This blog is intended to be mainly about me living with disability, but today I feel like writing about writing. Disability, my disability, is a subject that bores me a tad. You see, I've lived with this mute quad business for going on thirty years. Oh, I'll continue this blog about it, but you can't really hold it against me if I launch into something I like from time to time.
I've always had that ever-so-common desire to write, but for as long as I still had my physical faculties I was too distracted by life and loves to do more than dabble once in a while. Except for when I went to Greece to write the Great Australian Novel.
I did write it, too, while I was renting a little cottage on the Greek island of Chios. When I returned home I read it back without the influence of Ouzo, unlike when I wrote it, and realised that the best place for it was the rubbish bin.
Rainbow came into my life around that time and writing once again took up residence on the backburner. (Rainbow was the name I used for my first two kids' mum in an earlier post on this blog, so I'll stick with it here too.)
Some eight years later I fortuitously had the stroke that left me a mute quad. Fortuitous in that it stripped away many of life's distractions and left me with little worth doing except write, write, write. For instance, one 'distraction' was my family life, but two years after my stroke Rainbow left me and took the kids with her.
The very first thing I wrote was an account of that stroke and the following year that I spent in hospital. Once I'd done a few chapters I submitted them to the Australia Council and eventually received a $5,000 grant to finish the book. $5,000 was worth more back then. I'd already finished writing the book by the time I received the grant, because it took them about six months to access the submissions and to allocate the money. The book was a good account, a reasonable read, but even I could see it wasn't worth trying to find a publisher for it.
With the money I bought an old bus that had been converted into a camper and took off with my new girlfriend. We spent five months travelling the Australian outback, an interesting venture, then we returned home and me back to my writing.
Like most writers, I think, I write for writing's sake - for the pleasure and enjoyment I get out of the process. The thought of publishing the work so other people can enjoy it too doesn't occur until after it's finished, if at all.
I say if at all because just a few minutes ago I looked over at my bookshelves and realised something. I used to have each book, film script, stageplay bound at the local copy shop, and one shelf holds my books and other long writings. I realised that the only one of them I ever tried to get published was my autobiography from just over a dozen years ago. I used to write a book, get it bound for my bookshelves, then throw myself into the next project.
Every publisher who read my autobiography, Flipside, sent me a letter of rejection with much the same wording - an ego-soothing comment about the quality of my writing followed with a but ... but we feel it is too (medically) specialized to attract a wide readership. The next couple of years after that saw My Left Foot and the Butterfly and the Diving Bell, heralding the beginning of the current era of books and films about subjects such as mine.
I put Flipside to one side and haven't tried to get published it since. I turned it into a play that was performed in theatres in Bendigo and Castlemaine. The ABC Radio National serialised it in six weekly segments and a double CD of it was released in ABC shops around Australia. I'm using excerpts from it for most of the second part of each post on this blog.
Immediately before writing Flipside all those years ago I wrote a fantasy story with my two girls in mind - Gemma and Bedou. I set out to write another normal length story, but it grew and grew through two whole years of writing and ended up being about 1,000 pages long. It was called Drinsighe.
True to form I put it to one side (stored it on my computer) and started something else. Every few years later when I was at a loose end I pulled it out to reread it and change it somewhat. It was good, better than just good, except there was a hundred page section in the middle that I wasn't happy with. That bit needed a rewrite, but I couldn't be bothered doing anything about it.
In 2009 I looked at it once more and saw that it deserved a wider readership. I decided to work toward getting it published, and as a first step I rewrote the offending 100 pages. A hundred pages of typing is a mammoth task for me nowadays. It took me nearly a year, with many a day or week off because often I simply couldn't face more of that slow, slow, slow typing.
At 1,000 pages Drinsighe was much to long, too cumbersome to handle. The story was actually three separate, almost self-contained, sections of roughly equal length, so I split it into three more managable books. The first book is Ellydd Gate, the book I'd be working on right now if I didn't have to get this post finished. And finished I nearly am, because I've already cut and pasted the second part of it.
I had Ellydd Gate edited and made the changes called for. It was re-edited and now I'm 60 pages through checking this edit and making the more minor changes called for this time. Ellydd Gate is about 300 pages now, around 70,000 words. I lost about 50 pages in all to the editor's red pen.
Now I must away. Ellydd Gate is calling.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
May 15, 1984 - PHH, Melbourne
Things have got a lot clearer over the last week or two. I've got a much better idea about what went on in ICU and stuff. In ICU each patient has a separate room and constant individual care. After an angiogram that pinpointed a clot in my head I was wired to a cardiograph and a maze of electronic sensors and data recorders. I was hooked up to a respirator, had a tube to eat through, a tube to drink through and a tube to urinate through, and my temperature and blood pressure and pulse rate were electronically monitored and displayed by my bed.
My room was kept frigid at first, because my temperature was dangerously high. For most of the time I was continually bumping into the fluorescent overhead light as I floated freely, because I was kept fairly high on morphine. This drug was administered to me to negate the horrific mental traumas that I might have been experiencing subconsciously.
They say marijuana isn't addictive, but I'd been into it heavily enough to be hanging out for my first toke on a joint every afternoon at about four. The few times in recent years that I'd skipped a day or two I'd experienced mild withdrawal symptoms - a niggly headache and a niggly upset stomach. The up side of the morphine was that it helped me kick my grass habit without any withdrawals that I was aware of, but the down side was that it induced a few wierdo hallucinations.
... ... ...
The young guy from the bed opposite just wandered off down the corridor towards the lift. He could be just going for a walk in the building, but I've got a funny feeling he's making a break for it. I wouldn't bet the shirt off my back on it, but still-
Ding! That's the lift. I was right.
They wheeled him in last week - no, the week before - or was it the week before the week before? No - it was just the week before. He was a bit quiet then, still groggy from the op to his head. He just lay there in his bed oblivious to us all, even to the nurses. That soon changed though.
The next morning he had to be spoon-fed, because he was still too weak to move. I'll always remember that morning. There was a started yelp, a jumping nurse and ‘Stop that, Jason!’ The human body's pretty wonderful, I reckon - he was just ten hours past brain surgery, too weak for his hand to lift food to his mouth, but it'd had found her crutch.
I'm the longest-serving inmate here and I've seen some amazing sights in my five months and five days in hospital (except there's no trusting that I actually saw what I thought I saw for the first month). Excluding that first month, and excluding the stroke cases and sickness stuff - just counting the car accidents and bike accidents and bashings and brain tumors, and all those other things needing head surgery, they must've wheeled a dozen guys into this room from theatre. More than that, probably.
Crazy-shaved heads with rows of metal staples across their skulls from ear to ear, or front to back, left side or right side, and the long wound painted red against germs. They're out of it at first, but a day later or two they're sitting up. Their minds are still a bit screwy, but still - `Strong enough to sit up' is pretty amazing, considering. Walking to the toilet after four or five days, and hair and senses growing back in no time.
Jason's like that. At first he couldn't even care where he was - the drugs saw to that. He didn't know where he was at times, and he didn't know what he was doing either, (except that breasts and crutches were magnets to him even then), and then he reached the dreamy-'n-vacant stage. That's where he is now. Once in a while he's quite lucid and he talks to the other guys. A lot of it's about when he gets out of here and how he feels trapped in here - mainly how he feels trapped. He drifts off dreamy and vacant again after a while, but another few days and he'll be back to normal.
‘Jason's never like this’, his Ma says to his bird, in a voice meant for all the room to hear.
Never’ his bird agrees with Ma, in a voice meant for all the room to hear.
‘You've bloody-well got worse, Jase’, his mate says to him in a voice he doesn't care if all the room hears when Ma and his bird aren't around. His mate knows him better than Ma or his bird, that's for sure. (I'm a ‘Mum’ and ‘fiancée’ man myself, but Jase says ‘Ma’ and ‘me bird’.)
Jase's twenty two, twenty three, about six feet tall and blond, going by the stubbly regrowth on his head. He's good-looking and as confident as can be. He probably plays football, too. He mightn't look all that confident now, but put some colour back in his face, some hair back on his head, some decent clothes on his body, and drop him at a disco and he'd be as confident as hell. He mightn't go the grope like in here, not as much anyway, but I'll swear he's not the angel Ma and his bird pretend.
He scared me last night, really scared me. I was woken at about two by someone talking to me. I didn't know what they'd been saying before, but there was Jase talking beside my bed. He'd been talking to me quietly till I woke, talking little but staring a lot. He doesn't know what to make of me - his perception isn't always crystal clear yet. In all his time in the bed opposite I haven't moved or talked once.
‘Do you, um - do you want a hand to get up?’
He was so concerned, wanting so much to help.
‘I'll, um - I'll help you up if you want’.
‘No, Jase. Go back to bed - please!’ I think to him desperately. ‘You'll have me flat out on the floor again!’
Not that he's done that before, but I've been down there.
It wasn't long after I hit the neuro ward here, back when I still thought they were trying to kill me. Back when I was still coughing and jerking a lot and didn’t have the bed rails up. One night the nurses ignored my coughs for so long I jerked right to the edge of the bed. My body was jumping slightly with each cough and I knew the next cough would throw me out. I tried like buggery not to cough. I shouted silently for the nurses - and I shouted - and I shouted - and I shouted. But then I had to cough.
Back then they had an air tube attached to my trache - a thick, white, concertina tube from a wall outlet. It hung down beside the bed a bit then up to the trache. Air would condense in it and gradually water would build up in the low bit beside the bed, and every few hours they'd drain it out.
