Wait a minute. There’s no such thing as November 31.
“An artist makes his own rules,” the voice from afar tells me.
Yeah, I guess so.
“It’s a new day, Nolan.”
Yes it is.
“No, I mean it literally is a new day since November 31 has not ever happened. Ever.”
Unreliable narrator humor again.
As I sit up on my bed, I look over to the other side to see if I’m someone else. Maybe my beautiful wife is sleeping next to me. Maybe my children will come careening and crashing into our bedroom. Maybe I’ll be going off to a real job that pays real money that pays real bills. But no . . . I’m still on my own.
In the kitchen, there’s another handwritten quote waiting for me.
“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.” — Ray Bradbury
I turn the back of the note over and I see the same handwriting.
Story of my career—Travis
Ah. I finally know who’s been leaving me these notes. The big mystery that’s not a mystery anymore thanks to the deux ex machina known as Travis Thrasher.
I reread the quote and think it’s a good one. It doesn’t have to apply to writers, either. It can be any artist he’s talking about. Hell, it can be a bookstore owner.
An ironic thought passes through my mind.
Can anybody see me as anything other than a character now?
I know that writers are supposed to have their characters “come to life.” In a weird way, this has been the opposite of that.
For a whole month, I’ve realized that I’ve been in this white box, framed in Microsoft Word with the page number and word count just below me at all times like my shadow. Music has always been playing in the background. I’ve been moving around, uncertain and unsteady, trying to figure out where to go.
Maybe I’ve arrived at the destination. But since it’s November 31, at least here in this story, maybe the destination doesn’t matter.
Maybe it’s not about the word count but the work that comes.
Maybe the point isn’t about creating some amazing plot, but rather igniting some adolescent passion, the kind that prompts someone to even attempt to make a career out of this artform.
I look at the time and know I need to head out soon to get to HH.
There’s an empty spot near the bridge over the Fox River, so I decide to park there. As I step onto the sidewalk with my tote bag over my shoulder and coffee mug in hand, I spot a big bird flying high above me.
Not Big Bird but a big bird.
It’s a red-tailed hawk, soaring in a circle without effort or energy. Flapping its long wings several times, then continuing to glide. So majestic and serene. So perfect in so many ways.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.”
I don’t recall memorizing Genesis 1:31, but it was indeed very good. Exceptionally good.
As I walk to the bookstore, I wonder about the significance of the red-tailed hawk.
“It’s a symbol of freedom and flight,” Travis tells me.
I don’t find it weird anymore hearing his voice. It’s like a literal voice speaking from the Heavens. Or maybe just my coffee mug.
“It says somewhere that seeing a hawk symbolizes a creative being. When you encounter a hawk, you should let your creative spirit flow.”
“So is this self motivation?” I ask.
“No. It’s for you. Your creative spirit can come through anything. Like you were just thinking about.”
“So this is my daily motivation?”
“Sure,” Travis says. “Let’s call it that.”
Mid-afternoon and work is slow and anxiety is high.
Life always comes back to the same thing. The same subject and the same struggle.
We fight the ticking clock and our tepid spirit. We battle against the distractions of the day and the doubts of the night. We feel longings and desires deep inside our heart but life forces us to bury those and lumber on.
So many talented souls keep their voices silent. They are too busy, too tired, too giving, too realistic, too timid, too anything. They let all the toos of the world convince them to not create.
“If I can do this on a daily basis, so can you,” Travis says.
Yes, that’s true. I’ve met him, so I know this is a miracle. His chief tool is his brain, so if he was able to have all those books published with such a limited toolbox, imagine what talented folks can do.
“That’s called false modesty,” he tells me. “Pretending to have a low opinion of my abilities, but really I’m the one writing this, right?”
Maybe I don’t have to put quotes about the comments coming from Travis. Every single word is coming from me.
Nolan is as much me as Ethan Ware from The Promise Remains. The wide-eyed dreamer wanting to write the great American Novel. Nolan is an anti-hero just like Sheridan Blake from The Watermark, the guy haunted by one past mistake that changed his life forever.
Semi-autobiographical in so many ways.
Ethan Ware has become an award-winning adventure writer while Sheridan Blake has become a movie composer. Dreams fulfilled. They’re still living their lives in their own ways. So is Jake Rivers. So is Colin Scott.
They all represent me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never had a breakout book. People need heroes to root for.
Yeah, but there’s Chris Buckley. The character that might be the most like you.
Maybe that’s because the teenaged Travis was a hero. The adult version sometimes forgets the call to adventure, or simply decides not to take that call.
I left North Carolina my junior year of high school, full of doubt and hope. Going to a new state and a new school. Changing cultures allowed me to change my character once again. I refused to be the shy guy. I didn’t want to be the outcast. I needed to fit in somehow and in someway.
11 schools. 13 houses. 10 different locations, all so different like Germany and Australia and Florida and New York state.
All those moves and all that uprooting. It made me a writer. Books and movies took me to other places, to other realities rather than my own, places I wanted to escape to. My imagination burned to tell my own stories, and the words always—always—revealed pain and hurt. I couldn’t help circling back around to introspection, to insecurities, to isolation.
I wrote for myself for so long. I still do.
Like a character ultimately finding his creator, I’ve been making myself the hero for so long. Not because I’m heroic, but because I need to find answers. I need hope. I need love. I need adventure. God, do I need redemption.
“Hey, uh, Travis?” Nolan interrupts. “Can I have a few final thoughts myself?”
I’m sorry. I didn’t just break the fourth wall. I disintegrated it.
I’ll shift back narrators and leave the parting thoughts to Nolan. Let’s give him a hopeful ending. A “Compass and Guns” moment. Cue Thomas Newman.
Inside this bookstore surrounded by my beloved books, I think of the stories that have moved me, the endings that have felt bittersweet. Then I think of all those books I’ve started but never finished.
Maybe it’s more difficult to write than to sell writing. I have a product to pitch. Writers have a white space to fill. Page after page after page.
It’s strange to think of being a part of that page, those imagined ideas, that intricate story.
If we know a creator is watching us, will we act different? Will we try harder, act braver, run farther? What if we spent our day trying to honor him, trying to impress him, trying to serve him?
Instead, we run away and search for answers to mysteries that don’t need solving. We wander around seeking affirmations to insufficiencies we don’t have. We try to find a story that’s already been written, and in doing so, we forget to tell our own.
Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
So I wonder . . . what is the untold story inside of you? We all have one. It might be our own story about our life. Or it might be set in a mythical land far, far away.
Stories. They make life a little more livable.
They also help us figure out how to live a better life.
Today my goal is to provide a decent word count. I will strive to make them interesting and engaging. I will seek others to communicate with, to live life with, to talk to and to walk alongside.
I want to be worthy of the story inside of me.