A Weighty Issue

Good morning/afternoon/evening, where-ever you are, readers, and good to see you again. Hope everyone had a pleasant day yesterday. Mine was…interesting, to say the least. I don’t plan to get super-confessional here, but I did, at last, receive an answer for a physical problem that’s bothered me most of my life and which I couldn’t quite understand.

truthYou see, I’ve been fat most of my life. At one point I would have shied away from the word, used “heavy” or “overweight”, but it’s important to own reality so that it has less power over you and so I’ll just tell the truth here. Of course, being fat brings with it the usual share of stereotypes. Lazy, ignorant, unmotivated, stupid, what have you.

I never fully believed in those stereotypes, though at my darkest moments I surely did think that my weight made me less of a person and I know that some people would be glad to tell me that’s the truth and I should be ashamed of myself, but really I’m not. Putting aside any political implications of the pressures to conform and mockery that fat people receive, it never felt quite right to me, this matter of being fat.

Don’t get me wrong, I have some bad habits and have gone through periods where I was most certainly the agent of weight gain and bad health habits in my life. I say this not as a justification for my existence or what-have-you, to be a “good” fatty or anything like that. Simply acknowledging reality.

stages-of-user-frustration-6But the thing is, I’ve also had periods of extreme good health, regular exercise, and watching what I eat. I was a high school athlete, for God’s sake, and even then I just couldn’t shed the weight. Oh, my muscle tone was better, but I was a fat kid even when I was in track and baseball and playing sports in the backyard every day. Couldn’t tell you how many times I blamed myself for the situation and figured I must be doing something wrong that everyone else was doing right, even as I dieted at age 12 and watched my friends eat whatever they want.

So recently, I’ve stepped up my game, have been walking daily and really watching what I eat once again and while I would experience some weight loss, it often came right back on within a week without me changing a thing. The experience unnerved me so greatly that I saw my doctor and, well, that led to yesterday’s appointment. Turns out that, all along, my body was not absorbing a certain signaling hormone and that impeded my ability to gain muscle mass and consequently shed fat (among other issues). This is typically a genetic condition and it does have a treatment, thank goodness, it’s just a shame that it took this long to find out what was going on.

I had initially decided to keep the subject private, and there’s a lot that I’m not telling, but it’s enough of a life-changer that I felt the need to discuss it here. Still debating about whether to share the journey as we try to correct the issue.

ShameAnyway, I guess that’s speaking truth to power or something. I’m sure I’m throwing open the gates to mockery or something, but I don’t care. There’s an element of emotional vindication here that’s too important to ignore.

Writing, though, that’s what we’re here to discuss, right? I have to confess, dear readers, that your “presence” over my shoulder has actually made me a more diligent writer. Oh, I harbored some concern over whether this blog might distract me from writing, and I definitely worried that writing about progress and my life might turn off readers, but I certainly did not expect these newer entries to keep me honest. I could have sat down after dinner last night and vegged out, but a little voice in the back of my head kept telling me that I could not return to you empty-handed after promising the end of Chapter 23 two days in a row. I forced myself to sit down at my computer and knock out that last page before doing anything else. So thanks for keeping me honest!

In-universe, I wrapped up the funeral scenes and am about to edit Chapter 24, one of the trickiest chapters in the whole damned book. You see, in these chapters we witness the evolution of the threesome that destroys Dean’s life, as well as the act itself, almost a footnote to the build-up and drama that follows. I’ve said before that this book is an intensely personal one, and this chapter is no exception. The events didn’t quite transpire in the same fashion as in the novel, but there are some common elements.

My past is kind of screwy.

Anyway, diving into that today. No promises on how long 24 might take, as it’s a long one, but I did commit to editing at least four pages today. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll share some more details about the scene tomorrow. See you then.

Paths

I have a confession to make: my wife and I watch reality TV. Now, not the super-trashy stuff like Toddlers and Tiaras or whatever the trailer park one is. Not that stuff. I’m talking Intervention, Hoarding: Buried Alive, Hoarders, that sort of stuff. I’ve struggled with a bit of shame in watching the shows, but have reached a detente with myself now that I’ve put together just why it appeals to me.

hoardersI admit to having a fascination with “abnormal” (ugh that term) psychology and diseases of addiction and compulsion. This is not some carnival side-show fascination. It’s more that my life has been touched by those illnesses, in one way or another. For example, I’m pretty sure some subconscious drive pushes me to the hoarding shows in order to better understand my grandfather’s twilight years. We didn’t know the word “hoarder” back then, but when I see some of the homes on that show I also glimpse reflections of the packed trailer that my parents and uncle were left to clean up after his passing. I was too young to know better, but wish that I could have connected with him on some deeper level in the way that they connect on the show.

This all comes up because, in some respects, I’m beginning to understand the everyday anxiety with which hoarders grapple. The reason? We’re about 2/3rds of the way through our move and boxes are piled absolutely everywhere. As they point out on the shows, hoarders have to form paths, and so we have formed them as well.

