Posts tagged Bernadette Mayer
A Long Overdue Update During Hurricane Sandy

I made it a point today to make my house feel as warm and cozy as possible — not just to divert from the storm but also as a way to mentally prepare for my annual autumn write-a-thon.

Today, for about the first time in over a year, I attempted to write something new.

I have revised in the past year, but I have not attempted anything from scratch. 

Today, I not only attempted to write for what feels like the first time, but I tried (am still trying, as this blog post attests) to write all day. This is ambitious, to say the least, because I am under doctor's orders to sleep 10-14 hours a day (more on that in a bit). But I told myself I could take naps, and so far I have not had one. 

It is a point of pride for me to be able to participate in what has become an annual all-day marathon. Three years ago, a professor gave our workshop this assignment: to replicate Midwinter Day, a la Bernadette Mayer, and write for 24 hours straight. A few of us from that class generated so much material that we decided to do it again the next year, for the sheer volume of it. But, if memory serves, last year we only gave it 12 hours.

This year, we said we'd do it again — and I'm sure we will yet — and so today, with the storm out there and classes canceled for the next few days, I decided to give it a shot here by myself, as either a warm-up to the actual event whenever it happens, or as a personal test, just to see if I can, to see how much I am able to do. . . . 

Because of my brain injury (more on that in a bit), I opted for the 12-hour session again instead of the 24. About 8:00 p.m. now, I'm at the beginning of Hour Seven and can claim only 3 journal pages, 2 cups of Earl Grey, and a pot of roasted poblano and corn chowder soup for my trouble. When I have completed this post, I will call it a day. Basically, what I learned today is I'm good for about half an hour, then need to go do other things, and then, through sheer force of will, can struggle through a blog post. 

(Oh, I also started a personal Twitter account because some other "Molly Gaudry" (what!?) exists on Twitter. Another "Molly Gaudry" in the world is news to me. For years I have been the only Molly Gaudry on Facebook, and the first 20-some pages of Google results for my name all belong to me or my work or something related to my work. All this time, I thought I was all alone in the world. Now, I'm not so sure. It's hard to tell. But in any case, I decided I should at least reclaim my name to all the webspace things I can, I really don't know why but it just makes sense, and so who knows, maybe I'll keep the account active and tweet every so often.)

As for the writing plan — so far it seems to be a total failure, but I'm OK with it and now, well after 9:00 PM, I'm happy to count this longass blog post in the tally and also to keep truckin'. Besides which, I don't stress out anymore over writing or not writing. It just hasn't been a priority since I hit my head last September during preseason endurance training for roller derby tryouts and, oddly, six months later started seeing double.

I can, at long last, finally, explain that:

  1. When I fell, my body absorbed most of the fall but I rolled quite a bit down a cement hill and my head, which was the last thing to hit the ground, stopped all my momentum. I blacked out for an unknown amount of time. There was blood in my ear and the doctor's report, which I've only just received for record-keeping's sake, notes a 5-inch vertical abrasion on the left side of my face, which I did not remember at all. What I remembered was that I bruised a whole side of my body, jammed a wrist and a shoulder, went to the doctor and was told that people get concussions all the time and there's not really anything you can do other than make sure not to hit your head again. She told me to worry instead about my wrist and shoulder and not getting an infection from the road rash up one leg. 
  2. I healed up and seemed fine. 
  3. Six months later, I went to AWP and my damaged brain was completely overloaded with too much information — over 600 exhibitors and over 10,000 registered attendees. There were too many moving objects, too many people, shadows, and lights; too many food smells and perfume smells and hair smells inside and too many city smells outside; too many voices, near and far, happening at once; too many hand-skin textures shaking hands and too many fabrics and other things we touch when hugging. The whole operating system fell apart then and there. My OD, FCOVD says I don't have a hardware problem; I have a software problem. 
  4. But I wouldn't find the right kind of doctor (the above-named OD, FCOVD) for months and months and months, during which I believed I was going blind and would never be able to read again (I have yet to be able to get more than a few pages into any adult book, but I have since discovered that I can at least read children's literature, and I am loving, absolutely loving Judy Blume and Roald Dahl and E. B. White again, and the hardest books I've managed to finish are Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows and Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming and Dicey's Song). But, only a few months ago, I truly thought I was unable to read, and that I might lose everything I had ever worked for, everything I knew and recognized as my life. I accepted that I had no marketable skills other than writing and teaching, and I lost my shit a little for quite some time. 
  5. After another six months of completely stumping 7 other doctors — 2 of them neurosurgeons — I finally have a diagnosis: traumatic brain injury. 
  6. The reason for the delayed diagnosis is simple — I kept telling doctors that the trouble began at AWP. I did not drink there, I did not fall there, I did not do anything out of the ordinary there other than try to sell some books from behind a table. My eye doctors said my eyes couldn't be healthier. But for a stress-related ulcer, my general health checked out just fine. My CT-scan came back fine. Blood work all came back fine, too. Eventually, a psychologist gave me the all-clear, and told me to go have a great life and not look back unless I want to exchange pleasantries. It wasn't until a neuro-opthalmologist threw up his hands in exasperation and sent me to a vision therapist that I began to (1) be believed and (2) understand. 
  7. The vision therapist, an OD, FCOVD, took one look at my eye teaming, did a few tests, looked over my intake forms, and said, "Did you hit your head?" I said, "No." He said, "Are you sure? Think about it. Take your time." I thought about it. I kept thinking about AWP. I was like, Hmmm. And then I remembered last September. I told him about that. He did a few more tests. Asked a lot of questions. And gave me the good news: "You have a brain injury." Believe me, it was welcome information. A diagnosis! And a treatment plan!
  8. My new OD, FCOVD (unfortunately, I had to move and start over again with a new OD, FCOVD) says that since the damage occurred on the left side of my brain, the language side has been affected. The loss is permanent, but with therapy we will try to build new pathways, in an attempt to teach unused brain to take over the functions that the lost parts used to manage. 
  9. I'm also, simultaneously, struggling with an exacerbated underlying childhood condition — convergence insufficiency, which has always, as long as I can remember, been a part of my life. But until recently, I only ever had trouble after gym class, which ended in grade school, and otherwise playing ball sports (which I rarely ever did for obvious reasons), and it was nothing a good night's sleep didn't fix by the next morning. Now, since AWP, I live every moment of my life like this. And reading looks like this. I am lucky, though; because I can recognize letters and words so fluently, I'm better off than most, and I can struggle through it. 

