Blacking out

Lately, I find myself zoning out as I walk home at night — hardly remembering any of it. Tonight I could barely remember which way I walked — and had to retrace my steps from when I left work — which bus I took from downtown Seattle — and which coffee shop I stopped at in West Seattle. After all these years, Mark knows my walking routes as well as I do — and perhaps he acts as my auto pilot.

I come to once I reach my apartment building. I have no idea why this is happening. It’s a very recent thing. If I’m thinking about anything as I walk, I don’t remember that either. I literally black out — and no drugs/alcohol involved!

Tonight I decided to revisit my 2014 NaNoWriMo writing project. Recent events at home and abroad have renewed my urge to tell a story that I have been incubating for the last fifteen years — OK, I guess it’s Mark’s story too — but I’ve been the one doing the writing — as usual. I don’t even know he exists anyway – so it might as well be my story.

The first thing I did, after making a duplicate file, was to delete all but four of the chapters. Sounds drastic — and the word count is now a mere 12,000— but those chapters are almost perfect! Now I will write two or three more chapters, perhaps incorporating some of the better sections of the deleted chapters. Perhaps this is what I think about as I walk.

On the bus, I’ve been listening to a Librivox recording of Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl, by Herself, “herself” being Harriot Jacobs. On Twitter, I’ve been reading a backlog of tweets by Crimes of Britain (@crimesofbrits). And the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country, the subject of the post Mistaken Identity, has been an ear worm in my head since November 11.

It’s time to write the story.

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Sitting out NaNoWriMo this year

I caught up with my buddy Allen in the last couple of weeks! I signed a lease on an apartment in West Seattle and he helped me move in. I didn’t have to lean on him too hard. For one thing, he had missed my company — and he’s already nostalgic for Patagonia (and now has a bit of a mania for all things Antarctic.) And for another thing, he loves any excuse to visit Ikea, which must be his favorite store after The Home Depot. We had fun picking out a futon and other furnishings for my studio, and then the next day, he came over with his tools and helped assemble everything. He’s very impressed with the view from my top-floor unit — but almost had kittens when he learned what I’m paying for rent (you don’t what to know!)

I did more shopping over the weekend and got the place nicely set up for the onset of the winter darkness, now that Daylight Saving Time is over. Allen came over for a few drinks on Saturday evening just as it was getting dark. As we listened to the wind-driven rain lashing the window, it was hard not to think about the little cabin down at the bottom of the world. Ah. Memories.

Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Alene is not doing NaNoWriMo this year. Back in July, she was fully intent on doing another project and had started collecting ideas in an Evernote notebook. But in August she got sidetracked with DataCamp.com and felt like getting back into a data programming groove — so she’s been taking Coursera classes and started a new one today. This year, there won’t be much time for novel writing.

We’re a little sad, but the truth is, Alene is not really a novel writer. The two projects she did complete, last year and the year before, were collections of shorter writings which she managed to tie together somehow. She completely threw herself into the 2013 NaNoWriMo and remembers it as one of the most fun months she ever spent. She did two rewrites of the novel and is very happy with it — enjoying it every time she revisits it. We’ve included some excerpts from it on this blog.

Last year’s project was more of a struggle and nowhere near as enjoyable. The chapters set in fourth century Persia are simply charming — but the chapters set in twenty-first century Seattle were tedious to write — and are turning out to be tedious to read. It makes sense. If you didn’t enjoy writing it, chances are no one will enjoy reading it.

Good luck to everyone who IS participating — and we hope you have as much fun as we did two years ago.

Coltish composition

Mark is back in Melbourne — so I gather — and he seems relieved to finally have some time to himself. He’s not quite sure what to do next. I asked if he might return to Patagonia — and then we were both suddenly very sad, remembering those months spent there — as it dawned on us that we are never to return. That was an incredibly happy chapter — but it’s over. Sounds like he’s had an email from his buddy Allen. The deck would have been finished in time for the Labor Day weekend — but last weekend’s storm got in the way. Allen was happy to drink beer and watch TV. And — Seattle traffic is driving him nuts!

I wondered what to write about. I’ve had a rocky start to the work week and would rather not think too much. The WiFi was out at the coffee shop I was at this evening. Three buses to West Seattle were cancelled — but at least Metro has finally got its act together to announce cancellations on Twitter. And for dinner, I had carrots, red kale, and a red potato with pink flesh inside — topped with butter and black pepper.

