Philosophical Knees, Time & the Pill Abacus, Geography & Parietal Community

Happy Uhaul AbacusI reread the blog post intro I wrote for Virginia Hampton’s workshop and realized the dates I referenced were a decade off. Ten full years. WHOAH, where am I? When am I? What year is this? Actually, this misnumber is not surprising as I have been screwing up every official form I’ve had to file for LPG due to time slippage in the brain, and even bungled the date when they gave me an EEG and I anticipated and planned for being tested… Here at least, the numbers I misstated made a bit of sense as they remained  multiples of five–and right now I’m taking enormous doses of steroids which bottomed out the entire Walgreens stock, got a nice query from the pharmacist, “And why are you taking this?” to make sure there was no error,  and then required a reorder, and which I have to count in patterns of five to make sure I down the appropriate thirty per swallow, sixty per day. So it’s all fives. Even my heart rate has gone up by a multiple of five (normal pulse plus 11×5). I’ll have to deviate from fives on the taper, but not yet…

So what’s the difference between 1995 and 2005? What’s the difference between Hesiod’s Elysium 750 bc and mine 2013 ad? Lots of particular years have been significant in my life, even ones I wasn’t officially around for, ones I won’t get to see, and even when I have been present, here in body and mind and functioning, I definitely remain aware of  massive transitions in health and life and even in performance. Two performance transitions are  on my mind right now due to July visits to Albuquerque made by Virginia Hampton (now based in Belize) and an even older though more distant friend, Kevin Zepper (of Fargo/Moorhead).

  • Virginia will offer a performance workshop on July 21st (DATE CHANGED to this one) 1-4 pm at the now quieted Filling Station, 1024-4th Street SW (See previous blog post for details)
  • And before that you can catch a visit and reading from Minnesota State University at Moorhead’s Kevin Zepper at Jules’ Poetry Playhouse Tuesday July 16th at 6:30 pm in old town at 1814 Old Town Road NW,  at corner of 19th Street near Tiguex Park and the ABQ Museum.

So now let me wax something or other, whatever wants to come out today.

In 2005 (not 1995), I approached Virginia and asked her if she would direct my one woman show of Caput Nili. We worked on it in 2006 and during the first sold-out weekend run, Burning Books picked it up as a book, which was later illustrated by Kris Mills and I opted to add essays into (as post-performance the poems suddenly felt naked without body and stage and busts of freud and such), and BB did brilliant design (which won an award) and ultimately West End Press took it to the home plate with production and distribution. The performance mattered. It was cathartic, transformative, empowering, and vindicating for me… I still have the orange straight jacket I wore that was made for me in the second act, long flappy strap sleeves designed (in my mind) to emulate some stunning sleeve-throwing chinese dance I’d witnessed in Beijing.

On the performance side, aside from what it meant to share this particular hard story with an audience, tackling every nuance of grief, absurdity, and humor, a few things spring to mind. In 2003, I got my MS diagnosis showing 13 brain lesions, a black hole, and diminished corpus callosum. I had to fight to get the diagnosis, what the show and book are about: threatening to hold up the MRI clinic. Shortly after the diagnosis, a second neurologist told me I would have trouble with memory. I asked her which type, short term or long? “All memory,” she said.

This loss of “all memory” poses a wee bit of fear for living and certainly for performing. While I was laid up (better part of two years) I wrote a different book to try to help heal (Mortar & Pestle), and I did massive amounts of brain exercises trying to rewire injury, from basics like crossword puzzles and studying chinese characters and hand coordination, even working with a doctor/scientist/or quack from India who I met online in a patient neurology forum out of Harvard who said he was researching ways to strengthen the corpus callosum. And my legs were also an issue, as they had lost much of their ability to be used and I hadn’t yet accepted how useful a wheelchair could be for transit and maintaining contact with the world. I was isolated and forced into rapid transition.

Imagine coming into the “idea” of a big solo performance with doctors signing off on your abject failure before you try. Daunting. I wanted to sit in a chair and just read the whole play. “Unt uh,” said  Virginia, who got me to memorize 89 poems and be able to recite them while crawling around the stage, and putting my legs in stirrups, and opening cans of mandarin oranges, pouring them into a fountain, navigating film and straight jackets, and doing body builder poses. Take that, doomsday neurologists!!!

Now let’s back up, to the nineties and some of my transitions then.

