last week, still surrounded on all sides by his family, his clinging might have been hopeful. Not so much now. Unflanked and exposed. His determination, then, brings me down a fraction of an inch. He won't give in to the turning of seasons--a process which has undergone more revolutions than anyone can count. Except me, of course.
Revolution: The act of rising up in defiance.
Each spring is something of a revolution, and even this last leaf has had his spring. That's the rule, too. I don't demand that the trees give up their leaves, all of them, at the close of the year. It's merely the way I built the machine. And the circumstances of spring--all noisy green, pushing up through the snow to hail the sun--seem like a victory. A resurrection. A thrilling surprise, at least for the new buds, the newly unscrolling leaves, green and emphatic. We live in spite of the death that came before!
But resurrections in my universe are also part of the plan. People were surprised by mine, you know. but make no mistake. What appeared a revolution embodied in a revived heart behind a stone was really ordained long ago. Back before there were springs at all, which is to say, back before there were winters.
And so, even this last leaf must fall.