I hit the floor that night and I lay stark naked on the cold linoleum, (vinyl, probably). The air tube ran tighter from wall to me and a bit of the water ran down my trache into my lungs. Just a drop or two, but that set me coughing and jerking. That in turn tightened the tube even more, more water in the lungs, more coughing, more jerking, much more violent jerking - so much more violently that I jerked towards the wall and the tube slackened. No more water was running into my lungs, but in a miracle to beat any miracles Jesus ever did the nurses left their coffee to ease my distress!
They started putting my bed rails up after that.
I only had that air-tube for a few weeks, but the feeding tube up my nose and the nighttime pee tube stayed till last week. I've got the tiniest movement back in one thumb now, so they've made a special switch to put on that hand at night and now I can buzz for a nurse for a pee.
I hardly ever get my perceptions about the room wrong any more. Things changed slowly while the morphine effects lingered, but now I think and hope I’m as clear as a bell.
Now, there's a wonderful sight - down there, down on the road out the window. The neuro ward is on the fifth floor and my bed's at the window. There's a very wide main road flanked by large oaks down below with tram tracks in the centre. The trees are bare now, mostly bare anyway, with just winter wind and sleet and smooth wet bark for clothing.
I should've bet my shirt before, because I was right about Jase. He was making a break for it. That's him down there now. Oh, glory be, the fettered soul's free! White-clad, he's striding the tramlines fearless, his bare feet solid on the wet road with cars to his right and left. The cold road's icy but unfelt, because freedom's singing loud in his heart and in his head. He's got a red anti-biotic flash across his shaven skull, icy gusts are flapping the hospital gown wide - his bare back, bare legs and bare bum are there for all the world to see - but he's free! Free!
Of course he could be free and dead fairly soon. It's peak hour and the traffic's savage. It's getting worse by the second, just about, and his chances of being killed are getting better.
Oh, by the way - that night he wanted to get me up? He eventually lost interest and drifted back to bed, probably because I wouldn't answer him. He wouldn't lose interest now, not if he was up here with me watching some other escapee down there, watching and betting on how long he lasts.
Jase’s back. They recaptured him before the traffic wiped him out.
April 12, 1976 - Latrobe University, Victoria
I’m nearly twenty-seven. The year before last I went back to school for something to do and now I’m at Uni. I'm meant to be at a biology lecture, but I'm at the back sports ground and this beats biol hands down. I'm doing light wind sprints - jogging laps nice and easy and every so often I sprint up to top speed and ease down to a jog again. There's a race I want to win in New South Wales next Saturday, so I'm just adding a bit of zing to my fitness. If I'm not fit enough by now I never will be.
Last year I did the first year of the Psych course. One particularly terrific morning, at least I think it's terrific now because of its consequences - one particularly terrific morning I stopped in the centre of the road waiting to turn into the university and a young woman ran into her car mine from behind. The Fiat's got a big tow-bar, so it wasn't scratched, but her car wasn't so lucky. She lives near the Uni, so I towed her home, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Her history's that she was to eventually become the other woman. She's a nurse and she doesn't work full-time. I'm often with her instead of Uni. I called in there today for breakfast and Uni went by the board. We're going to make a day of it with a picnic. That's bound to include plenty of naughty stuff and dope, so I'm getting a run in first.
This is the business end of the running season with all the big races coming up - Queensland's top race last weekend, New South Wales next weekend and our Stawell Gift meeting a fortnight after that. For the first time ever I'm going to those other states, because I reckon I've got a good chance and because it's good to have a few hard races before Stawell. Stawell's the national championships meeting for us professional runners. The Queensland race last weekend was a good start of my lead-up to Stawell.
Pro distance races have massive fields with anything from thirty to sixty runners, but they're spread right around the track at the start. Pro runners are handicapped so everyone has a roughly equal chance just like with horse races, but we get penalized distance rather than weight. The best runners start at the back and the front runner can be a lap ahead, sometimes more. My coach often berates me that it needs single-minded dedication to be a really good runner and that I enjoy my type of life too much for that single-mindedness, but for all that there aren't that many that start behind me.
I run in distance races, the mile and the two-mile, but I prefer the two. I should call them the sixteen hundred metres and the thirty two hundred metres that they are known by nowadays. I was in the thirty two hundred at the Gold Coast meeting in Queensland and I was handicapped to near the back of the field, just one guy behind me. It was ideal weather for running - it was a twilight meeting and it was still warm. I wasn't good enough to win though. Second place was all I could do.
I better think about getting back to the Other Woman for our picnic - I'll do two more wind sprints first - - Christ! Must've over-stretched my knee or something -
April 15, 1976 - Lavington, New South Wales
This is one of the top professional running meetings in the state. All the top runners from the Eastern states are here, and a few from over in the west. I'm here, too.
