This year I did something completely new; I dressed as a Native American and marched in the 4th of July Parade. I’ll admit it, I was hesitant at first, afraid that I’d look silly but then, as I was getting my costume together I realized that that was the point. Get goofy, be ridiculous, and push beyond your comfort zone.
And how was the experience? An absolute blast. As a member of the Salinan Tribe I got to spend time with one of my best friends, meet wonderful people, and wave at adorable munchkins along the parade route. And did I mention that I had my own personal leather-skinned drum to bang on the whole way? The rhythms it made were awkward at first but soon I was marching to a silly beat.
I’m walking into the doctor’s office for my two week follow up since ACL surgery. A time to get stitches out and ask those nagging questions at the back of my mind. Am I doing the exercises correctly? Did I hurt anything by doing 100 reps instead of thirty? How soon can I do weights at the gym? Can I swim?
And most of all, how long do I have to wear this stupid brace that makes me walk like a peg leg in an old black and white pirate flick?
My doctor snips the blue nylon and pulls the stitches out with a needle-nosed instrument.” Ouch, that one hurt,” I say as he mumbles normal normal a couple of times. Next, he asks me to straighten my leg and bend my leg, nods approvingly when I can. I’ll have to admit that I am pretty proud of doing my exercises so religiously to get to this point.
“Time to start walkng without the brace,” he says demonstrating a careful tread across the floor. Baby steps at first and then more and more as your leg gets stronger.
Embarrassed to try in front of him I just ask my questions before thanking him
But once home I rip off the brace and take my first tentative steps across the floor. Strange to feel my naked leg shaking as I go heal toe from the kitchen to the living room. Wobbling, I reach out an arm for the couch and make it.
My first baby steps.
Here it is Day Three since my surgery and the nerve block just wore off. Now I’m beginning to get an idea of what pain really comes with ACL repair. You don’t know? Well imagine that there are a five sadistic torturers sitting right next to you who take sharp serrated knives and stab your knee every time you move. That’s close to what it feels like. If you multiply by seven.
Now I know I’m supposed to do these range of motion exercises which are simply bending and straightening the leg but the sadists keep jabbing me with their blades every time I move. The doctor says to bend ninety degrees. Ninety? Hello. Even half that is excruciating.
Come on Laurie, you can do it. I tell myself while cradling my leg. Take a deep breath and go slow.
My knee is as stiff as rigor mortis at first but by the fourth try it bends. Counting, I breathe in and out. “…seven, eight, nine..”
Push through. Go farther.
And I do.
There they are: two dull grey appendages leaning against the wall daring me to get up and use them.
But it’ll hurt! I think looking down at my bandaged knee. It’s too soon. I can’t. The doctor said I had to be careful.
So I wait.
An hour later they’re still there. Now the dare has turned into a judgmental glare. Did you know that crutches can glare? Well they can. When a post-operative knee patient refuses to get off the couch, they give the dirtiest looks imaginable.
I try shooting dirty looks back but know it’s no good. I turn on the tv. They don’t disappear. I try looking the other way. Still there. I bury my face in a book.
Now the looks have turned into whispers.
“Come on, Laurie. Get up. You can lean on me,” the crutches say.
“Shut-up. You don’t know how much it hurts,” I growl back.
But they are insistent, a constant susurration that finally makes me shout, “Fine, have it your way!”
The pain is excruciating as I try to get up. But as I reach for their steel support I’m surprised that it throbs just a little bit less.
Maybe a crutch is only a crutch until you tentatively step forward.
As writers we can battle two-headed monsters with one hand tied behind our backs, leap over slimy armies on magical skateboards, or run faster than speeding chariots. On paper that is. But if we leap too high in the real world, like I did on the dance floor, we end up with torn ACL’s that need repair. Now we are stopped dead in our tracks, staring at our wrapped knee wondering if we are ever going to run or leap again.
So here I am, the day after surgery woozy and scared that maybe having the operation was a mistake, maybe it didn’t work, and I’ll never be able to dance like I did before. Trying to fight back tears I look at these contraptions attached to my leg. With tubes draining excess fluid into a plastic reservoir and a refrigerating machine to keep swelling down, I think, This is not my leg. Someone replaced it while I was sleeping.
Not wanting to deal, I look away and turn to the numbing television set in front of me. But after a couple of hours of this pity party I start to think. If this were a chapter in one of my novels, what would the protagonist do? Would she lay there crying and feeling sorry for herself? Or would this lead her to dig deep inside and find a strength she always had but may have set aside for a while?
Personally, I like strong characters so I grab my crutches, get up from the couch, and do a shuffling lap around the house. It hurts like hell, stinging sharp fingers digging their claws into my knee but I clench my jaw and keep moving. Soon I realize that I have the power. I can approach this problem with as much strength as the characters in my books and battle any two-headed monster that comes my way.
Like many writers I have focused in on individual book sales. Like the chapters in my fantasy novels, I’ve taken baby steps toward what I thought was the ultimate: THE BOOK DEAL. Then a friend introduced me to the idea of branding, of thinking beyond a book or series. He told me that my Artania novels were perfect intellectual properties for branding and advised I attend the Las Vegas Licensing Expo for examples. Now, I’ll admit to being absolutely overwhelmed when I first entered that huge conference hall with hundred of displays with names like Universal, Pixar, and DreamWorks. I walked from booth to booth in a bit of a daze wondering how the heck a little old writer like me fit in with such mega-successes. Then I hugged a cuddly monkey and realized. Perfectly. Every single one of the intellectual properties began like Artania did, with an idea. Some were single sketches. Others fashion lines. A few like me were dreamers who loved to create entire worlds with epic battles of good versus evil. So I got to work. And it was a lot like revising my novels. I took my query, tweaked it for a business market and made a one pager. I was pleased with the results. And surprise, surprise, surprise: so was everyone I gave it to. The response was so positive many people asked for meetings about my novels. So if you’d like to see your novels become household names with characters so recognizable that goofy people like me want to hug them, then think about branding. It just might make all the difference.