I’ll be speaking at the P L A T F O R M reading series in Northampton, MA on March 24, 2017, at the Click Workspace. I’ll be giving a multimedia presentation on “the weird pleasures of going blind,” which will probably/effectively be an excerpt of the audio commission I’m working on for Triple Canopy.
This is your harp. Autocorrect has bled, like my phone, into all aspects of my life. My penis got autocorrected into a lingonberry yesterday. I manually changed it back, but come on.
A tweet suggested to me that I might try wearing it like a necktie. I tried it on and it gave me a radically mild new kind of cancer — non-lethal, not even especially uncomfortable. Just a really gentle cancer of the thorax. I didn’t even realize I had a thorax!
My tutor became my assistant and immediately suggested that I learn an easy kind of programming language called “markdown.” She nibbled the arm of her glasses, and then went on to eat her glasses in 22 discrete bites — about as many as it normally takes her to eat her customary lunch of 6 carrot sticks with chèvre. (Midway through her meal, autocorrect changed her chèvre to a Lydia Lunch LP, which she actually bit into, so distracted was she reading Max Read’s New York magazine piece about the death of Gawker.) “OK,” I added, thinking about what fonts I would see in the tableau of my imagination once the remaining 5 percent of my visual field degenerated into white noise and I officially become “print disabled.”
CHARLES GARABEDIAN is a painter in Los Angeles. This isn’t him. Our CHARLES, 35, is a legally blind father of one living in mid-Missouri. He wears a logo-less off-black American Apparel baseball hat and a “Best Show on WFMU” T-shirt illustrated by Michael Kupperman. His shorts, manufactured by the great outdoor company Gramicci, are khaki. He holds a waxy-tasting to-go cup full of slightly chilled unsweetened iced tea sold to him by a young woman he’s not so legally blind he can’t tell was scowling. The iced tea cost two dollars.
CHARLES GARABEDIAN: A few months ago I had a rogue eyelash — maybe a few — that started pointing the wrong way. Every time I blinked they would scrape painfully across my eye. This led to a corneal abrasion, and the Dennis Lubbe Eye Institute prescribed antibiotics. These came in the form of eyedrops, suspended in a tiny bottle that I kept rattling in a tiny white cardboard box. About a month ago I decided to go off the medication that I was using to treat my macular edema
SPRIGHTLY NYMPH: Is that related to the corneal abrasion?
CB: Nope. It’s related to my RP tho
SN: RP = yr degenerative retinal condition, the thing that has made you so legally blind
CB: Yes. The medication I was taking for the macular edema was giving me tinnitus and I figured out I could take eye drops that don’t induce tinnitus instead. I have to take them twice a day. This morning I rummaged in the Zabars tray that once held the Babka & Rugelach Crate that the celebrated children’s book author sent us on the occasion of the birth of our son
SN: And which you purchase for your friends whenever any of them have children
CB: The experience of eating gift-rugelach through a thick veil of exhaustion was indelible.
SN and CB both imagine the words indelible and inedible anthropomorphized, wearing black jeans, and making out in the back of a rock club in Manhattan in the early 1980s
CB [cont] And the Zabar’s mug and crate stick around as a memory not just of the author’s generosity but also a form of solidarity: other dads, other babies, have been through this too
SN: I hate the pseudo-embattled rhetoric of new parents. It’s not that hard! People are dying!
CB: What are you talking about, it is super hard
SN: Oh yeah OK Fine
CB: So last night before watching the season finale of Silicon Valley
SN: A really funny and well-written show
CB: I administered the eyedrops upstairs and left them there. Then this morning I went to look for the drops downstairs and half-remembering that they were upstairs was confused but lazily gratified when I found them in the Zabar’s crate downstairs. So I went ahead and administered the drops into mine eyes. Then, later this morning, I was upstairs and what the–
SN: You found the drops.
CB: Upstairs. This was wrong. They were downstairs five minutes ago. So I looked at the little rattling cardboard box
SN: And it was the antibiotics.
CB: Yep. And the scary part is that I can’t remember or I don’t know if these last three weeks when I’ve been administering antibiotics or when I’ve been taking the topical Dorzolamide or accidentally alternating days or what. I wasn’t even aware I had two bottles going.
SN: You’d forgotten about the existence of the antibiotics.
CB: The boxes and bottles are identical.
