An epileptic watching Laura

Watching Laura for the zillionth time and Waldo Lydecker just had his seizure. I hope, says a recovered Clifton Webb to a radiantly overbit Gene Tierney, you’ll forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, my dear. Clifton Webb could sure say a my dear. He drops to a near whisper. It’s an old family custom he apologizes, but not really. There’s a touch of a boast to it. I grin. It’s my favorite line. Well, second favorite. You can’t top his I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. An opener, no less. And there’s a naked skinny epileptic Waldo typing in the bathtub. An epileptic in a bathtub. If he’d had his seizure then there’d have been no movie.

[Also posted on]

Human experience (2016)

(December, 2016)

There are various parts of the brain that create our various senses of happiness, and all have been recorded in various ways many, many, many times. Neurologists have been able to stimulate them in order to create happiness for decades now. In fact, neuroscience, neurosurgery and nanotechnology are on the verge of giving us regular control over our own moods. Basically, any discussion of the human experience that does not see us as merely the outward manifestations of our brains is horseshit. (Not sure if I’d wholly agree with that conclusion now, but never mind.) You are what you think, even if you have no clue you are thinking it. When you realize how much of our mind isn’t in the brain at all, but in, say, the skin, gonads, or digestive tract, it gets even more depressing. We are only aware of what we consciously know, yet our consciousness is only a fraction of our brain, most of what the brain does we are completely unaware of…yet so much of what we do is because that unconcious part of our brain does it. What neurologists call the Four F’s–feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproduction–are overwhelmingly what concern us every day. And even when they do not concern us momentarily–like when we do accounting at the office, or watch golf on TV–any one of those four F’s can and will instantly distract us. We are those Four F’s, with a lot of intellectual frontal lobery out front making us think we are more than just hungry, angry, scared and horny animals.

Non-verbal communication (2017)

But a worldview is exactly what Lakoff is talking about. “Ideas don’t float in the air, they live in your neuro-circuitry,” Lakoff said. Each time ideas in our neural circuits are activated, they get stronger. And over time, complexes of neural circuits create a frame through which we view the world. “The problem is, that frame is unconscious,” Lakoff said. “You aren’t aware of it because you don’t have access to your neural circuits.” So what happens when you hear facts that don’t fit in your worldview is that you can’t process them: you might ignore them, or reject or attack them, or literally not hear them….Progressives are still living in the world of Descartes and the Enlightenment, Lakoff said, a neat world governed by the rules of logic. Descartes said, “I think therefore I am,” but Lakoff claims that we are embodied beings and that 98 percent of thought is unconscious. Our thoughts are chemical in nature, and occur within the confines of a physical body: we are not 100 percent rational beings.

(Written in 2017, apparently, and forgotten.)

As George Lakoff says, very little of our thought is conscious. Indeed I’m not sure that it all even occurs in the brain at all (our skin and digestive tract can react to things without the brain ever being involved at all…you might be turned off by some dude because your epidermis once detected a clamminess in his fingers or not eat a food because your stomach once rejected it) which wasn’t thought but we’re making judgements based on sensory input that occurred in the nervous system outside the brain. And we don’t even know how the bacteria in our bodies drives our own behavior and choices…but they’re what provides our body odor and perhaps our pheromones (consider those implications….) And most of the way we communicate with and signal one another is done without speech and language. Trump said more to his voters with his half spoken sentences and physical cues than a progressive ever could with logic. Indeed logic was set upon by both Left and Right this year. And by the media as well, which was continuously seduced by visuals and slogans and interpreted logic as a sign of weakness. We don’t even know yet just how unconscious thought and social media work together, but there sure as hell is little thinking behind viral memes and yet by far the most successful and influential social media is memes. (Indeed, people respond viscerally if you criticize a meme.) And then there is this new phenomenon of memetic moments of late night comedy, a millionaire comic crying, that have incredible impact despite the fact that it is, after all, one of the super rich pretending to be one of us. In real life a crying millionaire would bring only scorn. On TV or watched over and over on YouTube, the tears become more genuine than real life.) Perhaps more than any other election, at least in modern times, 2016 was decided by non-verbal communication. Indeed, the two iconic images of the campaign were the headshots of Trump and Bernie, grimacing. This is ancient alpha male stuff. Trump’s was intentional–he practices those grimaces–and Bernie’s completely unintentional, but no matter. It’s not like we are responding logically to these images.

Ya know, advertising has been hip to this for decades. We do all sorts of things because advertising is so tuned in to neurology. Super Bowl Sunday is nothing but Madison Avenue figuring out how to get into your skull, plus a little football. Trump has a natural affinity for marketing and advertising. He knows what sells to a lot of people. That doesn’t mean he’s especially bright, but it does mean he’s not as dumb as a lot of much more intelligent people. Then again, those people believed what they were taught in philosophy class. Free will and logic. Thinking therefore being. The power of ideas. There’s a sucker graduating every minute. Including me, apparently, wasting time writing this when a simple meme would have worked so much better.

