Saturday, December 04, 2010

In Which the Author Allows Himself to Write Without Producing A Masterpiece Every Time Out then Doesn't Allow Himself to Write Without a Living Ventriloquist Dummy Every Time Out

One of the many ways I procrastinated during NaNoWriMo was the time I spent finding good coffee (thank you Baked and Wired in DC, and Stumptown and Joe the Art of Coffee in New York) and a nice quiet cafe where I could sit down and write. (Note: do not try this in Georgetown on a Sunday.)  It used  to be when I walked into a cafe and saw people writing - and I mean, using pen or pencil and paper and writing - I'd think, "poh-ser!" Now here I was sitting in cafes pawing at my laptop for a couple of hours a day Writing A Novel. Because it's cute when I do it.

I had given up caffeine sometime during the second or third Snowmageddon. Maybe cabin fever ramped up my baseline anxiety, but I had become more aware of what caffeine did to me since I'd started meditating. I'd started mindfulness meditation practice to learn to relax, of course. But through the books of Pema Chodron as well as the evening meditation group I was attending once a week, I slowly learned that the key word might not be RELAX so much as gentle. I knew there was always a lot bouncing around in my brain, circuits firing and re-firing until they shorted out and sometimes started to emit sparks and smoke.  But we all do that, and when you learn that, and when you learn not to judge yourself and that imperfection is the rule ... well it's a goal that's ever truly reached but it's  a process
that you keep processing, like a regular kitten on a branch.

duckling and kitten reign
So I signed up for NaNoWriMo for reasons similar to why I took up meditation -  to get over that self-judgement, to allow myself to write something that wasn't a masterpiece (cf. title). Okay, NaNoWriMo *was* a Journey, sans amazing animals, except for the very end, where I was inspired by mountain lions in the news on November 30th to devise a surprise attack that ended up with Kitty the mountain lion accepting the Oscar for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in an all-feline version of The Miracle Worker; and which brought me to my 50,006th word.

But I digress - isn't that what NaNoWriMo is all about? Letting the mind go and following it. (Um, caffeine agitated me, blah blah, back up to three cups a day and that's alright too.)

The other major form of procrastination was finding what music to listen to while I was writing. Selected inspirations:

1. Seeburg 16 rpm department store music (youtube)
2. Aphex Twin, "Cliffs" (youtube)
3. Weschel Garland, "Hi (Friends)" (itunes)
4. Glen Cambpell, "Witchita Lineman" (youtube)
5. Brian Eno, "1/1" (youtube)
6. Penguin Cafe Orchestra, "Penguin cafe single" (youtube)

Electronica seemed to help the most, and pushed me through the early stages of the Mmrma story, but it got an even bigger push when I put on the Chic box set.

the two of us
Disco, particularly the variety produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, was perfect for writing. In terms of meditation, it wasn't so much concentration practice as openness practice, and what you opened to was rhythm: the beat gave my fingers, with their limited typing skills something to propel them as if the keyboard was a dance floor and my fingers wore bell-bottoms. And the story went with it. I'd never much cared for Sister Sledge's "He's the greatest dancer" when I heard it on the radio as a kid (I vaguely remember having the 45 and burning the edge of it on a dare); but hearing it on the Chic box set was a revelation. The stuttering guitar line sounded like The Meters' Leo Nocentelli on coke. The repetition was hypnotic, the strings sliced at the tension, and that sick keyboard fill slices finally lets it out like an alien baby out of William Hurt. I became obsessed with the song, and it even inspired a plot line - with Crackers, the second living ventriloquist dummy in my tale.

I didn't realize Crackers was a character at first, but as soon as I named her she was there.  In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I didn't go back to edit the previous day's work, but I'd often go back to what I'd written earlier that day to expand upon it.

