Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Block and Writer's Block, Together

I am having a devil of a time reading books.

And I love reading.

It's the tinnitus. That endless, inescapable, irritating noise. Everything else I've managed to get back on track: I have white noise devices for use during the day. I have medications to help me sleep. I keep myself busy and distracted. I stay away from quiet spaces.

All is good.

Pretty much back to normal, in fact. The tinnitus reduced to an annoyance, which is a miraculous blessing I cannot understate the importance of, considering how discombobulating it was when I first acquired the condition. And holy crap, was it discombobulating.

But what many people said online turned out to be true: the first three months are the worst; then it gets better.

Every now and then I try and embrace The Signal, and acknowledge that it exists. I accept that it isn't going away. Wishing that it would leave me be just leads to sadness, because it won't.

Best not to go there.

The one last thing I'm still having trouble with is 'long-form' reading. Short articles are no problem. I have the attention span for that. But when I try and read books, it becomes much more difficult. I'm not entirely sure why, but somehow books take me further inside my own head than articles do, and deep inside my head is where the tinnitus is.

Now, I've also been trying to get past writer's block for a couple of months. I finished the first act of a new book, and then I stalled. Bad. The engine just died. In talking to other writers, I've been relieved to find that this is a common problem when you finish an act. It's a perfectly normal hurdle writers face.

Of course, The Signal is contributing, at least a little, to the writing block. The paradoxical thing is that for me, writing actually is easier than reading, precisely because writing is harder, in that it requires greater concentration. There's action in it as well: typing. The regular jab of fingers on keyboard. Nice little noises to glom on to. Distractions. And the need for motor control. It takes up more of my brain.

Reading a book, however, requires less exertion, a little less concentration, and leaves a little more space for tinnitus to slip in. I must struggle to keep the tinnitus out of my mental field of vision. It hovers about the edges, jabbing, probing for an opening. Once I notice it, it invades with relish and becomes overwhelming. It takes effort to push and shove it back out of my primary mental area.

I'd never really thought about how much thinking resembles eyesight, but it does. Focus is focus, I suppose, whether mental or visual. It's like having flashing banner ads going off beside what I'm trying to read, only it's a noise.

On the plus side, the whole experience has gotten me to think about my senses in new ways. And about how our own bodies and minds can turn against us as we age.

I'd like to write a character who acquires tinnitus. The Signal. Only it's really communication from beyond, or above, or even… below.

I'm not sure anyone has done this in popular media. Considering how many veterans have it, and likely have far more severe forms of it, I'm rather surprised it gets so little popular attention.

Whatever the case, reading is a challenge, and I'm working to meet it.

First step I think is to bridge the gap with audio books.

Then test various environments and see where the noise level is enough to subordinate the tinnitus, yet still allow me to focus on reading. Somewhere between a coffee shop and a bar. There's got to be a sweet spot, some optimal point, a place of balance between the two extremes.

I'm going to find it.

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