A glimpse of Infinity
March 30, 2014 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Geoff Dyer writes about having a stroke, and about life and light in California.
posted by Lezzles (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Very scary, and wonderfully written. Whoever can write this: "There had certainly been some cognitive impairment, but my wife insisted that this had occurred before the stroke. I used to pride myself on my sense of direction but that had long gone south, or maybe north or east," has my vote for someone I want to read more of.
posted by xingcat at 6:35 AM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting - this is a great article, and a good place to insert a plug for the London Review of Books! What a great peridical - comes out every couple of weeks and not just book reviews but a lot of other really interesting coverage as well (e.g. the recent piece on Julian Assange by Andrew O'Hagan). And the subscription is reasonably priced. I have no connection to LRB, I just like it a lot.
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:02 AM on March 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

When I started reading the article, I assumed that the writer was at least retirement age and then halfway through he mentions that he's 55. I'm really going to have to get used to reading stuff like this about people my age but I'm not there yet.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 AM on March 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm always a little... well, not amused, nor startled, but my attention gets drawn to... the way people say "I'm too young for this." I have damage in my right occipital lobe that causes me some of the problems Dyer reports, although in my case it was due to malformed blood vessels -- essentially a little time bomb in my head waiting for a very minor trigger. While strokes are more common in older people and people with other health issues, it's not like they can't happen for all sorts of reasons. Your body is a complex, chaotic system where things can go wrong (and way wronger than this) no matter how "virtuous" your lifestyle. Yeah, I am kind of a Herzog when it comes to the body -- it is a vast chaotic wildness that will engulf and destroy all our attempts to impose order on it.

Which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that I liked the article. It was well-written and eocative.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Geoff Dyer never disappoints and it will be a very sad day when he passes. We should cherish writers like this because all too soon they are taken from us. Thanks for sharing the link and thanks for sharing Mr. Dyer, thanks period.
posted by Fizz at 8:28 AM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Makes me love my brain and miss California more than ever. Snuggle-y, familiar old brain, I love you!
posted by allthinky at 8:52 AM on March 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

for someone I want to read more of.

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews is a good place to dip your toe into his writings.

Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room is a bit more off the wall but very enjoyable. The book is about a film that Geoff has watched and rewatched many times, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. While watching Stalker before reading is a bit beneficial (it lets you picture specific scenes that he refers to) it is not altogether necessary. It's a novella length essay on a film that Geoff is obsessed with, analysing the film from many different aspects: cinematography, acting, literary, culturally, politically, etc.
posted by Fizz at 9:06 AM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

>I drank a fair bit, but less than many of my friends, and was drinking less with every year.

There's the rub.

According to the National Stroke Association, the vast majority of healthcare professionals agree that drinking more than one to two drinks each day can increase stroke risk and lead to other medical problems, including heart and liver disease, and possibly brain damage.
posted by Gordion Knott at 9:10 AM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did have three beers last night but that's a very rare occurrence with me in the last few decades or so. I average less than a drink a day.
posted by octothorpe at 9:18 AM on March 30, 2014

"The only book about jazz that I have recommended to my friends. It is a little gem, with the distinction of being 'about' jazz rather than 'on' jazz. If closeness to the material determines a great solo, Mr Dyer's book is one."

Who said that? Keith Jarrett. Which Dyer book was he talking about? Dyer's But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Aw. I'm a big fan of Geoff Dyer. Hope he stays with us a while.
posted by jcruelty at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2014

For a good laugh, I recommend Geoff Dyer's book on DH Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage. Not required: an interest in DH Lawrence
posted by jcruelty at 10:17 AM on March 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also really liked Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It.

I've just always found Dyer very relatable... a kindred spirit, albeit one who writes much better than I ever could.
posted by jcruelty at 10:20 AM on March 30, 2014

Gordion Knott: There's the rub.

There's a rub. Most of these risks are multi-factorial, and reducing them to one cause, even though alcohol is a very important factor, is not a great approach.
posted by sneebler at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Geoff Dyer's work is excellent. I hope his health keeps improving. He also gives a great interview.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:58 AM on March 30, 2014

There's a rub. Most of these risks are multi-factorial, and reducing them to one cause, even though alcohol is a very important factor, is not a great approach.

Indeed. And a lot of it depends on how your genes interact with the environment. Everyone is different. He mentions his dad who made it to 90, and whose diet was horrendous.

That said, I always find it interesting to see people make claims of having led a very healthy lifestyle, exactly as Geoff does here. Only, when the details emerge, it's not all that healthy. Sure, it's leagues healthier than some who have made it unscathed into their 90's and beyond, but it's not what medical science would vet as "very healthy".

He's active - that's good. But while playing ping-pong, biking, or even playing tennis is certainly commendable and being active, it is not a guarantee that he's getting the medically endorsed aerobic and weight workouts of 150 min a week of aerobic and 2-3 sessions of weight lifting. His diet, we'll take his word for it having been exceptionally healthy, except he then mentions a daily donut or "twice-baked hazelnut croissant". This is not negligible - that can be a ton of calories, sugar and saturated fat. A daily poison pill like that is not a healthy diet. And then he drops the little piece of info about having been diagnosed with very high cholesterol some years ago. That's like saying "I'm healthy like a horse, well, yeah, I've got diabetic level blood sugar, but hey, healthy, healthy, healthy!". Very high cholesterol is an alarm sign for your cardiovascular system.

