The Value of Distance (and no shrimp, please)

Yesterday I suffered an allergic reaction to shrimp.  It seems that mid-life brings these oddities with it; I had no idea shrimp and I were no longer friends.  I did know this about strawberries and almonds, and my allergy tests revealed that my highest level of allergens comes from none other than German and American cockroaches.  I tend not to snack on these.

For me, recovering from an allergic reaction to food is like recovering from a battle you didn’t plan on fighting.  The first time it happened I had no idea what was going on.  I’d just eaten an Edy’s strawberry popsicle and my feet and hands began to itch so badly that I began to cry.  I yelled at my son for no reason.  My face became swollen.  My inner ears felt as if they doubled in size and large sacks of water were sloshing around in them.  My tongue grew wooden, and my mouth began to swell.  I had trouble speaking.  Small blisters formed on my thighs.  Clueless, I took a bath to relieve the itching, rubbing a loofah over my feet.  My husband got on the computer to see what could be going on.  Shortly we knew and I began to guzzle children’s Benadryl – the only kind we had in the house.  I should have gone to the ER, but I didn’t know any better and thought I could tough it out.  I slept little that night, swallowing every few minutes to make sure I still could, and alternately rubbing my feet and palms on the floor to relieve (ineffectively) the itching. 

Today, after my shrimp episode, I feel like a depleted sack of flesh and bones.  I have a poem I wrote about my initial attack, which I penned about a week after suffering from it.  But sometimes things are too “close” to us to write about; we need distance.  This is especially true when we lose someone we love.  Before my grandfather died, I had written a poem about how he taught me to drive (an orange work truck with the gear shift on the column), even though he was legally blind (this probably explains why he was so calm).  I could read the poem at his funeral in a level voice, but only because I’d written it long before he passed.  But at a writer’s conference one summer, I worked on a poem with the leader about the very recent death of my regal red-bone hound, Waylon.  After we talked about it, she basically told me it was too soon, I was “too close” to the event to write effectively about it.  She was right.  The wound had not healed.

Major stuff happens in life, and it is okay to write about it immediately, but it may not be ready for sharing.  Very often, we need that distance in order to revise, in order to process our own stuff before it’s ready for the world. Sometimes we come to a poem like the way I feel now – drowsy, beat-up, disconcerted.  And while writing about painful events is very, very necessary, it may take years before we can process it in the way we need to.  Sometimes we are too close and the pain just comes right back to us and whips us down.  It has been several years now since Waylon walked off into the pasture across from the house, never to return.  But I think enough time has passed that I can return to the poem and work on it – the needed distance is there so that I may do justice to that wonderful animal soul whose life was part of mine.

3 thoughts on “The Value of Distance (and no shrimp, please)

  1. Hey Sis,

    Love this… ‘Forest for the trees’ analogy. It’s true. I think that’s part of the reason that writing is not only form, but art. Its powerful when shared from the heart. We’ve read plenty about what is produced only when we start writing, (it doesn’t seem to reveal itself until we put pen to paper)….but like soup, ingredients soemtimes have to simmer before we smell and taste.
    Feel better…don’t scratch.
    hugs, Susan


  2. Rosemary – yes, yes and yes. Elegant essay and full of truth. Same thing happened to me with shrimp about a year ago–I was so surprised. My reaction wasn’t as bad as yours, but I knew what was going on right away. So sad to lose shrimp from my life – I live on Oahu and we have shrimp farms where you can go and they’ll cook it for you to eat at a picnic table beside the waters. Oh well.

    As for getting time and distance on an experience, especially a loss, I’m still in process. I was hit by a car nearly two years ago, spent two months in the hospital and a year and a half in physical therapy (am pretty much okay now). But at first it puzzled me and then it angered me when people who know that I write said, “Oh, you’ll have so much to write about now!” Well, I still don’t have anything to write about that, and sort of hope I never will.

    I was most touched in your essay by your having written about what you loved about your grandfather long before he passed on. You couldn’t have done it at the moment.

    Anyway, this is a fan letter. Enjoyed reading you.


    • Alice — thank you so much for your readership and reply! It must be a bummer being so close to fresh seafood/shrimp and unable to partake! I’m glad you’ve recovered from your accident. Here’s to great writing!



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