It’s Over

Remember in the Looney Tunes how Wile E. Coyote would go chasing the Roadrunner all over creation? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? (If you don’t, please feel free to exit the ride.) And then the Roadrunner would take a turn really quickly or leap a great chasm and the Coyote would miss it and just keep running straight off the end of the cliff, but as long as he didn’t look down — as long as he wasn’t aware of his mortal peril — he was okay. I think I can identify with the poor guy.

The first draft is done. It’s over. Finished. Put a fork in it. Aaand I pretty much hate it. Like, I’m fairly certain it’s among the worst things ever written, and I’ve read Twilight.  For all the reviewing I do at the start of every writing session, for all the time I spend thinking about the damn thing, I feel as if I’ve had a bit of Luke Skywalker tunnel-vision (stay on target) on it for the last month or so, and I’ve been so focused on catching the Roadrunner I hadn’t noticed that I’d gone over the edge of the cliff.  But now the chase is over — Roadrunner escaped, naturally, otherwise I’d be looking at a perfect draft — and it feels like there’s nothing left for me to do but look down so that I can get on with the business of falling to my death.

Is this how it’s supposed to feel??

Four months have gone into this project.  Four months of writing over 900 words a day, five days a week, and I NEVER MISSED A DAY outside of the week I took off when my daughter was born.  The commitment, back when I first made it, was a ludicrous one; the fact that I followed through leads me to believe that I’m actually living in a parallel universe right now, like somehow I skewed off from a reality wherein I should have crashed and burned and wound up in this altered state where I diverged and finished the mission.  It shouldn’t have happened so cleanly, so efficiently, so very on schedule.  That’s not how I operate.  IT’S ALL WRONG.  And yet I have it.  Backed up in three different locations, saved in three different formats, it’s now for all intents and purposes done.  I expected to hear choirs of mothertrucking angels on LSD, I expected an euphoric lightheadedness, I expected to literally step onto a beam of sunshine and sail off into the ether when I finished this thing.  Instead, I feel like I’m about to step in front of a firing squad.

Don’t get me wrong.  The sense of accomplishment is there.  It’s impossible, I think, to write ninety thousand words and not feel a sense of “well, I definitely did that” about it.  And I do feel good about the story I’ve written… in general.  I’m pleased with the way the conflicts unfolded, with the way (most of) the characters developed, with (a fair chunk of) the prose.  But there are holes.  Good god almighty, are there holes.  Let me count the ways.

I’m pretty sure any semblance of a voice that I had in writing the thing dissolved after the first act.  I wrote the beginning of the thing with great swagger and confidence, having a grand old time and chuckling to myself at how clever my bits of prose were.  Everything after that was crawling over broken glass through a minefield.  No room for eloquence. No time for embellishment.  Just raw, ugly, get-the-work-done-and-stay-the-fargo-down boring writing.  I feel like after the first twenty thousand words or so, the thing reads like an instruction manual.  In German.  If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember that I used to post my favorite passage that I’d written in the day.  I’ve not posted a favorite passage in over a month.  THAT AIN’T COINCIDENCE, COWBOY.

The ending sucks.  It’s really terrible.  I mean, I guess I like what happens but the way I told it, the way I framed it, the way I presented it feels all wrong.  It’s like a Picasso painting, all funny angles and misshapen bits and awkward forced perspective, except I didn’t do it on purpose to make you think, it just came out that way because I’m awful and OH GOD WHY DID I THINK I COULD DO THIS.

Loose ends.  The thing has so many unresolved bits, so many loose ends and characters and plotlines left flapping in the wind that it’s like trying to count the untied shoelaces in a kindergarten class.  And don’t get me started on Velcro, god knows if I could’ve used Velcro on my story it wouldn’t have turned into the Gordian Knot of snarled action that i is.  The thought of tying up those loose ends makes my fingers hurt.

Just thinking about it is enough to make me want to curl up with a bottle of whiskey and drink until the whole thing goes away.  Maybe the best thing that could happen is that I black out and destroy my backups and we forget this whole thing ever happened.  That could work, right?  I honestly hate the draft so much right now.  I hate it for being so bad.  I hate the time I spent on it for being wasted in producing such a monolithic pile of dogsharknado.  And mostly I hate myself for actually thinking this was a thing I might be good at, because I can look at virtually any part of the draft and realize that IT CLEARLY ISN’T.

And yet.

The fact that I hate it gives me pause, because it means I can tell the good from the bad, and that’s worth something, isn’t it?  And the fact that I care that it’s awful is encouraging, because it speaks to a dissatisfaction that is calling out for improvement, and that’s worth something, isn’t it?  I mean, if it were awful and I didn’t hate it, then I might as well just pack it in right now, yeah?  But I don’t feel that.  I hate it and it’s awful but I don’t feel done; in fact I can’t wait to get started on the task of fixing it up so that it doesn’t suck quite so bad.  And that’s worth something, isn’t it?

