The Story Behind “Bypass Instructions” by Marion Agnew

Marion AgnewToday’s post is written by Marion Agnew. We published her essay “Bypass Instructions” in our Spring 2017 issue.

“Every illness is a narrative.” –Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Bypass Instructions” came about for many reasons, all of which are probably familiar to most writers:

  • I wanted to document and explore a significant experience—in this case, my husband’s cardiac bypass surgery.
  • I wanted to circumscribe (literally, “draw a circle around”) the event to contain it and to gain a certain amount of control over it.
  • I wanted to share my own experience of “illness by association,” as it were, on the off-chance that someone else might recognize himself or herself in the essay and feel less alone.
  • I wanted to keep writing. I write fiction as well as essays and have been working on short stories and a novel or several. Through the past ten years, I’ve found that experiencing a time of illness, even when I’m not the recognized patient, disrupts my ability to make up stories. Therefore, writing about real events lets me keep writing, learning, and refining this tricky craft we love.

But it was really the chainsaw that kept me interested in revising the essay for publication.

Using that chainsaw brought me a great deal of pleasure. The work itself was physically demanding but satisfying—I was taking care of jobs that needed to be done. I felt independent and autonomous, much as Roy did while his body recuperated and he became stronger than he had been in some time.

As I recognized that similarity in feeling, I understood the chainsaw as a physical and emotional tool for me as I began to recuperate from my own experience of Roy’s illness.

All that remained (“all”) was to write it.

About the Author

Marion Agnew’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, including Malahat Review and Room, and in Best Canadian Essays (2012 and 2014). Her nonfiction recently received support from the Ontario Arts Council. She lives and writes in Shuniah, Ontario, from an office overlooking Lake Superior.

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