When my idol left it broke. My back it broke my legs it. Broke clouds in the sky broke. Sounds I was. Hearing still hear.

her favorite flower as a childLast night I dreamed about Eva again. I dream about her at least once a week, usually more. Some of the dreams are amazing, like the one where we had on dresses made out of tiny lights (not like LED, something more glowy) and we were dancing on a roof with flowers that also glowed.

Most of the dreams are upsetting. Usually she dies and then I spend the dream consumed by regret.

Last night’s dream was more complex and subtle, though even more meaningful. She was helping me move to New Orleans. For some reason it was a big secret, we had to leave in the middle of the night and take a lot of weird precautions. (This reminds me of when she helped me run away from L., her boyfriend at the time, who was so psychotically angry at me for no reason, because he believed I hated men/him, when really I was just trying to stick up for Eva and not be a doormat in response to his abuse and his insistence that I give him all the money I was making at the political job where we were working. One night he started to completely lose it and she feared for my safety, so before he got back from the bar we came up with an escape plan for me. I have a flash of a memory of running diagonally across El Camino Real around midnight on a damp spring night, with her small green Oscar de la Renta suitcase she’d bought at a thriftstore, hastily packed with a few days of clothing and $80 she put in my hand, looking over my shoulder as I ran to see if he had gotten back to the motel yet, running to the bus stop at the corner and taking the bus to the CalTrain station, shivering into a couple hours sleep on a bench, wrapped tight in my jacket that my cousin N. had given me, that belonged to her best friend Jan who had shot herself the year before, the black coat had a plush lining and a fake fur collar, but even San Jose is cold in March at 3 am, then killing time with Denny’s coffee until dawn, then the train to San Francisco. I could never convince her to leave him. No wonder I’m still unreasonably afraid of being cold.)

Maybe in the dream I was reliving that night, but trying to take her with me this time. When we got to New Orleans, she helped me move into my apartment. I woke up the next morning and she was gone. The memory loss I experience in real life happened in the dream — I took my camera to the store to get some photos printed from my trip, and as I was looking through the photos on the store’s computer screen, I saw a series of images that I didn’t remember from real life.

My memory is like that — I’ll completely forget things that happened just last night, or even a few hours ago. I have several theories for why it’s so bad — MUCH worse than my memory loss when I was actually doing heroin! Most of my theories have to do with PTSD and having to compartmentalize my feelings when I was escorting, since I hated it so much it took every fiber of my being to keep going when I needed the money. By the end I was having detailed fantasies about killing my clients.

Anyway, back in the dream, I was flipping through my photos from the night before, and saw images of Eva and me, like flipbook, one taken every few seconds. I saw us walking down the stairs from my apartment, in frozen still images, through the entry way of my building, selfies of us kissing goodbye, and then I had taken a video of her walking away, pulling her roller suitcase, opening the door, disappearing into the dark. I couldn’t remember why she left.

The part of the dream that struck me most was at the very end. This part of the dream would seem heavy-handed with symbolism if I were writing fiction. Eva had left me a gift back in my apartment, the quilt she sewed in 1999. When we first met, freshmen at Reed, she had a very painful breakup with her first love. We bonded over our tendency toward obsessive and all-consuming love, and I would read her passages in my diary from when G. broke up with me, to try to show her that it would get better (not that I was all that healed either). We had a lot of fun that year, but it was only the first in a long line of traumatic experiences for both of us, and she was battling serious depression.

Somehow that year she got the idea to make a quilt that symbolized her ongoing recovery. I don’t remember anymore why a quilt, or what made her think of the design, but it was ingenious. There were only two colors, dark blue and white, each with a tiny, pretty blue and white floral pattern, like antique wallpaper. She always liked blue and white, and her taste was a little more girly than mine, though our aesthetics would meet, cross, divide, converge, and meld over the years. I can no longer remember what I would have liked before I met her, which part of my taste is mine and which is hers.

