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The afternoon was warm and wonderful, but Lily Marshall didn't have the slightest inkling of what was happening in the world outside her laboratory. She was too busy processing some samples that a colleague in Chile had sent to her. The specimens were from an obscure corner of the Atacama Desert, and Lily had been tasked with studying not only their composition, but also any biotic content or biological potential. The Atacama Desert was well-known for being one of the driest places on Earth, and yet life even seemed capable of finding ways to survive in such a harsh environment.
"But, through it all, I've learned independence and self sufficiency and to strive to be the best I can even when -
when - there's nobody around to praise or encourage me. I've learned to be adaptable, to make the most of every situation, and that anything is possible if you're willing to devote the time and energy into making it happen. And, perhaps most importantly, I've learned that exploration and personal growth go hand in hand - but only if you're willing to step outside your comfort zone for long enough to see the world around you in a different light."
And so it's begun. I'm giving this a shot. This month, other writing projects will necessarily be on the back burner; I'll try to keep this updated with either novel excerpts or the trials and triumphs of my progress on NaNoWriMo. I'll try to keep up, but that's probably wishful thinking. I'm already a day ahead on that 50,000 word count, but I think that's a cushion I'm going to enjoy somewhere down the road when I'm struck with a tough week at school or a distinct lack of inspiration no matter where I turn. Azksjdhgisug wish me luck!
Writer's block. Or something like that. I don't know what I'm doing with this; I haven't written anything of this magnitude since, well, forever. Unless you count the manuscript I wrote way back in high school, but that was ages ago.
That, too, was me just writing for me. Though I did toy with the idea of trying to get it published.
I'm still not sure why I'm doing this. But I've started it, and I'm not the type to give up once I've begun. Maybe I'm going to regret this. I don't even know where to go from here.
It was nearly dark by the time they reached their destination for the evening. It wasn't much of a destination, really; more of a pull-off by the side of an obscure deserted desert road. “Okay, people,” Lily said. “Let's get this camp set up before we lose all our light. Annmarie, Phil, Patrick, start getting the tents put up. Piotr and April, why don’t you get the cooking stuff out and start on dinner? Jared, Maren, you’re with me; let’s gather rocks and make a fire ring. The firewood is in the back of the truck.”
Sometimes inspiration comes from a change of scenery - like an evening visit to a coffee shop crammed with undergraduates. I just needed to get out of my apartment; I was going stir-crazy, and it was no good for my productivity or my imagination. And so I sat with my netbook and an iced mocha that I paid too much for, and I just wrote.
Oh, and I skipped to some of the stuff that I really wanted to write about - leaving everything behind. Lily, like myself, just picked up and left one summer. And it transformed her, as myself.
Lily went into her office, closed the door most of the way, and picked up the phone. "Hello?" she said.
"Yes, hello, is this Dr. Marjorie Marshall?" the voice on the other end of the line asked. It was a male voice, but did not sound familiar in the slightest.
"Yes, this is Dr. Marshall speaking. May I ask who is calling?"
"My name is Taylor Bryce," he said. "I am one of the directors for the Astraeus astronaut corps."
Astraeus. Astronaut. Lily's head was spinning; she leaned against her desk for stability.
"Dr. Marshall?" the voice asked, sounding concerned.
They went to their favorite little café just off of the main drag and settled into a corner table. It was a quiet place, but it was homey – pink striped wallpaper, paintings of oceans and forests, a small vase of pink carnations at each table. The waitress brought coffee, and Lily and Piotr each ordered their favorites – potato scallion soup for Lily, and a chicken salad sandwich for Piotr.
Once the waitress walked off again, Piotr said, “So. This big news you've got. Tell me, have they finally promoted you to department head?”
Lily laughed. “Oh, it's better than that.”
On the road again – Lily had set out at the break of dawn, in a frantic and yet leisurely expedition from Stanford, California, to Melbourne, Florida. Her mind drifted back to her very first road trip, in her very first car, when her life was so very different. In high school, she had been an outcast, a rebel, a failure. That road had changed her – the couple of months she had spent out there made her realize that she was stronger than she had ever known, more capable than she'd ever imagined. She had loved and lost on that road.
I think I'm an idiot. I'm just so bad at actually being friends with people. Why does anyone even put up with me? I mean, if I were somebody else, I would probably hate me. I'm weird, and awkward, and nervous around other people. I'm scared that they are going to judge me for something - which means, probably, that they just wind up judging me for my social awkwardness, which just might be a little bit worse. I don't even know. But I think I might be lucky if I've still got friends around here by this time next year.
