Panicky

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
—T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

* * * *
Any room with me in it is a panic room.

“Take my advice—I’m not using it.” Oh, I can tell you to keep calm. At my worst, I might insist that you keep calm. But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even some of the more pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.

In one of my lesser achievements in the field of stress management, I gave myself a black eye while tying my shoes. These were boots with leather laces (I am not a cowboy) and such laces can take a little effort to yank into position. While securing my “half-knot” on my right shoe, the length of lace in my left hand broke and I clocked myself in the right eye. At the time, I was 34 years old, not 11.
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Lush Life

A personal reflection sparked by Olivia Laing’s excellent 2013 book The Trip to Echo Spring.

* * * *
Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
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Snow Falling on Everything

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.—James Joyce, the conclusion of “The Dead,” Dubliners

Cemeteries are cram-packed full with people who had other plans that day. Reservations for dinner, a movie ticket in the pocket. A refrigerator with new groceries. A sink with dirty dishes.

We all know this deep down, but the occasional reminders can nonetheless surprise. “Always wear clean underwear,” a cliché cartoon version of a mother tells a cliché cartoon version of ourselves in a cliché cartoon version of a conversation that never happens in real life. But the end comes in a moment, and it is always dramatic, even when it is mundane.

(I suppose it is never mundane for the person who experiences it, but I have not yet been there, not even been near it, and no one who has had the end moment has made a verifiable report about it. Tsk-tsk. Where are their priorities?)
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Irreplaceable Me

I never fooled myself into believing that I was indispensable, but did I have to prove it so often to the world at large?

* * * *
There is a phrase one hears in recovery circles: “Pulling a geographic.” While sharing their stories about the past and the inebriated life, many addicts and alcoholics learn that they have done similar things, like move across the country because they thought that a change would do them good.

One of the things that many of us did, many times, when we were trying to exert control over life was run from it. Move. Sometimes across town and sometimes cross-country. There was nothing so bad it couldn’t be fixed without filling out a change-of-address card.
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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire

I was fighting with temptation
But I didn’t want to win
A man like me don’t like to see
Temptation caving in
—Leonard Cohen, “On the Level”

* * * *
Not included on the long list of substances, people, and activities that have not even briefly scratched my addiction itch is, mysteriously, cigarette smoking.

I wrote, “mysteriously,” because I gave smoking its shot at me. For a period of time measured somewhere between one day and half a decade, I considered myself someone who smoked cigarettes.
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Pass the Test

I encountered a phrase a few years ago that I think should be used more commonly. Where I saw it, though, I do not remember. It appeared to be a typo, but if it was written like this on purpose, it looked like an artful accident. The writer described a learning experience as a “learning curb.” A great word pair.

I wish I could claim credit for this one, but I can not. I wish I could credit this writer—but does he or she know that there were was this epic phrase in their post? As I said, it looked like an accident, a typo. In the context it looked like they thought they had typed “learning curve.”

Many of my learning experiences did not have gently sloping learning curves or even steep learning curves; indeed, many were “learning curbs,” on which I banged my forward progress to a sudden stop or flipped my (metaphorical) vehicle.
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A Passing Shiver

This story has no ending yet, not one I am privy to, anyway.

There are many reasons a person may attend the recovery meetings I attend. They are private to each attendee, of course. Each person may hold several disparate reasons inside him or herself at any moment for coming to a meeting, even reasons that are in conflict with one another. One lucky stroke for me is that at six plus years sober, I am six plus years removed from the life that had me living just this side of the category of “Street Urchin.”

I was seated next to a street urchin today. He was shivering, even though it is September 1. He started shivering once he started to speak, and speaking may be what saves his life in the long run.
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Make No Mitsaek

Mistakes suck. Errors do, too.

Adverbs will never go hungry for a lack of work in many writers’ drafts, including mine, but that part of speech demands erasure whenever one encounters it. Adverbs are the empty calories of the English language: They are tasty, and they appear to be helpful when we want to bend a verb to do our verbal bidding and guide our eager reader(s) to share our thought-patterns, when context and the verb itself are capable of handling the task just fine on their own. They are potato chips and cotton candy blended into a linguistic smoothie.

All of the personal errors in my history can be described with an adverb, colorfully. Merely an adverb minus a verb or other details, so no personal stuff, no self-incriminating or embarrassing information might reveal some things: complacently, awkwardly, abruptly, vigorously, languorously, braggingly, disgustingly, violently, wrongly. Timidly. Brazenly. Toss a “very” or three in there.
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