A dose from San Francisco author Stephen Elliott's memoir of moods, masochism, and murder
EXCERPT My psychiatrist lives just down the street from me. I can walk there. I see her once a month, or once every three months, and she prescribes my pills. The pills make me crazy, I know that, but I don't see the alternative. It's really just speed, no different from the original amphetamine salts Gordon Alles injected in June, 1929, and almost identical to the Pervitin used by German paratroopers in World War II as they dropped behind enemy lines in a state the British newspapers described as "heavily drugged, fearless, and berserk." It's the same stuff injected in high doses in the Haight Ashbury that Allen Ginsburg was talking about in 1965 saying, "Speed is antisocial, paranoid-making, it's a drag, bad for your body, bad for your mind."
Without the Adderall I have a hard time following through on a thought. My mind is like a man pacing between the kitchen and the living room, always planning something in one room then leaving as soon as he arrives in the other. Adderall is a compound of four amphetamine salts. The salts metabolize at different rates with diverse half lives, so the amphetamine uptake is smoother and the come down lighter. And I wonder if I'm not still walking back and forth in my head, just faster, so fast it's as if I'm not walking at all.
My psychiatrist is tall and thin and her skin hangs loosely around her face. I like her quite a bit though I've never spent more than 15 minutes with her. She works from her home and a small waiting room is always open on the side of her house. There are magazines there, one in particular ADD Magazine. The magazine is full of tips for organizing your life. There's even an article suggesting that maybe too much organization is not a good thing. Mostly though, it's about children. How to deal with your attention deficit child and the child's teacher, who might be skeptical.
In the writing class I teach, a woman recently turned in an essay about her son who suffers from attention deficit. Her essay was written as a love letter and was completely absent of hate or envy or any of the things that make us human. It was missing everything we try to hide.
"How are you feeling?" my psychiatrist asks.
"Better," I reply.
I had stopped taking the pills for a year, maybe more. Three weeks ago I started taking them again. When I quit taking Adderall I was still dating Lissette. I would go to her house in Berkeley during the day while her husband was gone, and wrap myself around her feet while she worked. Or I would visit her at the dungeon she worked at on the weekends as a professional dominatrix. I would sit in the dressing room with the women and we would watch television. Lissette was the most popular and she would be off with the clients most of the day. She would leave them in the rooms to undress. When she returned they would be kneeling on the floor, their naked backs facing her. She might walk carefully toward them, sliding the toe of her boot across the carpet. Or she might stand away from them, letting their anticipation build, as she pulled a single-tail from the rack. She loved to be adored and the best clients made her feel happy and complete. The walls were thin and I could hear the paddles landing on the client's back with a thud sometimes followed by a scream. When she was done she might come downstairs and sit on my lap for a while, and then we would go.
I have a memory of Lissette in the dungeon, which was really just a four-bedroom basic Californian with a driveway and a yard in a quiet town north of Berkeley, near the highway. She's standing on the back of a couch, grabbing a toy from above a row of lockers. She's wearing panties with lace along the bottom and high heels and we're all staring at the back of her thighs, amazed.
When I was taking Adderall all I thought about was Lissette and when I stopped taking the Adderall I started thinking about other things. Lissette noticed and we broke up. Then we got back together, then we broke up again. Over the course of last year, after I had stopped, I often felt suicidal. I had time, but I didn't know what to do with it. I was a writer but I had forgotten how to write so I sat with my computer. I sat in coffeeshops or I sat at home or I sat at the Writer's Grotto, an old building near the ballpark where a group of authors share office space. I still had a bunch of pills left and occasionally I would take one, just to know the writer's block was real. Then I lost all the pills when my bag was stolen at a bar on 22nd Street six months ago, and that was the end of that.
If you asked me what happened this past year I'm not sure I could tell you. I could say I moved into this apartment on the edge of the city where I can hear children and dogs in the morning and I despise it. I could say I was with and not with Lissette, getting together and breaking up every couple of months. At one point I called her the love of my life. I could say honestly I started to write a novel every day. I could say I went on tour for six weeks with the Sex Workers Art Show and that a compilation of previously written essays and stories about my predilection for my addiction to violent sex was released to silent reviews.
I could say I watched the first three seasons of The Wire on DVD and on Sunday nights I went to a friend's house nearby and ate dinner and watched HBO.
I ran a reading series in the same bar where my bag was stolen. It was part of a literary organization I founded to raise money for progressive candidates running for congress in 2006.
I edited an anthology of political erotica.
I could say I did all these things and if it sounds like a lot I can assure you it isn't. I'm not married and I have no children. I have friends but they don't know where I am most of the time. I don't work. I live on money I made before, money that is almost gone.
Last year I made $10,000.
I live in San Francisco. Rents are going up.
I'm teaching a couple of classes to get by. I know I should get a job, but it's hard to do that after a while.
From The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder (Graywolf Press, 212 pages, $23), published in September.
STEPHEN ELLIOTT With Tobias Wolff and Bucky Sinister. Thurs/27, 7 p.m., $20 (free copy of The Adderall Diaries for attendees). Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. (415) 970-0012. www.amnesiathebar.com