Ignoring, ignorance and the gaps between the stories


Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Learned Blindness

When I think about how hungry I thought I was that day, after having missed just one meal, I feel ashamed. Because I never once worried about the hunger Sookie must have felt when—day after day, week after week—her mother failed to return.

While her mother was in the Monkey House, I still saw Sookie every day, but somehow I learned not to see her as well. It was difficult, at first, to pretend that things were normal for her. Then, perhaps because pretending so relentlessly begins to blur the distinction between invention and reality, it became easy to believe things were normal. Practice formed a new pattern, a new way of seeing.

In avoiding her mother’s absence, I became adept at ignoring the obvious regarding Sookie. I stopped noticing how pale and gaunt she became, how circles blackened her eyes, how her hair—wild and uncombed—inched past the approved school length. I forgot what she was supposed to look like.

Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller