Wish I Could be Anywhere but There: A Review of “Wish I Could Be There”
My intention was to write about Shawn’s choice of structure. But, I can’t. To discuss the structure, I would have to discuss my aversion to it, my inability to concentrate on anything more than a superficial level on topics of medical intimacy. It is a response that overcomes me often in conversation and to my surprise when breached in text. I tend to “tune out” during conversations pertaining to medical ailments, recovery, accidents, and treatments. I find it impossible to focus; impossible to choose to engage in these conversations. Only for my children will I actively experience the discomfort of such discussions. For all others, I listen, or appear to, while concentrating on something, anything, else. I do not endure the enclosure: their despair confines me. It is not a phobia. I do not require, like Shawn’s father, a shroud of protection from all things yucky. I acknowledge broken bones, reset noses, cancer. But something about these brushes with medical imperfection or mortality causes my mental retreat. Unlike Shawn, I do not seek to analyze this. It is something that limits neither my enjoyment of the world nor the world’s enjoyment of me. It is merely something that is.
Yet, because of my aversion to all things medically intimate, I find I cannot engage on a meaningful level with those portions of Shawn’s text that are not narrative. In the narrative I see Shawn and his parents interact (or not) and I know my judgments are skewed. I am taking the information Shawn chooses to show (dialogue, responses, actions) and not fully acknowledging the information he chooses to tell (medical evaluations, hypotheses, analysis). The psychological and physiological citations, explanations and justifications are meant to provide access in to the Shawn’s psyche, to provide causality. I find this dissection painful. Through narrative, I visit and revisit Shawn at certain experiences in varying perceptions. I then revisit (or feel as if I do) the same situations psychologically or biologically. So that I am repeatedly thrust uncomfortably close and my mind rejects it and retreats.
Shawn’s choice to infuse his memoir with the analysis and theories of others seems a way, as he claims, to present his life abstractly so readers can identify but not blame him for choices. It also feels, as he also admits, to be an incomplete account. Because of language, voice and the limited amount of events actually covered, this account, which he likens to the overlapping sections of the brain, is complete with many sections of grey. But, I wonder if there isn’t more to it. I don’t get a sense of the writer on the page. I get a sense of his humor, his struggle with his phobias and the accomplishments he makes through his narration but not throughout the text.
Perhaps I would find it comforting if he had reached a point where he actively takes charge of his own life. Still, I have to appreciate Shawn’s honesty in admitting the scope of the text. In the foreword, I am able to appreciate the painful process of subjecting yourself to textual analysis and the courage it takes to do it. As a writer, from this text I take away the need for courage and for strength. If I was able to face (though not overcome) my aversion to medical intimacy by reading Wish I Could Be There, I’d like to think he at least came to terms with his phobias by writing it.