Black Moss Press

Concussion Hai*Kovids and other writing processes

During the first pandemic year, in the middle of one August night, my writing process took a dramatic turn. On the way to the washroom, I walked forehead first into the closed oak door of my bedroom. I knew immediately it was bad. Took 2 Tylenol, got the icepack, and went back to bed, hoping I’d wake up in the morning. I know, you’re not supposed to do that, but who has their wits about them at 3 am.

Pre-concussion, I had spent the last forty days reading a page a day of my mom’s just-discovered Western Trip Journal, responding to her entries with my own memories of our drive from Norfolk, Virginia to California and back. We left Norfolk in July 1960. I was fifteen, she was 53, and my brother was 14. This year she would have been 115.

I transcribed her words and my thoughts onto a lined notebook with a favourite fountain pen crafted from a neighbour’s lilac tree. Entering our words onto the computer, weaving in already written memoir bits, and then editing the whole draft would have been the next step. But I couldn’t look at a screen.

Also awaiting me were 39 other journals, diaries, and sketch books to explore, discovered in someone’s attic.

Because thoughts come at me from all directions, I have relied on word processing to edit and the internet to research background info. For me, editing is the most important part of writing. Many drafts over long periods of time.

I’m a rummager. I write like sorting through a pile of clothes at a clothing swap. Try on the many promising ones, but hopefully go home with only a few, the ones that truly fit. I can’t imagine how pre-computer authors wrote entire novels. I think it was Ann Patchett who said she wrote each draft over completely, by hand. I just didn’t want to attempt that. Frustration and irritation, I found, exacerbated my concussion symptoms. I wanted to make it easy for myself.

I’m still limited to one hour of Zoom a week. A few emails. Short phone conversations. At first, I couldn’t concentrate. Then I figured I could write maybe three lines at a time.

the brain cathedrals

sunlight daggers like lightning

forks and knives thunder

Haiku kept coming throughout the winter. Then I wrote short essay-like observations of the day. A friend offered to take dictation over the phone and send me the digital file, so I could print it out and edit by hand. But that allowed me only one edit, as does this blog post.

The dictation sessions morphed into getting to know my new typist friend, a Jungian analyst. Having 5 fountain pens, I alternated between black, brown, turquoise, green and blue inks. Writing took on colours and the hand/brain connection was soothing.

I sourced a typewriter from another friend, an Olivetti Lettera 22, used by many authors, including Leonard Cohen. After all, I got up to 75 words per minute in high school. Typing is a tactile pleasure. I even typed on coffee filters, which led me to printing haiku on leaves, to see what they might look like.

Walks during the winter would provoke phrases, which I jotted in a notebook I kept in my down jacket. Through all this, I had probably a total, so far, of 8 months of headaches. Just when I thought I might be able to work on the computer, I’d have a setback.

I’ve learned the damaged brain still wants to create and will find a way.

poetry transforms

vaccinated and immune

she lopes through our hearts

Other benefits include whole days reading ‘book books’, not ‘e’ or audio. More time being instead of doing. I turned to the mysteries of sourdough, nature, and music. Song writing blossomed again. Seven new ones this year. Usually maybe only one a year.

So, now, into month ten, I’m finally having stretches of symptom free days. But I think I’m still quite a few months away from working on that memoir.

-Elizabeth Zetlin, 2021

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