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The empathy exams essays on pain top course work editing websites for college

The empathy exams essays on pain

There are so many things wrong with The Empathy Exams that it's hard to know where to begin. No matter what topic she chooses, Jamison reveals herself to be either out of touch or out of her depth. A nearly pointless essay on the Barkley Marathons expects us to be equally as interested in the runners as in whether Jamison's laptop battery will last long enough for her to watch an episode of The Real World: Las Vegas.

These are the annoying but essentially harmless essays. They would have been helped by lovely prose, I suppose, but this book doesn't have that either. In another category are the many essays where Jamison dabbles in other people's pain: In Mexico, where she writes about dangerous areas she's never been to and behaves as if rumors are facts. On a "gang tour" in Los Angeles, where she observes herself observing parts of the city deemed violent. At a conference for sufferers of Morgellons, where Jamison fails to navigate the rocky territory of sympathizing with and respecting someone even as you disbelieve what they're telling you.

I guess I have to give Jamison credit for constantly giving herself such fine lines to walk, but it's difficult to do that when she fails to keep her balance every time. Two essays in particular really bothered me. In "Fog Count" she visits a man she knows slightly, who's in prison in West Virginia for some kind of financial fraud. What Jamison hoped to get from this visit is unclear, but she spends a disproportionate amount of the essay talking about the vending machines in the visitors' area and what she and the man she's visiting buy from them.

There's the search for quarters for the vending machine, the list of perfectly standard vending-machine snacks that are eventually purchased, the fact that a machine accidentally dispenses two soft drinks instead of one. Those of us who live in the real world where vending machines exist would find all of this unremarkable.

Jamison clearly finds it significant, but who knows why. On this same West Virginia trip, Jamison alludes to the ravaged countryside, where the coal industry once dominated but where coal miners are now increasingly irrelevant, but she doesn't examine this countryside, and she doesn't talk to any miners. Instead she repeats a few rumors she's heard a "Cliffs Notes" version, if you will , talks about vending machines and the Chex Mix and Cheez-Its they dispense, and then leaves with the deluded sense that she's really given us something to think about.

All I could think about was the missed opportunity to say something actually meaningful. The absolute worst was "Lost Boys," about the West Memphis Three—three teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of murdering some other boys, and spent nearly 20 years in prison before finally being released.

Jamison makes much of the fact that West Memphis is an economically depressed town at the intersection of two interstates. Isn't it ironic, she says? There are two interstates running through this town, and yet its residents are going nowhere!

As someone who grew up in a depressed former coal town where two interstates meet, I can tell you that this supposed irony might make for a fantastic theme for a paper, but it has nothing to do with real life. No one who actually lives in one of these towns considers the presence of interstates ironic.

Interstates are everywhere. Further, not everyone in these towns feels trapped. Some expect to leave one day. Some actually do leave. Some are gasp! Jamison would know this if she had talked to some residents of West Memphis. Which she didn't do. Because the entire essay is just a response to watching documentaries about the West Memphis Three. Which she watched as a teenager. While drunk. She seems to be drunk a lot, generally speaking. I gather that's the subject of her next book.

My head hurts just thinking about it. Jamison's problem, which she is weirdly unable to self-diagnose, is that she wrote these essays in her 20s, when she had never done anything in her adult life but go to prestigious schools for undergraduate and graduate degrees. I'm not knocking higher education at all—I'm a fan of it, in fact—and I'm not trying to say that people who've spent a lot of time in school can't have life experience as well. All I'm saying is that Leslie Jamison doesn't seem to have much life experience.

That she has chosen other people's pain as her subject matter is problematic. That this essay collection has received so much praise is nothing less than bewildering. Dec 07, Thomas rated it it was amazing Shelves: own-electronic , five-stars , read-on-kindle , nonfiction , 2nd-favorites.

War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't call. But I don't believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing. I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of "Sure, some news is bigger news than other news.

I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of empathy? How could she manage to write about such a mysterious, powerful, and often misconstrued emotion, even with her Harvard degree and her MFA from Iowa? As an aspiring psychologist who values empathy more than anything else, I wanted so much from The Empathy Exams , so much that I curbed my expectations even before starting the book. But I ended the book with only good news: that Jamison delivers, and she does it well.

It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

She analyzes these experiences with a powerful blend of fierce insight and vulnerability. Jamison approaches tough topics - Morgellons disease, imprisonment within the justice system - in a way that shows her intellect while honoring her humanity. The theme of empathy soaks into each of these short essays, the emotion sometimes small, sometimes large, but always there. Empathy isn't just listening, it's asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to.

Her last essay about her grand unified theory of female pain blew me away, as it integrated feminism, history, empathy, literature, and so much more into a painful and poignant message of hope. And when she quoted Caroline Knapp, whose memoir about anorexia tops my favorite list, I knew Jamison had her bases covered.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a better human, to anyone who wants to read about a woman's attempt to be a better human. I will end this review with the closing lines of the collection, just because I hope the strength of Jamison's conclusion will motivate someone to read the book in its entirety. But sometimes she's just true.

I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliche and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.

View all 4 comments. May 20, Melanie rated it it was amazing. Imagining the pain of others means flinching from it as though it were our own, out of a frightened sense that it could become our own. She says that she feels heartened by this "She wants an empathy that arises out of courage, but understands the extent to which it is, for her, always rooted in fear. She says that she feels heartened by this instinctive identification, but wonders what it might finally be good for.

She flinches, and then she explores that flinch with a steady gaze. If the main theme is that of empathy, there is also a constant search on her part for absolute truthfulness in her accounts of encounters, emotions, events and intellectual musings. The level of observations and reflections, of intellectual and emotional involvement in the stories of others, is on par with the few essays I've read by Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Mark Slouka, George Packer and Rebecca Solnit.

A book that defies characterizations. A book that is relentless in its honesty and willingness to dive in, to go deep, to dwell where it hurts, whether real or imaginary. Trust the words of Mary Karr: "This riveting book will make you a better human. View all 26 comments. Jun 12, Nethra Ram rated it did not like it. The first chapter of this book is sublime. The medical acting part of it, and the actual context of empathy reach out to you and make you think from different angles.

Then, the author steps in and tells you 'You know, I suffered too Maybe chapter 2 will rectify that, you assume. Chapter 2 stuns you, the concept and the facts, the writing not so much, but it is atleast understandable. Again, the author butts in, telling you she's worried she might have the The first chapter of this book is sublime. Again, the author butts in, telling you she's worried she might have the disease she just wrote about. You smell smoke and you are annoyed with her.

What's her problem, you wonder. Then chapter 3 happens and all goes to hell. She drags you through Dante's version of thesaurus hell, using every trick in her book to tell you she's been to Harvard, Yale, the Iowa Writer's workshop and hence the need to write in such a way that makes no sense, leaves every single sentence independent of each other and the entire content pretentious, insincere and incomplete. Does this stem from a need to be rash and abstract in order to make people go hunting after meaning and hence achieve immortality in prose?

If these are non-fiction accounts, why not make them sensible? Why make them hazy and stranded somewhere between comprehension and poetry? Add to all this the author's chronic need to insert herself into every story and tell you she suffered. Its her suffering too. Too much she has suffered and hence please excuse the rambling. Well, my bad for expecting something good. The book has absolutely no structure and the title does not map to the themes discussed.

