Empty Calories and My Sated Ego

Today, I got a message from a Facebook friend in which she commented that I’ve been pretty quiet lately. She is right, if she means that I have been uncharacteristically absent from Facebook in general and, in particular, in a couple groups of which I’m a member. The reason is pretty simple and it’s the reason a lot of things in my life got bumped to the back of the line when I started my new job installing HVAC systems. See, at the beginning of this year, I was still schlepping wheelchairs around the airport for a pittance. I had dropped out of Vet Tech school a little over a year ago and it was the only gig I could get. So I did it, but the whole time I was enjoying a new respect for myself in sobriety and Buddhism and I clung to the possibility of realizing whatever potential I might be given the chance to live up to. As I told my mom, I was clinging to the life preserver that’s tied to the dingy that’s tied to the lifeboat that’s tied to the rescue boat, all the while screaming “I’m not done yet!” to the heavens. Then, seemingly effortlessly and with more than a little providence from the Universe, I started school to learn the HVAC trade and I got a job with a local company. Since starting school in June, my presence on Facebook, in the lives of my friends, and at meetings, not to mention the gym, all of it slowed to a crawl while I learned this new trade. Well, and my body had to adjust to having to work literally every muscle and bone in it. I had no idea that I was neglecting whole muscle groups until I tried the “Hold this piece of duct work motionless for 7 minutes while a tendon in your leg, a ligament in your arm, a muscle I didn’t even know I had in my wrists and one sinewy ribbon in your neck scream in pain you sadomasochistic bastard” thrust. For the first couple months, I couldn’t stay awake past 9 PM because my body and my mind would have negotiations with my constitution like a hostage crisis.

Body  – “You understand we are nearing a full-blown meltdown?”

Mind – “I’d like to hammer out a blog post or at least tinkle around on the piano for a while”

Spirit – “I understand you are both frustrated with the current situation and I assure you I am doing everything in my power to –“

Body – “We’re set to pop here kids …”

Mind – “I mean, at least let us write a haiku or even read or practice piano for an hour.”

Spirit – “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that. You need to be focused on his classes and I am going to insist that he at least meditate –“

Body – “I’ll be candid. Either he falls asleep in his bed, he falls asleep at the computer or he falls asleep with a mouthful of ice cream and he sleeps with a puddle of peanut butter fudge on his belly. Up to you, but he’s going to down. You have 30 seconds to comply.”

There have been some pretty great moments and I just started. AS I told my family and my teacher when I started class, the part of my brain that’s in charge of learning a trade where I just use my hands was apparently unscathed by the brain thing and it turns out that I’m kind of good at this stuff. I’m no Bob Vila, I’m not even Bob the Builder, but I could certainly keep up with Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor a couple times around the block. And little moments of encouragement along the way have been immensely ego-boosting to the point where I don’t recoil in fear when I hear an unwelcome clunk in my door panel (happened last month) and I’m not afraid to pull the light fixture off the wall and just see what I can see. I don’t however, try to fix said light fixture. My company also does electrical work but as I am petrified of trying my luck with anything that could potentially burn or explode, I’ve decided to stick with the “cooling” part of “Heating and cooling.” A friend of mine even texted and asked if it would be possible for him to put the AC unit in his car in the bar-and-grill he runs as the central air in the building was out. At that point, I had been in the program for not even 6 weeks, so I told him so and said, “I don’t know. Give it a shot.” But the greatest moment came when I told my brother that I think this HVAC thing was going to work and he commented with his usual spot-on frankness, “It will be nice to have at least one member of this family that knows how to fix shit.” I have been working at the HVAC company full-time and I’ve been able to reintegrate some things back into my routine. I work out in the basement or I run. I do my best to squeeze in 30 minutes at the piano 3-4 times per week. I try to read for pleasure as much as I can but that is still a race against the clock to see who will win, sleep or Tom Robbins.

What I haven’t done any of until recently is write, but with that one at least I know why and it is not from exhaustion. When I first started this blog, I did it as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could still write post-brain surgery/meningitis. And low and behold, I could write and I could write pretty well. I mean, I didn’t get such a positive response from this blog that agents and publishers were leaving me messages begging for my hand. Hell, the most visitors to the blog in one day never topped 200, but I did manage to do some pretty important things. At least, they were important to me. I managed to be funny sometimes, I experimented with writing straight fiction, I made some people laugh, I made some people cry. I wrote about the sheer grit, pain and redemption I’ve experienced in my short life in sobriety. And, at least, I hope, I’ve entertained a few people while I did it. Over and over again I eschewed the incredibly daunting task of tackling the one ton elephant in the middle of the room, wrestling him to the ground and giving him a few noogies. Well guess what Dumbo? It’s your turn now. I’m leaving my last post, in which I begin detailing my quasi- Medieval Times restaurant on steroids to entertain my sober brethren who might need some extra oomph in their dinner entertainment, unfinished. I don’t think there will be much fuss about that as it barely got any views at all. Any fledgling blogger will tell you that we thrive on hits, positively crave them. But all this isn’t important.

What is important is that now I am oiling the Tim Man and getting started on my book Empty Calories again. As I said, I’ve paired down the scope of it. I should know by now that false starts and discarded ideas are part of the writing process, but I’ve never taken on a project of this magnitude before. Also, it’s going to be painful for me. It’s just going to be me and Him and He scares the living shit out of me. But a friend recently passed along a passage about writing in which the author, a writing teacher, points out that writers often speed through or gloss over the most painful truths and heartbreaking moments because they will be too difficult for the author.

“You always have to bleed a little when you tell a true story,” she writes. “When you tell the truth, it should make you tremble. It should make you cry. It should make you feel raw and exposed and like you’ve dug down into your gut and mind and spirit. You’ve told something true. Not the story you’ve always told. But the real story. The one that lives underneath.”

I read that and I wanted to scream at her “But HE lives underneath and He takes no prisoners!” And all those things are true. And vital. And necessary.

And I looked at myself in my mind’s eye and replied “Yes. That’s the point.” The fact remains I have quite a story to tell and, by this teachers assertions, I gotta lot of blood, sweat and tears to get through before I’ve told it all. Last week, I sat down to work on the foreward for this work and I set my alarm for an hour. And for the first time since I’ve been playing with this idea, the bell rang to signal my hour of writing was done … but I didn’t want to stop. A good sign that the different path I’ve chose is the right one. That I was making it more complicated and difficult than it needed to be. Me story is one of addiction and the havoc it can reap on your life. First came the blog and the blog felt right. Now it’s the book. It feels right.

I’ve said this before, but it’s time to take off the gloves and go into the project swinging. I may still issue the occasional blog post. In fact, I’ve been thinking of writing funny haikus. The principle component of haikus is the presence of nature in the poem. I may do that and I may not. If I can say anything about myself it’s that I have rarely been good at following the rules. The ones I concoct for myself seem to fit me much, much better. There may be haikus about sunset and eclipses and the like. There also may be haikus about the tomatoes with cottage cheese I had for lunch today. Anything goes.

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