I suffer from migraines every so often. These present with pressure, queasiness, mild pain, extreme light sensitivity, sometimes dizziness, crabbiness, and a general inability to function without heroic effort. Before I was diagnosed with them, I thought migraines always involved severe, debilitating pain, and I thought that the mild but doggedly persistent pain that characterized common headaches I had, pain which would last for days or weeks, was an indication of sinus headaches. On both counts I was quite wrong.
Whenever a migraine happens to me, I think about the word "scratch" as it's applied to horse racing. A guy in a gambling parlor reaching up to the blackboard and crossing through that particular horse with a great white X. Because if the migraine isn't that bad when it first hits, and I try to go about ordinary activities, it'll quickly become that bad, and the day is inevitably going to be shot. I can't function under the migraine. Whatever I had planned for that day goes out the window.
Perhaps the cruelest aspect of how migraines present for me is that I can't read with them, but I can watch TV. Sometimes I have to aim my eyes just to the side of the television, but I can still manage. MST3K is usually my go-to. Reading I can't do at all. It's too painful. For me to be "sick" and not able to read is fucking O. Henrian.
On Saturday morning I woke up fully in the grip of a migraine with intense vertigo. It was horrible to continue lying down, so I went to my computer, but reading from the screen made it worse. I sat in my red chair, trying not to close my eyes for longer than a few seconds, until Matt got up and I told him he'd have to do my errands without me. The rest of the day I spent watching MST, staring into space, and sleeping a little bit once the vertigo eased enough for me to recline on the couch. (Sleep is the only cure for a migraine that I know of.) It backed off by millimeters over the course of the day, enough for me to be able to keep my mind on a conversation by the evening, but yeah, the day was scratched. A lost day. No reading, no writing, no Facebook, no work.
That night I was lying in bed, waiting for sleep, when an idea bloomed in my mind. To be specific, it was the central plot line for the second Highbinder book. Not fully formed, but so perfect, so laden with conflict and adorned with puzzle-piece edges that will fit into other plot machinations, that I wanted to yank out my brain and give it a sloppy kiss. I got up and took a page of notes, and then went back to bed with my mind racing, adding all kinds of detail onto the chassis. Eventually I had to take some valerian to go to sleep.
I've been entertaining a passel of little ideas for the sequels since January, when I finished Highbinder, but none of them has stuck very well. This is the first Big Idea I've had, and I'm ridiculously grateful for it.
I couldn't help but think that the reason the idea finally came to me was that I made space for it. I spent an hour just looking at the ceiling on Saturday, waiting for the pressure to loosen. I didn't consume anything that wasn't already familiar - no internet essays, no books. Just MST, so comforting in its same-but-different-ness.
I don't think it's possible to read too many books, but I do think I've been generally consuming too much lately. I read a factoid sometime last year that the average American takes in more information in an average day than the average person would consume in a lifetime two centuries ago. I don't know how much truth there is to that (or how you'd begin to determine it, or even if I've got it wrong), but it all does seem overwhelming from time to time. I had hoped that reading widely and ravenously from places like Slate and the New York Times and all the blogs I follow would grant me a more diverse mind, dig me a deeper well of ideas. But I think lately I've just been overfilling my head. Lesson learned: sometimes you need an unasked-for day of space for the well-water to stay fresh.