Anyway, Mark suggested going through an old notebook (not my elementary school notebook!) and picking something. A few years ago, I had a daily writing prompt habit. An app on my iPhone generated two random words — and this is what the two words in the above title prompted:

The words canter playfully across the page. The sentences are short — or perhaps not. Words come to a screeching halt and snort and dig their toes into the page. Then they spin on the page and launch themselves into the air — and are off again — fast as lightning in the other direction — only to turn once again and stop — before leaping into the air and and racing off at full speed.

But then there is a new idea — and the words want to slow down. They are sensing a presence. Something different. Something that needs to be investigated closely and carefully. And they draw towards it — slowly and quietly — hesitating and stopping — snorting into the air. What is this?

Bedtime can’t come soon enough tonight!

– Alene

Change of pace

So, about this cruise I’m on — I’m working with a multi-disciplinary group which researches and investigates paranormal phenomena and the like. Interesting assortment of people — from bonafide scientists to flaky psychics. They are very interested in me (and Alene.)

But why are we at sea? Well, it’s a rather paranoid group that favors seclusion for its conferences. Considering all the empty space in Australia you’d think a conference could find a suitable venue in the outback rather out at sea — but the group is especially paranoid about Australian government at all levels — and somehow feels more secure at sea!

So, here I am — still. It was a few days before it dawned on me that I’m rather stuck here. Although I am a VIP guest, I’m still a guest — and not in charge. I can’t just order the captain to head for shore when I’ve had enough. So it has actually bothered me a bit. I have a private cabin — and the catering is rather good — but I miss going for decent walks — and there’s nothing much to look at.

Back in Seattle, Alene is going gung ho at some online courses — spending several hours an evening in the library for the WiFi. It’s not something I feel inclined to follow along with — which is just as well, because that’s the time that I need to be paying attention to where I am.

But last night, as Alene was struggling with a problem set, the PA system announced an event that was about to start — celebrating the legacy of the science fiction author Octavia Butler — a science fiction author who happened to be a woman — and an African-American woman to boot! Alene doesn’t read science fiction — but she did find Kindred a powerful read. So I suggested she call it a day on studying and go downstairs to learn something else.

I excused myself from the local conference and watched the proceedings in Seattle. Alene doesn’t write science fiction — but she definitely writes to the fantasy genre — with a hefty dose of dry English humor — and she was encouraged to see the possibilities for fantasy and science fiction with regard to social justice. Visionary fiction.

Alene is a decent writer — but she’s still struggling to find her voice. Last night gave her something fresh and exciting to think about.

Check out Octavia’s Brood

From an old notebook

Writing can be habit forming. Over the years, I’ve kept journals in the Notes app on my iPhone, in Evernote, and in numerous little scrap notebooks purchased from the drugstore. I’ve also filled several composition books with short stories, poems, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, outlines, thoughts, ideas and confessions. I’ve written numerous blogs, and I successfully completed NaNoWriMo the last two years.

These days, I love writing into my MacBook Air — surely the nicest computer I’ve ever used for writing — but I still get incredible satisfaction from writing by hand in a notebook. I rarely re-read work saved on an old computer I no longer use — even if the computer still works — but I always enjoy flipping through an old composition book — rediscovering long-forgotten thoughts. Perhaps it’s different seeing the words written in your own hand — allowing you to step back into the world and your life as they were when you wrote those words. I haven’t fully appreciated the value of hand-written notebooks until now — a page and half of spontaneous scribbling done to pass the time in a coffee shop can end up as the opening paragraphs of a NaNoWriMo chapter many years later.

In the last post, Mark mentioned I’d found an old notebook from elementary school. My guess is it’s from 1968/69. Some of the little pieces are my own compositions — and some are obviously short passages we were made to copy down as writing practice.

