postcards from the armchair

drawing collage 2

The more pain I am in, the more I draw; I’ve been drawing a lot. You know that thing when you say at least things aren’t any worse, and then they immediately get worse? Yeah. That. Sleeping is getting even harder, doing things is getting harder. Full disclosure, it actually hurts less than it has been if I sit down on a nice soft armchair. It’s just that life doesn’t much consist of sitting down on nice soft armchairs.

(It’s weird cataloguing the pain. I don’t enjoy doing it, or think it particularly interesting, but I make myself write it down because I’ll know I’ll forget and say, pah, it was never really that bad if I don’t write down the days (weeks) when it really was.)

I seem to be drawing faces a lot. Lord knows why, it’s my weakest drawing link, especially noses. Drawing noses is just drawing shadows and it weirds me out. Also hands. I’m rubbish at hands. I think the faces have something to do with personas, with how they might be purposefully adopted and used in illnesses (though I don’t equate being in pain with being ill, hmmm…) to represent an aspect of the whole self rather than always presenting with the broken self. Drag Queens take the concept to an extreme, but it’s the same idea. Not hiding yourself, not passing for well, but revealing an aspect of yourself that the illness perhaps hides. That’s too simplistic, but it’s Friday afternoon, and also I haven’t really thought it through. Still. I think all the faces have been me pondering on all that a little.

a placeholder, just in case

Like I said, given the choice I would stick to what I’ve already started, so that’s still Plan A (or B, or C, I lose track).

But, if I do have to think about years of managing neuritis I may have found a reasonable solution that will not only allow me to finish the PhD, but give me the mental energy to carry on with some marking and tutoring, both of which are also important to me. It isn’t the solution I was going to write about yesterday (but includes a lot of the best elements), because after I wrote that post I just kept thinking – if drawing doesn’t exacerbate the pain and helps me feel mentally much better, I should really find a way to draw?

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So I went searching this afternoon and found that graphic memoirs, especially illness memoirs, were a thing. Who knew? There is some research done on different aspects of these kind of narratives but (having only spent a few hours on it so far, don’t quote me) a wide open space right up through the middle of them to conduct further research. I am wondering about a combination of analysis of other’s work, and drawing a memoir of my own research (and how it came to be my research) to sit along-side that analysis. There could be a lot of different aspects to it, looking at visual storytelling as a research method, how illness is represented in these kinds of books, the point of representing illness in these kinds of books, and as a possible way to translate academic findings into something more accessible. To name a few.

This quote from Quesenberry and Squier, 2016:

Ultimately, our sense is that graphic memoirs of disability, illness, and other types of difference share many characteristics with more traditional, exclusively textual life writing forms, though in graphic life writing the visual dynamic—involving the connections and disconnections between the verbal and visual—produces specific engagements with disjunction, complexity, and the ineffable.

I don’t know about you, but the words disjunction, complexity and the ineffable get all my artsy researchery goosebumps going.  And yes, it’s kind of the Master’s thesis redux, where blogging is swapped out for graphic memoir, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s building on what I already know and making use of what I have already done.

Also, drawing.

Other Things to Like About Plan H (or D or E, F, G, I lose track):

  1. I could further the research on the idea of small freedoms that I introduced in the Master’s thesis. I think it’s a really useful idea in all different kinds of resistance, and I didn’t get to explore or explain it in enough depth. I could look into that more here.
  2. It allows for the possibility to include humour*. I find a difficulty with a lot of memoir, and research, and illness narratives in general is how seriously they take themselves. Life is funny, even when it’s hard, and sad. I think so. Super Adequate Woman thinks so. It would be very satisfying to bring some element of humour into my research.
  3. It could also include ideas of the beautiful awful, the social gaze, protest art, to name a few of the previous incarnations of Ideas I Have Had. They can all be part of both researching and creating a graphic memoir. In Search of The Green Man has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
  4. Oh yes, and mythology! I was so keen to use mythology in the Master’s but never could quite make it work. It could work here.
  5. As above, it very much ties in to the book that got me all excited about artifacts of loss in the first place. In the interment camps, the Japanese American’s used what was around them to create art and crafts to brighten their tiny homes, to bring some joy into their lives, to feel more human. I can see this as a way to use what I can still do (again, yes, let’s hope it’s temporary etc., and so forth) to contribute to the field of critical health psychology, and bring some joy into my life while I am doing it; a creative artifact of my own loss. Did that make sense? I will be able to explain it better when I’ve thought about it more, but I know there is a link there. Oh, probably they are both examples of small freedoms inside the generally restrictive world of habitus. All my roads seem to lead to Bourdieu.
  6. I probably haven’t explained what it is about the current research that I feel unable to do? It’s all the travelling and the interviews – the thought of driving all over town and giving the kind of sustained and empathetic attention the participants deserve – it sounds pathetic, and I loathe writing it, but as things stand I’m not up to being able to do all that very well. The driving alone will kill me.

