On “With and Without Care”

April 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

deathLori May, author of  “With and Without Care” in the March 2013 issue of Brevity, reflects on the origin of her essay. merging experience, and the quotidian in nonfiction:

I grew up paying little attention to health care. Health insurance was something I took for granted, as many Canadians do, since it was a given part of my birthright, not unlike maple syrup and hockey.

Everything changed when I crossed the border with a fiancée visa in hand and married my American-born husband. Within days of my move, while cardboard boxes still scattered every room of our house, we were legally wed in a downtown Detroit courtroom. Romantic? Yes, in some ways. But our timely ceremony was a necessary step in my immigration. It also provided insurance. Or, rather, it provided my legal title as ‘spouse’ so that I would be covered immediately under my husband’s health insurance.

He was more concerned than I that bad timing and a lack of paperwork would leave us in a bind. I was not yet fully versed in how the system works here. He knew. My spouse grew up with the understanding that to receive medical care, one must be skilled in filing forms, have advanced knowledge in which professionals fall under in- and out-of-network coverage , and feel over-insured while also never fully being covered for everything. This was a strange adjustment for me and continues to be.

My experiences as a Canadian-American have aroused a number of questions, prompted cultural commentary from others (“you’re not really am immigrant; you’re just from Canada”), and, of course, inspired a number of essays. I enjoy exploring the differences in my two home countries, as well as the commonalities, yet when it comes to health care I still don’t know what’s better, what’s worse. Maybe I never will. But I like to ask questions.

In “With and Without Care,” I wanted to show health care concerns and experiences outside of my own. My first draft of this essay had a more linear narrative and was weighted with my own angle. Yet in working on a book-length collection of essays, an immigration memoir in shorts, I have discovered that merging my experiences with those of others is infinitely more interesting. It adds complexity. It allows me to explore what I see of myself in others, in connecting the dots across humanity.

In “Quotidian Nonfiction,” (Creative Nonfiction, Issue #44 Spring 2012), Patrick Madden shares his pleasure in uncovering those everyday moments that are, most often, lacking in shock value, yet still inspire him to write:

“Perhaps this is because my own life so rarely excites even me; I could never win over readers through shock or exoticism. No matter. I prefer, in both my writing and in my reading, meditative material that considers the quotidian, that pauses and ponders, moving slowly, calmly—the kind of work that would never incite a controversy, work that balances intellect and emotion, with perhaps a bit of spirit.”

In “With and Without Care,” and throughout my collection-in-progress, I’m using my personal experiences of culture adjustment as a prompt to connect those dots. Rather than plainly narrate what I see and experience as a newcomer, I’m reflecting on my migration and emergence to seek ways to identify with others—and, perhaps, new ways to identify myself.

Lori A. May is the author of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook. Her essays and reviews may be found online with publications such as Passages North, The Iowa Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press, and New Orleans Review. Canadian by birth and disposition, she now calls Michigan home. Visit her at www.loriamay.com.

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