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.
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.
I flunked out of pre-Algebra in high school, so they had me take it in summer school where I passed with–I kid you not–a D minus. I think it was a mercy D-minus. I have an excuse, though, because whatever thought processes are used in any math beyond basic arithmetic sets off petit mal seizures and I end up out of it and nauseous. It took me years to figure this out, though. I thought I just hated math.
My IQ test results must have been interesting. I have no idea what score (or scores) I received, but I probably did well on the language stuff, and the basic arithmetic stuff, then bottomed out when it went beyond that. I remember taking an IQ test in high school. They’d herded us all into the auditorium and handed out the test sheets. I was whizzing through the language section thinking I was smart, then made it through the adding and subtracting easily enough, but then it began to get abstract and I began to get fuzzy. I never thought much about it though. Decades later the reason dawned on me one boring day at work when I started one of those online IQ tests. Those were all the rage at the time, one of the first annoying internet trends. This was years ago. As soon as it got to the more advanced questions with shapes, etc, my brain fizzed out and I felt sick. Limbs go numb, tongue heavy, and this fuzzy thickness descends and a sort of creeping nausea comes on. Ah ha, I thought to myself, and have avoided anything like that since. Can’t believe it took me thirty years to figure that out. The exact same thing used to happen to me in math class. I was a tough kid, though, not prone to complaining and figured everyone was like that too. Never imagined it meant something was wrong. My neurologist wasn’t the least bit surprised when we discussed it. It happens, he said. With epilepsy anything can happen. Some epileptics talk to God. Some have spontaneous orgasms. Me, algebra makes me sick. Not as fun, though probably less embarrassing.
I’m very leery of physics and philosophy for the same reason. I could never make head or tail out of either and I suspect it’s because trying to think like that sets off little electro-chemical firestorms in my frontal lobe which then spread to the temporal lobe and fuck shit up nicely. Maybe not, I may just not be bright enough to figure them out, but why take chances. Life sciences I’m fine with, though. Earth sciences, linguistics. My great regret in life is not pursuing a science career, but there was no way. You need math, and all I can do is simple arithmetic.
Certain kinds of modular maps will set me off too. Not long after I made the mistake of taking that IQ test I made the mistake of trying to read the stupid arty map in the Getty’s Top of the Hill garage. Hiply modular, way modular, expensively modular. A regular map just wouldn’t do, not at the Getty. I studied it for maybe fifteen seconds and suddenly I was in a haze, a little lost, and I couldn’t remember anybody’s name. My wife got us to our seats.
Anyway, I eventually learned that if trying to read anything made me feel out of it or sick, to stop reading it immediately. Took me thirty years of epilepsy to figure that out. Some writing will set me off too. It used to be a problem. Apparently over the years I’ve learned to write in ways that doesn’t set off my epilepsy. Couldn’t tell you how, but I rarely get sick writing anymore.
But I can take all the strobe lights ya got.
Had to take a mental examination for epilepsy on Monday morning. Lots of drawing, writing things down, repeating, remembering, trying to do things backwards. Little brain games. I was doing OK until the cubes. Four of them, red on some sides, white on other sides, some 50/50. I had to put them in combinations to create patterns. Right off the bat I knew I was in trouble…I had to create abstract patterns with abstract patterns. A trigger. I don’t do abstract shapes well. Within seconds I was going numb, talking slow, having trouble remembering anything. But I finished the test. All day long I was in a daze. Memory problems, out of it. Next day the same thing. On Wednesday more of the same. Finally today I am mostly back to normal. It used to be that concentrating on abstractions like that would wipe me out for a few hours. Now it lasts days. It’s not as intense as it used to get–no nausea–but it’s longer lasting. And of course, all that does is burn out more synapses and wreck more neurons. It’s like an epilepsy loop. The damage causes aka petit mal seizures which wrecks neurons which causes petit mal seizures which wrecks more neurons…..drip drip drip.
I’ve been trying to write this for days now. But I had to write this without trying to visualize the cubes and patterns, as the memory of them has the same effect as the actual experience, though the symptoms–numbness, stutter, memory loss–were even stronger. Apparently the actual experience of playing with those damn cubes involved several disparate sensory parts of the brain, but the memory involves only the parts of the brain that store the memories of the experience, and for some reason those memory centers set off more of the symptoms than the original sensory centers. If I were to think hard right now and try to remember actually doing the tests–though the memory of it is thoroughly garbled by now–I would actually get sicker than if I were actually doing the tests. I suppose I was only able to write this now as the short term memory of it has dissipated…as short term memories do after a couple days. Medium and long term memories are not as triggerable, if that is a word. If not, it is now.
The focal point of my seizures is a hole in the brain in the frontal lobe. A birth defect. Hence I can be set off by certain abstractions. I cannot do any sort of math beyond simple mathematics, I cannot read complex philosophy, I have difficulty with the modularity of things within things within things. Were I a gorilla (a common misconception, actually), this would not be as much of a problem. But Homo sapien sapiens are really big on the abstractions; our brains, in large part, grew huge because of the giant frontal lobes that developed to handle abstractions. It’s just that some of us have holes in our frontal lobes. Most of my symptoms, however, are in the temporal lobe, as so much frontal lobe activity is channeled through the temporal lobe. When the neurons that are all screwed up around the hole in my brain in my frontal lobe start firing in too rapid an order and messing things up, the extra electrical energy is released in the temporal lobe. Apparently the frontal lobe can handle such things easier. The temporal lobe, perhaps because it is much older and developed when brains were smaller and contained far less potential electrical energy (think of a neuron as a battery, and our frontal lobes are an enormous collection of interconnected batteries), perhaps never developed the protection it needs to protect it from such excess electricity. Like putting a Model T electrical system in a Porsche. The slightest thing could burn it out. And after a lifetime of epilepsy, the temporal lobe is thoroughly burned out. It has actually shrunk in size from all the electrical abuse, and a wide array of its knowledge–the various kinds of memories it stores in various places–are not even accessible anymore. The executive functions it controls–planning, etc–get thoroughly messed up. Frontal lobe functions–all that useless historical information and irritating know-it-all trivia–are unfazed. I can write. I can read. I can talk and talk and talk until everybody leaves. But stupid things like red and white cubes can mess me up for days.
One of the fun things about epilepsy is how it displays the inner workings of the brain. If you are fascinated by cognitive processes, it’s like being your own laboratory. One of the less fun things is drooling all over the carpet.