Isn't it Ironic? The next Big Day... Sonata Lynx arrived. So did a couple of other packages with parts. Did my body feel like functioning? No. Back pain wasn't enough to get my attention, it didn't stop me from going out on necessary trips up and down the Hill of Doom. So now it's the second level - leg symptoms. My right ankle and calf swell a lot every time I go out. This takes a day or two after the trip, like, if I go out on a Tuesday it will start on Wednesday and be worse on Thursday and then of course I have to go out again on Thursday, so it does not get the treatment it's screaming for: stay home, don't even sit up by the computer, elevate the swollen leg as far as possible. I've got to go today too.
Andrew, my friend who shares an interest in First Day Covers and has also been running me around on errands for several years now, is going out of town to help his kids move. He'll be gone for a couple of weeks. It's now or next month for any grocery shopping. And I am running short on microwave food.
Sheila wrote in Star Lines (see side column) about back trouble. And that you should never ignore back trouble. She's right. This is the next level down in a series of health problems brought on by overexercise while trying to do what normally abled people do. It's been cumulative. I keep telling them that, and they don't take it quite that seriously but it's annoying when my body degrades this far.
I know better than to overdo it. But sometimes you have to go against your better judgment. A lot of the things I've had to do since November have been "choosing the lesser of two evils" and the one big flaw in the Social Security system is there's inadequate support for a disabled person to get through the long harrowing process of actually proving he's disabled. Once I actually get SSI - the logistic problems should go down somewhat. For one thing when I get a car I will actually have - and need - the handicapped parking tag that means I don't have to hike across parking lots.
I am not sure I'm whining tonight so much as wrapping my head around it and beating back the voices of my first forty years - parents, teachers, kids that teased me for flunking gym, sadistic gym teachers who thought I wasn't trying, roommates who got justifiably angry I couldn't keep up my share of the housework and employers who fired me for not being able to do the jobs... running my mind into the new track: I am not a failure or a loser. I am not lazy and I'm not the least stupid. Nope, I had a pretty massive obstacle to overcome in life and I'm actually a driven, workaholic overachiever with enough excess grit to be a Real Writer.
I'm rubbing muscle cramps out of my calves as if I were an athlete. The kind of cramps that can catch up and make my leg not work if I ignore the excruciating spasms. I've had that happen and I have had people yell at me to just keep going, they will work themselves out. Yeah, right. Right there along with "walking is free and it's good exercise and anyone can benefit from more exercise."
You know, if it had ever actually worked, I might have wound up taking up running for a hobby? I might not be so averse to even the sight of shorts that I never wear them? If losing weight had ever improved my health, I might have done it because it did? I think about that and I still do need to rewrite the way I look at all these things, because none of it was that I didn't try it. I think there's a side of me that didn't want to be proved right. I think there's a side of me that always hoped that if I tried hard enough or ate well or something, I'd wind up able to do the things anyone could and not wind up like this: on the down side of the cumulative damage crashing and burning on necessity. That I would be able to keep up.
Why I need to retool my attitude: I'm procrastinating on something that I actually need, and am too embarrassed about it. I do need help with housekeeping. I can't keep up my share of the housework even without someone else leaving huge messes around. I just don't. If there's a place to put my stuff, I use it. The more storage containers, dressers, closets, drawers and other ways to organize stuff, the more organized my stuff will be - once it's organized it's a whole lot easier to maintain. I've finally gotten to the point where I might have hit the stage where there really is a place for everything, or will be once in the new apartment. I've got that bookcase to fill when I get it assembled.
They budgeted for me to get a cleaning service to come in and I have put off calling around to price them and find out what their services are. What I had in mind isn't possible living around here. That would be paying cash to some young broke friend from my role playing group who's always over anyway and could use the money. They scattered all over the country, we all left New Orleans. But the people whom I would trust to come into my house and not wreck everything in the process of cleaning it. Or rip me off. Or just come in to do a professional job and sneer down at me for what I am in both directions - it's hard to forget the guy that came over to help me pack when the housing agency got me help packing. Moving very slowly, one book at a time, picking them up by their corners and dangling them as if they'd bite him, he dropped books into the box damaging them. He was literally afraid of books. And the answer of a lot of people like that, if they feel intimidated by the fact that I read, is to look down on me because I never go out and can't take care of myself. If I knew the person, I'd have a much better shot at explaining what I do need, what I don't need and what my priorities are.
