Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: a Review, plus thoughts.

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I’ve been a fan of Roz Chast ever since my sister bought us “Now I Will Never Leave the Dinner Table”–a book about a bossy big sister (like me, apparently) who FORCES her sibling to eat dreaded spinach. Her drawings capture the kinds of details that I revel in, the things I often think others don’t notice. I’d say one of the strongest compliments I can say about someone is

“She really has an eye for things.”

And Roz Chast does, an eye and an ear, she writes down or photographs  the minutiae of life and I do too, it’s a practice, a way of making sense of it all, a way of recording this moment, what it is and how it feels through quotes and sketches and odd little scraps of things.

Because that is what life is to me, it’s not weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and holiday hams. Life is cleaning out the medicine cabinet and finding that WEIRD THING, life is reaching into the pocket of a thrift store coat and reading the receipt of someone long gone, life is pulling a book off the shelf and seeing a train ticket tucked inside from 1995.

Life is my grandmother saying “Every time you have a party, something stinks” (about deviled eggs) or my kid , at age 4, asking “Are you potato-ing the cheese sharpener” (about making him latkes), and these are the memories that live in my life’s shoebox, next to a pile of laminated Catholic saints and a Cross pen from my great-aunt Bertha.

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So anyway.

This book.

It’s about the process of Roz’ parents aging and their death. It’s about the family dynamics, and a very particular time and place. And it is intense. I laughed so hard I cried. And then later,  I actually cried.

It is beautiful, intimate and slightly disturbing.

And what does this have to with herbalism?!?! You may ask.

Why am I even writing about this?

Well–anyone who is dealing with the care of others in any way, or is alive,  knows, even if it is subconscious, that death lurks beneath all life. I mean, news flash. Death exists. And the decline, the illness, the  unraveling, are all pieces of our lives that we often choose to ignore. Complicated family relationships, uncomfortable silences, life-or-death decisions, financial and emotional burdens of end-of-life care, it’s all very real and all very repressed.

And for good reason–because its really hard to talk about.

Because it all comes out in the end.

But humor helps to lube up the difficult conversations, those we need to have with ourselves and with others, and makes it easier to imagine and accept these moments,  and this book is a   humorous gift.

This book says “It’s not just me.”

Culturally, our constant search for comfort, emotionally, has in some cases cut out the highs and lows of human reality in order to serve up a placid, positive-thinking delusion but in fact this dark undercurrent is still there.

When we listen to media outlets, it seems like prolonging life at all costs is, and should always be, a primary goal.

But as caregivers or helpers, our goal is not always to “cure” but sometimes to ease passages, to comfort and to listen and  to hold space. We are not all recovering. And that is OK.

And if you don’t identify as a caregiver in terms of your work, perhaps you have a family, or friends, or a body that this applies to.

Anything that can help us to understand that, to feel less alone in this work with others OR ourselves and can help us to release the tension that accumulates around the dark parts is valuable to me, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is a valuable addition to that cause.

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since I gmy sister bought us Now I Will never leave the Dinner table, a kids’ book about a bossy big sister

Ro

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