I AM FORGETFUL LUCY-LIGHT: The Fuzzy Impressionist Paintings That Are My Memory
Updated: Apr 1
Lucy Whitmore - Forgetful Lucy from 50 First Dates:
Although one of my most significant injuries is to my left temporal lobe, I don’t actually have “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. Nobody does. It was a fictitious ailment they made up for the movie.
The fact that they could have used the real condition, called Anterograde Amnesia, is one of my annoyances about this movie. And yes, the show is rife with racial, gender, and other prejudice jokes, stereotypes, and non-Hawaiian casting of a major POC role. Another common complaint: is this love or is it the creepy stalky-hunt of a player trying to take advantage of a disabled girl?
First, consider the genre. It borders on slapstick at times. Even Adam Sandler's portrayal of the Commitment-Phobic Playah is over the top (c'mon, it's Adam Sandler), so if you're looking for a realistic portrayal--of anything, much less a healthy romantic relationship ideal--you need another genre.
I would suggest one to you, if I could.
But how many other movies can you name that tell someone like me that I'm worth loving as I am? That I'm worth tenacious pursuit in spite of the herculean obstacles in the way of getting close to me? That I'm worth the time and energy it takes to really learn about my conditions? That I'm worth coming up with creative solutions in order to STAY close to me after The Almighty Conquest and Belt Notching of "Yeah, man, I fucked a belly dancer." Or after obtaining that White Knight Quest Prize...
Only to shove it onto the shelf in disgust because the reality of actually living with it is way more than you realized you were signing up for.
How many movies about a Dain Bramaged protagonist can you name?
--Now how many did not acquire their injuries via combat or athletics?
--Oh, and how many of those are female?
--And how many of those portray the realities of living with permanent brain damage in any sort of hopeful, inspiring way?
Yeah. Me neither.
The conditions I live with are so infrequently portrayed onscreen, whether inspirational, realistic, or comedic. When we are portrayed, usually we're not protagonists.
As such, 50 First Dates remains dear to my heart because certain aspects of it hit the nail on the head. (Badum-tss. I didn't even try for that one. Only realized it amidst editing.) 🤪
People also rag on this movie because it makes light of a truly difficult situation. But at least somebody was talking about general population TBI in an uplifting manner for half a millisecond.
I have found that the reality of brain injury is something few people genuinely want to know about. It can happen so easily, and it happens more frequently than anybody wants to imagine--yes, to “regular” people too, not just our combat vets and sports icons.
To crack open the subject through humor and romantic comedy is perhaps a first toe-dip into acknowledging this scary and uncomfy reality: yup, it could happen to you every day you get into a car or walk down the stairs with things in your hands. It could happen to your kid every time they go sledding or skating or toddling too fast toward the table at two.
I’m really bummed that so many of the important clips of this movie are rife with the off-color and denigrating caricatures of other marginalized populations and of the TBI patient extras. Because without that, I could reference so many more scenes without a second thought.
The reality of this situation is truly a nightmare, and there are gems in this movie that could provide a small-bite, lighter introduction to this particular corner of the Underworld that the average clueless person might find easier to swallow than my customary sledgehammer fire-hosing.
Because the world doesn’t like talking about us, and it gets especially squirmy when we talk honestly and uncensored about ourselves. I think it’s because people don’t want to imagine what it would be like if it happened to them.
I do not blame anybody for squirming away from this topic. I'd love to squirm away from it. Not really an option.
Who are we without our memories?
CAN we actually call ourselves Ourselves without them?
I don't. I have a ghost haunting my brain. Her name is the one I was given at my birth.
A dance I made when these memoirs were over on Medium
Except for scary, painful or traumatic stuff, I don’t make many clear memories anymore. I mostly make Impressionistic paintings. The museum gallery of my past hosts collections of cycles in my life since that first car wreck. The time periods between them tend to overlap, but these galleries are individuated by the hues and flavors that dominate them.
—The Recovery Years - Dec. 21, 2000 - 2004
From the morning after the wreck until about three years later. It's just this fuzzy swath of muted hues and grayscale, pock-marked by flashes of inferno and wildflowers. Doctor's appointments, court cases, support groups, loss, grief, loss, jealousy, wondrous discovery--forgotten, rage, bitterness, betrayal, miraculous gratitude, confusion, acceptance, loss, rage, wondrous re-discovery, physical therapy, and the blessed relief when I finally found Bowen Therapy, which allowed me to dance again. I made my dance drills as my own PT, got married, and took myself to Europe once my civil suit finalized. That was my reward for all I had been through.
—The Triumphant Years - 2004—2008
When I proved the pessimists of my recovery wrong, I taught dance classes in multiple cities, traveled around Colorado to teach and perform, and produced my own shows with my students and friends. This gallery also includes my introduction to karate, most of my first marriage, and the earliest, magical period of my international career when I only traveled on occasion.
