Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Like Onto the Angels



Writers are very odd creatures. Not just speaking for myself. I mean, look, I’m quirky enough on my own, unless there is something that explains why today, in between doctor visits and a problem with the installation of the new toilet upstairs, I had an absolute need to gold-leaf the walls of the downstairs bathroom. No, don’t try to explain it. There are things even I don’t want to know.


However, compared to other writers I’m a piker. I know, in my relatively small circle of writerly acquaintance a man who has a morbid fear of bananas, another who has an elaborate routine before he can sit down to write. Being afraid of driving and an avid reader of omens and signs is not even an oddity. Every other writer I know has this issue. Other characteristics that seem way out of proportion among writers but are less alarming are a passion for cooking, working in animal rescue and oh, yes... a relative disconnect between mind and body.


Perhaps all humans to a certain extent have a dichotomy between body and mind. I know this is the theme of several myths – Eros and Psyche, for one – and it seems deeply ingrained. But for writers... well, we take it to extremes. And then we leave it all alone in the extremes with no bus fare home.


Writers, perhaps because we spend so much time inside our own heads, talking to people who don’t exist (not that I discriminate on the basis of non-existence. Some of my best friends are ontologically challenged) tend to forget that the body is there and that it’s important.
I say this as today – after several months of increasing discomfort, I sought help for a skin problem that most normal people would PROBABLY have tried to get treated within a week. You see, I didn’t think it was important compared to the stuff inside the head. Mind you, this skin issue is probably causing my frequent respiratory issues, since the two are tied in. But I just tried to bully my way through the colds and flus and I ignored pain because it wasn’t important.
The thing is that what goes on with the body affects the mind. Time and again, I note something off in someone’s writing and then find out they had a heart attack while writing the book; or they were undergoing chemotherapy, or even they were losing or gaining a lot of weight or something was going on with their sugar chemistry.


Of my own experience, there was the hormonal problem that flattened me for almost a year, in which I couldn’t muster the interest to write and deadlines made a lovely sound as they wizzed past. And there was this swine flu thingy, when I’d find myself crying because no one wanted to watch "Walking with dinosaurs" with me – for the tenth or so time. During this time I wrote an outline I can’t explain. Seemed perfectly logical at the time. Fortunately the editor is giving me a second chance.


Apparently we’re not like unto the angels, all flying-free minds and souls.
So... How do we keep mind and body in balance? Should we watch the mind when the body is slightly off? And other than eat right and exercise – which can be iffy when you’re typing for eight hours a day – what can one do to stay healthy? And more importantly, how can one develop enough self-awareness to know when he/she isn’t.


(And I leafed about an eighth of the wall, thank you so much.)

14 comments:

John Lambshead said...

Dear Sarah

About 4 weeks ago I walked into my local GW shop and noticed a distinct lack of staff, only one out of four. Apparently two were on Tamiflu for swine flu and one had just reported sick. Three days later my temperature went up.
Hey Ho
John

matapam said...

Look, it's only November. Time has not yet run out on my New Years Resolutions to, umm, eat right, exercise and lose weight.

I think being "off" bodily interferes mainly with my ability to sit and concentrate on something I don't really want to do. Edit, expand, detail, polish.

And it may well affect the first burst of creativity. I was just rereading something from last year. Ouch! I know it was a first draft but there an awful lot of telling instead of showing, and needless brutality to characters.

Kate said...

Actually, I usually need to pay more attention to my body. I have a tendency to forget it needs regular maintenance and care - and that there's only so far I can push it (driving 1500 miles with an untreated broken ankle is probably somewhat further than is wise).

What I find helps is figuring out your personal early-warning signals. Mine is headaches. Ever since I had meningitis as a kid, the moment something is wrong I've got a headache. Headache for me means it's time to ask "okay, what is not right here?", and if the 'not right' turns out to be something a bit more than 'didn't sleep well last night' or 'sinuses are acting up again' or 'work stress', do something about it. (If the sinuses are acting up, I do something, too. There's a reason I own a neti pot).

For brain-no-worky, it's easier. If I can't play the computer's sudoku on the easy level, I don't even try to write. And I'm learning what will trigger brain-no-worky.

Martin said...

For what it's worth, I've started playing a lot of email chess since retirement. The day before I get sick, I start making blunders, some very obvious, in my games. I've actually realized I was getting sick by seeing how badly I was playing a few times now. Makes me wonder just what else happened on the days before I got sick over the past 60 some years. And, for that matter, didn't Lee have a bad stomach at Gettysburg, and Napoleon at Waterloo?

C Kelsey said...

If something is off for me I notice it in one of three ways. Headache means I'm exhausted and probably didn't sleep well the night before. My driving is off and I'm really annoyed with everyone else on the road means I've forgotten to eat again. The third is if I'm playing a video game or something and the controls that were "easy" to use when I started are suddenly almost impossible. If two of those happen at once, I'm sick.

Lately I've started a fitness bootcamp on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Nothing like some serious torture to keep the mind straight.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Yoga.

That's what keeps me sane. The concentration required for yoga is like the concentration required when you go to life drawing and complete three or four drawings in an hour.

You come out with your brain washed clean. Yoga does that for me. I zone out to this other place and exist in the body for an hour.

Of course I test the body, challenging it. My yoga teacher is this wonderful Indian woman and her catch cry is, 'Inner Smile;. I leave each yoga session with an inner smile.

And yes, creative people are weird. But then, I think everyone is weird, they are just better at hiding it.

Chris McMahon said...

I would say I'm pretty connected to my body. I love exercising and fitness and would do more if not for the time issue. I am a practicing martial artist and like general training as well. I could happily train for 20 hours a week and still look for more.

For me it comes down to the competition between say going for a run at lunchtime or getting one more hour of writing in.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

John,

It has been moving around the publishing houses here, laying people low and messing with schedules. It was one of the reasons I stayed away from fall/winter cons. For all the good it did me.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam

Well, with me it usually shows first in the not ironing clothes and then not reading anything new, just re-reading stuff. And I honestly amd better, but this last year was very very bad in terms of my not working. I think I needed it to recover, but as a result, there will be a gap in my publishing schedule. (Gee.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,
The problem is when you hit a continuous low level "something not right" and can't trust the work you MUST do.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Martin,

Usually I know I'm coming down with something when I can't write. The funny thing is, being the driven bunny I am, I usually try to force myself to write and think I'm doing something wrong and I'm "just being lazy"
Usually turns out I'm ill about 24 hours later.

But yeah, one does wonder.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

How does one find a bootcamp in one city? I've asked this to someone -- I think Toni -- but I don't remember the answer.
I'z got no brainz.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

I like your "Universal theory of weirdness:, but honestly...
Anyway -- yeah, life drawing is about four hours and yeah, it's not just not thinking of writing, I think of something else.
I don't have a mind that works with Yoga. I found a book (didn't buy) about the yoga method of writing -- I THINK It was called "Writing from your inner self." If it's still at used bookstore Friday, I'll pick up and report.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Yeah, Chris, the problem is the writing always wins...