They are not clearly presented anywhere except for the 1st half of the 1st chapter. They do pop in now and then everywhere like a kaleidoscope pattern rearranging itself, but have no impact and make no sense. Put your time to better use. View all 3 comments. Apr 02, Oriana rated it it was amazing Shelves: zeitgeist-y , read This book was kind of a big deal last year, receiving glowing accolades from everyone from NPR to Flavorpill to Slate to the New York Times , so I was well primed to love it.

This is a wildly varied exploration of really diverse topics by an incredibly smart writer and thinker. I was nearly as awed by her choices of subje This book was kind of a big deal last year, receiving glowing accolades from everyone from NPR to Flavorpill to Slate to the New York Times , so I was well primed to love it. I was nearly as awed by her choices of subject matter—bizarre ultramarathons, the time she was mugged in Nicaragua, a defense of saccharinity, diseases that may or may not exist, and medical acting, to name only a few—as by the connections she draws and the thoughtlines she pursues.

Leslie is incredibly well read, quoting everyone from Carson to Tolstoy to Didion to Vollmann. She brings in so many disparate sources, finding material to riff off of from obscure neuroscience journals and Ani DiFranco albums and a documentary about murdered children in Arkansas. She says things like: "Sentimentality is an accusation leveled at unearned empathy" and "I wish I could invent a verb tense full of open spaces—a tense that didn't pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke" and "The grand fiction of tourism is that bringing our bodies somewhere draws that place closer to us, or we to it.

I loved it so, so much. View all 5 comments. Sep 06, Debbie "DJ" rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction. Yup, I'm going to do it. Two stars. I just cannot wrap my brain around many of these essays. I struggled through the other essays, and liked the last, but the rest hurt my head.

Here's an example from an essay on sentimentality Is the problem of sentimentality primarily ethical or aesthetic? Solomon paraphrases Tanners argument that 'sentimental people indulge their feelings instead of doing what should be done' and cites the example of Nazi commander Rudolf Hoess, who wept at an opera staged by concentration camp prisoners.

Perhaps this wasn't simply ironic but casual:" I see a lot of good reviews for this one, so maybe it's just me. While I do find the topics interesting, I have no desire to dig so deeply into them. View all 10 comments. Jun 16, Cheryl rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Lovers of truth delivered artfully.

Shelves: non-fiction , memoirs , literary-essays. When we hear saccharine, we think of language that has shamed us, netted our hearts in trite articulations: words repeated too many times for cheap effect, recycled ad nauseam. Ad nauseam: we are glutted with sweet to the point of sickness. There are writers who have the gift of the essay gab, words strewn together into the kind of texture that produces hard-hitting language.

Such writers have the talent to continue this personal-philosophical literary tradition started by the likes of Fitzge When we hear saccharine, we think of language that has shamed us, netted our hearts in trite articulations: words repeated too many times for cheap effect, recycled ad nauseam. Such writers have the talent to continue this personal-philosophical literary tradition started by the likes of Fitzgerald, Turgenev, Montaigne, Orwell, Borges, Hazlitt,Didion, Baldwin, and Ginzburg. Leslie Jamison is that writer.

I daresay that one of these essays will be published in the next highly acclaimed personal essay anthology hopefully one akin to The Art of The Personal Essay?? If sentimentality is the word people use to insult emotion--in its simplified, degraded, and indulgent forms--then "saccharine" is the word they use to insult sentimentality. If she isn't defending saccharine, she is taking pain tours or examining empathy in this book. Empathy: that thing that society seems to have trampled upon and called weak.

Must we only empathize when others endorse it? Shall we choose to like or understand someone simply because the crowd has deemed it appropriate to do so? Can we try to understand the pain of others? Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia--em into and pathos feeling --a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person's pain as you'd enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query. I love reading personal essays because it is an art form that is memoir, yet distinct in its tone and structure.

The essayist is a philosopher, a whiner, a searcher, an educator, and a person trying to make meaning of this thing we call life. What's intriguing is that all of this meaning sought is mirrored in the form of this literary art: it starts strong, wavers a bit as the essayist searches for truth, and it doesn't seek to give you any answers.

The anti-sentimental stance is still a mode of identity ratification…it's self-righteousness by way of dismissal: a kind of masturbatory double negative. Jamison goes to the core of empathy in this book, delving into the good and bad kinds of empathy. It is contemporary philosophical meandering. It was the power of those beautiful words that made the other essays pale in comparison.

I needed people to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it's shown. Classic in its delivery, modern in its form, quirky in its appearance.

I had the chance to hear Jamison read from this work and as I stood in line to talk with her and get my copy signed, I remember thinking to myself, she is about as quirky this is a good thing , kind, inquisitive, approachable, and unapologetic as her collection. I want us to feel swollen by sentimentality and then hurt by it, betrayed by its flatness, wounded by the hard glass surface of its sky.

View all 19 comments. Jan 07, Rebecca rated it liked it Shelves: essays , travel-books , medical , uncategorizable. I liked the medical-related pieces — attending a Morgellons disease conference, working as a medical actor — but not the Latin American travel essays or the character studies. The overarching theme of empathy was not as strong as I thought it would be; really, the book is more about how experiences mark the body.

Jul 26, Jo rated it did not like it. Every essay felt like an attempt to show off how smart she is. She's much better at writing about feelings than actually feeling them. Which would have been fine if her thoughts weren't so vague and scattered. She uses a lot of words in such a circular way that by the time you've finished the pages you've read only a tiny bit of actual information on a lot of different subjects.

Most "I want to show off my knowledge of something. Most essays have a pretty easy to figure out formula: 1. Use a lot of flowery language to sound super smart or an excess of profanity to make sure everyone knows she's also edgy and cool in a circular way so that by the end of the essay the reader forgets what the topic of the essay even was. Uses the circular language as a segue into a story about herself that only vaguely relates to the original topic of the essay.

She goes out of her way to tell the reader personal information about herself i. No additional information, no history, just here's my problem. It's like she's fishing for empathy for herself from the reader. Which, I wouldn't have minded at all if she had given some insight into why she had those behaviors.

It's hard to feel empathy about a situation when you have NO idea why it's taking place. Was she abused, bullied, neglected? Or is she experiencing some sort of unprovoked psychotic break that requires medication to control her self-harming behaviors? I don't know. When you get to the end of the book it all just feels like a major let down. No insight into empathy, humanity, her There were so many missed opportunities within the subjects of each essay to have really meaningful conversations about empathy that the book became just plain aggravating to read.

Apr 03, Suzanne marked it as did-not-finish Recommended to Suzanne by: the general buzz. Shelves: non-fiction , essays. I have to say I'm puzzled by the accolades and acclaim. And thematically, the point, in main, is plainly about the pain. Empathy seemed to be an afterthought rather than the unifying theme, rendering the whole thing pretty depressing. View all 18 comments. The Empathy Exams: Essays Review to follow by Leslie Jamison is a collection of essays examining empathy-what it is, what its risks may be for example: is it empathy or is it stealing someone else's feeling?

Jamison freely draws on her own life experiences. My overall sense of the essays is that they are astounding-enlightening and exciting. There were some I liked better than others but all of them had striking moments. In the title essay, Jamison analyzes her experiences as a medical actor in which she plays patients with various illnesses and evaluate the treating physicians for the level of empathy shown. I found this essay both hilarious and fascinating.

