Sunday, December 20, 2015


A vacation defines the thing or activity vacated, the effect of the activity vacated, and the need to fill the vacated space with one or more activities meaningful to the vacationer.  In a sense similar to the nature of the universe, which has a finite quantity of elements, many of which are in a constant state of flux, the vacationer brings to the table the totality of things done prior to the vacation, some plan or hope for alternate activity, and a sense of stepping off an airplane boarder in error, now arriving at an unexpected destination.

Your recent vacation from writing had a number of effects, not only on you but on others, who were led to assume because of your vacation from writing that you were well advanced along a path of illness.  You in fact were well along this path to the point where it reminded you of yourself at this same time of year, twelve years ago, wobbling along a path called recovery from cancer.

You recognize your tendency to always regard the most recent illness, however mild or intense, as the most profound illness you have experienced to this point in your life.  Indeed, there have been times previous to about the 24 of this most recent November, when you gave no thought whatsoever to your bout with cancer, and the accommodations your recovery from the experience has left you with.  

Earlier this year, you heard a student, describing his experiences with cancer.  You listened with curiosity because many of the things he said sounded familiar.  After some time, you realized the reason for the familiarity; you understood that he had been afflicted with the same kind cancer you had.  With one exception--he chose chemotherapy after the surgery and you could see no reason for subjecting yourself that course of action--your experiences were the same, including the idiosyncratic humor connected with your treatments, the time almost to the day before you were each ablate return to your teaching duties, and some of the down, discomforting days and their causes.

The image that comes to your mind now, relative to your vacation from writing, is the image of phantom limb itch or pain, experienced by some who have list an arm, leg, foot, or hand.  During your time away, something in some part of you was either itching, cramping, or throbbing--or so it felt through the mental haze that prompted your vacation in the first place.

On at least one occasion, you've described your recent bout with influenza with some of the more painful post operative days and weeks after your surgery.  You recall the surgeon telling you during one of your better, early post-op days, that he'd also removed your appendix as, he said with a wink, "a precaution."  Given your age this year, you did not even have to ask for the Senior's Special flu shot; you were given it SOP, causing you to wonder more than once how severe your bout would have been had you chosen not to have a flu shot.

The phantom limb experience intrigues you.  Miserable as you were, seemingly in a constant state of foggy drowse, only on rare occasions wanting anything more than water or, idiosyncratically, sips of strawberry kefir, you were aware of being on vacation from a well-articulated system of muscle memory which you scarcely noticed for the nearly ten years of writing every day, through lesser traumas than cancer and influence but in some cases greater emotional ones, not the least of which involved the death of your wife, being served with an eviction notice a scant week after her death, the loss to death of a cherished and beloved dog, the subsequent death of two of your oldest and dearest friends, and the publication of a book you'd worked on for over five years, arriving, because of its size and format, at such a production cost that the publisher could not afford to offer the standard trade discount to bookstores.

You wrote through all these things, produced publishable material, and, through the process of writing, managed to walk that narrow bike path of cusp between the fathomable and the surreal, emerging with a face and posture that did not cry out that you were a wounded man.  This bout of influence brought an indoor haze, a bug bomb gone off in your head, filling the nooks and interstices of your cranium with a soggy mist, wherein you found yourself incapable of reading, of connecting consecutive sentences or ideas.  You nevertheless felt the clawing insistence of the need to set sentences on the computer screen or on those lined stanzas of legal pads.

Even though you had no appetite for conventional meals or, in most ways, conventional doses of intake, you felt the nervousness of muscles, not unlike tapping fingertips on a table, reminding you how ready you were to compose.

Through a combination of dreams, drowsiness, and the incessant boredom of idleness, you became aware of the downstream effects on your body, your being, your outlook, of this vacation, which you had not wished to take in the first place because, whether you produced keepable material or not, you were producing within yourself the same kinds of endorphin and mental reach you recall from your running days.

You'd long thought of what you do with composition as a process, one with strong enough and long enough tentacles that it reached through the interstices of the warp and weft of your life to remind you, This is what you do.  Whether you do it well is an entire matter of discussion.  Whether you do it in hopes of arriving at some 5 or 10 or 20K finish line is another matter.

There is at least one book and several memes suggesting how repetition will make a thing better, cause improvement regardless of intent.  You cannot speak to that except to say, once you've experienced the presence of muscle memory, that improvement is no longer the goal.  At one time,you certainly wrote with the intent of becoming better, which you have come to associate with forming a closer bond between yourself and the outcome.  That will be fine, if it is to happen.  But that is no longer why you do it.

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