Faces in the Mirror

What would it be like today, if I could see all the faces that you have reflected? You only reflect me the way I look today, older and very different than when we first saw each other. I don’t recall that day, because it was almost 70 years in the past. Before that, you had reflected many other faces for as many reasons.

Since before I was born, you always had your place in our home, on the west wall of our dining room. There, you were centered on the wall, above the old sideboard buffet, which was also a permanent fixture. As anyone walked past you going to, or returning from, the kitchen; you reflected their profile. Before leaving home, we all stopped and faced you for your final review and blessing as we took one last look. Mom and Dad used you to check the look of their hats reflected in your glass.

Since your total viewing area is only one foot by a yard wide, you never revealed much about us below the neck and shoulders. Yet, you remained our primary, go-to mirror even after several full-length mirrors were installed. I recall the day my brother stood staring at you when he pontificated, “You know, Billy, you’re only as good as you look.” I never agreed with him. Did you? I suspect that how people look is important to you. It’s your purpose.

Every year, on Palm Sunday, someone would change out the palm frond strip hung prominently across the top of your frame, where it would remain for the year. That was sort of the family way of dressing you up for Easter Sunday. It was always the same.

The only time you, or any of those items around you, were moved, it was for painting walls or changes to the floor coverings. But you, the mirror, and below you, the side board, were always restored to your rightful, prominent places. Mom and Dad did not change furniture often, but they never booted you from your space.

How many photographs, cards, messages, and notes were stuffed between the edges of your glass and your frame? What did they say? Were they important?

You are in old pictures from my grandfather’s house (the one my mother grew up in), taken long before my birth, showing you along with two side sconces, both long gone. I never met any of my grandparents, but you did. I’m sure my Mom’s father looked at his reflection in your glass. Maybe her mother, too. I can envision him holding his young daughter up for you to see. Who else saw themselves, and the reflection of others, in your glass?

Beginning in the 1920s or 30s, every member of my family must have looked at you. When did you come into being? Every friend who ever visited our house saw their reflection, and probably that of others, when they looked at you.

You have survived the Great Depression, the FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy years, World War II (and possibly WWI), several rough moves, and whatever untold disasters that occurred during your 44 years in my parents’ home. For the past twenty-five years, you’ve been undamaged by my hauling you from one end of the country to the other.

Your ornate frame has a few nicks and scratches revealing hints that the wood beneath your gilded frame’s lamination is red. The corners of your frame are secured with two wooden dowels each, all attesting to the creativity and craftsmanship of an earlier time, when some master mirror maker worked magic.

While you’re a handsome and distinguished antique, it’s not you the mirror that provides the mystery and intrigue. It is the many thousands of faces that underwent self-examination as you watched, the hundreds of times a tie or hat was straightened with your approval, or when an Easter Bonnet was set to one side, and then given an approving nod.

Oh, mirror on my wall, holding the history of thousands of changing faces within your glass panes, do you remember their smiles and their tears. What do you remember? What secrets do you hold? Will you show me those reflections so that I may see whose lives you’ve shared? I recall with fondness and sometimes sadness, the pictures in my memory of the many times I stood nearby, and watched, as others used you to reflect a special moment in time. Show me their faces today, so that we might name the names.

When you look in a mirror, wonder.
Who else has looked this way? Who will?
Look! But, look both ways, and mind your gap.

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The Battling Bastards, Part II

This is based on my experience with the Bataan Death March Marathon. It is the second of three posts on this subject. To read the first, click here. The next post in this series will focus on Ben Steele, Bataan Death March survivor, Montana cowboy, and artist.

Why Do This?

The doctor looked at me, with my wife listening, “You can get all the cardio you need walking. If you were on active duty, I would profile you so you could not run. I suggest you stop marathons, and consider not running at all. You will not have a heart attack. With this problem, you will likely be dead before you hit the ground.”

Before that, between ages 59 and 65, I’d completed 15 marathons. Four of those, I walked. Each took me about nine hours to finish, in the Chihuahua Desert, north of El Paso, Texas. Training for such endurance events is hard. Participating is fun, but demanding. I discovered the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon when l was searching for an off-road, full marathon for walkers. About 85% of this “March” participants walk it.