I was intrigued by the fact that the medical students are judged not so much for tone of voice but by the actual words they use. There is a kind of formula for professional empathy and avoiding the traps of "comments that feel aggressive in their formulaic insistence. This essay also talks about the idea that "empathy is always perched precariously between gift and invasion. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries It suggests you enter another person's pain as you'd enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query I want to quote endlessly from every essay, whether it is the plea for empathy made by the reality television show "Intervention" in which the "warning My favorite essay a strange way to identify something that I reread three times and was completely blown away by is the final one, "Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain," in which Jamison takes on the challenge of how female pain is perceived by both women and men, the reaction against traditional fetishizations of female suffering leading to the current anger at women who seem to perform their pain and an uncomfortable, distancing irony about one's own pain.

Jamison makes a plea for the courage to empathize with pain that may be performative, that pain is real and that the story doesn't have to end there but can continue to include its healing. I was very moved by the idea that "Pain that gets performed is still pain" and deserves our compassion. That, in fact, human beings deserve and need compassion in order to live and to heal. I felt like a part of myself that I was afraid of, distanced from, cut off from was freed to come into the light and perhaps be given a space.

We all suffer but I do think as a woman I am particularly determined not to be jeered at for being in pain. I can remember in my 20s being confused by hearing man ridiculing women frequently enough that I was both enraged and terrified by it. I have struggled with wanting to be seen as "tough" while also being a compassionate human being. Maybe tough is over-rated. Every essay made me think and then think harder.

Jamison is brave in sharing her own struggles and ruthless in analyzing her relationships with others. Definitely a book to read. Apr 10, Maxwell rated it really liked it Shelves: owned , non-fiction. She examines how we ignore others' pain, how we erase others' voices, how we need to listen, how we fail at recognizing our own pain at times even when it's right in front of us.

What I find so enjoyable about these essays were their ability to completely entrance me. Jamison writes on a variety of rather obscure or oddly specific topics at time that would seem uninteresting or irrelevant if 4. Jamison writes on a variety of rather obscure or oddly specific topics at time that would seem uninteresting or irrelevant if it weren't for her prose.

She writes with conviction, honesty, and a voice that is fresh, snarky, and bold. Though I know nothing about her as a person or essayist, I believe what she writes. This small sampling of her writing leaves me wanting more; hers is a career that I am sure to follow. My favorite essay was by far "Lost Boys. Rather than address it from a journalistic POV, simply relaying details of the case, Jamison follows the different people involved, the context, and the outcome with empathy.

She shows you the people as they are, not how they are portrayed by the media. I also really enjoyed her "Pain Tours" essays in which she writes briefly about different aspects of human life in which we get a sort of sick pleasure out of witnessing another person's pain. I think these essays are important to read. They are insightful, impactful, and extremely convicting. Empathy is a topic that can easily be glossed over, but in each and every one of these essays Leslie Jamison examines just how important and central a role empathy plays in our lives, and why we must listen.

Apr 13, Rachel Aloise rated it liked it. Her understanding of pain seems to concentrate largely on her own physical injuries and on each and every slight she has suffered in her personal life. The sense that empathy requires a minimum of humility appears to be entirely absent from these essays. Her argument leaves no room for a more nuanced view on gendered constructions of pain, in itself a fascinating topic. Leslie Jamison is undoubtedly a very talented writer. Feb 16, McKenzie Richardson rated it it was amazing Shelves: female-author-challenge , non-fiction.

I got my hands on an Advance Reader's copy of this book and words can almost not describe how thrilled I am that I did. Beautifully-written as much as it is thought-provoking. I will confess that I hate emotion; I hate expressing it, I hate the awkwardness of not knowing how to react when others express it, and most of all, I hate reading about it. However, Leslie Jamison completely changed my response to emotion. This compilation of essays takes emotion and empathy and spins it in a new way, de I got my hands on an Advance Reader's copy of this book and words can almost not describe how thrilled I am that I did.

This compilation of essays takes emotion and empathy and spins it in a new way, demonstrating a deep understanding on an unknowable topic. She shows the importance and necessity of empathy as well as emotion. I felt personally connected to Jamison as she described pains in her life and at times it was almost as if she were speaking from my own mind. Whether it was breakups, getting punched in the face, skinning her knees, eating disorders, an abortion, or cutting, I was just as connected with her during the pains that I myself had experienced as with those I have not.

Jamison invites the reader into her own life so openly, that it is difficult to not be drawn in by her words. We play a demographic menagerie: young jocks with ACL injuries and business executives nursing coke habits. STD Grandma has just cheated on her husband of forty years and has a case of gonorrhea to show for it.

She hides behind her shame like a veil, and her med student is supposed to part the curtain. Blackout Buddy gets makeup: a gash on his chin, a black eye, and bruises smudged in green eye shadow along his cheekbone. Before the encounter, the actor splashes booze on his body like cologne. Appendicitis Angela has a dead guitarist uncle whose tour bus was hit by a tornado. Many of our extended family members have died violent, Midwestern deaths: mauled in tractor or grain-elevator accidents, hit by drunk drivers on the way home from Hy-Vee grocery stores, felled by a Big Ten tailgate—or, like my brother Will, by the aftermath of its debauchery.

Between encounters, we are given water, fruit, granola bars, and an endless supply of mints. Some med students get nervous during our encounters. I do things! I want to tell them. I bullshit harder, more heartily. Other students are all business. These irritated students take my averted eyes as a challenge. They never stop seeking my gaze. Wrestling me into eye contact is the way they maintain power, forcing me to acknowledge their requisite display of care.

Other students seem to understand that empathy is always perched precariously between gift and invasion. They need permission. Their humility is a kind of compassion in its own right. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means realizing no trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries. Sadness becomes a seizure. Empathy demands another kind of porousness in response. My Stephanie script is twelve pages long.

What are the laws? What animals graze there? I know that saying this would be against the rules. You have never been pregnant before. You are five and a half weeks but have not experienced any bloating or cramping. You have experienced some fluctuations in mood but have been unable to determine whether these are due to being pregnant or knowing you are pregnant. You are not visibly upset about your pregnancy. Invisibly, you are not sure. This is why you got pregnant. You are about to have another surgery to correct your tachycardia, the excessive and irregular beating of your heart.

She wants the doctor to know about your heart condition in case it affects the way he ends your pregnancy, or the way he keeps you sedated while he does it. I could tell you I got an abortion one February or heart surgery that March—like they were separate cases, unrelated scripts—but neither one of these accounts would be complete without the other. A single month knitted them together; two mornings I woke up on an empty stomach and slid into a paper gown.

One operation depended on a tiny vacuum, the other on a catheter that would ablate the tissue of my heart. I asked the doctors. Dave and I first kissed in a Maryland basement at three in the morning on our way to Newport News to canvass for Obama in We canvassed for an organizing union called Unite Here. Unite Here! Years later, that poster hung above our bed. That first fall we walked along Connecticut beaches strewn with broken clamshells. We held hands against salt winds.

We went to a hotel for the weekend and put so much bubble bath in our tub that the bubbles ran all over the floor. We took pictures of that. We took pictures of everything. We walked across Williamsburg in the rain to see a concert.

We were writers in love. How did it make you feel to see that injured pigeon in the street today? I saw the cross on the stick and called Dave and we wandered college quads in the bitter cold and talked about what we were going to do. I thought of the little fetus bundled inside my jacket with me and wondered—honestly wondered —if I felt attached to it yet. I remember not knowing what to say. I remember wanting a drink.

I remember wanting Dave to be inside the choice with me but also feeling possessive of what was happening. I needed him to understand he would never live this choice like I was going to live it. This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself.

