There’s a story for you, that was to teach me the nature of emotion, what emotion can do, given favorable conditions.

tearsofjoyThe second time I had coffee with Miranda, my teacher/mentor, I told her the story of when I found out I got into J school. I wrote about it in my other blog but I still need to transfer the entries over. My old-school readers probably remember.

It was a perfect storm of emotional triggers for me: my father was being particularly awful, and I wasn’t so great myself that Christmas, 2013. I had only been clean for two weeks when my father and I had a huge fight in Chicago and I managed to run off, take a bus and then a cab from downtown to my old hood on the West Side, walk a couple miles to Chicago and Homan — “my” corner from when I lived there in 2011, I tried dozens of corners before deciding that was the best and most reliable location — score heroin, buy needles at the Walgreens at Western and Chicago, shoot up in a coffeeshop bathroom a block away, and meet my family nearby, in less than two hours. I think I told them I was having coffee with a friend. I remember crouching on the floor in this icky bathroom trying to hit one of my tiny wrist veins for about 20 minutes while I ignored my mother calling me over and over.

Two days later M and I had run out of the heroin we bought… had just enough to make it through a big dinner with family and family friends without getting dopesick. And then I got the email on my phone.

It still makes me almost cry thinking about it. I can’t remember the actual sequence of events, I only remember flashes. Seeing the email — not really reading it, but seeing enough flashes of individual words that I could comprehend that they had let me into journalism school — my heart was already racing so fast by the time my shaking hands managed to open the email on my phone — when your hands are shaking that much, opening an email is very difficult… I completely lost my hearing, tunnel vision, all I could see was the email on my phone. I showed it to M, and that’s when I started crying, quiet at first, then louder… I cried for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes… I have no conception of how long it was. I just remember wiping my snot on M’s shoulder, burying my face in his sleeve, sobbing harder than I have ever cried in my life.

When I told Miranda about that scene, she asked me, “So was J school everything you thought it would be? Was it as good as you were expecting?”

“Yes,” I said, “110 percent. Not every single class, but overall, it’s been better than I even expected.” She seemed happy with that answer. I had trouble not breaking down in tears just telling her the story, so I wasn’t able to get many words out about how J school has helped me more than almost anything other than M’s emotional support. At some point, the support of people who love you isn’t enough, you need validation from people who *don’t* love you. At least I do. I’m a high maintenance recovering junkie, I guess.

Her question surprised me. It had never occurred me to judge my experience at J school. It wasn’t even about the school, really, at all. It was about proving to myself that I’m not a failure.

The real question is, did J school, or anything else, for that matter, give me the self-worth I craved? Yes, maybe. In the sense that I don’t think of myself only as a worthless junkie anymore, yes, for sure.

That evening at the restaurant, as M led me out, because the family friends and the waitstaff were getting concerned for my well-being, since I physically couldn’t stop crying no matter how hard I tried, I clung to his shoulder, completely blinded by tears, sobbing as I walked, hardly able to walk at all. The texture of the jacket he was wearing that night, a Carhartt waterproof canvas jacket, tan, dirty. Leaving a layer of snot on the waterproof coating. My hands gripping his arms, feet shuffling along through the ice and snow, slipping and stumbling toward the car that seemed to be 100 miles away.

tearsofjoy3The dark clear night sky, shining stars and glittering snow, my bare hands going numb from the cold, as waves of joy and relief vibrated through my body. Probably the most intense physical/ emotional experience I’ll ever have.

It wasn’t about school, a future career, or any of that, it was just the sudden realization that it would be possible for me to change. That I didn’t have to be stuck in addiction forever. One tiny step toward whatever it is that I would do after my addiction.

I thought about everything I’d been through, not just the addiction, but the rootless, aimless life I’d had, full of failure and trauma and a litany of woes. It all flashed in front of my eyes like I was about to die, scene after scene of awful memories, surprisingly vivid, but also distant, like I was finally putting those things to rest. One and a half years later, I’m about to graduate, but that moment still feels like it happened five minutes ago. I’m still there, sobbing like a prisoner granted reprieve.

I wonder if I will ever experience relief that visceral again. I hope I never have to.

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how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach

I just realized I can stop counting how many years I used heroin.

It’s a little confusing, anyway. I first tried it July of 2002 in Chicago, but didn’t like it at the time. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 2002 in Portland when I was 22, when my 37-year-old neighbor Kurt, who was in love with me, relapsed on heroin out of heartbreak that I wouldn’t be with him, and gave me some… that was when it grabbed me. Trying it a second time was mostly because of that thing I used to have, that part of my personality I have had to carve off myself like a sickness… the part that used to make me try any drug that was in front of me, do anything that was possible, try to reach the farthest corners of experience. Unfortunately, the instruments I’ve been forced to use in order to become free of that thing were very blunt and I ended up carving off parts of my heart and mind as well.

