I read this woman’s article and I felt that alert attention in my all my cells like you always do when something said by another could have been you speaking out loud; like, at last, a direct hit or the gentle sound of something important clicking into place. It was a forthright, say-it-like-it-is article, written by a highly accomplished, well-educated journalist, describing her experiences as someone with electro-hypersensitivy…just like me. Her barefaced honesty as she described in detail how this had unfolded and affected her life could have been one of my pour-it-all-out posts. I felt all the kinship, not only of an experience shared but of such a similar approach to writing…to saying it all, no matter how many words it ran to (throwing all guidelines about the average attention span to the wall…) and including even the most deeply personal stuff that writer’s decorum would have us keep to ourselves if only we bothered to listen. I pounced on this article because it could have been something I had written staring back at me out of an academic publication.
But then I also noticed how part of me began to almost flinch at how much the author was prepared to share of herself to get her point across and I knew this was how I, inwardly, flinch as I put my own opinions “out there”; half expecting to be attacked or dismissed for saying “too much” on topics that are considered “unorthodox”, “unscientific”. Beneath her article, a couple of caustic comments said out loud what my heart feared to find there and I felt for her; felt angered and abused with her for the way these people had responded to real experiences that they belittled as the fictions of a hypochondriac with an over-florid way of writing. “I am deeply concerned about the tone and subject matter” declared one reviewer, ignoring the compelling circumstances the article describes, before launching into a theory that this “affliction” was probably the latest of a long line of self-diagnosed and “exotic” maladies dreamed up as part of some-sort of extreme sport version of hypochondria. Another reviewer takes her to task for a writing style that misses the line between “fact and voodoo medicine”, apparently risking her audience’s disdain in the process. In these comments, which seemed to overlook the considerable substance of the article as though it was simply not there, I witnessed the familiarly gladiatorial process that underpins our culture play out as it so loves to do; the desire to find that soft spot just beneath the ribs, to raise the cheer of the masses waving their flags of what they think they know as the immutable truth. These people long to bring down what would dare to be different, presumes to say something new in a sea of sameness; of what, to them, represents saneness. Don’t those ready-critics know that we know this about ourselves; that our outlandish experiences sound as mad as a barrel of frogs by the measure of what most people seem to experience as their norm and yet does that make them any less “true”?
Then I realised, a slightly different perspective and that could be me writing those brutal critiques; for they could be the self-same criticisms I have directed at myself a thousand times for “feeling” more than other people and “succumbing” more than they seem to do. In another life, with a different set of experiences, without the health issues that have dismantled me down to the brass tacks of myself, I too could have wielded my high-intellect, my sharp-edged quest for the reasonable and rational like a sword to cut such a one as I am down with disparaging words. I know that because, at some level, I still do…
That moment when you fully see yourself as the centre of a star that simultaneously has all routes leading to it and from it, all perspectives merged into one possibility is a transcendent one and yet it can be bizarrely demobilizing like a moment of “where do I go from here?” When you see all sides of the equation you just want the equation to go away; to dissolve…but I find I’m left standing here, the human being with health foibles that are as real as the eyes in your head if you are reading this.
This thread made me wonder why I do it; why any of us that stick our necks out from sameness do it…that is, put ourselves in the firing line whenever we have a thought, an experience or anything to say that doesnt fit what people want or expect to hear or what is considered the norm. Why didn’t we decide, long ago, to just lie down quietly and bow to the majority experience, to acquiesce in the belief systems of others and put up with what we’ve got or can see going on in the world. In the conversation around this article that ensued in a forum I belong to, I heard someone say that whilst they could feel the author’s passion and how this had been directed at garnering support for her/our point of view they also felt that, in being so open about her experiences (the matter of a toxic sofa that initiated her illness was the favourite example…), she had most-likely alienated her audience because of her unorthodox conclusions. The suggestion seemed to be that to be “taken seriously” you have to temper your viewpoint almost to the point of it dressing itself up as an addendum to the very paradigm that it is supposed to be challenging. To paraphrase Einstein when he asked this of the (still) largely unlistening world, what is the point of that?
