I don’t do new year’s resolutions. As Yomi Adegoke more or less put it, a woman’s life is a constant new year’s resolution, and I’ve been on the wearisome self-improvement treadmill since I was about seven years old. So no. Too exhausting and undermining. However. Two publications, one book, one literary magazine, have made a difference to me this past month. One old, one new.
The new one is The Paris Review:
I must have actually been really really good last year because Santa brought me a subscription. And lo and behold, what is among the delights of this first issue of said subscription, but an interview with the wonderful George Saunders. I love George Saunders. I love his work’s mixture of weirdness and kindness. I love what he says about writing. And what he says in the Review chimes with me so much, that I do want to write about that. But not today.
Because the other thing I’ve been reading, or rather re-reading, because I’ve had this book in my possession since 2008, is this:
The fact that I’ve owned this book for so long is a shocking reminder to myself of how long I have been living with chronic pain. Going on (!) twenty years. There. I’ve said it. Not for the first time, but this time I’ve used that word: chronic. But my re-engagement with this book, in a way I haven’t been ready for before, is making a bigger difference.
This is for real.
I couldn’t really grasp that when, years ago, a physiotherapist said to me, his hands leaping off my shoulder in horror, “But this muscle is all scarred!”. It is. The muscle of my mid to upper back, my right shoulder and neck, is riddled with scar tissue. I’m right-handed. This means that when I dare to do the one of the things that I most love to do – that in my weaker, more desperate and self-serving-aggrandising moments, I think I’m put on this earth to do (and that gives my life some of its best experiences of fulfilment and joy – and frustration, doubt and terror) – which is write, I get sore. Often very sore. I get a briny taste in my mouth. My muscle feels alternatingly bubbly and gritty. It trembles with exhaustion.
For years now, I have managed the pain with a mixture of exercise and strategies for addressing the postural issues that exacerbate it. These have definitely helped. But then a couple of thing happened that made me realise they are no longer enough. Last summer I developed RSI in my hands, due a mixture of tendonitis and osteoarthritis. That scuppered my writing for months. Then, over Christmas, I began to experience difficulty in swallowing. I had a couple of experiences of semi-choking. It was scary.
I went back to the book.
I am beginning to attend differently to my pain. Because I realise that with all my exercise and management strategies over the years, what I’ve actually been doing is bargaining. I’ve been saying, I’ll do all these things, I’ll be really really good, and the pain will go away. And then I’ll be able to write. Properly.
The pain isn’t going away.
So. What now? Well, one of the things I’ve been looking at is my need for rest. Which is a new one. Rest being, you understand, a four-letter word. Hence my life has been an endless to-do list. I’m sick of it. I want to change. I want to do less.
Maybe I’ve made a new year’s resolution after all.