I know there were other things I wanted to briefly note, but I’ve hit my concentration limit and have forgotten them all, and none of this might ever be needed in any case. I’ll close the laptop now and pop off for a cup of tea and a bit of Netflix. I’m expecting to hear from the neurologist again this week, and once I know what she has to say about next steps, I can decide whether to jump the current ship or just keep rowing.

Supervisors willing, of course*.


*eff everything croppedI made this graphic in photoshop one day when I was at my worse and couldn’t even sleep, before I was prescribed suitable pain relief (which I have had to stop for a while so I have the thinking ability to mark essays, because I tried to mark a few last week and just couldn’t tell what was good or bad about them, despite being sure I would be able to. Essays are easy! Bugger that to all damnation. So, now the pain is creeping back – Scylla and Charybdis, etc.) She (I forgot what name you gave her, Veronica?) still makes me smile, every time I look at her.

**I think I can hear Kerry grumping*** at how I am wasting time writing about all this palaver when I could be getting on with the research we’ve already started. Fair enough too. It’s just – I’m sad. Not depressed, not anxious, not panicking. Just very sad. And this cheered me up enormously, so a Sunday afternoon well spent, I think.

***My apologies if I can’t. I’ll write out the sentence ‘I mustn’t put words in my supervisor’s mouth‘ a thousand times in penance. Well, I won’t, but I could download the Dragon software you suggested and recite them instead if you like.

i’m thinking about landscapes of memory and creating our understanding of what has passed and this poem is reminding me of something

All of which will make some kind of sense when I have the time to explain it, which I do not have today.

I Have a Time Machine

BY BRENDA SHAUGHNESSY
But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,
which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.
But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.
Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well not zipping—And if I try
to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall into space, unconscious,
then desiccated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.
There’s a window, though. It shows the past.
It’s like a television or fish tank.
But it’s never live; it’s always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.
Sometimes it’s like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I’m leaving behind,
and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.
Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.
Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.
Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.
Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion
of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother’s mother’s mother.
I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I’d find myself
an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.
Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so horribly fast.

the poets always beat me to it

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Little tin key
lost somewhere in my memory, returned to me in a dream.

Like the blue-burning match blowing over the surface of
some drunk girl’s sweet, flaming party drink. Happy
birthday. Lucky

coin rubbed away to nothing, turned back into invisibility.
Back into its first atomic energy. Both

lost forever now and all around me. I’ve
rendered it, it seems, back into its
first longing — to keep

safe the loved ones on the plane, or on the freeway, or
strapped to the gurney, opened for the surgery, wheeled
into the lobby, being

screened for the journey, or stamped with the date
at the entrance to the pool, the portal, the nightclub, or

any spot where one might pull to the curb, drop
off a soft target, kiss it, make
with it a plan to fetch it later —

unbloodied, still breathing, in no hurry. This
talisman with no magic. I’ve made it for you

out of your own flesh, teeth, hair.

the refraction of longing

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The world is full of paper.
Write to me.

– Agha Shahid Ali, Stationery

Longing: both a noun and an adjective, a word that describes a particular kind of desire, of wanting something that perhaps you don’t, or can’t have. I’ve never really been able to describe longing very well, there’s a kind of melancholy there, the same kind of melancholy associated with nostalgia? I don’t know. One of the suggestions in the last supervisory meeting was that there may be a similarity in the stories of shadow objects, where there would be more variety in stories of objects that person does have, which might be true. So I have been wondering about what sort of emotions shadow objects might be centered around, and I wonder if perhaps it covers the many shades of longing? Veronica spoke of craving and desire, and I didn’t recognise it at the time, but I think she was talking about longing too.

