Preamble Ramble

Photo Jun 23, 8 55 58 PM

Sobriety is varying states of unrest.

Some weeks, I’m bubbling over, some weeks — I’m tapped.

I pull up the chair to sit at this table. I open my computer. And, I stare at the screen — into all your faces.

I’m processing this story. Always.

Every week I feel like I’m in a dark room where the photos just soak forever. Nothing develops. But, still, I want to tell you everything.

There are a lot of these Goddamned pictures. So many stories. And, the plot can go a lot of ways while you’re waiting for things to come into focus. Stories get restless and start to write themselves. There are an estimated five billion hopeful story lines going full tilt right now. Some intersect, and some, escape, wild, out on their own. And, many of them, I can tell you with absolute certainty — hopeful or not — won’t end well. It’s funny, my best moments, my best stories in sobriety are the ones where I don’t feel sober at all. Right now — I’m running on fumes.

We all get high on stuff. Sometimes it’s legal, sometimes it not. I’m not sure what I’m high on this week. Fear. Excitement. Sadness. Loss. Epic confusion. I’m riding the wave and there aren’t too many cohesive thoughts. But, I’m enjoying being lost in this emotional blur which is decidedly better than just — being lost.

I stop here, every week, and disclose the state of my union, or, should I say, the non-state of my disarray. I like to stare into your computer eyes and let you know things. Like — I’m coming up on some cord cutting, and, I need to test the waters before I start hacking. There are still secrets that I have to keep from you. Maybe I’m high on that.

But, I can tell you this — I have plans for a little summer series. Stories. True stories. Portland stories. Expect those in the coming weeks.

Cord-cutting-cathartic-cross-bearing-down-on-this-12-bridge-city stories. Love. Love stories. Love that lived and died. In a bottle. In a pipe. In a needle. In a heart. In a city. — This city.

So, tune in next week.

Summer’s heating up.

(Photo: Allison Webber; http://www.allisonwebber.photography/ )

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The Insignificant Thing

Photo Jun 16, 8 24 08 PM

The thing that breaks us, is never the thing that really broke us.

It sounds nonsensical. But — it’s the truth.

Our minds and bodies are magical things. — Beautiful and complicated mechanisms of celestial science and engineering, built to withstand incredible stress. INCREDIBLE stress. Though, I’ll say in earnest, for me, it doesn’t often feel that way. — Especially having been broken recently by an insignificant thing.

I’ve been here — a big-mouthed Brooklyn-girl — in Portland, Oregon. I’ve made my own way for quite some time. I’m not scared. I’m not in any trouble. I’m not facing imminent danger. At least, I’m not anymore. I’m just fine. Though, I hate the word. — Fine.

But, last night, after dropping my mother off at PDX, sending her homeward toward NYC, I swerved in my lane driving back home on I-205, sobbing hysterically. Minutes earlier, back at the terminal, when my mother’s arms broke their lock from around my sunburned shoulders, I felt it. — A sincere desire to be vulnerable again.

It only takes one insignificant thing.

In recent weeks it’s all flooded back. My time. Here. In Oregon. I’ve watched a lover and partner of almost 7 years walk out on me, never returning to say goodbye. I didn’t break. I’ve been arrested. Battled addictions. Marched myself through rehab like a soldier. I never broke. I watched my new lover and partner of almost 2 years get strung out on heroin — again and again and again. Not a crack. I stood, through all this, strong, like an Oregon pine. Dropping my dead needles. Picking up my pieces. Picking up their pieces. I pulled it all back together, my sap, like emotional super glue. — But, leaving my mother at the airport. — That’s what did me in.

The insignificant thing. The moment where you realize that you’ve held your own world together for far too long. Somehow, even after standing in the eye of the storm, it’s in the push and pull of the insignificant things where we find we’re — Tired. Broken. Lost. And still, we find it difficult to let go. The body, in all it’s magical resilience, resists giving way. Finally straining and, eventually, snapping under the weight of this thing that reminds us — We must respect the nature of things.

A friend of mine, who got divorced a few years ago, bravely escaping an abusive relationship, recently told me that she’s tired of being the “strong one.” I know what she means. We send each other notes. We tell each other that we’re better for it. But, in truth, we’d both take happiness over fortitude any day.

Blinking back more tears, I struggle to see this place. — Oregon. — These trees. The Gorge. The Wild West. Open air and unspoiled land. This place, by nature, has made me an adventurer.

It’s not insignificant that, here, I have learned how to be shipwrecked and to wash ashore — wet — but still breathing. What’s more, I’ve learned that I can fall in love again. I can heal myself. And, I can skillfully duct tape my 2001 Honda Civic back together — with expert craftsmanship — and not care what my father has to say about it.

But, the insignificant thing I can’t ignore is this — an unshakeable feeling that, it’s possible, I don’t belong here.

There are only so many storms I want to weather. Only so many loves I will stand to lose. Only so many places where I’m no longer haunted by the person I once was.

A long time ago, in a one-bedroom, railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I held a love bigger than my heart was meant to carry, and I told myself — Dream big. I freed myself up and, for a time, I loved fearlessly.

Those things I told myself back then — they weren’t insignificant. They were my system of road maps. Maps for letting go. Holding on. Surviving. Breaking. Rebuilding. Reviving. Re-starting.

On I-205, a man in a Toyota Tundra watches me sob at the merge. I allow it. I allow my mother’s departure to break me. Suddenly — I care not for strength. I give up on mourning the things I lost. I decide to abandon the dream I was hell bent on living so long ago. I allow myself  to want again.

Something else. Someone else. Somewhere else.

And, before I reach the exit for Powell Blvd., I watch the course of my life change in my side-view-mirror — the one that’s duct taped, securely, to the driver’s side door.

And, without anyone else’s permission, I vow to follow it closely — wherever it goes — my insignificant thing.

 

 

 

The Great Squirrel Chase

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This weekend, I evicted a squirrel from my apartment.

I first saw his ratty, grey tail peeking out from under my enormous television set. First, I panicked. Next, I reached for my yoga mat. Which, obviously, I proceeded to wield as an unruly weapon.

Even in my hysteria, it seemed simple enough. — I just had to lock the cat in the back bedroom, open the front door, and then usher my squirrel guest out, with gusto, flopping my yoga mat this way and that.

As it turned out, we were both quite terrified. So, I called my friend Tony who lives across from me in our apartment complex. No answer. Then, I tried my landlord. No answer. Then, I called my father — in New York City. Though separated by five thousand miles, he was the one who did not fail me. And while he did laugh at me like a hyena for five minutes, he also remained on the line for my intense, steady, and, dare-I-say-it — hunter-like — progression of profanity. Which, progressed as follows:

“Holy shit! Oh my God he’s in the closet now! Fuck! He’s making noises! Holy fucking shit, I can’t see him! What if he fucking bites me, Dad? Dad — Stop laughing! That stupid fucker just ran into the kitchen. God, that asshole’s a stupid motherfucker. THE FRONT DOOR IS OPEN YOU ASSHOLE!!! Jesus fucking Christ, he just ran out the front door. He was, like, fuckin’ airborne Dad. He’s out. Holy shit. He’s out! Fuck.”

My heart was beating like rapid fire. — And, there I was, yoga mat in hand. — Alive.

In truth, I’m rarely present. I run over the past in my mind, I plan the future, I design escapes and intrigue. But, I’m not here. It’s tough to get me in the moment.

One evening, my ex, after hearing me spout off about this or that, asked me how it came to be that Ram Dass was my hero — my guru — if I was constantly struggling to “Be Here Now.” — “Why didn’t I try harder to live in the present?” He wondered. I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to explain to someone else how you can love a person that has the one, intangible thing that you want most, but, can never seem to grasp. It’s not coveting. It’s reverence. And, it’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who cannot comprehend any spirit that’s bigger than their own.

It’s funny, because that very same ex got me a framed “Be Here Now” poster as a gift. — A reminder I guess. It’s purple with a white lotus flower in the center. And, even though my ex is gone, the poster remains, situated happily on my mantle. So, after I had called, texted, emailed, and tweeted to everyone I knew — I plopped down on my couch to draw in my breath and stare at my purple-poster. I smiled with my teeth for the first time in months.

Excitement. Joy. Suspense. Hilarity. A SQUIRREL. Here. Now. IN MY APARTMENT.

That squirrel was my gift. Maybe from Baba himself. The moment where I was reminded: I am a real, breathing creature, wielding a yoga mat and taming wild — albeit tiny — beasts. Even when the moment had passed — the tiny creature bounding out over my two-step stoop, the feeling he awakened in me remained. — A feeling that will not escape me so quickly.

