P.A.I.N. Protest in front of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2019.
Photo: Yana Paskova/The Guardian/ eyevine/Redux

Intractable Pain

The first image that came to mind, an image that had haunted me already because it was the most powerful one I knew and reminded me of my own state, was of Frida Kahlo lying on her bed with a tilted easel before her, paint palette on her chest, brush pointed at the canvas. Sometimes, the corset enveloping her torso is hidden under a dress. Other times, we see it: a plaster corset that has become a canvas for painted figures. A corset-dress. A dress-canvas. A painter-body.

My psychoanalyst gave me this image at a time when my pain was at its worst, just after the Maple Spring and months of protests on the streets of Montréal alongside students fighting for a freeze on tuition fees (and more broadly, the right to a future). Sitting in an armchair before him, in agonizing pain, I asked him how I was ever going to keep on writing. Because if the pain continued, I wasn’t going to make it, I’d give up on life. The psychoanalyst’s response: “Be like Frida Kahlo, find a way of working while lying down.” Feeling dejected but coming to grips with the fact that it was that or nothing, I began a routine of writing while lying on the sofa or in bed, standing at the kitchen counter or at a standing desk, a routine of alternating between horizontality and verticality that I have kept up to this day. The pain has become something I live with; it has become my best enemy.

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This article also appears in the issue 106 - Pain

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