One of the coolest things about “Laura” is that the utterly loathsome writer Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb at his Clifton Webbiest) is an epileptic. I hope you forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, he says to the beautiful Laura (Gene Tierney at her most luscious) creeping even me out, tho’ I’ve said the exact same thing.
As an epileptic Waldo should not be taking a bath, but you try typing in the shower.
Being epileptic means that the world is divided into normal people and epileptics. Even the weirdest of you normal people are normal. The only people I’ve ever met who aren’t normal are other epileptics. They seem normal, not your kind of normal, but epileptic normal. I think what makes you all the same is all those emotions. You have an incredible range of emotions. You get upset all the time and feel intensely about things that I have no idea it’s even possible to feel intensely about. It’s like you all feel in vivid colors and I feel in black and white, and I can see only a fraction of what you all get so worked up about. As I age my brain gets more steadily fried from all the loose wiring and zaps and my emotional range gets narrower and narrower till you all become virtually incomprehensible at times, colors that I not only can’t see but have no idea even exist. I just watch you all emote, bemused, and try not to get involved.
I tried to write fiction for years. Some of the writing could be very pretty, but the characters were ludicrous, utterly unreal. A couple decades later it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t a clue what people felt, no idea at all. I couldn’t write about anybody else but me and if I was going to write about me why bother with fiction at all? How Dostoevsky wrote those vast character rich novels bewilders me, because he was one fucked up spazz who drove everyone he knew nuts. But somehow he made normal people think he was writing about them. Completely mystifies me. Maybe my bewilderment is why I don’t read fiction anymore. I have a huge stack of novels here to read, but I haven’t read one in decades. I used to love them. I remember some of the last fiction I read was the Alexandria Quartet twice in a year or so and having my mind blown. My whole writing style changed. How it changed I don’t know. I wish I’d written how. Now it’s just part of another life many seizures ago. A life that doesn’t even seem like my own. The brain changes, identity with it. Memories vanish. Emotions slip away. I think about myself then in the third person, in various third persons even. A succession of Bricks.
Anyway, time for my pills.
Thought I was writing a lot. Lots of tweets, really well written tweeted miniature essays. Plus viciously smartassed snarks to make the Trump supporters cry. One really long email that came out of nowhere remembering stuff I hadn’t thought of in years. Messaging. Lots of words. A froth of words. Ideas in Brownian motion. Stuff not getting done but lots of words. Like this.
Then a brain twinge, zing, like a plinked piano wire. Another. Recognition. I’d missed a dose of spazz meds. Funny how that works.
I’ve been on cold meds on and off for a few days, mostly on. This morning in the LA Times I came across an unusually lyrical passage for a newspaper and I read it aloud to my wife. It was about oil pumps and mechanical giraffes and I just dug it to death. She nodded, pretending to listen. The passage flowed nicely as I spoke it instead of coming out word salad. It was the first thing I’d been able to read aloud in a year at least. I tried it again later with another paragraph in the Times, reading aloud to myself. I got through the whole paragraph coherently. Then another. Then I tried an essay (“Citizen Kahn”) I wrote yesterday. The words flowed mostly, stumbling just a little, not enough to annoy a listener. I read the whole thing aloud in my big silverback dulcet tone, no stops or umms or repeated words repeated or missing verbs or cursing and confusion and stopping and giving up. No stuttering on their and they’re but not there. By the end I could feel the spazzy electric buzz in my jaw so didn’t push it any further. But still—there’s must be something in cold meds that suppresses some of my epileptic symptoms. Not all of them. It doesn’t stop hypergraphia (hence this) but it did let me read aloud. Groovy. I can swill cold meds and go to beatnik coffee houses and read my weirdest shit to wide eyed college coeds. Or I can read aloud and nod off in front of the television in an antihistamine stupor. Sounds like weed, actually, except NyQuil doesn’t make you hungry. Or horny. Or giggling at the stupidest things.
