The Inspiration of Pain

By James Wallace Harris – September 28, 2014

I haven’t been writing this week because I have a pinched nerve in my neck that makes my arm ache if I sit at the computer. This has been very depressing.  What’s that old saying about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone? Man is it true!  One reason I haven’t hated having the spinal stenosis and not being able to walk much or stand for long periods of time, is because I could sit and work at the computer to my heart’s content.  I hope some physical therapy will solve my neck and arm problem, because my dream years of retirement are planned around sitting at a computer.

Another old saying comes to mind – “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”  It’s funny how so many of these cliched old sayings mean so much more when you’re in pain.  Since I can’t sit in a regular chair I wondered if I could type with a computer in my La-Z-Boy. Since I don’t travel I don’t keep a laptop handy, but luckily I had my wife’s old one in the closet. I spent all day yesterday and the day before trying to get a version of Linux on that old laptop. Every version I tried had trouble with the video or wi-fi card, or the system would flat out crash. I eventually discovered that an older version of Ubuntu, 12.04, would work, and I could make it work with the video and wi-fi. I also learned that even though I think Elementary OS is more beautiful than Ubuntu, Ubuntu is more suited to my needs because of the apps it runs.

I’m now writing in my La-Z-Boy with the laptop on a cutting board and me reclined. I needed the cutting board because this old HP laptop runs so hot it burns my legs. But the experiment works, my left arm doesn’t hurt nearly as much as sitting up. It’s one temporary solution inspired by pain.

This morning I watched “Building a monument to wounded warriors” on CBS Sunday Morning about a new monument on the Washington Mall devoted to permanently disabled soldiers from all wars. They interviewed a number of solders and they each explained how their disability inspired them to overcome obstacles and to become even better people. That really made me feel wimpy. I don’t want to not write, so I have to be like them and think of ways around the obstacles. Even this solution is wearing on my arm, but I can’t stop.

I’m also reminded of the book, The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks, about people who suffered visual problems because of a stroke. Sack’s book is far scarier than anything Stephen King has ever written. It’s one thing to overcome pain and disability, it’s another thing altogether to overcome altered states of being. The thing is, unless your dead you have to keep moving forward, and it’s surprising how much a human can adapt.

Besides fixing up an old computer with Linux, writing this essay has forced me to learn to write with the WordPress editor under Chrome. That’s good because I’m thinking about getting a Chromebook. It would be much lighter and cooler to use when writing from my lap, but it means giving up all the Microsoft Windows tools I’m so used to using now. And that’s part of the lesson of adapting – doing things in a new way.

When I first configured this Ubuntu Linux machine I also found software to replace all my Windows applications. Then it occurred to me that Chromebooks mean doing everything in Chrome and I could try that now. This has been an excellent lesson. It’s so damn annoying not to be doing things my old way, but I’m learning that there are many ways to do something and I shouldn’t be so attached to any particular way, especially if my body is going to keep changing on me.


7 thoughts on “The Inspiration of Pain”

  1. Well good for you getting that new set-up going! I write from my MacAirBook these days – but I sit at my desk in the office/study/den, keeping an eye on CNN (or something), and reading off my iPad on the same desk. My son had to devise a treadmill workstation – he did a fair job.

    I’d hate to have to relearn my old Mac ways – they’ve change enough within themselves over the past 20 years.

    Good luck and good health!

    1. Before I retired, I met several people who installed standing desks. Then I saw a show about people combining standing desks with treadmills. They said, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

      If I keep having these problems, my next experiment will be with voice recognition software.

  2. This was inspiring to read. It is interesting how people deal with pain. Some may cop out because of it while others use it as a tool, such as inspiration. Oddly, while reading your essay a line from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood popped into my head (I spent all day today watching it and drawing): “…if you can endure that pain and walk away from it, you’ll find that you now have a heart strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yeah… a heart made Fullmetal.” The character was talking about pain from sacrifice and from learning but I think it relates to your essay. Pain calls upon endurance, which, in some cases, then calls upon inspiration to help the person devise a way to keep moving forward.

  3. Sorry to hear of your pain but kudos on finding work arounds.

    Thanks for finding a way to put the date at the top of the article as I had requested in the comments a couple posts ago.

    1. Larry, you reminded me that I too always like to know when something is written and by who. I just have to remember to always write my name and date. It’s not a built in setting.

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