It took me a long time to realize why I didn’t like heroin in July 2002: I was on a break from school, with my cousin and friends, generally happy. The second time I was back at Reed and buried in mountains of reading. I remember sitting on Kurt’s futon on the floor while he watched The Young Ones, reading the Communist Manifesto for my humanities class. At the beginning, then, I could still stay awake and read or be productive. That gave me this false sense that heroin was a good thing. I had done plenty of coke and meth trying to finish the hundreds of pages of reading I had to do each day, or the long papers about postmodernism and anthropology, but I didn’t like the jittery side effects and sleeplessness.

I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure what went through my mind as I read the Communist Manifesto flying high on heroin that day, the second day in my life I had ever tried it (and later Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, The Making of the English Working Class, Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morality, Flaubert, Kafka, Baudelaire, Woolf, and so many more), what I was probably thinking, was that I had finally found the magic substance that would help me painlessly finish all my reading without the hovering anxiety and panic that never left me no matter how much of my life I sacrificed to finish the work.

Another thing I realized years later, when it was much too late: the only students I knew who graduated at Reed fell into two camps. First, the ones who didn’t care as much as I did, didn’t mind not finishing the reading, chose their sanity over learning — it was still possible to get good grades and not do ALL the assigned reading, I was just fanatical about it, as I am with everything.

The second camp were simply better students than I was, less flighty, less prone to random acid trips and adventures, willing to sacrifice their personal relationships and other features of normal life. My ex, Byron, the religious studies major who speaks Arabic and a few other languages, who is a professor at a fancy college now, was like that. He was better at not having any distractions, never doing anything “for fun,” never going anywhere other than campus and home. He read on the bus, over meals, directly before and directly after we had sex, as soon as we woke up, even while walking. The only semblance of a social life he had was me, and his best friend from home, Mitch, who moved out to live with him in Portland from their hometown in the Deep South. Byron also had iron concentration and somehow his own free-floating anxiety didn’t hinder his ability to read during all his waking moments.

(Mitch was a classical music composer who would pore over orchestral scores at the breakfast table. If anyone was more committed to the intellectual life than Byron, it was him. He lived on raw oatmeal for a time when he was living in a hostel-type place with no kitchen, in order to save rent money, so that he could go to Cal Arts. He dragged his mattress down the sidewalk from one fleabag tenement to another, in the pouring rain in November, to save money on renting a moving truck. The tortured genius kind of commitment. Mitch introduced me to Anne Carson, one of my favorite writers, for which the entire relationship with Byron was completely worth it.)

I unfortunately fell in a middle group — not organized or focused enough to do what Byron did, but not pragmatic enough to see that the only way to graduate would be to relax my own standards.

My awesome writing teacher/mentor, Miranda, was talking to me about Reed one day, and was shocked to hear everything I just wrote. I told her if I had a child, I would never send them to college there. On paper, the only school in the country that doesn’t do grade inflation (google it), this bastion of intellectualism, sounds amazing. In reality, a lot of my friends ended up not graduating and a lot of us became drug addicts or picked up other mental health issues.

When I worked at reunions there for a few summers, they told me that Reed is the only school that allows anyone to come to the reunion, even if they didn’t graduate. I met people at the reunion who had only been at Reed for a semester and had dropped out or transferred to UO or somewhere else, because they couldn’t handle the work. And these were smart people, people who had ended up with amazing intellectual careers, were doctors or lawyers or professors or archeologists traveling the globe. The reunion organizers said that if they only invited graduates, the attendance would be so sparse that it wouldn’t be worth having an event at all. That should have made me realize I had to relax my own standards if I wanted to succeed there, but I didn’t understand until too late.

That Thanksgiving, 2002, I was immersed in my readings about communism, interspersed with watching Kurt cook up shots of heroin in his kitchen, then I would lean over the stove and look away so he could inject it into my arm. I was still terrified of needles. I didn’t learn how to inject myself until two years later. But after about a week, Kurt decided to stop. Even he was sensible enough to see that both of us were getting strung out (I was blissfully oblivious, didn’t even understand what withdrawal was or what addiction would mean). When I stopped, nothing happened, and I went on my merry way, assuming that heroin had no more power over me than any other drug I had tried.

The only difference was this lingering taste in my mouth, this faint pull, thoughts that would pop into my head, the desire to rhapsodize through several overwrought blog entries as I attempted to describe The Rush.

New Year’s Eve I was on acid and convinced Kurt to buy more heroin. New Year’s Day 2003 I had my first overdose, and Eva banned heroin from the house after seeing me almost die.

