WORDS AND FLESH: Travels in the Eloquent Body

Dawn Garisch, medical doctor and writer from Kalk Bay in the Scenic South,  features under Our Writers. A synopsis follows of her autobiography, a work in process which will be published by Modjaji Books later this year: 

As a professional writer of fiction and poetry, and as a medical doctor, I live an eclectic life. In the consulting room patients come to me suffering from anxiety and complaining of conditions that are self-inflicted. They want a quick fix, rather than to attend to the aspects of their health and lives that are untenable. Also, in running workshops in creativity, I have discovered how fearful people are of doing those things they yearn for. As a writer and facilitator, I must find ways to assist myself and others with creative conflicts. In addition, I have a chronic illness which has forced me into the position of a patient.

Out of this pastiche has emerged: ‘Words and Flesh’, a book that addresses the impulses towards healing and self-harm in both the scientific and creative realms with the body as a central motif. It contrasts the methods art and science use to examine the nature of truth. It explores how professionals and commerce have co-opted creative endeavour and physical well-being, and how this is detrimental, not only to ourselves, but also to the earth.

There is a malaise in the world. Many patients consult me because of anxiety; they experience an imagined problem, or one of the many symptoms and disorders of anxiety itself. We all must manage fear; however, the strategies we employ often make the situation worse.

We are creative, inventive, imaginative beings due to the evolution of our frontal lobes. Yet this magnificent addition to the repertoire of living is also the origin of our incapacity and destructiveness due to addiction, self-criticism, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of shame, loss and failure. We misuse our imagination to obstruct our best efforts and to sabotage our drive towards healing.

We think of ourselves as rational creatures. Yet our behaviour often contradicts this. We live mythic lives, yet we do not understand the stories, symptoms and symbols that are spliced into our flesh.

I am fascinated by how we acquire a story by which to live, and how we evaluate the track we are following in career, creativity and relationship. How we know which of the stories we tell ourselves is true and which is false – undermining our best intentions.

The book, in mirroring my eclectic life, and my own efforts to bridge the divide between the scientific and the artistic, draws on case histories of both artists and patients, on fiction and poetry, on the creative process, and on medical facts. It attempts to make sense of what it is to be a whole human being, incorporating both chemical cascade and embodied imagination.

Neuroscience proposes that to change destructive behaviour, people must be able to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen next for long enough for new neural pathways to develop. A central proposal of the book is that the tools one must develop to pursue a creative project are the same needed to deal with anxiety and to live creatively. This has implications not only for an individual, but also for community and for care of the earth.

This encouraging book explores ways in which people can reconnect with desire, intuition, imagination and feedback. I offer my own experiences and discoveries while wandering in this curious terrain.

Dawn Garisch 2011