"So now the end is near…" or something like that anyway, are the words from that old Sid Vicious classic, "My Way". There he is in his white tux jacket standing at the top of the big staircase crooning it out for all he's worth, for the opening lines anyway, then it's the Sex Pistols/punk/howl/thing that comes screeching out of his mouth.
Well, Sid did it his way, but that's not the way most of us choose to go out, in the Chelsea Hotel on bad heroin and in a bad way. But old Sid must have been pretty much D.O.A. when he checked into the hotel anyway – maybe even when he checked in with Malcolm and the boys back in the beginning. He was too much punk for most tastes – nihilism to the max – and made sure of the 'no future' part. Because in reality he didn't have much of a future and a part of him knew that, somewhere in that fucked up drug and alcohol riddled brain he knew after this – this being Nancy and the Chelsea Hotel – it was downhill on a bumpy roller coaster to hell.
So what's Sid got to do with anything, except that I was thinking about finishes and endings, and doing things the way you plan on it and the whole "My Way" thing popped into my head. Which of course brought the late Mr. Vicious to mind and caused my mind to start wandering down the path of the choices made that brought me here instead of maybe my version of his lonely hotel room and empty life.
Which in turn might prompt some among you to wonder what any of this has to do with NaNoWriMo Notes and the price of bread. Probably nothing about the latter, but something that my tortured brain says has to do with the former, at least in terms of bringing things to a close – ending – making a finish.
Last year in October, perhaps a little earlier in the month, I began the first of two projects that have preoccupied, if obsessions can be said to preoccupy, me for the greater part of the ensuing time. Bless Dr. Pat's head (former esteemed Books Editor for this site) for his forbearance, allowing a relatively green writer the freedom to sink or swim in the potential pool of self-indulgence that became "NaNoWriMo Notes".
Initial objectives of the series was to provide updates and reports on my progress in the November nuttiness known as the National Novel Writing Month. Of course with its now close to 75,000 participants worldwide, the National part of the title is obsolete, but why change a good name and all the memories of a young Robin Williams it evokes?
The object of said contest (NaNoWriMo for short) is to write a minimum of 50,000 words during the course of November for no other reason than to say you did it. Sure, some people have used it as a springboard to make a rough start on a novel, but for the most part it's just an exercise in spontaneous creation: how far can one bit of inspiration be carried?
For some people it can feel like running with one of those medicine balls that sadistic phys ed teachers used to make pre-pubescent kids throw at each other in an attempt to show that they could stand up to the weight of the world being suddenly tossed in their direction, tucked under your arm. To others it's no more weight than one of those plastic baseballs that seem to have more holes in them than plastic. Pick it up with one finger and run with it for days, leaving the medicine ball-haulers far behind.
Ask anyone who has any experience with me and they'll gladly tell you I've some strange peculiarities, which if you're being nice you'd call eccentricities, but could also be called psychoses. Tell me to write 50,000 words of a story in a month just for the sheer hell of it, something no obviously sane person would attempt, and it's like offering me a treat. What, how can you be stressed by this, I can't think of anything that could be more fun!
Ask me to go out to a mall, walk down a busy street, or even go to a social gathering where there are going to be people and noise, and I'm a basket case. I don't want anything to do with it, them, or whatever. I come over all faint, I make excuses, and if I do go, I hide under clothes and a hat with a brim. In fact ask me to have anything to do with the normal goings on in the world and I could easily be reduced to a quivering mass of jelly.
It's not even like I'm some classic serial killer social misfit "he was always so quiet and kept to himself" type of guy. I'm happily married, have one or two close friends, and am reasonably personable; it's just that modern life and most of the people living it freak the shit out of me. I take some drugs to help me cope and see a shrink whose job is to try and ease me back into the swing of things, but I'm not overly interested in doing that, thank you very much.
I think this is where we can fit in the hotel room and Sid Vicious now. You see, quite a number of years ago I was defining myself by imagining me through the eyes of others and always, of course, finding the results wanting. (Whether they did or not is another thing altogether.) Living like that requires a great deal of outside "assistance" in whatever form you feel like at the time and puts you on that down elevator to a cold slab in the morgue unless you hit the emergency stop button.
I was close to the basement before I even found where the stop button was on the control panel, and I still had to choose whether or not to push it. Hitting it and starting to walk back up the stairs was probably the hardest decision I'll ever make. Making it only helped me see the stairs; climbing them was another matter all together. Lots of people stop but never climb out, but I couldn't see any purpose to that.
