on being a writer & raising a disabled child with an undiagnosed illness
Friday, November 21, 2008
Having realized that when I am falling asleep on my chair is not the best time to write a blog post, having re-read what I posted last night, having realized it is absolutely incoherent, let me try again. Last night's post has been taken down. Perhaps I was talking about two different things.
Love makes you an anthropologist of your own life. What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What is this language we have got backed up into on long worst fire nights like a bad translation? It is important to keep recording the dialect forms, tracking the idioms.
Anne Carson, "The Anthropology of Water," from Plainwater
Myself, I am confused about love: not knowing whether love seems so complex because there are so many different types of love, but just the one word, or whether love is really all the same and we just draw distinctions and add inference for our own peace of mind. A basic logical problem of division and classification. I'm talking about the emotional impact and complexities of 'love,' not its physicality. That is, the basic division, adopted by Christianity, of love into the Greek 'eros' and 'agape,' predicates its classification on whether love is physical or spiritual. From this springs all of Augustine and Aquinas. And a whole lot of misogyny: this is a male view in which a woman's body is what is shed in translation from eros to agape--the desire for a woman's body, that is.
There are times when this seems simple-minded to me. I see romantic, or erotic, love as its own category, bound by its special circumstances of sex itself. But I also see the conceptual relationships, the structures of thought as Carson describes them, the ideology of love in a broader sense, as it were, everywhere. That is, love as it is predicated on an emotional relationship, not love defined by the presence or absence of a sexual relationship.
For example. I see in Carson's frequent trope of woman as supplicant, man as, well, a bit oblivious, that sense of ceremony and anthropology: we participate in ceremonies in order to feel lost in a great whole, to feel oblivious. The supplicant is parsing things out, 'recording the dialect forms, tracking the idiom.' She is trying to understand where we are, what this is all about. I find this is often the case in male-female relationships, although not always.
I sense this dynamic at work in a broader context while making plans for the holidays, the ceremony, the rituals. More and more each year, I parse these things out--try to figure out how to make this time of year 'meaningful,' balance out Robert's needs against everyone else's, despite the fact that he can't eat (holidays are largely about eating, I find), and can't really even play with toys (holidays are also about exchanging gifts). More and more, this need to be 'oblivious' that I feel around the holidays, to sink into a larger whole, feels unattainable.
This calls into question boundaries and comfort zones--definitions. The whole definition of the holiday season gets called into question each year. What is it? Why am I doing it? This reminds me of trying to define 'love' or whatever we called attraction when I was dating: boundaries, comfort zones, definitions. Back when 'love' felt slippery, untranslatable--when whatever you thought you felt you were unsure of or were sure was in a different dialect than whatever was spoken by the man to whom you were attracted. It did feel as though, often, there were different idioms or dialects at work.
So I'm back to being some kind of anthropologist of love with my child--trying to parse out a dialect when he has no language, tracking an idiom. I am calling him into being. I am creating definitions. I am finding a way to translate his idiom, his dialect, to the rest of the community. I might no longer a supplicant. I might be an anthropologist, a translator. If so, I am in a position of power and uncertainty at the same time. Who gives me this authority as a translator? is a question I often have. My problem is that, as a woman, I am still a supplicant, or made to feel that way, by so many of the societal structures I encounter on behalf of Robert: the school, the medical community, the therapeutic community. And they are the authority--the oblivious ones, the society-at-large, the communal super ego. I either receive the 'little mommy' treatment, or a puzzled stare. It feels like being 20 and being in 'love' with some boy who's oblivious to you. Who can't figure out who you are or what you want. Or why it's so important.
So I try and I try to parse him out--to copy down the dialect, translate the idiom. Write it out on paper. I've been asked by the school to put in writing what I want for next year for Robert. I keep thinking about it. I can imagine the words on the paper. I can create an itemized list. But what is it? Robert is all idiom, no coherent language--idiom, 'an expression whose meaning cannot be derived from its constituent elements.' If I take Robert apart, piece by piece, motion by motion, skill by skill, need by need, I can come up with lists, 'constituent elements,' but not the liquid statement or expression, not the ineffable nor the ephemeral 'robert'. What matters about him is so little a matter of physicality, of the body, and yet the body matters so much. The spiritual leap (like agape) just can't quite get made when the fact of his body exists and cannot be willed or wished away. Ah--that I could be an anthropologist of and for my son, and make it all make sense, explain how deeply love cuts and why it matters.