09:17. Discouragement. That’s how she felt now, as she finally braved the action of clicking on that button which said “Write.” Funny, once she’d clicked the button, and arrived here on the blank white sea, the rest was easy; it was only “My Shitty First Novel” after all. It could be completely nonsensical, it could be completely self-absorbed, it might only talk about its own process.
Here was the funny thing: waking before anyone else, lying in the dark, she had epiphanies, revelations, sudden understandings of the mechanics of fiction and how they could be used to weave patches of reality into something that was beautiful, believable and altogether true, while not nonfiction. And then she would lie too long, getting more and more amazed; and too many ideas would teem on the movie screen of her mind, and then she would nearly give up, and think, “just stay.” Everyone’s asleep. Just sleep, just don’t bother. Relax. It’s nothing, nothing compared to real life, compared to the warmth of the bed, the quiet darkness of the room, the satisfaction in later immediately doing household tasks, being always with the family, always having a hand near a child’s, always having the possibility of connecting with their gazes, of hearing their troubles, of knowing their wants and dislikes and responding to them.
But she finally got up, already feeling a bit sad that she’d not done it sooner. She collected her usual tools: the coffee press and mug, the laptop, her book-bag filled with treasures she rarely made time to open, yet were a comfort to have with her nonetheless. Particularly Carol Shields’ Unless; that key gift from her mother some years ago; and now, snuggled alongside that well-worn paperback, a more recent volume, the same author’s posthumous book, Startle and Illuminate.
A gift to herself, one month ago. She had kissed its cover fervently and unselfconsciously, upon its arrival, causing her husband to chuckle, after he’d handed her the package fresh from the mailbox, as she’d sat upstairs sorting bills and receipts. Though she’d read the first pages that evening, she had not even halfway-finished it yet, here and now, weeks later. Could hardly bear to march her eyes onwards, closer to the book’s end, so much she savoured its pages; valued every word. And at once needed and did not need to read it.
She stopped to open a drawer in one of the big file cabinets, to scan manilla folders for one in particular, to withdraw an old medical record, the date forgotten. And also, to collect a story from a relative’s friend which she had printed and had meant to read, but had not yet done. Her sister’s story she left on the desk for now. She would go back to that one again later. So many stories coming in! Which to read, how to respond and when, between life outside words. The email inbox ever larger-growing, though she’d recently cleared it again.
Finally, hands full again, stepped outside. Saw that oyster blackness of the sky. No stars today; only a dampish grey; but still she was glad. She followed the trail down to the den. The trail was illuminated very softly, by solar lamps she’d planted there some time ago; small, icy white lights in a waving pattern down the hill. She opened the door of the den with hardly any consciousness in the act, so much was she living in her head again. She put her things down, set the water in the electric kettle to boil, then deliberated. Write first, or run?
* * *
09:39. Blinking cursor. What to leave out, what to put in. What to make up, and what to keep real. The biggest obstacle was forcing herself to write what had happened outside the present moment. Or to write what had not happened at all. To keep the ear of the reader in mind, that treasured friend, the kindred spirit to whom she spoke; yet also allowing herself a certain freedom, freedom to be herself, let her mistakes and stupidities and flaws march ahead of her like a shadow in the streetlamp.
Was it even safe to run at night? She didn’t know, but felt it so; there was no man about, at this hour, the hills were wide and empty of humans; all the same, she found herself aware of what she wore, it was very nondescript, dark, comfortable, a little old and worn in places, a bit unstylish; she felt safe, like the occupant of any passing vehicle would not think “possible prey” but hopefully “escaped mental patient.” Not that it mattered. Except that of course, sometimes, it did.
Later, funny thing, she would look up the word “catfish” — a funny word to her, since her sister had given her children a beautiful storybook about a cat and a fish, who later blended — in beautiful Escher-like drawings — to become a catfish and a fishcat. The symbolism of that gift had not been lost upon her, in fact beautifully spelled out, this gift from a lioness to the children of a fish, and its meaning filtered into her heart and healed old wounds, and she felt herself as growing like a cat, with teeth and claws; gifts from her sister; which could of course be useful at times; much more so than fins and gills in any fight, that was certain.
So yes later, some time after the morning run, she would look up the word “catfish” — since a new friend had mentioned it in the comments of her blog. Urban Dictionary said a “catfisher” was a “bottom-feeder” who pretended to be someone else online. And a catfish was:
“A fake or stolen online identity created or used for the purposes of beginning a deceptive relationship.
“[example:] Turns out the girl I thought I met online was just a catfish of a fat old man.”
Haha! She had to laugh, at that one. What if she herself was a fat old man? Wouldn’t that make a great story, for a novel.
