Learning From Adversity in 2014

2014 was one of the worst years ever for in many ways. It opened up lots of unpleasant doors, but as the cliché goes, for a writer, everything is material, no matter how awful. Even when we're suffering, part of us is observing the situation and thinking, "This would make a great story."
12/31/2014 08:41 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2014 was one of the worst years ever for me in many ways. It opened up lots of unpleasant doors, but as the cliché goes, for a writer, everything is material, no matter how awful. Even when we're suffering, part of us is observing the situation and thinking, "This would make a great story." That perspective is often what helps keep us centered and happy in the face of adversity, because we know we'll eventually rise above it. And write.

Here's just one example of the year's dark gifts.

I was in a car accident right after a successful writers conference. I was the keynoter, and dozens of people told me I was inspiring and funny, which is exactly what I had aimed for. So I was driving home confident and relaxed, with plenty of time to get there and nothing scheduled for the rest of the day (except maybe resting on my laurels).

It started to rain, I-75 got slippery, and all I remember next was the bizarre experience of waking up in a wide grassy median wondering where I was, wondering why the air bags were on, and wondering what I was supposed to do next.

Luckily the police arrived quickly (some passing motorist must have called them before I could even reach for my phone). They checked to see if I was okay. The top of my head was a bit sore, but otherwise I was fine and the car was drivable; I was able to get home after they cut away the air bags. They didn't ticket me, telling me the road conditions were the problem.

I have a vague memory of someone having veered into my lane and forcing me into the median, but I wouldn't swear to that. It was all very confusing.

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Two days later, I was suddenly not fine. I experienced nausea, dizziness, headaches, slurred speech, and an inability to find words. My family doctor ordered me to the ER and they ran a battery of tests over four hours. This was the first time I'd ever had a concussion. It was both awful and educational. For weeks afterwards I couldn't bend over; the headaches under varying conditions continued for awhile; I had problems with short-term memory; and the most bizarre symptom of all was this: When I'd try to figure out the tip in restaurants, I felt as if the numbers on the bill were actually dancing in my head.

It may sound morbid, but for a writer, nothing is ever wasted or lost. As difficult or depressing as fighting past the symptoms was, I also found myself recording them, studying them, filing them away. I was fascinated. Likewise with the brief amnesia. I still have no memory of what exactly happened between when I was on the road and when I woke up in the median. But that's okay, because the absence itself is intriguing material.

It's all a bit like what Little Red Riding Hood sings in Sondheim's Into The Woods: "And I know things now/Many valuable things/That I hadn't known before." Knowledge like that is mixed, of course, because her bittersweet song ends: "Isn't it nice to know a lot!/And a little bit not."

On to 2015.....

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Lev Raphael's most recent book is a novel of suspense about stalking, gun violence and police militarization: Assault With a Deadly Lie.