On “Not Writing,” with apologies to Anne Boyer
When I am not writing I am not writing a collection of poetry called Tributaries or Wildfire or Noxious Species. I am not writing about river tributary systems or the hottest summer on record or the call to cull introduced species in urban wild places. I am not writing about wanting to write in the morning from 8 to 10 am before teaching or the reality of writing from 8 to 10 pm in the evening after teaching, meetings, boundless emails.
I am not writing a memoir called Wayfinding. I am not writing about refusing my own vulnerability. I am not writing about those complicated years of chronic illness. I am not writing about those three surgeries in a matter of months because I’m recovering from yet another surgery and could not bear to tell anyone because it was not about necessity but the possibility of relieving pain. I am not writing emails to friends and family for failing to inform them. I am not writing about how unsettling it is to feel less pain.
I am also not writing fifteen pages for a university press on how to promote a book that felt like it nearly killed me to write. When I am not writing I am not writing about cancer. I am not writing Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair. I am not writing Critically Crip: The Poetry and Poetics of Chronic Illness.
When I am not writing I am not writing applications for OHIP, for Sun Life, for Ontario drivers’ licences, vehicle registration and car insurance. I am not writing applications for Group Life Insurance and Long-Term Disability Insurance. I am not writing to transfer my prescriptions from Edmonton to Toronto. I am not writing to enquire if the doctor is accepting New Patients.
I am also not writing to enquire about a New Patient Visit. I am not writing to Endodontics and Periodontics. I am not writing to explain that after a cross country move I managed to misplace my night guard and while I do not feel particularly stressed I managed to crack at least three molars in the last four months. I am not writing to say I did not realise I had broken a tooth with the force of my unconscious grinding and clenching. I am not writing to say that I understand that dental implants are now my only viable option. I am not writing to explain that I do in fact have extended health insurance with a dental plan.
I am not writing to my surgeon in another province for a follow up appointment and to immediately thereafter book a revision procedure. I am not writing to say I will only be in the province for three days. I am not writing to update my information with the bank, with the credit cards, with Canada Revenue Agency. I am not writing to update the lab, the medical imaging centre.
When I am not writing I am reading eulogies. I’m obsessively searching the internet for words of solace I don’t deserve. I am spewing angry tears for poets I had not yet met in person. I am rereading our brief email exchanges. I am writing emails to colleagues to say I didn’t know and I’m gutted.
When I am not writing I am writing texts to those I love to ask about the first day of high school, about teaching middle school, about new jobs and new sparks. I am telling my love that we are okay right now and that is enough. I am not writing to find a new vet, I haven’t forgotten. I am wondering what my dog would write about if she had pen and paper. I am thanking her for her fierce companionship in all these days of not writing.
Emilia Nielsen’s debut book, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013), was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Body Work, her second book of poetry, was published by Signature Editions in spring 2018. She is the author of the scholarly text Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair forthcoming with the University of Toronto Press in spring 2019. She recently joined York University’s Health and Society Program in the Department of Social Science as a tenure track Assistant Professor in Arts, Medicine and Healing.