A jagged red reminderRed has never been my favorite color. Bolts of hot pain sear the world, leaving me colorblind but for the shards that stay behind — jagged red reminders of pain past, and pain yet to come.

Through the window, beyond the mute interplay of light and shadow on a white kitchen wall, bare branches against a pale sky remind me that it's all in my head. What color are light waves, anyway?


Clusters of Joy

Repeating globs of not-joy For most people, physical pain is a transient affair. Things like joint inflammation, minor injuries and headaches are generally brought under control with over-the-counter pain relievers, and life goes on. Chronic pain is a different story altogether, and even those fortunate enough to have the means to control it — even if that's just enough to get through another day — may find themselves attempting to explain an invisible monster.

Strong pain medications, of course, bring problems of their own; the personality-altering effects of certain prescription drugs are well known, and often devastating. But even in the complete absence of medication of any kind, pain has a peculiar way of coloring the world — or removing color, maybe — that isn't necessarily obvious to those on the outside. Pain also has a way of interrupting, if not preventing sleep, and sleep deprivation . . . well, I probably don't have to explain that one.

I mention these things because they've been on my mind — quite literally — for the past six weeks or so. It seems I've found favor among the Gods of Headache, who have seen fit to bless me with a particularly ferocious example of their handiwork. I'm referring, of course, to cluster headaches, which have plagued me now for thirty years, give or take. The good news is the gradual attenuation of this unfortunate neurological condition over time; what used to be an eagerly anticipated twice-yearly event is now likely to come only once a year, if it comes at all. It missed me last year entirely, but intruded again this fall for its customary eight-week visit.

I know a number of people who suffer with migraine-class headaches (a mistreatment of the m-word, I know, but I use it here for the sake of common familiarity) and wouldn't wish that sort of thing on anyone, but there are certain fundamental distinctions between a classic migraine headache and one that properly belongs in the cluster category. I won't unnecessarily belabor the subject here — there's an abundance of literature and other material on the subject already — but one key distinction is the effectiveness of certain pain relievers for migraine-type headaches, while cluster headaches don't respond to pain medication. In fact, it's more likely they'll be worsened by it.

Another notable difference — and a source of confusion in the context of medical diagnosis — is the cyclical nature of cluster headaches. They're so named because their occurrence is typically clustered about a particular slice of time, usually during a particular time of year. Although there are variations on the theme — including the nightmare scenario in which they become 365-days-a-year chronic — it seems there's a trend in recent years toward diagnosing any unusually severe headache as a cluster headache, especially when it involves one of the eyes. Headache awareness among medical professionals has increased dramatically since my initial doctor-visits many years ago, but there's still room for improvement.

It's probably worth mentioning, too, that where the typical migraine-headache episode culminates in an extended period of sleep, the average cluster-headache victim laughs — and cries — at the idea of sleep. At any quiescent state for that matter, because even sitting too long in a chair is likely to bring that familiar sensation of a hot fireplace poker in the eye, and then it all goes downhill from there. Legend has it that cluster headaches are more painful than those in the common migraine category, and although I have no way to compare the two, it wouldn't surprise me if that were true.

Anyway, I'm on the positive side of this year's cycle, so with a bit of luck the idea of blog-writing will become more appealing in the near future. Not that I'm blaming the recent lack of words entirely on the headaches; life does go on, sort of.

In any case, that's where things stand, in a nutshell, more or less, for now. That is all.


Gonzo Parenting

A happy family

Familiarity breeds contempt, and the proof of this is nowhere more evident than in the child who has been brought up to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The Terrible Twos pale by comparison, because where the two-year-old is merely exercising his resolve, the truth-telling adolescent is capable of destroying relationships with brutal, carefully-timed revelations concerning things she has seen and heard over the years. Dad's drunken tirades, or Mom's overt flirtations with the milkman, for example.

If the revelations are delivered when no one else is around, the effects may be limited to extended periods of icy silence from the parent, and revocation of the child's eating privileges. But when the payload is dropped in the presence of friends — or worse yet, significant others — all the damage-control efforts in the world generally lead to nothing but increased suspicion. After all, were there nothing to the allegations, the parent wouldn't have become so flustered — or perhaps enraged — at the child's accusations.

This is why it's so important to lie to the child from the start. Young children are easily influenced, but infancy is the best time to begin the programming regimen. At that stage of life the slate is virtually blank, so even basic responses such as smiling and cooing can be discouraged. This makes it far easier to manipulate common truths later on, such as the difference between black and white, left and right, or up and down.

Using this simple technique, the successful parent will experience none of the irritation and adversity that so often plague the modern parent-child relationship. Regardless of what the child might see or hear, any attempt at expressing it to others will result only in quizzical looks, awkward laughter, and eventually the wholesale dismissal of the child's credibility.


The Nosebleed of Truth

Time for your medication When they go out for a walk, Truth and Honesty don't always hold hands. Sometimes Truth forgets who his friends are, and goes off by himself, and blunders into a bad neighborhood where he's beaten by thugs who take exception to his swagger and arrogant speech, and the large feather in his cap.

When Honesty visits Truth in the hospital, he always brings a mixed bouquet of half-truths for the bedside table. The subtle hues of the Sins of Omission blend nicely with the stark shades of Calculated Words, creating a sense of integrity and openness that hides the broken vase in which they're arranged. The card is always the same, too. On it is just one word: Trust.

This always makes Truth's nose clog up, which makes it run, which starts the nosebleed all over again. He knows what it all means. He knows he's no good without his friend, and that trust requires the efforts of both, working together as a team. Sometimes it just takes a nosebleed to remind him that he's better than the mere absence of lies.