There are whole universes, galaxies, planets, civilizations hidden in an unsettled glass of Guinness, he thought, mesmerized as he watched the beer placed in front of the man next to him return to its black-and-tan state. If only he liked the flavor of the stuff.
This far into NaNoWriMo, forget about the pressure to make that 50,000 word mark when you’re only at 20,000 (ahem). A lot of us start thinking that the project we’re working on isn’t worth the kilobytes it’s taking up in the cloud. I know I’ve fallen into that trap multiple times in the last hour of writing, let alone the last three weeks or even three months I’ve been preparing.
Right about now in the NaNoWriMo process, it’s time to whip out a never-on-Broadway musical called [Title of Show], the story of a team writing a musical about a team writing a musical — and both struggling profoundly. One of the best songs from it is “Die Vampire, Die!” during which actress Susan encourages her compatriots to pull a Van Helsing on creative vampires, or “any person, thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression.” These include “pygmy vampires” that fly around your head like gnats reminding you that others have done what you’ve done before you and better than you; “air freshener vampires” that keep you from writing things that your grandmother wouldn’t be pleased to see on paper under your byline; and the mother of all vampires, the “vampire of despair,” that presents itself as your own lack of self-confidence:
“It’ll wake you up at four in the morning to say things like ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ ‘You look like a fool.’ ‘No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be good enough.’ Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I would think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, it’s the voice of reason?”
Seventeen days into my 30-day writing marathon, and the vampires have suddenly become impervious to sunlight, makeshift crucifixes and garlic bread — they appear at every turn, and it’s easy to let them tear apart my work with their fangs. But then I remember that the pencil I’m using to check plot points off on my outline is technically a wooden stake, so I’m already equipped to destroy Count Don’t-ula of Procrastylvania and his clutch of your-work-sucks-ubi (As in “succubi?” Get it?)
So here’s a reminder, in case you need it at this past-halfway point:
- Your self-expression matters.
- Your creative space matters.
- Don’t let the vampires get you down.
The song is below, and it’s a catchy tune to play while writing your way over the word count hump.
I know from the smell of Narcoleptic Sam and the torturous scream of the tracks under my feet that this is the Blue Line and I’m headed northwest — probably between Division and Damen. I know this even though I’m blindfolded and guarded by two giant men who yank me around like two dogs “share” a chew toy.
But it’s not the smell of piss-soaked sweatpants or sound of earsplitting rails that gives our location away. I know where we are because this rather public abduction was entirely planned by yours truly.
I’m paying my captors $3,000 a piece to drag me, blindfolded, halfway across this city at 1 a.m. and throw me in a confessional during the tail end of midnight Mass so my father thinks I’ve confessed to the only boss in our family higher than him: God himself.
The last thing I need anyone thinking is that I’m suddenly remorseful for killing dear Saint Jimmy, who’s not even related to us but gets the right-hand seat at Sunday dinner while I, the head of the table’s own flesh and blood, am banished to the kitchen, draining discarded wine bottles and running my fingers along the edges of still-warm pots and pans in hopes of catching a taste of glory being served in the other room before it hardens to a crust that Loradonna will have to scrub twice as hard to clean away. That’s why I have two men hauling me around in the open so the midnight dwellers think “Ole Jack has really put the screws into his kid this time,” and Dad thinks someone else has it in for one of his own.
And it’s all going according to plan until we arrive at the church and a Goliath I haven’t paid lays waste to the two schmucks I have, then drags me by my hair up five flights of rickety stairs into the bell tower where I used to smoke during Mass when I was a kid and pushes me out the window.
As I fall, still blindfolded, time stops while I wait for the ground to meet me. I chuckle to myself, thinking that this will really put a surprised look on Dad’s face. I can’t wait to haunt next Sunday’s dinner to hear the stunned silence at the table, similar to the quiet just after Saint Jimmy’s body washed up on Foster Beach. None of Loradonna’s fretting over whether there’s enough butter out for the rolls; none of Katydid’s complaint at the calorie count in the food she so happily eats for free.
None of Dad’s mirthful laughter, which I could swear I hear above me, growing more distant as I fall.
