ACTIVISTS TELL ARTISTS TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT?
I received an email today from someone in my own community which reads:
Please, please, PLEASE change the name from CFS to ME. I have just watched [X]’s TED talk, and that only reinforces how important it is not to continue using this dreadful name. We must NOT add to the wrongness of all that is wrong or not happening with this disease.
[X] might well be putting ME on the mainstream map. …
Thank you, [NW – name withheld]
And it raised my gorge, for reasons I will now explain.
A little background would set this in context
I started Pride’s Children at the turn of this century, set it a few years later into the time period 2005-2006, and locked it down in my memory to keep the details accurate.
It took me a long time to write, a long time to get it right, and a fair amount of time to publish.
Promotion is not my thing, but I’m womanfully shouldering the task, which used to be a purely indie/self-publishing task, but has now become a task most writers, traditionally- or self-published must undertake (or risk selling no books – traditional publishers only market those books expected to be big sellers or for writers in their top 1-2% – everyone else gets bupkis in promotion).
SINCE publication, a bit over a year now, among other efforts, I have asked a lot of CFS people to read, and possibly make a mention of Pride’s Children on their blogs or sites – and haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply.
I shrug – figure they have more important things to do with their time.
My own Facebook ME/CFS community has been far more supportive, and people there have made a huge effort to read (even when they rarely read books any more, and even more rarely something of PC’s length (167K words for the first volume in a trilogy) and complexity. And several have given me the incredible additional gift of a review – and I know how much it costs me/them.
I’ve asked other people connected to the ME/CFS community to publicize, read, review – again, no interest.
Fiction breaks down walls
I emphasize that fiction is one of the prime ways (cf. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Black Beauty, To Kill a Mockingbird… in novels; movies such as The Philadelphia Story with Tom Hanks) there is to get through the barriers people put up against involvement around their hearts and minds.
I understand; the world used to have a disease of the week, and now it is more like the disease/charity/cause of the second on the internet, TV, and the mails. ‘Compassion fatigue’ is real.
I think I’ve written well; some readers tell me so.
And you’ve heard endlessly my statement that
the more there is a message in the fiction, the better the entertainment value must be
because people don’t like being preached to. Have an important message? Don’t tell people – let them find out for themselves through your characters.
So why did this email bother me so much that I’m blogging about it?
- Historical context: for a disease that has been called yuppie flu, CFIDS (chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome), SEID (recently – something to do with our post-exercise exhaustion), ME (for myalgic encephalomyelitis or encephalomyopathy), and others that didn’t stick very long, it is disingenuous to decide that ‘ME’ (with the first description- one I don’t understand because I always though myelitis was an inflammation the covering on the outside of nerve fibers (Google: infection or the inflammation of the white matter or gray matter of the spinal cord), and I don’t even remember what ‘myalgic’ means (Google: muscle pain). In any case, ME always has to be explained.
- Everyone’s CFS is different, though there is a core of symptoms (like a Chinese menu – so many from Column A, so many from Column B). I was diagnosed with CFS in 1989, and nobody did anything then or since to see whether there’s inflammation somewhere on my spinal cord (nor would I let them – the symptoms are bad enough).
- There is no approved designation worldwide – the European ME people say we US people with CFS don’t have the same disease, for example.
- There are no approved tests – up until now, and especially in 1989 and 2005, the diagnosis was made BY EXCLUSION of everything else they could think of that gave you the same symptoms. We’re hoping for research that will nail down a cause, and possibly give hope for treatment, at least for those who are more recent victims, or possibly not full of co-morbidities after all these years.
- Insurance companies and the CDC and the NIH change their designations all the time, for reasons which they always claim are ‘the best.’ I’ve seen a lot of these in 27 years, and few have stuck, and each one claims to be the one which will put us on the map (and wastes a lot of money on talk, administration, and stationary each time).
Another name change could come along tomorrow – and I hope it will when they figure out the cause – some exotic virus or virus fragment or new quasibiological entity – which will give the whole thing the correct context (cf. HIV). CFS is as good as any of these other designations – and has the advantage of being far better known (and not pronounced ‘me’ as in ‘I have me.’)
But of course the most important part is that I choose what I write
And was careful to make some of the above distinctions (ones which would be known in the time period the book was set in), before using CFS consistently in the rest of Pride’s Children, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WE USED BACK THEN.
And I guided the reader in and out of those distinctions with care and deliberateness to emphasize the (at that time and still now) UNKNOWN quality of this illness.
If you own a copy, it’s in Pride’s Children, Chapter 2, where Kary explains it to Dana. If you don’t own a copy, the Look Inside feature on the book’s Amazon page includes that chapter in the sample.
C’mon, wouldn’t it be an easy change, and shouldn’t I play ball?
In addition, the email sender shows a cluelessness about how a book is written, published in ebook and in print that tells me blithely to put in hours, days, weeks to change something – because X gave a TED talk.
Good for X (who belongs to one of the organizations I’ve gotten no response from – an organization within a few miles of me, by their address). This is X’s mission – along with more advocacy that I am very grateful for – and which I cannot do. X has put a life on hold (no choice in the matter because, well, of CFS. ME/CFS. ME.) and chosen to use connections I can’t do anything but drool over. I am happy for X.
And one of X’s project, which may make X famous (15 min.? hope not), had a very catchy and expressive name, which was JUST CHANGED to something entirely different I don’t like!
But I spent FIFTEEN years writing the first third (and outlining the rest) of what I consider a major novel with a CFS main character, before any of this other stuff happened (X has been sick for five years, and was in elementary school when I started this project).
I started serializing the final polished novel in 2012 – when X’s project was not even begun.
And there is no way in hell I’m going to make a change to my published story to accommodate anyone, just because they may end up being (probably will – those connections I mentioned – and a HUGE amount of effort) much more famous than I am.
I guess that covers it:
- it was inappropriate to ask me to change MY book
- it couldn’t be done, even if I wanted to, without an enormous effort on my sole part
- and where were you, NW (name withheld) when I asked – I couldn’t even get you to read
- I don’t think, personally, that CFS is all that dreadful a name; the name recognition, you see
It isn’t ignorance; the person (NW) who wrote has known me and my book’s existence for FAR longer than those five years I mentioned.
Thanks for listening. It is good to get these things written down – and out of my mind, where they tend to fester.
I will happily listen to opinions civilly offered.