“You can’t process these things overnight.” —Alexander Landau
I just heard a Storycorp piece on the radio, about two people who connected over different (but also similar) trauma experiences which happened in Denver, years apart: Police beat and broke the bones of both Alexander Landau and Nina Askew. Both of these citizens endured and survived the violence enacted on their bodies and spirits.
( Of necessity, This blog post was drafted with the assistance of Google docs voice typing. Please excuse Associated errors.)
January 12-29, 2020
On Monday evening, January 6th, I tripped and fell backward and tried to catch myself with my right hand, but broke my wrist. Dominant hand. Parentheses people keep asking about that. Which hand? end parentheses.
in the middle of that first night, I was awake a lot, worrying, wondering when I would ever be able to use my right hand to do everyday things, like the morning pages. since 1993, pretty much every day except some weeks following the birth of my child in 2007, I have handwritten 3 Pages first thing in the morning. the morning Pages have been a way of keeping in touch with myself, keeping myself sane. That Monday night, my lower arm and wrist in a splint, unable to sleep because of the discomfort and the shock, I worried about when I would ever be able to use my hand again with such fluency. I knew that I could dictate text and email messages into my phone. but this would not suffice for my planned January writing project.
My intention had been to spend this month putting together many messy, complicated, and disparate files on my computer to submit a manuscript in progress to The graywolf Press non-fiction prize contest. I had planned 2 submit my work last year, but this Contest is only open every other year. in the dark on that Monday night, I despaired, realizing I couldn’t imagine the way to do this as I planned.
The contest is very competitive, and is a huge long shot, and I knew that, but it seemed like an important thing to do anyway. there’s no reason to disqualify yourself by not trying.
it’s Sunday, January 20, now, and I have let go of gray wolf for this year. But I’m learning other ways to do the physical act of writing, even if it’s not quote unquote anything beyond process. In other words, even if it’s not something I will publish some day Beyond my blog.
I got my notebook out, realized quickly that my fountain pen wouldn’t work in my left hand, got a black Flair pen. wrote down the date. Stated the facts about my right wrist, in very scrawly, funny lettering. everyday I have written with my left hand in that notebook, and it’s interesting what I’m learning.
I also got on the internet and discovered that Google Docs has a voice typing feature which I am using to draft this right now. It’s been very helpful to use that feature for emailing on my laptop as well. So I’m not just limited to my phone. hooray for Adaptive technology. and here I want to acknowledge that I am a baby in this land, and many people have been dependent on this technology for their lives, sanity, and livelihood. at any rate, I am very grateful that I can speak words and have them typed in front of me, even with typos and mistakes, some of which are very amusing, sometimes hilarious. sometimes I have to slow down and speak again. To avoid typos, I have to push the words carefully out of my body, and even then, you see what you get.
As a writer who has always been very careful about correcting typos Etc and very hard on myself, with high standards about what my words look like when I share them with others, this is a humbling time. I am letting myself go. I am not sweating typos errors Etc. (I am learning that it is okay 2 eschew perfection. I had to type the word eschew, for instance, because the machine was not getting it right.) I’m just getting the words out. But when I dictate words that are typed on the screen as I am doing right now, I can only go in One Direction, my brain can only move step by step, word by word, mindfully, and it feels very limiting. I must speak my punctuation. Of necessity, I am learning about slowness.
Similarly, when I write with my left hand on paper, I find that my right hand sometimes does what seems like a sort of lip syncing: my right hand sort of mimics my left hand, or tries to. Very interesting. I would love to see a functional scan of my brain during this process. But in the same way as when I speak words that then get typed on the screen, when I write with my left hand, I can only move forward, only move in One Direction. My brain has to slow down. so that I can get the letters shaped, even messily or with errors, onto the page or screen.
I have taken for granted my way of writing until now. That I can write things in the margins, that I can zoom around in my head, have three or four things happening, or way more than three or four, in my brain while I’m also writing has been a luxury. I know that handwriting even with my dominant right hand makes me focus in a way that is linear, that is one step at a time, but this is very different. I’m not even sure how to describe it. All I can do for now is pay attention, try to learn something from this painful experience.
As I form scrawled shapes with my black Flair pen on paper, sometimes I skip a line, sometimes I have to slow down and print Or reprint words, sometimes writing cursive is easier, and in almost every way, I feel like a monkey. nothing against monkeys. Just that I’m Not thinking in the way I am accustomed to thinking, but only doing what a body does. As well, I have been thinking about the Lynda Barry Workshop that I attended at Omega Institute. Lynda Barry talked about how when your brain starts to speed up while you’re writing, try slowing your hands down. I tell my students this sometimes. slow down. I tell them to not Worry about catching the words, but slow down and focus on the shapes that your pen makes across the paper.
(this is funny to me: as I speak the word p e n, repeatedly, Google Docs voice typing will only type the word pain.)
following Lynda Barry’s advice, in the past I would slow down on purpose sometimes when writing with my right hand. It was somehow reassuring and felt good. Right now, with Only my left hand, I have no choice. I can only do one thing at a time. my previous self was Adept at mental multitasking, and now, that Way of being–That fast fast rabbit! somehow Always hustling, always trying to get it all done!– is no longer available to me. now I have to find a new way 2 think, teach, communicate, and be in the world. Now I have to slow down or else Everything will be completely illegible.
And maybe legibility is a questionable pursuit. Maybe legibility isn’t even the point. Like when my daughter was first learning to form letters from shapes. Maybe right now the thing is just the physical attempt, getting words out of body.
I imagine, or hope, that my brain is making new associations, new wirings. that this accident will somehow change me in a way that makes me wiser. this does not mean I think everything happens for a reason. I do know that Since January 6th, as I navigate the physical world, I think about ableism, ableism in myself and others, and about those who struggle with physical tasks for various reasons. It had been an intellectual sense previously, slow down, let the person with mobility issues safely pass, let them have space to pass. let them not be invisible. Rebecca, you are not the only person in the universe. There are others here too.