We scheduled the abortion for a Friday and I found myself facing a week of ordinary days until it happened. I realized I was supposed to keep doing ordinary things. One afternoon, I holed up in the library and read a pregnancy memoir.

I sent Dave a text. This bothered me. I wanted Dave to guess what I needed at precisely the same time as I needed it. I wanted him to imagine how much small signals of his presence might mean. That night we roasted vegetables and ate them at my kitchen table.

Which is to say: that kitchen held the ghosts of countless days that felt easier than the one we were living now. We drank wine and I think—I know—I drank a lot. It sickened me to think I was doing something harmful to the fetus, because that meant thinking of the fetus as harm-able, which made it feel more alive, which made me feel more selfish, woozy with cheap Cabernet and spoiling for a fight. But I thought he could at least bridge the gap between our days and bodies with a text.

I told him so. Actually, I probably sulked, waited for him to ask, and then told him so. Guessing your feelings is like charming a cobra with a stethoscope , a boyfriend told me once. Meaning what? Meaning a couple things, I think—that pain turned me venomous, that diagnosing me required a specialized kind of enchantment, that I flaunted feelings and withheld their origins at once.

Sitting with Dave, in my attic living room, my cobra hood was spread. Which is the sad half-life of arguments—we usually remember our side better. Why did I need proof? I needed his empathy not just to comprehend the emotions I was describing, but to help me discover which emotions were actually there.

We were under a skylight under a moon. It was February beyond the glass. I was curled into a cheap futon with crumbs in its creases, a piece of furniture that made me feel like I was still in college. This abortion was something adult. This accusation hurt not because it was entirely wrong but because it was partially right, and because it was leveled with such coldness. He was speaking something truthful about me in order to defend himself, not to make me feel better. But there was truth behind it.

He understood my pain as something actual and constructed at once. He got that it was necessarily both—that my feelings were also made of the way I spoke them. He meant that feeling something was never simply a state of submission but always, also, a process of construction.

I see all this, looking back. I also see that he could have been gentler with me. We could have been gentler with each other. We went to Planned Parenthood on a freezing morning. But it felt like perversity that Friday morning, during the weekly time-slot for abortions. We found a book called Alexander , about a boy who confesses all his misdeeds to his father by blaming them on an imaginary red-and-green-striped horse.

The book belonged to a guy named Michael from Branford. Getting each one fixed meant getting broken into again. Getting your heart fixed will be another burglary, nothing taken except everything that gets burned away. It is essential that you avoid eye contact and keep your voice free of emotion during the encounter. For other cases, we are supposed to wear our anguish more openly—like a terrible, seething garment.

The doctors know how to respond. I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing an excruciating pain in your abdomen , one says. It must be uncomfortable. Part of me has always craved a pain so visible—so irrefutable and physically inescapable—that everyone would have to notice. But my sadness about the abortion was never a convulsion. There was never a scene. No frothing at the mouth. I was almost relieved, three days after the procedure, when I started to hurt.

It was worst at night, the cramping. But at least I knew what I felt. You get sad some nights about your brother. You are not sure these things matter. They are just facts. Fuck you is also what your arm says when it jerks so hard it might break into pieces. Fuck you fuck you fuck you until your jaw locks and nothing comes.

You are blind in this other world. Your seizures are how you move through it—thrashing and fumbling—feeling for what its walls are made of. I imagine you in every possible direction, and then I cover my tracks and imagine you all over again.

It came as a surprise that there was anything wrong. They would ablate bits of tissue until they managed to get rid of my tiny rogue beatbox. My primary cardiologist was a small woman who moved quickly through the offices and hallways of her world. She spoke in a curt voice, always. My mother insisted I call Dr. M to tell her I was having an abortion. What if there was something I needed to tell the doctors before they performed it? That was the reasoning. The thought of telling a near stranger that I was having an abortion—over the phone, without being asked—seemed mortifying.

When I finally got her on the phone, she sounded harried and impatient. I told her quickly. I went blank. But I had. I started crying. I felt like a child. I felt like an idiot. I finally remembered my question: did the abortion doctor need to know anything about my tachycardia? I could hear only one thing in it: Why are you making a fuss? That was it. Alexander was a pretty bad horse today. Mine was the kind of pain that comes without a perpetrator. I needed people—Dave, a doctor, anyone—to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible.

A month later, Dr. M bent over the operating table and apologized. It had been prompted. Now I was lying on my back in a hospital gown. I was woozy from the early stages of my anesthesia. Mainly, I wanted the anesthesia to carry me away from everything I felt and everything my body was about to feel. In a moment, it did. I always fight the impulse to ask the med students for pills during our encounters.

It seems natural. The healing part is always a hypothetical horizon we never reach. During my winter of ministrations, I found myself constantly in the hands of doctors. It began with that first nameless man who gave me an abortion the same morning he gave twenty other women their abortions.

Once the procedure was done, I was wheeled into a dim room where a man with a long white beard gave me a cup of orange juice. His resistance was a kind of care. I felt that. He was looking out for me. G was the doctor who performed my heart operation. He controlled the catheters from a remote computer. It looked like a spaceship flight cabin. He had a nimble voice and lanky arms and bushy white hair. I liked him. He was a straight talker.

Ablating more tissue risked dismantling my circuitry entirely. G said I could get the procedure again. I could authorize them to ablate more aggressively.

She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.

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Example research papers on books We hand off infant dolls. Well, my bad for expecting something good. Invisibly, you are not sure. I think these essays are important to read. The author loves to I cannot recover the time I wasted on this book, but I can make sure I never read another book by this author. You learn to start seeing.
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Definition essay parkland Which, I wouldn't have minded at all if she had given some insight into why she had those behaviors. I remember wanting a drink. The essays combine her own and others' experiences, and delve into social and philosophical issues. By being open you can see and accept the flaws of others much more easily, but you're also making yourself more exposed and easily hurt. Good conclusions research essays understanding of pain seems to concentrate largely on her own physical injuries and on each and every slight she has suffered in her personal life. It feels like appropriation. But at length she retreats to her hotel pool and a sense, however provisional, of her own physical integrity.
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One of the pick and shovel for the individual reader. The empathy exams essays on pain stem cell research opinion essay sites doing courseworks The empathy exams essays on pain for lesson plans for college essay Because of economic pain exams empathy the essays on recovery possible. Based on this problem to take every opportunity to assess for using her story looks at a centralized, collective level. Problems about their thinking make them more deeply. They should also choose interesting tasks that have been working with children who have had similar experiences.

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You get sad some nights about your brother. You are not sure these things matter. They are just facts. Fuck you is also what your arm says when it jerks so hard it might break into pieces. Fuck you fuck you fuck you until your jaw locks and nothing comes. You are blind in this other world. Your seizures are how you move through it—thrashing and fumbling—feeling for what its walls are made of.

I imagine you in every possible direction, and then I cover my tracks and imagine you all over again. It came as a surprise that there was anything wrong. They would ablate bits of tissue until they managed to get rid of my tiny rogue beatbox. My primary cardiologist was a small woman who moved quickly through the offices and hallways of her world. She spoke in a curt voice, always. My mother insisted I call Dr. M to tell her I was having an abortion.

What if there was something I needed to tell the doctors before they performed it? That was the reasoning. The thought of telling a near stranger that I was having an abortion—over the phone, without being asked—seemed mortifying. When I finally got her on the phone, she sounded harried and impatient. I told her quickly. I went blank. But I had. I started crying. I felt like a child.

