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Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo posts’ Category

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Yes, I finished the 50,000 word marathon and became a “winner” for the 2007 National Novel Writing Month. As I said in my first NaNoWriMo post, I cheated a bit by not actually writing a novel. This tempers my joy and pride a little — I simply can’t compare my accomplishment to those who actually created new worlds and new people — but 50,000 words is still a lot to write in one month’s time.

Diamondqueen, who also “won,”  probably is closer to having a potential book than I am. As much as I loved Bailey, the beagle we both wrote about, I had far less than 50,000 words to contribute. So I wrote about other things just to keep the words coming. I’m not even sure what I’ll eventually do with some of that writing, but I set completing NaNoWriMo as a goal and I aced it (yesterday, actually), so I’m content.

I’d mentioned that I always seem to get sick for NaNoWriMo. This year was maybe the most challenging of all. I started feeling sick on November 3 (although I had a few general symptoms before then), and I’m still struggling with the after-effects of a lingering upper respiratory infection. It was very hard to make myself go in to the computer at night and start writing, when I really wanted to veg with my cross-stich in front of the TV (or just go to bed). If I’m legitimately proud of anything, it’s that I persevered. That I do give myself credit for.

As I’m writing this, people around the world (in time zones where it’s not yet midnight, at least) are pounding the keys to overtake that 50,000-word finish line; or they’re just verifying their novels and being declared winners. (See the nifty icon at the top? That’s one of the goodies you get, plus you get to download a terrific certificate. This is the first time I’ve ever had a web presence where I could actually post the icon, so I’m pleased about that as well.)

To all those who have finished, and to those still struggling, congratulations — you’re accomplishing more than you know.

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Sometimes the best times are the ones that are unplanned and unanticipated.

Today I got an e-mail at work from Diamondqueen. She’d finished her 50,000 words and was a “winner” in the 2007 National Novel Writing Month. I congratulated her and tried not to feel too jealous. After all, I’m only 4,000 words behind her.

She wrote back and said we were going to celebrate her this evening, if anyone wanted to go out to dinner, her treat. Mom would be at the house by 5:30.

So we all went out: Diamondqueen and TPM (who actually put out the cash for the feast, despite Diamondqueen’s posturing), the Hooligan kids, Mom, and me. Diamondqueen had already chosen Lone Star as the restaurant. The first weekend of NaNoWriMo, my sister had issued a writing challenge to me. Whoever wrote the most words between midnight Saturday and midnight Monday won bragging rights and a gift from the loser, who had to bow down before the winner and declare her the writing “queen.” Of course she beat me handily (I write much more slowly because I’m too careful). In honor of her victory, this evening Diamondqueen wore a plastic tiara of a pink metallic hue. She wore it into the restaurant, although not through dinner (partly because it wouldn’t sit on her fat head but kept popping off and shooting into the air).

Meals with the Hooligans can be wild, but tonight everything went smoothly. Everyone felt well, the food was good, spirits were high, and the kids actually ate. We laughed a lot and enjoyed ourselves. To have something go that seamlessly is rare.

As we rode back to the Hooligan residence, holiday lights gleaming here and there through the November dusk, I thought of all the times we’d planned outings and celebrations that just didn’t go off the way we’d hoped. Someone had a headache, someone was in a temper, a meal order got screwed up or the food wasn’t cooked well, the kids were hellions and made everyone miserable. There’s usually something. Tonight, it was a pleasure.

And it reinforced my belief in being open to the spur-of-the-moment, in cultivating the willingness to pick up and do something without too many calculations and designs. A life of constant impetuosity becomes chaotic, and there’s lots of juice in being able to look forward to something. Now and then, though, it’s nice to just dive in. And it’s even better when it turns out beautifully.

No, I won’t celebrate Thursday evening when I hope to finish up my own 50,000 word marathon, at least not with a group dinner. I’ll savor a little self-satisfaction, but I kind of hitched my star to Diamondqueen’s tonight and celebrated my approaching victory within myself. The juice of confident anticipation made the steak and shrimp even more flavorful.

