Those of you who have read this blog for a while know I have a full suite of auto-immune issues. Asthma, eczema, arthritis, and random stuff as my autoimmune periodically decides to go and kick another organ, like a bored teenage delinquent on a Saturday night when there’s nothing good on TV. A few years go it was my eyes. They started drying out and I almost ended up with a detached retina, but eventually — thank you prednisone — the attack stopped. Or at least was diverted elsewhere.
This probably comes from my having been very premature and — blessed socialized medicine, where the sick person is not the customer, and therefore they can treat it as a product, which in my case was of dubious soundness — not having any of the normal treatments for premature infants.
My mom thinks I was born at 8 months gestation, but there’s reason to doubt it (many reasons, really, including the fact there wasn’t an easy pee-on-the-stick test) because weight and such are… falsifiable (my dad had an attack of stupid Latin machismo and reported my weight as — I think — double because he was afraid the registrar would look at this man over six feet and think I must be illegitimate. Keep in mind dad is very sensible and in the normal way of things very gentle and not macho at all, and shake your head at the culture that made the registrar likely to think that.) However, I know I fit in dad’s size eleven shoe and also that years later I found my first clothes (in wool, of all things, which if I wear now next to the skin, I break out all over) and they didn’t fit my standard 12 inch baby doll.
Anyway, that type of thing apparently leaves … stuff, and apparently my body’s amiable tendency to attack itself is one of those things.
I wish I could blame mom’s habit of cleaning everything twice with bleach, but really, like all kids in the village I sailed paper (and leaf) boats in the sewage when it was let out of the storage tanks to fertilize the village fields, so, no. I did not grow up in an hyper-clean environment.
At any rate, my body reacts to things that should make it defend itself by attacking itself. The latest was caused by a leaking humidifier, which caused mold on the floor of my bedroom and resulted in bad, bad asthma and eczema rash almost over my entire body. The asthma has subsided but the eczema is still bad, all over my body, itching like heck, and making it hard to concentrate on anything else.
It will probably end up in prednisone, but the problem is I had it not so long ago. So it has to age off my system first. Maybe. If this goes on, I’m going to end in an emergency room, because this is torturous to deal with. And the benadryl I can take to cut the itch makes me incapable of working on fiction.
So, other than being like an old woman, talking about my ills what is this all about?
There is a reason I hate people who say you shouldn’t work for the money, you should follow your bliss. Vocations aren’t bliss. They are just what you do as a side effect of being alive.
Sure, there can be great joy in following them and working at them, but they — like any good long-term marriage — will also have their share of times you hate them, and times you want to be or do anything else. Only you can’t. They’re part of who you are. Love them or hate them, it’s who you are.
I was raised thinking of vocations as religious or artistic. I don’t remember not wanting to write/tell stories. I used to feel the same push for art, and despite my attempts to short it/cut it off, it keeps coming up.
I didn’t know you could have a vocation for other stuff, until I raised my sons. I think Robert was reading medical journals at ten, and lit up like a lantern when explaining some disease process. He also did his baby best to care for us, and sometimes got very alarmed at my weird illnesses and tried to hound me into seeing a doctor. (Never easy, since normally the answer to my weird body is ‘it’s weird. We don’t know what caused that.” This will probably be on my tombstone.)
Marshall, otoh, would rig the most interesting systems. From the K’nex helicopter that took a bit “bite” off the antique chandelier (why son, of an entire house, under the chandelier? Yeah I know, what he told me first “As G-d is my witness, I never thought it would fly.”) to the very complex rope and pulley system made out of several different construction toys, that allowed him to turn off his light from bed (instead of having to get up and do it.) From the way that, in elementary, he devoured “how it works” books, to the fact that, as a toddler, he loved taking things apart and putting them together again, and once defeated the safety mechanisms in a grocery store, to manage to close their doors while we were paying for groceries.
I was talking to younger son about this on Sunday and he said “Yeah, engineers build things. Even impractical things no one asked them to build. It’s who you are. It’s what you do.”
Which is the best definition of vocation. If you go and read my madgenius post today —Stop Clawing–it will give you a glorious view of the system when I broke in. Because see, vocations don’t CARE how cacked the system for exerting them is. Read up on lives of Saints and you’ll find any dozen of them who fulfilled their vocation despite screwed up and twisted church authorities and the prejudices of the time. (My “patron” St. Rita — yeah, you’re shocked it’s the saint of impossible causes? — is one of those.)
Vocations are like this thing on my skin. It itches. And when it’s big and strong and all over (like the eczema is right now) it can make it impossible to fight it and do anything else.
Dozens of times I’ve tried to walk away. I once stayed quit two weeks, after which Dan and the kids (then five and one) ganged up and begged me (granted, one of them non-verbally) to go back to writing, because, just like the eczema will demand I stop everything and benadryl myself half to death to just stop the itch, to drown out the urge to write, I was cleaning everything with bleach. Twice. Including moving objects that stood still long enough, like cats and kids. (Okay, the living things not with bleach, but all of them got baths three times a day.) The house was sparkling, the food was elaborate, and I was miserable and snapping at everyone. So I was sent back to writing and being a sloppy housekeeper, and stop hurting.
Right no, due to a bunch of ah… edits on my recent novels that made me really averse to revisions, and to the massive eczema itch, I’ve been trying to stay away from the office. Yes, sure, the living room floor needs wood, because elderly cat has decided it’s THE place to piss, and the others are stupid and follow him. But the obsessive wood work is… the smoke from another fire. I have two colaborations waiting revisions, one of them forced for time, and I’m running from myself. And from the pain of reworking stuff.
Only I can’t, because the writing is still there, even when I work myself half to death.
Like the eczema itch it will always be there, and it only grows stronger the more I ignore it. And, as my grandmother told me, about quite a different type of vocation, if you run from it, it will literally drive you mad. It will break you, step by step, until you are nothing but a howling mad person. And the only cure is to give in, to break, to accept your vocation, no matter how screwed up are the times in which you try to exert it.
And so I will now shut up and write. Then take benadryl, so maybe I can sleep.