And so it ends, this experiment in kicking procrastination in the ass. 50,000 words in 29 days. Not a bad thing, considering the fact that I have zero experience in writing fiction and that I started this project with no outline or any real plot. I came up with the one-sentence plot summary only the week before NaNoWriMo began. In that sense it’s not really about procrastination, but simply a way to see if I could actually do it. Guess I’m crossing that off my list now. (I’m also turning 40 in a couple of weeks, and so a novel seemed like a perfect birthday present to myself.)
The story, as it stands, is about a minor catastrophe that occurs in the Philippines: one day, a random bunch of people wake up and discover they are turning into Hollywood celebrities. Something of a disaster, one might argue. The guy I happened to sit next to on a plane a couple of weeks ago said that it reminded him of “The Metamorphosis,” only that this involved “a different kind of grotesque.” The fun thing about this transformation was that it wasn’t exactly a disease; why bother looking for a cure when one could, conceivably, not mind looking like George Clooney?
The idea was that different, perhaps shorter, chapters, titled after different celebrities, would be inserted throughout the main narrative. I only really got as far as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Beyoncé (I also wrote 300 words on Brad Pitt to round out the word count: he cleans his AK-47 and feels guilty as he smokes a cigarette, but reminds himself that Chairman Mao smoked, after all) before I decided that my energy was better expended on the main story.
My ineffectual protagonist, as I had written earlier, is a call-center employee named Tom Cruise. Or rather, I refer to him as Tom Cruise all throughout — the same with the rest of the “affected,” simply so I could use these talismanic names in stupidly banal sentences, like:
In a small condominium near Mines View Park in Baguio City, Jennifer Lopez pulls two Q-Tips from a jar and rolls them slowly towards each other to squeeze a pimple near her nose.
The temptation to give Jennifer Lopez her own chapter notwithstanding, it was far more interesting to focus on Tom Cruise and his wife, the strong-willed Delphine and how these changes — the media whirlwind surrounding it, the trauma to his sense of self, the practical idea that a stranger is suddenly sleeping in the same bed as you — affect their relationship.
Lots of things were changed from the original idea in my head. I wanted more, shall we say, intertextual references to both the real Tom Cruise and the Hollywood Tom Cruise, and I suspect that will happen in the editing process. (This is, after all, merely a first draft.) I don’t know very much about Tom Cruise, to be honest — I had chosen him because I had first thought of a character named Tomas Cruz — and I used my and my main character’s ignorance of the real Tom Cruise to write a section or two. (He looks him up on Wikipedia, and his wife buys a couple of his pirated DVDs just for fun.)
I had also wanted Tom Cruise to meet the real (I call him “the other”) Tom Cruise, and for Oprah to want to assemble all the celebrities together, but I wasn’t willing to dramatize this portion. To add to the word count, I had introduced — in a desperate measure, sometime in the second week — a loquacious narrator who addresses the reader directly. This narrator pops up exactly three times, during those days when I couldn’t think of anything for the characters to do, and he’s not likely to return in later revisions.
Also, in the second and third chapters (really, the second and third days of writing) the couple had a son named Brian. I got tired of him and actually went back and edited those specific chapters, which is a no-no during NaNoWriMo. (Editing isn’t allowed.)
Anyhow. I’ll end here with one last excerpt. In one chapter I thought I’d include news reports, sermons, interviews, etc. reacting to “the changes,” as I refer to them. I didn’t want to spend too much time on this because it’s the sort of thing that could expand indefinitely and a pomo patchwork of different sections would look a little too much like a couple of Filipino and Filipino American novels I know.
But I allowed myself the indulgence of an “excerpt” from an academic report on “the changes” that I wrote actually rather seriously (it’s not academic gobbledygook, honest!) although now I notice I use the word “untrammeled” again. Any similarity here to persons living or dead is not exactly coincidental.
Excerpted from an article by F. San Mateo, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of Dialectical Materialism at the University of Vermont, and published online on Binulgar.com:
That such recent events are viewed by the Filipino public and the world in general as surprising and unexpected is simply further evidence of the historical myopia that afflicts callow neo-liberal thought. Many progressives have long understood a mental and psychological colonization, as it were, to be the logical and perhaps necessary artifact of the institutionalized inequality of nations, whether during the classical colonial period or this current post-Fordist realignment of loci of production. Surely Frantz Fanon, trained as a psychologist himself, would recognize these symptoms, euphemistically referred to as “the changes,” as the very somatic embodiment of the violence of colonialism. Indeed, this sanitized term itself — “the changes” — are an understatement compared to both the physical and symbolic violence inflicted upon the developing world by untrammeled capitalist accumulation. The Filipino body, always and already colonized and possessed by the relentless forces of capitalist terror, is merely registering and reflecting, through medico-physical processes our Ivy League-educated scientists are still at pains to describe, this unequal and unjust relationship. One must always be reminded that Filipinos, by sheer virtue of their past colonized history, and by their roles as the receiving and passive agents of global mass culture as they dwell in the global periphery, are always and already partly Americanized even before they reach American shores, and the apparent teleology of Filipino immigration to the United States is simply the material evidence of this process of Americanization. One might argue, in fact, that these supposedly emergent afflictions — blithely described by our so-called public intellectuals as a “uniquely 21st-century disease [emphasis theirs]” — are atavistic pathologies, the return of the colonial repressed.
Will I do this again next year? Depends on how far I edit this year’s manuscript, really. All I can tell you is that the editing starts next year; in the month of December I’ll start seeing my friends again (and playing games on the Xbox).
And finally I’d like to thank my incredibly patient friends and family for my month of unavailability — people whose invitations for movies (Saw 3D, Ip Man 2, Carlos and Jackass 3D among them) or dinners or concerts (that Thievery Corporation / Massive Attack show at the Greek was one, the Dean Wareham Sings Galaxie 500 show was another) or drinks after work or brunches or even a guided visit to Pixar headquarters I totally rejected. And I’d like to thank those who fed me and you, who kept me warm. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me.