# of pages written: 0 on my novel (I know, this is bad. But I’m not going to sleep until I’ve written at least 5 pages)
# of times I’ve checked email/facebook: 4
# of days left to write 1st draft: 147
Book Recommendation: How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. I’m only halfway through, but it’s hilariously awesome.
For the past two nights I’ve been having trouble sleeping in my hot, humid room. Last night I tossed and turned for hours, shedding covers and pajamas until I lay naked on top of the sheets, sticky, sweating, and miserable. Finally, I drifted off to sleep and had a strange dream in which I boarded a school bus, and there was Angelina Jolie, doing a strip tease for the children. Her breasts were the heads of African babies. Maybe this is what you dream about when you sleep naked in a poorly-ventilated room.
The difficulty sleeping was made worse by the fact that I had to wake up early this morning for the Cape Cod Writers Conference, where I’m taking an 8 am class on how to “kick-start” my fiction. Of course, when you really want to sleep is when you can’t. I tried everything – counting backwards from 100, deep breathing, various positions from fetal to belly-flop – but nothing seemed to work. I suppose I was so exhausted from trying to fall asleep that I finally drifted off.
I woke in the morning and drove to Hyannis in the rain for the conference, which is being held at a moldy old hotel that I drove right past because I didn’t even think it was functional. I parked, registered, and found my classroom. After a few minutes the teacher arrived. He’s a thirty-something-year-old author of several best-selling historical murder-mystery thrillers, none of which I’ve read. In person, he was less than impressive: a weak chin and receding jaw, ill-fitting jeans and crusty brown sport sandals with Velcro straps. He babbled to us in vague generalizations and suggested we try free-writing, as if this was something we might never have heard of before. His voice was the delicate, nasally type I normally associate with gay men, except that he mentioned having a wife and children.
He gave us the assignment to free-write about a person who is no longer in our lives, and I found myself writing about someone I met on the okcupid website and dated for awhile back in DC.
As a side note, I’ve been on enough online dates to populate my first hundred novels with eccentric characters. I’ve been doing match.com and/or okcupid for almost five years now, and I’ve gone out with every type of person: nerds, hipsters, politicians, scientists, musicians, carnies. There was the thirty-five-year-old masseuse who still lived at home with his parents. Or the injured rugby player from New Zealand who was convinced the world was going to end in 2012. Cute guys with low IQs. Ugly guys who I hoped might grow more attractive through their winning personalities, but who, as it turned out, did not have winning personalities at all. I also met guys the regular way – at bars. Like the sweet-but-confused ukulele player who became obsessed with me, or the ex-heroin addict who lived in a teepee. You get the idea. I’m not just sitting around on my butt waiting for love to find me. I’m out there trying hard to find it.
And, lest I sound like a whiny bore, let me say that on a day-to-day basis, I don’t mind so much being thirty-one and single. I pretty much get to do what I want, and I have very little true responsibilities. But the thing is, I don’t mind responsibilities, and I would like to have people to take care of. I really want a partner in life and the possibility of a family, and it’s annoying for me, a general go-getter, that I can’t seem to find the right person. And one of the the most annoying thing about being single is the advice I get, which usually runs along these two veins:
It’s a game of numbers – just keep trying!
It’ll happen when you’re not even looking!
When I first arrived in Cape Cod, I said to Nikki, “you know, I think I’m just going to put dating on the back burner for now. It’s too exhausting and frustrating, and there aren’t very many eligible men my age on the Cape anyway. I’m going to take this year to focus on my writing and not even try to meet guys.”
“Yeah,” Nikki said. “And maybe, because you’re not trying, you’ll actually meet someone!”
“Don’t say that!” I yelled. Of course, I’d been secretly thinking that, too, but you can’t say these things out loud. That’s like telling people what you’re wishing for when you blow out your birthday candles – now it won’t come true. And besides, if you’re secretly looking by pretending you’re not looking, then really you’re still looking, and that defeats the purpose.
That’s what makes being single so frustrating – I’m not sure what to do. On the one hand there’s “Try! Try harder! You can’t win if you don’t try!” but on the other hand, there’s, “Stop trying! You’re trying too hard! Just let it happen!” So what’s the answer? Do I try, or do I not?
After the free-writing and some more blather, the author-teacher had us read the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Coleridge, along with an accompanying explanation. Apparently, Coleridge had taken some medication and had dozed off while reading about Kubla Kahn. When he awoke, the first eight lines of the poem were fully formed inside his head.
“Does anyone have any thoughts?” the author-teacher asked when we’d finished reading.
I raised my hand. “This poem is quite pornographic. Maybe he was having a certain type of dream, if you know what I mean.” I winked. The class was boring. I needed to spice things up. In fact, while the author-teacher had been babbling, I’d been busy taking out choice phrases from Coleridge’s masterpiece and rearranging them into an erotic poem you’ll find at the end of this post.
The author-teacher coughed nervously. “Uh, I meant thoughts on Coleridge’s writing process.”
When no one said anything, I raised my hand again. “So basically I should just do some drugs, read a book, and take a nap. Then my novel will pretty much write itself.”
He looked alarmed. “I’m certainly not advocating drug use! But, you know, some of our best creative ideas come when we’re not really trying.”
Oh great. Because I’ve been trying to write a novel. I’ve been trying and sweating and feeling frustrated and not getting much accomplished – similar to my past two nights of restless sleep. Similar, in fact, to my love life. Maybe I’ve just been trying too hard.
On the other hand, you can’t just do drugs and take naps and expect to have a novel come pouring out of you. You can’t just sit at home eating Cheetoh’s and expect your future husband to come knocking on the door. You have to get out there and try, don’t you?
Creativity is strange, and ideas do seem to strike when we’re not paying attention. But the muse doesn’t come around but every so often, so what do you do in the meantime?
One day, when I finally get a love life, I am going to be super appreciative because it was so hard for me to find. And whenever a muse bestows a sweet literary gift upon me, I won’t waste it for the same reasons. In the meantime, though, I will just trying and slugging away on my novel. Maybe you have to try if, for no other reason, than to stay busy while you wait for the real thing to happen. It’s sort of like that looking by pretending not to look idea. Maybe trying gets you ready to receive the real thing. It breaks you down until your open enough to see the possibilities in something or someone you never would have noticed before. You’re exhausted and frustrated, but when you finally reach what you’ve been grasping for, it’s all the better because you feel as if you really deserve it.
Kubla Kahn and His Concubine:
An Erotic Poem found in “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Coleridge
A damsel, floating hair.
A man, flashing eyes.
Girdled blossom, incense-bearing forests.
A sunless pleasure-dome cavern,
Wailing for her demon-lover –
A savage, drunk on honey dew.
Close your eyes.
That deep romantic chasm,
with sinuous walls of fertile ground.
A seething place!
Fast thick pants
Oh! Mingled fountain and cave.
and sank in tumult,
enfolding waves of pleasure, her symphony,
His deep delight.
A mighty ceaseless fountain —
the milk of Paradise.