Writing on wheels

Last year, I returned to skiing for the first time since 2000. Last month, I left the sport again, quite suddenly, with a failure to properly stop (on a run called “Easy Money,” of all things, at Mt. Baker) that resulted in a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and strained medial collateral ligament (MCL).

The mountain on that fateful day. Poor visibility contributed to my accident.
The mountain on that fateful day. Poor visibility contributed to my accident.

The first possible date for surgery happened to be the day my younger sister would be defending her Ph.D. thesis at Oregon State University (about seven hours’ drive away). I agonized over the decision and eventually realized I couldn’t miss this important event (there I am with the family, in the wheelchair, below left). Unfortunately, the next available date was three weeks later.

It’s now been six weeks since the injury, and I finally had surgery last week. Because crutches are awful, I rented a wheelchair in the second week. For the last three days my husband has been gone on a business trip and my kids are away with their grandma on spring break; their combined absence has revealed just how much they’ve been catering to my every need. It’s been a humbling and learning experience, to say the least.

Some of what I’ve learned about my work as a writer from looking through the lens of immobility:

  • Focus is conscious. I have a shorter attention span than I knew, and movement is good for the creative process. I never noticed how often I get up from my seat and move around the room when I’m thinking about something…or, particularly, when I’m on the phone with a client or potential client. Since maneuvering the chair under my desk is a tricky feat, and moving around in general is a major PITA, I suddenly noticed how frequently I feel the urge to get up. This has been important in helping me learn how to focus and use my time better. Because I have to really think about it before I get up from my desk, I have the opportunity to refocus my thoughts. “Get through this paragraph and then get more coffee.”
  • My family, with my sister wearing the Dr. Rosie shirt. It's amazing how many places along the Corvallis wine walk are not wheelchair accessible.
    My family, with my sister wearing the Dr. Rosie shirt. It’s amazing how many places along the Corvallis wine walk are not wheelchair accessible.

    Don’t take anything for granted. Carrying a beverage is almost impossible on crutches, and I never realized how important having a beverage is to my work. Taking a meditative “hmm, let’s see here now” sip of coffee or a congratulatory “that’s a good job, there” swig of water or, yes, a pat-on-the-back “I’ve gotten a lot done today” gulp of refreshing beer is part of my ritual. Even moving a coffee cup even across the room on crutches is virtually impossible. Recently, I’ve been using a paper bag to transport stuff, and plastic containers to keep it from spilling (e.g., ice cream in a Tupperware to eat in bed whilst bingeing Downton Abbey). My water bottle with its little handle is a godsend. What does this mean to my writing? Use the tools that you have and don’t fight your limitations. When you need help, ask.

  • Mise en place is important everywhere. Multi-tasking is critical when your mobility is limited. Gotta get up to go potty? (Our house currently has only one bathroom, across the whole house and up two steps from my bedroom.) Take the ice pack back to the freezer and fill up your water at the same time. This has translated well to my work. Nestling projects together can allow me to work on two at once: if I start thinking about how to write a landing page and get stuck, I can shift to the package copy, but the landing page is still working back there in my head somewhere.

Recovery is going to be a long road. Of course, I wish I hadn’t gotten injured, but I truly think the new perspective and humility I’ve gained—in many more ways than just these—has made me a bigger, better person.