Voo Doo Princess

kim-allighator

 

So this weekend was my first weekend get-away with Madeline. We went to New Orleans stayed at a hotel in the French quarter and did all the things tourists do in the Big Easy (which incidentally is named for two things. The overall easy going nature of life in New Orleans and the big, easy swerve of the Mississippi river which I tried to run along (a note to runners: There is no easy going running path along the Mississippi in New Orleans. The only one I found abutted a chained link fence on one side and a musical steamship playing Christmas carols on the other. Hearing Christmas carols in November is jarring enough. Hearing them coming out of steamship while you’re on a run in a tank top and gym shorts is postively surreal for a Midwestern boy like myself.) But I did manage to, with the help of the Map My Run app on my phone, run a little over three miles through the French Quarter with a jaunt along Bourbon Street, which I believe may have been the first time that the concepts of physical exercise and Bourbon Street were in the same sentence or reality in recorded history. We only had 2 ½ days to play with and were operating on a limited budget, which was fine because this was as much a mini-vacation as much as it our first trial of how we coexisted. I am happy to report that we thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend and only tango-ed on each others nerves a couple times, and each of those times, Madeline deftly decided we should part company for a few hours (to her credit, one of those times were when we were at the World War II museum and, God bless her, she could see I had no intention of cutting my tour short so, at 3 hours in, she bailed.) We united anew later that day and merrily finished out the weekend.

A couple weeks ago, she mentioned to me that she is assuredly not tallying the amount of money she or I spends on each other. She knows that I am just recently gaining some financial footing in my life and told me that, more than a gift bought in a store or even tickets to this or that concert, she wanted a poem. She has spent some time perusing this blog and apparently thinks I’m a talented writer and, as my luck would have it, a decent poet. So, to thank her for the weekend, I started writing a poem on our first full day in NOLA (that’s New Orleans, LA to outsiders and, more specifically, Madeline herself. She didn’t make the connection until our third day there and I realized once again that me and my friends’ tendency to rib each other almost to the point of rage and/or tears is assuredly not how a man conducts himself in a relationship with a woman (I was reminded of an instance long ago when my sister-in-law was 8 months pregnant with my nephew and my friend Tim told my brother to, at all costs, avoid the urge to tell her to suck it up already.)

So, I started writing a poem that can best be described as a sad, sorry, pitiful and, perhaps worst of all, predictable attempt at capturing our time in New Orleans. Here it is:

 

Mojo and juju and voodoo and you

Katrine the hurricane in this Thanksgiving stew

Gumbo and catfish and andouille and grits

Zydeco dancing and St. Louis glitz

Po’boy pleasures and alligator stew

You’re as sweet as praline, my French Quarter lolly

My Mardis Gras balcony –

 

That’s where I stopped and thank God for that. I mean seriously, that one is straight out of Smooch! The Beginner’s Guide to Romance Poetry! I wasn’t doing what I do when I write poetry, what I think I always try to do when I write poetry which is write from the gut, write what you feel and who cares if it makes sense. So, Madeline, try this one. I think you’ll like it:

 

Voo Doo Princess

 

The alligator becomes you

Violins so sweet with back-pack babies

The drum kit buckets and pink float magistrates

Flow down this street with marching band cascades

As school girls dance on these haunted sling blade nights

Hot sauce waterfalls and lollypop slumber

Remoulade balconies for a kiss, and another

Blues club two-step soda pop nightcaps

The stoned grotto lion nods his approval

Of the weeping willows and gentle ponds

And the lonely, broken sidewalk harmonies

 

kim-walking-in-nola

 

Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful weekend Madeline. Or should I say yeah, you right.

 

grotto-kising

Hate, Fear and Other Games Adults Play

So why, suddenly, a blog post you ask? I don’t know, precisely. I mean, I have had this nagging feeling for a while now but I could have sworn it was the bout of plantar fasciitis that pretty much knocked the wheels off my wagon back in May but the truth is it was that part of my psyche that got into blogging in the first place.

I am a writer. Writers write.

It’s like alcoholism in that it’s not something I do. It’s who I am. The obvious difference of course is if I abstain from drinking, meditate, run and things of that nature, I’ll continue to maintain the nice, cool equilibrium that will see me through ordeals like finding a new job and finally quitting smoking. If I abstain from writing however, eventually, my head will explode into tiny little pieces and make a big mess for my roommate to clean up.

 

So, I’m writing the blog again. Not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been pretty consistent with writing a new essay which I’ll be submitting for a contest next year. See, I have this vague recollection of reading something in the Writer’s Manual or Writer’s Handbook or some such thing years ago that said adding the credential of winning a contest on a cover letter for a manuscript is a great way to get publishers to take you seriously. Considering I had two thirds of an essay kind of already written thanks to the posts on this blog, I was halfway there and so am adding a last third before I straighten its collar and tie its shoes and send it off into the literary world. Then I will resume working on the manuscript, which is its own ball of wax and hopefully polish it enough so that’s ready to submit to agents and/or publishers sometime before the first self-driving car collides with a drone and brings down the George Washington Bridge.

The other thing that’s kept me from writing is Madelaine. Madelaine is this incredible woman I met whose name is not actually Madelaine. That is just the name I’ve chosen as a pseudonym for virtually every woman I write about. Even those who don’t exist. Madelaine is the name of the most prominent female lead in The Back Forty, the fictional serial I started on this blog and abandoned for a lot of reasons. I’d probably hyperlink to one of the Back Forty posts but, since I have no plans in the immediate future to resume writing it, it would be only an enticement to you, dear reader, with a glimpse at what a talented fiction writer I am with no follow-through. Fear not, though. I plan on taking it up again after I publish the essay, then publish the manuscript and it will be like one of those novels by David Foster Wallace or Chuck Klosterman or Jon Katz that my truly loyal readers will voraciously read but not like so much because I am a much better non-fiction writer than fiction writer. Anyway, Madelaine is this incredible woman I met about 18 months ago that I finally got up the urge to ask out about 5 months ago before she totally snubbed me.

