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One of my migraine stories, a headache translated into a narrative, as mentioned on this blog, as seen in Volume 4 of the Ampersand Review, as read tomorrow at Kieran’s Irish Pub, for Word Ninja’s house warming event.

Chronic Migraine

The Father, grandson of Heaven and Earth. Son of Flow and Time. Nursed in a cave. From womb to womb. He Waited. Timely flow. Time will flow. Time did flow. Rebirth. Now. After. For him there is no time, only flow. From woman to woman.

The vast sea of women coming and going, ebb and flow.

Forsaking the prophecy, he cavorts with Wise Council. Then panics. He consumes her. Sees the void, his undoing, anticipates the unseen, repeats the mistakes of Time. All should be still, but can’t be. Still it becomes too much. Too much to bear. The pangs. He cannot suffer in silence. Why? the sky shakes. Why? he bangs his head against a tree. Why? his mighty fists strike his own mighty belly. Woman’s pain flows into his crown. His head swells. He goes into the woods to hide. He sits near a river, pinching the bridge of his nose. He does not feel full, he feels threatened. Metal scraping skull. Empathetic exhaustion exhausted. He can’t concentrate. Double-vision. His skull cracks, hatches. He thinks of himself.

His only gender bender. He knows, and sees, and feels what he shouldn’t feel. A woman through migraine.

You will be more powerful than me, he thinks, I must endure! He thinks only of himself. This other, growing, grown inside him, is just an other, separate, made of other.

A silver goddess bursts forth. The Other. Cloaked, clinked, clinking, angry. Submerged in loss. Her Mother so wise, inside, as sister, as one, no more. Father as mother. Without milk. He cannot touch her, her figure, ready for children. She speaks, is speaking as he speaks. Ready for war. Two generations, face to face. All is there. And so is loss. They battle, head to head, like bucks. He, larger than himself, with her, a symbol, an unknown, a child that isn’t a child. A child without mother. He cannot consume her, not again. Nor annihilate, nor conquer. To no avail. Her loophole locked, guarded. There is no loophole he can wiggle through. She is not made for man. Things are lost between them.

She only knows man, can only mirror man. Controlling. Strutting. Wombless. She remains special to him. Daddy’s little girl, born from the head, the mind, the strongest sexual organ, the sexiest, the most looked at. Men look at her. Ogle. Threaten her maidenhood, her maidenhead. She wraps her head in furs, covers herself, covers her thoughts. She thinks she doesn’t want. But the silence, the stillness, the hiding, are unnatural, unrelenting.

Relent, her blood pumps. Reinvent. Change the word, alter the ideal, rename. She ignores. Offers an olive tree. Defeats her uncle, the amorphous sea. Erect the Parthenon!

Blood still circulates, pulsates. Bleeds a suffocating blue every month. Betrays the conception. The conceived notion. The past. Father without mother, daughter without lover. Never touched, never nursed, no need. Un needed. Self-sufficient. No one to think about her. They forget. Forgot. The ideals forgotten. Memories turned to stone. Ideals turned to symbols. Representing another time. So long since one uttered, in gesture. Her name, spoken as an afterthought. No one can really believe now. Now. Thousands and thousands of months. Now. Chastity, now a complex.

Someone thought of her. Someone prayed to her. Under an olive tree.

She came to him. As beautiful as the day she was born. She came with him. Bursting forth. Again. Re birth. A small death. Ecstasy. Love. Breaking rules, bending her name. Change. The past is dead. But she is not. The ebb flows within her, his seed flows within her. Shame. She comes again. She swallows him. Shame. Time circling back around.

Her secret ingested. Festering inside her like a wound. Growing. She can’t stall it, only move it. Womb to head. Walk of shame.

Then, she waits. The others can’t know. Daddy can’t know. No one will know.  She can’t undo all that she has done. Now and then. Now is not then. She can’t make them understand. She can’t make herself utter, tell them. Let her be full for eternity. Ignore the movement within. Ignore the pain. Ignore the slight cranial edema.

This can’t last forever, she thinks. But it must. Like her Father, she consumed her secret, and it turned on her. But unlike him this has lasted for fifteen years. Fifteen years of light, heavy white light, obscuring her sight. Asymmetrical scotoma. Imbalance. Sharp, penetrating pangs to the temple. Every ten or so minutes an interruption. It’s lonely. The baby’s lonely. The baby that’s not a baby. He’s like her. He can walk through her memories. Pluck objects he needs from her imagination. She writes stories for him, creates characters.

People, their walking, speaking images remembered, conceived, are the only toys he has.

He, too, fashions himself armor. He, too, clinks and clanks. Mother! Mother! He can’t see her, only feel her, ask her for sweets. He can only live vicariously. Asking for more memories of parks and teddy bears. Begs her to stand in the mirror, so he can see her face. Through the mirror. Through her brief glances, he can stand next to her. He can’t touch her here. He can never touch her. Mother. Mother.

His anger bursts forth. The mirror, the repertoire, the analogon, shatters.

