Feb 18 • 6M

A note to readers

On your host's declining typing ability.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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Hey, y’all, just a short note to catch you up on my current situation and my plans for the coming weeks.

Long story short: I have tendonitis in both arms. I’ve had problems with pain in my forearms for years, but it always faded or went away after a while and was manageable. A few months after quarantine started, in 2020, it started getting worse, to the point I had to give up playing bass guitar — my one non-computer hobby. Then, a few months ago, it started getting a lot worse, quickly.

I have been to see two physical therapists, done stretches and exercises, received regular therapeutic massage, bought a split keyboard and a vertical mouse, worn compression sleeves during the day and braces at night, iced both arms every day, taken a bunch of goofball supplements (hoping for some placebo effect at least), and even ordered one of these widgets.

Nothing has worked, at least not yet; it’s just gotten worse and worse. It feels like a boulder rolling downhill. Nothing slows its momentum. (And don’t bother suggesting resentment and self-pity — I’ve tried those too.)

My new setup.

One result is that typing has become a chore. I can get through about a paragraph before my wrists and forearms start to ache and I have to take a break. What’s worse, it has messed up my thinking. Over many years of writing, the act of laying my hands on a keyboard has become a somatic cue that triggers my thinking; I can not write without it. But now it involves pain, and the pain is clouding the thinking.

This has made it difficult to write the next piece in my minerals series. It’s made it difficult to write anything. Just contemplating writing makes my arms ache.

Of all the advice I’ve gotten, one bit seems reliably true: the only thing that fixes this problem is rest. I’ve got to stop doing the repetitive motions that damaged the tissues. In my case, that means I need to cut way back on holding my phone and typing. I’m told these things take from four to six months to heal.

Four to six months of no typing obviously presents something of a challenge for someone who makes his living with a newsletter. Quite a challenge indeed. [eye twitches]

So, just to be fully transparent about it, here’s my plan:

Next week, I’m taking the week off. It’s winter break and my 16-year-old and I are heading down to Bend, Oregon, to see friends and do some snowboarding/skiing on Mt. Bachelor (where it hasn’t snowed in weeks, sigh). I’m going to endeavor to get through the week with a minimum of screens.

After that, I am going to shift — at least temporarily — to doing more podcasting and less writing. This pains me. As much as I make writing a misery for myself, I love it. But working my way into a permanent state of diminished capacity is not something I’m ready for at the tender young age of almost 50. Six months of no typing sounds bad; 20 years of no typing (and no bass playing) sounds way worse.

I’m also going to have a go at dictation software; if I can’t type, I can always speak. I admit this fills me with horror. I hate Siri. I hate Alexa. I hate talking to computers. It’s … demeaning. This has been one of my stalwart Dad Things for years; it’s a running joke in my house. But I’m going to bite the bullet. (By the way, Dragon no longer makes dictation software for Mac and apparently nothing else is as good. Let me know if you’ve heard of alternatives. I’m aware that Mac has built-in dictation, but trust me, it sucks.)

I’m also going to start doing hot yoga again. I did it regularly for years and it was a blessing. It cured my lifelong back pain and generally warded off the decay of my aging body. I stopped doing it early in the pandemic, and it feels like, in the last year or so, all that aging I held off for those many years has found me at once.

Hopefully I can recapture some of the magic. Or at least keep from puking or passing out in my first class back.

So, that’s what I’m thinking, at least for now. I don’t know how this will ultimately impact Volts and I’m somewhat reluctant to make any promises at this point — this thing could get worse or it could get better. I need to put my health first. If any of this, now or going forward, affects anyone’s subscription decisions, no worries, I get it. We here at Volts management apologize for any inconvenience.

With that said, I’m going to sign off, pack for my trip, and try to forget about my arms for a while. I hope you have a pleasant week and that when I return, the climate parts of Build Back Better will have passed.