Tied in Knots

I have not been plagued by writer’s block. I generally skipped over the myriad blogs, papers, podcasts, and articles about it feeling vaguely superior.

Then I ran into a wall with my current novel, Fatal Cure. The plot is complex. I’m a hybrid writer … I do outline, but only broadly. Within the broad limits of the outline, I’m a pantser, letting the character and situation drive the story.

Nothing seemed to come together. “Write, just write something” didn’t work; the something I wrote was clunky and uninspired. Frustrated, I tried more outline detail: spreadsheet detailing what who was doing to whom and when, calendar of events, and so on. Nada. Rien. Zip.

Finally, just to do some writing calisthenics, I picked a character and a situation in the novel and forgot the outline … And, of a sudden, the writing flowed again, and the outline seemed to make sense.

Feels like the time I almost capsized a canoe … frantic countermoves to try to offset the oscillations. No forward progress. But when I stopped trying to control the situation, the canoe settled down … and then I could make forward progress.

An Update From Minneapolis

Readers know I began this blog to follow my writing learning curve. I thought I’d take a break, though, to bring you gentle readers up to date on the violence in the Twin Cities following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. I live on the western edge of Minneapolis, and my son James lives in the city, a few blocks from where the riots began on Thursday night.

The rioting seems to have been tamped down Saturday night by a strong Nat’l Guard presence. Several things are coming out of the riots:

  • Minnesotans are shocked and dismayed. This is not the vaunted Minnesota Nice we are so proud of.
  • The area of the first riots is a criss-cross of major streets. The focus was the police precinct house where the officers who killed Floyd were assigned. The area is a former second hub of the city—Lake Street, a long, straight thoroughfare that was a major commercial hub 50 years ago and is now home to many small businesses, some ethnic, some showing signs that the area is gentrifying. It runs through lower- and middle-class urban residential neighborhoods.
  • There was a world of difference between daytime protests and nighttime violence. For example, the Friday crowds were large during the day. Singing, sweeping up broken glass and helping merchants along Lake Street clean up/fix up. The evening crowds were destructive, violent.
  • The Mayor, Jacob Frey and/or the governor, Tim Walz, decided not to crack down Friday night. Presumably, they were following lessons learned in the 1968 Chicago convention riots (don’t bottle people up). That was a mistake.
  • As a result of the mistake, there is some substantial finger-pointing going on (and busses arriving, motors running, waiting for politicians to be thrown under them). The current trend in blame-shifting is that ‘outside agitators’ are the source of much trouble. A lot of the damage in both Minneapolis and St. Paul has been done by roving groups driving cars without license plates, which is used to support the outside agitators hypothesis; on the other hand, those arrested so far have been mostly local people.
  • Police violence has been a simmering issue, one that embarrasses Minnesotans (and is therefore too often ignored). Adding to the tension here is that, prior to Floyd, a black man named Philandro Castile was shot in his car by a Hispanic-American officer in 2016 in what was apparently an unjustified use of force. The officer was acquitted of all charges. Then, a year later, an Australian white woman, Justine Damond, was shot and killed by a black (Somali) officer after she called them to report a disturbance. In that case, the officer was prosecuted and convicted. As one person said, “So that fuse has been burning for a long time.”
  • An interesting side note re: social media in the modern age: Son James’s neighborhood is about 10 blocks south of the Lake Street/Minnehaha intersection you saw on TV (Target looted, Precinct house burned). The great majority of the area surrounding the rioting is residential. On Thursday night, people were cautious, but there was no activity in the residential areas. On Friday, the decision not to use the Nat. Guard left the neighborhood fearful. The neighborhood (about 20 contiguous blocks) has a website/facebook page. That became a nexus for arranging a community meeting, advising calm, safety advice (all lights on all the time; stay inside because Nat. Guard will be patrolling, etc.). On Saturday, it became the source of continuous reporting of activities near the neighborhood.

A long-winded report, but—bottom line—the violence seems to have diminished here, but it has added another stone on the cart we’re all dragging right now.