Diorama of a Migraine



Migraine Nights

Carlita querida,

I hate trying to sleep. It would be nicer to be outside or by the ocean with a gas stove and a dog. Or the dunes, although there are wind-storms at night. Or a festival playground.

Are short stories always sad? Why are Latin American poems, even the good ones, so often entitled things like “Love” and “Pain”? It is bad. It’s sugaring a honeydew when what’s called for is a little salt. Like tangos. Tangos have irreverence.

My grandmother and Pablo played racquetball on the semi-boardwalk by the beach when they were old. They drank boxed wine at lunch out of juice glasses and kept a cat and a dog without really noticing them.

I have five pink candles.

Cherry-pits present a logistical problem: what do you do? Get a special dish for them?  Bring the trash can over? Use a napkin? The woman behind me at the grocery store was scandalized at how much I paid for cherries. So was the cashier, who said they’d be on sale next week and that he’d moved back home to care for his sick mother at age 27. (That’s how he said it, “age 27.”) The woman gave me her Safeway card to use.

Tonight I unleashed a class of writers onto eharmony. By this time next week there will be fourteen fictional characters searching for mates.

The men of my grandmother’s generation wore unfortunate swimsuits.





In the midst of yet another migraine, I’m rereading Lolita and thinking about what happens when one becomes that (to Humbert Humbert, anyway) dull but desirous thing, a “handsome woman.” Bovine, large-bodied, with all the S-shapes curved and grown in. Tumescent, in fact. Off the pill, desire constitutes a persistent and prominent part of my life now. This isn’t an unwelcome development. It is, however, new. The estrogen-progesterone complex had neutralized fantasy and nuked not just the cycles of response in my organs and membranes, but also my sexual imagination.

I write to you, therefore, as a born-again sensualist who’s totally unfamiliar with the female sexual experience as narrated by various women-authored sites on the Internet. I’m thinking of Collegecallgirl, One D at a Time or even Tracie on Jezebel. These women have an impressive understanding of their own pleasure. They tend to report a kind of arousal I’m only barely acquainted with–instantly wet, eager and willing to participate in many acts I find unappealing, or better in theory than practice.

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Migraine Nights

Dearest Carla Fran,

Back after a peculiar night. At various points I slept, writhed, read Spenser criticism, slept more, did half-somersaults in reverse to bend the iron girdle around my neck, made toast, tried to e-mail a gentleman to whom I owe a phone call, couldn’t, read Lucky Jim, carved a canteloupe, and created a LinkedIn profile for one Jemima Puddleduck, CEO of a company connected with Gambling and Casinos.

Thank you for your good wishes. They worked. The muscles of my neck and back have unleashed me and I feel—sleepy, yes, but euphoric. The day after a headache is a joyful one.

Trying to catch up on all the delights of which you’ve written me, I tripped on pulsion, which coincides unhappily with one of my migraine dreams. Apologies in advance for the self-indulgence that follows, and for crossing a boundary into the downright grotesque, but it startled me so.

I dreamed that I was at a relative’s apartment, which happened to be located on the fifth and last floor of a grey apartment complex in some little seaside California town. Across the street was a grocery store called Bag ‘N’ Bend, which allowed you to place all grocery orders by phone, and they would deliver. From the outside it looked a little retro, more Piggly Wiggly than Bristol Farms. I walked up the stairs, feeling more and more winded, and pitying the delivery boys who had to climb those same stairs to bring the groceries.

There’s a gap here. Cut to me standing in front of a mirror, feeling short of breath and vertiginous, like on a rollercoaster, and taking my shirt off. One breast was normal. On the other the aureola had expanded to cover the entire breast. It was huge and pink and monstrous. My heart was beating 192 beats per minute (measured it with a metronome), and then, as I watched, the right aureola shrank back to normal, then expanded again, as if it were some sort of external beating heart. Only tuned to a slower, more normal rhythm than the heart inside my chest, the rate of which was more hamster than human. Or worse—a slowly winking eye.

So apparently I suffered from pulsion of the breast. Pulsion. A terrible word. A college friend once told me that if you pushed your stomach out from within, you risked weakening the lining and rupturing your intestines. He was a big drinker, a big talker—not someone remotely health-obsessed or given to squeamish fears. But this possibility really scared him. Humans have never seemed more balloon-like than they did in that living room, pushing their stomachs out while Paul panicked.

Whatever it’s discomforts, you’re right. Pulsion does imply growth (or inflation, anyway).

If it’s any consolation, I think, you know, that re-pulsion might just as easily be an intensifier, like re-lining or re-doing or even re-producing. Not an active shrinkering but a doubled growth.


Crushing Headaches

Dear Carla Fran,

I woke up in the middle of one, and it has been with me all day. The longer I have these aches–migraines? tension headaches?–the longer they feel like a color, a really bright and painful shade of blue, a little like the Windows XP welcome screen.

My reason for writing you, however, is that I find myself in the grip of a powerful crush. It’s a novel sensation, and not all pleasant. I liked the generalized feeling of goodwill towards kindly members of the male sex, and I’m resenting the crystallization of all my feeling on one person. It’s like enjoying the sun for the first time in awhile, then realizing you’re the ant under the magnifying glass in the eleven-year-old’s fist.

I am combating the affliction with a combination of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes’ elaborate analogies between humans and machines–Sovereignty, for instance, is the “Artificial Soull” of the “body” of the State, which is itself an “Artificiall Man”–are helping. We are all tiny watches–our joints are wheels, our nerves are strings, and God is the great Artificer. At times like these, when my neck feels like a steer being tugged by wranglers on either side, I find this easy to believe. And comforting. We are machines, and we rust, and we tick, and things chug onward on their predetermined tracks.

Dickinson, in contrast, is incredibly unhelpful. Her poem “Wild nights–wild nights!” does not help. Neither do her clipped phrases or her angular handwriting or her habit of dressing, in latter days, always in white. Nor does her comparison of the Brain to the weight of God, “which take them, pound for pound…” a strange conversion of the brain and God into grocery-store scales. It’s all so spare. I find her destabilizing and fascinating and completely obsessed with the number “two.” Which again, does not help.

My crush is beautiful and dresses in green. I don’t often allow myself to pay attention to beautiful boys–they’re far too much work and seldom worth the trouble. But there it is. The bird of my brain strolled down the walk and bit my precautions in half for lunch. Birdbrain that I am, he is of course taken. It’s as Dickinsonian a crush as one can easily find in this day and age. I may dress in white tomorrow.

I’m off to eat honey and go to bed. I hope you are well, dear friend.