I’ll just have dessert, without the cancer

Laura Linney has a new show on Showtime, The Big C, and that is a good thing. Laura Linney is a wonderful actress, and a beautiful woman over the age of 25, and anytime anyone puts her on TV the world gets a little bit better. Also, Gabourey Sidibe is in it, and as far as I can tell no one is raping or force-feeding her character. Hooray for that.

Yet, I am troubled.

This is yet another “woman lets herself go after devastating news” story. In this case, cancer. From the Showtime website:

Cathy Jamison is a reserved, stifled, Minneapolis schoolteacher who receives life changing news and decides, from that moment on, to make drastic, long-overdue adjustments to the way she is living her life. She’s always been conservative and structured – the perfect suburban wife and mother – but Cathy is tired of being ‘the sensible one.’ Now she wants to let her freak flag fly. For the first time in her life, she is going to make choices that suit her needs. Who says you can’t eat dessert as an appetizer? Time is precious, and Cathy is grabbing life by the balls…

Right. Crisis as empowerment. This is a theme in memoirs written by women, and I’m just exhausted by it. This summer, I read a memoir by an actress who chronicled every sweaty, nauseous moment of her husband’s abandonment of her and their children, another by a woman who suffered mightily as she refused to let her husband leave her and their two children, and re-read Eat, Pray, Love, with its foundational nasty divorce and depression.

In all of these books, as in The Big C, the women find inner peace and happiness, let their freak flag fly, and generally throw off the constraints of culture and society to LIVE OUT LOUD with pride and dignity and sing it with me my sisters! But first, they suffer. How they suffer.

Look, I don’t mean to belittle the experiences of these women, nor do I hold myself apart from them, as I have meditated and left offerings for Ganesha and have a shaman in my phonebook. I get it. It’s not the new-age religion that bothers me, or the navel gazing. It’s the suffering. The suffering as beauty, the suffering as transformation. Why must we endure so much pain to finally get to the good part? Why must pain be our guide?

Do I have to have cancer to do a cartwheel?

Must my husband take my house and my money for me to get it together to go on a trip?

Must I first be washed up on the desolate, rocky shores of a monumental personal crisis before I can just freaking have dessert and not feel bad about it?

I’d like to see a show where Laura Linney and Gabby Sidibe are time-traveling PIs. Who get laid a lot. And eat cake. And have a really good time together. And neither of them has OCD or a bad history, they’re just quirky and bad-ass and like to solve mysteries. In space.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we all just let ourselves go WITHOUT the precipitating life crisis? If we didn’t let suffering be our fundamental catalyst?

I’ll start. I’m going to Popeye’s for lunch, where I’m getting the 2-piece special with mashed potatoes and gravy. And a biscuit.

And then I’m going to do a cartwheel.

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