May 6, 2017 (Saturday)

by Yule Heibel on May 5, 2018

It was with great dismay yesterday that I faced the reality of the enormous gap between where I am and where I want to be with regard to writing a novel. I compared my word count – and I counted my “research” folder as well, which does contain many descriptions, some dialogs, scenes, and characterizations – to what I would need to hit for novel length, and, well, let’s just say that even adding zeroes to the end of my current number leaves me very much short.

I suppose it doesn’t mean I can’t get there, but I’m sensing the difference between trying to write meaningfully – which can be slow and arduous and dependent on circumstance – and hitting a word count. Which frankly can be somewhat mechanical. In that difference there’s something important. Structure, perhaps.

I’m struggling with chapters and plot. With story, in a way. Sort of. I know the basic story, and even the why: A.P. can’t be “contained” and must die. Post-death, she tells her story in flashbacks. But for a novel, really a lot has to happen in between. The dynamic of A.P.’s and “X”‘s and Max’s story right now is dependent on very few things, and I’m faced with the difficulty of creating more; more things upon which their characters are dependent for their salience.

I’m also trying to adhere to the “show, don’t tell” dictate, which really curtails the word count, too. There are a lot of words in telling, less in showing. Maybe more “tell” is in order, as long as “show” remains in the forefront.

I thought yesterday also of the gap that isn’t.

I looked at just one of Boym’s online works (about a train trip from New York City to Boston, and taking photos), and I thought, “Really?” It all seemed …quite thin; and since I was also finishing Lauren Elkin’s book, Flaneuse, which has similarly thin-yet-heavy-on-the-word-count passages, I couldn’t help comparing the two, and also myself.

Had I been led, it occurred to me, I could be in a much better and different place. But from the start – that is, since early childhood – being led was something I objected to. I didn’t know about Nazis as a child, but I knew – could feel – injustice and the absence of loving kindness. I did not want to be led into more of that absence. The pattern of resistance (I was chided for it often by my father) – ah, “resistance“: such a popular word these days, and such a useless, often jejune if not downright self-destructive stance – shaped my behavior. I disliked 90% of my teachers at school, at the many schools I passed through; I disliked being told how to behave, what to think or believe. I was in some ways quite unteachable, a regular little heathen barbarian. All of which makes my complaints about nonexistent mentorship at Harvard shaky. Yes, it was nonexistent, but by then I seemed to choose situations where it was absent. I still hate my advisor (he was terrible; not as a scholar, but as an advisor and mentor), but no one forced me to study with him. I chose him, and it was a mistake. Had I known myself as well then as I perhaps do now, I would have run from him. But I chose him so I could avoid being led. Avoid being shaped or mentored. Supported. It all derives from childhood. I wonder what I have done to my own children… Hard to contemplate.

Yesterday I was invited by S.A. to take a tour of the Freemasons Hall being converted to condos. All I can say is, “Wow.” I came away thinking, “I want in, I want that top floor condo with the view.”

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