An older book of mine was left open on a page with three paintings– One by Terry Winters, one by Ross Bleckner and one by Susan Rothenberg. I left it open on my dresser for a few days to think about them. All three painters were a big deal for me as an undergraduate. And all of them are still influential, in their way. But Bleckner is especially long-lasting for inspiration. His paintings are biological and mineral and sonic. They hum and glow inside a space that could be vast and miniature at once. Also very memorable is a published page from a sketchbook of his where two images are juxtaposed: the back of a young man with acne and a shot of a galaxy. As you can imagine, the forms and arrangement are similar, and I love the mental flip of that choice. I love that it beautifies something we normally perceive as unattractive, and I love that it connects the phenomena that occur at every scale and on every surface of the natural world, echoing and folding like so many origami mysteries.
With enough distance, I am now fascinated instead of terrified of something that happened to me Tuesday morning. On a drive to an 8am meeting, I started to throw double takes at flashing lights in my periphery. I soon realized that it was in my eyes, and mused that it was probably afterimage from my 4-year-old’s headlamp (he’d been excavating under couches and stoves in the early morning dark). But as the visual feedback began to increase, I knew it couldn’t be that. Then I noticed that it wasn’t in only one eye, but in both– a disturbance in the right visual field. And that, to me, says brain. My grandfather had a stroke, and through that experience and the classic “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” I know that each eye is connected to both hemispheres– the visual center for the right half of each eye is in the left hemisphere, while the left half of each eye sends signals to the right. My grandfather, for example, would eat all the food on only one side of his plate, because that’s all he could see.
A few days before, I had knocked myself on the left side of my temple with a door. Totally laughable until this moment, especially as the flashes turned into zig-zags and started to shift rapidly through striated colors, sort of like a Jacob Magraw-Mickelson painting animated.
By the time I arrived at school, I was suitably frightened. The curve of electric pulse was moving from the right periphery into the middle of my cone of vision. Looking at the computer keyboard, for example, was a spotty fog. And then, it faded away.
After some consultation and research (yes, google research) I deduced that the symptoms were probably not a delayed concussion from my super awesome door-closing blunder, but that they seemed exactly like the descriptions of pre-migraine optical feedback. I’ve had migraines, but never this light show. So I waited. But while I felt distracted and a little lightheaded, I never got the headache.
After a little more google research, I conclude that what I experienced was a silent migraine– or a migraine aura without the headache. So now I wonder about artists like Magraw-Mickelson– have they experienced things like this before?