The Obligatory NaNoWriMo Post . . .

As I reel – still – from the events of November 8 (and pin my hopes on the vote recount so heroically organized and paid for by Jill Stein!), I find my writing more important than ever. And my cats. Cats = Very Important.

But November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, though it’s international now! – and for the first time in three years, I think I’m going to ‘win’!

The idea behind NaNoWriMo, if you don’t know, is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,667 words per day. For some, that’s about an hour’s worth of work; for others, it’s several hours. It just depends on how fast you type and write, and how easily the words are coming that day. But more than that, it’s about getting into the habit of writing. If you can do something for 30 days straight, you have a much better chance of continuing that habit. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t know. Ask gyms in February about that.

I didn’t really have a goal going into it this year, except to reach 50,000 words. I’d hoped to finish my YA  historical, but though I did work on it a bit, it’s at this stage where I don’t know where to go with it. I got about 17,000 words into a new romance novel, but I got down most of the things that were running through my mind and now I need time to let the story simmer on the back burner so all the good plot points and scenes can bubble up to the surface.

Some NaNoWriMo’s (people who participate in NaNoWriMo) spend all year, or at least a few months, getting ready for the event. They do research. They jot down notes. They make scene cards so they can pull one at random and write a scene per day. They intend to work on one novel. Maybe a new one, maybe finishing an old one. I know people who save up their vacation so they can take a week or more off during November just to do NaNo, trying to cram as many words into that time as possible.

But sometimes, not having a goal is okay. Not being tethered to just one novel allowed me to go back to an old romance novel and work on it, which I’ve been doing for the last few days. It let me do revisions to my YA novel – 35 words  here, 78 there – and rewrite things that weren’t right. I did some research into an old urban fantasy and typed up my notes, which generated ideas for new scenes and revised scenes.

Sometimes, I found myself struggling to reach those required 1,667 words per day; I’d get to about 700 words, check the word count – are you KIDDING ME?!!! That’s IT? I’ll NEVER get done! – and then, suddenly, it would take off and by the time I stopped, I’d written more than 2,000 words.

And it was just an escape.

I could write during commercial breaks while watching Lucifer and Supernatural. I learned to type with a kitty in my lap (which is okay until he slides forward into the keyboard and hits the space bar and the mouse and a bunch of keys and you have to spend fifteen minutes figuring out precisely what he did). I hate Daylight Savings’ Time, but I do get more writing done on these long dark winter nights when there’s nothing else to do.

I do want to point out one thing:  writing a novel during NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean it’s done. First of all, 50,000 words does not make a novel. It makes a novella. If you completed an entire story arc in 50,000 words, well, like I said. Not a true novel. No. It’s far more likely that you completed the first part of a novel. Or a draft. A good draft, a draft that might eventually get you to a real novel, but a draft nonetheless. It won’t be your best work, since you’ve been intent on the word count and not the quality (probably). Characters won’t be full formed. Plot holes will abound. There may be several places where you type “Stuff Happens” to fill a place where you’re not quite sure what happens to bridge two scenes.

Don’t think for a second that your work is done, in other words. It’s not. It’s just starting, in fact – which is why it’s great that you’ve developed the habit of writing every day! Time to finish that novel now. Time to get those characters complete, figure out all their motivations, fill in those gaping plot holes, get the setting right. Time to revise, edit, rewrite. (For more on this, see the links to the two blog posts below:  Sarah Gruen and Erin Morgenstern, among others, are two published authors whose bestsellers started as NaNo projects – but then took years to get to a point where they were publishable.) Heck, even my own YA novel started as a NaNo project – and it’s still not done.

So here we are, November 27. And I think, this year, I’m on schedule to hit 50,000 words.

I have three days, after all.

 

http://nanowrimo.org/dashboard – the official site for National Novel Writing Month

And previous blog posts about NaNo:

https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/what-do-you-want-from-nanowrimo-this-year-for-me/

https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/nanowrimo-a-journey-back/

 

 

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Lessons from ‘Woman in Gold’

woman-in-gold-posterI don’t watch a lot of movies; truth be told, I don’t have the attention span.

But tonight I finally caught a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a long time:  Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.

If you’ve never heard of it, Woman in Gold is a true-life story about one of the most famous art restitution cases in history. Maria Altman and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, fought the Austrian government to have not just one, but six of the paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis, returned to her.

Not surprisingly, the Austrians were more than reluctant to return the paintings, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Woman in Gold – the name given to the portrait of Maria’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer by the Belvedere Museum in Vienna – had become a centerpiece of the Austrian art world. In fact, it was referred to as Austria’s Mona Lisa. They had to fight through the US Supreme Court and then have their case heard by a mediation committee, before the paintings were rightfully returned to Maria.

