Median Lethal Dose


Last night I was having flashbacks again: I see the spokes on bicycle wheels being tightened, each creak of moving metal echoed by a movement in my muscles; hunching, twisting over each other. I see pictures in textbooks of strange diseases, then look in the mirror to see the same picture, my name captioned, anonymously abbreviated. All of my space compacted into the size of a fist. And colours. Green and blue lines coruscating across my eyes like melting plants, the colours running out and making abstract spiral stained glass patterns. A continuous curve traced by a point moving around a fixed point in the same plane while steadily diminishing its distance. Red yellow black white static interference patterns, stopping any other mental activity, truncating the waves. A hand that reached from that space in vision that’s a little in front of you, through my eyelids and into my head.

All this is caused by what that cute French boy in Japanese class called ‘reality overdose’. All things that happen are real, but some are more real than others, although I think he stole that from Orwell. When too many hyper-real things happen at once, reality builds up in the body like a toxin. Given enough time, latency builds up between the thought process and reality. It solidifies.

A girl on the bus asks me if I’m feeling ok. I’m not quite sure where we are, but I’m sure that my eyes are red, because I spent a while staring at them in the chrome reflective bus stop ad. I’m not quite sure where we are. I don’t know why. Reality condensing in the eyes? The input through which most sensory information is channelled, it’s only natural that the problem should start there. I can feel the redness like a slow burn. I realize that several seconds have gone by, and I haven’t answered her. Or was that another time? I have lost the opportunity to respond within a time frame that signifies a normal level of social response to stimuli. I pretend not to have heard, and she asks me again, trying to tilt her head on one side and look up into my eyes, which are focused on a stretched-out piece of gum clinging to the floor. I nod, and get off at the next stop. I remember that I haven’t eaten in four days. Or since Wednesday, whenever that was. The light-headedness makes me stumble as I get off the bus, and I almost knock over an old Asian lady carrying a bag full of empty wine bottles. It has been five days since I’ve eaten.

In pharmacology books, you’ll sometimes see a value for the ‘median lethal dose’, sometimes coded as LD50 to be less morbid. The dose of a medicine, a drug, at which 50% of test subjects will die. The numerical value of Russian Roulette for every substance. From this I learned that less than a millionth of a gram of botox can kill a person half the time, which just proves that there’s no justice in Hollywood. On the other hand, it will take about fourteen grams of caffeine to kill an average adult. That’s 250 espressos. Reality is another substance like these. Less tangible than cocaine, more tangible than feelings. The median, in fact, between emotion and chemistry.

For some, survival is a little like a gift from a former lover. Something to cling to, or discard. It is, logically speaking, a bad idea to kill yourself because of a boy. This is because you only get one go at killing yourself (if you do it properly), whereas you get many attempts to find the right boy. How can you be sure your very own boy is worthy of the ultimate commitment?

I was boiling with the strange thoughts that you get when the internal and externally loaded substances run through your body at time of emotional stress. Condensation accretion accumulation of reality inside my veins was causing toxins to rush to my brain and flick switches at random. How does the body let itself get so out of control? It seems like this particular system is malfunctioning. I see the same girl who was on the bus sitting on a patio at the side of the street. How did she do that? It can’t be the same girl. They all look the same, identical cast-off 80s dresses and slippers, ready to discard those dresses and start wearing flares, tutus, anything else as soon as the marginally more mainstream people start wearing what the hipsters have previously claimed. If you watch very closely you can see it happen.

I’m not sure if it’s easier or harder for you, up on stage. There is a feedback loop that is positive instead of negative. Something like that. For some people there is a vestige of control that allows them to get on a stage, switch something off inside the mind, and channel everything into this controlled explosion, hot line of entropy that distorts the world around it, clears a space in which they can survive. Be alone in a press of bodies like surf, like a bird above the waves. They can’t swim, and the waves want to reach up and drag them under, soak, salt and dry them. Maybe they just stand there and think about the other birds burning in hot entropy.


Extract from a magazine interview

So who is the character of Karl based on?


It’s not based on yourself for example?

No. Just a character.

But would you say that there is something of you in Karl?

No… Or, there is something of me in everyone. But that isn’t significant. I don’t create those people. Karl is a creation of mine but he isn’t me. I made this tea but the tea is not me. There may be residual heat from my hand in the teacup, or a speck of dirt from my skin, but the tea is not me. Karl is a creation, a fabrication, a made up thing. He is not real because nothing is real.

In fiction you mean?

That too.

Hot Flash – embark

I’m not exactly sure where I should be linking, but I read Troy’s hot flash and thought I’d have a go myself. I do need to write more short (and long) fiction. Let me know how I did! The limit is 50 words, which I hit exactly (I do like to be precise), and the theme word is ’embark’.

[edit] – apparently I should be linking here

Thud! The sound of hot rain driving hard, hitting the dirt. Particles of soil leapt up like coiled springs from each drop. They waited, the water thudding around them, falling in waves, in sheets, in spirals. Clasping each other’s hands, they stood staring out into the drops, waiting to embark.


I wrote this initially as a poem, but then I decided it was leaving too much unsaid that I wanted to say. I don’t like to be direct with my poetry, so I thought that I would instead rewrite this as flash fiction.


That faceless girl whirls past in bright swirl of scent and fabric. She creates an almost-space in the air behind. Her scent pours into it, making me lightheaded like nitrous oxide. It drags me back into the past, my heels leave a groove in the sand. I remember the times I spent with that scent. Sitting too close together; close enough that the petals of her perfume fizzed on the tip of my tongue. Electric currents twitching through me. That fragrance creates a void into which memory sometimes falls when we suffer that terrible feeling of regret. The perfume bottle shattered on the bathroom tile, behind the locked door. Your sorrow flowed out and covered the mountains.

Writing on medication

I’ve been on this medication for around nine months now. In fact, I haven’t been unmedicated in about a year and a half, which is my longest time on meds. It’s also been my most stable eighteen months all told. I’ve had only one brief stay in hospital, and I’ve only missed about eight weeks of work (which is pretty good as in 2010 I missed more than sixteen weeks). That’s pretty good considering I’ve moved across the country once (and I’m about to do it again), gone through a breakup, had some failed therapy, acquired a new position at work and also tried to be taking university classes at the same time. I’ve even started working on my book.

Of course all medication has its down sides. One of the most common is what they call ‘flat aspect’. The inability to get either very depressed or very excited about things. I’m on the highest dose of my anti-depressant right now, and I am definitely experiencing that. I find it very difficult to get excited about things. In fact, I find it very difficult to get emotional at all. Sad, happy, excited, melancholy all seem to no longer be options. This wouldn’t be so bad in general but it’s affected my writing.

It’s sort of a cliche that poets are more depressive than other people (in fact there was a study on female poets that showed they were more likely to commit suicide than people in any other discipline). In my case of course, it’s true. I write better when I’m depressed. Why? I think partly because I focus intently on tiny things. Whether for good or bad, I am able to concentrate on a tiny particle of wrongness in my world, and form something around it, like an oyster with a dead worm. Those little moments or particles are the things that I write best about.

Despite all that, last week I had one of my most productive days ever. One cup of green tea and suddenly I was off and writing about all kinds of things. I wrote twelve poems in one evening at the cafe, probably more than I’ve ever written at one time. I think in part, that’s because of caffeine. In part, it’s because I didn’t have any particular thing to say or to deal with. I just wrote. I would say a lot of those pieces are below my best, and a lot are unfinished, but I wrote them nonetheless.

That day was an anomaly though. In general, I haven’t been able to write either fiction or poetry on these meds. Which leaves me with a difficult choice. Try to write outside my best, stop writing entirely, or stop taking my meds? None of these seem like attractive options. Thankfully I have to move in ten days, so all of this will be put aside for a while. I shall reconsider from my place in the West.

Short fiction: Dust to Dust

I wrote this story, semi-based on a couple of true events, for my creative writing class. Since I did very well, I thought I’d share it with the rest of you.


