“All I ever did to that apartment was hang fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better, but I did not bother to weight the curtains correctly and all that summer the long panels of transparent golden silk would blow out the windows and get tangled and drenched in afternoon thunderstorms. That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and ever procrastination, every word, all of it.” ~ Joan Didion, from “Goodbye to All That”

Kurt Schwitters Untitled paren Tenartional 1942
Untitled (1942)
by Kurt Schwitters

                   

Two for Tuesday: The Relentless Passing of Time

Louis-Georges-Eleonor Figure in the Moonlight 1887 gouache on paper
“Figure in the Moonlight” (1887, gouache on paper)
by Louis-Georges-Eleonor

If You Knew

What if you knew you”d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line”s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don”t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They”d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt”s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon”s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

~ Ellen Bass

                   

Maurice Denis Residence with a Pond c1895
“Residence with a Pond” (c1895)
by Maurice Denis

String of Pearls

The pearls my mother gave me as a bride
rotted inside.
Well, not the pearls, but the string.
One day I was putting
them on, about thirty years on,
and they rattled onto the floor, one by one…
I’m still not sure I found them all.

As it happened, I kept a white seashell
on my vanity table. It could serve as a cup
where, after I’d scooped the lost pearls up,
I’d save them, a many-sister
haven in one oyster.
A female’s born with all her eggs,
unfolds her legs,

then does her dance, is lovely, is the past –
is old news as the last
crinkle-foil-wrapped sweet
in the grass of the Easter basket.
True? Who was I? Had I unfairly classed
myself as a has-been? In the cloister
of the ovary, when

released by an extra dose of estrogen,
my chances for love dwindled, one by one.
But am I done?

~ Mary Jo Salter

                    

Music by Nathan Barr, “Love Theme from True Blood”

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“That’s what the ocean is. Those waves are peaks. The stars are lights in houses and on streets. The earth reflects the sky and the sky meets the earth and, every now and then, if we’re lucky, we have a chance to see how small we are.” ~ Ally Condie, from Reached

Andre Derain - 1905 - The Seine at Chatou
“The Seine at Chatou” (1905, oil on canvas)
by André Derain

                   

“Once in a while it vanishes—in the sense that I become deaf to beauty for a week or two or three. This coming and going of the inner life—because this is what it is—is a curse and a blessing. I don’t need to explain why it’s a curse. A blessing because it brings about a movement, an energy which, when it peaks, creates a poem. Or a moment of happiness.” ~ Adam Zagajewski, from 2004 interview with Poets & Writers

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and still relatively cool, 77 degrees.

Andre Derain Effect of Sun on the Water, London 190 oil on canvas
“Effect of Sunlight on Water, London” (1906, oil on canvas)
by André Derain

As I was standing in the middle of the backyard at 6 a.m., several things occurred to me at once:

  • I only went to bed two hours ago
  • It’s very, very bright out here
  • Something, or a lot of somethings are biting my ankles
  • I really like the fact that the captain on “Grimm” speaks French
  • My French is dated as I still use the formal vous as opposed to the familiar tu
  • My brain is working at warp speed
  • Does this mean that I should forego sleep most of the time so that I can be ultra alert at odd hours?

Perhaps this lull in which I have been mired is finally receding, or perhaps the puppy’s internal alarm clock is going to be the death of me.

“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating.” ~ Louis Aragon, from Paris Peasant

Yesterday, quite by accident, I came upon a singer/songwriter I absolutely love—Jimmy LaFave. Years ago, I heard the song “Never is a Moment” on a local radio station. I called the station to find out who the singer was, and the DJ identified LaFave. Of course, that was before YouTube and easy internet searches that allow you to plug in a few words from the lyrics, and presto! Song.

Andre Derain Big Ben 1906
“Big Ben” (1906, oil on canvas)
by André Derain

Anyway, I was never able to find a copy of the song . . . until yesterday, when I found it without looking for it. Serendipity. Anyway, as soon as the first few bars played, I was taken back to that day when I first heard it, and I have to say, it still moves me. And then after a little digging I came across another version of the song by Italian singer Zucchero Fornaciari, and I found that I love that version too. Good stuff.

