Solvent abuse
Amanda Steggell, preview of text for foam publication, "Glue. How to make things stick"

6th March, 2003
RE: Solvent Abuse

Dear editor,

I am sorry that I have been unable to even reach your extended deadline for my intended article, which was to be called “Solvent abuse”, more commonly known as “glue sniffing”.

The problem is this. I seem to be in a position where things just don’t seem to be sticking together. Even the word “deadline” makes me fall apart at the seams. During the last year several members of my family have died. The telephone mediates the news of each death to me. Not my mobile phone, but my home telephone, which seems nowadays to be mostly used for this purpose. All other conversations occur on my mobile. My home telephone has become a direct connection to death. The deadline. Most of the people who have died have been old and/or sick, and I have received warnings of impending deaths first. While extended deadlines offer temporary relief, they also leave me in an apprehensive state of limbo.

I have just had an operation, the results of which look very much like someone fanatically finicky, neat and tidy, has tried to cut off both my legs, but has been caught in the process. The purpose of this exercise is to remove infected glands that reject and expel new skin cells as if they were intrusive aliens through large, sticky, wet, volcanic growths around the more intimate areas of my body. It is not a fatal or “serious” condition. While this medical condition has a strange, unpronounceable name, its origins remain a mystery. The only current strategy to overcome this condition is to rage war on the symptoms, cut out infected areas and leave the consequent wounds unstitched and open until fresh skin grows. It is a surface operation. The healing process is sluggish and sore, and there is no guarantee that the condition will not return later.

My current position is this. I have been in hospital for a week. I am now at home sitting on a very sore posterior. My bare bottom is resting on a clinical napkin that absorbs any gunge that may ooze out of the open wounds on my loins. I have to air these open sores in the daytime. Before I go to bed I must apply creams and bandages to them to prevent bacterial sneak-shooters from breaking through the front line as I sleep. I have different types of bandages and creams with various names like Duoderm, Dermi-this and Dermi-that. Flamazine is a formula that is normally applied to acute burns, a kind of firewall against bacteria attack. It sounds like a fanzine for pyromaniacs. I have sniffed it. The smell is indistinctive. When I apply Falmazine, my sores burn like hellfire.

Fire without smoke.


When I stand up without my bandages on, my vagina lips hang loose in mid air, like the limp wings of a drowned butterfly held upside down. The butterfly effect, I call it. My bandages glue my wings in place where they should be on my body, but it is very hard to get these bandages to stick onto my flesh. The wetness of the open sores and the anti-bacterial creams loosens the adhesive properties of the bandages. I experiment with ways of applying these bandages to try and hold my body parts together, while leaving a large enough gap to allow me to urinate. I pee in a standing position, into a pee-bottle, so my bandages do not get soaked in misguided urine. Once I have successfully got my bandages to stick, I can walk about a bit, but just a bit. The more I move around, the more chance there is that my bandages become loose. I cannot pee in public toilets due to the risk of possible infection. I can go to the corner shop if I really have to, when I have run out of cigarettes for example, as long as my bandages are intact. Mostly, I prefer to adopt a comfortable position, and stay there as long as possible.

The skinless sores look just like pizza, red and saucy with yellow cheesy blobs on the inside, and crusty dough-like skin around the edges. As the days pass, the sauce seems to bubble and expand, gradually filling up the valleys formed under the surgeon’s knife, while the skin seems to make a stealthy advance, slowly bridging the gap between the sides of the valleys. Eventually these valleys will disappear, filled up with sedimentary layers of pizza-like substances topped with a smooth, stretchy blanket of brand new, body-friendly skin cells.

In order to relieve the uncomfortable-ness of this process I take painkillers. Pinex Forte. Two tablets. Each containing 500 mg Paracetamol and 30 mg Codeine phos. hemihydric. The Paracetmol alleviates the pain. The Codeine fuzzes my brain. I become lethargic. Passive. I am conscious of things that I need to respond to, but am unable to focus for long enough in order to act. Like the adhesive bandages that come unstuck after a while, I cannot make things stick long enough to deal with them. My response is slow and sluggish. My head aches. I feel irresponsible in the manner of being unable to respond, rather than not willing to respond. I think I need some pretty strong glue right now. Sniff. Sniff.

Run the following command for help.

./sniff -h

Sniff options should be placed before the double dash (--) and tcpdump options should be placed after.

