Week 33 and 34: Flying Trapeze and Starting My Novel
Week 33: A Flying Trapeze Class
During a trip to O’ahu last November, my friend Julie and I hiked to the top of Makapu’u Point. After taking a moment to enjoy the breathtaking view of the island’s southeastern coastline, Julie ventured away from the railing and plopped down with her legs hanging over the side. She beckoned me over. I was reminded of the fact – brave as I may believe myself to be – I am not a huge fan of heights. I sat down and slowly inched my way to the edge. After posing for a photo and spending thirty seconds watching the waves crash on the rocks below, I retreated ten feet back to safety. Julie, on the other hand, remained perched there for several minutes while nonchalantly biting into an apple.
During Week 33, Julie joined me for a two hour Flying Trapeze class near the Navy Yard. Once again, she was fearless. Apparently, as a child she dreamed of being a trapeze artist. We received a brief lecture in the basic maneuvers. As Julie and I each waited for our turn, one of the trainers told us how he left home to join the circus – much to his parent’s chagrin.
When I climbed up the ladder onto the platform, I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. My stomach dropped to my knees as I jumped – my body weightless, suspended midair for a brief second. At the instructor’s command, I hooked both legs around the bar and … let go. In that moment, I forgot my fear. I simply thrilled in the experience of flying. Next, we built up to dismounting with a back-flip onto the net below. My confidence grew with each attempt.
As two of only three members of the larger class who were able to master the basics, Julie and I were given the opportunity to release ourselves from the fly bar and be caught by an instructor. The timing of this trick is everything, however, and unfortunately I hesitated just long enough so that I was only able to grab one of the instructor’s arms. Julie, on the other hand, did her five-year-old self proud. When she succeeded in linking arms with the instructor, our fellow classmates erupted in cheers.
I left the class with windswept hair, rope burn on my left elbow, and an ear-to-ear smile. It was freeing to break through my initial unease and do something I didn’t know I was capable of. I realized that this was simply a more pronounced example of what I do each week – stepping outside my comfort zone to accomplish something entirely new.
Week 34: Starting my Novel
One of the side benefits of the New Things resolution is that it gives me a reason to write outside of my day job. I love fiction – whether it is reading a novel, writing a short story, or simply taking the time to immerse myself in a daydream. During class in college you’d often find me scribbling furiously – ostensibly taking notes, but in reality I’d be exploring a story idea that just grabbed hold of me.
For almost ten years now, I’ve wanted to write a novel. I had a particular story in mind – the story of my grandfather’s life. My grandfather was the youngest child in a large family from a small coastal town in Alabama. He was raised during the Great Depression. A talented athlete and an industrious worker, my grandfather went on to serve in the CCC and later in the Navy on the USS Hornet. Clearly, I had a rich plotline to work with; yet in ten years I have never put pen to paper.
To many, the idea of writing a novel seems like a herculean task. I’m no different. However, I think the larger reason for my hesitation has been the idea of turning my grandfather into a fictional hero. My memories and my father’s stories can only take me so far. I need to fill in innumerable gaps that will allow the story to flow and have meaning for the reader, while still staying true to my grandfather’s character.
Initially, my New Thing for Week #34 was supposed to be drafting a short story – one that could stand alone but which would also serve as the starting point for the novel. However, as I began to map out this first chapter, I realized that I was doing myself a great disservice. In both my work and in my free time, I’ve never been one to outline. Rather, I am what some writers call a “pantser” … I become inspired by an idea and simply start writing. Although this may work for a short story, a blog post, or a snippet of a scene, I suspected that this was a recipe for disaster for a 200+ page manuscript.
I started by reading. I filled my Amazon shopping cart with seven how-to books promising to help the reader turn an idea into a breakout piece of fiction. The 90 Day Novel* by Alan Watt has proved to be my favorite (although, don’t hold me to that rather ambitious time-table!). To begin, this book instructed me to “hold it loosely” – allowing myself an hour or so a day to simply daydream about my story and what might happen.
* Early on in the book, the author warns“Don’t tell anyone you’re writing a novel.” Whoops.
The 90 Day Novel also prodded me into considering some deeper questions – for example, writing as my fictional hero, I had to answer the following: “the most important thing I ever did was … What I need to be forgiven for is … One thing you need to know about me is …” My responses have been impulsive, organic. Often I was surprised by what I wrote. Holding my story “loosely” has helped me discover new characters, explore themes and craft my overarching message.
At the moment, I’ve written about ten pages of handwritten notes – including my thoughts about my protagonist’s motives and weaknesses, character sketches, and specific scenes that have come to me during my morning walk with Callie. I’ve created a time-line of events in sticky notes on my bedroom wall. I’ve even made a list of aspects I need to research – for example, “what are the symptoms of malaria?” and “what was it like to be in the Battle of Midway?”
Coincidentally, several of my research tasks should bring me full circle. Starting my novel was a New Thing – finishing it will require a host of new experiences – visiting my grandfather’s hometown, taking a boxing class, listening to episodes of the Lone Ranger radio show … and I’m sure ultimately many more. I look forward both to discovering my story and better understanding how my grandfather became the great man he was. Whether it takes me 90 days or a year, it is a story that deserves telling.
My grandfather, Clarence Moore “Bob” Logsdon is pictured above in a famous photo depicting a bomber taking off from the USS Hornet during the Doolittle Raid (he is the shorter man leaning against the railing).
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