Therapeutic Fiction

I have two friends who live across the pond in America; Richard Wood is one of them, and I am blessed to count him as a friend. He is a technology consultant and a writer of speculative fiction.  His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, was released to critical acclaim in 2012, and he is currently working on the second book of his Arcana Chronicles series, multiple short stories, a graphic novel and a science fiction trilogy that he dusts off every few years.

Along with his writing passion, R. B. is host of The Word Count Podcast – a show that features talent from all around the globe, reading original flash-fiction stories. Richard currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts with his partner, Tina, a multitude of cats, and various other critters that visit from time to time (and no, that doesn’t include me). He’s also a damned good friend. The words below are all his; please read and inwardly digest; he speaks the truth.

The title of this article could mean so many things—Is the American talking about a Netflix series about a crime-fighting masseuse? Has he written a short story where President-Elect Trump is attacked by the cheesiest of Doctor Who costumed villains? While intriguing ideas (okay, not really), what I really want to discuss today is writing as therapy. You’ll see what I mean in a tick.

Let’s get this next bit over with quick, shall we?

In November of 2015 I—how does one say it on Matthew’s side of the pond? Oh yes. I kind of snuffed it. Twice.

Blah, blah, blah…buckets of blood pouring from my lungs, heart attack, and your basic horror-fiction death. Along with that entertainment, came a series of strokes. Thirty of them, in fact. I’ve seen the MRI photos – they look like a picture of all the galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope. Except in the Hubble photo, those bright dots are stars. In my MRI, they are emboli.

As you can imagine, blood clots in the brain aren’t a very good way to spend Sunday brunch (which is when all this happened – that was fine, as my eggs benedict were subpar, and my mimosa, flat).

While I was malingering – also known as learning to walk and speak again – one of my many therapists thought I should go back to writing. My wife had told them about my love of the written word and my few published works, and the therapist thought it would be a wonderful way for me to work on the many damaged aspects of the brain. So did my neurologist. So did my neurosurgeon.

I became angry. They were all ganging up on me and I could barely speak. They all ignored my rather pitiful attempts at protest. At first, it was suggested I jot down a few thoughts in a journal. Just a few and see how it goes. Fine motor skills, such as penmanship, were incredibly difficult. My initial attempts looked like a demented toddler had scrawled an unknown language on them – they were that illegible. I still have that very first piece of paper I wrote on. It says (for I remember writing it as you cannot read it): “Fuck this shit.”

Eloquent, yet succinct.

I’m not a very good patient, nor am I a patient man. I was absolutely convinced that I would never author anything ever again. Complex sentence structure? Paragraphs? Setting? Character development? Plot? No can do, sunshine. My wife and the gang of medical annoyances insisted I try.

My writing slowly improved. My thought processes began to mend, but it was hard work – exhausting. Sometimes I would write a couple hundred words, then nap for two hours. Some days I’d barely write a paragraph. Other days I’d write 4,000 words. A lot of it was bollocks. Some of it was actually published at the end of 2016. And now, more then a year on, I’m taking courses in writing and literature.

“Before,” as I have named the pre-stroke time period in my life, I was a Director for a multi-billion dollar energy company. I managed a portfolio of projects worth $100 million and had nearly a dozen employees and a hundred contractors I was responsible for.

Now, I can barely drive to the market to pick up a dozen eggs and a liter of milk. I don’t do well in groups of more than four. My wife has to tell the maître de of our favorite restaurant that I’m hard of hearing to get us a quiet booth so the amount of audible input doesn’t overwhelm me.

I can walk … in recent months I’ve ditched the cane. I can speak; I can think – although some high-level cognition is still rather broken. I can tell stories.

Writing helped me to get the creative portion of my mind back. It helped repair some of the damage done – not all, mind you. I’m still a work in progress. Maybe the rest will come back over time.

Therapeutic fiction. Therapeutic writing. Life doesn’t always deal you a full house or a royal flush. Sometimes, a pair of twos is all you have left. But I’m managing the best I can with what I’ve been dealt. All because I relearned how to write.

Perhaps I should pen that Doctor Who episode after all.


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