Day 18: Still Okay!

I’ve admired my Aunt Ruthanne’s consistent Wednesday blog updates for years now (A More Colorful Life! Erry Wednesday!). I don’t have any classes Wednesday afternoons this semester and, seeing as this is my third blog post in three Wednesdays, maybe I can follow her example and make Wednesday posts a regular thing.

I won’t write much, though, because I’m trying to get as far ahead on NaNoWriMo as I can before the weekend.

Here’s my progress graph! I’m at tomorrow’s goal, and I haven’t even started writing for today yet.

32,007 words!

32,007 words!

 

I like how this book is coming together. I like the shape of it. I like the characters that are popping up out of the darkness. I like my ideas for the ending. The book feels complete, somehow, in a way my books rarely do at this stage in the writing. I know there are some threads that are missing, and I know I will have to go back to the beginning to weave a few new colors into the story, but I feel like I can hold the whole thing in my hands and I feel it is good. This feeling probably means I am in for a lot of surprises, but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

I’m also having fun writing this book. I want this to be my job. How do I make this my job? Oh yeah. Keep writing.

Good luck on NaNoWriMo and every other thing, you beautiful people, you.

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NaNoWriMo Day 11 Update: It’s Going Okay

The curve of my NaNoWriMo graph has a different shape this year than it did last year and the year before. I won both years, by the way—when I start NaNo, I finish. Usually I start out strong, though and things don’t get difficult until week 2. In 2013, I fell behind on Day 11. Last year, it was Day 9. This year, well, take a look. I started out behind, and didn’t even catch up until Day 7, the end of week 1. And today finds me behind again, but only by 3,000 words. I’ll catch up tonight or tomorrow.

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Last week, nothing was working. The intro I’d planned turned out to be the wrong way into the story. I couldn’t get a feel for my main character. The next episode of Parks and Rec kept happening on Netflix autoplay. Mentally, I think I was exhausted from all the hard story work I’d been doing on my dragon book right up until I put that project down for Nano. My subconscious story-generator needed a few days’ rest before it could start cranking out ideas for a brand new story—even if it’s actually an old story, and even if it’s a story I chose because I thought it would be less complicated.

This is what I like about NaNo, and the monthly goal. It would be really easy to let a necessary few days of rest turn into gratuitous months or even years. I’ve done it before. But when the clock is ticking and a goal is set, it creates a constant nagging reminder that your writing needs you. So even though I didn’t like anything about my story and even though I was feeling discouraged, I showed up on Saturday to see what I could do. It turned out I could do a lot. I wrote 10,500 words that day, which is a personal best.

So, yay?

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let a few days of inaction towards a goal make you feel bad. Maybe your brain needed that time to recharge. Maybe your spirit needed that space to find the story. Just stay focused on the big goal, and keep showing up to write.

 

How To Keep Writing

I’m going to start this blog post by telling you to read a different blog post, one written by Wil Wheaton entitled Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life. The whole time I was reading this, I sat at my desk and nodded my head furiously. Yes. We may have slightly different circumstances, age, struggles, changes, and goals, but this entire article rings so true to everything I’ve been doing (trying, working on) for the last two months—remember my last blog post? Near the end of his article, Wil Wheaton says: “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel good about myself. I can do the work that I need to do to accomplish these things.” Yes. This is, nearly verbatim, what I’ve been telling myself over and over again, and scrawling multiple times at the end of my journal each day. I am worth the work I am doing.

Instead of doing everything all at once, though, I focused on exercise first and made it routine. This was heading towards writing, this had to be heading towards writing, but for a few weeks I allowed myself to feel accomplished if I worked out and then went to bed without having written a single thing. And that’s great—but it wasn’t enough.

So now I’m writing, and I’m writing hard. This Sunday is Day 1 of November, when I’ll begin a brand new writing project for National Novel Writing Month. It will also be the Year One anniversary of my main squeeze, my in-progress novel about a trucker girl and a telepathic dragon. I am trying to complete as much of this book as possible before I set it aside for the entire month of November. It has grown so much in a year, from nothing to a 100,000 word manuscript. And there is still so much to do.

The uncompleted draft of a novel is terrifying thing. It’s too much to keep in my head all at one time. The plot itself is overwhelming, and so are the doubts about the story and about the act of writing a book. Even as I’m writing and planning and plotting, I ask myself if it’s too long, if the ideas are stupid, if no one will like it, if it’s too similar to this book or that book, if it will ever be published. And more, even as I am trying to piece together the very first draft, I am already borrowing worries from the future: Will I have to re-write this section? Will an editor tell me to remove this character? Did I write this wrong? Is this bad? Will I ever finish the third and fourth revisions? Will constructive criticism kill all the excitement I feel, right now, for this story?

I even worry about how excited I am. Excitement is temporary. When the sparkle days return to plodding grey, will I keep writing this book? And how can I live with myself if I don’t?

100,000 words says I will. It is so hard to spend hours and hours on something when you can’t see the end of it, but all I can do is continue to check things off my chapter to-do list and keep making decisions about characters’ actions and motivations and what happens next. I am trying (it is difficult) to focus on a first draft, to focus only on writing a whole story that makes sense, and to leave the rest alone for now. Even if it is too long, or too stupid, or never gets published, that won’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

I’ve made a lot of personal progress since August. I no longer have to fight so hard to feel valuable, and to feel like a good person. So I’m fighting for my writing instead, which I’ve been fighting for all along. In 50 years, I’ll probably still be blogging about how writing is hard. I just plan to have written a few novels by then. So here’s the new mantra from my journal: My dreams are worth the work I am doing.

Write, and repeat as necessary.

A Lost Month, and Beautiful Things

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Floor at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, Buddhist Temple in Khao Koh, Thailand

Okay. We have some catching up to do.

First of all, culture shock is real, and I lost August. Not entirely lost—I traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, I wrote some, and planned and organized thoughts for the rest of my novel. I went to school every day, and joined my friends for dinner and lunch and afternoons at coffee shops. When I wasn’t with people or fulfilling a work obligation, though, I was lying on my bed watching Gilmore Girls, and even when I was with people I mostly felt really, really bad. I identified with many of the things on this “13 Lies Your Depression is Telling You” list, I felt like a terrible teacher, and I wanted to go home.

I don’t know how much of this was the isolating effects of culture shock, and how much was mild depression. I’ve always struggled with ups and downs and probably always will, and going to Thailand in the first place was a response to some pretty serious negative feelings about my self-worth. I didn’t feel like I was capable of anything, so I went to the other side of the world to prove myself wrong. I’m not necessarily knocking this as a solution, but… you’re still you, even in Thailand, and all those bad feelings won’t instantly go away.

I’m doing amazing now, though, and I’m really grateful to everyone who sent me emails and skyped and chatted on facebook and talked and ate meals with me during my bad month. The human contact was so needed and appreciated. Somewhere along the line I got really cynical about a lot of things, and I made a decision a few weeks ago to be more grateful and less self-defeating. To believe that things can be done when I start them, instead of assuming laziness and failure from the outset.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Running. Thursday will mark three weeks successful completion of my 5-runs-a-week routine. I run around our school building (.4 miles a lap!) and the students laugh and smile at me. They wave and shout “Hello teacher!” when they see me, every time they see me, which is sometimes three or four or even six times per run! This is a good system because I always run a little faster after a student makes me smile. My favorite was when a group of M1 girls (seventh graders) said, “Teacher, fighting!” as I went by. That’s my new mantra, whenever I’m out of breath and want to stop: Teacher, fighting!

Strength training. Three days a week, I’m doing push ups and squats and crunches. Like, more than I knew I could do. I’ve flirted with pushups in the past, and exercise machines and stuff like that, but this is the first time I’ve realized how it works. You do this. It feels like this. This is uncomfortable, but instead of stopping you do a few more, or a lot more. Sweat drips onto your yoga mat, your muscles surprise you, and you feel fierce. In a few days, you come back and do even more.

[Reality check: I still can’t do more than three full push-ups in a row. Instead of letting that discourage me, I’m killing it with the modified ones and I’ll work my way up to full ones very soon.]

Other stuff. Stretches and yoga, which get mixed in with the running and strength training. While on a school trip, I got up early to do yoga on the balcony while the sun rose over a misty sea. My yoga instruction is entirely from youtube videos, but maybe all these people who are talking about yoga all the time are actually onto something.

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Environment. My brother told me a while ago that a clean house fights depression, so I’m trying to do things to make my surroundings feel nice—even though I’ll only be here for six more months. It’s difficult because my house is dirty and desperately needs a coat of paint, but I’ve been putting things on the walls and investing in cleaning supplies. I haven’t kept up with the cleaning quite as well as the exercise, but I’m picking things up more often and working on some projects. I’m sewing fabric curtains for an ugly piece of furniture, and I bought a new bed set and a folding table to go by my bed. Little things, but worth it for the happiness I get when I use them, and the happiness that comes from feeling at peace with my surroundings.

