I’m in San Diego, sitting on the patio of the condo we’re borrowing from gracious friends, listening to the city—the stadium is to my left, and further that way is the convention center, and the Gaslamp with its million restaurants and costumed tourists is to my right. Will is paging through his ComicCon packet, plotting what he’ll do with his Thursday badge. There’s big nerd energy in the air, and it’s lovely.
It’s also 70 degrees, I’m barefoot, there do not appear to be any bugs, and the slightest breeze occasionally rustles past. Did I mention it’s lovely?
This is the first thing I’ve written in a while that wasn’t a business plan (more on that eventually) or a lesson plan (teaching a summer session class; 7 days/3.5 weeks to go!), or something for my teaching portfolio that is due September 1 and which I’m determined to finish very soon. In other words, my creative brain is rusty.
I worry sometimes that I’ve lost the knack for it.
And then on the way here, I thought about writing a flash fiction piece about a guy who doesn’t want to go on vacation because he hasn’t pooped and doesn’t want to use the airplane bathroom. (Believe it or not, this was not autobiographical.) I didn’t write it, but for a few minutes I allowed myself to inhabit the world of this non-pooper/non-vacationer, and how mad his wife would be, and how everything could go slightly wrong National Lampoon-style as a result, and this made me smile.
Someone on a balcony far above me is talking, and the acoustics are such that it seems like they’re right behind me. It might even be a television, the voice is that modulated, like someone reporting on the stock market.
Will went in and came back outside and said that his arm was itching, and it almost looked like hives, or maybe hive singular, as it was just one raised welt where he was itching. Or maybe something was implanted under his skin by an alien being, something that has been slowly altering his DNA and making him into a half-vegetable/half-man and he’s only just now becoming aware of it.
See? Fiction is fun.
And it’s probably not even hives.
I’ve been sick.
It’s not serious—nothing that requires hospitalization or specialists or expensive drugs that my insurance won’t cover.
In fact, my doctor diagnosed me with seasonal allergies and, after much pleading on my behalf, also prescribed an antibiotic in case it was something else. By that time, it had been 15 days of general malaise—stuffed nostrils every time I tried to sleep, a shallow, constant cough, a foggy head with slow, dull mental processes, the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t any better than the day before, and maybe I was even worse.
(It should go without saying that I’m throwing myself a pity-party here. But the thing is: I’m not normally sick. I took a sick half-day last year when I had an infected tooth, and before that, my last day off from teaching was in the fall of 2015. Many people have it much worse; I know that. I can only compare this year’s Paula, who has felt not great for roughly half the calendar year, to every other year of Paula, who has rarely suffered a sniffle. The result is not pretty.)
Now, 22 days later, either the antibiotic did the trick, or the Claritin performed its magic, or whatever was going on has slowly worked its way through my body—but I’m feeling, today, better.
Two nights ago I slept without nasal spray on my bedside table. I didn’t cough so hard I woke up all the humans and pets in my house. Yesterday, I cleared the kitchen counter of the DayQuil, NyQuil, nasal spray, cough drops and the little plastic cups still holding the dregs of orangish medicine.
And right now, I’m finally, finally, sitting down again to write.
It’s been hard, in this sea of self-pity and Gilmore Girls streaming and 9:30 am naps, not to think there’s something deeper at work here. Maybe my life isn’t making me happy. Maybe I’m not spending my time on the right things. Maybe I’m trying to do too much, all at once and my body has put her foot down: No, Paula. Just no.
Maybe this time I should listen.
I know what to do to dig myself out of the too-many-things, because I’ve done it before. Make a list. Prioritize. Set goals and stick to them. Cross one thing off, then another, and don’t look back.
But the trick will be: how do I not find myself right back here in a month, with a dozen new commitments and calendar obligations, my personal goals pushed further down the list?
A friend recently recommended to me You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. I’m aware of the book cover—I can call up the title font in my mind right now—and aware of the book itself in the vague, fuzzy way I’ve been aware of the entire self-help genre my entire life. Excuse me for thinking that the self-help genre was for other people, that I was already helping myself just fine, thanks. Excuse me for thinking I had nothing new to learn in this area.
I decided to listen to the audiobook, and now whenever I get into my car for a fifteen-minute drive across town, the wisdom comes in these short bursts of affirmations, surprising me each time. What am I listening to? And then: Oh, right.
I have felt nothing at all like a badass for months, maybe for longer. If there is a badass muscle in my body, it has gone dormant, atrophying in the face of this stupid illness, not to mention the endless and probably futile tasks associated with a job I’ve been doing for what suddenly seems to be a very long time, the constant acquiescence to things I really don’t want to do.
I haven’t yet looked at myself in the mirror and proclaimed my badassery.
But it’s going to happen.
It has to.
Paula Treick DeBoard