First order of business: the immediate possibility of pain.
“I don’t like pain. Pain hurts me,” as the Burt Reynold’s character said brilliantly in THE END.
I’ve been through about a dozen of those bone-marrow biopsy deals, but the one this past March was the first in about three years. My former Hematologist, who I fired before I found Dr. Blood, was not merely a lunatic, but a lunatic who’d invented a new medical device for extracting bone-marrow, shaped like a cork-screw and serving pretty much the same purpose, which he patented, sold and loved to use. Often. Too often. About twice a year, which was way too much. Anyway, the first time I had the procedure done was my first time in the hospital, January, 1995, and it was done by an intern who fucked up, so the head doctor, a stark, angry woman with a — what else? — thick German accent, had him do it AGAIN, under her barking supervision, a half hour later. Man that hurt. But I didn’t use Novocaine. Pain is awful; numbness, for me, is just as bad, but pain AND numbness working as a team are intolerable.
Any time I’ve had that or any procedure done with Novocaine, the numbness is only surface level and once they go deep enough, you feel the combination of the two evils, like someone’s cutting you through a pillow: dull ache, numbness, weird sensations, until the knife breaks through the feathers or foam or whatever, then dull ache numbness weird sensations and pain.
The only time I had it done relatively painlessly was at the NIH, where they gave me oxycodone or “percalone” i.e. percocet without the Tylenol, which does nothing but prevent you from crushing the pills and snorting them like anyone in their right mind woud do — or at least as I used to do. If you could go to some bone doctor or “pain management specialist” (the new medical term for licensed dope-dealer) and get some percocet or vicocet or whatever, you’ll be way ahead of the game. I used to be able to get anything I wanted by just picking some random orthopedist or pain management guy, taking some x-rays and an MRI, which I was able to use later, Naked Lunch style, on other doctors, and get any script I wanted. Allegedly, according to the x-rays and MRIs, I’m supposed to be living in agony. Fortunately, I was able to forestall premature cripple-dom by working out daily (two things doctors will not discuss unless you’re obese and/or diabetic: diet and exercise); unfortunately, I became a major dope-fiend in the three years following the fracturing of a couple of vertebrae in 2004 (but only prescribed junk, which is legal, and only using clean pill-crushers and clean new straws, when it went up my nose; then clean needles prescribed to me for Epogen, which I had to shoot up daily for seven years to raise my red-blood cell count, until I read an article in Le Monde in which French hematologists urged a ban on Epogen — epoetin alpha — because the temporary increase in red blood cells would be followed by a steep decrease — withdrawl? — so I used the needles for a far more life-enhancing “cure”).
But I’m sure you have enough “war wounds” to get a script; anyway, yer a septuagenarian. What’re they gonna do, claim you’re ‘fakin it’ to get high?
If you don’t opt for the (synthetic) opiates and you don’t mind Novocaine, or even if you do and take yer bone-marrow biopsy “straight up,” all I can say is: mind over matter. Mental imaging has saved me from crawling into a corner and crying for my mama many a time. I like to think the Medicoes secretly “get off” on doing this stuff, so by smiling, telling jokes, ostentatiously yawning as if bored by the procedure, I’m “fighting back.” Hatred works too. You might want to start practicing imaginary tet-a-tets with the late “great” St. Adrienne the Rich…
I learned a while ago, after some freaky medical experiences, that one must declare sovereignty over one’s body. “I declare Adam Stephen Engel, a nation of contentious, freedom-loving cells, each with a mind of its own but fundamentally united in their loyalty to Adam Stephen Engel (‘the good ol’ A S of E’) and always ready to rally round the flag in times of trouble.” As President/Premier of your own nation, you gotta chose a cabinet of medical “advisors” who you listen to carefully, weighing each opinion, before coming to your own conclusion and acting accordingly.
I’ve been given that Versed option so many times I have a cut-and-paste answer which differs only according to whatever hero/villain/martyr is relevant at the time, though this last time, I used the suffer of sufferers, the Messiah himself: “Oh. Well. Hmn. So I’ll experience the procedure, but not remember it. I read that Jesus was beaten and tortured, even crucified, according to most accounts, just before death, so I assume he didn’t recall his pain. Is this Versed stuff kinda like that?”
On the other hand, welcome to the Secret Miracle, a Borgesian theme park…
I think you’ve been granted, of late, as have I, and at roughly the same time too (beware the Ides of March?) a “Secret Miracle” (Borges lifted the general concept from Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but took the ball and ran with it, like KAcker’s idea of making another text “one’s own” because, in truth, if it’s in yer mind, it’s yours).
“The Secret Miracle,” like “Owl Creek Bridge,” deals with a double-agent about to be executed — by the Nazis. Unlike Bierce’s Confederate soldier who escapes into a dream-memory state, Borges’s French resistance fighter, a playwright, asks The Cosmos, for “one year” in which to complete his play. The guns fire and the bullet stop mid-air upon leaving the rifles, as time stops, externally, and the self-conscious Borges character, unlike Bierce’s Confederate who was unknowingly or perhaps willingly fooled by the time-mind-perception thing, is well aware that he has been released, temporarily, from the “in-the-way” physical world to an extistence comprised entirely of language and thought. He works continuously, unaware of time, until he punctuates the final sentence, and his “year” — relative to…what? — is up and the bullets strike.
We know “how” we’ll end, more or less, and what warning signals to look out for, thanks to the Medico’s tests and research, but not when, only that the concepts of limited time and mortality are “on the table,” in the open before witnesses, not the standard “everybody dies one day” with the unspoken codicil “but there will probably be many many many days before that particular ‘one’ approaches me…”
In truth, who the hell knows? Either or each of us might have another 20 years in “real time” or whatever they call what used to be “the present” before all that digital mishegas. The possibility that I actually might, as people often joke “out-live everyone,” does exist and defined, for me, what I actually meant by my repetitive, mantra-like insistence on “three years.”
Three “Borges years” or language/thought years, which depending on the circumstances, could extend over twenty in “real time,” as they did for me from age 21 till 38, when I was literally let off the, first blue-collar then, with the acquisition of first a Master’s in English literature and when that became “unmarketable,” a Masters in Computer Science (the fabled “college degree” don’t mean squat no more; kids are waiting tables and managing cash registers — logging double-shifts — to pay for their $150,000+ student loans), to live in language “full-time” because of the whole Diamond Dishpan Bulemia thing, over 100 transfusions (made possible by iron-and-rust scrubbing desiferinox, or “chemo-lite”) and the concomitant “osteomania,” surgeries, “avascular necrosis,” 15 pneumonias, a dead liver (miraculously resurrected in six days), herniated discs, broken vertebrae etc. as side-effects of prednisone — and now a splenectomy and late-stage lymphoma!
Pain in the ass, the whole thing, but it sure as shit beats “woikin.” To quote MLK quoting an old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, I am free at last!”
Or three Borges/language years can be crushed into a day, a week, a month, depending on what “real-time” options are available.
This is the much vaunted “immortality” available to us.
I understood why Homeric warriors wanted poets to sing of their heroic deeds, cause “fame” in their relatively small world, meant honor, tribute, power and other perks. And I understood why poets wanted “fame” in their lifetimes because it meant work: the poets known to sing the “hit songs” got the best gigs. But the idea of being “immortalized” after death, in art/language/literature/film, even if one believes in the collective consciousness, never made any damned sense to me. Might as well tell me that in 100 years, my “books” or whatever I leave behind, will “sell more copies and make more money” than anybody’s work in history, ever. Well, that’s good for the books/works themselves, to the extent that they “live,” but as for me personally — who gives a fuck?
“Better to eat a single slice of greasy, New York ‘street pizza’ — a shingle of burnt matzo, more or less, topped with gooey, fake Polly-O mozzarella and slathered with Ragu — among the living than own a mega-chain of gourmet pizzerias (custom-baked crust — regular or whole-wheat — real mozarella with fresh-tomato-and-basil-sauce-from-scratch) among the dead.”
We are entering the territory of Dickinson, Turing, Borges, Kafka, KAcker, in which signs, symbols, words are the base elements of all phenomena; not perception so much as the world as it has been perceived, retained, smoked, aged and distilled through linguistic imagination. I remember coming across the phrase “pure thought” in pre-19th century philosophy, or “pure imagination” in Romantic poetry. Nietzsche, Saussure, Wittgenstein, Gertrude Stein, etc. have modernized it to “pure language.”
Turing inventing computing and cryptology while grounded in his unfortunately “unfashionable” homosexuality; Borges (and Joyce) living in, of and for text while growing too blind to read their own work; Kafka’s night-world of hallucinations reified by meticulous, lawyerly prose; KAcker’s textual mind and drop-dead gorgeous body creating a dialectic which found it’s synthesis (not unlike Marx or Hegel’s) in terminal illness — breast cancer, of all things…
Millions enter this “terrain” every day of course; but, lacking our life-long training, fail to see it for what it is until, finally let off the treadmill by a combination morphine, malnutrition, dehydration and delirium on their deathbeds, it appears to them as hallucination or memory (that whole “my life passing before my eyes” routine), rather than the only reality they’ve ever known (without actually knowing it). And I’m not talking about that Platonic “forms beyond our mispercieved reality” crap, though ultimately it does make a certain kind of sense; but the concrete language that created us.
