We are all ear crystals

Tiny crystals of calcium carbonate line your inner ear. Their role is this: submit to gravity. Tell the body which way is down. When you move, they move, and the nerve cells surrounding them say, WAIT! I gotta tell the brain about this. When you spin, they spin, and the world catches up. And sometimes you keep spinning and stop and they keep going and going and what’s the difference? 

At times these crystals escape their inner ear prison, swimming through the fluids of the outer ear instead, one step closer to their homeland: hard ground. A cave somewhere, the Lascaux limestone. Because they’re made of calcium carbonate, and calcium carbonate is everywhere in the earth’s crust. It’s in chalk, marble, limestone. It has three pure forms: calcite, valeterite, and my favorite, Aragonite. There are caves and caves of calcium carbonate. And there is the sanctum of your inner ear. 

When these crystals escape, bad things happen. It’s called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, and when it happens the world keeps spinning.

One night, our cat shattered a lamp. We woke at two in the morning to an explosion of glass. Half-dead, we jumped out of bed to pick up the pieces, sweep, and mop, dizzy with sleep, then went back to bed and laid there, awake, still dizzy, as the world turned. And the dizziness got worse all week. I think my ear crystals heard the call for home. A lamp in a million shattered pieces, showing off the crystalline structure of its glass. 

So I had severe BPPV this week and it was wild. I don’t need to do shrooms, I think. Every time I tilted left, the world spun. When I straightened back, it continued to pulse. Walking down the hallway was like living in Inception, the hallway a tunnel rotating leftwards. Always left. I stumbled into a wall. 

How did these crystals get into our ears? 

I can’t stop thinking about it. I like to imagine the protean body emerging from the sea, unsure which way is up, and falling all over the place. Fish don’t fall. They don’t need Up and Down. Only Home and Not-Home. They float in their womb of a universe with every directional opportunity encased in their flippers. But the landward body decides, Not-Home, and takes a woozy step onto the earth, where suddenly it can’t go Up. In exploration, it stumbles into a cave, where it falls into a trove of aragonite. Dizzily, it picks up two pieces of crystal and sticks them into its ears. Then the world settles into place.

Give me a better explanation. How did the body know that we need crystals? How does it know anything? Calcium carbonate comprises 4% of the earth’s crust, and 100% of how we find Up. (If only we could put these crystals in our feet too, then I’d finally be able to hold a handstand.)

I feel myself grasping for some kind of epiphany I can’t reach. And I’m standing on one foot on a medicine ball as I’m trying to figure it out. The healthy body is in balance. The healthy world is in balance. The body is made of balance. Balance is made of the world. The body is made of the world, and the world makes our bodies.

The answer is crystals. The hippies were right!

My BPPV is going away now. I googled some fancy maneuvers to shake my crystals generally back into place. It was fun (once I realized I wasn’t having a stroke), but it feels nice to turn my head without worrying about dying. And I’m paying attention to all the little movements the body makes. Every time I crouch down, the world still lurches. There is a general woozy feeling at the edge of my mind, like it’s just settled back into place. I think that’s always true, though. We’re always recalibrating. Always seeking the equilibrium that’s impossible to achieve. 

It feels a little like a more accurate representation of the world. The world is crazily spinning all the time. We’re just lucky enough to have found a way to deal with it. We’re lucky enough to have ear crystals. 


PS: Publication alert: I interviewed Bud Smith about his new book Teenager. Bud Smith is an incredible writer and mentor, and he has lots of interesting things to say.

Read the interview

PPS: As punishment, the offending lamp-destroying cat will NOT be featured in this week’s newsletter. Instead here is Mondo giving me a hug while I was trying to write.

And here he is being dramatic because I didn’t hug him back.

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