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  • Jan Flynn

Sick Days

At first it acted like a cold. A minor cold, at that. I did all the right and responsible things: extra rest, lots of herb tea, salt water gargles and neti pot nasal rinses (as disgusting as that is). It seemed to be working, assuring me that I was as virtuous and in charge of my own health as I like to think.

Until last Monday night, when it hit me like a runaway train. Fever, body aches, rattling chest, screaming sore throat (except the last thing I wanted to do was scream). And an energy level somewhere below that of an estivating newt. 

At least when I have a fever, I allow that I am actually sick. Otherwise, I suspect myself of malingering, of giving in to that weak part of my nature that would pretty much always be happy to find an excuse to lie down. I am not, as you may be able to discern, great at cutting myself slack.

But slack I was, laid low for three long days before I could even emerge from my sweaty cocoon of bedsheets and begin to feel something like a human being. Gradually I began walking on my hind legs again, eating solid food, wearing civilian clothes.

Thank God the really awful part is behind me. Now, however, I am frustrated and flummoxed by my inability to bounce back. I can get through the work day, but once I get home I need to be scraped off the couch just to go to bed. The slowest and most unambitious walk with the dog or round of gentle yoga poops me out for a good hour. I go to bed by 9PM and take naps whenever the chance arises.

But there are silver linings to this pathetic little cloud. My husband has coddled me, bringing me cups of tea and bowls of yogurt (of course he still won’t touch anything I touch without using a Kleenex, and he has sequestered himself in the guest room, but I can hardly blame him for that). My good buddy made me a small ocean of chicken soup studded with potatoes and leeks, my favorite. And, perhaps even better than all of that, I have been writing again.

Not that I ever stopped, entirely. Writing remains my obsession, but my daily writing practice, once so carefully established, has suffered in the unrelenting onslaught of upheavals that have beset our lives since last fall: catastrophic fires, death and serious disease among family members, an accident that put my beloved husband in a wheelchair for six weeks over the holidays. To say nothing of events in the larger world, over which we shall for now draw a polite curtain (who needs that bilge?).

While I still feel as weak as a half-drowned kitten, there is something about this particular phase of this particular virus that lends itself to focused work at the keyboard. I’ve cleaned up drafts of two of my short stories and submitted them to writing contests. I’ve begun work on an essay, ostensibly about adverbs but not really. And I have queried more agents with my novel The  Moon Ran After Her, a fictionalized account of the women in my first, late, husband’s extended family who survived the Armenian Genocide. In so doing, I’ve gone through the entire novel one more time, trimming out 13 or 14 pages, cleaning up the detritus, tightening the pacing.

It’s satisfying, this breaking through the crust of distraction and returning to work. It reminds me that I actually do this. Whether an agent jumps on my MS or a magazine picks up my short story is not within my control, but sending work out into the world, work I feel good about, is within my purview.

I expect my energy level will return to normal, gradually over the next week or two. What I intend to keep from this experience is the ability to plunk myself in a chair for a good chunk of time and absorb myself in whatever narrative unspools from my fingers. I had forgotten what pleasure it is.

How about you? What unexpected gifts have you discovered in times when you felt lousy? Please comment and share!

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