Fast-forward to March 2003, I was wandering downtown with a kind-of-friend who was trying to buy meth (long story) and somehow we found a heroin dealer instead, and I bought some. I was in the midst of studying for and taking the qualifying exam to be an anthropology major. The qual was a series of essay questions you had to answer to get to your senior year. Sounds easy, but the stress it caused was similar to what grad students go through approaching their thesis. You had to write about 30 pages in a weekend, and it was the only thing at Reed where the deadline was solid, no late work allowed. Many people I knew who had been anthro majors since their freshman year didn’t pass. They had to take it again the next semester. I’m sure they were less anxious even after failing the qual than I was studying for it. My self-doubt knew no bounds and I was convinced I would fail and never get into grad school. Funny how those things become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I had only been an anthro major for about 3 months. I had a revelation in September 2002 that I didn’t care about art anymore (my original major). It seemed pointless, especially after 9/11, too inward-focused. I found that if I just added one extra semester and took four anthro/history/sociology classes for each of the next three semesters, I could graduate with an anthro degree. People advised me against it, told me that stacking up all those reading-heavy classes at once would be too much work, but as usual, I didn’t listen.

But by spring 2003 I was consumed with anxiety that I wouldn’t pass the qual. So much anxiety that I couldn’t finish my reading, I would sit there staring at the page, unable to read even a single sentence. After I bought heroin that day in downtown, I was suddenly able to concentrate. I got caught up on a semester worth of dense anthro and history reading in about two weeks. (I was taking Semiotics, Anthropology of Eastern Europe, Anthropology of Europe, and Humanities. The reading I was required to do was not humanly possible.) At first, like I said, the somnambulant features of heroin weren’t as present as they were later.

The weekend of the qual rolled around in early April. I picked up the questions on Friday morning. We had until Monday to finish it. There were four or five questions, some of them had readings attached. One of them was “What is culture?” That question is more complicated than it sounds. I was trying to not do heroin but I spend Friday and Saturday unable to concentrate or do any work. Everything felt dark and gloomy and sad. I was listening to Calexico and staring at my cup as my tea got cold and the sun went down. I realize now that the gloom was the first inkling of heroin withdrawal.

By Saturday evening I convinced Kurt to take me out to score some heroin. I wrote the entire 30+ pages on Sunday, took the bus to Reed on Monday to drop it off at 9 am. I remember walking back home, I realized that my skinniest jeans were falling off my body. I had to hold them up as I walked. These are jeans that I haven’t been able to fit into for about 10 years now (I have kept them just to remind myself of how tiny I was at the time). I weighed less than 110 pounds, 20 pounds less than I do now. I had lost at least 10 pounds just in the few weeks I had done heroin.

I didn’t stop doing heroin after that. I passed the qual. A lot of others didn’t. Was it worth it? Hell fucking no.

A month later Reed found out I was on heroin and forced me on medical leave, and my life was essentially over for the next decade. All the countries and states I traveled to, all the people I met, the assholes I dated, all the jobs I had, the books I read, the millions of words I wrote, the skills I learned, the wishes and dreams I crushed daily, none of it filled that hole.

I lost Eva, too. I probably lost her that day I overdosed and almost died on New Year’s Day 2003. Slowly, very slowly, she slipped away, even when she was right in front of me, even when we were living in the same apartment, the same room. Or rather, I slipped away.

I was never sure whether I should count my addiction from July 2002, Thanksgiving 2002, New Year’s 2003, or April 2003. As various months and years passed, I would hope and pray that my addiction would finish on a round number of years. Not that I cared about the number, but I thought maybe I had an internal clock that was forcing me to be an addict for two years, five years, eight years, ten years… once I passed ten years I lost hope. Funny that I got clean right after that. January 2014 was almost 11 years after April 2003. 10 and a half years. I guess I don’t count it from those first few times, because I was able to stop without withdrawal. But I would adjust the start date depending on what year and month it was. In July 2007 I thought, wouldn’t it be perfect if I got clean right now, exactly five years after I first tried it? Of course that didn’t happen. Every potential anniversary passed, some with more hope than others, all with the same result.

Anytime the month lined up with one of those start dates, I would write the story in my head, from my future self: “I finally got clean in April 2013, exactly ten years after my first withdrawal.” Or whatever. Ten years seemed like it would be such a nice number of years. I don’t know why I thought the number of years would motivate me to get clean any more than losing my best friend or losing my identity.

I was looking out the window this morning and adding up the years. I had this moment where I thought “Shit, it’s 2015 now — that means I’ve been a heroin addict for 12 years… or 13 years, if I start counting in 2002… what the fuck? I’ve been telling people 11 years… shit, not more years of failure.”

I had this moment of panic, that feeling I used to have of the clock running out, my life unfurling before my eyes as I sat handcuffed staring at a flame, a spoon, and a needle.

Like in Plato’s cave, I was forced to watch the shadows on the wall, while the Real was just out of sight, my lighter and glowing cigarette illuminating the apparitions that were my entire existence.

Then I realized I can stop counting.

something shattered inside the words we use… to have wanted a story, whereas life alone was enough

Even after almost two years back at college, and six months clean (or 15 months, if I add the time before my August relapse), I still feel like an intruder in this world. Like an undercover agent. And since no one knows who I am, they say things around me that they wouldn’t say otherwise. Yesterday in class I learned a journalistic convention that made me so angry I had to restrain myself from outright yelling at my classmates.

