A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo 2012, week 2

Is it week 2 already?

I’m all over the place in the stories and characters I’m playing with, and the writing is coming in fits and starts — some days I manage fewer than 1,000 words, some days I knock out twice that many; sometimes I hammer out all the words at night after work, sometimes I clean a few hundred during office hours, and last night I managed several pages of handwritten work in my little paper journal on the light rail coming home from an evening class — but so far, I’m managing to stay more or less on track.

I haven’t written anything new today, so the total will look a little light, but it’s coming. And I’m hoping a day off on Monday will help me get a little ahead again.

In the meantime, here’s some of what I’ve been working on:

from Museum Stories: Devin, with a gift for caricature

Other artists came to compete. The museum security chased them all away. He alone sat on his stool at his easel on the top step outside, catching visitors as they waited in line or slipped out into the evening. The other artists complained, often loudly. When the guards were feeling generous, they would gesture to the doors. “Come in,” they’d say. “Apply for a permit and copy the art. Draw cartoons of Rembrandt — what jowls on that guy! What a hat he wears!” When the guards were out of sorts or low on coffee, they simply shooed the competitors away. “Go out in the park where you belong,” they’d say. “Draw the guy doing yoga. Draw the guy selling balloons.” Once, the guards came out in force and silently erected a velvet rope around the caricaturist. One of them stood by, his arms crossed, and scowled. When the competitors shouted he went round the length of the rope, inching it outward, farther at each corner, blending the competitors into the line, where they turned and stormed away, or forcing them by inches off the top step, down the next, until they fell and spilled to the sidewalk, pages and inkwells scattered on the pavement.

Once every so often — rarely, but perhaps as much as four or five times a year — the caricaturist would tear away the portrait he worked on and turn his easel from the customers. He would hunch over the white tablet, his brush a fury against the paper. The bristles were stiff and they scratched at the grain of the pulp like fingernails in beard stubble. His breathing came quickly, his shoulders quaked. Sometimes an elbow would wing out from behind the easel like a rifleman taking aim. When he finished, he would rip the portrait from the tablet and push past the crowd, through the doors, past reception and behind the long ebony ticket counter and into the cloakroom where visitors lined up with plastic yellow tags, giving or receiving their garments and bags. Past the back row of coats, concealed from view, was a door with a key pad. He would ignore the keypad and knock quickly, four times, and call out “It’s happening.” Sometimes he would say, “It’s happening next Thursday.” Sometimes he would say, “It’s happening in forty-five minutes.” Once, he whispered, “It’s happening the third Wednesday in March, two years from now,” and then he looked at the portrait in his hands and waited. When the door opened he was gone, the portrait folded neatly on the floor with a note on the outside that read, “Never mind.”

from Museum Stories: Carl, with a beautiful singing voice (and the woman in 3B)

Each morning for a week, Jenny B. followed Carl from their apartment building. She had been watching him for three weeks, through the window of her apartment and the window of his, across the quad and up down one floor. He had been singing from his window, across the quad and into her window, for just over three weeks.

His voice was gravelly and had terrible pitch, but the emotion in it was consuming. His breath was deep and his tones came sometimes in hitches and jerks, other times in long scratchy wails. His singing sounded less like a song than like a prayer, a call to god.

And this is what enraged her. The last thing she wanted was for god to appear in her apartment complex, to get anywhere near that close to her. With sight like hers, the revelation would be devastating.

Already she had to keep the shades drawn at night and had ordered heavy blackout curtains. Already she slept with a thick eye mask and the blankets drawn over her head. She woke several times a night soaked in sweat, but she couldn’t remove the blankets. Because already the angels were peering in at the complex, spectral flames and electric lights arcing into the air between the buildings. Few others could see them — the woman below Jenny B, down in 2B, complained of migraines more than usual, and she might have a sense of the angels without knowing for certain what they were — but Jenny B. was inundated by light, was drowning in it.

from Zoo Stories: Stieg, the photographer (can make the penguins pose)

I switch my camera on and lean on the fence but I slip against the rail and cut a gash in my elbow. I swear the leopard rolls its eyes. The blood is on the rail but I can’t afford to feel the cut. I hold the camera still. I get the shot — I get another.

When I shut out everything that happens outside, I can feel the inside ignite and thrum, like a generator in the dark. Sparks in the shadows of my cavity. Flashbulbs — steady, and I get every photo I can see. I’m not capturing on film what comes through the lens, I’m projecting through the viewfinder what I want to capture, and there it is, and I catch it. Snap. The engine revs. The blood from my elbow flows redder, but I don’t feel the outside.

I move on to the lemurs. A young boy points and I pull a spare lens cloth from my bag and wipe away the blood from my elbow. My flesh stings and the feelings on the outside are coming back as inside the engine sputters and threatens to stall. Get some oxygen. Close the valves. Shut it down; rev it up.

The lemurs are docile when I lean on the glass but then I raise my camera and squint one eye and there they are in the viewfinder. The blink and glance my way, then they’re up, all at once. They move in acrobatic leaps, the arcs slowing at their apex and the shutter snaps three rapid clicks, catching all the movement, all the grace of the curled tails and splayed limbs, their lips pulled wide in grins. Exactly the way I wanted to see it. Rapid fire. The engine thrums. The lemurs ricochet from limb to limb, corner to corner. I lower the camera and they settle on their perches, list a little. One drops immediately to sleep.

from Park Stories: Lydia, on business from Texas

Lloyd had stood beside the woman for ten full minutes before she spoke to him. She said, “What am I going to do? I can’t take him on the plane like this.”

Lloyd had sat her in the grass and told her to hold on. “To what?” she’d said. He’d come back with a small cardboard box and his fireplace shovel.

The maples hang with moss and the spruces smell of sap, and a recent rain had sponged the earth. It smells clean. Across the park, some college students play kickball; nearby, a lean man does yoga and a woman throws a ball for her huge dog. Lydia cringes at the dog, but Lloyd touches her shoulder, says, “Don’t worry. They don’t know.”

He walks into a copse of trees, shows her the stones, and she understands without him having to explain. She takes the shovel from him and pokes about until she finds a soft spot on a slope. Here the dirt is loose and easy to shovel, and she sets down the box and begins to dig. Its takes her ten minutes, but she manages a hole the size of the box and about three feet deep. Lloyd is watching; no one notices. She raises the box to her lips and whispers something to it, then she sets the box into the hole and buries it. Away in the park, someone shouts and they hear laughter—a team has scored in the kickball game. Lydia watches through the trees for a while, then turns and walks through the park, Lloyd beside her. No stone marks the cat’s spot.

Total word count as of this post: 13,828 words.

For more about my NaNoWriMo project, check out my NaNoWriMo page here or my profile on the NaNoWriMo website.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

3 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo 2012, week 2

    1. Serendipitous, for sure. Or, the product of our natural inclination toward patterns in language. But either way, I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to have done that on purpose. 🙂

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