Michael J. Fox Examines a Contemplative Memoir on Life’s Challenges


a memory
by Jan Grue
Translated by BL Crook

Taking the title of Jan Grue’s memoir “I live like yours”, literally, I approached him by first constructing a mental Venn diagram and testing the accuracy of his title statement. And indeed, many areas of our lives intersect: We are both married, have children, and pursue challenging careers. Moreover, each of us carries the weight of a devastating diagnosis and a sobering prognosis. Confronting society’s stigma and general aversion to anything other than what is considered “normal,” we struggle to balance the expectations and assumptions of others with our own. To slightly different degrees, each of us has accepted the necessity of a wheelchair.

There are many fits in the diagram – she actually lives a life like mine – but this is uniquely the story of Jan Grue trying to fit his extraordinary shape into an ordinary world. A compelling, unconventional and powerfully told narrative.

Grue, who holds a PhD in linguistics and teaches at the University of Oslo, writes realistically about the whims of fate; For some of us, a genetic glitch means we’re assigned paths we would never choose. Diagnosed as a child with a rare spinal muscular atrophy, his early prognosis indicated a shortened life expectancy. This prediction turned out to be wrong. Soon after he turns 30, he discovers that his condition has not progressed and he is not sure that he will kill him. However, his discomfort is debilitating and disfiguring, and he is preoccupied with his physical reality that others may never have what he has. Trying to reconcile this inequality is central to the human journey.

The author’s Calvinist parents, both academics, raised him to be self-sufficient. They were often at odds with Norway’s government bureaucracy, a battle passed on to their sons when they thought he was old enough to act as his own lawyer. “I started sharing the work with my family, to be myself in the worldoutside of my family.”

Grue is shocked by the additional hurdles he has to overcome: “Social Services makes hundreds of small requests on how I should formulate my needs, how exactly my misery should be described.” Later, her hard-won independence as a disabled adult living on her own threatens to derail government aid. “Social Services winks at me on purpose, asks if I’m really okay, asks if I’m good enough to leave Social Services alone, lets her turn her soft face to those who are content to stay miserable.” In an illuminating move, he turns over complete childhood medical records and case notes so his parents can read the “horizon of expectations” his doctors and the health system envision for him.

Grue is also tough on the tyranny of time. By the age of 14, she felt anxious, her days running out. When he was a young adult, he ran into one of his former middle school teachers and was really surprised to find that she was still alive. Exceeding his expectations is one of the many triumphs he claims in this book.

All the victories in his life come from behind, affirmations of himself that he is determined to reveal – a person who is so much more than others see. He discovers that “to gawk at is to take part in a narrative that has already been written and told by others.” Refusing to be concealed in such a “tragic aura,” she insists that her physical flaw is not her entire experience.

“The world,” he says, “perceives a body with weak arms, legs locked at certain angles, the world sees a thin body in a big, bulky wheelchair.” Judged only by appearance, he is not considered a complete person, not understood as a successful doctorate. because he has a brain that more than makes up for his bodily deficiencies. His genius is manifested in his mastery of the language and his profound success in the academic world. At home, her personal life provides a protective loop of normalcy as she falls in love, gets married, and has a son of her own.

Grue, by his own admission, strives for what he calls “condensed” in his writings, choosing his words carefully, and conveying these essays in concise, direct, and unadorned language. It offers messages of wisdom that will resonate long after the memory is finished. “At some point I stopped thinking of myself as someone who needed to be fixed.” Even if you allow the Norwegian translation, this is serious (if you’re looking for a chuckle, you’re in the wrong section).

His narration alternates between a variety of ideas and themes – transitioning between his childhood, his academic career, his relationship with his wife Ida, and his travels. Here’s another Venn-like overlap: Grue shares his humiliating experience traveling in an airport wheelchair. “How strange it was to be treated like a piece of cargo,” he writes, “like a logistics issue, an intrusive element.” So I wrote about wheelchair trips in airport and hotel lobbies being “treated like luggage,” quiet and marginalized: “No one listens to luggage.”

It must be said that Grue is a difficult company. This is definitely a story of intense difficulty that is hard to write and sometimes hard to read. But it’s worth the investment. Behind the curtain of disability, he shares valuable information about the human condition. Watch out for the man behind the curtain. He has a lot to say.


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