Colombia has a fascinating and functional health care system that the United States could learn a lot from. Somehow, a country with a fraction of U.S. GDP has created a sytem that provides everywhere from basic to luxury health care for its entire population, even the very poorest. Read the essay here.
So I’ve done it. Finished. Completed my first novel. At least so far as it can be completed. And you know what?
I don’t mean to say that the writing sucks. I consider myself a decent writer, whatever others may think. But the structure sucks. I started out with this idea of a kind of double-threaded structure, using a historical event and an event in my own life that I saw as related and significant to one another, highly fictionalized of course.
Then I got lost along the way.
My first problem was I started playing with time from the get-go. I had one thread running forward and the other backward and I thought it was interesting how one revealed itself in context of the other and in light of known information (i.e. knowing the end before the beginnning). But after drafting that I looked at it and realized that it just wasn’t working.
So I set about rearranging the timeline. All right, I thought, if I just put this all back in order, then it will work. Nope. By that point the threads were so mismatched that I was just going to have to rip one out and start the whole weave anew. One thread was solid. The other just wasn’t matching up right.
That isn’t to say it was bad. On the contrary, I like a lot of what I wrote in that second, poorly lined thread. But it just didn’t match with the first. It didn’t “work” in writing parlance.
I think that I got too hung up on what I was doing and forgot to focus on how I was doing it. I was writing a novel, fleshing out characters, giving them structure and events and histories and lives. But I forgot to pay enough attention to how they were all linking up with each other in the long run. By the end, I realized, you (the reader) are just not sure what one part has to do with the other.
So I scrapped it. Not into the trash. But that second thread had to be picked out of the narrative so I could figure out what was wrong with it. What was wrong, I decided, is that it just didn’t fit with the story. It was too far off. The thing in my life didn’t match up that well with the thing in the past, or I hadn’t made it match well. It’s something I will have to carefully consider. Whether to rework that other thread and make it match the way I wanted to, or create a whole new one that will fit better with one or the other. I’m beginning to suspect the latter, though I’m loathe to consider the repercussions. That is, writing half the book all over again.
But it’s OK. This was a valuable exercise if nothing else. The thing isn’t fit to be published in its current state, but someday it will be. And in the meantime I can devote myself to other projects. Writing this proved, to myself, that I can do it. That I am capable of taking on a project of those proportions and of completing it, at least in the original sense of what I set out to do. Also of realizing its flaws and what needs to be done to correct them.
One big step along a strange and winding path leading to perhaps, one day, being able to call myself a writer.
In 2016, I spent about six months living in Nicaragua, between the northern coastal university town of León and the capital Manague. This essay is about a weekend trip I took to visit a surfer friend who had been living there for many years. Read it here.
Thoughts on a six-week trip I took through Ecuador and Peru in early 2018. Read it here.
The way I understand it, the purpose of starting a blog is to update it with regular little posts. Perhaps even to become popular. Monetize.
Obviously none of that has been on my mind for almost the last year or so.
Funny how our best intentions always seem to get away from us. But writing is like working out. If you don’t do it a little bit each day you’re going to lose the habit. The muscle will get flabby and weak and the harder it will be to get the routine started again. I know this because I used to exercise. Used to.
Last fall I started a major writing project. A work of considerable length and ambition. I found in the beginning that getting that muscle working again was almost a herculean effort. But I did get the motor going again after quite a lot of desperate yanking on the pullcord and now it seems to be purring away nicely. I finished the thing and now I’m rewriting it and I hope that it will be something that you, my nonexistent audience, can enjoy sometime soon.
BUT, now I’m lacking in areas in which to direct that writing energy. To keep the muscle in good working order. I’ve discovered that the writing muscle and the editing muscle are two different things. The writing is more like aerobic, like walking or running or hiking or riding a bike. The editing is more like the sets and reps and leg lifts and squats and all those careful little movements you repeat to get each muscle group working in turn.
Then I remembered that I have a blog.
It’s an easy thing to forget. When that muscle gets out of shape and the idea of kicking it back into gear gets more and more daunting. So the idea is not to let myself forget about it any more. Now that I have some nice toned writing muscles I need to use this thing to help keep them tight.
The goal is to publish something here at least every week. Maybe two weeks if it turns into something longer and more elaborate. I’ve discovered I’m very much a long form writer. Short stories do not come easily to me. I have the greatest admiration for those who can pump out short stories like spitting out watermelon seeds.
Hemingway not known for extreme brevity, wrote the greatest short story I’ve ever seen: “Baby shoes for sale, not used.”
There is so much contained in those six little words and one comma. Minimalism at its finest, before the word even existed. I think. If I can write anywhere remotely that good one day, I think my life will have reached its zenith. Of course the price always seems to be blowing your own brains out over your typewriter. But I don’t have a typewriter.
At any rate, this was just a little warmup. I have some major displays and feats of strength, if not talent, that should be arriving here soon. One at least I can guarantee will be falling hard on all your heads (all of you? who will even read this?) very soon. Those of you who know what I’ve been up to know what I’m talking about.
Ciao for now.
An old essay, written when I first got to Bogotá and was just getting started with a local English teaching program. Read it here.