The quilt design was simple: it was essentially stripes of varying widths creating a gradation from blue to white, starting with a wide dark blue stripe, then a narrow white one, a slightly less wide blue one, a slightly wider white one, and so on until the other side, where there was a very thin blue stripe and then a very wide white one. It was supposed to symbolize how her depression and grief — the dark blue — would gradually get smaller, until happiness — the white — would overtake it and triumph. A dark blue border ran around the outside, and the back was dark blue. Amazingly, in between our mountains of homework, she actually measured it, cut it all out, pinned it, and if I remember, started hand-sewing it. When she went home for break, her mother or a relative helped her sew it on a sewing machine. The quilt lived on her bed ever since; for all I know it’s still there. Besides being symbolic, it was beautiful.

Back to the dream, and the most important and heavily symbolic part: As I was looking at the quilt and wondering why she’d left it for me, I noticed that it wasn’t finished: there was a section that had never been sewn, where the fabric and backing was still pinned together with dozens of straight pins. There were many more pins than would actually be necessary for holding together the simple striped panels — pins over every inch of the fabric, the sharp ends exposed.

I stared at it and couldn’t figure out how I’d never noticed before that it was held together by pins. Hadn’t it been in her room that whole time, hadn’t I sat on it, hadn’t we used it to cuddle when we were on drugs sometimes? How had I never been stuck by a pin? And why was it never finished?

We recently had a communication that was upsetting to me, and it seems obvious to me that this is related. But I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean.

The untranslatable word тоска, as described by Vladimir Nabokov: “Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness. “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. At the lowest level it grades into ennui. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

When my idol left it broke.

My back it broke my legs it.

Broke clouds in the sky broke.

Sounds I was.

Hearing still hear.

[anne carson]


“the only thing i have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing”

I have experienced several reasons not to write in my life… writer’s block has never been one of them. I’ve never even understood the concept of writer’s block, especially for someone who wants to be a writer. Why would you want to write if you don’t actually want to write?

hypergraphiaI think I am infected with hypergraphia, actually — it is a condition Dostoyevsky supposedly had, and it is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to write, coupled with extremes of emotion and hyper-sensitivity, a possible connection to bipolar, and a definite connection to temporal lobe epislepsy. While I don’t have epilepsy, I had seizures as a child and had an EEG, but they never found the reasons for my seizures and blackouts.

Hypergraphia and writer’s block are influenced by the same part of the brain, two extremes of the same impulse, like turning the switch on or off. Alice Flaherty, who wrote a book on hypergraphia and writer’s block, describes how people with hypergraphia have too much temporal lobe activity, which makes them want to write, and not enough frontal lobe activity, which puts the brakes on the urge, making the writer edit and pare down their output. People with writer’s block have the opposite problem: too much frontal lobe inhibition making it difficult to get the words out. Since low frontal lobe activity is also associated with things like addiction and lack of willpower, we can be fairly certain that my frontal lobe is limping along, half dead, while my temporal lobe is gunning the engine and making me want to write.

The problem lately is that I know if I sit down to write anything “for myself” (i.e. not for school) I am afraid I won’t be able to stop. I have so much planned out in my head and I’m dying to write it, but I don’t have time. I’m trying to finish all my classes as soon as possible so I can graduate and get on with my life. One consequence of my addiction, I think, is the inability to do more than one thing at once — and by “at once,” I don’t mean multitasking. I mean that while I’m in school, it’s very hard for me to concentrate on anything else, even when the schoolwork is done for that day. I can’t organize my thoughts enough to juggle four difficult classes, chores, shopping, money, etc… and writing, too. I’m dying to be done with school so I can start working on my memoir for real.

I just finished a 13-page research paper about Wikileaks for my investigative journalism class… took my Russian final this morning… finished the final draft of the article for my feature writing class on Thursday… now I just have to do some writing assignments for my data journalism class, and I’ll be done with this term. The last two terms I only took two classes — last spring I was too busy with the school paper, and last fall I ended up dropping a class that was SOOO boring (newspaper editing… thank god I know that I can never be a copy editor!). So taking four now seems like a crazy amount of work.

