In 2010 I was told to wait, to be patient. Patient told to be patient. The cure was coming. Preliminary studies looked promising. If I could only “hang on” while the scientists, doctors, nurses, fundraisers, investors, and researchers do what they do. Patient hanging on, side of a mountain, sky above, sky below, my skin on the skin of a mountain side, which is crag which is rough, “I know it’s rough just hang on,” patient as pendulum, swinging, swung, back and forth.
I decided to make a mosaic, to focus my patience, stone by stone, piece by piece, to adjective my noun self. I am not a patient, I am being patient. This, the act of transforming the label of Patient from identity into temporary state. I am being patient now, I will not always be [a] patient.
(Kitchen of Former Institute of Mosaic Art)
My substrate was an extremely large rectangular piece of wedi board, so large I knew it would take at least a couple of years to cover with smalti, millefiori, and assorted bits and pieces. I envisioned the finished piece as a huge quilt; a quilt made of stone.
I wanted it to take a long time to complete. I wanted it to take as long as it took for the cure to be found. My working title for the mosaic piece was a three-consonant title: PTC. PTC for PaTienCe and PTC for the working name of the medication which everyone hoped would be a cure. There have been premature celebrations in the past—a new discovery, the gene responsible for the disease (more letters), a new way to treat the disease—but this time, everyone seemed to believe, was different.
That was more than four years ago; at some point during that time, I stopped waiting for the cure and I stopped working on the mosaic.
The definition of the word “cure” is a Rubik’s cube I turn over and over and over.
To free from disease, to take care of, to guide spiritually, to preserve, to harden.
What happens when I take care of myself and still live with disease? Am I “cured”?
What happens when I find spiritual guidance in poems? Can poems, language, letters become my cure? Can I cure myself with pliable grammar?
“I don’t want to cure myself,” said Aharon Appelfeld in a recent interview.
Radical acceptance as spiritual guide. Complete immersion into what is.
With sugar; with salt, with smoke, with nitrites and nitrates (saltpeter). When curing meats, aim for a healthy robust pink or red, rather than grey. Scientific processes involved: oxidation, dehydration, coagulation, inhibition and/or promotion of certain bacterial growth. Cured meats. Skins. Bodies swinging, hung. Hang. Healthy pink. Dead grey. Preservation passed down through generations, bodies, geographies. I chew dried fruits, savory sausages, smoked salted almonds, jerky. I write, I chew And then, a realization in my mid-thirties that self-preservation need not be a primary guiding force.
The word aphrodisiac, from Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. But why confuse the issue? To separate love from sex is to specify body. Body as a constantly decaying thing merges with another decaying thing. Body as waste, as food, as creation/creator/destroyer/consumer. In You Who Read Me With Passion Must Forever Be My Friends, Dorothy Iannone asks “What can it be that’s eating me?”
The following is a list Iannone composed of “Supplies for an 8-Day Sail To Iceland”:
Olives for Martinis-2
Foie de Strasbourg
Walnuts in Shell
Mushrooms in Oil
lemons + limes
pickled watermelon rind
12 cases of Schweppes
1 case of Red Wine
English Jersey cream toffee
wild strawberry jam
$12 of cherries
It feels good to read this list out loud. Please go back and read this list out loud. This is a list of supplies for the journey, methods of survival, a travel plan that refuses the beginning and end but chooses, instead, all points in between.
The book in which I found this list is a feast of color, pattern, penises, recipes, fleshy vaginas, foods, hair, sexual positions, speech, drawings, writings, poems, nipples, hungers, dreams, and questions. It is an invitation to sit at the table and gorge.
(Photo Credit: Maggie Downs)
Conventional wisdom says we who are ill or dying (we are all dying we are all dying we are all dying all the time) have decreased needs for food or sex. The hospital makes certain the patient knows this; the patient is not a body with needs, wants, desires, likes, dislikes, preferences, fears, or arousals, but is instead a [patient] body that waits [patiently] for treatment, for medication, for the final word to come from on high.
I’m thinking of patient as sub or dom. I’m thinking of hospital gowns made of leather and black lace. I’m thinking of the explicit permissions and releases we sign upon intake. Legalese for do what needs to be done: I will take it: I will not sue: I will not yell out in pain or malpractice: I understand the risks involved: I put myself in your hands: I might die in your hands. I’m thinking of making the next doctor—male or female, no matter—work for that access to my body, for the right to inflict pain and shame. How to morph Patient into Dominatrix is what I’m figuring now.
“My figures are shown either taking control over their bodies, or, at the opposite polarity, experiencing pain, torture, destruction. Female figures run, or mourn, over landscapes of broken bodies; irradiated with the poison of modern death machines—even Artemis ‘who heals woman’s pain’ is irradiated, but primarily the protagonist is activized, elegiac, or celebratory.”
An example: the rest cure was developed by Silas Weir Mitchell in the late 1800s for “nervous illness”. The majority of patients were female. Prescribed: bed rest. Isolation. Continual feeding of fatty milk-based diet. Meant to subordinate, dominate, infantilize. Prohibited: talking. Reading. Writing. Sewing*.
*See: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
To “be cured” is to accept the patriarchal model of medicine, body, power and control. I work to allow my body to continue as site of anarchy. I deny/refute/escape/challenge false authority over my body. I am not cured. I will not be cured. I laugh. I laugh and laugh and laugh.
Lizi Gilad is a first-generation American of Mexican and Israeli descent. She holds an MFA from UC Riverside's low residency program. Her prose can be found at The Rumpus and The Volta blog. She has poems forthcoming in Dum Dum Zine and YEW.