Romancing the Procrastination

Do you doodle when you should be writing?

OK.  For National Novel Writing Month, I’m deep into Act 2, the long middle, the oh-no-one-dang-thing-after-another part and — what is that sock doing there — and should I make espresso or run out to Starbucks — is there any milk left and why can’t anyone tell me if they’ve drunk the last of it so I can go out and get more – can I send someone to get it — and shouldn’t I really make a Thanksgiving countdown “To Do” list for food prep, and ….

Asterisks - for those times when time elapses!

I took a phone call (forgot to turn off the ringer for a writing sprint), and I’ve left my heroine stranded in the Hamptons in July with a bad sunburn and she is torn because she really likes this guy but she’d rather be back at air-conditioned work in the City and – do we have any cookies in the house?

Must get back to writing… must get back to writing.  Maybe handwriting will jumpstart me.  Is there any paper in the house?  A pen?  How about the flap from a box of whatever?  You know, reduce, reuse, and recycle?

Distraction and procrastination are harsh masters.  If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see that I even became distracted from my distraction when I began to misspell “doodle.”  Misspell “doodle,” people!

That would drive my heroine crazy.  She has enough problems without me!  The guy she likes will be going back on the road soon (he’s a Minor League player) and this is her chance to connect with him.  But sunburn.  I gotta get her back to the City.  Now.

Love of La Bella Supermoon

Supermoon 2016 HaileyReede

Supermoon = Full Moon (or, technically speaking, a new moon) + Occurring at the Time of the Moon’s Closest Point to the Earth (perigee) in Its Monthly Orbit.

For some, a regular old full moon is a time of romance  –

Theatrical release poster designed by Olga Kaljakin as per Go see it - or see it again!

– or maddness, or high tides.  This one, this 2016 supermoon, is the closest, largest full moon since 1948.

Supermoons, special supermoons, 1948, Cher – distractions or plot bunnies during this demanding time of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Post Month?

Alas, this November 2016 supermoon itself was not much of a distraction here in New York City.  The sky was intermittently overcast and rainy.  What’s a girl to do?  Hence, I supplied my own supermoon (see first photo).  And then, why not an owl?

Romancing the NaNoWriMo Win Hailey wins NaNoWriMo 2014. This is the certificate.

55,142 Words Later

For our first assignment in law school, even before any class had convened, we were to read an article that appeared to be written in English – with a soupçon of Latin thrown in for good measure.  We all knew, for example, what the word “summary” meant.  Heck, in high school and/or college, most of us had probably bought summaries of, say, novels in which we should have luxuriated, but had only two nights to master.  Similarly, “judgment” was quite familiar to all of us.  But, and some of you are probably way ahead of me here, put them both together, and “summary judgment” is, at best, a distant cousin in meaning to it’s commonly used components.

Because I know some of you will not sleep unless you know the definition of “summary judgment,” a workable definition is this: it is a court’s judgment for one party and against the other party where there is no dispute between the parties as to material fact regarding the dispute or a portion of the dispute.  That raises the issue of “what is a material fact,” which leads me back to the article.

As I recall, the article’s author taunted us misguided, over-confident, know-it-all, former skim-the-assignment-and-regurgitate-it-on-the-test kids to persevere even in the face of having to redefine reality.  Words we thought we knew had strange meanings and were combined oddly.  It sounded like English, but, then again, it didn’t.  Towards the end of the piece, the author noted that we had probably skipped over dozens of words and phrases in order to complete the reading instead of dutifully looking everything up.  Yup.  Guilty as charged.

Eventually, and this means, for me, a few years later, all of those words were part of my everyday lexicon.  I didn’t skip any of those semi-English, sometimes Latin phrases; I scoured prior legal opinions and statutes for them.  And, in using them, I had lost that “new driver” feeling.

One of the Latin phrases in the article was res ipsa loquitur – meaning: the thing speaks for itself.  It’s often used when referring to negligence cases, and – –

OK, I’ll stop with the Intro to Law class.