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Previous Bailey posts are available under “Dog Stories” or “NaNoWriMo posts.” 

That damn beagle was a menace when bailey-2-cu-small-web-view.jpgit came to satisfying her urges. Yes, she was spayed. It never mattered.

My first experience with Bailey’s “physical lovin'” was when I babysat her about a month after Diamondqueen and TPM brought her home. They wanted a night out; they’d been married only about a month, and the puppy still required a level of attention that discouraged their being out of the apartment for very long at the same time. At least, that’s how they felt. They just weren’t ready to leave their furry little loved one alone, so Diamondqueen asked if I could babysit one Friday evening.

I was delighted to spend some quality time alone with my new “niece.” After her mommy and daddy left, Bailey and I played a bit, but she soon tired. I happily settled in on the sofa to watch TV with the puppy snuggled up against my hip.

After awhile she stirred and started to climb into my lap. My heart melted, and I glowed with this “awwww” showing of affection.

To my astonishment, though, Bailey continued to climb, pulling herself up onto the arm of the sofa, wrapping her legs around my forearm, and riding with a ferocity that must have recalled Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill.

It took me a few moments to gather my wits and disengage the small animal from my arm. I felt as though I was tugging off some perverse bracelet or cuff. I think her legs were still curled in her circular embrace when I finally freed myself.

Bailey continued her displays of affection throughout her life, and not just with me. Once Diamondqueen caught her getting ready to mount J.Hooligan as a toddler, the kind of “hug” the child didn’t need.

Her habit grew worst during the final years of Bailey’s life, although we never knew why. At a time when her lust and energy should have been waning, Bailey latched on to me regularly. Usually this happened when I was lying on the floor, playing with the kids. Bailey would sidle up as if something else were on her mind, virtually rolling her eyes at the ceiling and whistling in a nonchalant way. Then she’d wrap herself around my leg, and she never relinquished her hold easily. Often I’d shove her away only to have her spring back, taking me down again.

This also happened when I was sitting on the sofa or futon. And occasionally I was attacked while I was standing upright. In those instances, Bailey only clung with her front legs, but she had tremendous strength. I’d try to pull away and she’d stay right with me, hopping on her back legs like the Easter Bunny. A few times I hobbled into the other room, Bailey clinging and hopping the whole way.

No, it wasn’t affection, and it was obnoxious as hell. No amount of pushing and yelling deterred her. I suspected there might be a lot of alpha dog behavior behind it. Bailey considered herself queen of her domain — including everything and everyone in it. If she expected you to serve her desires, whatever they may be, she didn’t take “no” for an answer.

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See the first Bailey post here. 

My sister, Diamondqueen, and her husband, baileymemorial-small-web-view.jpgTPM (That Poor Man), lived in a third floor apartment when they were first married. I’d swing by after work sometimes to see Bailey, which the newlyweds didn’t seem to mind. If Bailey was out of her crate, she’d be looking down from the glass doors that opened onto the balcony. She’d hesitate, making sure it was me climbing out of the car, then she went into a frenzy of howling and clawing at the glass in the door. That far below, I could hear the pads of her paws against the glass. Then, as I climbed the stairs, she’d eagerly wait for me at the door. When I entered, her baying would start afresh amid frantic tail-wagging.

If Bailey was in her crate when I arrived, she’d dash through the hall with this bizarre kind of crouch, as if she were a lizard (I always wondered if she thought that would make her move faster). Then she’d jump on me and erupt into her noisy welcome. We’d try to shush her for the sake of the neighbors, but in typical Bailey contrarian fashion, she just bayed louder.