I have met very few people who have that job and like it. Or respect themselves for it and do a good job out of self respect. Those I've known worked at hotels or restaurants, fairly large highly visible versions of the job of housecleaning, where they're well paid and they get tips. There is a side to me that is extremely annoyed that while I'll be getting that service, I will not be able to tip whoever after assorted trial and error actually gets along with me and isn't invading my life. I am so used to weighing the advantages and disadvantages of anything down to that fine a level that I'm doing it again. I'm exhausted and in pain and not likely to be as patient as I would be otherwise. I don't want to micromanage. I don't want to have to micromanage. Some of the frustration with it is that I will wind up having to tell that person in detail where everything goes or they'll rearrange my life to suit their convenience - in ways that'll mean I have to go after them and rearrange everything or I can't get at half of it. That's happened just with friends helping out.
With friends that's often outweighed just by the pleasure of their company. That won't be the case when I call a cleaning company and they send over someone at random who will, given their likely background and my habits, wind up at the very least severely confused. A lot of it is shame at being dependent. A whole lot of it is shame at being dependent. That it isn't a luxury or something I pay for to give myself more time to write just doesn't make sense to me emotionally. Logic tells me it does make sense.
I go through a lot of pain to keep my self respect. I went through incredible weirdness and challenge for years and years just to keep my self respect and probably the most shameful day of my life was when I went in to DSS and filled out the forms to go on Welfare. Some of that was internal. Some of that was my self image shattering, especially admitting I was disabled - and fearing I was cheating - the honest do have pangs of conscience. It's impossible for a person outside the person who has pain to know how much pain the person in pain feels. But what just happened to my legs has reminded me of the number of times I ignored pain and kept going till something, back or leg, just gave way and refused to work any more? Till I wound up shaking or stumbling or falling? That's not a whiner. That's the opposite stupidity, that's more my grandfather's "work till he dropped" mentality. And that wasn't balance - he worked himself into the grave and his life had no meaning when he was too sick to work.
I didn't dedicate my life to being a neat freak. I'm a writer and I produce a whole lot of good readable prose. I do not have that hanging on whether some set of rules says "you retire at this age." I'm annoyed because right now my body is telling me "you sit still and you're pushing it just sitting up in that chair" and the excited little kid in me is looking at "Packages! Linux! Computer part grownup Tinkertoys! Oooh book case and I can play with the hammer and screwdrivers! Great big toys!"
I have a whole lot of things to do that aren't writing. More of them than usual are physical right now - clearing off the desk is going to take a bit more than I could do tonight because there's a crate of books that needs to be moved and stacked, which would require two or three hours of rest after I do it. And then places for all the small objects - that would be the tub that's for desk stuff, and putting away some of it in sane places where I'll find it again because it's with all the rest of what's like it. Then unpacking the computer itself and rearranging the surge protector and get some kind of reasonable arrangement up on the desk where I can see everything and reach everything - one thing to look for is another wrist pad. Extreme writing stints are athletic. I do need good equipment if I don't want to wreck my body doing very long hours sitting at the machine and the best solutions to avoid sedentary-related health problems are not always possible.
If I hadn't thrown my back I'd be doing the dancing thing.
It is the one form of exercise I do, when I'm up to it. I leave the radio on and then when any particularly stirring piece of music comes at a break in the prose, I get up and do improvisational dance to it. I wind up using a lot of Asian and Indian and sometimes Hawaiian moves in it because they're stretching or their balance isn't one that kills my back, most of all the motion is not repetitive. Usually that's slow powerful music, it's not the kind of thing where massive energy goes out but the kind of thing where body control and graceful slow precise motions come out cool.
The time that I wound up in the hospital at Valhalla they brought in a meditation tape. I got up and danced to it, after the guy that was doing the meditation said "get up and move around if you want." I wound up because the music was that soft, slow and eerie doing a pretty good long dance. I had my eyes shut for most of it and wound up alone with the music and the meditation and it really helped, both calming me and getting the kinks out. I wound up at the end of it seeing the looks on the faces of everyone there. They were as terrified as if I'd turned into a werewolf or a snake. I did borrow a lot of moves from martial art, some of them from movies without remembering what they were called, some from times friends trained me in this or that tidbit of martial art. A lifetime of experience as hobby came up in that dance. I mean, I do it about as well as I draw but it's not something I take seriously, know the jargon for or keep up regularly?
