Recently, I was trying to write something on ‘Sick Lit’, one of those delightful catchphrases people in the book business come up with to signify a trend/genre. You know, like “Chick Lit” or “Mummy Porn”. I couldn’t find my way through it, it was just turning out to be too cynical. Basically, my argument was that all literature is about dealing with ill health, in one way or another, and books that seek to capitalize on the pervading interest in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars do not deserve such an all-encompassing name. It’s the equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey ‘inventing’ BDSM. Along with this frustration, came that time of the year that makes me equally peeved, if not even more cranky – Valentine’s Day. The thought is fine, all the red and pink is not. But, this is not a cynical blog, I am not a killjoy, or a 90 year-old-man telling young people off for playing loud music (okay, I might have started doing that, but only because it interferes with my loud music). Therefore, I’ve decided to cram my grievances about love and sickness into one blog post. Get comfortable, dear reader, this is going to be a bona fide tearjerker.
Living with a person with a long-term illness is difficult; being the person with the illness even more so. I’ve known both closely, and there is no sufficient accounting for the frustration of the former, and the loneliness, outside of the pain and humiliation, of the latter. All literature deals with this. One of my favourite ‘illness’ reads, if I may be so bold, is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. It is definitely one of my desert island reads, because it is a thick tome that delights in the luxury of being ill (in a clinic on the Alps in the early part of the last century). It doesn’t really go anywhere, but it is just the sort of book you’d want to be reading if you were in pain and loneliness, and deprived of conversation. Which is generally what happens when you have a long-term illness.
I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, but having read other such books, and seen films with similar themes, I find myself continually amazed at the stamina of these supposedly ill people, who often go on their adventures (there are always adventures) sans treatment and medication. I understand there is a wish-fulfilment aspect to it, but is that enough to warrant a trend? That is, people maniacally reading tons of books that tick these same elements over and over again. Repetition does have a tendency to manifest into reality and belief.
I understand the idea is to introduce these conditions to better acquaint people with them, without depressing them. Teenagers are much better acquainted with medical conditions than they were even ten years ago, for the majority of ‘Sick Lit’ is in the genre ‘Young Adult’. But, perhaps it is a bit manipulative to bait them with some morbid illness, only to provide an unrealistic description of the lifestyle it causes, to end with the end. It, of course, makes them more sensitive and understanding towards life, but I still feel there is something sick in calling it ‘Sick Lit’.
Whether you enjoy this ‘Sick Lit’ trend, or if you have always read stories about illness without needing them to follow the above arc, I would urge you to spend this Valentine’s weekend with someone who is ill, and/or caring for someone who is ill. If you are such a person yourself, I’d very much encourage you to treat yourself, not with chocolate or something luxurious, but with conversation. Human, in person, conversation. I look at all the commercialism around me, commercialism that we’ve come to accept as what constitutes a big part of modern love. But, increasingly with time, and especially with the experience of both caring for the sick and being sick, I’ve come to realise that true human capital is conversation. Not a text message, though a phone call is allowable.
I don’t want to drown this sickly sweet holiday with chocolates, teddy-bears-that-hug-hearts or bad 80’s love songs. I want to spend it engaging with the people I care for, people I haven’t spoken to in a long time, people I’d love to get to know. It doesn’t have to be a significant other, but it has to be someone who is appreciative and excited that you and them are participating in sharing your time together, sans technology. It is generous and very thoughtful to make donations to people in need, but perhaps, spending time with them, listening to them without that pitying/patronising look that some people tend to wear all too often, might relieve them some of their pain and loneliness. Not everyone has the money or stamina to go on adventures, but everyone can feel more energised, alive, hopeful and dare I say it, happy, just from a little more conversation. Try it this weekend, and perhaps, share your experience on your social media after you’ve done it. Do let me know how it went! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Do you like to celebrate Valentine’s Day? If so, how?