At school on my three-day weekend? Yes, yes I was. It wasn't entirely my fault; I had to finish my astrochemistry homework, and the only person who knew the trick to one of the problems was one of the guys in my class who was too busy to explain it to me yesterday. So yeah, I took the bus down to campus and we hung out in my office for a while trying to figure it all out.
And we did, eventually. I'll have to write it up to hand in eventually, but I've got some writing to do!
“Hi!” the woman exclaimed. “You must be Marjorie; I'm Nina!”
“Nice to meet you, Nina,” Lily said with a smile. “And you can call me Lily; I haven't gone by the name Marjorie since high school.”
“Lily, then,” Nina said. “It's wonderful to meet you! So where did you come here from?”
Lily almost sighed aloud; these getting-to-know-you questions would get very tedious, very soon. “California, how about you?”
“Houston,” Nina replied. “I work in space medicine at the Johnson Space Center. Well, at what's left of the Johnson Space Center ever since they outsourced astronaut training.”
I took a chance today. I've been meaning to try going to one of those "write-in" things that I keep hearing about on the group page, and I finally mustered the courage. It was in a fairly small coffee shop, so it was pretty easy to find the right group of writers.
My computer failed me for a good long time, but once I got it up and running again, I got myself on a roll. Wrote almost a thousand words in a half-hour "word skirmish". It was fairly fun. I think I'll go back there next weekend.
Well, it's official. I'm not getting knee surgery until January. My surgeon doesn't want me flying within four weeks of the procedure, and it's just too short notice to get it done before I head back east for the holidays. Which means I've got to get something scheduled for right after I return to the southwest. Right before spring semester starts. But, from what I've heard, I'll only be out of commission for a week or less, so I'll miss the first day of class, and not much more beyond that.
Now I need to solicit help while I'm incapacitated.
“Dr. Marshall, you are currently listed in the record as a primary team alternate.” Mr. Fisher paused, allowing that point to sink in. “Now, you are a very highly qualified candidate, but we do need to make these kinds of decisions. As of right now, Evan Burns is the primary geologist for the mission, and Heather Lyons the primary biologist.
“I understand that you have training in both geology and biology, correct?”
Lily could only nod.
Alternate? How am I only an alternate?
“Those skills put you in prime position to be the science team alternate - should anything happen to..."
And, I was back in mini-mental breakdown mode last night. It was stupid, I think, but I just can't shake the feeling that I don't belong here, that my entire life is just slipping right through my fingers.
I vented to a long-distance friend for a bit via text message. I think I'm better at being friends with people who are far away, but that's besides the point.
He called me, which only half surprised me. And I half surprised myself when I actually answered. But I'm glad I did. I'll figure this whole "life" thing out someday.
I've come to a terrible realization. Terrible, and beautiful, and terrifying, all at the same time.
I'm writing. Every day. Crafting a novel that I've written into the ground on more than one occasion. And I keep picking it back up again, keep struggling through it.
And then it hit me. This is
story. Not just the product of my imagination, this is actually in fact my story, the way I would have wanted it written. It's my past and my future. I
And Danny? I have frightening ideas about who he is.
Okay, I really wish I could take a step back from all this. How has my novel turned into my life in some weird and twisted dream? Maybe this is what happens when my characters find themselves in east central Florida. Because I've been there - and I've been there with
. I'm not sure what to call them. Friends? Mistakes? Whatever it is, it's stirring up all those old internal conflicts that I thought I'd been able to move past. And now I realize that I haven't moved on at all. My thoughts and emotions still float around in circles.
Lily sighed. “It's not that easy,” she said. Then, lowering her voice, she added, “I find myself almost hoping that something goes wrong and one of the primary scientists gets pulled off the mission.” She was ashamed to admit it, but Piotr was one of her closest friends, one of the only people she thought she could trust with such news.
“I know,” Piotr said. “But it will be what it will be.”
They sat in silence for a short while. Finally, Piotr asked, “What role will you be playing in this mission, then? If nothing goes wrong?”