So here’s to discoveries we weren’t looking for. Here’s to memories we had forgotten. Here’s to unpolished gems finding their way to the top of the pile. Here’s to my being way too excited over a song.

“All of us are trapped in our skins and drowning in gravity. Physics is unforgiving. Nature is predatory. We do not walk through a passive landscape.” ~ Richard Siken, in an interview with Legacy Russell

So here are some other random thoughts:

  • Last night I dreamed that I was again being bullied, this time by some women with whom my ex used to work at the medical school
Andre Derain Red Sails 1906
“Red Sails” (1906, oil on canvas)
by André Derain
  • In real life, they were a biting bunch of harpies, so why are they haunting my dreams
  • In real life, I was never the victim of bullying, a little name-calling,
  • I think I actually had these dreams this morning after I was finally able to go to sleep
  • That burst of energy to which I referred in section one? Gone, completely gone
  • I would kill for some Oreos
  • The crack in the bathroom floor tile has expanded. Not good, she remarked, apropos of nothing . . .
  • I always, always misspell apropos the first time that I type it

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.” ~ Joan Didion, from Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I have eaten all of my Chimes Ginger Chews. Considering I had over a pound of them, that’s a lot of Chimes Ginger Chews. Hmm . . . can I make an entire post out of my love for Chimes Ginger Chews? Probably. It it something worth doing? Definitely not.

Other things . . .

  • I notice things like the expanding crack in the bathroom floor in the middle of the night

    Andre Derain - Waterloo Bridge, 1906
    “Waterloo Bridge” (1906, oil on canvas)
    by André Derain
  • In so doing, I engage my mind in things about which I need to worry, thereby making peaceful sleep improbable
  • Hence, I dream of bullies
  • Instead of Oreos, I just ate two of my red bean Mochis, at 80 calories each, I suppose that’s not too awfully caloric, definitely less than a sleeve of O-r-e-os.
  • I happened to look at my reflection as I was walking past the bathroom mirror, and I noticed that my hair is as long as it was in high school, but not by choice
  • I’ve been debating whether to suck it up and try to go back to my former hairdresser or to take a chance on someone new
  • I’ve been debating this for well over a year, which is why my hair is way too long and unmanageable
  • By the time I make a decision, my hair may have reached my bum

“She did not wish to remember; it troubled her when people tried to disturb her loneliness; she wished to be alone. She wished for nothing else in the world.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Voyage Out

So in the wee hours of the morning I took a hot shower in an attempt to calm my body and perhaps wash away whatever was making me itch. It worked for a while, but I just realized that I’m scratching again. I don’t know if this is a nervous tic, a response to medication, or merely fatigue, but it’s annoying. I mean, I’m a picker (not of the nose), but of scabs and wounds. I do not allow my body to heal completely before I start to worry a wound, which is why the bottom of my left foot has yet to heal.

Andre-Derain-Charing-Cross-Bridge 1906
“Charing Cross Bridge” (1906, oil on canvas)
by André Derain

After the doctor excised the corn core, he said that the surrounding hardened tissue should resolve itself, and perhaps it would have if I had left it alone, but I didn’t, and I mention this only because as I was walking back from the kitchen, I hit my foot on something, and now I am blinking back involuntary tears of pain.

In the 90’s when I agreed to be a test patient for a subcutaneous birth control system called Norplant, I would find myself playing with the tiny silicon capsules that lay beneath my skin. I don’t believe they still offer this form of birth control because so many women were affected adversely, but it was a slow-release medication, and the intent was that you wouldn’t have to think about birth control for the entire time Norplant was in your body.

I had all kinds of horrible side effects and had to have the system removed, but while it was there, it presented me with a unique toy: something that felt like toothpicks beneath my skin.

