Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Two Thoughts, Similar

"While we search for the antidote or the medicine to cure us, the new, that which can only be found in the unknown, we must continue to turn to sex, books and travel, and knowing they will lead us into the abyss, which, as it happens, is the only place we can find the cure."

              ----R. BolaƱo

"By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream."

             -----V. Woolf

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Migraine Links: What Is It? Who Gets It?

So what causes a migraine? Let's see what the Mayo Clinic says are frequent migraine triggers:

  • Hormonal changes in women.
  • Food: alcohol, aged cheeses; chocolate; aspartame; overuse of caffeine; MSG; salty foods; and processed foods. 
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Bright lights and sun glare, loud sounds, unusual smells.
  • Missing sleep or getting too much sleep.
  • Intense physical exertion.
  • A change of weather or barometric pressure
  • Certain medications
So...according to The Mayo Clinic, migraines can be triggered by eating, not eating, sleeping, not sleeping, light, sound, exercise, medicine, weather, travel....basically, they don't know. It seems that if your parents had them there's a good chance you will have them. (Side note: my parents and my grandparents don't get them.)

Ok, so we don't know what causes them , but what exactly are migraines? The answer there can basically be summed up with "it's when something goes wrong in your brain."
    Theories on migraines include such scary sounding things as:

    • "Cortical spreading depression" in which brain activity is reduced over part of your cortex, which causes your brain to release inflammatory agents to wake your brain back up. During the migraine your (let's just switch to the first person), MY brain becomes depolarized, and the migraine peaks in intensity when a majority of my brain is depolarized. I'll rephrase this: last Friday, my brain's electrical charge reversed itself.

    • Vascular Problems. Or maybe the blood vessels in my brain were just contracting and expanding when they shouldn't have been. Under this theory some of my brain arteries are spasming shut and the lack of blood in parts of my brain leads to the visual aura. Then when the arteries loosen these same blood vessels get too full of blood and some leaks out (into my brain), my pain receptors spot this and release inflammatories because they think that's a good idea. It's not, because every time my heart beats (which is something it tends to do) blood goes through the inflamed area and results in terrible pain.

    • Serotonin Problems. Some think that if my serotonin levels are too low then it causes this constriction and dilation of my brain arteries, causing a migraine.

    • General Brain Problems. Or, maybe just part of my brain stem is sorta irritated and inflamed, which causes my body to release chemicals, which just pisses my brain stem off even more and which leads to a migraine.

    • Or all of the above.

    There's basically no working theory that doesn't involve something going wrong in my brain. There's also a possibility that the chances of me having a stroke (what with all the brain/blood/artery problems) are about two or three times higher than non-migraine sufferers.

    (Confession: much of this info came from wikipedia. Get over it.)

    So who gets migraines? Turns out it's a lot of people. It's obviously hard to determine stuff like this but 6% to 15% of all adult men are migraine sufferers (meaning at least one a year). Women are more vulnerable to migraines with 14% to 35% of women suffering from migraines. Sorry ladies.

    And they get more common later in life, so if you've never had one before don't worry there's still time.

    There's a ton of websites devoted to migraine sufferers documenting their experiences. Some of their stories are incredibly honest and heartbreaking. There are people out there suffering a lot more than I ever have, and their coping mechanisms are truly miraculous. Severe migraine sufferers have to figure out how to live their lives, and it's inspiring to read their stories of living with migraines and even turning them to their advantage and finding the beauty in them.

    One of the leading sites is The Daily Headache run by Kerrie Smyres who has had a persistent headache and migraine everyday for 20 years. She's amazing and has been blogging about her life since 2004. It's a spectacular site. Also, look at the list of links to other migraine blogs in the right column of the Daily Headache--she lists dozens of people blogging about their migraines and there are countless more.

    The NY Times had a short lived migraine blog, which I wish they would bring back. The contributors included Oliver Sacks, Jeff Tweedy and Siri Hustvedt (migraine sufferers all).

    This NY Times audio feature has several people discussing their migraines and what they've done to help ease the pain. One sufferer participated in an experimental trial and had an electric device implanted in his spine in order to disrupt the migraines. The operation was successful, he used to get migraines everyday, but now he only gets them once every ten days.

    Finally, The Migraine Aura Foundation contains an overwhelming amount of information including migraine art, info on famous migraine sufferers and a ton of testimonials. This link contains some really accurate depictions of the aura. Only 20% - 30% of migraine sufferers actually see auras, and some people have auditory or olfactory hallucinations that accompany the visual aura.

    The most interseting part of migraine week on Paperclip People is the number of peole who have said they had no idea what a migraine even really was before reading my posts. They're bizarre experiences, and I hope I've conveyed some of what it's like. I've also learned a lot in researching this post and the rest of them. Thanks for following along. Please leave comments or links to other sites or articles on migraines in the comments.

    Saramago Links

    The italicized quotes in this week's migraine diaries are from Saramago novels--they're not all from Blindness.

    Saramago was a master at exploring a surreal event (the Iberian peninsula breaking off, a city going blind, death dying) and using it to reflect human nature. His allegorical stories could have easily veered into the shallow waters of bad fantasy writing, but they're grounded in actual human emotions and, no matter how weird they get, they still feel real.

