Why I Write

I’m bad at taking vitamins, keeping track of my glasses, and returning library books on time. My cats probably wish I would change the litter box more often. If it weren’t for my husband waking up thirty minutes early each morning and doing all the hard work—making the kids’ lunches, being my alarm clock, turning on the coffee maker—I’d be a deadbeat mom. A morning person I am not, especially since chronic headaches invaded my life three years ago.

But I’m pretty good at writing. Sometimes. I try to do it every day, although I’ve reached the stage where I now think everything I wrote two years ago is crap. I believe this is progress.

What I’m really not good at? Putting myself out there.

Whether it’s posting regular blog entries (Me? have anything to say that people would want to read?), or submitting my short stories (Is it good enough? Is it worth sending if they’ll just reject it anyway?), I fall short of the last essential stage required to BE A WRITER:

Letting my work be read.

I mean, I’m really not writing just for me. I say that, to justify the hundred thousand words I’ve written in the past year. I say that to my disability company, because truthfully, I’m not fit for gainful employment (and certainly not capable of performing the duties of a pediatric anesthesiologist sixty hours a week—yikes). Staring at a screen for more than a couple hours quite predictably gives me a headache, which I wake up with every day to begin with. So why do I write?

Writing is its own kind of therapy. It keeps me from going crazy. It is a substitute for the intense mental hoops I used to jump through, juggling the anesthetic management of up to fourteen children a day, supervising residents, conducting trials, taking classes, and writing research papers. I never wanted to leave my career at the age of 38. I dearly miss my job. Writing gives me something to do each day. So would yoga.

Don’t get me wrong—I like yoga. But even in the middle of the one class I’ve found that’s mellow enough for me to get through, I’ll find myself zoning out, revising my latest story in my head. (Especially during the ten minutes of sitting and breathing. I know it’s meditative. It’s probably great for my headaches. But it’s boring.)

But secretly, I love an audience. Even as an anesthesiologist, once I had that patient in my clutches, helpless, vulnerable, strapped to the bed, I used those precious minutes before the drugs kicked in to tell jokes. Yes, yes, it established rapport, alleviated anxiety, and put my patient in a beneficial state—beneficial for me. People tend to wake up in the same mood in which they fall asleep. It also was my only chance to perform, since I had neither the time, nerve, nor repertoire for stand-up comedy. In my heart, I want to make people laugh and cry and scream out loud. Maybe even in the same story—I aim high.

Without that outlet, I write. Today, I want to be a better writer than I was yesterday. Tomorrow, I admit it, I want that story to be read.

The only way to do that is to write as if no one is watching, knowing the whole time you’re performing on stage. I did it at the beginning of every case, in front of impatient surgeons, skeptical scrub nurses, and parents who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor. (A sample: “What do you call cheese that’s not yours? Nacho cheese!” It’s all in the delivery.) But if I could make that kid smile as the anesthetic took hold, it was all worth it–even if I had thirty seconds to get the airway in as soon as the little tyke stopped breathing. If I could tell jokes under that kind of pressure, you and I can submit our work. When that story gets out there, it won’t matter how many rejections it gathered along the way. In fact, the more you have, the more you can brag.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t think about what your mother or your English teacher would think. They probably won’t read it, unless you send them a copy. And God forbid, do not even consider the fact that your children have Internet access and know how to perform a Google search.

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What would Hands-Free Mama do?

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Yesterday, I woke up after a twelve hour migraine and found myself halfway up a mountain.

That’s what a lot of my post-headache days feel like.

Except yesterday, not only was the migraine real, so was the mountain. Unfortunately, so was the moment of, “How did I get here?”

I called ahead to my husband, who was bounding ahead of me up the trail, “Who’s idea was this?”

At first, he thought I was just being cranky. To be fair, I’ve been cranky a lot lately. We’re two and a half weeks into a three week break from school, and I’m remembering why I chose a career path, back when I was still able to work. Having a job is probably one of the biggest things you don’t appreciate until it’s gone. And it’s not just the financial independence or the sense of the professional accomplishment. No, what I miss is–I’m being completely honest here–time away from my family.

“But you write,” people say. “That’s a great career.” Yes, I get to follow my heart and work in my pajamas (of course, I did that before as an anesthesiologist). And I love it. Right now, I don’t even mind not getting paid for it. As long as I get to DO it. People think writing is something you can do whenever you want, but those who are parents understand that you can’t even go to the bathroom when you want. Why would you be able to string together complex sentences? So three weeks without writing is like cutting myself off from oxygen. For a similar time frame.

I know I’m lucky. I try to be grateful for all the wonderful things I have, but resentments creep in like…like headaches. Wonderful blogs like “Hands-free Mama” remind me to slow down and take life at my children’s pace. To watch the world through their eyes, where everything is new and magical. To actually live the life of gratitude and attention I practice in my mind.

Sometimes, the pace of a six-year old who whines mile after mile that she’d rather be having more “device time” is enough to make the best mother cry. And I am not the best mother. (Otherwise, my children wouldn’t spend so much time playing Minecraft. I know, I know.)

We flew home from Utah on Friday. I vaguely remember promising my son we’d find “a hike” when we got home. But I really couldn’t remember when we decided the 5+ mile hike at Hanging Rock, NC, was a good idea. For one thing, it was longer than anything we’d ever done, even in Utah. For another, I was still hungover from the migraine I got on the flight back from Utah. I barely remember getting home from the airport. I took my drugs, went to bed, and waited, and waited, and waited for the pain to go away. When it finally did, I waited, and waited, and waited for sleep, because the drugs make my head itch. But whatever, at least it wasn’t pain. (See, gratitude in action!!)

So halfway up the mountain, I woke up not because of a miraculous clearing of consciousness, but more because of  acute pain reaching me from my lower extremities. (What? I’m wearing hiking boots? Why on earth would I do that?? I must have been on drugs.) And all I wanted was a reasonable answer to my question: What was I doing there?

“It was your idea,” my husband answered.

 “Really?” I insisted.

There must have been something in my voice. My daughter glanced at me sideways and flinched. Uh oh, she clearly thought. Yelling Mama is back.

That’s right, I thought. And Yelling Mama wanted out of her cage. She wanted to holler at the trail for throwing huge boulders in her way, and at the boots for pinching her feet, and at her body for not being strong enough to get her through one simple hike without pain. She wanted to yell at her children for bouncing with enough energy for thirty puppies and singing SONGS when people were suffering in the lonely misery of their own rotten heads over here, and would you please stop being so darn cheerful? Most of all, she wanted someone to blame. She most certainly did NOT pick this trail, or this hike, not today, not ever, not in her wildest dreams, even back when she used to hike 8 or 10 miles as a matter of course.

She wanted to scream at herself to stop WANTING her old body back, the one that could have done this without complaining, and without anyone’s help, thank you very much.

In the end, she was rather proud of herself for only letting out a mild snarl or two at the people staring at her cage.

Then she apologized, and hugged her children, and promised not to yell anymore.

And she put one tired, aching foot in front of the other, and made it up the damn mountain.

And made it down, with her husband’s help.