Wednesday, December 17, 2014


It's a predicament.  I never learned to type.  For... what... ?  More than half a century, let's say, I have managed by looking down at the keys to type, then up at the text, then down again at the keys, and so on.  The system works, all other things being equal.  I do it virtually every day, and stuff gets written.  Now, though, with a pain in the neck that doesn't seem to want to go away, it has become a problem.  Even though I prop up my laptop at eye level, as my daughter suggests, I still have to move my head fractionally back and forth to look down at the keys.  Which results in... well, this morning, after only a few minutes, a nasty and persistent neck spasm.

As a predicament, it may not seem like much.  I think, for example, of Ram Dass and the catastrophic stroke that deprived him of his greatest gift, the ability to speak extemporaneously to eager listeners with wit, insight and wisdom.   But it's similar in that it challenges my deepest and most ingrained sense of identity.  I'm a writer.  This is what I do.  And when I can't do it, or can do it only at the cost of severe, not to say excruciating pain, this small predicament leaves me confronted with the prospect of not being able to be the person that I thought I was.  Even for a day--though it has been a full week now, not being able to write leaves me feeling empty, worthless, good-for-nothing.

Oh, I can manage to squeeze out a couple of paragraphs, like this entry.  But, worse than the mechanical problem I have described, the pain seems to drive all thought out of my head.  This morning I had intended, for example, to review an art show that I saw yesterday, but that requires the kind of attentive and sequential thought of which I seem to be incapable right now.  The attention is constantly diverted from the paper (I mean, of course, the screen) to the pain, and the mind blurs with lassitude in a kind of self-defense.

I don't mean to complain, though I'm sure this sounds like a complaint.  My purpose was merely to describe the predicament as best I could, so that I might better come to terms with it.  Like every other human predicament, it offers me the important (if unwelcome!) opportunity to learn...  I notice how I cling to that identity.  So what would it be like not to be "the writer"?  And what would I need to do to adapt to that new reality?  What happens if, and when, I begin to lose my writer's curiosity and intelligence?  The writer's ambition, which gives me a sense of purpose in my life?

These are tough, scary questions.  I have my neck to thank for bringing them so forcefully to my attention.

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