Self Portrait Project: Part II

April 12, 2011

(The following is the Self-Portrait Project letter of introduction to Infusion Suite patients.)

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen May Make for a Bad Dinner but, Boy! What a Story We Can Tell…

I first had the idea to create this archive as I lay curled and under blankets on my reclined infusion suite lazy-boy. I have always slept best with familiar voices and sounds around, but not too near. Like that after Thanksgiving meal nap with the rise of voices coming from the den as the football game gets good, children in and out the back door, dishes being washed in the kitchen. I smiled at the thought that this place, this “infusion suite” had become another such place for me.

In recognizing its importance in my life, I also began to reflect on the fact that before too long, it will no longer be part of my routine. I believe it is for recognitions such as these that the word ‘bittersweet’ was coined. It is bittersweet not because I made friends here – I spoke to virtually no other patients and it is not in my nature to demand the emotional depth required of a friendship from the nurses. They give so selflessly already, I could not ask for more. And it is not bittersweet because I will soon be so happy to finally leave and never return. For me, the bittersweetness lies in the fact that so many have come before me and so many will come after.

I do not scrapbook or quilt or needlepoint. I’ve made one and a half lovely knit caps sitting here. But mostly, I have read and recently, I have begun writing again. Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” In my work, I am privy to quite a bit of academic research and, in keeping with theories of perception, I have noticed quite a lot lately having to do with just how essential creative expression is during crisis. Elaine Scarry, author of The Body in Pain, writes, “physical pain does not simply resist language – it destroys it.” Frida Kahlo spent a lifetime reclaiming her identity from illness and injury through her paintings.

And thus, on that sleepy afternoon here in this infusion suite, I told Kendall we needed a journal, or an album, or something in which every person can say, “I am me, but once, I was you.” A medium for the past to leave some bit of their spirit or love or faith for those that come later to find and draw upon when they need it most.

I remember when I went into labor with my first of two amazing sons, in one of my more “I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” moments, my mother leaned over and locked eyes with me. She said, “Tina. Just remember. Millions of women have done this before you and millions will again after you. You too can do this.” I remember feeling as though the delivery room were suddenly full of generations of maternal ancestors – suddenly, I was not alone and, suddenly, I knew I could do it.

This is why.




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