Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blank Spaces

We’ve tried to end this blog at least twice over the past three months, since Brooke has been home.  We never seemed to get to it.  It took too much time.  We didn’t have anything to say.   Surely you’ve noticed that there’ve been many fewer postings; if you were a reader of something like this, wouldn’t you take two weeks of silence as the end of it, as if the authors had given up?  But that’s not the case--for a whole set of complex reasons we’ve been unable to bow out.  But we’ve tried.  For example, we wrote:

            We keep thinking that it’s an ending.  Perhaps it’s time now to end our work on this blog.  In many ways also this is a sad moment for us, since we have loved writing it, and we are deeply grateful for your participation in it, whether you’re written responses or not  (of course, we loved those).  In fact, we have had to have an audience like you in order to go on writing what we have over the past two years.  But the time has come to have some closure.  Life will go on.  Both of us will continue to develop and hopefully mature in this as Brooke’s recovery to whatever is his “new normal” continues.  But we can’t go on forever with this.


            But we couldn’t do it.  We just couldn’t quit.   Just the same, there’ve been long pauses, gaps, silences.  In a way these gaps represent the difficulty in our getting started in this new life.   There’ve been some high-spirited postings recently, like the visit of Peggy’s nephew and son on the same lively evening, or an account of why eating at home with friends is better than eating at restaurants, but they don’t convey the complexity of what’s really been going on.  It’s about coming home under completely changed circumstances, when coming home was supposed to be the culmination of two years’ seemingly superhuman effort.


Poems have blank spaces.   Think of Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal”—they speak.  Usually they are strophic, they take things to another level, another emotional level, you know, like the Ode on Immortality—the voice stops, that’s the way the poem progresses.  That’s the way this piece of writing, this blog, needs to progress, it needs to confess its pain.  


            Brooke says, you’d think when you had a scrotal abcess like the one I had a year or so ago that would really be pain, and it was, but that’s nothing compared to this challenge.  This is a time for a deep emotional sounding, an exploration of the abyss that may lie below the surface.


We both recognize that the hard part is now beginning.  We wanted to end this blog, but couldn’t end it, because something really huge hadn’t been confronted yet.    The strains this whole thing, my accident, my being home, puts on a marriage are unbelievable—even a happy marriage—and digs up stuff one could otherwise live and entire lifetime without ever having to recognize. All of the courage and optimism and determination is somehow undercut by opposites, by terror, by anger, by despair.  This is the shadow that counterbalances the optimism, the shadow that’s been casting itself over our new life, now that we’re finally at home.


This subsurface current of psychic pain has emerged from the shadows in a conversation with two close friends, L. and D..   They just came and brought dinner basically to try to relieve Peggy from all the stress of running what’s essentially a one-bed hospital and let her go to the symphony that was playing that night, but she never went.  They’d written a letter they wanted to post to the blog about how fragile Peggy seemed, how much help she might need to seek, and how perhaps friends could think of bringing by some food now and then so she wouldn’t have to think about the cooking all the time.   But that was two weeks ago, and much has changed since then, both in shadows revealing themselves and in increasing fortitude in facing them.


            It took a conversation with these two friends of very long standing, who’ve been seeing things from the beginning, to get us to open up about what we find really painful to write,, what has surfaced since Brooke has been home.  We started to talk honestly, and even before we got to dinner Brooke had gone into the bedroom to get cathed.   He came back from bedroom and said that while he was being cathed he’d had a really painful breakthrough; he was shaken.  He’d been thinking about people and their lonely marriages.  He said we have a serious, deep problem that we need to confront; we’re in a situation in which we’re lonely together, in the house.  I know, said Peggy.  I want to talk, Brooke said, and I poured out this stuff about being alone together.  That kind of opened up the emotional floodgates.


            But it began more easily:

            How does an outsider deal with your pain? D. had asked.  Presence, Brooke answered.   You weren’t mentioned by name, but you’ve been present at three or four occasions when I had extreme pain.  Even trying to recapture those moments, if you’re not the one suffering that pain—the assumption is that you’ll get through it, there’ll be an end to it, that pain. You stayed and stayed and stayed, There’s a huge amount of love in that, absolutely overwhelming.   Then Brooke remembered something still earlier, when he was first in the hospital and couldn’t talk because he was intubated and then trached but without a speaking valve, he had spelled out something with the alphabet board, to D.; it said I love you.


            Our talking with D. and L. started from there, spun out from there.  We needed them the way you need a therapist, someone you’re close to who understands you and who understands the situation.    That was the setting for our conversation.  Everything grew from that.   We kept saying that the blog will not be beautiful and true, if it can be, unless we try to plumb this abyss, about the coming-home sense of unexpected aloneness.  We suspect it happens to every close couple where one of them has been in a hospital for years and they’ve developed a different way of being together, but they’re both now back where they started—though, of course, in a very different way.


