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If all else fails, you can still write

In Reasons on April 5, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Question: when someone suggests that you should write for a living, is the most appropriate response always to blush and feel extremely flattered?

Answer: no.

A number of acquaintances have said these or similar warm words to me without ever having read a single sentence I’ve written – probably a fortunate escape for them, since they don’t bear the resulting mental scars and remain blissfully free from concerns about my psychological well-being. They are merely aware that I happen to favour spending my days in near solitary confinement, bashing away at a keyboard, transfixed by the cool glow of the laptop’s screen, and occasionally pausing to sit back and look suitably pensive as I ruminate on the great work of art I am creating. Like all writers do, of course. (Note to self: must get fountain pen to suck thoughtfully.)

In one case, however, I believe that the advice to ‘take up thy thesaurus and write’ was offered out of a mistaken belief that I simply couldn’t do anything else – that this was the only option available for someone in my position.

In 2006, I became physically disabled when my right leg was amputated just above the knee. After two weeks in hospital – spent bedridden, entirely stupified and experiencing crazed hallucinations due to being administered industrial quantities of hardcore medication – I met the physiotherapist who would be leading my rehabilitation: a six foot tall, hard-faced, mean-spirited brick shithouse of a woman, with hair that appeared to have been welded to her head in the shape of a German army helmet, and a face like a smacked bulldog chewing a wasp. I took an instant dislike to her. Over the coming months of institutionalised care, that instant dislike would turn into obsessive, unhinged hatred.

During our initial conversation, she attempted to find out a little about my background, about who I was before The Tragic Event That Struck Me Down So Tragically In The Most Tragic Of Ways. She seemed disappointed when I was unable to reveal a gloriously active lifestyle as an amateur pole vaulting champion, a weekend bungee jumper or a part-time jungle adventurer, who now – “despite my disability” – harboured ambitions to indulge in acts of heroic but utterly futile bravado such as running the London Marathon or hopping across the United States on my one remaining leg. I did, however, tell her that I was a keen writer.

Bad move.

This physiotherapist was from the ‘old school’. She was obviously a firm believer in the medical rather than the social model of disability. By her reckoning, since I was now disabled I was also completely useless. I was going to be a burden on the state, I wouldn’t be able to function independently or look after myself for the rest of my life, and I could forget any fond ideas about returning to work. Her cold and clinical tick-box plan was to get me out of hospital into a residential home for some six to eight months, where I would continue to receive physiotherapy and rehabilitation until such a time as suitably adapted, possibly even sheltered, accommodation was found for me. Or I rotted away and became completely institutionalised. Whichever happened sooner.

“But at least you can write. You said that you enjoy writing. So you could be a writer.”

I can’t recall if those were her exact words, but they were certainly the sum total of the crumbs of comfort she tossed my way, as she sat opposite me and impatiently rustled my patient records a few inches from my face. She was slowly chewing some gum – a favourite habit of hers – using the same rather tentative manner of mastication you might employ if you were eating the head of a dead baby, and this action only served to accentuate her dismissive, sneering expression. Make no mistake, this wasn’t a recommendation borne out of some recognition of my astonishing literary genius, but rather because if I couldn’t do anything with a life that had now been rendered utterly pathetic in her eyes, I could at least sit on my arse all day and write.

Sadly, this assumption isn’t as rare or as far-fetched as you might think. Both before and since joining the ranks of the slightly wobbly, I have heard numerous tales from disabled people of being told that they should try writing – if not as a career option, then at least as something to do instead of apparently spending each day watching cookery programmes on daytime TV whilst draining the meagre coffers of the welfare system (which is what all disabled people do, or so the more sensationalist corners of the right-wing press would have you believe). Such wisdom is often dished out by occupational therapists and well-meaning counsellors, and is given even if their client has never voiced a burning desire to pursue a literary life.

Two and a half years later, I am not an undue burden on the state, I function independently and look after myself. I also hold down a busy full-time job. You may, however, deduce your own bitter irony from the fact that right now I would like to do nothing more than to sit on my arse all day and write.

As I state that desire here in black and white for all to see, I can almost feel my bête noire physiotherapist smirking at me, grimly triumphant.

So if you’re wondering how on earth you’re ever going to be able to find the time and space to dedicate yourself to writing, here’s my advice. First, get a felt tip pen and draw a dotted line around one of your legs. Just above the knee is good. Next, open a bottle of vodka and knock back the entire contents as quickly as humanly possible. Finally, grit your teeth and get a helpful friend to launch into your limb with a chainsaw. You might want to book ahead for your appointment with the physiotherapist though, as the waiting lists can get quite long.

Vaughan Simons has a prosthetic leg, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. Much. He calls himself the Editor of Writers’ Bloc, writes online as An Unreliable Witness, is a contributor to PIFFLE, and throws his other words and web detritus on Unreliably Witnessed. He’s also appeared in The Corduroy Mtn. His desire is to give up work and eke out the rest of his days as a feckless (disabled) wastrel with a nasty word habit.

  1. the ranks of the slightly wobbly

  2. omg. so many gems here. vaughan, i continue to love you. sincerely. i want to write an essay just on how this piece (i before e except after c..blah blah) made me think/feel/laugh in so many ways.

    can’t wait for you to email me with the cutting off the leg story. (hint)

    please let the record show that i loved vaughan even before i knew he had only a partial leg.

    omg. let’s get internet married.

  3. Gotdam that was good. No. Not good. Great.

  4. Local 369 representin

  5. Great piece. Loved the ‘ranks of the slightly wobbly’ bit and the ended tied it all up quite well.

  6. Oh my god again with the leg, every day it’s the fuckin leg, the fuckin leg, leg leg leg leg leg LEG.


    Really, I love this piece, I do. But you gotta get over this leg thing. It’s not healthy.

  7. vaughan you have mad skills, i told you before about my similar experience, i know what it is to be in the ranks of the wobbly and not just after many pints, enjoyed it

  8. Heh, I’ve always wondered when she was going to pop up in your writing. From what you’ve told me of her previously, you’ve entirely done her justice.

  9. Brilliant.

    (Although Ani has a point with the leg thing.)

  10. You know what, I’ve just realised that, as I’ve never met you, that the leg thing could be a big ruse just to get sympathy.

    So, ya big faker, I’d just like to say that was rather bloody good.

    I’m off to rework my last piece which I had hoped to submit to be published here but, frankly, I might be better advised to get myself a felt tip pen and a bottle of vodka…

  11. I have a burning need to punch that woman in the face, and since she already resembles ” a smacked bulldog chewing a wasp” I suspect this happens to her frequently.

  12. About halfway through, thouroghly engaged, I wondered if this was fiction. A nanosecond after, I decided t ddn’t matter; the voice was so good. I will be looking for your work everywhere.

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