November 13. Morty talking here - I added paragraph breaks but this is otherwise unedited:

"Bill was laid up for months after that - with his bum leg and my bum jaw, we couldn’t get work! Before that, the two of us - who wouldn’t hire us? Nobody wouldn’t hire us, that’s who! We were living like the Kings of Kentucky! Champagne baths for Bill, warm sponges for me.  And the dames! Somethin’ about a man drinkin’ a big glass a water and whispering sweet nothings  through a wooden dummy - and I liked to roll my eyes a lot while I told them stuff, it knocked ‘em out!  
"And you know, Bill likes to think he calls all the shots, but if you want me to let ya in on a little secret ... he doesn’t!  Sometimes Bill can be passed out drunk on rye whiskey - and beleive you me, if it happened once or twice it happened a few dozen tiems and then some. But while he’s lying on the parquet in complete oblivion - that’s when I take over! That’s right, me, Mortimer! I call the shots, I make the moves, I turn my head this way, I turn it that, I flap my jaw like this, see, like I’m doin’ now? ‘Cause I’M CALLIN’ THE SHOTS, SEE? 
"And if you think the dames come running when Bill is runnin’ the show,  you ain’t seen nothin’ like when I’m runnin’ the show! I can do things Bill can never dream of - that most dames had never experienced before - and never will again!  None a them goils ever sawr a fella turn his head around 360 degrees. You shoulda seen the look in their eyes! You could almost say I ruined them for men of flesh and blood. Once they get a taste of Mortimer! I tell ya. That kinda precision, it really does somethin’ to a lady. Really turns the faucets on, if you know what I mean. I mean - you oughtta know what I mean, ‘cuz YOU’RE a dame! Man I had to lock the doors at night it got so rough. The little dames, the big dames, the blonde dames, the brunettte dames - it was like we were the Beatles! Not a lotta redheads, though,  because Bill is funny about them, he got hurt once, ya know how it is. Well maybe you don’t!  
"But,  man it was really living! And then, after the accident - we were doin’ so bad, we were trying to beg for money, for work, but  - I was gettin’ to be too much of a burden to him,  so I run off in the middle of the night. I was down on my luck, I wouldn’t sleep - I wouldn’t eat! I rode the rails lookin’ for work, running away from it all. And Bill came running lookin’ for me too, he musta looked in every freight car between here and Tijuana! He finally found me right before I was gonan end it all - I had a rock tied around my waist and I was just gonna go down into the rivuh. I’d just let the rock go when Bill saw me and jumped in after me. Without a jaw I woulda been gone that much quicker, you know? And you know what I hated most Betts? You know what was the woist? I couldn’t even tell him thank you proper like. He knew, but I wanted to say it, I wanted him to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, ‘Thanks fer savin’ my life, Bill!’
“When you met us, Bett, we were trying to make it in the Big City ... we were ... I’m ashamed to say it, Betts - we were hustlers! We walked up and down 42nd street, all rags and ass - we’d do it for a fin, we’d do it for a buck, we’d do it for smack ..."

At some point that evening I told V. that Morty had become a Times Square hustler and would do anything for smack. "Anything for a snack?" she asked me. (She also had a great line that I'll have to steal later: "These holes in my arms ain't from termites, sister!")

I went back to add:

"... we’d do it for snacks! Please mistuh, I bet you’re so big, I’ll work for peanuts, and I mean peanuts!  Boiled peanuts, honey-rasted cashews,  Jordan almonds, Brazil nuts,  chocolate-covered spanish peanuts, beer nuts, you name it, if it was a nut, I did bad things for a can of them. And I had a baaaad habit, it goes with the trade - tracks marks all over the woodgrain. And I don’t have to tell you somebody like me, without a jaw - well, I was popular in my way, a lotta the showbiz types - I’m not the kind to name names but if I were, a lotta Emmy-winning actors, with beautiful actresses and beautiful children at home - why, they’d be ruined! But I don’t like thinking about those days Betts. Nobody should have to go through what I been through Betts. If I never see another boner again it’ll be too many! Sometimes I wonder how the both of us didn’t end up in the East River tied around a jukebox.
“That’s why Bill couldn’t talk when you met us, Betts. He’d fallen a long way, a lot further than twenty feet to the ground, a lot further than twenty feet underground if you get my picture. Yours was the first kind face either of us had seen in a long long time. The big city eats you alive Betts! It eats you alive ... eats you alive ... eats you alive..”
Crackers was on the way.

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