3000 Days of Somehow

I do not recall July 14, 2010, which was three-thousand and one days ago today. What is more, I left no social media footprint that day, so I do not even have any words or sentences or “Mark is feeling :-)” emoticon that I may have typed that morning on Facebook that could spark a memory.

Of course I looked. I looked just now with a grimace of anticipation on my face in the worry-slash-hope that I would find something I had written that day to someone about anything at all. Nope. (In fact, I do not enjoy looking at anything I typed before July 15, 2010, for reasons that I hope will become clear.) There is no journal entry, no blog post.
Read More

Better and Better

A friend told me about eating out with her “sarcastic” friend—we all have one—when the two of them saw a toddler, bundled up in winter layers, bounce off a closed glass door and fall because the child had not perceived the door.

The sarcastic friend said, sotto voce, “Get used to that, kid.”

Life is a clear, freshly cleaned, plate glass door that I haven’t noticed is a door, even with a shiny metal door handle at every-door-you’ve-ever-seen’s-door-handle-height on it, because I have been too busy thinking about life (or “thinking” “about” “life”) until I bonk into it. Loudly.

When are we too young to learn that? or too old to be reminded?
Read More

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.
Read More

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.
Read More

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.
Read More

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.
Read More

Today in History: September 19

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
—John Keats, the final stanza of “To Autumn”

John Keats composed “To Autumn,” one of his masterpieces, on this date in 1819.

* * * *
It is the birthday of singer/songwriter/actor/friend of Kermit the Frog/President of ASCAP/recovery advocate Paul Williams today. He is a personal hero of mine.

Whatever one may call a 76-year-old who is still winning awards for new music, is an advocate for recovery, and also testifies before Congress on behalf of song creators, you may as well call that “Paul Williams” from now on, because that is still his day-to-day life.

Further, Mr. Williams appears to have set for himself a personal goal of speaking with (in-person or online) every human being he possibly can meet. That is the only way I can explain him saying kind things to me on my Instagram account via his Instagram account.

I am as awkward around famous people as I am around people people. Even the clunkiness of that sentence captures my general social clunkiness.

It is entirely likely that anyone within reading distance of this blog has met more famous people (and more-famous people) than I have. A well-balanced person treats the waiter like a prince and talks with royalty like they’re the next-door neighbors; I am well-balanced, but not in a good way: famous, infamous, or unknown, I usually treat everyone like he or she is a teacher who has announced a pop quiz that I have not studied for.

Social media has made it easier for people to have certain kinds of encounters with the famous among us; many celebrities and politicians personally run their online fan clubs. Many do not. This has not made these encounters any less attention-grabbing for me when they do happen. (Three of my all-time favorite writers followed my Twitter account, two of them within a week of each other; I was a six-foot-tall cliché of self-importance that week. Two of them have since “unfollowed” me. I was a six-foot-tall cliché of crushed.)

If you have not seen Stephen Kessler’s excellent documentary Paul Williams Still Alive from 2012, you ought to. It is still on Netflix. The trailer (after the jump):
Read More

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.
Read More