To be completely honest – brutally honest, even – I have not written much of anything lately. I did up a draft of something a few weeks ago, but have not done much with it since. Even my emails have been few and quite easy on the number of words. I have lost momentum, and I have lost my hands.
Earlier this winter I suffered what became a debilitating pain in my hands. When it started, I (being both a stubborn writer and a stubborn athlete) told myself to just work through it. I have been writing since I was in junior high; a little writer’s cramp wasn’t going to hold me back. Then the pain that had been limited to my right thumb a forefinger reached around my wrist to my little finger, and then up to my elbow and shoulder. I tried to force myself to be easier on my hand by using it only for writing and using my left for everything else. Holding utensils, dialling the phone, opening doors, brushing my teeth. I, who rarely take pain medication, rushed for the highest strength available on the shelves and took pills religiously every few hours just to be able to write without crying. Perhaps the painkillers sensed my dubious history of them, because they did little to alleviate the pain that was now in both of my hands and had paralyzed my right into a useless claw.
Doctor. More painkillers. She couldn’t send me for carpal tunnel testing until the pain proved to be ongoing for at least three months, though it was clear that I had pinched not only my median nerve, but also my ulnar nerve (which runs from little finger to elbow – mystery solved). There was talk of cortisone shots, but it would only be a temporary fix.
Physiotherapist. Acupuncture. Both he and I knew from previous experience that I react well to acupuncture. He had used it in both of the dance injuries I sought his treatment for. Eleven needles in both arms, twice a week for three weeks.
It hurt, and because it hurt, I wanted to write about it, but even if I had wanted to risk it, I couldn’t physically hold a pen anymore, and I could only type with two fingers. Not being able to write made it hurt even more. Being able to express myself on the page has always been important to me, and if I had not yet been able to appreciate exactly how much, I certainly knew once the weeks passed by.
At first ideas went on writing and rewriting themselves in my head, as they have always done, but even that started to slow down. If I didn’t know when I would be able to next scribble it down, what was the point in torturing myself with all of these ideas trapped in my head? I couldn’t dance them out or sing them out or plunk them out on piano. I had to write them down.
Why don’t you just get a dictation program? a few unassuming people asked. And then more and more people asked and it became the most unbearable question. I wanted to grab them and scream “Because I’m a writer! I write things!” Talking is not writing. Not even thinking is writing. To me, not even typing is really writing. (I type to rewrite, but rarely can I produce a first draft at my computer.) Writing is writing.
I needed to get a pen back in my hand before I struck someone.
In lieu of writing, I read. Books, as usual, and magazines, which I have never read so much of as I have these past months. And then I made a stupid mistake. A mistake that I had been warned about in so many writing classes and still I convinced myself to do it anyway. I read the seven chapters I had written thus far and saw everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly, as it were. Any credit I was able to give myself was overshadowed by the corrections I saw immediate need for.
So my hands are healing, and my head is full of ideas for turning back instead of looking ahead to the remaining 90% of the novel yet to be written. As time has passed I have managed to rein in some of my obssession with missing scenes and chapters, but there are still more old fixes I want to make than there are new, momentous ideas.
My three months of “ongoing symptoms” are nearly up, and in the meantime I have been rehabilitating my writing. I know that I always held my pen too hard and pressed to hard and wrote sideways and all those other things that I had assumed would not catch up with me. My writing now looks like a third-grader’s cursive workbook, large and graceless, but the effort is clear, and I will do whatever practice necessary to earn back my pen and my penmanship. I have organized it like a workout regiment, and this long-neglected blog is included.
I’ve still got a lot of book to write, and I can feel the spark of creativity waiting for the right moment to ignite.