Saturday, December 14, 2013

Clouds and Glass

My brain does not play well with medications of any type. A lot of medications make me experience odd side effects, so I'm very careful about what I take and how much of it I take, and I really hate being forced to take anything. One of the allergy meds my doc suggested I try last summer worked wonderfully, but it also made me hear music. Annoying brass band music. In my head. All. The. Time.

So when I hurt my back last month, I resisted going to the doctor because I knew he'd just give me medication that would make it impossible for me to work. Predictably, the pain got bad enough that I couldn't work anyway, and Husband Beast scraped me up off the floor and dragged me off to the doc (amazing what a week of "I hurt too much to cook dinner" will do for a man's powers of persuasion...). Several prescriptions for muscle relaxants, pain pills, and steroids later, things are looking (and feeling) a lot better, but the last three weeks have been rough in terms of getting any writing done, or even being able to think straight.

Struggling to work through a narcotic cloud for the past three weeks, while frustrating, has given me an interesting insight into my own creative process. (Yeah, I know, I'm groping about for the silver lining here, dudes... there has to be one. By my reckoning, three weeks of lost work is hardly worth one interesting insight, but I'll take what I can get at this point!)

Back in the Stone Age, when I was a starving graduate student, I was doing research on glass structure. Glass is an interesting material in that it doesn't have a fixed crystal structure like a lot of solids do. It's more like a flash-frozen liquid. There are identifiable structures you can find, but these structures only exist in the short range. There is no ordered, repeating pattern like you would find in a crystal. It has become apparent to me that my creative process organizes story-things in a similar manner, and writing a story for me is a bit like trying to figure out a structure where none is apparent.

When I have mental clarity, I can see the subtle signs of long range order in the chaos of my thoughts. I can see layer upon layer of ever deeper connections between the characters, motivations, and events of the series I'm working on. I can see far beyond the obvious, ordered, short-range structures, and get a sense of the underlying connections and how they fit together and what sorts of things they might turn into. Pain meds completely shut down my ability to sense any of that. They trap my mind in a place where all I can see is the obvious, structured short-range stuff that's right in front of me. I know all those layers and connections exist out there, but I'm unable to follow the threads of them or even see them.

Interesting as all that is, the real take-away from this experience is a lot more practical: Women of a certain age should gracefully concede that lugging around forty-pound bags of softener salt is a Bad Idea.

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