When last we saw our heroine, she was recovering from a somewhat rocky week involving an ER visit and a respiratory virus. Even so, this plucky lass chirped valiantly about how her health was improving, and we were left with the definite impression that she was indeed on the comeback trail and that henceforth, she would skate with ease and grace toward her various goals.
As I write this, January has just ended. This leaves me wistful: I love January, with its long chilly days and nights where we huddle inside and have plenty of time to read, write, and think. Perhaps next year, we should designate January as The Month of the Introvert.
In my last post, I mentioned my goal of writing for an hour each day for a month. I have developed an extremely sophisticated method for tracking my progress in this area: on each day that I write for an hour, I mark my little flip calendar with a W. The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant. It can be drafting or editing. It can be work on my novel, a story, an essay, a blog—as long as it’s some form of creative writing. (Writing and editing this post counts. Day-job writing, such as appellate briefs, does not. Nor do query letters or cover letters for submissions. Lines must be drawn.)
Against this backdrop, we return to that idyllic period, one week post-ER. Feeling moderately okay, I threw myself into work; as a self-employed person, I do not get paid sick time, nor do I have anyone to generate billable hours in my absence. I probably pushed a bit harder than I should have, but time, bills, and the Connecticut Supreme Court wait for no person. I spent most of my time on a petition for certification to said Court; even though it wasn’t due until the 28th, I made the executive decision to file it on Friday, January 25. For reasons you’ll see shortly, this turned out to be one of my very, very best ideas.
In the push to file the petition on Friday, I failed to follow my usual practice of writing before work. I did not expect this to present a problem, which just goes to show how quickly my memory can fade. At nine o’clock Friday night, just as I was sitting down to write, the phone rang.
(Ominous chord of music)
The talking caller ID announced that the caller was . . . my sister.
(Another, more ominous chord)
The only time my sister calls is when there’s something wrong with our elderly parents. She and I were not born to sing a duet. I hear people talk about how their sisters are their best friends, and it’s resonates with me in precisely the same manner as though they spoke of how they love cuddling with their toaster.
Sure enough, she was calling to tell me that Mom apparently had some sort of stomach bug. She would never make a direct request for help, such as, “You live closer—would you mind going over there to see what’s happening?” Instead, she dithered about how they’d called to tell her not to come up on Saturday, and things didn’t seem right, and she wasn’t sure what was going on, and she didn’t know if maybe she should plan to come up tonight. The unspoken message was clear: You do something. So after a few minutes of dither, I cut her off: “Let me call and see what’s going on.” She responded by telling me not to be authoritative with Dad “because, you know, he really hates that, and you tend to do it.” I allowed as how I just might be capable of speaking to my own father without instruction.
I hung up with her and phoned my parents. Dad told me they were calling 911, and so we planned that I’d meet them at the hospital. I clicked off and looked with longing at my Surface, lying closed on the ottoman. It looked so sad and hopeful, the last remnant of my peaceful evening. But there was nothing for it, as the Brits say, so I tucked a notebook into my bag and headed off to the hospital.
I drove to our family’s regular hospital, where I’d been a patient less than two weeks before. When you have elderly parents who are prone to mysterious aches and pains, you become familiar with the ER ritual. I know where the no-charge parking lot is and which of the two desks is the one where you check to see if your family member has arrived. Mom’s ambulance had not yet arrived, so I settled myself in the waiting area, took out my notebook, and wrote. Even though I knew her illness wasn’t terribly serious, working on actual story was beyond my concentration, so I settled for one of my favorite writing exercises, describing my surroundings. The idea is to pay the closest attention possible, using as many senses as feasible, and also to have a record of these details in case I find myself wanting to use such a setting elsewhere.
I wrote two paragraphs, checked in with the visitors desk again, and wrote another paragraph—about twenty minutes in all. Then, my phone rang. It was the paramedic advising me that they’d taken Mom to a different hospital. So I packed up my things and headed to the hospital twenty minutes away.