Dust to dust

    She sat leaning forwards, almost perched on the front half of her seat, leaving a gap between herself and the ugly-patterned seat back. Through the gap I could see the sprawling homogeneity of the prairies speed by outside the window, the wheat blurring into a yellow pap that covered half the country. Nothing but fields and fields and fields.  
    I had been watching her since Regina, where she’d either got on the bus or moved back to the seat across from mine. As soon as the bus pulled away she’d attracted my attention. Her hair was so ginger-red it might have been dyed , but her skin was that porcelain pale white that redheaded people often have, which forces them to wear wide-brimmed hats if there is even a threat of sunshine. She was wearing a round silver watch, which she kept glancing at just as I glanced at her: sometimes a quick look, sometimes staring for a few seconds at a time. Her clothing was simple: blue jeans and a striped sweater of the one-shoulder type that girls seem to forever be hitching back up into its place, only to have it fall down again a few seconds later. She left hers unhitched.  
In fact, other than her frequent but understated movements to look at the watch, she sat perfectly still, becoming almost background to the landscape rushing past the window. Her energy was all contained, all stored. Her stillness was not the lazy stillness of some of the sweaty passengers at the back, dozing with sweaters like tiny tents over their heads to keep out the daylight. It was the stillness of potential energy, movement that was waiting.
    Since crossing the Rockies on the way out of BC, there had been little of interest passing by outside. The mountains loomed, but gave a curious vibrancy to that part of the journey. They were an ever-changing landscape, growing all the time; full of crags and precipices, nature and geography commingled, and eventually nature bowing out at the tree-line and leaving the peak standing alone. As we entered the prairies though, everything except farming appeared to give up; even the signposts were few and far between. Unlike the mountains, whose sheer size oppressed with the deafening silence of a million tons of rock, down here it was dust. Dust, yellow as corn, covered everything, silenced everything. Dust and wind, eroding life down to its component atoms. Destroying, but in a way that was flat and lifeless. Dust to dust. The dust that was the death of rocks, the death of mountains. The bus itself hurtled past too quickly to ever be worn down. But each time we stopped, it looked old and sickly, a film of dust coating the bright metal.  
I was curious about the girl, perhaps a little more because she was strikingly beautiful. It is always easy to be curious about a beautiful girl. She never looked out of the window, which was a little odd, even though there wasn’t much to see. I leaned over and asked her name. For a moment, she seemed to ignore me, then slowly turned around. She held my gaze for a moment, as if trying to ask a question with her eyes.
    ‘Claire,’ she replied. The word was crisply and perfunctorily delivered, with no hint of further information spilling over out of it . No hint of what else she might be thinking about. I wasn’t sure if she was interested in talking further, but it was a long journey and I felt prepared to risk a metaphorical slap in the face.
    ‘Where are you headed?’ I asked politely.
    ‘Ottawa… and you?’ the words seemed still to be dragged out, or coming from a long way away, but yet they had that same solidity as the mountains: once said they seemed immovable in my memory.  
    ‘I’m going to Montreal. Just for a while.’
    ‘Why Montreal?’
    I smiled and shrugged. ‘Why not? I just wanted to visit.’ She bit her lip and half-smiled. Glanced at her watch. Went back to staring ahead. There was a long pause. A wind whipped the dust into brief flapping sheets of yellow outside the window.
    ‘Why Ottawa?’ As soon as I said it, I could see her face darken. She hunched her shoulders up slightly, just for a moment pulling her body even further forwards on the seat.
    ‘To visit my dad’
    ‘That must be nice’ I said, slowing down towards the end of the sentence as I felt the precipitous edge of the mountain road looming up in conversation .
    ‘He has liver cancer.’
    ‘Oh,’ was all I could reply. I didn’t really see the point in saying I was sorry, and the pause was now too long to add it as an afterthought. What would the apology of a stranger mean? ‘I hope he gets better’ I added firmly.
    ‘I’m going to say goodbye.’ Her words were still clipped, not cold exactly but precise . Her mind seemed to be focused like a migrating bird on the destination. ‘I … might not get there in time.’ Around us, other passengers dozed in the mid-afternoon warmth, or watched the treadmill of wind-swept prairies roll by. For Claire, this was a race. It was almost as if she was conserving all her energy to will the bus along faster, leaving none to move her own body. The whine of the engine seemed suddenly to grow louder, too loud to talk at the level we’d been talking. We sat in silence for a few minutes.  
She seemed to look tired now, worn-down like the old farming equipment I could see as we passed by deserted farms. ‘We’re going to scatter his ashes from the top of a hill close to where he lived.’ She didn’t seem to notice the past tense creeping in. Perhaps she’d been preparing for this moment in her head for months, or even years.
Her phone rang. She stiffened again, and then answered it. She spoke into it very quietly for several minutes. I couldn’t hear what transpired, and I didn’t ask her. Her face was fixed, slightly stiff but unreadable. After the call was over, she went back to sitting perched on her seat, and didn’t say anything to me. Later in the day I dozed off like most of the passengers, and when I woke up she was gone. Perhaps she’d taken a quicker bus to rush there that much sooner. Perhaps she’d had bad news and decided to stop somewhere, or even head back towards the mountains. It was something I wondered about for years afterwards, this girl who was so full of life and energy, and yet so contained . This girl who seemed so out of place in the bleak dustbowl of the prairies.
I wondered if she ever managed to scatter her father’s ashes as he wished. I pictured them catching in the wind, sweeping down from Ontario, North and West over the great lakes, and eventually back to the prairies. Mingling with the dust of mountains, of worn away bone, wood and metal. Grouping and whirling in clouds, ready to wear down whatever tried to move across the prairies. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.