A Storytelling Serial
Are you reading this blog on a mobile device? If so and you'd like to subscribe to my occasional postings but don't see a blog sidebar for that option, please head to the bottom of this page on your device for subscription and other sidebar information, including quick links to archives. Thanks for taking the extra time to scroll!
A few days before Thanksgiving, while slicing a potato, I slashed the end of my right ring finger. I’ve hacked many vegetables in my life, and this was the first that ever turned on me. In all fairness to the tuber, I was tired, grumpy, and behind schedule in preparing dinner; so yes, my haste and overconfidence made me careless. I truly have no one to blame but myself, although I continue to eye raw potatoes with suspicion.
The incident involved a lot of blood and cleaning and bandages, that night and throughout the following weeks. It did not entail a trip to the emergency room, because I was tired, grumpy, and behind schedule in preparing dinner, and my husband is my resident medic. Although he had to reapply the gauze wraps many times during the days of my slow recovery, from the start he made them just tight enough to act like stitches—without cutting off my circulation. Quite a skill.
That memorable evening, dinner was indeed late but at least didn’t turn into the midnight meal it would have been if we’d gone to the ER. Afraid and shaky replaced tired and grumpy. With my hand elevated, I forced myself into slow, deep breaths, trying to reduce the blood flow to my finger as adrenaline kicked my heartbeats into overdrive.
Several days later, during one of my rewraps, we were finally able to clean off the blood clots well enough to really see the damage. It was bad; both my husband and I realized that (1) I had come more dangerously close than we initially realized to permanently losing part of my fingertip, (2) I should have given more serious consideration to the emergency room, despite his skill and my reluctance, and (3) I was incredibly lucky the multiple cuts seemed to be healing without infection or actual digital loss.
Now, a bit more than seven weeks after the mishap, my finger borders on miraculous. The forever scar seems small, although the area remains tender. I still can’t tap the keyboard for long; my thin new skin quickly tells me when to stop.
Adaptation and Loss
With help and reprogramming, I had a normal (read: busy) holiday season. My husband took over all the kitchen work that required anything sharper than a butter knife. He also gave me a mandoline for Christmas, making me solemnly vow to immediately learn how to use its safety guard. (How did I survive before YouTube?)
I adapted several tasks, including gift wrapping and driving, to the thumb and three fingers of my right hand, keeping my ring finger perpetually pointed. With my left hand, I pecked out brief emails and scrolled for online gifts. I even managed a laborious one-handed Word document, outlining a blog post that I have yet to finish.
Because I’m a leftie, I had an advantage. But I’d first started pounding on a typewriter when I was twelve, and since then a large part of my everyday world has depended on using varieties of keyboards—always with ten digits. I deeply missed my right ring finger.
I also developed empathy for all who have, for any reason, lost the use of a body part that previously contributed to an important personal identity.
Good Fortune and Going Retro
I appreciated, though, that the timing of this derailment couldn’t have been better. I had kept my computer-based work schedule clear for the holidays, and my writing goals were (as is often the case) easily dismissed. During such a busy season of the year, blog readers, friends, and family wouldn’t miss my electronic missives.
So I signed cards and gift tags with my left hand. I was barely visible online. And I scribbled more in my journal than I had for a couple of years, which reminded me that writing was a thing long before keyboards were invented.
Resistance and Lessons
That sufficed until I realized my journal entries had become circular. I kept rehashing the same problems, worries, and emotions. Because I was no longer using written stories to connect with others, my unproductive, unstructured, unedited words went nowhere.
Anyone who knows me or reads my blog posts understands that for most of my adult life (starting with walking away from a journalism major in college), I’ve been the All-Time Universal Champion of Writing Resistance. At that level of avoidance, journaling isn’t a writing warmup; it’s a form of writing resistance. Transcribing thoughts into a journal keeps me safely looping through my head while allowing me to check off my daily “write” box.
But that kind of writing, the type that doesn’t require review and revision, isn’t the hard work of human communication. And communicating and connecting beyond myself is the reason I write.
Every January I reread Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. When I get to his “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it,” I invariably have the same reaction: my soul must really need writing, because I’ve found more ways to Resist than ever imagined by a thousand other writers plus Steven Pressfield put together.
Then, when February starts, I go on to invent a few more Resistance methods. My repertoire grows longer with each passing year.
So it was no surprise that for the first few weeks of my finger’s medical leave, I was secretly relieved I had a legitimate excuse to avoid serious writing. Although I’d like to think my Resistance hasn’t reached a point where I’m subconsciously sabotaging my body, perhaps I was at least trying to get my attention for a much-needed lesson—such as, say, it’s one thing to choose not to do something and an entirely different matter to no longer have the choice.
Maybe also: slow down.
Ghosts and Transformation
One of my frequent avenues of Resistance is to wonder why anyone would feel compelled to devote significant energy and effort to something they fight doing. I’ve long noticed the ubiquity of writers taking for granted that their fellow scribes love writing. For years I’ve seen writing circles built on the assumption that despite challenges with time, skill, perfectionism, and fear, writers experience unquestioned enjoyment and are thus naturally drawn to the keyboard. Overarching writerly desire is considered a matter of course, a no-discussion-necessary reason to persist through the surmountable struggles.
And I repeatedly hear the unspoken message: any writer lacking deep devotion is a misfit.
That’s why I regularly return to Steven Pressfield. He gets me. He understands that for some writers, sitting down to share words with others often feels anything but enjoyable. He realizes that even when it’s a bone-deep compulsion, writing can seem more madness than passion. He knows my demons, the doubt (self and otherwise), the imposter syndrome, and my lack of fit in the Real Writers’ Club.
But these past several weeks have also proved that I feel bereft when I don’t write to communicate. I haven’t figured out how to live comfortably with my drive to share written stories, and I can’t be me without the attempt. Writing for human connection is ingrained in every part of my DNA, and its absence feels like losing a fingertip.
Meeting the specter of forced writing limitations hasn’t produced the overnight transformation of Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Still, I believe reality includes magic, which makes some sort of change—even deeply entrenched Resistance—possible. I most definitely have been visited by the Ghosts of Writing Past, Present, and Future, and they’ve stirred a new sense of urgency.
Next January, I don’t know what I’ll be writing. It may or may not take a different form than what I’ve done so far. However, I am determined to spend this year handling knives and my writing life with all the care and seriousness they deserve. If I’m really smart, I’ll take nothing for granted.
I might even remember that what I resist may be what I most need, and what I most need can be gone in a slash.
Is there something you need to do but are resisting? How would you feel if suddenly you lost your ability to do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.