Why do I tell you this? I have no idea. I only know that my foot is throbbing, and my back is itching just beyond my reach, and I have finally reached the absolute nadir of my adrenaline.

More later. Peace.

To appease my heightened senses, I have chosen images by French Fauvist André Derain (1880-1954).

Music by Jimmy LaFave, “Never is a Moment”

and Zucchero Fornaciari, “Never is a Moment”

                   

R S Thomas The Untamed

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” ~ Joan Didiion

Joan Didion, photographed by Brigitte Lancombe in Vogue

                   

Ever since I found out that this was available in a PDF, I have wanted to share it with you, so here is the first part of Joan Didion’s essay on why she writes. To read the complete essay, click on the link.

Enjoy.

Why I Write
By Joan Didion

Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

I
I
I

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.

I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it. I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word “intellectual” I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract.

In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor. I would try to read linguistic theory and would find myself wondering instead if the lights were on in the bevatron up the hill. When I say that I was wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron you might immediately suspect, if you deal in ideas at all, that I was registering the bevatron as a political symbol, thinking in shorthand about the military-industrial complex and its role in the university community, but you would be wrong. I was only wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron, and how they looked. A physical fact.

I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to deal with ideas—I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery in The Portrait of a Lady as well as the next person, “imagery” being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention—but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton. I did this. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific’s City of San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?

When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia. This cat had a shimmer around it. You could see the molecular structure breaking down at the very edges of the cat: the cat became the background and the background the cat, everything interacting, exchanging ions. People on hallucinogens describe the same perception of objects. I’m not a schizophrenic, nor do I take hallucinogens, but certain images do shimmer for me. Look hard enough, and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there. You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer. You just lie low and let them develop. You stay quiet. You don’t talk to many people and you keep your nervous system from shorting out and you try to locate the cat in the shimmer, the grammar in the picture.

Just as I meant “shimmer” literally I mean “grammar” literally. Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*

It tells you.

You don’t tell it.

* “Note well”

First published in the New York Times Book Review, 5 December 1976.

“That no one dies of migraine seems to someone deep in an attack as an blessing.” ~ Joan Didion, The White Album

My Migraine Brain

Cannot shake this headache that trips into migraine territory and then recedes into just annoying headache land and then goes in for a full frontal assault, so I’m just sharing this very apt quote that appeared on my tumblr dash today:

“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger . . . To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit . . . Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.”

~ Gloria Anzaldúa

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.” ~ Joan Didion

The Golden Horse in Iceland by Stuck in Customs*

“and you will somehow
get through the slow days and the busy days and the dull
days and the hateful days and the rare days, all both so delightful
and so disappointing because
we are all so alike and so different.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “gamblers all”

Friday afternoon. Cool, high 40’s.

Most of this week has been quite mild, with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. I wonder if we’re going to have any kind of winter this year.

Stone Hut in the Morning Light, Iceland by Stuck in Customs

Corey is not leaving this week. Another postponement, but with a twist: the company rep called and asked Corey if he’d like to go ahead and get on the Pacific run. Corey said that he’d rather wait for the ship he’s supposed to be on. He’s tired of all of the changes and just wants to go as planned. I told him that he made the right decision. Going to the Pacific would be a huge change, and one that neither of us are ready for. We had discussed the possibility of him shipping out in the Pacific one day, but not now. So more waiting . . .

I went to the neurologist on Tuesday, only for her to tell me that essentiallythere was nothing new that we could do, no new meds on the horizon, nothing, so we would just continue with the treatment that we’re doing, and try the Botox shots again . . . she’ll see me again in a year. Now this might seem like same old, same old, but what torques me out of shape is that the last time I spoke to her nurse, the nurse was quite adamant that the doctor had to see me on a regular basis to continue prescribing my meds, but the doctor tells me that she really sees no need to see me more than once a year.

So the shots are scheduled for February 21. Supposedly, they will be stronger this time. Let’s hope so, as I’ll be paying out of pocket, and I’d really like for them to last more than six weeks, which is all that I got last time. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see . . .

Waiting . . .

“I am a recluse at present & do nothing but write & read & read & write.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield: Volume 1: 1903-1917

I received a lovely surprise in the mail a few days ago: Leah, a faithful reader and commenter, send me a birthday card and some chocolate. She’s such a thoughtful person, and it was really a  nice surprise. I’ve already sampled some of the chocolate . . . I suppose I’m over my holiday chocolate overload.

Summer House in Isafjordur, Iceland (with elve house to left), by Stuck in Customs

Corey put together the desk that we got for our bedroom. We got it on clearance, and it’s very roomy as it has a hutch. Once we moved my corner desk into Eamonn’s room, Corey vowed that we wouldn’t be moving it back as it got stuck in the door and was a pain to maneuver. So now I have a new desk, and I’ve been moving things out of Eamonn’s room and into our room. It will be nice to have my little corner of the room workspace again. Of course, my computer is still dead as I need a motherboard that actually fits.

I have managed to find one from a reputable wholesaler that does not cost the three hundred dollars that it was listed for in several other place. (I love the Internet). But of course, I now must wait for the $100 that it will cost to install.

Waiting . . .

“Once, Turner had himself lashed to the mast of a ship for several hours, during a furious storm, so that he could later paint the storm. Obviously, it was not the storm itself that Turner intended to paint. What he intended to paint was a representation of the storm. One’s language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.” ~ David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress

One of my favorite poets passed away a few days ago, Wislawa Szymborska. I have a collection of her poems on my wish list for Amazon. Admittedly, I never had a real appreciation for Polish poets before I started my Tumblr, but I really love her work.

The Silent Horse in the Fog, Iceland by Stuck in Customs

I also have another Polish poet on my wish list, Czeslaw Milosz. I still have my Amazon gift card from Christmas, and I haven’t used it yet because I keep changing my mind. I really need to get a new dictionary, and the American Heritage one that I want lists for $37, so do I get the poets that I want or the dictionary that I really could use?

I know that the idea of a paper dictionary is foreign to many people, but I do so love having a good one, and after years of buying new editions, I know that I prefer the American Heritage version over the Webster’s. Personal preference, I know, but when I was in the graduate program at Virgina Tech, the department gave all of us brand new American Heritage dictionaries, and I used that thing until it fell apart.

So what should I order? All of it, preferably . . .

“The memory is cursed with what hasn’t happened.” ~ Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair

I was on tumblr until 4 this morning. Another one of those restless nights . . .

So last night I had one of those end-of-the-world dreams. I was in some town, and all of the people were contracting some kind of deadly virus. I wanted to leave the area, but of course, the military was shooting anyone who tried to leave, so I convinced a small group of people to leave with me. I know that at first there were six or seven of us, but by the end there were only three, two men and myself.

Sleeping In, Iceland, by Stuck in Customs

Somewhere in the middle was this really bizarre scene (more bizarre than the dream as a whole) in which Leonardo DiCaprio was deranged and trying to fight this battle on a rooftop, and then I was fighting him, and I realized that my c-clamp was not attached to my harness but instead, was attached to a belt loop, and I knew that wouldn’t support me.

Anyway, after the rooftop confrontation, I was in a big SUV with the original six or seven people, and I turned down a street, and we all heard a baby crying, and I wanted to stop and look for the baby, but we saw too many people, and realized that if we stopped for the baby, we had to stop for all of them, and we didn’t have the room.

Then, the two men and I were walking (don’t know what happened to the SUV), and there was a little snack shop on the street that hadn’t closed. The guy working there told us that we could have some water, but we ended up doing some food shopping, and I told the guy that I would come back on Tuesday if the world didn’t end and pay him for what we took. He seemed to be okay with that. Where does this stuff in my mind come from?

