When the man I love moved from England in order to marry me in the US, it was our Plan B. Plan A was for me to get into University of East Anglia’s selective PhD program in creative writing (which I did), and to move to England (which I didn’t). I couldn’t afford the tuition. My father faced a similar situation after college. He wanted to study acting at the University of Bristol, but neither he nor his parents could afford it. Plan B happened, and he met my mother, and then a couple years later, I happened, happily.
Plan B—or C, or D—is often the silver lining of Plan A’s dark cloud; adaptation and flexibility supply the plan’s sheen. I’ve been marveling lately at how sheen is captured in art, precisely which layers of color work together to create a mirror finish, because I’ve been trying to capture it, too. For the past year until it closed down, I was drawing nearly every day on DrawQuest, a fabulous iPad app that provided members with daily drawing prompts to spur creativity. Interpreting DrawQuest prompts gave me a sense of calm and focused attention that a million brain games were not accomplishing; I noticed other aspects of my cognition improve, such as problem solving—and I felt less bewildered by life’s scattering rush.
On DrawQuest I met another artist with MS, Wendy Galler, whose screen name is “ms.wendy.” She feels that DrawQuest, with its emphasis on positive feedback, filled her with newfound purpose. “When I began using DQ I had no idea how it would open me up. I had no idea I was even closed off,” she observes. Having mastered life’s Plan B routes, Wendy was on a steady track to become a teacher when her MS hit hard, affecting her vision during midterms. She recently got a walker—TARDIS blue (Doctor Who fans, take note)—which her daughter named “Time Walker.” Like the Doctor’s time machine, her walker not only takes her back in time—less wobbling and falling—but also forward through time, conserving her energy and helping her witness the bright futures of her family and her art. When prompted to draw “what’s on your tote bag?” in DrawQuest, Wendy depicted her walker in close-up, tote bag attached. The drawing is a shining example of the beauty possible in Plan B, the “school of dance” we all attend.
DrawQuest’s creators are now adapting to their own Plans B after their marvelous Plan A failed to monetize. My original Plan A was to be an artist or cartoonist, until MS happened before my senior year in high school, poetry happened, and I began my life in words.
Notice how often I link the word “happen” to Plan B? It’s messier than the concept that an event happens, driving someone to choose Plan B. Plan B’s outcome sometimes seems just as happenstance as its cause. Which, now that I think about it, is a fairly accurate description of a disease with no known cause or predictable outcome. It happens.
In 2003, wrapped for months in a painful, hazy blur after MS affected my eye, I feared I wouldn’t read again, much less have a career as a professor, my Plan B-and-a-half. I turned back to drawing, my original Plan A. It made me feel like I could excel at something once again, that maybe what was once Plan A, now Plan C, could provide direction and purpose. We know now that the story doesn’t end there. Plan B became Plan D, which makes Plan A . . . Plan E?
Seven years later, MS affected my left hand, rendering typing nearly impossible. My agent contacted me, wondering if I had any new pages to send. I physically could not write, I told her. At least, not a book of prose, hands flying in order to keep up with the ideas pouring out of me. I foolishly didn’t realize that I could write longhand with my right hand for a while. Nor was I yet aware that a computer tablet could enable rapid typing without the Herculean task of pushing down each key, that this amazing device would not only help restore Plan B as I lightly tapped its glass keyboard, but would also reanimate my original Plan A—drawing. Sketching now on new apps, I see more plans unfolding, beyond rank and order. Bring them on.