Sunday, December 21, 2014

Commitment, Change, and Solstice



“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth: that  ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”

—Goethe

It is easy to do nothing.  It is easy to not take a step, not to have that intent to move forward. Inertia is on the side of the procrastinator, if one never plans to achieve anything. Doing nothing means I intend nothingness.

My essence, my soul calls for something more. Moving ahead in life is all about intention. Where do I want to go? What do I want to accomplish? What is on my “to do” list? 

I have intention, even if I intend to do nothing, to sit idle. If I am intentional and purposeful, then my intentions form around my purpose, and I am propelled forward, onward.  I take that first step, which is always the hardest step.  My inertia changes and I move.  The laws of physics apply and I stay in motion. I move in the direction I am moving, forward.  

Implicit in this motion is a goal, a purpose, a direction. I am going towards something.  And, that something should be important, because I am engaging my life in moving towards that something.  I am being purposeful, intentional.  Yes, directional.

Over time, I find myself down the road, along the way.  I am somewhere else, and my perspective, my surroundings have changed. I am changed by this moving forward. In moving, change becomes inevitable, the essence of the motion.

Today is the winter solstice, the day of shortest daylight in the Northern Hemisphere—longest night, shortest day.  Tomorrow, the celestial movement will have taken us from here to somewhere further, and daylight time will grow— a new season, a new year.  

This year, the Moon joins in, with a new moon today. The heavens are calling for us to pay attention.

I am within all of this, change acting upon me, motion and inertia, pushing me ahead. Dare I embrace this change, and reform myself, finding my intention, and ride this wave onward? That is the call of this day, the morning birdsong of this first winter’s day.
Yes, it is time to move, and to change. I intend it to be so.


—Neal Lemery 12/21/2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Grieving for my Sister in Law

Grieving for my Sister in Law

Last week, my sister in law died.  I have found abundant tears, yet fewer words, to sort that news out, to find my way through the wilderness of grief and loss.  I am lost in my loss.  

Pancreatic cancer is an evil thing.  It has moved swiftly into my life, at many times, taking good people, long before I would even begin to contemplate that their time had come to leave us.  Pancreatic cancer is on my short list of things to loathe. 

When I heard the sad news, weeks, yes months before I expected it, a Christmas letter from a good friend had just arrived.  The letter started off with a quote:

“What is the sum total of a man’s life? I knew the answer, and it wasn’t complicated.  At the bottom of the ninth, you count up the people you love, both friends and family, and you add their names to the fine places you’ve been and the good things you’ve done, and you have it.”
—-James Lee Burke, Light of the World.

Each day is a gift, and each moment is precious.  We need to make the most of our lives, and to do what is right, and to bring joy into the world, for ourselves and for others.  And, I am too often rudely reminded that life is short, and should be cherished, in every moment.

My sister in law’s life was rich in family and friends.  She sought joy every day, joy in the simple things, the quiet moments.  I suspect she treasured the sunrise, and the moments with my brother, doing simple things, ordinary.  Yet, in their simplicity and plainness, there was sacred beauty and peace.

She enjoyed rich, strong coffee.  She baked miraculous biscotti to go along with it, as well as a variety of homemade pastas and bread.  

I have been blessed to have her in my life.  We were buddies, friends.  We laughed, we shared jokes and stories.  

One summer’s day, we conspired against my brother to wash his pickup.  We tricked him into driving it onto the lawn, and we scampered like mischevious children, armed with hoses and sponges, even getting into a water fight with my brother.  He resisted, but ended up laughing, soaking wet. His pickup was clean.

She retired last summer, and they took a long trip to Italy, her parents’ homeland.  I trust they found long warm afternoons to drink wine and sample great food.  They bought a new house, and were settling in to a new, relaxing life when she fell ill.  And, all too quickly, she left us.

My life is poorer now, with her gone.  But, in many ways, she is still here, in my heart.  She has enriched my life and brought joy to me.  For all of that, I am grateful for the all too brief time we had together.  

Again, I am reminded of the shortness of life, and the sweetness of life.  All we really have is this moment, and we should enjoy it.  


—Neal Lemery 12/9/2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

One Month, and a Novel Comes

What is it like to write a novel, and accomplish that task in a month?  

I’d never thought I’d experience this, to tell a very long story, and get it down, in some fashion and in some sort of order. All within a month. 

I’m much more of a non fiction kind of writer—essays, poems, op ed pieces for the local paper.  In my legal career, I kept in the non-fiction category, though the cynics among us might disagree about how to label what those lawyers write.  

My creative non-fiction book, Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains, is in copy editing at CreateSpace, and is going to be published in several weeks.  That work took more than two years, though the times I was writing had a lot of interruptions.  No real deadlines and pressure, unlike the idea of writing a complete book in a month.  So, why put myself under this kind of pressure?

November is National Novel Writing Month, and there is an organization out there (http://nanowrimo.org ) that gathers people together, at least in cyberspace, to hunker down over their computers, or their papyrus and quill pens, and put together a rough draft in four short weeks. 

I joined over 300,000 other writers, including 80,000 students and educators, all with the goal of putting down 50,000 words, creating a book.  Well, at least a rough draft.  

That’s 1,600 plus words a day, on average, assuming you don’t take a day or two off, and that you write a couple of hours every day, plodding along, headed to 50,000 words.

