Maybe if She Posted More Often, She Wouldn’t Have Usen 1400 Words in One Entry.

by Alexa on January 27, 2010

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that we had a spot of excitement this past weekend, including a baby with a fever of 107, an ambulance ride, and a febrile seizure. It was…well. I think it was the most afraid I have ever been, including all 96 days in the NICU. Apparently these things happen, and it was just a small, fierce virus, but if some Friday you are thinking to yourself “gee, wouldn’t it be funny if my two-year old had an absence seizure while her brain began to poach?” the answer is NO. Also, if you are a NICU mother who stole retained one small oxygen tank (Just in case! You never know!) after the home medical company retrieved the rest, and if your husband discovers this a few months later and makes you return it, and if your baby then refrains from breathing after having a seizure, you should feel free to take this to mean that if the worst had happened, said husband would have been liable for all funeral expenses.

And that is all I will say about that, because revisiting that night, and the way I screamed to Scott to call an ambulance and pressed frozen sweet potato fries to my baby’s back as I thought I might very well be watching her die—is not something I can do, right now. You should know, by the way, that JUST BEFORE that happened I had started a post wondering what unpleasantness January had in store for me THIS year. Ha HA! Next year I am spending the month in a bunker.

So, let’s move on. I have another horrifying story to tell you, one I would be far too ashamed of myself to share, if I had any dignity left at all. Luckily (?) for you, I do not.

It was a dark and stormy night—or dark, anyway—when something occurred that caused me to close my laptop earlier than usual, with a terrified snap. Something that made it suddenly, strikingly clear that I was a danger to myself and others. Myself, because it was my own beloved book I was writing, and others, because they might, one day, have to read it.

What happened, you ask?

USEN.
Does that look like a word, to you?
(Hint: IT SHOULDN’T.)

I’d been typing merrily—or at least persistently—along, and when I paused to look over my last few paragraphs, I noticed that spell-check had a problem with one of my words. “Usen,” to be specific.
I reread the sentence. And again. Huh. Maybe it was some sort of glitch? I erased the word and retyped it, then reran spell check manually. Still, the accusing red squiggle remained.
I was annoyed. “Usen,” as I well knew, was the past participle of “to use.” For instance, in the past perfect: “She’d usen that verb many times in the past.” Or maybe with an auxiliary verb in the passive voice: “Handkerchiefs were usen for staunching the flow of exhausted tears.”

Typing “usen” in the first place was bad. Not noticing anything amiss until spell-check pointed it out was worse. But worst of all was that EVEN AFTER SPELL-CHECK SUGGESTED I REPLACE “USEN” WITH “USED,” I was unconvinced.

Friends, I Googled it. I Googled “usen,” determined to find evidence that it was an actual word. It was only then, as I scrolled through the results, that I realized what should have been obvious: I had been writing for far, far too long that day.
I wouldn’t have thought anything short of head injury could cause me to forget how to conjugate regular English verbs. I remembered past participles, even while insisting that “usen” was among them. I have been conjugating the verb “to use” for nearly 30 years, and I think I do a satisfactory job of it. In fact, when telling this story to my mother, I used (SEE? THERE!) that particular verb several times—correctly.

(My poor mother, by the way. You should have seen her face. The horror. The concern. The fear!
Usen?” she kept asking, incredulous.
“Usen,” I whispered, hanging my head. I had broughten shame upon our family.)

In addition to being horrifying, I think this story is an excellent illustration of just how hard I have been working, hard enough to slowly liquefy vital parts of my gray matter, the parts where my grammar were stored. So you will excuse me if I am still more absent than I would like to be, here. (USEN. USEN!)

I’d planned to attend the Mom 2.0 conference in Houston next month, as it fell fortuitously on the weekend after my manuscript was due. Alas, I discovered that the editing part of my book schedule is as XXXTREME as the writing portion, the entirety to be completed within a harrowingly slight window. Any changes I want to make must be complete by the 22nd of February, and then the copyeditor and editor work in a flurry, and I implement their changes before the first week of March, when my manuscript is sent away to the design department to be tarted up into a book. My publication date is so near (August 10th! Unless you are at BlogHer! In which case you may buy a copy DAYS in advance!), that the pages read by reviewers and any Fancy Persons I wish to ask for blurbs will be only exactly as polished as they are when I relinquish them to design. Later I will make corrections to the typeset version, but there you have it: FIN.
For some reason, this news threw my spleen into disarray.

It’s silly, because it’s not as if I’d planned to turn in a BAD manuscript on my deadline, but somehow I thought there would be all this time afterward, for editing or changing my mind about things should I wake covered in a cold sweat, convinced that Chapter Fifteen ought properly to be Chapter Four. I have a week after my original deadline of the 15th to edit, but still, knowing that what I turn in on the 22nd may not be terribly different from what ends up on someone’s SHELF, next to real authors—James Thurber, maybe, or sandwiched between Ian Frazier and Joan Didion, the two of them drawing their covers subtly away from mine in distaste—means I’m not going anywhere next month. (Related: anybody want to buy my non-refundable Mom 2.0 early-bird registration pass?)

This weekend, I am taking my Crazy Person’s Bulletin Board to a sort of hippie Wellness Retreat Compound Center Spa Inn, where I shall lock myself in my room to work, emerging only for the occasional calming dip in the therapy pool, or to have my third eye massaged. It’s a vital and luxurious expanse of uninterrupted time, and if I DO lose my mind as I hurtle down the literary homestretch, at least I will already be at what amounts to a sanitarium, eliminating the need for padded transport.

It is odd to know that in less than six weeks, the task that has consumed the last six months of my life will be complete. Though the only reward I require is a book that doesn’t make my copy of The Fran Lebowitz Reader curl its pages in disgust, I have scheduled a small vacation to celebrate. I will be visiting Philadelphia, where I have never been, with one of my very best friends—whom I have technically never met, lengthy daily telephone conversations notwithstanding. I’ll see my editor, and plan to shuffle gratefully into her chamber to anoint her feet with sacred oils. Afterwards I’m off to peruse a nearby museum of medical curiosities, so it is virtually guaranteed to be a successful trip.

You’ll hear from me before that, though. Simone’s birthday (TWO??) is on the 8th, and naturally I’ll want to do some sort of victory lap here when I turn in my manuscript, and again after I finish incorporating the editorial changes and send my baby on its way. I will probably cry a little, remembering all the good times we had, my book and I, wrestling playfully with one another over tense and prodding newborn metaphors forward on their wobbly legs.
But THEN I will finally get back to business, the good olde fashioned business of boring you with discussions of toilet training, and what my Jersey Shore nickname would be (“The Tacit Premise”), and my newfound obsession with polygamy. So wait for me, please, like I’m in prison and you’re unexpectedly carrying my child. I think of you often.

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