As I’ve already said, professional races are handicapped to give everyone an even chance. The fastest runner is called the back-marker. He starts at the back of the field. Everyone else gets a certain number of metres start on him depending on how fast they can run.
I’ve never seen today’s back-marker before. I’m told he’s from Western Australia. He’s sleek and muscley and he’s got a long pointy nose. If you met him on a dark night you’d probably mistake him for a greyhound. I bet the bastard can run like a greyhound, too.
The track is dotted all the way round with runners. There’s forty-seven of us. Greyhound's wearing the red singlet with the Number 1 that shows he's the back-marker, the best, and the nervous-looking guy just behind him is wearing Number 47. He’s the front-marker. He’s got just one metre less than a lap start on Greyhound. You could say he’s the rabbit.
They’ve put me in the number 2 singlet just five metres ahead of the greyhound, so the rabbit's got three hundred and ninety metres start on me.
‘Take your marks-’
I'm plodding along feeling sluggish and slow, just waiting for Greyhound to streak by. This is bad, we're going so slow I'm listening to the race caller, ‘Rodgers leading into the third lap, Anderson and...’
Lap six coming up. Only two more to go, thank Christ. Greyhound's biding his time – in fact, everyone's biding their time, and that time must be just about now. I can't remember ever being in a race this slow. I've had time to perv on just about every worthwhile woman in the crowd. This is terrible -
‘Rodgers - Wilson - Anderson - that's Gary Anderson, the winner of this race in 197...’
It's a wonder they aren't booing for us being so slow - hmmm, she's not bad. I don't know what's wrong with this lot. They're all playing a cat and mouse game, all running so slow waiting to pounce they're damn near going backwards
What's wrong with me? I just can't get going -
‘Rodgers still doing well - In the number 8 singlet Harris from New South Wales is pegging him back slowly-’
Why the hell doesn't he scream through the loudspeaker for us to start running? God, I feel bad. I'm going so slowly I can focus on every number out ahead of me - 47, 31, 26, 24, 25 and 3. 47, he was the front-marker, must be Anderson - he's held the lead all this time - ‘Harris is challenging...’ there goes 7 past him - Harris from New South Wales - `Rodgers has gone...' 31 past him - 26, 24, 25 - poor bastard - he's stuffed - bell lap coming up soon. They'll pour it on for the last lap - there goes 3 past Andy baby - shit, where is everyone? There's only those six in front of me! I've plodded past a few runners, but - Harris is getting the bell - Hang on. There were about forty-five of them in front of me at the start, so - God, I've passed about forty so far!
Poor old Anderson, even I'm going to pass him.
‘Here comes Furlong, that pretty little runner from Victoria-’
Pretty? I suppose he's right. At least he would be if I wasn't going so slow. I do look good when I'm running fast - smallish - neat - economical. He's using pretty as a compliment - ‘Second place last weekend at the Gold Coast-’. Shit, why did he have to say that? All eyes will be on me now. I better try to do something for them. ‘Furlong flies past Anderson and- away he goes at the bell for the last lap. Look at him go!’
... ... ...
Now there's a strange thing - for the entire race except the last lap I was convinced we were all just plodding around, it definitely felt that way to me, but it turns out we were doing one of the fastest times seen here. Once I got the bell I came alive and started to burn to the lead, but that was just a few seconds extra off the time.
Hell, I wish I didn't have to walk out here for the presentation. I'm dying to limp, but that wouldn't look good for a pretty little runner, would it? The back of my knee's been sore since the I trained at Uni last week. I thought I was dying during the race, but not from the leg. It didn't hurt once then, but now the race's over it's worse than ever. Ah, well, at least the winner's cheque will keep the wolves from my door for a while - I wonder where Greyhound got to.
April 16, 1976 - Lavington, New South Wales Yesterday Harris ran second to me in the thirty two hundred, so I guess it was only fair that today I was beaten second to him in the sixteen hundred.
April 29, 1976 - Stawell, Victoria
It's Easter Monday and I think this is going to be a week for losers. Today's exactly a month to our fourth anniversary, but Innocent and I have to be in court later this week to file for divorce - irreconcilable differences. God only knows why all divorces have to go through the courts - it's not like there's any animosity between us.
Losers week? Just an hour ago I continued my losing form with second place in the Federation sixteen hundred metres at the Stawell Gift meeting. I was beaten by two metres. Sounds close, eh? Well, I've been beaten by this guy before. My coach trains him too, so we're friends in a way. If he's in the same race he always beats me and it's always by about two metres. It wouldn't matter if I ran a world record, because he'd still be that two metres ahead of me. I hate that. And who ever remembers the guy who came second, anyway?