Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Lately my youngest son, who tends to like to play the pessimist anyway, has become obsessed with things that don’t work.  It’s something of a family joke that stems from our recent vacation to Disney World in Florida, and it started with the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster in the Magic Kingdom.

My son had picked out our first Fastpassed ride of the day and it was a good choice. Neither of my kids love roller coasters, but this one was just the right kind: not too fast and not too jerky, not too upside down or backwards, and not too dark.

We had a great time on the ride. Then, as soon as we exited, they shut it down temporarily because of technical difficulties. We counted ourselves pretty lucky at that point and felt it was a great start to our adventure. And it was.

We really did have a great trip, and I don’t think we actually broke Disney World.

But it turned out that this was the beginning of a trend, because it began to seem to us that every ride we either went on or were just about to ride had to be shut down. We thought it must somehow be us.

It happened when we were in line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Test Track, and Splash Mountain. The Kali River Rapids, Haunted Mansion, Seven Dwarf’s Minetrain, and even the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover and the oddly fascinating Carousel of Progress, all shut down for a while not long after we exited them. And either all or part of our group was actually caught in a mid-ride shutdown on Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, the Great Movie Ride, and Spaceship Earth.

It really got to be pretty funny. But our greatest shut-down adventure occurred on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride on which we remained stuck, three boat lengths from the exit, for about half an hour.

The live version of Captain Jack was a little less creepy.

Opened at California’s Disneyland in March of 1967 and at Florida’s Disney World in 1973, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the older rides in the Disney collection, spawning the billion dollar movie franchise and wowing Disney guests with animatronic creepiness and complete historical accuracy.

Well, that might be a stretch (the historical accuracy, not the creepiness), but the ride does make great use of its theme song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me),” written by George Bruns and Xavier Atencio, paying loose homage to that old timey sea shanty “Dead Man’s Chest.” That song, featured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island published in 1883, has allegedly been around so long the origin of it is unknown.

Except that it’s not. Stevenson’s book itself was probably the most influential work of fiction defining the image of the Golden Age pirate until 2003 when Johnny Depp hit the big screen as Captain Jack Sparrow. It turns out Stevenson’s pirate song was pretty influential, too. When versions of it began to show up on the stage and the small screen decades later, the origin of the words had become muddled, lending credence to the rumor that this was a song that had been in the air for centuries.

And that’s how folklore is born. Because “Dead Man’s Chest” is a Stevenson original, and “Yo Ho” is a sort of Disneyfied version of it, written for use in the creeptastically wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Of course it also appears in the movies and is a favorite of Jack Sparrow’s. If you ride the attraction at Disney World, you can hear animatronic Jack sing it to a parrot while resting comfortably on a chair in a room full of treasure, about three boat lengths from the exit.disneyworldstopped

If you’re lucky enough to get stuck on the ride at that point, you might even have time to learn some of the lyrics, if you can hear them over the complaints of the nine-year-old sitting beside you insisting that he needs to use the restroom.

I have to give Disney World some credit, though.  After about fifteen or twenty minutes, they did raise the lights and turn off the sound, leaving only a kind-of-creepy Jack and his parrot moving silently to the tune. And for our trouble, we received Fastpasses that fortunately did not have to apply to the same ride.

Actually, I think it was a highlight of the trip. We got a great story out of it, a few laughs, and when anyone asks my son about his vacation, he smiles and happily responds, “We broke Disney World.”  In a strange way, the experience has even continued to help him work through his impatience since we’ve been home, too. When something doesn’t work out the way we’d planned, he shrugs and says, “We’re just experiencing technical difficulties. It figures.”

Writing My Hyde Off: A NaNoWriMo Adventure

One fall night in 1885, Mrs. Fanny Stevenson was awakened by the terrified screams of her dreaming husband. Concerned, she quickly roused him, to which he responded, “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.”

What Scottish-born writer Robert Louis Stevenson had been conjuring in his dream was the transformation of the upstanding Dr. Jekyll into the monstrous Mr. Hyde. When he put pen to paper to tell the story, his wife claimed it took him just six days to complete it.

Robert Louis Stevenson looking a little haggard. Like maybe he has TB. Or a cocaine problem. Or nightmares. Or maybe he just wrote a beloved classic novella in SIX DAYS.

Probably suffering from undiagnosed tuberculosis for most of his life, Stevenson was quite ill when The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came tumbling out of him. Some have suggested the feverish pace with which he wrote the novella came from a cocaine binge, but his family insisted that it was simply the frustrated workings of bedridden genius.

Whatever spurred him, Stevenson seems to have mirrored his characters, stepping outside of himself for those six days to indulge the part of him that had a story to tell, maybe a brilliant allegory of addiction, and certainly a classic story of the capacity for both good and evil inside each of us.

I’m sure you’re at least somewhat familiar with the story, but even so, it’s a quick read and well worth it if you’ve never opened it up. Maybe knowing that the initial draft was written in only six Hyde-like days makes it all the more chilling. And maybe inspiring.

Because it’s November, which means that it’s that time of year when writers of all walks of life, some experienced and some not, step outside of themselves and write a novel.

I swear I'll get started on those 50,000 words as soon as I make this really important sign for my office door.
I swear I’ll get started on those 50,000 words as soon as I make this really important sign for my office door.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began in 1999 with the decision of 21 friends in the San Francisco Bay Area to set themselves a ridiculous goal to each write a novel within a month. It sounds crazy at first, because, well, we’re talking about a novel here. It’s a long project full of research and imagination. Some of the greatest novels ever written took years or even decades to complete. And some of the worst novels did, too. Snoopy wrote for fifty years and never made it past his opening line.

But it turned out there was purpose in the madness of the plan, even if the original participants didn’t realize it at first. The group had such a good time with the challenge, they opened it up to a wider community the next year and 140 people participated. The year after that it was around 5,000. In November of last year, 310,000 adult writers and 89,000 young writers, from all over the world, participated in NaNoWriMo.

Not all of them completed the 50,000-word goal, but 400,000 people stepped outside of themselves to indulge that part of them that had a story to tell. What started as a silly little writing challenge has blossomed now into a huge network of encouragement, with resources for writers at every stage of the game before, during, and long after that initial, probably terrible, first 50,000-word draft.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is around 26,000 words, initially written in just six days, which gives me 24 days to write my additional 24,000 words. No problem.

I heard about NaNoWriMo for the first time a few years ago through my local library that was sponsoring a series of “write-in” events in conjunction with it. I’ve since had lots of friends participate in the event. So, this year, I’m finally doing it. I’ve researched, planned, and outlined what I hope will be become 50,000 revision-worthy words. In December, I’ll have to drink my potion and let Dr. Jekyll take back over to do the real work of revision, revision, and still more revision. But for now, I am stepping outside of myself and indulging my Mr. Hyde (minus the cocaine) because he’s got a story to tell.

Good luck to all my fellow NaNoWriMos out there! Obviously I’m glad you stopped by, but seriously, stop reading blog posts and get to work. You have a novel to write!