Friday Feminist – Nancy Mairs

Inviting me to speak at her small liberal arts college during Women’s Week, a young woman set me a task: “We would be pleased,” she wrote, “if you could talk on how you cope with your MS disability, and also how you discovered your voice as a writer.” Oh, Lord, I thought in dismay, how am I going to pull this one off. How can I yoke two such disparate subjects into a coherent presentation, without doing violence to one, or the other, or both, or myself? This is going to take some fancy footwork, and my feet scarcely carry out the basic steps, let alone anything elaborate.

To make matters worse, the assumption underlying each of her questions struck me as suspect. To ask how I cope with multiple sclerosis suggests that I do cope. Now, “to cope,” Webster’s Third tells me, is “to face or encounter and to find necessary expedients to overcome problems and difficulties.” In these terms, I have to confess, I don’t feel like much of a coper. I’m likely to deal with my problems and difficulties by squawking and flapping around like that hysterical chicken who was convinced the sky was falling. Never mind that in my case the sky really is falling. In response to a clonk on the head, regardless of its origin, one might comport oneself with a grace and courtesy I generally lack.

As for “finding” my voice, the implication is that it was at one time lost or missing. But I don’t think it ever was. Ask my mother, who will tell you a little wearily that I was speaking full sentences by the time I was a year old and could never be silenced again. As for its being a writer’s voice, it seems to have become one early on. Ask Mother again. At the age of eight I rewrote the Trojan War, she will say, and what Nestor was about to do to Helen at the end doesn’t bear discussion in polite company.

Nancy Mairs, Carnal Acts, Beacon Press, 1990


2 responses to “Friday Feminist – Nancy Mairs

  1. I think Nancy Mairs is being a bit picky in this excerpt. I don’t think asking how someone is coping has an implicit assumption that they are coping. I think it just shows kindly concern.

  2. I want to read her re-write of the Trojan Wars! Eight year olds can be so bloodthirsty.