I’m on my way home from Hawaii as I write this. I’ve just spent a luxurious week at the Grand Wailea hotel on Maui, a resort that boasts a swimming pool about which I had previously only dreamed. Various swimming pools at different elevations are connected by canals and water slides. It’s amazing, like being at Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, but without the boat.
Living in Seattle doesn’t give me much opportunity to swim, so I was in the water as often as I could. I haven’t played in a pool like that since I was a kid.
On day three of the vacation, circumstances intervened. I was splashing down the largest of the water slides, feeling weightless and exhilarated. When I plunged into the swimming pool below, I turned over in such a way that water sloshed in one of my ears, abruptly cutting off all sound from that side. It was like hearing everything through a long and narrow tunnel.
The last time I had water in my ear I was ten years old, but I remembered that if I turned my head and made a suction cup out of my hand, the water would trickle out and all would be well. I tried this and to my relief, the sound came rushing back, only to be blocked again when I oriented my head back to normal. I tried several more times, but no luck. I had no choice but to wait for it to self-correct.
About an hour later the same thing happened, but this time in my left ear. Now sound was cut off completely. Everything sounded distant and far away, the way it does in war movies when artillery detonates next to the film’s protagonist.
Again, I tried to coax the water out, with much the same results. The sudden loss of my hearing, even though I knew it would be temporary, was utterly disconcerting. Even more so at dinnertime, when I was still plugged up. The live music drifting over the restaurant balcony sounded like a dissonant murmur. The exotic birdcalls from the nearby trees had been reduced to a cloudy warble. It’s going to self-correct, my wife insisted. Don’t worry about it. But it didn’t help that she sounded like she was speaking from the bottom of a mineshaft.
When I woke up the next morning, still plugged up, I tried not to freak out. I called the consulting nurse in Seattle, but she gave me the same sort of witch doctor like advice that I’d already received from the Internet, which included the suggestion to direct a hairdryer on low heat level at or near my ear in the hopes that the water within would somehow evaporate.
That morning at breakfast I was disconsolate. Nothing else about my situation had changed. It was still warm. The sun still shone. There was a plate of tasty food in front of me. A day of fun lay ahead. Yet I couldn’t get past the loss of my hearing, a faculty that I had for all this time took for granted.
By that evening I’d managed to locate eardrops that solved the problem. The vacation resumed, but the trauma lingered.
Intellectually, I’d known everything was going to be okay, yet still I’d let fear blot out all the good things around me. Trying to find some lesson here, I thought about my daily writing sessions, how well things go when I’m in my regular routine, but how quickly things fall apart when life gets out of hand or some major project begins to intrude on every aspect of daily living. My writing sessions always seem to be the first thing that I cut from my agenda.
I realize now that they are all just distractions masking a deeper fear. Maybe in truth there is some as yet unidentified plot problem haunting me that I am unconsciously avoiding. Maybe I am trying to follow some writing advice with which I do not agree and the inner conflict is sending life distractions my way.
The truth is, despite outer circumstances, I can always choose my focus, how I think and react. If nothing else, writing time can be spent journaling, allowing me to explore creatively what fear I am trying to avoid. In the end it’s Butt in Chair time that counts.
Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.