This movie hit me especially hard, as it doesn’t just focus on the court case itself, but also on Maria’s life in Vienna before the Nazi occupation. The Austrians, while sympathizing with the Nazi regime in Germany, was still a relatively peaceful nation until March 1938, when Hitler issued an ultimatum to the Austrian government:  surrender, or we’ll invade. Given what they’d seen of the Nazi war machine, Austria made the smart, but devastating, decision to surrender. The Austrian government was suspended, and the Nazis moved in.

I was never  interested in World War II when I was growing up. My high school history classes were a joke – I remember spending about a week on the early civilizations, the next fourteen weeks on football and basketball, and then something about the Cold War near the end. Even when I was a history major at university, I was focused on medieval Europe and colonial America. It wasn’t until I had to teach World  War II, in fact, that I ever really read anything about it.

I will never forget sitting in my office – I was a secretary for the college, and I was prepping for that night’s class while I was supposed to be working – reading about the Holocaust for the first time, I think, in my life. Looking at the maps of the camps, scattered strategically across northern and eastern Europe. Reading about Mengele’s unholy experiments, most of which I can’t even share with my students because they’re so damn brutal – seeing how long newborn babies could survive without food, seeing how long people could survive abdominal surgery without anesthesia, seeing if eyes would permanently change color if you injected blue dye directly into them.

The photos. The ‘walking skeletons’ that the Allied forces eventually freed in 1945, the gates to Auschwitz. ‘Work Will Make You Free,’ indeed. (Irony was, I suppose, not a strong suit of the Nazis.) The chimneys at Auschwitz, being demolished.

It was so unbelievable. Even though I knew – I knew – it had happened, there was part of me that recoiled, horrified, refusing to accept it. Refusing to accept that atrocities on this scale could have happened. I do remember one of the instructors coming to see me and the look on her face – she said, “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” and I didn’t even realize until that moment that I was crying.

But I think what makes it worse for me is that the Germans bought into it so completely. Anti-Semitism was already there, simmering just under the surface of civility; Hitler just gave it free rein. Encouraged it. And in the end, licensed it.

0fa977feaa1175a0f9edd653c436a92cIt started so quietly. A law here, a law there. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David at all times. They took away Jewish citizenship rights. Basic rights like voting and running for office and having freedom of speech.  They declared who was and was not Jewish – much like in America, they also had a ‘one drop’ rule. If Hitler’s genealogists could find just one Jewish ancestor in your family tree, guess what? Here’s your Star of David, and here’s your list of things you can and can’t do. Not a Jew? Of course you are. The fuhrer says you are.

And then the Kristallnacht. November 9, 1938. The first state-sponsored, state-encouraged night of violence against the Jews of Germany and Austria.

I think what scares me the most, when I look at Nazi Germany, is how fast it happened. How fast mob rule can take over. How seemingly good people can just . . . forget their humanity, and become something else. Something not human. Maybe demons aren’t supernatural creatures; maybe they’re just us, when there’s no soul left inside.

In Maria Altman’s case, in the case of so many European Jews and just those who stood against the Nazis, the change was swift and unbelievable. One day. Literally. It took but one day for their lives to completely change. For the Nazis to move into Austria, declare martial law, and infect the Viennese people with their hatred.

My students always ask me, why didn’t they just leave? When their businesses were being shut down, when they were being harassed, when they lost their citizenship rights – why not leave? Why stay? And the fact is, some couldn’t. They couldn’t get around the intricate Nazi immigration policies, or afford the travel. And some . . .I remember reading an interview with a Holocaust survivor in which they were asked that very question, and their responses was so simple and so heartbreaking. “Our people have been persecuted for centuries,” they basically said. “We just thought, this is our turn.”

Maria Altman was one of the lucky ones – and yet, she left everything, including her parents, behind in order to survive with her husband. Did she consider herself lucky? To have lost her entire family, all their wealth and belongings, the home and city she loved, in order to go to an entirely new country? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. But she was just one of millions of European Jews – and other minorities – who lost everything. Twelve million innocent people, whose only crime was being something Hitler didn’t like, lost their lives.

The fact is, more than 100,000 pieces of artwork stolen by the Nazis are still lost. Languishing in museums or private collections. Hidden away in vaults or attics. Or just – lost. Burned by the Nazis near the end of the war, or buried, perhaps never to see the light of day again.

It’s important to right those wrongs, to find that  artwork, to restore it to its rightful owners (or, now, to their heirs).

But it’s more important to remember that it happened  – 

And that it can happen again. All of it. The hatred. The registries. The identifying marks on clothing. The military rule.

All it takes is one person whose only goal is doing whatever the hell he wants to do – and a nation willing to let him do it.

 

 

This is why . . .

It has taken me a long to get up the courage to post this. But it’s time to take a stand and I can’t let my voice be silent any longer.

All this week, I’ve been asked by too many people why I’m upset. Why I can’t ‘grow up and get over it.’ Why I continue to compare Trump to Hitler and why I continue to ‘overreact’ and denounce him. Why I can’t just forget it. Why I can’t accept it and move on.