I’ve always been able to pass as “normal” — I kept all my teeth, I almost always had a place to sleep (even if that place was sometimes a car or a motel), I had enough nice-ish clothes from the times when I was making more money, and I still talked like someone who grew up in the suburbs. In 2008-9 I reached my lowest point, and I was too depressed to shower more than once a week, but my hoodie and jeans were still relatively clean and I would put a hat over my dirty hair. I would still get whistles and propositions, so I guess I still looked okay.

Now that I’m clean and “better,” my appearance and demeanor have made it almost too easy to slip back into the “real world.” Back when I first started doing heroin, I marveled at how I had spent my whole life in the “real world” and now I had found this thing that opened up a whole other side to life — like Alice stepping through the looking glass. A whole world where nothing matters, no one cares, there are no goals or aspirations, only the all-encompassing high. You think nothing can separate you from your own personality, but heroin can. The effect was one of a disorienting scale shift. Everything I had known became tiny, irrelevant, forgettable. I had to create a neologism for the world I lived in until age 22 — I called it the “real world.”

The darkness was just as big as the real world, if not bigger. Once you find that you have a choice whether to live or to fall into a deep waking sleep, everything changes. You might think you’d miss the good parts of your life, but what really happens is that you will be so glad the bad parts are gone — no more anxiety, depression, worry, disappointment — that you decide you can live without the joy and personal relationships and hopes and dreams. I didn’t do it consciously, I struggled against it, but the darkness won.

And now I’m back in the real world. But I’m still on the border. Some days I almost forget that the darkness is there. Some days I can feel it more, can feel that everything in this real world is a chimera, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

It bothers me how easy it is for me to pass as someone who wasn’t injecting heroin and sleeping with strangers for money for 11 years. I feel like I should be covered in scars, like my skin should be a different color. People treat me like they would treat anyone, but I wish I got more credit for making it to class every day, which still shocks me.

You’d be surprised how often stuff like drug addiction and prostitution comes up in class. Last term a guy in class told us how he had written an article about escorts, and everything about his tone was mocking, even though he didn’t mean it to be. He called the women “whores” and ridiculed them for asking to be paid for the interviews. He explained it like they were just too low class to know anything about journalism. I kept my mouth shut.

Then there are the casual jokes about “whores” and “junkies” that seem to come out of nowhere. I can never think of those people the same way again. A kid in my Russian class made some offhand disparaging comment about “whores” last year, and it still colors the way I look at him. “Oh, so you believe some human beings are worthless… noted.”

Yesterday was by far the worst prejudice I’ve encountered, though. Mostly because it exposed a layer of entrenched classism in journalism that I guess I was hoping wasn’t there.

It was in my interview class — a whole class about how to conduct interviews with sources. One of the things that comes up every class period is the ethical issue of changing quotes. Non-journalists probably think that ethics dictate you never ever change a quote, but that’s not how most media organizations operate. You are allowed to take out stuff like “um” and “like” and “I don’t know.” You can cut off parts of quotes and some editors allow you to splice together sentences from different parts of the interview to make a coherent statement. This all exists on a continuum, with some reporters arguing that nothing should be changed, not even the “like”s, and some arguing that you can pretty much change anything as long as the meaning is the same.

The hard part is deciding where on that continuum you fall, and what rules you will use to decide what to change. Most freshmen students start out in the “no changes” camp and slowly relax their rules when they see how difficult it is to do interviews and how rarely people speak without random interjections. My professor, John, is on the far side of the continuum, believing that as long as you preserve the person’s meaning, it’s okay. Most journalists will put something in brackets if they need to add a word for clarity — like, “then I started using [heroin].” The New York Times even uses a bracket to show that a certain word wasn’t actually the beginning of the sentence. Like, “[T]hen I started using [heroin].” That way you know if part of the sentence has been cut. John says you can just leave out the bracket and write, “Then I started using heroin,” without indicating that you are adding words for clarity.

Where it starts getting difficult — and where I have to struggle not to yell at people — is when there are issues of grammatical errors. You’d be surprised how many journalists argue, with no awareness of how hypocritical they are, that if a doctor or lawyer makes an error, you should change it, but if a person living in a trailer park does, you should leave it. My teacher, John, and three other people were arguing this. That if the person is “educated” you should give them the benefit of the doubt and make their speech grammatically correct.

The example was a doctor in one of my classmate’s article who had said, “some people that…” instead of, “some people who…” [“That” is only used for non-humans; “who” must be used when referring to a person.] My classmate had left the error in the quote. John said she should have corrected it.

I’m okay with some reporters having a more liberal view of quotes than I do — if they do it across the board. Which they don’t. These three students argued that if you’re talking to a “homeless person” you should leave in the errors and maybe even leave in the “like”s and “um”s. I was so angry that I think my face turned red. If this doctor is so educated, why did he make the error? In reality, no one talks without errors, not even grammar nazis like me. I constantly say “me and so-and-so” when I’m talking. Very few people talk in coherent, error-free sentences. My professor found grammatical errors in almost all of my classmates’ articles (not mine!) — if a group of journalism students can’t even get their grammar correct in their written assignments, how are we supposed to expect other people to talk that way?

John and these three classmates were arguing that in the case of the homeless person, you want to preserve their “dialect” — essentially, preserve the features of their speech that make them sound lower class. But if a card-carrying member of the elite makes a mistake, we should change it — we’re all friends here, up in the vaunted world of white collar jobs and college educations. It makes me so fucking angry and so fucking sick that these people can’t see how classist this is. What if that homeless person has a college education but has fallen on hard times? “Educated” is a word my classmates kept throwing around, which they seemed to think was a hard and fast category that could never intersect with being homeless or speaking with grammatical errors.

At first I thought I was hearing them wrong or that they hadn’t thought it through carefully enough — but they continued to argue with me and the other sane people, that treating interview subjects differently based on their perceived class is perfectly reasonable. I am still so angry it’s difficult for me to articulate why. It seems so self-evident to me why this is wrong, but I said most of what I’m saying in this blog entry, while looking into their eyes, and they still didn’t get it. I started to wonder if I’m crazy, wonder if a majority of reporters would show this shocking prejudice.

And I wonder what they would say if they found out about my past. In this class, I happen to be at or near the top in both writing skill and knowledge of grammar, just based on my grades, my professor’s questions about grammar and writing, and how few of my classmates know the answers. That’s okay, I’m 15 years older than them, I’ve had a lot more practice. But what if they knew I was a “whore” and a “junkie” less than two years ago, that I was even homeless briefly? If I made an error in an interview, would they change it, or leave it in to preserve my exotic low-class “dialect”? How the fuck do you put people in these categories?

I wrote my article based on an interview I did with another escort. I actually thought it was kind of boring. She didn’t have any scary stories where she feared for her safety — you’d be surprised how few escorts have been in actual danger. She’s a heroin addict, has a three-year-old son who lives with her parents, and is pregnant with the child of an unknown client. Only the last of those facts seems shocking to me. Junkies who have lost custody of their children were everywhere back when I was using.

But my professor praised me for getting such an unusual interview subject, and said, “This is great, because of the 14 of us in this room, how many of us have been a heroin addict or a prostitute? None.”

I was sitting there, trying not to laugh or cry.

And my interview subject had made plenty of grammatical errors, and I had left in some of them, and John said nothing about those, didn’t suggest that I correct them like he had suggested changing the doctor’s quotes in the other article. Because this prostitute apparently had a low-class “dialect” that we wanted to preserve, like an anthropologist stalking an exotic tribe.

It almost makes me want to tell the class about my past, just to try to get through to them, to show them that these categories aren’t as solid as they think. It’s awfully hubristic to talk like this about homeless or lower income people, as though none of us might ever end up in a situation like that.

My writing class last term included me, the junkie/whore, as well as two kids whose mothers had been drug addicts and had been in and out of jail, and two girls who were working at chain stores putting themselves through college. The Hispanic kid from the bad neighborhood in L.A. who hasn’t seen his mother in years — who wrote one of the best essays in the class, a letter to his absentee dad that almost made me cry — regularly spoke in what people would call “black” vernacular. So, if I’m quoting him, is he “educated” or is it a dialect that will add color to my piece? What if the subject doesn’t want their quotes changed? What if they want to preserve their unique way of speaking, not sound like a politician, bland and boring?

The funny thing is, when this topic came up in that writing class last term, that L.A. kid was the only one in the class arguing that you SHOULD change the quotes of “educated” people but not lower class people. The kid who was in a gang at 14 and somehow got his shit together and made it to college, was arguing that it’s okay to correct doctors and lawyers but not homeless people. I guess it’s aspirational — we all want to believe that we are the educated ones, that we will get the benefit of the doubt, that if we are interviewed the reporter will make us sound like the smart people we are.

Well, I don’t want that. I don’t want anyone to smooth over my mistakes. I want them to see my scars.

“Yes, there are moments, like this moment, when I seem almost restored to the feasible. Then it goes, all goes, and I’m far again, with a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That’s where I’d go, if I could go, that’s who I’d be, if I could be.”

[Beckett]

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 people of the open wound

Why does writing cause so much more anxiety than other creative pursuits?

This question came to me while reading T Magazine last week, which had mini-profiles of a few writers. For those not in the know, T Magazine is the fashion/design supplement to the Sunday New York Times, which is included every month or so. I usually don’t read T because it is one of the most ostentatious offerings to the temple of lavish materialism, all surface and glitz. But I was flipping through this one because it was the Spring Design issue, and I have a weakness for architecture.

