Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Snake

I ask Josh to tell me what it looked like when I had my seizure in April. I've been asking. All summer he's refused an answer. He says he doesn't want to cry. I don't want him to cry either. Still, I want to know.

My currency is the word "please."

He shows me the way my left hand curled up toward my wrist. He strains his neck back like he's trying to keep his head above water. He explains the colors of my face and the words I tried to say. I ask why he didn't film me. He doesn't answer. He looks at me with pity and disgust and love. It's a bad question.

Why do I ask it?

Because I had another seizure Thursday.

Josh was at work. The morning was mine. I read. I wrote. I considered my pet snake but didn't remove her from her habitat. I put the comforter in the washer but didn't start the water. My phone rang. Someone was interested in an old camera I had for sale on Craigslist. He said he'd arrive in an hour or so to take a look at it. I laid the camera and all its parts on the dining room table. I sat and thought about the camera. I tried to remember all its quirks. Nothing. My access to my memory was denied.

I recognized it for what it was.

There was the jerk in my vision. The inability to land a single thought. The need, always before a seizure, to get myself in front of a mirror, as if seeing myself would break the spell. I ran to the bathroom. Fighting. I could look everywhere but the mirror. I ran to the bedroom. I made it to the bed. I disappeared.

The next hour was black. But there were events. I got up at some point and retrieved the comforter from the washer. I made the bed. I skinned my knuckles. I bruised the front and back of my head. Maybe on the wall. Maybe on the headboard. The point is I don't remember any of it. I functioned but not as myself. My frontal lobe, where my seizures occur, is also where personality is formed. For that hour, my mind was not part of my body. I was only the movements my body made. Those movements were imperfect. I woke up feeling like I'd been in a fight. Two days later, my legs still ache like I ran somewhere. My head doesn't ache. Didn't ache. But it throbbed slowly. I wondered if I could move a chair with my mind.

(I couldn't.)

I've always thought of the seizure itself as the final release of errant electricity in the brain. Afterward, I usually feel pretty good. This time I felt like there was more to release.

Remember, I considered the snake that morning. My pet snake. I have always loved snakes. Spiders. Lizards. All the animals that dart and bite. In my dreams, I'm bitten. Wild dogs challenge me in the night streets of those dreams, and I win. Winning is stopping the dog. Winning is having a snake in my home and not fearing the fangs. Winning is my heart when the snake coils and tests my hand without drawing blood. I'm larger than the danger. Even when the chaos asserts itself, I return to give it order.

When I woke up from this latest seizure and its after-party, I looked at the time on my phone. There was a new message. The man interested in the old camera was on his way. I tried to throw up. I couldn’t. I brushed my teeth. I drank some water. The doorbell rang, and I invited the man in. We talked about the camera. He haggled. I accepted his offer. He disappeared.

For nearly 14 hours following the sale, I slept.

I tell Josh I've been planning a new tattoo, an antique illustration of a snake, large and on my chest. The snake is pretty, but that's not all. I have other tattoos, and they don't mean anything besides pretty. I don't think tattoos have to mean anything. When Josh asks me what the snake means, even though I have an answer, I can't tell him. I can't articulate it. It's not as simple as the snake is the seizure. It's more like this: the snake is the part of me he's met that I never will. Or put it this way, when I tried to look in the mirror before I had my seizure, and I couldn't see my reflection, what was there? The snake was there. Or something like it. Something in me and beyond me at the same time. All I can tell you is it was me and it wasn't me.  

You get the idea.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Today, I was an extra in a video project. I looked in a mirror and couldn't tell I was wearing makeup. The point is the camera could tell. If I wasn't wearing makeup, I would look dead, or translucent, or I don't know, bruised by shadows. I've learned to take a good photograph, but the effect of light on human skin is still a mystery to me. I know the human brain smooths minor variations. We look at a white wall and register it as uniformly white. A photograph of that same wall will appear complicated with detail. Dappled. Maybe the same is true for skin. Maybe the camera doesn't just see the surface flesh but a little under it as well.

The camera is stupid. It doesn't have a brain. Only an eye. Good for the camera.

The set stylist smoothed gel into my eyebrows. I apologized for their wildness. 

"No," she said. "They're great!"

Well, I've always thought so.

I was a bystander first, then a soldier. An extra in the superfluous sense. Some of the actors were attractive. In the superlative sense. One guy was given lines. He played a young Hemingway. (Hemingway wishes he looked like this guy.) Another guy was given hideous pustules and asked to fall on his face again and again. Others were asked to smile or chatter. I was asked to walk. That's it. Walk across the green screen. Slow down. Express disgust. Speed up. Descend green stairs. 

My facial hair had to go. I've shaved for worse reasons. Every few months I do it to see how much older I look. I never like what I see. Not because I look any older but because I look unfamiliar and naked. And I have no problem with naked, except for my face. I take all these photographs of myself just to familiarize myself with myself, and I still wouldn't be able to describe my face to you without looking in a mirror.

You're not here for this.

Let me tell you how I spent hours watching the crew prepare lights and cameras. I stared. Most of these men wore pants that agreed with their bodies. There was a skate park (?!) in the corner of the studio where the crew took breaks on skateboards and fell down hard and stood up unfazed. I leaned against a railing in my costumes and listened to the vocabulary of video production. Watched arms and backs and legs lift set pieces across green paper. Saw shirts rise and expose bellies.

I tried to turn off my brain and become a camera. Failing there, I did a little work and got paid.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I went back West, and Josh went with me. We flew to Los Angeles, walked everywhere we could walk, and rode buses the rest of the way. All the places we went were L.A. but also discrete places. Culver City. Santa Monica. Beverly Hills. Downtown. West Hollywood. I wanted to see a lizard, and I did see one in the Miracle Mile. Josh almost stepped on it. It looked half-snake. Slithered/ran up a driveway. Plates like a dragon. Face like a puppy. (Lizards are dogs. Snakes are cats.) I couldn't catch that lizard like I couldn't catch California. I love things in jars, and California is a big thing in a big jar. It's just someone else's jar.

I have a list of loves.

I didn't see xTx. You know her. Well, it just didn't happen this time because, well, because. I will always remember that. The time I was there and she wasn't. No big deal. A little deal, though. A receipt I forget I carry in my wallet, but I still carry it.

Then there was the other her. The reason for the trip. Roxane Gay. She and some other heroes read downtown on Friday. The bookstore was the mouth of an airline passenger. Hot saliva. No air moving but our gasps. You missed it. You really missed it. The readers scared away two men in lounge lizard wear. Hats with small feathers. Untucked dress shirts. No humor. Those men left, and the rest of us gave Roxane a standing ovation.

I met Kima Jones. We're mutual fans. The piece she read kept me still and breathless. She's not apologizing anywhere in any way because she knows apologies aren't necessary. The work is necessary. She and I posed for her Instagram. She told me her weave was melting. Josh offered to catch it if it fell. It didn't fall.

Something else. Josh, Roxane, and I saw a play Saturday night. When it was over, we got in a car, rode a hundred feet, and turned right back around because a Hollywood moment declared itself. We met an actress. Had drinks with her and her fancy/hot friends. My knees shook under the table. Every once in a while a name would drop. I'd squeeze Roxane's leg, and Josh would squeeze mine. We found another Midwesterner at the table and talked about dog races. There was gossip. A glass shattered somewhere off-camera during the revelations.

On Sunday, Molly Laich's brother tattooed me in West Hollywood. Josh watched from a stool in silence. He admitted he was nervous. I wasn't nervous, but according to Josh, my breathing changed. I sounded like a sleeping dog. A dog when it's dreaming.

I took Josh to the ocean. I've always wanted to do that. We saw fish, and we saw people fishing. Men shirtless. Sweating. Beautiful. The water was blue and green. I didn't want to leave. Part of me is still there, looking over the edge of the pier. Any thought I have is muted. Unimportant. The space is filled with this: