Dr. Strangedrugs, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying Because I Forgot What I Was Worried About (Part Two)

I’ve already gone blind while driving my parents to a sandwich shop.  It couldn’t possibly get any worse.

I’ve learned a few things in my life, and most of them are about statements like that.  Most of what I’ve learned about statements like that is this: do not make them.  Like, do not not not ever ever ever make them.  

I may not know much about the universe, except that most of it doesn’t make sense (like the fact that there are apparently like ten bagillion million earths out there, and the fact that the Internet finds the need to constantly tell me about that, as if I don’t have enough to worry about with two cats with severe separation anxiety and the fact that Kimye is reproducing and the fact that I can’t figure out how to keep my coffee pot clean), but if anything about the universe would make sense, it’s that somewhere, on this earth and on all ten bagillion million others, there’s some force that takes note of every single time someone says or even thinks that nothing could possibly get worse and is like, Challenge accepted.  Here’s a white shirt, a malfunctioning lid, and a boiling hot venti cinnamon dolce latte.  Oh, and some rickety-ass stairs.  You’re welcome.

Except, in my case, the universe didn’t give me a fancy coffee.  The universe gave me a Diet Coke (which would later give me kidney stones), a delicious sandwich (okay, that part was nice), two suddenly malfunctioning eyes (which, thankfully, didn’t impede my enjoyment of the aforementioned delicious sandwich), and a shady-looking (literally, since I couldn’t see and all) man sitting in the corner of the restaurant, where he was apparently thinking to himself, You know what?  This lovely Saturday afternoon is lovely and all, but what everyone really needs right now is AN IMPROMPTU BONGO JAM SESSION.

Listen: I’ll admit, it’s pretty terrifying to be driving down a busy street with your parents in the car and all of a sudden stop being able to see, since seeing is pretty necessary to driving and all (if you’re reading this and studying for your learner’s permit, I’m pretty sure that’s a question, and I’ve just given you the answer.  You’re welcome).  But nothing, perhaps nothing, is more terrifying than being blinded in a restaurant in which a man who you can’t even see has just decided that an impromptu bongo jam session is a good idea.  Because listen, impromptu bongo jam sessions are never a good idea, unless you’re a student at Sarah Lawrence College sitting on the lawn smoking a Bidi and drinking a Diet Snapple Trop-A-Rocka Tea and Vodka, in which case it’s probably a requirement for your performance art class.  But that’s the only situation in which an impromptu bongo jam session is appropriate.  Otherwise, you could be subjecting a temporarily blinded woman and her poor, innocent parents, who have recently been to a poetry reading she gave and honestly have therefore been through more than enough, to your unexpected, unrequested bongo playing when they just want to eat their delicious sandwiches and figure out why one of them has all the sudden gone blind in peace.

The whole thing was so insane and inhumane that at first I thought this was perhaps just something that was going to happen to me now, another unexpected consequence of taking an apparently not-so-fantastic medication: that I was the only one hearing bongos, just like I had, a few days before, suddenly lost my ability to traverse stairs in a manner appropriate to an adult woman, and maybe soon I would also start involuntarily giving snaps and wearing berets.  Then my mother said oh dear and I knew this was a much more dire situation than that.

I leaned over towards where the blur I now saw instead of her was sitting.  “Is that guy playing the bongos?”

“Yes, yes he is.”

“No, I mean, seriously.  He’s seriously playing the bongos.”

“Oh yes.  He’s playing the bongos.  I thought that was just maybe part of the restaurant?”

Why would I take my parents to a restaurant where someone played bongos?”

“I don’t know, you went to Sarah Lawrence.  Isn’t that a class requirement?”

She had me there, and so I looked around — or tried to look around — which is when I realized why being blinded in a restaurant when someone starts an impromptu bongo jam session is worse than being blinded while driving a car: you can’t see the fastest way out.  And even if you already know the fastest way out, there could be things like chairs and feet and small children standing between you and the closest available exit, and if you tripped over any of those things and/or people, it’d probably make a lot of noise and ruin any hope you had of making a speedy escape unnoticed by the bongo player, and that could be ten billion kinds of dangerous because if there’s one kind of person you don’t want to upset, it’s the kind of person who thinks it’s a good idea to sit in a random corner and randomly take out his bongos and then actually play them.

So my parents and I sat there, attempting to make small talk about how delicious our sandwiches were, while the bongo player finished his jam.  We clapped politely afterwards because we are Southern and it seemed like the right thing to do.  I think my mother even blessed his heart.  And we ate our sandwiches peacefully until my mother leaned over and said, Oh God.  He’s getting out his guitar. We have to get out of here, fast.

And that was the day I knew beyond question that some things in my life were going to have to change.

Dr. Strangedrugs, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying Because I Forgot What I Was Worried About (Part One)

It shouldn’t have surprised me that I went blind while I was driving.

I've told a few people this story, and a couple of times people have responded by saying Emily,* surely you're exaggerating, there's no way you actually went blind while driving.  Come on.  Don't be so dramatic.  To which I respond Thank you for the observation, Dr. Person's Last Name, is our hour up and who do I make the check out to? Except I didn't actually respond that way and instead took a sip of whatever I was drinking (Diet Coke) and cleared my throat and changed the subject by saying something like So tell me about your collection of beads again or Did you read that article in The Chronicle, which, by the way, is a good way to tell if I'm desperate. Anyway. I'm providing this photograph of how things looked at the time for reference, just in case you were about to use my real first name and naysay.* If people use my last name, I can always tell that they're either about to scold me unnecessarily or that they are my mother and are about to scold me necessarily.**** You know sh*t is real when I footnote a caption and then footnote a footnote.

I’ve told a few people this story, and a couple of times people have responded by saying Emily,* surely you’re exaggerating, there’s no way you actually went blind while driving. Come on. Don’t be so dramatic. To which I responded Thank you for the observation, Dr. Person’s Last Name, is our hour up and who do I make the check out to? Except I didn’t actually respond that way and instead took a sip of whatever I was drinking (Diet Coke) and cleared my throat and changed the subject by saying something like So tell me about your collection of beads again or Did you read that article in The Chronicle, which, by the way, is a good way to tell if I’m desperate. Anyway. I’m providing this photograph of how things looked at the time for reference, just in case you were about to use my real first name and naysay.
* If people use my last name, I can always tell that they’re either about to scold me unnecessarily or that they are my mother and are about to scold me necessarily.**
** You know sh*t is real when I footnote a caption and then footnote a footnote.

Given the string of bizarre health problems I’d been dealing with, the going blind part wasn’t a surprise at all, just the “while driving” part.  Though really it shouldn’t have been — given my luck, of course I would go blind, and of course it would happen while I was operating a motor vehicle – with my parents  inside of it — on a busy street in downtown Lexington.  One minute I was putting on my blinker to change lanes while telling my parents what kind of sandwiches the restaurant we were headed to served; the next minute, I was in the other lane, blinking furiously and trying to figure out why I couldn’t exactly see the other lane, while my parents tried to remember if my mom liked a certain kind of cheese.

I decided that things would go best if I pretended it hadn’t happened, or at least remained very, very calm.  This wasn’t the first sudden and bizarre medical anomaly I’d faced, and I’d found that in situations like going blind while driving one’s parents to a sandwich shop, a steady calm was a much better approach than sheer unadulterated panic (with or without attendant screaming).  I knew what to do when these sudden bizarre betrayals of the body – like, for instance, when my legs stopped working while I was trying to use them to walk up the stairs with a cup of coffee from Starbucks, for Christ’s sake, which is expensive, or when I woke up standing in the middle of my bathroom wearing a hat with a light bulb in my hand while my cat sat on the sink and blinked at me — but what I didn’t know then was why these things kept happening.

For years, I’d been dealing with an increasingly disobedient right leg.  At first, it just hurt and cramped up and fell asleep a lot.  Then “a lot” became “all damn night.”  Then “all damn night” became “all the damn time.”  Then “just hurt and cramped up and fell asleep a lot” became “felt as though I was wading in molten hot lava and seized up like it was its actual job and then refused to feel like anything, including, say, me running into the corner of a desk or in one awkward inexplicable instance a salad fork.”

It probably goes without saying that the point where one runs into the corner of a desk and doesn’t feel it is also the point when one thinks to one’s self Hm, perhaps I should go see a doctor about this.  Which I thought, and then I did.  And then my doctor was like Hey, you know, there’s this drug called Neurontin and even though it’s not technically for sciatica or whatever is going on with your leg, it will totally help because it helps ALL THE THINGS, and that’s SCIENCE, and I was like Say no more, SOLD, and dutifully filled my prescription and dutifully started up the steep road that climbed towards what they called “an optimally effective dose of Neurontin.”

And I dutifully stayed on that road even when it led me to sleepwalk in my plaid nightshirt and faux fur coat, even when I began to forget things like the fact that I needed to purchase milk and then to keep the milk I finally remembered to purchase in the refrigerator and not in my cabinets, and even when my leg actually got worse instead of better, as in oh my God WAY worse, as in holy crap there is no way I will ever be able to traverse the treacherous ice-covered sloped and cracked surfaces of this godforsaken ice-covered sloped and cracked campus without a cane way worse.

I was a good patient, and my doctors were good doctors, and I trusted them.  Since I trusted them, I trusted the pills that they gave me.  I trusted them when they told me that the problem wasn’t that I was taking too much of the medicine, but not enough.  I trusted them when they told me that the only solution was to up my dosage.  I trusted them when they said that they’d read the research, because they had, and it was research and research is supposed to be totally legit, so why shouldn’t we all have been so trusting?

Now, I and we all know why: the research was at worst faked, at least skewed.  Not only did Neurontin not work for unapproved uses, it actually did some really damaging things to people who took it for unapproved uses, like making them pass out and sleepwalk in nightshirts and faux fur coats and go blind while driving their parents to sandwich shops.

This is a photograph of the restaurant I was in at the time I went blind.  No, really.  This is it.  I'm adding it for the sake of verisimilitude and also to appease you because I'm about to end this on a major cliffhanger, so I'll now say sorry and you're welcome.

This is a photograph of the restaurant I was in at the time I went blind. No, really. This is it. I’m adding it for the sake of verisimilitude and also to appease you because I’m about to end this on a major cliffhanger, so I’ll now say sorry and you’re welcome.

Now, it’s pretty easy for me – well, and pretty much everyone with the Internet, since articles like this one are all over, or a television set, since like

every law firm in existence has a commercial about another Neurontin lawsuit — to read over the whole going-blind-while-driving story with a feeling of doom.  It’s kind of like watching a horror movie, only I’m the dumb teenage girl on spring break in a dark house on the beach who’s just heard a knock and is stupid enough to see who’s at the door.  Only it isn’t a person with a ski mask and a knife at the door, it’s a little yellow pill called Neurontin.  Though it’s just as scary, and makes me want to scream No, you idiot, never answer the door and NEVER TAKE THE LITTLE YELLOW PILL, especially for an unapproved use!

But I didn’t know any of that then.  All I knew was that I needed to somehow deliver my parents, myself, and my vehicle safely to our destination, and therefore I needed to remain calm.  I said to my father, Huh, I am not seeing well, because everyone knows that not using contractions means that you are calm, and he said What do you mean and I said Well, I cannot really see anything, again because obviously if you don’t abbreviate your verbs, you are fine.  Then my dad asked if I needed him to drive and I said no, which is, by the way, not the right answer to that particular question in that particular circumstance.

Somehow, miraculously, we made our way safely through downtown Lexington and some particularly perilous intersections and to the sandwich shop, where I said I am going to fix my contacts in the bathroom, because I’d apparently decided that maybe after fifteen years of wearing them every day they’d suddenly stopped working and made me blind.  I took out my contacts and put them back in again and then decided to try taking them out and putting them in the opposite eyes, just in case, before I figured out there wasn’t anything wrong with my contacts.  I was just blind, randomly and suddenly, now with my contacts in the wrong eyes, and the worst part was that it was really busy and I had no idea what to order and couldn’t see the menu, because I was blind and all, and everyone was getting angry.

And then the bongos appeared.

2012: The Year of Living Transparently (PART ONE)

PREFACE: So, I decided to write a year-end wrap-up, as usual.  So, I started writing.  And then I kept on writing.  And then I kept on writing again.  And then I was like, woah.  That’s a lot of writing.  So, because it’s a lot of writing, and because I am in an undisclosed location where the Internet is, like, terrible, and the couch is comfortable and there are a lot of channels on the television and at least one of them must be showing some kind of low-quality reality television marathon, I’ll probably post this in two parts.  Here’s the first part.  Also, here is the part where I wish you, dear reader, and all of yours, a happy and healthy New Year — because happy and healthy?  That’s what’s important.  Screw the rest.

I didn’t realize I was starting an experiment when I started out.  I just knew that I wanted to see, in 2012, what would happen if I tried living my life more transparently.  The Internet — with its social landscape and its capacity to grant every one who comes in contact with it the capacity to change who they are –  is one of my academic interests (yes, I just typed that, because I AM A PROFESSOR and all) and I wanted to see what would happen if I lived my life more openly online, more transparently, more fully.  I wanted to see what would happen if I put more of Me onto the Web; the one thing I never expected was to find a very different Emma preserved in cyberspace, living a 2012 that seems so completely different from my real 2012 that it seems like Cyberspace Emma is a complete stranger to IRL Emma (with some shared traits and interests, including extreme stubbornness, a tendency to make jokes that aren’t really funny to anyone other than IRL Emma and Cyberspace Emma, and interests in cats and sloths).

Here’s what I think happened: every time I begin to teach creative nonfiction (stay with me here), we always talk about different types of nonfiction and what can be classified as “creative.”  There comes the moment when someone raises their hand and says “what about a diary” and I say “what about a diary” back, which is probably really annoying, but it’s also an important question.  The students always work through the answer: a diary isn’t really creative nonfiction because it isn’t really art, in the traditional sense of the word, meaning that there isn’t a lot of artifice involved  — unless, of course, you are me between the ages of 12 and 32 and decide periodically to rip pages from and/or burn and/or get Sharpie-happy with your diaries.