In early March of 2008, we flew from San Antonio to El Paso, rented a car, and drove 45 miles north to the US Army post at White Sands Missile Range in southeast New Mexico. I checked in at registration, looked around the base, then drove 17 miles to Las Cruses for the night.

Well before dawn the next day, my wife took me back to White Sands and stayed with me as a hoard of 5,000 marchers and runners, plus many friends, and event staff descended on the large outdoor breakfast area, next to the starting-line assembly corral.

The Emotional Start

Sunrise and the start are at about 0600 hours. Everyone arrives long before dawn. After we parked, drank coffee, juice, and I scarfed up whatever I could eat, marathon ritual requires queuing up at one of the numerous port-a-potty toilets. I watched as some male participants strolled over to the golf course to give it a watering, I would have too, but they were run off by staff. It was dark, their backs were to us, it made the loo lines shorter, and the area had little grass. I didn’t see the problem, but dropped the idea.

Greeting Survivors at Start

The opening ceremony at sunrise was the most patriotic and emotionally stirring that I ever witnessed. I was in the starting corral by that time, and being surrounded by my tribe added to my feeling of being part of something special. After few short speeches, accolades, and expressions of gratitude; a low altitude, noisy flyover of fighter jets from Holloman Air Force Base marked the final countdown to the starting gun. The crowd got quieter as the excitement and tension grew.

Greeting Survivors at Start

Greeting Survivors at Start

We were startled by a loud, unexpected blast when the starting gun was a thunderous, awakening, cannon blast. This was an Army post, so of course. As we slowly worked our way through another narrow gate and into the crowded final corral, a marching band of kilted drummers and bagpipers led the parade of 5,000 hopefuls through the 15 feet wide, by 50 feet long, starting area. Lining the sides of the narrow start area, the Bataan Death March survivors, most sitting, old and frail former POWs shook hands and spoke with as many participants as possible. Since the Bataan Death March is 75 years old now, few, if any, actual survivors remain.

The Pipes and Drums Lead the Way

We heard a distinctive beep as each marcher walked over the starting strip. That sound is an electronic signal from a timing chip attached to a shoelace. I noticed a barefoot participant, who tied it to his ankle. I would see him two more times; once, struggling in agony just past the 10-mile marker. I notified the next staff member I saw. The next time he was riding on the back of a golf cart on his way to a medical tent. Since then, footwear has been required. The military is good at making rules for common sense. I’ve seen barefoot marathoners before, but they ran on paved roads. This was a rough desert environment.

Those wishing to run fast were out of the corral immediately after the band. Last to start were the “heavy” military and civilian groups, with each person carrying a 35-pound backpack, plus water and other consumables for the course of the day. The pack must weigh at least 35 pounds at the start and finish.

A Killer Experience

More Death March survivors were stationed along the route. The idea was for marchers to meet the survivors, shake hands, talk briefly, and then move on.

Meeting Death March Survivors

It normally goes like this as I take his outstretched hand, “Howdy, Sir. My name is Bill Reynolds. Thank you for serving our country and winning the war.”

Then, he might say, “Hello, Bill. My name is John Richards. Thank you for marching to honor me, my friends, and what we did.”

I always wanted to stand and talk longer, but others were lining up behind me.

Marathon Smoke Breaks?

While this is no race for a best time, top finishers within each category receive awards. Only a small percentage of participants run all 26.2 miles, and none of them run their fastest marathon. This event is a patriotic history lesson, a physical and mental challenge, an amazing sight to see, and a motivating experience. Most of the course is on Jeep trails more suitable for tanks. The ubiquitous sand mixed with irritating gravel and scree finds its way into all shoes and boots. Gaiters helped a little.

18 Miles Done

The six-mile, 1,200-foot climb to the half-way point, 13.1-miles into the march, is on Mineral Hill at 5,397 feet. It’s notorious for ending many a marcher’s day. By that time, dehydration, bloody blisters, twisted ankles, sun burns, human exhaustion, and all manner of mental and physical maladies are screaming at marchers to give it up and ride the golf cart to the finish line, which about 15% must do, if they’re not taken away in one of the many ambulances that continually haul off the more seriously ill and injured. Even the young and fit fall prey to this challenge when they fail to pace themselves, especially if they neglected training.