Certain aspects of my senses are heightened, altered. For instance, I become very irritable to certain sounds, especially if they are sounds that demand a response - doorbells, phones, kids fighting, etc. Other sounds are more pleasant than usual. Comforting and more resonant. Not the sound of the radio or the TV, but sounds of life going on outside my flat. They seem much more spacious. Ambient. I seem to hear them through my whole body rather than just my ears. Maybe it is the Codeine doing this or maybe it is because I have time to pay attention to the audio output of local life from one position in space. Without external reference points such as planets, moons, stars and suns, it would be impossible to define any point on earth as being where it is. Whatever the reason, I enjoy absorbing these sounds. I don’t want to contribute to them, or for them to come too close. The sounds are detached from their source. I am lying in bed. The window is open. A car passing by on the street below is a cat-like purr, far off, coming closer, passing by, more distant. Workers on the street removing ice form the pavements are glockenspiel players. Chatty children are twittering birds. Doors opening and closing in the flats below are soft percussive instruments. It all seems to fit together nicely in a sort of ambient orchestration. I just want to lie here and listen. I am a sponge. I absorb sound. I think I am becoming a pacifist, in terms of being pacified by something. I am coming to the conclusion that this is what being a pacifist must mean in contemporary terms. A numbness. An inability to act.

Like a baby at the nipple. It sucks. Something untoward and disturbing catches its attention, maybe a sharp sound or a bright flash of light. The baby disconnects, stops sucking for a moment spilling warm milk down mother’s breast from the corner of its mouth. It briefly addresses the direction of disturbance with a fleeting glance, and abruptly turns the other cheek, once again moving breast-wards to resume sucking. Just a bit more vigorously this time, until the sucking washes away the apprehension of the unfathomable disturbance. The baby’s eyelids are now half closed, and its pupils are dilated, sinking deeper into the “we” world where strong bondage sticks one “I” and the other “I” together. Like good sex (dream on, pizza legs). Gulp, suck, gulp. The comfort-greedy baby vomits surplus milk as a curdling cheesy liquid. Very Freudian. Mother and suckling baby smell the same. Sickly sweet and slightly sour. Have you noticed that baby puke on the shoulder of a surrogate burp-assistant does not smell the same as on its milk-mother’s body? Neither does powder formula spew.

I sleep a lot, and I dream vividly. Not only at night, but in the day time, too. My dreamtime is more real, more vital. Sometimes I am not really sure what is dreamtime and what is waketime. Things don’t really stick together properly. Sex features quite a lot in my dreams when my butterfly wings are perfect and receptive. I am a jealous lover ripping apart my unfaithful partner like a wild cat. Very cliché. I am having sex with something not quite physical, and it is very hot. Very retro. Very X-Files. But the most outstanding dreams are not about sex.

Dream 1: Adam and Ocean.
I feel myself falling out of myself. I am being emptied like a can of beans into my sofa. Finally all of me arrives, shivering in cold sweat. I think I am awake. The TV is on but my eyes are still closed. I can hear the voice of a newsreader from BBC World Service telling me about Adam. Adam is the torso of a Nigerian boy dragged out of the River Thames. His non-mythical identity is, as yet unknown, but the police (who are also responsible for baptising his torso) are considering the possibility that he was the main act in a ritual killing staged by misguided worshippers of the Nigerian goddess Ocean. Forensic scientists have found that the contents of his stomach suggest that his diet is similar to that of the inhabitants of an as yet nameless village in Nigeria where Ocean is fed regularly with offerings of nuts and fruit. The current theory is this.

A boy from a nameless village in Nigeria has been abducted, and the torso currently known as Adam could belong to this abductee.
My morbid curiosity has been tickled by this tale of horror. I have opened my eyes accordingly. The newsreader is telling me that while you can purchase a variety of dried fruit, vegetables, and animal and bird limbs, etc, etc, for ritual sacrifice in markets in Africa, human sacrifice is not the norm. I am served macabre photographs of apes’ hands, feet and heads, birds’ legs, heads and wings. Not images of fruit and nuts but peripheral body parts. The parts that Adam currently lacks. I envisage re-incarnated Adam rising like a phoenix from the Thames with the wings of a bird, and the head of an ape, but I just can’t picture his legs right now. I can’t put the whole picture together. Something is stopping my imagination from running the full program. Probably shame. I should be more respectful.

Dream 2: Recurring and episodic
I wake up (in my dream, you understand) from my post operation, narcotic- induced sleep and I am looking at myself from above.

I am Pizza Woman.

I am naked, standing in a refugee camp with my legs spread wide, butterfly wings flapping, surrounded by starving, sick people. The sound of gunfire is all around me but I am not afraid. Not yet. I bend down and from out of my sores I draw handfuls of hot, steamy, bubbly pizza. Hungry hands grab the pizza and the melted cheese, still clinging to its source, stretches from my loins into the mouths of the hungry ones. Stringy cables of stretchy cheese connecting us. There is a lot of excitement coming from the crowd, which is growing in numbers by the millisecond. Piz-za Wo-man. Piz-za Wo-man, they cry. Hands start to grab at the pizza of their own accord, too desperate to wait their turn. I panic, unsure if I am unable to feed all these desperately undernourished people. I am worried about infection, and concerned about being completely emptied of everything inside me. The heat becomes very intense, and the noise of the crowd rises to unbearable heights. People at the back of the crowd are dropping down dead. Some have been shot, some blown up, others have just seemed to decompose. More hands grab, more faces stuffed with pizza. I am surrounded by the stench of sewage, rotting bodies, fresh blood, mozzarella, pepperoni, garlic, hot dough, stale sweat and pizza-breathe. I feel really sick, feverish and fainty.

