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