The room is stifled by shut blinds and low lamplight, a puffball of used tissues bellies out from a waste basket, and silver casings that held white pellets of Brufen lie spent on a side table.
Have I set the scene? Yes, some sort of virus struck a few days ago, leaving me feeling I’d been run over by a bus.
I have, to explain the introduction above, recently finished reading She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson. Primarily guidance on how to incorporate body language, props, and scene-setting into written dialogue to strengthen it and make it more realistic (i.e. what are your characters doing while they talk?), this short book also reminds the writer how to ‘anchor’ each scene’s location early on, selecting two or three details to create a picture in the reader’s mind. My review is on Goodreads which should feed into the blog below (the feed works a bit sporadically).
Anyway, I am on the mend but still struggling with the necessity of having to rest, facing dead time when there’s so much I must do, and want to do. Probably I should have taken the opportunity to do something mind enhancing, such as sharpening my skills for observation and detailed description. Fatigued in body but fairly alert in mind, I did some editing of a first draft I have written at one point but felt guilty doing so when I’d had to take a couple of days off work.
Expanding on this theme, I note the words below of two great writers who have pondered on the effects of severe and recurrent illness on their creativity.
In her 1926 essay On Being Ill, Virginia Woolf begins by saying:
“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view… it is strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”
Woolf evidently found in the midst of frequent sickness something creatively liberating, altering of perspective, even otherworldly, noting that “Something happens in my mind.”
Author Hilary Mantel spent long periods suffering debilitating and painful endometriosis (initially misdiagnosed as ‘stress caused by over ambition’!1), describing “the unlit terrain of sickness, a featureless landscape of humiliation and loss,” a horrific episode of misdiagnosis and devastating treatment that she described as being “mauled by medical procedures”. This did, ultimately, lead to Mantel beginning “writing in an attempt to seize the copyright in myself,” her writing serving to take back control and make sense of her world.
Back in the world of the ordinary non-genius and a trivial bout of ‘flu, I may not have been able to find creative side benefits in the isolation of the sickbed, but there is a practical bright side. I have had a decent amount of sleep for a change, caught up on some reading, and sought repair with juices and healthy food. So perhaps I should take the philosophical view of writer A. L. Kennedy who, whilst recovering from labyrinthitis, wrote: “I can hardly complain… it fills in the time I would usually spend overworking.”
Prodromou. A. Navigating Loss in Women’s Contemporary Memoir. 2015. Macmillan.
Steve Buissinne and quimono via Pixabay