Immediately my eyes fixate on the center bottom of the photo. The figure is flesh colored and kneels in an anthropomorphic way, so we know it is human. But the truly remarkable thing about the photo is the feeling that oozes out of it, or rather, her. I feel for her yet I can barely see her. "Things She Cannot Show You" (Fall 2014 Intima) instantly causes me to contemplate language and the great limits it places on conveying an illness narrative; and in turn, how this lack of adequate language leads to intense isolation for humans experiencing, quite literally, unspeakable things. For me, this work of art specifically represents the frustration that results from her inability to share her pain, forcing her to carry it on her own. To outsiders, she may just be a blur, but to herself, it is her experience, her life, her story, and she desperately wants to bring it outside of herself.
As I attempt to navigate my own narrative using the limited tools in front of me, metaphor and simile seem to be my most effective way of sharing. If you paint a picture employing figures people are familiar with, you’ll be more successful in communicating with them. I mean, duh, that’s how similes and metaphors work. But personally, if I treat language as an art rather than an exact science, people will (hopefully) feel through my words and empathize by grasping a better understanding of my pain and my experience through this feeling instead of through hard fact.
And so I wrote the piece,"Constellations," a work driven entirely by metaphor, accompanied by very little factual information. I admit, the use of metaphor feels safe—you’re not forced to lay out every painful detail and instead may figuratively hide behind a much larger idea. However, throughout the piece, I breathe in simile and metaphor to imply that I wasn’t ready to write about my experience factually, because I was (and still am) trying to figure things out for myself. I struggled with finding the adequate language to express my story, and I wanted that to be clear, as this struggle is inherently part of my narrative. So I employ simile after simile, trying over and over again to make new comparisons and connections, so that I may inch closer to creating my own version of self expression. And this process has been incredibly cathartic.
Julia Sevy is a passionate dancer and creative writer who graduated from Brown University in 2014. Read her piece, “Constellations” in the Spring 2015 Intima.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine