The Rotten Fruit

2ripeand1rootenapple I was taking big breaths. In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

That’s what you’re supposed to do when you feel like you’re going to lose it.

I don’t usually leave the house before having my coffee, but, on Sunday, I did.

I slipped into my sneakers, pulled my green sweatshirt over my head, and I walked out of the house into the cold. I stood in the center of  the overpass at the highway crossing and let the sound and smell engulf me. Moving air and gasoline. People, all flying forward at sixty-five miles an hour, and me, standing perfectly still. I allowed all the noise to surround me, humming as it rose up from underneath me. And, in that beautiful mess of movement and sound, I let my fingers feel cold and my ears feel numb. I melted. Into place. Into Albany. Into the fence that stops people who are about to lose it from leaping into the traffic below. And, every thought I had, just one more car on the thruway — I allowed a final chance to make its noise.

Thoughts. This past month, I wrote them. Spoke them. But mostly, I thought them. I’ve carried some of them around with me for what feels like centuries, luggage I’d never opened. Because I knew that, if I did,  I’d have to shove every unruly thought back into that damn suitcase. And, they’d never all fit back inside the way they had before. All my thoughts, old and overripe. — All rotting fruit.

I wrote the stories that had been permanent residents in my head, for years. And suddenly, they were all outside me. My bag of fruit, strewn across the highway. And, out of nowhere, came waves of forgiveness. Everywhere I looked, I had been forgiven. Crazier still, I was able to forgive. Finally. I forgave. — The people. The places. The circumstances. — All of us, redeemed. Drenched in blessed water, burst from my leaking pipes in some holy absolution.

When I woke up with a start Sunday morning, I felt them. — New thoughts. New weight. So, I walked out onto New Scotland Road and I stood on that overpass and dumped everything I had, the old and the new, my suitcase of rotting apples, onto the highway below.

Vibrating along with a thousand engines, I let the person I’ve pretended to be fall into the traffic below, with the rest of my trash. And then, I started walking.

I learned to walk in Portland, after my first, traumatic event in sobriety. Miles and miles. Every morning, before I went to work. Every night, when I got home. I walked, dragging my fruit-filled baggage around Reed College campus so many times, I swear to God, there are still grooves in the sidewalk from my worn out Brooks running sneakers. I walked because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to be done. My therapist at the time told me to stop walking. Both my Achilles had severe tendonitis. She was worried about me. But, I kept on walking. — Because, I knew, medical advice be damned, that I had marathons to trot before I’d feel any better.

And, that’s just it. As the old adage goes: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Sometimes, you have to carry the rotten fruit. Walk with it. Walk to China and back. It’s only after you’ve dragged your bag behind you long enough that you truly know which stories will truly eat you alive. And then, you have to tell them. In your head first, and then, to everyone. You have to let go of the projects you were never meant to have. You have to be the crazy girl who changes her mind about everything ten thousand times before settling on the right thing, which will, inevitably, end up being wrong. You have to forgive. Don’t forget, because, the whole point is learning. But, forgive. Please. Forgive everyone. And then, forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for being: Stupid. Selfish. In over your head. A punk. A liar. A child. A cheat. A recluse. A thief. And a fraud. — You have to remember that everyone on this planet is just as fucked as you are, and, you have to learn to like that about humanity.

You have to stand over the fucking highway and drop all of your rotten fruit over the edge, because none of it is going to save or serve you. Not one thought or person or memory is going to save you. It’s you who’s going to save you. Your story — however you tell it — is the thing that sets you free. It can be sad or funny or desperate. It can be humiliating or humbling or hammy. But, the thing it can’t be is: Silent. So, scream it. Your stories aren’t meant to be thoughts that bounce around like a pinballs between your ears. It has to be messy. Rotten fruit on the highway.

Sunday, I didn’t end up losing it. I started walking. New Scotland Road to Whitehall to Delaware Avenue. Mascara running. And then, I walked some more, to a coffee shop in Center Square, Albany.

I stood in line with my raccoon eyes, and got an Americano brewed from beans that, as it happened, were from a boutique, Oregon coffee roaster that I used to frequent when I lived in Portland. The barista thought I was cool because I’d heard of them. I fought the urge to tell him how decidedly uncool I am. But, I didn’t. Because, some thoughts — are trash. And trash doesn’t make good banter, but, it does make a good story.

This month, the ninth in my Year of Happiness, and the last in the year of 2016, is about the Stories. All the stories. My stories. Pent-up stories. Maudlin, sad stories. Trash stories. Every story that’s fit to print, and even better, those that are completely unfit. Because, when this year is over, I’m starting over again. And, likely, again after that. I need room. Room for new stories. All the room I can find.

So, if your going to lose it, start with the old thoughts, the old stories — all of them.

Start fresh. Empty your bags onto the highway.

And, when you’re left with the stories you can’t lift high enough to toss over the edge — tell them.

Start with the fruit.

