I’ve been wanting to write a fiction that draws its form from its own symptoms. The way the cyclical nature of a menstrual cycle invites a recurrence (with some variation) against linearity. This is important to me: how can the content of a story be expressed in its form, or how can form be re-invented or re-thought in response to the specifics it is seeking to address? Which is another way of asking, what separates lived experience from its translation into narrative?
I’m writing these sentences through a spectrum of sensations ranging from mild discomfort to sharp, hammering pain radiating through my hips. The words that make it to the page make it despite (or because) everything else: despite the time we lack, our systemic sleeplessness, all the ways our bodies are telling us to stop and we don’t listen, we go on. (Can writing exist without adversity? What would homeostatic writing look like?).
On my desks there are books, but mostly amber and blue droppers, white plastic bottles containing substances meant to alleviate the effects of the chronic condition I live with. I am currently being treated to build blood, stir up the flow of my circulatory system, bolster its ability to flush cellular waste. Everyday, I ingest vitamins (liquid vitamin D3 with K2 for better absorption, multivitamins for women); Anti-inflammatory supplements (curcuma extracts, Meriva 500-SF); Liposome phospholipid complex and glutathione for brain fog and cognitive support; Chinese herbs (Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang & Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang), each prescribed by doctors, healers, and naturopaths trained in different medical systems, clashing traditions, understanding of stagnation, energy, parasites, each deploying a different set of metaphors and visual language. Despite the hierarchy between us, I am moved by my healers, fascinated by their belief systems— the way they make sense of the world beyond reason, or see illness as the manifestation of a broader dysregulation sometimes referred to as “capitalism,” or “the modern world.” I am a bad patient, someone who doesn’t follow instructions and regrets it. This fiction is written with an attachment to pain, on a binge of expensive supplements and generic drugs, with crushed flowers streaming through my blood, liver from cows grazing on contaminated pastureland, without metaphors, with Astragalus roots revered for their healing properties and ingested with gratitude for the healer, the healed, and the illness.
It involves belief and, or, skepticism, a pilgrimage to a temple I must reach by walking through mediterranean landscapes where, before being harvested and synthesized into a tincture, plants are addressed by name. It is set in a time free of production, a time after medicine. In this fiction, I can’t ignore the interruptions my body imposes on the workday, or on a desired outcome or artistic vision. This fiction may never be completed. I say “this fiction” as if I know what this fiction is. My assertions are made worthless by my symptoms’ determination to survive. In fact this fiction isn’t about repair. Its goal isn’t to subsume the paralinguistic into language. It knows that the body has its own truth, that we will never be one, whole, healthy.
How do you write fiction like that?
Page scanned from an Iatrosophion, between 1501-1800, Special Collections - Manuscripts(Princeton Greek MS. 131)
I bleed like a tortoise, a rusty faucet releasing one lethargic drop after another. I collect my blood, as per Isaye’s instructions, which I desperately seek but also resist. My friends think he is a scam; he has no credentials other than being trained as a priest in a religion I know nothing about. I trust him like a stranger, someone who is everything. He has a vision, knowledge that knows without evidence. (Is this fiction a fraud, an anti-scientific, politically reactionary, and harmful tale?)
Page scanned from an Iatrosophion, between 1501-1800, Special Collections - Manuscripts(Princeton Greek MS. 131).
In the dream I had yesterday a friend is walking backwards behind me. I feel her breath down my nape, moist and lukewarm. I wonder if she had ice-cream or coffee before she decided to attack me. I know that her body temperature runs high because she likes sucking on ice. She is both distant and very close when she pulls out a weapon, an object shaped like an electric razor, and plugs it in my asscheek as if it were a vaccine, a taser meant to paralyze me. She whispers something in my ear I find exasperating. I feel no urge to defend myself but I want her to know something. I turn around, pull her closer; “Listen to me little cunt.”
There are details about the dream I’d like some clarification on: was my reaction warranted, why was our confrontation so satisfying, what side of me was I addressing? I take the dream to Isaye like a slice of cake, a morning offering. In this fiction, dreams are not exclusive to those who dream them. He compliments me on my outfit but declines to comment any further. “Once you wake up, begin walking to the temple. Bring a suit you can sweat in. You’ll sleep on a marble slab, in a room with red windows for boosting blood circulation. While you’re asleep I’ll collect your sweat and take notes. Expect a visitation.” I pay Isaye $80 for the consultation and leave his studio with a set of instructions.
Oberhelman, Steven M. Dreams, Healing, and Medicine in Greece: From Antiquity to the Present. Ashgate Publishing Company, 2013.
An Iatrosophia is a genre of medical literature, a compendium of folk tales, astrological medicine, herbal treatments, spells, rituals, and healing recipes. A collection of both hearsay knowledge and first-hand observations of the body that Isaye logs in a notebook he stores at the temple. On my way home, I collect pigeon dung on a public bench on Vanderbilt, but am at a loss as to where to find hedgehog skin on a Sunday. Turning objects into ash seems important for the recipe, so is vinegar. This fiction isn’t a recipe; its words aren’t correlated to a material outcome. There is no healing or action to be derived from its words, although it is written in the penumbra of their possible relationship, its prolonged sleep. Before I leave, I smear the guts of the earth on my forehead, pack some electrolytes for the trip. Tonight I’ll be sleeping in Isaye’s temple where dreams are believed to be an extension of our waking life, the way fictions may be extensions of essays.