Printer-friendly version
Terez Mertes


November 17, 2010 at 10:40 PM

A fever burns inside me and it’s a curious and disorienting thing.

It’s been a decade since I’ve had a fever. It’s been two decades since it has lasted more than forty-eight hours. It’s been, well, never, that one has continued on, waxing and waning with ibuprofen doses, for ten days.

Welcome to a new, hellish world.

This is an antagonist I can’t fight. Being strong-willed or tenacious means nothing here. Nothing. I can’t work through a fever. Instead it sends me right to bed. And now, every day it continues I lose something. A missed violin lesson. Writing time. Practice time. Errand time. As the fever burns through me it burns my stockpile as well, my precious reserves of motivation, stick-to-it-ive-ness, this desire to enrich my already crowded life with artistic pursuits, interests that stimulate my mind, my spirit.

Whoosh. Up in flames.

I’ve exercised five days a week, without fail, for most of my life. At first I felt frantic about my inertia. Tried, even, to exercise through this. Then I gave up.

Giving up feels better than I thought it would.

I have not picked up the violin since the fever first hit. I have not wanted to. In my dulled state, I ask myself just when was the last time I really did want to pick up the violin. When did I last hunger to make music from it? The more I pondered the question, the more it frightened me.

What if I’m done?

What if the thing that propelled me beyond my time constraints, beyond my energy levels, beyond the fact that I’m not a musician at heart—has stopped flowing? What if the fountain has all dried up?

Time for a break, you say? I’ll buy that. But. My greatest fear: what if a break feels good, the way giving up on exercise did? What if it turns into a longer and longer break? What if the desire to return to the violin never comes back?

And meanwhile the fever burns on. It burns my appetite, my muscle tone, my good spirits, my life plans, my diversions.

The efforts of the past eight years, first spent writing novels, then adding in playing the violin, have been significant, a true achievement for me. I see the months of efforts scrolling past me in my mind now, like an old-fashioned newsreel. So much effort.

And it’s another one of those horrible questions. Did any of it matter? Did it make one whit of difference? Eight years later, can I point to any tangible success and say there, that is mine, that’s what I did in that time?

Is it the fever or is it aging that’s making me ponder choices made, their efficacy? Which persona  was “right,” in the end? The fighting, dare-to-dreamer, or the complacent one, the mother who’s had to get up each day and run a household, raise a difficult child, keep her feet on the ground and head out of the clouds? Who’s to know? But here they are now, side by side on the bed, inert with fever, equally laid low, both in body and spirit.

The fevers will end eventually. I have been assured by the doctor that this is simply a bad case of the flu, that even fevers lasting double-digit days are “normal.” The fevers, the cough and chest congestion, will end and I will lie there, fallow and spent, for a while longer, absorbing the damage, awaiting the repair, the return of energy.

But I’m afraid something has changed in me. Broken me. And now I don’t know what comes next, in the aftermath of this fire. Giving up, of late, has felt good. Maybe I give up on the violin. Why keep trying if the feeling is gone? Five years has given me little to show, in the end. And writing: starting up on a new novel after number four is complete? Really, I can’t fathom it right now. Why not just give it all up? Maybe I even drop this effort here, diligently writing thoughtful little blogs for the community here. It’s been five years without my missing a month. Devotion, or compulsion? I think every blogger who makes a regular effort eventually reaches a point where they ask themselves, “Why am I doing this? Am I spinning my wheels or is this taking me somewhere?”

I’ve always told myself my writing practice, like my violin practice, is about the journey, not the destination. And I’ve believed that. But what happens, on that journey, when the fog obscures you, or you get lost in the desert?

What happens when the fever burns itself out, and you with it?

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on November 17, 2010 at 11:13 PM

Fire is used to temper glass and steel.  They're still glass and steel afterward, of course, just with some new qualities of strength.  There are some seeds that can lie dormant for decades, not germinating until the heat of a fire makes them open.  Where I live, a few years after a forest fire has destroyed the evergreens, the aspens grow back in first, with all their variations of pale spring greens, white trunks against darker summer green leaves, and brilliant fall displays of yellow and red against the mountainsides.  Fire hardens stoneware and porcelain, and turns the glaze coat from dull and opaque to translucent and glassy.  While it can destroy, fire can also clarify, clean and purify.  Let us know.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 1:15 AM

 Thank you, Lisa. That was lovely to read -- and got my mind off me and into nature. I'm in redwood country and you are so right!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 3:29 AM

 Even the most hardened professionals go through the same thing.  Here is a blog from my previous teacher's stand-partner:

If it is a true love, it will come back after a rest.  Making music is one of those things that requires so much energy, both mental and physical, that there is bound to be times that it all seems too much to maintain.  Taking tome off to rest, recoup, recover, and re-energize does not necessarily mean that the love is lost.  It simply means that there are more pressing personal needs that require attention at the moment.  

