It was freezing in Vicksburg. The sky was bright blue, banded with cirrus clouds. Up on the bluffs, in the military park, I saw the raised ironclad hulk of the USS Cairo for the first time. They picked it up from the bottom of the Yazoo River a few decades ago and built a museum around it.
There’s something that never gets old about seeing a big ship that’s been dragged up on land. In its day, the Cairo slithered down the river like a gigantic smoking robot alligator, blowing things to pieces. I imagine people ran the other way when they saw it.
Downtown, my friend James and I ducked into a consignment shop to get out of the wind. I found a hardback first edition of True Grit by Charles Portis, a book I’d been meaning to buy ever since I saw the new screen adaptation.
The owner gave us a walk-through of the 19th-century building, famous for its ghost sightings. We didn’t see any ghosts. I wish we’d seen one. You can’t see too many ghosts or UFOs, is what I say.
Follow the Cheerios. This is one of my winning personal philosophies. I don’t know what “follow the Cheerios” means, but I plan on using it a lot more in the future. It strikes me as a sturdy, all-purpose phrase.
I drove back to the farm the next day, a Saturday. The trip had been a good one, the apotheosis of the no-fixed-itinerary roadie. I had just enough time to download my video before the hammer of the gods descended.
It was one of the new cold viruses, complete with bodyguards, entourage and attitude.
I’d been on the road for days, pestering my dear friends.
Now I was the host. And my guests were ready to party.
I felt so bad I couldn’t sleep. After a while I was so exhausted and delirious I wasn’t sure if it was night or day. I’d fall asleep for 30 minutes and wake up wondering where and why I’d been curb-stomped.
Time slows down when you’re in pain. The advance of awful sensory
information becomes glacial, geological in force.
Pain plus boredom equals … I don’t know. Madness. StairMaster, certainly.
I’m not a pain scholar.
Run from pain. This is my other winning personal philosophy.
Finally, like the Spider-Man franchise, my once-fearsome cold or flu (close enough, I reckon) sputtered to an ignominious conclusion.
The pain remitted. A wobbly animal joy replaced it, down to the tips of my toes.
As my strength returned, I had no desire to spend time on the computer or write. I simply wanted to read, to read slowly and at length, and sleep.
Writing anything seemed impossible. I felt great, even though I was still recovering. A spell had been cast by the dislocations of travel and illness, and I didn’t want to break it. Some part of my brain seemed to have been emptied out, and I was curious to see what would fill it.
One day, I pulled on my boots and bundled up for a short walk. It was glorious. The next day I walked a little farther, and soon I was venturing off the trails and paths, hiking into the winter woods.
I took my time, luxuriating in the spell. Maybe it was nothing more than a random series of events that had caused the change in my spirit, but it struck me as profound in a way I still can’t fully explain.
Perhaps it was just my body telling me I’d been overstimulated, that my hyperconnected habits, my daily immersion in information, language and ideas, had reached a tipping point.
When I did begin to write again, nearly a month had passed. Sentences and paragraphs came easily enough, and were just as easily deleted, scrapped.
I had a subject, but it defied my attempts to corral it. I was happy to return to my books and daydreams.
I had nothing to say, and it was fantastic.
John Hicks plays second base for the Pushpin [Ala.] Commodores of the Chicken Stew League. He is the author of The Grounder and You.