The Siren Song of November

National Novel Writing MonthIt’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about November. Yes, I know it’s only the middle of October, but today is the day that National Novel Writing Month opened it’s site for this year’s novels.

I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2001, just  two months after 9/11. I’d heard about the challenge the previous year at a holiday party, just days into December. I knew I would be writing with them when November came around again.

That year–their third annual–there were only about 500 participants. In October I got onto the forums to connect with other writers in my area. A couple of us met once a week in a bookstore coffee shop to crank out words and commiserate. The experience was liberating and empowering. I finished my novel, Wake, on November 30th at 50,057 words.

In 2002, I became the local Municipal Liaison for the Silicon Valley chapter, organizing write-ins, throwing kick-off, half-way, and TGIO parties. I got to know the founder, Chris Baty. I finished my second novel, Anatomy.

In 2003, I took over the ML program, organizing more than 300 Municipal Liaisons across the globe, providing press release templates, wrangling giveaway mailings, and providing advice on how to handle difficult participants and inspire those who needed it. I also founded a sister program, National Novel Editing Month, to help writers take their novels from draft to done. And I still managed to finish my book, Glass Cases.

In 2004, I moved to San Francisco, leaving my Silicon Valley group in the hands of others, and though I was still involved, coordinating cross-region writing events and challenges, life got in the way. Between an expanded work schedule and buying a house, I didn’t finish my novel. I also handed off the Editor-in-Chief position for National Novel Editing Month to someone else.

I was away from NaNoWriMo for five years, returning in 2010 for another win with my novel, The Herbal Companion. I had planned to do the same in 2011, but a cross-country move from San Francisco to Santa Fe sapped my concentration, and another novel met the end of November incomplete. In 2013, I decided to change my approach, writing 350 words 3 times a week, but again fell short with just over 21,000 words and no end in sight.

It’s easy to say this year will be different, but what I’m really hoping for is for it to be the same. The same as those first three years when the writing came easy, words flowing from my pen like someone else was writing them. The same as when I had a community of writers, scratching or clicking away beside me as we sat on thick-cushioned couches at the back of our favorite coffee shop until closing, writing each other into our stories. Sharing giant oatmeal cookies, drinking warm coffees or vanilla steamers.

Moving to a new town can, at first, take the wind out of your sails. But it only takes a few people to get you sailing again. Now, armed with my small cadre of writers, I am aching for the first cold days of November after the last haunted night of October during which, at 12:00 midnight I will scratch out the first, well-rehearsed lines of my 2014 November novel, the one that has been, is, building pressure within me longing for its release.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Future

The thing about change is that you never know where it will go. A little over three years ago things were bad. My job was bad. My living situation was bad. My relationship was bad. My health was bad. Of course I’d been working hard to change all that. At the beginning of July, 2010 I had an offer for a new job on its way, an offer in on a beautiful house in a quiet ocean-side suburb of San Francisco, a new understanding with my boyfriend after a near breakup, and  improvements in my health due to a strict new diet that banned gluten, soy, nightshades, and all sugar, as well as many other things I had been eating every day. I had even been accepted to a graduate program called Action for a Viable Future, that would help me begin to have a more positive impact on the world.

I was sure I was on my way to a better life, until one day in the middle of the month a layoff in the company I had interviewed made them retract my pending offer, my house bid was declined for a lower offer, and the graduate program was cancelled for lack of enrollment. I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me.

A few days later I was talking to a coworker about her recent trip to Santa Fe. She told me how she had met writer Natalie Goldberg in a cafe, how Natalie was teaching writing workshops, and that we should go. A few weeks later my friend had to pull out, but I knew I needed to get away from everything, so I booked the workshop and my flights and went alone.

That retreat was September, 2010. In January I asked for a leave of absence to spend the next year in Santa Fe studying with Natalie. They gave me six months. When that six months was over, I quit, found a more permanent address, and stayed, thinking I would finally finish that novel and become the writer I’d always known I could be.

Things don’t always work out how you expect. I did study with Natalie that year and into the next. I published some poems in local journals and papers. I even finished the first draft of that novel I’d been working on. But what I really discovered was that more than anything, what made me feel most at peace, what brought me the most joy, was returning to something I’d learned to do when I was ten–making quilts. And not just making quilts, the promise of how quilts can help make this world a better place, by comforting those who need comfort, by helping people heal from trauma and feel they are loved, by representing and commenting on injustice or pain in the world, by inviting people to become creative forces for good.

That is why I created this site and blog, this idea that by doing something I love in a way that has meaning I could make a difference not just for others but for myself. Being broken makes it harder to heal others. Heal yourself first and not only do you have more to give, you have a story you can share. A story of hope. A story of change. A story of finding joy.

I am still writing my story. I have found my passion, but having given up my high-tech salary, I now work three jobs (more when I can get freelance work) to make ends meet. I find myself stuck in a kinder, gentler version of the same trap, with little time or energy to create. Living a life that still doesn’t feel like the life I’ve longed for, the dream that moved me 1,200 miles from my family, friends, boyfriend, and home town.

And so, my life continues to evolve. In November I will have my first solo quilt show and teach my first class. It’s a good start, but I want to do more. I want to look more closely at the materials I use and the businesses I support. I want to look more closely at where and how I live. I want to look more closely at the footprint I leave. And, most importantly, I want to look more closely at the good I can do, not just for myself or the people I love, but for the people I have never met and the planet we share. And yes, I do have an idea of where this might go and what forms it may take, but if I’ve learned anything from the last three years, it’s that the path of change is seldom straight, and the glittering light in the distance might lead you away from the deeper joy of a warm hearth and encircling arms right in front of you.