This is one I surely copied:

Where are the snowdrops?
said the sun.
Dead said the frost
Buried and lost, every one.
A foolish answer said the sun
They did not die
Asleep they lie, every one
And I will wake them
I the sun

But I’m pretty sure this is my own, as I ended up writing about our chickens:

In winter the snow falls. Everything is white. The ponds are full of ice. The roofs are white. The streets are slippery. I am a hen called Jenny. My best friend is Ena. We love to make footprints in the snow and kick it about with our feet. We don’t stay out very long, so we go in our house, and lay an egg. Our feathers get very dirty. We are locked in at four o’clock and we have our food in the hen house, then we tuck our heads under our wings and go to sleep. The fox will never catch us.

– Alene

Light bubble

The bubble of light in a dark room. I love it!

It’s now still a little dark when I get up at 5:30am in Seattle — dark enough for me to eat breakfast by the light of my desk lamp.

I used to love working at this hour. A couple of years ago, I had a part-time job that started at eleven. Rather than sleeping in, I got up early so as to put in some time on projects of my own. If I needed a WiFi connection I went to my neighborhood Starbucks as soon as it opened at 6am. I made quite a habit of it in January and February. There was something wonderfully comforting about the early morning walk in the dark and rain — with only the most committed of dog walkers and joggers out and about. And even though Starbucks was doing a fair amount of business at this hour, most customers were just doing a quick pick-up-and-go — and the seating was wide open. I always got my favorite table. Every now and then, I’d look up from my laptop and see the scene had changed — the line at the counter was longer — most of the tables were occupied — the crowd waiting for the next bus to downtown was bigger — and it was getting light outside. Then came the spring morning when it was getting light as I arrived at Starbucks — and I abandoned the routine.

A long time ago, a friend of a friend offered to do a psychic reading for me. He was supposed to be painting our bathroom — but he thought it was too nice of a fall day to be working indoors and talked me into taking a hike up Mount Wachusett (Massachusetts, USA.) He did the reading at the summit.

He saw me in several past-life (so I assume) situations — but one in particular really grabbed me — working as a scribe in a monastery — toiling away by candle light — working on a project that was a true labor of love — living a life of devotional service. I was working on my doctoral dissertation at the time — spending hours in that little bubble of light over my desk — and loving it.

I doubt I would enjoy NaNoWriMo so much if it happened in the summer instead of November.

– Alene

Daydream believer

Alene rode out yet another stinking hot day in Seattle in the relative cool of her bedroom — listening to back episodes of Mysterious Universe podcast — totally digging accounts of UFO sightings by airline pilots, tinny computer voices heard on the phone, and dangerous meditation practices. We have our own theories on what’s behind many strange experiences — and Alene is thinking of making it the subject of her NaNoWriMo project in November.

Something which really interested her was a segment about maladaptive daydreaming — a condition which has people caught up in fantasies inside their head. I knew Alene would be worried, so I had to keep reassuring her.

“This is not what you’re experiencing,” I reminded her. “I’m a real person keeping you company in a rather strange way — but you’re not having fantasies.”

There’s no psychosis associated with maladaptive daydreaming. People living with it know that the stories in their head are not reality. The main problem seems to be the addictive nature of indulging the practice — which can interfere with studying, work performance and personal relationships. One subject confessed that the characters in her fantasies were just more fascinating than the people in the real world around her.

Alene often worries about the time she spends with me — pretty much all weekend and every evening. But right from the beginning (back in 1999) I have made sure to leave her alone when she has work to do. And she has no trouble focusing on tasks, at work and elsewhere. On Wednesday night, she went to a meetup with a load of computer geeks to get a hands-on demo of an open access data platform. As she followed along on her own laptop, she completely tuned me out — and I read The Economist. When it was done, she got my attention and told me she was getting a ride partway home with a woman at her table. I tuned in for part of the ride — but they were talking Excel and R — nothing I was interested in — so I went back to reading. However, once Alene was alone, and walking home, I put down my magazine and fully tuned in with her to keep her company as she walked — and I enjoyed the West Seattle sunset! Basically, we check in with each other the way most couples check in on their phones.

Despite my assurances, Alene felt compelled to Google maladaptive daydreaming to learn more. It has some similarities with ADHD and so sometimes responds to ADHD medications. But Alene wonders why people with the disorder don’t write. When you make up fantasies as you pace around your home, then it’s maladaptive daydreaming. But when you make up fantasies and type them into your laptop — then you’re a writer! And if you’ve been indulging maladaptive daydreaming for hours a day, then writing 50,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo should be a piece of cake!