plato’s ghost

You asked me once, and I could give no answer,
How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,
Official treacheries of face and name,
Have out our true identity? I could hazard
An answer now, if you are asking still.
We are a small and lonely human race
Showing no sign of mastering solitude
Out on this stony planet that we farm.
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and our blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
We might as well be truthful. I should say
They’re luckiest who know they’re not unique;
But only art or common interchange
Can teach that kindest truth. And even art
Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville
Or calmed a Mahler’s frenzy; you and I
Still look from separate windows every morning
Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other’s rooms
Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,
We hover awkwardly about the threshold
And usually regret the visit later.
Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers–
And once in a while two with the grace of lovers–
Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion
And let each other freely come and go.
Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards
The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,
The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.
The door may open, but the room is altered;
Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom
To learn that those we marked infallible
Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.
The knowledge breeds reserve. We walk on tiptoe,
Demanding more than we know how to render.
Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;
The human act will make us real again,
And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection’s school.
No longer wandering after Plato’s ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
Maybe we shouldn’t turn our pockets out
To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,
But all we can confess of what we are
Has in it the defeat of isolation–
If not our own, then someone’s, anyway.

-From Stepping Backward, Adrienne Rich

I meant to write a post rather than post a poem, but I have been awake since midnight, on and off, with a migraine, a cluster-headache, an I-don’t-know-what, and can’t remember my words. I have had those kinds of headaches for years, but only at night, and by day I forget they ever existed, except in the tiredness, except in the fog. Probably less a forgetting, than a dismissal: I do not want to add to what can seem to me to be a loud and incessant Chorus standing on the stage next to me reciting All the Things Wrong About You.

Yes, I did just describe myself as a Greek Tragedy.

I met with Kerry and Veronica yesterday. I arrived feeling physically and mentally shattered but I left feeling better about myself and my work. I left feeling supported and capable. I was, am, ever shall be, supremely grateful for it, because the damned confirmation report (I have still to complete) had felt like a millstone around my neck, dragging me and my PhD down with it. I’d lost momentum, I’d lost confidence, I’d lost my sense of the value of my work. They made me laugh, they commiserated with the pain-in -the-arseness of the report, they gave me a few quick and easy jobs to do before I go back to it, and they reaffirmed, in their questions and in their interest, that there is something worthwhile in what I am trying to achieve. When they asked me if the meeting had been helpful, I stumbled through my answer, and I felt they deserved a better one, so here it is: Yes. Supremely. It wasn’t just helpful, it was meaningful and it was kind.

Which brings us back to the poem. As the pain has improved, there has crept into my feelings about myself, about this autoethnography, a sense of shame, of self-reproach, of judgement, about what I think I should be capable of by now, how much better I should be. It’s complicated – isn’t everything? – but when I read Adrienne’s poem this morning, I could see something of what has been nudging at the edge of my consciousness for months, ideas I have felt but not been able to articulate. Important ideas on loneliness and expertise, on vulnerability and shame, how they relate to my experience of pain and of autoethnography both; ideas I will detangle futher on another day, when I have more time, when I have more brain.

And oh, look. Seems like I wrote a post anyways.

i slept all night

I love cortisone now. The end.

(I know it will wear off but until that day I will be happy for the relief: I had no idea how much pain I had been in again. You just get used to it, but also more affected by it than you realise, and by you, I mean me.)

hello they gave me an injection and i’m happy now

7 July 2018 (1 of 1)-2I haven’t, as mentioned, been sleeping well. Everything is slow and hard when you’re not sleeping. I had a check up with my rheumatologist this morning, who said the weakened shoulder muscles from the neuritis have caused shoulder impingement syndrome (not an ‘itis, but a syndrome, we’re moving up!) which is what has been keeping me awake half the night. I was expecting the whole anti-inflammatory/physiotherapist for 6 weeks spiel, but he went straight for the cortisone instead. He’s not trigger happy with the stuff, so I trust there was good reason to slam it with steroids. He put an anaesthetic in the injection too and for a while nothing much hurt there at all, it was SO GOOD. I felt like running up to complete strangers in the clinic cafeteria and yelling ‘hey guess what my shoulder feels better for the first time in FOREVER, isn’t that great?’ but I suspect that might have been one of those socially inappropriate actions people are always telling me about. Pity. It’s totally worth celebrating. It’s a little more sore now the anaesthetic has worn off, but still a million times more usable as an actual arm, hooray! The real proof will be in the sleeping pudding though, I suppose.

