Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bittersweet Homecoming

Early last spring, we began planning a trip for this fall to the place I call home: Walt Disney World in Florida. 

An older painting: "Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa"

While we knew that his health was declining, we had no way of knowing that by the time that trip was only weeks away, my father would be gone.

We knew things weren’t good, but had no concrete answers from doctors, no absolute proof that he was in the end stages of his life, until he had a massive stroke in October and then ended up spending eleven hellishly long days in hospice, dying.

It very rarely takes someone in his condition, removed from life support, so long to die.

When he passed, our trip was three weeks away.

How could we possibly go, I wondered? Yet a voice in my heart answered the question for me immediately: we had to go, because Dad wanted us to go. He knew about the trip before the stroke and was happy we were going. My mother was all set to babysit our cat, and she insisted to me throughout the hospital ordeal that we “Had go to, because Dad wanted you too.”

I came to the decision I wanted to celebrate my father’s life in his favorite place in the world, not only mourn the end of it.

What a celebration it was. Bittersweet, with memories around every corner to bring tears to my eyes as quickly as they also brought wistful smiles. We happened to be staying at his favorite hotel, in the same building where he had stayed with us on a previous trip.

We saw his favorite show (The Captain Jack Sparrow Pirate Tutorial) also my favorite show, and reminisced about how my father had never seemed happier in Disney than the time he got to watch my then twelve year old daughter sword fight with the Captain himself… on what would turn out to be his very last trip to Walt Disney World.

I cried, mostly when mentioning him to various Cast Members I met and chatted with at our resort. They were so kind, sympathetic and encouraging. I knew we’d made the right choice to go. My husband and I both desperately needed to get away from home for a little while. To go, as my husband calls it, “into the bubble” that Disney creates around you in which it almost seems nothing bad can ever happen in the world. Especially losing a parent.

The sound of children laughing was soothing to my soul. The sound of kids melting down brought back memories of my own days as a young parent. Painfully vivid recollections, all.

But there were also moments of happiness, as I floated almost feeling out of my body through the whole experience. I tried to be in the moment as much as I could, and for the most part I managed to be; but when I got to the airport for the return trip home, hearing bad news blaring from the TVs overhead and hearing our flight was delayed because of snow at home (first of the year, just our luck) and rain in Orlando, reality hit with a thud. Also, I had the sinking feeling I was getting sick, which was confirmed the next day when I ended up at Urgent Care.

So I’ve spent the days since we got home in bed, trying to recover from this thing that’s taken over my respiratory system. Thanksgiving is upon us and we order our dinner from a local restaurant where the chef raises his own turkeys but I don’t know if I’ll be able to taste the food—a side effect of my sickness. My husband now has a cold and so the holiday weekend will be one of recovery for us both.

And a weekend of remembering all the brunches we had with Dad on Thanksgivings past at the local Hyatt Regency hotel before it changed hands to another owner; days filled with laughter and memories of other trips, and other people who had left empty spaces at our table.

This year, there is another empty space, impossible to fill with any amount of memories.

We miss you, Dad.

Thank you for doing what you called “trading pieces of paper to make memories” with us when we were children, and as we grew up and you enjoyed trips with us, and your only Granddaughter.

In the end, it’s because of you that Walt Disney World will always feel like home to me, and that is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

Thank you for the magic.



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What I Learned by Writing a First Draft in Four Days

Hey all,

When last I posted here (sorry for the absence by the way, I’m still trying to come to grips with the loss of my father, and things here have been stressful) I announced that I was going to dive head first into NaNoWriMo.

Inside, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write 50K words this year before the month ran out.

Then mania stepped in (as it has been known to do in the past; though I must say that due to all the stress of the previous month I was already manic before I started writing) and I decided to just go with it—as long as it was only for a short period of time, and certain safeguards were in place.

I kept to my med schedule, even taking so-called ‘emergency’ meds to try to bring my brain back down, and for four days, I just wrote.

