Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gratitude. And pain.

I’m in a moment where I’m surrounded by generosity, from people locally and afar.  Surrounded.


Do you want to make Maybelle happy with food?  Bring
Wildflour cinnamon rolls, her favorite food of all.
Is it worth listing some of what they’re doing?  One friend has taken charge of the offers of food.  Wonderful local friends, and people I barely know, want to bring food to help me recover.  They want to create something in their own kitchens, the kinds of luscious meals they wouldn’t usually fix for their own families or themselves.  Andrea established a calendar that will schedule just as many meals as I need, meals that will arrive not only in my immediate days of recovery but in the six weeks of my radiation, too.

Leigh and Claire are making it possible for me to go through the process of being promoted to full professor, which is happening this fall—while I’m recovering from brain surgery.  I’m creating all the main components (my narrative, copies of the things I’ve written, student papers with my comments), and they’ll organize this stuff and put it all online.  It’s a chunk.  Hours of work.  And they’re doing it.

Administrators here are glowing examples of exactly what you’d want:  supportive and happy to make this work in whatever way they can.  I will be on medical leave all semester.  They’ve made that clear.

And Leigh created a site on Rally.com for Maybelle’s Fun Fund.  People from anywhere and everywhere can donate money to help support babysitting.  I’m single and will need help.  My mother and best friends are taking turns being live-in support, but they can’t do it forever.  So I’ll have the funds to invite babysitters—people Maybelle adores—to come help.  This site is growing and growing.  As I’ve told Leigh multiple times, this is amazing.  Amazing!

I’m getting emails from students, former students, colleagues, friends who are offering their love and prayers and good vibes.  They’re asking what they can do—they’re recognizing possibilities and are responding.  They want to be with me. I’ve gotten emails from colleagues across the country who are sharing how much they’re thinking of me, the work they want to do with me when I’ve recovered. I’m hearing from students I worked with very, very closely a year ago or a decade ago—students who've such a great part of my life.  I talked with an alum yesterday, a student with whom I worked very closely while she was with me.  She wanted to hear my voice, to hear me saying how shitty things are.

And I said it. Things are shitty.  Everything is triggering pain.

Is that fair?  So many people reaching out.  So many people sending love.  And I have fucked up feelings.  I guess the more appropriate way to say that is that I’m experiencing complex feelings.  But they’re fucked up.

I feel guilty:  I don’t deserve this, this much generosity.  It’s more than I’ve ever experienced before.  Far more.  It’s coming from so many places, so many times.  People I’ve never met at Trey’s workplace are sending money.  People I’ve never met who are friends of my mom’s, or single moms who’ve heard about me, or friends of the many friends on Facebok.  I can’t possibly deserve this much.  What in the world could I do to be worthy of this?

And if I’m not guilty, if I do in fact deserve this generosity, then it can feel like evidence that I’m going to die soon, that the brain tumor will kill me.  The beautiful words that people post online and send me can feel like obituaries:  “Alison transformed my life.  I’m so grateful that I got to work with her.” “Let’s raise money for Maybelle, since Alison won’t be with her long.” “We’ll feed her while we can, because she’s on the decline.”

Let me be clear:  nobody is writing these things!  Nobody’s writing an obituary.  Almost every message ends with some version of, “You’re going to do great!” “Kick that tumor’s ass!” “I can’t wait to get together once you’re feeling better!” But sometimes the upcoming death is what I read, what I see and hear.

It’s painful. This moment is excruciatingly painful—not physically, but cognitively.  Emotionally.  It’s three days until my surgery, and I’m feeling vulnerable.  Afraid.  Sad.

The generosity is crucial—it’s holding me up.  And I’m still in so much pain.


  1. Your feelings are completely valid. It's a painful time, worrying, you can't control what's going to happen. All you can do is hope, try to stay strong, and pick yourself back up when you fall. Gratitude is also a kind of powerless emotion: people are doing things for you and not allowing you to do something in return, so all you can do is take it and thank them. So, the locus of control has shifted outside of you temporarily. But this network, this is something that you have painstakingly built over the course of your life. You could've been an ass, unkind, but you chose not to be. So that's a type of control. You set up the machine and now watch it go into play.

    I feel that you are completely deserving of help. I believe you are kind, hard-working, loving. Helping you in whatever small way I can makes me feel less powerless myself. There's always a selfish angle, but I'm not going to go too far down that Nietzchean path.

    1. Gratitude is a kind of powerless emotion: beautifully put. Yes, that's really true. I appreciate you saying that I've been part of creating this network--that was something I hadn't really noticed, but I guess that's accurate!

  2. How about: let's raise money for Maybelle, because Alison is going to be with her a long long time!

    As for gratitude and feeling guilty-- what Robin Barrow said.

  3. Dear dear Alison,
    The money is an investment! Henry needs friends and I want Maybelle to be thriving so that they can meet one day. And I expect her mom to be there too because you are one of the smartest, strongest, most kick-ass women I know. Our whole family is rooting for you.

    1. Thank you, Rachel. I definitely want Maybelle and Henry to be friends! Won't that be cool?

  4. If there is one thing that I know for sure after banging my head against the proverbial wall of life for all these decades it's this: One day at a time....it's all we have anyway- the playing field is level there- So none of us need to make the whole movie- we just need to keep it in the now~ ps: your feelings are not fucked up......-as long as you dont dive in head first, I see it as a healthy thing to dip your big toe in the fucked up feelings pond~it creates an emotional balance- love to you, you very deserving and beautiful woman!

    1. Alright, I'll dip my toe there. And I definitely agree with you about one day at a time.

  5. I don't (yet) know Andrea, but how would I sign up for this food calendar? I make a mean (nice) veggie lasagna. In regards to gratitude, I just want to say that I'm SO grateful to you--you've written me not one but two letters of recommendation, one of which got me my job. You expanded my mind in the classroom and exposed me to authors and thinkers that continue to shape and change my view of the world. Through your city paper column and your tireless, brave and intelligent activism in Charleston, you challenge me and many other folks to engage in dialogue about oppression on local and national levels. Your contributions to the Charleston community are immeasurable. I see the gifts and support you're receiving not just as an expression of gratitude, love (so much love!!) and support (!!!) for you and Maybelle, but also as an investment in a champion of Charleston--someone who's making our community a safer and more just place to live--a REAL-LIFE SUPER HEROINE! Thank YOU for all that you've done, are doing, and will do. And in response to your comment on Rally--because I couldn't figure out how to reply--I am SO looking forward to getting to know each other better. One day we'll go out for coffee/tea and it will be wonderful. In the meantime, I am thinking of you and sending you all of the wellest wishes.

    --Nicky Jones, class of '12--

  6. Also: I just want to note here that you are officially the fourth most famous Alison on the Google search bar, after Krauss, Brie, and Bechdel. You rock!!