By summer Diamondqueen, TPM, and Bailey had moved into their own house. There was a large picture window over the sofa, which provided the ideal perch for Bailey. She lay across the top of the back of the sofa, which was the perfect height for her to soak up the sunshine and watch the traffic pass. That’s where I most likely saw her when I’d pull into the driveway. Sometimes she’d be on her feet, still on the back of the sofa, even before I turned in off Lebanon Road, maintaining her balance as her tail lashed back and forth. Or she’d be standing on the sofa cushions, her forelegs braced against the top of the sofa, because she’d been asleep but had heard my car outside. When I emerged from the car, I’d see her nose go up, and the high pitch of her braying penetrated the glass. If she was barking, her breath would fog the window before her; but before it faded, she’d already leapt down to meet me at the door.

By the time The Hooligans moved into their next home, even bigger and nicer than the last, J.Hooligan was one year old and Bailey was going on five. The new house didn’t have a picture window, and the traffic on the shaded subdivision street was much quieter than on Lebanon Road, which was busy at all times of the day. Bailey had to sit on a hard wood floor if she wanted to stare out the family room window; the living room floor was carpeted, but shrubbery and perspective diminished her range of view. Sometimes she could lie on the family room futon and stare through the window to see who was walking his or her dog. That gave her reason to get up and make a racket until the trespassers were out of view. I could be wrong, but I don’t think she spent as much time keeping tabs on the comings and goings as she had in the big picture window in the house on Lebanon Road. Then again, there she could lounge along the top of the overstuffed sofa while she observed the world. It might have been lack of comfort more than lack of curiosity that curtailed her neighborhood watch.

When I pulled up beneath the tall trees in front of the Hooligan’s house, though, Bailey either was in the window or would appear quickly. As ever, the nose pointed skyward and the yowling echoed from inside the house. Then Bailey would vanish, and I knew she’d be there when I opened the door, a bracing homecoming in a house that wasn’t even my own home.

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Bailey was a beagle. She was the dog my sister and brother-in-law bought just days after they returned baileymemorial-small-web-view.jpgfrom their honeymoon in October, 1995. She was a sweetheart, a demon, affectionate, vile, thieving, and thoroughly lovable — when she wasn’t driving everyone crazy.

For someone who doesn’t own dogs herself (thanks to apartment living and other lifestyle hindrances), I seem to have an instant, special rapport with dogs. Bailey was no exception. We bonded quickly, even though we didn’t live in the same household and sometimes I saw her only once a week. On the other hand, she loved just about everyone.

She possibly had the most personality of any dog I ever knew, and the most active brain. When she was young, I imagined I could hear her thinking. Sometimes Diamondqueen (my sister), TPM (That Poor Man, my brother-inlaw), and I would play Trivial Pursuit. Bailey would sit on her own chair and watch. I swore she was following the moves on the board and calculating the plays each of us would have to make to win. (Later, when her thieving ways had gotten the best of her, she never would have just sat on a chair, but would have grabbed the first game card or piece within reach and bolted out of the room.)

She was manipulative as hell. Her favorite technique was simply to turn on the charm. My sister said the beagle would practically bat her eyes, like a cartoon dog, to wheedle what she wanted. It was true. Many a time I’d feel her chin on my knee under the dinner table. I’d lift the tablecloth or peek into the shadows below, and there’d be Bailey gazing up at me. Her eyes sparkled with endearment, her mouth was slightly turned up at the corners, and she did seem to bat her eyes.

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. When food was involved, Bailey simply shifted to Plan B: stealing.

She put on her “endearing beagle” act for strangers all the time, no matter where she met them. Everyone was her long-lost best friend. She’d sit erect before someone with whom she was trying to curry favor, tail wagging so energetically her ears would flop.

Bailey’s life was much too brief. She passed away in March 2005, almost five months short of her tenth birthday. Her last years weren’t as happy as they should have been, as she faced health problems and psychological adjustments to new babies, new fellow pets, and moves to new houses. But she never lost her style or her supreme talent for thievery and raising hell. For that I’ll always admire her. And I still miss her terribly.

