For a writer I certainly don’t do a lot of writing anymore, then again I’ve never felt less epileptic in my life. Writing sets off epilepsy which creates more writing. The more the epilepsy, the more creative the writing. The more creative the writing, the more the epilepsy. The more the epileptic writing, the more the brain damage. Oops. Thus, sidelined, I just kick back and watch all the shit go down. These are marvelous times for watching the shit go down. Glorious times, even. Watching history happen from our little urban forested haven. Lots of time to read and watch old movies. The less the epilepsy, it turns out, the more the reading. I’m wending my way though stacks of turgid volumes. Don’t even ask. The constant writing in my head got in the way when I was trying to read. It’s good to have the fountain of words turned off. I can listen to people now and not rewrite what they are saying. I can listen to music now and not hear it as writing. I can look at the landscape and not see it as stories. I can listen to birds sing and not hear language. I just hear birds singing.
I just came in from the kitchen with a plate with a big slice of home baked bread and a slice of summer sausage (plus a jar of mustard) in one hand and a coffee mug full of water in the other. I did not notice that the rug had gotten curled up under the couch and I tripped over it with my good leg. The knee on my other leg cannot lock so I began falling. I wobbled back and forth, twisting, falling slowly, shifting back and forth, this way and that, the arm with the plate balancing by my elbow on the coffee table, the other arm holding the mug upright as I twisted and fell, my hip glancing off the couch and finally I came down painlessly on my good knee, the bread and sausage still on the plate, the jar of mustard still between the same fingers and best of all, the mug still held upright and full of water. I can write about this chain of events because I could see all this happening and was laughing because I’ve watched it before. I’ve had a bum knee my whole life and have fallen literally hundreds of times and when I do an entire process begins which in a fraction of a second finds the safest way to fall. Whatever part of the brain is running this shows seems to be a neat freak with a thing about not spilling or breaking whatever I’m holding. I wouldn’t call it unconscious, because I can watch it happen, but just watch it, I have no conscious input into it whatsoever. It’s a decision making process that is infinitely faster than conscious thinking. And I never get hurt. Never. Even bruises are rare. I’ve fallen down out stairs half a dozen times and never been hurt. If only the rest of my brain worked as efficiently as my damage control.
Coda to More of that stuff they don’t teach you about in epilepsy school
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.
More of the stuff they don’t teach you in epilepsy school
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 will some another week or two of an epileptic interlude, 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.
More of the stuff they don’t teach you in epilepsy school
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 there will be another week or two of an epileptic interlude, 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.
I’ve noted over my lifetime that after a long bout of a surge in epilepsy, as the brain settles down and its plasticity begins repairing and reconnecting things, that new memories well up, in scattered bits and small pieces of past times. They pop up in anecdotes, unconnected, details I’d forgotten or entire events, people I hadn’t thought of in years, memories of sensations long past. It’s always disconcerting but it’s fun too. When you lose long term memories you don’t really notice. They’re just not there anymore. If it happens a lot over your entire adult life it doesn’t bother you much at all. You don’t miss what you no longer know you had. It’s not like you suddenly can’t remember something. You don’t know you ever remembered it at all. It’s only when you’re around people talking old times and you have no clue what they’re talking about that it gets disconcerting. Otherwise you’d never notice at all. Memory loss is a lot more disturbing to those who do remember than to those who can’t.
Which is what makes these sudden refound memories so oddly disconcerting. Things that were no longer there are instantly there again, bits and pieces of your past existence so vivid, so real, in full color. You can hear the voices, feel the feelings. You can almost reach out and touch them. They’re all non-sequitors, of course, it’s not like you’ve recovered complete files on your hard drive. These are just almost randomly placed memories that have been reconnected by a newly repaired or rerouted neural connection. Memories are “stored” in different places all over the brain, and any neural rewiring is bound to uncover a few, though not in any organized or systematic patterns I’ve ever noticed. They’re just random remembrances, like finding a drawer full of old post cards and Polaroids. Just anecdotes. I’ll bring them up a couple at a time in conversation so they don’t throw anybody—if you suddenly begin remembering too much stuff at once people get weirded out (people are very easily weirded out), or they spring up in vividly detailed emails or Facebook posts or blog entries. If I write them down the memory hardens, if I merely talk about them they can blow away, though sometimes I’m not sure how much that I’m writing is what I actually remember and how much is me fleshing out the details to make the writing prettier. In the end it comes down to what makes a good story, I suppose, and none of you readers will know any better or care if the writing is good enough, and the refound memory hardens into the usual mortar of fact and fiction that binds human memory together anyway.
