Marvin Payne’s wife Laurie recently had a heart arrhythmia which stopped her heart and breathing and put her future in jeopardy. He writes about it now that things look better.

This month’s column is about adversity. It isn’t about “faith under adversity” or “hope under adversity” or “making a brutal killing on Wall Street under adversity.” Backstage Graffiti is always, in some way or another, about writing. So we’ll confine ourselves to “writing under adversity.” Here in the echo of General Conference you will remember President Uchtdorf (seven letters, two vowels!) telling us some time ago about a pen that had been developed at great public expense that would write under weightlessness, under water, under safflower oil, and under adversity—I will take the liberty here of using his talk as doctrinal authorization and underpinning (is there a pen that will write under pinning?) for what I will share here. President Uchtdorf’s talk will probably not be referred to again in this column, however.

Here are excerpts from a brief email exchange between me and the editors of Meridian Magazine that will introduce my point. On the “In” page of my mail program I have several mailboxes into which to sort correspondence, like “Friends,” “Church,” “Gigs,” “Creditors,” “Extortion,” “Blackmail,” etc. The following conversation is pulled from a mailbox I have called “Cardiomyopathy”:

Dear Marvin,

We have only heard snatches through third parties about Laurie’s incident last Friday and we wanted you to know that you and she will be in our prayers. From what we understand this has been life-threatening and she is in the ICU at Utah Valley Hospital. …Do you need meals or car pools run?  …

Warmly,

Maurine and Scot

“Editors and Humble Stewards of the Exalted Online Conduit of Truth to The Universe, Meridian Magazine” (Just kidding—it doesn’t really say that.)

~ (The immediately foregoing punctuation is a “tilda.” The tilda will designate a separation between emails because, well, what the heck else would you use a tilda for? Unless your given name is “Til” and you live in certain rural counties in Utah or Idaho and your wife is about to give birth to a daughter.)

You guys,

…We are being born up by armies of angels, and that’s counting only the ones we can see. So the bases are pretty well covered. Still, your prayers are of infinite worth. 

It was, indeed, life-threatening, and until they can get some regulatory devices planted within her tabernacle she’s still in some jeopardy. But we’re in the safest place possible, and she’s responding more rapidly and positively than anyone would have expected. She’s thoroughly conscious now and laughing and talking and trying to get her memory and her muscles to work…with hourly improvement.

Sometime in the last three or four years it became clear to me that children’s birthdays are no longer about either children or birthdays, but photography. I’m learning that hospitalization is about digital communications. On the Internet, for example, Laurie is viral. But this is all good.

Thanks so doggone much for everything,

Marvin

~

Marvin,

We heard about this benefit concert on Monday night for Laurie. I thought we’d run something on Meridian about it…we found your note here both delightful and faithful.  How do you do it?

Maurine

~

Maurine,

You need to understand, almost everything I write that’s worth reading is written under either stress or duress. No kidding.

Marvin

And here is where I surpass the abilities of President Uchtdorf’s pen. He didn’t say anything about it writing “under duress.”

It just began snowing outside. On my tomatoes. This will enhance the effectiveness of this column. You see, it’s practically axiomatic that artists do better work under adverse conditions. The paintings of Van Gogh, for example, never achieved the chaotic imbalance that places them among the world’s masterpieces (by “world” I mean “Earth.” I don’t want to appear planet-centric here, but I am regrettably unfamiliar with the fine work of artists from the full reach of Meridian’s readership—please forgive me) when he was comfortably possessed of two ears.

All the great blues musicians have sprung from adversity: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bald James Taylor, Disingenuous B.B. King. (Brother King introduces his black Gibson guitar as “Lucille.” Does not this imply a certain singular affection for a unique instrument? At last count, there have been eleven of them.)

Mozart wrote pretty well all the time, but his weightier work was after the makeup people colored him gray and put sort of a little crust on his lips and he started shivering a lot—this would be not too long before they (not the makeup people) dumped him from that wheelbarrow into an unmarked grave in the rain. (This grave has recently been located! In order to verify it as Mozart’s, the coffin was exhumed ((this is what can happen to coffins after they’ve been humed)). They ((not the makeup people)) opened it and found a bony little guy with crusted lips hunched over a page of music manuscript paper feverishly erasing notes. Astounded, they asked him what he was doing, to which he replied, “Decomposing.” Ha ha. Great humor, you see, can also arise from adversity—as long as the adversity is someone else’s.)

What’s really adverse is when the facial discoloring has not been affected by makeup people. Unless you’re an artist, you never want to find your spouse face down on the kitchen floor, purple. Purple is often taken as a suggestion that the spirit is no longer in residence. As was the case with my wife recently. Dead as a doornail. A purple doornail. Mostly she hurts now from the CPR, but she wouldn’t go back and trade it for tabernacle eviction. Her heart had stopped. It was an electrical issue, not a plumbing issue, and she has a gizmo inside her now that will knock her onto the floor of the grocery store if it happens again—but only her pride (and whatever part of her person she lands on) will be bruised. She was promised in an early blessing that she’d come back stronger than ever, and after only a couple of days of unconsciousness, the coming back began at a pace not unlike the proliferation of kudzu or the growth of the national deficit.

Our friend and colleague Mindy Robbins threw us a benefit concert that was an enormous success. Radio phenomenon Steven Kapp Perry refereed jillions of singing and dancing kids associated with institutions in which my wife Laurie has taught, the cast of last summer’s community theatre production, luminaries April Moriarty and Todd Sorenson, some kid named Sam Payne and his little brothers Dave and Joshua, the BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre, a delegation of stellar performers from Young Ambassadors, and a whole glee club performed to a packed auditorium. The producer, Ms. Robbins, agreed to let me sing a song, then caved in and let me sing two—short ones. At the end, we all gathered on stage and sang “Lean On Me” with an abandon reminiscent of black persons, and one of the best of us actually was. There was a silent auction with items donated by the likes of Brandon Mull, Rick Walton, Audra McDonald, Will Swenson, people like that. Boy, was it silent. And fruitful, too. And there was on online donations button.

I was moved, relieved, humbled. Laurie watched it from the hospital through various people’s cell phones.


 

And many of you participated. So, well, thanks. A lot. Laurie is safely ensconced at my sister’s house where there are fewer stairs. Yesterday Laurie made salsa. We now own a blood-pressure taker, which makes us feel very up-to-date. This afternoon is our first post-hospital visit with a doctor who can begin teaching us what the future will be like. If the future is anything like the present, we’ll be deeply grateful. It’s the whole “windows of Heaven” paradigm.

However, in the interest of being more ingenuous than B.B. King, let me publicly admit that your generosity is, artistically, something of a two-edged sword. The one edge is the kind easing of burdens so eloquently described by Alma by the Waters of Mormon (although Zion’s First National Bank had to stretch to accommodate currencies from the farther reaches of Meridian’s readership, not knowing the precise exchange rates of, say, Plutonian zoulphas, Alpha Centaurian hotchdabs, and the coinage of some of the lesser Asteroids. And UPS has given us a dickens of a time over some of your donations-in-kind ((it’s not the produce so much as the livestock)), but they recognize in us a rich source of traffic and are beginning to pipe down). This is all good.

On the other hand, though (other edge), what will be the negative impact on my creative work of this sudden reduction in adversity? Right on the windy brink of producing a new CD, this could be awkward. But I guess this dilemma is, in itself, a new kind of adversity.

It’s an adversity I can live with. Thanks.