Alright, she didn’t snub me. Somebody in the 482 area code totally snubbed me. Which is even more of a bullshit explanation because I just went to area-code-locations.info and there is no 482 area code. It doesn’t even exist. Look, my point is when you text someone and you get no response, check to make sure you texted the right number because I got no response to my first text to Madelaine to go out for coffee and talk about books and the reason for that is I texted the 482 area code and Madelaine and I live in the 402 area code and apparently smartphones are smart enough to have compiled enough information about me that it will suggest I become Facebook friends with a woman from Nebraska Vocational Rehab because it pulled her out of my Contacts app but it’s not smart enough to shoot me a reply saying “Hey asshole, Madelaine will definitely not go out with you if you text a nonexistent phone number instead of her phone number.” I had been tinkering around with my manuscript for about a year and had finally decided to get serious about it when, at almost the same time, I had truly had it with online dating sites and, with no real impetus, decided to ask her out one Sunday morning when she and I were with a group of mutual friends/old-timers who always go to the same meetings to bicker about the Nebraska Huskers and the Ricketts family. We had traded comments before about the books we were reading and I thought … I don’t know what I thought, which is I think why our relationship has worked out well so far (neither of us think about anything too much and when we do, we shove some Chubby Hubby into the other’s mouth and then immediately watch Newsroom or go for a walk in the gorgeous falling autumn leaves.) Anyway, I thought I would ask her out and she agreed, then insisted I text her to decide on a place and time, which I did. Then, when I didn’t hear back from her (because I hadn’t exactly texted her in the first place, but still) I totally had this “Well to hell with her anyway because I’m busy doing the work of the Lord!” attitude where ‘the Lord’ is me and “the work” is writing regularly, sporadically and, sometimes, obsessively. Then my sponsor asked if I had ever texted Madelaine and I said I had and he later asked her and she said I never had texted her and so I checked my text message history and I had indeed texted the 482 area code and that made me feel like a real shit heel so I texted Madelaine at the proper number and now we’ve been going steady (I do so love that phrase “going steady,” especially in describing 2 middle-aged recovering alcoholics. It just has an air of the two of us grabbing hold of some of our lost innocence, y’know?) for about six months and we’re going on our first weekend getaway to New Orleans in a couple weeks because she doesn’t have any family to spend Thanksgiving with and my parents have given me clearance to go and avert a role I have resented every year in sobriety, that of the childless, marriageless middle-aged single guy in recovery who feels vaguely like Cerberus the three-headed dog at the family function.

I should apologize for my lack of a period or even so much as a semicolon in that last sentence. I just felt this need to get a lot of that out of the way and a run-on sentence felt like a good way to string together a lot of thoughts into one jumbled mess so I can get on with the real reason I am writing this blog post. I mean, I started writing this post a week ago and, since the day I started it, the United States has elected a new person to be its/their leader (I wasn’t even sure if I should use the pronoun “it” or the pronoun “their” because I don’t think the State of the Union is much of a “Union” these days.)

 

This country has never felt more disjointed, more fractured, more god-forsakenly dislocated than right now. That really is what it feels like, like America is this collective arm that has popped out of its socket under the weight of misogyny and racism and classism and ignorance and prejudice and fearfearfearfearfear. Personally, I have had this storm raging within for the last several days where the forces of good and the forces of evil give an inch and then take a mile, only to have the other side take two of each in return. I’m trying to avoid that most superficial of pitfalls where I just think way too much about all of this and plunge myself even further down the rabbit hole of hyperbolic despair. But seriously, some of the moves the president-elect has taken even in just the last week (I won’t say his name lest this really is all just a fictional reality that I’ve somehow been inserted into like Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction and actually saying “Donald Trump” might mystically make this whole nightmare … ah shit.) seem straight outta the worst game of Would You Rather you can possibly imagine. Like, would you rather have Sarah Palin be made Secretary of Education and Rudy Giuliani the Secretary of State or have your eyelids slowly pulled off your head by cords tied to pulleys attached to more cords strapped to harnesses fixed onto 50 geriatric 3-legged mice (the answer, obviously, is bring on those gimpy mice.)

 

The last 4 days, Facebook has been awash in articles predicting this won’t be as bad as we think, it will be much worse than we think, and that not a whole lot will change because of the system of checks and balances. There has been plenty of shrieks about how everything is going to change, how the American people are evolving in reverse and that somehow Gary Johnson or Jill Stein are to blame. Really, depending on your source, it’s also the fault of the Democratic National Committee, Bernie Sanders, 100,000 people in Milwaukee, 100,000 people in North Carolina, Bill Clinton, Jim Comey, Al Sharpton, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Amy Winehouse, Kim Kardashian and Santa Claus. Do I think enough of myself that my rage at every voter who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she wasn’t charming enough or honest enough should play a role in how seriously I take them as a person? I shouldn’t, just like I shouldn’t have to read stories about women and racial minorities and gay people being overcome with fear because they don’t want to walk outside with the wrong fucking hat on lest they be tarred and feathered. But I do and it’s going to get worse before it gets better the more brazen and strident the torch singers of idiocy and ignorance become. That shit infuriates me and the only thing keeping me from going and buying a rifle at Walmart and carrying it into a mega-church wearing a Pennywise the Clown costume, walking straight up on the altar and reciting the Andrew Dice Clay version of Mother Goose nursery rhymes just to get their attention in order to then point out how lunacy has replaced sane public discourse is … um … wait … what exactly is preventing me from doing that? I mean really, anything goes at this point.

