On January 18th, 2010, I was awakened in my bed by my dog Ginger whining to go out. Draping on a bathrobe, I shuffled to the back door with the dog in tow, opened the door, and let the dog go out. However, Ginger hates snow, of which there was plenty, and rather than run out into the snow-covered yard, decided to do her business on the porch. I angrily stepped out to order her into the yard, when my foot hit a patch of black ice. I pitched back and sideways, slamming my head against the bricks of the door frame, and then flew down to smash the side of my head into the concrete, bouncing the left side of my face off the icy cement, and lay on the ice-covered concrete in 10-degree weather in nothing but an open bathrobe, unconscious.
I awoke much later on the floor of the kitchen, my mind blank, my head pounding; the dog had apparently whimpered, yelped, tugged and nipped at me until, in a dazed stupor, I dragged myself back inside the house. (Later MRIs and CAT scans would reveal that -- based on the amount of brain damage -- I must have been unconscious for half an hour, if not longer.) I had suffered a traumatic brain injury and had a severe cerebral hemorrhage.
When I was finally released from the hospital, I had multiple problems: damage to the optic nerve had left me with uncontrollable double vision and no ability to change focal depth on-demand anymore; my right arm shook and my hand had limited control; I could not walk in a straight line for more than a couple of yards before I fell over, necessitating a cane. However, two things, far worse than these, became obvious immediately. The first was that I could no longer read. To be precise, I could read, like, individual words, but only a single sentence at a time. Reading more than two or three sentences in a row created blinding migraine headaches that led to vomiting.
The second, far worse, was that I had completely lost my desire to write. ANYTHING. What had been a driving passion for more than a quarter-century, a force that made me get up every day and write fiction, was gone. Removed from me. Totally vanished. It was as if "writing" was a skill on a circuit board in my brain, and that circuit board had been ripped out and thrown away. Whereas I had spent nearly every day of the past 26 years getting up and writing, or editing, or checking the markets ... now I just sat on the couch, staring at nothing. Not even television. I just sat and stared. My wife asked me if I wanted to write, and I asked back "Why?" What's more, I had absolutely no sense of loss in this whatsoever. It was gone, and I did not care it was gone.
My writing friends shrugged and called it "writer's block" or "you're just tired" or even -- and this one infuriated me -- "you've just chosen to not write right now." NO, I did not "choose not to write" any more than I "choose not to run naked down the street." I had no reason to write; the whole drive to write, the passion to create, had vanished. "Choose not to write"...? That made as much sense as walking up to someone and saying "you've just chosen not to go tightrope walking right now." I did not CHOOSE anything in this. Writing? It apparently had been a career of mine, but I shrugged, because there was no emotion tied to it (or its loss) whatsoever. And I did not care to read fiction anymore. And No, it was NOT as my friends put it ("Oh, that's just because you have headaches, that's all") but rather me saying to my wife "Read 'fiction'? A bunch of made-up stories about people who never even existed?! Why in the world would I want to waste my time reading fake stuff that never happened?"
The very idea of reading fiction sounded utterly stupid to me.
Well, I spent the next seven years learning how to walk straight again and get control of my right arm, and -- since you cannot function in modern society without being literate -- I taught myself how to read and write again. It took over half a decade, but after a few years I managed to get through a whole paragraph of non-fiction without throwing up in blinding pain, and eventually began reading 1, then 5, then 10 pages of non-fiction at a time. But it was only in the aftermath of my mother's death and funeral that I finally felt the desire to actually sit down and write something. It was, of course, non-fiction, but at least I managed to work my way through it. And then, one day, I got an e-mail cattle call for open fiction submissions ... and something happened: I got an actual idea for a fiction story, and it stayed with me, percolating in my brain, and so I eventually sat down and labored (very painfully) my way through it, eventually finished it, edited the living hell out of it (I no longer can spell words on the fly) ... and I submitted it.
Believe it or not, it got published.
In the year since then, I have repeatedly forced myself to go to the computer, sit down, and laboriously craft stories, edit them within an inch of their lives, and submit them to the paying markets. I have once more begun getting rejection slips and acceptance e-mails, and am trying to be a real writer once more. The real kicker? I wrote a novel. I edited said novel, I took the novel to market. I babied and pampered and yelled at and cut up that manuscript ... and American Guns, Chinese Magic was the result.
There's a link to it at the top of the page. You should go take a look at it.
The Accident -- the day that destroyed my life
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