Many years ago, I started writing a story about a guy who gets paralyzed in a C5 accident, and though I wrote almost 10,000 words of it, I never finished. I originally envisioned a sad tale about loss, a guitar player has an accident and gets paralyzed, losing the thing most important to him in the world, playing guitar. Through sheer willpower and some magic realism, he experiences a miraculous healing, where he can walk again, and he stumbles out of the hospital naked, looking for a guitar. Of course, this is a stupid story, and in the writing of it, it became a different animal entirely.
I was bothered by the miracle ending in my original idea. I realized that for quadriplegics, some of whom I would like to read the story someday, might feel cheated because for them there is no miracle ending, no magic realism to come restore their bodies and give them motion and feeling. Of course, the paralyzed character (named Blaine)had to change in some way, and I decided that the change would be his acceptance of his condition, and that acceptance in a metaphorical way restores him. This is a more mature, more nuanced approach, and as I discovered, extremely challenging.
I also knew that playing guitar wasn't compelling enough to highlight the element of loss that I wanted to develop into the theme of the story, so I chucked that too. I added a new character, a girlfriend who leaves him after his accident. I was going through a break up myself, so I was able to channel a lot of those feelings into my hero's sad story, which I liked. Another female character named Mary acts as a Yoda-like figure, who guides Blaine to the zen-like acceptance of his condition.
There was an unexpected element that arose during this period, and that arose from some rudimentary readings of ancient Chinese philosophy. I absorbed the Tao Te Ching, Chang Tzu, Sun Tzu. I ignored the paegentry and just listened to the words, slowly I began to understand it. It's kind of like those Magic Eye pictures. If you stare at it long enough and let your eyes go fuzzy, it all becomes clear.
So I started quoting from the Tao Te Ching in the section breaks, trying to write scenes that didn't directly reference whatever quote I had selected, but would be explained by them in some esoteric way. Talk about a challenge.
Here I had envisioned a mostly internal story (since he's a quadriplegic, it's going to be a little short on "action") about a quadriplegic man (who possesses a condition I knew little about) who goes through some kind of vague accepting process with the help of a nurse named Mary, with relevant quotes from the Tao Te Ching. Pardon me while I pat myself on the back for even coming up with the concept. But can I pull it off?
I couldn't. But after reading about that kid in the Post, it made me want to try again. Maybe now, with time, some of the more personal elements that I had been channeling into it will be a little muted, which means I won't drone on about them in drearily over-poetic language. Plus, my subconscious has been chewing on the idea for a few days and I think I figured what the story will be about.
It's about that moment when reality smacks you in the face, when you realize nothing will be the same again, that what's done is done and there's no going back. It's a feeling I've experienced several times in my life. When my parents divorced, when I found out my brother was going to be a father at age 17, when someone dies or moves or doesn't talk to you anymore. It's when you wish things aren't the way they are.
And I'm not trying to make any grand statement about that experience. I'm just trying to capture it.
To accept the irrevocable
Is to let go of desire.
-Tao Te Ching