Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Albatross's Wings, The Writer's Hands

I was called into the meeting room by the team leader and department head. They closed the door behind them, and we talked about my hands. There's concern that I no longer have the stamina to type for a complete shift, and that despite a specialist physio and tailored exercises, the deterioration of my hands is merely slowing, not stopping let alone improving. They discussed the options available to me, most of which I didn't even know were possible, and they said over and over, that the important thing is for my hands to get better.

I could only nod, and nod, and nod, and eventually they began nudging me for any sort of response.

I hadn't said anything because, because-

All I could think about was how embarrassed I was that I couldn't do my mindless, unchallenging day job, that I'd gone from one of the better workers to one with very erratic and generally under-average output, the shame of feeling like dead weight, the dread that rises up every time I consider starting the job hunt again, worry about how injured hands will affect my ability to secure let alone perform any other job, stress about whether I could jump industries with no qualifications and knowing I can't afford a pay cut, all of which they expected, and all of which is a thin cover for how scared I am, because I can't write.

I added some humiliation into that mix, because there's nothing more humiliating that crying in front of people, especially when those people are your bosses.

Various people at WFC told me what it is necessary to achieve in order to be a 'writer'. You must make this amount of money per year from your writing, or you must sell this many stories, or you must be able to live solely from your earnings as a writer. Most of these people shot me down when I disagreed. Perhaps, "a writer writes," came across as naïve.

There was some confusion, I think, in what was being discussed. Writer as career versus writer as identity. Choosing to write with an exterior goal in mind versus the act of writing. I have harped on enough already about my relationship with fiction writing. I write because my mind is wired that way. Anything that looks like a burgeoning career is an afterthought (and, increasingly, an accident).

Now, with my hands in the condition they are in, I have learned about my relationship with the act of writing, which goes beyond mere fiction.

Voice recognition programs have been suggested over and over. I believe this stems from focusing on 'word', as opposed to 'written word'. The end result of both speaking and writing is the same, but the methods are not.

I am not a speaker. There is not a person among my friends and family that I do not stutter, stammer and trip over my words when talking with. I can't tell a story. An idea clear in my head comes out confused and stupid on my tongue. Writing and speaking, they're different processes, allowing for different tides and the flow of thought at different speeds. My voice is not my friend. I trust my writing. A writer writes, and writing is an act, not an end result.

I write, because I cannot speak my thoughts out loud. I write all this fiction because my mind can't help but seek the story in all things, and they must out or I'll drown. I write letters, because I can't see all my friends, and we still have so much bullshitting to do. Blog posts, because I pick up so much in my day to day life, I ruminate and chew over subjects, and they must out or I'll drown. Thoughts on books because I care about books, to remember what I thought of them later when all the books I've read between now and then have overridden that story. Trip reports and curious incidents, for my own memory, for the interest of others, because this is the record of my life. Confessions or self-sabotage, pieces like this, that I have to write, because I can only write this pressure out of me, there is no other way to keep me from imploding.

You're a writer. Imagine you're a writer. All these things, you write. When you are home and your time is your own, you choose between writing letters, stories, blog posts, all of these things, and all these things you want to do, they are all writing.

These are your hands. Eight fingers and two thumbs are your silent voice, your real voice. Now, the act of writing makes them hurt. That pain is not a pain you can ignore.

You have to choose what you write in any one day, because you can no longer leap from one act of writing to the next. You understand that if you choose to reply to this email, you will not be able to work on your novel afterward. If you work on your novel, you will not be writing that blog post any time today. If you write this, then when you are finished writing, you will not be able to write any more, because you will be hurting.

You are aware of this whenever you use your hands. When you're cutting a tomato, ironing, lifting a bag of groceries, jotting dates down in your diary, you wonder how much of your ability to type on that day you are inadvertently whittling away.

When you sit down to write what you have chose what to write, because you only have one go at writing now. You are unable to look at the keyboard without knowing this writing you have chosen to do, that you can't not do, that you love doing, is going to hurt.

You choose carefully.

And then, sometimes, you'll get home after work and stand in your room. There's a massive pile of books on your desk you want to write about. Two inboxes full of unanswered emails that are only increasing, all your understanding friends telling you not to respond, to save your fingers, but you don't want to be silent. Blog posts you've wanted to write about trees, and movies, and who knows what else. Trip reports not just from San Francisco, but Japan you want to finish. Your wretched novel, so close to being complete, sitting and waiting for you to wade into joyous battle with it once again.

And you know, standing there with your hands aching deeper than the bone, that the choice has been taken from you. Tonight, you cannot write.

Another day ends and you have not accomplished what you wanted. Your list of things to do only grows. People are waiting. Deadlines are ticking closer. You're trying, but you're not winning.

All this goes around and around and around in your head, and slowly, the pressure is wearing you down, and you're starting to feel the cracks. The writing you manage to do is not enough. Inside, you're whiting out with everything waiting to be put to words. Outside, you're silent. You can say so little of what you wish to say, you find with increasing regularity you simply choose to say nothing at all. You are becoming invisible. With enough time and silence, you'll cease to exist. No one can hear how loud you're howling, because you can barely hear yourself over the growing white noise in your head. You know this place. It's a bad place. You've been here before.

You know how to relieve this pressure: the same way you've been getting it out out out for all your life. Write the fear and frustration into your diary, so fast it makes no sense, so truthful it can only be ugly, but get it out out out and you'll stay sane sane sane.

And you can't do that either.

You're losing not just your wisp of a career as a writer, but who you are as a person, and your sole ability to keep yourself out of that deep dark hole.

Imagine being afraid to write. Imagine being afraid you'll never write again.

I keep thinking of the albatross I met in Monterey. She came to the aquarium injured, and while her bones healed, she can no longer lock her wing in place, and thus cannot spend the weeks at sea that albatrosses do, cannot glide asleep for hours on end as albatrosses do, can no longer be an albatross.

What is a writer who cannot write? An injured albatross. A pitiful memory. An aborted identity.

This was written over the last couple of days. Because I have chosen to work on this tonight, I will not be writing anything else.

Imagine you're a writer. Imagine you can't write.

What do you do?