IWSG—Writing mojo slowly returning

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It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

I set a lowball goal of 15K for July Camp NaNo, and overachieved (as it were). This is far from what I was capable of pre-lockdown, but after failing JuNoWriMo with only 18K, this has restored my self-confidence somewhat. Most of my wordcount came from creative nonfiction in the form of blog posts instead of my actual WIP, but since most of them were Dante-themed, they’re related to my WIP.

If you’re interested, I now have all my Dantean posts linked in one page. You can find it on my pinned page “Index of posts by topic” above my header.

Somewhat over 5,000 words also came from the two essays I wrote as part of my aliyah (moving to Israel) application, about my journey to Judaism and my involvement in the community since becoming a member of the tribe. The process of writing and editing those documents made me revisit feelings and experiences I’d not had reason to think of in many years. These weren’t just brief letters, but mini-memoirs with a great deal of raw emotion, honesty, and self-reflection.

This wasn’t the strongest finish possible, and not the relatively straight line I used to have, but I did lose a lot of writing time watching the Olympics. I also spent some time doing my penultimate proof check of the book formerly known as The Very Next. Hopefully, I won’t find even tiny errors in the about to begin final check.

In addition to slowly starting to regain my writing mojo, I’m also getting back into my art. That was on complete hiatus during lockdown. So many people are unwilling or unable to understand how this hurt mental and emotional health. I’ll always have cyclical depression, and it’s functional even at its worst, but it only lasted so long and was triggered this latest time because of lockdown.

When my mental and emotional states are askew, my writing suffers. It took a really long time, but finally I’ve been given a hand out of the latest dark forest I found myself in, with the right path lost. “I cannot remember well in my mind/How I came thither, so was I immersed/In sleep, when the true way I left behind.”

To mark my return to art, I ordered a bunch of new pencils—a dozen Faber–Castell Polychromos, two Caran d’Ache Luminance (widely said to be the Rolls-Royce of colored pencils), six Coloursoft, and three Inktense. I ought to do an updated post showcasing my art supply collection.

There’s no question these precious objects will be divided among my checked and carryon luggage when I make aliyah. If I can’t find an approved suitcase big enough for my beautiful oil pastels, I’ll take them out of their big wooden case and put them in smaller travel cases. Their list price is $510, and I got them for around $200 in a huge end-of-year sale. No way I’d leave them behind!

Geometric and abstract art are my callings in drawing and painting, just as historical fiction and soft sci-fi are my callings in writing. It can be fun to dabble and try something new, but there will always be that one thing, or those two or three things, which you feel the most natural passion and draw towards. I doubt any writer could be successful in and feel a genuine connection to 10+ genres.

Another huge boost to my shattered self-confidence in July was finishing my memorization of Canto I of Inferno in the original Medieval Florentine Tuscan (136 lines). I’m going to make a video of myself reciting it on Dante’s 700th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) on 13 September. While I’ve begun working my way through Canto II, there’s no way I can have all 142 lines ready in such short time!

I’ve always had an elephantine memory and been good with languages, but I still am in awe I really managed to not only memorize such a long piece, but in another language.

How has your writing been going? Did you do Camp NaNo? Have you ever lost your writing mojo and struggled to regain it?

WeWriWa—Called to dinner

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

This comes a few pages after last week’s excerpt. Before being called to dinner (the Medieval name for lunch, the biggest meal of the day), Beatrice suggested Dante might become friends with her brother Ricovero. If he’s friends with both of them, her parents will be more inclined to approve future visits.

The next-best-friend Dante mentions in La Vita Nuova is believed to be one of Beatrice’s brothers, and we know from Folco Portinari’s will (which names all his children) that his oldest sons were Manetto and Ricovero. His other three sons were under eighteen as of 1288, which would’ve made them too young to be friends from childhood.

The Taste of Medieval Food - Medievalists.net

Just then a maidservant came into the garden and announced it was time for dinner. Without having to be asked twice, I went towards the door and followed the other guests towards the great hall, where an immense feast awaited.

Beatrice led me to a long walnut table where all the other children were taking seats. The scents of the food laid out before us were so tempting, nothing like the meals I usually ate at home. Babbo and I didn’t eat like peasants, but we were nowhere close to the level of a wealthy family like the Portinaris, who regarded things like wheat and beef as everyday staples instead of luxuries to be indulged in when finances could justify it.

“Ricovero, this is my new friend Dante,” she told a boy dressed in a burgundy tunic and cornflower blue hose. “Mamma and Babbo will be more likely to invite him to visit again if he’s friends with you too. He’s serious and thoughtful like you, so I think you’ll like him.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Ricovero said.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“If Bice likes you and thinks you’re a good person, I must too. She’s a better discerner of worth than many adults.”

We chose chairs near the back left-hand side of the table after almost everyone else had claimed a seat. Presently, maidservants and manservants came around with linen hand towels and shallow silver basins for washing our hands before eating. After that, we said Grace in one voice, and then finally we were at liberty to partake of the apéritifs eaten at the start of every meal to open the stomach.

There were so many to choose from, but I didn’t want to reverse the positive impression I’d made so far, and so settled for just a few pieces of sugar-coated ginger and honey-covered anise. For an apéritif beverage, I directed a manservant to pour me a tankard of sweetened milk. I could drink wine any time I wanted, but milk was a special treat I didn’t often have the opportunity to enjoy.