In high school in the late eighties, I had a bit of a “faint” thing, due to temporal lobe seizures or vagus nerve issues, perhaps PTSD from trauma. Periodically, if anyone got too close to me in the hallway or I felt cornered against a wall, I’d just drop. Doctors at the time just diagnosed it as hysteria (convenient way to dismiss massive neuro issues dating to age 4)… At any rate, it was an effective avoidant strategy and between 17 and 23 I probably fainted sixty times in public–and walked into some telephone poles and toppled up and down some stairs. Again, this is not particularly conducive to trying to perform on stage, even be present in a theater or room of people, definitely not easy to overcome shyness.

My first public reading was in 1993 at Salt of the Earth for a publication in Conceptions Southwest. I shook so badly I very nearly knocked the podium over. And I lost my vision. Luckily I’d been so obsessed with my poem and the rewriting that I pretty well knew it by heart and most people didn’t realize how traumatic it was for me to be up there on stage. Shakes they could have seen, but not my temporary adrenaline-induced blindness. Nonetheless I hid for two years and didn’t come out to read again until 1995.

And in the mid nineties is where I get to meet Kevin Zepper, where I  begin to get to Minnesota/North Dakota/ Lollapallooza/ Street Performance/ plus fiction intermingled poetry territory/ with some whoppers even at a space Mitch Rayes was running called Back Door Music.  I learned to use a microphone at Downtown Louie’s, hit all the open mics at Best Price and EJs, indulged in the good bookstores (often now gone, Salt, Living, Nob, Full, more). Turns out, I’d forgotten, but I actually performed in Albuquerque’s first ever slam and only one at Jack’s (now gone). Mitch found the flyer Juliet Torrez made recently and there we were on the sign up list. Author of Why am I so Brown, Trinidad Sanches Jr. (now passed) won that one.

It kind of goes like this. As an undergrad, I had turned to fiction those years after a couple years studying poetrty with Mary Rising Higgins and Gene Frumkin. I won a prize for a story damned and mocked ferociously by a UNM professor but then promptly selected by Tim O’Brien, major writer and hero of mine, for first place in American Fiction vol. 7 by  New Rivers Press. (Love/hate of literature kind of tell you the same thing: you’re getting under skin, which is good.)

NRP gave me dough. I used the dough to produce a whole run of shows, develop the poets diner, do staged fictions, run a campaign “celebrating” 100 years of anorexia on the continent, get into drive by poetry and all kinds of guerilla literature… and somewhere in there a trip to Vegas and Denver where again, I “worked the line” of the crowds with Matthew John Conley doing variants on performance art poetry impromptu and multilingual. Then I came home, wrote letters to my beautiful editor and still friend/literary supporter Al Davis of Minnesota and NRP, and said, “Hey, this is the kind of fun I’ve been having with your cash.”

At which point, he brought me up to Fargo/Moorhead to read and teach a class on the ethics and methodology of guerilla literature and do a poets diner. Which is where I first met Kevin Zepper, who might even have been a student at the time, though now he teaches there.

Fargo/Moorhead is a small community, lots of intellectual hunger, intense environment which is as informative as any intense harsh rural environment out here… When I moved to Moriarty, all high desert and cholla and big sky and predators and wild harsh weathers, I swore it was like North Dakota. Usually only people who’ve hitchhiked understand why I say so. Only people who know sky, people who know elements that can wipe you off the planet and jeopardize much more than any random city crime… how small we are, that beauty, that irrelevance… I love knowing my irrelevance, the big land, the one that’ll take us all…

I have an essay that begins in Moorhead at a post-reading bar-discussion and ends up at the 100th annual hobo convention in Britt Iowa, which I’ll publish in a minute… but let me give you more of what poetry means to small towns: I learn about the high rate of cops busting people for public urination as the rest of the crime is so low; a poem I wrote with with physics references gets on the department door in the hard sciences (total score); a sociologist hops onto a discussion of using anonymous poetry in personal ads since I had students working with me that week and her research was on In Search Of various peeps and loves; I hear sock puppets, and learn the word “snirt” (which means snow and dirt), get Louisiana stories, make friends for life—Al Davis being one, Kevin Zepper another. After the MS, when NRP was picking up my second book on medicinal herbs, Kevin sent me flower books… Our paths keep crossing. Now he and sometimes his wife come to NM like a second home, and he has been doing writing residencies here. I was lucky to blurb his latest collection and happy to do so, especially as sometimes that’s hard for me. Reading can go off-grid for months, and although I try hard, sometimes brain can’t behave on timelines… books I love like Sari Krosinsky’s god-chaser went very slow blurbing due to reading issues, and there’s a couple I’ve just had to fail at lately though hope when health stabilizes to do articles… When I can do these things, it pleases me. When I can’t, I grieve a bit as I want to support my friends and the many talented writers I know but sometimes can’t.

