Yesterday I had, depending on how you look at it, either the misfortune or the good luck to go to the dentist. I know that modern dentistry is a marvel, and I should be grateful for the things it can do for me, but thanks to a wonderful combination of genetic neediness and uncommon physiology I can’t have most topical anesthetics. Instead I enjoy some laughing gas and a cocktail of drugs said to be ‘almost as good’ as the regular stuff.
As I sat in the chair waiting for it all to take effect I did what most writers in that situation would do: I thought about using the feeling for a character. Yep, I tried my best to remember and describe (in my head) every aspect of the drugs, how they felt, how I felt, how hard they hit, and on and on. Just about the time I realized I should, perhaps, focus on my actual experience instead of how it could be used to better my writing, it was over.
Well, except for the odd sensations of the drugs wearing off: my facial nerves returning felt like cold drops of water on my eye lids and cheek, my tongue’s return to normal involved a heaviness that turned to a pins and needles sensation, as for the sensation when I opened my jaw… well, some things are better left unsaid.
Writers are told to ‘write what you know’ but I wonder how often they actually do. Characters in books seem to go effortlessly from one wonderful event to another. The last time I traveled the hotel bill was wrong, the taxi driver talked about Ethiopian revolutionaries all the way to the airport, and the person in the seat beside me talked about God, loudly, the whole way home. In most novels the heroine would have checked out without ever glancing at the bill, the drive to the airport would involve misty reflections on the rainy morning, and the heroine’s seatmates would turn out to be the hero, the villain, or someone who gives life altering advice. Also, she’d never, ever, have to go to the dentist.