Saint Valentine

One of the cool things about being epileptic is that our patron saint is Saint Valentine, the patron saint of fucking and seizing. Or of love and falling sickness, anyway. That’s something they don’t teach you in epilepsy school.

Losing my facial recognition skills

Back in 2006 I lost my facial recognition skills. Suddenly most people were unrecognizable and the ones I recognized often looked very different. Eventually it mostly came back but there are people I used to see everyday that I still keep in contact with and I have no idea what they look like. Others I see pictures of and their pictures look different than I remember them. Typically everything looks the same but the face is not the face I thought they had. Voices are instantly recognizable though. If I hear the voice the face follows.

When it was really bad I used all kinds of things to recognize people. Hats were handy. As long as they wore the same hat. Beards the same. Height was great. Really tall guys were instantly recognizable. Really little people too. Height doesn’t change. But some jerk went on a diet, lost his double chin and left me clueless. A lady I knew got a breast job and I didn’t recognize her.

The weirdest thing about suddenly losing your facial recognition is that you don’t see the right things when you look at someone. You’re missing all the expressions and signals we use when talking to each other. You’re talking to someone and you see all these details of their skin, tiny little flaws, wrinkles, the shape of their face, it’s like looking at a painting. People look older. You’ll hear their voice behind you, turn around and they’re ten years older than they looked before. It’s as if the first impression their face made on you a decade before is locked into your facial recognition memory. Weirder still is that you think about this as they’re talking to you. It could be very disorienting, but you just deal with it or hide in your room.

It’s mostly repaired itself now. Though if we’ve only met a couple times there’s a good chance I won’t recognize you. I’ve gotten really good at faking my way through it. In a crowded situation it can get pretty dicey. I can tell if we’ve talked before and just hope someone says your name. But still there are inevitably moments when someone starts talking to me and I inadvertently diss them because I have no idea we’ve met before.

The morning I woke up with no facial recognition—it was an epilepsy thing, seizure activity burning its way through my temporal lobe—there was an all hands meeting at work. Hundreds of people milling around and nearly all of them as featureless as mannequins. It was pretty damn funny. Well, maybe not at the time.

It’s always interesting, epilepsy.

The ephemeral new

I can’t remember the sensation I was talking about here at all now. Even the memory of what it was liked has completely vanished, and until Facebook coughed this up from two years ago I didn’t even realize that that such an ephemeral newness had ever existed, which is a good thing, I guess, it means things have settled down in the synapses. Retirement has done my brain nicely, and the isolation of our pandemoid existence has done it even better. Alas, I’m bored to living fuck with isolation, I want to get out there amongst everyone and shake the synapses up again. I like people, always have. You guys are so strange to a lot of us chronic epileptics, you have all those emotions and sensations and feelings that seizures burn out in us, as if you all live in a infrared world and we’re living in black and white. I have no idea how you all mange to get so worked up, but it’s fun to watch, and I can’t wait to get out there among you again, when this arthritis calms itself down again. I’ve been arthritic since my thirties, and it’s getting to be irritating. If I wasn’t such a brain damaged epileptic I’d probably be depressed as hell. But then I’ve never been depressed in my life. Those triggers were zapped away decades away. There are some advantages, ha.

(2/20/2020) After a dozen hours of sleep the brain has settled down nicely. Realized I hadn’t been outta the house for a couple days and went to take down some bags to the bins and get the mail and I had this inexplicable trepidation. When I went outside it was like I’d never done it before. All these synapses reconnecting and remembering. All kinds of things are like that, each task a little adventure. I emerge from these epileptic interludes and the brain is reconnecting so many memories of even basic tasks. When I do them it’s exciting because it feels brand new. So these next couple days I’ll be doing stuff as if for the first time, reconnecting with the world again. It’s kind of wonderful, actually, if a little intimidating. It’ll pass in a day or two. More of the stuff they don’t teach you in epilepsy school because I suppose only epileptics experience it. I suppose if didn’t write these things down I wouldn’t remember them at all because the experience is so ephemeral. By next week I won’t be able to imagine this sensation at all. Then at some point another week or two of an epileptic interlude will happen, after which I’ll go through this again, and it will all seem brand new, and I’ll walk down the stairs again as if it were the very first time.

(2/21/2020) That ephemeral sensation of newness is gone now. It lasts a day, maybe two, and then disappears like a morning fog. I’d never written about it before. If I hadn’t written about it I’d never even know about it, it’s so fleeting, no more permanent than a dream you can’t remember the details of an hour later. Kinda cool, like so much of this epileptic shit, in a fucked up sorta way.

Words seem alive as I write them but lifeless written.

(No idea when I wrote this one, actually.)

For me, and I have no idea if this is the same for anyone else, writing is like jazz improvisation. Not free jazz, there’s a melody and structure and it’s very syncopated, so each time I begin writing I’m off on a solo, and I work through the piece like I’m soloing, never doubling back or rewriting but in steady continuous melodic invention till I feel like it’s complete and I’ll resolve it, so that it ends on the same theme it began. When it’s done it’s done. Everything I write whether a paragraph or a thousand words is written like that, in one creative burst. The most I’ll do afterward is fix the typos.