She has a choice. The past is dead, for all, but for her. She must change. This. Cannot go on. She’s willing to sacrifice herself. Sacrificing her name is harder. Pride at what could be. Shame at what could be. No longer proud of her silence. Her head pounds, stretches, splits, hatches.

(She withstood longer than her Father. She split not for herself, not out of fear, but for the other, for the part of herself that is not herself. Out of love.)

A mighty god bursts forth.

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I went to MoMa last Thursday. To see the Tim Burton exhibit. I did not see The Pin Cushion Queen. I missed it. Tim Burton has meant a lot to me. This painting, has meant a lot to me. I spent hours, at the MoMa, looking, walking, daydreaming, falling into Tim Burton’s proverbial arms, and yet, somehow, I missed The Pin Cushion Queen.

Life isn’t easy
for the Pin Cushion Queen.
When she sits on her throne
pins push through her spleen.

Immediately, upon walking into the gallery, one enters the mouth of a black and white striped monster, with his pointy teeth and wiry hair, I shrunk to a child, felt phenomenological bliss. A carousel of creatures and monsters all unseen yet seen, completely familiar, spun under black lights to eery melodic tunes.

Submerged, in Burton’s paintings, his drawings, his characters, re-occurring nightmares, made friendly, made corporate, I felt sorry for him. It is east to forget that Tim Burton is an artist. It is easy to forget he has created a world, that this world is his, not Warner Brothers.

Tim Burton is an artist. His toothy monsters, his homage to Edward Gorey, are all his.

Moving in chronological order, reading about all the unrealized projects, the baby steps he took at fifteen, the suburban sprawl that he was compelled to rise above, seeing his vision, his world laid before me, I knew I was standing before a genius, but more importantly, I knew I standing before someone troubled, someone sad, so full of ennui that he couldn’t speak about it with words. He had to use narratives.

Then I came to Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas.

She was about a foot tall, but lying down, her hands and feet bound by black rope. I couldn’t leave her. I stood there, behind the glass, for ten minutes, looking, staring. Mesmerized. Lost in the kind of peculiar egocentric moment that only art can create.

Sally is a woman, created by man, by a man, the only in this world, that can create life. We are told by him that she is young, too young to be leaving his house unattended, too young for excitement.

But she is ready. She was always ready. But she is under patriarchal rule. Both servant and child to a mad scientist, to this God, to her father.

She is comprised of fragments, patches, stitched together with thread and needle as if she were a doll, as if she were a quilt. She feels no pain when she leaps from a window, when her body splits into pieces, when her limbs detach, when she reattaches them.

Sally is a patchwork girl. She is an embodiment of woman’s language patterns. She is multiple, sewn together to compose a whole. She is different from man.

Just as Luce Irigary says, a woman’s vagina, her two lips are continually embracing,  so does woman retouch herself in conversation. “One must listen to her differently in order to hear an ‘other meaning’ which is constantly in the process of weaving itself, at the same time ceaselessly embracing words and yet casting them off to avoid becoming fixed, immobilized.”

(I sometimes wonder if Sally’s true form is disembodied, if the scientist only forged her together to control her. If she would prefer an unbound body.)

Woman’s language moves, it changes, it multi-tasks, juggling seven, eight, nine topics at once.

Sometimes when women write, their words, their ideas jump around, seem too choppy, yet they flow perfectly. Like rivers slipping into the sea.

I like to think of feminine writing like a quilt. Like Sally.

And, here, at the MoMa, seeing Sally bound and gagged, made me sad.

Sally, woman, was silenced, once more.

This is why Cixous writes:

Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve-discourse, including the one that laughs at the very idea of pronouncing the word ‘silence,’ the one that, aiming at the impossible, stops short before the word ‘impossible’ and writes it as ‘the end.’

Years ago, I wrote a collection of short stories about my migraines, translating my headaches, my indescribable pain, into narratives, hoping to shorten the chasm between self and other, that gap between pain and language. I gave the book the pithy title of Migraines, and I dedicated it to my mother, who, twenty seven years ago, lovingly passed down the disease.

The book, for all intensive purposes, is still being edited. Mainly because the project has been placed on hold, for my novel, A Suburb of Monogamy, which will be done soon. So very, very soon. Migraines was my first book, which, if anyone were to read it in its original form, would grasp that, immediately. Some of the stories have been edited and are available at Ampersand Review, Volume IV. However, and I am rambling (and self-promoting, while I’m at it), the book’s original cover (mine, not Ampersand’s) was simply an unauthorized copy of Tim Burton’s The Pin Cushion Queen.

This piece has been my Myspace photo and my computer’s desktop, and is now embodied in statue form on my shelf, and I fucking missed seeing it in the flesh in New York while on a brief and nightmarish vacation to my old city.

This is unacceptable.

However, it is poetic (justice, possibly, as I did use his work to represent my own, even if only six people had seen the book).