I felt like an idiot. I finally remembered my question: did the abortion doctor need to know anything about my tachycardia? I could hear only one thing in it: Why are you making a fuss? That was it. Alexander was a pretty bad horse today.

Mine was the kind of pain that comes without a perpetrator. I needed people—Dave, a doctor, anyone—to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. A month later, Dr. M bent over the operating table and apologized. It had been prompted. Now I was lying on my back in a hospital gown.

I was woozy from the early stages of my anesthesia. Mainly, I wanted the anesthesia to carry me away from everything I felt and everything my body was about to feel. In a moment, it did. I always fight the impulse to ask the med students for pills during our encounters.

It seems natural. The healing part is always a hypothetical horizon we never reach. During my winter of ministrations, I found myself constantly in the hands of doctors. It began with that first nameless man who gave me an abortion the same morning he gave twenty other women their abortions. Once the procedure was done, I was wheeled into a dim room where a man with a long white beard gave me a cup of orange juice.

His resistance was a kind of care. I felt that. He was looking out for me. G was the doctor who performed my heart operation. He controlled the catheters from a remote computer. It looked like a spaceship flight cabin. He had a nimble voice and lanky arms and bushy white hair. I liked him. He was a straight talker. Ablating more tissue risked dismantling my circuitry entirely. G said I could get the procedure again.

I could authorize them to ablate more aggressively. He was very calm when he said this. I pictured waking up from general anesthesia to find a metal box above my ribs. I remember feeling grateful for the calmness in his voice and not offended by it. Maybe it was just because he was a man. But I think it was something more. Instead of identifying with my panic—inhabiting my horror at the prospect of a pacemaker—he was helping me understand that even this, the barnacle of a false heart, would be OK.

It offered assurance rather than empathy, or maybe assurance was evidence of empathy, insofar as he understood that assurance, not identification, was what I needed most. G was thinking. I needed to look at him and see the opposite of my fear, not its echo. Every time I met with Dr. Patient is writing a dissertation on addiction. Patient spent two years living in Iowa. Patient is working on a collection of essays. I hated seeing the puppet strings; they felt unseemly—and without kindness in her voice, the mechanics meant nothing.

Now I can imagine another kind of tape—a more-naked, stuttering tape; a tape that keeps correcting itself, that messes up its dance steps:. Patient is here for an abortion for a surgery to burn the bad parts of her heart for a medication to fix her heart because the surgery failed.

Patient is staying in the hospital for one night three nights five nights until we get this medication right. Patient cannot be released until she runs on a treadmill and her heart prints a clean rhythm. Patient had a lot of feelings. Partner of patient had the feeling she was making up a lot of feelings. Partner of patient is supportive.

Partner of patient is caught kissing patient. Partner of patient is charming. Patient is angry disappointed angry her procedure failed. Patient does not want to be on medication. Patient wants to know if she can drink alcohol on this medication. She wants to know how much. She wants to know if two bottles of wine a night is too many if she can get away with a couple glasses.

Patient does not want to get another procedure if it means risking a pacemaker. Patient understands it was her choice to drink while she was pregnant. She understands it was her choice to go to a bar with a little plastic box hanging from her neck, and get so drunk she messed up her heart graph.

Patient is patients, plural, which is to say she is multiple—mostly grateful but sometimes surly, sometimes full of self-pity. Patient already understands is trying hard to understand she needs to listen up if she wants to hear how everyone is caring for her.

Three men waited for me in the hospital during my surgery: my brother and my father and Dave. But I do know that while they were sitting in the cafeteria a doctor came to find them and told them that the surgeons were going to tear through part of my arterial wall—these were the words they used, Dave said, tear through —and try burning some patches of tissue on the other side.

I learned to rate Dave on how well he empathized with me. I was constantly poised above an invisible checklist item I wanted him to hurt whenever I hurt, to feel as much as I felt. It can make you forget that they feel, too. I used to believe that hurting would make you more alive to the hurting of others. I used to believe in feeling bad because somebody else did. I know that being in the hospital made me selfish. When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me.

No one really understands why it happens or how to make it better. The doctors gave him a steroid called prednisone that made him sick. He threw up most days around twilight. He sent us a photo. It was grainy. He looked lonely. His face slumped. His pupil glistened in the flash, bright with the gel he had to put on his eye to keep it from drying out. I found myself obsessed with his condition.

I tried to imagine what it was like to move through the world with an unfamiliar face. I spent large portions of each day—pointless, fruitless spans of time—imagining how I would feel if my face was paralyzed, too. I obsessed, and told myself this obsession was empathy.

It was more like in pathy. He believes in listening, and asking questions, and steering clear of assumptions. He believes in humility. He believes in staying strong enough to stick around. He stayed with me in the hospital, five nights in those crisp white beds, and he lay down with my monitor wires, colored strands carrying the electrical signature of my heart to a small box I held in my hands. I remember lying tangled with him, how much it meant—that he was willing to lie down in the mess of wires, to stay there with me.

In order to help the med students empathize better with us, we have to empathize with them. She tells us what kind of syntax we should use when we tell the students about bettering their empathy. When you forgot to wash your hands, I felt protective of my body. For the good parts also: When you asked me questions about Will, I felt like you really cared about my loss. I like the word structure. It suggests empathy is an edifice we build like a home or office—with architecture and design, scaffolding and electricity.

The Chinese character for listen is built of many parts: the characters for ear and eye , the horizontal line that signifies undivided attention, the swoop and teardrops of heart. We care in order to be cared for. We care because we are porous. The feelings of others matter, they are like matter: they carry weight, exert gravitational pull.

He shows test subjects images of painful situations hand caught in scissors, foot under door and compares these scans to what a brain looks like when its body is actually in pain. Decety has found that imagining the pain of others activates the same three areas prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex activated in the experience of pain itself. I feel heartened by that correspondence. I wonder if my empathy has always been this, in every case: just a bout of hypothetical self-pity projected onto someone else.

Is this ultimately just solipsism? We care about ourselves. Of course we do. Maybe some good comes from it. I would need this. But it also seems like a fragile pretext, turning his misfortunes into an opportunity to indulge pet fears of my own devising. I know this. They know this. But motions can be more than rote. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled , that intentionality is the enemy of love.

But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones. You have been told to wear loose pants. Keep your voice steady and articulate.

You know the drill, sort of. Act like you do. Be courteous and nod vigorously. Make sure your heart stays on the other side of the white wall behind you. If the nurse asks you whether you are sure about getting the procedure, say yes without missing a beat. Say yes without a trace of doubt. It maps the edges of your voluntary loss. If she asks what forms of birth control you have used in the past, say condoms.

Ignore them. Who else is gonna bring you a bottle of rain? If the nurse asks about your current partner, you should say, We are very committed , like you are defending yourself against some legal charge. If the nurse is listening closely, she should hear fear nestled like an egg inside your certainty. If the nurse asks whether you drink, say yes to that, too. Of course you do. Your lifestyle habits include drinking to excess. You do this even when you know there is a fetus inside you. You do it to forget there is a fetus inside you; or to feel like maybe this is just a movie about a fetus being inside you.

The nurse will eventually ask, How do you feel about getting the procedure? You feel mainly numb. You feel numb until your legs are in the stirrups. Then you hurt. Whatever anesthesia comes through the needle in your arm only sedates you. Days later you feel your body cramping in the night—a deep, hot, twisting pain—and you can only lie still and hope it passes, beg for sleep, drink for sleep, resent Dave for sleeping next to you.

