Over the past two weeks, I have been convinced I had either a peptic ulcer, gallstones, Covid, stomach cancer, tropical bacteria, or a flesh-devouring intestinal worm. Everything I put into my mouth, instead of fueling the fire, seemed to dash vinegar into the flame. Climbing the stairs exhausted me, and even simple tasks like browsing photos or reading felt exhausting.
These were the days that I was supposed to make great progress on my book -- the kids were in camp and my schedule was clear. But day after day, I found myself unable to write. I slept in. I went back to bed after breakfast. I napped in the afternoon, and in the evenings I reclined on our porch loveseat.
Orchestras of cicadas played ballads in the trees, birds fed each other beak-to-beak, and squirrels spiraled up and down the crape myrtle. Sometimes after a gust of wind, sycamore leaves would fall diagonally to the ground, a melancholy reminder that summer will end. For hours I would lie there by myself, while the kids were inside watching too much TV.
I wanted the doctors to tell me that something was wrong. I took anti-acid medicine and gave up coffee again. I prepared beet salad and parasite-killing papaya seed smoothies, and said no to hot sauce and French fries. Test after test, however, came back saying everything was normal.
After a week like this, I stopped expecting that I would get up at 5 a.m. to work on my book. I didn’t look at my to-do list, and it stopped growing. I couldn’t read my favorite self-help books, but the need to improve myself also subsided.
Then one day, I woke up before dawn and felt the urge to work on my book. Instead of rearranging stale words on the page, colorful paragraphs unspooled from me. A few days later, I felt an emptiness that had a writing shape, and I opened my manuscript. My cursor was at the beginning of scene I didn’t know how to write, but this time it flowed out of me.
I began to treat my stomach like a child who had just been entrusted to my care, instead of a trash dump for my unwanted feelings. No more stuffing in chocolate or potato chips when I was bored or sad. Each food I ate marked the beginning of a listening session: Do you like this? Does this feel good?
I’m not sure I’ll ever know what has been plaguing my gut. Sometimes I wonder if I somehow created this problem so I wouldn’t have to work on my book and face my fear of failure. Instead of lost time, I’m thinking of these weeks as seasonal rest. Like the birds and the trees in their mysterious wisdom, my body seems to be telling me: You have everything you need to write this book. Stop all your trying. Trust.
---- I continue to publish on a relaxed summer schedule. Be back in a couple of weeks! ----