On Writing, Distraction and the squirrel who would not be denied

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On Writing, Distraction and the squirrel who would not be denied

The most depressing quote about writing and distraction comes from J.K. Rowling:

“The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.”

When I first read this quote I was shocked.  J. K. Rowling is the literary equivalent of Rumplestiltskin.  Every word from her laptop apparates from the air and falls as a gold coin in Universal studios development offices. 

Until I read this, I imagined her sitting on a velvet throne somewhere in Bloomsbury with a retinue of eager interns catering to her every need. But this is apparently not the case. To hear J.K. tell it, there are people in the world who think that taking a meeting is more important than allowing her to spin her magic.

If J.K. Rowling has to fight for writing time, what hope is there for the rest of us?

My writerly distractions are not so rarefied and no one is begging to take a meeting with me.  On the other hand, I am easily distracted.  I once lost an entire day’s work to a squirrel.

Last Christmas my charming nephew Adriaan and his equally charming friend Tin Tin came from the Netherlands to stay for a month.  Like proper Dutch teenagers, they were astonished at the vast array of sodas and flamin’ hot snacks available at our local H.E.B grocery store. We made repeated visit to the snack aisle where they questioned me like cultural anthropology grad students from a more evolved, yet blander culture. “How is this possible?” What is a Taki?”

And of course, they sampled.   Tin Tin and Adriaan settled on the deckattached to the dining room with a variety of different snacks and drinks, determined to find the perfect epicurean representation of the American experience. Eventually they settled on Cheetos, Mountain Dew, double stuff Oreos and peanut M&Ms, supplemented by bowls of ramen.  

They left crumbs and half-drunk cans of Mountain Dew.  Every morning an industrious squirrel would clean up the crumbs and drink her fill like the magical elves from the shoemaker tale.  

When Adriaan and Tin Tin left for home, the squirrel continued to visit the porch, combing the cracks in the boards for Cheeto dust and Oreo crumbs.  This went on for several weeks.  I thought it was adorable.  I write in my dining room with my elderly half-blind Pomeranian at my feet, and Wolf the cat in a box on the table.  I began to think of the squirrel as a nimble cartoon forest creature come to assist me with writing and cleaning. 

Then one day, the squirrel exhausted the last of the Cheeto dust. She jumped up on the back of a nearby chair, leaned over and knocked on the glass door.  I looked up startled. She made eye contact and knocked again. Her message was clear:

“I need more Cheetos.”

I decided to ignore the squirrel, thinking she would scamper off. This is what squirrels normally do. Squirrels invented scampering. Instead, she stood on her back legs, looking offended.  And then she knocked again. Creepy.

I needed help, so I decided to wake Wolf the cat. It wasn’t easy.  Wolf likes his sleep.  Wolf looked up from the box, and watched the squirrel for a few moments.  Then he went back to sleep. 

By now the squirrel was actively examining the weather stripping around the door frame, looking for a gap she could squeeze through. 

I thought briefly about searching my pantry for stale tortilla chips to give her.  If I fed the squirrel, she’d go away and I could work.

But if I fed the squirrel she’d just come back the next day with bigger demands.  It was time for the squirrel to go cold turkey. 

I went back to writing, but I couldn’t ignore the repeated knocks on the door.  Finally I gave up on writing and went to the front room and put on some loud music.  

The squirrel came back a few times over the next week, but she never knocked on the door again.    Which is good. I have enough distractions in my life without having to contend with an aggressive squirrel strung out on mountain dew and Cheetos.

 

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Writer's block and ADHD

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Writer's block and ADHD

Writer's block.

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately.  It started a few months ago with my trip to Connecticut and a gorgeous late winter snowfall.  

I spent hours sledding with Kristin and Will and their two adorable toddlers Dee-dee and Buddy.

I’d like to say I had a gigantic disastrous accident that I landed in a ditch, wrenched my knee and tore my ACL or something like that, because then you’d feel sorry for me.  But none of this happened.

No, I had a great time sledding, all the while ignoring a creeping pain in my knee, which wasn’t a great knee to begin with. 

By the time I got back to Texas, my knee was pretty messed up.  I tried to rest my knee, but then SXSW started and there were bands I wanted to see, and I was tired of maintaining my horizontal position andwhy should I have to miss out on anything anyway?

I’m not good at being still.  Ever.

Plus, SXSW = Free music = Fun = Ignoring my knee.

Only my knee was not on board with this plan.  Two days into SXSW, my knee quit in protest. I was forced into bed.

 At first, I thought that there was something appealingly southern gothic about retiring to my bed to write.  I would have nothing to do besides write. My family to supplied me with a constant stream of ice packs and charming beverages. I settled in, expecting new ideas to flow like water.

Nothing happened.  

