Living in Lemony Land

Pier where my poor arm perished in january
The pier where my poor arm perished in January, setting off a string of misfortunate events.


On the Go Creative! Blog:

  • I'm talking about The Seven Stages of the Creative Process
  • There's a post on How to invite Insights
  • And Kira is posting her accountancy certificates back to make sure her boats are well and truly burned.

On The Self-Publishing Advice Blog:

I'm writing this from under the desk. It's scary out there.

Since the end of January, I feel like I've taken up residence in Lemony Land, named after the children's book series where Mr Lemony Snicket recounts a melancholy litany of events that befall the Baudelaire children.

My own series of misfortunate events started with a holiday in Madeira, at a village called Ponta da Sol.

Picture the sun-starved Londoner, on the first morning, strolling along the pier that protects the little beach from the onslaught of the Atlantic. The sky is a clear azure blue, the waves break picturesquely against the rough hewn rock, throwing up spray and positive ions and, most importantly, the sun is shining.

Twenty-three degrees. At 10am. In February.

Eyes squinting in the unaccustomed light, I stopped to wallow in the wonder of it all. The sparkling sea, the positive ions, the wellness of  my world.

Then behind me, before I saw it, I felt it. A cold, hulking presence, a giant wave. Before it struck, I had that second of disbelief that always spikes when bad things are happening. No. This can't be. But it was. The wave was picking me up and and flinging me down on the rocks. I landed on my shoulder and felt the excruciating stab of bone breaking.

I tried to get up, to get out of there, but my arm was sucking all the energy up into my shoulder and my legs refused to move. Shock, I suppose.

A woman, who'd been walking further out the pier approached, tentatively, one eye to the waves.  She helped me to my feet, and back to my hotel, where the manager was kindness itself, driving me to hospital, translating my predicament and needs for the Portugese nurses and doctors.

End of holiday. As soon as I was able I flew home, and yes, this is why there hasn't been a blog post here for a while.

Almost as soon as I got home, we heard that my sister-in-law, who lives with my brother in Spain, had been taken into hospital with an infection. Next day, she was on life support, fighting a deadly infection. So it was back on a plane, to wait with my brother outside intensive care, trying not to think the unthinkable. After five days they isolated the bacteria and the particular anti-biotic to fight it and hope started to flow again. We flew home, dazed with relief, to…

… a burglary at the office. Not a bad burglary as they go, but the new computer was gone, together with the not-yet-backed-up work that was on it. “That's three,” said my friend Karen. “It's over now.”

Unfortunately not. Next came the family newsflash that my mother's garden, the joy of her life and a joy to anyone who ever spent time in it, had gone up in flames. My brother-in-law on the other side of the family has a nephew in hospital with a brain tumour. Another dear friend, after years of patient loving, has reached the end of her marital tether and decided to instigate divorce proceedings. The writer I had commissioned to work on a book broke his wrist. My best friend's father died and I wasn't able to make the funeral. A long awaited get-together with my four oldest schoolfriends had to be cancelled. My return to Madeira found me on the scariest flight I've ever taken anywhere, complete with emergency landing on another island.

There's more… but you get the less-than-lovely picture.

So I've been, not unsurprisingly, thinking about bad luck and what we can do with it when it befalls. It seems to be we have only two choices. We can cope with it or we can create from it.

Coping With Adversity

Psychologists have a word for those who are good at coping with the bad stuff: resilience.  They tell us that resilient people are defined by:

Awareness: In order to manage feelings, we need to understand what is causing them and why. By remaining aware, resilient people maintain their control of the situation and can think of new ways to tackle it.

Sense of Control: Resilient people tend to have what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”. They don't blame external causes but believe we all have the power to make choices that affect our current situation and our future.

Problem-Solving Skills: Resilient individuals are able to calmly, rationally look at a problem and envision a successful solution.

Social Connections: They know talking about challenges to friends, family members, co-workers, and online support groups is an excellent way to gain perspective, find new solutions, and express emotions — all of which shrink problems to a more manageable size.

Self-identifying as a Survivor: The resilient don't consider themselves to be victims of circumstance but instead look for ways to resolve issues and stay focused on a positive outcome.

Asking for Help: While being resourceful, they also  know when to ask for help.

Keeping Perspective. The broken arm that felt like a big deal shrunk to nothing beside my bother's life-or-death vigil at the hospital. The computer theft, that would have taken much of my thoughts under ordinary circumstances, has hardly been noticed. The wave could have pulled me out to sea. The intensive care could have failed. The house as well as the garden could have gone up in flames. It can, as we always tend to say at these times, always be worse.

It's true that these ways of coping with trouble help but, in my experience, not all that much. They're not enough to coax me out from under the desk. What works for me when the bad stuff kicks in is a different approach, one that makes meaning out of the misfortune, and thereby transforms it.

That's the creative take on trouble. More on that next time.

Have a great week and, now that the arm's better, see you again next Sunday — and every Sunday after.