Here are our comments on Elizabeth's blog's post. She wrote about things shifting in a good direction, and the fear this can generate (she's a fantastic writer--go read it right now then come back and read the rest of this post):
Alison: Ah, Elizabeth--you're digging into this. It's scary to dig into hope. I may be uneasy (grouchy?) by the expectations that you're brave, wise, etc. But I know that this framework works for you (isn't it odd how we can find some similarities that emerge from our differences of opinion).
Anyway, my tired brain gives you a hug. And I'm super glad to hear that you might have the possibility of hope.
Elizabeth: I like the idea of digging into hope. I'm not sure what you mean by the "uneasiness" or grouchy way you feel -- nor what framework you're referring to. Plea service elaborate, wise Teacher!
Alison: Rereading my comment, it sounds like I'm saying that I'm uneasy about YOU, and I apologize! I think what I'm saying here is that when people say I'm wise, part of me wants to say, "Akkkk! No, I'm just making my way through this the way any of you would! It's not my wisdom that's brought along a brain tumor to a wise person!" So I generally appreciate the warmth that's conveyed through…what…I'm not even sure. I guess I'm talking about some of the compliments as feeling distancing. If a friend touches my shoulder and makes the "This can really suck, can't it?" facial expression, that can feel really connected.
I am truly throwing this out there without even rereading.
Elizabeth gave a response via email:
Yup. THAT I understand and know exactly. My favorite is the old "I could never do what you do." It makes me feel incredibly isolated. My favorite ever short story is by Lorrie Moore -- "There Are No People Like That Here" in Birds of America. In it, she recounts the story of a woman whose baby is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. The people who she most relates to, who help sustain her, are those who fully acknowledge the suckery of the situation. Who say "holy shit!" when they see the baby in the hospital crib after surgery, etc.
So she recommended the story (info in the subject line). And I read it. It's Friday at noon, and I felt a little guilty because this story shouldn't get in the way of the grading. Which I wasn't doing anyway (please notice the blog/email conversation that was not the same thing as grading papers). But I realized that our conversation and my reading do play a role into my research. And that's not a joke.
So here's the quick response I would have written to Elizabeth. I figured I might as well share it with you, too.
The story starts with the Baby's bleeding which almost immediately leads to the children's cancer institute, with rooms of families, or divorced fathers. They're sitting there, being out of control, seeing some of their children being in the process of dying, seeing how vulnerable their bodies were.
The text is written in an explicit third person. The child (called Baby) gets some description, but Mother, who's central to this story, and Husband (notice that he's not central here--not fully connected to Baby), are presented as voices and feelings, not as descriptions of their bodies or the sounds of their voices. The doctors all have titles, too, as do all the folks who are living at the children's cancer location. There they all are.
What does this mean, Elizabeth? What does it mean to have such separateness? To me, reading the story, it felt like I kept being pushed out. I'd want to connect, but I'd be pushed: this is Mother, not the beautiful/fat/activist/traditional/etc. person. And her focus is her Baby. Of course it is. And as a reader, I'm being given some feedback from the person who's written this book, and who's occasionally asked questions and framed things to me specifically.
I end up feeling like I'm watching different pain and fear in a space where I'm not invited. I'm looking at them. Here's one thing: "She is feeling relief and rage simultaneously: there is a feeling of prayer and litigation in the air. Yet essentially, she is grateful. Isn't she? She thinks she is. And still, and still: look at all the things you have to do to protect a child, a hospital merely an intensification of life's cruel obstacle course." The simultaneous feelings…I can relate to that with my own health. Life's a cruel obstacle course for all of us, though. It's part of what it means to be a person in the world.
And another thing: "'You've got to have a second child,' says a different friend on the phone, a friend from out of town. "An heir and a spare. That's what we did. We had another child to ensure we wouldn't off ourselves if we lost our first." She goes on to say that it's a rope she has planned. This story relates to my world of talk. I've had conversations about this issue with more than one friend. A response to life's cruel obstacle course.
It's not a story with an easy ending. There is an ending--things change at the end--but that doesn't matter to me. What matters is watching the tools the Mother assembles:
[The Father says] "All of those nice people with their brave stories…Don't you feel consoled, knowing that we're all in the same boat, that we're all in this together?"
But who would want to be in this boat? the Mother thinks. This boat is a nightmare boat. Look where it goes: to a silver-and-white room, where, just before your eyesight and hearing and your ability to touch or be touched disappear entirely, you must watch your child die.
Rope! Bring on the rope.
Eizabeth, what do you think?