            We tried to explore what ending the blog meant, and we came to recognize that that has been our joint project, our mutual work, the thing we can do together, really together.  Dropping it, even for a couple of weeks, has made us lonely and isolated in ourselves.   It’s as if we couldn’t talk anymore.


Sometimes people write to each other, and write at a very deep, personal level.  There are some legendary correspondences—Keats’ letters to his friends and his family, for example—and some modern practices that make use of the written letter, rather than in-person exchange, to explore deeper feelings and commitment: think of Marriage Encounter, for instance.  But those things involve one person writing to another, and that other person writing back to this one.  But in this blog we haven’t so much been writing to each other; we’ve been writing together, forming what has sometimes been an intertwined duet and sometimes a single voice that speaks out to other people.  It’s been our way of talking.


Though we don’t look backwards much, we remembered a moment when we were reminiscing about the things we used to love to do together, like hiking together and talking.  We always said, let’s go hiking.  We never said, let’s go talking, although the talking part was at least as important as the hiking part.   So while we’ve recognized that we can’t go hiking anymore, we have thought that we could still do talking.  Indeed, talking together was part of almost everything we used to do—so, we said, we haven’t lost all of it. 


            Or at least that’s the way it seemed.  But losing the blog seemed to be losing not just the kind of talking we used to do hiking, but what not only talking together but writing together has made us see.  That isn’t always happy—more on this shortly, the shadow-side of dependency—but just the same important to see.


            Over dinner, D. said, I’ve been thinking about your trying to end the blog, but perhaps there was something artificial about this, the anxiety of ending.  Termination.  Finality.  But this is an ongoing story.   For the space of a quiet dinner at home with these friends, writing together became a four-part voice, itself a new thing.


            D’s right; it is an ongoing story.  We’re not finished.  There’s still stuff we still need to be honest about.   Stuff we don’t have the courage to write down, or, more accurately, stuff we haven’t had the courage to recognize.  This is hard; homecoming was such a goal, something that was the aim for over two years, and while it is wonderful in many respects it is really coming home that makes us face the hardest things, about what a catastrophic injury and radically changed circumstances can mean.


                                                            *   *   *

But. oddly enough, writing this has brought us much closer together again.   Much closer, as if we’d weathered the storm that in fact everyone had said would be on the horizon.

            Perhaps we need this blog for ourselves, as much as we thought we were doing it for you.



Elisabeth said...

What a post. It brings up the whole interminable issue of why we blog.

Your circumstances are exceptional - Brooke's accident and the life you Brooke and Peggy lead now, but I read so many extraordinary blogs about people caught up in extraordinary situations and it seems to me, this private public speaking to one another through the blog has a powerful effect, a therapeutic effect, a creative story telling effect.

I'm so glad you're keeping up the blog. It feels necessary/helpful for me from all this way away in Australia.

I met you both by chance. I'd like our brief contacts to continue. Thank for your courage and ability to keep life going and to keep the line open.

The gaps in between are okay, too.

Lorraine Seal said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy

This post moved me very much, for personal reasons as well out of concern for you both. In fact, I found it difficult to read; all day I drew back from re-reading it.

I too have been lonely in marriage. Indeed, I suspect that few have not experienced this, even in happy marriages, as you point out. At one such period, I found solace in a correspondence in which I was able to write on a deep, personal level – at times, plumbing the abyss, as you’ve written.

The loss of my correspondent left a void in my life I doubt can ever be filled. There are things that emerge in writing that one cannot or does not express in conversation. It’s as though the searching required for growth depends on the written voice. Introspection arises from grammar. ‘What is it I really mean?’ I ask as I write. I turned to keeping a blog in part for one of the reasons you suggest: To have a purpose for writing. It’s not the same as the correspondence was, but it keeps me from giving up.

Overcoming some of the loneliness in our marriage began when my husband and I moved first to Ireland and now to Salzburg. Part of the difference was simple: Changes in our schedules and responsibilities allowed us to prepare and eat more meals together. Part of it has to do with, now especially, navigating different cultures and landscapes; we depend on each other for support as we learn how to do it. So our interdependency grew. Perhaps your writing together helps you overcome the now-necessarily asymmetrical dependency in your marriage.

I’m sure this creates stress for each of you. Even with the staff you’ve so carefully put together, for Peggy to manage, direct and administer the one-bed hospital, trying to remain calm and focussed on the positive through setbacks while keeping her own distress in check, I imagine, can’t be easy. I sensed her fragility when I watched her interview. The toll of the past two years showed.

Both of you have lost autonomy in fundamental ways. You’ve both also lost privacy, as you’ve alluded in the past, because you’re never completely alone in your own house. That can’t be easy either. I’ve been concerned about you, troubled in some ways that I batted away because, I reasoned, if there were setbacks or unusual problems, you would have written about them. But then, maybe we readers do sense the shadow side emerge in the dialogue’s interstices.

