Strange things happen when your brain is interrupted. I fell toward the end of February and banged my head on the ice. The next few weeks are a murky haze of sleep, dim rooms, and headaches. I’m pulling back into full-speed traffic now, but it’s been an exercise in accommodation and patience—from others, and from myself.
Patience, my dad used to observe with his wry grin, wasn’t the strong suit of the women in our household. I think he would have laughed to see me hauling my aching self out of bed, squinting over a plate of food, then dragging myself back to bed for another sleep. Work, family, friends, house—everything drifted out of focus and beyond my care. In my patches of lucidity, I was mostly aware of what I couldn’t think about. I watched words fly away. I watched thoughts evaporate like steam.
Coming through a concussion has given me a lot to ponder. I’ve had to face the fact that my body is not necessarily subject to my will. I’ve become reacquainted with the deep pleasures in going slow—listening to podcasts, making stew, napping in the daytime, walking the streets as the spring arrives. I’ve glimpsed the astonishing generosity of my friends, family, and co-workers.
As I regain my health, I look back at those weeks of hibernation and see a value I couldn’t appreciate when I was in the midst. I see it now as a kind of prolonged dream state, slipping in and out of sleep, drifting through impressions that never quite coalesced. Knowing that my obligation was to rest my brain, I had little choice but to give over to the murk, and watch the show from the sidelines. At the time, it was unsettling and sometimes bizarre, but also intriguing.
That dream state is strikingly similar to being in the grip of writing. Okay, focused attention was a little beyond my capacity for a few weeks there, and words were scarce, but I’m thinking more about the feeling of surrender to what is not quite available to the fully conscious mind.
Handing over control to the less-than-rational self, finding ways to channel out what it knows—many artists have spoken of that, so I know it’s common. It’s a staged resistance to your own will. It’s required of audiences and readers too, so maybe it’s a lesson in human creativity, about the discipline of being receptive, trusting, open, curious…
The wonderful interviewer Krista Tippett has made a career of curiosity, and she suggests that the quality of our questions invites the quality of our engagement. “It’s hard to resist a generous question,” she says in her book, Becoming Wise. “We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking better questions.”
As I make my way back from the mysterious muddle of my addled brain, I am determined to make more space in the brightness of my regular life to engage with that other state. I suspect that shifting shadow play which stays stubbornly beyond the reach of my will is one pathway to questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. I’ll be grateful to explore that pathway in good health.