By Shane Gericke
What would I do if I couldn't write? I mean, besides jump off a cliff?
I'd turn back to what I did in the Nineties, when forced to take a year off from writing to recover from crippling injuries to my neck and shoulder:
I started writing professionally when Nixon was in office. Back then, ergonomics was Latin for, I don't know, Aw, Ya Gotta Owie? Get Back to Work, You Loser or something. All I know is that I worked a whole lot of hours in my quest for glory in the newspaper racket I'd adored since I was a kid, and cutting back cause my neck ached and arms twitched wasn't part of the plan.
I know, I know: Is "idiot" one T or two?
By 1993, all those years of sitting on straight-backed kitchen chairs whilst juggling computer keyboards, typewriters, layout sheets, pica poles, proportion wheels, and telephones stuffed between ear and shoulder (for taking dictation from field reporters) finally caught up with me: the muscles and tendons of my neck, shoulders and upper back locked up like concrete. It was so awful my head flopped down onto my left shoulder and stayed there. My local orthopedic doctor said the white suburban version of "Ay, carumba!!!" and hustled me off to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to repair what threatened to cripple me permanently.
Long story short, they were miracle workers, those Rehab specialists, and I freely did sing their mighty praises, even while they inflicted pain, though of the Happy Shiny Therapeutic variety, so everyone proclaimed it All Right. Problem was, it also meant I couldn't touch a keyboard for six months to a year. It would take that long to coax those muscles and tendons from their cast-iron rigidness to their normal state of grace.
Talk about pain.
Most everything else was permitted, though. So I read a lot. I worked around the house. Attended rehab. Chatted with neighbors. Did the laundry. Discovered socks and undies do procreate in the hamper . . .
I was bored out of my skull. I missed not being able to create stuff.
So I picked up a brush and a set of watercolors and began to paint. The creative juices began to flow, and I turned out some decent work. (Along with a lot of crap. Momumental crap. Crap to choke the universe. But hey, it was creative crap, so like the pain, it was All Right.
More important, it was fun, and engaged my mind completely.
I came by painting honestly. My maternal grandmother worked with oils and acrylics. My father worked in pencil. My mother sang with a barbershop chorus, and my paternal grandmother told tall tales whose endings changed with every retelling. All that creativity wormed its way into me, and came out in the forms of writing and painting. I couldn't do one, so I went with the other. I eventually got good enough to sell a few paintings in a halfway decent art gallery, but that wasn't the point. I was doing it to keep my head in the game till I got back to my real love:
Painting with words.
And because you can read them now, I guess I succeeded.
Accompanying this essay are a few of the paintings I did during my Year of Living Painfully. The horses and riders remain my favorite. The boxers were a political statement: look closely, you'll see the pale white guys in the audience urging the non-white boxers to beat each other bloody for their entertainment. Sailing explains itself, the one on the mountaintop was inspired by a trip to Mexico, and the kite was painted on a dank dark day in October--hence the moodiness.