I’d like it known that I feel lousy today. I’m on the second day of a (usually) three-day migraine. Well, I call it a migraine, but the symptoms are a little idiosyncratic—but that’s beside the point right now. For more than two days now, I’ve been dragging myself around like a half-drowned cat, looking pathetic and accomplishing practically nothing.
And wouldn’t you know, it annoys me. It really annoys me. I resent it when ill health gets in the way of my writing. It doesn’t happen continually, but on enough of a regular basis that I’ve tagged “Health” as one of the hindrances I’d like to shake by the lapels until its teeth rattle. When I was younger, I used to wish that I could be a bodiless intelligence. I always thought life would be so much easier that way; no weak flesh to interfere with my eager curiosity, no chemical impediment to the pursuit of wisdom.
Yes, I do realize (now) that there wouldn’t be much point to curiosity or to wisdom unless I had some physical presence with which to make use of its fruits. I realize that I wouldn’t be myself any longer, because I have been “sown perishable,” as one hindrance-laden wise man once phrased it. That’s part of my identity. We’re funny creatures, we humans, being neither angel nor animal, but something midway between the two. The physical we cannot shake off while we inhabit this earth; the spiritual we cannot ignore if we hope to surpass our current state. We’re stuck, one might say. And yet…
I’m reminded of an incident that happened to me a few years ago. I was still in the process of being diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia, and one episode was severe enough that my then-roommate drove me to the emergency room. While we sat in the waiting area, I voiced the thought that came uppermost to my mind: What bothers me most is that this is taking up my writing time. My roommate looked askance at me, as she so often did, and replied, “Girl, you need to rethink your priorities!” The whole idea of ill health being a hindrance, I realized, was based on the assumption that my life is my own, to order as I please. I gave that up a long, long time ago—but somehow traces of the assumption linger on even today.
Because we are this strange hybrid of heaven and earth, we are at our best not when we try to stamp out one or the other half, but when we blend them correctly. Wisdom, for us, is not something attained apart from the physical, but through constant submission of the physical to the spiritual, and care of the latter for the former. A story is nothing without conflict, and we are nothing without endurance through successive struggles.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down with a warm compress in a dark, quiet room.
No question about it—my day job provides the biggest hindrance to my writing. The job and I are deeply unsuited for one another. One reason: I can never find any time to myself. I’m an introvert in the extreme. People drain the energy right out of me. I need to withdraw in order to regain equilibrium. However, in a building meant to hold about 2000 people but containing upwards of 2300 at any given moment, there’s nowhere to hide. See the problem?
I’ll admit that it is a bit of a strain. I’ve tried to develop ways to circumvent this. I usually try to do story planning as a coping mechanism when I’m under stress. but every time I take out my notebook on my lunch break, someone absolutely must speak to me that moment. I have contemplated making a sign that says, Literary Therapy In Progress; Do Not Disturb. But since only a rare few actually read signs, I’m sure it wouldn’t do any good. I can withdraw to the farthest corner of the staff lunchroom, build a little barricade of my insulated lunch carrier and the canvas shopping bag in which I brought it, and hunch down so that my nose is mere inches away from where pen meets paper—and wouldn’t you know, somebody will still drag a chair beside me and strike up a conversation, as if I’m just biding my time until I have someone to talk to me. I even push the extra chairs to farther tables when I arrive, but to no avail. There isn’t a moment’s peace, and it wears at me. The stress then eats away at my creativity, so that even when I go home after work, more often than not, my nerves are too raw to do much of anything.
I gave up this week. I brought a book to read, a book that I have read a few times before and have enjoyed. That way, when I am interrupted, I can put it down whenever I must, without worrying about losing my place in the story by the time each visitor has moved along. My reasoning was that, if I can’t exercise my imagination one way, I might as well feed it a little in another way. How well is that working, you may ask? Yesterday I managed to read one short paragraph… in forty-five minutes. (For comparison, I usually manage approximately a hundred pages in an hour when left to myself.) So you might say it isn’t working out very well at all.
Today I even gave that up. I ate my lunch, just waiting for the first person to come swooping down. That first person was an older gentleman, whom I’ll call Henry. I do like Henry. When I call him a gentleman, I mean it in a very literal sense. Henry is one of the gentlest people I know. I have never known him to be cross with another person. He’s an upstanding, giving, hard-working man who has a colorful personal history and a wealth of anecdotes and trivia about nearly everything. He knows just about everybody, it seems, either first- or second-hand. I see him in the hallways often, or passing through my office, or in the lunch room. I asked him how he was. He answered a little atypically, mentioning some troubles with his legs. This reminded me that, some weeks ago, I had heard that Henry had been through a rough patch with his health. I had never learned what the doctors had told him, so today I asked.
A form of progressive dementia—that was Henry’s diagnosis. Of course he’s afraid. I saw it in his face when he talked about it in a low, quiet voice. He’s retiring this year, because he doesn’t know how long he has before it incapacitates his judgment. But Henry is a fighter. He isn’t the type to creep away, cowed, into the shadows. He’s already making plans for his newly-revised future: where he will live when he can no longer care for himself, how he will bequeath his property.
We talked for most of my lunch break. Not just about the diagnosis, no. Henry didn’t want to dwell on it, and I didn’t want to pry deep enough to hurt him. But thanks to him, I have changed my own diagnosis. I was always, still am, and always will be an introvert. That’s a certainty. What Henry changed for me today was simply this: he reminded me that stories come from people. I’ll always feel swamped by the overabundance of superficial connections I must make and break over the course of a day in the office, but I never want to lose sight of people like Henry. I don’t want to mistake slick customer service transactions for real human contact. If I do, I’ll always want to hide from it. If I hide from people, my imagination will slowly grow more and more anemic, and my stories will be empty shells, mere forms with no substance.
Long story short: one day when I was visiting my sister’s house, I came into the living room to find her watching I Love Lucy. That specific episode featured a version of the classic burlesque sketch “Slowly I Turned.” At once I thought, “This is perfect!” I had been looking around for a motif strong enough to carry a new blog. Really, this is perfect. I can easily see myself as a broken-down bum who stops every stranger to pour out the story of how some interloper stole away my true love. In a way, that’s what I plan to do here. You, my reader, get to play the role of the kind-faced stranger. I promise: no cream pies, no seltzer bottle. It’s my intention to hunt down everything that hinders me as a writer, seize it by the throat, and shake it until it’s no longer a hindrance. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, it does to me. You can judge for yourself.
Approximately once a week, on each day of the month which happens to be a multiple of seven, the previous installment of “Slowly I Turned”: Writer vs ‘Real World’ will be deposited here from athenaeum.wikispaces.com. In time, we may well end up migrating all the content from that site to this. We shall see. At any rate, welcome to hmsnowfantasynovelist.com!