You can only watch your body bleed like an inscrutable, stubborn object—something harmed and cumbersome and not entirely yours.

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View 2 comments. Apr 08, Bruce rated it it was ok. I cannot recover the time I wasted on this book, but I can make sure I never read another book by this author. Instead of helping me to better understand empathy, it is the most self-serving piece of shit I've read in a long time. The author loves to I cannot recover the time I wasted on this book, but I can make sure I never read another book by this author. The author loves to talk about all she has been through, and that would be fine if it were done in a way that helped us or even her learn something from it.

Instead, it's just a chance for her to use her past to show off an impressive writing style being somewhat similar to Marilynne Robinson and Joan Didion. She must have just finished her MFA when she wrote it because it just drips with MFA-ishness: for example, say that "It was like something is XYZ, until it absolutely isn't" and then say that about something else a little later, and then say it again, except reverse the location of the is and isn't, and of course, don't forget to use the f-word, even where it is glaringly out-of-place, because every fucking writer should use the f-word, and be sure to describe the Mountain Dew soft drink as pee-colored.

Lots of clever language and prose. Way too heavy on the metaphors, though, to the point of turning them into metafives. Apparently MFAs no longer teach anything about actually engaging the reader and ensuring the reader actually gets something out of the book. As far as the the writing goes, her style is impressive and enviable, but cold. She accused herself of being a writer of cold fiction.

I have not read her fiction, but I can see what she means, if her fiction is anything like her nonfiction. View all 14 comments. Apr 03, Kara rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction , short-stories , indiespensable , memoir. Am I the only person who didn't like this? The more concrete essays like the one about Morgellons disease or the one about the Barkley Marathons are quite good.

The rest of them are well-written, but I couldn't get past the author's tone. And I can't even quite put my finger on it, but let me try. Jamison says, "Part of me has always craved a pain so visible--so irrefutable and physically inescapable--that everyone would have to notice. And no matter whose pain it ultimately is, Jamison finds a way to turn it around and bring it back to her. Even in the Morgellons disease essay, she ends basically wondering if she herself has Morgellons.

I didn't care for this. It feels like appropriation. Sure, Jamison addresses this almost directly in her last essay, and sure, maybe I'm one of those people who don't feel comfortable with the expression of pain, but all that means is that I didn't find the book as enjoyable as I wanted to. View all 8 comments. Apr 02, Rowena rated it it was amazing Shelves: essays , psychology. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing.

Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see. I live in a very diverse city with a large multicultural population, as well as a large homeless population.

How can we live otherwise? The essays in this book in general start from an autobiographical angle but then they delve into something more. Though the diverse situations illustrated in these essays were different from what I would have expected, it was still a very refreshing read for me. In these essays, empathy involves finding oneself in a novel situation, a situation where you might very well be a voyeur, a situation that you might find uncomfortable or difficult to comprehend.

But instead of taking away little or nothing, you take away a lot, a deeper understanding of the situation; an understanding of what it might be like to be a prisoner, a prison guard, a doctor, a young adult accused of murder, an artificial sweetener addict, or a self-harmer. One of the most poignant essays for me was the depiction of the American inner city. You just drive by. Your discomfort is the point. I found Jamison to be very insightful, very well-informed, and with a unique voice.

Her essays were filled with interesting facts and musings. But I also wish that instead of disdaining cutting or the people who do it—or else shrugging it off, just youthful angst —we might direct our attention to the unmet needs beneath its appeal.

Cutting is an attempt to speak and an attempt to learn. Highly recommended. Very timely read considering some of the misogyny that is going on. View all 60 comments. Jan 07, Jennyb rated it did not like it Recommends it for: Insufferable Narcissists. Shelves: unreadable. I do not count myself among that number of fans. In fact, after reading something more than half of the book, I feel something curiously close to rage, and definitely identifiable as disgust.

Here is a woman who has led a life of incredible privilege — growing up in a glass house in Santa Monica, attending Harvard as an undergraduate, spending a couple of years at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and topping things off with a graduate degree from Yale. And yet, here we read again and again about the deep psychic pain and misfortune she suffers Really, Jamison?

You should be ashamed of yourself. There is not, of course, any shame in having enjoyed such advantages in life. What is shameful, however, is failing to acknowledge such incredible privilege, and instead focusing on the small measures of pain or disadvantage which one has encountered.

It is solipsistic. It is childish. And it is, ultimately, repellent. You got mugged once, a broken nose and a stolen wallet? How unspeakably awful. Good thing there was no weapon, no life-threatening gun shots, no sexual assault. And that sort of event — where in the grand scheme of a charmed life, even minor mishaps become sources of exaggerated psychic anguish — happens again and again. Witness: Oh my god, this one time, I was running around in Bolivia, and when I came back, I had this parasite!

And then this other time? I went to this gathering of people who suffer from a disease that may or may not be imaginary. Oh my god, and after? I even imagined I HAD this disease!! Crazy, right? Then there was this other time I had to have an abortion, and I was like so sad and upset, I totally drank away the pain. For real, I did!

You get the idea. The subject of herself is so fascinating, she can hardly turn her gaze away. And truthfully, that kind of makes me want to punch her, and tell her to pull her head out of her ass. By parsing figurative opacity, close-reading metaphor, tracking nuances of character, historicizing in terms of print history and social history and institutional history Did no one edit this? No note in the margin suggesting this might be a bit thick for a non-academic essay?

What IS this woman talking about? View all 6 comments. Dec 03, Michael rated it really liked it Shelves: , recs. The collection consists of eleven fast-paced essays, each of which explores different existential, ethical, and aesthetic questions surrounding empathy. The collection seamlessly interweaves personal experience, journalism, and cultural history, and it offers a fresh perspective on a well-worn subject.

Aug 30, Lee Klein rated it it was amazing Shelves: potential-conflict-of-interest. The author is a grad school friend who a mutual friend once playfully nicknamed "Exegesis ," since LJ reeled off workshop critiques like a supercomputer emitting reams of intriguing data.

I was about ten or 12 years older than Leslie when we were at MFA school. Her critical voice at the time maybe sometimes seemed to me like it ran too quickly down the furrows of an elite English Lit education -- you know the way young folk straight outta college sometimes unfurl thoughts in loaded academic The author is a grad school friend who a mutual friend once playfully nicknamed "Exegesis ," since LJ reeled off workshop critiques like a supercomputer emitting reams of intriguing data.

Her critical voice at the time maybe sometimes seemed to me like it ran too quickly down the furrows of an elite English Lit education -- you know the way young folk straight outta college sometimes unfurl thoughts in loaded academic language not yet burned off by exposure to post-school existence in a way that older folks -- even those with PhDs -- rarely do? Her stories seemed semi-autobiographical at the time, from what I remember often involving young women in trouble -- I think there was a nose job, anorexia, definitely a story involving nonconsensual groping in an alley.

I thought she put up perfectly good early drafts of stories etc, but I didn't feel like her fiction at the time fully reflected her intelligence -- it felt like she was out on the highway in second or third gear, when it was clear to anyone who talked to her for a second that she had an intellectual overdrive that once engaged would lay some serious rubber upon ye olde literary speedways.

I remember I gave her The Last Samurai because I was like "Helen DeWitt is a supersmart woman who wrote a really good smart novel and might be a suitable role model for LJ" but it's since become clear to me that LJ was always on another sort of track -- one more interested in bodily pain than purely intellectual pleasure and one that saw beyond simple binaries like body vs mind etc.

