I have heard writer’s block described as many things over the years, but if I had to add my own description of what it feels like, the most appropriate would be a predicament I was in a few years ago. I drove home from where ever I'd been, got out, and popped the hood on my car so I could disconnect the battery (no fancy hood release in this old car). There was slow leak on the battery that we could not pinpoint the source of and so my clever husband had installed a disconnect switch with a lever that had to be opened when the engine was turned off and shut when one wanted to start the car.
Somehow, my fingers got pinned between the hood and the hood release latch, and I was well and truly stuck. I started hollering for help—the pain was excruciating—and fortunately, Richard had seen me drive in and was wondering where I’d got too so he eventually came to see what was going on and figured out how to get me loose. It scared both of us very badly, and it changed forever how we approach the hood of a car. I have since heard of people self-amputating body parts to free themselves... well, it doesn't bear thinking about.
So that is sort of what it has felt like during the past couple of weeks, struggling to write something but not really being able too…
It became part of our habit while Nathaniel’s physical life was coming to an end for me to read a book to him and Richard in the evenings in the nursing home because we found ourselves running out of things to talk about, strange as that may seem. We all wanted something light and funny, so I read “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett, and then I started a second one...
But time ran out for Nathaniel before I could finish it. We brought the book home and set it aside, because we were not emotionally ready for me to resume reading that one.
So we started Thud, yet another Terry Pratchett book, mainly because we still really did need something silly that we could laugh at. We finished that one. And then Richard decided maybe we should finish the Wee Free Men.
Every one of Pratchett’s novels has at least one really deep and profound thing buried in there amongst the silliness that can cause one to stop and reflect, and Wee Free Men is no exception.
Last week we went to Springfield for the first time since mid-December, the last time either of us was there because Nathaniel was in the hospital. As we passed the oh-so-familiar landmarks, we had some time to reflect on those many, many, many hours we spent driving him back and forth beginning in June, to various doctors or to the hospital for imaging studies and operations, and what not. Richard observed how resentful he sometimes felt that he had to give up so much time driving him back and forth, and now of course he is grateful for every minute he got to spend with Nathaniel.
And the thought has occurred to me more than once that it really is too bad that we can’t more easily develop an “attitude of gratitude” for things as they are happening instead of having to wait for some tragedy to wake us up. As Joni Mitchell points out “Don't it always seem to go.... you don’t know what you got ‘til its gone…”
When we were about half-way to Springfield, I came to the end of the Wee Free Men. Not to spoil it too badly for anyone who might want to read it, the heroine, 9-year-old Tiffany Aching, with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle (the fierce little blue men on the cover), has been successful on her perilous quest and is wanting some special schooling. She is met by Mistress Weatherwax, the person who would be in charge of all that, who tells her
“First, you get the test, and then you spend years findin’ out how you passed it. It’s a bit like life in that respect.”
So I find myself thinking back on our lives since May 31, when I drove Nathaniel to the emergency department and heard the ER doc say “brain tumor or abscess” and then a week later, when I had to drive to Springfield by myself for the first time in years and years to take him to the hospital for his first operation, and Nathaniel was laying all the way back in the seat next to me, deathly ill because of the brain tumor…
And I wonder now how in the world Richard and I managed to pass all of those tests -- and Nathaniel too, for that matter. He is now free of all these worldly cares; but we, of course, are in the midst of the worst test ever. We are assured by friends who passed through this dark tunnel themselves 10 years ago and who know about these things, that we will pass this test as well. And then we will wonder how we managed it….
“Crivens!”— a word used frequently by the Nac Mac Feegle, and which we suspect is probably a swear word— has become our new favorite word to bellow when we have dropped something for the umpteenth time… or the cat has thrown up all over the carpet… or….