So when you write from real passion to challenge the current paradigm, to expand people’s minds beyond its blind spots and then those who are “with you” also think you are undermining the cause by alienating people’s opinion, what are you left with? When those who fervently agree with you or are on the same page would rather nod silently to themselves but not share your material around to their family and friends in case it sounds a bit “bonkers”, what is the point? Why stick your neck out for that?
If this was the only motivation for my daily writing-habit, I confess, I would have lost mine long ago over the extremely flimsy sense of camaraderie that is garnered as a writer of the unconventional. The more you stick that neck out, the more you are likely to have it “chopped off” by those who fervently disagree with you, because you rock their boat, than receive the enthusiasm and open-support of those who hear what you have to say. That’s why I made a point of contacting the author of this article to thank her (so we are now enthusiastically in touch), of subscribing to both her blogs and sharing her article across all of my social media. Its these small but important gestures in the direction of your truth that make the slow-but-steady difference and to not make them is to be complicit in the status quo that you tell yourself you long to give a good shaking to. Its how we realise our minority isn’t all that minor, our viewpoint so weird or off the beaten track, after all. In succumbing to the illusion of separation, of isolation and of not fitting in, even making a glorious wound of it at some level, we calcify that state with our beliefs and only make ourselves feel more helpless than we really are.
Thankfully, for me, there is always another, more self-serving, reason that I must wrangle with convoluted topics and write every day. In doing so, I keep my intellect limbered-up at the intersection where its preoccupations become most abstract and, in that frontier place, I am presented constantly with my next biggest writing challenge; a cutting-edge domain which keeps my mind razor-sharp. My writing has become my daily exercise to keep me out of the kind of brain-fog that electro-sensitivity brings in on waves that might otherwise consume me and spit me out in the semi-Azheimer’s state that likes to hover on the periphery of a mind that actively thrives upon being kept run off its feet. Some of it I share here, then piles and piles of it gather in notebooks that I fill with alarming rapidity. Writing keeps my synapses well-oiled while I wrestle life’s biggest challenges to the ground through the forum of myself and taking on easy topics delivered exactly like they’ve already been said a zillion times before would be no challenge at all; would be the very torpidity to send me back into a sleep I would never wake up from. When I struggle to grasp the right words (sometimes very obvious words…) and find them waving at me in my mind’s peripheral vision yet not coming into crisp focus where I can easily reach them, the hide-and-seek game of this prevents my intellect from atrophying and that is such a gift to me; its my daily medicine. Writing has been the saving grace of this past half-decade, providing the very ladder rungs that I have used to climb out of my darkest hole and that keeps me doing it like I have a new deadline to meet almost every day. In the back room of its shop-front, I have come to understand some of the deepest, most mind-blowingly complex things about myself and this universe that I could ever hope to know and so it has – quite literally – transformed me; quite aside from whether it ever manages to help transform anyone else (even though I like to think that, one day, it might).
In other words, people like us aren’t doing it for the literary accolades, the hope of a regular column or a book deal; we’re doing it because we must and because we feel utterly driven to explore and then speak our own truth. Like a slowly rolling ball of snow, we hope to pick up others along our way but we understand the ebb and flow of the seasons and the blight of a sudden thaw. We get that not everyone will gel with what we have to share but we ride a long way on the euphoria of connecting with those who really do; who stand with us and amplify what we are doing, adding their voice to ours in a dissonant yet oddly compelling melody over the familiar base-beat. And when that happens…oh how we all feel it tingling through us, that unmistakable ring of somebody’s truth daring to be spoken, finding in that the long-awaited permission slip to share our own.
The article that I have referred to in this post is:
I Am an EMF Refugee – by Alison Main in Notre Dame Magazine. Alison is a freelance graphic designer and writer with a focus on environmental health, EMF safety and natural living. You can read her nonfiction essays at uncommonalchemy.me and her published work at alisonmain.me.
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