Friday, February 4, 2011

The Heroic Quest of Joan B.

Writers tend to admire lots of people.  This writer has a lacy, poetic style, that one virtually grabs your hand (note: grabs, not grasps, not gropes) and yanks you into a terror-filled adventure.  Another somehow manages to be simultaneously funny and poignant.  We read their work, we love it, and perhaps feel more than a little envious that they can express something in a writing style that we haven't mastered.

Image via Karen's Whimsy
I've always wanted to write sci-fi fantasy, but heroes need the right quest, and so far, there are no appropriate quest listings in the Craigslist of my mind.

There are other kinds of quests, though, and my friend Joan B. has been on a very long one.  At age 47, bright, talented, attractive, with an amazing variety of life experiences, she was on her way to a pitch meeting at Universal for a script she'd written about game wardens.  She knew it was an excellent script, and that her very original subject material would make a perfect made-for-TV movie.  Possibly even a series. 

If you're an as-yet unpublished screenwriter, you know that pitch meetings with legitimate producers are along the lines of finding the Holy Grail.

Joan never made the meeting, because she had a stroke.  Right in the ladies room, as she was changing clothes with her best friend Kate, who was also part of the pitch meeting.  Kate (also my hero - more on her in a future post) recognized what was going on, called Joan's neurologist (she'd been receiving treatment for migraines) and drove her to the hospital.  (Kate also called the producers to reschedule the meeting, because, of course, you do.)

Instead of battling to bring her script to life, Joan was battling to hang onto her own life.

But she's a fighter, and she did.  At first she couldn't speak, couldn't write, but after much hard work, Joan was back, almost to where she'd been, physically and mentally.  If her speech had lost a fraction of its old zip and speed, she could still communicate clearly and without much visible effort.

A little over a year later, and Joan was ready to go back to her day job, and immersed in writing again.

And then, the unthinkable.  Another stroke.

This time, sadly - and now it's been about fifteen years down the road - it didn't all come back.  Despite tremendous effort and much therapy.  The aphasia (difficulty in speaking, reading and writing) stuck this time, and although Joan's speech today is clearer than it was immediately after the second stroke, it's nowhere near her old fluency.  
from prozac1 at FreeDigitalImages

Her right side remained numb.  Joan can move that side of her body to a certain degree, but when you can't feel your hands, feet and such, they are very hard to control.

She learned to dress herself.  To drive again.  She learned to ride again (Joan, Kate, and Kate's husband Keith are all horsepeople,) and to care for her "babies" (foals) right down to cleaning the stalls.

And she learned to write again.

She re-learned to use a keyboard, and work the mouse with her left hand, although she used to be right-handed.

Like Laura Hillenbrand, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, Joan can't simply sit at a keyboard and quickly bang out a paragraph or two.  Because of the numbness of her fingers, typing anything is a long, laborious process, and writing by hand is even worse.  Because her strokes affected the rhythm of her speech, the current speech-to-text technology doesn't work well for her.

Joan can write the words, the sentences, the flow of the story perfectly in her mind, but then the struggle begins.  She can visualize everything she wants to say, almost like reading this screen - but transferring it from inside her head to down on the page or screen is like trying to move the ball through the Green Bay Packers defensive line.  The aphasia sacks each sentence, tackles each word, although occasionally a few get through more easily than others.

Yet she writes.  And she writes well.

I have only two quibbles with Joan's writing:
  1. I don't get to read enough of it, because she too is a writer whose beautiful style I wish I could emulate.
  2. She makes me feel guilty for not putting more time and energy into my own writing for wussy, inconsequential reasons excuses.