Navigating Fear and Instinct
Today’s been a damn weird day, and every last second of it has been me bouncing like a BB between fear and instinct.
There are deeper layers than simply this, but today I was coming to Jesus on my novel due end of October hopefully end of November absolutely, and I was also accepting while I’m much better post surgery, I still have some lingering chronic pain issues, and I need to be aggressive to address them. Both were problems I needed to solve, but neither issue had a clear answer, nor a clear place to seek the answer. The novel was actually the easy part. I’ve been to this rodeo.
This is the part where it comes undone in my hands because I did it wrong, because it’s essential I first do it wrong. It’s how I roll. I write 40-60k, it starts to lurch, I look back and see holes and frayed bits, and I redo. I have no idea what other authors do, but for me it’s all about the conflict threads. The conflict comes out of character, and I only know so much of their character when I write the synopsis or outline or both. By 40-60k, I know all about them. I know who they are, I know how and why the lie and what their nose does when they do it. I’m pretty militant about a main conflict through line, individual conflicts for each character (conflicts coming out of their individual character) and then they all knit together at the end in a nice big bloom, or sometimes a firecracker. This is a firecracker book. My entire goal is for someone to put this book down and go OH MY GOD THAT WAS SO AMAZING. I want them to feel not that I am amazing, but that the book was so intense that it was its own thing and an intense, incredible, happy ride. That, grasshopper, does not ever happen by accident.
I’m at the part, though, where I have to cut open my arm and saw through my own leg and all sorts of metaphorically wrenching things to find those lines of gunpowder. It’s work, it’s hard, and it’s stressful. So I’m pulling the book apart. I’m surfing the net and wandering around the house, and basically it’s existing above my head in some sort of multidimensional thing. It always looks like one of those expanding spheres they sell at science centers. It’s big, it’s crazy, and it’s where the story happens. It used to freak me out and make me feel like a failure, but now it feels like the midpoint. I’ll find the answer. In fact, I already got there this evening. (I didn’t let myself blog until I had the answer.) (I also had a marathon phone call. Multitasking!)
At the same time I was sorting through that, I was also problem-solving the pain thing. I’ve been going to the chiropractor a lot, and now PT, but I’m doing this big pingpong thing where I go back and forth between progress and fuckery. Pretty much I’m in pain all the time. The other day Dan said, “You seem like you feel so much better now that you’re not in pain.” I blinked. “Um, no, I hurt [rattled off about seven things, some pretty severe] and I took a pile of pills. But yeah, I’m a lot better, and I feel great. I just hurt still.”
I’m worried about the pills, however, and now that I don’t feel like I”m being dragged sideways into a pit of tar, I’d like to hammer this shit in the head and get better. I’m ready to climb out of this pit with my teeth if necessary. It’s on, it’s happening, it’s here.
Except how that happens has been really fucking hard to sort out. Because let me tell you. Nobody in medicine, traditional or non-traditional, knows shit about pain. They sort of know how to alleviate it a bit, but it’s all palliative. They have ideas on how to get rid of it. But they don’t know. Nobody knows but the person suffering, and they’re in pain and it’s hard to focus. And they don’t know what they know. They really want someone to just tell them what to do.
I’ve been trying to get someone to tell me what to do for a month. I keep asking, and they keep giving me their best answers. I try their way, and it doesn’t work, so I try somebody else’s way. Hell, I keep trying my way, and my way sucks too. Nothing seems to work. And then today I went to my MD and said, “Hey, you want to double check all these pills I’m taking? It’s a lot. I mean, it’s a lot of pills. Got any ideas for pain management?”
He said, “Yes, I have ideas. I want you to try Cymbalta.”
He’s actually suggested this before, but Dan had him go with Effexor, and it sort of kind of worked, and then I went off it because I couldn’t really write well. And I’d forgotten that part, somehow. I’d also forgotten how many people I’ve talked to who can’t write a word on Cymbalta. This afternoon, though, I remembered, and I dithered over the prescription I’d asked Dan to fill. I freaked out all over the place. Twitter is my witness.
Here’s the problem: if I take Cymbalta and it kills my creativity, it will screw me up. I have not just the above book but another book due by the end of the year. I have a third book due Feb 1. The last one isn’t contracted, but the first two are. And I can do all if it, totally. Free of my endometrial sludge, I’m on fucking fire. All I need to be able to do is sit in a chair without pain and get this shit out. Hell, I solved a problem that usually takes me three weeks and 50k of overwriting in one goddamned afternoon. I’m all over this shit.
Except if I take Cymbalta, I might not be. It might be okay! It might not. It might shut me down. And it’s not like I can just say, “Oops, it’s shutting me down. Better not.” It takes weeks or even a month to get on it, and double and possibly triple that to get off. Translated, failing Cymbalta could take me the rest of the year.
This would cost me three books. Two contracted. This would cost me my slots next year in the production schedule. I’d have to break my word. I’d miss out on that income and make it harder for me to sell on spec in the future.
That Cymbalta is a very, very expensive pill.
