November 12, 2012

I'm tired of poetry, metaphor, and unicorns

Writers do well not to discourage reading. Writers must be and must have readers. But the literature of eating disorders too often drains my will to read. The reflexive polemics and inaccessible jargon and grinding a point to death: or maybe I'm just tired.

Tired of good ideas inadequately expressed, or expressed along with terribly bad ideas. Good information delivered so breathlessly as to discredit itself or have to live the adjective half-life of "controversial." Tired of good writing devoted to poor insights. The last stings most.

We have no way of stopping such tripe as The Anorexic Statement, a poetic flight into the writer's own health and the people she uses as psychoanalytic objects of her despair. Even the rebuttal, brave and thoughtful, can further fail the topic: from Freud to Bruch is not the distance needed.

A lovely antidote, however, appears today, and may there be more:

It's arrogant to say anorexia is a personal choice rather than a mental illness 

Good writing about eating disorders does exist. Harriet Brown and Carrie Arnold come to mind. I plod away doing my best as well, and confess that I take criticism of my book's view of EDs quite happily but suffer most if called out as a bad writer than any other comment. Yet these narratives do not clear the way for even better: monthly a new book comes out with the same tired narratives, same poetic misunderstandings -- and they sell. They sell well because they don't have to adhere to truth or beauty. In fact, it seems we really cannot 'handle' the truth and prefer beauty even if conceived of poison and ground glass.

We need a "Wasted" for 2013 -- that would not only be true but would capture the popular imagination.  A "Best Little Girl in the World" with the same heroine but a very different treatment team. We need to replace "Thin" on movie lists, and retire the unicorns. We need A Beautiful Mind for EDs, and Lorenzo's Oil for the parents. We need art and poetry to reflect the real story: that patients of EDs suffer deeply but also recover heroically from an illness, not from the social ill of the week. We need the story told of families as supporting cast not villains. We need an eating disorder therapist that Harrison Ford or Sally Field can play in the movie version. We need a best-selling song about courageous eating, friends rallying behind an ill patient, grandmothers making casseroles -- and a Rockwell painting of a family leaving a clinic together for the last time, smiling.

We need documentaries that reveal the true misery of families, expose the snake oil purveyors, and leave out the visual cliches of mirrors and slow-motion headless binging.

There are villains: but they are as likely to be insurance adjustors and jaded clinic directors and well-meaning track coaches as anyone.

The real stories of eating disorders are dramatic and complex and poetic as the exhausted storyline the public knows. I think they're ready. I sure am.

4 comments:

  1. Same issues as with obesity. Thanks

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  2. I guess this post is kind of a positive sign, since it comes from a parent whose daughter is battling a eating disorder. I battled with two of them for fifteen years and in a month it'll be year three of recovery. I've been thinking on and off for the past year of actually writing a script where nothing is half-truth exhaugerated or sugar-coated just shows the reality about it. Mainly what recovery is like, since it's not easy. Especially when it comes to footing the bill to get into treatment. I guess I hesitated because I was afraid that it might upset others going through their own battle, recovery or family.

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