Mixed feelings, no doubt.  But the draft is done, and that can’t be taken away from me, and that’s a pretty major fargoing accomplishment.  So as much as I hate it, I’m going to cling to that for now and be happy with it.  At least, I’ll try to be happy with it.

Good talk.  More to say about the first draft later, but for now, it’s time to give it some room to breathe so that I don’t feel the urge to accidentally delete / destroy / burn it.

Happy Trail (No, not that kind of happy trail)

New running resolution: find a way to run on a trail at least once a month.  This is going to be a difficult one for me to keep, for a couple of reasons.

First, and most importantly, is the time it takes.  The nearest trail to me is about a fifteen minute drive.  Now that’s not much, but when you consider that my time is as precious as dolla dolla bills between kids and writing time and occasionally spending some time with the wife, fifteen minutes out and back in addition to the time it takes to actually complete the run makes it a not-insignificant factor.

Second, on a more practical note, is that it’s very very difficult to get a run in by myself lately.  The vast majority of my runs over the summer (and by vast majority I really do mean all but maybe two or three runs in the last six weeks) have been completed from behind the stroller, pushing his highness the sprout around like a sheik on a fancy rickshaw.  (Is that how you spell sheik?  Spellcheck is telling me it’s wrong either way.  Technology!)  Trails are not stroller-friendly, at least not the type of trails I’m talking about.

Third, and most sillily (yep), I have to drive to the trail.  This sort of goes against my zen minimalist philosophy of running, which is that you just step out the front door and go.  Add in a drive to a running location and I might as well be shelling out $20 a month to pound a treadmill into oblivion.  Okay, that’s not a perfect comparison with driving to a trail, but this is really the way my mind works.

So it will be tough to get out there even once a month.  But, ah, trails!  They delight.  Especially for a road warrior like me, there are some things you get from running on a trail that street miles just can’t even touch.

  1. I’m off the roads.  This could be its own list, but being able to complete a run without having to worry about drivers not seeing me and turning me into road pizza gives me more peace of mind than it probably should.  I had no idea how much space that tiny fear was taking up in my mind on every run.  It just evaporates on a trail.
  2. Nature smells nice.  Even just a few miles outside of town, the air changes a bit and it feels easier to breathe.  This is probably because, on the trails in my area at least, I’m surrounded by a literal oxygen factory.
  3. Shade.  Holy god, it’s hot out.  Have you noticed?  90% of the trail I covered today was engulfed in fantastical, splendiferous, glorious shade.  On my typical routes I’m lucky if I see shade for thirty seconds at a time; today, it was the sunlight on me that was the rarity.  Again, this point alone is worth virtually the price of admission in its own right.
  4. The quiet.  There’s so much ambient noise when I run around the suburbs — even in my own neighborhood — that just isn’t there out in the woods.  I don’t feel compelled to plug in headphones to block out the dull roar; rather, I feel like leaving them out entirely.  Wearing headphones in the woods almost seems a sacrilege, like I’m bringing something profane onto hallowed ground.
  5. The workout.  Even the gnarliest of roads won’t give you a hill to climb like the ones I saw today.  My calves and quads are burning just thinking about it.  The ascents and descents are sharp, sudden, and sometimes without warning, and there are rocks and roots to hop over or sidestep, which brings me to the next point:
  6. You can’t tune it out.  I think there’s value in being able to meditate, to detach and unplug and just go on autopilot during a run, and roads are great for that.  Surfaces are (generally) uniform, so you don’t have to watch your feet so much as the oncoming traffic. Generally you can leave your brain at home.  Trails are not nearly so detached.  The rocks and roots and sudden drops and uneven surfaces can send you sprawling in a heartbeat, or twist your ankle if you’re really unlucky.  Each step has to be carefully chosen and plotted, which means you’re always scanning the ground in front of you, plotting the best course.  It sounds like it should be taxing, but it’s actually rather Zen, I think.  You have to be in the moment and incredibly focused, but there’s calm in that.
  7. Spiderwebs.  Aargh running through spiderwebs is the worst and I am pretty sure I still have spiders down my back twelve hours later SERIOUSLY WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THE SPIDERWEBS

Road runs, even runs where I really run like the zombies are chasing me, do not leave me feeling wrecked like I feel today after four miles on the trails at Clinton Nature Preserve.  It was exhausting and invigorating and it reminds me that I really do have to make an effort to leave the roads behind now and then.

Now to run an ice bath for my aching, pummeled feet…