 

I had read about the infamous Sand Pits, which we descend into just after completing 20 miles. These arroyos are 15 to 20-foot deep ditches, lined and filled with several feet of washed-in, soft sand that made walking even more demanding.

Sand filled arroyo

These pits alone are a challenge to walk through, but after enduring six hours of arduous walking, it’s agony. The subfreezing morning high-desert temperatures were long-past, yielding to the sun and its rising mid-day heat, making those arroyos The Pits of Misery, indeed. I used my hiking poles as I felt my exhausted, 61-year-old aching body, painful feet, and stabbing blisters demand that I end this insanity.

Warriors

Many other marchers were combat veterans and wounded warriors, some who had been seriously injured. Seeing men and women with all sorts of physical and mental war injuries, many wearing various kinds of prostheses, some blind and being assisted by guides, but all doing what I was doing; I was emotionally moved, and I hushed the objecting voices in my head. I may have had more than 30 years on most of those folks, but I did not have to carry a spare leg in my backpack, in case my prosthesis broke or malfunctioned. I didn’t need a guide because I had been blinded by an IED in a foreign country.

Comrades

After 21 miles, my emotional state totally changed. I became weepy, extremely happy, and excited simultaneously. I felt honored and privileged to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and being with the people I was with. I felt guilty for complaining internally about my plight. Then, considering that the Death March survivors I had met faced 65 miles as POWs, starved, thirsty, beaten, and guarded by an enemy solder more than willing to kill them, I found the strength to put my burden behind me and finish this.

The Longest Three

Then, 23 miles in, the last big medical tent appeared as I managed to climb the hill out of the sand pits. The base was in sight. The finish line would be there. The final three-mile hike was on a long, flat, dusty, dirt road. It was hot, dry, and slow going. Eight hours had passed since the starting cannon was fired. I was walking on near-zero energy, constantly glancing up hoping to see some sign of the finish line, but I was only able to see the same view, with the now onerous Organ Mountains to the right.

Medical tents were busy

As I was dragging my old ass along, a young lady in full army combat uniform greeted me with encouraging words as she passed. I was thinking that her 35-pound pack must be more than 25% of her total body weight. Most of my pain numbed, but with every step I knew I had blisters.

Blister Treatment at Aid Station

After my first Death March, I discovered that I had the biggest blisters I’d ever seen on the bottom and top of both feet, four black toe nails (one would fall off), and sore heels. I was exhausted.

 

Going Home; I Shall Return

Over the following years, my motivation continued to grow as I learned more about the events of 1942, and the perils of the men and women who surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor. I’ve read on-line accounts and at least five books about the experiences of the survivors. I became an amateur expert of sorts, drawn to something that had occurred several years prior to my birth, but affected my life in ways that I still cannot explain, 75 years later.

Nine hours Later

The next day, at the El Paso airport, Death March Marathon participants are quickly spotted in two ways. First, while active duty military are in Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU), many others wear the distinctive tee-shirt given to each participant. The second give away is the distinctive Death March limp. In my case, it was both.

Overcoming the challenges and obstacles of life is difficult, not impossible.
In the process, always look both ways and mind the gaps.

The Summer of ’59

Facing the Dark Side

When I was in the sixth grade at my Catholic school, I dreaded being promoted to seventh grade. Sister Mary Scary taught seventh grade. That nasty creature who floated around Saint John’s wearing Rome’s version of a burqa, but used a white frame to emphasize a face that was perpetually angry, who posed as a Catholic nun but was really the Wicked Witch of the West. That daughter of Satan himself, would have complete control of my life from eight to three every weekday, plus an extra hour at church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, when I would be forced to sit, kneel, or stand to watch men and boys dressed in feminine garb prance, kneel, sing, pray, and read in a dead language of which I understood nary ten words.

Saint John's Church and School

Saint John’s Church and School

Mom and Dad were delighted in June of 1958, when I handed them my report card with that depressing word emblazoned on the back cover: “Promoted!” To me, it said, “sentenced to nine months of suffering in Purgatory at the hands of evil.”

I worried all summer. My friend, Jimmy, who was a grade ahead of me reported the horrible carnage that he and others had endured at the hands of Lucifer’s daughter. Whatever the version of depression a 12-year-old boy could encounter, I’m sure I had it. Never, have I wanted a summer to pass more slowly.

My parents always supported authority over me. The nun, teacher, priest, cop, drunk adult, irate neighbor, or neighborhood tattle tale was always right. Ok, occasionally, they really were right. But from my point of view, my parents should have supported me – their son who they claimed to love. I could not discuss my fears about the nun with my parents.

My siblings had the “we survived, but you probably won’t” attitude and said as much. However, my older brother, Danny, did have some advice for me. “Be an altar boy. They like altar boys,” he said. That made sense to me. I would play their game to survive.

Survival

I worried enough about Sister Scary that I managed to get through seventh grade with minimal physical damage and mental distress. I passed academically, and I was home free. This time I was even more pleased than Mom and Dad that I was not held back. I had not shed one tear. I was doing well. My eighth-grade teacher was to be Sister Mary Wonderful, who was also the school Principal. Life was good again.

Toward the end of seventh grade, I was finally approached to join the exalted and glorious ranks of the chosen ones. I was asked if I wanted to be an Altar Boy. All my friends were becoming Altar Boys, and I wanted to be one, too. My brother, Danny, had been one, and it was what good Catholic boys did.

Altar Boys

Altar Boys

I accepted the offer from the Father O’Burts, logically assuming my parents would approve. I started learning the Latin prayers and talking to other boys about the process and the job. I was happy about it. My plan for eighth grade was to be one of the chosen. I even signed up for the school basketball team. I didn’t play well, but I was the tallest boy in my school. I began to look forward to my final year at Saint John’s.

Not So Fast

Then, as the skies darkened again, I had the familiar bad feeling. As September and the start of school approached, there was a shockingly frightful rumor. Sister Wonderful was being transferred, and Sister Mary Scary, the evil antagonist of my short life, was being promoted to school principal and would be moving up to teach eighth grade.

Oh, dear God, No! I was supposed to be done with her. But as every dependable source, including the church bulletin, soon validated, ‘twas da troot. The second coming of the Inquisition had been promoted to Principal of Saint John’s elementary school, and would teach 8th grade to my class. I knew that I could not survive another year. My only solace was knowing that, except for a few favored girls, the rest of my classmates were as upset as I was. The Altar Boy gig became critical.

Say What?

So then, still expecting them to be pleased with the news, I decided to tell my parents that I was to be an Altar Boy. I expected them to be proud, if not overjoyed.

I was happy when I walked into the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She was at the sink behind me. “Mom, guess what? Fadder O’Burts as’t me ta be an altar boy. And I’ma gunna do it, too.”

I turned to look at Mom, smiling and all full-of-myself, at first. Then, severe shock set in when she turned and said, “No yer not!”

Dad looked up and added, “Like Hell, y’are! Yeh kin get dat idea outa yer thick skull right now.”

Dazed, I needed something quick – a prayer, to get sick, perhaps a deadly disease, anything. Desperation was overcoming me.

I was unaware that when Danny had been an Altar Boy, it was not a good experience. The logical consequence, of course, was that I was not permitted to follow, and my parents did not give one inch. Nor did they tell me why I was being denied my only hope to survive nine more months of the Black-veiled Horror. Today, I am glad that I was not part of that Altar Boy thing, but at the time, it was the worst possible news.

Option Two

Quickly, I changed the subject. “Mom, Coughlin is 7th through 12th grade. Can I go there for 8th grade? I’ll be starting there fer 9th grade and high school the next year, anyway.”

She didn’t even look at me. “Now, Billy-boy. Why’d ya do dat? Jist graduate St. John’s then go to high school like your brother and sister did. After I see ya graduate Saint John’s, the Lord can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I will graduate from Coughlin High, Mom. And probably college too. So, the Lord can wait.”

With that, the food in Dad’s mouth came spewing out. He was choking and coughing and wheezing and trying not to die while laughing at my confidence. My wonderful summer was ending in embarrassment and darkness. I became angry and depressed again.

Blues Brothers

Blues Brothers

As It Happened

I was right. Eighth grade was worse than seventh for exactly the reasons that I had predicted. Even our basketball team suffered from the curse of the cruel Head Demon. Sister Mary Scary controlled every aspect of student lives – thus influencing their spiritual growth or decline. She and I were in constant struggle to have all of Hell on our side. That nun and I never had one good day. Eventually, we developed a healthy fear of each other as my size and strength worked to discourage many of her thoughts. Sister Scary promoted me to high school and out of Saint John’s. To this day, I’m certain that neither of us wished to deal with the other any longer than necessary. I was neither the first, nor that last, to be moved along to become someone else’s problem.

Age and experience change how we see our world.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

Not the Same Kennedy

Do you mentor?

Do you mentor?

Few of us are born with an inaccurately low self-esteem, but the potential is there for disordered self-image. I may have inherited my mother’s negative opinion of personal abilities (hers and mine), but the passing of the flaw was socio-cultural, not biological. How I got that way is unimportant. What is important is that while humility may be a good thing, too often people miss much in life because they found their way to the “I’m not good enough, I can’t, I am too scared, or nobody loves me” quagmire.

Jack was my teenage friend, and the first to motivate my turnaround from I cannot, to I can. I’ve met others who helped me see my greater potential to achieve. They always came into my life at the right time. My post on synchronicity tackled the phenomenon. Some are still involved in my life, and some inspirational souls have recently landed in my patch of life.

When I first met Hilton M. Kennedy he was a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force, and he would soon be my boss and direct supervisor. The man I eventually called Ken, but many called Mac, had olive colored skin, lots of jet black hair, was several inches shorter than I, and smoked too many Salem cigarettes. I don’t know if Ken was a hyper-active child, but he was one for the most effervescent men I had met. Ten years my senior, Ken reeked enthusiasm. Other than being married, where we worked, and the Air Force, we had little in common, at first.

Ken’s personality included talking fast, a trait one seldom finds in a Louisiana native. I enjoyed our many chats where he made me believe that he was interested in me, and that I would have a successful future. Many of those discussions were accompanied by measured amounts of fine liquor. Living in Ankara, Turkey, ensured financial advantages for Americans in the late sixties. Of course, fine liquor required equally fine cigars.

Do what?

Do what?

I began to see good changes in myself. I was becoming more confident. My self-opinion and hopes began to unfold from whatever dark recess of my mind they were held captive. I attribute any success and goodness in my life to many people, some from my past and some in my life today, some from almost 50 years ago. Hilton Kennedy was the right guru at the right time in my life.

We became personal friends and our families got close as he kept tabs on my career following the end of my enlistment and his eventual retirement. We went to visit him, and he and his wife visited our home. Eventually, our relationship was more friendship and less his being my mentor and advisor. One of the last times I saw him, my wife and I were guests of he and his wife in Rome, New York. He played the harmonica and I thought all was well. But it was not to be.

To remember a friend

To remember a friend

In the late eighties, I learned that my friend and mentor had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a dreadful genetic illness with no cure. The mental  and physical degradation was disastrous for someone who was such a fast-paced, high-stepper in life.

It was horrible. I didn’t know what to do, what to think, or how to feel. While I felt bad for him and his family, I regretted the worlds loss of one of the good ones. Fortunately, the regressive disease was stopped when Ken died of a heart attack at the age of 55. I faced the loss feeling that any suffering by Ken and his family was aborted.

Ken has been gone for over 25 years. I remember, and I’m grateful for that man being in my life and the difference he made in me simply by believing in me, showing his faith in me, and his eventual friendship.

Look both ways every day.
You may be the long remembered difference is someone’s life.
But, mind the gaps.

Nano Rebel – Dream On

2016 Nano ends at midnight next Wednesday. I’m passing 48 of the 50K goal today, so I’ll meet the challenge this weekend. However, as anyone who writes knows, there is much more for me to do.

musing2

For the past four weeks, my life has been like this: up between 5 and 8 AM, plan to write, but read the news, read and answer emails, look at my memoir and plan some more. But I only write a little. Look at Facebook and write some snarky comments there, read some blogs, go for a walk while listening to music for about an hour; return, eat, stretch, talk to wife, and finally begin to write.

