On my writing desk, I keep three photos of myself as a child of three years. I wear a cotton jumper. Twin barrettes hold then blonde hair in place. In the first photo, I give a fierce look at someone off camera. In the second photo, I sit on a tricycle, cookie in hand, eyes closed, my face a scowl, feet on pedals. In my favorite photo, I point to the sky as I look back, the shadow of the person holding the camera blending into mine on the grass. In all three I see determination.
For the past forty-two months, my body has been twisted into a pretzel and more thanks to a mosquito infecting me with West Nile Virus in October 2015, paralyzing me and destroying nerves. I’ve done three kinds of therapy—physical, occupational, aquatic—yoga, weight-lifting. and floor exercises in gyms, a studio, my living room, a motel room, and yes, in a wheelchair. With help from family, a special friend, and amazing therapists, the paralysis is gone. Nerve damage claims residency in my left leg, but I deny it permanent status.
Without my trusty walker or forearm crutches, I become a tin soldier in need of a good windup whenever I fall limply forward from the waist. On my crutches, standing tall, I move like a ballerina, on my walker a marathon runner. Pure fiction, I know.
Speaking of fiction, through it all, writing gave me sanity and a way to understand loss and love, past and future. Since the bite, I read my work at a Greenwich Village pub, lectured at my MFA program, revised my novel, and wrote or revised a dozen stories. (I have been on a few hikes - that’s another blog). I continue to meet with my two writing groups, one focused on craft, the other on new work. Writing stayed my priority. Without it, I would not be out and about, a sane woman walking.
When I look at my toddler photographs, I understand the determination on that face. I imagine I had my sights on the near impossible when I pointed to that sky. I imagine I was told no when I glared at the photographer. On my tricycle with cookie in hand, I was determined to go where my finger pointed. Now, I must bring that determination to my work—first draft, revisions, publication—just as I resolved to walk again when people told me I might not.
Yesterday was my first Wednesday in forty-two months not to exercise. Instead, I met with my writing group. We shared writing resources and markets, and then we submitted our work. The determination in that room to get work into print helped me realize that, like my toddler self, I look forward.