From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 4:30 AM

Sometimes, when I'm feeling out of sorts, I go back into your v.c blog archive and re-read my favorites.  You're a good writer, an interesting, intelligent, kind person, and you share nicely with others.  (Smile)  Whatever you end up doing, or not doing, writing, or not writing, I appreciate everything you've contributed.

I hope you feel better soon. 

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 3:58 PM

 Mendy and Anne - those were such great replies to read - thanks. Mendy, I'll go check out that link when my eyes feel a little less bleary (fever this morning again - sigh. Had some superstitious sense that if I wrote about it, got it out of me, poof, it would be better).

Thank you very much, both of you.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

Terez - as usual, an interesting, beautiful and provocative post.   Sometimes the fever distorts thinking, but I suspect yours is fairly clear.  See what you think when you get out the other side.  And, for G-d sakes, remember to get a flu shot next year!

I have found that the journey is truly what it is about, but having said that, sometimes it is difficult to figure out which road to take for that journey or sometimes when to take a different road or fork.  The good news is that there are few wrong choices.  At my advanced age, I often think of/evaluate the journey(s?) I have chosen.  Perhaps the most comforting realization is that I have no strong regrets, even though I can clearly see the other roads, why I might have chosen them, and where they would have led.  I hope your experience is similar.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 6:06 PM

 Sage words, Tom (particularly about getting a flu shot next year). I think you're right; it's hard to imagine this was a "wrong" journey in any way. And it is also wise for me to reserve any real judgment on the whole issue until after this has all passed, and then some. I do think the fever is still messing with me.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful reply.

From Janis Cortese
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 7:33 PM

Take a break from the violin, but never stop listening to music -- whatever kind of violin music you love, and all other kinds.  If the violin fever is strong, at SOME point, I can guarantee you will hear something beautiful and think to yourself, "Hm, I wonder how that would sound on ... " and pick the thing up and start scratching away again.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 7:54 PM

 Terez, I think this is simply your body and your brain, collaborating to force you to stop doing everything so that you can heal! The thought occurs, "Maybe a little workout?" or "Just a half-hour of practicing?" and the body/brain says, "NO! No exceptions! We need sleep and rest and nada mas, and if it takes me telling you that you are quitting forever in order for you to take a break, then so be it! You are quitting FOREVER!"

It's a ruse. You aren't really quitting forever. Your motivation is not gone forever. Your motivation has been hijacked in order to make you go to bed and give over to bodily healing.

Even Shinichi Suzuki -- kind of a stickler on practicing -- said, "Practice only on the days you eat." In other words, if you are too sick to eat properly, no practicing!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 10:19 PM

 Janis, you are so right, listening is a way to keep the connection, and yesterday as I was driving back from dropping my son off at the bus stop (case in point: life NEVER shuts off for a mom, doesn't matter if you're burning with fever b/c he still needs lunch, a ride to the school bus, a lecture about responsibility/homework/where his socks belong) and there was some little piece of music so sweet it made me cry ("Children's Prayer" from Humperdink's "Hansel and Gretel"). But the thing that makes me cry thinking about it right now - I'm just not good on the violin. Difficulties in reading music aside, I still sound like such a novice and feel like I've been stuck there forever in that prosaic place. Guess I'm very discouraged that nothing innate in me has taken over and made me fly/sing/soar on the violin. After finding such a strong connection in my youth with ballet and choral singing, I guess I was really looking for the same magic to sweep me away. Again, hopefully this is just discouragement taking hold of the mic and booming this msg into my ear. I haven't allowed him control of the mic ever before and now he's making up for lost time. : /

Laurie, I just love what you wrote. I think you are 100% correct. Thanks for the perspective.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 11:25 PM

I pretty much agree with Laurie.  Being sick can really mess up your mind, as well as your body (not that I believe in a mind/body split anyway, really).  I wouldn't take too seriously what your mind is telling you while you are sick.

I think that one of these days, you will wake up, look around, and it will be like the shiny new day after the thunderstorm is over.  You'll feel new ideas and new energy come flooding back.  It will feel great, but then the challenge will be not to take on too much too soon!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 19, 2010 at 12:22 AM

  >I think that one of these days, you will wake up, look around, and it will be like the shiny new day after the thunderstorm is over.  You'll feel new ideas and new energy come flooding back. 

Oh, I hope I hope I hope. 

>It will feel great, but then the challenge will be not to take on too much too soon!

Well put.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on November 19, 2010 at 1:57 PM

Keep us updated on where your journey takes you.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 19, 2010 at 6:45 PM

 Today it took me to the living room couch. And to the kitchen for a Juice Squeeze.  But I don't think that's the kind of journey you're talking about.

Hey, that was humor. Maybe that means I've finally rounded the bend (or however the saying goes) on this evil flu.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 20, 2010 at 7:23 PM

 Day 13. Sigh.

Every see the movie Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray? That's me. : /

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine