by Tara June Winch
I generally let the common cold ruin me and then pass, and try to avoid having to see a doctor and take antibiotics at all costs. Last week, though, I saw a doctor. We talked not about the sniffles, but about my hand; my great bulging, and throbbing hand. It happened a month ago, I woke with a numb left hand, unable to lean on it, hold objects and was resigned to type painfully. The months before the same thing had happened to my left foot, the month before this incident it happened to the right hand although the pain and swelling passed within a fortnight, although this latest episode had and has lasted over a month. I tried to wear coats with long sleeves to hide it. On stage at Byron Bay Writers Festival, I was conscious to tuck the gorged hand into my lap while speaking. The doctor prescribed Solone 25mg, it hasn’t seemed to be helping, I stopped taking it yesterday. I’ll see a specialist this week.
His name was Doctor Fortune and in his opinion, he said, it was likely I have rheumatoid arthritis. If you didn’t already figure a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is not a good diagnosis for a writer, I’m telling you that it isn’t. Instead of me overacting and complaining how arthritis at 32 with all my books ahead of me is not at all possible, I took a breath because it was a suggestion, not a diagnosis. Instead I told him how I once lived in his country, how I missed jollof rice and palm wine and for the rest of the appointment we laughed about the great green places and the fine cuisine of his country. Only later, waking in the panic and ache of the night did I look at Wikipedia. First I searched rheumatoid arthritis and then the side affects of the prescribed medication Solone. Rheumatoid arthritis side effects are:
- joint pain, such as in the joints of the feet, hands, and knees,
- swollen joints,
- loss of range of motion,
- tender joints,
- loss of joint function,
- stiff joints,
- joint redness,
- rheumatoid nodules,
- joint warmth,
- joint deformity
The medication Solone’s side effects were listed as:
- difficulty controlling emotion
- difficulty in maintaining train of thought
- weight gain
- facial swelling. severe.
- depression, mania, psychosis, or other psychiatric symptoms
- unusual fatigue or weakness
- mental confusion / indecisiveness
- memory and attention dysfunction (steroid dementia syndrome)
- blurred vision
- abdominal pain
- steroid-induced osteoporosis
- stretch marks
- severe joint pain
Severe joint pain, the medication for my very own severe joint pain has side effects of severe joint pain. Brilliant. The diagnosis is yet to be in but I now know that the world is full of fun house mirrors at the exact moment one thinks it’s not.
I was hiding something else, other than my engorged hand, on my trip to Australia recently.
I’d been hiding the book I’d been reading, reading in that slow devouring that happens when you don’t want it to end. I’d hidden it because I thought maybe it wasn’t highbrow enough, was too commercial, to be seen by the it-lit crowd. Then one of the days I’d run out the door, on the way to a series of literary meetings with serious literary people and grabbed a yet-to-be-tested-for-book-carrying handbag and my humiliating book and jumped on the train. At the arrival of the train journey, with a handful of minutes to my first meeting, I realized the book wouldn’t, couldn’t, fit into the handbag. I had two choices, abandon the book somewhere that someone ready for such a book could find it, and love it like I did, or know better that it was a train terminal and the odds were neither in the book’s favor nor against, OR, I would have to tuck it into the back of my jeans, and, unlike in my youth, with the ability to inhale and have parts of my body actually move, I’d need to unbutton a little or a lot. I looked at the damned pretty cover and thought about all the damn great things I’d read in it and wanted to re-read and I came to the conclusion of ‘fuck it’. I carried the book around with me for the next seven hours with wild abandon, I even mentioned that I was reading it, and aghast, that I liked it, during these meetings.
Why I’m telling this entire day of me carrying Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is simply because I realized that no-one cared. Just like no one really cared about the sight of my very large hand. I even recommended the book to very discerning readers and they even furrowed their brows and widened their eyes, as if it was a fantastical thing that they’d somehow missed reading along the way. Or perhaps their reaction was because of the disparaging reviews and the template of it all, because maybe it is a bunch of commercial spew to some people. Regardless, I like it. Overall, through the few cringe-inducing encouragements, I truly liked it.
Big Magic isn’t a self-help book, yet each chapter rounds itself in that way. It isn’t a template, because the author explicitly says it isn’t, but it actually is. The most important part of the book is that it made me want to jump off the train and write and also do other things that I love like garden and paint and make something new, like ceramics, or something, anything. It just made me feel particularly positive about making stuff. My reaction, then, is of joy and gratitude to the book. I didn’t just like it in the end, I loved it. Here’s a bit I especially loved and underlined for myself:
An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy. (“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you” – Gospel of Thomas.) Bring forth what is within you, then, whether it succeeds or fails. Do it whether the final product is crap or gold. Do it whether the critics love you or hate you – or whether the critics have never heard or you and perhaps never will hear of you. Do it whether people get it or don’t get it.
When readers went over-the-top with their great hatred or their great adoration of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert writes, “Imagine if I’d tried to create a definition of myself based on any of these reactions” … because of my deep and lifelong conviction that the results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. ”
And on the chapter ‘Entitlement’, she writes, “Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self protection).”
All this might be still candyfloss to some people, but it meant something to me. It made me motivated to do the work and live up to the job title of writer, by writing more. It was an immediate uplifting, and had an immediate reaction – I even wrote notes, edits for the novel, and an outline of a book series in the spacing of the pages of Big Magic. I honestly, without hubris, without all the past and everything I hoped for my writing – felt a huge shift of wanting to create even more. That’s why I loved the book, and that’s why, in the end, I didn’t give a toss whoever saw that I was reading it.
My hand, on the other hand, is not so uplifted. However, whatever the outcome, however I heal or succumb, this book makes me want to wave that swollen appendage in the air and say “I’ll do the work no matter”, not only because of Big Magic, but because Gilbert’s encouraging writing reminded me that no-one gives a shit if I do the work or if I don’t, only that I’ll truly feel wonderful and satisfied when I am writing, when I’m being creative; now and always, arthritis or not.
Photo credits (C) Tara June Winch