Life Made Other Plans

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Copyright Beabe Thompson 2013

In 2009 I found myself near Waco at a dollhouse miniaturists’ annual convention. The weekend started out badly, with flooding east of Austin shutting down roads, including an Interstate. My shotgun rider was a Norwegian national who insisted we use a map app, despite the fact I knew a route from Houston that avoided lengthy and busy roads. I think she was rethinking her plan after taking a potty break in an enormous canebrake off the Interstate.

Hours later I killed time before dinner  talking to spouses of other miniaturists and started feeling very uncomfortable in my left arm. Heart disease wasn’t in my medical history, so as  uncomfortable grew to excruciating pain, I didn’t call for an ambulance to cart me away. My mantra has always been if a body part isn’t about to fall off and no bleeding was involved, no ER.

By morning the pain was nauseating. I spent most of the weekend attempting to get a phone signal in what was then a dead zone for my cell provider, trying to get in touch with my husband and to search for what ailed me. I should have told my companion to find a way home and gotten myself back home ASAP, but instead ended up Sunday driving the backways to Houston with my arm over my head to ease the pain. NSAIDS and other OTC meds were of no use.

My doctor ran tests, X-rays, CAT scans, and came back with spinal stenosis, herniated discs, bulging discs. Heavy meds including Oxycontin followed, leaving me in a drugged state. Physical therapy and medication finally won out and my life returned to normal.

Two weeks ago it happened again. I was taking Vinyasa yoga and feeling great, then BAM! People with bad backs and necks understand how this happens. A turn, a twist of the body, phase of the moon, and it begins. When the worst moves in, your brain anticipates pain, bad pain, muscles tighten and weaken around inflamed nerves. There’s so much pain you can’t concentrate on work. You can’t do normal chores because it may keep the flare-up going or make it even worse. Luckily I have a thoughtful, patient spouse.

My novel writing has been impossible during this time. I stare at the WIP in Scrivener, feeling the throb in my arm despite heavy duty meds, and sometimes I just have to cry. My former pain doctor warned me of symptoms of imminent paralysis. I’m paranoid of getting jostled or knocked down, of that slender highway of nerves severed or permanent pain. Despite that, I’m lucky. What I experience is temporary for the most part, despite arthritis.

I feel like a complete whiner compared to Frieda Kahlo who managed to paint masterpieces despite a bus accident that should’ve killed her. If I used the frustration and anger about my spinal issues, my writing would be different. The good angel on my right shoulder wants happiness, sunflowers, fireflies, nights under the stars holding my husband’s hand. The left, the seat of the pain, wants to write novels with darkness and savagery, full of despair, loneliness, frustration, anger. Where my mystery/suspense writing ideas find a route.

So life changed for me over seven years ago. No more scuba diving, backpacks full of books, huge purses, heavy boxes. I can deal with those minor things. If I was a Catholic saint, perhaps this could be a suffering for God, albeit a minor one. But I’m an Episcopalian with spinal issues, and a drive to write. The pain will subside and my muse will wander back. She’s quite flaky, my muse, and perhaps I’ll lure her with a few Ritter’s chocolates and honeyed chamomile tea. Off in the wings of my life stage, she grows impatient, stamping her feet with impatience and need. We’ll get there because we have to exorcise the stories in my head.

Rerouting, Rerouting. Muse Found. Destination Ahead.

I posted this on my personal Facebook page and had such a reaction that I decided to repeat it here.

“For all of you who write and don’t get any kudos from your family, I understand. Keep at it, have fun, feed your muses, find writers’ groups, just don’t give up. It’s kind of like when you were a kid and drew a pretty picture. We fellow writers toil alone, but we can support each other as one. Have a terrific day, and let the words come. They’re poised inside your brain and want to live on a page. Go for it, and don’t let anyone’s lack of support kill your dreams.”

This seemed to resonate with a lot of my writer friends. It’s not a condemnation of family for not paying attention, but a reiteration that we can’t seek gratification by approval of family, friends, or society itself. If we have muses that drive us to paint, write, dance, or whatever our gifts are, we’ll wither away if approval is what those muses are fed on. No one starts out a prima ballerina or piano virtuoso. Or a famous author. All those things are practiced hour after hour, after tedious hour, until we meet success.

Gifted teachers keep us on the right track, correct, critique, guide as we learn and grow. Sometimes we keep struggling in the face of condemnation by family or friends, and we have to turn off their negativity or abuse. This is your show, not theirs.

I remember sitting in an aunt’s kitchen as a college student listening to one of my father’s relatives condemn me for wanting a college education. Luckily I was determined to finish school, becoming one of the first in my generation in his family to get a college degree. I knew writing was what I had to do, and nothing was going to get in my way. Nothing. Over the years I’ve been waylaid by life, taking detours from creating and writing, but knew someday my route would lead me back.

So find your map, reroute your life travels, be free to not only have family and friends but also nourish your creative drive. You’re the only one who has the power unless you give it away. But that’s for another post.