But to make the climb you have to find a reason inside yourself, for yourself. If you do it for somebody else, or because the gun to your head has someone else's finger on the trigger you're just going up the down staircase. In my case it started as just simple survival instinct. Not wanting to check out caused me to hit the stop button in the first place, and once pieces of the past started to click into place and I came to understand the whys and wherefores for me being how I was, there was sufficient motivation in that basic urge to get me climbing.
Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome is the fancy name they give to the way you feel after having your whole system – physically, emotional, spiritually, and psychically – put through a meat grinder. The longer you were tenderized, the finer you were ground, the harder it is to recover. The grit that saw you through surviving the storm gets you to the first couple of landings but that vanishes and soon you're bereft of everything, including excuses.
If poetry is your goal, you've got to forget all about punishments and all about rewards and all about self-styled obligations and duties and responsibilities etcetera ad infinitum and remember one thing only: that it's you – nobody else – who determine your destiny and decide your fate. — e.e. cummings
There it was in black and white spelled out for me in a book I'd carried around for years. Hell, I'd quoted those lines to people many a time to show off what a great fucking "artiste" I was, but hadn't ever taken them to heart in any shape or form. I was stuck on the landing and all along the answer was right there waiting for me to remember it. I could do whatever the hell I wanted, but I'd have to do it and commit to it, whatever it was.
Or, I realized, it meant that anything I did – work, personal relationships, etc. – had to be given that type of consideration. I was the one responsible for my part in everything I came in contact with and there could be no excuses ever again. Let me tell you, it's one damn steep climb, and I've got plenty of cuts and bruises from where I've fallen along the way and I've had to re-climb the same set more then once.
It would have been very easy to decide I had no future like Sid, but instead I opted to keep trying. I found the means to help me climb the stairs and that was doing the one thing that had always been a constant in my life, writing. But now I started to write for the sake of writing and myself, not to get people to like me or earn their respect or whatever else might be offered as a reward.
The idea of NaNoWriMo appealed to me because it was a perfect example of doing just that. Nobody really cared what it was you were writing, just that you were writing. I had tentative plans for the story I was writing and thought I could see where it was going beyond the 50,000 word quota, but at the same time I didn't even have a title for it until after the first 10,000 words were written.
The idea behind this series initially was to try to let people share in the excitement and drama, if any, of being involved in a contest like this. But when I spoiled that plan by hitting the target mark with something like ten days left in the contest, I began to shift the focus. Eventually it became a sort of guided tour through my process of actually taking this thing I started with no expectations and turning it into a novel.
I'm sure at times it appeared self-indulgent and bordering on navel-gazing to some people, and I'm the first to admit that there probably were elements of both involved. But writing is a self-absorbing process, not something you do as part of a team usually, so that was as inevitable as bears and popes.
Everything about the process was fair grist for my mill including whining about the industry and the difficulties involved in getting an agent let alone published; the drawbacks of self-publishing and why I wasn't interested in that route for the novel; the tedium of editing; and even a rejection notice from my first tantalizing query. (They had actually requested further chapters after my initial submission before ultimately turning me down.)
The "Notes" managed to take on a life of its own independent of the novel it was supposed to be commenting on to the point where I self-published the first twenty-four instalments in a book form. NaNoWriMo Notes: An Exercise In Creative Insanity is now for sale at Lulu.com and I think I've sold two or three copies. The irony isn't lost on me that the commentary might be the only thing published from the whole exercise, but since I didn't expect anything, something is a pleasant surprise.
But a year has rolled by and November is almost upon us again which means it's NaNoWriMo season again. The Paths Life Takes (the title I ended up with for the book this was supposedly all about) has been mailed off in its entirety to a second publisher and I'm awaiting another verdict on its relative merits. So it's time to shut this down before it turns into something you'd see on Oprah on a slow day. (Judging by the content of this last installment, it's not a moment too soon, I'd say.)
There's not going to be any big production number to end this with, I'm most definitely not going to sing "My Way", but I will say thank you to all those who bothered to peek in now and again and I appreciated most of your comments. These were fun to write, and also helpful in that they would help me clarify thoughts about things. Hopefully those of you who read them laughed occasionally, and not just at me but with me as well, and they made you think on occasion. If not, then why the hell were you reading them?
Joyce ended Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man with that memorable quote about going forth to recreate the conscience of his people in the smithy of his soul, or something along those lines anyway. My aspirations aren't quite that lofty, but I'm going to keep writing and keep seeing what comes of it for a while yet. It's only the end of this series after all, not me.