Next quarter I’m taking Russian again, a class about interviews in journalism, a psych class for a science credit, and an anthro class for another science credit. The anthro class is about the role of storytelling in ancient societies and how it influenced the evolution of humans… it sounds super interesting. I was looking into the anthro department and it looks like I have so many anthro credits from Reed that if I just take one more over the summer, I can do a minor! If I stuck around for one more year of Russian, I could minor in that too… but I’m anxious to leave town.

my future shotgun house in nola 😉

Originally I was thinking of moving to Oakland, but since I last looked into moving there in 2011, the rents seem to have tripled. And San Francisco is such an island of privilege now… I started thinking about moving to New Orleans. Other than SF and NYC, it’s probably my favorite city in the country. The weather is warm, there’s tons of culture, and it would give me a chance to live somewhere I’ve always wanted to live, before I get too old to move around the country as much. I’m taking a trip there, actually leaving tomorrow, to see h0w viable that plan would be. The rents are really really cheap there — like as cheap as Portland 20 years ago — whereas Oakland is now several hundred dollars a month more expensive than Portland, for a 1BR.

I’m actually terrified to leave Eugene. Most of the time I’ve lived here I’ve been desperate to leave, and I still am, but it’s scary, too. This is the place where I finally got clean. Though I’m able to stay clean mostly effortlessly when I go up to Portland or other cities where I used to do heroin, it still makes me nervous to think about leaving here… not because I think I’ll relapse, but because my home here is so comforting. I didn’t realize it at first, but I used a lot of things about this place to rebuild by sense of safety and heal some of my PTSD. (not that it’s all healed, by any  means, but it’s better than it was last year.) Living in such a small, safe town really helped. Being able to come home to all my stuff and my cats and not having to worry about insanely expensive rent… I suppose not having to work helps a lot, too.

pinkshotgunThe fact that I am afraid to leave only makes me more determined to do so, because I know I don’t want to stay here, and I feel like I should get out as fast as I can before I become more entrenched. I’ve been here for almost two years now — this is by far the longest place I’ve lived anywhere since my apartment in Portland in 2000-2003.

Most of the time here I am scarily happy. Scary because I always feel like it’s about to disappear. I spend most of my time doing one thing I really enjoy, while looking forward to doing another thing I really enjoy. It’s kind of been blowing my mind.

I think this is how I felt before I became a junkie… it’s hard to remember, but I recall being really happy pre-heroin. Unlike most addicts, I didn’t start using because I was depressed. It was more of a personality problem, an identity crisis, a failure on my part to understand how reality and the world worked, anxiety partially corrected when I was 27 and had a startling revelation about the world: people don’t have to be perfect to be successful or happy.

So I guess I’m actually better off than I was pre-heroin. A lot of stuff that haunted me back then no longer bothers me because I have spent years correcting my ingrained beliefs. Even though I still have a ton of anxiety and unneeded worry, even a 10 percent change in that department seems to have a remarkably positive effect.

peony square_905I started a garden last year, and even though I’ve been too busy so far this spring to do much other than plant some seeds and repot a few things, I’ve been enjoying my lilies and peonies and other flowers coming up from last year’s roots. I trimmed about 3/4 of my roses off, and they are producing new leaves… they’ll probably flower soon.

The garden feels like the first time in a long time, maybe forever, that I’ve been able to enjoy the fruits of previous labor. I’ve felt like Sisyphus a lot… endless difficulties, endless striving, no reward. The few times I made progress with anything, I would skip town, quit the job, and go back to drugs.

I haven’t yet graduated or made a cent off writing, but all that work I did last year — picking up the trash and broken glass, pushing the huge dumpster off to the side, digging up the gravel parking lot that was our “yard” two feet into the earth, filling it in with potting soil, planting dozens of plants, watering and tending to them all summer — is paying off again, now, as spring arrives. I think life is supposed to be like this.

Well, I have to go pack for New Orleans… I need to figure out how to balance writing here and my memoir work with my schoolwork. It’s not that I don’t have enough time, exactly, but that I am literally afraid if I start writing, I won’t be able to stop. I’ve always had trouble with moderation, with the middle ground. But maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. 🙂