And it’s driving me absolutely insane.

JengaWhen I’m outside the house I can be relatively calm and peaceful, but when I walk in and start navigating those paths I get restless and anxious. Keep in mind that this is a relatively clean place and that the boxes are stacked neatly, not just strewn everywhere. I can’t imagine the anxiety and depression that must build up in some of those homes. It’s amazing what it does to your mental well-being. It certainly explains a lot of the defensiveness and hopelessness that shows up.

So we’re kind of stuck this way for the time being, at least until the first full week of July. I hope not to lose my mind in the meantime.

Did not quite get to finish Chapter 23 yesterday, but did finish the exchange between Dean, Catriona the church lady, and her swinging husband. Lots of drama there, most of it connected to Dean and Catriona. While Dean is a sex addict, Catriona and Mark operate on a different level from him with their own addictions, a level that repulses even Dean and feels profane to him in the shadow of his wife’s funeral. It’s an interesting exchange.

I am now a good portion of the way into Sara’s arrival on the scene and Dean’s commiseration with her. I can practically hear the cries for these two to hook up, but alas, it is not to be given that Dean is 11 years older than her and very different in personality. They could eventually make good friends, however.

Also beginning to think of how resequencing can bring these scenes into greater focus. I have a feeling some character is going to be eliminated, just not sure who will be left standing when the music stops.

More work on the ‘shroom scene in Sara’s novel as well. She’s discovered a younger version of her mother down the rabbit hole of her own subconscious. Could be quite an interesting exchange.

That’s it for today…hope to have more to report tomorrow. Hope you have a great one.

Down by the Fire

Bit of a struggle to get up and running this morning. It’s the humidity, absolutely drains me. The strangest part is that it somehow affects me even when I’m inside, in the air conditioning. I suspect that it’s a matter of our AC not efficiently removing the humidity, as we do sometimes get condensation on the windows. Either way, just not fun at all.

The weather is not my concern here, however. My concern is writing, and there has been a lot of it going on. Yesterday I started the next novel, the follow-up/pseudo sequel to Came to Believe. The one about Sara. I hadn’t planned to start it, but a scene came to me pretty much whole-cloth. I don’t know how much of it will end up in the final novel, so long off, so a brief description is in order, I think.

firepitIn my head I saw Sara sitting by a fire pit, stirring it with a long branch, bundled up as she passes small talk with her dealer/boyfriend, Travis. Or is it Roger? I’m not sure at the moment. As they talk they pass a small joint back and forth. Soon Roger produces a baggie full of psilocybin mushrooms.

Here I should perhaps clarify what is going on with Sara’s life: at age 36, she has moved back to Elkton, VA, a small city that butts right up against the Blue Ridge mountains. She moved there from the DC Metro area after losing her job and learning that her mother has a heart condition that will likely kill her. This scene takes place a few months after her return. Sara is stressed, having trouble finding work and fitting in, so she’s started smoking more weed (her mother is a former dealer) and retreating into a world of dreams, almost regressing to a younger age.

psychedelicSara debates at first, wondering if it’s a good idea at her age, but ends up taking them and the ensuing trip is a pivotal point in her character development, sort of a “slingshot” that drives her into some shocking, life-altering decisions. Strange that this scene came to me first out of them all, but I’m happy to write it. It’s a really meaty scene.

Back in Came to Believe-land, made good progress on the awkward scene outside the funeral and am about to write the portion where Sara (yes, that Sara) walks in on the mess. My general goal for today is to knock out Chapter 23. We’ll see how that goes. It’s possible, though; this scene has not shredded me in the same way other ones do. It’s just awkward for everyone involved.

Personal note, caught the keynotes from yesterday’s big video gaming conference, E3. Saw some pretty cool stuff, but so far away still. At least it leaves some time to write.

Digging in the Dirt

Well, ready to get back to the grind, consider this my 15-minute check-in for Monday morning. I said that I want to start posting more regularly and here it is. Spot check? Got about 600 words knocked out on Chapter 23 this weekend. This chapter features a pair of encounters that our fearless antihero Dean encounters during his wife, Lindsay’s, funeral, one with his soon-to-be-ex-lover and the other with his wife’s best friend, Sara, who will one day have her own story to tell.

This is the kiss-off scene for the ex-lover and a turning point in Dean’s addiction and that’s all I have to say about that (as that portion is still in development). The scene with Sara is more important, however, as it shows her softening toward the man who cheated on her friend and offers a glimpse of what Dean’s life would look like if he didn’t try to fuck every woman he met.

woman-smoking-a-cigarette-via-Shutterstock

Plus, I just like Sara and enjoy spending time with her. I’m very much looking forward to telling her full story, and it weaves throughout this novel, showing some of these scenes from her perspective and revealing Dean’s distortions in a greater light. It’s not necessary to read both novels, but they are related and revolve around Lindsay’s death. Oh, and Lindsay’s death is not a spoiler, it’s literally on page 1.