SN: I think you’ll be OK. Antibiotics can’t hurt you.
CB: Thank you. It might explain why the Dorzolamide hasn’t been working. I think the danger of antibiotics is more like developing antibiotic resistance which is scary but whatever.
SN: I’m curious to see if you’ll notice a difference in your vision after taking JUST the dorzolamide for a few weeks starting now
CB: I hope so, because these days I’m seeing the world through a vaseline-smeared sheet of plexiglass you guys
LINDA: I checked out thirty books from the library today but I didn’t bring any of them home.
DOCTOR: What books? Why so many?
LINDA: I’m writing part of a master’s thesis this summer.
DOCTOR: About what?
LINDA: Just a fat fake scholarly elaboration of this Transom article from 2010.
DOCTOR: That sounds interesting!
LINDA: Yeah, I’m having fun researching it. The fake
DOCTOR: Hang on that’s the second time you’ve said “fake.” I think it’s become a tic. What do you really mean? Instead of fake, think of a more genuine, a more authentic
LINDA: [Seething] Why say both genuine and authentic? Is there a difference between the two that requires you to use both words?
DOCTOR: [With dignity and reserve] I merely used both words for emphasis.
LINDA: I’m sorry. My worst enemy had a baby last night. I just got the email announcement.
DOCTOR: It’s OK. I know you’re going through a lot.
LINDA: You mean my eyes.
DOCTOR: Yeah. Do you want to talk about your eyes?
LINDA: OK. They’re fucked.
DOCTOR: Ha. How are they fucked?
LINDA: I was taking Acetazolamide
DOCTOR: —a generic of Diamox, a standard diuretic used for glaucoma patients —
LINDA: —and also commonly prescribed for cystoid macular edema, which I have.
DOCTOR: A swelling in the retina. Which is itself a common complication of retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
LINDA: Yup. The RP is the main event — that’s the degenerative retinal condition that’s inexorably eating my vision from the outside in
DOCTOR: At your diagnosis, at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, when you were a teenager, I asked if you could see stars. You said no, and I knew it was RP.
LINDA: You asked if I could see stars in the night sky. It felt a little creepy. That you knew I couldn’t see stars. like you’d asked me, “Do you have a fantasy of being reborn as Frank Whaley’s character in Career Opportunities (1991), locked in an after-hours Target, rollerskating and making out with Jennifer Connolly for eternity?”
And I was like…”uh, yeah. No, I can’t see stars.”
DOCTOR: RP often first gets diagnosed in teenagers as night blindness.
LINDA: That movie (and, let’s be real, Jennifer Connelly) made a strong impression on me when I first saw it. I was probably 11.
DOCTOR: What made you think you had RP?
LINDA: It must have been… I don’t know. 2000, 2001. People were already Googling their ailments by then. Or, I guess, Yahoo!ing their ailments.
DOCTOR: Webcrawling across their pain.
LINDA: Ha. That phrase
DOCTOR: I just thought of it! I love riffing with you!
LINDA: Ha. That phrase reminds me of Chris Burden’s TV Ad, where it says “through the night softly.” he bought a TV spot on national television
DOCTOR: He’s the performance artist famous for the piece where he crucified himself to a Volkswagen.
LINDA: Right so he bought a TV spot on national TV where it shows him crawling through glass with his hands tied behind his back and then it says through the night softly
All this talk of my night blindness, kind of reminds me of this Chris Burden piece.
DOCTOR: Was it that painful?
LINDA: not at all. I mean that’s the thing unless you count walking into things (which hurts) or feeling sad or worrying you’ve passed it on to your son
DOCTOR: RP is genetically marked in some people but many with the condition have no record of it in their bloodline
LINDA: But it’s not painful. The Burden connection is more about the way I went through the world at night, and now the way I increasingly do during the day. Softly, at pains. But also something about the way that Burden has uhhh burdened himself with this difficulty himself. he’s not being tortured — he’s going through the night softly for an artistic reason.
DOCTOR: Cut that pun but my question is why do you think of the blindness as self-imposed?
