Yesterday and today have been weird. Between getting booted off my laptop for a surprise Windows update and trying to arrange a visit with my grandparents, I haven’t had much opportunity to get my writing done. I only got six hundred words in once my computer had finished doing its update as it was almost midnight and I was dead tired from two nights of sleeping in an unfamiliar bed that felt akin to sleeping on a moss-covered boulder. I wanted to do more, but I just didn’t have it in me. I also wound up sleeping really well last night, so I overslept my planned wake-up time and didn’t have the time to write before I needed to get out of bed, pack, and head to my grandparent’s place. So now it’s after seven in the evening, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room because I need to be around My People after a stressful weekend, and I’m trying to jam out enough of a blog post that I can justify hitting that “Publish…” button.
Honestly, I should probably just get this up, write one hundred words so I can continue my update streak on the National Novel Writing Month website, and then stop writing for tonight, but I’ve given up on my daily word count so many times lately. I don’t want to keep doing that. I’ve got a lot to do in order to succeed with my goals this month and I can’t afford to keep making excuses. I don’t want to keep making excuses. I want to get my words done, but that’s a tall order when all I can think about is how thin and frail my grandfather felt when I hugged him on my way out the door. How small he’s gotten. How he was too tired to crack jokes. How he didn’t once refuse any of the assistance we offered him. He used to be as big as I am and it’s startling to see how small he’s gotten. In my car, I have clothes my grandmother bought him that are too big for him that would fit me. These are different from the last ones I got. Those were given to me as my grandparents moved to a smaller house and needed to free up some space. They were extra. These are almost new and just don’t fit him now that he’s lost so much weight.
This is one of those things that alters the course of your mind. I can feel my mental topography change and my thought’s about my grandfather show up in every mental space I have ever built. The mental image of my writing–the internal me slowly climbing a mountain without a clear path or a certain destination–is now done in the shadow of another mountain whose paths are all too clear. The empty darkness that is where my internal self lives, a place of calm emptiness where I go to get peace from the noise of my mental health issues and the noise of live, is no longer entirely dark. The ocean of my depression has a giant wave on the horizon that is moving at a speed I can’t detect, but I know it can crash over me at any moment without warning. There’s no escaping this.
I imagine I’d feel something similar if one of my parents was ill, but it’s hard to know. It’d probably be different and maybe worse in its own special way. My grandfather has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories involve him or stories about him. I remember when my sister was being born, the one who is only a couple of years younger than me. It is only a flash, a moment in time, a picture of a story someone once told me, but it’s still crystal clear. I remember my older brother and I playing some kind of game on the couch in the basement of their old home that involved taking the cushions off the couch. Maybe we were building a fort, maybe we just wanted to bounce on the springs of the couch, but our grandfather was there, watching over us as we played as he put up with our games in a way that let us know he’d rather be here with us than anywhere else. He was a bartender and union electrician until his retirement and he’s always been a tough old man in my eyes who still managed to avoid a lot of the more toxic bits of masculinity in his emotional dealings with us. That might just be the eyes of a child worshiping his favorite relative or the rose-colored glasses of an adult remembering his favorite relative since most of that side of the family has a tendency to engage in passive-aggressive bullshit more often than not, but it’s hard to believe I’ve imagined it entirely.
I want to be able to write about it, but I just don’t know how to fit him into a story. He’s always been a goofy, silly old man to me, and I don’t want to just drop him off somewhere that won’t do justice to the person I’ve seen my entire life. This is all still pretty recent and I’m pretty sure I just need more time to figure it out, but it’s hard to write anything without thinking him. I want to preserve a part of him in the stories I tell, just like I’ve got snapshots of so many people in my stories, but I haven’t spent as much time considering him like that. Even though I’m familiar with loss and the limitations of mortality thanks to the loss of high school classmates and my own traumas, some part of me just refused to accept that this man who always seemed bigger than me–even after I had an inch on him–would one day no longer be. I still don’t want to believe it.
Everything comes to an end eventually. There is a price to be paid for everything, even life. I’ve gotten a lot of life and happiness out of my grandfather, especially considering I know so many people whose parents have already passed on. I just always hoped it would be longer. I mean, out of all my grand-relatives, I always kind of figured he’d be around the longest. I feel kind of crappy saying that, but it’s true. Now I have to face the fact that it isn’t and I’m having a hard time reconciling my feelings and my knowledge. Especially when I’m struggling to figure out how to write about it.
I’m going to eat some kind of alcoholic desert my friend made and rejoin the group for a little bit, but I think I might take the night off from my National Novel Writing Month project and try my hand at writing about a man who is leaving a shadow larger than life. I hope your day was productive and I hope you manage to reach your writing goals today. Good luck.
One of the big Fantasy series I have been enjoying lately is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Despite being made up of three (of ten, according to what I’ve read) giant Fantasy tomes, his stories are fun, quick, and refreshing. This gigantic, sweeping series features a world that is different from most fantasy worlds I’ve read. The powers are novel, the means of getting powers relies on rules that are slowly being revealed but are incredibly interesting, and everything originally from the world has some kind of carapace because of the regular storms that swing through the area or is otherwise incredibly hardy to account for how insane the weather is compared to ours. Beyond all that, the stories aren’t afraid to confront difficult issues or show how terrible people can become good people. The effects of trauma, the reality of depression, and complexity of doing bad things for good reasons are all addressed (incredibly well) throughout the series.
How does your protagonist respond to interpersonal conflict? Are they a pot-stirrer, or do they hate the idea of being involved in the nitty-gritty of other people’s lives? Some people immensely enjoy setting up conflicts between people and some people would literally rather die than engage in any kind of emotional or verbal conflict, let alone a physical one. How does your protagonist feel about them? Is it something they can handle easily or is it going to be a struggle they’re going to need to muddle through? Write a scene showing them responding to or engaging in some kind of conflict.
Don’t chain yourself to continuity when you’re writing. If you get hit by a great idea for something that’s pretty far down the line from where you’re currently writing, pursue it. Don’t put it aside and expect to remember it when the time comes. The same goes for entire scenes or chapters. Or plot points. Or books. If an idea comes to you, record it. The idea might change as time passes and it might not fit when you finally get to it, but it’ll still inform how you write the parts around it. Maybe it’ll bring you back to an element of the story you lost between writing that section and reaching it. No matter what, though, it’ll be worth recording because at least it’ll get the idea down somewhere so you can keep your mind focused on moving the story along rather than trying to juggle story pieces that showed up ahead of their moment.
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