That is so normal for a writer.
That is hilariously normal for a writer. Writers go through life soaking weird trivia on anything that a character might do seriously and pick up just enough detail to make it plausible. I've written artists, dancers, martial artists, cops, yes even cops, a Secret Service guy, truck drivers, you name it, I dabbled enough to get enough details right that the reader who's a cop or a truck driver or an artist goes "dang he knows his stuff" because I do not need their level of experience to put a highly visible detail on the page. I need to have an eye for the detail that means veracity and I can trust their experience to fill in the blanks.
I'm not sure what they feared when they saw me dance. I'm not sure it wasn't "alien philosophy - read, non Western religious sources understood as well as the Western ones and parts of the dance were sacred" or if it was that they thought I'd come out of that into a psychotic fugue with martial art skills. Maybe they thought I could turn and kill any of them with a kick. Maybe it was just the terrifying attitude that while I was doing it, I did not care what they thought of me and nothing they said would have changed its choreography.
I've got habits other people don't like that are essential to my living a reasonably happy life.
I do not like the status that much of society hangs on me. I do not like accepting what goes along with either poverty or disability. I do not live the life. There are social roles that people in my situation take that I just do not accept. Drug-alcohol abuse when connected with poverty makes a bit of sense because it sets a social role for that person to commit petty crime - to get the booze or the drugs. I didn't look at it that way till tonight but it all makes sense and that is an excuse. It shears the mind away from petty theft to pay for survival needs. In these years of adventuring I've seen the way there's just as much conformity in poverty as any other level of life and the "drunk" or "junkie" way of life is as specific. It has perks, high on them is a big fat excuse for pushing other people around. They can't help it. The spouse or whatever of one has that excuse, has to push around the drunk to get them functioning at all. Gains the moral high ground of being Not A Drunk and martyrdom. Ties in with "Jesus" and a particular set of watered down Christian beliefs that aren't as fundamentalist as their practitioners claim, since most of them contradict what the rabbi Yeshua was trying to say with all his pretty good stories. Preaching is the compensating perk. I'm talking about the unrecovered, not folks that made it to the twelve step groups. Most people who use twelve step groups take their own pace and stage out of this particular way of life into something healthier. It takes years and they do it and once they have they make good neighbors or roommates or people to work with or whatever, with a different common culture and set of rules of politeness that make them easy to get along with.
Constantly putting yourself down and agreeing with people who push you around that you are scum is part of that - and for the moral high ground variety, virtuous humility. They say it first and it's rapidly denied. Then I come out of left field and I'm not humble. I do not actually hate myself. I do not actually believe it if people put me down, I get steamed. They're wrong or they're wrong on what it implies and don't know the whole context, because there is a lot more of me than stumbling around sober as if I was drunk because pain got to my limbs. I don't spend much money on entertainment or luxuries because I'm frugal - but it's not something I take moral pride in at all. It's annoying and embarrassing, when I've got the money and the necessities are taken care of - luxuries do come into the budget as they come into reach. At the moment that's impulse pens and books from a used book store. Occasionally art supplies, craft stuff or food goodies, the food goodies being something I take for granted since the Food Stamps force me to put much more of the budget into food than would be in it if I had the choice of "food luxuries or get needed electronics." Or basically, my priorities. But since I've got it I might as well enjoy it. I don't waste a lot. I think of that in part as a hobby a lot like anything else I do for fun and there are enough wealthy Westchester tag sale junkies who share the hobby that it's just what it is. A cool little hobby.
I look at things from a lot of different angles and that's very typical writer. Heinlein once wrote up an arrogant little list of what he thought "any reasonably competent human being" should be able to do. It was draconian in how much it overestimated anyone but Heinlein and it's simultaneously inspired numerous science fiction fans (especially if they're strong in math) to brag that on some way they made that list of skills - and annoyed others or become an embarrassing downer. The only way to get a skills list that long is to have some reason to dabble in everything at least enough to do it in a halfway amateur way that will do for the purpose when you need it. Not as well as the people who do it all the time but well enough to understand them - and well enough to write about it as if you were better at it than you are. That itself is a writer skill. As much as color recognition and composition balance are art skills, looking at life like a writer means putting yourself in the other guy's shoes whatever they are - and then into the shoes of the person who can't stand that guy and see how those mesh together into readable conflict.