When you don’t post over a period of more than a week, rather than assume you’ve lost interest and intend to discontinue the blog, I have assumed there wasn’t much to say in the moment and that you were busy. Though, of course, these were the times when my concern would mount.

In my own blog, I let too long go by between posts for periods when the demons strike me dumb. It worries me because I’m told people expect frequent posts. I worry that my handful of readers will lose interest. But that’s not what happens when you are silent. I keep checking back.

I, for one, would feel the loss of this correspondence. I hope you continue to find the writing both necessary and important because of the insights you give us. You’ve created an important connection between you, both as individuals and as a couple, and us readers. My the respect and deep affection I’ve long felt for both of you is felt more intensely as a result.

with much love,

George Constable said...

It's presumptuous and even intrusive for me to say this, but I have experienced your blog as a process of two remarkable people not just reporting but exploring depths of meaning that lie untouched and unknown in most of us. This latest post is the deepest yet. I hope you won't stop. To belabor my metaphor: somewhere there's a center where, gravitationally speaking, depth ends. Way, way down.

ed ranney said...

Hi Brooke and Peggy,

A quick reply to your good posting re the ongoing prospects of the blog. I'd been wondering, of course, about the nature of it, since you've been home, missing the intellectual/emotional complexity of the pre-home writing. Mostly I suspected you were both so busy with the activities of the one-bed hospital, teaching , visits, etc, that there was little opportunity, ironically, for the intense creative musings the hospital time afforded, even demanded.

So, for selfish reasons, perhaps, I'm delighted to hear this renewed, joined voice from you both, that affirms the deep awareness of how couples need to fuse in responding to intellectual/emotional challenges in order to survive. That the blog can provide a key mechanism for ongoing communication and creativity for you both is a boon for us, as well as a key focus for you. I would hope that you do not abandon it, we need your combined voices as much as you need the opportunity to fuse those voices. Plus, you are creating a memoir that has the capacity to stand as a wonderful contribution to our understanding (and ability to weather) the trials of the human condition. So I would entreat you not to deprive us of your ongoing insights, struggles, and basic news. It would be impossible for you to communicate individually by emails, phone, etc with all those of us who want news of you, so there are many levels on which I hope the blog can continue.

In this regard, I'd been wondering recently how to connect with you regarding a memoir I've recently examined, first through the feature film by the painter Schnabel, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, based on the brief memoir laboriously dictated by a french editor, before he died, a year after suffering a massive stroke. He could communicate only by blinking his left eye. Perhaps you know it. The film and the memoir are both extraordinary. I'm glad I saw the film before reading the memoir, but glad I have the book, to muse over, over time. What stands out, of course, is that in his case he is so unequivocally alone - his inability to speak compounded by his separation from his wife (who, with their children, proved more steadfast than his young mistress), and restricted to IV nourishment. Nevertheless he left us this stunning memoir, a different chronicle than your postings regarding the events of the past 2 years, but one that is powerful in the extreme.

Events in the middle east dominate the news of course, extraordinary how the cyber world itself can influence, provide a mechanism, for moving political fervor, events. No telling what can occur, both on the world stage, or on a personal level, as you know all too well. Life here, however, is quiet - I seem to be between projects - the centenary celebration of H Bingham's "discovery" of Machu Picchu looms this year, a Peruvian colleague is organizing an exhibit and book commemorating it that I'm involved with, so I expect to be going to Lima soon to help as much as I can. I'm hopeful it will be a good contribution. I'll keep you posted, and once plans are clearer, hope to get up to see you both, at home!

Do keep us posted, with much love from all


Kass said...

I'm glad you feel it's important to continue exploring and expressing. To observe your unity and honesty is a privilege.

Nan said...

Dear Brooke and Peggy
You are doing it for yourselves ---- but you're also doing it for us. It doesn't matter that there are spaces, but especially for those of us who can not drop in but once or twice a year it helps us to feel close to you --- we love you both and this is important.
Also, those months when it was a hospital situation we could do outside reading and try to keep up with the medical problems and
progress. Now we need to rely on what you are comfortable sharing with us on a situation which we don't find in medical texts. Please keep up what works for you and we'll be with you. Love Nan

darthlaurie said...

Thank you for continuing to write your blog. I haven't regularly been reading blogs, but my bf has just introduced me to RSS feeds and I'll definitely be paying more attention.
Your recent posts seem more poetic than I remember some of your older posts; it really makes me regret I never had the pleasure of sitting in on one of either or your courses when I was at the U.
This loneliness even when you're with someone is something I've been feeling in my own relationship; it seems that even though my partner and I are in the same room we could just as easily be miles apart. Perhaps writing together or finding some other form of communication would help us feel more connected. Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations.