Narrative Medicine Book Club: March 31st, 2020

For today, Tuesday March 31st, we read up to: “He was now complaining of internal pains.”

The ominousness is building in today’s pages. I thought the above quote was so powerful for how it shows the way Rieux’s consciousness is changing in the face of the threat; the rats become the symbol of the fear, the sense of what’s on the horizon. Also so interesting the way that class is already playing in here — “some families who had seaside homes were already talking about escaping to them,” and the civil servant who says “‘I have other concerns.'” Struck too by Infodoc, “the agency for information and documentation,” and the fact that when the numbers are shared, it gives “a clear meaning to the daily spectacle that everyone had in front of their eyes” — that disconnect between statistics and lived reality, and how it can be one or the other of these things that brings a truth home to us. (And dare we point to the way the authorities are handling things? “The authorities had not considered or planned anything at all, but started by holding a council meeting to discuss it.” Sounds familiar…) — Nellie.

Please feel free to add to the discussion and join in with Nellie below, or on any of your social media channels using #NMBookClub and #CamusThePlague!

FOR TOMORROW: read the next 7 pages, up to “‘Let me know if you have any other cases,’ said Rieux.”

Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST March 30th 2020

Thank you SO MUCH to all who joined us for our first virtual group session!! We had 66 people on the zoom meeting — there were folks from New York and New Jersey but also from Texas, North Carolina, California, Georgia, Alabama, and other countries all over the world — China, Morocco, Argentina, Greece, Brazil, the UK, Poland, and more! Wow. What an incredible thing, to get to come together and feel the collective energy in that virtual space.

The poem that we read together was “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver. We spoke about how the poem seems to juxtapose the idea and feeling of loneliness with the concept of the “the family of things,” and how it offers different ideas of intimacy with “the soft animal of your body” and “the world offers itself to your imagination.”

The prompt we wrote to was: “Meanwhile, the world goes on.” We were only able to hear three pieces, but what we heard was incredible — each piece speaking to our current moment, and each piece full of hope. One response, written as a poem, was unfinished due the time constraint for the writing, and it was observed how this was representative of our current moment — we are constructing a response to this global situation, but are not yet finished.

Please, those of you who were on the call with us, we encourage you to share your work with us in the comments below, and to respond to one another there and keep up the conversation. The full text of the poem is below, and please join us for one of our next sessions: Tuesday March 31st at 7pm EST and Wednesday April 1st at 7pm EST, with more times to be announced soon.

Again, due to the wonderful turnout for this first session, we encourage you to join as promptly as possible: After a ten minute grace period, we will be closing the Zoom session to preserve the integrity of the session for those joined. If you try to join past that time and are unable, we encourage you to join the next session! More times and opportunities will be announced soon.

We look forward to seeing you all with us again!

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
Originally published in “Dream Work” by Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.