July 23, 2010

fortification spectrum

I had only a couple of writing-related things I really wanted to get done today. First off, respond to some friends' pages on a chapter exchange. Then maybe get back to looking at the first pages of my so-called fast novel.

Unfortunately, as soon as I sat down at the computer, I realized I couldn't make out half the screen. I shifted the monitor up, then down, then back, then started sliding back and forth in my less-than-ergonomic rolling desk chair, trying to get a new angle, before I realized that the flickering glare covering most of the left of the screen had nothing to do with the computer and everything to do with my brain.

I was a little bit scared and though I pushed through reading the pages, and even sent out one brief and probably unhelpful email with feedback, I had a hard time settling down to anything, wondering when the pain would kick in or if it would and trying to strategize when to take a Tylenol and also trying to figure out what on earth I could do with myself that wouldn't be seriously hampered by a pulsing light show.

The last checkup I had, my doctor asked me if I had ever had migraines and, not seeing what she was getting at, I rather chattily described the flickering in my field of vision I'd experienced on a couple of occasions before crippling headaches. (It's so freaky that I was kind of excited to talk about it.) She then informed me that migraines with aura were a counterindication to the prescription she was about to write for me, and instead wrote me a referral for a neurologist (an appointment I have yet to make). She offered me a one-month renewal of the medication but warned me that if it was her, she would stop taking the drugs immediately. She said, "I tend to be a very careful person. Maybe the medication increases your chances to 1 in a 100,000 instead of 1 in 300,000, but if you're that one person who does have a stroke, the odds stop mattering." Clearly, she is a very good doctor.

So I did stop, but then I started again, and now I've had the most intense aura ever -- according to Wikipedia it's sometimes called the fortification spectrum, as the flickering light starts to expand and look like the walls of a castle seen from above.

A dear friend of mine is a fiction writer who suffers migraines. A few years ago, she also had a very minor stroke, and this has made it infinitely harder for her to proofread. She just can't process the words on the page the same way she used to.

Last month in the New Yorker, Oliver Sacks wrote about the alarming case of a Canadian novelist who had a stroke and lost the ability to read. He could still write, but as soon as he put his pen down, what he just wrote looked like nonsense. It's called alexia, the inability to recognize written language.

Obviously, strokes can be a lot more serious than just losing the ability to read. But it's a frightening prospect nonetheless.

This probably won't make a difference, but I'm going to go drink a few tall glasses of water -- my go-to solution for every kind of malady, physical or psychic.

July 19, 2010

cool down and emptiness

The weather has finally cooled down here, which means a respite from tiny summer dresses back into comfy long jeans and t-shirts. It's always exciting, initially, when it's warm enough for those flirty sundresses, but I feel more like myself, somehow, when I can wear a minimum, modest amount of clothing of the sort in which I could easily undertake any of a range of possible, improbable tasks: dish washing! ditch digging! apartment fleeing! spontaneous dance partying! And truth be told, I can't remember the last time I did any writing in a rose-patterned tea dress. Jeans it is! All the cool things get done in jeans.

The heat wave also stalled me out on what I have been wishfully referring to as my "fast novel project." The concept? Write a fast novel. Sounds good, right? Well, easier said than done. (Duh, you say. To which I say, touché.) Working from a set of deadlines dubbed the "nerd grid," I've been trying to quickly turn out some pages of a novel I've had in mind, while remaining accountable to my two friends who initiated the exchange with each other in order to stay motivated through the editing progress of their own manuscripts. Deadlines are a gift, and I was (still am!) really excited about their stimulating possibilities. But absolutely no writing could get done in my apartment at 42 degrees Celsius with my one sad, whirring fan. Maybe this is not unrelated to my point about jeans above. Sitting around in fever heat in the politest alternative to underwear one can scrounge up does not inspire literary genius, or even say, a couple of average sentences, which is what I more reasonably strive for, in general. I did manage to do a bit of editing on my existing novel-in-progress, but that's it. But the problem about arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines is that once you breeze by one, it's very hard to re-conjure your existential faith in the rest of them. But we'll see.

The other problem with writing right now is that -- for prose, anyway, in my own limited experience -- one really has to be calm to write. And I'm not calm. I think a state of not calm is a great one for dreaming things up, for getting excited about a million different projects, for thinking up beginnings and endings and complications, but it is not ideal for that discipline of sitting back down (and down and down and down again) at the computer. That requires its own special kind of...I almost want to say emptiness, in which you can find enough stillness and space to let the story come on its own and fill you up.

July 9, 2010

back from the void

Even though writing and thinking about writing takes up most of my day in one form or another, writing about writing is not always something that comes easily or naturally. Maybe it's because some self-preserving part of me doesn't want to give over even more of myself to something that already dominates my life, or maybe it's because there are already so many wonderful book and writing bloggers that I don't feel compelled to add my voice to the mix. Or maybe it's because so much of working on a novel is a repetitive struggle (simply the daily alternations between emotional extremes of "The writing is going well! Hurray! Life is amazing!" and "The writing is going badly. Everything sucks.") that the documentation of the process is not always a tempting prospect. I'm not sure who wants to hear about it, let alone read about it.

So much for my excuses. Add to the above procrastination, stress, and the usual time constraints. It's hard to believe it's already July. Since January I've served on a literary jury for grants, taught an eight-week creative writing course, finished an essay for a YA anthology about fathers and teen daughters, and went to an amazing artists' colony in upstate New York. And I've finished a draft or two of the novel, too. The life-stuff in between, I don't know where that went.

That's the bare bones recap, and not at all what I sat down to write. Didn't I just finish saying that I don't want to write about writing?