Been a minute, folks… but I’m back. Part of this has been a series of woes with my former web hosts – fuck you very much, FatCow, and bless you Kay Orchison for saving my ass – the rest.. well, you can read about that below: this is the newsletter I just sent out.
IN WHICH YOUR NARRATOR BECOMES A VERY DULL CYBORG
(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of surgery and depression.)
Thanks so much for sticking with me post-GDPR purge, after an absence of… oh shit, that long??
Well. Honestly, I had a good reason…
Basically, I was losing the use of my hands throughout 2017.
It started near the end of 2016. Kept up most nights with shoulder pain. Went to the doctor when the pain started to get worse and carry on through the day; I was also beginning to experience numbness down my arms and into a couple of my fingers. The doctor – a chap half my age, with the cheerful arrogance only an English public school can inculcate, told me it was “posture”: subtext, “sit up straight and get some exercise, you fat old man”.
Within the next couple of months, the numbness had spread to most of my fingers on both hands, and the chronic pain was joined with sudden shooting pains from the neck down to the fingertips. (On the 0 to 10 pain scale doctors use – where my 10 is “waking up after the second debridement for my gangrenous foot, screaming like lava was being poured into the wound as soon as the general anaesthetic wore off” – the shooting pains were an 8, and happened daily at random.)
A better GP saw me, thankfully: he immediately put me on the waiting list for an MRI and started me on fentanyl for the pain. Not a fan of opiates, but I accepted them eagerly.
My last newsletter went out 5 October ’17. At that point, I could no longer hold a knife safely enough to cut vegetables for cooking, and I had sunk into the worst depression of my life.
All I could see was what I was losing. Typing became nearly impossible; clumsiness was my norm. I’ve done some martial arts: I could no longer make a fist. I picked up some stage conjuring skills in my youth, literal legerdemain: I could not even hold a coin securely. When I touched my wife’s skin, I could barely feel her.
Day by day, my life… emptied.
The MRI happened a couple of weeks before The Indelicates’ October Ritual: an amazing event that I was honoured to be involved in, and one where the magic (mental and/or otherwise) was just enough to carry me through.
The diagnosis: two ruptured cervical discs, complicated by bone spurs growing into my spinal nerves. Basically, early onset arthritis had eaten part of my spine and was now chewing on my central nervous system. I was put on the urgent waiting list for spinal surgery.
The surgeon in Leeds was very clear on the possible failure modes of the operation, to the point of bluntness. Though the odds were below 1%, the first three on the list were:
Death; paralysis from the neck down; mutism.
This did not improve the depression, to put it mildly. I spent the next two months basically preparing to die. Badly. (I’m not a stranger to fear, for one reason or another. This was worse: a constant dread, empty and cold. The light fading from my life.)
I had the operation on 11 December. That morning, I held my wife as close as I could manage – her patience and love for me throughout was the only thing that let me hold myself even slightly together.
The nurse came to get me, walking me down to the operating theatre. I felt like I was on death row. But I put one foot in front of the other, all the time whispering to myself the prayer which has been my saviour for much of my life:
I must not fear
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death which brings total obliteration…
The surgery is called anterior double discectomy with fusion. The surgeon cut my throat on the right hand side at the front, tilted my head back to open the entry wound wide enough for access. My larynx was clamped and pulled to one side – hence the possibility of mutism – my spine revealed, the broken discs were removed, replaced with sheets of titanium. The two vertebrae were encased in a web of more titanium and held in place with what’s basically a Meccano bar screwed to the front of my spine.
I woke up slowly in the recovery room. I could speak. I could move my fingers and toes. I was lucid enough to explain to the nurses what Fortean journalism is…
Within hours of the operation, the feeling began to return to my numb fingers. I was discharged the next day, already better than when I went in… apart from the spectacular scar across my throat.
I recovered well; did my physio and rested lying flat and still like a good lad. By mid-January, I was almost back to my normal self…
…and then my wife and I fell to a flu which lasted four whole months. Just over it now, mostly.
So, that’s where I’ve been. Shit, as they say, happens.
Some time back, I was involved with the nascent Grinding movement: the community of DIY transhumanist experimenters partly inspired by the Warren Ellis/Ivan Rodriguez comic Doktor Sleepless. I have now finally become a cyborg… of a very commonplace, mundane type. No extras, no upgrades. But I got back most of what I thought I had lost forever which, frankly, is far better.
The tech which really helped me through this was all external. As I could no longer hold books in my hands, I got a tablet holder with a gooseneck attachment, which I clamped to the headboard of my bed: this, along with a Bluetooth mouse, let me read ebooks while flat on my back. The other device which helped a lot was my smartwatch: earlier in the year I finally surrendered my beloved-but-obsolete Pebble Time and got an Android one. The cheapest one on the market, the Ticwatch E, which is no worse in the most important area of battery life than the more expensive ones. The voice-activated Google Assistant became a new limb.
While I was down, a lot of interesting things have happened in the aftermath of the work I’d done earlier that year: the Discordian/Wonderist current has grown mightily – Salena Godden’s poem ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights’ (a philosophy which I struggled to maintain throughout my problems, usually not that successfully) has become both a rallying cry and an installation at Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery (an old haunt of mine).
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of John Higgs performing the talk which gave that poem its’ name at the Cosmic Trigger play’s last night, and of my closing ritual for the event which birthed Wonderism. As a celebration of this, Daisy Campbell is sharing the video of the Alan Moore/Adam Curtis panel which happened between those two, only to subscribers to her newsletter. (Sign up here. Trust me on this, it’s something to see. cosmictriggerplay.com, bottom of the home page.)
The next event from this gorgeous and insane crew is Catch 23 in Sheffield: a one-day event on 7 July, along the lines of the Super Weird Happening in Liverpool last April Fool’s – 14 hours of wacky fun, great music and as much Wonderism as you can handle. It will mark my first public appearance since the op. I’ll be holding an upgraded version of my Defence Against The Dark Arts introductory workshop – times like these, kit which is needed more than ever.
(Oddly, Sheffield is hosting my only other gig booked this year, an event by the British wing of the IOT. I’l be talking about pop culture belief systems, and the cunning-craft of Hookland. More about that soon, I hope.)
As for the Brexit curse? Well, you tell me…
I read a lot while I was infirm. Most of it was fairly light fare – a shitload of daft action-packed urban fantasy and thrillers. I only read one book twice: Nick Harkaway’s astonishing novel GNOMON, which you really should have read by now. If not – fix that. It’s the most mind-altering work of fiction I have read since The Invisibles.
Also watched a lot of telly – one thing I enjoyed more than I thought I would was the adaptation of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the first episode of which aired on my 54th birthday: some of the changes made for TV worked really well for me. I loved Chris Conner as the hotel AI Poe, and I had one of my getting-wisdom-from-pop-culture moments from the combination of Quellism and the Envoy training, as personified by Renée Elise Goldsberry’s performance as Quellcrest Falcolner: I see a strong connection to the cunning-craft, and have found a kind of Zen strength during my recovery, in her phrase;
We are Envoys, and we take what is offered.
(And while we’re on the subject… I’ve also been inundated during my recovery with ideas and pieces of prose for my long-delayed book on pop culture belief systems, New Gods and Monsters, which is, finally, an actual work-in-progress. The book couldn’t be written until the Trumpian era, with its twisting and the orthodox religious resistance to the postmodern killing of the Grand Narrative: now, it has an ending.)
Oh, and THEY SAVED THE EXPANSE!
That’s about all I can manage right now. Thanks for reading… I hope little intervenes before the next time.
Long Live The NHS.