We can't mitigate all risks, and our genes have a lot to say about what we can do about our health. And heck, I sympathize with him, as a fellow pastry-addict - I too have highish-cholesterol, though not alarm levels, and I indulge in pastry way too often. You gotta live, and pay the price as luck will have it.

I wish him the best - I rather liked the writing here, though I was not a fan of his yoga book.
posted by VikingSword at 12:42 PM on March 30, 2014

There's the rub.

Jesus. I know why people do this stuff- see, it's his fault! It will never happen to me, because I won't do that bad thing! But it's still kinda crappy. Us Smart Guys, we're going to live forever, and if something bad happens to someone else, it doesn't mean that life is fraught with peril, that death comes for us all. No, it just means they fell short of the glory, they sinned and were therefore punished.

I hope you also read the part where he said
All the test results so far were negative, he said. Apart from the small matter of the stroke I was in great shape. This was as expected: I played tennis and ping-pong all the time, cycled everywhere, was as thin as a rake. I loved soy milk. My favourite meat was tofu. ‘I even take the skin off chicken!’ I told him.
And the part where he mentions that he doesn't smoke. I guess he left out the part where he Thinks Bad Thoughts, I'm sure that's also a factor...

Anecdotallly, I guess I take this a little personally because a more severe version of this same stroke happened to my biological mother, who never had a drink in her 70 years, about six months ago, so I figure I have a pretty good chance of experiencing it myself if I last that long. But I'm sure it will be my own fault because of the poor choices I've made about what genetic heritage to have.

Good article though, it sounds like a very frightening/bewildering event to have happen, and he of course writes very well about it.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:55 PM on March 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also consider this recent study of the connections between alcohol and stroke mortality:

“You do not have to drink often, but over two times per week can greatly increase your risk to die from a stroke.”

Over 2,500 middle-aged men took part in the study, which was conducted over a 20-year period.

No, booze isn't an immediate death sentence. But if you're middle-aged, male and a drinker, you might want to take notice. And I say that as someone who enjoys alcohol in its wonderful, multitudinous varieties.
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:08 PM on March 30, 2014

Yeah, pick your poison. I drink the equivalent of 1-2 drinks a day 5 days a week (usually wine). Your odds of stroke and certain kinds of cancer go up. But so what? The only reason to worry in that case, is if you have a confirmed vulnerability to stroke or those cancers, then yes, cut out the alcohol. But otherwise? No. Because what's important is not whether some morbidity or other is elevated with light/moderate alcohol consumption, but what all-cause mortality looks like. And light/moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower all-cause mortality compared to teetotalers.
posted by VikingSword at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2014

Yeah, pick your poison.

Thank you, yes, we all do. And of course, continuing to be alive, with or without indulging in currently understood medical vices/risk-factors, is just a possibly-slower-acting pick.

As far as we know though, Being Annoyed at Smug Health-Fiends on Websites isn't a contributing factor, and thank goodness for that, because otherwi@*&^^^+NO CARRIER
posted by hap_hazard at 2:22 PM on March 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who had a stroke in his late 20s, mostly due to a blood clot that got re-routed due to an undiagnosed hole in his heart, and several friends who have to be careful due to epilepsy who are otherwise completely healthy. Age is only one factor contributing to increased possibility of illness.

If you could stop drinking or stop aging, the aging would be much more effective in maintaining health.
posted by mikeh at 3:08 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

GenjiandProust: the way people say "I'm too young for this.

One of the sad things about dealing with aging brains is you can encounter in people who start demonstrating neuropsychiatric changes due to a succession of subclinical damage and infarctions. For many of these, the accidents started happening in their 30s or 40s, but were imperceptible or subjectively felt like occasional headaches, dizziness, mood lability or minor, transient word-finding difficulties. It's like MS, but much more subtle. For instance, there's a redundant system of cranial circulation, the Willis Polygon, that shows amazing variability. But much less during youth (child-teens and 20s). After that, you find from samples in their 40s/50s that only a third of people have a fully bilaterally redundant system. Why? One theory is that they have already taken one big hit to the system. So they've lost much of the redundancy and another big hit will result in massive infarct. In other words, you get the first one for free. We're designed that way. Alcohol or tobacco or sarcoid/autoimmune can speed up this process dramatically.

You get something amazingly noticeable, like visual changes, and it's not subtle. You get something that readjusts your risk/reward saliency circuits, or induces transient hypomania or depression, that's not what people associate most with stroke. But a surprising amount of first brief psychoses in otherwise "normal" people can be traced to transient (or not so transient) ischemic events.

Takeaway message - many of us are literally losing our minds from our 30s on. We should make the most of them while we still have them.
posted by meehawl at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yes, everything Dyer writes is worth reading. Including his Paris Review interview in the Winter '13 issue. I read it with a couple of glasses of wine and a bowl of almonds.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:31 PM on March 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Excellent and fascinating piece. Thanks, Lezzles.
posted by homunculus at 12:45 AM on March 31, 2014

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