LINDA: More that i have to perform it, that blindness becomes a sort of performance art. The cane really creates that feeling: when I unfold my cane, with a flourish, the social situation is transformed so fast it’s like Chris Burden just walked into a room and started doing one of his pieces. Of course I’m exaggerating
DOCTOR: At the time of your diagnosis you still drove a car
LINDA: I still drove back then — even at night! Kind of unbelievable to me now. At first it was really only noticeable when I was like running through the woods with my drug-friends after dark
DOCTOR: But over the years…
LINDA: It’s gradually degenerated. Anyway I was living in NYC for a year recently
DOCTOR: You were in that one-woman show on Broadway.
DOCTOR: That got great reviews, didn’t it?
LINDA: Uh, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer. Yeah, we did well.
DOCTOR: What was it about?
LINDA: I adapted Dwight MacDonald’s Against the American Grain and sort of did a mashup with that and “The Star-Spangled Banner”
DOCTOR: “Amber waves of grain”
LINDA: Right and there was also a thread about brainwaves
DOCTOR: “grain waves”
LINDA: Yep and one of the characters was the lovable fascist Walter Starkie whose autobiography was called The Waveless Plain
DOCTOR: I thought it was a one-woman show. “Characters”?
LINDA: And I performed the whole thing in a Lieder style inspired by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who Roland Barthes writes about in “The Grain of the Voice,” his wonderful essay on the linguistics of sound.
Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings are played at loud volume at various times throughout the piece
DOCTOR: Wait didn’t you say it was a one-woman show?
LINDA: It took a lot out of me. Also Terry Eagleton has a book of essays called Against the Grain and he’s a character in it and so is an eagle that my mom made out of felt and I did the whole thing buried up to my waist in raw barley
DOCTOR: But so you said you stopped taking the Diamox?
LINDA: The Acetazolamide.
LINDA: Well I was taking it because I had the swelling in my macula and that was fucking with my central vision
DOCTOR: you also have cataracts
LINDA: which are super treatable but I don’t want to fuck with surgery until it’s absolutely necessary because my vision is like a little scrap of parchment that I have been carrying with me through the wilderness
DOCTOR: the wilderness of, say, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
LINDA: Sure. Or maybe a YA adventure book à la Hatchet
LINDA: And I think of someone with otherwise healthy eyes getting cataract surgery they’re worried but also if something goes wrong there’s a lot more…uh… parchment left over for them even in a worst-case scenario
DOCTOR: Whereas you have just this tattered soft decaying square that you’ve worried over and sweated through and pissed on and so on through the King Lear style Tempests
LINDA: seriously, the literary references here are a bit much what is going on
DOCTOR: I dunno just feeling my oats
LINDA: right so I’m understandably wary of laying my precious little square of fabric out on the operating table. so when I’m living in NYC i finally decide to go see a retinal specialist which i haven’t been to for years because I figured what’s the point there is no treatment for RP
DOCTOR: At least not for someone with as much vision as you have left but recent developments such as the Argus 2, an artificial retina
LINDA: Right sure but I’m a few years out from needing one of those and it just recently became commercially available and anyway the specialist on Gramercy Park looked at my eyes and was like jesus I don’t know how you get around — i had folded up my cane when i arrived so he didn’t know i used one? — and told me I was legally blind and could collect disability and then said the good news is you have this swelling which we can treat with Diamox. So I’ve been on that for a year or so and the only side effect I noticed was that it makes beer and most carbonated beverages taste bad
DOCTOR: which is a shame because you love craft beer!
LINDA: yeah, woe is me. but then i started having tinnitus. which for a person who’s gradually but inexorably going blind tinnitus is really fucking scary. because I was just imagining myself once i’d lost all my vision, sitting there in the dark with my family nearby reading books that i’d only know the titles of if I asked them and not being able to quite make out what they’re saying because of the painfully loud ringing in my ears
LINDA: and then one day i was re-googling my ailments and remembered that tinnitus is a listed side-effect of the drug
LINDA: so I stopped taking it right away and then really quickly and dramatically my vision went to shit. like a new level of shit. it took about a week off the acetazolamide, and suddenly reading got really hard. as did moving around, even familiar places. chances of knocking over my son went up by 40 percent. asking if anybody had seen the thing sitting on the table in front of me became a daily thing.
LINDA: so anyway i found an alternative treatment which i’m trying but i’ve only been on it like 2 weeks and I’m not sure if it’s working yet or not
DOCTOR: what’s the new drug called?
LINDA: spousal love
in this photo the tree and flowers are posed like your back-up band. the wet earth is a soft stage you’re all standing on. you’re their leader, the singer, dwelling in their sound, about to join in.
