I don’t know whether you’re aware of this fact, but writing is a dangerous occupation. Oh, it’s not as though we’e endangered by heavy machinery, stormy seas, or wild tigers. But we all have to cope with what our imaginations do to us.
It’s that writer’s creative imagination and focus that gets us into trouble. Writing fiction means that when you’re working, you’re living in another world, an imaginary world. That world will probably not look anything like the real physical world you normally inhabit and the transition from the imaginary to the real world can be violent.
For example, a couple of years ago my physical body was in the bathroom, washing its hands. I’d been mulling a difficult plot problem for some time, when my mind suddenly clicked on the solution. A definite ‘aha!’ moment! I was so excited I whirled around from the bathroom sink and walked straight into the wall.
That hurt. Forehead, hand, knee and the toes on one foot and my glasses got pushed into the bridge of my nose. It took me a moment to realize where I was, who I was, and what had just happened. Which was that my mind was ten steps ahead of my body and mentally I was already at my desk. I simply didn’t notice that the doorway was two inches to the right of the wall that so rudely got in my way, because in my imagination, I was already at the keyboard, typing.
The really scary part is when I get into my car and head off somewhere, only to discover a few minutes later that my mind is working on a plot problem or reliving the last book I read. I suddenly return to the present with no idea where I am. It takes a minute to remember where I’m going and to realize that I’m actually on the right street and that my subconscious has been navigating just fine. But it’s still scary, and I do my best to keep that imagination leashed when I’m behind the wheel.
I don’t do nearly as well with walking as a mode of travel. Not long ago, I started down the stairs to my front hall, intending to put a label on a new recycle box. On the fourth step from the bottom, I began rehearsing mentally how I would do this task. By the third step I’d figured it out. On the second step, of course, I headed for the hall table, to the left of the stair well.
Again, my mind was some ten feet ahead of my body. The metal railing got in my way and gravity did the rest. I ended up in a heap on the floor, wondering what happened.
Fortunately I wasn’t injured, except for a couple of minor bruises. But I knew I’d have to do something to keep my mind in sync with my feet or I could end up with broken bones. So I made a sign, with a neon red marker, that says “No Left Turn!” and fastened it to the stair railing, about three steps from the bottom. And put another on the bathroom wall.
So far, so good.