This post is my answer why.

Because I’m scared. Not for myself – although there is that, I’ve made no secret of my hatred for Trump in the past months – but for my friends and students, who are Muslim, gay, African-American, Jewish. Who are immigrants and married to immigrants. Who are scared they’ll be targeted for speaking out. Who are scared that their citizenship papers won’t come in soon enough. Who are just scared.

As a historian and a total news junkie, I tend to see patterns emerge. And I see this pattern emerging all too clearly. The  Alt-Right has been emboldened (particularly since one of its leaders is one of Trump’s advisers) and has already started terrorizing minorities. Trump supporters – his core group, his true demographic – now have carte blanche to do whatever they want to whomever they want.

They can now be in the ascendancy – if we let them. 

I teach US and world history. I teach about slavery and Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. I teach about the KKK of the 20th century and their atrocities, and I teach about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. I teach genocide and war, and I also teach – I hope – that there are people who stood against those things. And for some inexplicable reason . . . I thought the fight in America was over. I thought as a nation, as a society, we had moved past this. Grown up. Learned that diversity is a good thing.

Never, in the past ten years of teaching history, did I think, not once, that I would face the same fight in my own lifetime. Yes, I know. Stupid. And now, I’m scared.

So to my Trump-supporting friends, here’s the question I want to ask:  why aren’t you scared along with me? 

You claim to not be racist. You claim you voted for him for other reasons (though you’re hard-pressed to say what those are).

I guess some of you voted for him because you were ‘sending a message.’ I hear that a lot. I don’t understand it, but I hear it. Sending a message to who about what? And some of you voted for him because he “speaks his mind.” What does that even mean?

Some of you, I understand, voted for him because you didn’t like Hillary and that is the stupidest reason of all. You threw away the best candidate we had, the most educated, the most experienced, in favor of a power-hungry, demented sociopath (endorsed by two other fascist sociopathic dictators, BTW) who has ridiculed veterans, the mentally and physically handicapped, women, gays . . . do you get the picture?

And then some of you voted for Trump because you believed his lies. You heard his nebulous economic ideas and you know he calls himself a businessman, and you figure he’ll be good for the economy. You heard his half-assed apologies and denials and conveniently overlooked the ghastly things he said and did. You don’t understand ISIS or anything to do with the Middle East and neither does he, but he says he does and you believe him. He dodged the draft, but wants to be Commander-in-Chief. He claims he’ll bring jobs back to America and – despite the fact that he has no sound, rational plan to do that – you believed him.

You believed his lies. You ate them like candy because he said precisely what you wanted to hear. When the educated and experienced were telling you that nothing he said was true, you chose not to listen. When he told you who to blame for your problems, you believed him. When he told you what outlandish things he’d do as president, you believed him.

But I can tell you one thing that is true:  Trump does not care about you, your problems, or America.

Time and again, he has catered to the lowest of the low of American society – the white supremacists, the racists, the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim groups – in short, homegrown terrorists. Yes. I went there. When a group of white American men plot to blow up a mosque and an apartment complex where mostly Muslim immigrants live, that is terrorism. Pure and simple. And these are the people he caters to. This is his demographic. The uneducated, the intolerant, the worst of America.

You’ve chosen to stand with a man who has spewed nothing but hatred and encouraged nothing but violence. You’ve chose to stand with a man who sees women as one thing and one thing only:  sex toys. Trump has zero respect for women (far more disturbing to me than his ‘grab them by the pussy’ comment is the comment he made about his own daughter.) You’ve chosen to stand with a man that far more educated people than I have compared to Hitler – and their rises to power are strikingly similar. Shall we speculate that their reigns of terror might also be ?

But what’s worse, you’ve chosen to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with hatred. You’ve chosen to stand with white supremacists, the KKK, racists, and those who insist on believing in something that never existed to begin with – a white America.  You’ve chosen to stand with the men in Liberal KS who plotted to kill innocent Somali immigrants. You’ve chosen to stand with the social heirs of men who hunted African-American men down with hounds and then burned them alive for no other crime than they didn’t get off the sidewalk fast enough. You’ve chosen to stand with the same people who burn black churches, spraypaint pro-Trump and Nazi graffiti on synagogues – and all the while, their fuhrer does nothing to stop them.

THAT is what you have chosen to stand with, as you voted for Trump. That history of hatred. That history of racism. That history of intolerance. That history of violence.

So – to the people I know who voted for Trump, this is why  I can never look at you the same. Certainly not now, and perhaps not ever. And you can’t come to me and say “I didn’t know” because ignorance is never an excuse – and because I probably won’t believe you anyway, not in today’s social media, news-driven world.You had to know. 

You had to know. 

And this is why I will not be silent. This is why I will not stop fighting Trump or his supporters. This is why I will not ‘get over it.’

This is why.