Anamnesis with 15 Cites.

How to work when the pain is so great it slows even time? Indefatigable voice curling around and in on itself in the gut/womb space where I’ve put it down, you rise when and where I deny my body most: in the clinical waiting room; at the doors of the academy. [1] You are more familiar than I can say of my own touch on my own skin, as unpredictable a receptive surface as it is. A long time ago I knew that the point of my elbow will nervously caress the back of my throat, my right leg laid horizontal is a spire of tattoo ink run into my big toe.
The institution would have me call it “burning,” “aching,” “swelling,” “throbbing.” The same staple words of bad erotica, turned sterile to suit the bodiless worlds of hospital and university. [2] A carefully crafted, scientistic semantic field that wrongs patients, experts, scholars alike.
Really the institution would say I must be confused, because pain doesn’t typically refer like that.

That word, typical. Like neurotypical, or typical fibromyalgic, which I’m not because I live and work “just fine” with a functionality impairment of close to 10. I’m not writing anything like the typical dissertation, though I’ve been encouraged to rein it in. I showed none of the typical signs of a months’-long ruptured appendix and was triaged as 3, made to sit in a wheelchair although I’d likened being upright to a death wish, while a white man who almost severed the tip of his pinky by intervening in a bar fight was attended to immediately, praised for his heroism, given Percocet and a gurney. A nurse offered me Advil and scoffed at my ignorance when I told her it wouldn’t work. I sat there for hours, alien to my body, listening to the nurses ridicule a nine-months’ pregnant woman with a broken toe who kept asking for pain relief. Women are supposed to be stronger than men, aren’t they? the male RN joked to his female colleague. The pregnant woman was well-dressed, white. They were both black. The female RN laughed but had no ready comeback, and maybe that means something about how hard we have it, and maybe it doesn’t, but I’ve seen the clinical notes since and if this were a typical story I know I wouldn’t have lived.
I’ll never know why I was called, when there were better ones than I. [3]

 

The art of anamnesis shares its borders with storymaking and craft, both feminist practices, both starkly defined against alienation and joyless, exploitative labor. [4, 5, 6] If there’s one thing I can trust, it is you, pain, and how you can write, tender behind your unwarranted excesses, no stranger to shouting from exile. I have always put my body on the line [7], and you are less the price of that great risk than of my acclimation to silence and school desks for two decades straight, while you colonized me with cobwebs and parasitic wasps. You are an impolite intrusion, always, but together we have license to parse the passing hours as languid, the stuff of flesh as sticky as the mind, which you brought down with you like Zeus did Metis into the gut, long ago, to legitimate patriarchal rule, until she could no longer bear it and bore the goddess Athena instead to found a politics of possibility founded on justice and not violence [8, 9, 10]. My metis called to me for months before, fed up, she “swelled,” and “perforated,” and “burst,” and left me blank in the face of “well-appearing,” “well-developed,” “well-nourished,” “in no acute distress.”

I hadn’t eaten solid food in 3 weeks.
If there’s one thing I can trust, it’s that I can tell this story as an I without making it solely mine, that I can weave these disparate strands together into something you will love and be forced to destroy, that I can be the panic attack you must listen to in order to access the text and toolkit I can make for you. It’s the game of writing, and deconstruction [11], the means of expression we all deal in, and yet a relative who long ago earned his physics doctorate called this kind of work “creative gum-chewing,” and multiple academics I respect have warned me that this isn’t research, that it has to “look like real research” if I want to become established, which is a lot like having to stage my pain as a performance to avoid “looking too well” for treatment, the same thing as telling me no expert will take me seriously, however many years I have put in, because who am I but a sick South Asian woman without the credentials, or power, to speak? [12]
You might as well take my body from me while I’m still alive.

 

So many institutions and departments call themselves socially conscious but this is a form of erasure, too, forcing anyone to comply with a disciplinary time and form that refuses this reality, which isn’t mine alone. [13] It purges a community of alternative means of telling and interpretation [6], all the ways we have had to learn to spot signs, to collect them, to read them and hoard them like playing cards for flimsy shelter with a killing edge. Like the double-edge of the pharmakon of medical knowledge and of academic privilege [14]. In over ten years I can count on one hand the number of experts I have found who are humble enough, open enough, experienced enough, to read signs with more than just the eyes and co-construct our stories with us. Meanwhile we try on voices to match the bodies we have and paint ourselves visible, to resist the ways in which our stories and struggles are compressed, in color-coded pain charts, questionnaires, online intakes, purposely ratty sneakers and clothes. [1, 15] I might as well have exchanged the dull midline ache for the way that I once reached under a bush for a dropped coin and touched the edge of all landscapes, softer than dirt and writhing with life, the half-eaten carcass of a bird, and that was the feeling I had in my pelvis, that smell exuding from my piercings. But even that language is wrong, because once I say “pelvis,” the game is done. You hear “reproductive system.” You see “conventionally attractive woman of childbearing age.” Occam’s razor tells you PID. So shortsighted, you cannot believe it is anything else.

[1] Wilkinson, 1997.
[2] Scarry, 1985.
[3] Herbert, 1974.
[4] Metta, 2015
[5] Krugh, 2014
[6] Rosa & Parodi, 2010
[7] Spry, 2011
[8] Detienne & Vernant, 1974
[9] Faraone & Teeter, 2004
[10] Long, 2007
[11] Atwood, 1983
[12] Hedva, 2016
[13] Kuppers, 2014
[14] Derrida, 1968
[15] Morris, 1991

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