Isolated, Day 3

The national government took steps to restrict all nonessential movement. Patricia and I are a few days ahead, staying in our village since Friday, only interacting with friends and family through our phones and our elderly neighbors from a safe distance.

We both work from home but it’s still mentally and spiritually taxing to realize self-isolation will probably be for many weeks. Obviously there was never a choice, but yesterday countless hashtags and videos popped up of people treating this as a vacation or others going to meet friends at the bar for one last night together. Excuse while I remove my palm from my face.

The future is very uncertain. But we have to continue on in different ways. Our governments will fail us to protect markets. Loss of life at a higher rate is practically inevitable. We must rely on each other for support and we must learn from this after we make it through.

I’m taking the self-isolation to actually get serious about a few things. I’ve often said this and then I get lazy or too caught up in some other thing, but now it’s not optional. There is time and no social activities to distract myself.

  1. Write as much as possible. That includes trying to post something here and actually write my West African Islamo-fantasy project.
  2. Read Marx’s Capital with the help of a friend’s husband’s project MARXdown, the Penguin Classics Ben Fowkes translation, and David Harvey’s lectures.
  3. Continue helping build a network of DSA members who live abroad to leverage our internationalist socialist perspectives for progress and solidarity back home.

If you’re interested in hearing Brace and Liz from TrueAnon talk about what’s coming, I really recommend this episode. Liz made the point of being there for people, in her case, on Twitter, as a way of coping with it herself and that is so important right now.

So if you’re reading this, reach out if you want. Even if we’ve never met. Thanks for reading.

Rather, No Edit November

My new name for NaNoWriMo is No Edit November. The words are falling out of my head so awkwardly. Are you sue you want this? Have I really been thinking about these characters and world for years? It does not seem so.

But I do want it. I have no idea where this sentence is going. I look up the page and find something stupid. I quickly move my text cursor, delete, rewrite. Well, I failed again.

It’s Day One, and it’s a slog. I am not used to trying and failing at new things, failing spectacularly. I rarely give something a second try. My big stupid ego immensely limits the human chained to it. If something doesn’t click quickly, I move on. But I can’t move on from this. I don’t want to.

I glance at my email. An email from NaNoWriMo and author Anne Lamott awaits me:

“You either start now, or it is not going to happen for you, and you are going to wake up at seventy years old (or eighty, if you are already seventy) filled with sorrow that you let your dream, your passion, gift, fall by the wayside. You start now, as is.
‘As is’ is the portal to creation, to new life.”

I close the email, get back into iA Writer, and keep trying. Keep failing.

Because I want it. But for the love of all this is good and holy, do not hit backspace this month.

Using Time in the Margins

A thing I need to get used to about the working-from-home lifestyle is utilizing the time in between commitments to be more productive. When I was teaching full-time in Mauritania, I was more carefree on breaks between classes. I considered them downtime, a space to breathe, to rest the mind, and prepare for the next lessons.

Now, I have things to do around the house, errands, and other projects I want to complete, like writing or reading. Sometimes I have hours between classes and I need to make the most out of them.

The Long Road to This Year’s NaNoWriMo

“Writing fiction is intense. It’s a drug you don’t swallow. You just sit there hallucinating and jotting down your hallucination and then you call it work. It is a socially acceptable form of madness. — Matt Haig

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to (try) to write fiction. Specifically, I wanted to write a fantasy novel based on West Africa. Back then, I was fascinated with world-building, turning my interest and years in the region into something analogous but different. I started at the macro-level, some societies; their customs, languages, histories, myths, religion. I had four of five at one point, but now only three. But I had no
characters or any story.

A few months before National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a blog post about it (on the first iteration of Among the Stones, mercifully no longer online).

Instead of diving head first into a novel, I would take a year a write a few novellas, one for each of the four main characters in my head, to introduce them and set them on a crash course of what would surely become an epic novel. (Ha.)

I would have time to write on the road after I finished teaching in Mauritania. Over the months, characters started to emerge and become so lifelike in my head. A story slowly popped itself into existence. But still there were very little actual words on paper. I had maps, outlines, character sheets, bits and bobs of ideas, an infusion inspired points; Islam, Afro-Portuguese colonialism, entheogenic plants visions, etc.

But still nothing. NaNoWriMo came and went. And another one. Nothing.

I finished my trip without much writing but more inspired than ever. I returned to my home state of California, the concrete suburbs with a Starbuck’s and McDonald’s on practically every corner. It was a culture shock. I wasn’t hiking, seeing brutal Nature up close and personal like glaciers, lakes, rivers. Then I moved to a city in Germany and again, nothing. No time, no peace of mind, no writing.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.“ — Ira Glass

By now, dear reader, you might have guessed that all these moves, environments, living situations are just excuses. The point is I was, and still am scared to get my ass in the chair, write to the best of my ability (which isn’t very great), and be okay with that first terrible draft.

But wallāhi, that ends this year. I am in a peaceful village in Galicia, I have an income, and I have an incredible ability to wake up early and get started. So it’s now or never. Which is way I am committing myself by writing this blog post. During November, please hold me accountable.

I’m scrapping the novella ideas and going straight into a 100,000 word novel, 50,000 or which will be written in the month of November. My idea is an amalgamation of the Mandé hero (PDF) and old western novels set in 18th century Upper Guinea.

And after, there are so many places I want to take these stories. I have an urge to stay in this world with these characters for a hundred years. At one point in Mexico, I filled my notebook with a trajectory of three trilogies and twelve novellas. That might be overdoing it. But I’m an extreme person. Yeah, sometimes I’m just too much.

Here’s to the next week of compiling everything I’ve written down and starting at midnight on November 1. For anyone interested in also participating, I’d love an accountabili-buddy. Give me a shout.

Believable Over Precise

This bit in The Paris Review’s interview with Hernan Diaz is really interesting:

Interviewer: How did you balance that freedom from referential anchorage with the need to accurately represent the setting?

Diaz: My effort at all moments was to be inconspicuously accurate. I would always take believable over precise. And I tried very hard to make the novel not feel researched, a word I distrust when applied to literature. It’s awful when a novel feels googled—I didn’t want to know the exact name of the exact spur someone would have worn in Nevada in 1869. My intention was to convey a sense of pastness without fetishizing that past. I didn’t want to use props as magical objects that by merely being mentioned would summon the past into the present.

Hernan Diaz wrote a western novel about a Swedish immigrant in nineteenth-century Nevada heading east who does not speak English called In the Distance. While he purposely did not research certain aspects of his novel and relied more on feeling, he does have thoughts and reasons on subverting the western genre and it’s fascinating.