“The cloud is free only to go with the wind. The rain is free only in falling.” ~ Wendell Berry

Brett is having dinner with his father tonight. After last week’s funeral, Brett came home and told me that he and his dad are going to try to spend more time together. This shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I suppose it’s more of my misplaced righteous indignation on behalf of someone else—his dad has ignored him for years, so now he wants to make up for it? I need to get over it and be happy for my son. I know that it has had to hurt not to be in his dad’s life in the past few years. Perhaps I’m jealous? Insecure? All of the above? Who knows . . .

The Lonely Grass House, Iceland by Stuck in Customs

Anyway, I wanted to get this post up before I get back to sorting through old office supplies and doing other chores. My obsession with office supplies has not waned even though I no longer work full time. Books, office supplies, nail polish, black boots, squishy leather purses—things that make me happy and keep my mind occupied. It’s the little things, isn’t it?

Speaking of things that I need to do, I have told Eamonn and Brett that I’ll do their taxes for them. Eamonn really needs the funds to pay for his big traffic ticket, and I also need to do our taxes and this year’s FAFSAs. God do I hate doing forms like those.

So many different sites offer free e-filing, but what they don’t tell you until you are in the middle is that the state form will be an additional fee, so I’m doing free federal for the boys on one site, and then their state filing on the Virginia site, which isn’t too bad as they are both simple forms. It’s just a pain.

I suppose that’s all for now.

More later. Peace.

*All images are taken from Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs site, Iceland Collection (under a Creative Commons license)

Music by The Twilight Singers, featuring Mark Lanegan, “Be Invited”

                   

Sometimes, When the Light
Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood
and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows
or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,
you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows
something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous
that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

By Lisel Mueller

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small and the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.” ~ Grace Slick, “Go Ask Alice”

Spitzer Rosette Nebula

Spitzer Rosette Nebula* (Images from space look very similar to brain scans . . . Cue Twilight Zone music)

“We can describe the thoughts of Hamlet, but we cannot describe a Migraine.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“There is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence.” ~ George Eliot

Hubble Pistol Nebula
Hubble Pistol Nebula

This is day five of this migraine. I am in the midst of a lull, which I hope is a signal that this migraine is finally abating. Or it could be the vicodin . . .kidding, only kidding. Geez.

After consulting with my migraine doctors, I’ve decided to stop trying the preventive medications for now. I’ve had so many horrible side effects with the last three that I’ve tried that I just don’t think that the preventive medication is working out for me. And the reality is that I’m getting just as many migraines on the preventive medicine as I am without. The main difference has been duration, as in, does the headache last a few days or a few weeks.

Those of you who have never had a migraine probably cannot imagine having a headache for weeks, but believe me, it is a reality. And it’s not just a headache—it’s a migraine, and there is a significant difference between the two.

“At first every small apprehension is magnified. Every anxiety a pounding terror. Then the pain comes and I concentrate only on that.” ~ Joan Didion

With a migraine, which is a neurological syndrome, several things can happen, but they do not always happen. Sometimes, it’s just one or two; other times you get the whole bag. There are actually four possible phases to the migraine: the prodrome, the aura, the pain phase, and the postdrome.

In the prodrome, or the phase leading up to the migraine, the sufferer can experience several things: euphoria (never had that one), irritability (yep), fatigue, yawning, food cravings, stiff muscles (yep, yep, yep). The prodrome can occur anywhere from a day up to hours before onset. The aura can appear 5 to 20 minutes before pain onset, and can last for up to 60 minutes. The pain phase, well, that’s self-explanatory. And the postdrome can be manifested as euphoria (what is it with euphoria?), malaise, weakness, loss of appetite, stomach problems, and cognitive function impairment. Some sufferers liken it to a hangover. I prefer to call it the limp dishrag syndrome.

Hubble Eskimo Nebula
Hubble Eskimo Nebula (resembles auras I have had)

Most of the time, I get an aura before the onset of the pain. This aura can be blurred vision, spots in my eyes, or waves, accompanied by tingling in the limbs. The aura is usually a signal that the pain is about to errupt in the brain. This pain can be a band around the head, sort of like someone tightening a metal band around the circumference of your head until you feel that you skull is going to crack open.