As expected, we were there most of the night. Mom had a nasty GI bug, necessitating blood draws and intravenous fluids. Dad and I stayed with her; my sister waited at their house, having arrived around midnight to clean that which required attention. Finally, the doctor discharged Mom, and we headed out in the frosty pre-dawn.
Eventually, I reached my own home, falling into bed as the sun began to rise. Around 2:00 p.m., I got up and made chicken soup which I took over to Mom. When I arrived back home, I felt the first ominous rumblings of an intestinal disturbance, so I went straight back out to the pharmacy for the requisite supplies. From there, it was all downhill.
As it turns out, a person can sleep for thirty hours straight, with small awakenings of no more than five or ten minutes interspersed. During snippets of consciousness, I checked on Mom, and I texted a client and emailed my writing teacher, advising both that the various materials they awaited would be delayed. The cats, bless their furry hearts, gathered on and around the bed; I, in a grateful fog, hauled myself out of bed to put food in their bowls. Apart from these few moments of awareness, I slept straight through from Saturday night to Monday morning, when I awoke refreshed and feeling quite normal apart from some lingering queasiness.
Although nausea and coughing lingered, I felt surprisingly lucid after the Lost Weekend. I treated myself gently, rather like an invalid who has recently returned from the sanitorium. I sipped water, nibbled crackers, and sucked cough drops. I remembered to pat myself on the back for having filed the petition on Friday. I tended to a few undone household chores, dozed, and woke again with enough clarity of thought that writing seemed feasible.
A week earlier, with my own emergency room visit fresh in my mind, I sent my main character to the ER with a heart attack; now, I decided to explore bits and pieces of my character’s hospital stay. I discovered that, contrary to what his wife thought when he was first brought in, he was not having an affair with his lovely young assistant. He had not been a paragon of fidelity up to this point, so when I started writing the scene, I assumed he was in bed with the assistant when his heart attack hit. Instead, as I wrote, I discovered that he was telling the truth when he said they were working at the time. What he does not know (!) is that not only does said assistant have a massive crush on him, but she is not the most stable person even on her best days. So as he drifted in and out of consciousness in the ER, the assistant behaved as if they were in a romantic relationship, which is why the next day, his wife did not believe his (truthful) protestations of innocence. How it all plays out, we shall see.
In any case, I successfully climbed back on the hour-a-day bandwagon. Being a generous soul, I decided to give myself half-credit for writing on Friday; while I could theoretically have jotted a few more lines at 3:00 a.m. while my parents dozed—Mom in the bed, Dad in the bedside chair—even I have my limits. The fact that I managed to write Saturday evening is, to me, a pretty breathtaking thing, made more so by the fact that I don’t remember doing it—I only know it happened because I marked the calendar when I finished.
So, that was January. My single non-writing day having fallen on the final Sunday, the lone unmarked day on the calendar is not as conspicuous as it could have been—rather like losing a molar instead of one of your front teeth. The small penciled W on the preceding Friday shows that on that day, I tried. I thought of arguing that since I spent so much more than an hour writing on some other days, it all evened out, but the point wasn’t to write for thirty-one hours. Rather, it was to commit to the daily practice. Insofar as it was in my control, I honored this goal. For this reason, I count January as a successful writing month.
That’s the takeaway: Do the best you can with whatever you’ve committed to, whether it’s a writing practice, an eating plan, or something else. Make the effort, shuffle the priorities, put in the work. Turn off the television; put down the bagel; log off the internet—whatever it takes to get you focused on that thing you decided was so important. Just don’t get so batshit crazy over it that you forget what’s most important, like the ones you love. Sometimes, circumstances will be outside your control; that’s called “real life.” But if you’ve truly done the best you can, give yourself credit for what you accomplished. Then, flip the calendar and start again.
February is off to a sound start. Writing and editing this has satisfied my obligations for the first two days. Since there are fewer days in February, there should be fewer opportunities for my plans to off the rails.
I said, “RIGHT?”