The Rorschach Test for the Legally Blind

In January, I ordered a new pair of glasses. My vision had changed slightly; it had gone from ridiculously myopic to “worse.” For me, glasses are always an expensive, time-consuming investment. First of all, I’m an optometrist’s worst nightmare. I refuse the “eye puffer test” every visit. Sometimes the optometric assistants try to coax me into taking it. “No way,” I’ll say. “I can’t handle the suspense. I’ll yell.” This is no joke. I haven’t taken the “puffer test” since I was a little kid when I’d been tricked into taking it by an assistant who flat-out lied to me: “Don’t worry, Abby. This is not the eye puffer test.” When the air shot out of the machine, I screamed.

Second, I feel the Snellen chart (the chart with the large “E”) is rigged. The typography is seriffed. Outside of the eye doctor’s office, I’ve never seen a capital “E” in that font. It’s dangerously similar to a winged digital “B.” Without some sort of corrective device in front of my eyes, the “E” (winged digital “B”) might as well be a giant inkblot. The Rorschach test for the legally blind. And you can forget about the rest of the letters. When the doctor asks me to start reading aloud, I do one of two things: I either prattle off a series of letters plucked at random from the steaming bowl of alphabet soup in my head, or I’ll mumble, feigning sincere effort, in a slow, deliberate voice: “O-S-C-A-R-M-E-Y-E-R.”

Then there’s the actual prescription test. Ok, I’ve got to admit that, for a long time, I couldn’t pay attention to much of anything other than the doctor saying, “One?” Wait a minute. Make sure to focus on the big “E.” “Or two?” Blink, blink. Again: “One?” Slight pause. Focus. “Or two?” His voice was so tranquil. Like a soft wave crashing on the shore. A wave I couldn’t see. He had to repeat the tests several times because I’d relax into a state of near-hypnosis, slack-jawed, leaning my entire body weight onto the Tron-esque phoropter machine. He should’ve been more militant when presenting my choices: “One or two? I’m not going to ask you again, little four-eyed pipsqueak! Do you want the goddamn puffer test?”

Earlier this year, I bought new specs with transitional lenses. I do not like them. Here’s why: they take over 10 minutes to transition when I go from outside to inside. The change in light exposure throws me for a loop. Nine minutes indoors and my lenses are still shaded. I bear a striking resemblance to Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s life coach.

I’ve worn glasses for 27 years. I consider them to be an extension of my face. But you know what would be really cool? Transitional dentures.

Harold and Kumar Write an Essay in “List Format”

For a few weeks now, I’ve been struggling with an essay originally composed in “list format”: Should I restructure it and erase the “inventory-like” nature of its arrangement? Should I leave it alone and let it die in its late stage of development?

What’s my motivation, anyhow?

Let’s see if I can determine the answers to these questions. I’m going to try, at least.

In David Blakesley’s review of Reinventing Rhetoric: The Dialectic of List and Story by John D. O’Banion, he states:

“List is the form of discourse utilized by logic or systematic thought; story is the form utilized by narratival thought… In their application, ‘List records scientific truth, with logic providing tests of a list’s accuracy and universality. Story embodies aesthetic ‘truth’ (meaning), with narration providing guidance in revealing and discovering such situationally-bound meaning.'”

Personally, I chose the “list format” because the emotional material within the essay was, and continues to feel, raw. For me, a list means I’m compiling ideas and notions in order to both realize and create something much bigger and a hell of a lot more meaningful. For example, earlier today I thought about all the fixings I’m going to need for “Friday Night’s Fajita Fete”, but it wasn’t until I actually started to write down a list that I realized, Oh yeah, I’m definitely going to need aluminum foil for the tortillas and seven more packets of seasoning because I know I’m currently out of aluminum foil and I invited thirty goddamn people to my house.