I have a fascination with the idea of longing, so I’m not surprised (and I also am surprised because it wasn’t intentional) that I found myself a way back to spending time with the idea. There isn’t all that much literature on longing, or yearning, not even total agreement that it’s a distinct emotion at all, but I did find this science-y definition (written almost 20 years ago now, I’m getting old).

Longing is mainly a blend of the (primary) emotions of love or happiness and sadness or depression … It is experienced as a need for something – a thing, a state, a relationship – without which one’s life does not feel complete.

Holm, O. (1999). Analyses of Longing: Origins, Levels, and Dimensions. The Journal of Psychology, 133:6, 621-630

And perhaps it is also as Marilynne Robinson wrote in her novel Housekeeping, that it is the very fact we crave an object that keeps an object, a state, a relationship, with us.

(She also describes the absence as a shadow and she’s a literary genius, just saying…)

To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.

Of course, saying all shadow objects are connected to longing, to yearning, is a little banal; they wouldn’t qualify as objects that cast a shadow if there were no desire for them in the first place. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. But the banality of my wonderings is not the point: it’s the stories of why an absent object evokes longing in the first place that I’m here for. In those stories, I am sure, I will find a myriad of different motivations and emotions; longing, refracted into so many hues.

ripples and shadows and yes, try again.

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This seems to be the consensus from the supervisors, from my own internal compass of unfathomable attraction, to shift topics now while the shifting is still possible (or forever hold my peace). I’m off to the library today to pick up some more books that I had ordered on portraits and looking and disfigurement and I feel like an unkind lover dumping a generous and interesting partner for no other reason than I just wasn’t completely feeling it, which is really all the reasons I suppose. I tell myself it has no reflection on my goodness as a person that dead people’s things have more of an emotional pull to me than alive people’s adversities (though I don’t believe it), and I have been repeating Rumi’s phrase to myself all morning: there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

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I used to visit op-shops and take photos of the abandoned and unwanted items left there for someone else to love, wondering at the histories and stories behind those things. Who bought them and who left them and why? I never found them sad places, just curious ones, and much more full of humanity than the retail stores, not least because of the ghosts of those stories.

I woke up to dozens of messages on my FaceBook page with comments and suggestions on my new PhD topic. A friend in Wellington (who just went through her own PhD oral defense – I’m pretending for the moment that such a thing doesn’t exist) pointed me to the work of Margaret Gibson whose book Objects of the Dead is about, well, objects of the dead. I’ve downloaded some of her academic articles too, which will be useful, but I was a little deflated with so much work already having been done by her and others in this area. I was also reminded of Daniel Miller’s The Comfort of Things, a book that played a big part in my decision to return to study, and, now I think about it, was likely in the back of my mind when I decided to research Julia’s blog (there are a few connecting dots, but that is a story for another time). But there was something in Margaret’s approach, or her approach as I viewed it having only skimmed a few of her articles (can’t find her book at the library, but I was in a hurry and probably didn’t look right) that was just a little sideways to what was on my mind, and it was another FaceBook friend who helped me identify what that sideways feeling was about.

Her name is Penelope Russon, and she’s also a PhD student, among many other things, not least of which is author of young adult novels. She told me that her book Only Ever Always  was written as a meditation “on things that I wrote after the [Black Saturday] fires, about the objects we treasure, and what it means if we lose these objects (or don’t release them). It’s compelling to think about the real object and the shadow object we carry in ourselves. Sometimes lost things are more precious because they are lost.”

(That my old blogging network is still giving me so much in this way – I met Penelope on FaceBook through an old blogging friend too – never ceases to amaze and humble. In truth, she contacted me, I would never have had the chutzpah to befriend her first, but I’m eternally grateful that other people are much less stuck up their own backsides than I am).

I had been half thinking about the spaces and the gaps of lost objects, but the shadow of them is an even better description, because they are very much still there emotionally, if not visible materially. I wondered (wonder) if there is much research done on these shadow objects, on those lost things that represent both a break in our connection to the people and places of our past, and a parallel strong connection, strong because the emotional impact of their loss itself maintains their presence. The shadow object that we carry in ourselves.

