“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,/Gang aft angly*.” –Robert Burns, from “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”
As you know, I look forward every year to Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. The week-long workshop is the highlight of my writing year. This year, however, was special; the faculty asked if I’d be an alumnae reader. I was thrilled and honored, and because my first novel, A War of Deception, had just come out, it was also serendipitous.
On Sunday evening after everyone’s arrival, we go to dinner, meet with our workshop instructor, meet our fellow work-shoppers, and go over the plan for the week. Because this was my sixth year at Tinker, this has become like a yearly class reunion. A lot of attendees are repeat “offenders.”
I was excited about my workshop, “A Writer’s Retreat,” led by Dan Mueller from the MFA program at the University of New Mexico. Mueller called this a “generative” workshop, meaning we’d read a short story the night before, receive a prompt, and come back the next with something we’d just written to share. It’s certainly a break from the typical workshop where you submit 20-40 pages ahead of time and come prepared to comment in depth on the work of every other person in the workshop.
I left the after-dinner faculty readings with anticipation.
Monday turned out to be a typical Monday. Nothing went right. I’d discovered the night before that I’d neglected to bring enough of a post-operation medication. Annoying and totally my fault for not double-checking or bringing the whole bottle with me instead of filling a pillbox for each day of the week.
A quick call to the doctor’s office, and he called in a prescription to a nearby CVS. After the afternoon craft lecture by Fred Leebron (on using and creating writing prompts; fascinating and erudite as usual), I walked back to the dorm parking lot to get my car and go pick up the medication.
On the drive there, I felt extreme fatigue, in that I wanted to take a serious nap. I attributed it to the fact I’d walked three and a quarter miles that day and I was 10 days post-op for heart surgery.
I got the meds and headed back to Hollins.
Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop used to be the only June event at Hollins. Then, they added a similar workshop for potters. In subsequent years they added a youth music camp and a youth dance camp. The quiet cafeteria became full and boisterous. The parking lots for the main dormitory became overflowing.
As I discovered when I returned from CVS. There was no place to park near the dorm, and by now my fatigue had become acute. After driving around a bit and waiting to see if someone freed up a space, I flagged down a campus security guard, explained my fatigue and its likely cause, and asked for some suggestions. The best he could offer was to park in the fitness center parking lot, close to the dorm but an extra distance to walk. It was all I had.
I took a nap but felt no better. I was still so fatigued, I asked someone to drive me to dinner. Again, I figured I’d pushed myself too hard, post-op. I decided a good night’s rest and driving myself to breakfast the next morning would mean less walking and less of a chance of repeating the fatigue.
A good night’s sleep, and I was ready to go. As the day went on my energy level stayed steady. The workshop was great. I read a piece of flash fiction I’d written the afternoon before and got good feedback. Pinckney Benedict’s craft lecture on “Logos vs Pathos” was intriguing and thought-provoking, again as usual.
I spent the afternoon doing homework in the cafeteria, rather than doing too much walking, had my one-on-one with Dan, and was looking forward to dinner.
As I ate dinner, I felt the fatigue come on again, not as intense as before, but I decided to forego the student readings that evening to make sure I got plenty of sleep.
This time when I got back to the dorm parking lot, there was a parking spot, but by the time I reached the front door of the dorm, I felt as if I’d run a marathon.
In my room, I drank plenty of water and felt better, and I sat down to do a little novel revising. Around eight-thirty, a tickle began at the back of my throat. More water. The tickle became a runny nose, followed by constant coughing, followed by a sore throat and an earache, and sinus pain.
I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands, of sinus infections in my life, and I knew what this was. Despite that knowledge, I was awake every couple of hours throughout the night coughing.
By morning I knew it was time for Urgent Care, but I also knew I couldn’t drive. One of my writer friends offered to take me. A couple hours later, I was back in my dorm room with new meds and orders to rest.
Rest I was going to do because nothing was going to stop me from that Alumnae Reading on Thursday or so I thought.
And I rested, barely stirring from bed, and thank goodness for Hulu because it’s a dorm room. No television. Friends brought me lunch and dinner, but I only grew worse throughout the day and evening.
Tomorrow I’d be better. I had to be.
I wasn’t better. If anything I was worse, and I should have expected that. I know how my sinus infections go. By now my asthma had become aggravated, and I made the decision to come home.
No Alumnae Reading, and I was pissed. At myself for getting sick; at my body for letting me down.
I’ve several, well, many decades of life under my belt, but in the last several years my usually reliable body has sabotaged me: a foot injury that took months to heal; episodic irregular heart rhythms that left me weak and frightened; a bout with shingles.
This past April in the midst of prepping for A War of Deception‘s release, I had a serious episode of irregular heart rhythm, so much so I had to go to hospital and get shocked back into sinus rhythm, followed a month later by the surgery designed to eliminate the problem.
Then, as I was beginning to feel like the old me again, a sinus infection and bronchitis took from me something I stood to gain validation from.
Now, don’t say I should have prayed harder or been a better person or that it’s God’s plan, because I’m a rationalist. Believe me, if prayer worked, I’d have been healed in a day. And I’m not a bad person; that threat of punishment over trivial matters is what pushed me away from religion.
No, I can’t and won’t accept my age, but I understand my anxiety about the surgery, which kept me from sleeping well for a month, depressed my immune system and helped bring this.
And, no, 20/20 hindsight is not useful nor appreciated.
I’m four and a half days into recovering from bronchitis, but since I have asthma, it takes me weeks rather than days to fully recover. Then, I expect the old me to make a command performance.
Oh, and they asked me to read again at next year’s Alumnae Reading. I’ll be there–one way or another.