Sometimes I’m really surprised I’ve never written a novel set in a hospital. The gods know I’ve seen enough of ’em–or did between the ages of nine months and fifteen years. I was born with hydrocephalus. That’s a fancy Latinate term for ‘water on the brain’, but what it’s meant for me is that I have a tube in the right side of my head that siphons away spinal fluid–not actually water–so I won’t die. Dying, when you’re trying to be an author, and also just generally enjoy this cool place called life, is pretty inconvenient.
It was also pretty inconvenient to have about half a dozen brain surgeries between those years I just mentioned, and a whole lot of doctor’s appointments, including procedures ranging from the merely annoying (routine blood tests, EEGs and x-rays) to the really painful (a spinal tap I had around the age of ten). But it was necessary–like I said, dying is something I’d like to put off for as long as possible.
Being hydrocephalic, for me, has also meant going through life with a head a lot larger than most other peoples’, and at the least of it, not being able to find a hat that’ll fit my head most of the time, and at the worst of it, having cars slow down on the street while people point at my head and laugh. I’ve even been asked a time or two if my head ‘was real.’ (Seriously? Yeah, it’s real. It also meant that I got through high school without ever attending gym class, because my parents were afraid I’d suffer a head injury, which is a lot worse for a hydrocephalic kid than an average one.
Maybe it’s no surprise that I like science fiction movies and novels, and that I write science fiction, too. I’ve wondered a time or two if these guys weren’t relatives of mine:
But being hydrocephalic has done more for me than give me obstacles to overcome or reasons to be thankful for the gifts I do have, and the things I’m able to do. I think–I hope, at least–it’s given me a sense of compassion for everybody who’s different, for everyone who has more to deal with than others–in reality, I think it’s given me more compassion for people in general. It’s one of the main reasons I write the kind of stories I write–because science fiction, fantasy and horror are all, to some extent, about the Other–the alien, the monster, the feared, the misunderstood–and I feel like I’ve been on the inside of that, a time or two. It’s made it easy for me to write about Martin Cabot, an English teacher who looks at life and literature from another perspective because he’s also a vampire, or Annah of Evohe, a teenage girl from another planet whose story, I hope, shows readers that even someone on another planet can have birth defects, bullying–and dreams she wants to achieve. The man Annah loves, a human named Gary Holder, is hydrocephalic, like me–and when PDMI sponsored “Annah’s” premiere party in Gadsden, Alabama in 2013, part of the proceeds from sales were donated to hydrocephalus research. I was happy they did that, and happy my publisher, Tc McKinney, was there for the occasion. He looked happy about it, too.
No, like the title of this post says, spinal taps aren’t fun, or hospitals either. But our experiences in life add up to stories that make us who we are–and if we happen to tell stories ourselves, that can come in awfully handy. I’ve done more in my life than most people would have thought possible for me to achieve, and like my girl Annah in the Children of Evohe series, I’m still trying to touch those stars that are just out of my reach. But the things I’ve seen and done show me that it’s possible, and through words like these–and the ones in my books–I plan to keep showing others that it’s possible for them, too.