So, here we are back to ripples and shadows, perhaps not solely but at least in part. Ah well. It was always going to happen one way or another, I suppose.

i have an office now

It’s more of a desk and a bookcase (and a chair!) stuck at one end of my long skinny bedroom. There is a corkboard and fairy lights and a pencil holder. I bought it on New Year’s Eve as one in a series of changes I needed to make in order to never have as awful a year again as I did last year. You know that thing where you don’t realise how bad things had gotten until things get better again and look back and go, Holy Shit? Yeah, that. So, I bought a desk and a bookcase (and a chair) and now I have a dedicated work space I can retreat to and leave stuff out on and don’t have to balance study while answering a thousand really important questions simultaneously from the living room couch, as I have been doing for very many years: When can we get friend X’s present? Have you signed my form yet? My pants split and I need them for work five minutes ago. What are you doing? How do you unsplit butter icing? What’s for afternoon tea? Why are you doing that? Did you see the new trailer for Movie X? What’s for dinner?  Can I get a lift to friend Y’s house now and can we pick up friend Z on the way? Did you remember I need money right this minute for that important thing? Nobody asks me anything at my bedroom office desk.

SONY DSCI also bought a dog, so now I have to get outside and walk at least once a day (his name is Ernie and he’s a very handsome greyhound) except that I keep injuring myself in the process. Never mind, no torn ligaments thus far! Success! And I am once more taking the nasty immunosuppressant medication that I stopped because I didn’t need it to keep my arthritis under control, because it turns out I do need it to keep my immune system under control. No more itis’s for Megan! Just one full day of nausea every week instead. It’s a bit like going to an imaginary party every Saturday evening and spending Sunday hungover and recovering. Without the actual party. This never seemed like much of a good deal to me, but after those last six months I’ll gladly make such a pact with the pharmaceutical devil.

That was more words on unimportant things than I intended. But I like words. Words are good.

What I intended, instead, was to tell you about a great idea I had over the summer to read a pile of novels where one of the main protagonist’s had a facial disfigurement. You’d be surprised how many there are; it has its own library category. I didn’t get them read in time, but it’s still a great idea because how people construct fiction is very much, I think, how we construct our patterns of societal thinking (or vice versa, I don’t know – you say chicken, I say egg). Almost all the protagonists I can think of off the top of my head who have some kind of severe visual disfigurement are sort of tragic non-villain villains. Quasimodo, Richard III, Igor, Frankenstein’s monster …

…so imagine how it must be for people whose bodies are described as disfigured to have those stories of tragedy and villainy be society’s experience of the stories we tell about people who look like they do.  I think about the permanence of their visible difference a lot, the inescapable everyday-ness of it, how it must be to have a physical persona of difference (trauma? pity? despair?) thrust upon you. A persona that, I am sure, doesn’t much resemble the ordinariness of one’s internal identity. Perpetually navigating that disparity, perpetually explaining, perpetually forgiving, perpetually making allowances for ignorance and unkindness. I’ve only really begun to read the research on disfigurement, there is so much more to cover, but I do wonder if the very visibility of visible difference has been acknowledged and examined quite enough.

I had other words but I lost them.


I was in a rather polite argument with a very dear and old friend the other day, who literally believes Mr. Trump is God’s plan for the world, a divine reset for America as a light to the rest of us. Or something. She calls me a PC proselytiser, as if that is a bad thing. I might get a t-shirt emblazoned with it (to go along with my Nasty Woman mug and Feminist Killjoy pin). Which is to say, I loathe the current political climate of this vanishingly small planet as much as I did a month ago, but I am also on a far lower dose of prednisone and as such can now have those kind of arguments without the extreme levels of homicidal angst. Still. As my sister says; I don’t really recognise the world anymore.


If it wouldn’t eventually kill me, I might want to be on prednisone for the rest of my life. Nothing hurts, nothing itches, I can think clearly and I even get my washing done.

borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it*

my day

I drew these in a hissy fit a wee while ago – they’re iterations of the same drawing, of which there were many other iterations, of which none now exist because I also threw these away in a hissy fit a wee while ago. And wrote an entire page of the word fail in the very same hissy fit, because, um, sometimes I throw a minor tantrum in the quiet and privacy of my own home. It can be very carthatic. I just wish I’d kept the drawing because, as rubbish as it is, I can see something worth remembering in it. Fortunately for me, I’m also a compulsive social media sharer, so I took pictures for Instagram and still have these, at least, to do my remembering by.