 

But then I remember. Respect. Respect and civility and humility and patience and eating with utensils and all the other things that separate us from the apes. The people who voted for Donald Trump who are in their 50’s and 60’s and are really pissed off that there is an ever-decreasing amount of jobs for their particular skill set and that the jobs that do match their skill set are now in Myanmar, along with people who think that it’s okay for men to joke about objectifying women and exploiting fame and money to garner some sort of sexual privilege and, more than that, are perfectly fine with that type of person serving as role model for their children, those people have as much of right to their opinion as I have to mine. No matter how misguided and erroneous and wrong-headed that opinion is because, and here is the tricky part, they think my opinion that is not formed or guided in whole or in part by Bill O’Reilly and TMZ and Us magazine is just as invalid as I think theirs is. Now, are they going to try abolish Obamacare and Roe v. Wade and the Iranian nuclear deal and ensure that the Trix rabbit finally gets some goddamn cereal and shine flood lights directly down the groundhog hole so Punxsutawney Phil never even comes out again and it’s morning in America all day every day? Yes, yes they will. And what I will do is wear a safety pin to tell anyone of different skin colors and sexual orientations and genders that I’m on their side and if they are on the boat and the boat starts to go down, I’ll throw them a life preserver. Hell, I will try and be the life-preserver if I have to.

Look, I’m not trying to paint myself up as a defender of truth, justice and the American way here. I have my own fish to fry and I will not be standing out on the street corner hoping I get that tap on the shoulder. What I will do is continue to stay informed and continue to try and eek out a modicum of positivity and compassion into the universe to compensate for all the hatred, alienation and fear that seems to be fueling the fire for so many people around me.

 

I wanted the occasion for breaking my blogging silence to be the Cubs winning the World Series and America finally getting its first female president after getting its first black president and that the stars and planets seemed to be lining up just right for this country to be entering a golden era unmatched in its history. Instead, this country is surely entering an era unmatched in its history, yet instead of golden, it is an era of the most putrid tarnished rust that could easily progress to inky black chaos should the forces of darkness be given too wide a berth. The most popular statistic in the last 24 hours has been 46% of Americans didn’t vote at all and I heard on the radio two days ago that Hillary Clinton just wasn’t “charming” enough for one particular Millennial to vote for her. Well smack my ass and call me Sally and batten down the hatches because the American electorate seems to have regressed to a level of comfortable numbness not seen since Bill Clinton pimp-slapped Bob Dole and Alanis Morissette captured our hearts. It is with a heavy heart and the sturdy armor of truth that we must once again sharpen our swords and … ah to hell with it. I’m too freakin’ mad and too freakin’ impatient for flowery language and poignant metaphors. Just dawn your spurs and saddle up, kids because as we say in the Program, our enemy is out in the parking lot and he’s doing push-ups.

15 Day D.L.

Actually, as far as blog posts go, my time on the Disabled List has been a helluva lot longer than 15 days. My time on the 15-day Disabled List however comes down to my heel. I’ll explain.

Today at a meeting, one of the guys observed that if you are coasting, you are going downhill. I don’t know if he coined that one or not but boy howdy is it true and man oh man have I been coasting. About a month ago, I ran the longest distance I had ever run in preparation for the half-marathon I’ve committed to running next May. During that run, I blew the plantar fascia in my right foot and now suffer from plantar fasciitis. In layman’s terms, this condition refers to an acute pain that feels like someone is driving a rusty spike into your heal. On the one hand, it is kinda cool that I suffer from an “athlete’s injury,” but on the other hand, it supremely sucks to be all of 40 years old and walking around like you lost a couple toes to a grain combine.

The pain started the day after it happened and continued to about a week ago. I’m pretty sure I know when I blew the ligament in question too. About ¾ of the way through the run in question, I was cruising along and was pretty pumped that I was going to complete my longest run ever. As I tore through one of the parks on my route, I ran up onto a picnic table, miscalculated my landing as I leapt for joy, and came down entirely on the heal in question, executed a series of impromptu combat maneuvers, jumped back up and continued the run. I know. Dumbass me.

What followed was two weeks of limping around on the foot in question and gathering intelligence from various people who have more experience than me in dealing with these types of ailments. From talking to other folks who have carried their practice of physical exertion into middle age and beyond, I learned that A) I need supportive insoles, not just those Dr. Scholl’s cushiony ones and B) I’m pretty much screwed because this particular ailment never goes away.

Well isn’t that just ducky.

So the last couple weeks have been filled with sessions of stretching my foot before limping my way through work to come home and plant by tookus on my recliner and watch House of Cards. I abandoned my pursuit of playing piano at least 4 times per week a few months ago as my obsession with writing the book about my journey from almost dying through the darkness and desolation of full blown alcoholism to the salvation of recovery has taken on epic proportions. So I haven’t lost any ground there, but I do realize that that I’m going to pretty much stink at that particular endeavor for at least the next couple years as I trudge my way through 30 year-old Piano for Beginners lesson plans and I need to be okay with that, even if it means limping my way up and down those steep stairs to my basement so I can schlep through the rudimentary sheet music for Fur Elise one more time ( I also need to carve out 30 minutes 3-4 times per week and I pretty gave up on that too when I made the decision to train for this marathon.) As far as the book goes, I was cruising along with 60-70 pages written depending on my editorial mood that day (and font size) when I got hurt and now, I anticipate every little thing with a degree of trepidation because I know it’s going to hurt at least a little. From sitting on the floor to meditate to getting up to freshen my water bottle to going to the gym or running, I’ve never had to plan my next activity or task according to how much it’s going to hurt to do it and how much extra time I need to allot for it and let me tell you, it sucks donkeys and has definitely led to me dropping my semi-daily writing practice, as well as successfully resisting the urge to keep up on my fitness goals and instead coasting my way to being just another one of those people that goes to their job and then comes home exhausted, eats dinner and watches T.V. or messes around on the InterWebs until it’s time for bed.

I’ll tell you right now, if I ever become one of those people, put a bullet in my head. I beg you.

But as far as writing the book goes, maybe I kinda needed something to knock the wind out of my sails and fully internalize that writing this book is a marathon, not a sprint (pun completely intended) and I need to take a step back and settle down a bit. I just wish it hadn’t taken an injury that will forever ensure than I sometimes walk like a drunken sailor to do it.

The other tricky thing I’ve become aware of is the problem of fiscal solvency. See, for a lot of years, I never had money at all because I never had a job that paid shit, so I never was in the position to succumb to the temptations that come with a bigger bank roll. These days, I am in the position to give over an extra 10-20 hours of work per week to a decent paying job so as to afford the finer things in life (at this stage, the “finer things” being a marginally better batch of electronics, decent running shoes, a bigger gym bag, etc.) But having a job where I am learning all the time and I continue to improve at (not to mention having 1-2 real co-workers that I get along fine with at a company I like) means I kinda like going to work and if the day stretches from 8 to 9 to 10 to 11 hours, I really don’t mind and look forward to that fat paycheck in a week. But again, the thought of becoming one of those people who gladly gives over their life and their time to their job only so they can have nice stuff and eat out more often scares the shit out of me.

I’ve lost my sense of personal balance because I don’t meditate nearly as much and I don’t exercise on a regular basis and I’ve lost my drive to grind out pages because I wrangle with bouts of depression at the thought that this is my life now and I should just be happy with having a good job with benefits. Maybe I’ll find a girlfriend that may become a wife and maybe I’ll become okay with abandoning my ambitions of completing my book and starting a new one and I’ll convince myself that its not that important that I run the half-marathon and getting in better shape was really the point and I should accept that and move on.

And maybe I should just gather enough money to go on vacation once or twice a year, get a promotion here and there and accept that this is my life and I should be all Zen about that.

Maybe I should just hang up my jersey now.

This is my mind and it sucks sometimes. One little thing like a bum heal throws the whole program off the rails and a month later I wake up and think “What the hell just happened.”

So put me in coach. I’m ready to play today. I’ve lost some time on my run and my arm feels like Jell-O sometimes but I’ve got quite a few good seasons left in me.

Creativity: The River Changes Course

canoe on river

 

Today I read a fellow bloggers post about how writing is not as important to her as many other things. She detailed how several trying events had unfolded in her life recently and that had rendered her unable to write until she really got a handle on them. She also pointed out how a loved one had noticed that she hadn’t written a blog post recently. So Mom, this one’s for you.

That fellow blogger that I referred to had 39 “likes” on one post. That may not seem like much, but that is only fellow bloggers that liked her post. I don’t think I’ve ever topped more than 9 fellow bloggers on one post. My last post got 8 likes and 100ish total views. So proportionally, this fellow blogger got 400-500 views on her one post. I think she and another friend have been chosen by WordPress as their blog of the week or month or year or something. Another friend wrote today that he has something like 3000 regular readers of his blogs. I don’t recall quite how he came up with that number, but I remember it was based on a sound reasoning.

I have never been selected by WordPress for blog of the week or month or year and, as I said, I don’t get anywhere near the traffic that these others get. And I’ll admit to a slight pang of jealousy when I reflected on how relatively unnoticed I am in the blogosphere. Personally, since I opened the flood gates on my creativity about three years ago after a long, long hiatus, I have had a tidal wave of creative water flowing through my life (Wait, did I just mix metaphors? Let me re-read that … Nope, just slightly confused the imagery. We’re good.) I recently got on a mailing list for a guy named Jon Morrow who apparently knows all about how to get your blog noticed on a mass scale, as well as a couple of his videos about how to get writing gigs (albeit unpaid) for The Huffington Post. A little over a year ago, I bought a digital piano and have been averaging 3-4 practice sessions per week. Not bad, but it’s difficult for me to practice that much, then listen to people like Tom Waits and Bob Malone and not feel incredibly remiss about the long, long hiatus I took from playing piano after 9 years of formal lessons. I once read Stephen King say he plays guitar in a band with other writers and “you’d pay to see us.” Again, the dagger of jealousy takes a piece out of my gut when I think of how good I could be if I hadn’t spent, oh about 10 years or so, feeling sorry for myself and 3 years trying to drink myself to death.

This morning as I was driving to the job site, I heard an interview on NPR with Helen Fielding, the writer and creator of the character Bridget Jones. Fielding said something that sent a sense of relief washing over me after all the self-induced guilt about all of this. She said creativity is like a river, it seems to choose its own path. To build on that concept, the artist really only has control over whether the river is a trickle, a babbling brook or the Mississippi. It’s course really isn’t so much the choice of the artist as it is how the artist weathers the elements. For the last two months, I’ve funneled all my creative energy into writing a memoir which, after I decided on its message, is actually a pleasure to write. I set aside an hour to write almost every day and have a bonafide manuscript with an estimated completion date for the rough draft and everything. I happen to be in a spot where the elements of the story are getting pretty vicious at times, but I’ve battened down the hatches (I don’t even know what that means, but I think it’s a sailing term that refers to preparing for rocky waters and so far this navigation/river/water metaphor seems to be the vehicle of this post, so I’ll ride it out) and I’ve also learned the importance of laughing through the storm with always on eye on being real and true with my chosen voice (I like to think of it as a little Tom Robbins, a little Stephen King and a lot Anne Lamott).

Truth is, I chose to hunker down and work on writing this book and though I envy my fellow bloggers for the recognition they’ve received, I am of the inclination that when I decide to focus on something, it’s all I focus on and right now, it’s getting the book written. I’m sure I’ll revisit blogging on a regular basis again eventually and, while I will probably never be a virtuoso piano player, that’s not my I bought the damn thing in the first place. I bought it because after many years, creativity came rushing out of me and, now, is simply steadying itself to a steady regular flow. It’s my job to simply grab an oar and loosely direct where I go.

Please Be Offended

After a brief but horribly offensive text exchange this morning, I realized something. My friends and family are up there with the most offensive, horribly politically incorrect people I know. It started with this iccocuous exchange.

Tim 1

No harm, no foul right? So, to check and see if I had the means to transport the chair, I texted my mom.

Mom 1

Now, my moniker for her car started years ago when I casually made an off-hand remark that I had read a very funny, harmless article that asserted that her new Subaru Forrester just happened to be the chosen vehicle of aging lesbians. I state right now that I, nor anyone I hold dear (at least I think and hope) do not have any problems, issues or are otherwise prejudiced against anyone in the LGBT community. That did not, however, sway my mother, at least at the time as she shot back, “Well, thank you for reducing me to a cultural stereotype. Jerk.”

Tim 2

At this point it started to dawn on me that since my friend new exactly what I was talking about, this issue might be pervasive in at least a select few of my friends and family. But no matter. Equally undaunting was my friend’s response.

Tim 3

Not only did it not phase him, he upped the ante more than a little. I should state right now that I, nor my friend, nor anyone else I hold dear do not have any problems, issues or are prejudiced against little people, dwarves, midgets, elves, sprites or others in the vertically challenged community.

Tim 4

Okay, that last one might seem a bit insensitive, but honestly, how many times have you wondered to yourself “Gosh, a cadaver would come in really handy right now!” ? And let’s face it, if you were to get a free chair home, only to realize that there’s a dead dwarf hidden inside. Well, come on. I mean … free dead dwarf.

Maybe I should stick to writing about drunks and addicts. There’s certainly no fodder for humor in that demographic. At least to normies. Personally, and I think I speak for the majority of drunks and addicts out there, most of us think our war stories are pretty hilarious.

God, I think I should abandon the idea of getting to the gym and get to a meeting.

Him (Let’s Do This Thing)

I “accidentally” smacked the back of His hand with my water bottle as I crossed the room. He was sitting on the overstuffed chair close to the TV I had purchased a few weeks back. The Roku screensaver was bounding around the screen and He had been dozing in the chair, a beer bottle spilled over on its side in His lap.

[Snork. Cough.]

“Ow! Shit dude, what was that for?” He stammered as the beer spilled over completely onto the chair.

“You’re cleaning that up,” I said as I sat down and pulled my small lap top off the floor. I pulled the lever and the foot rest kicked out under my legs.

“Whatever. What are you doing?” He asked as He stood up and shook off the daze only an alcohol-induced sleep brings.

“Writing,” I said and noticed the mud He had tracked in the house. “Better mop that up. Wouldn’t want the filth to gain a foot hold.”

“And what are you writing? Another pointless blog post? I don’t know why you bother. No one reads your shit because it’s not interesting. Bunch of sniveling, whining cry baby crap,” He said as He walked into the kitchen.

“I don’t write because I want anybody’s approval or sympathy,” I said as I opened the file I wanted. “I write because I have to. Because I need to.”

He walked back in the room with a fresh beer and pried the cap off with the few remaining teeth He had. He sat on the ottoman across from me, set His beer down on the floor, and paused for a moment. He then reached over, grabbed the lap top and threw it against the book shelf. It fell upside down on the floor but seemed otherwise unharmed. We exchanged stares full of rage.

“Get this straight Daddy-O,” He said and pointed a long, bony finger at me. “You ain’t a writer. You ain’t shit. You’re a loser. You’re a blue-collar, HVAC loser and you’re gonna fail at the HVAC thing just like you’ve failed at everything else. And one day, you’re gonna fail at this sobriety bullshit,” He said as His lips curled back into a mirthless grin. “Mark. My. Words.”

“And you get something straight, you pathetic excuse for an alter ego. Seriously, what’s that about? I couldn’t come up with a Batman or Superman or even Slim Shady. I had to settle on you. I’ve made a decision to get Empty Calories written. It’s not just a pie-in-the-sky lofty idea anymore. Once I figured out that telling my story could help other people who wrangle with their Hims and I could convince people that the life of the dry drunk who white knuckles it through sobriety and is still a miserable person only exists if we let it, only then did it really make sense for me to get off my ass and write the damn thing. Showing loving kindness, compassion and maybe a little wisdom I’ve gleaned from these rooms for those out there still suffering, that’s what sealed the deal for me,” I said. I got up, walked to the book shelf, bent over and picked up my computer, and sat back down.

“Yeah? And what about all the other stuff you’ve convinced yourself you have to do to stay happy, The gym and piano and meetings, not to mention you’ve still got a plenty of TV to watch! C’mon buddy,” He said, giving me a friendly slap on the knee. “Go get yourself a beer, Jager’s in the freezer, and we’ll huncker down and we’ll binge watch a few episodes of Lost or The West Wing or The Wire. You choose my friend.

“You’re not listening to me, friend,” I said and started a file for a new chapter. “I’d really prefer it if, at my funeral, they say that I helped people recover from the disease of addiction through forgiveness and compassion than say he got an awful lot of TV shows knocked out. Besides, you should be happy about it considering you play a pretty big part in my story. Stands to reason you get a pretty big part in the book. Sort of Iago to my Othello.”

“Tyler Durden to your Edward Norton is more like it,” He said and propped His feet up on the ottoman and sat back in the chair. He drank deeply from the fresh beer, draining half of it. “I’m flattered that you think I have some role in this, but I exist solely to make you feel bad about yourself and convince you there is no hope. That you’re nothing but a failure.”

I smiled ear to ear. “I know that’s what you think. That’s what I pay you for. But you’re wrong and I’m setting out to prove it, ” I said. I started to write, then paused one last time.

“I’ll let you know when your pathetic presence is required.”

A Necessary Hell

Tom, a member of several of the Facebook groups I’m in, is an outstanding poet. He posts a poem every single day on his blog quarryhouse.wordpress.com and frequently, his poems concern his battle against clinical depression. Tom is also a minister in a small Vermont town and he is far and away the most open-minded man of the cloth when it comes to matters of the spirit I’ve ever met (and I have never even met him in person.) He respects my choice of faith, Buddhism, and I respect his faith in God and Jesus Christ. It is this mutual respect that has made us devoted readers of one another for a few years.

 

He posted the following poem and “About” section on his blog today:

 

Strange Forges

 My mother taught me

to never let them see you sweat.

 

To never leave your blood on the table.

To discretely hide your scars so effectively

 

they became invisible, a strategy that worked

for the first fifty years until

 

there was no place to hide any longer, until

you were more scar than man

 

and your pain became a sideshow

with the carney barkers shouting to the rubes:

 

“Come see how the mighty have fallen! Come see

the living dead in their last days.”