At that point the stories around the campfire contain a lot of useful little tidbits about general living that people interested in those topics either recognize and feel good about, or pick up then and there. Just the way I did Heinlein's list of what the average superman can do on Heinlein's aw-shucks humility day.
I'm good at what I do and a lot of my arrogance is just being who I am doing the job I do reasonably well. I get better at it all the time. It is the job that's in reach of the particular offbeat combination of what I physically can do and what, down from the gut, I always wanted to do. It's not at random. It's the one I always wanted and nothing else would be as satisfying. It isn't for everyone.
I have honest respect for writers who dabble. I could meet a dabbler who's better than I am at what I do out of passionate commitment and that just means they're good at it and do not want to take it seriously. Those are choices. This country is supposed to be so individualist, and yet it's got a fairly narrow range of choices that people can take in their cultural roles if they want to make sense to anyone else!
So I'm a writer. I made mine up. Deep down I knew I was fit for being a writer, capable of being a writer, wanted to be a writer and lived like a writer. That is just - rare. Rare and not all that well known in terms of the day to day nitty gritty habits, because writers' lives don't get as public as actors. And because writers vary so much in all the other habits besides the actual work activities. Even the work activities vary a lot. Some people first draft longhand. That would drive me nuts and does when I'm reduced to it. I'm not like all the rest of the writers except when I'm like all the rest of the writers - including a feeling that I do things my way and they do what works for them and we all get the same results. Books that I enjoy reading. That's a common habit, just reading a lot. I don't know a writer who doesn't. Then again I don't know any cooks who don't pay attention to food and just eat without thinking about it.
Heretical notion: the sheep aren't sheep.
Who has enough time and attention to put that much intense conscious critical thought into every single thing they do? The neurotic stress of "walking on eggshells" that people do around unpredictable alcoholics who may blow or have a mood change in the next thirty seconds is that you have to actually pay attention to every little signal of their mood instead of what you'd rather be doing. Whatever that is. People make long term decisions and prioritize them. They do it by default drifting into something that's comfortable or they get an idea and don't let go of it. At that point everything connected with the goal is resonant. It's exotic and cool and right. It says "this is who I am" like heraldry to everyone around them and hopefully gets the message across: treat me like a writer, not like a professional beggar. That's conflict. On their side of it, when I don't take the script that gets handed to me for how to behave when faced with the people who have to deal with the problems of poverty and disability daily, it makes their job harder.
The person who comes over to clean up my house is someone who, on average, hates that job and is embarrassed about the job, at least the last one that did was. Yet at risk of trading places with disastrous sudden nightmare reversal of circumstances on something as petty as a personal problem with a landlord or a bout of ill health or any trouble in life. People have trouble in life. My troubles aren't unique. They do different things when trouble pushes them to a point of desperation and I have a different brand of stupidity.
I got too used to getting along without this, that or the other necessity and making rob Peter to pay Paul choices in life, which means that I neglect myself. I've got a choice here of the stress of putting up with dealing with a stranger who may be critical, defensive, confused and need a whole lot of attention to keep from doing more harm than good - or dealing with a floor that doesn't get vacuumed till I move.
This is the thing that means I do have the time to write novels.
There are times I envy that detective novelist in his freight elevator. I might have gotten to this point a lot sooner if I'd been able to do that. Fruitless to speculate - we will both wind up in the same place anyway. It's been so many years and he was so productive that I'm sure he hung up the uniform for the last time a long time ago, unless the uniform was inspiration and he needed the freight elevator as background atmosphere. He had good habits. Those will get you there in the long run however you come by them.
"...never to surrender ourselves to servitude and shame, whatever the cost may be." -- Winston Churchill, quoted on late night WQXR as they do D-Day programming.
It fits. It's a good note to close on. Some scripts aren't worth picking up and some ways of life are self defeating. If they are satisfying to those who live them, that's their problem. I'll make it through this week and this move and things will look up, because they already have in a big way.
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance and High Goth
Ari the fuzzy cat (author of Cats and Writers: One Cat's Opinion - I made my fuzzy little deadline!)