Posted by: Judy M. Goodman | April 17, 2010

Waking Up

My recent attack of writer’s block probably started with a not-very-well-thought-out Medical Practice administered to me in 1951. “Practice” is the legal term for “you can’t sue me however stupidly I’ve acted.” Fifty-nine-years later, I was in the hospital with an IV full of morphine, antibiotics and ringers (did that mean I’m engaged to the nurse who attached the ringers?) and my legs wrapped in electric massage units. It’s like being tied to the bed without the sexual component. I never did understand that desire in human beings, but I’ve never been faced with it before. For the record, I was not a happy camper.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the stupid practice and the medical BDSM (no, LeeAnne, there were no Bunnies, Duckies, or Silly Monkeys roaming around the hospital, but that would have been preferable, except the duck scat and those damn hospital booties.)

Nor was it the five holes in my abdomen which, BTW, without the morphine, is still every bit as painful as an old-school, 2.5 foot long gall bladder incision. Included in my botherations yesterday, were needing an escort to the potty, strolls down the hall at 4AM (as long as I had the escort for the bathroom) and the series of frustrations which bombarded me leading up to the procedure. Who knew that a Gastric Band would require chewable calcium supplements and multiple vitamins, crushing pills and a load of extraneous adjustments completely unrelated to the actual losing weight stuff.

Of course, we all know stress is a major factor in writer’s block. So let’s not forget the freak-out session called MRI of the brain. I can’t imagine anyone getting off on being force to wear an antique football helmet while their head is shoved into a barrel. Still running into this without the buffer of a stuffed tummy was quite a trial for someone who used food as a protection from emotions. Which, of course, meant another hurdle after the procedure.

In short, this past month, I’ve felt as if Monty Python’s right foot has been chasing down a narrow corridor. The perfect environment for breeding writer’s block.

Still, unavoidably, life gets in the way. It’s not an excuse or an avoidance and it’s not the end of the world – even if it feels like it. Sometimes, the greatest writing prompt the human mind can devise just isn’t enough.

The remaining question is how does one get from advanced freak-out to literary flow? I don’t know. I just know it happens. While I’m not interested in rehashing my assertions in an article for about whether writer’s block is real, I really do believe that the human mind is very much like a farmers field. It requires, not just serious crop rotation to maintain fecundity, but the opportunity to lay fallow from time to time.

That requires a great deal of patience in a society which values the work ethic. Ours is not a society which fosters patience. Yet, as creators (not to be confused with “The Creator” even though a strong connection of one sort or another may well be necessary), we need to embrace all of the “fine intangibles” generally eschewed by Type A personalities. Not that we should never push ourselves, only that we must be prepared for those moments when pushing creation is detrimental to us and our work.

Sometimes we just need to prepare the path for natural inspiration to find its way back to us. In my case, the surgical nurse came to introduce herself and give me an unobtrusive pep talk. I told her that I couldn’t decide whether I was feeling anxious or excited about the major surgery. She said, as long as I had the choice, I should go with excited – obviously the better choice, though I hadn’t perceived it as a choice until she suggested it.

When they’d rolled me into the operating room and were strapping me to the table as if I were being crucified – obviously, my subconscious wanted to take a different option, she stood over me and took my hand.

“You’re about to go to sleep and have lovely dreams,” she said to me with a big smile. “What are you going to dream about?”

Without hesitation, I said “probably about the novel I’m working on.”

Did that ever add an edge to an already jazzed environment! I’m a writer? What do I write?

“Science Fiction?” said the anesthesiologist. “That’s wonderful!”

The next thing I knew everything in a different room was all fuzzy. I was waking ever more quickly, no longer even worried about what embarrassing things I might have said while drugged.

A couple of hours later, the friend who drove me told me the doc was particularly pleased at how things went. The more we chatted, the more awake I was. When she was long gone and midnight was approaching, despite the morphine and the comfiest bed I’d slept in for ages, I was even more awake. I started leafing through the notebook I’d thrown into my bag at the last minute.

The pockets were full of goodies and, even after removing the pages of class notes and jottings, there was plenty of room to fly. One of the goodies was the sequencing sheet for a project I started decades ago and couldn’t decide whether it was a novel, screenplay, or stage play. The idea lent itself to all three with totally different approaches: a film would have to be present day, theater could be a historical costume piece, and a novel could be a combination of forces. I started copying the sequence sheet with all the name changes that have taken place over the years.

Holy Crap! Those weren’t all the changes I was making. Plot ideas and characterization links abounded. I finished the sequence sheet, a character summary sheet and makeshift family tree – how in the universe did that spawn new possibilities?

Patience. Life will get in the way. It will throw curves and frustrations, but they aren’t limitations. They are the source and content of our writing. And a little directed dreaming never hurt anything!

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