Then when I’m finished with a piece it’s nothing to me because the thrill was in the writing. That’s where the words were musical. They are alive as I’m writing them, and they are lifeless written. They’re done. They don’t interest me.

If I were reading them and not writing them it’d be different. I’d think I was a selfish asshole to destroy all these old pieces. (Apparently I purged a bunch of stuff.) But I am not the reader. I’m the writer. And my blogs are full to bursting with dead words.

I’m not being metaphorical here. This is exactly how I write.

About all those missing words….

Sorry there’s no more of the great gobs of prose I used to spill out all over these blogs. People have been asking. Alas, epilepsy was really fucking with the long essays, and I finally had to stop. Had to stop working too. Had to stop just about everything. It’s been a couple years now and the synapses have calmed down nicely. They seem to like being bored. Me not so much at first but I’ve adapted. So I write tiny little essays now, scarcely ever longer than a paragraph. Hence all this tinyness where vastness used to be. Little gems, I tell myself. The actual gemage might be debatable, but they’re my blogs. You can think everything you do is art if no one is editing you.

Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to complain.


These sentences seem adrift on their own

[from 2019, I think]

Head on a floor cushion I just woke from a three hour nap on the floor in front of the TV. If I hadn’t had to piss I’d still be asleep there. Woke up having no clue what time it was. 3 am? 7 am? That panicky retired guy sensation that I must be late for work. My brain sure needed that sleep, tho’, the poor thing. It’s hard dragging around the big old lummox it’s stuck in year after year. And all he does is whine and complain these past few days anyway. Best to leave him in his daze.

I mumbled something incoherent to Fyl and followed it with a joke that sort of disintegrated before it ever got to the funny part. She smiled. Then I flopped down on the sofa and my fingers wrote this. I wrote it as an email. Email is a safe zone, the people I send my emails to are patient and unexplosive. Social media, though, is a minefield, deadly to the sonambulist. Still, these sentences seem adrift on their own, the dummy whose finger this is not yet aware of what he’s typing. But he can feel the seizure drugs he took again a a few hours ago settling everything down, a mild nervous system euphoria. By the time I post this brain and fingers will be connected again.

Hollow suspicion

January, 2017

Fifteen years ago, I worked for about thirty or so people, from executives on down, and I handled all their expense reports and purchases and you name it. I was so good at it that I was one of the employees that others would come to when they were stumped trying to figure out how to expense something. Executives from outside my department would come and ask for help. That was at Disney and I knew my shit. I was also, for a year or two, the one man purchasing department for Disney Online, when it was a start up. Millions of dollars of purchases went through me, I drew up the purchase orders, I figured out to set up the accounting for each, I got them approved. I remember setting up a database on MS Access to keep track of them. A schedule for them on MS Project. I had that purchasing down, too. Later, I was told by accounting that I processed more accounts payable invoices than the rest of the Walt Disney Internet Group put together. Tens of millions of dollars every couple months. That is in addition to all those expense reports and getting purchase orders processed–though I was no longer the purchasing department. There were several people by then doing what I had once done. I was a master of details and process and numbers.

This occurred to me a couple nights ago as I stared at our bank account and tried to figure out if we had enough cash on hand to cover rent. (We did.) I couldn’t remember what charges were outstanding. I couldn’t remember what we had paid or not. I had definitely forgotten to pay the DWP, I knew that, as they were threatening to shut us off. Time Warner Cable too. All these numbers swimming, these things I have no ability to calculate or schedule or understand. An infitesimal fraction of what I was once a master of at Disney. It’s all beyond me now.

Losing your executive functions is a bitch. Abilities just disappear. Things everyone can do I can no longer do. Basic human being things. Those neurons burned away a long time ago. My temporal lobe, where all these things lie, is a beat up mess. A life time of small seizures, thousands of them, have done their damage. It’s like someone reached into the hard drive of the computer I’m writing on and 0-949uj1/’p23fh13wcde’p9dcalkjaZXA. Just like that.

A couple days ago was our wedding anniversary. The day before I was looking up at the digital sign above the busdriver, charmed, and it said November 28. November 28? Oh wow, November 29th is our anniversary. I said that aloud. She said yes it is and smiled. I said I had completely forgotten. I had never forgotten before. Not even almost forgotten. I always remembered. She smiled again. That’s OK, she said, we’ll have a nice dinner. You live with a husband long enough and you can see that his brain has been zapped away, and that he forgets things, but he means well.

I had never forgotten our anniversary before. I wondered what else I was forgetting. What else I would forget. And I sat there as the bus lurched along with the cold hollow suspicion that I was not going to able to take care of us by myself much longer.

A couple months later I stopped writing completely and the brain began to repair itself. Had no idea that writing was such a trigger, especially as the torrent of writing was itself the result of epilepsy. Hypergraphia they call it. Once the writing ceased most of the executive functions returned, as did our solvency. After a while I tried writing again, though in small, managed doses. The epileptic life….