How to Write a Novel: Wait Until You’re 40 and Forget Everything

This happens sometimes: I?ll get some saying stuck in my head, Google it, and find the only person to have ever mentioned it online was me. And usually in a previous column. For example, someone, somewhere once told me that, ?Novelists are born at 40.? Naturally, the only record I could find of that exact phrase was on SonomaNews.com, under my own byline.

Now, the fantasist in me wants to believe that I?ve learned to time travel and obviously a future self planted that phrase in a past column so that I could find it now, thus inspiring the chain of events that eventually leads to my ability to time travel. It could happen. It could also happen that my short-term memory is shot. I?m not going to torture myself by Googling ?Amnesics are born at 40,? for fear that I?ve already written it somewhere. That is, unless my time-traveling future self is saving it up to pay off some gag down the line. Continue reading “How to Write a Novel: Wait Until You’re 40 and Forget Everything”

On Turning 40: So, I’m 40-Years-Old today. Now what?

Turning 40

By the time you read this, it will have happened. Some collusion of time and fate will have already transpired, and now I am 40. I’ve had a birthday — likely the last I’ll bother to celebrate. There are many reasons why, among them the fact that I don’t feel any older. My interior monologue is voiced by a 19-year-old. This is what it’s saying, “If they hadn’t invented zero in India in 900 A.D., I’d be 4. Or would I just be 39 for an extra year, like my sister-in-law?”

I suppose there’s nothing to fear, 40 isn’t the death sentence it once was. When my mom turned 40, my cheeky aunt threw her a wake. I didn?t require a wake seeing as I?m already dead inside, having lived through the 90s.

40 is one of those “milestone” birthdays. If you string together each year, it looks like a Fibonacci sequence by a truly terrible mathematician — 16, 18, 21, 25, 30, 40. Notice how each integer is further from the last by 2, 3, 4, 5 then 10 years? If Dan Brown were here he’d have closed another book deal based on this hocus pocus.

Turning 40

What does it mean? Ask a Mason. In the meantime, consider that there are only two remaining milestones: 50 and 65. Some people might count 60, but those are people who aren’t planning to retire. After 65 you’re milestone-free unless you make it to 100. Then you get your picture in the paper and a cake with so many candles it looks like an inferno. That?s why centenarians always look so freaked in those human-interest stories — they see the flames and figure someone’s prematurely wheeled them into a crematorium.

Speaking of milestones, when I turned 25, I rued the fact that I had yet to make my first million. Now, that I’m 40, I realize I must have spent about a million in the past 15 years and am consequently in the exact same place as I was when I started caring. Red is the new black, right? And the “new normal” is just the old normal with “100 percent more ‘less,'” as Monty Python might say. Frankly, I don’t care anymore. I’ve accepted that my body of work is going to outlast my actual body (which also needs work), which means it stands a chance of being worth more when I’m gone. I’m currently worth about a buck-eighty. The race is on.

Also, now that I’m middle-aged, I’ve decided I’m too tired and bored with myself to have a proper midlife crisis. Instead, I’ll have a “midlife occurrence.” Maybe I’ll go to a matinee or something. Be assured that I won’t be purchasing a fancy motorcycle or sports car. As a man stalked by irony, driving a vehicle meant to make me feel younger will simply speed me to my death. Ditto a girlfriend who is half my age. Though a 20-year-old might kill me in some inventive and erotic way, I’d also suffer the pain of being killed all over again by my wife. Italian women can do that.

Apparently, a 40-year-old man has an average life expectancy of 77.84 years. However, there’s a one percent chance that I’ll live to 105 years of age, which, incidentally is the life expectancy of my 3-year-old son’s generation, straight out of the gate without any of the whizbang medical interventions I fully expect to lean on. Also, of note for those born in 1972 is the 0.23 percent probability that we might die this year. Of course, the odds get worse with each successive year until finally, we’ll only have 0.23 percent probability of actually living. That will be a short year ± in fact, about a week.