WeWriWa—Walking through the garden

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents. They’re now walking in the garden.

Some of you may recognize “In his will is our peace” as a line from Paradiso, where it’s spoken by Dante’s friend Piccarda Donati. The line “midway our life’s journey” is also the famous first line of the CommediaNel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. (I recently finished memorizing all 136 lines of Canto I of Inferno in the original Medieval Florentine Tuscan, and am now working on Canto II.)

We walked on through the rest of the garden, and Beatrice named each flower, herb, and tree we encountered. I already knew some of them from botany lessons, but didn’t interrupt her to say this. Listening to the sweet voice of this youngest of God’s angels was like drinking the finest ambrosia.

After we’d traversed the entire main section of the garden, Beatrice led me to a low, white stone wall with many columns. Just as she said, it provided a marvellous view of our city and the hill of Fiesole. All the houses laid out below appeared at a much smaller scale than they truly were, as though they were part of a miniature village populated by dolls.

Beatrice leaned against the wall and looked down as far as possible. “Sometimes when I’m here, it feels like a small preview of looking down upon all the spheres of the heavens from the top of Paradise. That must be the most indescribable experience possible.”

That image sent a chill up my spine.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“Even if the greatest glories are to be found in Paradise, we shouldn’t be too eager to go there. Everyone should be blessed to live over a century like Saint Anthony the Great. Even if God only wants us to attain the ideal Biblical lifespan of seventy or eighty years, we’re nowhere close to being midway our life’s journey yet.”

“Oh, I’m not eager to trade my life on Earth for the eternal life for a long time yet either. God put us here first for a reason, however long he wants us to live in our physical bodies. In his will is our peace.”

WeWriWa—Zodiac signs and lucky numbers

If you’re observing Tisha B’Av, may you have an easy and meaningful fast!

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari. They’re now walking in the garden.

We don’t know either of their actual birthdates, but we know Dante was a Gemini, and that he was born in late May, possibly the 27th. It would be so fitting if that really were his birthday, since the numbers add up to his lucky number nine, and his bones were serendipitously rediscovered on 27 May 1865 after mysteriously vanishing in 1519.

In La Vita Nuova, Dante says of Beatrice’s age when they met: “She had been in this life long enough for the heaven of the fixed stars to be able to move a twelfth of a degree to the East in her time.” In other words, she was eight years and four months old, and thus born in late December 1265 or early January 1266.

Fontana Maggiore of Perugia, Copyright G.dallorto

Beatrice walked around the fountain and touched the Zodiac engraving of a goat. “That’s me. I’m a Capricorn. My birthday is December twenty-seventh. I’ll be nine years old.”

I indicated the twins Castor and Pollux. “I’m a Gemini. My teachers say that’s a very lucky, blessed sign to be born under. My birthday is May twenty-seventh, so you’re exactly seven months younger than I am.” Since mathematics was one of my favorite subjects in school, I continued rattling on.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“If you add the two numbers in twenty-seven, you get nine. That’s my favorite number. It’s naturally occurred so often in my life, and it’s a perfect square of the Trinity. Three times three makes nine.”

“You’re smart. My tutor only teaches me Latin and religion, and my mother teaches me feminine skills like embroidery and how to identify flowers. Perhaps when I’m older, I’ll learn how to play a musical instrument.”

WeWriWa—Entering the garden

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari. Though he never said whether or not they actually exchanged words or if they just saw one another, they become immediate friends in my story, and meet while Beatrice is making flower garlands. They’re now walking in the garden after finishing and distributing all the rest of the garlands.

I decided to occasionally break the fourth wall in this book because Dante himself does that in his own work, directly addressing both present and future readers with comments like “Oh, Reader, you can hardly imagine how terrified I was!” and “I wish I could tell you more about this wonderful experience, Reader, but I’ve used up all the pages I planned for this canticle.”

At last we proceeded out through a door leading into a lush, verdant paradise of sweet-smelling, brightly-colored flowers and blooming trees. Scattered about were several strolling young couples and two men playing the lute. In the center of the garden was a gleaming white stone fountain ringed by red roses and herbs. When we drew closer to the fountain, I saw it was decorated with carvings illustrating the Zodiac signs, people and events from the Bible, and the history of the Roman Empire.

“The garden at our summer villa in Fiesole is even grander,” Beatrice said. “We have many more flowers and trees, the fountain is bigger, and there’s a reflecting pool. I spend most of my time in the garden when we live there.”

I gave her a slight smile, restraining myself from the much wider smile my vital spirit wanted to make.

The eight lines end there. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“My father and I have a summer villa in Fiesole too, though we don’t spend the entire summer there. We usually go there on weekends or for a fortnight. At most, we might spend a month there. My father’s business is too important to interrupt for three entire months.”

“My father has a very important business too, but he’s able to go away all summer. May I ask what your father does for a living?”

God forgive me, Reader, I told a partial untruth to avoid admitting Babbo was a moneylender. “He does something with money, but I don’t know the details. My father doesn’t tell me much about his job. He says it’s too adult for me to understand.”

“Maybe he’s a banker like my father. He doesn’t talk very much about the details of his work either, not even to my oldest brothers. But your father must have an important job, since my father invited him to our party. Perhaps you can visit us in Fiesole this summer.”