Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Transformation in the form of Wheels

Its name was Wheelie. Riding on slick, polished wheels, it was a 3-foot-3-inch-high marvel of technology. I never thought that my seven months constrained to it could expand and change my outlook of life so drastically. Then again, I never thought I’d be bound to a wheelchair.

One Monday morning of my junior year, the subtle but persistent trill of my faithful alarm clock wrenched me awake from my dreams and signaled the start of a new day. But instead of my warm, familiar room, I found myself staring into the stark interior of a hospital. The room was decorated with colorful wires, some of which connected me to the source of my query: a heart monitor that kept beeping in error. A nurse rushed in to check the noise, and upon discovering that I was awake, bent over and clasped my hand. With an expression that read somewhere between I am sorry and God, why is it during my shift that I have to be the one to break you the news, she informed me that my emergency heart surgery had failed. My cardiologist was much more forthright. “Sudden death,” she stated matter-of-factly. The failed surgery had structurally damaged my heart, and sudden death meant I could die at any time before the surgeons got a chance to correct their mistakes.

That’s when I met Wheelie.

I remember despising the wheelchair the first time I saw it–a palpable symbol of my newfound limitations. As time went on, less tangible but equally as impairing barriers arose. I was told to stop. Stop school. Stop activities. Stop sports. Because, as my cardiologist phrased it, “sudden death means - life stops.”

Not many people gave me much hope for maintaining my previous lifestyle. But, Wheelie reminded me that while the world couldn’t and wouldn’t wait for me to get better, I had the choice to move forward. Just as a wheelchair must carry its passenger, no matter the weight, I learned to roll on, no matter the obstacles.

If my legs didn’t feel up to moving, Wheelie helped me along.

If there was no school bell to force me to go to school, I’d force myself to wake up early anyway.

If they wouldn’t teach me ABC Calculus because there was no way I could succeed, I’d research integrals myself.

If they said there was no way I could run a regional conference,
I made it a point to show that I could and I would with the support of my friends and Wheelie.

My efforts were not to prove my self-sufficiency. I did it as a way to get by, a method of dealing with what was supposed to be a monotonous wait for the Grim Reaper to knock on my door. In essence, by telling myself I could live, I found a way to live.

Another successful surgery later, Wheelie has retired in a cozy corner of my garage. As I walk past it to join my friends for another day at school, I will never forget the sturdy little wheels that taught me the definition of persistence and hope. Wheelie opened my eyes to the hardships that dominate the lives of the disabled–the barriers they have to overcome in performing quotidian tasks, the difficulties they have in staying positive. What is precious to them I had taken for granted. Wheelie didn’t confine me; it gave me the freedom of another perspective on life. I saw more from three feet, three inches off the ground than I ever did standing upright.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why is it so hard to write?

There are a few lucky souls for whom the whole process of writing is easy, for who the smell of fresh paper is better than air, whose minds chuckle over their own agility, who forget to eat, and who consider the word at large an intrusion of their time at the keyboard. But most writers are not among them. We are in love with words except when we have to face them. We are caught in a guilty paradox in which we grumble over our lack of time, and when we have the time, we sharpen pencils, check e-mails, or clip the hedges.

Of course, there’s also joy. We write for the satisfaction of having wrestled a sentence to the page, for the rush of discovering an image, for the excitement of seeing a character come alive. Even the most successful writers will sincerely say that these pleasures- not money, fame, or glamor- are the real rewards of writing. Fiction writer Alice Munro concedes:

It may not look like pleasure, because the difficulties can make me morose and distracted, that’s what it is – the pleasure of telling the story I mean to tell as wholly as I can tell it, of finding out in fact what the story is, by working around the different ways of telling it.

Nevertheless, writers may forget what such pleasure feels like when confronting a blank page. The heroine of Anita Brookner’s novel Look at Me bemoans:

Sometimes it feels like a physical effort simply to sit down at the desk and pull out the notebook…sometimes the effort of putting pen to paper is so great that I literally feel a pain in my head.

It helps to know that most writers share the paradox of least wanting to do what we most want to do. It also helps to know some of the reasons for their reluctance. Fear of what could emerge on the page, and what it may reveal about our inner lives, can keep us from getting started.

There’s another impediment to beginning, expressed by a writer character in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. Durrell’s Pursewarden broods over the illusory significance of what he is about to write, unwilling to begin in case he spoils it. Many of us do this: The idea, whatever it is, seems so luminous, whole, and fragile, that to begin to write about that idea is to commit it to rubble. Knowing in advance that words will never exactly capture what we mean or intend, we must gingerly and gradually work ourselves into a state of accepting what words can do instead. No matter how many times we find out that what words can do is quite all right, we still shy again from the next beginning. Against this wasteful impulse I have a motto over my desk that reads: “Don’t Dread; Do.”

The mundane daily habits of writers are apparently fascinating. No author offers to answer questions at the end of a public reading without being asked: Do you write in the morning or at night? Do you write every day? Sometimes such question shows a reverent interest in the workings of genius. More often, I think, they are a plea for practical help: Is there something I can do to make this job this job less horrific? Is there a trick that will unlock my words?


Thursday, December 4, 2008

How many blogs does the world need?

Extremely bored and avoiding work, I find myself- like most who avoid work- surfing Facebook. I arrive to the "info" section and discover that many of my friends have blogs.

Seems like everyone has a blog these days. The world is bloated with stories and videos already. It's a free country. The opportunity for everyone to express opinions is spectacular. But having to read through all of it isn't. It seems like more people are writing blogs then reading them.

It's become a hall of mirrors.
One person's idea may be exactly like another person's, but I'd rather read the more eloquent one. There are only so many insights to go around. Unfortunately, there is no cap for this new trend in literature. Back then only the good writers were published. Now with a push of a button I can tell the whole world what I think of a piece of pastry and say that Humpty Dumpty authored the blog.

Don't get me wrong. Some blogs are great.

As Kinsley states, "At its best, [blogging] combines the immediacy of talking with the reflectiveness of writing. But many readers may be reaching the point with blogs that I reached long ago- actively hoping there isn't anything interesting because then I'll have to take the time to read it."

I agree.