by Tyrone Jaeger
Like the medicine shows of old, this anthology of nonfiction treatments promises the antidote for what ails you, from bodily disorders to maladies of the mind, from the common cold to a wave of ennui. In these pages, you will find miracle cures, cautionary tales, field research, pop culture fads, humors, occupational therapies and hazards, and the word on pedicures.
With generous support by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, The Treatment was developed in response to the Foundation’s 2012-2013 theme of “Literature and Medicine.” True to form, Hendrix faculty members proposed a diverse range of programming for the theme, including campus visits by prose writers Rebecca Skloot and Mark Richard, physician and writer Sayantani DasGupta, librettist Dan Welcher, theatre director Virginia Smith, and the Warrior Writers and Combat Paper Projects. As we planned, we looked forward to universal, literary health care.
One thing, however, seemed to be missing—the voices of Hendrix students. To remedy this, we thought we might encourage students from across the disciplines to write about medicine and illness. To challenge the potential writers and add rigor to the process, we procured the services of Heidi Julavits for a low-residency editorship. A practitioner of novel medicine—including such curative spells as The Vanishers, The Uses of Enchantment, and The Effect of Living Backwards—Heidi Julavits is a founding editor of The Believer and teaches at Columbia University.
From November to April, the writers remained under Heidi’s care. They researched, interviewed, shadowed, exhumed memories, wrote, reimagined, and revised. Strangely, prior to each of Heidi’s spring visits, a building upgrade was completed at the Murphy House: first fresh paint, then new carpet, and, most recently, Scotchgarded furniture. Newness is toxic. As if we were characters out of the Todd Hayne’s film [SAFE], we found ourselves with the nonspecific symptoms of fatigue, editor’s cramps, source denial, revision psychosis, and comma replacement/displacement disorder. Still, we endured. Hendrix alums, Olivia Harrington and Tess Stewart—our fact-checking copy-editing duo—poked and prodded the essays. Angels of Murphy, Henryetta Vanaman and Sarah Engeler-Young, offered operational support. IV bags littered the hallways of the Murphy House. Stacks of emails were visible from space. Nursed on the elixirs of hard work, tough choices, and luck, the final copies arrived, one by one, on my desk.
Meanwhile, Tim Lepczyk worked arduously on the design, riffing off various “Wound Man” illustrations from the Middle Ages, as well as Milton Bradley’s electronic board game Operation. Here book delightfully meets its cover.
The individual essays are sure to entertain and intrigue, but when taken as a whole, they offer an insightful look at medicine and illness in the early twenty-first century. As the initiator of this project, I would like to thank the writers for their vision and their hard work. I am ever grateful to Heidi Julavits for the countless hours she worked with the writers and for the time that she spent away from her family. Heidi, your enthusiasm and dedication inspire us all.
And now, reader, I would like you to meet our writers. It is my pleasure to introduce you to The Treatment: Writing Medicine & Illness.