He said all the recent ligament and tendon tears in my ankles and knees are just my genetically weak collagen not coping with much movement at all, and, as such, gets put in the #nothingwecando #itsjustwhoyouarenow basket. Hmmmm. I’ll have to think on that one.

But first a nap. I have so much work to do (and feel so much better about doing it – pain is a real energy sucker, eh?) only my eyes are refusing to remain open. I *could* mark assignments with my eyes closed, but I’m not sure it’s the responsible choice. Or I could just give everyone an A. No-one can be unhappy with an A.

in my panic i think i stalled the engine

My own experience in my body and mind these days is one of unpredictability; I swing wildly between focus and exhaustion, good days and “ehhh,” so my writing experiments followed my embodied and wildly variable physical existence.

– Sonya Huber, Writing With and Through Pain

I’m not going to embarrass future self with loads of overwrought rambling, but I will say that I have been struggling deeply with a loss of writerly (and thinkerly) confidence, which had made progress slow, which in turn has reinforced the struggle. The article I have quoted above helped me understand something I had not noticed before now: Huber writes that “the key is not to panic in the face of this void”. She’s talking about writing and the unpredictability of her days with rheumatoid arthritis. But I can see in my understanding of those early months of daily severe pain as chaotic and bullying that I was, indeed, panicking, trying hard to hold all the threads of life together until some future day when things stopped hurting so much. And in that panic, there was also a void of completed, or even comprehensible, work, because I couldn’t hold a damn thing together. I’m not ashamed of that, mere existence bloody hurt enough to take all of my time and attention.

And now things are so much better, but still aching and disruptive, unpredictable and variable. Right this minute there’s a deep ache in my left shoulder blade that wasn’t there five minutes ago, that is making me angry because it was there yesterday and an hour ago, and last week, and though it’s not bad enough for anyone else to give a damn about, it’s still just bloody there.  Some kind of pain, inflammatory or mechanical or my brain getting the nerve messages all screwed up, is always always always always there. And I am still learning how to live with that, and still struggling. There still remains a daily, destructive, obstructive sense of panic.

I doubt my body is ever going to return to pre-neuritis predictability now; it’s been over two years since it first struck. And I would like to say that having recognised the panic I’ll quit it, but the idea of decades more of this constant unpredictable pain panics me even more. If not panicking is Huber’s key, then I guess I will just have to find my own, or else throw in the towel, and I’m simply not going to do the latter; you’ll have to prise that towel from my cold dead hands.

Perhaps I will just not panic about the panic. Perhaps I will accept it as another face of chronic pain, another companion I now must learn how best to get along with. We collect so many of these companions over a lifetime, don’t we? Engrave them in the depths of our psyche so they’re always there, shaping our thoughts and actions in big ways and small, whether we notice them or not. Regrets, griefs, longings, loves, angers, betrayals. Maybe this embodied sense of pain-as-panic is just one more thing to add to that ever-growing list. Which, actually, is what I think Huber is basically saying anyway.

Mate, though. I would really like a day without pain.

friday afternoon meanderings

folk art faceA folk art face, or a bit thereof. I don’t know a lot about folk art, except that realism it is not, it is meant to be flat and outlined and highly stylised, and every flower/symbol/animal/person is repeated in similar ways with similar meanings over whole cultures and periods of time. Kind of a pictorial language? I don’t know what this chick is meant to be saying, other than Megan, please spend some money on thinner brushes.

Medieval art is a kind of folk art – I came across an academic article the other day on the medieval anatomists and their art, and I haven’t read it yet but I am very much looking forward to second half of August when I will have more time to spend on that kind of thing. It’s literature meets history meets medicine meets art and what’s is not to love about that?

two more

collage faces

I’ll get on to the bestiary/anatomy journal soon – I’m afraid to start and in starting muck it all up, the terror of a blank page and all that. I’ve got some good ideas on keeping it simple but recognisably medieval-ish, just not sure how it’ll work out in practice. Which, I suppose, means I should actually practice…

But I’ll keep on with these faces too, because I enjoy them, and when I was thinking about why, I wondered if they reflect something I still haven’t come to terms with, something I still haven’t figured out (does anyone ever figure it out? is it even possible to figure it out?): in living with chronic pain, who is the ‘I’ that I have to learn to live with now?


I just wanted to see what they looked like all together. Note to self: paint more brunettes.

still with the tiny paintings

clarice 2

She took ages to get right, and I overworked the gouache, which is frustratingly easy to do (I want to work with oils, but I only have the corner of my bedroom to paint in, and they really smell) but I wanted to see if I could replicate the same style on a different day, without reference to the other wee paintings. I blame Veronica, who liked them, and my hairdresser too, for the same reason. I think this young woman doesn’t quite make the grade, because it is very hard to make something so simple look purposeful rather than unskilled – every single angle on every single line has to be just right and they’re not all just right here – but she’s close. Anyway, her name is Clarice and she’s a watercolour artist.

In not-playing-in-my-sketchbook news, I’m back on antibiotics because #eternalchestinfection but I got to it before I was half-dead this time, so hooray. I have also started using the sexy looking exercycle that has been gathering dust in my bedroom for an unconscionably long time to help improve my overall health long term (an exercycle because rheumatologist said my calf and ankle ligaments are too weak/prone to snapping in bloody half to make walking suitable exercise, and buggered if I’m donning a bikini and popping down the local pool for a swim), and my hair looks awesome right now, so soon I’ll be a proper actual real live human person! Double hooray. Sleep’s still shit though. I really hate that.

they’re very tiny paintings


This is my third attempt in twice as many days to write a post: I find if I write about the papers I am reading, it’s all the harder to make myself write about them again in a report/article/thesis, and I have enough trouble motivating myself without adding to it. I’ve also had a constant nagging pain in my left arm for aaaaaaaaaages; it seems to have moved in permanently.  It’s such an aggravating pain because it’s too quiet to take heavy drugs for, or even really complain about, but too persistent to ignore. In medieval times I would be diagnosed with an excess of black bile and were I rich enough I could perhaps sit around in my pretty frock and look all melancholic, much as the young lady above. Instead, I find myself in frumpy clothes, looking cross, and telling the bastard to just shut the f**k up. Please. To no avail, alas. It doesn’t seem to understanding language.

graphic collage

It still understands drawing. I spent Saturday drawing with paint; big bold graphic faces. I do love the style, very much, love the bold colours and the clean lines, love the challenge of expressing some kind of emotion in a few simple strokes. I didn’t notice the nagging pain for the whole afternoon I was making these, or if I did, I can’t remember it. I have been reading about manuscript illumination and medieval calligraphy and it’s quite obvious I don’t have the time to fully illustrate a journal/bestiary type of book in a full medieval style – such detail!. That would take the three years all on its own, so I am going to mash the idea with the idea of this simpler more graphic style, so that I will be able to finish the journal in the next few months and get marking done on time and sleep and maybe paint more faces, because one can never have too many painted faces. And finished is good, yes? I think finished works very well.

an aphrodisiac how though?


Not procrastinating this time, rather rewarding myself with a 20 minute painting after I did some of the less colourful kind of work. It’s a crocus, in case you were wondering, inspired by the rather lovely book sitting behind it. The book is on the ‘meaning’ of flowers, because once upon a time people took the hidden symbols in nature very seriously (that is, God’s signature was in everything, and he talked to us through his creation. The crocus, for instance, is supposedly a symbol of the Resurrection and heavenly bliss. Also an aphrodisiac, apparently…)

I’ve been re-reading some of my autoethnography papers to help finish the re-write of my confirmation report, but in truth they completely bore me and I have trouble not falling asleep. I just don’t see the controversy in using the method; what did one paper say about it? Something like autoethnography is where passion meets analysis.

I would hope that’s true of a very lot of things. I know for certain it’s true of a 20 minute painting of one lonely little crocus.

only my sister ever calls me Meggie

pull yourself together rippedIt’s just a small drawing, and an incidental one at that. I had been sketching faces and hated all of them, ripped them out of my sketchbook and started again. When I had drawn a nice-enough-but-actually-quite-bland face, I started playing with the torn pieces, gluing them together, drawing over them, rebuilding from the rubble. Her name is Sofia and she is coming apart at the edges, showing the cracks, torn, sad, rough, incomplete. Also, to me, quite beautiful.

I ask myself what this has to do with my work, how I can justify the hour out of my day, blah blah blah, wasting time, just the expressive bit, yada yada yada. Then I stop and I look at this small incidental piece of nothing much really, and I remember that, Meggie, sweetpea, this is your work.