My husband was good about making sure I ate when he was home, and that I kept to my med schedule and all but otherwise I just let the writing take over, and before I knew it I had finished the entire 50K goal for the month by the evening of 11/4. (50,207 words to be exact.)

I’d had a 15K word day my first day, a new personal best for me, and then once the story took shape in my head it just seemed to write itself.

There were several things I learned during the experience of writing a novel first draft in four days.

1: I need to turn off my inner editor more often.

Once I can manage to silence the little woman (who looks and sounds to me a lot like Edna Mode) my brain still finds it has a lot to say. Which was wonderful to discover, since I hadn’t written anything of consequence (meaning of any length) since I finished Wishing Cross Station a year ago. Of course I’m not counting the editing and revision process in that, which took until just before the book was released last June. That’s rewriting, not writing. 

So that was a long time to be blocked.

2: I’ve reinforced my belief that when you take medications that specifically target your brain, writer’s block IS a real thing.

There was a good chance I could have failed in my NaNo attempt this year and I’m sure I would have if not for the mania. I think it’s knowing I was already manic that drove me to sign up when I panicked at the last minute and almost didn’t try, afraid I’d fail. In all the times I’ve done NaNo (in November or for Camp in April or July) I’ve never ended up with less than 50K words. In Camp of July of 2014, I ended up with two novels and more than 102K words total in the month. So the idea of the idea running out or drying up once I started writing was terrifying.

3: I’ve learned that once I just allow myself to write for the love of it and not with a view to letting anyone else read it, the struggle to find words is a lot less intense.

4: I’ve learned that in four days I may not write my best work ever but it’s not my worst work ever, either. Meaning, that given time and enough brain power balanced between hypomania and mania, maybe one day I will be able to write another book that I am as attached to as Godspeed, or Wishing Cross Station.

5: I’ve learned to stop caring what others think about what I write and how I do it.

Once and for all, I’ve realized that NaNo haters are gonna hate, and instead of trying to change their minds, I just leave them to stew in whatever juices make them so… how can I put this delicately… unkind to those who choose to participate in the event. Though I did go on a mini Twitter rant begging people to just ignore what others are doing if it annoys them and just go about their own business writing how they feel it should be done.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, all of that. Just move along.

6: I’ve learned that somewhere, even though deeply lost inside of my mind sometimes, there still exists a writer. Ideas still exist. Some great, some not so great (I’m glad I didn’t go with the manic plan of trying to write the whole book in the style of Shakespeare’s sonnets…) 

The book I wrote was a decent idea, and since I was writing to write (and, to try to outrun my grief for a little while, though it has finally caught up to me and is now demanding its due) the book didn’t have to be a masterpiece. It just needed to come into existence.

And one more thing I’ve learned by finishing a book in four days:

7: I need to give myself more time, even now, to figure out how my brain works and changes at the demand of Bipolar disorder.

It’s been four years since I was finally correctly diagnosed (after an incorrect major depression diagnosis years before) and I still feel like every day is a learning experience. Sometimes now (instead of never) I know when things are starting to go off the rails; when I can allow myself a few nights with less or disturbed sleep to do something like write a novel in a short period of time, while understanding that it’s a pace I could never keep up for an entire month, not anymore. Not without disastrous consequences to my health.

So NaNo has changed for me. It’s a sprint, not a marathon.

It never did take me a whole month to finish the event (I think my previous record for writing a first draft was ten days) completing this one in four has freed me from the fear that I’ll never write again, which has hounded me for a long time.

I might choose not to seek publication for my writing again, satisfied (well as satisfied as a writer can ever be) with the body of work that I’ve put out there… but that doesn’t mean I have to stop writing.

And that is the most important thing I learned during my NaNo experience this year.

I hope, if you’re participating, that no matter what your word count is come November 30, that you’ve learned a lot about yourself and your writing, too.