I read books and watched movies, I caught up on E-mails, I took an online course on self-promotion.  I sent texts to friends complaining about my procrastination problem and asking for advice.  I tried all the techniques to get the flow of ideas started. Nothing worked.

 At night I dreamed restless dreams of running after trains, traveling on treacherous mountain roads in overfilled buses. Boats on troubled waters. I dreamed of moving through the world at a breakneck pace even as I remained still. And still, no new words came.

My husband left town for the weekend.  Three hours later Wolf the cat informed me that there was no wet food in the house.  Wolf found my argument that I was in too much pain to grocery shop underwhelming.  

So I got my cane andI headed to the grocery store. As I limped behind the shopping cart, ideas formed.  I pushed ideas aside, struggling to remember the few things I needed.  It didn’t work.  I forgot milk for my coffee. I barely got out of there with cat food.

Ideas rolled at a shopping cart pace, limped sideways through my head, unbidden. All it took to break my writer's block was motion.

I don’t write sitting at a computer, I write while I move.  I walk the neighborhood, I pace my house and the words come. This should have been painfully obvious to me since I have long academic history of blanking out the moment an essay test hit the desk in front of me.  But for some reason, I thought my brain would grow up and behave differently.

No. I can’t think sitting still.  My brain is a self-winding watch on a short spring. I get fifteen good minutes before I have to move my arms and legs to power it back up.

 But I have a cane.  My neighborhood is beautiful and lush. The weather is perfect.  Today I walk. Today, I write.

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The End of Disability?

Liz Jackson is an inclusive fashion designer.  She was here in Austin for a SXSW panel.  Yesterday Liz Jackson tweeted about a SXSW conference with the unfortunate title of “The End of Disability.”  

    The End of Disability?  Crazy. The title sent me looking for a paper bag to hyperventilate into. I like my disability.  It’s a big part of who I am, although I don’t like the term disability. I am ND—neurodiverse. ADHD, and dyslexic.  Just the thought of ending disability conjures up images of spotless Orwellian labs of the future where everyone different is normalized.  A big part of my novel, The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily is devoted to the for-now sci fi question of: What if we could “fix” ND people? (also love—hello, love letters!) I’m not anti-science and technology, but I do want everyone who reads my novel to think about what it means to medicalize difference.  

And who exactly decides what is normal, both physically and neurologically?

 Doctors?  The school system?  The workplace?

One of the conference participants got on twitter and asked us not to judge. I wanted to give him a chance. I thought about getting in my car and driving the approximately three miles to the conference center and watching all the panels about disability and difference. I could also go see some day shows, something I usually do during SXSW. I got out of bed went to get dressed and realized that I couldn’t go.

I can’t walk right now.

 

I used to play guitar.  It got harder and harder to play, and I went to see a doctor.  She took an X-ray of my left hand and told me I didn’t have any cartilage left in my thumb joint. That was the end of playing guitar.  I can’t complain because now I write, and I’m much more successful as a writer than I was as a guitarist.

But I like to think that my left thumb was an aberration and once I had surgery on my thumb everything in my life would return to normal forever and ever.  End of story.  But that’s not true.

MY right thumb is going bad.  So is my right knee and my right hip, and my left foot and a vertebrae or two.  None of this is getting any better and most of my joints will certainly get worse.

So yesterday, I lay in bed watching Liz Jackson’s Ted talk about inclusive design. And the first thing I noticed was that she has a really bad-ass cane.  It’s beautiful.  

And I remembered that I have my mother’s cane in my closet.  ( my mother had degenerative arthritis too. Hereditary. ) It is not a bad-ass cane.  It has one of those putty beige, shipped-from-some-Sovie-block-country-in-1977 rubber feet. My mother’s cane is ugly.  But it was there.

I got the cane and I went searching for the great New York Guitarist Yonatan Gat.  Since I can no longer play guitar, one of my greatest joys in life is watching a great guitarist shred, generally at SXSW.  Wata of Boris. J. Mascis. 

Yonatan Gat wasn’t At the Hotel Vegas yet, ( thank you, ADHD for my inability to read a schedule!) but I did get to see a good band from LA called Winter.  

And I learned that a cane is not a concession. It’s a tool. I’m used to wearing mydisability— my difference of the inside and this was a new experience for me. 

On one hand, people are helpful and don’t just assume you are being an asshole which is generally what happens when you have an ADHD moment in public.  

On the other hand—pity.  It’s not fun to wear.

Nor is this standard issue medical device.

I just wish my cane were not so ugly. 

 

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Neuro-diversity and the Tyranny of the Hug

I spent February in Connecticut with my brother, and his wife, and playing with their two adorable toddlers, Di-di and Buddy. But mostly, I went to write.  Connecticut in the dead of a long winter is a peaceful wonderland of nothing happening. It’s snowy and tranquil.  Nothing to do but write.

