Don't tell. I declared October 25 "Do Whatever the Hell I Want Day" and started writing toward my 50,000 a full week before NaNoWriMo actually begins.
Last week, I bought myself this adorable Netbook — a 10-inch baby of a laptop that fits in my purse, for Christ's sake — just so I'd have a machine I could carry around for all my silly musings. And I couldn't help but take a stab once it was in my hot little hands. Put together fragments of paragraphs, scattered thoughts in plain text that likely won't actually take shape for weeks. A seriously shitty first draft. Last night, I was feeling a bit down about it. I'd started with the hardest part, of course. The part that happened for me, in real life, about a year ago and continued through the first week in December.
A month and a half that ended up feeling like years.
But the Band-Aid needs to be ripped off. The Band-Aid I put on when I decided it would be too hard to go back through all the weeks where I just stopped writing and fill things in. With all the awful things that happened. That really happened. Not the fake smiles, Vaseline on the teeth, the "Boy, it's a struggle, but it's all worth it!" Just the struggle. It has SUCKED to write, so far. And I'm not even 500 words into it. I'm only writing the introduction, the prologue. The overture. But writing about that time means writing about a different person than who I am now, a weaker version of myself that I don't like to remember ever existed. So I embrace the idea of fiction.
I'm writing a character who wears the same mustard-yellow peacoat as me. Lives in an apartment just like mine, all twists and turns and awkward corners, on a similarly sweet tree-lined street. Who relishes making a bowl of raw cookie dough and eating it on the sofa. Who watches strangers on the bus through big eyes and delights in their growing familiarity with the passage of time. But she's not me. Though she's got a few things on me: She has better hair, and she never has to think twice about how to spell judgment. ("Really? No 'e'?" Every. TIME!)
I embrace fiction.
Fall is always the time I take stock of my life. Think about how I've changed in the past year. Some people do this at New Year's; others consider spring their time to start over and make a change. But for me, it's fall.
When all the leaves tumble to the ground, crushed underfoot. Trees stripped bare to their bark, to all their ugly gnarls and knobs; they beg for a blanket of snow or a string of twinkling lights just to dress them up a little. Conceal what's really there. Fall holds a bittersweet honesty that no other season does. Harsh as that sounds, though, it's my favorite. It's a quick respite between summer's heat and winter's bite, a convivial time to carve pumpkins and roast marshmallows and make a campfire and…wear jackets and plaid.
So it's been a few years since I actually roasted a marshmallow. And scooping out the guts from a pumpkin grosses me out. So fashion it is. Fashion and change, and embracing that change like the fiction on the screen of my tiny new computer.
This time last year, I was on tenterhooks waiting for a man I hardly knew to arrive and spend Halloween with me. Dress up and play pretend for a weekend before everything became almost too real to bear. The leaves barely changed color here at all in 2008, and I found no comfort in Chicago's autumnal crispness; the dry air was all static with squirming anticipation. I knew something was wrong but waited far too long to acknowledge it. And it's taken me every bit of a year to come back around.
Back in touch now, though, with the season I love most. I derive such joy in the crunch of dried reds, yellows and oranges under my shoes, fiddles and acoustic guitars blasting from my iPod — Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss, Joshua Radin, the Dixie Chicks — as drunken football revelers in shiny jerseys bound past me on mute. Cooing at fuzzy baby monkeys and felted bumblebees with pipe-cleaner antennae on their parents' shoulders, strolling through Lincoln Park after an exhausting afternoon of trick-or-treating. Honey Crisp apples dipped in thick caramel sauce. My mom's chili, transported from Kansas City to Chicago in a white plastic trash bag, defrosting on the stove after a day crunching. A pair of mossy-green tights, a rosy plaid wool mini and caramel-leather Fryes, crisp color against the dull grey morning sky on the train platform.
God, and the Knight. Elated to find myself, for the first time in years, climbing one of those soon-to-be-bare trees with someone else as the leaves fall away around us, as the gnarls of the trunk start to show. Seeing all the beauty in those knots and knobs, carrying our own string of lights to the top, ready to cast new light on our past lives and enjoy the view from our big, sturdy branch of the present. Holding hands through Boystown, strolling with Starbucks cups as a cool breeze wafts off the lake and dappled sun warms patches of the sidewalk. Seeking refuge with slices of freshly baked pizza under a heavy layer of sheets and blankets, deep red and chocolate brown, as darkness and cold set in for the night. Talking about the future in the dreamy abstract.
This is the fall I've always imagined for myself. One that sees past the dropped leaves, beyond the snow and ice — full of enough hope to picture spring. Regrowth. Maybe even a full circle.
Things in my life aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but as long as we're embracing fiction? Maybe I can stretch my imagination that much farther, just for today.