Following an hour of writing; take a break, eat more, get coffee, then back to writing. After pushing out about a thousand words, take a long break and do more useful and constructive things like doing dishes, replacing light bulbs, talking to neighbors, and reading. I write more in the late afternoon and evening with interruptions for football, NCIS, or Blue Bloods. It seems to have worked because I’ve averaged almost 2,000 words each day.

musing1But this memoir – the thinking, remembering, musing, pulling out old photos, doing ancestry research, looking for old friends and finding some, but reading obits of others — it’s so different because it is about me and people who’ve affected my life. Learning and writing about myself every day is interesting for a guy who disliked writing about himself.

Writing fewer words on this blog so you can listen to the song and see the lyrics that say it for me: Dream On, by Aerosmith.

 

Indeed:

Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
From sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you….

musing3“Sing with me, sing for the years, sing for the tears.”

We dream on, love on, live on;
but look both ways and mind the gaps.

 

NaNo Rebel – One Week Done

Telling my story

Telling my story

In the first five days of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written 11,000 words toward the goal of 50,000 before midnight of November 30th. Since my personal goal was 2K words a day, I’m ahead. I have picked up on several things about my writing.

  • I am not isolated. My wife comes and talks to me routinely, and I go talk to her. I have vacuumed the house, gone to meetings, and done shopping. I answer phone calls (not doing surveys or talking to telemarketers, and I voted early), and I go for walks.
  • I have time available to write. Being retired, I could write all day and night. But I can take time for a football game, and maybe some NCIS or Blue Bloods. I read about what I am supposed to be doing: writing memoir. I talk to people, often about things having nothing to do with writing.
  • I think my weakest writing skill is the art, the creative parts, the telling of the story. I blame my experience with technical writing for part of that. But for this memoir, I continue to work on my skills to show and tell from my POV at the time. Can I be both protagonist and antagonist?
  • If I read a sentence that I wrote last week, I will change it. It will be better, but the challenge is to write, not to re-write and edit. This slows me down, but it looks like I can semi-comfortably write a maximum of about 3-thousand words a day. I did 2,800 twice last week.
  • I made an outline, a spreadsheet, and a memory list. The list has turned out to be the most valuable. I never look at the outline or spreadsheet. My only problem with the memory list is that I write in chronological order and the list random.

img_0833-1

  • Here are examples from my list:
    1. Working to pull out coal stove and put in gas hot water heater and gas stove for cooking.
    2. Looking up at Dad realizing I was looking at a drunk man who didn’t care. I had eerie feeling that he resented me. I was not seeing my father.
    3. Helen Hxxxxn (Whitey) BB gun. Tomatoes.
    4. Peggy Rxxb and the Rxxb family.
    5. Carol Mxxar and Joe Mxxxxen
    6. Dog named Rusty and my treatment of the dog
    7. Age 5 birthday party
    8. Danny
    9. Raised by both bio parents…first in fam….Linda was second, but hers divorced (he left) right after Linda graduated high school
    10. Mom’s relationship with my half-bro, Danny, and my view of it.
Write. Just write you must.

Write. Just write you must.

I will be writing this memoir for a long time to come. I’ll win the Nano challenge and complete this memoir, but not anywhere near at the same time.

I miss writing this blog, but I choose not to do both.

If you ever consider writing memoir, I suggest it. For me, it’s not about the book, it’s about me. I still have a lot to write and things to decide. Do I want to write about something or make it available for others to read? Those dark “things” about me? I work at keeping the words and stories on my intended spiritual track, but in my mind, everything relates – particularly during my formative years.

The following excerpts from my memoir are from two more dramatic events, both relate to a nun who taught me. Context is that I had just learned that the same nun who taught 7th grade will be teaching 8th next year, then we jump to what I was worried about.

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

….“Mom, Coughlin is 7 to 12th. Can I go to 8th grade there? I’ll go next year anyway.”

