23 November 2018

The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing about an invisible/mental illness is the fact that it's invisible.

It's not the cowering beneath the whip of self-loathing, it's not the constant calorie-counting, it's not the paralysing fear of interacting with another human (though all that is certainly exhausting).

The hardest part is that nobody sees.

Oh I've played the game of hide-and-seek
When all I wanted was for them to see
See the lines upon my face
The memories have left their trace...

~ White Heart, 1990 (Storyline)

19 November 2018


When I go visit my family, one of my favourite things is listening to my sister practice piano.

She's someone you probably wouldn't expect to be a pianist. She's almost a tomboy -- short hair, loves the outdoors, loves bugs in particular, owns a pet rabbit and co-owns about twenty outdoor cats, perennially in jeans and running barefoot, and can throw a punch or two if necessary. She's kindhearted and small and feisty and you don't mess with her if you know what's good for you.

Yet, she sits down at that piano and spins beautiful smooth melodies out of it so effortlessly. It's hard to believe it's my own little sister -- the rough-and-tumble farm kid -- making music like that. It never ceases to amaze me. Two of my other sisters are violinists, but somehow that seems more natural -- they both have a personality more stereotypically like that of a musician, plus in violin you see their arm moving the bow across the strings. With a piano it's just your fingers hitting keys. It's a lot more impressive to make a piano piece smooth and emotional.

The other day I was backstage at a show and got talking with a few other choir singers that I sort of knew, but not very well, and in the context of a different conversation it came out that I'm working on a novel. They were in awe and peppered me with questions. They were so impressed. I was a little taken aback. Having written fifteen (and a half) novels in the past ten years, I often genuinely forget that people don't just write novels in their free time. To me it seems normal. To them, it's extraordinary.

So I write this to you, my fellow artists -- whether or not you think you're worthy of the title. You are extraordinary. Yes, your everyday life consists of practice and rehearsal and research and fine-tuning and critique, but the average person's life doesn't. I especially write this to those of you, like me, who are in this world full-time and all your friends are from this world of practicing and rehearsing and fine-tuning and you feel lost in it. You (and your friends) are all extraordinary. You are not the norm. It feels like the norm, but it's not. You do incredible things. For me -- I write novels. Whole novels. For fun. People don't do that. That's extraordinary. I practice dance multiple hours every day. I may not have 180 extensions, but I have speed, and strength, and grace that does not come naturally to 99% of the population (even though I still often feel like I'm less-than because I'm surrounded by flexible dancers).

All those years that you have dedicated to your craft -- your instrument, your poetry, your drawing -- are extraordinary. This past August I made a rough calculation of how many hours of my life I've spent dancing -- not rehearsals or performance, just class and my own practice. The number came to well over two thousand hours, and I know for a fact most artists practice much more than I did in my earlier years. To dedicate that much time to a craft is extraordinary. Nobody has that kind of patience or love for something so difficult and nuanced (especially if it doesn't earn you millions of dollars).

And all those hours have culminated to make you extraordinary. Because now this is such a part of you that you can simply sit down at a piano, like my farm-girl sister, and play something so clear and effortless that it takes our breath away. Now you can simply pick up a paintbrush and create a world with so much depth and detail we forget that it's not a real place. Now you can simply put on a pair of shoes with metal on them and make an engaging rhythm faster than your brain can think. Now you can shape words into a living, breathing sculpture of the effervescent nature of human experience, explaining and understanding at the same time.

You now have the power to do extraordinary things at will. Yes, there are always improvements to be made, yes, we must always practice, but remember that we are not the norm. We are, right now, this moment, already extraordinary.

18 November 2018

Novel Update - Day 18

I've almost come to a complete standstill on this novel. I only wrote 500 words on Friday, and I didn't write anything yesterday. I literally just stared at the screen and then eventually just went to bed. I don't think I have ever hated a novel during its creation as much as I hate this one right now.

And it's not even that bad. The story has potential. I just can't get it there right now. I don't know how to pull it out.

Currently writing a character in the midst of early grief. Trying to write the initial anger, and it's hard. As I've mentioned before, writing is a lot like acting -- you have to feel, really feel, what you're writing.

And because I'm in school, and because I am on my literal last chance to be happy enough to keep my place in this program, I can't let myself feel the anger that I need for this novel. I think that's why I'm struggling SO MUCH with this novel. I am no longer allowed to be angry or even remotely sad because my friends have died and my cousin has died. I'm not even allowed to access those feelings for the purposes of creating a character and telling a fictional story. And it's stifling me. It's stifling me as a human with a soul that's prone to wounds, and it's stifling me as an artist trying to come alongside those who feel alone in their anger and grief and the pain of being alive while others aren't.

I hate that I'm being told what I can and cannot feel, and I hate what that kind of Cloud Cuckoo Land restriction is doing to my artistic output. This novel is an abyss of repetitive character ramblings on nothing at all because they're not allowed to feel anything because I'm not. I guess art does imitate life. As readers we'd never stand for such an emotionally flaccid book but we expect it of our real, theoretically bright Technicolor lives all the time. And that's what I tend to write about -- stories that could be real life. What a sad state society is in. But is it society or is it just me?