Since it’s likely I won’t be feeling well that week, I’ve decided to live it up this week. And every week to come. I don’t plan on celebrating another birthday because I don’t plan on ending the celebration of this one. There’s adventure to be had and work to be done yet. Insert your own sappy aphorism here. I don’t have one, though I did find this line amongst some decades-old notebooks: “Vocatio! Vocatio! Mammoth on the tundra!” That’s the plan.

Lost Lines: Keeping the Words You Cut

I keep a folder on my desktop that contains the trimmings, dead ends and other bits that didn’t, for whatever reason, make the sausage casing of this column. I call it “Lost Lines,” though clicking through it, as I am occasionally wont to do, often leads me to believe it’s a more accurate depiction of my psyche than even my occasional forays into dreaded journaling. Someday, a prosecutor might aptly call this file “Exhibit A.” So, before it’s requisitioned by the court, let’s go through it, shall we?

Here’s one from the file: “Time machines — they get old fast.” This was an offhand remark made by a young illustrator who used to sit across from me at a writing gig I did last year. I love it because it’s a bit like taking a sip from a Klein bottle. According one manufacturer, whose sales copy I also jotted, “With its circle of singularities, an Acme Klein Bottle can be said to exist inside of itself — especially handy during time-reversals.” Enough said. And that’s Kline with a “k,” not “c.” A sip from a bottle of Cline is an entirely different experience, though some aging (with or without a time machine) is recommended.

For me, writing is a kind of madness born from an orgy of complexes that include, but are not limited to, narcissism, compulsive lying, hoarding and a dire need to feel relevant to someone, somewhere for at least 10 minutes a week. If your coffee’s gone cold while reading one of these columns that means you’ve either stopped to look something up, just stopped or, through some mystic calculus of chaos and contrivance, you were cornered into a satisfying bout of contemplation. Those are the best moments. Though, admittedly, results may vary. Shake well. And always keep your thumb on the cork.

This writing business is a bit like confessing into a megaphone. I whisper novelties and notions into some phantom machine and out it comes writ large in 10 point Times on doorsteps and desktops scattered here and there.

It’s a pleasure to do and I’m grateful for the space but damn it’s a narrow stroll between being maudlin or mundane — twin sins that come at you like a couple of pugs with a grudge. This is especially true when, like now, I’m past deadline, half drunk and fending off an Irish ache in my bones that makes me sentimental. Emphasis on the “mental.” This is when I’m most likely to turn to the file.

I keep a Portage brand reporter’s notebook in my coat pocket at all times. When they issue my action figure, a miniature version will come as an accessory (unless, of course, I become a brand ambassador for Moleskin!). In it, I scribble details and doodads to jog my short-term memory. Yes, it would be a lot more productive if I could read my own handwriting but that’s why I’m a writer not a calligrapher.

I was able to glean this odd note from it: “Woman to girlfriend says, ‘So I met the best man. Otter. Yeah, it was your Otter. So, his date has great bone structure. And feet.'” I overheard these lines at Cole Coffee in Rockridge and like the true Joan Didion acolyte that I am, I dutifully scrawled them into the notebook. Then I transcribed them into the Lost Lines folder when I thought I could make something of it. Nothing worked, so they went back into the folder.

Whistle While You Work: How Low Can You Go?

I just caught myself whistling. This is how I know I?ve climbed out of whatever depression I?ve stumbled into with the added bonus of not noticing when. Suddenly, I was happy. It?s like those mid-century Disney flicks that blended live-action and animated sequences with predictably hokey results.

There?s a cartoon bluebird on my shoulder. And it?s painted in the Technicolor hues of dopamine and serotonin. And we?re whistling. Yep, my mental health looks like a crappy ad for Twitter, rainbows and all. Tweet, tweet.

The tune in question, thanks to some hazy, Google-aided memory, is ?The Bugler?s Dream,? composed by Leo Arnaud, more commonly known for its use as an itinerant fanfare for the Olympics, as well as ABC?s Wide World of Sports. It makes you want to run, jump and hurl something and beat a Soviet-era Russian while doing it (anyone else nostalgic for the Cold War besides me and the makers of James Bond?).

Continue reading “Whistle While You Work: How Low Can You Go?”