We Are Volcanoes
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Yesterday I had a migraine, and I was determined to feel better today. To that end, I ventured to the Pasadena Public Library. My goal was to get several books that the nearer-yet-smaller South Pasadena Public Library did not offer. Focused on my task, I was impervious to my body, which was like a little kid tugging on the hem of my shirt, impatient to tell me its own urgent needs.
At the library I struck gold, finding all of the books I intended to borrow and a few more. But as I wove between the shelves, I had a hunch that I’d over-done it. Sure enough, I came home, ate lunch, and felt progressively more nauseated and light sensitive. Still, even when I feel crummy, if I can read, then I don’t feel so bad.
Curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee and my fresh picks from the library, I discovered a connection between two of them. Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men begins with an epigraph by Ursula K. Le Guin. After seeing this I ultimately chose a different volume to begin reading, Like A Mother by Angela Garbes, whose introduction just so happens to include the very same words from Le Guin:
“... when women speak truly they speak subversively—they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
Earlier this week I finished reading Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman, a woman speaking subversively about her experience with endometriosis and other maladies. She writes about fighting for doctors to believe her reports of pain and, in the process, perpetually fights the notion that she is neurotic, hysterical. According to the doctors, there are only two possible diagnoses: it’s all in her head or it’s all in her womb. Really, they are the same catch-all conclusion, and the treatment plan is to dismiss her.
Norman does not presume to offer solutions to the disbelief of women’s pain. Her potent writing conveys her experience, both physical and emotional. She tells her story with vulnerability and precision in the context of others whose stories are like her own. In reading her account, you feel her pain. And this pain is a permutation of my own, given my history with migraines. It took years to find doctors who could help me, and further time to start to heal.
How many women share Abby Norman’s story? Share mine?
Sometimes, I hurt too much to spew my hot-lava truth. It’s too costly not to tend my wounds. I’m thankful for writers like Norman with the talent and insight to “offer [her] experience as truth” and change the maps for us all. She is a volcano, and Ask Me About My Uterus is a new mountain in the landscape.