Sometimes, we can only love those that are present — without us. We can bask in their light. Their awareness. Their true presence. We can read the words that they have spilled across thousands of pages in countless books, we can watch their YouTube channels, we can sing chants along with Krishna Das. We seek out the presence.

But, sometimes, it will come to you: A squirrel who shits all over your house —while you chase it wildly with a yoga mat — while your father laughs in your ear — while your heart pumps in your chest. At the end of it all, you watch something leap to freedom. — And, it’s you.

I thank the purple poster and, for old time’s sake, I text my ex.

Because, I need to tell someone — I’m here. Now.

“Now is now. Are you going to be here, or not?” — Baba Ram Das

A Mass In The Trees

Photo Jun 02, 9 31 35 PM

In bed, my eyes open and look upward. The world is white and dry like the paint that coats the ceiling. I turn my whole head to look at the bedside clock instead of moving each eyeball in its socket. 6:48AM. The world is still lighting up and the overcast hue of a Portland morning bleeds out from behind the red bed sheet that has served as my curtain for almost a year. I lay there, unmoving, until 7:02AM, when something shifts. My foot, or my thigh, I can’t remember. My own body, now separate from my head, pulled its legs from between the sheets. Stepped into dirty jeans, piled on the floor beside the bed. The pants rose up around my ankles without obvious help from my hands.

I stare into my mirrored face in the bathroom. Flecks of make-up and dust surround my reflected portrait. I look tired. Old. Worried. I think I need saving. I need a blessing. I need someone to hold their hand out over me and make me well. A brush to paint over the dark circles of my eyes and make me appear fresh and young. I need a priest.

As a child there was a magic in the church. The clergy. I still remember the robe, a long green smock with gold threads, that Father Kraus used to wear as he billowed back and forth across the altar of St. Charles Borromeo in Brooklyn Heights. My mother singing out in the folk choir as I sat in the front right pew, on my knees, waiting. Not for salvation or peace, but to be heard. The smell of something ancient and holy. The hollow cold of the marble and stone. Each face, frozen, in its station of the cross. Back then, I believed in something. I’m not sure it was Jesus, but that church, in it’s ethereal enormity, made me feel as if I were part of something larger than my body, two arms, two legs, and a head. I prayed. I knelt at the statue of Holy Mary, her eyes cast to the floor, just to the left of the lamb that bowed at her feet. Mother of God.

Father Kraus is dead and I am in Oregon. I walk out of my apartment and drive to morning mass at St. Ignatius on Powell Boulevard, which in stature, has only a fraction of St. Charles’ dignity. I haven’t been in a Catholic church in years. The light is yellow and everything is as gold as idols. Old biddies in beige shoes and nuns in habits chant the rosary and I don’t belong here. I could not belong here. I entered my pew and sat, eyes closed, and let the sound wash over me. A bell chimes. Enter the priest. His robes are purple and stiff, unlike Father Kraus’, who upon his entrances appeared a holy wizard. I allow the routine of the service return. The call and answers, the prayers, the kneeling, then standing, then kneeling, then standing, then kneeling, then standing again. I swallowed my communion, but, it didn’t taste the same. I genuflected leaving the pew and my knee hit the floor with force before reverence, there will be a bruise.

On the steps of St. Ignatius, I felt as empty upon my exit as I did when entering the heavy door into the stale, sour air. Outside again, new breath moved in my lungs and Oregon sky pulled me closer. There are mountains nearby.

At the trail head, leaves crunch under my feet. The trees arch around me like long arms, bending so slightly, to hold me to the path. A chilled gust of air moves their last leaves, ushering me forward. I walk in quiet, the sun burns off clouds and beams of light search for the ground through the canopy. Pine needles dance in circles as they fall to their soft beds, made of their fallen comrades. Fall color cascades. The earthen smell of damp moss reminds me of the wet cold smell of St. Charles. The landscape opens up as I near the clearing and the wind echos like my mother’s footsteps on the marble.

I walked for miles. And became a part of this church. Stopping at its stations to sit on stumps and draw air into nostrils, flaring and alive. At the top of Powell Butte, the sky is open. Mt. Hood is raised in the east like a statue. The sun cradles its peak like a halo, and a soft ring of clouds hangs at the crest, shrouding it in white and blue, like Holy Mary. A beam of sun cast to the Earth, just to the left of the lamb that bowed at her feet. Mother of God.

 

(A Mass In The Trees is an excerpt from my essay collection: The Ascent, And Other Essays.)