One morning last week while making the coffee, my mate David reached for the sugar and was stunned to find a live mouse inside the salad dressing carafe that stands on the same kitchen counter.
Because the lid of this carafe had been recently crushed in the garbage disposal, I had contrived a temporary fix by placing a sandwich bag over the top of the carafe and anchoring it there with a small inverted custard cup. But even with all this protection, the little guy must have figured a workaround, because in one deft movement he seems to have dislodged the custard cup, nudged the bag off and dropped down inside the carafe where we now watched, astonished, as he wiggled and jumped, wiggled and jumped, executing a kind of high-speed pole dance in his attempt to get free.
Being the guy who will escort even a spider outside by his little parachute lines rather than kill it, David rushed the carafe onto the grass and set it on its side and, sure enough: The mouse scampered off. And yet for days after, the image of the mouse in the bottle came back to me, along with that line from Shakespeare where Hamlet says, he could be bounded in a nutshell and still count himself the king of infinite space.
But why did both that image and that line of verse linger so in my mind? I worked that question the way the tongue works the space left by a missing tooth until it finally hit me: They were lingering because of the injury I suffered some 11 weeks ago, when I broke a bone in my back and consequently became ‘bounded in a nutshell’ myself, told not to twist, or lift, or drive very far – and certainly not to stand or sit for more than 30 minutes at a time.
The standing ban has actually been sort of nice, getting me out of more than one cocktail party or coffee hour marathon; and for sure the wisdom of the twisting and lifting ban was brought vividly home to me that day last month when I tried leaning out a second-story window to shovel a layer of snowpack off the back porch roof. It’s the not-sitting-for-more-than-30 minutes thing that’s been the most restrictive, in that it has forced me to find a whole new way to meet my readers in the paper each week.
My writing method now is this: I scribble out a column from a lying-down position, leave it a while, come back later, give it the critical squint and pencil in corrections. Then I leave it again to ‘cool’, and once again come back later to scribble and squint some more – until, finally, I take my phone and, using Siri, read the whole thing into the record, email it to myself, import it into Word and send it to the printer, so as to see it in black-and-white.
This method has slowed me down for sure, but it has had its benefits too, in that it has paradoxically helped me to write the way I talk, which is what you want in a column like mine.
And if I’m honest, I’ll admit that passing the long winter weeks bounded in my nutshell has been kind of nice. For one thing, I’ve spent my time reading so many family journals and letters that I think I am starting to levitate mentally, to lift above my own little life to almost – almost! – glimpse that ‘infinite space’ that Shakespeare is talking about.
They say every trial brings its blessings, and certainly I am aware of the sense of peace I have enjoyed in this interlude. Really I’m only sad that things went a different way for the mouse, whom we found a few hours later, dead, not ten feet from his oily jail.