The Evolutioin of a Story

“I pulled away from the gas pump—


I looked to Joyce. “What the hell was that?”

“I think that must have been the gas nozzle. I guess you forgot to take it out.”

A volcano inside me erupted with a massive explosion as I slammed on the brakes.

How dared Joyce insinuate it was my fault? I forgot to take the nozzle out?

I worked my jaw. “I asked you to keep an eye on it while I was gone!”

“I guess I didn't hear you.”

Red hot lava spewed into the skies with another explosion. She'd nodded when I asked. Of course she'd heard me.”

I was writing about my latest explosion. Since the brain surgeries, like many other brain injury survivors, I occasionally have episodes where I go from mild irritation to red hot fury in a nanosecond. So far I've managed to muffle my rage and bring it under control before I cause any real damage, but the battle to do so is hard won.

When I first started writing, I assumed the essay was about rage. The episode I described took place on the way to returning my daughter's dog, Gus, after he'd been with me for three weeks. But the essay wouldn't gel. I messed around with it, tweaking it here and there, rearranging, adding details, deleting chunks.

But it didn't feel right. I let it sit for a while.

A few weeks later, while taking a shower, my roaming thoughts brushed against the issue. Perhaps the story wasn't really about rage? Startled, my mind zoomed in. If it wasn't about rage, what was it about? And the answer popped out at me—it was about Gus, about dogs, about whether I needed a service dog. A few years ago, Cindy had suggested I get a service dog to help me through spells of sensory overload. But I wasn't convinced I needed one.

Excited, I dried myself and got dressed, then sat down at the computer and started typing, exploring the whys and the wherefores of my thoughts on the subjects. I wrote for a good couple of hours, and then got stuck. Once again, the story wouldn't gel. After a few days, while in the shower, I found myself thinking about the essay, revisiting my doubts about my need for a service dog.

Whenever I had a major issue with the bloody brain, such as sensory overload, within minutes it lost its immediacy and shortly thereafter. By the next day, I frequently forgot it had ever happened. Then it hit me, the reason I thought it would be ridiculous for me to get a service dog was because the bad brain days quickly became hazy memories at best.

That was it: the essay was about the bloody brain taking me by surprise. The bout of rage took me by surprise because I hadn't had one in a while. I thought I had no need for a service dog because memories of bad brain incidents wouldn't stick, and often, ill-prepared, the bloody brain caught me unawares.

After the shower, I sat at my computer. The words flowed onto the screen. I had so much material to work with. I spent the next few days playing adding anecdotes, cutting others, reflecting on particular examples. And then I got stuck again.

Until my shower this morning, which led me to my next epiphany. My focus was wrong—I needed to explore the how and why. Why did the bloody brain manage to surprise me? It wasn't just about my lousy memory. It was also about my need to prove to myself that I'm not a malingerer. It was also about wishful thinking, about wanting to be “normal,” like the neuro-typicals.

I rushed to my computer and started typing. Perhaps the essay will gel. Or not—perhaps there's another epiphany in the shower in my near future.

Often, as I write, what starts out as one story, evolves into something completely different. I love the process, and when the story finally gels, my emotions transform from excitement, my thoughts jumping up and down with delight, to relief, as if my brain found its sweet spot and can now relax and smell the roses.