He thought — and then red wine made him say it aloud — that he shouldn’t adore her so much. He dreaded how it would end for him.
The thing about adoration is that it fades fast, like a half-formed idea that’s forgotten among the hustle of a day only to reappear in the dead of night when he rolled over and smell her perfume on his skin, or hear in his head how she somehow could pronounce “literally” as “litchrally” without sounding pedantic. All he’d think about for the next 30 seconds of wakefulness was her: Wonderful, riveting her.
But dread? That’s what kept him up the rest of the night after her perfume had faded and voice had quieted. He studied the book of everything they had said, done, planned, agreed upon, disagreed upon, bonded over or fought over in hopes of calming or confirming his fears that this was a paperback beach read of a relationship. So many nights he stayed up reading and hoping with every page turn that he would find a passage that proved this wasn’t just an author’s cruel joke of a novel meant to make smart readers feel outmaneuvered.
Just as he rounded the 10th or 11th chapter — he had lost count of how many nights he had spent on her porch, on her couch, in her bed — he realized that he had to make a choice. He could keep running his eyes along every curve of every letter of every word, hoping to find a single phrase pointing to this relationship not being a waste of time.
Or he could leave this book, unfinished and unwanted, for someone else to try to decipher late at night. Best wishes to whoever cracked her spine next.
I found myself self writing a villain’s monologue to this piece while sitting in a dark room last night, which seems appropriate given what happens during this part of Christopher Nolan’s “Insterstellar.” The Mozart-influenced piece builds as the drama does:
“She’s like a mouse in a maze. She knows where the center is, but she also knows that the bigger rat following her is more interested in keeping her from the prize than earning it for himself. So she runs along a small patch, hoping that it’s enough to keep him at bay while also close enough for her to make her move given the chance. If he — I — ever give her a chance, that is.”
All these people were walking a tightrope at one point: Balancing in a line on a line until the cable forked and some went left and some went right. And as they struggled even harder to make it on their own lines, they noticed the other lines and declared “mine is better” or “yours is better.” Some pushed, some were pushed, and almost everyone fell off.
And the joke of it all? If they had just looked ahead instead of at each other, held hands instead of shoving shoulders, they would have seen that all the tightropes came back together into one and tethered into the same endpoint.
Oyinda hasn’t necessarily broken into the mainstream yet, but that might be one of the reasons I love listening to her music when writing. “Never Enough” was the first song I heard from her, but “The Devil’s Gonna Keep Me” is what sealed the deal. Her voice accompanied by the dark, foreboding instrumental that brings in both strings and 808s are positively haunting: the perfect soundtrack to stories about ghosts, possession and mind games.
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.
Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral sits among one of the high-rent areas in the River North neighborhood.
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.
View from the back row at Chicago’s House of Blues during Fall Out Boy’s M A N I A tour kickoff, Sept. 16
The roar reverberated within my chest cavity, knocking my heart and lungs together so beating and breathing were interchangeable.