Other than that, life is a never-ending series of boxes and trash bags as we empty out the apartment. Who knew you could compile so much crap in seven years of living in one place? I mean I lived in my childhood home from 81 to 95, but as an adult this is easily the longest I’ve lived in one location (07 to 14). It’s going to be weird, and the packing is very strange, bringing up loads of memories, most of them not-so-pleasant. The condo has seen some very good times, but it’s also seen some of the darkest times in my life. Right now it’s hard not to concentrate on that darkness as I hold the physical artifacts of it. Don’t get me wrong, we’re purging that stuff for the better, but it still surfaces some long-forgotten emotions and memories.

As a result, I’ve been kind of distant and grumpy as I chew over this stuff. Sorry, Mary, it will certainly get better once we move and we’re in a better place.

NIGHT VALE 8inOne other note, I’m possibly the last human being to find out about this, but I’ve been digging into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast/audio book and have become a huge fan. For those who don’t know about it, the concept is community radio in a community where every conspiracy theory is true and Lovecraftian creations walk the earth and are involved with station management. It’s been described as Garrison Keillor in a Stephen King world, and I have to agree. Give it a listen if you get a chance, and I will see you here again soon.

Novel Status Update for the Week

Did some writing in the “spaces in between” today and knocked out Chapter Twenty-Two. This is one of the key chapters to the novel and may eventually become Chapter One or Two, as it perfectly captures the themes of the novel. In fact, I am thinking of completely reordering the chapters. The current version of the novel flows through both past and present at the same time; one chapter will be in the present day, with the next in the past, with several subplots wending their way to conclusion through each timeline.

Here’s the problem, though: the approach creates mystery that doesn’t necessarily go with the story. This is really meant to be a slice-of-life piece and not a whodunit. The parallel tales approach is necessary because the actual beginning of the tale is not that gripping. It’s important, and the story could not exist without it, but it’s not the real beginning.

Thus, time is the enemy. It occurred to me earlier that plenty of writers have gotten around this problem by nonlinear storytelling, some of them quite successfully. I’m still formulating how the plotlines would come together, but could be an interesting approach. More soon on that.

Today’s pages were particularly difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I got through them, but it was based on some of my my personal experiences, an abstract of a very dark scenario in which I was once ensnared. The good news is that it granted me new insight into my experience and allows me to name something that had previously remained nameless and blocked from memory. That’s what matters. If someone else would gain from it as well, then…that would just be icing on the cake.

Anyway, again, have a great weekend.

On the Value of Fear and Good Art

This post is kind of a response to something that Marie Loughin said in yesterday’s comments. Her statement, if you haven’t seen it:

There’s a difference between writing novels on an intellectual level vs adventure level vs personal level. I think the most personal are the hardest, because you add in an element of fear along with a deeper need to get it right.

So true, though what surprises me the most isn’t the fear of “getting it out there”, I’ve talked about some of the stuff in the novel with other people before and it’s jumbled enough that it’s not the literal truth; I’m not a sex addict or a dentist. I’ve never had a threesome with a subordinate or been arrested with a prostitute. Those are the surface details of the story that I’m writing, but there’s something rawer and closer to reality just beneath the surface, something that I’ll talk a little bit about as we go through future posts.

I really have two fears when writing this book; the first is of facing demons that I have locked away for one reason or another. This book has brought up previously-unrevealed emotions about events in my life, sentiments that surprise me as they spill out on the page but ring true for what I’ve gone through. I can see how a certain scene in a restaurant might form a dark mirror version of a situation that I found myself in just a few years ago.

It’s an interesting process, but as it went and more of these moments arose I found myself fearing what might get dug up next. Naturally, a great deal of trepidation came with bringing up not one but two of the most traumatic events in my life (in obscured versions of reality), the kind of trepidation that freezes you. I could neither go forward nor backward.

So that’s the first fear that I felt in writing this novel. The second is borne of a concern that I might inadvertently hurt someone that I care about. I have no desire to use fiction as a weapon, to hurt and besmirch others, even those who might have done bad things to me. This means that, as a scene evolves in proxy to a traumatic event, it takes very precise care to avoid implicating someone or reproducing something verbatim from the past. Character and plot are supreme for the story, of course, but those can be guided to some extent and must be guided if it’s in the name of protecting people.

This is a fear. Words have a great deal of power and have to be used wisely; I wouldn’t dare compare them to something deadly like a pistol, but the same principle applies in that when handling the “live ammo” of the past, you must have a healthy, respectful fear of the consequences.

In the end, fear drives good art. Fear of your own mortality, fear of the past, fear of the present, fear of what may never be. That’s not to say that fear is the only emotional driver, it’s simply a powerful one, and I respect it.