But Kevin’s book I got to read and found it refreshing and modest and clean and pleasing… quiet integrity and bite. Here’s a bit of what I wrote on his work:

Sugartown brims with the good stuff: beets, potatoes, all the staples of clean language and line. Delightful, how Kevin Zepper writes poems skinny as imagined Pez dispensers, yet replete with the perfect dash of succor and spice necessary to abide the day we all end up “empty for good.”

I hope everyone who comes out to hear him read at Jules’ playhouse on Tues July 16, enjoys tremendously, eats some popcorn, shares some work, and celebrates friendship and life, all in the big concepts of time and crossing geography as if slipping across brain territory that’s a bit wiggly with oddities… His book is perfect material to read at the home of Appetites author/poet Jules…

And I hope you’ll also realize that if Virginia could work with me and my hole-riddled brain and intense fears and PTSD, she can get anyone onto stage and into body. I know she hopes to work with youth, including GLBTQ, as well as people of color, various margins, and anyone who wants to grow more into performance… Hope you’ll enjoy her workshop (and her wares) on July 28th. (WORKSHOP DATE CHANGED TO JULY 21 st At Filling Station 1-4 with pre/post millings before after… 1024 -4th street sw—all because Virginia got a very cool job as professor at University of Belize and has to get back to work sooner–congrats!)

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep mulling how useful it is to have a disease which for whatever reason tends to bend my brain philosophical.

Last year, when parietal lobes got some disease goodies, I lost my left and right… but I lost them philosophically. I didn’t know my left and right or other lefts and rights, but I also couldn’t comprehend why we designated this from our singular point of reference. How self-centered! Couldn’t make it work out in terms of logic… later rebuilt with effort and missed less turns.

Now, after a year of healing that lesion, I still get flashbacks. I’ll take a turn and suddenly and old road will be entirely new. I don’t panic. I call up zen and mindfulness… Does it really matter if I know exactly where I am? And why not enjoy how beautiful a new landscape looks? And I sort of recall that I did know what turn I was making when I made it back a mile… It reminds me of a sort of reversal of the 50 déjà vu I’d get per day with seizures, where everything was familiar. Now it’s jamais vu–“never seen”. According to Wikipedia, and what I can verify from experience, “jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer’s impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before.”

In high school, I simply interpreted severe stomach issues as being due to the fact that I had Jean Paul Satre’s stomach. My doctors now laugh and think I’m perhaps right.

Sometimes lately I have one knee that can’t do much without applying intellectual prowess and power and understanding to what the motion of knee means. I don’t even think the knee is damaged: I think it has merely forgotten how to cooperate without my intent. That’s a challenge… we take our parts for granted.

Last year, after juggling about five new lesions at the same time in multiple new lobes, as well as a drug reaction, and violence at the building where I lived, plus a resurgence of temporal lobe epilepsy, crazy skin/sun/environmental reactions, and a return of a long gone stalker, I promised myself that out of desire to offer kindness and some compassion to myself, I would no longer interact with the general public (or even just too much noise/input/light pollution/crime witnessing) while my brain is hot with active lesions that make processing information challenging. I can appear normal but it can be very challenging for me. Rural life helps me heal. So I’m back in Mor’. But after six months in a rather deep hermitage, I have to admit that it’s a bit of a drag at times despite loving and thriving in solitude. Disease pain is often high and brain is often hot, and although I love my mountain hermitage, I miss people, and love the community. THE BIG INTERPLANETARY COMMUNITY. So every now and then I try again to get out a bit more… just need a sign on me that says, neurological things slip in beautiful ways.

One of my most favorite “brain-damage-incited-delusions” is the loss of distance with time and geography. We are so interconnected. Across time, despite death, despite hermitage, despite miles, … I welcome this sense of unwitting and impractical communion and am glad for the chances we get to really love it and remember the reality of our connections a bit more intimately with visits in real time…

Heart, mind, body, stage, and book—all good. Enjoy. I want you to know people important to me past and still and future, and hope you take up some of these good chances…

–lisa gill

(written while beet red from Mor’ before the drug taper…)

ABOUT THE IMAGE UP TOP: Last month or perhaps earlier, I did a bunch of research to try to figure out how to write a celebratory zipcode for a UHAUL move on an abacus… hope I’m reading my notes right today, think maybe. The abacus up top is hopefully an appropriate zipcode and what I send to Erin and Char with best wishes… happy OutSpoken!!! Happy Pride!!! And Erin, I bet you can correct me if I got your new shared zip wrong, and please do… I call it “Happy Uhaul Abacus!” and mean well even if bungle my beads…