A funeral in my brain

Sent on November 20, 2018


I feel like I took Georgia O'Keeffe for granted for most of my life because she was "so famous"  for "just paintings of flowers", I was extremely wrong and I regret being so dumb. It wasn't until I saw this photo of her by Alfred Stieglitz that I finally realized how interesting she was. Now I try to absorb as much of her as I can:

In 1933, O'Keeffe was hospitalized for two months after having suffered a nervous breakdown, largely because she was heartbroken over Alfred Stieglitz's continuing affair with Dorothy Norman. She did not paint again until 1934 and she returned to New Mexico. In August of that year, she visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú, for the first time and decided immediately to live there; in 1940, she moved into a house on the ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes. (Wikipedia)

You can watch her garden all year round on a webcam.

I just learned that someone who has migraines is called a migraineur, which sounds like a person who is an expert in The Migraine. I am a migraineur. For some reason it's validating to know some of my influences also had migraines, maybe it's like how we try to catch a glimpse of ourselves in every reflective surfaces we walk by, but instead of a window/mirror, it's a person.

Here are some people who have written about their headaches: 

First is Georgia O'Keeffe again, I found a book of notes she wrote on some of her drawings in the Ghost Ranch library:

Here are some lines I underlined with a pencil in Joan Didion's 1968 essay "In Bed" published in The White Album (1979):

Three, four, sometimes five times a month, I spend the day in bed with a migraine, insensible to the world around me. [I wrote "SAME" in the margin]

That in fact I spent one or two days a week almost unconscious with pain seemed a shameful secret, evidence not merely of some chemical inferiority but of all my bad attitudes, unpleasant tempers, wrongthink. 

For I had no brain tumor, no eyestrain, no high blood pressure, nothing wrong with me at all: I simply had migraine headaches, and migraine headaches were, as everyone who did not have them knew, imaginary.

"Why not take a couple of aspirin," the unafflicted will say from the doorway...

There certainly is what doctors call a "migraine personality," and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organized, perfectionist.

Susan Sontag wrote down the sequence of a migraine in a journal entry published in As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964–1980:

Loss of perspective (flattening out) > ‘fortification phenomena’ (white lines—zooming in from side; one-sided)> nausea and vomiting > acute hemicrania
(holding site is always part of acute pain)

And this entry in which she describes herself in bullet points:

  • Tall

  • Low blood pressure

  • Need lots of sleep

  • Sudden craving for pure sugar (but dislike desserts—not a high enough concentration)

  • Intolerance for liquor

  • Heavy smoking

  • Tendency to anemia

  • Heavy protein craving

  • Asthma

  • Migraines

  • Very good stomach—no heartburn, constipation, etc.

  • Negligible menstrual cramps

  • Easily tired by standing

  • Like heights

  • Enjoy seeing deformed people (voyeuristic)

  • Nailbiting

  • Teeth grinding

  • Nearsighted, astigmatism

  • Frileuse (very sensitive to cold, like hot summers)

  • Not very sensitive to noise (high degree of selective auditory focus)

Simone Weil had migraines but I don't think she wrote about them, or at least I haven't come across anything yet. I think I may have learned about her migraines in Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus.

Virginia Woolf found headache pain difficult to explain. In her essay "On Being Ill" she said:

English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache. It has all grown one way. The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.

Historians believe Emily Dickinson, who wrote about feeling “a funeral in my brain,” suffered from intense headaches and migraines.

Khloé Kardashian tweets about migraines a lot.

Why is this migraine so obsessed with me!!! Leave me alone!!! I hate you migraine!!! #Stalker

I was at a restaurant and the extremely young hostess asked for my name to add to the waitlist and she started spelling it with a K by default; a result of Kardashian Kulture.

Last week I aired a new installment of Cortney's Corner on Lower Grand Radio as part of DJ Sweatpants 60-Minute Total-Body Workout The Radio Show. The topic is headaches. My segment series is new and I think it's just going to be about things I don't like. The topic of the first episode was snakes which scare me.

I received several word submissions in response to my previous tinyletter, it will take me some time to write all the poems and I will email-publish them one at a time. 

I am still accepting words: if you give me a word, I'll put it in a poem. This one features the word "cough" submitted by Jorge de Cascante. It doesn't have a title yet.

I am not strong enough 
to hold in a cough 
as I breathe in
burning homes and bodies 
the drugstores 
surged the cost
of respirator masks
as if they even had any.
And the utility company
will make us pay more
for power
because they got in trouble
for starting the fires again. 
It reminds me
of my homecoming dance
that no one asked me to
but I found the after party
where someone threw
the rich kid’s mom’s pills 
from the second floor landing 
and we swallowed them up
with our beer-before-liquor
without asking
what kind they were.
We watched
an orange line grow 
along the black ridge,
far away in the night 
behind the window
and our reflections 
it was the last thing
we saw as we drifted
into our medicated sleep, 
not waking until
the next afternoon
when the urgent pounding 
on the windows
turned us into kids
with their first hangovers 
learning to evacuate.

I hope you don't have a headache after reading my newsletter. Sorry it was long.