Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Arm to Stand On

When you're a writer you tend to take your physical ability to write for granted. It's shocking when that skill becomes compromised.

Earlier this year I caught a finger in a steel door. The wound was small yet impressively gory, and because of it my ability to write with a pen and type was impaired for a few days.

That got me to remembering an episode in Ernest Hemingway's life, when he broke his arm in a car accident in Montana in 1930. It was his dominant arm, and they had to operate (using kangaroo tendons to bind the pieces of bone together!), and it took many weeks to heal. With the arm immobilized, he couldn't write with any ease—longhand with his left was practically impossible, and typing one-handed was cumbersome, slow, and distracting—and he became depressed. At that time of his life, that was unlike him.

I've thought about all this quite a bit more lately, experiencing some disability in my dominant arm. Sparing you the fascinating, innumerable details, I have a complete tear in the shoulder cartilage that holds my arm on, plus a bunch of  inflammation.


My chiropractor, viewing the dramatic MRI, assured me I need surgery, and I spent weeks reading stuff on line and living in growing fear of the months-long process of post-surgical immobilization and rehabilitation. I made lists of things to do pre-surgery (buy pull-up pants, replace batteries in smoke detectors, go to the hair salon, finish all Christmas prep) and worried some more.

But when I got in to see the surgeon, he gave me a reprieve: with drugs and therapy, I might regain an acceptable level of function without having an operation that cannot be guaranteed to succeed anyway.

By a stroke of luck and faith, I hooked up with a wizard physical therapist who has worked behind the scenes with elite athletes and ordinary joes, rehabbing grievous injuries and restoring amazing function. We've just begun, and I'm encouraged. Am typing this with both hands!

But I did go ahead and order some voice-recognition software (Dragon). Because even though I'm able to write normally for the moment, I realized the great truth of being able-bodied: You never know. Moreover, I've wondered what it would be like to write with my vocal cords, so to speak. I'll give it a try.

Which feeds into the issue of productivity. These days, given the multitude of demands on authors' time, what with social media, self-promo, and all that bullshit, authors are increasingly concerned with productivity in the time they DO allocate for actual writing. And it's a given that the bigger your backlist is, the better your sales, the better your income. Obviously we can talk faster than we can write—so is that the future of composition?

Output alone won't cut it, of course. Yet on the other hand, it does, for many writers. Some put out hurried, half-done crap just for the sake of getting another title out there.

This will be an interesting trip.

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[Kangaroo photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

15 comments:

  1. My uncle uses voice rec software as he is almost blind now...it helps him a lot. He was an architect before and this crept in through the years. We never know, I guess, but I'm glad you're able to do the therapy instead of surgery!

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    1. Cool, Karen. I've also heard from a quadriplegic who uses software to do everything on line.

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  2. Loosing the ability to type/write would be a scary prospect when it impacts your livelihood and your independence. I've always wondered if Dragon really worked or if there were too many glitches that made the process a hassle. I hope you're okay. Tabitha

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    1. Hi Tabitha, thank you, I'm doing pretty well. I've found that the voice-recog software that came with Windows is hassly, but I've nothing to compare it to yet. Once I get Dragon going, I'll give a report for sure. The quadriplegic I mentioned in the above comment uses Dragon.

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  3. "Moreover, I've wondered what it would be like to write with my vocal cords, so to speak."

    This precisely why I read you books over and over. It's too easy to miss such brilliance the first few go-rounds. I'm laughing so hard!

    I smashed my right index finger in a vault door once. When I heard the heavy door lock and realized my finger was in the jamb, I gulped for air for a minute and then put in the combination to open it. It was numb for about six months afterwards, greatly reducing my sculpting output. It's really shockingly easy to lose ability.

    I'm eager to hear what you have to say about Dragon. It's very interesting. And not only because I'm selfishly awaiting your further output. ;)

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    1. OMG, how freaking terrible. So fortunate that your dexterity came back. I'll keep you posted on the new work, & on Dragon. The package arrived; am hoping to get it set up soon.

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  4. Jenn, I cringed for you when I read your line: "When I heard the heavy door lock and realized my finger was in the jamb, I gulped for air for a minute and then put in the combination to open it." I could hardly breath, relieving your experience through your words.

    I had a similar experience when I slammed shut the car door onto my fingers. I remember gasping for breath. I couldn't speak. I was frozen, mortified and in shock from being pinned into place. All I could do was wave frantically with my free hand at the driver to open the door for me because I couldn't do it for myself. Tabitha

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    1. Another OMG. Glad you guys survived!

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    2. Yes, Tabitha! I think shock can be a good thing, sometimes. I hope you're okay now.

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  5. i'm happy for your stroke of luck and faith. i remember slamming the car door shut on my older brother's fingers once, while my young self stood in confusion wondering what he's hollering about. don't remember the details afterwards since he could use both hands fine, i completely forgotten about it until i read this post. here's some extra good luck that using the Dragon will be a great help to you.

    as for NaNo, i fell 20,095 short of the goal but I haven't given up yet. Am continuing to work on it, towards the goal of 50k by Dec. 31st. So i'm looking at a New Year's resolution of polishing the NaNo draft into a book manuscript ready for submission before or by the end of 2014. and why i fell short? i broke the cardinal rule and went back and revised :-( and i was doing so well too :-(

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    1. LOL re: poor brother's fingers. On NaNo, the main thing is to persist! You're doing fine, lidy. It's easy to look at the negative of not 'finishing', but having a lot done is truly terrific.

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  6. MSM* and M&M's, will greatly help in your recovery. One for your shoulder, the other for your heart. If you go to WedMD and read what MSM is good for, you may laugh--okay, you WILL laugh--at the variety of ailments, but after you finish chortling, get some, because the stuff works. Only use red and green M&Ms this month. Seriously, so sorry for what you're going through...

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