Category Archives: Creativity

To Blog or Not To Blog

I follow Kristen Lamb’s Blog and a while back, she wrote a post titled “Would Hemingway Blog?” When I went back to refer to it for this entry, I was surprised to learn it was written back in September. Which means I read it back in September. I swear it feels like it was just yesterday, but obviously her words had staying power because that post remains in my subconscious.

Her answer to the question was a resounding yes, followed by three exclamation points. I admit my first reaction to the question was, no, Papa would not waste his time pursuing such activities when he had earth-shattering novels waiting to burst from him. But, she went on to explain how he did, in a way, by using his journalistic muscles to write “clean, strong prose.”

It made sense to me, yet I still can’t imagine Papa tweeting. Maybe it’s because I’ve yet to join the tweet bandwagon. I wanted to get the blogging thing down first.

At first it seemed like I was reaching. Could I do it? Could I write something worth reading? By others, I mean. Would anyone care about what I had to say? And what exactly did I want to say?

I chose to focus on my health, mainly as a therapeutic practice exercise. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and the audience would be small. I wouldn’t make too big a fool of myself!

At first, I looked forward to posting and then life sort of got in the way and I let this blog languish for a long while. Which, ironically, defeated the therapeutic intent I meant it to have, at least on myself.

Now, the more I think about Kristen’s words, the more convinced I am she is right. Blogging is a good thing. If only to strengthen your writing muscles or to instill some writing discipline. And then, there is also the icing on the cake: the connections you make and the people you hear back from. Sometimes weeks after you’ve posted a piece. The fact that someone will take the time to hunt back into your archives is definitely priceless. (Thank you, Alice)

I gave myself the task of posting every day this month in honor of my upcoming birthday. But, I’m beginning to think it may turn out to be a far more valuable gift than I intended. As I relearned today, time waits for no man, or woman. If I want to be a better writer, I better get to it.

This is supposedly how Hemingway's studio was, down to his Royal typewriter. I find it hard to believe he would leave it behind. I can't imagine being without my computer. Would Papa let go of his typewriter? Inquiring minds want to know.

This is supposedly how Hemingway’s studio was when he lived in Key West, down to his Royal typewriter. I find it hard to believe he would leave it behind. I can’t imagine being without my laptop. Would Papa let go of his typewriter? Inquiring minds want to know.

Because There’s So Much More To Life

Earlier this year when RA claimed my hand for a few months. I got it back!

I was indulging in wishful thinking a few days ago, wishing there was a way to make the day longer than twenty-four hours. The main reason I felt this way is because RA can be so selfish and unpredictable and voracious that you never know when it’s going to eat up a big chunk of your precious hours. As Alice commented on my previous post, you have to plan activities around your RA. If you don’t give it the attention it feels it is due, it hits back, robbing you of even more time.

I set up this blog to help me cope with this disease. Maybe subconsciously I thought that if I gave it some special attention it would ease off on me. And for a year my sporadic writings pretty much focused on the disease. And then a few days ago, I had an epiphany. This blog should not be about RA and its effects on me. It should be about me and my effects on it.

What partly triggered this change of focus was my visit to www.rheumatoidarthritisguy.com. I was looking for kindred spirits and I found pictures of so many. Pictures of their hands, hands doing all sorts of things: resting, gardening, playing musical instruments, typing. Hands not deterred by their particular inflammatory process. It made a profound impression on me and as more pictures were being requested, I submitted the one above to www.showusyourhands.org. I tagged it “a quilter’s hand,” but I could easily have called it a writer’s hand.

So this is a sort of sendoff to RA. I’m pushing it into the background. It may frame my life and I know it will creep into what I write, but it’s not my life. I’m busy. Busy with my quilting, busy with my writing, busy with an intense self-study on writing fiction. I have five books to study and tonight I’m cuddling up with On Writing, a book by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King.

And kudos to RA Guy, a true super hero!

Today I’m Broke

Strawberry

Strawberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some days I’m flush and I forget. I forget I have an illness. An illness that never goes away. That can only be contained. I equate it to living on a high wire. One from which you can never climb down. You are always there, suspended. Make a sudden move and you’re tumbling. And the worst part is not the tumble or even the landing; it’s the struggle to get back up onto that high wire. Because that’s where you are safest, on that thin grey line.

What makes me rich is energy. Some days my cup is full. Or at least, half full.

