Negativity, projections, and ageing

Over these last two decades, I have begun suspecting that most people don’t know how to interact with peers who are unwell and disabled; they mess it up, their discomfort/ disapproval is obvious, and then they go away blaming the unwell/ disabled person implying that they would have coped better with the situation when in fact they were unable to cope with even ten minutes of an interaction.

I have encountered this several times in the past few years, and I dare say, there were instances before that, too, but I was not clued in enough to notice them or feel a dissonance.

One aspect of this is creation of mental and social narratives and even fictional depictions. That is, how people form the story around the person and family in their mind and in the way they may talk about it to others or even include it in their fiction.

I’ve seen instances where writers pick up a few interactions they have had, give it a spin that reduces the nuances around the situation, and make it fit the story arc and narrative they want. Do they want a sympathetic elder who is being mistreated, or a family that is affectionate, or one that is overwhelmed, or are they aiming at a social commentary on how negligent society is to elders? Things like that. In this effort to do what their story needs–character development, story arc, conflict, tension, resolution–they perhaps don’t spare enough thought of how that type of depiction may impact persons on the “other side of the story.”

So a powerful novel may show how bad the daughter-in-law was to her ageing and frail mother-in-law, and if this novel gets traction, if it gets the readership and critical acclaim the author wants it to get–what will be the impact on daughter-in-laws who are struggling to do their best in far less black-and-white situations with far more complex aspects to balance?

And if the novel is based–loosely or in a thinly disguised way–on people around the writer, what will the social impact be for these unwitting fodder for the novelist’s writing project? Those are real persons out there, not cardboard tropes.

Soap operas and films, of course, end up doing this type of thing just too often, but I’ve seen similar problems in novels that have been critically lauded and have won awards.

Here’s the thing: even when it comes to the most sincere and well-meaning writer, I think the stories we make are the stories of what we think and what we want to think and what we are limited to think about by our own scared natures. And ageing, neglect, and dying are areas of large discomfort, and there is a limit to how brave and nuanced a writer can be, or even how informed the writer is about such situations. I guess negative or simplistic depictions around ageing and related family interactions will continue to be part of fictional depictions…

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

2 Responses to Negativity, projections, and ageing

  1. austere says:

    What an ogre! Who is this author?

    In another vein, is this why you write science fiction? 🙂

    I feel for your father… how terrible to get a fracture even without a fall and then keep going back and forth, not knowing.

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