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Conflicted novocaine

Not too long ago, I heeded the call of Chris Brogan, wrote a post called Telling Stories, and as a result, received – hands down – the best book on writing and living I’ve ever read, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Buy it, rent it, borrow it – I don’t care. Just read it. It’s about story – what it is, how to write it and how to live it. It is breathtaking and lifemaking, this book.

I’m going to read it several times. I have to. After the first go through, almost every single page is dog-eared because there’s something on it that I want to go back to, practice, write about, inhale, absorb…again. And probably again.

The page that is stuck in my mind this morning is the one about conflict – and about how it has to happen.

Remember in January when I wrote that post called, Write it and it will come? My goal (and many of you eagerly took this on with me) was to write, on a morningly basis, what I wanted to come true for me in the next hour, day, week, month, year, lifetime.

It was a good idea. Though/but/and – it was focused purely on positivity, on all of the good things we wanted to happen to us. And Donald Miller points out that all good stories have conflict. The conflict, says Donald, is what moves the story, and hence, the person in the story, to action, to change, to something. It’s progress. We know this, of course we do, but it’s a difficult and unusual task to write your own conflict into your own story. Who does that???

If you look, you’ll see that conflict is almost ever-present. In things as small as the fact that I’m freezing (literally shivering and teeth-chattering) as I sit here soaked in sweat from my rollerblade this morning – simultaneously needing to write this down and dying to take a hot shower. In things as big as losing houses…and losing people.


Last winter, my heart was blown to smithereens. It brought an extraordinary amount of conflict…aka pain. There was a period of time when the pain was all I could see, smell, taste, hear, feel and think. Eventually and slowly, though, the pain subsided – and new things took its place: work, excitement, creativity, drive, friends, laughter – even joy. But there was something else. Something that filled up the spaces in between these pain replacers.

It was novocaine.

Have you ever injured yourself? I’ve broken 5 bones in my 36 years, and I’ve cut, burned and scraped more often than most people (or so I’ve been told).  So I can tell you from experience that there is a moment after the trauma when you don’t feel anything. Your body protects you from the searing agony – sometimes for a second, sometimes for longer.

Biology is brilliant

I love figuring out the biological reasons the body has for doing things. Like the fact that we have hair under our arms to keep us warm (this knowing makes shaving less annoying for me). And like the fact that I still can’t figure out why women have to bloat and swell to menstruate (this unknowing pisses me off – a lot –  on a monthly basis).

In the case of the heartbreak, I’m fairly certain my body (and mind) infused me with novocaine to protect myself from further pain. Plain and simple. ‘If she can’t feel’, it said, ‘then she can’t get hurt.’ How sweet is that? And it’s an interesting solution. But uncomfortable – for me. I’m a Cancer. I’m a woman. I’m ruled by the Moon. Feeling things is my food, my manna, my blood, my oxygen. I don’t do numb well. Not at the dentist, not when I got a spinal to have my baby. Not now. When I’m numb, my feet can’t find the floor.

More than pain

At first, I tried a few things to get beyond the novocaine. Yes, by all means, go ahead and imagine an 8-year old boy smacking his face after getting a cavity filled to see how hard he has to hit himself to feel his cheek again.

Then, I tried to embrace it. To enjoy not feeling too much, to enjoy not feeling pain.

Yesterday, however, I realized that this was just another source of conflict. Between the part of me that wants the numbness and protection and the part of me that longs to feel – and love – again. Even if it hurts. The thing about conflict – and Donald Miller is astoundingly correct – is that it pushes a decision in the story you’re writing, the story you’re living.

Because don’t forget – the conflict – begets more. It moves you to another place. This isn’t a case of choosing numbness or pain. It’s choosing to feel, in order to move forward and beyond. In the story I’ve been writing (subconsciously) the ‘feeling’ was bound to be full of pain. There might be some, I think we’ve established that. But there are many, many feelings up for grabs out there in this world withOUT novocaine.

I imagine the end of my book – or at least this chapter. I’m laying on my bed, you can only see my wrist and my hand. It’s holding a syringe filled with novocaine. Slowly, my hand releases its grip and the needle rolls off my palm and crashes to the floor. But I didn’t let go in a tremor of pain – my hand opens in the throes of sheer ecstasy.

Image credit: justgrimes

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Lindsey says:

    What a marvelous way to understand the ways that our psyche protects us as our body does in times of trauma. I have written before of the ways that in retrospect my memory seems to have sanded down some of the sharp edges of the really bad stuff, maybe in order that I can continue to live with it … but it’s really interesting to think about how it happens in real time.
    I’m not great at numb either. But, like you, I think this can create more conflict than it needs to … I need to hear this post today. Thank you.

