My biggest writing problem is focus. So many things interest me, it’s hard to choose a topic. When I consider the question, it makes me love life all over again because, in weighing the choices, my attention glances in wonder over all I consider, renewing my sense of life’s abundance as more ideas volunteer themselves to my attention. This is the lasting aftermath of my post-depression state: a love of life, an unending wonder.
This is nothing as problems go. I’m almost ashamed to call it a problem.
Today, I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of Elle magazine who suffered a massive stroke and was left permanently paralyzed, a victim of “locked-in syndrome.” It gave me further perspective of how hard it can be to write.
Bauby, with no reason or anticipation of any problem, had a sudden stroke that left him unable to communicate by any means than by blinking his left eye. Known for his gregariousness and wit, he became imprisoned in his own body and yet wrote a beautiful memoir of his captivity and his attempt to self-define freedom, one which spares none of the heartache or struggle of his wretched journey.
His life, when he wrote his book, was unconfined by barriers such as limited time, excessive family obligations, or a pressing workload. He had all the time in the world–and it was needed, as you realize when you see the extremes necessary to produce his 131-page memoir.
Using the ESA alphabet, he dictated to assistants, who hand wrote the notes, which were then transcribed for him. In order to do this, his assistant would recite through the entire alphabet until Bauby blinked his left eye indicating the letter he was seeking. It’s almost unimaginable to me to think of how difficult this must have been, how much mental concentration it would take to dictate a book in this manner and how hard it must have been on him, on his lover, on his children, on his friends to visit him and watch the extent of his suffering.
This short book inflicts itself on the reader. It is easy with his descriptions to envision his captivity and hard to imagine how he withstood it. What remains apparent is the remarkable spirit that could endure his suffering and find any joy in his experiences, whether those were his private reveries and escapes from daily life or the far too poignant visits with the son and daughter he could no longer touch.
Though I tend not to think of writing as hard and try to remain grateful that I get to do this at all, I’m keeping this book handy in a place prominent above my desk. I want to remember always how much harder it could be. I want to continue to cultivate the sense of gratitude that I can see and touch those I love and not watch them with mute mouth and blinking eye as they struggle to glean my intent from a list of specially arranged letters.