Thursday, 16 April 2015

Extreme irregularity for the sine qua non

This blog is about to become extremely irregular. Regular readers or anyone glancing at the pattern in the archive will probably be startled that this is an announcement – after all, it's been pretty irregular for months now – but actually that's all part of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, as Dirk Gently would say.


I've been ill for months. (I have endometriosis.) And over the last twelve years, that hasn't been the exception, but the norm. I lose vast swathes of time, about a quarter of every year on average. I'm hoping the operation I'm currently recovering from will bring me a good long respite – but that's a hope that's been repeatedly raised and crushed over the years, so while I don't want to be pessimisstic, I do need to take that into consideration. Also, a "good long respite" may be measured in years, but realistically that's about five years maximum. Or it could be six months, or no time at all. Nobody knows.

Illness isn't good for much, but it does distil your priorities, which brings me to the sine qua non. Writing is my sine qua non, that without which I am nothing. And I have lost so much writing time to this damned illness that I could weep to think about it. Me doing the writing is also the sine qua non of this blog, of my teaching, of all the writing stuff I make: if I'm not writing regularly myself, how can I teach it? And still, first and foremost, it is my sine qua non.

Illness distils your priorities because you simply don't have as much time as other people, or at least as much time as you would if you were healthy. You just can't do all the things. It's mid-April and I've already lost three months this year to illness. I'd show you the list of plans that have been scratched through, but again, I might weep. I can't snatch the time back but I can narrow my focus onto my shining, glowing sine qua non. If I have to live with endometriosis, that must be a life that includes writing, that doesn't constantly defer writing to the magical nevertime of when I'm well, or make writing constantly the canary down the coalmine, the scapegoat for all time lost. On the contrary: writing time should be the one inviolable thing, the unloseable time; anything else can be shed and scratched off the list and sacrificed except that.

So that's how illness distils your priorities: you sit with a list of things you need and want and like and love to do, and scratch off about half of them. I'm constantly doing this, every time I'm ill, but every time at the back of my mind is the "when I'm better" thought, and twelve years on, I look at the pattern across the years, and think, no: this is what I have to live with and around, in sickness and in health. (This may sound like I haven't defended my writing time at all: I have, repeatedly, learning more and more how to do that, but the slings and arrows of endo keep slashing at it, so I'm trying to build better armour for it.)

This blog is on the jettison list. I enjoy writing it, I still have lots I want to say, but I can no longer make it a priority. I certainly won't be taking it down, and I may still post stuff occasionally – but when the spirit moves me, not on any schedule, and with no promises.

I wanted to explain this so fully for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I didn't want the lurking guilt of an abandoned-looking blog, the nagging thought that it would make my site look unloved and unmaintained. At least if I explain, that's clear. And secondly – ever the teacher – I hope that my decision, realisation, epiphany, whatever, might be useful to anyone else wrestling with the conundrum of how to protect their writing time.

There's only one way to protect writing time: with a flaming sword. The shocker is when you see the things you have to slash that sword through.

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