• S.E. Burr

Pursuing Your Purpose While Enduring Suffering

At the beginning of the year in one of the Facebook writing groups I'm in, someone wrote a post inviting people to share their writing goals, and dozens of people, including me, responded. I was surprised by how many people posted that they planned to work less and focus on their health, that they'd worked too hard in the past and were paying for it now. There's been a maxim among indie authors that the way to be more successful is to write more. Your books sell each other, so the more books (of reasonable quality) you publish, the more books you sell. It's not at all unusual for someone to publish five or more books in a year. I've even heard of someone writing and publishing 50 books in a year. They accomplish this by hiring people to help them, a good editor in particular, but the main thing that allows them to do this is that they work really, really hard with really long hours.

And it catches up with them.

It looks to me like the trend among indie authors is reversing to a certain extent. I'm hearing a lot about "working smarter, not harder" these days. Yesterday, I listened to episode 35 of the "How Do You Write" podcast and Adrienne Bell talked about how learning about running helped her with her writing, because in running they say, "whatever you do, don't run everyday," whereas in writing you so often hear the opposite advice. But your brain, like the rest of your body, needs time to recover from really strenuous activity. If it doesn't get it, things won't go so well.

I have not overworked myself through my writing. I've worked continuously, but there have been very few exhausting periods in my writing career. When I posted my goals for the new year I was grateful not to list anything about my health among them; I was glad to have mostly recovered from the car accident I experienced last year and to be in good shape physically to increase my effort on my writing this year.

But, within a couple weeks of posting my goals, I began to experience a problem that has not left me for a single day since. It may be acid reflux, but if it is, it has some atypical symptoms. In brief, eating makes me feel bad, so all day every day, I either feel hungry or I feel sick, or both. It isn't unbearable; it could be much worse. It's annoying. I still work on my writing most days along with fulfilling my other responsibilities, but feeling bad all the time is draining; it puts me in a fowl mood. It makes me not want to write.

Yesterday was like that. I over-ate. I was just so hungry, and I was tired of always being hungry. What helped to break my bad mood was an email I got from a fellow author asking me for a little help. She wanted me to help her join that same Facebook writing group I was talking about earlier. "Ok," I thought. "I can do that. That's an easy thing to do."

Tomorrow I go for a barrium swallow, where I'll drink some gross stuff and then they'll take X-rays. Through my own past experiences and the experiences of those around me, I don't have a lot of confidence in the medical community's ability to efficiently diagnose and treat whatever it is that ails me. I'm actually hoping that in writing this post and stating this lack of confidence publicly, I'll be activating that perverse quirk of the universe that loves to prove people wrong and make them look silly. Go ahead, make me eat my words. I'll take it if it means I get to eat other things again, too.

I hope I get better. This is so frustrating. But there are no guarantees. The nation we live in, the era we were born in, whatever religion we ascribe to, none of these things promise us health or long lives. The first two might give us more of a shot at those things, but if there's one big lesson in Christianity, in particular, it's that the example of Christ and his disciples teaches us that no one, no one, is guaranteed a long life or a death free of terrible suffering.

I know a lot of you are thinking now, "How melodramatic she's being! All this over a little stomach ache!"

I'm sorry. I'll quit my moaning.

I was talking to someone the other day who is suffering from a chronic illness that has her mostly bed ridden. She said she hates how people are always encouraging her to be positive and to find happiness where she can. How can she be happy, when she feels so awful? I don't know. I would say try doing a little something everyday that you can feel good about, even if it's just saying something nice to one person on social media. But where do I get off giving her advice? I have no right. People always say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but what if it does kill you? I don't know.

A line in a recent episode of Sherlock resonated with me. "Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it." I don't think we're here for our own enjoyment, not entirely anyway. I think we're here to play our part, whatever it is, in this great story of the progression of life and of our species. And I think that each of our lives, whether long or short, whether mostly happy or mostly otherwise, adds beauty and depth and complexity to that story. And our interactions with each other add beauty and depth and complexity to us. So I'll keep trying to contribute what I have to contribute and I hope that you'll do the same. Thank you for your life and your work and your perseverance. I'm honored to be a small part of it.

Book of the Week:

In The Cube by David Alexander Smith. This book was published in 1993, but I only recently heard about it on an episode of the podcast, Writing Excuses. A guest on the show was so passionate about it, saying that she'd read it ten times, that I just had to check it out. It's science fiction, taking place in a future Boston, which is a space port to alien races. One of these alien races has filled in the spaces between the building with some sort of other worldly material and transformed the entire city into a giant cube, a city which is entirely indoors. The story is about a private investigator, Beverly, and her best friend and partner, Akktri, who is an alien. As they investigate a crime, the relationship between the two of them and their love for each other is fascinating to me, especially when at one point, late in the book, Beverly realizes just how alien Akktri is. He sees the world in an entirely different way than she does, and their relationship has to adapt to that new understanding. Really, really good book. If you like science fiction or mystery or both, you'll like this.

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