Illness Memoirs…

My MFA graduation is 4 months away and there is much work to be done! I am trying to pull my craft seminar together and thinking about illness memoirs…

Here is an interesting quote from the product description of the book,

The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and and Ethics by Arthur W. Frank.

“Frank identifies three basic narratives of illness in restitution, chaos, and quest. Restitution narratives anticipate getting well again and give prominence to the technology of cure. In chaos narratives, illness seems to stretch on forever, with no respite or redeeming insights. Quest narratives are about finding that insight as illness is transformed into a means for the ill person to become someone new.”

I like the idea of Quest Narratives. Finding insight and becoming someone new. I feel kind of strange saying this, but I think after 25 years of living with diabetes, I am finally, through my writing, gaining insight and maybe even becoming someone new, someone who isn’t afraid to let the darkness (diabetes) show.

I cringe when I hear stories of illness, or “progressive illness narratives” that are too cheerful, too happy ever after, like, look at what a better person I’ve become, look at what I’ve learned from getting sick…because to me, there is no happy ending with diabetes-it’s more like a chaos narrative that goes on and on and on….but I do think it’s possible to have insight into the dark side of disease, to embrace our ‘Bitter Hearts.’

In the Desert by Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter”, he answered,
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Kaethe Weingarten also writes about the illness memoir, I like her water metaphor: “The progressive illness narrative orients people to cure.  Yet, if there is one thing I feel I have learned from an adult life lived inside an unreliable body, it is that care not cure will keep us floating in the ocean.  It is my hope that understanding the different kinds of constraints facing people with illness, with regard to the stories they can tell, will make it more likely that care will circulate among us.  I hope that this will create, metaphorically, a variety of rafts and docks and buoys and life preservers for us to cling to – together – in the illness-waters that we will all face at some time in our lives.”

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