Thursday, June 14, 2012


Yesterday I told my counselor I've decided to actively pursue a disability check of some kind. She seemed... relieved? Satisfied? "So you really understand that you're not going to fit into a regular job again?" she asked. "You know you're going to have to make it on your own terms?"

"Yeah," I said. As if disability was one of my terms. Oh, well.

In a roundabout way, it was Samuel Crown's doing. You heard of Sam? He's an up-and-comer, working on a self-published series of action/horror novels, a pulp-meets-Vertigo-comics thing called I, Demon. Check it out. I met Crown at the Viable Paradise writer's group, and when I made noises about attending Taos Toolbox, he came along for that as well. More recently, he invited me to a writer's retreat in Dallas that he was hosting. Ain't gonna tell you who was there, because we spent most of our time bitching about the people we wished we'd invited. That's the drag about invitation only -- you wind up leaving out folks you miss. Take my word for it, though, this crew is already making noises and you will hear some of these names in the years to come.

When  I was in Dallas, my stomach went to hell on me and I spent much of the time puking. Lost a lot of blood; to tell the truth, I think it was somewhere around a half-gallon, and if I'd known that I might have gone into the hospital for a few liters of saline. I am not a big needle fan, but I have come to adore the IV drip of saline, nice and cool...

Anyway, I wasn't able to give Crown any help on his project. He went last, and I was in my hotel room letting the shower run over me as I sweated and shivered. So when he asked me to give his current novel a once-over, I felt a sense of obligation.

I've mostly given up on doing internet critiques -- I've found that they play into my neuroses in a very unfortunate way. I never quite get around to them, I think about them constantly, and I don't do anything else because I need to do them first. They jam my hopper and make me miserable. I need a solid, printed manuscript and a solid, living person to give it to at a specific time and date in order to function. I feel bad about this because I have access to a bunch of swell young writers I'd love to bully and hector, and whose input on my work would be specifically valuable, but there you go. Sometimes you're served a dish you can't eat, no matter how much you want to.

But I owed Crown. So I printed up his novel, and started reading.

Those are my reading glasses up there. I tried to bring out how horrible they are, but you really have to see them in person to get the full effect -- the coatings are scabby and iridescent to a degree that basically makes these spectacles framed cataracts, and note the missing arm.

When I started work, the smudge at the center of the right lens was so bad I had to cant my head to one side to read; the reading glasses were actually worse than nothing. So I switched to my bifocals and tipped my head back.

Then I went to see The Avengers with my dad, who likes a good smiting every once in a while. And the next morning when I woke up, my neck was destroyed. Muscles locked, spine begging to be popped, it took me days to get back to a functional state.

The increase in pain spiked my stress levels, and my stomach went acid, and I had a few touch-and-go hours on Friday night. And it made me realize that my stomach had gotten to be as bad as it was because I was used to ignoring pain. Since my stomach never hurts as much as my back, I dismiss it.

And now it bleeds.

And that made me realize that when I've dealt with the doctors and the insurance company and so on and so forth, I have persistently lowballed my pain estimates. You know, they say how bad on a scale of one-to-ten? When I've had a nurse walking me through those, they always add one or two to my estimates. I have known all along that the way I get treated is going to depend on how seriously my condition is taken, but in order to live with myself, I have to behave in a very scrupulous fashion. That frequently works to my detriment -- but being who I am is all I've got. It really is.

I am too vulnerable right now, and I have to ask for help. So I've started contacting lawyers to help me apply for some sort of disability income. I certainly have not given up hope of someday making money creatively -- it's happened before, and I'm a much better writer now than I was then.

But if I don't get some kind of slack, I'll wind up bouncing in and out of the fucking hospital. It's right there in front of me and I can't deny it. So I find myself in the position of spending the state's money on my relatively cheap and comfortable maintenance or on expensive and uncomfortable emergency measures.

I've asked around, and everyone I know approves of this decision. It's taken me ten fucking years to make it, and I have given it a hell of a lot of thought, and I wouldn't do it if it weren't for the fucking blood. Vomiting blood and hallucinating and sweating and shaking for hours and hours and hours is the kind of thing that motivates me a little, sort of, eventually.

Interestingly, a number of people have commented that this represents sort of a best-case scenario; a well-adjusted oaf would have gone either into the military or industry, and would have been a tremendous force for evil in the world.

Flavor chemistry would have been a very likely career for me -- I love cooking, and won a Bank of America award for laboratory sciences in high school. I could have destroyed civilization with new kinds of Skittles and Doritos...

But it didn't work out that way. It turns out that when I say I have to devote most of my energy to maintaining my mental health, I am not kidding. I am in a position where if I am unhappy for too long, my health fails spectacularly. Right now, before I am anything else, I am vulnerable and I need to care for myself if I'm not going to burden others. And I need help to do that.

Here's the thing. I know people who are more in need than I am. What if I get the help they failed to get? How can I put myself in the position of asking for the same kind of aid as homeless folks when I have a home, and a wonderful one?

Because that is the paradox. I'm so broke I wear my glasses literally to the point of opacity, it's been more than a decade since I've had a checkup, and I have no recreational spending habits. I do get treats from time to time, but they are given to me by others, not selected by myself. But because I'm with the missus, I have full media access through cable, I have a workspace that comes damned close to being a media lab -- everything I own is old, shabby, strictly from yard sales, but it is still nice and good. I can't help but feel that someone on disability should be living a life of unremitting poverty, and my life is poor but prosperous.

It's not my decision to make, though. It's up to the lawyers and the state.

And for the record? The missus decided to pony up the bucks for new lenses. I had my examination yesterday, and found out that my reading prescription was terrible -- my reading glasses weren't just worn out, they were shitty in the first place. For the past three years, I've been doing all my reading and editing with bad glasses, and I've wondered why I don't seem to enjoy it the way I used to. I have a feeling that this has a lot to do with my procrastination issues.

So in a couple of weeks, I have new reading glasses and will be able to return to the world of letters. This whole situation is not a disaster, and it's not the end point of my story. And who knows, given the speed with which these wheels turn, I may wind up being a pro writer again before the issue is settled.

All I can do is cast my fate to the winds...


Steve Buchheit said...

Hoping you qualify for disability. It sucks having to ask for help that way, but there are reasons why we have those systems.

EFKelley said...

What Steve said. Get the help. And I'm sorry my book broke you! I expected to cause mental trauma, but not physical pain.

LouJBerger said...

Feel better Sean! My thoughts are on your healing...

Richard Baldwin said...

Feel no shame please. We have government precisely so that the more fortunate can help the less when they're down. I like to think of being a citizen as being a member of a lifelong insurance and security plan. One of the worst things western society can do to its members is instill shame for requesting needed aid.

Sean Craven said...

Thanks, folks. Your good will really means a lot to me. And things aren't really bad, and I'm posting about that.