The pain can be focused in one or both eyes. I tend to get the eye pain. The only way to describe this is as if someone is taking an ice pick and sticking it in the corner of your eye. Or, if the pain is behind the eyes, it feels as if someone is trying to push your eyeballs out of your head from the inside.

Too graphic? Now you know why I have a thing about my eyes, as in, I cannot stand the thought of anyone approaching my eyes with a laser, or anything sharp. Strike the laser eye surgery.

The pain is often accompanied by other wonderful symptoms: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, clumsiness, a sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis), sensitivity to light (photophobia), inability to bend over. There have even been occasions when I have had a migraine, and I have had a temporary blinding light behind my eyes, which in essense, makes me blind for a few seconds.

My postdrome phase is almost always the same: I feel very weak, achy, and have a dull headache for at least several hours after. Often I am nauseous.

“When there is pain, there are no words. Everything is the same.” ~ Toni Morrison

According to an article from ABC News, many doctors believe that migraines are the result of “a genetic disorder that makes one person’s brain more sensitive to certain stressors that other people would barely notice—like missing a meal or a rainy day.

More than 26 million [up to 32 by some estimates] Americans suffer from the neurologic disorder,” according to the American Medical Association (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/story?id=4170218&page=1).

Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster
Hubble Massive Galaxy Cluster

I think at this point, I should count as at least two people in that statistic.

In essence, people who suffer from migraines do not deal well with change (I’m not talking about my emotional dislike for change). Migraines can be triggered by changes as innocuous as not getting enough sleep. According to Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute, “Any change of the norm, any stress to your system, and your body will produce a headache.”

Triggers for migraines (outside and inside factors) include many different things: bright or flashing lights, certain smells, chocolate, caffeine, bananas, cigarette smoke, fresh paint, hormonal changes, climate changes (e.g., rapid drop in barometric pressure), lack of sleep, too much sleep (http://www.relieve-migraine-headache.com/migraine-trigger).

 In other words—life.

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” ~ Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Spitzer Towering Infernos from Hubble
Spitzer Towering Infernos

Triggers vary from person to person. I am sensitive to certain colognes and bright lights. Caffeine, which can be a trigger, can also alleviate a migraine, so I have not given up my Pepsi or coffee. I do know that certain foods can trigger my migraines, but I don’t think that a banana has ever set off my pain. 

One of my big triggers is MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is a flavor enhancer that used to be a major ingredient in spices and packaged foods. Individuals who are sensitive to MSG, as I am, routinely scan the list of ingredients for this additive. Corey is particularly diligent in checking labels of any new foods that we may be trying for the first time.

Unfortunately, some of my favorite snack foods contain MSG: cheese puffs, Cheetos, Ranch-flavored Doritos. Even fast foods contain MSG: McDonald’s used to use MSG to enhance the flavor of their french fries. Chinese food used to contain MSG routinely; however, most Chinese restaurants have become aware of the large number of people who are allergic to MSG.

Adverse reactions are not limited to migraines or headaches. People who are allergic to MSG can have asthma attacks, nausea, vomiting, arrhythmia, rash, facial pressure, tingling and warming  in the face, arms and upper body, to name but a few of the possible reactions.

MSG is actually an excitotoxin, which means that it effects the brain by exciting it. Excitotoxins include MSG, aspartate (which is found in Nutrasweet), and hydrolized protein (http://www.ezhealthydiet.com/excitotoxins).

Another compound found in food that can cause migraines is tyramine, which is produced from the natural breakdown of the amino acid, tyrasine. Tyramine, which can cause blood vessel dilation is usually found in aged or preserved foods. For example, beef jerky. How do you go hiking without beef jerky? Other foods containing tyramine include olives, alcoholic beverages, aged cheeses, and soy sauce.

