Plan B

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.

7 Appreciate this
| Reply

Laurie Clements Lambeth, Author

Laurie Clements Lambeth’s MS diagnosis at the age of seventeen brought her to poetry. Her first book Veil and Burn (University of Illinois Press, 2008) was selected for the 2006 National Poetry Series. Currently at work on her second poetry collection and a book of creative nonfiction about MS, she also teaches in the Medicine and Society program at the University of Houston, where she earned MFA and PhD degrees in Creative Writing. To learn more about her work, please visit

Leave a Comment

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the community. Please note comments are moderated.


  • marsha   Jun 5, 2014 12:35 PM
  • Denise_A_  Jun 5, 2014 3:23 PM
    Several points during your post brought me to tears. While our experiences ee different, there were also some points that we shared, very closely. I ended up writing a very long comment and just deleted it, it was too long, but that shows how much I appreciated your post.
    I will just say one thing. I greatly appreciate and can relate with your perseverance and willingness to keep moving ahead. I had a strong goal while I worked and when I had to leave and go on disability because of my pain and symptoms, which were increasing terribly, I decided I would move towards a different direction,one that was physically possible and could still help others, so my Plan A became writing a book. I did write a fiction but never submitted it—I just did not think it was good enough to submit. I went through a very low, dark time as my symptoms became overwhelming, remember I was dealing with intractable pain as well as MS. In 2000 I found a pain doctor and shortly after I had an intrathecal pump implanted in my abdomen and my pain medications are delivered to my central nervous system through that. It has saved my life. And I have a new Plan A, I am an active advocate on behalf of people living with chronic pain and who have physical disabilities, and for all efforts on behalf of people with MS, fundraising and advocacy.
    The most important thing I got from your post, and that I have learned in all these years on disability, is that we have to take our current abilities seriously and as they change we must adapt. We don't have to like it, but we do have to recognize the reality we are faced with and adapt to it. You seem to do that well.I miss my old life every day; my work, the people, my relationships, the financial independence, driving, and the overall independence I guess. sums it up. But as much as I miss it, that won't bring it back so I just have to adapt. Don't give up having Goals, but maybe they have to change, or the timetable for achieving them has to change, but we can persevere and be happy.
    Thank you for sharing your story and for giving me such joy and peace.
  • joshua palmer   Jun 5, 2014 3:43 PM
    never give up. my best friend was diagnosed with MS while serving in the US army in iraq. loss of motor skills, pain, depression. with perseverance he came back. 5 years later he is a better guitar player than i could ever dream of being. we still worry about stage lights and the heat. but he showed that never giving up does help. still has to do his shots, but he can still preform.
  • Amy   Jun 6, 2014 1:16 PM
    Love the positive attitude, hope you are doing well.
  • Avatar
    refusetoquit  Jun 13, 2014 10:18 AM
    LOVE<LOVE< LOVE the inspiration here. I often have felt 'weird' for lack of a better word, in that my disability is there but I'm happy in it. Yes, there was frustration and it took time but love the insight that came with MS. As I 'am', life keeps opening up to me alternative ways or insight on moving forward. CASE IN hands are having a tough time typing, but here is info on making my life, plan 'K' let say, much easier.............need more input though.............not sure what exactly I'm looking for..............thanks!