 

drawing a crowd who looked on, not in horror,

but compassion, who saw in you, themselves

 

and wrapped their wounded arms around your almost corpse

and kept you warm when your heart felt cold.

 

And so today, you may see me sweat. You may see me bleed.

Not for the audience, or the horror or the spectacle,

 

but because I have finally learned wounds not only hurt,

they heal.

 

He followed up the poem with this:

 

About this poem.

 

Why share pain? For pity? For Drama? For (fill in your thoughts here.)?

 

We share pain because it heals. It heals us, and at times, it heals others as well, giving the pain purpose.

 

I have been punching the clock, at extremely irregular intervals, on the manuscript for my book for a little over a year now. But recently, I turned a corner on the project that makes it next to impossible to renege on the decision to write it at all. One of the wild horses that’s been wrangling around the corral in my head is one simple question. Why write the book at all?

My life in sobriety is pretty good and I’m a happy person most of the time. This contrasts starkly with the miserable wretch I was when Addiction had me in a choke hold. For about 10 years, I suffered an inward and outward bound rage at myself and the world in general because of the illness that completely changed my life. So why, you ask, in the name of all that is decent and holy would I want to plunge head-first back into the darkest period of my life and write about it? Let’s start with the reasons I’m not doing it (This is where Tom’s poem rejoins my story. Come on, stay with me.)

I don’t write this blog, and especially the Him posts, because I want people to feel sorry for me. If my father has taught me anything (he’s actually taught me quite a few things, but I’m shooting for relevancy here) it’s hatred of the phenomena of victim-hood. He and my mom have never been much for self-pity because I think they both subscribe to the belief that it serves no purpose. Oh sure, they as much as me and as much as really anybody have bouts of sulking with the occasional spar with passive aggressive bullshit. But for the most part, they have always taught me a recipe of a dash of self-pity in a big vat of suck-it-up.

The same holds true for Drama and is especially relevant given the Him persona I created to help me deal with the addictive side of my personality. Besides providing me with a healthy (I think, anyway) method of dealing with my daily reprieve in recovery, creating Him presented me with the perfect vehicle to implement in my book and blog the message of persistence and gratitude I sincerely hope I convey to anyone who happens upon my words. When He pays me a visit, it’s not like I’m waiting around for it. I’ve just learned to see Him coming and so prepare accordingly. I certainly don’t publish a Him post and eagerly wait for comments to roll in to make me feel better (although they do) or to boost my ego (although, again, there’s an element of that fortunate side effect.) As Connor Oberst once sang, I am not singing for you.

Sharing my pain helps me heal myself after 10 years of taking mostly self-administered jaw and gut punches. As far as the turned corner I referred to earlier, I renewed once again my commitment to writing my story because I realized how much good I might provide anybody who reads it and realizes they are not alone. I also realized that I was inching closer to the center of this tightrope and below is a lake of Hellfire that I have to traverse to get to the other side. I have to get details from my ex-girlfriend about the awful things we did to each other. I have to relive moments with my family from the past that I would just as soon never think of, much less talk or write about, again. I have to canvas every darkened porch in my mind and knock on the door. Then I have to deal with whatever opens it.

At first, I believed the message of my book needed to be “If I can do this with everything that happened to me, anybody can do this.” But again, that’s a little too self-congratulatory, especially given that everyone has their own bottom and wherever it is and how you happened to get there isn’t relevant in the least. No, the theme of the book, the point of the whole damn thing, is forgiveness of self. This recovery stuff is a pain in the ass squared sometimes and if I can talk someone back from the ledge and convince them to fight one more day, then it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Yesterday, I read a story about a 12 year-old girl who took her own life after constant bullying by her classmates. I read the story and all could think was how much this little girl meant to her family and sincerely wished I could have been there for her to assure her that it does get better. My creative vocation is to do that for the newly recovering person who might see the rocky road ahead and just say “Fuck it” and go back to their old ways.

No matter what you’ve done and no matter who you’ve hurt or how much, you must forgive yourself and only then can you set about the business of changing your life. Do otherwise and I can almost guarantee that you will drink again and you will use again. It’s that simple. It’s up to you.

Big-boned? Not so much.

I will never understand why women my age have this campy nostalgia for the Reagan years. The 90s gave us Nirvana and grunge, a burgeoning economy, Bill Clinton and a relatively peaceful world order. The 80’s, on the other hand, gave us the Challenger explosion, Ronald Reagan and the first installment of the vanishing of the middle class, Jazzercise and Duran Duran. Not a lot to look back on fondly. But the 80s did give us the films of John Hughes which did serve the purpose of distracting the American people from the Gipper and refocusing on leg warmers and Olivia Newton John. One particular line from one particular movie rattles around in my brain this morning.

“Y’see I’m not sure if you know this, but there’s two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were meant to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin but they became fat. So when you look at them, you can kind of see that thin person inside.”

  • John Bender
  • The Breakfast Club

I’ve been fat my whole life. Not that pathological fat like when a thin person looks into a mirror and still sees the fat person they once were and leads to eating disorders. The kind of fat you get when you are addicted to Bryers Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream and Ok-Ke-Doke Hot Cheese popcorn. I am cursed (blessed?) with a physiology that simply won’t tolerate that crap and it manifests in a pretty rotund beer gut. I’ve had it my whole life and been through all the stages of denial like insisting that I was just holding on to baby fat when I was 13 and thinking I could lose my extra tonnage if I watched Rocky III a couple times and worked my way up to doing 5 push-ups. I would have l loved it if it truly was a beer gut and, when I got sober, it finally took its leave. Unfortunately, all that happened was I got even more addicted to candy and those little tins of fluorescent Frito’s Radioactive Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese and Spicy Nacho Doritos. Yeah, I trimmed down to a respectable 20-pounds-over my target weight when I got on a brutal jag of working out 5 days a week and guzzling protein shakes. But alas, my body and metabolism had grown accustomed to the state of rest I maintained for much of my life so when I stopped with the protein shakes and downgraded to the gym 2-3 days per week. Likewise did my eating habits grow lax again and I resumed my search for the perfect cheese popcorn (still Ok-Ke-Doke, although Vic’s or Indiana will do in a pinch).

