by Gina Sestak
[Another digression from my posts about prior jobs.]
There is a fundamental difference between writers and other people, I've been told. That difference is that writers write. By "write," I don't just mean the act of putting pen to paper or fingertip to key. I mean the magical alchemy by which we transmute human experience and ideas into words.
For me, this usually involves translating whatever I'm experiencing into nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives while it's still in progress. No matter what is happening around me, be it flower petals wafting on a zephyr or a distracted driver trying to merge into my car, somewhere in the back of my mind I'm crafting sentences to describe what's going on.
This isn't always a good thing. When I stood beside my aunt's deathbed putting words to family tragedy I felt like a ghoul. But those sentences formed the core of my essay "Breathe Out" that won second place for non-fiction in Pennwriters' 2004 contest.
I was thinking about this last week when I had the flu. You have to understand, I had it bad. Vomiting, diarrhea, chills. Three days without eating. Too little energy to feed the cats. [Don't worry. They had dry food available.] Part of me was thinking, "Am I going to die?" while another part, the writer part, was putting the sensations into words.
I'm not going to record that graphic description of my symptoms here, but I suspect I'll use it somewhere. I've often wondered whether Anne Rice was sick while she was writing "The Tale of the Body Thief." [!!SPOILER ALERT!!] In that book, Anne Rice's protagonist Lestat (a vampire) is tricked into trading bodies temporarily with a human, only to discover that the human body is infected with a disease meant to kill it, thereby allowing the human trader to retain Lestat's vampire body. Anne Rice gives us detailed descriptions of being ill from the perspective of someone who hasn't had so much as a cold in centuries. Another part of the same book made me wonder whether or not Anne Rice had recently acquired a dog.
Does everybody else do this, too? Do you find yourself in traffic, in nature, or in bed(!) putting everything you experience into words? Please let me know.