The thing about chronic illness is that it plays merry hell with your writing production.
I was reminded of this powerfully this month, not only because I have spent the past six weeks suffering through this stupid cancer treatment and a very bad arthritis flare simultaneously, but also because I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot.”
In my own life, my arthritis flares start with fatigue so all-encompassing that I could easily sleep 20 hours a day if I wasn’t forced out of bed to deal with reality. And when I am out dealing with life, I am functioning about as well as a zombie might. Once the fatigue passes, the pain begins, and typing is just one of the many things that becomes nearly impossible.
Dostoyevsky wrote “The Idiot” during a turbulent period in his life, and it’s possible to watch his own illness come and go in the quality of the plotting and writing. Some sections of the novel crackle with energy and the plot hums along without any hesitation. And then there are the sections where there’s hesitancy, redundancy, and a slight bewilderment in the plotting. Those periods are followed by chapters that suddenly introduce a narrator, who digresses about authorial intent and writing techniques. All in all, “The Idiot” is an at-times bizarre mess of a novel.
But it’s a grand mess, a touching long rumination about the nature of goodness, the difficulties of living in the real world with real sinful humanity all around you, and it also functions as a venue to explore the worries and fears of a man who was afflicted with epilepsy (as was the titular character.) It took me months to read through it, mostly because it required concentration and a lot of patience. The more confused chapters are difficult to get through, and whether or not Dostoyevsky purposefully wrote them that was as a reflection of his character’s mood or if it was an unconscious reflection of his own mental state, they’re very hard to get through. Once the characters leave Petersburg for Pavlovsk, the narrative meanders and doubles back according to whimsy.
I have started working again, although of course I am more than a month behind on my goals and stated ambitions. And I can only say that sometimes Reality steps in and makes its own goals the primary ones. Getting through each day, trying to get the very basic things of life done, it leaves no time for art or craft. If you can’t even remotely figure out how you’re going to cook dinner or make it to the dentist without falling apart, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re not going to be working at any sort of artistic high point.
So, I will continue to work. And I will update when I am done. It shouldn’t be too long, however. My birthday is soon and I want to be out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. Getting these old projects off my to-do list would clear the decks for more new things.