But during that brief stint when I did nothing but walking around the airport in my down time (which was most of the time) at work and maintained all those trips to the gym, I took a few photos where I looked pretty good and felt pretty good, even with a strict adherence to the cheese popcorn-and-Reese’s diet. I even expanded the arsenal of junk food to Reese’s Nutrageous bars, Reese’s Mini’s and SmartFood and Maggie’s Cheese popcorn (Yep, Ok-Ke-Doke defended its heavyweight (see what I did there?) belt).

When I started HVAC school and my HVAC job last summer, I realistically trimmed down my gym frequency to accommodate my new 50-hours-per-week schedule and redirected my focus to learning the new trade and making the necessary sacrifices. Sadly, this also meant the reintroduction of a nemesis I all but banished from my life when I read Fast Food Nation 15 years ago. Whether I was buying lunch for my crew as a gesture of good will or simply sick of the sandwich wraps and protein shake I had dutifully packed for my lunch, slowly the sinister Croissanwiches and reviled Chalupas infiltrated my menu and I was bona fide fat again. Not as bad as when I was drinking, but bad enough that when I weigh myself at the gym, I don’t have a little internal triumphant YAWP! But rather a defeated sigh.

To my credit, I did make some noble efforts to turn this franchise around. I moved the old tube TV downstairs and bought a new DVD player so I could play the yoga DVD a friend graciously gave me a couple years ago. I started watching glute and circuit training videos on YouTube and made a half-ass effort to stick to some sort of regular schedule on the exercise bike. Unfortunately, I placed them right next to the piano I’m struggling to relearn, so I’ve effectively created a Disappointment Wing in the basement chock full of ways to feel remiss at all those things I did before my addictions consumed my life. Couple that with my physically taxing and time-consuming job, going back to school a few weeks ago, wedging in time for penning blog posts as well as my magnum opus, all in the middle of a particularly cold and icy winter, and you’ve got a hearty helping of eat-dinner-and-binge-watch-Lost-before-going–to-freakin’-bed.

Oh, I suppose it bears mentioning that I’ve also decided to make a concerted effort to quit smoking (Have I mentioned my knack for trying to accomplish 6 different things at once and being delusional enough to convince myself I can do it all?) Well, I made a promise to myself a couple years ago that I will have quit smoking by the age of 40. Then my 40th birthday came and went, I had bought plenty of nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and Dum-Dums and Jolly Ranchers to get me through the long dark night ahead. Y’know what else comes in pretty handy to get through the new job, new trade, a lot of driving, seemingly perpetual status of Never Married/No Children at the dating sights and sitting in my car while the defrost function cranks up to lukewarm? A goddamn cigarette, that’s what.

Of course my mom tried to reason with me, stating I should try to bring my weight down to a manageable level because I will gain weight as I give up smoking. Then I hear people say they gained as much as 50 pounds when they quit and you can lose the weight eventually. Then my cousin and I were going to lean on each other and both quit before she texted me yesterday all full of triumphant confidence that it had taken her all of 2 weeks to quit. Well isn’t that just swell for you Colleen. Now do me a favor and bug off.

I suppose a lot of Midwesterners endure some sort of funk as December turns into January and there’s no end in sight. The trick is to not give up hope, that there is an end and you will get there. It’s foolish and short-sighted to convince yourself that the next 4 months have to be consumed by defeat. I mean, that’s 1/3 of your life you would be committing to throwing in the towel and saying “I’ll get my ducks in a row in, like May.” That yoga DVD and circuit training videos and practicing piano and learning to juggle (I totally forgot about that one)? It all starts anew today! Right after I make myself a big plate of eggs and sausage and catch up on my shows.

 

HVAC, binge watching and turning 40

“We are all afraid of getting old. We don’t want to think about it. Yet deep down in the recesses of our minds we know it’s true. When we suppress these fearful thoughts they continue to fester there in the dark. We are driven to consume (food, alcohol, movies, etc.) in our attempt to forget and keep those thoughts from surfacing in our conscious mind … When we really face the fact that we will die one day (and maybe sooner than we think) we won’t embarrass ourselves doing ridiculous things, keeping up the delusion that we will live forever. Contemplating our mortality helps us focus our energy into the practice of transforming and healing ourselves and the world.”

  • Thich Nhat Hahn

I never was much for News Year’s resolutions. Not that I ever had a problem with resolve. I actually can be pretty determined when I want to be. I’ve just always been self-aware when it comes to my noncommittal level of personal commitment to staying committed and I never bothered. But since I got sober, I now spend much time pondering ways to improve my life, instead of destroying it. As such, several goals have come into focus. Still though, just saying that causes me to cringe. It sounds like a corporate training video or cover letter. And I have a teensy problem with cover letters or resumes or, really, staying with a job in general.

I’ve heard that the average American will change careers 3-4 times in their adult life. By that wisdom, I’m way ahead of the curve. The first count was the outdoor industry when I worked for a little clothing manufacturer, but that was derailed when I ended my stint living in Seattle. I don’t count that one and instead chock it up to geographical whimsy. The second time was as a staff writer for a one-horse newsweekly. That one was derailed by the small matter of almost dying. The sickness left me unable to speak at first and shattered my confidence so I was unable to write for many years. The third count in the animal care industry was also derailed, this time by a wicked substance abuse problem which led to treatment which led to sobriety which led to an impassioned and nobly conceived, if ill-executed, attempt to enhance the animal care vocation. A decision that, as it turned out, was made personally and professionally impossible by factors which stemmed from the previous derailing. All this is to say nothing of the fact that I can’t even count the smattering of piddly jobs I’ve held in my working life, from the Bagel Bin to Pizza Pipeline to my gig as an umpire for YMCA coach-pitch Little League (I had the little hand held ball/strike/out counter and everything, which actually turned out to be pretty useless because in coach pitch, according to the rules, there’s literally no end to the amount of pitches Daddy’s little Taylor/Tyler/Tucker/Skylar/Etc. can shake off before they ground into what should be an out if Mommy’s little Dylan/Brandy/Randy/Rufus knew to how to field a ground ball hit into their bread basket.) If I went back to when I started my streak of gainful employment with my paper route in 6th grade, I’ve had approximately 462 jobs.