In my small section in law school, there was a woman who married our Contracts professor after our first year.  Inside her wedding band, he had the jeweler inscribe, “res ipsa.”  Her finger was too small for the “loquitur” and it didn’t matter.  For a bunch of tough, analytical curs, we were all swoony over the romantic symbolism.  We’d pass her in the hallway sometimes and greet her with an admiring “Res ipsa, baby!

Which brings me to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Late yesterday, I made it to 55,142 words of my romance quartet.  I haven’t fully digested the experience.  I’m going to let the manuscript rest, like yeast dough, for a few days before I edit, rearrange, add to, and punch it down.  In the midst of writing 50,000+ words on one story line, several others invaded my imagination.  I jotted them down, and refocused.

On the NaNoWriMo website, if you are a registered user (it’s free, and I am), you have the ability to upload your daily word count, and then to upload your novel (it is immediately scrambled and deleted) to have that count validated.  You are sent a link to the NaNo staff cheering you with congratulations – it is awesome.  Then, you are provided with a link to your completion certificate.  Mine is above.

This win was a huge experience and maybe I’ll write more about it later.  In the meanwhile, as per my completion certificate, above, res ipsa, baby.

Romance Reading

My mom didn’t ban romance reading – neither books nor comics — when I was a kid.  She was much too smart for that.  Instead, I had access to my parents’ bookshelves (Freud on Wit and Humor was memorable), my mom read age-appropriate stories to me (in “voices” – heaven!), she read grown-up appropriate works to me (selections from the then current Best American Short Stories and the like), and she supplied heaps of appropriate books for me to read on my own.  I devoured biographies of Clara Barton, Helen Keller, and Thomas Alva Edison, “realistic” adventure fiction such as Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, classics such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Little Men, a pale tooled leather tome entitled Wonder Tales of Old Japan, and Danny Kaye’s Around the World Story Book.

There was a huge Doubleday bookstore on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets.  My mother and I would make our pilgrimages to buy books there – the children’s section was in the back on the left.

To satisfy our more lowbrow tastes, we went to our neighborhood newspaper and magazine store, Epstein’s.  It doesn’t exist anymore.  Where Epstein’s once stood, on the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 93rd Street, is now an upscale restaurant, Le Paris Bistrot Français.,+New+York,+NY+10128/@40.7851417,-73.9556874,3a,60y,303h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sKag6EdvVxkfXMUNfRDTpMw!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x89c258a3d0753de9:0x2a1ddb0d22b80fdc!6m1!1e1

Le Paris Bistrot Français is on the right.

No matter.  Back then, Epstein’s was a tiny Wonderland for me.  There were zillions of comic books from which to choose – all just inside the door to the right.  My mom must have steered me towards the relatively innocent Archie series while she browsed fashion magazines or bought The New York Times.  She never bought gossip magazines – she told me they were hurtful and untrue.

Actually, the gossip magazine discussion often seguéd into a discussion of McCarthyism, blacklists, and how the beneficent power of The Press can be corrupted if we, The People, are not vigilant.  Then, I was taught never to sign a petition for anything because the header information on the petition, the very words that induced one to sign the thing in the first place, could be, and sometimes were, easily removed and different material could be substituted (before scanners and home computers, mind you) so that your name could be used to support a Communist cause.  And then you might never get a job.

But I digress.

Romance paperbacks and comics, with their melodramatic covers, were looked down upon in my home.

And so I read mom-approved works ~ until my one encounter with a romance comic book.  For purists and comic book devotees, it could have been True Romance or perhaps Secret Hearts.  Or one of their close relatives.

Across the hall from our apartment, two girls, P and K, and their mom moved in.  P was about two years older than me, and K was two years older than P.  That made K unreachably cool.  K had little use for P, but she taught me how to draw a cardigan.  P and I often played together, tumbling in and out of each other’s apartments.

One day, when I was across the hall, waiting for P and K to finish getting ready so that we could go out, my eyes fell upon the not-explicitly forbidden bounty, a romance comic book.  A Benday-dotted young teenage girl with a blonde ponytail and Capri pants was sitting in a tree looking down upon the slightly older (not creepy older) handsome boy-next-door.  It’s possible his name was Brad.  He was passing by in a convertible with a raven-haired beauty.  Our Benday-dotted heroine was desperately in love with Brad, but he barely knew she was alive.  Oh, the heartache!

Once in a while, if she mustered enough courage to greet him, he’d wave, “Hi, kiddo,” (or so I remember).  From her window, or from behind a fence, she watched as he squired around one after the other of sophisticated teen beauties.  You knew they were sophisticated by their coiffures, shoulder-exposing dresses, and thick eyelashes.

Then, he went off to war.  She grew into a late-teen Benday-dotted beauty, and she always thought of Brad, no matter what she was doing or whom she was with.

This wasn’t an actual specimen from that comic, but it is evocative of the genre:

And then ~ Brad returned home!  He was a changed man, and not for the better.  He sported a head bandage and used crutches.  He was no longer carefree.  There was no longer a bevy of beauties around him.  I don’t think Brad could drive anymore.  Somehow, I think our Benday-blondie offered to help him – or maybe his mother welcomed her to help him.  Brad didn’t quite remember Our Girl.  Oh, Brad!  Oh, the heartache!

The bittersweet end (and, spoiler alert if you ever find this comic from the 1960s) is that he fell in love with her, and she remained in love with him, even though the comic book made it quite plain that she would be doing some serious caregiving in the happily-ever-after.

My first and only romance comic – and pretty heady stuff for a kid.  I think I read the whole thing standing up near K and P’s dining table right inside their front door.  It was an oh-no-he-didn’t/oh-no-she-didn’t page-turner.  Then, P and K were ready and we went out to play.

I didn’t hide this reading experience from my mother, but I never thought to discuss it with her, either.  We had bigger fish to fry when I allotted more time to Archie than I did to my summer reading one year.  That resulted in a comic book ban altogether.  It was back to Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and Louise Andrews Kent’s He Went With Marco Polo: A Story of Venice and Cathay.

It wasn’t long after that that artist Roy Lichtenstein appeared to burst on the art scene, recontextualizing the art of comic romances, stripping them of their extended narrative, but preserving their intensity of emotion.  My parents were big fans of the work of Lichtenstein; I am, too.

Abruzzo’s original art (left) upon which Lichtenstein’s pop art interpretation was based (right).

My parents and I, however, did not delve into the merits of the original works, not the art nor the stories, that inspired Lichtenstein. I’m sorry, now, that we never discussed Lichtenstein’s source material, or my reading of it, on its own merits.

I would love to have known what my mom thought about true romance.

Backing-up Romance

For all those participating in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), this chapter is for you.

She ran her fingers over the scar on back of his muscular index finger….

 Nah.  Backspace, backspace, backspace, backspace.

“What’s this,” she whispered as she stroked the calcified scar on his muscular left index finger….

It was Day 5 of NaNoWriMo and Belleluluflower had her doubts.  Was her romance novel on the right track?  Could she finish it?  Should she finish it?  Wouldn’t it be more productive to produce a non-fiction manual that would be Good for the World?  She activated her screensaver, slipped into her flats, and headed out.

“I did this crazy thing,” she said to Coach, “I signed up for not only NaNoWriMo, but also, NaBloPoMo –”

Coach’s eyes widened.  She noticed.  “So, wait.  I know that’s crazy.  But I’m wondering if I should set this aside altogether and go back to my non-fiction.”

The coach took a deep breath.  “Belleluluflower,” he closed his eyes, “Whenever there is extra stress in your life, you dream up new projects.” Belleluluflower looked sheepish.

“No, no, Belleluluflower,” Coach comforted, “Having so many ideas is a good thing.  Make a list, jot them in a notebook, create a special document.  But Finish This Novel.”

“Really?” she said. “I think that you might be the only one who believes in my novel –”

Coach smiled enigmatically.

“Except for my BFF in California; she likes my novel, too,” she finished.

“There is joy in finishing.  There is fear of rejection in finishing.  But you must enter the realm of Project Finished to move beyond….”

On the walk home from Coach, Belleluluflower called her BFF.