There is a lot of research being done on the uses of social media sites, FaceBook in particular, as digital memorial sites. The internet as a place where social life carries on in some form after death is an interesting one, and an example of where technology is changing the face of our communal rituals. Or if not changing, then adapting, adding to, developing. Um. Which is change. I’m arguing myself into circles.

But what I think with Julia’s blog, as with my little montage above, is that the intent is not to memorialise but to share, even if, later on, what is shared then becomes something of a memorial. Memories, rather than memorials. Once again, chronology becomes important to interpretation.

Surprising fact #18123 – I can find very little on the impact of chronology in reflexivity/interpretation. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places. Perhaps I have found a little corner of the qualitative research world that might need some attention. Perhaps my tea has gone cold and I desperately need another one.

I did find some small research on chronology and chronic illness that was interesting in this same sense, and postulated chronic illness isn’t chronic per se from a psychological point of view (though I think it can be where the disease is accepted as a major identity?), but a series of what is experienced as acute episodes punctuating ordinary life. This is more how I experience chronic illness, and thinking about Julia, it’s what she wants to experience, to know that today, tomorrow, perhaps the day after that, can be lived as normal. How her disease affects her every day, the pain, the chemotherapy effects, the weight of terminality, means she is only very rarely able to. Letting go of normal, trying to get back to normal, is a lot of what her stories are about, a lot of what her experience of being terminal is about.  In this sense, she perhaps experiences illness as a chronic psychological state more than someone with a chronic illness does. Or to put it another way, her illness is almost always experienced as acute.


*Cormac McCarthy, The Road

all hail the poor diagnostician

There’s not even a tear in the tendon, let alone a rupture. No bursitis, no impingement. A bit of arthritic inflammation, which is normal for me, and it’s just a small amount so can’t be doing anything much in terms of the dysfunction.

Which is good news.

disco arm.jpg

The bad news is I’m still paralysed at the shoulder, still in pain, and this likely means nerve damage of some description. Hopefully of the “time will heal with patience and therapy” description and not the “surgery on your neck required” kind of description.

Meantime. We are still thesising, and perhaps it’s not wise to write in a codeine induced peaceful buzz, but then again, maybe it’s genius. Coleridge was an opium fiend, and he was pretty much genius, though, yes Kubla Khan. Not his best work. Still beautiful language though. Those Lake Poets, those Romantics, they knew beautiful language.

I wrote a section in the thesis a couple of weeks ago on selfies,  because Julia illustrates a lot of her blog with them, and I was interested as to why. It’s so far from my own impulses that it took me weeks to screw up the courage to post one of my own here. It’s a rare person who is as introvert as I am (though the only trophy I ever won at school was for drama, so a dramatic introvert), but still. Selfies on social media I sort of understand as a cultural phenomenon, but selfies as blog illustrations? Interesting.

There is some research on the topic, mostly in “post-feminist” (inverted commas because I’m not sure how I feel about the description) blogs of young women “claiming the female gaze”, which is research speak for posting naked pictures of themselves for overtly political reasons. There is also some research on the cultural phenomenon aspect, on selfies as a means of communication, rather than the self portraits of the past that were a form of memory. We talk to each other through our selfies, well, some of us do. A lot. Enough to make it more about communication than self-indulgence, despite the disgruntled comments in the media from some of the more elderly (over 40) journalists.

(I do have references for all this – one of the consequences of the last month of pain etc., so forth – it’s getting boring let’s not keep talking about it – is that things got very disorganised as I jumped from one thing into the middle of another, and back again. I didn’t really notice it much at the time, but now the pain is under control I think I was trying to outrun it by shifting focus quickly and sometimes randomly onto something else. I never was a good runner. So this week one of my jobs is to go back and reorganise all the random piles I have lying around everywhere, and when I do I will post some of the better/more interesting articles for reference.)

For Julia, I think the selfies are in part a type of awareness of self that having terminal cancer has highlighted in her life. It’s not all about pretty dresses and beautiful hair, though a lot are, there are some about pain, about grief, a lot with her girls, a few of her hand in the chemotherapy room because she was so distraught in that moment she didn’t want photos taken of her face.