The cathedral held its ground against the high rises that have shot up like weeds around it, blocking the sun from the stained glass windows that used to share their kaleidoscope hope with the rest of the city when it knew better than to try to touch the sky with iron and steel.
“No story is terrible if the story is true; if the prose is clean and honest; and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”
I hate that one of the greatest movies for writers is made by one of Hollywood’s biggest creeps, but this scene gets me writing every time.
The roar reverberated within my chest cavity, knocking my heart and lungs together so beating and breathing were interchangeable.
Blood dotted my shoes as the blond girl flung the brunette girl down on the ground. The red bandana tied around the brunette’s upper arm meant this was what she wanted.
Across the makeshift ring stood Louisa, her face red with exertion and blood. She caught my eye and smiled, wincing as the cut in her lip opened wide and trickled crimson. The glossy pink lipstick she usually war was long gone, sweated all over the floor. The blood was a better color on her, she once commented.
Louisa and I met during our Survey of Celtic Mythology class two semesters earlier. We worked on a massive project together, which I guess in her mind made us friends. I was ambivalent, just trying to keep my head above water during that 18-credit-hour semester and thankful that she did most of the work without complaint. Then again, I was so scattered that she was probably happy to ensure we got a good grade, extra work be damned.
The next time I saw her after the holidays, she wore the same coat, carried the same bag and walked like she was strutting to music only she could hear. But something was off: Her face was pink from the subzero weather, but a California-shaped bruise darkened the side. Try as she might with makeup, it was clear as day.
I didn’t ask her about it because she walked too fast past me, clearly disinterested in talking. From the shy smile she gave me in recognition as she tugged her hair to hide the bruise, I guessed she was embarrassed. So was I.
The semester before had ended on a less-than-festive note. She had gotten drunk at a Christmas party, found me there and decided it was time to give me a kiss under the mistletoe. I wasn’t sober, either, and she wasn’t unattractive. I had no idea that she had a boyfriend. Not just a boyfriend; she was dating the Hulk.
I didn’t actually see him hit her, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had happened. There wasn’t much I could do — the party was at his house and all — but something about the way he steered her away, taking her arm like it was the strap of a book bag, gave me the creeps. The least he could have done was take a swing at me instead.
That’s why as I walked past her a month later, it wasn’t outlandish to think the California-shaped bruise looked suspiciously like massive knuckle marks chained together.
A few weeks later, she was sitting in the library. California was gone, but there was a tear in her lip and she had a brace around her wrist. I wanted to ask her what had happened, but she left too quickly.
The next week I saw her again. Her lip was half-healed, and she had upgraded from a brace to an ace bandage. Opportunity hit when she stopped to dig her phone out of her bag. I tapped her on the shoulder, and she winced, as if I had punched her.
Louisa looked up, phone in hand. Her knuckles were raw and red.
“Oh, hello,” she said. “How are you?”
“Fine,” I said. “Haven’t seen you around in a while. What happened?” I nodded to her knuckles. She smiled the sarcastic smile that she had all of last semester when I had a question she could answer glibly.
“Would you believe me if I said it’s from Fight Club?” she asked.
“No,” I said, not smiling. “What really happened?”
“I got in a fight,” she replied, shrugging. “Battle wounds, you know.”
“He’s still beating you, isn’t he?” I started. I didn’t want the conversation to go this route so soon after our reunion, but I saw no choice. My sister had been in an abusive relationship, and I didn’t want to see any other woman just shrug and sarcastically smile it away.
“I dumped him ages ago,” Louisa laughed. “He hit me for the last time. Even told the police. They didn’t do much, of course, but his parents pulled him out of school and put him in rehab. I don’t intend to find out if it worked or not.”
My eyes squinted against the veil of her smile, trying to see through the split-lip gossamer to see if she was telling the truth.
“Fight club, huh?” I asked, deciding to play along with the joke. “Isn’t the first rule of Fight Club not to talk about Fight Club?”
“Not ours,” she said. “If we didn’t talk about it, we wouldn’t have a club.”
Thanks to Chuck Palahniuk for the inspiration.