A year or so after Iowa she killed it with this story in A Public Space -- she'd figured out what she was trying to do, was making great progress down her path. Her writing now seems inhabited by totally individuated intelligence, but also there's a balance of ironic and poetic sensibilities, and a balance of book learning and life lessons.

Yeah, there's thematic coherence around empathy , but other than the first essay I didn't feel hit over the head with it -- more so, for me, it was about accompanying LJ, often in journalistic mode, as she wielded considerable powers of perception to bat around varied elements of existence that interested her her health issues, a syndrome whose primary symptom is formication, an ultramarathoner, Mexican NarcoFlarf poetry, a Bolivian town so high up some people's hearts collapse upon arrival, teaching Spanish to native speaker schoolchildren in Nicaragua, an awesome discussion at one point in the final essay about post-woundedness in "Girls," among a thousand other worthwhile perceptions, including descriptions of food trucks in Austin, Texas.

Honestly, I didn't pre-order these essays as soon as I heard about them to learn something about the perma-popular literary buzzword "empathy" in lit, I find contempt more compelling than compassion. I expected these essays to be pretty great because I'd read a few when they came out and I knew that LJ would be someone whose thoughts -- more so, thought processes -- would be worth following -- her furrows branch all over the place yet things seem irrigated, fruitful, organic -- that's a good word for this, too.

She's willing to get out of the way and let the language go where it needs to go. Something I also really liked: she's willing to focus on her awareness of what she's doing without falling into annoying meta loop-de-loop vortices. Ultimately, it's more about valences than vortices for LJ. She's bonding disparate bits, proposing a grand unified theory of female pain as perception-enhancing textual experience, a shattered window looking out on the world as a whole.

Mar 31, Tara rated it it was ok. Something that's been weighing on my mind for the past few years is the severe lack of empathy I see in the world - just observing how people treat and think about others.

This book seemed great. I'm not sure this collection of essays was about empathy, though. Every one of these essays is about pain. But no matter whose pain it is, the author turns it around and makes it all about her. To Jamison, empathy is about interpreting someone else's story by inserting one's own pathetic life experiences Something that's been weighing on my mind for the past few years is the severe lack of empathy I see in the world - just observing how people treat and think about others.

To Jamison, empathy is about interpreting someone else's story by inserting one's own pathetic life experiences and injecting it with narcissism. The narcissism I can deal with, but claiming that to be empathy really grated on me. Maybe it's just because I tend to be empathetic to the extreme, but I did not see anything that constituted empathy in the author's writing - just claims of it. Jamison is a very talented writer, no doubt, and the book started off okay.

Then she butts in with her first instance of "You know, I suffered too. The rest of the book is littered with more stories of the author's hardships. Did you know that the author is skinny? Because she is, and she totally suffered for it. She was also promiscuous, and life was so hard. Et cetera. There were so many missed opportunities within each essay's subject to have meaningful conversations about empathy, and it was irritating to recognize those missed opportunities and instead read as the author made everything about herself.

View 1 comment. Apr 30, Julie Ehlers rated it it was ok Shelves: essay-collections. There are so many things wrong with The Empathy Exams that it's hard to know where to begin. No matter what topic she chooses, Jamison reveals herself to be either out of touch or out of her depth. A nearly pointless essay on the Barkley Marathons expects us to be equally as interested in the runners as in whether Jamison's laptop battery will last long enough for her to watch an episode of The Real World: Las Vegas.

These are the annoying but essentially harmless essays. They would have been helped by lovely prose, I suppose, but this book doesn't have that either. In another category are the many essays where Jamison dabbles in other people's pain: In Mexico, where she writes about dangerous areas she's never been to and behaves as if rumors are facts.

On a "gang tour" in Los Angeles, where she observes herself observing parts of the city deemed violent. At a conference for sufferers of Morgellons, where Jamison fails to navigate the rocky territory of sympathizing with and respecting someone even as you disbelieve what they're telling you. I guess I have to give Jamison credit for constantly giving herself such fine lines to walk, but it's difficult to do that when she fails to keep her balance every time. Two essays in particular really bothered me.

In "Fog Count" she visits a man she knows slightly, who's in prison in West Virginia for some kind of financial fraud. What Jamison hoped to get from this visit is unclear, but she spends a disproportionate amount of the essay talking about the vending machines in the visitors' area and what she and the man she's visiting buy from them. There's the search for quarters for the vending machine, the list of perfectly standard vending-machine snacks that are eventually purchased, the fact that a machine accidentally dispenses two soft drinks instead of one.

Those of us who live in the real world where vending machines exist would find all of this unremarkable. Jamison clearly finds it significant, but who knows why. On this same West Virginia trip, Jamison alludes to the ravaged countryside, where the coal industry once dominated but where coal miners are now increasingly irrelevant, but she doesn't examine this countryside, and she doesn't talk to any miners. Instead she repeats a few rumors she's heard a "Cliffs Notes" version, if you will , talks about vending machines and the Chex Mix and Cheez-Its they dispense, and then leaves with the deluded sense that she's really given us something to think about.

All I could think about was the missed opportunity to say something actually meaningful. The absolute worst was "Lost Boys," about the West Memphis Three—three teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of murdering some other boys, and spent nearly 20 years in prison before finally being released. Jamison makes much of the fact that West Memphis is an economically depressed town at the intersection of two interstates. Isn't it ironic, she says? There are two interstates running through this town, and yet its residents are going nowhere!

As someone who grew up in a depressed former coal town where two interstates meet, I can tell you that this supposed irony might make for a fantastic theme for a paper, but it has nothing to do with real life. No one who actually lives in one of these towns considers the presence of interstates ironic. Interstates are everywhere.

Further, not everyone in these towns feels trapped. Some expect to leave one day. Some actually do leave. Some are gasp! Jamison would know this if she had talked to some residents of West Memphis. Which she didn't do. Because the entire essay is just a response to watching documentaries about the West Memphis Three. Which she watched as a teenager. While drunk. She seems to be drunk a lot, generally speaking. I gather that's the subject of her next book. My head hurts just thinking about it.

Jamison's problem, which she is weirdly unable to self-diagnose, is that she wrote these essays in her 20s, when she had never done anything in her adult life but go to prestigious schools for undergraduate and graduate degrees. I'm not knocking higher education at all—I'm a fan of it, in fact—and I'm not trying to say that people who've spent a lot of time in school can't have life experience as well. All I'm saying is that Leslie Jamison doesn't seem to have much life experience.

That she has chosen other people's pain as her subject matter is problematic. That this essay collection has received so much praise is nothing less than bewildering. Dec 07, Thomas rated it it was amazing Shelves: own-electronic , five-stars , read-on-kindle , nonfiction , 2nd-favorites. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't call.

But I don't believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing. I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of "Sure, some news is bigger news than other news.

I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of empathy? How could she manage to write about such a mysterious, powerful, and often misconstrued emotion, even with her Harvard degree and her MFA from Iowa? As an aspiring psychologist who values empathy more than anything else, I wanted so much from The Empathy Exams , so much that I curbed my expectations even before starting the book.

But I ended the book with only good news: that Jamison delivers, and she does it well. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow.

This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones. She analyzes these experiences with a powerful blend of fierce insight and vulnerability.

