Sunday, 13 December 2009

Throwing your body at the mark

Amateur Reader has been, via Emerson and Thoreau, discussing the issue of writing and what a trial it can be. The quotation at the centre of his most recent post on this topic is worth repeating:
"The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent."
That's precisely how I finished my thesis - and I frankly enjoyed it. Did I ever tell you about the conclusion of my thesis? How it was exhausting and landed me briefly in hospital but was the best fun I'd had with the damned thing in years? Apologies if I'm like your grand-dad, ponderously telling you the same tale you've heard 547 times before.

Hubby and I had bought a bookstore and all of a sudden, there was a deadline for me getting the hell out of grad school Dodge, a real deadline. There would be no time for anything but figuring out how to be a bookseller come Dec 19 2008. So in August 2008, knowing what was to come, I put the pedal to the metal, my nose to the grindstone, I turned the volume up to 11, and with the help of my supportive cliches, got 'er done. It took about 2 or 2.5 months to get 'er done and what was required to do so was:
  • get up very early with my hubby and cycle to work with him. Upon arrival, I planted myself in a coffee shop or the Toronto Reference Library and worked like a fiend until lunch;
  • had lunch and pep talks with dear, perfect hubby;
  • went back to work at library or coffee shop;
  • went home for dinner;
  • repeated on the morrow.
Increasingly, my place of work was a coffee shop at the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne where they came to know my name and what drink I wanted (soy matcha latte with lavender or Irish cream coffee with soy) and became part of the pep talk team in between other customers.

I read and took notes and wrote desperately and on full-adrenaline mode at all times. My eyes hurt. I took frequent bathroom breaks, but drank almost no water in order to take fewer for they were getting in the way of my work - which is what landed me in the hospital, Toronto East General, in fact, which is about as high-tech and up-to-date as Pacman for Atari.

I loved reading Pamela, which I realize complicates my clear-cut distinctions between desperate and non-desperate reading in my previous post. What can I say? I'm like Whitman, save for the talent, in that I contradict myself and contain multitudes. And I found myself loving writing my conclusion when gawd struck me down. Quite literally, in the middle of writing what would turn out to be a 20-page conclusion, having just hit the page 10 mark and thinking "My goodness, what good times this is turning out to be!", I found myself lying on the floor in front of my computer and shaking my fist at the sky yelling "FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK!! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME NOW!!!!"

And so I went to the hospital and after 8 hours of waiting to see a doctor discovered that while I am not a cheese-eating old man, I had a kidney stone, which can also be caused by extreme dehydration. (Coffee, how can you taste so good and be so evil?) The first thing I asked the tired and impatient and over-worked doctor was, of course, could she give me pain pills that would allow me to go back to working on my thesis conclusion the next day. After having spent hours in the waiting room clutching the chair arms so much I was beginning to tear them off. Yeah. That may be considered throwing my body at the mark, arrows spent; or it could be insane. Maybe they're the same.

It took weeks to recover for I had the 1973 operation for the problem and not the 2008 procedure which is much more humane and not at all invasive or requiring of general anesthetic. I spent a lot of time sleeping and not eating and trying to feel better and getting nothing done when my supervisor reminded me on a Friday afternoon at 5 that I needed to submit by 9 am on Tuesday or I'd have to wait until the new year. I did sort of know this but was hoping for a reprieve, a magical one.

Again, dear hubby took me to work, but instead of leaving me in a coffee shop to self-destruct further, he took me to his office and set me up with my computer and brought me water and restorative soups and walked me around when I was having trouble staying awake. I wrote the final ten pages over 2 days and in a complete fog and managed to say everything I'd planned to say. And defended on Dec 10 and took over our store 9 days later.

What a bunch of bloody drama! I don't think I could ever write or read that way again for nothing similar or so much, at least as far as I can imagine, could ever be at stake. I doubt that when the Russian mafia takes my cats hostage that they'll demand I write them a 500-page novel with the breadth and scope of Dostoevsky, the gentle humour of Wodehouse, and the post-modern genius of David Mitchell. In a post-modern world, I suppose, nothing's impossible. It does seem more likely though that the pressure I feel in my professional life will continue to be about recommending books to customers based on insufficient information and my blog pressure, internal of course, will continue to be alleviated, at least in part, by your general awesomeness.

So maybe I'll figuratively throw my body at the mark sometimes, but not from such a long distance, or over hot coals, or at a mark with spikes pointing out. Which means, really, that I should stopping being such a whiner.

3 comments:

heidenkind said...

Wow. If only blogging was that much fun!

Stefanie said...

Came here from Wuthering Expectations. What a great story and a fantastic telling of it!

Colleen said...

heidenkind: But then everyone would be blogging!

Stefanie: Oh thank you. :)