Sometimes, all it takes is a group of people in a random coffee shop somewhere in an obscure corner of the city to get those creative juices flowing. I mentioned my plot to one of the girls who was there, and she was shocked that I was almost at forty thousand words and hadn't even gotten to sending my main character and her comrades to Mars yet. It wasn't until much later that I realized that the true reason why I hadn't sent them en route yet was because it wasn't about the mission, it was a commentary on society.
What if Danny had been killed out there? They had been growing progressively closer over the last few months, sneaking away at night to talk and to “talk”. He had become a rock in her otherwise-unstable life. Lily's fate with Astraeus, after all, was tenuous – more uncertain than it was certain! But Danny kept her strong. He understood her like no other guy ever had, and even though they had only been secretly together for a couple of months, she had trusted him with some of her deepest secrets. And he didn’t judge her for any of them.
“Don't play dumb,” he said. “I know you probably think that I'm bitter about not being on the mission, and you probably feel guilty for being the one that took my place.”
Lily sighed, and nodded. “I'm sorry. It must be hard to have the mission taken away from you like this.”
“Not at all,” Evan said, surprisingly enthusiastically. “Look, Lily, I signed on for this for all the wrong reasons. If anything, this was a wake-up call. I was crazy to think that I was actually cut out to be the breed of geologist that this mission requires.”
I'm so close now. That 50k mark is ever approaching. My story is getting closer and closer to that point where it's all got to just abruptly stop, and then course straight on through to an ending that may or may not satisfy me in the end. For the life of me, I don't know whether Danny is going to wake up and decide to stay with Lily. What if all the time they spent apart changes them beyond repair? What if things can never be the same? Is it okay for me to bestow upon them my own fate?
Before them stood a tremendous rocket, looming overhead like a giant cigar piercing the sky. At the top was the capsule in which they'd be spending the next several months of transit, which would become a ground base on Mars, which would house them for the long trip home again - but below it, there were tons of pure rocket fuel. Effectively, they'd be sitting on a giant bomb, and if one thing went wrong, it could send them into a gut-wrenching death spiral, plummeting back to the ground in a burst of flames and melting metal and crunching bones.
First Thanksgiving spent somewhere other than New York...seems like a success. I went to a friend's house, with a handful of other friends, and we celebrated as the bunch of misplaced misfits that we are. A lot of folks brought their significant others, who just so happen to be in town for the weekend or the month. I brought the Canadian historian that I hang out with because he still doesn't have a car. Nobody died from my sweet potato pie, and he really did remember me. Do we call that a success? I hope so. I really do.
Victory is mine! It took far longer than it should have, considering how close I've been to that 50k mark for the past week. But I successfully powered through to some sort of conclusive end. I don't think it was quite the way I imagined it, but it as closer than I expected. There were some questions left unanswered, some possibilities left to the reader's imagination. Some things I can't tie together since I don't know how they're going to end - either in the fictional tome, or in my real life analogs of those events.
Also, I'm a day ahead?
Well, it's official. My parents insist on sending a representative out here when I get my surgery. I tried to insist that I can handle it, and that I could find people to check in on me and help me out for a couple of days. But they wouldn't take no for an answer. I mean, it will certainly make things easier; I won't need to put myself out there and actually ask for help. But I don't need my mommy to take care of me. It will probably make me feel like a little kid again, stuck in time.
Physics. Physics, physics, physics. I spent hours today staring at my notes, at my problem set, to little avail. This class always makes me like such an idiot. And I've never felt quite that dumb before; I could breeze through almost any other class that I faced in the past, but this time it's different. I'm wondering if I'm even cut out to be in graduate school in the first place. What if I'm not? What if I really can't handle this in the long run? What would happen to my life then? I shudder to think about the possibility.
It's finally done. Sure, I hit that golden mark late last week and made it to the end of the story - but there were still just a couple of loose ends to tie up. A few more scenes to finish (or BS to a breaking point), some shuffling to do. Now, at least to the untrained, unediting brain, it seems to have some coherence without too many awkward breaks. But what do I know? I've hardly gone back to re-read any of it. I don't know if I ever will. Because that's not what this was about to me.
June 12, 2017
I can't believe I'm actually home. It's weird, for all those years all I wanted was to get the hell off of this planet. I never quite felt like I belonged here, and I had managed to convince myself that leaving it behind would actually make my life better, make me feel better. But it didn't fix my life. Nothing really changed, not in any clearly-defined, noticeable way. I'm still the same person who left Earth a year ago, with the same fears and insecurities. The only difference is that I've traveled a little bit more.
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