The idea of writing a book, along with 300,000 other similarly obsessed writers, intrigued me.

I joined a regional group, over 50 people strong, for moral support.  Our leader sent out regular e-mails, and even scheduled a weekly collective writing session at a coffee shop, hoping to inspire us and perhaps, guilt us into meeting our goal. I never made it to the coffee shop, seventy miles away, but I felt their collective spirit, their angst, and their drive.  We were family, fellow missionaries.

After a day’s writing, you can post your word count to the website, getting feedback on where you are at, as far as the number of words go, and how much closer you are to the 50,000 word goal.  The 50,000 words was formidable, and I preferred to concentrate on the daily goal, of 1,600 words. 

I started with a character, a setting, and a general idea of the journey that I wanted my character to travel.  I had a good list of the supporting cast, and a number of stories to tell, stories that would move my character along in his life, and his journey for self understanding and real change.  

I even wrote out a page of sentence fragments and words, which sort of plotted out the journey.  It was less than an outline, and more than a short description of the book.  Authorities in the know would label it a synopsis, which sounds impressive, like I really knew what I was doing.  

When November 1 dawned, I sat down in front of my laptop, and invited the Muse to sit with me, as I started out.  Like a weaver, it took a while to set up the framework, and fill up the shuttles, beginning the weaving process, and actually making some whole cloth.   At the end of a few hours, there was actually something there, a bit of a story, and more than the bare skeleton of my character.  I felt good, even satisfied.  

“I’ve started,” I bragged to myself, and to my wife, who was an early cheerleader to my efforts.

But, then there was that next day, and the next, thirty in all.  The trail looked long and lonely.  So, I only worried about this day, and getting something done every day.

The daily word count wasn’t impossible, and it was large enough that I had to do some serious writing and move the plot along, every day.

When my wife had surgery, I lost a few days.  Waiting in hospitals is not conducive to the Muse, even though you have plenty of time to do nothing, nothing but wait.  My attention span withered.  

Yet, the first full day my patient and I were back home, the Muse awakened, and I churned out 5,000 words in a day.  I guess I had been thinking about the character, and the plot, and had some ideas of where it was all going.  The Muse is persistent.  

It has helped that my character is probably certifiably crazy, and so is the antagonist.  And, over thirty years of experience dealing with folks who are mentally ill, emotionally abused, and incarcerated gave me a large cast of characters and a plush library of stories to tell.  

The day before Thanksgiving, it was time to write the climactic chapter, and to bring a lot of the things I’d been developing to a rich froth. It was time to let my character find his freedom and achieve his destiny.  My scratched out laundry list of the chapter’s frenzy laid there, next to my coffee mug, and I wrote, and then wrote some more.

The final product went a slightly different route, but then, the good chapters do that.  My character has a will of his own, and I needed to listen to where he wanted to go in the telling of his story.  

My fingers smoked, or so it seemed, and at last, I was drained.  The coffee was long gone, and I needed a martini.  

The next day was Thanksgiving, and giving thanks for being at 46,000 words and having the end in sight was my offering at the family table for our annual tradition of giving thanks.

I needed a day off, a day of family and eating and being lazy, to recover from all of that angst, and then, on to the last chapter.  

My writing is chronological, orderly.  But, that last chapter, I wrote it backwards.  I had awakened with the final paragraph already drafted by my subconscious.  

Fortified by coffee, I typed that last paragraph, starting with the last sentence.  Then, the paragraph before it, and then the one before that.  After an hour, the last chapter was written.  My lawyer mind screamed in agony. 

This is not the right way.

But, it was. It worked.  It flowed.  It made sense.  The last chapter wrapped up all the loose ends, well, except for one or two, but then, that’s the fun of writing.  You need to not answer all the readers’ questions, though you can figure out that the remaining questions will get resolved, and in a good way.

There was another chapter that needed writing, and that came out onto the computer screen, too.  It would fit in nicely just before the climactic chapter.  

And, it was done.  The first draft.  It is a draft, a work in progress.  But, the meat and bones are there.

Then, time for some computer work, putting all of my chapters, my daily writes, into a giant file. I’d been keeping track of the word count all month, but when I had everything all in one place, I realized my count was wrong, by about 10,000 words.  10,000 in my favor, though.  I’d actually written 60,000 words!  Yikes!  

With excitement, I went to the NaNoWriMo website, and updated my word count.  And, then, I pasted and copied all of my month’s writing into the “word count validator”.  Its job is to count all the words, again, and give me an official word count.  

Yes, 60,000. Well, 60,650 to be exact.  I wanted to be exact.  Every word counts, and every word took a bit of my energies this month.  

The screen flashed that I’m a winner.  I can order the winner’s T shirt, and put the “winner”  NaNoWriMo logo on my blog.  

I’d also been eying some rather cool writing software, that several writers had recommended.  I’d checked it out and it looked very useful.  The price was very reasonable, and, if I became a NaNoWriMo winner, I’d get it for fifty percent off.  

Now, I have my new software, my new “winner” logo and I think I’ll order that T shirt, too.  

But, most importantly, I have a new piece of work to reflect on, revise, and rewrite.  It’s a good first draft, and I think it will evolve into a respectable story that needs to be told, out in the world.  I’m going to publish it, and get it out there. 

My second book. My first novel.  All that sounds good.  It’s been a good month.  

—Neal Lemery 12/2/2014


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