Wordy Wednesday: Finding Community in Outlawed by Anna North
Updated: Mar 10
I attended Palmer College of Chiropractic beginning in July 2012. Becoming a chiropractor was a new vision for me. I had left the field of music performance with a big fat question mark regarding what to do with my life, only knowing I no longer wanted to spend my days in a practice room (alone) and my evenings on stage (alone). I wanted connection fervently, whereas music had isolated me.
I initially considered going to medical school, but I knew I didn’t want to make the sacrifices required to be a good medical doctor. I had watched Grey’s Anatomy, so I thought I had some idea of the miserable, sleepless nights that young doctors kept, (because Grey’s Anatomy is so realistic) and I feared them. Moreover, I found it nonsensical to demand unhealthy habits for myself in the name of making health for others. I liked the idea of using my scientific know-how and helping people and sure, the prestige, but none of it was enough to carry me through the gruel to get there.
Besides, when I had been hurt, enduring repetitive stress to my wrists and forearms from hours of piano playing, it was my chiropractor who had gotten me better. If I was going to intervene in someone else’s health, wouldn’t it make sense to become an expert in the field that had been able to help me? I wanted a different paradigm, one that worked for the doctor and her patients, one that spoke to my experiences, even if it wasn’t the mainstream path.
While the path to attend Palmer was smooth—I visited Palmer, applied and got accepted, took prerequisite coursework, and then matriculated—it was not easy to dive into a different cultural paradigm. The school not only professed a different philosophy of health and healthcare than the norm, but the students demonstrated a different value system. Graduating with honors from one’s previous university carried little clout. Coming from a chiropractic family, in contrast, carried substantial weight. Being book-smart mattered little. Having gut instinct and gifted hands mattered most.
While taking on these ideals challenged me, I had never before been part of such a wonderful, weird community. When my dad died, my class bought me flowers and my friends helped me catch up with the coursework. I joined the Campus Guides and hosted tours to prospective students. I had a work-study position as a biochemistry group tutor. I had wanted connection, and I got it.
Four women and I became so inseparable that a classmate dubbed us the Spice Girls because just like the members of the ‘90s girlband, on the surface we had nothing in common. One of us was athletic, one was an outspoken New Yorker, another was covered in tattoos, you get the picture. At Palmer, we nevertheless had what mattered in common: we all wanted to be chiropractors, and we got through that schooling, grueling in its own way, together.
The chiropractic community is something special. The support, vulnerability, and camaraderie are everything I wished for when I leapt out of music into becoming a doctor of chiropractic.
In Anna North’s Outlawed, Ada too searches for a community in which to belong. It’s 1894 and she’s been run out of town for being a “witch”—for knowing about female sexual pleasure and for failing to birth a child. All the good she has done assisting her mother, the town’s midwife, doesn’t buy her any credit with the townspeople. When another woman miscarries, Ada is blamed for cursing her and must run for her life.
Ada’s mother helps her find refuge in a convent, but Ada finds true community when she leaves the sisters and joins the Hole in the Wall Gang led by the Kid. Outlawed and out of the mainstream, the gang’s number are all accused witches, which mostly means they are barren like Ada, and some are different shades of LGBTQ to boot.
Ada’s midwifery training leads the gang to accept her and earns her the nickname Doc. She knows how to use herbs and how to appropriately dose laudanum. She knows how to clean and pack a wound. But she doesn’t know what keeps her barren.
Ada yearns to know how and why her body strayed from the norm, and how she can help the women around her who suffer from the same affliction and more. Yet as part of the gang, each member must do their part to help the collective survive, scheming for money, hunting for food, and protecting the clan from wild animals and vengeful sheriffs.
Outlawed is a feminist foray into a world of cowfolk who create their own community with its own values, culture, and laws—a community in which Ada must find both her place and her truth.
Today’s words come from Outlawed by Anna North. Below you’ll find the word, the sentence in which I found it, the Oxford definition, and a sentence of my own using the word. Feel free to play along. Create your own sentences and share them in the comments below!
“After that a lassitude descended over the bunkhouse. Lo pulled the covers up over her chin and went back to sleep” (129).
Noun: a state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy.
After a day of class and clinic a lassitude hit me, rendering me useless to cooking or studying.
“At the center of the fairgrounds were the livestock stalls, loud with the complaints of animals and noisome with their mingled smells” (158).
Adjective: having an extremely offensive smell.
I was thrilled when the noisome neighbors living on the floor below me moved out, taking their filth and stinking cigarettes with them.
“But with a little guile and expertise, it might be possible to waylay him” (101).
Verb: stop or interrupt (someone) and detain them in conversation or trouble them in some other way.
As a student, I liked studying on campus even though that meant taking the risk of being waylaid by a classmate in the library.