(First I encountered the Platonic form of those houses where you aren’t allowed to touch anything and every room looks like a hotel. This “renowned advertising provocateur” [?] keeps any sign of his own existence out of his NYC condo; his books and even his expensive art collection are hidden in closets and drawers. Even the bedroom is devoid of personal belongings. He said: “I didn’t want it to feel like a home. I wanted it to feel like a hotel.”)

But maybe T Magazine was trying to change its reputation from a confection of conspicuous consumption to something with more substance, because they included this feature about seven writers and where they work. That’s when I encountered Adam Thirlwell describing the room where he works as a “place of anxiety” and Tom McCarthy admitting, “It’s tempting to stare out of the window most of the day. Who am I kidding? That’s what I do.” Then there’s one of my favorite Riff columns in an old NYT Magazine, about self-doubt and writing, which contains this quote:

Because if I had to identify a single element that characterizes my life as a writer, a dominant affective note, it would be self-doubt. It is a more-or-less constant presence in everything I do. It is there even as I type these words, in my realization that almost all writers struggle in this way; that the notion of a self-doubting writer is as close to tautology as to make no difference, and that to refer to such a thing as a “struggle” is to concede the game immediately to cliché, to lose on a technicality before you’ve even begun.

He also refers to “the little voice in your head or the booming baritone in your gut that wishes you to know that what you are writing is entirely without value.” I started thinking, why is writing like this? I don’t know of any other creative activity that is so associated with anxiety. When I was a studio art major (painting, photography, drawing) or when I played in orchestra in high school, I never felt this way. I didn’t sit in front of a blank canvas obsessively cleaning my workspace rather than painting, I didn’t get to the darkroom and immediately remember something I just had to do because I was scared of developing photos, I didn’t dread going to orchestra practice — in fact, all of those activities were very enjoyable.

The problem with the other vocations I’ve tried (including anthroplogy and other non-creative fields) is that I was never sure I was good enough at them. But that over-arching lack of confidence didn’t infect the everyday level of actually doing the thing. I was perfectly capable of working on my art; I just didn’t think I was a great artist or that it was worth pursuing for the rest of my life. I didn’t have anxiety about music, I just didn’t like practicing my instruments enough to choose music as a career, and wasn’t sure I would ever be professional-level good. But it never even occurred to me to procrastinate working on art or music.

The strange thing is that writing is the only thing I’ve done where I do have the overall confidence that I am a good enough. I know I’m a good enough writer that I can make money off it. I know I can produce an amazing memoir. I never felt like this about art or music. My confidence in my writing borders on egotism. But it doesn’t help the daily activity of actually doing the writing. Down in the trenches, none of my confidence in myself as a writer helps me actually write without that sheer terror that is familiar to any writer.

I just googled “self-doubt” and “anxiety” with “writing” and found so many posts calling it a “cliche” or the “biggest problem for writers” that there’s no need to quote anyone else: Anyone who writes — or anyone who knows a writer — knows that writing and paralyzing panic are inextricably linked. This is not related to the concept of writer’s block, which I wrote about in my last entry. Whether I’m writing “for myself” (memoir or personal essays or blog entries) or not for myself (reporting and freelancing), I experience this overwhelming sense of dread and jittery apprehension. Even just thinking about writing makes me feel like I’m looking over a 500-foot cliff with no railing.

The worst part of journalism, for me, is the interviews, which are on a whole other level of panic that we won’t get into here. But I’ve found that even after the interviews are done and transcribed, working on writing the article — which for me is the “easy part” (ha!) — takes every ounce of willpower I possess. I know what I’m going to write, and once I sit down to do it, the writing itself comes out in regular intervals of sentences and paragraphs, but my brain is constantly telling me it isn’t any good. Sometimes when I make it to the end and submit the article, I’m able to relax and feel a little pride in my work — but a lot of times I end up hating what I’ve written, even if others (professors, editors, friends) tell me it’s great. I find this quote (from that Riff piece again) very accurate:

The following, for example, is a frequent enough occurrence in my professional life: I’ll pitch an editor with an idea for something I want to write about, and they’ll tell me to go ahead with it, and then I’ll straight away begin a process of deconvincing myself, of deciding that the article I’ve persuaded someone to pay me to write is actually not worth writing at all or that I’m not the person to write it. And at this point, of course, it’s too late to back out, and I have to go ahead and write it anyway; a whole routine that is very time-consuming and enervating in the extreme.

The fact that professional writers who publish stuff in the New York Times sound just as anxious than me, if not moreso, is not very comforting. Think about it: how many books or articles have you seen about the self-doubting writer? And how many have you seen about the self-doubting, panicked artist or designer or musician or actor? (Stage fright doesn’t count.) I can’t think of ever seeing something about a non-writer consumed with misgiving whenever they attempt to practice their craft.