Okay. I’ll give up a lot of things, but I simply cannot give up soy sauce. I’m Filipina. My blood is probably 5 percent soy sauce. I was raised on soy sauce. I like soy sauce on cauliflower (weird, I know, but try it). Obviously, I’ve built up an immunity to soy sauce because I don’t have migraines every day of my life, and chances are pretty good that I’ll have soy sauce 6 out of 7 days a week.

Soy sauce? Is nothing sacred?

“Everything hurts.” ~ Michelangelo

Hubble M17 Omega Nebula
Hubble M17 Omega Nebula

I was reading an online article from Science News that contends that people who suffer from migraines have brain scarring, specifically on the cerebellum, which controls motor function and cognition. The odds of scarring for migraine sufferers who have accompanying auras are nearly 14 times higher than people who just have regular headaches.

Headache expert Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City contends that “It’s pretty clear that migraine sufferer have more brain lesions [than people without the attacks] . . . That strengthens the view that migraine is a neurologic disease, a disease of the brain.”  (http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/41052/-migraines_leave_trail_of_scars_across_the_brain).

Great. My cerebellum has infarctions or dead spots, and my brain is scarred—I don’t think that this is the kind of scarring that you can fix with dutiful applications of aloe vera.

“Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.” ~ Naomi Wolf

Hubble Eagle Nebula M16
Hubble Eagle Nebula M16

If you are a migraine sufferer (migraineur), you probably know that having migraines is not always looked upon kindly. In the workplace, there is often a stigma attached to migraine sufferers who call in sick, the reaction being, “I’ve worked with a headache before. Why can’t she?”

The Migraine Awareness Site had one of the best passages regarding this situation that I have ever read:

“. . .oftentimes people think that those with Migraines just can’t handle life or are drug addicts or alcoholics. Such perception can be formed when, for example, people see a Migraineur wearing sun glasses indoors due to sensitivity to light, lying in a dark and silent room due to sensitivity to light and sound, making frequent trips to the rest room due to nausea and vomiting, leaving work early, slurring their speech, or engaging in otherwise erratic behavior. According to Dr. Sheftell, “Historically, patients with the most intractable Migraines experience a downward spiral in terms of income and contributions to society at large.” (http://www.migraines.org/disability/impawork.htm).

I know that I had to attend a marketing meeting once when I was suffering from a horrible migraine, and I wore my prescription sunglasses during the meeting. Everyone knew that I had a migraine, but something was still said about it. I had one boss who was very annoyed when I informed him that if I had to share an office with someone, they would need to be able to use natural light and lamps.

We were relocating into a new building, and I had had a private office in the old building. I was not trying to be difficult, as I knew that there were two other migraine sufferers in his employ; I was merely asking for accommodations for my illness. In the end, I did share the office with another individual who didn’t like overhead light either, but my boss’s reaction exemplifies how uninformed people who do not suffer from migraines can be.

 “Life’s sharpest rapture is surcease of pain.” ~ Emma Lazarus

ESO Horsehead Nebula
ESO Horsehead Nebula

Even though a significant percentage of the population suffer from migraines, it is still one of the most stigmatized disorders in society. Small comfort is the fact that migraines have been around for centuries, actually longer. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote in 460 BC about shining light that was typically seen in one eye and followed by severe pain that started in temples and worked its way to encompass the rest of the head and down into the neck.

Ancient cures included applying an electric fish (related to a ray) to the forehead (Greek). Albucasis, an ancient Arabian doctor (936-1013 A.D.) advised applying a hot iron to the afflicted head, and if that failed, he recommended cutting a hole above the temple and inserting a garlic clove (what?) into the hole for 15 hours. Russian folk medicine recommends placing large cabbage leaves on your head and neck.

I can smell like garlic or like cabbage. Great.

Well, at least I know that I’m in good company:  Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Cervantes, Tschaikovsky,  Lewis Carroll, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elvis Presley, and President John F. Kennedy just to name a few migraineurs in history.

And the good news is that they don’t cut holes in your head any more.

More later sooner. Promise. Peace.

*All images are from NASA’s Spitzer or Hubble space telescopes, which are part of NASA’s Great Observatory Program.
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