“the fun doesn’t happen until way later”

I bust into the bathroom to pee and then wash my hands. The sink is full of puke. Someone’s not feeling well, I think mildly. And then there’s no toilet paper. I make do with one of those sterile paper seat covers, which will always remind me of a joke Sharpie’d in a stall some time back: “Free Cowboy Hats!”

And BAM it hits me. I feel more at home in the places I go to help drug addicts and alcoholics, than I do almost anywhere else besides my own actual residence. Even in the latter, sometimes I feel oddly disconnected from my domestic exploits, like my life is a series of sensible activities to take care of my body and the bodies of the ones beloved to me (husband, children, dog, cats, gecko even, friends, family…) – even my artistic exploits, as much as I love them, can feel more soothing to mind and body than anything else. But where my heart and soul find resonance, are these places where pain twisted us to shit in a crucible, where we were finally defeated and broke in half and we learned the profound and utterly brilliant experience of complete demoralization. If you haven’t experienced enlightenment through this means, it probably sounds unpleasant. Or maybe bogus. I used to want to explain it over and over because it’s so incredible. But today, I don’t try to convince anyone much. I have a brain disease and not only that, it got bad enough the symptoms made themselves noticeable in a big way and then I had to fight myself out of a pit like nothing I could have conceived and today I’m standing on the edge still grinning down. If you haven’t been there, you don’t get it.

I sit down and the clients walk in, or shuffle in, and I greet them and smile. I couldn’t be more in my element. Except I’m hot from hustling my ass up the hill on my big heavy bike. And instead of the room being the typical preternatural cold (I think to keep people from falling asleep; many are on medications that keep them drowsy) it’s warm and so I’m not cooling off. I fan myself and I say hi. Every week, dozens more. Some people I already know from before, back out, back in. I’m glad to see they’re alive. A pretty young woman says to her friends, “There’s my sponsor!” and comes and sits by me and tells me she’s out Monday. Some look all sleepy and are in full-on naptime a few minutes into me talking. I’m thinking of one woman I saw a few weeks back, she introduced herself by name and said she didn’t know how much time she had sober… She slowly said, “I don’t know how I got here.” Anyway the sleepy ones, I’ll see them again in a few days probably, and they’ll meet me for their first time.

I tell them a little bit about why I’m there and start talking about what I’ve experienced. When I’m talking a lot of people are relating, nodding, or laughing with that kind of relief, I’m not the only one. There’s a few sleeping and there’s probably a few who find me annoying as fuck. One of the ones who is listening, a dark young man across from me, nods in recognition when I talk about being a “high bottom” and what kind of mess that gets you, and then when I talk about how it hurts to watch¬†someone¬†you love still in active practice. Later, reluctantly, he shares – after the group asks him to. He says he spent all this time locked up in a few forms of treatment facilities and immersed himself in Recovery culture and said he walked and talked Recovery and kept a smile on his face, always. And he collected a bit of time that way. But he says he never dealt with the pain, and he relapsed. He doesn’t say this but it seems like he’s dealing with it now. He says slowly, and to no one in particular, looking at the floor and the words are like a birth: “if you’re having fun right now, you probably don’t get it. The fun doesn’t happen until way later.” To me he reads like he’s in deep, profound pain. The truth of his words pulls from my own gut, and I know what he’s talking about. And I think to myself what a blessing, what a manifestation. I recently read in a book: “human consciousness is light perceiving light.”

The joy I experience in this work is deep and unshakeable. And it’s not hyper or even blissful, it’s just joy. It’s impossible to describe and what’s the point? You have to experience it. Get a little and you can start to recognize it in others, and you definitely recognize its absence in others.

An hour and a half later I’m leaving and a big man says to me, “I really respect you for what you’ve shared.” And I’m like, “I respect you – you said you didn’t want to talk then you get started and you’re dropping all this wisdom.” Wisdom is found everywhere in those I work with. It’s actually other places, almost every other place, you find people sleepwalking through life, going through the motions. It’s like this secret no one wants to own up to. Nothing to be ashamed of, we all sleepwalk at some time or another. We can all wake up, but we can all fall back again too.

This work keeps me awake while I’m doing it.

on which it somehow did not take a turn for the Awkward

It’s a common enough belief among people that when you have kids you give them little talks to fill them in on your particular family values. Yet I tend to believe as Mahatma Gandhi once said: “My life is my message.” Children pick up family values from the life lived in the family – and yes, this is for good or ill (kids also pick up values outside the family; you cannot force your children into your own worldviews). The need to be conscious about my life-as-lived is is why, in general, I don’t tend to give my kids lectures about this or that. But every now and then I initiate a direct conversation – I just try to avoid any ‘splaining about the whole business. When I choose these discussions I’ve often found asking my children how they feel and what they believe works better than telling them what they should feel or believe.

