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The Unbearable Reality of Being Idle

Doing nothing doesn’t suit me very well. It probably doesn’t suit many of us. Not only is it boring, it is enervating, encouraging even more inactivity.


So, over the past week, as I have begged for an end to an illness that has caused my immobility, I have renewed my compassion for those whose illnesses are more permanent, chronic, and incurable. At least I can see an end—perhaps as much as six months down the road—to this sickness, even if my underlying condition is chronic and incurable.


I remember as a child thinking that if I could pretend to be sick, I could stay home from school, curl up in bed with a good book, and avoid all the unpleasantness that came with trying to fit in with my classmates. (Clearly, I was an introverted and socially awkward child. Homely, too.) So, as I suffered through this past week, I tried to fill my time with reading, watching golf on TV, and sleeping. Unfortunately, I was stuck in the middle of a long, academic and expensive tome that I should have quit reading a couple of weeks ago, which made reading much less fun. Watching golf only made me more anxious to get up and move, but I couldn’t. I don't have any interest in most TV programming, and I have now discovered the limit of the number of hours I can sleep in a week.


(For more information about how I got sick, read to the end of this blog. If you really don’t want the specifics, stop when you get to that part.)


This has made me miserable, not just physically, but emotionally as well. How can I be a writer if I can’t sit at the computer and write? But the good thing, the pause has made me focus on near-term goals—what do I want to accomplish when I can get to work again? And if you liked The Rebel Nun, what might I offer you to read next?



My latest novel is The Candlemaker’s Woman, about a young girl who is sold into slavery to enable her family to migrate from the Hun-infested lands north of the Danube into Gaul in the early fifth century. I am tinkering with what must be the eighteenth draft. I love this coming-of-age story of self-actualization, and until I get it placed with a publisher, I continue to tinker.


I have also written the first draft of a sequel to The Rebel Nun. It still needs much work, but it feels great to have it underway. And I’m researching a new novel about a Frankish woman who married into an Arian Visigothic dynasty in Spain and who tries to bring Catholic orthodoxy to the ruling family. When her husband’s conversion instigates a civil war, she and her infant son must escape the kingdom. Like The Rebel Nun, it’s not so much about religion as much as familial, political and palace intrigue.


You may wonder why I stick to this early-medieval time frame for my novels. Simple: Once you’ve done a bunch of research into a particular time, its rulers, its wars, and the life of its common folk, you feel at home there. And each subsequent novel takes that much less time to research.


So, I guess I am lazy after all!


***


Now if you want to know how I got sick, read on.


This all happened because I was “glutenated,” as clinicians say. That is, gluten-poisoned. Ever since I discovered I have celiac disease about a decade ago, I have been as disciplined as a vegan (in a different way) in what I eat. I cross-examine restaurant waiters and chefs as if they intended to poison me. My husband, Ben, and I cook nearly every meal at home where we can control the ingredients. And I only buy “gluten-free” products that are made in certified gluten-free facilities.


But last week, I made a mistake. I ordered a “gluten-free tuna salad on mixed greens” at an outdoor café, and I didn’t quiz the waiter or chef about the vinegar used in the vinaigrette. I shouldn’t have had to, since I had specified “gluten-free,” but that’s the world celiacs live in. The vinegar, it turned out, was malt vinegar, made from barley, which contains gluten.


Hence, the lining of my intestines were scraped raw by the chemical sandpaper of my overreactive immune system, and I have been lying around in misery, making my poor husband equally—if mentally, not physically—as miserable. It will take between three and six months for my intestines to recover, and a couple of weeks before the immediate discomfort passes. Meanwhile, I have to avoid alcohol, fruit, green vegetables, red meat, and dairy–all the things I love–and have to rely on easy-to-digest bananas, non-gluten toast, and rice. Blech. So boring I might even lose some weight!


So, please. When people tell you they can’t eat gluten, don’t sniff. It’s real. And the consequences of “poisoning” are painful and long-lasting.

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