I’ve found one of the most useful things about going to school for journalism is that it has forced me to write. Much of what I’ve learned is common sense or I could have found in a book, but having someone force me to write journalism has helped immensely. And once I wrote a few articles, I felt a little better knowing that I could do it. But the anxiety remains.

And it’s actually worse for my personal writing. I have more than five books about writing memoir, but I’ve barely read them. When you think about a project for more than 10 years, a project that encompasses everything you care about, most of the important events in your life, and a chance to find meaning in chaos — which you have used to justify all that misery, because “at least I have good stories, at least I can make a memoir out of it” — I’m not sure any writing project can approach that level of significance, and of course the more important the writing is, the more the terror devours me.

As I thought about why writing is like this, I realized that the storytelling, narrative aspect of writing, and its solitary nature, makes it almost the closest to the experience of living, compared with other creative acts. Movies and plays purport to imitate reality, but they require dozens of people and hours of practice before the finished product. Art and music evoke emotion but aren’t narrative.

Writing is like being alive — it’s like the stream of your thoughts. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles to disguise this feeling of being naked before God. No equipment is needed other than pen and paper (or laptop), and the end product is words, only words. In that sense, it’s more personal than anything else. It’s the result of one person, which means that only one person is responsible if it turns out badly. Some visual art is just as solitary, but the artifice can disguise the personal.

Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, there is nowhere to hide when all you have is words on a screen or page. When someone would tell me I needed to play a passage differently in orchestra, it wasn’t about me, it was just about needing to practice or correct a misreading of the music notes. When my art teachers gave me a mediocre critique on a painting or photograph, it was just a product of my hand, it wasn’t ME. But writing is only me. The closest thing to being inside my head. No wonder it’s so hard to start. Or finish.

“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.

greenshotguns
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. 🙂

turned my brown eyes blue

Last night I had maybe my favorite dream I’ve ever had. The part that haunts me is when I found myself in front of a mirror briefly. I almost didn’t notice, but just as I was turning away, an impression flashed through my mind. Something isn’t right, I thought. I turned back to the mirror and saw with a shock that my eyes were blue. I leaned forward, staring. They were not just blue but icy blue, so icy that the inner part, including the pupil, was blanched white.

In the very first instant that I saw my white-blue eyes, I knew that the change was a psychic wound from everything I had been through. I only remember vaguely the rest of the dream, but I can FEEL those eyes. They weren’t milky, they were glowing, pouring a blinding incandescence, not outward, but into myself, staining all of me with this radiant chill. Not reflected moonlight, not warm sunlight, but self-created starlight: cold, faraway, steady and eternal. White so white that it could never be another color again, light so bright it was bending time and space and curving around me and into me.

I couldn’t see actual rays, and it wasn’t like I had flashlights for eyes. It was light I could FEEL, that I knew was there behind those icy blue-white eyes. I don’t know what part of me in the dream had this “knowledge” that traumatic experiences could bleach brown eyes blue, but it felt so obvious, like there could be no other explanation. As I stared, I realized that I liked myself with bright icy eyes. I could have a staring contest with the sun and win. I could throw shadows across a room. I could illuminate my way through the darkness.

* * *

Lately I’ve been waking up incredibly early — 3 or 4 or 5 am sometimes, and no later than 7. Even though I go to bed at midnight or 1 or 2 am. I am wide awake by 4 and have to fight to get myself back to sleep so I don’t feel horrible by noon. The weird thing is that I *want* to get out of bed when I wake up at 4 am. Not like when I was dopesick and I was so restless my body would kick itself out of bed on its own accord while my mind begged to go back to sleep. Now the thoughts start and I want to get up and start reading or writing or doing whatever it is that I’m doing that day. It’s usually pitch black and then gets light a while later. My window by my desk faces east, and the sunrise is gorgeous.

Class doesn’t start until 11 am, and by that time I feel like I’ve already lived a lifetime. 2nd year Russian, five days a week. I dream in Russian sometimes. The other night I had a dream I was overhearing some native Russians speaking, and noticed errors in their speech, which made me feel better about when I can’t remember the genitive plural declension for сестра (сестёр) and брат (братев). (Words related to family are highly irregular, especially in genitive plural, which could be a metaphor for something, I guess…)

I’ve been clean for over a year. Well, I slipped last August, but only for a few weeks, so I decided it didn’t “count.” I’ve always thought it was really depressing that if you use for one day, you have to start the clock all over again. I was clean for 8 months before that and it didn’t seem right to erase all that.

Things were complicated. I tried to leave M, unsuccessfully, as it turned out. I tried to find a new place to live, couldn’t find anything I liked, and in the midst of that I was panicking more and more from working on the school paper… mostly it was the people I worked with. The editor I had a crush on graduated, and everyone else there sucked. The editor who replaced him, who worked directly above me, the person most responsible for my content, is maybe the worst writer I’ve ever encountered, with no sense for news, doesn’t even read the fucking news. She would tear my stories apart until they were unrecognizable, adding grammar and spelling errors, and even worse, changing the tone so my writing sounded cutesy and stupid like her writing sounded.