(Yes, I will be booking a counselling appointment tomorrow...)

16 November 2018

Music Day - Only One

I accidentally stumbled on this one in my iTunes yesterday and MY GOSH I am melting.

Within the first verse, Uncle Terry's incisive writing slices the heart with the line You've broken so many hearts, darling / That you're not untouched... (Is this true or is this true?)
Beautiful lyrics spin out across a lush early-'60s-style arrangement and can we talk about the harmonies? Mid-century rock harmony is what early DA did best and they may very well be at their peak here.

I've been listening to a lot of late '50s music lately for my novel this year, and this fits right in, but with lyrics that aren't cheesy, mushy, sappy sentiments. I could not ask for more. (I love the '50s sound, I'm just bored with the 'love' theme, in all eras of music.)

Title: Only One
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Shirley, Goodness And Misery
Year: (song) 1981 (album) 1992
Label: Alternative/Stunt Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The song has a complex history. Originally recorded during the ¡Alarma! album sessions (which was in itself a saga for the ages), the original version of the song languished on the shelves for eleven years before it appeared on a compilation of demos and unreleased songs on the Alternative/Stunt label (though a rewritten version with more synth strings showed up on the side-splitting Best Of album, The Miracle Faith Prickly Heat Telethon Of Love in 1990 -- the same album that first introduced us all to the hilarious if somewhat heretical Dr. Edward Daniel Taylor). The original has since found a wider audience as part of the bonus disc on the recently released ¡Alarma! two-disc deluxe reissue (which was my first encounter with it).

14 November 2018

NaNoWriMo Progress Report - Day 13

I feel like this year I'm having the NaNoWriMo experience Chris Baty describes in the monumental book No Plot? No Problem! (the book that introduced me to National Novel Writing Month and singlehandedly turned me into a writer who actually writes rather than just dreaming about writing).

He describes going in with zero plot and truly making it up as you go. He describes Week Two -- a week when everything in your novel is crap and you just want to quit. He describes the lifeless anaemic characters finally beginning to perk up and DO something in Week Three. And for the first time in ten years of month-long-novel-writing, I'm checking all these boxes.

While I try not to plan much at all, I do usually have a strong enough idea that I know I can squeeze 50,000 words out of relatively easily, even if I don't quite know how that plays out yet. I'm not usually worried about running out of plot (though I've had to stretch some of the novels a bit to make 50k). But this year, while I did have a bit of an idea, I had no earthly clue how I was going to get from point A from point B without making it too easy for the characters (that is, writing the entire plot arc in 10k and having to filibuster for the other 40k). This was the first time I'd really had to make a conscious decision to trust myself and my ability to write myself out of a corner -- something I've rarely had to actually do on this scale. Usually I have at least one ace up my sleeve, but I didn't this year. I had no escape route, no back-up plan. I felt like I was playing FreeCell on Windows XP -- there's no undo button, and if you make one wrong move, you lose, no second chance. It was a huge act of courage to even start the novel this year, not knowing how well I can actually write myself out of a true dead end.

I'd never really experienced the Week Two blues. Usually Week Two is when I tip the second domino chain into motion and really get in the pocket. The first week was historically the worst for me. But this year, Week Two was abysmal. One of my characters was dead and the other two had literally no personality (or social life -- so I didn't even have interesting acquaintances I could write about).

But now, suddenly, the characters are beginning to develop emotions. They're beginning to react to stuff and have opinions. At the moment, one character has just accused his best friend of getting his sister pregnant. I knew this was a plot point, but when I put it in I was surprised how angry the brother was, and how the accusation drove the friend to despair. The friend knows it's not true, but he has no way of proving it, and the sister's dead so she can't say. I had originally thought these guys would be grieving her death together, but last night at the write-in they suddenly stopped speaking to each other and that made things a little more interesting because now they're going to have to repair their friendship AND solve the mystery. Even more interesting -- my character who was all gung-ho about solving this mystery literally just gave up on it and has accepted that maybe the deadly fire was an accident after all (the other character never did care about whether or not it was an accident -- which also surprised me). So now they have to repair their relationship AND decide that actually this is worth investigating AND solve the mystery. I feel like having enough story to make 50k isn't quite impossible anymore -- it's only mostly impossible.

I'm currently at 24,677 words. It's almost halfway, but it really doesn't feel like it. I feel like there's still so many words between here and 50k and I'm trying to hold off all my plot points so I don't run out of story. (I need a subplot. Unfortunately I am terrible at subplots.)

Hoping to hit 26,700 words today. The official goal for today (Day 14) is only 23,333, but I've been trying to gain an extra day of word count every two or three days so I'll be finished (or extremely close) by the last week of November so I'm not trying to catch up on the novel AND keep on top of school AND open our massive Christmas musical.