I read an article yesterday about Scott Adams, the guy who draws Dilbert. He has lately experienced the betrayal of the body. I heard him speak about 10 years ago. He was extremely funny. At one point, he asked for feedback from the audience and I was able to provide the phrase "Uncle Milton's Ant Farm" (which isn't even from MY childhood). He called me the "lady in red" thereafter, and even signed my book that way. When I got my first book deal from HarperCollins (the same house that was publishing him) we even emailed back and forth a few times.
Now he has recovered from a rare disease called Spasmodic Dysphonia, a mysterious disease in which parts of the brain controlling speech shut down or go haywire. As many as 30,000 Americans are afflicted, typically in their 40s and 50s, experts say. Victims are typically unable to have intimate conversations in their normal voice. Yet they can speak under different circumstances, such as immediately after sneezing or laughing, or in an exaggerated falsetto or baritone, or while reciting poetry.
It's believed to be a chromosomal disorder, and they often twitch and have spasms. That reminds me of Huntington's Disease. If you are the child of someone with HD, you have a 50-50 chance of inheriting it. As an adult, you start to twitch and drop things. It gets worse and worse until you are lurching all over the place, unable to keep still. Woodie Guthrie had it, although for a time it was thought he was just an alcoholic. It's a horrible disease. What's worse is that some people get the juvenile version. One woman I knew was caring for her bedbound husband and child. When the child died, she didn't even tell the husband who couldn't even really communicate at that point.
The best book I ever wrote was about a man who finds out he doesn't have Huntingtons. He's been living like he's going to die - and now he isn't. The one problem is that the book was what my agent called a "tweener" - a book that didn't fit into any category and thus was very hard to sell. It came close, but it did not.
When I saw Scott speak, he was really into the idea of affirmations. He thought if you wrote something down 15 times a day you could make it happen. An article from that time says, "The key is a strategy Adams dubs 'affirmation.' By simply writing his goals down 15 times every day, Adams says he has achieved high test scores, targeted successful soon-to-rise stocks, become a famous syndicated cartoonist and, not least, made Dilbert 'the most successful comic on the planet.' Oh, and he also narrowly avoided the onset of cancer." He was busy writing down "I will win a Pulitzer Prize for cartooning." I guess it did not work, because it didn't happen.
I gave it a whirl and wrote "Circles of Confusion will be a best-seller" down every day for a few months. It did pretty well. Short-listed for two big awards, good reviews, Booksense pick, Oregonian book club pick. It might have been on the Independent Mystery booksellers bestseller list. But that's about it.