  • Aaron Pogue says:

    You know…I preach conflict. Any of my writing students could tell you that. And I preach Narrative Psychological Theory, too — the idea that we can take control of our lives by seeing them as stories in progress.

    I’ve never once made the connection you made here, though. It’s powerful, and it’s right on. It’s easy enough (as grown-ups, anyway) to recognize that all good things come with their trials, and try to resign ourselves to that, but as storytellers we should be able to find joy in it.

    Just like you running up mountains. Eesh, I’ve got so much left to learn.
    .-= Aaron Pogue´s last blog ..My Felony (Creative Writing Exercise) =-.

  • Jill says:

    Though ALOT older than you and most of your followers, I think, this hits me right where I am….wallowing in conflict and trying not to feel it. Retire? Don’t retire? “Retire,” everyone convinced me. “It’s great. You’ll love it!” I did it but have been pretty damn unhappy and conflicted ever since, which has meant I have not been able to move on. I couldn’t figure out why….until today and your blog.
    Floundering in numbness seemed soo much easier than feeling the pain. Time to let it go! Thank you.

    • Julie Roads says:

      I don’t think this sort of thing knows or cares about age. It’s good to know though…I agree.

  • Andi says:

    Wow, I don’t know what to say, but I definitely get it.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..French Friday – Guest post series =-.

  • Cats Cooking says:

    This post is so inspiring and sexy and right,thanks for writing it and sharing it with us. I cannot wait to get my hands on Miller’s book, after you recommendation and seeing how much it means to you,.

    Thanks Julie.

  • Leon Noone says:

    G’Day Julie,
    It’s 5.15 am Saturday here in the most beautifully sited city in the world; Sydney, Australia.It’s a good time to check my small mountain of emails from people who are still trying to escape from Friday on the other side of the world.

    I’ve just commented on a blog from Mark at “Thoughtwrestling.” He wanted to know about “creative” blogs. I said that I didn’t know whether “Writing Roads” was creative or not and it didn’t matter because I enjoyed it.

    Like Jill, I’m in an “older group.” Julie, I have four children and they’re all older than you. But anyone who uses the word “smithereens’ in a blog, deserves active encouragement, especially from we senior citizens.

    Your heart will mend. “Smithereens” will live forever.

    Make sure you have fun


    • Julie Roads says:

      Really, Leon? It was the smithereens that got you? That is fabulous!!! I have no idea why you all are so caught up in age. Didn’t you see Titanic? That woman was ancient and clearly she still had the hots for Leo. I’m just sayin’.

      • Leon Noone says:

        C’mon Julie,

        ‘coz you don’t realize how important experience is ’till after you’ve had it.

        Then again, I missed “Titanic” and its smithereening iceberg. We’ve only got gorgeous Sydney to look at.



  • Terry says:

    Great story!

    Bird by Bird is another fabulous book on writing.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Yeah, I love Annie Lamott – Traveling Mercies was incredible. I’ve read a LOT of writing books – but none have ever affected me like this one. I’ve never actually read an entire book on writing before this one. I’ve always just skimmed and then put it down and went about my business.

  • Gina Magini says:

    I really want to write a book where there is no conflict. I know it will be assumed the book would be boring. But maybe not. It’s something I plan to work on someday just because sometimes when I’m reading a great story and just plain enjoying it, the author slips in the conflict and it’s uncomfortable. I have thought, “Why not just leave well enough alone? Let the characters enjoy some much needed and well deserved peace of mind?” So someday, I’m going to try it, because I don’t think anyone else will do it for me.
    By the way, I was sorry to read of your heartache and wanted to tell you that most hard things in this life are only temporary. It doesn’t make them easier, but it’s always a comfort to know they are not forever. I hope you have found some ease from the pain and are now contented and serene once again.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Gina! That will be such an interesting book – can’t wait to see how it turns out. I’m trying to imagine NO conflict. Not even when the alarm goes off in the morning? Or when there’s work to be done?

    I mean, I guess, if everyone in the book has the ultimate positive attitude…hmmm.

    And thank you on the heartache. You know what they say – that which doesn’t kill you, makes you absolutely magnificent.

  • Laurie says:

    I couldn’t agree more Julie. Sometimes I worry a bit about being a wino–I love my vino. Except that I’ve noticed when I’m down & out …..drinking alcohol is the LAST thing I want to do.

    Turns out, I just really the taste and the culture of wine. I’m not using it like novacaine–to numb. I drink it (not more than two glasses btw)(ok maybe sometimes three) to celebrate the lovliness of life. The eternal-ness of it. And that I belong in it.

    So for you, no novacaine. For me, no wine.

    Running those hills ….
    .-= Laurie´s last blog ..I’m Back =-.

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