A work of art, discovered, cherished, and loved for something grotesque, found through a Google search, transcended its author, transcended its intended meaning, was reappropriated, for me, personally. As if this piece spoke to me, and only me. The power, the magnitude of the longing I would’ve felt might have slewed me. Might have melted me, into a puddle, right there, in the MoMa. Surely, because it’s New York, no one would have noticed, and my rage, for the sublimity, for the city, might have broken this camel’s back.

I possess, I have in my possession, in my heart, the rage of Achilles.

This image, this painting, had to be shunned from my eyes.

Because there was too many people around.

Like the impossibility of communing with The Mona Lisa. There are too many assholes that think their camera phone would capture a better image than the gift shop, than the internet, than everyone, the collective consciousness’ brain.

Last night, my family and I went to see Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11. Which was powerful, bipolar, everything you’d expect from a man that was afraid to speak. The Chicago Orchestra Hall was an experience in and of itself. The balcony tilted. Gave us all vertigo. I could barely cross my legs, and was reminded of an airplane.

All of us, canned fish, listening, opening candy wrappers, scratching their pants, their partner’s pants, and coughing. The infernal coughing!!

But this is me, becoming an agoraphobe, exposing my hermetic veins, how blue and calligraphic they are under the heat of the bedside lamp.

This is me, a girl with pins in her head, afraid of the sounds of Shostakovich, afraid of the world’s pulse, of missing out as I walk right by something so important to me that I may possibly never have the chance to see again.

The Pin Cushion Queen remains, as does Migraines, as do migraines, unseen.

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Virginia Woolf once wrote:

“The merest schoolgirl when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind, but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor, and language at once runs dry.”

Loneliness. Alienation. Isolation. Even guilt, shame as Paula Kamen notes. These are common symptoms of migraine headache.

For years, and still, even now, doctors do not believe patients when they come for help with their invisible migraine headaches. I’ve had MRIs, because it is imperative that a migraineure checks and makes sure their problem isn’t more substantial like a tumor, but once the problem is labeled benign, like migraines, it’s almost as if the medical world vanishes.

Having pain is to have certainty.

Hearing about pain is to have doubt.

Mcgill Pain questionnaires are generic. They’re designed to be. Because it’s impossible to communicate pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual (and I use this term very, very loosely).

I’ve been working on a collection of short stories, two of which will appear in Ampersand Review‘s 4th volume, where I translate my headaches into narratives. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with the language of pain, or rather the aphasia of pain. How it is impossible to really explain to someone what it actually is that I’m experiencing.

I’m forced to rely on empathy and translation because one has to use metaphors to describe pain. Metaphors that one hasn’t experienced. For instance, common descriptions for headaches are: It’s like my head is being stabbed with an ice pick. Or: I feel as if my head’s caught in a vice. Two things that most people have not experienced, two things that would fall under the category of torture and would certainly involve human agency. But, the migraine is self-generated. Meaning, the body causes this trauma unto itself.

Elaine Scarry ‘s Body in Pain and Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience were instrumental in my thought processes.

For Caruth,

Trauma seems to be much more than a pathology, or the simple illness of a wounded psyche: it is always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available. This truth, in its delayed appearance and its belated address, cannot be linked only to what is known, but also to what remains unknown in our very actions and our language.

Death. For most people, pain is associated with death. And, of course, as no one knows what death actually is, a gnawing, terrifying wound in the human psyche could be a very appropriate description.

When I have a headache it is if my head is literally crying out.

The wound steals my voice.

Help me. Help me. Help me. Stop. Stop. Stop.

My body others itself.

My body tortures me.

Everything is distorted when one is in pain. Pain is the annihilation of the world. Scarry discusses pain from the perspective of torture and war. If one ascribes to phenomenology, and I don’t really understand how one cannot, they would then believe that there is infinite potential within every object. Anything, literally anything, could be used against the victim in an act of torture: “The contents of the room, its furnishings, are converted into weapons.”

Physical pain leads to the destruction and the unmaking of the human world. Obversely, for Scarry, human creation leads to the making of it.

When one is experiencing a migraine headache creation, life stops, and one is forced into obsessive darkness, where one’s only thought is the removal of pain. It’s an obsessive compulsive loop. One cannot stop thinking about an image. For people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this image would be of the moment where they escaped death, and they replay this image over and over in their minds in order to understand it, to torture themselves over what could have been.

It’s an unproductive obsession, but the victim is left with no choice.

Such is the problem with pain. It is not productive. It is not for anything. It just is. (Unless the pain is child birth, the only productive pain.) And when you’re in the dregs of pain, it seems like it has always been and will continue on being for eternity. In other words, it’s torturous.

Emily Dickinson, Poem XIX:

PAIN has an element of blank

It cannot recollect

When it began, or if there were

A day when it was not

It has no future but itself

Its infinite realms contain

Its past, enlightened to perceive

New Periods of pain.

*Note, after four lines there is a break. Wouldn’t want to change Ms. Dickinson’s format. I know how poets are.

**For the definitive Migraine Ontology please read Oliver Sack’s Migraine.

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