The clique-yness of the place drove me crazy, too. A whole bunch of mostly nerdy wallflowers have their first opportunity to be in an exclusive club, and take full advantage of excluding new people. “New” = I worked there for 10 months and even hung out with them socially a few times, was super friendly, and still felt excluded.

When I agreed to stay and work for the summer, they told me that my 45+ hours a week of UNPAID reporting work would be reduced to about 10 hours/week and I’d only have to write one story each week. Well, it turned out to be just as much work as during the school year. The two editors directly above me double-teamed to follow me around criticizing everything I did… I missed one day of work because of an awful hangover and had to get some big lecture and sign a “contract” that I wouldn’t miss any more days… meanwhile Ms. Awful Editor had missed over half our Sunday staff meetings and most weekdays because she kept going out of town for music festivals (EDM, puke. Why were 100 percent of my coworkers into EDM??).

The night after having to sign that “contract,” I relapsed. I was completely losing my mind with fear that I had gone through so much to go back to school and that somehow I wasn’t cut out for working in journalism. I couldn’t deal with my terrifying interviews and evil editors at the same time. I quit the paper and got clean again but September through December sucked. I was convinced my whole college degree would be for nothing.

Maybe it is… but this quarter I am taking a feature writing class, and my teacher, Miranda, is fucking amazing. I have to restrain myself from giving her a huge hug every day, and it’s a real struggle to not laugh at her jokes more than the rest of the class or answer every question or monopolize class time with my questions. She is a freelance writer who has written three books, two of them memoirs. She talks nonstop about how journalism isn’t dead and how we can make money writing. She’s the only professor I’ve had so far that didn’t spend every class period telling us we will never work in journalism because print is dead. She tells us realistically that we aren’t going to get rich writing, but that we can still make a living if we are creative about it.

Also, Miranda and I have been having coffee and discussing publishing my memoir. She tends to be overly excited and positive about everything, so it’s hard to gauge what my chances really are, but she has taught a memoir workshop at a writing conference for years, and seems to think that my story has a real chance of getting published. She told me that her agent would definitely take me, but that I could also try my pitch at this conference in August. She’s also been giving me advice about privacy issues. She actually changed her last name before her first memoir so that she wouldn’t run into issues with people recognizing her abusive father in the book.

I never know if people are just being dramatic, but when she asked me what my memoir was about, and I told her, she said, “REALLY? ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?” about 20 times in a row. That was when she gave me her agent’s name. She advised me to use a full-name pseudonym for both my memoir and any personal writing I come up with. I never really thought about publishing personal essays, but she told me that her students that end up published during college or after graduation usually start with personal essays, first-person narratives either about their life or something they experienced. Shit, I could write that stuff in my sleep. That’s what I’m already good at.

We are going to move to the Bay Area after I graduate so M can work in restaurants, and I’m going to make millions with my memoir. /sarcasm. But I stopped feeling like the degree is pointless. I would have gone through four years of college just to take this one class with Miranda. Anyway, I’m so close now. I’m going to walk in the spring, take two more classes over the summer, and then I’m done. It only took me 15 years to get through college.

I wrote the first chapter of my memoir. It’s about that day those cops found me overdosed and one of them said to the other, “Let’s shoot her up with Narcan to see if she’s a junkie.” It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. Working on the memoir has made me see that it’s very different from blog writing. You have to use suspense, pacing, surprise, dialogue, and all that shit I thought non-fiction writers didn’t have to think about. It’s amazingly cathartic, though. Even though I wrote about most of this at the time, it’s different writing something I intend to be published. Like I’m writing the definitive version and can finally close the door on each thing I write about.

M says I should divide it up into multiple books — I surely have enough material already to fill six volumes, the My Struggle of a female American junkie. And there’s enough I haven’t written about — not just stuff I didn’t write about at the time, but feelings, description of the characters, physical details, and so on — to fill another six. But this is one book. It’s one story. The last 15 years are one story arc. It’s a classic riches to rags to [spiritual] riches story. I had everything, I destroyed it, and then I got back a different everything.

* * *

a.baa-Nature-eyeAfter I had that dream, I googled “turned my brown eyes blue.” I could have sworn that was a phrase, an idiom, something I had heard before. It turns out that it’s a country song from 1977, but that’s about it. And in the song it’s only about a broken heart, with “blue” as a metaphor for sadness.

That’s not what it was like in my dream at all. My eyes weren’t a gloomy blue, they were a searing, shining white-blue, like burning ice.

Like cold so cold that it hit the other side of the spectrum. That this violates all laws of physics doesn’t change that I can feel it is true.

Frozen into light. The pain that turned my brown eyes ice-blue, and they burn.

They burn.