CRPS, or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (Type 1), is a change in the nervous system that's usually triggered by a very painful episode. The bad kinds affect the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, metabolism, circulation, and fight-or-flight response. Lucky me; that's what I've got. ... But life is still inherently good (or I don't know when to quit; either way) and, good or not, life still goes on.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Vocation and purpose (illustrated)

I've spoken of myself as a writer for ages, and made a decent living writing professionally (about software) for several years -- until I got disabled as a consequence of the long hours.
Look a little more closely...
My inward life (narrative, spirit, meaning) and outward life (events, tasks, purpose) have been approaching each other at an increasing rate, and the transparency this creates causes some re-evaluation of publicly-held assumptions like what I am. For instance, is being a writer my core occupation -- my "real" job, where "real" means "true, valid, essential"?
It dawned on me that writing, for all its wry, playful and muscular delight, 
is, for me, a means to an end. Here's why.

I've considered myself a writer since I was 10 years old. My mother gave me a blank book to write my poems and stories in, when I was 11 years old -- a step up from my plethora of scoliotoc spiral-bound notebooks -- so at that point I was clearly committed.
But my earliest coherent memories are of comforting her, of trying to rescue baby birds, of helping to wash and change my baby brother.

So there's something I've been doing longer than writing.

As an adolescent, I probably spent more time rescuing cats, dogs and (more successfully this time) birds than I did putting words down on paper.

Writing is a joy, and it's a tool. I know I wrote the right thing when someone says, "That really cleared things up for me," or more transcendently, "This helped me so much."
I write to heal. First, I wrote to heal myself, but now, it's a way of doing a bit of good in the world outside my own head.

As I remarked to a friend of mine, some people go into the healing professions because they like the feeling of power it gives them to help others.
(Many of them are very good at their challenging jobs, so I'm not inclined to dis their motivations.)

Some of us go into it because we like to help people find their strength and set themselves free.
I used to enjoy some of that power, though I believe I did a good job of maintaining perspective in the face of the quite extraordinary impact an emergency nurse can have. 
Of course, what I really loved about that job was the scope and depth of challenge, and the instant feedback. Never a dull moment, and I learned a lot.

Now I have lost what taste I had for power over others, even benevolent power. But I have always loved helping people find their strength and watching them set themselves free.
These days, when I think of anything worth doing (after taking care of myself), that's what it comes back to: helping people find their own strength, and watching them set themselves free.

Writing lets me do that in absentia, while I'm unconscious, perhaps even long after I'm gone. If I do my job well, others will be reminded of their own strength, or find the clue they need to set themselves free.

So, I'm a healer... who writes.
At least I have better dress sense and less disturbing kibitzers than this guy.

I hope it helps.

(revised 12 March 2013, to add images and improve clarity)


  1. Some of my most vivid memories of you as a child are of you looking after frightening bird (feeding it egg I think) and rescuing a maggot-ridden kitten that no one else could bear to touch.

    Not only were you gentle and kind, you lacked squeam, and you also had that important ability to stay detached.

    Perfect in fact. PS You write brilliantly too.

    1. I figured they weren't MY maggots... :)

      Valuable compliments are meat & drink to me, as I'm mostly aware of what could use improvement. I'll keep working on it. I think I'm getting better -- a statement that sounds disingenuous since Ytshak Perlman was rumored to say it when asked why he practiced 6 hours a day. But he meant it in all humble sincerity.

    2. That wild egret was something... Its broken wing set up fast once the bones were aligned and splinted, and it was soon finding its own dinner. I'll never forget it, though.

    3. Ahh - so it was an egret. I remember you cured it. But it was untameable with wild eyes and a sharp beak.

    4. I vividly remember those mad carnelian eyes.

      I used to watch the egrets fly past our tall flat roof to the trees nearby, every day at sunset, and wonder what it would be like to have those burning eyes focused on me. Imagine my surprise on getting the chance! Seeing them up close, behind that knitting-needle-like beak, was certainly an exercise in humility -- and sensible caution.

      Actually, I think it was a friend of your mother's who told us about the hard-boiled eggs, which is what they fed to those birds at the London Zoo. I couldn't get it to eat anything else.

  2. Isabel, you are a healing presence all right.... in word (both written and spoken) as well as in deed.Your gifts are ... gifts, which you generously share. Thank you.


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