Which is probably beside the point.

Anyway.

What I mean by this is that a diary is a text written by yourself, for yourself, and so it doesn’t have the same kind of artificial structures necessary in a text written for someone else to read and understand. I mean, sure, you do make a story out of your life in a diary – that’s kind of the point of having a diary, I most-of-the-time think – but it’s a story for you, for your understanding, and not for someone else to understand.

Let me explain it this way: if I gave you my grocery list, you’d probably see “cat stuff” and “Coke” and “crackers” on it.  You might return with Party Mix, Coke, and Saltines.  I might (okay, WOULD) be livid with fury because clearly I meant cat litter (since Party Mix makes my cats vom), Schweppes Ginger Ale (because I am from Alabama and that is a Coke too), and those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless.

Why? The grocery list was written just for me.  It didn’t have the kind of artifice (like, for example, a definition of crackers as those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless, probably because the packaging makes them look impressive and fancy).  It involves the construction of some kind of narrative, one that explains and develops a certain kind of character with certain goals and wants and needs – and that character is you.  In other words, you have to make yourself into a character to make the narrative clear — which is very much what happened when I tried to live transparently online.

That Was The Week That Was: Week Forty-Three

I’ve returned from Alabama, a state currently caught in a fever-pitch of awesome after the Crimson Tide’s latest victory over the Auburn Tigers (sorry, Auburn University — though I taught within you for three years, no amount of years could ever turn me from my fanship of the Tide), and to my own terribly slow Internet.  Thanksgiving break has come and gone, and now I’m turning my attention to the rampant consumerism required by the Christmas season, as well as to holiday crafting and finishing up the semester and all.  But first, as promised, here’s my very belated photo-a-day post — gratitude style!

Day 321: Today I am grateful not only for my absurd and ever-growing library of books, but also for insanely OCD interior decorating ideas.

Day 322: This is a photograph of me chopping vegetables for vegetable curry with an exceptionally sharp knife. Therefore, this is a photograph celebrating my gratitude about still having fingers.

 

Day 323: I’m grateful both for these badass clouds and for the iPhone apps which made them look all the badasser. Also, after typing that caption, I am glad to be able to language new words. And to verb nouns.

Day 324: I’m grateful both for the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, at which I won this magnificent unicorn, and for the fact that it balances so perfectly on this bookshelf in my campus office. What, your college professors didn’t have dangling unicorns in their offices?

 

Day 325: Today, I was grateful that my incredibly OCD home decorating project was finally over.

Day 326: I was grateful to have ended up in a Lana Del Rey video on my drive to Savannah.

 

Day 327: Today, I was grateful for festive decorative accessories.

Day 328: I’m grateful that I’m able to share this evidence of the only extant photograph of my great-grandmother. Yes, that is a gun. She’s holding a gun. And for that I am also grateful.

 

Day 329: Today, I’m grateful to say that I’m no longer embarrassed of being from Alabama and instead grateful to have spent so much time in such a beautiful state. Also, I’m grateful to know that if you type the word “grateful” enough, it starts to look really, really weird.

That Was The Week That Was: Week Forty-One

My fellow denizens of the Blogosphere: listen.  No matter your political persuasion, orientation, or party, I think we can all agree on one thing: we are all tired today.  Like, really tired.  And so I hope you will forgive me for skipping the introductory part of this post and heading straight for the photographs, as many of us headed straight for the Advil tablets and black coffee this morning …

Day 306: The marquee at the Averitt Center for the Arts, all fancied up to promote The Write Place reading — in which I read. I don’t think it’s possible to express what an honor it was to share the stage with the five fellow writers who humbled me beyond humbling with their gorgeous, powerful words.

Day 307: I took this photograph after having lunch with two incredibly talented young women, who were winners in The Write Place’s first annual high school literary awards competition. As if this was not awesome enough, I also managed to accidentally randomize my Hipstamatic filters and ended up making campus look spooktacular.

Day 308: Alice has taken to taking up the entirety of my bed, which does not bode well both for my napping and for her continuing to not be on a diet.

Day 309: Did I mention I’m doing The Grind again? Because I’m doing The Grind again. In November. I’m doing The Grind again, in November. Lord have mercy.

Day 310: What? Just hanging out with my soul sister in the Walgreen’s.

Day 311: Where’s Clint Eastwood when you need him?

Day 312: In graduate school, there was a Bojangle’s basically in my backyard. It was a very unsafe situation. Now I’ve discovered that there is a Bojangle’s in Savannah. This is also potentially an unsafe situation. Where’s Wilfred Brimley when you need him?