“You look great,” my friend says. We are out, dinner and a movie. One of our favorite things to do. And I do feel great. I treat myself to a strawberry margarita. After all, strawberries are anti-inflammatory. I’ve been doing my research. Strawberries are “medicine,” as is chocolate. And what better way to have strawberries than in a tall, cold, rim-salted glass?

That was two days ago and now it’s time to make another deposit into that good old energy bank. So soon. Perhaps if I had slept more that night I wouldn’t have leaked out so much energy. But the writing bug bit and I stayed up till the wee hours. Writing is medicine, too. Or at least, therapy.

Words have to be my greatest ‘disease modifying drug.’ Reading them and writing them. Forget the chemo; forget the steroid. I take them regularly, my little crutches. Sometimes they make me feel like the women of Star Trek, who became beautiful after popping pieces of colored jelly. As it turned out, that’s all they were. Placebos. It was actually the belief in themselves that made them beautiful.

I know my chemical drugs are not placebos and I know they help me, but I cannot rely on pills to keep me up on that high wire. I don’t want to rely on pills. I prefer to think of them as garnish, a sprinkle here, a scatter there. I’d rather the main course be the things I do that make me happy, make me feel worthwhile. Being productive sends my energy level soaring, gives me the balance I need not to tumble or stumble.

The catch-22 is, of course, that I must spend energy to make energy. Sort of like, you must spend money to make money. The trick is to deposit more than you plan to withdraw or you end up with a negative balance and no overdraft protection.

Which is definitely my case today. So when the question, “What do you want to do tonight?” arose, my answer was, “Rest.” I have learned my limits and more importantly, my limitations. I try to observe them and live within those confines. I have learned after all these years with RA to be faithful to me.

Therefore I will rest and refill my coffers; I have a long list of projects and deadlines requiring my attention. And I have no doubt that tomorrow will find me feeling like a million dollars again. For you know what else they say.

Tomorrow is another day.

And maybe next time I’m out, I will try a chocolate margarita.

Why not?

Sleep-Inducing Figs

With the help of steroids, I can hold and wield my pen. It is miraculous. Pen and paper are my friends. Friends that do not abandon me. Friends that do not betray me. Friends that do not grow tired of me. I carry them wherever I go. I write whenever I can.

I do not hesitate to write all over the white space of the latest book I’m reading. It is a book on writing creative nonfiction and the juices stir. Not even the margins are safe from my flying pen. While I wait during the interval between the Physician’s Assistant and the Rheumatologist, I scribble.

I scribble with my new pen; it feels right in my hand. It is where it belongs, the purple ink flowing resplendent among the fine black text. I’ve been reading an essay about artistic space. How you should carve it out of nothing if you must. How you must value it and not let anything take it from you. How you must snatch it from the very jaws of life.

Because life will attempt to take it from you, snaking out tendrils of despair to coil around your creativity, thereby starngling it. If you allow  it, if you succumb, it is akin to eating “sleep-inducing figs.” Partaking of this poison dish allows you to go through life somnolent, numb to the call. Under the influence of a narcotic that makes you quiescent.

The author’s words resonate with me. I recognize myself. I hear her; she is writing about me. About what has been me, so far. There has always been something else to do, someone else to do for. Compulsively, I would begin pieces, stories, journals, only to abandon them before finishing. Later, I would tell myself, I will write later.

Sitting in my doctor’s office, I realize later is now. Later must be now. I block out the sounds of both hesitant and purposeful footsteps along the hallway. I ignore the office staff’s susurrus voices and the other patients’ nervous responses, and I write. I write furiously and needfully, dreading the moment I will have to stop, my brain a flurry of words, thoughts and feelings.

I marvel at how I can grip my pen so easily, without pain. I feel grateful for this simple gift. I am nothing without a pen in my hand anymore. I jealously guard these moments while the margins of my book disappear in a sea of purple. Every few minutes, I glance toward the open doorway; I am like a starving man guarding his food. Words are my sustenance.

Eventually, my doctor walks in and, reluctantly, I close my book. We talk, we plan, we concur. I’m to stay on steroids to control the pain. I’m to see a pulmonologist to evaluate the persistent productive cough. He reaches for his phone and immediately contacts that office for me. They will call you shortly to verify the appointment, he says.

I gather my things and stand up. He smiles and shakes my hand, holding it gently, always so gently. I walk out of the hospital in which I worked for eighteen years. In the parking garage, I decide to walk up to my car. My body feels light as I climb the sunny open stairwell. When the door to the fourth level slams shut behind me, I realize the only sign of my exertion is a fire in my chest. And that fire makes me feel strangely alive. Acutely awake.