Memoirists are often cautioned to steer clear of writing about emotionally-charged, unnerving situations as they continue to unfold. This is because whatever can be learned from the experience likely hasn’t revealed itself; in fact, it might not appear for quite some time. I’ve been told by various sources that the default amount of time one should allow to lapse following trauma is two years. This theory had me thinking, So, once the requisite 24 months has passed, it’s okay for a writer to crack her knuckles and FINALLY sit down to release the repressed emotions via Word document, pounding on the keys as she taps into her anger, fear, and sorrow? Like this: I’ve been waiting for this day to unburden my broken heart. I’ve held on to these emotions so long that I can’t exactly recall where they came from. But never mind that…

This is why I think it’s okay to forego the “two-year rule” in order to convey one’s experience as it happens, as long as a certain amount of self-awareness and tact is maintained, PARTICULARLY when the trauma of the experience is confined to one’s imagination. Currently, I believe part of the reason I haven’t finished my “list form” essay is because I haven’t come to any final conclusion about myself. I’ve got to keep in mind that, at this point in the process, I’m looking at my situation the same way one looks at a brand-new 5,000-piece puzzle — my feelings about it include, but are not limited to, confusion and hopelessness, accompanied by occasional bursts of glee (i.e. declaring to the world, “Hey, I’m not feeling so sad about this today!” is like exclaiming, “Look, I found a corner piece! Progress!”)

Now, let me reveal my motivation for writing this essay. What is it that I hope to realize? Well, first you need to know what the essay is about. It’s about the concept of love to an addict, particularly in the first year of sobriety because, let me tell you, 12 months clean and sober ain’t shit when I’m FINALLY deciding on how I want to dress, what music I want to listen to, and what I want in a partnership with someone and, sheesh, in all reality, my emotions were just likely amplified this past year because I wasn’t quashing them with substances so when I loved this past year, it really felt like love and — you know when a baby sometimes smiles because he’s got gas? Well, maybe my reactions this year were all just a little bit off this year and I couldn’t define them so when I felt pain, I smiled and when I was happy, I broke plates on the floor. You know?

Something along those lines. Referring back to David Blakesley’s review: “List is the form of discourse utilized by logic or systematic thought…”, I found it cathartic and significantly more pragmatic to take the aforementioned italicized train of thought and turn it into a list. See below, the beginning of the essay:

1.) Love to an addict. It goes from bottle to cloud. From something tangible to something metaphysical. As time passed between me and the last time I got fucked-up, my obsessive thoughts shifted their focus away from the fading sugarplum capsules dancing in my head, in on the bright sun subordinately shining into my bedroom each morning. Waking up without pain — it felt so nice. But I was lonesome. More lonesome than I’d ever been before. In fact, maybe I’d never been lonesome before.

Maybe I’ll have to abandon this essay. But I hope not. I want to look back on it someday.

Also, you know, I’d like to have it around to show my girlfriend.

Fun with Informal Rhetorical Fallacies

Ignoratio Elenchi: (An irrelevant conclusion, irrelevant thesis, or wrong conclusion fallacy; it is not the same thing as the “Red Herring” fallacy.)


“It is now legal in Baltimore for same-sex couples to marry. The law took effect January 1st, 2013. This year, Baltimore has also suffered a steep rise in gun-related criminal activity. Therefore, gay marriage caused the increase in firearm violence.”


The “Red Herring” fallacy: (The “smokescreen” defense; intentional misdirection.)


Student: “It is not ok to sleep with your best friend’s girlfriend.”

Professor Higgs: “Whose rule is that, exactly? Who said it’s ‘not okay’?”

Student: “Everybody! It’s just something we all know!”

Professor Higgs: “Please name ‘everybody’ to whom you are referring.”


Ad Hominem: (An argument directed toward an opponent’s character; one that has little to do with the topic/argument at hand.)


Reginald: “You’re a feminist; of course, you don’t like men!”

Feminist Frannie: “That’s a ridiculously ignorant argument. It’s an ad hominem fallacy.”

Reginald: “You’re an ad hominem fallacy.”


The “Straw Man” fallacy: (The misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument.)


Student: “Marijuana should be legalized. Alcohol is a far more dangerous substance. People can drink themselves to death in one night. I don’t know if there’s even one single recorded marijuana overdose. People can’t overdose on pot; they just pass out.”

