Happy Halloween from spooky little Keene, where even the skeletons are neat freaks.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s divorce hearing, I’ve been trying to make a clean sweep of my own. After nearly 13 years of being one half of “us,” I’m trying to resurrect “me.” I’ve been spending a lot of time with friends, and I’ve been trying to make new friends. I’ve been trying to do things that bring me joy: walking in the woods, reading, writing. I’m looking forward to traveling, whether that be a drive down to Boston to meet Fred next weekend or a bus-trip to New York to meet Annette in December. After so many years of marriage, I’d settled into resignation, trying to make do with what I had. Now at the just-right age of 35, though, I’m realizing that life’s too short merely to make do.

One concrete sign of this New Me is my New (or perhaps that’s Old?) Name, DiSabato. As a writer, I believe in the efficacy of words: a rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. In reverting to my maiden name, I want to reconnect with the Me who was young and optimistic, the Me who had more dreams than resignation. DiSabato was a girl who did what she wanted to, damnit; Schaub was a woman who did what others expected. In this new phase of life, I want to expand into Big Possibilities rather than settling for What I’ve Got. Being content with what you have is a noble act: I don’t intend to give it up entirely. But sometimes reaching for the stars rather than settling for what’s at hand is a good thing, and I’m in the mood for a good stretch.

Believing, again, in the efficacy of language, the other concrete symbol of this New Me involves words: 50,000 words, to be exact. After years of claiming that I was the only writer in the known universe who didn’t have dreams of writing a Great Novel, I’ve decided to write a bad one in exactly a month. Indeed, I (like so many other good folks in cyberspace) have decided to embark on November’s National Novel Writing Month. That means that tomorrow morning (or tomorrow afternoon, after I’ve submitted grades for this term’s set of online classes) I’ll sit at my laptop and write some 2,000 words, and then I’ll repeat that act on Tuesday, and Wednesday, etc, until November 30th. By month’s end, I plan to have a weakly written, poorly plotted narrative of at least 50,000 words. It’s a crazy goal, but someone’s gotta do it.

Let me assure you that I have no pretensions about this silly little game. I’m approaching November as a literary experiment: what really happens when one little monkey sits in front of a typewriter (okay, laptop computer) and randomly pounds out words with nothing but a word-count as her goal? Unlike many other NaNoWriMo participants, I have no working title, no narrative outline, no characters, and no plot in mind, just the belief that my typing fingers will lead me to the next word. I’m not expecting to produce anything remotely like a Publishable Product: what I’ll write will be disjointed, confused, contractory, and often barely intelligible. I’m picturing a Literary Experiment akin to Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, but worst, or the literary Bastard Child of Virginia Woolf and Jack Kerouac. If things go badly, I’ll call it stream-of-consciousness; if things go really badly, I’ll call it Postmodern. In a word, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo because I really want to write a novel; I’m participating because I want to learn a lot about myself (and maybe a bit about writing) from the process itself.

There are, of course, all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t be embarking on a silly quest like trying to write a novel in a month. What I should be doing is concentrating on the academic job market: I should be revising my dissertation for publication, excerpting a kick-ass writing sample, lining up references, poring over the job listings in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and picking out my Interview Outfit for the MLA convention in December. Back when I decided to end my marriage, though, I simultaneously decided to take a year off from the academic job market: I’m taking this year to get my personal life in order so that next year I’ll have (I hope) a better sense of what I really want to do when I grow up. Yes, I should spend this year-off revising my dissertation and other research for publication; yes, I should spend this year doing All the Right Things to position myself for next autumn’s quest for a tenure-track job. But you know what? I don’t wanna.

Yes, you heard that right: I don’t wanna do All the Right Things to position myself for next autumn’s job search…at least, not yet. Part of the reason why (a huge part of the reason why) it took me so long to complete my dissertation was that halfway through I ran smack dab into a wall of Ambivalence. I was working on a project I was truly interested in, writing about books I loved. And unlike all the PhD Horror Stories you hear, I had a great committee who supported what I wanted to write about and who didn’t fight and bicker amongst themselves. When I first started on the path toward Dissertation, a trusted undergraduate advisor warned me of the pitfalls he’d seen other students–particularly female students–fall into when advisors steered them onto topics that matched the advisor’s, not the student’s, research interests. No, I’m happy to say that none of my PhD advisors ever tried that. My dissertation difficulties were rooted in the tensions of a marriage that placed Lori Completing the Diss as a grand, relationship-saving goal; the fact that I was geographically isolated from my Department, friends, and colleagues and was consequently depressed for much of the diss-writing process; and the fact that soon into my project, I found myself Hugely Ambivalent about scholarly writing and the convoluted kind of “Academese” I was forcing myself to write.

What I discovered the summer before I completed the diss–what I discovered on a California cliff after deciding I didn’t care whether I became “doctor” after all–was that it was the spectre of Awful Prose I was bridling against. The reason I was researching the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Norman Maclean wasn’t because I loved the dry and stuffy prose of Academic Scholarship. The reason I was researching Thoreau, Dillard, and Maclean was because I loved their fluid, breath-taking prose. With every dry and stuffy academic word I penned about these Great Writers, a still small voice in my heart-of-hearts whispered a heretical thought: “You could do this, too!” When I started writing my Pedestrian Thoughts essays the summer of 2003 and when I started this blog later in December, I was taking a huge step toward the goal of Being My Own Writer. I had no idea what I’d say in my Pedestrian essays; I had even less of an idea what I’d say in a daily blog. What I’ve learned, though, is that when you force yourself to say something, all sorts of surprising things appear.

And so I’m taking the month of November to make a Clean Sweep. Having proven to myself and the Academy that I can write a book-length research project, I’m turning my eyes to a different kind of book. Yes, I still intend to revise that dissertation: in his next incarnation, “Bill” will be a more personal, more readable narrative, the tone more akin with my concluding chapter than with the chapters that preceded it. And yes, I still intend to blog during the month of November: although I’m putting my “Pedestrian” essays on another official hiatus (an extension, really, of the unofficial break I’ve taken to navigate the divorce), I believe I’ll need the emotional, cathartic outlet of Hoarded Ordinaries to keep myself sane in the face of an entirely nebulous novel. Those of you who remember the blogging I did at the end of the diss-writing process know that I sometimes get inexplicably verbose when faced with a daunting deadline: there’s something about being pushed against a temporal wall that awakens my “get it done” spirit and the words, words, words that accompany that. So Ladies and Gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for takeoff. Lorianne has found herself a new Literary Trip and is ready to roll.