NaNoWriMo 2009 Practice

"NaNoWriMo?" you ask. It's short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a writing website in which a participant challenges himself/herself to write 50,000 words of "The Great American Novel" between November 1st and November 30th. That's almost 1700 words a day! My blog entries generally run much less than 400, obviously not daily, so now I'm practicing not so much writing but more discipline to get myself to writing every day, even if it's mindless little character studies like this.

For more about the project, go to www.nanowrimo.org.

BTW, the only things true in this little description are the bit about my dad making me learn to type when I was ten, the love of horses, the ubiquitous dust here in the prairies (although our part is in Colorado) and wondering if having the TV on strictly for background noise is wasteful. I have settled for webstreaming radio from the Colorado Public Radio (KBOD) that plays commercial-free mainstream classical music, not the TV.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my first exercise with writing discipline. I hope to have a daily contribution to share with you showing my progress.

It was a strange feeling being in the house alone.

She didn’t mind being alone, per se. Despite being extroverted and quite friendly most of the time, Louisa often wished people would leave her alone. They were too much trouble to figure out. Making them comfortable, frankly, was a big pain in the ass, and Louisa sometimes found herself exhausted by the prospect of having to entertain those who made no effort to get along with others. That was a frequent problem when she worked at the outdoor outfitters retail store. She was expected to be “on” all the time; positive and helpful to anyone who approached her, and after working a full time job and driving through rushhour traffic to get to the store across town, answering inane questions like “Does this cost what the price on the tag says?” really made it difficult to appreciate her fellow human being sometimes.

Rousing herself from her memories, she scanned the computer monitor in front of her. A blank page in the word processor reflected back at her. Fill the page, fill the page, don’t think about the empty house. Don’t wonder if the furnace is too loud or if it would be too wasteful to turn the TV on to cover the eerie silence. Even the sound of her fingers pounding on the keyboard would be an improvement over the unaccustomed quiet.

Heaving a sigh, she rested her fingers upon the ergonomic keyboard, feeling lightly for the two guide nubs on the F and J keys. Spot on, found without thought. Second nature and all that. Now…

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” she typed quickly. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” Then she followed that with JJJJ FFFF KKKK DDDD LLLL SSSS :::: AAAA.

She rolled her eyes and sighed again. God, she hadn’t thought about that in years. Her father had been a strange man who died right after her eleventh birthday, and since he had been pretty sick those last couple of months, when exactly had he tried to get her to practice typing? She recalled that he absolutely harangued her to practice the way other parents tried to get their children to practice piano or violin, and Louisa (or “Louie” as her father called her) spent nearly an hour a day with the cheap manual typewriter typing “ JFJF KDKD LSLS :A:A JJFF KKDD LLSS ::AA” for pages and pages, along with other finger exercises on the QWERTY keyboard. She hated it, sitting at the dining table with a cheap, plastic portable Corona, alone and seemingly forgotten. She would have much rather been out playing with her friends in the bright afternoon sun or climbing the maple tree in front of her house. What kind of weirdo mentally chains his youngest daughter to a damned manual typewriter at the age of nine or ten?

Well,…at the time it seemed very cruel, but in retrospect, it seemed somewhat foresighted. In the modern era of home computers and electronic communication, being able to type 60 words a minute accurately was a skill envied by some peers and desired by many employers. And now that Louie was trying to be a professional writer, the skill still wasn’t honed enough to get the ideas from her head into the document as fast as they formed. It sometimes tripped her up having to wait for her fingers to get it black and white onto the page. And the years of training stopped her from letting slight mistakes go until she could go back to correct them.

Maybe that’s why being in the house alone felt so odd. The need to concentrate and tune out distractions wasn’t there. Nobody was rustling paperwork in the next cubicle as when she worked in her previous job as office assistant for a major financial institution in Chicago. Her husband wasn’t yelling at the TV about some call the referee had made during the football game. It was just…quiet.

Previously she’d thought that quiet is what she needed. When she and her husband had moved from the bustling Chicago, Illinois into the semi-rural community of Goddard, Kansas, a fantasy of spending countless hours transforming her dreams into the printed word seemed on the cusp of reality. Her husband’s new job as a long-haul trucker meant he wouldn’t be underfoot, making the normal demands of a spouse being in constant contact with another spouse. Not having a nine-to-five job or a second job to pay for the little extras in life freed her from the reason (or excuse) to not vegetate in front of the television, recovering from a stressful, unfulfilling career. All she’d need to do is get a couple chores done first thing in the morning and spend the rest of the day writing that best-selling novel or award-winning blog.

Except that it didn’t turn out that way. Out on the prairie, dust was a constant combatant and the battleground was on every level surface in the house. The pollution she hated in the city seemed a distant bad dream compared to the light tan film that settled on her kitchen counters every single day. She couldn’t leave the windows open because of it.

And the smell! That awful stench of the pig farm down the valley came wafting towards their housing development as the sun set and the cooler air displaced the warm. The country air isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when livestock is put in the mix.

Strike the thought, she told herself. She loved the country. Even as a little girl who wanted her own horse and no typewriting, she desired to live on a farm and raise chickens. There was nothing wrong with swine; they were ‘earthy’, and being in the country meant being in touch with Mother Earth, right?

Besides, complaining was just another excuse to procrastinate. The blank page of the word processor still glared from the screen, not magically filling with her imaginative prose. When she didn’t have the time to work on it, creative ideas seem to fight one another to be first in line. Now they shirked back like wall flowers at the high school homecoming dance. It just didn’t seem fair.

Write what you know, is how the advice runs, and what she knew at the moment was frustration, impatience, loneliness, and…dust. She knew too much peace and too much quiet. She knew the mocking blank screen that needed to be populated, even if it was more JJJJ FFFF KKKK DDDD LLLL SSSS :::: AAAA.

She smiled to herself and highlighted the text. The last bit looked rather like curse words, although they didn’t contain the characters from the top row of the keyboard. She even chuckled as she deleted them, although it meant that the document would be empty again.

Write what you know, she thought again. What did she know? She knew how to move an entire household five hundred miles without hiring a moving company. She knew what muscle pain meant. She knew how to set up a household for the love of her life, only to have him never be home to enjoy it with her because he was earning the money to pay for that house. She knew now to be careful what she wished for because she might get it.

Leaning forward, she once again placed her index fingers at J and F. With flying fingers, she explained to her readers “lonely”.

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