Dig that crazy long paragraph. Time to stop writing.
So I just spazzsplained a memory lapse to someone. It was a long windy paragraph and she listened, too polite to interrupt. I finished and there was a long second, then another, even longer, and then she asked if I meant that it was on the tip of her tongue? Um, yeah, I said, that’s what I meant. OK, she said, just wondering, and as she turned round I caught her rolling her eyes in the mirror.
Sometimes when I try to say pharmacy I stutter. If I say farm I don’t stutter. My wife asks if I can say pharmacy if it’s spelled with an F. Farmacy I say. And if it’s spelled with a Ph? I stammered. So you don’t have a problem if it’s misspelled with an F? Apparently not. I can say farm no problem, but if I use a Ph I can feel an electric current buzzing in my jaw. You’re such a big spazz she says.
I can’t read aloud anymore. A sentence, maybe another with brief stammers, then bam, word salad. That’s new, the word salad. Rather puts a damper on my plans of readings. Visions of readings, really, of muscular prose in dulcet radio tones, the phonemes like individual notes, words like chords, narratives as melody, rhythms rhythm, syncopating punctuation. Language is music and music is language. They run audibly through my head, these words, but stumble in the mouth. The jaw goes out of whack, electrons buzz like faulty wiring, the synapses synapsing all wrong, I can feel their confusion like low current electricity for an hour afterward, can feel it now, in fact, the jaw twitching. An epileptic’s life is an endless series of surprises at random times. new symptoms appearing instantly, new disabilities. All we can do is shrug them off. So I read these words knowing they’ll never be uttered aloud, not by me. I shrug. Whatever. Oh well. Damn.
Just spent the afternoon working out next month’s budget down to the estimated dollar amount we will have available by day. This is the way I handled our budget a decade ago. Two years ago I couldn’t even balance the bank account, let alone think ahead more than a day or two. The epilepsy recovery is coming along nicely. On the downside I can’t safely write more than a couple paragraphs, and multi-tasking makes my brain fritz and spark and sputter. But I’m not complaining. This is heaven.
OK, I’m not writing a novel. I tried writing a novel once when a Good Samaritan stepped in and told me it was the worst thing he’d ever read. Which it was. So I write non-fiction. Or try, when the epilepsy doesn’t object.
For a couple weeks now I’ve been pushing myself with the writing, seeing what I can do without setting off my epilepsy. There’s been no fuzziness, no numbness in the limbs, very little stuttering and speech problems, no confusion, none of all the symptoms that make me everyone’s quirky special friend. I’m almost as dull as regular people.
But yesterday I stepped outside and the world was gorgeously two dimensional. The colors were vivid, even at dusk, the perspective flat. It looked like a Van Gogh painting, tho’ I suppose only an epileptic can see the epilepsy in a Van Gogh painting. Tonight it was even more vivid. I really can’t explain how beautiful it is, tho’ LSD has a similar effect. But it’s not a good sign. That Van Gogh effect is an epileptic aura, a prelude of the fun to come if I don’t cool it with all the renewed writing. I hadn’t had an aura since I stopped writing last year. Start up again and now I’ve got Vincent Van Gogh eyes.
Experiment over, I will follow my pal Kirk Silsbee’s admonition and take it slow, take it slow. I think in be bop, but I’ll have to write like a cool Stan Getz, if that makes any sense.
So this’ll be the last essay for a while. Now just jokes and insults and the occasional brief whining.
Anyway, a poet once said:
this was where Ray-
mundo Chandler drunk
and wrote and thunk
he oughta write some more.
Had the brilliant idea of taking the nighttime dose of my seizure drugs earlier and it’s totally messed up my sleep cycle. Apparently when you hit sixty your body rejects any change just out of spite. Get off my lawn, it’s yelling at me. Probably a Trump supporter, too.
Anyway, going to bed again. I think it just woke me up to watch Fox And Friends.