Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Been sick lately?

Sharon Wildwind

I have.

It was one of those self-absorbing, self-limiting illnesses. I could joke about dying because there was every likelihood I would survive, but for a little over a week life ground to a halt.

I drank gallons of tea. No-cook meals like cottage cheese and fruit took on the appearance of gourmet extravaganzas. Days when I didn’t have enough energy to check e-mail degenerated into not having enough energy to turn on the computer into Computer? What computer? Do I have a computer? That’s nice. My hair hurt. In fact, the list of what didn’t hurt was considerably shorter than the list of what did.

When I recovered enough to do anything, I read. That was a mistake.

Both books were by established authors whose work I love. They were well-written, and had complicated plots that built to exciting endings. They made me miserable. How was I going to get that good as a writer if I took time off just because I was sick?

As writers we have impossible standards for ourselves. This is day 84 of 2013 and I’ve done something writing-related 73 of those days. Of the 11 completely writing-free days, 6 of them were when I was sick. The other 5 I frittered away spending time with a friend from out of town, attending non-writing-related workshops, and I think I had the audacity to take January 19th off to go to a party.

By necessity writers live close to the margins. It’s not that we’re procrastinators (though most of us are at one time or another), it’s that there’s too much out there to cram into 24-hour days. We develop a fine sense of what we must push through today and what we can let slide until tomorrow or next week.

Illness derails that carefully constructed timetable. We’re vulnerable. We’re tired. Our perceptions and priorities get muddled. It’s like pushing a car’s brake pedal and accelerator at the same time. We desperately want to move forward, but we simply don’t have the energy. We’re stuck in neutral. We know that one day the energy will return, and when it does, we are going to be soooooooooooo far behind. Maybe far enough behind that we simply won’t start again. It will all be too much. At some point, even that idea is comforting. I’m going to walk away from this. I’ll never have to worry about it any more and won’t that be a relief?

Except we know that we aren’t going to walk away. Some day soon is going to be soooooooooooo horrendous. We’ll be working ever so slowly and feel ever so miserable. We’ll fight with our significant other, frustrated because demands exceed our resources, and it’s all their fault. Life’s gyroscope will right itself. We’ll make-up. We’ll find the energy. We’ll get through this. An unexpected good thing will happen. A better thing will happen. We might even notice how nice the weather has gotten. Eventually we’ll be back to full speed.

Next time I’m sick I’m not going to read. I’ll save that for when I can really enjoy it, and when I’m less likely to think my life is a disaster because I haven’t achieved what other writers have. Hopefully, next time I’ll also be a little kinder to myself. I’ll allow myself six days off without guilt. I can’t help but feel that would be a good idea.

Quote for the week
An illness is like a journey into a far country; it sifts all one’s experience and removes it to a point so remote that it appears like a vision.
~Sholem Asch, (1880 – 1957), novelist, dramatist, and essayist


Sheila Connolly said...

I'm the flip side: I feel tremendous guilt when I'm not doing something writing-related. It's my job. I chose it, and all the commitments that come with it. So why can't I give myself permission to take some time off and have fun? Go shopping? Go out to lunch with a friend? Take another stab at the endless genealogy search for missing ancestors? Well, at least part of the answer is, I like to write. And only by working hard at it will the universe allow me to keep writing. I think.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sharon, I hope the party you took January 19 off to go to was Poe's birthday party!

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I'm the same way. If I don't keep at the writing I feel terribly guilty. I'm working on getting more balance, so I try to do writing things in the morning and other things in the afternoon.

Son of a gun, Jan 19 was Eddy's birthday. I guess I was celebrating it, though probably not many other people there thought that's what we were celebrating.

Sandra Parshall said...

I think guilt comes with being a writer. We are constantly beating ourselves up for what we do and what we don't do.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, I agree with you about the guilt. It doesn't seem to be confined to writers. I hear visual artists, actors, etc. say the same thing as writers. There's just not a strong communal support for anyone in the artistic endeavours. Our families, our teachers all try to redirect us "for our own good" into things they consider real jobs. They have no idea how wrong they are. Writing is one of the realest jobs I've ever had.