Rod Dreher

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Writing While Sick

Behold, a writer

I have mentioned in the past that my chronic mononucleosis went into remission for a year after reading Dante and experiencing a spiritual and physical healing, but that — irony of ironies! — the intense stress of having to write the book late last fall and winter under a radically truncated schedule (from zero to complete in three months, which is all but unheard of) triggered a relapse. I’ve still not been able to get on top of that. It feels like my immune system’s wheels are spinning on ice, and can’t get traction. And I’m not sure why. The certain thing is that I experienced real healing, but I tried to do too much intense writing — I have never before written under that kind of deadline — before my immune system was strong enough. It was like trying to run a marathon on legs that had only recently healed from being broken. No wonder I fell.

On Friday, I took my dad to a regularly scheduled appointment with a doctor, and watched the specialist put him through the paces. Let me tell you, old age is one damn humiliation after another. There was nothing unusual about this visit, but it was hard to see how much pain and suffering my father is enduring as his body breaks down from old age.

I must have taken it hard, because today, I woke up, had my coffee … and went back to bed around noon. I slept until late afternoon, woke up, ate some lunch, and then went back to bed till 7:30 this evening. The whole day, wasted, sleeping, exhausted from mono. Just now I was feeling awfully sorry for myself, for all the writing I couldn’t get done (it’s hard to focus too with this stuff).

And then I read just now this piece by Mindy Belz, talking about the last days of her friend Kara Tippetts. Look:

As Kara talks, she sometimes takes the oxygen tube from her nose then forgets to put it back until her breath comes in short heaves. She drifts off, dozes, mid-conversation. But throughout the day she snatches at good moments to sit up in bed, legs crossed beneath her laptop, and write. This too is the work of her cancer. Once she began to recount with remarkable transparency that battle carried on amid family life, Kara gathered hundreds of thousands of readers to her blog, Mundane Faithfulness. It led to a best-selling book, The Hardest Peace (David C. Cook, 2014). She is working on a second book, a book about making the most of the moments, writing fast in what moments of energy come, wanting to finish. It’s hard to write, she says, as pain medicine gives her double vision, and the cancer may be again at work in her brain.

And yet, she writes. That is what writers do.

Funny how the lives of the saints can make us feel so small, yet so big too.

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9 Responses to Writing While Sick

  1. ginger says:

    Illness sucks (and God knows I know this firsthand). Aging sucks (in my mid-40s, this I know mostly second-hand, but I believe all those who have told me “growing old is a bitch”–I have no reason to believe they were lying). But there is much to be learned from both, for those who are interested in learning.

  2. Charles Cosimano says:

    Rod, don’t beat up on yourself. The only yardstick you need to measure your own work by is you. This condition will not last forever and after it great writing may come. In fact I am willing to bet that it will come.

    Take care of your health. You’re doing fine. And when you feel down, think of all your friends here, daily remembering you in their thoughts, prayers and electropsychotronic healing machines that are never mentioned because they are bad for the public image.

  3. James C. says:

    Rod, perhaps you need to go into a radically different environment for some length of time, like a weeklong retreat. After each day of silence and stillness, you can still put up a blogpost in the evening, but otherwise withdraw. It’s worth a try to see if your body responds—your mind and soul certainly would.

    In any case, your intentions will be in my meagre prayers and fasts during Passiontide.

  4. ken says:

    It is clear from your posts on the subject that the book you wrote brought together a life vision for you, and it will no doubt do the same for many of your readers. (I am looking forward to the April release.) I am sure you will find the result worth the sacrifice.

    Middle age brings the first reports of what old age holds for the human body. I have received some of these reports myself recently. The let us know what a delusion it is to feel in control of our world. There is wisdom to be found in facing the inevitability of illness. But there is room for hope as well. I hope the spiritual practice that healed you once will do so again. Do take the time for it.

  5. Gina says:

    Rod–be gentle with yourself. I have been chronically sick since October. It is humiliating, infuriating, and depressing. Don’t be hard on yourself on top of your illness–that’s enough to carry. You are loved, you are enough, and you will get well…

  6. Florence says:

    Rod, what would have happened if you had not gotten the book out in 3 months. Would anyone have died or been injured if the book had come out a year from now instead? Why did you push so hard?

    [NFR: Business and marketing and media reasons, having to do with competition. I could have said no when the publisher asked me to fast-track the book, but that would have hurt the book’s prospects in the marketplace, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, I’m a fast writer, and I didn’t imagine it would take so much out of me. I had been feeling so good for so long that I didn’t consider the fact that the Epstein-Barr virus remains in the body, awaiting another opportunity to defeat the immune system and go active. Three months of intense stress, followed by a bit of intense family drama (of the sort I had just written a book about) at year’s end, pushed me over the edge. So the decision to write it so quickly was up to me; nobody forced me into it. I have to own this. Nevertheless, if the book finds an audience and helps people, it will have been worth it. — RD]

  7. Hunk Hondo says:

    Kara reminds me of a cartoon I once saw (alas, can’t remember where) in a religious journal. It featured a guy standing at the foot of the cross at Calvary looking up at the (unpictured) Christ. He was holding two tiny pieces of wood stuck together, the whole being no bigger than his forearm. And he said: “But, Lord, my cross is so heavy!” I’m too much like that guy.
    That said, I agree with Charles C (something you won’t hear from me very often!) that you are being to hard on yourself. It was no mean feat to get that book out while fighting Epstein-Barr, and I’m proud of you and looking forward to reading it. Don’t feel too bad about yourself because you’re not in Kara’s league. Damn few of us are.

  8. heartright says:

    Consiste ut procederas, Rod.

    Unliteral translation: take it easy before taking on any more labours.

  9. Laurie says:

    Rod, I’m guessing you’ve also just read the post that Kara died this afternoon. I began following Mundane Faithfulness after you wrote about her in your blog–and I’m awed by the grace with which she fought her battle. I don’t know if I could do the same. May she rest in those Everlasting Arms and may her family find comfort there as well.

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