I swoon.

I pass out.

I abruptly wake up (from my dream, you understand). I am back in my own bed feeling very confused. The radio is on, and the newsreader is telling me about all the “false” cigarettes that have been smuggled into Norway and how bad they are for your health compared to cigarettes that are not “false”. (Deadline: From the first of January 2004 it will be illegal to smoke in restaurants, cafés and bars in Norway.) Hang on. A cigarette is a cigarette, with or without a forged trademark and even if the contents are not the same as the description on the packet. Take counterfeit money, for example. If you can buy stuff with it, it must be money, until someone finds out it isn’t, at which point it stops functioning as money usually does, and can no longer be considered as such. Money doesn’t even function in a constant manner anyway. Sometimes you can buy more with it, sometimes less, depending on time, place and circumstance. Some people’s time is worth more, some less. The only money you can really trust to hold a constant value is Monopoly money, but only while it remains within the game.

Next news report: I am being advised that if I am a junkie I shouldn’t swallow any suspect tablets. They could stem from a raid on a hospital where drug addicts have stolen a number of pills containing morphine that are meant to relieve the pain of cancer sufferers. They are by no means “false” tablets, but are simply not the sort of drugs that addicts should be taking. They are tablets and not junk. Three junkies are dead already. They finally reached their deadline. At least they were united on this point, which is more than can be said about several world leaders right now. Particularly those of France and America seem to have contradictory notions of what an extended deadline means, and where the deadline should be drawn. Time-wise. France seems to be attempting to buy more time, while America must have already bought enough of it, as far as I can gather.

I am finding it difficult to make things stick together, and apparently I am not alone. Attempts are being made to rephrase the Second Resolution, which may, in time, become known as Resolution 2.01, leaving enough upgrade possibilities in case of the need for further amendments. This is because the language of the current resolution does not express the intentions of the resolution as things stand today, but it is very hard to get the words and phrases exactly right so that there is no discrepancy as to what they actually mean and how one should consequently act if someone violates them. Thus said a bald headed man from the UN meeting of the sixth of March 2003, exactly four days before the deadline for my article.

Dream 3: Daydream. Something I return to because I don’t understand why it is so.
This dream is not really a dream but I find myself thinking about it a lot. (Actually I have to admit that Dream 1 was not really a dream either. I saw a rerun of the same news report a few minutes ago, which confirmed this for me.) It is more the memory of something that happened but that I can’t really remember, and this I find disturbing. Last year I had a similar operation to the one described previously, but it was to remove skin in my armpits. This time the surgeon was able to sew me up, but that is not what interests me. The thing is, I have absolutely no memory of the operating theatre from this first operation, while I remember very clearly being wheeled in to the second one. (How come? In both cases I was given the same pre-op dope in the same hospital in the same ward in the same operating theatre with the same hospital staff.) I remember distinctively telling the assisting nurses that it may be advisable to strap my legs up in the stirrups after I was unconscious as otherwise I might panic and kick out at them. Literally. They suggested that I would be more comfortable if they did this while as I was awake, which I consider to be a very novel idea considering what was about to happen to me. While I was considering this, they strapped me up anyway, and the problem was no longer a problem. I did feel extremely humiliated and uncomfortable, but I no longer had the option of kicking them, all tied up as I was.

I remember them putting a hat that looked more like a tea cozy on my head, and Christmas stocking-like sock-things on my feet.

I remember the anesthetist connecting the needle, already taped to my hand, to the drug dispensing drip bag.

I remember an ice-cold feeling rushing up my arm followed closely by a river of pain, and thinking of execution by lethal injection and how god-damned horrendous such a cold blooded act is.

I remember thinking that maybe I was a victim of a conspiracy and that I was about to cross my ultimate deadline, but as the drugs kicked in and I started to fade out, the frozen river transformed itself into a deliciously warm stream.

It’s only pain.

It doesn’t hurt.

That is the last thing I remember until Dream 2 (see above).Soon it will probably all be forgotten, rewritten, no longer registered, never happened.

I hope you accept this “oria” as a suitable description of my inability to reach your deadline.
My mind is in the wrong frame.
I cannot make things stick.


Best wishes,
Amanda Jane Steggell
(Oslo, 06.03.03)

*The publication of this text has been postponed till Autumn 2003