Here’s to you, November!

I began this month with a blog post that examined the humbug state of November in years past, and how this November I would break that trend. As I’ve traveled the days of this month, barreling through the hard parts or staring bewilderingly at the shiny moments, I’ve not had a chance to ask myself if those declarations were realized.

Until now.

leslie knope

This month I decided to do NaNoWriMo with every intention of winning, and after 30,000 words, I discovered winning isn’t everything. It’s something, and don’t get me wrong, I’d never kick her out of bed, but in the end playing the game with friends was better than getting hung up in the battle for words I will still be able to write in December.

This month I turned 29 and the world didn’t end. I was Freshly Pressed. I was accepted to a writing retreat and workshop with an author I respect and admire. I flew to Montana and drove to the boundary of Glacier National Park where I visited the Blackfeet Native Americans. On the frozen plain, something in me thawed.

I met the Eleventh Doctor, the Ponds, and River Song (if only virtually). I watched Catching Fire and wasn’t disappointed (an event worth noting as I am accustomed to being underwhelmed.)

I finished shooting a short film that had lived in my imagination so long I was certain it could never become real. This month I decided that sometimes real is better.

This month my husband was so sick he became useless for days, and I confirmed my disinterest in doing any parts of life on my own. This month we had a cement truck, a Bobcat and some very skilled workers outside our house shutting off water and transforming our space.

It’s also the month I fell down the stairs, smacking my head and splitting it open, realizing the fear of a thing is often much more powerful than the thing itself. This month I didn’t die from something senseless, and therefore I became less afraid of dying senselessly.

How do you gage the value of a month, a season, an event? Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in my adult life I was the host. To pull off any event with my family where no one brawls, bickers, or breaks the law is considered an achievement. Swept up in the chaos, that joyful unrest, that upheaval of all things routine and ordinary, the day came and was gone before I could even breathe in the blessing of a holiday where no one threatened violence. But that doesn’t mean the blessing wasn’t absorbed, and it doesn’t mean I stop being thankful because yesterday has passed.

One day can’t possibly hold all of our thankfulness for the moment, or contain all of our hope for the future, or heal every blemish from the year behind. To ask a single meal, or moment, or season of tinsel and twinkle lights to work that hard is to assure certain defeat.

November ebbs. I walk away from it with a few war scars, some accolades, promises, and the knowledge that I am woefully inadequate and unfathomably ambitious.

The war over this month is won in small victories and concessions, in turkey dressing and whiskey pudding, in days of showing strength and nights of sobbing into a glass of wine with a time-traveling Madman. It’s found in admitting when you are beat, and letting someone else shoulder your burden. It’s in valuing the joy of losing. It’s in snuggles instead of struggles.

I set out with a plan to keep November from stabbing me in the back, and discovered what I already knew. November will always fight me dirty, biting and scratching and hypothetically hitting me in the crotch. She certainly has a mean right hook. But in the twilight of the month, with much unfinished or given up — as the barmaid wipes the tables down and the piano man plays in the corner — I raise my glass to her, and to her credit, she buys me another round.

November, where is your sting?

nano

The internet — or the section populated by aspiring and established writers — is abuzz with preparations for NaNoWriMo. For those who are not writers, let me explain. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it is about just that: Writing a novel, however bare bones it may be, in one month. 30 days. 50,000 words.

Last November I was gearing up for another edit on my as-yet to be published novel, Redhunt. November of last year was also the beginning of the end of my family’s time living in NYC. We were grappling with some tough decisions, decisions not really made any easier by my own internal struggle with a novel that had become a major thing in me and my life. Add in our souring relationship with a city that still held our attention, but not our best-interests, along with a  heaping amount of homesickness and the realization that home was decidedly different, and, well…you catch my drift.

Plus, my birthday is November 3rd. I am a person who lives in conflict with the day of their birth. I want the fact of my existence to be celebrated, but I don’t want to be confronted with the things left undone at the end of another year. I wasn’t always this way. In my teens and early 20s, I was actually quite the ambitious birthday haver. There was my 17th birthday, when I had an Academy Award themed costume party. Or my 24th when I threw a joint Murder Mystery Dinner Party with my birthday buddy Sam. But as my 20s have gone on, a switch has been flipped that makes my insides writhe in panic as my birthday approaches.

So, consequently, I usually approach November fighting anxiety armed with liquor and snark. I hide out or argue. I grumble. And all of this tends to last until I start getting excited about Thanksgiving, and pie, and family interactions out of a movie that have no actual bearing on reality or the family I really have. That leads right into more grumbling and usually extended Gilmore Girls viewing sessions and coffee spiked with Baileys.

All that, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

But not this year. In the throws of romancing a new novel, and in the thick of filming a short film, my usual moody, broody ugliness has become something different.

It has been a long time since I have been able to face November with more than a scowl and some empty threats. But as I, and the rest of the writing community gear up for NaNo, and November reminds me how I hate it and love it, threatening another Thanksgiving where I want to hide in the kids playroom with a bottle of whiskey and a puzzle, reminding me there is still no word on my novel, there is still no certainty that this year I will be braver, or smarter, or skinnier; I don’t flinch.

I make fake blood. I sew a coffin cover. I write 5,000 words in a week. I let anxiety settle around me, driving me forward not holding me back.

I realize I’m not alone. Not in wanting to be further along in my writing journey than I am. Not in dreading the last birthday in my 20s. Not in any of it.

Right now, writers all around the world are sitting at their computers, or are working at their day jobs, or are chasing their toddlers, and they are all feeling as wondrously uncertain and filled with anticipation as I. What NaNo reminds me of is that at the core of everything we do we nurture a simple, visceral need to connect. To know that this game is played by others. That we move along the road, not alone in our misery, not separate in our celebration, but as a part of the larger, the greater, the wider. That what we want is also what someone else wants. That what we see and feel, is felt by others.

Knowing we aren’t really alone in the struggle against sagging boobs and underachievement allows us to stop fighting the losing battle, and get to the one we can win. And so this year, November taunts, but I can’t hear her jeers over the sound of my writing playlist and encouragement from fellow writers huddled in the trenches beside me.