Prufrock goes to the doctor

One of my favorite poems is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.

I have no aspirations to developing an interpretation that accords with what analysts of the literary sort have assigned.  I read it and it spoke very much to me about the sorts of day to day struggles I have with context where what I wish to communicate and how I wish to be perceived both seem to differ vastly from what is available to me.  “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” describes so well how I often feel when these moments fail me.

No context is more loaded with this disconnect than my various experiences with doctor/patient communication.  The history giving, the narrative that starts with the spoken or unspoken question of “So what brings you here today?”  I know that what I need to communicate is valid, is of great import (to me), and that how I answer (and how well I answer) will have a significant impact on whether I get what I need.  But I am not what is expected of a suitable patient.  I complain of feeling terrible and yet I don’t look terrible to these people.  Could I show them a picture of how I used to be, of how I should be now so they could see a “before and after” effect of this long grinding illness on me?  And beyond my physical impression, there is also the fact that I necessarily deviate from the script.  I haven’t the heart to catalog all the ways in which I do.  I suspect there are many I am unaware of and listing the ones I do know only makes me feel irritatingly self pitying.  I will say that like Prufrock, I also measure out my life in coffee spoons – I am a careful and deliberate person who fears to put too much down, to give too much away and that sort of person is often seen as fussy and dismissable.  And that sort of person often gets in his or her own way when he or she tries to engage exactly because she or he is trying so hard to both analyze and act at the same time.

When I read that Prufrock fears that his attempt to foray into a sphere of discourse from which he is necessarily barred or at least a priori judged as inadequate will not just be difficult and frustrating but will “disturb the universe, I feel a deep resonance with poor old Prufrock.  Indeed, “how should I begin?” and  “how should I presume?”

 

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

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