I have been hit by optic neuritis a handful of times in the last six years. Decades of relative visual stability after a rocky start to my MS journey had lulled me into the silly assumption that I had won the battle and beaten back the neurological invader.
When the beast snuck back into my life, and I could not recognize shops and restaurants along a stretch of Broadway I knew well, my anxiety level elevated the top of my head. My legs had turned to mush when I got off the bus one rainy day. A shrink I knew in Boston offered advice I have not forgotten. “Get out of your head,” she said on the phone.
That five-word mantra has stayed with me because it seems to have a wide application. Those of us who can be but not do know the price tag on a limited life. We sit, not stand, watching, not participating. Our bodies can be stopped cold, but our imaginations are turned loose. As with any prisoner, we dream of doing what we no longer can. We read. We talk. And in our minds, we are freed and go where we choose.
James Thurber famously said, the hardest thing about being a writer is convincing your wife that when you are staring out the window, actually you are working. Meredith is a body in motion, always doing something around the house. I sit in the family room or outdoors in the courtyard. I stare. Sometimes she thinks I have vacated my body. Truth is, I am entertaining wild ideas for books or articles, producing movies or plays, often writing in my head. I read books, albeit slowly, or the Times, and I imagine.
I used to jog and play tennis or partake of a thousand other physical escapes. That was so long ago, I really cannot remember who I was. I worked in network television. The joke back then was, if you can read a book or write a sentence, you are an intellectual. I lived in that world and have to assume I was like the rest.
Albert Einstein, I am not. But I do think a lot.
The downside of living in your head, of course, is that taking up residence between your ears can make you crazy. I have been known to head down that road. We become solitary souls, even if we do not live alone. Our skulls can become echo chambers, our notions of our lives and the world self-reinforcing. That can get scary. Frequently we keep them to ourselves, and there is nobody to talk us down from the ledge.
Creative or crazy? Maybe both. Yin or yang? All in the eye of the beholder.