Okay, first things first. My most recent post dealt in some detail with a surgery I was facing to fuse three vertebrae in my cervical spine. I am thrilled to report that even the doctor is surprised by the speed of my recovery. There’s some post-op discomfort to deal with, but that improves every day. Last weekend, I was able to attend a black tie event (Bond-era ascot in lieu of tie), and I made it all the way to the end.
And the nerve pain that triggered the procedure in the first place is entirely gone, save for some lingering numbness in my thumb, which I’m told will likewise go away with time.
Now, for the hard part. The important part. It comes as no surprise, I suppose, that my world view is a cynical one. Blame it on decades with emergency services or a half century living in the Washington, DC are(n)a. Blame it on a character flaw. I don’t know why, but I don’t expect a lot out of people. If nothing else, it’s an outlook that keeps disappointment at a minimum.
Then y’all went and shook my cynicism with unspeakable kindness. Your posts and emails in support of me and my family and my stories were beautiful, heartfelt and deeply appreciated. I wasn’t in a position to respond real-time, but please know that I read them all, and each one touched me. Thank you so, so much.
I have never been an actor outside of a couple of high school performances but I’m fascinated by the concept of method acting. As I understand it, actors learn to channel real-life experiences into the characters they play, thus finding the visceral compass that will lead them to the “truth” of a scene. The Method teaches actors to create emotional vaults within themselves from which they are able to draw when the need arises.
I think one of the reasons The Method interests me is because it is exactly what effective writers must be able to do in order to make their characters–and therefore their stories–come to life on the page.
In my case, as my surgery date approached, I was forced into emotional and practical spaces that I don’t remember ever entering before. The darkest of those moments for me came when I gathered my wife and son (32) on the sofa and had The Talk. If things went badly, and there was a pull-the-plug decision, they were to pull it. I have no desire to exist in a vegetative state and I looked them both in the eye as I said it. I needed to give that permission directly, I thought, even though it’s all written down in legalese in my Advance Directive. I gave specific instructions to exclude certain member of my extended family from that decision-making process because I knew they would introduce doubt.
As a threesome, we made light of it all, but I saw the looks behind the smiles and the fear and pain only reinforced the love I knew was there. We had no reason to expect anything but the best, yet the worst needed to be considered.
Now, for the next few weeks, I am not allowed to lift more than 5 pounds, which means that I have to watch my lovely bride carry the heavy stuff. Yes, I’m a believer in old school gender roles, and it hurts me to be the weak one. It angers me. And it motivates me.
Someday, in the near or distant future, all of it will inform a character or scene. The indignity of the hospital stay, the non-breathable plastic mattresses, the pain of the first baby steps, the challenges of the first nights back home, the warmth of those oh-so-gentle hugs in the recovery room, the agony of learning to swallow again, the out-of-body weirdness of narcotic painkillers, the wonder of chronic pain being relieved. All of it is there to be used.
For a writer, then, I guess all of life is one big research project.
Are you willing to share some of what’s in your vault?