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.