    I returned to Austin on a plane fighting an uncharacteristically lax jet stream, twenty minutes early.   As I stood by the luggage carousel waiting for my oversized suitcase to drop down the shoot, I saw my Henry’s broad shoulders appear in front of the screen advertising arriving flights. He didn't see me.

    It gave me time to gather my thoughts. I reminded myself that I should hug Henry.  It seemed like the right thing to do. I’d been gone for a month, after all. I have to remind myself to do this. Henry is a hugger.  I’m not. It isn’t in my nature. I’m twitchy and awkward, and I always feel like I’m doing it wrong.

    Henry turned and I held my arms out, the international airport symbol for feel free to hug me now.  And he hugged me, which is better.  He’s good at hugging.

    “You’re back,”  he said.  “I wasn’t sure you’d return.”

    “Of course I came back. We have children and a mortgage,”  I replied.  “Also, I missed you terribly.”

    I probably should have lead with “I missed you terribly”.  Even though I write romance novels, romantic speech does not come easily to me.  

    “Well you never know,”  he said.

    “Yes, you do,”  I replied.  “You have plenty of empirical evidence to support the likelihood of my return.”

    “You’re like the Dread Pirate Roberts of relationships," he said.  "Good night Henry.  Good work.  Sleep well.  I’ll most likely leave you in the morning.”

    Me: the Dread Pirate Roberts of relationships.  I don’t suppose the Dread Pirate Roberts was much of a hugger either.

***        

    Austin has an all-woman a cappella group entirely devoted to singing the works of Hildegard of Bingen.  Hildegard de Bingen, in case you were wondering, was twelfth century abbess who wrote philosophical and religious tracts and a great deal of music. She was a renaissance woman several hundred years before the actual Renaissance, and several hundred years more before woman were allowed to imagine doing a bunch of crazy things like writing music and treatises.  Hildegard is my hero. 

    Of course I wanted to sing in an all woman choir devoted the works of Hildegard de Bingen!  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

    I came to my first rehearsal absolutely out of my mind with excitement.  But before we got to singing, we broke into small groups of five or six to “share our triumphs and sorrows of the day, to commune and hug it out.”

    Up until the moment we broke into small groups, I’d had a pretty good day.  I was stoked to sing Hildegard De Bingens’s music. But whatever good had gone before was totally subsumed in blistering rush of anxiety I feltat the impending hug-fest.  When it was my turn to share, five very nice woman asked me what was bothering me, since I was just shy of hyperventilating.  

    I could hardly say “I don’t want to touch any of you. Please don’t hug me.”

    I made something up, some terrible personal trauma, and I got through the hugging.  

    I never went back.  

    What about singing medieval music says share your innermost feelings and hug random strangers?
  

 This was a while ago.  The phrase “neuro-diverse" hadn’t hit the public consciousness.  And I feel a little bad that I didn’t have that particular bit of language in my arsenal.  Those very nice woman, who shared my love of Hildegarde De Bingen, would have understood, if I’d said:

“I’m ND, and I don’t like to hug, and sharing my feelings is difficult too. Do what feels right to you, and I’ll join you for the singing.”

I've spent a good deal of my life with my hands at my side, hoping to god that  people wouldn't hug me.  But being honest and upfront about  my ND hug awkwardness has feed me from my hug fear.  I'm much more okay with being hugged. I no longer expect hugging to feel like a perfectly soulful expression of togetherness. I know my hugs are awkward and I don't care.  Hug away, if that’s what you like.

 

 

 

 

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Valentine's Day-- A Neurodiverse love story.

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Valentine's Day-- A Neurodiverse love story.

Henry spent the fall working on a red MG sports car outside the window of my bedroom. He wore a thin white t-shirt and looked for all the world like a blond Marlon Brando from  Streetcar Named Desire. ( see attached picture. Rather than post a picture of Henry and embarrass him, I have included Marlon Brando.  Enjoy).

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My ADHD holiday season-- the Tarantino edition

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My ADHD holiday season-- the Tarantino edition

    It’s a truism that there are as many different kinds of neuro-diversity  as there are neuro-diverse people, yet there is one  thing that unites us all.

    Holidays are hard for us. I have yet to meet anyone ND who doesn’t have a disastrous childhood holiday story.  

      Mine happened when was when I was thirteen.  I wanted to make snow ice cream in the blender.  My mom said I could if I hurried, and cleaned up after myself.  My grandparents were due to arrive at any moment.

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ADHD and the Election

    One of the best things about being ADHD is that I don’t have to unfriend people on Facebook or twitter. All I have to do is lose my phone.  It happens all the time.  And it’s great.  I recommend losing your phone every couple of weeks or so.

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