ONE MORE THEORY ABOUT HAPPINESS by Paul Guest
“It was terrifying to no longer be a patient. To no longer be in rehabilitation. In recovery. Unspoken, but quietly feared, was the assessment, by doctors, by nurses, and therapists, that you had reached an endpoint in this process. That your rehabilitation had come to its expiration date. That nothing more could be done. What awaited was the rest of your life.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (MAY 7, 2010)
This gripping memoir is an homage to resiliency, strength and courage. It is written by Paul Guest, now 27, who had a cataclysmic accident when he was 12-years-old. While riding his teacher’s old 10-speed bicycle, which had no brakes, he crashed and broke his neck. Since that day he has been confined to a wheelchair, a quadriplegic.
Paul is a poet and this book is written in a straight-forward, no-nonsense manner. The memoirs’s themes are tough and some of the book is painfully difficult to read. However, he is at no time maudlin and the poetics of his words cry out from the page. This is a man who knows his vocation, who was born to write. “The first poem I ever wrote came to me like an accident of the mind. A blip, noise that had no apparrent cause.” Paul was “thinking of nothing particularly literary, watching the sky and the visible world happen outside the window, when he began to hear in his head the rhythms of language, the propulsive patterns of a poem, and though he had no idea why, it was suddenly imperative that he write it down.” “There was no doubt, none, that he had stumbled on to something essential about himself, who he was and who he might become, and all around him the future seemed to crackle like a storm. This is what I am supposed to do, he thought. After that moment, he never doubted it.”
Paul’s journey to self-discovery begins when he is twelve years old. He is graduating from sixth grade and is invited over to his favorite teacher’s house. She gives him a reading test which he is able to ace from beginning to end. He is in the gifted program and is obviously verbally gifted well beyond his years. His teacher loans him a very old bicycle, so old that it is covered with cobwebs. Paul knows the brakes don’t work but figures he can steer the bicycle to safety when the time comes. However, when the time comes, Paul lands in a drainage ditch with the third and fourth vertebrae of of his neck broken. The treatment he received at the time of the accident was not state of the art and may even have made his situation worse.
He spends months in an Atlanta rehabilitation facility undergoing extensive and painful therapies and surgeries. He is able to remain in rehab until he reaches the point where they feel that he will no longer make any improvement. This comes sooner than Paul would like. He is released to his home where his wheel chair is too wide to fit into the bathroom and he has to be carried by his mother. His pride is in shambles. He lies naked a lot of times for washings, examinations, changing of urine bags, etc. Though his family is tender with him, Paul feels remote and “other.” In the rehab center he felt like one of the others, as though he fit in. “Disability isn’t so much about the loss of control as it is about the transferral of it. From yourself to someone else, to loved ones, strangers. To devices.”
Paul begins to regain some sensation in his body, most at chest level or above. These sensations don’t improve his movement or control over his body. However, some of these sensations are very painful and he also suffers from very painful leg spasms, especially at night. He talks candidly about his fears. “You enter this place. And you wait. For your body, for your nervous system, for the manifold nerves which comprise it, to do something, to do anything, for your faithless skin to pebble with gooseflesh in a draft of cold air, for one muscle out of the six hundred gone slack to convulse back to life, for the most desperate fears within you to recede. And whatever it is you fear, and all of it is elemental, whether you’ll walk again or dress yourself or eat without help, make love, all these fears are not assuaged by your time here. Those fears are systematically stoked.”
Paul thinks a lot about who he is now and who he once was. “Luck beyond luck gilded me. If I couldn’t lift my arms, I could breathe. I could see. I could move more of my body than any diagnosis could have ever sanely promised. Great grief filled me up, I seemed to breathe it but what freed me was this: if my arms never worked again, never dressed myself, if I depended on others to do these things for the rest of my life, I no longer had to be, or even could be, who I once was. What I once was, I was broken. And new.” It is this sense of newness that propels Paul. Despite pain, isolation, and loneliness he finishes high school, then college and manages to get a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. Using a mouthpiece to type, we writes out his beautiful mesmerizing poems one at a time. We take for granted that if we want to write about something in the middle of the night we can reach for our pencils, pens, pad, or computers and go at it. This isn’t the case for Paul. He can’t reach for pen and paper, computer, or any aids for his writing. He must wait for morning and, because of this, he has lost many poems.
He is blessed with a supportive family who help him individuate and reach his potential. They offer kind support without enabling. Paul is pushed, like a baby bird, out of the nest, and he learns to fly. He flies to all kinds of adventures, some of which we share with him smiling, and others that require kleenex. When he has his first book of poetry published, when he makes his closest friends, when he is able to be intimate with the woman he loves, we cheer for him. When he’s mugged in an elevator while he is helpless to do anything to fight back, we are angry at his perpetrator and sad beyond measure at Paul’s plight. We share his feelings of harassment at his job in Tuscaloosa and wish we could give his supervisor a piece of our minds. When his day caretaker brings his Romanian father in to try an old world remedy for Paul’s twisted ankle, we hold our breaths because it requires setting fire to Paul’s skin. Oh my God!!!
Paul talks eloquently about the first poem he ever wrote and his rush home to write it. Along the way he worries whether the automatic doors to his apartment will work, whether the elevator is broken down, are the chair lifts in the buses functional. All those things that able-bodied people take for granted can create huge and, sometimes, insurmountable challenges for Paul.
Paul has an ebullient curiosity about the world, an energy to explore his surroundings and the spirit of a poet. His resilience is a lesson to us all. He perseveres and he creates beauty and loveliness from his world. He is a person of sensitivity and empathy, watching others for signs into their souls. This book is not meant to be an “inspirational” book or a religious book. It is a book about a man who, despite great odds, goes on to make a quality life for himself, drawn from the creative spirit within him that calls out to him for expression. Paul Guest must be an amazing man. He certainly is a wonderful writer.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 15 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Ecco (May 4, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Paul Guest|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Quadriplegics in fiction:|
- One More Theory About Happiness: A Memoir (May 2010)
- The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (2003)
- Notes for My Body Double (October 2007)
- My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (November 2008)