In the past few months I have been perfecting the skill of Writing Anyways. This is something I thought I had already honed, but apparently not; perhaps it is a skill that you’re never completely done learning, like being kind, or not eating the entire pizza.
One year ago I quit my real job. “Real” meaning I got up every morning, put on pants that did not have an elastic waistband, drove to a place and did something for which I received a paycheck, health insurance and a 401k. I did not like my job. I liked it at one point, but it had turned into something monstrous that hurt me badly to do.
I didn’t really have a plan when I quit, aside from giving myself a month to recover and then finding something else. This is not how one is supposed to go about quitting jobs, but I was lost and wrecked and I couldn’t force myself to do it anymore. It was worth being reckless to get my soul back inside my body. About halfway through my recovery time I realized that I should not be reading job descriptions with dread in my heart. If you hate a job before you even get it, how could you possibly succeed? And I don’t like to succeed. I prefer to excel. This wasn’t going to work.
And so I turned my hobby into a business, thinking it would be a side project and that I’d work part-time in other jobs until I had clients and classes to support me. Almost immediately, I had more work to do than time to do it. I quit the restaurant job I’d taken after just a few months, once private clients started coming in regularly.
Only six months later I asked my husband to move out.
Here’s a story: the day after I got home from Clarion West, I took my dog Vesper to the dog park. I had missed her horribly and wanted to reconnect. She has always been a complicated animal, adrenaline-charged and management-heavy. Long story short, she knocked me down and when I stood up I realized my left ring finger wasn’t working right. I said to my wild-eyed, panting dog, “I don’t think it’s supposed to crunch like that when you bend it.” She concurred.
For fear of swelling, I started to tug my wedding ring carefully over the break. As I did I remember thinking, very calmly, I don’t think this ring will ever go back on.
In the end, it didn’t.
My Clarion Divorce took two years to the day from that moment I pulled the ring from my finger; I didn’t plan it, but the court date just happened to land on the anniversary of the broken bone. My life seems to be full of that kind of poetic drama.
A few weeks after my ex moved out, my left hand started going numb. I have had years and years of strange symptoms all over the spectrum, mostly neurological, digestive and musculoskeletal. Some have landed me in the hospital, and very few of have led to diagnoses or effective therapies. I have spent a lot of my life at the least very uncomfortable, being told I’m probably fine, and there’s nothing obviously wrong with me. This whole hand-going-numb thing, though, finally got some attention. I saw a great neurologist (who’s friends with Ted Chiang!), talked to her for a very long time, went in for a battery of tests, got another MRI… and again, nothing.
At my follow-up, she printed some sheets off her screen, circled something on one page, and then squinted at me. She gave me a diagnosis. An actual diagnosis, one that made sense, explained all of my symptoms. What a weird, unique experience that was.
So: I have Fibromyalgia. Which, at first, was a huge relief, because FM isn’t a brain tumor or MS and it justifies my saying no to late nights and staying in bed when I feel like crap. But as I’ve gotten some distance from the relief of the diagnosis itself, other feelings settle in. I have a chronic illness, an invisible disability even. My therapies work sometimes, but I have very bad days. And sometimes the idea of living forever with this seems impossible. It will take time.
In the fray of all of this, did I write? Sometimes. Some weeks, I wrote a lot. Some months I wrote not at all. It’s easy, when you run your own business, to freak out about your business every spare moment of your day. I had to learn how not to do that. I had to learn how to allow myself to be sick and not to feel guilty about lost time. I learned to value frequent short naps–I often solve plot problems in those thirty-minute breaks.
Most importantly, I learned that my writing process can change to accommodate almost any circumstances, but that I don’t have to force it to accommodate all circumstances. I don’t have to write if I’m too cold, because being too cold means I will shortly start having other symptoms that will literally ruin my day’s productivity. I don’t have to write if I have a migraine. I don’t have to write if I’m on a client deadline or if I taught all day.
Writers are tough on themselves. It requires a great deal of mental discipline to sit down and write, and even more to apply structure to that writing, to cut things you love from a manuscript, to keep working on a story that you’re dead sick of looking at. We force ourselves to do a lot. I know I can hit absurd weekly word counts. I can write a story in a day. I can edit to unreasonable deadlines.
But can I be kind to myself? Can I make space to breathe, and still turn out stories, pay my bills, keep my business going?
That’s what I’ve learned to do this year, I guess. It was a much harder process than learning to write, or to write well, or to write every day. And yeah, I have a feeling it’s not a process that is over quite yet.