Mine the Tension Series: Observing with Interest

Me: I really liked what you had to say the other day in your craft talk about writing about rooms.

FG: Thanks.

Me: I tried writing about one, you know, as an exercise. It didn’t quite work out. I guess I don’t think the things I see are interesting.

FG: Well, they are. You are interested in them. They are… by definition… of interest.

Loosely, those are the contours of a conversation between Forrest Gander and me at the Community of Writers last summer. Like many memories, this one is hazy and I’m sure those aren’t the exact words, but it was the sentiment. I have been reflecting on this conversation for about a week now.

I have a neuro-muscular disability and, so my forays into the hospital, doctor’s offices, and other medical spaces, feel utterly mundane. These past few weeks though, they’ve become more spectacular to me, more eventful. I have been curious about the turn, in my own mind, as to why. I might attribute it to the fact that I’m dealing with a situation that has nothing to do with my neuro-muscular disability. Working with gastro-intestinal issues is literally a different system in one’s body and in the hospital. I might attribute it to the experiences I’m having as a chronic out-patient rather than in-patient. I might attribute it to the kinds of care I receive from staff and how/whether I’ve been able to advocate for myself. I might attribute it to the presence of pain.

I sought to write about these spaces now that they are more interesting to me. It occurred to me that they are interesting to others and have been for quite some time. The lack of familiarity stokes some folks’ interest. Some people are only tangentially interested because they care for or about me. In writing about this fascination, I kept trying to capture why these spaces or moments hold the attention of others. I wrote about the sights and smells. I tried to think of a moment of tension or confusion. And, I got nowhere.

It strikes me how much the conversation with Forrest has been instructive. Stick to what interests me and go from there.

This is the tension I’m in right now: how to trust that what I know can be what I write.

About TAPPhD

Therí A. Pickens received her undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature from Princeton University (P'05) and her PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA (2010). Her research focuses on Arab American and African American literatures and cultures, Disability Studies, philosophy, and literary theory. She recently published her first book, New Body Politics (Routledge, 2014), which investigates the role of the material body in constructing social and political critique. Her critical work has appeared in Disability Studies Quarterly, Al-Jadid, Journal of Canadian Literature, Al-Raida, and, the ground-breaking collection, Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at Bates College. She is also a creative writer. Her poetry has appeared in Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, Save the Date, and Disability Studies Quarterly. Her drama has been performed at the NJ State Theater. She offers courses on Arab American and African American literature. In her introductory courses, she seeks to provide students with information and skills that will enable and empower them to critically and constructively engage difficult topics like race, sexuality, gender, disability, and class. In her upper division courses, she pushes students to synthesize their knowledge from other classes and expand their critical thinking repertoires.
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