>Sick Leave

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Remember when people who stayed home from work because they were sick actually rested, in order to get well, to feel better, so they could return to work? The term “sick leave” implies that one “leave” the work behind due to illness. And yet today it seems that most people, when they are on sick leave, are just at home working away on their laptops, even while curled up on the couch under a blanket with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of cough syrup on the end table.

I’ve watched my husband, a physician who does clinical trials on hypertension, take a very rare day of sick leave just to continue the same pace he keeps when he’s well—writing or editing articles for medical journals, even taking conference calls from home, putting the speaker phone on silent just long enough to blow his nose from time to time.

Where am I going with this? If you keep up with me on Facebook, you know that I’ve had flu-like symptoms for the past couple of days. And since I work from home, there’s no leaving the office behind while I’m recuperating. The only thing that has stopped me in my tracks has been the feeling that my head is going to explode any minute, coupled with a painful, hacking cough. Oh, and did I mention my sinuses feel like someone is sticking nails in them? Somehow all these symptoms are distracting me from the heady work of novel-writing. I just can’t do it. And so I turn to “lesser” pursuits like blogging and addressing Christmas cards (125 in the mail today). Why can’t I just REST?

Yesterday was the closest I’ve come in a long time to doing nothing. I slept 10 hours Wednesday night and then took a two hour nap on Thursday. I tried to read two books (I’m always reading more than one at a time) but kept falling asleep sitting up. You think maybe my body was trying to tell me something? Is the world going to miss a spin if I take a day or two off from the novel? What’s driving me so?

This morning I was reading a wonderful book, The Forest for the Trees, by literary agent, Betsy Lerner. (Watch for a full review soon.) With two cups of coffee in me, I was able to stay awake, turning the pages hungrily and saying “yes!” over and over as I read. Lerner was affirming my urgent need to write, and for others to read what I write, in her own words and by sharing the words of those who are further down the road than I am. Like William Gass, in a Paris Review interview:

“Writing is a way of making the writer acceptable to the world—every cheap, dumb, nasty thought, every despicable desire, every noble sentiment, every expensive taste.”

And Lerner adds:

“If you are writing to prove yourself to the world, to quiet the naysayers at last, to make your cold and distant father take notice, I say go for it. If you are writing because no one has faith in you, because no one sees you for who you are, or because you feel like an imposter, better yet…. Chances are you want to write because you are a haunted individual, or a bothered individual, because the world does not sit right with you.”

Crying is not a good idea when your sinuses are about to burst, but I can’t help it… my keyboard is getting slippery now so I’ll close soon and blow my nose and get back to the business of sick leave—of leaving my work behind and getting well. Just as soon as I take a minute more to say how thankful I am to have discovered Betsy Lerner. To have a successful agent, author and editor give me permission to write for what some might say are less than honorable motives. You can bet that Ms. Lerner is now near the top of my list of agents to query when this book is finished.

Aaaachooooo! Ouch. That one hurt all over.

Is it okay to drink hot toddies in the morning? Oh, wait! Of course it is. I’m on sick leave today.

P. S. In her blog post yesterday, Lerner said that “writers place fourth on the most likely to get depressed list.” Just a bit of cheerful trivia I thought I’d share.

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