For the last year, my body’s felt like it’s been trapped inside its own iron maiden. You know, one of those medieval torture devices the size of the human body with spikes in the interior. I read that the device was entirely made up, and that it wasn’t. I read that the first one, in fiction or fact, was used on a coin forger in 1515. Since we’re speaking about writing, I can’t help but say that this lends a certain gravitas to the crime of plagiarism, doesn’t it? Some also claim the iron maiden derives from fairy tales—a passion of mine.
I lived in this prison specifically because my disc herniated between the L4 and L5 vertebrae and pressed on my sciatic nerve. Constantly. I wanted to keep working; I needed to keep working. So, I managed my family’s tire store and transcribed courses for a student at Skidmore. I also kept writing and attending my bi-weekly writer’s group and sending work to various journals. But it hurt so much, especially getting up in the morning before the medicine kicked in, that I cried putting my underwear on.
Suspecting that I had cauda equina syndrome one day, (a condition affecting a bundle of nerve roots at the base of the spine which can lead to bowel and bladder dysfunction as well as paralysis), my surgeon sent me to the emergency room.
While I lay nervously on the table in my gown, checking email from my phone, another rejection entered my inbox. I was immediately struck by the emotional and physical conflation of pain. In the next moment, the door opened, and the doctor asked if I was ready for my rectal exam.
Which brings me to control. I realized that we have as much control over when we get a literary rejection as when the surgeon sends us to have our sphincters examined. I lived in pain for six full years in part because I couldn’t give up control—control over deciding which strangers I let touch me, dress me, cut me open. And I realized something else. I love writing essays because it gives me control. I choose exactly what I want to say, word for word. The way the sentences meander, their length, their intensity. I choose what gets included and what gets left out.
It’s all in my control, and what’s more, I’m attempting to control the (hopefully willing) reader: to bring this person into a realm of feelings and possibilities I’ve created. To help them feel what I feel (even if it’s pain).
It’s not that I control every aspect of my life (take a look inside my car if you need proof). It’s more that it is urgent for me to have control over certain things, and the two most important to me are my body and my words.
So. This is what it is for me to be a writer in the world. I control my body (most of the time until I give in and have spinal surgery) and I control my words. And sometimes I live in a world of fairy tale, like when a half-eaten apple rolls delicately out of my half-opened hand, Snow White-style, as I drift to sleep after taking my pain medicine.
Megan Taylor earned her MFA at Goddard and her BA in English and Women’s Studies at Skidmore. She writes creative nonfiction, lyric essays, and prose poetry. She’s taught creative writing classes from as near as SUNY Adirondack to as far away as Qufu, China, the hometown of Confucius. She also transcribes classes at Skidmore. Megan managed her family’s tire store for eight years following her father’s death and until her recent spine surgery. Her manuscript from Goddard, titled ‘How to Balance a Tire,’ focuses on this work.
Her first publication, an essay titled ‘Galilee,’ is forthcoming in Cactus Heart Press. She’s super excited about that.