The crime of epilepsy
I see that the cops in Fresno worked over, cuffed and arrested a kid having a seizure. Resisting arrest. Have a seizure in public and you risk being taken down hard by the cops. Your flailing will be seen as resisting, your failure to respond will compound it. Sometimes they drop the charges. Sometimes they haul you into court. If it gets into the press it will have a news cycle for a few hours and then disappear, as epilepsy is not one of the socially acceptable disabilities. In the twenty years I’ve been following these incidents this has never changed. Same police ignorance and cruelty, same media inattention, same public indifference. A uniquely American phenomenon, I might add. We’re notorious for it. The last developed country that can’t shake its fear of our demonic possession. Progressives are just as weirded out by seizures as white extremists, though progressives at least have given up on euthanasia as the solution. We’re even allowed to marry now.
This writing thing
I’ve been asked about this quite a few times and blew it off, but here goes.
I don’t know where my writing ideas come from. They seem to happen on their own. I don’t think about writing when I’m not writing. And there’s no inspiration or spark or preparation. I just start typing and essays come out, fully formed. Everything you read by me is first draft and unedited. I check for typos, homonyms, dropped words. I may go back and alter the punctuation slightly. On rare occasions one of my long trumpet solo sentences may be too long and I’ll bust it up, but that involves merely deleting a word or a comma, no rewriting. That’s it for editing.
I try to keep everything simple, I never put anything in quotation marks, try and avoid parentheses, and don’t boldface, italicize or underline. I have a very spare palette of punctuation—commas, periods, ellipses and em dashes, and I use exclamation points and question marks as little as possible. I try to do everything with words and pauses.
I write almost everything in an implied second person. That is, I write in the first person but through the eyes of the reader. And I avoid adjectives and adverbs whenever possible, and emphasize verbs. Nearly everything I write is in terms of action or movement.
And like this, the things always seem to know when to end on their own. So I let them finish. I leave a lot of them hanging, unresolved, something I picked up from bossa nova. But I never go beyond where the thing ends, I never try to outthink the writing.
That’s it, without getting into all the linguistics and neurology.
A twenty something brain
Watched a Jazz Messengers gig from Paris in ‘59 and Lee Morgan, all of 21 years old, was unbelievable. Astonishing creativity. The chances he took and never flubbed in those solos, leaping over precipices, seeing around corners, weaving a short story’s worth of narrative into every solo…. damn. When you’re that young all this stuff is new and you’re seeing these things for the first time; your brain is a huge mass of neurons you’re exploring for the first time, and the neural pathways you follow can become established routes you’ll follow again and again. You could hear those in his playing, the licks and ideas that would come up over and over again during his career. And you’d hear things he might have explored just that once and never gone back to. As you get older and older you do that less and less, the brain hardwires into distinct paths that you perfect and improve and the other synapses wither and disappear and ideas you had at 21 will never be there again. Possibilities disappear. Eventually you don’t even see those pathways anymore. You read stuff you wrote forty years ago and have no idea of all the possibilities that were before you then but you weren’t yet good enough to write them down. A twenty something brain is a marvelous thing, a mass of neuronal potential just waiting to be shaped, trillions upon trillions upon trillions of possible thoughts, and we will never have that range of cognitive possibilities before us again.
Last night words kept me up
[This is from 2010, and I just found it buried on BrickWahl.com. This reads so epileptic to me now.]
Last night words kept me up, some piece coming together that I couldn’t shake. It developed paragraph by unwritten paragraph inside my skull till finally it completed itself and let me sleep after two in the fucking morning. That happens a lot. When my med levels are off it happens more. I dreamed another story, dreamed I was writing it, till it woke me around 5 am. I laid there sleepy with this fucking story going through my head. A ridiculous 5 am story…I never use 5 am stories. Men are crazy at 5 am. Maybe you’ve noticed.
No writing today, nothing. No emails today, but this one. Hopefully no stories tonite. I wish I knew why that happens, but it’s always happened. Just words, man. It’s like I’m practicing. Working things out. Well, not me practicing, but it, the language. It sits up there in our brain, an actual thing, and it sometimes make us do things that not to our advantage. This isn’t LSD talking…it’s actually neuro-linguistic theory, one rather difficult to grasp. It’s just too weird. Anyway, this language thing gets stirred all up in there round that hole in my brain in the Broca’s region and doesn’t give a flying fuck about what the rest of the body needs, or wants. Namely sleep. But tonite I sleep. I promise.
I’ve heard of musicians tormented by the music in their heads. It’s the same thing, I bet. The music being created incessantly and the poor bastard whose brain contauins it wishes it wasn’t there. Creativity, it’s wildly overrated.
Anyway I have more to do before I go home. Then I watch a hockey game and we order a pizza and drink beer and talk and I go to sleep.