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If the words above are gibberish to you, let me explain. They stand for National Novel Writing Month. This has become a ritual of exquisite torture for me each November since I first discovered NaNoWriMo (in, I think, 2002).

The point is to rough out a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. I always set a goal of 1,700 words per day, which is a little higher than the actual average needed to make 50,000 in 30 days. This is my cushion to make up for those days when I just don’t feel like writing that much (such as the past two days, when I skated), am sick, or have little commitments like, oh, Thanksgiving. 

The first two years I participated in NaNoWriMo, I did actually try to write novels. The first year was a very serious attempt, with a plot (more or less — I kind of made it up as I went) that included a beginning, middle, and end. After NaNoWriMo was over, I actually fiddled with the novel and added to it over the coming year, but eventually I lost faith in it as a viable piece of literature. Someday I may return to it.

The next year I again attempted a novel, but this time it was actually a series of reminiscences from my childhood barely strung together by a narrative. I never thought about finishing it as an actual book, and I don’t think I’ve read any of it since that year’s NaNoWriMo ended. Somewhere along the line I took a year off; then I subjected myself to two more years of driving myself through November, including last year.

Yes, I wrote 50,000 words each of those Novembers as well, but I cheated. Instead of working on anything with a plot, I simply wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I caught up on all the things I should have been writing about all year, mostly long pieces about trips or important family events. (My stepfather died of Alzheimer’s three years ago; I’d watched him die, and I’d never gotten the experience down on paper).

Last year I also simply wrote. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was — because I’ve gotten into the habit of not writing very much throughout the year except for work. I started keeping a journal in 1966, the fall I was twelve, and wrote it in pretty faithfully for three decades. Then I began to slack off, and now I rarely pick up a pen and write in a notebook. A part of me gets detached and floats around like a panicky phantom searching for its misplaced head (or heart). To make myself sit down and spend a month writing, just writing anything, was a major accomplishment. And even though I didn’t have the satisfaction of writing a novel, I was able to reassure and restore myself by writing. Just writing. 

So here I am back in NaNoWriMo again. No, still no novel this year. But my sister, Diamondqueen (who’s completed NaNoWriMo herself a couple of times now), is tapping away at her keyboard as well this month. Last year she mounted an enthusiastic start but got sick and had to bail. This year she’s determined to finish and “win.” (You’re considered to have “won” NaNoWriMo when the automatic word counter verifies your 50,000 words via uploaded manuscript.)

To give some shape and direction to our writing this year, we decided to focus on a memoir of The Hooligans’ late beagle, Bailey. She was quite a dog, and I don’t mean that in a 100% positive way. Oh, the stories we have to tell! Actually, my sister has more to tell than I do; as Bailey’s Mommy, she went through the best and the worst. But I was extremely close to Bailey and have a few stories of my own. I’m not sure I have 50,000 words worth of Bailey recollections, so I’ll be scratching at some other things as well. I plan to post a few Bailey stories as I complete them, just to add another objective to propel me on. 

I don’t know whether we’ll ever try to put together an actual memoir of Bailey, i.e., one we’d try to have published. But Diamondqueen and I both need this. I’ve been much better about writing this year; blogging both at work and, more recently, here, plus writing a biweekly e-mail newsletter for my job has forced me to produce without dawdling. I probably could have skipped NaNoWriMo this November. But I’d miss the sense of shared ordeal, and Diamondqueen could probably use the moral support of knowing someone else is doing it, too. Not that she needs my help. She already hit 5,000 words yesterday. I’m still behind on today’s count.

But I’ve been through this before. I know what I’m capable of. I’ve even written through sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a root canal. I’ve fallen waaaaay behind many times and still caught up. Barring disaster (and considering how much of this year has gone, I wouldn’t dare), I should be able to keep up with this.

If you’re interested in what thousands of other maniacs put themselves through during the month of November, visit the National Novel Writing Month site. Lots of fun there, even if you’re not a writer.

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