But even better was a related term she’d never heard of, not even in children’s storybooks, also in Urban Dictionary, with a definition entered by “ABadbooty,” December 14, 2016:
“The opposite of a catfish
“[example:] She was so much hotter than her photos on tinder. I got dogbirded.”
But she couldn’t think much longer on that, for below that definition was a link to the “Best and Worst dressed” at the Cannes Film Festival, and of course, she clicked. J. Lo — such personal power, how could she own it, it was magnificent! To reveal so much, to brave the critics, to hold her face immoveable and statuesque, unsmiling, above all that muscle and curve and near-nudity, to wear a cleopatra-like headdress that blended with the dress nearly like a hood.
She scrolled down, which would she choose, just for fun, just for a lark? There, here, yes! This lime-green confection was at once the most frivolous and the only one that appealed, among all the deep décolleté and/or ice-queen bodystockings; to rather be completely enveloped in chartreuse organza and chiffon from thigh to neck, to sweep within a froth of ruffles which, though short in front, trailed in such long heaps behind, that if one desired, one could curl up in it, use it as an ethereal duvet. And crowned by the palest pink-rose head-wrap. But unlike this actor, she herself had not the colouring for it, it would wash her own pale self completely out, and look ridiculous.
Next she found herself clicking on a link to video footage of the same dress on the same red carpet, but in motion. How had she done it? This woman? To walk only one step per minute, almost; to float as in a dream, to pause, to pose, to never whet one’s teeth nor scratch one’s nose; to only smile, to remain *captured,* again and again and again, frozen in time, dimples born-with which were so perfect as to seem calculated or designed, beneath huge almond eyes and the upward sweep of thick black lashes; now over the shoulder at this black box, now chin slightly elevated, left hip side-up, left leg crossed perfectly in front, but still, waiting for the next interminable step and the next swath of black boxes. Flash-flash, glimmering of stars that were not stars, how could she have borne it? But she seemed to love it, this one; own it, hold it, welcome a team around her to arrange her dress.
* * *
Inside that dress, she knew, might be a cage. She had sewn one herself once; the boning is not made of whalebone these days but rather hard strips of synthetic fibre, strong yet easily cuttable with scissors. In a wedding shop, a long time ago, alone with a dress in a change room, she’d examined its interior, memorized its bones, its free-floating lining, its under-stitching and its particular placement of this or that swell or cinch of satin, or lace around the waist. How the texture of a fabric could be used to define or hide certain attributes of flaws of the body that would wear it. Or of the body that would be confined within it.
* * *
Sigh. She was exhausted from talking about dresses. But mostly because the best-dressed had not been on the list. That more subtle actor just behind the one in green, she’d worn the *real* perfect dress, to her mind, at least. But nowhere, when she later looked, could she find mention of the dress, nor of its wearer.
* * *
11:03. Once again, nothing at all that she’d planned to write, which of course, was a sad disappointment. She would skip back now to just the run, which had been fearless and relaxing, under the sky which had tilted from oyster to ink; to hear nothing but her own footfall, to pass the sleeping cows whose white forms lay against the sea of darkened fields like a sprinkle of sugar lumps on spiced bread, or like clinging snow on the boulders of a spring-waking tundra.
On the way back, to see her shape as cast in the shadow of the only streetlamp on the other side of the low valley; to be surprised that the shape was so defined, so elongated by the light, so surprisingly feminine, even in the nondescript clothes, which after all were not as nondescript as she’d thought; who was this person; not the escaped mental patient she’d imagined; she knew her not at all.
* * *
1717 words; editing is a godsend, for achieving unachieved word count.
1747 and again…
* * *
11:15. Four days to go till November 1st, the start of NaNoWriMo, dear friends! Join there if you will. I’m @NadineJL, though not active there yet.
I feel I ruined today’s write by allowing myself far too many distractions before beginning, but as usual, I’ve let the distractions lead the way, to get my word-count at the end of the day. Frustratingly, all I’d planned to write remains unwritten. However, I’ve learned that usually those unwritten things percolate and manifest themselves later; the only requirement is that we first click that button, or open that blank page, no matter how late, or how defeated-feeling; and allow the marks to flow. All of this is raw material, and purely practice; and if we see it as nothing more than that, it makes it possible to begin again, with the same thought in mind, the following day. Keeping in mind it’s “My Shitty First Novel,” all the way.
xo love, n
p.s. ran out of time to title it!!! Am late for this family thing I was supposed to do. help. ok done.
Edit 2019-10-29: slight editing mostly for typos.
* * *
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. Thank you for reading. ❤︎