Jamison approaches tough topics - Morgellons disease, imprisonment within the justice system - in a way that shows her intellect while honoring her humanity. The theme of empathy soaks into each of these short essays, the emotion sometimes small, sometimes large, but always there. Empathy isn't just listening, it's asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to.

Her last essay about her grand unified theory of female pain blew me away, as it integrated feminism, history, empathy, literature, and so much more into a painful and poignant message of hope. And when she quoted Caroline Knapp, whose memoir about anorexia tops my favorite list, I knew Jamison had her bases covered. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a better human, to anyone who wants to read about a woman's attempt to be a better human.

I will end this review with the closing lines of the collection, just because I hope the strength of Jamison's conclusion will motivate someone to read the book in its entirety. But sometimes she's just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliche and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open.

I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it. View all 4 comments. May 20, Melanie rated it it was amazing. Imagining the pain of others means flinching from it as though it were our own, out of a frightened sense that it could become our own. She says that she feels heartened by this "She wants an empathy that arises out of courage, but understands the extent to which it is, for her, always rooted in fear.

She says that she feels heartened by this instinctive identification, but wonders what it might finally be good for. She flinches, and then she explores that flinch with a steady gaze. If the main theme is that of empathy, there is also a constant search on her part for absolute truthfulness in her accounts of encounters, emotions, events and intellectual musings.

The level of observations and reflections, of intellectual and emotional involvement in the stories of others, is on par with the few essays I've read by Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Mark Slouka, George Packer and Rebecca Solnit. A book that defies characterizations.

A book that is relentless in its honesty and willingness to dive in, to go deep, to dwell where it hurts, whether real or imaginary. Trust the words of Mary Karr: "This riveting book will make you a better human. View all 26 comments. Jun 12, Nethra Ram rated it did not like it. The first chapter of this book is sublime. The medical acting part of it, and the actual context of empathy reach out to you and make you think from different angles.

Then, the author steps in and tells you 'You know, I suffered too Maybe chapter 2 will rectify that, you assume. Chapter 2 stuns you, the concept and the facts, the writing not so much, but it is atleast understandable. Again, the author butts in, telling you she's worried she might have the The first chapter of this book is sublime.

Again, the author butts in, telling you she's worried she might have the disease she just wrote about. You smell smoke and you are annoyed with her. What's her problem, you wonder. Then chapter 3 happens and all goes to hell. She drags you through Dante's version of thesaurus hell, using every trick in her book to tell you she's been to Harvard, Yale, the Iowa Writer's workshop and hence the need to write in such a way that makes no sense, leaves every single sentence independent of each other and the entire content pretentious, insincere and incomplete.

Does this stem from a need to be rash and abstract in order to make people go hunting after meaning and hence achieve immortality in prose? If these are non-fiction accounts, why not make them sensible? Why make them hazy and stranded somewhere between comprehension and poetry?

Add to all this the author's chronic need to insert herself into every story and tell you she suffered. Its her suffering too. Too much she has suffered and hence please excuse the rambling. Well, my bad for expecting something good. The book has absolutely no structure and the title does not map to the themes discussed.

They are not clearly presented anywhere except for the 1st half of the 1st chapter. They do pop in now and then everywhere like a kaleidoscope pattern rearranging itself, but have no impact and make no sense. Put your time to better use. View all 3 comments. Apr 02, Oriana rated it it was amazing Shelves: zeitgeist-y , read This book was kind of a big deal last year, receiving glowing accolades from everyone from NPR to Flavorpill to Slate to the New York Times , so I was well primed to love it.

This is a wildly varied exploration of really diverse topics by an incredibly smart writer and thinker. I was nearly as awed by her choices of subje This book was kind of a big deal last year, receiving glowing accolades from everyone from NPR to Flavorpill to Slate to the New York Times , so I was well primed to love it. I was nearly as awed by her choices of subject matter—bizarre ultramarathons, the time she was mugged in Nicaragua, a defense of saccharinity, diseases that may or may not exist, and medical acting, to name only a few—as by the connections she draws and the thoughtlines she pursues.

Leslie is incredibly well read, quoting everyone from Carson to Tolstoy to Didion to Vollmann. She brings in so many disparate sources, finding material to riff off of from obscure neuroscience journals and Ani DiFranco albums and a documentary about murdered children in Arkansas. She says things like: "Sentimentality is an accusation leveled at unearned empathy" and "I wish I could invent a verb tense full of open spaces—a tense that didn't pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke" and "The grand fiction of tourism is that bringing our bodies somewhere draws that place closer to us, or we to it.

I loved it so, so much. View all 5 comments. Sep 06, Debbie "DJ" rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction. Yup, I'm going to do it. Two stars. I just cannot wrap my brain around many of these essays. I struggled through the other essays, and liked the last, but the rest hurt my head. Here's an example from an essay on sentimentality She's keenly aware of literary models for the porous, abject or prostrate body: Bram Stoker's drained and punctured Mina, Miss Havisham and Blanche DuBois in their withered gowns, the erupting adolescent of Stephen King's Carrie.

She cites Susan Sontag on picturesque tubercular women, and recalls being huffily dismissed in a creative-writing class for the gaucherie of quoting Sylvia Plath on female wounding. But the essay has a more pressing, generational, import. She self-harmed as a teenager, and now lives in a culture where Facebook groups are devoted to "hating on cutters".

How, she wants to know, did women of her age learn to be embarrassed by personal and artistic accounts of their pain? But the essay is also one of the places in The Empathy Exams where the limits of Jamison's response to her moment begin to make themselves felt. The problem is hard to isolate, in part because her point is about accusations of wallowing triviality, in part because as she rightly says descriptions of "minor" suffering may be the royal road towards our best insights into larger catastrophes — Virginia Woolf's "On Being Ill", for example, with its amazing slippage from colds and flu to devastating grief.

Attention to what, though? Medical emergencies aside, you could object that too much of the personal revelation in this book — the bruised past and bruited pain — is of an order that would not alarm anyone out of adolescence: drink, drugs and bad sex presented as a kind of radical dysfunction.

It's the same with some of Jamison's forays into more violent milieus, which can feel even if it's not true: she recounts a hideous mugging like slick Vice -style slumming. Actually, there's just one piece from that woeful magazine; others appeared in the likes of Harper's and the Believer.

The more vexing problems, I think, are tonal and stylistic. For all her exacting attitude to her own place in the stories she tells, and her clear indebtedness along with everyone else to David Foster Wallace, Jamison gives in at times to dismayingly vague, cod-poetic or plain overfamiliar formulations. On Frida Kahlo: "Frida's corsets hardened around unspeakable longing. It's a measure of Jamison's timidity in this regard that several times while reading The Empathy Exams I longed for the echt if muddled confessional writing of an author such as Elizabeth Wurtzel.

A surprise, this — because if you were young and depressed in the s, measuring your days in Prozac's blister-pack panacea, Wurtzel seemed a dubious ally at best. The more instructive exemplars for the kind of essayism Jamison wants to practice are Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm, whom she either cites or passingly invokes, though neither is notably "empathetic" and probably the better for it.

But also American writers with a more capacious sense of the political stakes of the localised narratives they light on — Rebecca Solnit , William T Vollmann — or books with a more antic, less generic idea of confession: Wayne Koestenbaum's Humiliation , for example. Jamison at her best — in the essays on bodies, her own and others' — is almost their equal. Forensic attention to corporeal detail … Leslie Jamieson.

Photograph: Kiki Petrosino. Brian Dillon.