Thursday, 1 December 2011

Loss and More Loss

Needless to say, another month has passed without my whipping up a blog post.

My loss, really, because blogging is a great way to prod my mind into gear and practice the craft of creative nonfiction writing.

Otherwise, this is not a loss for you, dear reader, because November has only just today metamorphosed into December. Plus, unless you’ve been unconscious the past decade, you’re already drowning in tree books and e-books, online and print magazines, email and that other type that seems to keep mysteriously filling my USPS mailbox no matter how hard I try to get it to stop.

So if you're one of my regular readers, then you’re probably just as happy I messed up. You have enough to read and one thing less is no great loss!

Loss is kind of like time. It never stops arriving. Have you noticed how life seems to be not just a process of accumulating knowledge, experience, and wisdom, but also a process of stripping away everything else?

Birth, old age, sickness and death. Now there’s a jellyfish progression if I ever saw one.

There are Buddhist teaching stories about how living is rather like peeling away the layers of an onion until there’s nothing left. But the nothing that remains isn’t a nothing nothing.

Nope, not at all. It’s more of an emptiness nothing. Emptiness of the “not empty” category is actually the realization that, in the most famous Buddhist paradox of all, that “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

Meaning that this loss of everything we live for isn’t exactly what it seems. Emptiness in this sense refers to the condition of giving up all sensory conditions and awakening to enlightenment. In one sense, this is like saying – in the words of songwriter Kris Kristofferson and memorably expressed by the immortal Janis Joplin – that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose . . .”

Well, naturally the world’s greatest Buddhist masters can expound for hours on the complexity of this unempty emptiness. I’m just giving you a quick nutshell, layman-impaired version.

Why? Well, to make myself feel better about all my losses.

How come? Because I like to vent about the unpleasantries of my life. All this philosophical stuff about writing is an acceptable outlet for my complaints and lets me blog about why I missed my blog appointment again. In the process, I can obfuscate my laziness and procrastination!

Still, I can blame birtholdagesicknessandeath.Without getting into sordid detail, let’s just say I had a long-term problem with my ears that seemed to crop up about the time I had five immunizations one day before my trip to Kenya last December. It might have actually started when I lived for a year in Wales and brought home something from that water-blessed climate that my immune system couldn’t handle after the immunizations weeks later. I did spend some hours scrubbing away some black mold that appeared on a wall during the infamous floods of November 2009. Annoying, but this itchy-itch didn’t keep me from my work despite the fact that I stuck my fingers in my ears to scratch so often that I wished I had four hands like many Asian deities. This problem eventually affected my calves as well, a sort of dermatitis.

About the time that this problem calmed down considerably and I thanked the universe, I had a for-reals bacterial / fungal ear infection in one ear, perhaps brought on by all that scratching, even though the itching had abated due to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals. I don’t recall ever having a childhood earache of this explosive caliber, but as experienced by many kids, my  right eardrum ruptured and I spent lots of time in an ENT doctor’s office getting my ear suctioned. And lots of time going to the pharmacy to pick up various concoctions that didn’t vanquish the infection because the ENT was perhaps overconfident of what type of infections were brewing beyond my broken eardrum and didn’t culture them from the get-go.

Okay, so that slowed me down a bit more. About the time the blasted ear infection cleared up (only because I went online in desperation and made a home-made concoction that cleared in three days what the pharmaceutical companies couldn’t clear up in weeks). But this was okay too. Ya gotta keep moving, after all.

But thennnnn . . . an antibiotic-resistant skin infection suddenly reared its ugly head. It didn’t help that my ENT had me indiscriminately taking some antibiotics before the aforementioned culture from my ear determined what was in it. He twice had me on an antibiotic once thought not very long ago to be the king of all antibiotics and is now famous for spawning monster bacteria. But this was okay, because although I’d spent many days in bed with high fevers and chills and many better days exhausted and in pain, this condition passed too. I’d just recovered when went away to spend Halloween week with my grandsons.

You know how kids catch every known cold / flu virus in the universe. No problema. I’d worked for years as a K-12 substitute teacher and probably have had or been exposed to every known cold / flu virus in the universe, nyah-nyah. Besides, they’d had it a few days the week before and . . .

Boom. My daughter came down with the crud and was out of commission for the remainder of my visit. By the time I went home, that achey, creeping, doomster feeling had a grip on me. The worst cold /flu /bronchial infection I’ve ever had in my life (and maybe several past lives) kept me in bed for a week and coughing up my lungs for a second week. I’m lucky I didn’t go into p-neu-mon-i-a.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, the advantage of freelancing and telecommuting  is that you can take your laptop to bed. Although I lost a significant amount of writing time, circumstance allowed me to press forward. I didn’t miss my most important paid hours and still received full paychecks – I  would have run out of sick pay in most conventional jobs or drug myself to work and exposed my co-workers to my nasty ailments.

Plus, I managed to do some fun unpaid, speculative writing tasks such starting a story, polishing old pieces and submitting them to publishers, as well as tooting my horn about recent publications on social media sites and in e-mails. I also managed to do a few of the not-fun tasks like the dreaded nosing around and sending out CVs for new freelance writing jobs. Not to mention gaining some forced but necessary time off. Despite my resistance, downtime allows the subconscious mind the creative vacation we discussed a few blog posts back.

In spite of all my losses and frustrations (there are others, too many to write about without boring you to tears and making me sound like a perpetual victim), 2011 has been a pretty darn good year for writing and editing. I’ve had more publications and churned out more edits for clients this year than any other single year since I began to embrace the full-time writing life.

I hope I’ve managed to disguise my rant as another post about perseverance. Everything changes. Handle loss and change like any other writerly delay / rejection / failure. Embrace it. Own it. Shift gears and go around it, over it, or under it. Let this emptying out, this letting go of acquisitions and desires become another step toward enlightenment, that is to say, wisdom, acceptance, emotional equanimity, and transformation.

Turn those jellyfish into sundogs. After all, isn’t transformation everything?

Illuminated Tibetan Iconographic Calligraphy by Tashi Mannox

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