So that’s why I’ve been a fucking freak about it all afternoon. On the one hand, it might save my life. It might let me sit in a chair AND keep my brain, and there might be rainbows and puppies and everything happy and amazing in the world. It might not do shit for pain, might fuck my brain, and cost me three novels. Big, big risk. Big. And there’s no way to know except try. So I have to decide, am I trying, or am I accepting what I have going on right now, which is admittedly not great?
Except there’s one thing I haven’t factored into my choice. Instinct.
I put the brakes on my story and pulled it apart because a heaping backlist of published books has taught me when I’ve taken the wrong turn. I know it by the smell and the way the scenes start to shape, or fail to. I know what tool to use to fix it. I’ve got it down. With the health stuff, I’ve had years and years of listening to my body, but I didn’t have access to the one part that was actually fucked, so I didn’t really know the answer. I horse-traded a lot of getting by, but in the end there was one fix I didn’t know I needed.
Now I’m not managing chronic pain, I’m trying to recover. There’s nothing wrong with me. I just need to strengthen. But I have a lot of ground to recover, and unless I want to go into a bubble, some of the things I try to do are basically hurting me. It’s a really hard line to ride.
Every instinct I have lately is to run. I want to bolt down the street. Dance like a fool. I can’t–every time I try even a little bit, I get hurt. I have instinct then too. Not yet, something whispers. You need to go, but not yet. Every week I get a little stronger, and if I listen, really listen I can hear this far. Now stop. It’s an intensely delicate dance. I want to go, and that’s the push nudging me on, but I have to know when to yank back. It’s not unlike knowing where the characters are going and being excited for the story I know is there but using my smarts to slow down and do the thing right.
I was trying to do that with the Cymbalta thing, but fear kept getting in the way. In the same way as when I was more of a greenhorn I thought every fuck up meant not that I had work to do but that I was a big faking faker who sucked ass and not in the fun way. I’ve had instinct all week, but I keep slamming the door on it and asking other people. Smart people, even. They all mean well, and they’re giving me good things. But at the end of the day, this is my body, and they could have fifty degrees and not know it as well as I do.
My body is saying, go. Don’t walk for five minutes. Walk for twenty. Walk hard. Push. Go. Strengthen. Hurt a little, go a little too far, and recover. It’s saying not at all what anyone else is saying. It wants me to keep kosher with the gluten free and look at cutting out sugar again. It wants me to exercise, push, and go. Sometimes I catch myself inventing exercises, weird stretches in doorways and “yoga” positions on the floor. I start pacing back and forth or catching myself putting on tennis shoes and thinking about walking up the street. Not around the block. Through the neighborhood. But I’ve resisted, because everybody’s been telling me to go at this a different way.
In the same way I didn’t listen to anybody about outlines or synopses or flying by the seat of my pants, about writing without looking down or backing up–I need to do that with my body. Basically, anybody who tells me how to write gets a big smile and a fuck you very much. When I put a book out, it’s the best I can make that book at that time. Other people would write it differently, and they’re welcome to do that. I’m not going to please everyone all of the time, and that’s fine. But I am deliberate, and I know what I’m doing, and I’m one hundred percent driven by instinct. I’m very comfortable with it.
This afternoon, after paralyzing myself with fear of what to do about my health, I broke down and listened to my body. It said, “Put on your shoes and go. Walk hard, walk so fucking hard you lose your breath. Get a stitch in your side. Swing your arms. Fucking. Work. Go for at least twenty minutes. Go hard. Go really goddamned hard.” Figuring the only thing I had to lose was my Friday, I did it.
You know where this is going.
My body was right. That instinct was one hundred percent on. I didn’t need Cymbalta. I needed to move and to push. Did it fix everything? No. Am I in pain right now? Yes. But it’s manageable, and if I go walk, gently this time, it’ll feel good again. I haven’t taken any pills since this morning, so this is me without meds. I’m finding other ways to keep the pain manageable while I work on strengthening. In fact during this post I’ve shifted several times, gotten up once, and keep doing these cat-hunches and shoulder rolls in my chair. I also roll my hips and flex my glutes. Every time I do, it’s like I’m shaking off pain scales. It’s not all gone, but it’s less.
I can’t say I won’t take the Cymbalta. Dan filled the prescription, and it’s going to sit on my shelf. I may put it on my desk. It’s going to be my adversary, the thing I don’t want to do but have to if I don’t listen to my instinct. I may end up having to take it, because instinct isn’t infallible. But I’m going to try not to, because I don’t want to risk what i don’t need to, and also because I’d really like to win this on my own.
If you’re fighting chronic pain, a manuscript, or something else–listen to yourself, or learn to. This is actually a theme of my life, that while it would sure be nice for a fairy godmother to show up and make everything okay, usually you have to build your own carriage and cobble your own shoe. And it’s better that way. More work, yes, but not only is what you make just right for you, you also have the satisfaction of pointing at that pumpkin and saying, “I made that, bitches.”
I’m going to make myself. I’m getting my goddamned body back. I don’t need to look like I’m twenty. I’d settle for feeling better at forty than I did through my thirties, because basically that decade most fifty and sixty year olds outran me. I’m gonna do it, just like I’m gonna hit all my deadlines, and early.
I’ve just got this feeling it’s all gonna work out–and I’m going to listen to that feeling. All day long.