Monday, December 19, 2005

Vertigo and Semiotics

(a window display from a recent trip to London -- Fortnum & Mason department store. It seems appropriate...)

In the emergency room, I TOLD them if I opened my eyes, I’d vomit. And sure enough. The guy tells me to open my eyes so he can see my pupils, and I wretched right into the aluminum tray provided for just such a purpose.

This happened three years ago, and I’m just writing about this, but it was a damn weird experience, out of nowhere. I was experiencing Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo.

I try to trace it back. Too much wine at Vito’s? A rogue shrimp? The night before it happened, an old man read my stars. Rising sign Capricorn. Moon sign something dangerous, I’m sure. Dinner, then sleep. That was it.

I’m not sure what happened, but when I woke at dawn, skyscrapers looking in on me with their green, flat, flylike eyes, everything stopped for a second.

Then spun. And spun and spun and didn’t stop.

I spent the whole morning jerking between the square slab of my queen bed, and the round mouth of the porcelain throne. Back and forth. I must have thrown up twenty times. If I kept my eyes closed, things slowed. But open them, and, like a fan switched on, the room blurred and suddenly every circle – bowl, watch, glass, bulb, table, chair, swirled, while my stomach stayed in the same place.

That’s where it started. My brother came over at noon and said if it didn’t stop, he’d take me to the ER when he got off work. It didn’t stop, believe me. Three years later, and neither one of us can remember which hospital I went to – there are three in the area. I had my eyes closed during the whole ride.

They threw some meclazine at me, which I don’t really think did anything, and sent me home. I was in bed for three days. Good way to lose weight. Finally, slowly, I could open my eyes without them rolling back in my head…And it took me a few weeks after the visit to the emergency room to let my eyes adjust. Still, three years later, I have to make sure I don’t lay my head down flat, or hang upside down or anything like that. I need two pillows at night to keep my head up. Weird. It’s like my balance sloshes around in there, and runs out my ears when my head’s level…

Come to find out, somewhere inside my ear, something went wrong, suddenly. Usually brought on by a sharp blow, which I don’t remember experiencing. Even further in, past the stirrup in my middle ear, deeper into my internal ear, a chip of calcite plaque broke off from the wall of the cochlea and swirled around in the internal ear's liquid, then collided into the tiny grasses of my nerve of balance, lining the cochlear labyrinth. Sort of like a shipwreck hitting the silent bottom of the ocean, destroying the delicate ecosystem there. "I'd like to be, under the sea, in an octopuses garden, in the shade." So everything suddenly shuffled between my nerve of balance and my brain, a shark moving through the wreck.

The thing is, since then, I’ve often felt that perhaps this is the normal state of the world, that we are in a constant state of flux, movement, and our eyes have trained us to think the world is still. Our eyes make a table level. Our eyes make a road straight. Our eyes keep the room in one place. So now my eyes are out of whack with my brain, like the nerve of balance is the string that holds them together.

So my eyes had to relearn where things are. Remember not to vortex out.

And it seems to me like the way language works. Like how, in books, we keep language in rows, words in sentences, one word after another until the end of a sentence, where only then will a meaning become clear. This was one of Jacques Derrida’s theories. But when we apply it to real life, as in when we speak, do words work this way? Or blogs? Don’t they roll, don’t they swirl around? Through satellites and screens, through the ear’s rose, a bee reveling in velvet petals? And words in a room are like vertigo's effect, balance tossed out into the air, to fly or float, to turn back on themselves. To fugue, to repeat in another’s ear, to land, thunk! on the mind’s table like a piece of raw meat. Red and bloody, and waiting for us to cook up meaning.

The whole thing tweaked my perspective, and in some ways, I think I'll never be the same. I'm more fatalistic, I think, like I'm not sure what anything means, not sure of the meaning of anything, or how it will land.


Blogger The Mysterian said...

What an experience!

6:12 PM  
Blogger newbrooklyner said...

Pretty words for what must have been such a strange time. It's a wonder more pieces inside us don't get dislodged and float around wreaking this kind of havoc.

I love, love, love that window display.

6:16 PM  

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