So here’s word for word what happened in the truck the other day as Sophie and I drove to pick up groceries.

Me: “Sophie, what age do you think it would be okay for you to have sex?”

Sophie: “After I get a boyfriend.”

Me: “When is that?”

Sophie: “Maybe… thirteen or fifteen.” She thinks another beat then says, “Maybe I’d wait a little longer.”

Me: “Oh so you mean, you’d start dating as a teenager, but wait to have sex?”

Sophie: “Yeah.”

Me: “You know, that’s what I did. I mean I had boyfriends and girlfriends for a while before I started having sex with any of them.”

Sophie: “Girlfriends? You’re kidding!” She looks at me in surprise.

Me: “Yes, I mean a few. I kissed them and had sex with some of them and all that. But you know, first I dated for a while before that kind of thing.”

Sophie: “Oh!” The light in her eyes and voice is just priceless. Something “fits” for her, although I’m not sure what it is.

We pull into the parking lot. My daughter unbuckles her seatbelt, leans over and puts her arms around me, strokes my hair. “Thanks for always telling us the truth, Mama,” she says softly, and kisses me so gently.

So really, there’s that.

SHOULD WE FEED THE CATS AGAIN

This video is RIDICULOUS because it sums up a little too much our life. All off-script, including Mable’s screech and my pathetic succumbing to Harris’ begging-for-food charms.

Anna Dell Geckaboom, with my daughter, who is not only an experienced and loving lizard-custodian and would-be herpetologist, but is also getting pretty good at handling crickets as well.

Our Newest Member Of The Household

my children are not jumpy mice, a mantra

Today as I awaited my young daughter’s exodus from the hot showers post-swimming lesson I saw another woman in a an angry tableau with her daughter while the grandmother watched. The little girl had done something – I don’t know what – and was receiving a lengthy scolding, right there in her bathing suit. The mother and the grandmother’s faces were molded in lines of intense displeasure. The object of their ire was avoiding eye contact while making angry grunts. “Look at me. Look at me,” the mother fumed, gripping her daughter’s upper arms. At this the grandmother marched over from a few feet of observational distance, grasped the young girl’s head, and forcefully turned it. “Look at your mother,” she grimly intoned. I lost track of the conversation as my daughter skirted past the trio, giving them a curious glance, and into my waiting towel. A few minutes later, out of eyesight at the locker bank, I heard the sound of a slap and the mother’s voice again, angrily: “Behave.” I thought, impossible. If the little girl was weak-natured, she would be terrified and ashamed. If she was strong-willed, she would be angry and ashamed. At best, she’d be cowed into submission. Adults can win this sort of conflict because they are larger, meaner, and scarier. And the worst thing is adults who behave like this often never reflect on doing things a different way; never learn to take care of their anger, only to unleash it at the expense of their dependents.

I remember episodes like this in my childhood (I was of the strong-willed variety, in case you hadn’t guessed), the full (if momentary) anger and shaming language directed at me by the supposedly loving figures in my life. These incidents were awful, simply awful, and when I see a child treated in this way I remember it like it was yesterday. Only slightly less uncomfortable than witnessing tonight’s unpleasantness was the knowledge that I have myself talked to my child this way, have felt that angry at my child – although I know I have never permitted adults to gang up on my children in any way (at least, not as long as I’ve been present to stop it). It was so easy for me to see, looking in on someone else’s child, that no matter what this girl did she in no way deserved this browbeating. It was so easy for me to imagine this grandmother treated her daughter this way and the cycle continued – at least in this moment there was no growth, no healing.

Alone on our locker room bench, I gather my daughter in my arms, towel and all. She permits the embrace and I have a few blissful seconds of her warmth and dearness. She is tough and smart and almost the age she could physically forage for herself in the world. But in the moment she feels like a tiny bird, all fluttering heart and fragile wings. Gentle, gentle, I think to myself. Can I return to being gentle to my children? I know today’s example will stay with me. I also know I’m not being so gentle to myself lately. Take a breath; tomorrow is a new day. I can do it.

"but not a hundred of them"

My mom invited us over for dinner tonight: meatloaf. Frankly, I’m dying for a break from cooking (altho’ I won’t be eating the meat, natch). Here were the negotiations:

Me: “Are there going to be mashed potatoes?” (I love my mom’s mashed potatoes)

My mom: “OK. What about vegetables *? What does Ralph like?”

My dad: “How about carrots?”

My mom: “I know what you like. I’m trying to find out what he likes.”

Me: “He likes caesar salad – I have a great dressing recipe I can mail you.”

My mom: “Good idea! I have a head of romaine. I’ll find anchovies for the dressing.”

My dad: [ unintelligible muttering because he hates salad ]

Me: “What was that?”

My dad (sullen): “I didn’t say a fucking thing.”

* My mom’s cooking requirements per dinner: meat, one “starch”, one veggie.