Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The results are in! (Deja vu edition)

I'm churning through the results and rubble of my participation in the 500 Word Challenge and, while I don't believe I'll need any charts and graphs, the repercussions are significant, perhaps even earth-shattering, to the degree that there is earth I'm standing upon.

I'm also wondering how everyone else did.

More to come.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A woman sitting on a bench, part 2

Another entry in the 500 Word Challenge, this is a direct continuation from here.

You cannot yet state precisely why this is. There is nothing outwardly striking about her appearance--no capes or clown shoes, no Capuchin monkey skittering across her shoulders, no harlequin scarf kiting across the breeze.

And yet, her appearance is that of someone singularly not belonging on a park bench.

Lolly tugs forward on her leash like she's concerned about missing her target heart rate; she has no patience for your slowing to speculate.

The shoes? Brown pumps. Likely not "brown" but rather "chocolate" or "mahogany" or "old growth forest" or some other proper color for a woman's shoe, but in any case not a sensible walk-in-the-park shoe.

Slacks and blouse leave a similar impression; this is someone dressed in the upper range of business casual, not someone who planned to sit on a park bench on a chilly, overcast morning. Were there any doubt, the incongruity of the coat settles it; this dingy white coat, a stoutly functional marshmallow that must dwell neglected on her closet's floor, surely was grabbed in desperation, a pivotal, decisive act altering the course of her morning.

This is a woman accustomed to driving from covered parking to covered parking, free from the imposition of weather; she keeps her expensive jacket hanging in the back of her car. She didn't take the time to fetch it.

A woman who composes herself with care has forsaken her appearance to grab what was likely the only available jacket in her wardrobe offering practical warmth. She chose this rather than take the time to change into appropriate park attire. She knew she needed to act on the moment--any delay, the inconvenience of changing, and her resolve would be gone. Again.

She's been thinking about something for a long time, then. And only today, this morning, has her fortitude prevailed. She came here to think. No, not only to think: to decide.

Again the feeling that you shouldn't be here. At the gazebo she sits, deeply engaged in an intimate, conflicted moment of decision. A woman sitting on a bench, standing on a razor's edge. You're walking straight at her, Lolly driving forward, the slavering hound and the unwashed oaf with the flamboyant walking sneakers. There are no detours.

What to do?

Plow resolutely forward? Avoid eye contact, hope Lolly doesn't park at the woman's knees? Hope your bit of antisocial behavior doesn't tip the scales of her decision?

You're closing fast.

Maybe pause to throw out a bit of Zen wisdom in passing? What was your last fortune cookie? "You will soon go on a long journey." That might work. But to what end? Do you dare disturb her universe?

Mere steps now.

Sit next to her on the bench and play social worker? Listen to her dilemma, steeple your fingers and bestow sage advice? "That must be hard," you'll say. Always a good opener. Listen carefully, then close with a coin flip?

We're here, and Lolly the friendly, huffing dog has stopped to sit at the woman's chocolate or mahogany or old growth forest shoes. Lolly isn't one to overthink matters, and she has decided that this woman needs a dog to pet.

Friday, January 17, 2014

500 word challenge update

Just a quick update, as the writing I've done of late has been offline. Yesterday I didn't hit 500 words, and what I did write I promptly scuttled. Some days that's for the best. I'll have something up during the long weekend, assuredly.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A woman sitting on a bench

The day broke dank and overcast, not a morning for walking your dog in the park, unless your dog was the sort of chocolate Labrador that, neglecting exercise, would routinely chew the windowsills off the wall during the lonely workday. Your dog, Lolly, is precisely that sort of dog, calmly gnawing your house like chewing tobacco and spitting the moist pulp into piles for your later collecting. Facing the choice between another weekend hammering down fresh molding or walking off your dog's destructive energy,you chose to log-roll out of bed and grab the leash.

The sun, good sport that he is, chose also to rise, casting a meager glow on the damp sidewalks and bedewed grass. Lolly pads along with an eagerness that forces a quickness to your step. She tacitly refuses to acknowledge that this is anything but the most splendidly fabulous morning. The smell of earthy, ionized air, the bracing coolness, a tousling breeze--another perfect day for walking. Lolly glances back at the bobbing leash and then up toward you, wearing a goofy labrador smile. You smile back.

You've arrived at one of the park entrances, taking the fork to the right through an opening in a split rail fence. It's a civilized park, with poured concrete walkways suitable for dry or wet weather, and wide trails with multiple diverging branches allowing for walks and jogs of variable duration.

Lolly has her favorites, the trails with kaleidoscopic animal scents floating throughout the underbrush, but today her broad nose points you toward the center of the park, home to an modest gazebo. An odd choice.

The mist is thicker here, the air cooler, enclosed by woods and spotted with copses, shifting leaves batting away the sun's heat. You are warm enough from the exercise, but the chill clings to exposed skin.

Typically you'd encounter a few familiar faces, though only the diehards on a day like today, the ones wearing modern synthetics and GPS watches. All is quiet this morning, though, the thickness of the air dampening sound, save for Lolly's breathing and the tapping of her nails against the walk.

Lolly's pace slows. She's sniffing the air. "Let's keep moving, girl," you say. There's a schedule to be kept--walk, shower, off to work. You're looking around. Did everyone else hit the snooze button?

You've been to this park a hundred times, know well its twists and shadows, but now this morning you have a dogged sense that you shouldn't be here. Silly. You tighten your grip on the leash.

A glimpse of the gazebo appears ahead. A small structure, perhaps twenty feet across, with a wooden shingled roof, open on the sides save for several benches spanning its posts.

