Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Milky Way Mammograms

Orion's Belt, Madison WI, 2010
I wanted to highlight both a student writing - still in rough form - and a passage from Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby this week.

The student writing is by a woman named Alison, who had a breast cancer scare in November. Solnit's passage is from her own breast cancer scare, and is in the first of two chapters called Breath.

How beautiful it is to use such cosmic, large scale imagery for such a small scale, intimate occurrence!  This shows one of the most powerful aspects of well-written memoir: the more personal it is, the more universal it is. In addition, Alison really brings in the personal - pears and hot cocoa - and intimate, to connect us directly, sensually, with the cosmic. One of Solnit's themes is apricots in her book, and she, too, brings "down" that cosmic imagery into the everyday magic of fruit.

I hope you enjoy these writings. They are depictions of painful experiences, rendered beautifully onto the page so we can celebrate and also feel their poignancy. Our poignancy: as human beings.

Alison's Writing
My breasts are ripe pears, freshly peeled on the monitor. Looking inside, they are space-
nebulae, the Milky Way, and a very long Orion’s Belt.

It is the Orion’s Belt that is freaking them out. I look at the tech’s face. She is biting her lips. My feet are wringing their hands. Nothing is as it was anymore. They have taken out the insides of my left pear. They have put them in the screen of the dark night, black and white star studded sky.

The night sky is inside me now. I feel a little bit cold, a little bit alien, a little bit devoid of the Mayan hot chocolate they sell at the store near the mall. I wish I was there now. They freely give samples, even a second if you say ‘please’ and smile. There is something about this hot chocolate that is profound. How to explain it? Somehow the spices, whatever they have added to the 65% dark cocoa, takes me to the sacred mountains, the southwestern kivas, deep in. I want to buy some to make at home but there is something precious about coming in for a sample that has been made for me.

Not having a partner, or many intimates really, there are things I notice differently. Such as the act of kindness of the making of the hot chocolate and the feeling of being taken care of, even though the samples are for everyone.

Soup and Sandwich, That’s another one that holds true- a grilled cheese sandwich on thin cut rye bread, with aged cheddar cheese, maybe some cherry tomatoes thrown in. Then grill it in butter, yum, and perhaps make some Amy’s chunky tomato soup, with any kind of milk you like. This is deeply satisfying, comfort, comfort. So often we’re looking for comfort. I am well fed food wise. But hungry nonetheless. Hungry for touch, for holding and being held, for breathing together and feeling the energy. Again, I realize I notice things I don’t think I did before- the way the sheets feel against the back of my legs, the fuzzy blanket against my bare shoulders, and the intoxication of smelling something really good, like how a good home smells.

Perhaps I too sometimes feel a bit alien, like I’m out there somewhere hidden deep inside the Milky Way. Will they, the white coated ones with their Novocaine needles, set to dig around inside me, will even they be able to find me?
And from Rebecca Solnit:
I was being pared like an apricot with a bad spot, or rather a bad spot was being sought in the outer space under my skin. And this was only the beginning...
I could twist my neck and see a screen where images of that breast in black and white showed huge on the monitor. 
What size is a representation? No size at all, for we get used to seeing satellite photographs of continents the same size as snapshots of babies. These images looked like the night sky, hemispheres of darkness with pale streaky strands like clouds or vapor or the Milky Way in a desert night when the stars are so numerous they blur into radiant fields. Some of the bright areas, the microcalcifications or tiny calcium deposits that looked pale in that dark sky, were the grounds for concern.

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