Mentally Constipated

Writing isn’t a skill that comes naturally to me.  And I know what good writing looks like when I read it.  I have had students who were naturals, fashioning well constructed sentences, laced with alluring imagery.  I have friends who make words sing, in fact some have earned their living producing written words for money.  Many teaching colleagues who literally drip poetry were my neighbors in nearby classrooms.  Not me.  Not this kid.  When this story, River of January, fell into my lap I didn’t know where to turn.  The idea of me writing a book was laughable, astonishing, the last thing an old girl like me would take on.

I tried to outsource the effort at first.  I beat the bushes to get help from a number of people. who would essentially write it for me.  You know those friends.  The one’s who would love to put their lives on hold to unravel my convoluted sentences.  And in fairness, some individuals actually did that for me, I am deeply grateful and indebted to them.

Still, sitting down at the keyboard, I know what it is I want to say.  I know there is passion, anguish, ethereal joy.  But my brain flushes, just like a toilet.  The harder I push, the more words elude me.  It’s as though English becomes somehow unintelligible, and foreign.  I thumb through Roget’s, scan Webster’s, and finally have to walk away leaving my mental firewall to soften up.

Much later, while making my bed, eating red licorice, or watching “The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler” on the Military Channel the words form in my mind, elegantly phrased.  Then look out, I’ve got to jot them down before they evaporate, never to reappear.

I figure this writing business is a lot like golf, not that I play golf, mind you.  But my husband does.  He’ll come home from eighteen holes and it’s easy to see how his day passed.  I get a tapping Fred Astair through the front door when the links played well, or he stomps in cussing, fit to be tied with frustration.

Can any of us control the flow of magic when it visits?  Can any of us make magic appear at will?  I can’t.  That neuron synapse-ed mess I call my brain does not tolerate fools.  It shuts tight when I squeeze too hard.  And we have words, my brain and I, when the disconnect seals off from my head to my fingers.

To finish this bathroom-themed post, I must return to the natural.  Writing isn’t easy to fake.  I can push and bargain and swear, but the fluency of truth, of an honest phrase or an essential certainty is a gift of grace, not a product of stress.  When I am anchored to my spirit, not my head, the magic has half a chance.

An Ordinary Moment

Neither one of us had asked for this nightmare.  He was chronically sick, chronically scared, in such horrible pain, over-medicated, and our lives transformed into daily endurance tests.  Chad was trying to cope with more misery than I could fathom, and I was trying to cope with him.  That insight gave me needed perspective, and helped me (at times) to function.  Above all I did love him and knew for a fact that he would care for me if our situations were reversed.

I recall remarking to a friend at the hospital that I hadn’t signed up for this.  He took on a wry expression and responded sagely, “yes, yes, you did.”  He was right, of course, I had indeed.

Trying to mimic normal to the best of his ability, Chad rallied one afternoon, and announced he was going to use a birthday gift card to buy a new golf club.  There is a beautiful, forested golf course near us, and his card was redeemable at the pro-shop.  Though I shouldn’t have let him drive, it was a short dash and we both desperately needed a respite of ordinary.  This errand meant that I had, perhaps about an hour off nursing duty, so I began to watch a saccharine-sweet movie on my laptop. It hadn’t escaped my attention that romance novels and fluffy sweet films were becoming my obsession.  My only escape from this impossible situation.  If Chad was asleep, or in this unusual case out, I plugged in some trite nonsense and buried myself in garbage. 

I was so lost in a trivial DVD that I didn’t notice the time.  Becoming aware of the extended quiet it occurred to me he should have returned home.  A little more time passed and I finally heard the car tires on the gravel.  I hit the pause on the film, embarrassed to be caught watching such nonsense, and hurried to meet him at the door.

He slowly rose out of the car and his posture and carriage looked oddly off.  His gait was peculiar as he ambled to the house, bow-legged, his chin in his chest.  Hobbling straight for his bed, he mumbled he didn’t feel well and I let that pass.  He fell into bed and instantly dropped off to sleep while I stood by and watched him.  So very strange.

Quietly returning to my insignificant movie I could hear his light snores, and I tried to underplay how weird he looked when he walked in the house.  Abruptly I heard my name . . . Gail, Gail, Gail, and I darted to his bedside.

He was twisting back and forth shouting there was something wrong inside.