—The Touring Years - 2007—2010
The years when my dance star shot into the heavens, exploded like fireworks, and abruptly disintegrated into falling ash. But it set my first husband and I free from each other.
—The Backslide Years - 2009–2013
The years when I tried to keep a desperate claw-hold on the life I’d built. Unfortunately, I lost my personal assistant, and my second marriage took a major toll on my health because I could never take a break from working to recover from my travel gigs or other stressful times due to my husband’s financial negligence. I also lived for a year with a ceiling that dripped arsenic and black mold into my bedroom, and I steadily, subtly, subversively withstood multiple injuries from abuse disguised as martial training “accidents”. The final assault gave me a year of seizures and forced me to move to Arkansas where my parents could help me recover again.
—The Reclusive Years - 2013—present
Upon arrival in AR, my driving clearance was revoked and I experienced 95% isolation, something I hadn't known since elementary school. Just like that time period, the majority of my human interaction came from my parents. It was honestly a relief, and stopped my seizures in their tracks. But it meant I had no life outside my own walls.
Later, I tried to establish a dance community here and mostly failed. I also had a vastly different martial experience, due to the increase in physical limitations, a different regional mindset, and the socially crippling symptoms of being booted from Mild TBI to Moderate. I'd had three additional brain traumas, after all. The painting collection from this time period is fuzzier than the preceding years, and contains even fewer snapshots or video clips of clear memory, even though it's more recent and therefore should be clearer.
I wander through the galleries from time to time, taking in the general flavor of each of these time periods. Sometimes I go back and read my journals or other writing when I want to remember things in more detail. Good thing I keep those records, otherwise the majority of my life since December 22, 2000 would be mostly lost to me. (That's the major difference between me and Lucy Whitmore--I remember my car wreck in stark detail. The fuzziness envelops everything that came after.)
Many of the vivid images I have in my head come from the literal photos and videos that have been shot at important events in my life. But as for organically made memories?
As I mentioned in the last post, the most vivid memory clips, complete with all five senses and more, are from the new traumatic experiences that have occurred in the past twenty years. But traumas are stored differently from day-to-day or even intensely pleasant memories.
What are we beyond what we remember?
If it was flip-flopped--if I had forgotten the traumatic stuff and instead only remembered the good stuff, who would I be?
Oh. That’s right.
I know firsthand how that works. There have been two major trauma periods that I wiped from my conscious memory. The first stayed buried from the time I was a toddler until I was twenty-eight. The second was obscured from nineteen until twenty-four.
Both times, those memories left marks on my mind like a little piece of bullet that didn't get fully removed. Everything got sealed over, but those chunks festered inside, poisoning everything I did. So many bad decisions I made and my general hatred of myself…the shame and rage and confusion and pain…I had no idea why I felt all those things, or why I kept sabotaging my life. That was more damaging than getting the memories back.
I can’t learn from it if I can’t remember it.
That's the general theme of history, and why it's important to study it. If we forget or ignore, we're doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes. Which I did. Over and over, until everything imploded.
So I don’t know. Is it better that I’m haunted instead by the hazy recollections that somewhere back there, I’ve known beauty…love…joy…happiness?
There is this faint echo of something I know deep down. I used to experience it often. Friendships. Romantic connection. Wondrous ecstasy, even. Community. Hobbies and activities that brought me into constant contact with other people. Careers in which I felt like a valuable, contributing member of society, rather than a “worthless eater.”
Yet these reclusive years have given me gifts that are like water to one staggering out of the desert. I finally have a safe home environment with all the solitude and silence my brain has been screaming for since--well, since I arrived on this planet. I was born with a hypersensitive neurological system, and adding TBI has only exacerbated that.
The biggest silver lining has been the space in which to create several of my favorite and greatest projects. This website is the result. Without this intense isolation, and without having lost so much, I never could have created them. Unfortunately, I am so out of touch with the world now that I don’t quite know what to do with it all.
There are always pros and cons to either situation.
The trick now is to shift my automatic base of operations from those trauma pathways into some sort of balance between rosy-colored glasses and the pessimistic PTDS-brain ASSumption that the world is out to get me. I’ve finally gotten to return to EMDR in the past couple months, and it’s already having a trickle-down effect on that trauma map I made last year.
It’s all too fresh to write about much of that yet. But like I do, I journal about it each time so that when I’m finally ready to talk about it, I’ll have the vivid details right there in my own words, instead of having to rely on my dusty filing cabinets, Impressionist paintings, and what other people tell me that I am.
“That'll teach us not to take our fully-functioning memories for granted, won't it?” —Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Warning: All the spoilers
'TIS THE SEASON
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--UP NEXT: A brief detour into my home dance studio
--OR you can find the entire Brain Injury Series and many others HERE.
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