I recently ran across a wonderfully uplifting quote by Victorian writer George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” And that, my dear reader, is very much the template (I wonder what Ms. Evans would think about this last word) for the next phase of my life.
One of the things few understand about living with a brain injury is that one’s relationship with the injury, the brain damage, is not a fixed thing. Living with a brain injury is, in a very real way, living with an influence that is in perpetual motion. This, of course, requires perpetual management of the injury. And so, for me, fatigue is more of a factor than it was, say, when I suffered my injury early one overcast summer morning in 1984. I’d been held-up and shot in the head at point blank range. I was 30. For some years following this, once I returned to work, I was able to work, 40, 50, 60 and more hours a week. But, as I said, a brain injury’s role changes. On our about 2005 or so, my ability to work regular hours came to an end.
Do not, for a moment, think I am saddened by this; I am damned glad to be alive to do anything.
The thing is, when fatigue is a factor, like it is for me, one needs to be selective about where one invests one’s energy. For me, for now, it will be invested in writing. If I am offered a speaking engagement or asked to conduct a standalone seminar or presentation of some kind, I’d be inclined to accept (depending, of course, on the issuer of the invitation). I will also keep my “foot” in the advocacy arena. But, writing will be the focus, quite possible for the rest of my life.
At first glance, not an easy question to answer. Perhaps the closest I can come to answering the question accurately is this: writing and books have been my constant companions for as long as I have memory. I have several boxes (this is not an exaggeration) filled with journals I’ve kept over the years. As for books, well, let me just say that I recently donated something in the neighborhood of 15 boxes of books to the Salvation Army leaving me with something along the lines of 45 boxes that are waiting for me to unpack them.
Now that I think of it, the answer to Why writing? is actually simple and obvious: I can always go there. So it is with books. They always give me a place to go.
My life has taught me something about loss. The unbiased hand of death plucks people from our midst, often without warning and, equally often, without any damned good reason I can think of.
And then, of course, life too happens to each of us whether we like it or not. I was not planning on getting shot and living with a brain injury. I was not planning on experiencing homelessness when I was in my teens and I know damned well I wasn’t planning on enduring the suicide of my mother and, perhaps the most savage blow of all, I was not planning on my father dying when I was 15. Hell, when I was 15 I was dancing a principal role with the Joffrey Ballet and was expected by the ballet world to have a stellar career as a dancer. But, my father died and 16 weeks later my mother placed me in reform school and all that had been came to a crashing end, including my life with a family. But! I could always write what I was thinking and feeling and I could always find a book to read. Because of them I always had a place to go.
And I would not be denied.
When I was homeless, or lived on the streets as we called it then, I became dazzlingly skilled at stealing paperback books off the rotating wire racks in pharmacies; not an easy task when one considers that one feature factored into the design of each and every one of those wire racks was that they emit a loud squeak when turned. I could tell you I’m sorry I stole all those books but this has been an honest essay and I see no reason to change that.
Anyway, this is enough for now. I have to go somewhere (this is where you smile).