A Blog of Personal Thoughts
C# IS GREEN
What follows is the beginning of a memoir, which began as a novel some 30 years ago then stalled. Last year I told a friend I had just been diagnosed with epilepsy. She said, C# Is Green is not a novel. It’s a memoir. Wow. I decided to take a year to gather my thoughts about having epilepsy and change a novel into a memoir. It’s not going as planned. I take notes and outline a book or article, but as I start this memoir, it’s more like writing a poem. I have an organic approach for this book—notes, vignettes, more of both, a web of ideas but still no outline. I continue to write. I’ll see what happens.
C# is green. Blue leaves fall from cottonwood trees on an Alaska October evening. I lean against a wall for a few minutes till it suddenly jumps back eighteen inches and I almost fall. I smell bread baking as I kayak through the wilderness tens of miles from any dwelling. I hear the church bells of St. Petersburg as I lie in bed in the woods of my Alaska home far from any Russian Orthodox churches. My knees grow weak and I must grab onto or lean against something to remain standing. I grabbed onto the wall to walk down the long hall on the second floor. Some days, I floated out my bedroom window to sit on a branch of the Norway maple tree outside my bedroom window
I have lived this way since age five—seventy-three years until a diagnosis. I thought everyone else lived this way too, but knew how to handle it better than I. Also at age five learning to speak French from my mother, I thought how much more intelligent those who spoke another language were. After all, everyone thought in English first, then uttered their words in the language of their country.
When I was seventy-eight, I saw a neurologist who is an epileptologist. He prescribed medication, Keppra, which I now take daily. My world changed. The two-lane paved road ahead lies flat. A forest of stationary green spruce trees lines the sides of the road. The sky is blue and does not descend at random intervals and patterns into these still trees. So this is how driving is supposed to be.
One night when alone, I awoke in the wee morning hours. I staggered downstairs careening from a railing to the other side of the room, careening from the sink to the stove and through the doorway. This shouldn’t happen when on medication but it did. Like a drunk in an alley, I staggered from one solid object to the next. This time, though, I did not worry because I knew what was wrong. Just another epilepsy episode. I had no idea why, but knew that once I staggered back upstairs and was in bed, I’d be fine.
I never had an accident or a ticket in 57 years of driving. How have I managed that? How hard I concentrated to keep fields to stay next to or far off roadsides, to keep elk and camels from wandering onto the highways, to keep farmyard fences from springing up before me on an interstate highway. While I usually knew the farmyard with its barn, sheep, and cattle weren’t real, I occasionally applied the brakes suddenly on seeing a wild animal from another part of the world in the middle of the road. I always hated drives from Boston to Colorado and on to Oregon. How hard I had to concentrate even with Beethoven, Gorecki, or Berlioz. Now I know why. I don’t have to focus so hard on where the road is. It will stay right where the engineers and workers put it. I wonder if the usual person has any idea of how truly pleasurable driving can be.
In the late 1970s I decided to write a novel about a young woman named Chloe. She had twin siblings, Charlotte and Charles. I intended that all three names started with Ch, where the Ch had different pronunciations. The family lived on a farm in central Kansas near Blaine. Elm trees lined the streets with an occasional hackberry or sycamore tree. The brush along the once-blue creeks, until farmers tilled up the buffalo grass to create fields to plant, leafed in pale to deep green in the spring and became the reds, yellows, and almost oranges of a New England or Maritime autumn. Now the creeks run brown with the soil, the loam of the land washed away.
Unincorporated and with a present population of 30, Blaine is now a decayed Irish town that drank too much. My version of Blaine was larger and healthier, a community of 2,500 people, mostly farmers, but some shopkeepers, and a Catholic church.
This is the country where Chloe was reared, but she was not like her older brother and sister, who were happy to attend church every Sunday and proud their father owned the hardware and feed store in town. Not Chloe though. She loved the music and liturgy of the Catholic Church when mass was still in Latin. The organ enchanted her and she made friends with the organist who taught her to play. From there, her love of music grew and she set her aim on going to Julliard to become a musician. New York enchanted her and she set her life on performance, teaching, and moving to a large city where she could go to concerts whenever she wished.
Thus I laid the background of the story, a fifty-two page first outline for a book in five sections like the five movements of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I gathered enough details, photographs, dresses, and deprived people she saw when she moved to the City. Yes, I knew New York and Kansas, as I had lived in both places for many years.
This book would be my response to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a book that even on second read I found insipid and self-pitying. What about the bums of the 1950s back from World War II or Korea and who slept on the streets of the Lower East Side? Did Plath never go there? What about those with autism or schizophrenia? Did she never see them? She graduated from Smith and worked in New York for a publisher or magazine. She wanted me to feel sorry for her? I could not. If I had known she was bipolar, then I could have had sympathy. I arrogantly thought I could do better than growing up with money and then feeling sorry for myself.
The book had an outline in five fat notebooks and 116 pages written. Then I stopped writing it. Why? Because I had started the wrong book. Now I work on the right book, C# Is Green, a memoir about epilepsy. Its first pages may be this blog, but much changes between the beginning of a book and its final page.