Professor Higgs: “Do you realize how chaotic the aftermath of legalizing drugs would be? Imagine how people would be driving–“

Student: “But I’m not arguing that all drugs–“

Professor Higgs: “Shhhh. I’m talking. If drugs were legalized, there would be such an uptick in overdose-related deaths–“

Student: “You’re not listening!”

Professor Higgs:  “So, because I’m not listening, I’m therefore an ineffective debate opponent? Is that what you’re saying?” (Ignoratio Elenchi)

Student: “No, what I’m saying is, ‘What idiot hired you?'” (Ad Hominem)

Professor Higgs: “It’s not ok to speak to your elders that way.”

Student: “Who made up that stupid rule?” (The Red Herring fallacy)

Professor Higgs: “You just earned 25 extra credit points.”

Student: “Sheesh, because I earned them, that’s for sure.” (Logical argument)

The B.A.A.A.D. Scale

Since “The Great Adderall Shortage of 2011” — an anarchic phenomenon limited primarily to the confines of clinic waiting rooms and pharmacy counters, propelled by insufficient supply and colossal demand — Vyvanse had become my drug of choice. When all over the country, adults and children suffering from ADHD made this collective plea — “Give me my medicine! I can’t function without my medicine! Hey, ice cream sounds delicious right now! Why do I have elbows?” — I was living at ease.

You see, luckily, I’d caught wind of the “speed draught” in its earliest stage. When I heard that a new drug was being prescribed to replace Adderall XR (which was allegedly losing its patent), I ran right to my laptop to do some research, typing in: “How long do the effects of Vyvanse last?” and “What is the highest recommended dose of Vyvanse?”

The answers: Depends on a person’s tolerance and anywhere from 70 to 210 mg/day.

I was curious about how tolerant I truly was to the effects of my blessed amphetamines. I’d been taking an average of 100 to 150 mg. of Adderall per day (about 60 mg to 110 mg. more than I was prescribed.) I’d done this FOR YEARS. I also knew I’d have to factor in the copious amounts of wheat beer I drank to keep from feeling too high, which, in turn, often resulted in the swallowing of another Adderall tab because — dammit! — I was starting to feel really drunk.

How was I going to accurately calculate this in order to approach my doctor with a logical argument advocating that I was going to need the highest dose of Vyvanse humanly prescribable?

One evening, after a long stint of pondering over this very question, accompanied by Elvis Costello’s song “Every Day I Write the Book” on repeat, repeat, REPEAT, and fervid pacing around the perimeter of my bed frame, I concocted what I’d soon call “The Booze and Alcohol Amalgamation Affectedness Determiner.” Or, the B.A.A.A.D. Scale.

The B.A.A.A.D. Scale consisted of five rising levels, which I initially recorded on the back of a Comcast “Urgent Notice” bill before transcribing it below. Let me just mention that it was no small feat, relocating that bill.  But I knew there was a reason I’d kept it.

Level One: No amphetamines. Empty system. Affect consistent with extreme lethargy, remedied ONLY by one’s prescribed dose AS SOON AS POSSIBLE (or “Level Two.”) Prolonged “Level One” status typically results in excessive sleeping, bed burritos made of blankets and sheets, drooling, confusion, muscle cramps, and sensitivity to light, car horns, wind, whispers, and any person/place/thing that emits an odor.

Level Two: Affect consistent with prescribed amount (for me, 40 mg.) At “Level Two” status, it’s common for one to access the Cognitive Reward Appreciation Bank (or C.R.A.B.) The C.R.A.B. neurologically operates on a “finish this, get this” system. For example:, one might think, I took my medication, I took a shower, I brushed my teeth, and I dressed myself. Therefore, another pill. 