There’s a narrative around selfies that equates them with narcissism, a DSM pathology and also a Greek myth. I won’t comment on the pathology, but the thing about the myth? Narcissus did fall in love with his own reflection, but he wasn’t aware it was his own reflection (not the brightest bulb, I guess). He had been dismissive, disdaining, of those who fell in love with him before then, two of whom committed suicide in despair, and Nemesis lured him to the water in order that he suffer the same fate as his scorned admirers. It’s the awareness of self that is key to understanding Julia’s selfies, I think, quite the opposite of Narcissus. She is in conversation with herself, as much as she is with her readers. She makes statements of pride in herself, of commitment to herself, compassion for herself, and comparisons to pre-diagnosis self. Sometimes grieves for herself.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, it never is. But it’s one aspect to the story, and I think an interesting one.

body stories

I’m being hampered by a sore shoulder, which sounds lame, pathetic, a poor excuse of a poor excuse. Nevertheless, I am being hampered by a sore shoulder. Holding my arm in the position to type, and keep typing, and more typing, is hard. Sleeping, driving, holding things. It hurts, and its hard.

It’s all my own fault – I have been feeling so well and I have been forgetting to take my medication because there are so many other things to think about, to do, to be. And it’s hard to take a medicine that will make you feel worse for a while, when you are feeling good. One day every week where you are exhausted and nauseous, guaranteed, the next day just exhausted. Compared to months of feeling well, when you forget. I did the weekly nausea for years, and then I got busy. I stopped caring. Made excuses, forgot, paid little attention. And found myself returned to the pain of the damned.

I’ve been reading writer Lidia Yuknavitch for much of the day, in between writing about spirals and tropes and the priesthood of medicine. She is very interested in body stories, in the body as an epistemological site, and sitting there with my devilled, bedevilled, shoulder, I was interested too. How am I different in pain, what do I know in pain, is it comparable, incomparable, to when I am not in pain? I know grief, when I am in pain. A psychological River Styx, subterranean and swift.It pulls me under and there is no-one to whom I can both tell this story and have them listen. A sorry or advice are the consequences of my telling, and I don’t want either. I know pride, when I am in pain. A pride that insists I am no kind of affliction. My body is imperfect. It attacks itself. What of it? Screw you.

And what of it? Just that … just that, perhaps this: I think that brutality and beauty are always resting right next to one another in our actual lives, and to turn away from the suffering of others because it’s too difficult to live with is to disappear and abandon them, to dislocate them from our human existence with them. So much of the psychological research, of the blogs and blogging, to do with illness, with serious illness, with terminal cancer, seem to be about surviving, boldness, bravery, being real, triumph. Overcoming and empowerment. I even write, have written, that way myself. What are we hampering by enclosing the story of the body, imprisoning it, keeping it contained in these narrow tropes of courage and grace? Illness is physically brutal, and what of that, where is that? And how much of ‘reflexivity’ in social science research, is a self-soothing, self-righteous, self-protecting siding with the beauty over the brutality?

In my head, as I write, I am thinking of an ethnographic report of spending time with young women in India who had had acid thrown over their faces, their bodies. There is talk of their courage and grace and strength, and I have no doubt, no doubt, all these things are true. The authors admire these women enormously. And I also have no doubt that there are other things that are also true. Where is the fear, pain, rage, shame, the acknowledgement that their very graciousness may be a cultural role assigned to them, and that their bodies may know a very different story? That acid thrown onto a face is shockingly, horrifyingly, exceptionally brutal, and that this brutality is not just in the act itself but the remnants, the aftermath, the consequences of the act? That perhaps it is also in the homogenising characterisation of sweet and gracious and strong survivors?

I don’t know. I just think it’s worth asking. I think its worth considering the possibility that respectful distance can sometimes be code for disappearing and abandoning suffering, or at least tenderising its tougher edges into something easier to chew, to swallow. That we hide sometimes, most times, maybe all the time, inside the landscape of academic language. I really don’t know. I just think it’s worth asking.

Maybe I am also thinking of this: But when women tell how it is for them, when they self narrate their ordinary lives, it’s instantly sucked up by the culture—there’s already a place waiting for the story. A place where the story gets annulled. I think the culture of the academy also has places waiting for the stories, and I think it kills them, strips them of their power, and their impact. Turns them to clever dust.

And maybe my body knows, this inflamed, flaming body, that the truth of the brutality of pain is easier to live with than any amount of perfunctory sympathy, a sympathy that says, yes, yes. We understand. Take your medicine. Stop telling.