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I’ve also done some traveling these last few weeks to the ocean and the mountains. The ocean, man. I lived a ten-minute walk from the ocean for last past two years, and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I saw it again. And yesterday’s ride on a mountain highway to a stunning temple 117 km (70 miles away) was awesome, and now I’m remembering my plans for longer bike trips. Things feel possible again, and it feels especially amazing because nothing felt possible in August.

There’s a lot more to say, always is, but for now enjoy some pictures from yesterday’s road trip!

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The five sitting Buddha statue at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I'm so glad we got to do something fun together!

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I’m so glad we got to do something fun together!

Stairs!

Stairs!

Mountains!

And mountains!

The Last Few Weeks in Photos

I spent the weekend of July 4th in Khon Kaen, a city in the East of Thailand. It was a six hour bus ride from my home in Phitsanulok; unfortunately, too far to drive. Here is a view of the city from the top of a nine-story temple:

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Here is the perfectly roomy and comfy hotel room, which cost 230 baht, or seven US dollars, a night. Seven dollars a night!

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This is how much fun you can have riding in a tuk-tuk.

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This is what happens when your bus breaks down on the way home (they had it fixed in under half an hour).

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This is how beautiful Namtok Chat Trakan National Park is in the morning. This is about five days later; we stayed here while running an english camp at another school an hour and a half away.

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Back in Phitsanulok, this is what the sky looked like over the river on a Friday evening.

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Last weekend, I got coffee from a new coffee shop. It came with a flower on top.

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Yesterday, I left the house early, drove over an hour on highway 12, and toured three waterfalls on the Khek river. Here is the Kaeng So Pha waterfall.

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In the parking lot, I saw a really cool lizard.

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Kaeng Poi, cool tree, and selfie. I had to cross a not-very-obvious bridge and drive through a Thai neighborhood to find this vantage point!

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I crossed another bridge to get a good view of Kaeng Song. The locals actually drive their bikes across this one, but I didn’t dare.

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After some emotional ups and downs this month, I find that I am doing quite well. Teaching has started making more sense to me, and I’ve started exercising frequently. When I tried to run around campus every day it was difficult to stay motivated, but I’ve become running buddies with a teacher from Arizona who teaches at a different school in town. We’ve been running around the river path in town a few nights a week, and exercising (as it always does) is giving me more energy for life in general. Today, Sunday, is writing, planning, and laundry day. I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which is National Novel Writing Month but in July and you can set your own wordcount goal. I’m shooting for 30,000, and for the first week and a half I was writing every day and the challenge went really, really well. I now find myself behind by considerable thousands of words, but there are two weeks left in the month and I think I can catch up.

Cheers!

Rainy Season

Friday night. Throwing a few extras in my purse before trotting down the stairs and heading out. Ako was already on her way to town, picking up a friend, and I would follow after. Others were already in town, all of us converging in a little while on a restaurant in the night bazaar for food and drinks. Some of us just wanted to get out of the house, some of us had transferred Saturday plans to Friday due to an early engagement on Sunday, and some of us had missed a bus to Bangkok due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. My phone was in my hand on its way to my bag when my bedroom AC shut off and the lights went dark. Seconds later, the phone rang.

It was Ako, already partway to town. “It’s raining,” she said. She was under the roof of a store somewhere between the school and Phitsanulok, trying to decide what do. As we talked I made my way to the window, narrowly avoided tripping over my harp in the dark room, and opened the shutters to let in the remaining light.

“Huh,” I said. “It’s not raining here yet. No, wait, here it comes.”

Ako carried on into town because she was already wet and halfway there. I decided to wait a while; usually these storms pass in twenty minutes or so. Soon the initial downpour eased slightly, and I ran downstairs and put my purse inside double layers of plastic bags and got ready to move out—but the slackening turned out to be an illusion. A few more minutes brought another downpour. The word “torrential” came to mind. I stood with the door open for a few seconds and thought about it, but it just seemed stupid to take a motorbike out into a storm like this if you didn’t have to. Even if the power was out, and the light was leaving the sky.

I stood by the large kitchen window as the light faded, feeling the cool air through the screen and staring at the rain, willing the sky to keep its glow for a few minutes longer. I turned on my cell phone every few seconds to illumine a dark corner behind me, and to check for lizards on the wall nearby.

Maybe 25 minutes into the storm, I heard a loud noise. It was a cross between a wail, a rusty door, and a foghorn. It was followed by others, a chorus of creaking, mechanical noises. I grew up with a river in the backyard and I’m used to frogs singing in the swamp at night, but this was a breed of frog I had never heard before. The rain continued well past the half hour mark, and soon I was only imagining that the sky was any brighter than the rest of the dark around me. I couldn’t stay here without light or food, but going out into the storm still seemed like a foolhardy proposition.