Level Three: Affect consistent with stable functioning. Though the C.R.A.B. is again accessed in regular intervals at “Level Three”, one is hopefully too busy with non-stop work duties to accidentally achieve “Level Four” — or “I-feel-kinda-high-so-I-deserve-a-drink” status. “Level Three” is a tricky level to maintain as the effects of the amphetamines often taper off as time passes, leaving one scrambling to look for excuses to tap into the Cognitive Reward Appreciation Bank: I walked to the bathroom and used it. Therefore, another pill. Ultimately, “Level Three” is where one hopes to stay. Unfortunately, “Level Four” is inevitably achieved because the “Level Three” rewards become too plentiful, resulting in rapid, excessive speech, slow and melodic songs played on repeat, repeat, REPEAT, and humiliating body tics (for me, running my fingers through my hair, my hair, MY HAIR!)

Level Four: Affect consistent with mania, remedied ONLY by alcohol (for me, wheat beer, wheat beer, WHEAT BEER!)

Level Five: Affect: drunk, dazed, bedraggled. It’s at this level one bypasses the C.R.A.B.: Screw it, I’m too drunkTherefore, another pill. After remedying one’s inebriation, a false sense of “Level Three” is achieved, often resulting in repeating, rotating Levels Four and Five until it’s 6 a.m. A new day?!

After reading, rereading, analyzing and shuddering at The B.A.A.A.D. Scale, I opted to eventually tell my physician this: “I’ve had my ADHD diagnosis since the Berlin Wall fell. I’m in my thirties. I have a professional job. I cannot afford to suffer the effects of being without proper medication. Therefore, Vyvanse.”

Even better? My physician had NOT done his homework on this new drug. So when I asked that I be prescribed to take it twice daily, he shrugged and said, “Sure. Just like Adderall, I guess.”

Sure. One dose of Vyvanse, according to various web forums, was purported to last 14 hours so, why not? 

For eight months, I took Vyvanse and existed on Levels Three through Five on the B.A.A.A.D. Scale. Until one morning, just as the sun was about to rise and I was tired from pacing the perimeter of my bed frame and pondering what it would be like to NOT take amphetamines, I started to cry. I COULD NOT for the life of me imagine a fulfilling life at “Level One.” I imagined living in a bed burrito, cramped up, shaking, sweating, in and out of peaceless sleep. That’s ALL I knew of life without amphetamines. Surrounded by unread books, long-ignored journals, unfinished art projects, and unlit candles, I looked around my room and thought, This can’t, can’t, CAN’T be right. So I ran to my laptop and did some research on amphetamine addiction. Later that day, I spoke to a physician at a local rehab and said, “I’ve had my ADHD diagnosis since the Berlin Wall fell. I’m in my thirties. I have a professional job. I cannot afford to suffer the effects of being addicted to amphetamines anymore. Therefore, I think I might need help.”

Julian-specific Aroma-fusions

Once Julian left for good, I started riding the Route 11 bus northbound to the Towson Mall. It was an hour ride one-way, so I made the trip mostly on Saturdays. I don’t remember what I did to occupy my time en route. Most likely, I thought about specificities pertaining solely to Julian — not to torture myself but because I was truly afraid I’d forget certain characteristics that belonged only to her. Like her extraordinarily long fingers that could perfectly cup the right side of my face, from my jaw up to my temple, while we’d lie in bed facing one another, talking about God-knows-what: children, coffee, the latest nonfiction book she was reading and why she liked or disliked it. She’d gently tap her fingers on the side of my head; brush away the wisps of hair that fell into my eyes. I’d inch closer to her, turn and press my face into her pillow — that’s where I could smell everything about her all at once: her perfume, her breath, her body lotion; her sweat that had built up in the pillowcase fibers, that permeated back a sweet mixture like fresh bread and recent sex. The day she took off, I came home to find she’d left me that pillow and pillowcase. Months passed and when her scent started to fade from them, I frantically jumped on the Route 11 bus northbound to the Towson Mall. That’s where she’d bought her perfume and body lotion. Every weekend, I tried to find it again, that perfect mixture with a precise perfume-to-body-lotion ratio. Trouble was, I didn’t know the brands, or even their singular smells. I only knew them together as Julian-specific aroma-fusions. They did come from the same department store. I got a lot of strange looks in that place when I’d stoically take a tester bottle of perfume, walk with it to the nearby lotion counter, spray it on a bottle of lotion, and with my nose as close as possible, sniff with all my might.