[Ruffles papers at the dais]
In conclusion, here at the outset
[group of deaf students applaud]
[group of students wearing shirts that say Jesus Gave me Tinnitus applaud inaudibly]
[group of highly politicized roll-carts roll by, somewhat audibly, as if of their own volition. As though they are operating under their own control. Sentient roll-carts? Some blue, some black, some brown, some green. The roll carts do not have eyes, though they be sentient. Aye]
and so as a lunch-time option, I will suggest, it is of vital importance that snacks be “factored into the equation.”
[A tropical fish, who had been gazing with deep inattention at the square of linoleum floor framed by his idly hanging flippers, now slowly and deliberately looks up at the speaker. His attention has been piqued. What’s this about lunch? Snacks? ]
A snack isn’t what we make it. Even if it is we who have made the snacks. I’ll often make a snack for myself, mid-afternoon, as though a dog left alone at home had the ability to open the fridge, unscrew bottles, spread nut-butters with nut-butter knives…
[A very pink fish is lost in her own reverie. She imagines a chocolate laborador, left home alone, unscrewing a jar of peanut butter, dipping in a long blunt knife, and spreading the peanut butter across three saltine crackers. It is, needless to say, an erotic fantasy. The fish is transmuted into a feline. The feline is transmuted into an unopened tin of sardines. The tin opens itself, with a great deal of volition, and begins snacking upon itself, heartily, its lips — such as they are — smacking.]
And so women. And so men. And so students of the region, who are gathered and fed and assembled and educated here, under these eaves, under this aegis, be-chancelled by this bewitching chancellor–
[The Chancellor, whose name is R. Bowen Loftin, gathers himself up in a great mawkish burst of plumage, then shits himself into a garbage pail; exeunt.]
And so, at the outset, or in conclusion, the class of 1999 now leads you, seniors, graduating class of 2016, into blinkered victory. I hope you’re OK. I hope you all inherit a great deal of money and then squander your inheritance on graduate education and activism and travel and charity. And love. Squander everything for love, my children. Because love is the most pragmatic tool you can wield in the economy into which you’re graduating. And I needn’t remind you that all of your love is concentrated in your genitals.
CAL: Five hours of sleep.
CAL: Three hours of sleep.
[A cool cat swiffs itself across the linoleum, wiping it clean but leaving a trail of black hairs]
CAL: An hour of sleep.
HERA: I’m changing my major. From philosophy to social justice.
CAL: Social justice is a major?
HERA: What I mean is, I’m dropping out of college to become an activist.
HERA: Because reading Henry James all day isn’t helping address income inequality in this country.
CAL: Neither is writing angry blogposts about income inequality. Or standing on the streetcorner arguing with Republicans about income inequality.
HERA: It’s better than nothing. And also you are cynical. Political change in America is possible. People change their minds.
CAL: No they don’t.
HERA: Be serious.
CAL: I am being serious!
HERA: Well, I have to finish cooking and then I need to do some online banking.
CAL: Can I help?
CAL: OK. Let me know if you need help.
HERA: I will.
CAL: Thanks. OK.
HERA: All right.
CAL: See you soon?
HERA: [Does not answer. Performs several online banking tasks. Cooks an arpeggio of salad. Fantasizes about a field mouse turning on a hot spit. Fantasizes about being Cal’s waitress at a fancy restaurant she also owns and is the head chef for. She hands him the menu, her hair in adorable sweaty strands adorning her face. Cal looks down at the menu and reads, half to himself, “Roasted Field Mouse.” Their eyes meet. This is love. This is scintillation. This is mutual attraction. This is Vermont in the 1980s.]
CAL: [Approaches a donut. Purchases it. Eats it in half-furtive bites from his open jacket pocket. Looks down to see he has paws. Big blue CGI family-friendly bear-paws. He has had five hours of sleep. He is perennially, perpetually “on deadline.” He will tell people he’s “on deadline” even if by that he means he needs to go to the pharmacy by this evening or else he’ll be unable to pick up his prescription without re-ordering it.]
[Cal once helped name a craft beer. It’s called PawPrint Blue Stout. He often orders it when he drinks at the Lathe.]
LATER THAT NIGHT, AT THE LATHE
CAL: [His voice thick with the foamy syrup of a fresh PawPrint Blue Stout]: I got five hours of sleep last night.