Linda Henry

Thatwhich

Lessons from writing out loud, Part 1

February 2, 2016

About a week after I had tendon transfer surgery in my hand, the voice in my head woke me at 4 a.m. Apparently, it was time for a pop quiz regarding my goals in having the procedure. “What’s goal number one?” the voice asked. Though I was half asleep, I dutifully answered: “To not be in pain.” With that, I rose out of bed and went into the bathroom, realizing I was right on schedule for taking a pill. In the past couple days, I’d started thinking maybe I should wean myself off the medication. I felt mildly heroic when I went a half hour beyond the time frame when I should probably take another dose. And then the pain would kick in and I’d lose all regard for that kind of thinking.

So my 4 a.m. voice reminding me of my #1 goal was the real hero. When I got up for the day a couple hours later, it seemed to me I had three goals, although I don’t know if I’d ever articulated them. (The committee in my head can be very busy sometimes, even when the agenda is filed in the subconscious.) I remembered the second goal pretty easily: to have better function in my hand. But the third, what was that?

A few days earlier I had started writing out loud every morning when I get up, using voice recognition software. I bought the software a couple of months ago but barely used it, figuring I’d wait until I had to. That time had come.

Oddly enough, this thing I put off so long, thinking it would be a nuisance, has helped me write again. I still haven’t quite gotten used to speaking into a headset. But when I consider how much more difficult it could be, I am grateful. I think of those artists who paint with their teeth or their feet because they don’t have hands. Thank God I don’t have to do that. The idea of “disability,” of not being able to do something you love — something tightly bound to your identity and sense of usefulness in the world, to personal satisfaction and joy — is hard to accept.

My friend and hairstylist totally gets it. A few years ago she was experiencing pain in her hand that made it difficult to hold scissors. After many visits to a chiropractor, she was told she would always have this pain. He said she would have to change careers. That was unacceptable to her. Thankfully her mother-in-law suggested a homeopathic treatment that involved flannel soaked in castor oil — and it worked. (I’m going to try it to once the cast is off, to speed healing.)

When you love what you do, you resist being disabled. You get a medical procedure, slather limbs in castor-oil-soaked flannel. You learn how to hold a paintbrush between your toes or your teeth, if that’s what it takes. Like I said, I’m relieved all I have to do is speak into a headset.

That morning a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t think of the third goal. I finally gave up, removed the headphones, shut down my laptop, and went to make coffee. On my way into the kitchen, I remembered the third one: oh, yeah, so I can write again.

Selected Works

Essays
My daughter likes depressing books. “Someone dies in the first chapter,” Grace says gleefully of a novel she can’t put down. Maybe this inclination comes naturally, growing up with the ghost of a sister she never knew. 
In which my brilliant son prevails against middle-school bullies. Adapted from "A Voice Not My Own"