Okay, that number is hyperbolic, but not by a helluva lot.

So I’m no stranger to trying something new. But this time, I’m bringing a truckload of resolution to the resolution that I can do this and I will do this, even if it means exasperating every guy I work with because I have to ask them again what Counterstrike is (it’s the copper pipe that the natural gas runs through in a house if you care and I know you certainly do not. I barely do but I kind of have to now.) But this time, I’m 87% sure I can do this and there’s a financial payoff at the end of the tunnel. Not a huge payoff, at least financially, but enough that it’s definitely worth doing. And there’s the added benefit of being the first male in my blood line that knows how to fix something with more than a hammer, brute force and a likely trip to the Emergency Room.

I’ve also made a second resolution to quit smoking. I know I’ve said before on this blog that by the time I hit 40 years old, by father God and sonny Jesus I will have quit smoking. Well, I guess what I didn’t fill God in on is I recently started a new job and started back in school and both of these require a lot of driving. Any smoker will tell you that smoking and driving (not to mention smoking and studying) go together like pees and carrots or ham and eggs or chocolate and peanut butter. Today is my 40th birthday and, well, let’s just say I’ve admitted that there really is never an optimum time to quit other than all time. There’s an ad on one of the radio stations that plays country music (not the really good, old-school country either like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. The modern, “I can’t believe this is considered country music just because it has a twangy guitar” of Toby Keith and Darryl Worley. The latter is especially excruciating because every time he comes on he’s singing the musically mediocre anthem about 9/11 called “Have you Forgotten?” No, Darryl, I haven’t forgotten because you won’t stop freaking singing about it. Trust me, I know people who live in New York who desperately want to forget about it so shut your freakin’ pie hole.) Anyway, the ad is for e-cigs and the spokesman says in his best game-show voice “Now you can enjoy the nicotine you love without always smelling like smoke. The financial benefits are considerable as well!” Well smack my ass and call me Dylan/Brandy/Randy/Rufus but tell me something I don’t know, jackass. No smoker will tell you they love nicotine and in this capitalist society, I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of the financial hit our budgets take. As Denis Leary once said, “I love to smoke. I smoke 7000 packs a day okay, and I am never quitting. They’re a drug, we’re addicted, Okay?”.” Or alternately, it was Bill Hicks who said “Make you a deal. I’ll smoke, I’ll cough. I’ll get the tumors. I’ll die. Deal? And I gotta secret for you … non-smokers die every day too so I hope you don’t mind if I just enjoy my cig.” The reality is there’s two equally powerful, equally compelling arguments that surge in my brain, I hate smoking and I want nothing more than to quit. Meanwhile, I love smoking and am deathly afraid of that malady that plagues the reformed smoker that is free time.

I picked 40 because while I know that I will never undo the damage I’ve done by smoking for 25 years, I still might be able to hedge my bets enough that I never need an oxygen machine, never cough up blood and never have a portion of my lungs removed. And who knows, if my looks hold together long enough I could still land a smokin’ hot woman (pun kinda intended) who would never have anything to do with a smoker. In the short term, I’ve also resolved myself to the fact that I may, very well, gain 20-35 pounds if the nicotine gum doesn’t suffice and as far as ham and eggs and chocolate and peanut butter go, well, I can always rededicate myself to the gym. It comes down to a new way of thinking, a new way of being in myself. To truly know myself as a non-smoker.

My third resolution, again, stems from the life-altering changes that have come from the HVAC endeavor. I work 50 hours a week and I’ve gotten into the habit of coming home and hunkering down with dinner and queuing up the show Lost. Before that, it was The West Wing. Before that, it was The Wire. The physically taxing nature of my job is not conducive to working out when the day is done, and yet I know that it’s plumb necessary. I have three things I have prescribed for myself for “relaxation time’ and not one of them involves television. Playing piano, working out, and writing have all taken a backseat to this gorge-and-veg routine I’ve slid into and I must resurrect all three of them to recapture the feeling of accomplishment.

All three of these are difficult and they are all necessary for my sanity. All three have a level of difficulty that I must abolish or at least deal with because no one is watching but me. Piano is difficult but I can do that and it’s a purely luxury hobby that no one will ever be interested but me. That’s the great thing about it. I’m the only one who will know how bad I am as I’m my only audience and I think I can sound alright. Working out is easier, mindless, and should be a lot easier once I quit smoking and enjoy all the extra energy (spoiler alert: The extra energy is a myth perpetuated by the fitness industry. I’ve talked to many non-smokers and what comes from quitting is slightly improved health, a better sense of smell and the feeling like you’ve lost a best friend. Can’t wait.)

On writing, I quote On Writing, Stephen King’s seminal work on the subject:

“If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows and how far.

Just an idea.”

I keep writing about finishing the book about my journey from bacterial meningitis to sobriety because, if I keep telling myself to do it, I will eventually finish it. Besides, y’know that saying about how no one was ever on their death bed and wishing they’d had spent more time at the office? I don’t want to be on my death bed, wishing I had finished watching Lost before I died. I have a least two or three books in me. It’s time to get to gettin’.

I started the HVAC gig 6 months ago and have concluded the adjustment period, It’s time to progress to the next phase of my life. Nay, to embrace the dreaded title of “Middle-aged” with zeal and gusto. I am thankful that I have had the presence of mind to greet this new stage, so far at least, with a healthy mix of cautious optimism, humility and, yes, a little fear. It’s time to move on. To not do so would be to blame many factors for my own inertia. Or, to borrow from Billy Shakespeare, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.