This I know for sure: I just can’t write the way I used to.
I have always been a cerebral person- my brain, on any given day, like Grand Central Station. But instead of trains racing down tracks and passengers rushing to make connections, it is my thoughts that race and ideas that connect, and whichever issue or emotion is at the forefront of my mind acts as train conductor. My brain is a loud, busy, curious place- one which doesn’t quiet easily. The world around me is also loud, busy, and curious and I have always made sense of it through writing. Pre-Covid, I could sit and write for hours. The narratives in my head would weave together into stories and all I had to do was sit at my computer and let my fingers do the talking. Only then, having done my best to make sense of a nonsensical world, would I be able to park each train at its depot and shut down the train station lights for the night.
Unfortunately, the fatigue of long Covid means that my brain is no longer the steam engine it used to be, replaced now by the much slower but stubbornly persistent, “little engine that could.” I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Already, as I sit here writing this, only two paragraphs in, I can feel the pressure at the edges of my eyes bringing with it the promise of a near future headache that will feel like someone is trying to juice my brain like a half grapefruit.
Lord knows there is much about the world right now that doesn’t make sense. So if I could, I would write at length, for example, about bodily autonomy. I have been thinking a lot about how when I found out my second child would need to be born via c-section because they were in breech position with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around their neck I decided that I was really done with pregnancies and since the doctors were going to have their hands all up in there anyway, I wanted them to do a tubal ligation. Both the OB and the nurse midwife tried repeatedly to change my mind- “you’re only 33,” they said,”do you understand that this is a permanent procedure? What if you change your mind?” they asked, and even immediately after my baby was, thank God, born healthy they persisted, “what if God forbid your baby dies?”
I insisted, and they acquiesced- sort of– they wouldn’t cut or cauterize my fallopian tubes- but they would clamp them- a procedure that could potentially be reversible- you know, just in case. I have never for a moment regretted this decision. And if I were writing about this at length, I would be sure not to leave out how other women I know were just told “no” when asking for this procedure even at 44 as if grown ass women are unable to make educated decisions about our own bodies.
If the pressure in my head had not started creeping towards my ears; If my muscles hadn’t started twitching and my head was not now shaking, I would also write at length about youth mental health. I would write about how kids are losing their ability to trust themselves and their own judgment about what they want or need because they have been fed by society, parents, schools, and the standardized testing companies a tremendously narrow definition of success- success which can only be reached by a very specific and expensive path.
The kids, I think, are not alright. We are conditioned as parents or teachers to play cheerleader- to tell our kids and students to never quit- to just keep going. That if they just put their heads down and muscle through, keep pushing, work harder, always persist, that we will be so proud of them, perhaps they will even gain entrance to that elite college that holds the only key to a future in which they are “a somebody” that matters. We often forget as grown ups, that there are times that we should absolutely not continue down a path that is causing us physical, emotional, or psychological harm. We forget- or maybe never realized in the first place, that it is actually not our job to always play cheerleader or say, “yes you can, you must” but to help kids discern when a situation calls for resilience and when it calls for retreat. That retreat is not giving up but strategically pausing, reflecting, and adjusting before continuing forward, sideways, or even retracing steps to figure out where they lost themselves in service to a false prophet. And if I didn’t have to keep having to put my head back on the pillow and close my eyes, I would write about how we are currently doing our young people a grave disservice by not sometimes telling them, “you can stop now. You have done enough. It is time to rest.”
If 30 minutes of writing didn’t then force a 90 minute nap and then a 3 day hiatus from working on this piece out of fear it would trigger a fatigue crash that could land me in bed for weeks, I would be writing at length about these and so many other things.
My brain is still like Grand Central Station, with thoughts and ideas scurrying to and fro, urgently trying to make their connections. My writing process, however, feels less like the vast expanse of a meandering Amtrak trip through the Canadian Rockies, with its scenic vistas out the windows of a sleeper car. Writing is now more like a subway commute, one with frequent single tracking delays. Write and then stop. Write and then stop. A little less graceful, leaving me questioning when I will see the light at the end of the tunnel, but still, when I can do it, gets me where I need to go.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
This I know for sure: I am still a writer.