searching for both/and

Now it will look like 2 posts in one day! Magic!

Almost two years ago, I posted here about mind/body dualities and I even posted long ago grad school writing. Which, I will say, is kind of embarrassing for me. But, you know, one does things. Ahh, the A) earnestness of grad school writing, and B) the knowing that everything can always be rewritten and likely should be. Anyway, J’s death and my own re/membering of my body and what it was and now is have been just beneath the surface for me over the past few months. I’m going to post another bit of academic writing (this bit, about to be published, so much more polished than the fateful grad school paper post. clearly, i’m having issues with myself and the revealing of old thinking!) that I’m trying to work through. (so, I suppose, feel free to skip if you find academic writing boring.)

My own body, J’s body, they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. They failed. Mine recovered, mostly, but I’m still thrown by the not naturalness of it all. The not naturalness of young and healthy bodies growing cancer. I keep looking at J’s facebook page, and the messages and photos and words about her alive-ness, her ways of being. It is just not supposed to be. I mean, here I am, sitting on my couch typing. My really old dogs (seriously–15 and 13 years old) are snoring obnoxiously loudly on their bed. I’ve had to scoot our patented “keep the dogs off the couch” system over just so I can have a spot. (Ah! photo evidence! We cover the couch and chairs with magazines. It is high style. :Image

These dogs? Are olde. Old. Yet, they still jump on the couch. They drive me insane with their increasingly obstinate ways, their “we shall do as we please”-ness with the peeing at inappropriate times, the breaking through dog blockades, and on and on and on. But, dude, they are OLD. This end of life stuff? They’ve earned it. Their bodies deserve comfort because those bodies have ushered them through so much. Their minds? Yeah, they are a bit addled (especially the 15 year old. God bless him and his not-all-there qualities), but this is to be expected.

J’s body? Was not old. It had just delivered a baby (likely, while she had stage 3 or 4 colon cancer. holy crap. I mean that in both the figurative and literal senses. I can’t be all that down if I’m making shit jokes, right?). It was young. My body? Ran, still runs, eats healthy food. Was young (is getting older, but is still too young for colon cancer). And, my mind knows that, at least for me, this cancer was a fluke (although, I will say–the more I learn about younger women and cancer, the less flukey it seems). My mind, my brain, my non physical being, they all understand this. And yet, I feel the need to exercise the bad out. I read about exercising and cancer prevention, so I exercise more. This spring break was supposed to be a time for me to ramp up my training, but my leg has really been hurting, so I’ve had to take it easy. And, I’m worried about the consequences of this easing up. Will it mean a return of cancer? will it mean I will put on weight that could possibly encourage the growth of a cancer? I mean, I know that this is crazy. Crazy. But it feels real. 

In the paper that Teri and I have coming out in Frontiers, we use Judith Butler’s brilliant Precarious Life to help us (from the abstract of our paper), “interrogate what we underwent when the carefully constructed identities we had contrived from cultural discourses were interrupted.  We are attending to the echoes between our experiences, and, we hope, among the experiences of others reading this piece. We transact theory, experience, writing, and image as the data, space, and analysis for a contingent sense making. … New identities—indeed all identities to which we find ourselves culturally tethered– are inaccurate and unstable. No single, prescribed identity can hold the shattering experience. We ask then, how is it possible to push against the coercion of imposed identities and through resistance inform the (re)production of a self/selves?”

So, yeah. I know that this is hard and natural and real. But, even though the writing of the experience and the theorizing of the experience have been therapeutic for me, watching J brought so much back, and while it didn’t erase that work, it brought it back. I have more work to do. One of my favorite quotes from the Butler text is: “If we have lost, it follows that we have had.”  In the paper, I wrote this:

Indeed. But, what did we have? In my case, trust in my body. I was always healthy—a vegetarian distance runner. I had the knowledge of that health. It was solid. I lost the guarantee that living how “they” (the medical establishment? Science?) told me to live, would mean a long and healthy life. I now live with and in uncertainty about this vessel that is my body. … While I can feel at one with this body in certain moments, I also feel angry at it, betrayed by it, confused by it and, strangely, simultaneously sure of it. The things I know—about embodiment, about being a mother, about health, I do not know. The stark change in how I mothered, in how I was physically allowed to mother, brought that into sharp relief. I cannot know the known. I have lost that.

I think that I’m struggling with the loss and gain. The both/and. Dualities–binaries–are comforting. As a culture, we rely on them. In my academic work, I challenge them. I know that nobody–no matter if they label themselves one way or not–lives theory purely (and, sometimes, the label is proof that, in fact, they don’t understand the theories that they are claiming) and consistently. In fact, the idea that anyone could goes against what I understand in my academic thinking, as shifting as that understanding is. But, I really wish that I could figure out how to break this binary that is holding me right now. I don’t know if getting back into academic work about it would help (I’m working more on my other project currently, and finding it immensely rewarding, if in a totally different way), but I have to find something. 

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