When I boil it all down, I can tell you this: At its worst, my brain injury has left me with a 5th grade visual memory. The best way I can explain that is with a task I have to perform fairly regularly — addressing envelopes. When a PayPal order comes in for a Lit Pub Book, I have to copy the person's name and address onto a label. Most names, if I already know how to spell them, are absolutely fine. I see it, I remember it, and I write it. But a name that has an unusual spelling means trouble. I do not recognize it, and I cannot remember it. I have to copy it letter by letter. Same for street names. Cities and states are generally no problem. But zip codes are impossible. I can never remember one zip code. I cannot remember 5 numbers in any sequence. I always, always have to copy the zip code one number at a time, and then I have to double check it, triple check it, because I cannot be sure that it is right. With a word, I am more fluent. With numbers, I'm fucked. Numbers are a nightmare.

In Coping with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, "Gail" reports that fatigue is the biggest problem she faces:

"Because she is tired all the time, her possibilities for rehabilitation are severely limited. Gail has noticed that when she is tired, she doesn't cope well, sleep well, see well, or even speak properly. Her speech is slurred and she frequently trips up the stairs. 

Gail's fatigue is worst during fine motor activities. In fact, writing a single check exhausts her more than scrubbing floors. She explains that while floor-scrubbing requires her to fill a bucket and make large arm motions, check-writing calls for writing on lines, forming letters and numbers, knowing the date, and folding and inserting checks into stamped, addressed envelopes. Gail says that writing a check causes her to break out in a sweat, as if she were running a marathon."

I sympathize. 

But I can get better — not 100%, but as close as possible — in vision therapy, which I just started this past Friday, to the tune of $250/week, out of pocket (it's an exclusion). I don't know how long I can continue to pay for treatment, but I had to at least get started, see what it's all about, give it a shot, to be able to try to replicate it at home when the money runs out and at least continue with my at-home exercises. 

I don't have much else to say here.

I am reading, slowly, and writing, very very very very slowly (today is day one of trying to write again), and I'm hanging in there, very strong, focusing most of all on finishing my current degree and applying to PhD programs. I've been through the process of applying to grad schools before, but it has never been so challenging. I'm very lucky that I've got two samples already written, one from last fall, and one from last spring, and they will serve me well I think. Unfortunately, my old GRE scores were from 2006, so I had to retake the general test last week. I have put off the subject test until April, when I hope to be much improved. In the meantime, I am really looking forward to my writing scores, since there wasn't a writing section last time I took the GRE, and because I went out of my way to privilege the writing sections. I didn't bother with the math and scored in the 0 percentile. I only scored in the 73rd percentile for the verbal, but all things considered I did much better than I thought I would. And now I'm just taking it one day at a time, one task at a time. Now that it is past 10:00 PM, I'm 3 hours short of my 12-hour goal, and I only really wrote for 2.5 hours total. Still, it's something. And it feels good to put this out into the world. If for no other reason than to explain my absence from so many things. 

To close: for anyone who is overly concerned, rest assured I enjoy my days, which are leisurely. I'm leading a healthier lifestyle, physically and mentally, and I am above all else relaxing more than I ever have before. More than anything else throughout all of this, rest and relaxation seem to help most of all (TBI-related chronic fatigue is crazy). If I don't get enough sleep, I have trouble concentrating, I'm irritated by every far off sound, a random smell can set off an instant migraine (although I have fast acting nasal spray to combat that, which helps), my left eye droops and hangs, and, worst of all, I can't type: aSim pels entnece l okoslik ehtis. That right there, on top of it all on a bad day, can be soul-crushing. 

But we persevere. And life goes on.

(And, if we're lucky, on great days, like today, we distract ourselves with Pinterest and pretend that it is working toward a new book, after all!)