Thy Name is Fickle, Thy Way is Stealth

I keep forgetting I am ill. I forget it for days at a time. I run around at a speed reminiscent of my 30’s. I feel twenty years younger, which is a nice change of pace. I used to feel ancient, ready for death. Not anymore.

My illness brings me up short. Literally. It stops me cold and won’t let me forget for long. It is selfish and narcissistic.  It likes to be front and center; it doesn’t appreciate being shoved aside. It derives its satisfaction from reminding me of my limitations.

I give in to it. I have no choice.  It is not from defeat, but rather from strategy. I know how to beat it. It does not know how to beat me, for after a few days of rest, I arise from my bed ready to face life head on once more.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a fickle disease. You never know from day to day how you will feel, how it will affect you. You don’t look sick. There are no outward signs of your illness, unless your joints are permanently twisted by it. The most obvious being your hands. It likes to attack your hands.

Time was when my hands were so stiff and swollen; I could not bend my fingers to grip the steering wheel of my car. Driving my daughter to school was agony. I would shake my hands at each stop light, as if that would shake off the pain. Or at the very least loosen them up, but it didn’t work. I drove with my palms.

I worry about my hands; I’ve always liked my hands. As I said to my first rheumatologist, when he told me I had a “good case of arthritis” in my hands, “I need my hands.” His curt reply was, “Everybody does.”

I know everybody does; I was merely reaching out for help. It wasn’t forthcoming. He almost let me die. He left me untreated long enough for fluid to collect around my heart and lungs, compressing them. I should bill him for my hospital stay.

That’s another thing about RA. It assaults your whole body. The “arthritis” in its name is misleading. It doesn’t differentiate between joints and organs.  Any site will do for its malevolence.

You are supposed to be wary, not invite it in. You walk a high wire, making sure you don’t overdo in order to maintain your balance, your equilibrium. And when there is no choice, when you know you will be stressed, you need to block some time off to rest and recoup. And that is not just hearsay!

I am reminded of that time and again. The resulting lethargy is a weight that inundates you, making it hard to think, hard to move, hard to breathe. You are surrounded by a fog of pain. Putting a simple meal together tests your limits. The FATIGUE is so pervasive and overwhelming you think of it in capital letters.

Tai Chi helps me combat my illness. My present rheumatologist wants me to practice it every day. In an ironic twist, it is Tai Chi that made my illness lunge forward and knock me down this time. For I became so involved with our Branch and the preparations for our 20th anniversary celebration this past Saturday, that I wore myself down to a confrontation with RA.

And RA always wins.

For the moment.

RA can stop me forever, but while I still live it can’t stop me completely. It can’t stop me from writing or composing my article for our Tai Chi newsletter. Tapping on the keyboard is a great exercise for my hands. It keeps my fingers strong and supple. I have my grip back and I mean to keep it. I need it to seize RA by the neck. And never let go.

I have RA, but RA doesn’t have me

Fingers

Image via Wikipedia

I woke up this morning, thinking. I do that a lot. Both wake up  and think! I consider myself lucky; I have the ability to do both. My hands are the first things that enter my consciousness. Can I move them without pain, can I flex my fingers normally? I hold hands with myself. I exercise and manipulate my fingers, get them to loosen up. It takes a few minutes, sometimes more than a few minutes.

This is a daily ritual for me and I’m sure for many RA sufferers, but this morning my hands took second place. I had something more compelling on my mind. Writing. Words. Lots of words. 15, 000 glorious words.

Tapping on my keyboard is a good workout for my fingers, but more importantly it is a good workout for my brain. Writing is therapy for me. It is a creative outlet. Writing about my illness helps. I find that if I personify it, it is easier to deal with. I can face my enemy and laugh in its face. I am the Black Knight who, though armless, refuses to give up the fight, “It’s just a flesh wound!” (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)

Yes, RA, you are just a flesh wound to me. You may stalk me while I sleep, but you cannot hold me captive for long. I slither from your insidious grasp with morning’s first light. And I hold you at bay all through the day. You cannot keep me from doing what I want to do.

And what I want to do is write those 15,000 words, complete my work in progress. I will concentrate on exercising my vocabulary as well as my fingers. I will throw myself into my work and let it suffuse my mind and spirit. I will go where you can’t reach me, RA, for my novella is not about you.

I may have you, but you don’t have me!