underwater

Such a fraught word, ‘underwater,’ especially at this moment in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and Hurricane Irma headed for Florida and the southeast coast, and Jorge up on deck after that, and the 1,200 people killed in floods in South Asia, and the 100,000 displaced in Nigerian floods. (Though ‘underwater’ probably sounds pretty great to people in the western US watching their worlds burn up in flame, as they choke on the thick smoke that turns day to night. What a world.)

And when we’re ‘underwater’ we’re in trouble, usually with financial burdens that feel insurmountable. Underwater is rarely a good place to be, or at least in the way the word is used outside of swimming. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the way my failing memory feels, and that’s what finally hit me. I feel like I’m underwater.

This image is associated with Lidia Yuknavitch’s wrenching memoir The Chronology of Water, and it came from the promotional materials for the book. (SO, JUST TO BE CLEAR, that’s not me. Obviously!)

(Oh, and did you know that photographs of women underwater are called Ophelia shots? Kind of disturbing, as is the fact that there is a GENRE of photographs of women underwater.) There are millions of pictures to choose from, but this one captured my feeling — the way her hair drifts around her head, disconnected and amorphous and shifting and losing form. My thoughts feel like that. It isn’t a feeling of drowning, of desperation, or even anxiety, in a strange way. It’s just a feeling of being untethered. Of watching this, of seeing it all kind of float around me but I can’t do anything about it. I feel it like I’m floating, a kind of silent, weightless peering around me. What was I going to do? What was I going to do? What was I going to do? Do you know what I was going to do, did I tell you? Was I going somewhere? Oh, I wanted to say something. Do you have any idea what I was talking about? Where was I going? What was I just thinking about?

And the fluency issue I mentioned a couple of posts ago — mid-sentence, several times a sentence, the word has floated away. I watch myself and see my vaguer eyes hoping the word appears, rather than my keen eyes searching for it. My pauses are more blank spaces than intermittent moments to locate just the right word.

Luckily it’s never a “where am I” or “who are you” issue, or any of the more dementia-like problems. It’s just more like my thought processing is happening in a completely opened-to-the-air space and it just drifts out and floats there somewhere, but I don’t know where or how to get it back to me.

I don’t know what day of the week it is (only a slight deepening of my norm, which is in large part, I suspect, due to the formlessness and lack of scheduling to my days, since I don’t work in an office and I don’t see anyone on a regularly scheduled basis and the days are all mostly the same — so my fear is that I’ll be in an accident and the EMT will ask me what day it is and I wouldn’t know that on my best day! Not a sign of trauma, dude!). I generally know what month it is, at least by the middle of the month. I can read and sustain a deeply complex narrative, and I can write and sustain a through line without any trouble. I just can’t connect thought with its consequence — if the thought is, “Go get cheese,” the second I stand up I don’t know what I was going to do. If the thought is, when Marc finishes talking I’m going to tell him about X, in the next second I don’t remember what X I had been thinking about. I can still find metaphors very easily, and see deep structures and connections.

And it’s not tip-of-the-tongue, it’s not that, it’s more this floating around me and away from me sensation. Truly it isn’t a bad feeling, except in specific, like if I really do want cheese and I’ve now stood up 7 times and then forgotten, and my standing-up muscles are getting aggravated at me. Come ON! Get it together! Or else quit standing up. Sheesh.

For some reason I am not flailing against it and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I feel instead like an observer, as if I’m watching and thinking, huh, that’s very interesting. Water, yes, that’s what this is like. I wonder if I were flailing more, fighting more, if I’d keep my thoughts more readily? I’m evaluating a manuscript on resilience, and one chapter is about cognitive process (and a section of that touches on aging) so it discusses the literature on mental exercise as a way to forestall decline. If I felt more flailing about this, more panic, maybe I’d jump on those exercises. Maybe I should do that anyway. But I’d rather knit and make beautiful food. Read and write. Take walks along my creeks. Take photographs of the world. Interact with my daughters throughout the day about their lives raising little ones, enjoying that regular touch and awareness of the fine details of that stage of life. Getting to be their mother they can share this with, which is really the longest-term dream I’ve ever had.

I was telling Marc over the weekend that I’m not rushing around anymore, as I used to do. Partly it’s that my life doesn’t work that way — what would I rush around to do?! And partly it’s just that I give fewer shits than I used to. Eh, whatever. Eh, it’ll get done, and if it doesn’t get done eh, so what. Tomorrow. Eh. Whatev. Think I’ll make some tea. And sit. And read. And write. So that slowdown feels of a piece with this cognitive thing, at least in terms of my response to it. Eh. Whatever. Maybe I’ll end up remembering that I wanted a piece of cheese, maybe I won’t. If I don’t remember what I was going to say to you, so what.

In some way this is the zen ideal: I am just in the moment, and it’s a loose and watery moment, a kind of vague-eyed moment, nothing sharp and fast about it, and here I am. Thoughts connect us to the next moment, and that connection is floating and sometimes floating away, so I’m left quietly in this moment.

As much as anything, I’m writing this as a way to fully articulate this experience — for myself, and as a record. Who knows how it might change, where it might be going, what this moment might’ve meant, but I’m changing. My precious, brilliant, speedy, blue-lit mind is going at 33rpm. It’s OK. Just kind of floatey. I don’t feel despair or even sadness; instead, I feel an awareness of myself changing, and I’m watching with curiosity and trying to accept with open hands.

I’ve mentioned my Australian friend Fiona Dobrijevich before, a beautiful artist, photographer, and daily swimmer (and photographer). Her Instagram feed is a daily wonder, and sometimes I open her to a new tab so I can just pop back throughout the day to gaze at an image she shared. She has a viewbook online — look at everything, but especially look through the Body of Water collection. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling this kind of watery change to my sense of self, but it knocks me out. Here’s an image she shared a couple of days ago, and I gazed at it for hours, all together. It feels so psychologically and personally familiar.

Anything I might say after that photograph could only be irrelevant or redundant. And so ciao. xoxoxo