    Saramago, who died at the age of 87, was a tireless writer who published a new book every couple of years; his last novel, Cain, was published in Portugal last year and should be in English by the end of this year. His most recent book in English is The Notebook, a collection of his blog postings with special focus on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

    For all of his mourners, there are many people who are not sad to see him go. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper refereed to him as a "populous extremist" and an "anti-religious ideologue."  Saramago's 1991 novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was attacked by Catholics who felt it inappropriate to portray Jesus as a fallible human being. The Portuguese government refused to submit the novel for any international awards, and Saramago spent the rest of his life living in the Canary Islands. On Sunday, Portugal's conservative president did not attend the funeral of the only Portuguese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but 20,000 other mourners did. Saramago was also accused by the Anti-Defamation League of being anti-Semitic after some explosive comments he made after visiting Palestine.

    This "Art of Fiction" interview he did with The Paris Review is required reading. He describes his writing process in great depth.

    The Guardian obituary.

    An article on his funeral and some of the controversy surrounding him.

    The ADL press release on Saramago's comments and David Frum's editorial titled "Death of a Jew Hater."

    Info on The Notebook and a review.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Migraine Diary, Part Two

    "I don't think that we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing...".”

    I make it to my front door and open my eyes wide to make sure I get the key in the lock. The house is hot, I climb the stairs, lock my  bedroom door behind me, open the windows but close the curtains, and turn on my fan to the highest it can go.

    The headache is starting. 

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Migraine Diary, Part One

    “Then she lifted her head up to the sky and saw everything white, It is my turn, she thought. Fear made her quickly lower eyes.”

    It’s before 10am on Friday and Ruthie, my co-worker, and I are in Starbucks. We’re talking about their pastries and wondering if they make more of a profit from food or coffee. I look up to order a grande bold roast, then look back down at the pastries when I notice the sparkling spot in my vision.

    I get migraines 4 or 5 times a year and they follow the same steps; the pattern is nearly comforting because I can anticipate what’s next and when it will end. The spot is always in the same spot in my upper left field of vision, somewhere around 11oclock if I described things like I was in the air force. In the upper left field of vision, not in my upper left eye, closing that eye doesn’t make the spot go away.

    Instinctively I blink and tilt my head to the left but the spot doesn’t move, it has never moved, but I tilt my head just the same.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Jonah Hex

    I saw "Jonah Hex" this weekend. I was going to write a review of it, but realized I didn't actually have much to say beyond: "It was fun, but real mindless."

    The rest of my thoughts on the movie wouldn't have led to an interesting review, but, I thought to myself in a moment of insight, they might make some fun tweets!.  My 140 character at a time review of Jonah Hex can be found in my little twitter feed to the right.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Monday Night

    Drinking a ten dollar Guiness on the patio of a bar I thought was affordable before they served me a ten dollar Guiness. There's a pair of pigeons clattering around in foreplay on the green vinyl awning covering the patio; their sharp little feet slapping the roof like rice pouring into a bucket. A woman with a creased forehead, pushing a stroller, stopped and said she was six dollars short of getting a room for the night, I offered her the tip I was going to leave the waitress but she said she couldn't take it because someone worked for it. There's joggers going by and I see some of them admiring themselves in the windows of the deli next door. I tried to brush away a gnat and knocked over my beer spilling half of it.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Literary Remix

    I re-wrote a page of "Joe's Luck: Always Wide Awake" by Horatio Alger for Galley Cat's Literary Remix project. I wrote about the project earlier, but the idea is to take an old novel, farm it out to different people a page at a time and ask them to re-write the page in whatever manner they would like. It's an awesome idea and some of the entries have been pretty cool.

    Below is my page, followed by the original page.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Awkward Book Covers...

    The covers of the Penguin UK James Bond novels are absolutely stunning. They are simply great triumphs of design. The photos are often unexpected stills from the films (only the Sean Connery films...) which manage to play off the history of both the films and the novels.

    Check out the cover to Thunderball, which shows a Sean Connery so gaunt and tired that he's almost unrecognizable. The Bond character in the novels gets tired, he messes up, he gets hurt and he doubts himself; you don't really see that in the films, but this cover photo grabs it.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    The Mynabirds @ Black Cat Backstage

    Laura Burhenn
    On Wednesday night I saw The Mynabirds at The Black Cat Backstage sweat through a great set of songs led by the impressive voice of Laura Burhenn. Burhenn used to be half of famed DC band Georgie James, but she left DC, moved to Nebraska and wrote a new album, "What We Lost In the Fire We Gained in the Flood," now out on Saddle Creek Records. If I had to slot The Mynabirds into a current musical category I'd put them in with bands such as The Duchess and the Duke, She and Him or even Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. These are all bands who are making music that sounds like it was made in the seventies, but not in the traditional "seventies" sense of generic classic rock riffs or disco (there's plenty of bands already forcing us to listen to that, and yes I'm talking to you Kings of Leon). Instead, they're drawing inspiration from people who were big at the time, but that have faded somewhat from memory. Burhenn owes much of her style, and some of her vocalizations to Dusty Springfield, but there's also a very healthy dose of Neil Young and other loudish folkies with some Nancy Sinatra (especially the duets with Lee Greenwood) thrown in for good measure. Also mixed up in there are some of the classic female Motown and R&B artists as well.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Paperclip Quotes

     "That spring a sculpture student had, as his thesis project, decorated the Commons with oversize office supplies--a stapler in the dimensions of a limousine, a log painted as a number two pencil, and a pile of facsimile paper clips each the height of a human being, fashioned out of plastic piping and silver paint. I suppose the work was deriviative of Claes Oldenberg, but the result made an impressive spectacle."

    Jonathan Lethem, "Super Goat Man," in Men and Cartoons