We’ll try anything, won’t we?
Climb mountains, light candles, drink tea, drink beer, light candles, smoke dope, give up sex (now that last one’s just dumb).
It’s important to take advantage of any personal circumstance. Your best friend’s husband is having an affair with his ophthalmologist—“OMG, that animal! How could he do that? There, there, let me get you a nice cup of tea and a tissue and you sit right here and let it all out so I can take notes for a scene I’ll write later.”
When the celebrated writer Dagoberto Gilb suffered a stroke, he started writing about it, literally before he regained use of his right hand. The story “Please, Thank you” first was published in Harper’s and then in his latest collection Before the End, After the Beginning. It opens with him regaining consciousness in the hospital and includes a bit where he explains about typing entirely left-handed and how that affects his writing. The story is amazing and powerful and makes me cry when I read it. He’s such a show off.
Nonetheless, newly fifty years old, proudly joining the ranks of the middle-aged, I’m ready for my seminal-sparking physical and personal challenge. What I get is a colonoscopy screening.
I go to a dinner gathering where everyone at the table has already had a colonoscopy. I can’t even have an original disease. I don’t think that’s very fair. Do you think that’s fair?
I remind myself that it’s not the original circumstance, as there are indeed few, but rather the character’s original experience of the circumstance that makes for a great story.
I do research, get notes from my seasoned peer group: “When I picked up my friend, she was too loopy to get dressed. I had to go into the bathroom with her.” “My husband picked me up and I thought I hadn’t even done it yet, but he said I was all through.” “It’s not the actual colonoscopy, it’s the prep. You have to drink so much.”
I learn to dread the prep before I even pick it up from the pharmacy. It’s something icky I have to drink lots of that’s going to make me poop. A lot. And I can’t eat for a whole day before the actual procedure.
In Dagoberto’s first novel, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, the title character doesn’t always have money for food. He survives by exercising away his hunger and mooching tortilla chips off his friend. He’s grateful for the tortilla chips. Maybe they were corn chips.
The truth is, when the day comes, I don’t get that hungry. I drink water, green tea, white grape juice, iced Sobe coconut water, hot chicken broth, and eat lemon and lime Jell-O. Maybe around four o’clock I get a little headache, but I eat an extra bowlful of green Jell-O and it goes away. It’s just not that hard to skip eating for a day with a pantry full of food I know I can dig into tomorrow.
Growing up, there was never money in my household, but there was always food. My dad kept a vegetable garden. A potato farmer friend gave us boxes of potatoes. My mom made homemade bread, homemade everything. My uncle the butcher would give us a whole cow to eat. It would hang in the walk-in cooler until my dad carved it up. I never liked going into the cooler when there was a cow in there.
We had this big cooler, the size of a huge bathroom, because my dad owned a small country beer tavern, and the cooler was for the beer. I think he ran the tavern at break-even for years, but it fed us. Dagoberto could write about having a stroke with passion and grace, because he actually had a stroke. By colonoscopy time—39 hours without solid food—I’m sick of Jello-O and I’ve had exactly one small hunger pang.
So the answer is no, a colonoscopy cannot make you a better writer. Not when your doctor is doing it as a preventative health measure that your insurance is paying for and when you have a friend who is going to take you out to eat right after and then bring you home to your comfy house, where your dog will be glad to see you.
No. You can’t cheat and take a cheap spinoff of someone else’s experience and produce a worthy story. I imagined this post as potentially funny, how I could take my camera to the hospital and get pics of any hot male nurses and then end by writing whatever I would write while still high on anesthesia. But there’s really nothing funny about not actually being hungry when the world is the way it is.
XO Laurel Leigh