I enjoyed this feature in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton on author Laura Hillenbrand, who has written two great books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Hillenbrand suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and is mostly homebound with intense episodes of vertigo. She cannot travel to do research or interview her subjects, but she’s turned what seem like obstacles into advantages.
This portion of the article is about Hillenbrand’s research for her book about World War II hero, Louie Zamperini:
“I thought it was actually an advantage to be unable to go to Louie,” she said. Because neither of them had to dress for the interviews and they were in their own homes, their long phone calls enjoyed a warmth and comfort that might otherwise be missing. She could pose the deeply personal questions that even her father had trouble answering. “I would ask a lot of questions about his emotional state,” she said. “ ’What did you feel right in this moment? Were you frightened?’ ” The distance also allowed Hillenbrand to visualize Zamperini in the time period of the book. “He became a 17-year-old runner for me, or a 26-year-old bombardier,” she said. “I wasn’t looking at an old man.”
She goes through periods where her vertigo makes it impossible to read, so she turned to audiobooks and found an advantage:
“It has taught me a lot more about the importance of the rhythm of language,” she said. “Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.”
She could easily have given up on trying audacious writing projects. She had a pretty solid excuse. But, instead, she used what should have been disadvantages to produce remarkable work.
And, then, there’s this from near the end of the piece:
“I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story,” she said. “I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do.” She paused. “This is what my mind is meant to do.”
To find work, or even a hobby, that produces this kind of flow should be everyone’s aim. When are you most “fully alive”, and what are the circumstances that make you feel like all your faculties are “engaged”? What is your mind meant to do?