When David called, he solved my dilemma (he was the “missed his bus”  portion of the dinner crew). “Don’t go out if you don’t have to,” he said. “I just watched a motorcycle accident happen in front of me. The roads are a mess.” He had already given up on going to the restaurant, and offered to bring me pad thai when he came back to the school. Yes. Minutes later, I remembered the frog-shaped rechargeable lamp on the table, surely purchased by my Thai roommate for instances such as this. Soon after I was happily writing by lamp-light at the table, and not much later the power returned. David made it back as the storm was finally fading to droplets and sprinkles, and by this time the strange frog noises had grown as soothing as a foghorn in the night.

Oh, and the Pad Thai was delicious.

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town. In this photo, we look RELATED.

The view from the chinese temple

The view from the chinese temple

My Friday Night

Some foliage encountered on the Khao Pradu Nature Trail

Some foliage encountered last week on the Khao Pradu Nature Trail

I didn’t know what to do last night, so I went for a ride.

I could have done something more exciting on a Friday night, for sure, but it’s been a long week full of words and thoughts and I didn’t want the city, or a beer, or even company. The danger existed, lurked, of staying inside my air-conditioned bedroom the entire evening. I already knew I wouldn’t grade papers or write a homework assignment or even cobble together a few words of my novel, though, and thankfully hunger forced me out the door.

There’s a restaurant around the corner from the school that is open for lunch and dinner. The tables are made from fiberglassed sections of tree trunks, and at the smaller tables the stools are entire tree stumps. We call it AC Place, although I’ve found that the doors are open and the fans are on just as often as the air conditioning. When we leave campus to go to the city we turn left out of the driveway, but AC Place is a very small distance to the right and, until last weekend, was the farthest I’d traveled in that direction.

Last Saturday David, Ako, and I went to a Nature Preserve in Wat Bot where I took the photo at the beginning of this post, and on the way discovered that the drive was perfect. Last night I wanted a bit of perfect, so I drove past AC Place and kept going, over the railroad tracks, onto 1086, and down the curving two-lane road. Trees overflowing with greenery hung over the road, and I drove past rice fields and intermittent patches of jungle. Friday seems to be trash day, so I passed many roadside fires, always untended and burning gently by the side of the road, releasing fumes of plastic bags and bottles into the dusky air. Thai people sat outside their houses, near the road, sometimes selling watermelon or rambutans. Sometimes they sat at restaurants, but it was always hard to tell if they were restaurants. I peered into the darkness of tables and people sitting beneath roofs with no walls, looking for food or a kitchen and smelling good things, but I remained ultimately unsure and drove on, unwilling to stop. They don’t get many Farang in this neighborhood, and as I drove by people stared, laughter and a smile on the edge of their faces, as though wondering what I was doing there.

I marked a few roads to come back to at a later date, including the way to a local wat (temple), but ultimately this was a trip for getting out of the house, not one of wild exploration. (Should one always be wildly exploring? Can one be forgiven for feeling shy and wanting only a bit of air and the sunset?) I turned around a little ways after the road widened into a four-lane on its way through a miniature strip with shops and a 7-11, and just before it met the broader highway. (If you are traveling all the way to the Khao Noi – Khao Pradu Non-Hunting Area, you will turn off again after a very short stint on the highway and soon find yourself on a narrow and muddy dirt track that travels up and down hills and tests your ability to stay upright on your motorbike.) Where the horizon was wide due to the lack of foliage near the highway, I saw the sunset in my rear-view mirror, dusky purples sinking into grey clouds and a yellow haze. I turned to face it, but lost it soon after I began to head toward home. The road turned a bend and very soon the sunset was reflecting in brilliance, once again, in my rearview mirror. A metaphor? Perhaps.

I stopped at AC Place on the way back and had the chicken with basil over rice (it cost a dollar). Then I picked up some evening snacks at the convenience store and turned down the drive to the school. A dark and dainty shape ran out of the shadows and chased alongside my bike as I passed the empty school buildings: Lady Gaga, one of the school dogs. She is all black and slender with long legs and elegantly tufted ears. Moments later Rusty appeared on my other side, a red-brown dog who always seems competent and in charge of the situation. They are the parents of the four puppies on campus, three baby black dogs and one the color of rust. The two dogs flanked my bike like an honor guard the whole way to my door. I wondered if they wanted to play, or say hello, but by the time I had turned off my bike they had already run off side by side into the night.

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Rusty. Photo Credit to my fellow teacher David Owen.