(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Use your powers for good

In my time, I've worked with some pretty awesome people through work, school and various volunteer opportunities, I've come across some of the most amazing people in the world doing all kinds of work to make this a better place.

And amazing as these people are, they're still people. They still have moments where they can act like assholes or say the wrong thing.

And most impressive (and oftentimes extreme) in this mix are the youth that I get to work with. Because that thing about how teenagers are a LOT more capable than many adults give them credit for, it's true.

As someone who barely feels like an adult, but nonetheless finds himself in positions of being an adult figure, I think it's hugely important when working with youth to treat them as whole and capable beings, which ultimately means holding them accountable.

Case in point:

One of the youth I've met, a brilliant young man to be sure, has this unfortunately snarky habit of pushing people's buttons. For those of us who know and love him, we recognize that what comes across as assholishness is just him playing devil's advocate and mostly saying things to garner a response. For people who don't know him very well, or don't meet him in a mediated situation, it can lead to quickly escalating conflicts that he's usually fairly skilled at handling on his own.

Sometimes though he needs that gentle reminder.

I don't know if I gave the best response I possible when I privately confronted him about an argument he had on a mutual friend's Facebook post, which admittedly he did instigate and then proceed to use language that implicitly painted himself as a victim.

I called him out on that and then offered this bit:

You're more than smart enough to know how to manipulate a situation right to the line and then mediate it back down when you see it's headed in a direction you'd rather it didn't. Probably far more effectively than most people would be able to. That's actually really impressive. Use your powers for good.

I ended with this because I wanted to underline the importance that while I don't think he handled the situation ideally, I know he's smart enough to know that the points I called him out on (being the instigator by implying someone he didn't know is a douche and then painting himself as the victim when they rightfully, albeit not productively, reacted) are true. I wanted to say that yes, he's very good at this, but as someone who cares I expect him to use that skill in a constructive way.

These were just some thoughts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Well, I did it. With half an hour to spare, I finished my NaNoWriMo before Dec. 1. If you'd like to read it yourself, there's a link at the end of this post.

I just printed a copy of the first draft manuscript of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo.  See:

It's been a long and crazy road. What started on a whim turned into a race against myself.

For those of you who don't know, I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year because my boyfriend said he would we should send each other pictures of ourselves as incentive to write. I lost track of how many pictures I sent him. I can count the number of pictures he sent me by counting the number of cheeks I can see on my face without looking at a mirror.

But that's okay, a non-enforced part of the agreement was that we would send the pics if we were on track with our writing. Except for three days in the middle of the month and the very end, I was playing catch up.

I started fairly slowly, completely missing the first day of writing because I had class and work all day, then as soon as the event was over I joined some friends for happy hour at the local Applebees. And then it took me a week and a half of writing before I actually caught up to the recommended word count by day.

Through this entire process, I had very little in the way of plot. I had decided three days before the start of the month that I would tell the story in the form of letters, but that's about it.

As I started writing, I used what I knew. I have a large collection of letters from pen pals that I have collected over the last seven years and I used these to give me small pieces to prompt writing: certain phrases, locations or scenarios. I found myself pulling from my bookshelf, quoting poets and nature guides.

Eventually I started a timeline of sticky notes and character maps on the wall above my desk.

I haven't taken them down yet.
After about the third day of writing, I decided I would give my story a four part structure with about each week of the month determining how long I would write each part. Given my epistolary form, I could change narrators with each new part. I continued writing.

This is the French press that was almost constantly filled with yerba mate or guayusa teas.
About halfway through the second week, I was feeling stuck. I wasn't sure where I was headed. In short, I didn't have anywhere to go. That worked for the first half, because I was still setting up the story in many ways and introducing the characters and their personalities, but I realized I had only given myself three protagonists to voice. What would I do with the fourth part?

Eventually it occurred to me that I could change the format of the fourth part a little bit. I could have letter and response, where in parts 1-3 you would only ever see the letter side. Parts 1-3 would each be told through a different protagonist's letters. Part 4 would be told through letters between the characters.

Great! That gave me a a direction to head toward, but I was still missing something to drive the story. I was still missing a climax, an ending, a goal. Unless I wanted to ramble myself into a postmodern stupor, I would need a reason.

And then it hit me. It was the form of the story that gave me the idea. What if Part 4 was only letters between two of my protagonists, potentially about the third? And if I'm showing them interacting, what could happen that would be big enough to make them talk about the third protagonist?

I had a cold feeling in my stomach.

I needed to kill one of my protagonists.

Obviously I didn't need to. I could very well have gone in a completely different direction and created some other kind of resolution, but this way just felt right. Whether I had intended to or not, I had already planted the seeds for my character's death. I had given him strong reasons to live and in taking those reasons away, I could push him to his death.

I didn't like it. In fact, as I was writing, I hated myself for it. I felt bad for this character I had created, knowing that everything he loved and cared about would be systematically removed until he felt like his only option was suicide. That's the worst part. I was making him take his own life.

But much as I hated it, it felt right. It felt like it needed to happen and I could still turn the story around in Part 4. His death wouldn't be completely in vain.

I felt consumed by this story, forcing myself to write as much as I could every night on top of all my day to day responsibilities.

And I'm sure there are plot holes, continuity issues and generally huge sections of just plain bad writing, because a lot of this process wasn't always about crafting perfect sentences. It was about laying the groundwork so I could edit and add enough that perfection that I could be happy with it. It was about winning the competition of me vs. the word count.

My boyfriend was the incentive I needed to start. The incentive I needed to finish was starting in the first place because I'm too damn stubborn to let myself give up.

Some of my favorite lines from Week 4 of writing:
At least once a week I get someone in here that calls it an “I-talian.” I’m like, no dumbass, do you call it “I-taly?” No, you don’t because you would look like an idiot, but the customer is always right so I just have to bite my tongue and ask if they’d like mayonnaise on it, all the time secretly hoping they tip me well and if they don’t tip at all, wish that the mayo gives them a heart attack.
Hafiz and Rumi? What is it with your aunt and naming pets after dead poets? Has she ever had a parrot named Poe? A hamster named Shakespeare? It’s cute and I guess at the very least it proves her to be well read.   
Jake is a crazy-ass motherfucker. He doesn’t know a thing, but thinks he’s right about everything. He’s stubborn as all hell. I think I’m in love.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me. To the people I know only through the internet sending me encouragement every time I posted about my word count. To the people working on their own NaNoWriMo projects at the same time. To all the friends curious about what NaNoWriMo even is. To my roommates for being understanding about me locking myself in my room every night for a month being up until 2am. To Ethan for giving me the push I needed to start. I might have been able to do this without you, but it would have sucked a whole hell of a lot more.

To any of my friends out there who might have wanted to read my NaNo Project, here's a link. This is the version I will be doing my primary editing on, so if you feel so inclined, use the comment feature to leave me feedback! Consider adding it to your winter break reading list.

Handwritten: A Novel in Letters