29 JULY 1997
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MORE ON DROWNING

My fascination with the sunken mailboat at the bottom of Loon Lake is linked to my fear of going blind.

Even as a little boy I carried this fear with me if for no other reason than my grandmother, Hannah Murphy, was blind in her old age. When we would visit her in Hillyard in the house where my father was raised she would greet me by placing her hands on my face and pulling me closer to kiss her powdery cheek.

The mailboat had to be paid close attention to be observed. The inky lake water allowed little light through from the surface so that it was like passing a flashlight in the night over the hull. It was not worth diving into the water and touching it. It was just a boat. What was observed was its existence, that it hadn't rotted away.

My fear of blindness wasn't of being attacked, having acid thrown in my face or spikes driven through the sockets. It was of being struck blind, of waking up in the dark and seeing the world as if everything was the mailboat.

Of course I never was struck blind, not permanently at least but this fear did manifest itself when I was older in the form of migraine headaches and negative scotoma where sections of my visual field would simply not be there. I would be reading a line of text in a book and certain words would disappear. I would be looking at a face and there would be no mouth or eyes. This would be accompanied by an inability to remember words or, even worse, how to pronounce them. This was part of the aura that would be followed by intense pain on one side of my head.

I took various medications, including ergostat, a derivative of LSD made from ergot that some consider the cause of saintly visions during the middle ages. The medicine only worked if I took it at the start of the aura, which usually took me by surprise. Eventually the migraines stopped when I started to invent ways of visualizing the scotoma in my paintings.

I don't fear going blind any more. I've converted that particular obsession to an interest in not quite being able to see, like the mailboat below the surface of the lake.

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