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Slowed Down

Four months ago, I went on an off-trail hike with my daughter, some friends, and three frisky dogs. My back was hurting before I left but it was gorgeous day—sun shining, leaves turning—and I didn’t want to miss it. We explored fifty-eight acres of untouched wilderness, clambering over glacial rocks, felled trees, and shallow streams. The endorphins kicked in as soon as we descended into the shadows of the old growth forest and I felt no pain. I didn’t know I had injured myself until the next morning and have been recovering ever since. I haven’t stopped exercising—gently—or writing, but I have been slowed down and have only just finished the revision of my new book—a few weeks behind schedule but in plenty of time for the start of the new term. My new students will hear of my writer’s travails, including my inability to sit for long stretches. I’ll be carrying a special chiropractic pillow, standing up as I teach, and bending over during the break.

My chiropractor tells me that our species is not meant to sit for long stretches; our spines prefer the more feral posture of all fours. I tried this as I cleaned my bathroom the other day. It works. But writing is a different challenge. I remember reading about Ernest Hemingway’s stand-up desk—there is a company that has named a desk after him—and also Philip Roth. His latest book, “Nemesis,” is novella length. He either made a decision to keep his projects short or is in between larger books. The book is beautiful, by the way.

I had a friend in a writer’s group years ago who developed RSI (repetitive strain) and couldn’t work at the computer very much. She began to write very short stories. In the past, her prose had been sprawling and self-indulgent but the necessity of writing longhand changed her use of language. It became intense, and riveting. She had never written anything better and began to get published regularly. At the time, I took her experiences as a lesson to reduce my ambitions to manageable, realistic levels. I began to edit and revise in long-hand and I began experimenting with poetry, which distills language, thought, and experience. In other words, I slowed down.

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