Helen Keller is someone whose life and work merit serious review. She spent her first ten or twelve years, the “formative years” in what she herself described as an unconscious, feral state. When I was in the seventh grade I read an essay by her called “Three Days” — or something like that — which so befuddled me that I never really gave it much thought, though it’s always been “top of mind.” In the essay she imagines she has three days to see and hear. She goes on to describe her “imaginary” journey through cities, museums, concert halls, etc. I’ve been to some of these places, the Louvre was one, I think, and I couldn’t describe them in such detail. No impressions or “input” from anyone anywhere at anytime other than the first rudimentary alphabet written on her palm with Anne Sullivan’s index finger, then braille and a kind of Morse code Sullivan an other aides would tap out for her to speed up the Q&A portions of her lectures — lectures!
Speaking for myself, this is the big “achievement,” or “payoff:” not some bullshit posthumous “immortality” contingent upon the literacy of a dubious posterity, but true timelessness. The ability, at “game time,” to accelerate the clock, or slow it down, to move players to various positions or simply reinvent them, and the game and playing field as well. It’s been so long since I even remotely considered the possibility of more than three or four, maybe half a dozen, friends reading anything I ever have written or will write that “writing for strangers” or, as Gaddis put it in his last book, as “one mind reaching out to other minds” cannot possibly be taken seriously. I suppose I write, when I’m not reading, rather than simply stare into space and watch phenomena pass, or hear it, because it seems … easier, after 30 years of doing this, to organize words, exert some modicum of control, resulting in a more satisfying aesthetic/emotional/intellectual experience than simply day-dreaming. Playing chess against oneself on a real board, or even on a simulated board against the machine that renders this digital illusion of a match while simultaneously kicking yer ass (ever play against one of those “homeless-looking” guys in the park who hustle rubes for a dollar a game?), is somehow far more satisfying than running through a game against yourself, or Bobby Fischer for that matter, in your head (though in your head you give Bobby F. the drubbing he’d long deserved).
I write, as I originally intended, before plowing through 18 tread-mill years, then starting to loosen up, relax, during the next five timeless language years, to complete what I thought would be my first and last book: in order to read “what I’ve always wanted to read but couldn’t, cause it hadn’t been written yet, so I had to write it myself.”
“Dropping out” completely has not only liberated me from subservience to the implacable JUDGES of the “books-are-things-are-money-especially-if-they-don’t-really-exist: like ebooks” (put up a single chunk of data in PDF protocol for five cents, charge the rubes $30-per-download: break Second Law of Thermodynamics: get something, actually lots of things, for nothing) ill-literati mainstream, bulwarked by academia (“publish — with us — or perish!”) which collapsed with such unimaginable suddenness, like the Twin Towers, that the mind can’t conceive it was all just the chance, synergistic eruption of technological do-dads, bad books and ADD; it liberated me, as far as I can tell, from the absolute life-sucking waste-mismanagement system that is Power’s deliberate money/thing/capital-oriented (time-consuming) fiction backed by the hard science of economics and fixed-state pendulums (“time is money!” tick.tock.tick.tock. tick.tock) myth-named TIME…
The proverbial “Book of Life” is a rough draft accumulation of colors, sounds, stuff — sometimes categorized, sometimes not, which makes it interesting; but sooner or later one must edit, revise and resolve the final “publishable” edition…
I can only describe this oddly liberating time-limitation (not a deadline, but not “afoot and light-hearted, taking to the open road,” as I believed I was at 20, even 30) in terms of…baseball, specifically, pitching.
Unlike football, basketball, hockey, soccer, etc. there’s no “fixed time” for a ball-game. It ends after nine innings. But nine innings are nine innings; they’re not forever.
I somehow doubt you’ve ever been “on the mound” before, but the hurling and, via key arm and wrist movements practiced day after day for years (“years,” even one of them, is a lot of time for a kid), manipulation of an orb through space and time was an immense thrill. In truth, I didn’t care much whether I was pitching in a “serious” league game or throwing a tennis ball at a rectangular strike zone spray-painted on a brick wall in a one-on-one stickball game, though the “official” games allowed me to show off in front of “da chicks.”
I began writing very early — seven or so, as soon as I could read, but I stopped almost completely from age eight to 15 to devote myself to “the craft” of pitching. Then went back to reading books — that were not related to pitching baseballs and the lives and secrets of The Masters: Koufax and Bob Gibson were before my time, but Tom Seaver was everything I wanted to be: six-foot-one-inch 205 pound mountain of Fresno, California-bred WASP grace, confidence, good-looks, mastery, grim determination to “dominate the mound” (hmm…”dominating the mound”…wonder if all the sports-casters who’ve used that trope throughout the decades were privy to the secret miracles of language…?) then writing again. Pitching and writing were always related for me.
In fact, one of the classic “pep-phrases” or whatever they’re called, that coaches, players, spectators yell out to pitchers before they wind up to throw is, “Put some English on it!”