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.
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.
[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.
As part of my excruciatingly dull mellow epileptic lifestyle I had to cut off contact with some people who, through no fault of their own, were really bad for my epilepsy. Just too intense, too volatile. I never told them. I just sort of slipped away. Now I’m having to do the same on Facebook, where a few people are too intense and volatile, too aggro, too competitive and too serious for my epileptic brain. So I just quietly unfriend them. It’s a creepy way to go about it, but I have to avoid confrontation. It’s not that my ego or feelings or anything like that were hurt. I have such a limited emotional range left after decades of epileptic damage that it’s pretty hard to hurt anything. But it does cause epilepsy problems. It’s just that it’s really not a good idea to go off on an epileptic. It causes us brain damage. Synapses fry, memories are lost, we get confused. Let’s just say it heightens the epileptic experience.
Anyway, I just had to unfriend a couple friends. What can I say.
I’ve been taking seizure meds three times a day for nearly forty years and I have all these ways to keep track of taking them to make sure I don’t miss a dose or stupidly take two doses and I have to try really hard to double dose myself. Really hard. Which is what makes the fact that I double dosed myself this morning all the more impressive. Last time I did this was in South Dakota. We’d driven hours and hours the day before, circumambulated Devil’s Tower which is even more manly in real life than in Close Encounters, visited Mount Rushmore, which was nothing like North By Northwest at all. We pulled into Rapid City very late, managed to stay at the only motel in town with actual prostitutes and had Sonic take out for dinner because it was either that or McDonalds. Fell asleep to the sound of a truck driver having an orgasm next door. Left my morning pills out on the nightstand, gulped them down first thing upon waking, showered, ate the free breakfast and then took pills again without thinking about it. It was crazy hot and humid for so early in the morning but we stopped at Dinosaur Park right there in Rapid City, which is full of the huge crazy dinosaur sculptures and was built at the same time as Mount Rushmore was carved and is the coolest hokiest thing. Mandatory stop for dinosaur obsessives. Then we split eastward. Those plains are something, they just swallow you up, and we were in the middle of fucking nowhere when I realized I’d double dosed. The Tegretol comes down like a blanket, soft and sleepy, while the Lamictal is like steroids for the frontal lobe, you think and think and think (or write and write and write) with a testosterone surge. Add half a dozen cups of coffee to that and suddenly I was sleepy, wired, brilliant and very manly. Now there’s a rush. But the sleepiness was winning. Finally had to stop at Wall Drug where I passed out in the car in the blazing Great Plains heat while Fyl wandered through the endless maze of shops. Lots of socks, she said. She watched the dinosaur twice. Bought me some socks. Then revived somewhat we headed into Badlands National Park where I managed to dump a mini cooler full of ice water into my lap, never losing control of the car but freezing my balls solid. That’ll wake you up. It’s an idea, but I’ll probably just nap this time.
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.