Drug abuse and how it screws up your writing style.

On the phone until 5 in the morning, and a few hours later, before leaving for work, I take an illicit green industrial tranquilizer and lose muscle control. At work I begin typing words like "werrtin" and "plmpf." I am uncoordinated already, so a little problem with getting the glass to my lips and drinking, or opening the door before entering the room, catches no one by surprise.

This sudden confusion complements angst, and I break into tears at intervals. Under the influence, I think, everyone on the Internet can see me and knows me and I am so worthless. I take Ftrain offline, then post a poem begging for affirmation and support from my friends, something I resolved not to do and historically have avoided, oh great agony of sinking life rarified by drugs.

At eleven I make an appointment with a therapist for three pm. I tell them at work that I have to see my shrink--easier to say it outright than fib--then later take the N up to Carnegie Hall. Between the stop and her office a mid-skyscraper weather bomb goes off, and I am enclosed in solid raining wetness for exactly one minute.

Pants, shirt, socks, underwear, hair. My shirt is now translucent; strangers can see my tattoo and the large dark blurry patch of chest hair. Dry people huddled under canopies laugh at my hunched, shuffling, splashing jog.

This--the rain and laughing strangers--brings me to a laugh, and the laugh brings me to release from three weeks of frustration, angst, recrimination, phone calls. Web sites, consulting jobs, new pairs of pants, and ex-girlfriends don't compare in intensity to a hard and heavy New York flash storm, dumping between the buildings from the sky.

After a few more splashing seconds I enter the building, looking like a cat after its bath, and drip on the waiting room floor.


My therapist is a small woman in her late 50's. Today she is wearing rhinestone glasses and an elastic camoflauge v-neck top with a suit jacket.

She says, Pussycat, pussycat, you go so long between visits.

No hugs! I say, as she moves in with her arms out. I'm damp.

I'll just kiss you on the cheek then. Maybe someone has a hair dryer?

No one does. In a few moments of confusion I was handed paper towels, stripped of my shirt and put into a backless blue paper hospital gown. Someone hung my shirt on an IV stand by an open window. The session began.

How are you?

Not so well, I say.

I think, I am soaking wet and wearing a piece of paper. And giggle.

I'm sorry, she says.

We walk at a steady pace through the events of the weeks, localizing on last night's marathon phone chat. I forget to mention the tranquilizer.

She stops after a long look at me. Wait, is this the time of year when [....] with your family? she asks.

I think for a moment. Yes, this is the fifth anniversary of that. Close to exactly, maybe by a few days.

So you should think about that, pussycat, she says. What that brings up. She pauses. And as for [...], you might want to [...] with this lady. You shouldn't [...]. And also not so [...]. You love to take the blame, correct? There's a Yiddish word for it.

She says the Yiddish word.

We speak other simple platitudes of therapy, mundane things I can't figure myself. We find ways I can stay calm. An hour--then the buzzer rings. She looks to me.

Your shirt, she says, let's get that.

She comes back a full minute later. Paul, it--she pauses. I can't find it; I think your shirt. It looks like it blew out the window.

Then she says, I'm so sorry.

I think rapidly, a man under pressure. I will need to take the train home in an open-backed hospital gown. Maybe a cab, but what cab will pick me up in a blue paper gown? So the train, unless a cop thinks I just escaped....

Umm, I say.

I have it here, I was kidding, she says, handing it over.

I put it on; it is very damp but not dripping. She hugs me, kisses my cheek. I kiss hers. I hand her five twenty dollar bills, and promise I'll come back. Goodbye, pussycat, she says. The elevator lets me out on 57th, where puddles have formed under the sun. I buy a drink of something that bubbles from a drugstore and an orange from a street vendor, my first food for the day, and lean on a damp wall before going back to work, and watch the milling thousands walk through their times, working, talking, eating, and kissing.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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