“Now, Billy-boy. Why wud ya? Jist graduate St. John’s. After I see ya graduate, God can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I’ll graduate Coughlin, Mom.”

8th grade was worse than 7th. Even Father Burns was afraid of Sister Mary Siena, and for good reason. She was the tyrant of the school.

Gerry Dxxxxe sat behind me. As I was turned around explaining something of extreme importance to Gerry I heard, “Mister Rxxxxs, what is the answer?”

“The answer to what, Sister?”

“Young man, you better know the answer to the question I just asked the class.”

After I suggested that she asked one of them, the anger-crazed dark shadow in black habit grabbed her instrument of torture and death. As she stormed down the aisle heading at me, in her hand was the yard long wooden pointer. It was round, about the circumference of my thumb. She yelled for me to standup and turn around.

As it turns out, blows to the flesh behind the knees with such a pointer are not soon forgotten….

At times, how I saw it.

At times, how I saw it.

Life is interesting,
look both ways and mind the gaps.

NaNoWriMo, NaMeWriMo, or NaPoWriMo?

Next Tuesday, 1 November 2016, begins another 30-day challenge to write 50-thousand words toward the authorship of a book. The challenge is called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just Nano).

nanowrimo1Since 1999, Nano has grown in popularity and is now international. Novels are fiction, but participants sometimes write in other genres. I wrote a historical novel my first year. Others have written memoirs (National Memoir Writing, NaMeWriMo?) or other non-fiction, and poetry (National Poetry, NaPoWriMo? It’s in April.).

Nano is difficult. Last year was my first large scale fiction project. I learned how challenging it is. The math works out so that I need to average about 1,700 words a day to “win” the 50k-word challenge on November 30th. There are no days off.

Because Nano gets more difficult as weeks pass, and life has a way of interfering with writing, I want to produce over 2,000 words a day for the first week or two. Getting ahead in the word count is recommended, and I know why. This is no writing sprint; it’s a marathon. After about ten days, I’ll be looking in the mirror asking, “WTF were you thinking?” But I did it in 2015, and I will in 2016.

nanowrimo2

Online support, other writers, and attending motivating write-ins, make this challenge doable. Following the helpful suggestions in No Plot, No Problem, such as keeping my inner editor at bay, I’ll manage to keep writing.

Last year, I struggled with being new to fiction writing and not having a plan. Creating the story as I wrote was difficult. Writing to develop characters, scenes, and plot was work, but fun under pressure.

This year, I have an outline and I’m a slightly more seasoned writer. My introduction to blogging was during the A-to-Z Blog Challenge in April. Nano is like A-to-Z in that it’s a learning through immersion experience. It will be challenging again this year because I’ll write in a nonfiction genre new to me.

I’ve decided to write a memoir for the 2016 Nano. I’ve never written one. Technically, that qualifies me as a Nano Rebel. I don’t feel rebellious because there is ample precedent for memoir and I still need the same number of words. Since I have been kicking my biographical tin-can down the road for years, I’ve decided it’s time.

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I was raised in a religious environment, but I’ve concluded that atheism is correct. I plan to document that spiritual journey. The memoir will be spiritually thematic and family oriented, but not suitable for young children. I’ll write about specific periods and events in my life when religion or spiritual issues were more prominent, or should have been.

I’ve been researching people, places, and events to reconstruct those times. I’ll be busy with this until December. Only then will I set my inner editor free to deal with the 50K-word first draft, pile of tangled dribble I will have created.nanowrimo4

I’ve been posting on this blog twice per week. During November, I’ll post once per week to provide a brief summary of my Nano experience, and information relevant to my project. Adding news of any other participants that I find interesting would be fun — so do tell.

I’ve been reading about writing memoir. It is different, of course. But since I did this Nano gig one time, I know that I’ll have little time to work on this blog.

nanowrimo3If you have any interest in NanoWriMo, the web page is http://nanowrimo.org. Join us.

If you are jumping into the Nano challenge also, I’d like to know.

Have fun. I hope to be able to hold my head up enough to resume blogging on the twice a week rhythm again in December.

As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.”

Look both ways and mind the gap.