A Lot of Sapphic Laughter

Over the past few months, friends of mine have been telling me that I have “choices” now.

“Fine,” I’d say, “I choose a 1970 Dodge Charger, infinity money, and to hold the world record for fastest labyrinth-solving. Plus the emotional maturity of, at least, an eleven-year-old.”

But, I get it — what my friends truly mean: I now have the choice to make decisions based on what I genuinely want in life, not based on where I can find the cheapest alcohol specials and women with the lowest possible standards. (Sappho’s on Charles St.)

One friend asked, “What do you want in a relationship?”

I scratched my beard, contemplating. Then I shoved him aside and said, “Respect and a lot of laughter.”

I was surprised by my instantaneous sincerity.

“Then make a list. A serious list,” my friend said. “Write down all the qualities you’d like in a partner. You may even be surprised by what you come up with.”

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a list.

Stay tuned.

Dream Girl

It’s a mini-heartbreak, a petit mal heartbreak. I’m trying to separate myself from the internal world in which I’ve been grandiosely living, happily catching butterflies in a field alongside the woman with whom I’m fucking meant to be. Goddammit.

But who am I kidding? Even my fantasies betray me. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a field of butterflies. It’s far more romantic to imagine Dream Girl and I enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

On the wing of a biplane four thousand feet in the air.

But my mind betrays me because it knows. Where do you think the term “metacognitive” comes from? My mind knows that the fantastical mini-films it projects — whether they’re set in a butterfly field, in the clouds, or on a mountaintop in the motherfuckin’ Alps — it knows they are all constructed of 100% pure imaginative lunacy.

Separating myself from Fantasy World and Dream Girl is absolutely imperative. Because I could live there with her forever. Stake my claim. Really dig my damn heels into the ground. Build us a nice little house with a large walk-in closet for all of her ridiculous shoes. Used to be that when the shame of my imagination was too strong to bear, I’d wash a couple amphetamines down with a big bottle of Night Train. (Hey, it’s Baltimore, ok?)

Now I’m almost a year clean and a year sober from substances. But from my Fantasy World and Dream Girl addiction? Oh hell no. For example: back in February, this gal at Whole Foods brushed up against me in the produce department. She was about my age, that being somewhere between 19 and 46. She had beautiful blue eyes and red ropey hair that matched her scarf and wool socks. Black leggings. A little pout. She brushed up against me and apologized. Like any normal human being, my response was, “Oh, that’s ok.” But was it an accident? I thought, I should ask her to marry me and find out.

And, goddammit, there I was again: leaping in a fucking butterfly field with this red-headed, bescarfed Dream Girl.

The Fantasy World and Dream Girl separation process is incredibly harsh, particularly when it involves a person from the Real World who has no clue she’s been your muse for, like, 59 days. I wish the separation process worked more like an “on/off” switch. But it doesn’t. Not at all. It’s rather similar to what one experiences when separating herself from drugs and alcohol.

Day one: tears, sweat, depression, shakes. Back-to-back episodes of trash-television shows from Investigation Discovery. Lots of non-narcotic sleep aids and painkillers.

Days two through five: pretty much the same, though less intense. Bathroom breaks are also less dizzying.

Then comes post-acute withdrawal syndrome: word loss, strange dreams, and, of course, the imminent replacement Fantasy World and Dream Girl. The latter symptom happens without warning. For me in particular, I’m left crudely concocting a slapdash Fantasy World and a sexually-latent Dream Girl (think Pat from “It’s Pat”) in an effort to turn away from my old ones, like bad habits, and never look back!

I vow never to relapse. I am done with Old Fantasy World and Bygone Dream Girl.

This lasts for a while. Life is nice. Quiet. Mundane. Until a new Dream Girl comes along and — bam! — I’m back in my head, in the motherfuckin’ butterfly field, dosin’ it up. Not giving a damn. Making the same mistake again. And again. And again. Mini-heartbreak after mini-heartbreak. And, like I said, goddammit, that’s what I’m experiencing right now — the separation process.

My head hurts.