“Listen, BFF,” she said over the crackly transcontinental transmission, “What should I do?  Maybe we could write a Great Legal Treatise together?  Or I could go back to my Good for the World solo project?”

“No!” crackled the bestie, “You must [crackle crackle] finish your [crackle] novel because [crackle] and I want to read all of it as soon as you finish!”

That was enough for Belleluluflower.  The Universe was telling her, through the availability of Coach and BFF, to get back to work.  She fumbled in her cross-body bag and retrieved her key a half block away from her apartment door, ready for her slender, but muscular, fingers to pounce upon the keyboard.

At her dining table, Belleluluflower’s laptop awaited.  She hit a key, and the interchanging beach scenes faded away, revealing her manuscript on the screen.

First her eyes, then her slender left index finger traced the calcified scar along his thumb.  He flexed his hand lazily, as a lion stretches its paw.  Then, suddenly, his muscular fingers entrapped her wrist.  He pulled her close and she could smell his salty – –


The screen went back.  No.  Really.  My laptop went black.  And, despite some prescient warnings on the NaNoWriMo website about having one’s work backed up, mine, alas was not.

Was this A Sign from the Universe to stop?  Or a swift Universe kick in the keister to own my project.  I choose the latter and embrace my resilience.  I found another computer, and, tomorrow, will see the good folks at Tekserve.

Let this be a warning!  Back up your work!

The Romance of Feedback: NaBloPoMo versus NaNoWriMo

I once had lunch with a writer, someone I knew well from high school, who had brought her play for me to read – in front of her.  The play was cleverly written; it was a roman à clef – or, perhaps more properly, une pièce de theatre à clef.  It was about office politics that she had experienced and there was a vampire replete with cape and the other accoutrements of vampiredom.

Every time I laughed or my eyes popped, she’d grab the manuscript away from me and say, “Where are you?  What did you just read?”

This lunch took place at a time when the internet seemed like a private communication system between MIT and a few other, select, research universities.  In-person was it, baby, for immediate feedback on your work.

Writers need feedback.

It’s easier today.  Now, we email and blog.

With that in mind, I have begun the first three days of November writing for NaBloPoMo first, and avoiding NaNoWriMo until I could delay no further.  The results speak for themselves:


This leads me to the work of University of Pennsylvania research psychologist Angela Duckworth.  Duckworth is associated with studies on “grit,” that is, persistence and passion for long term goals.  An individual’s high “grit” factor correlates with success and leadership.  Says Duckworth and her coauthors:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.  The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.  Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

 Marathon?  Check.  Stamina?  Check.  Disappointment leading to change in trajectory.  Hmmmm.  I’d like to ask Angela about this one.  Isn’t an essential element of learning the ability of an individual, whether rat or human, to modify or change behavior in response to feedback?  Is that not a definition of “change in trajectory?”  My NaNoWriMo word-count stats were, well, disappointing if my goal is the community-unifying 50K – although I am on track to finish 16,000 words (my individual goal) well before the end of the month.

I think I’m going to define myself right back in the game – while modifying my strategy to begin tomorrow with my novel (NaNoWriMo), and blog (NaBloPoMo) after.  What about you?

The New York City Marathon Is Not Like Writing Romance

In New York City today, we held the New York City Marathon.  The Marathon is a glorious thing, the amalgam of thousands of stories, the many personal triumphs, and, I hope, only a few disappointments.  The Marathon lends itself to all kinds of analogizing to writing and, in particular to NaNoWriMo.  There’s preparation, practice, repetitive training, even, possibly healthy eating, pushing oneself to one’s limit and beyond, and persistence.  As I watched the runners, however,


I was struck with how linear their progress was, and how non-linear mine seems to be.

A few nights ago, as I was driving to my son’s school for a grade-wide presentation, a whole chunk of a story came to me – the premise, the dialogue, the obstacle.  It’s as if the Heavens were dictating.  I even remembered enough of it to write it down after the drive, after the school meeting.  And, of course, it is not part of the novel on which I am working for National Novel Writing Month.  Still, it is progress, even if it is not linear.