As you approach the gazebo, sun still struggling to burn off the overcast clamminess, you at last spot another person, a woman sitting on one of the benches affixed underneath. An unfamiliar face, even at a distance, but more than that, you are struck with the realization that she shouldn't be here either.

To be continued...

Monday, January 13, 2014

In which everything is JUST FINE REALLY

--heck, I always was a terrible liar. I fell off the wagon this weekend. Hard. I had a remarkably productive weekend and attacked the to-do list viciously, but didn't get a single word down Saturday or Sunday. Avoiding writing may well be the key to success in other areas of life.

What I do have written down, however, is quite a superb list of excuses. Easily 500 words. Care to hear them? Perhaps the one about the back injury? Compelling and vivid, I assure you.


Moving along. How is everyone else doing on the challenge? I need to browse through some of the website links and scout everyone else's progress. I had a thought that in the near future I would do 500 words in comments on other people's sites. Twenty-five words on twenty sites? Seems a good idea.

I had thought as well that perhaps it's time to move from blogger to WordPress, like all the cool people (and because blogger is incredibly flat and restrictive). That would likely serve as little more than a distraction during January, however, so best push that to February. Does anyone have a favorite platform--something other than WordPress to recommend?

Funny how it isn't enough to establish good habits--they need constant maintenance. Years ago I couldn't look at someone sitting on a park bench without spontaneously thinking up her backstory and what was churning through her mind. Now? Lady on a park bench. The end. Given sufficient laxness we gradually atrophy our abilities, becoming less like Sherlock and more like Watson. Fourteen steps up to the room, you say? There were steps?

Part of the problem is how incredibly capable we become at the everyday overhead of life. I have to rub my cheek to confirm the morning shave--yes, smooth and not scratchy. Wearing pants? Thank goodness, yes. Wearing underwear? I'll get back to you on that.

Remember learning to drive? The intense attention required to maintain a relatively constant speed, check the mirrors, stay in your lane, shift focus rapidly between near and far traffic? Now we drive in traffic eating a banana while talking on a cell phone and watching nothing but the rearview mirror. Easy.

Our practiced perfection numbs us to detail. Our autopilot is so well trained as to simulate a life without us even needing to be there. My body has gone on to brush its teeth without me. I'm somewhere up in my head pacing off steps, smoking an imaginary pipe, mentally chewing upon some academically interesting bit of gristle.

Autonomic systems gradually subsume consciousness. The body already regulates temperature and heart rate independently; it is more than capable of handling the entirety of routine living. Life becomes like breathing--it goes on without our attention, but with thought and effort we can govern it. Writing demands that thought and effort.

In my pacing I now come across a woman on a bench. And I know what she's thinking.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A change in the air

Day Ten, nearly a third of the way through the 500 Word Challenge. For the remaining two-thirds I may need to change gears a bit and work on some writing that doesn't get posted on this blog. I want to focus on some fiction writing exercises that would likely be ill-suited to this format. Perhaps go with an even/odd schedule--even days for private writing, odd days for site posts; that would allow me time for more liberating free-form scribbling, which I sorely need.

No cheating, I promise--I'll report back here with progress.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One post away from becoming a hobo

A second ago I had zero. Now I have six. Scratch that--ten. Definite progress. The words are flowing easier now. Trying with music tonight. Loud music.

If only you knew how exciting this was--I've done the math and the odds of this reaching 500 words and posting before midnight...well, not something you would put money on.

You have the advantage of me. I'm staring at blank, blank screen, but you can already see the words; you know how this ends. So, do I make it? Missing tonight after a stinker as recent as January 7th would be calamitous; it could derail the whole project and send the 500 Word Challenge tumbling into a ravine.

At that point I'd have to scuttle the whole blog, drag Scrivener to the trash, perhaps become a hobo and hop trains. One can only withstand so much disappointment with yourself, especially as you are always there.

This, I'm guessing, is why people take up drink. How else do you get some peace from that chattering loon in your skull?

Three hundred words separate me from ruin. Let's notch up the music volume a bit. There's more below this, yes? More words? I didn't stop at the two-hundred mark? Because that's where we're at, and my eyes burn with fatigue. Fatigue and what I suspect is napalm in my shampoo, which seared my left eye half a day ago and still burns. Mental note to check the recipe on that bottle. Turpentine? Lime remover? Drain cleaner? I should also make sure the word "shampoo" appears somewhere on the front label as well.

I stare at screens and type all day for a living. Nothing like this, of course, but it's remarkable how much of our lives has come to typing. Ruminate on that for a while. It's coming up empty on my side but perhaps you can dredge something out of that.

Long blank stare here. You're skimming, aren't you? Such a luxury of the reader; I have to make this stuff up, with exercises to build healthy writing habits, and, like exercise, sometimes it comes easily and feels thrilling and other times it's just tedium and irritation.

Maybe you can help. Do you write with or without music? If you listen to music, does it have to be purely instrumental? When do you write? Morning, evening, at intervals during the day? Do you have to leave the house and head out to a library or coffee shop to get anything done? Can you read books during a writing project or do you need to isolate yourself from the thoughts and styles of other writers?

I think we're going to make it. Thanks for sticking with me. I definitely need to wrap this up sooner rather than later; the glow and clicking of my laptop is keeping my wife up. The difficult posts are certainly educational--it's becoming increasingly clear what works and what doesn't, and nighttime writing isn't harmonious with an exhausted household.

Do leave a comment if you're considering it--perhaps you can tell me how tomorrow goes.