”How long do I have before my hair falls out?” I asked the team of nurses administering the heavy-duty chemo. I had already undergone six months of treatment to prepare for my bone marrow transplant, and this was the final, destructive blast. A week to ten days was the final consensus. Some people, they said, don’t lose it all…
It is tricky to mix emotional power and humour, light-hearted imagery and stomach-punching facts in literature. Susan Nickerson can do it, dealing with one of the most daunting human themes: illness and how to live with it day by day.
Susan’s pieces seem a sort of dance. The writer moves with a cadenced rhythm between pain and irony. She juggles both, like a professional dancer, leading them between the lines of the page. The metaphors overlap one upon the other, blending reality and imagination. The ultimate result is a curious literary mix that makes readers reflect on the pain and anxiousness of illness while impressing them with creative images.
According to Susan, writing is the most immediate medium for dealing with the discovery of a serious disease, the diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndrome. How can one narrate life with it without exaggerating in drama and, at the same time, without diminishing this overwhelming burden? Susan transfigures it through abstract images. She depicts the physiological consequences of her disease and bone marrow transplant through abstraction. In this piece, hair loss becomes a surreal, out-of-body scene: a dance of humanized hair follicles that come to life, tangoing on her head, instilling vitality. The urgency to write about the inescapable changes in her body makes her words so powerful.
The disease is invisible; Susan cannot see or touch it. However, she can give shape to her correlating emotions and the physical consequences she is experiencing, starting from the increasingly sensitive tip of her hair. Tingles and discomfort become a dance, constantly changing rhythm. This mad dance creates a physical state of chaos and confusion that is twin to her entangling thoughts and spreading concerns.
Susan’s literary style perfectly matches this kind of surrealist storytelling. It is a mixed salad of genres, tones, and vocabulary, following the topics she covers and changing as fast as the images she creates. It is a creative non-fiction piece that recalls contemporary American literature, like Wally Lamb’s novels. As in his case, Susan attempts to overcome the limitations of her struggling experience, asking herself how to cope and talk about it universally. Her hair loss thus becomes that of many others dealing with a body they no longer recognize, as it happened to her.
Born and raised in Massachusetts (US), Susan Nickerson lives in Florida with her husband and their dog, cultivating her literary practice. Susan’s writing resonates with the experience of all the people who are facing the same inevitable assault. Each word seems written for them.
Susan Nickerson is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Abstract call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.