Artwork: “Two Ripe and One Rotten Apple,”  Daniel Worth;

http://danielworthart.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-ripe-and-one-rotten-apple.html

 

 

 

 

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Karma Chameleon, You Come And Go

Photo May 28, 5 34 22 PM

Bad dates.

If you want to find out exactly who you are — go on some.

As much as the whole process pains me — I’ve put myself back out there. Dating in New York City is a big, boiling pot of disaster. Believe me. It’s shameless, ruthless, and largely — heartless. The gauntlet, a line of lawyers, artists, project managers, analysts, educational administrators, creative directors, and motherfucking entrepreneurs.

In the last few months, I’ve been in coffee shops, on park benches, making walkabouts through the guts of Brooklyn, and dancing to washboard bands in small, dark bars. It’s exhilarating, illuminating, exhausting, endlessly disappointing, and emotionally taxing. I feel like I’ve tried on so many different versions of myself that when I’ve actually sat down to be alone with my own thoughts, I’ve had to sort through the many women I have become, and pick out the one that best fits me in the moment.

My Year of Happiness has brought me to a place of total confidence, where, I know without a doubt, what I want most in my life. And, even in the brief moments where I am without total surety, it’s as simple as restating the word in my head: Happiness. — And, I am quickly reminded of where I am headed. I am able to focus myself to a point of clarity that, once, seemed impossible.

How does the kind of Willingness, the kind where we show up for ourselves, evolve? I’ve often wondered, what actually happened here? This Willingness is so different from the one I found when I got sober. This Willingness is born out of my boldness — not my defeat. It gives me immense power. More than I’ve ever had in my life. — And, I am not afraid to wield it.

Dating can feel a lot like the life I led before I got sober. It sometimes asks me to be a chameleon. — To participate in a complicated and colorful dance. — Moving delicately over leaves that will bend unexpectedly. Appearing one way and feeling another. And, I’ve found, over just one cup of coffee, my feelings can drift from lofty, sweet and starry-eyed to panicked and desperate as a cornered cat. All the while, I’m holding fast onto my same expression. — A closed-mouth, red-lipped smile with soft, lined, blinking eyes.

But that is not Willingness. That is acting.

Willingness is the thing that shows up for you. It’s not there to save you. When I say for you, I mean it is for you to use. A tool that you’ll have to pick up yourself. Willingness is the little alarm that rattles your ribs, the train whistle that never escapes your lungs. It’s a message, a warning: Get out! Stay put! Wait it out. This one. No. — This one.

Willingness is the thing that will convince your chameleon skin to return to its original color. It is the unexpected joy of wearing yourself, without fear. Willingness is knowing what you want, and politely, accepting nothing less.

This month, Willingness has helped me to step through my past. — To see where I have been stuck. To see where I have been a shape-shifter. To see where I have taken only what I could get, nothing more — accepting a meager ration. And, five weeks later, I know what I deserve. — What I deserved all along.

Willingness makes me more than a spectator. I have become my own superhero. A sassy chameleon, with a red mouth and red nails — who speaks to and points at anything she likes. Without apology.

Whatever your chameleon skin looks or feels like — wear it. To the coffee shop. To the park. Walking down the humid streets of Crown Heights. Dancing in the dark. When you’re clad in your Willingness — you rule the dance floor.

A return to a world where rejection has become a part of my every day, for a moment, seemed daunting. But, as I watch thousands of faces peer into subways cars, feet shuffle down avenues, smiles beam across tables and bars, and hands reach out for each other under the city lights — I know there will always be someone, something, somewhere waiting to be found. And, I, have become a willing seeker.

Willingness can be elusive, but, when it does appear — the rest will fall in line. It’s karma, baby.

So, change the color of your Happiness. Throw off the skin that no longer suits you.

And wherever you sip, sit, stand, walk, or dance — never be afraid to go it alone.

 

 

“Slow the Fuck Down.”: And Other Advice from Dad

Photo Apr 12, 12 07 38 PM

My birthday gift to myself? — I took an impromptu road trip. I headed down south with pure wanderlust pumping through my veins. My radio was turned up, my windows were rolled down —  and no one was going to stop me.*

*Until I got pulled over for speeding.

Not only did I get pulled over, I received a summons. Not your regular-old speeding ticket. Apparently, I was driving “recklessly.” Well, that’s what they call it in Virginia. In New York, it’s called driving. But, in any case, I have to send a lawyer to represent me at a Virginia courthouse in June. I’m told that I’ll just have to pay a fine. Which, I guess I had coming. This is America after all. Penalties — I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting, was having a revelatory moment. After the initial panic of being pulled over subsided I, of course, Googled my charges. And then, promptly, I texted my father — an attorney — freaking out. Positive that I was going to have to serve a year in prison, just one day after turning 32, I was wigging out. How was I going to spin this, my “Year of Happiness,” into my “Year of Incarceration”? This was definitely among the worst news I could have received. But, in proper Dad-like-fashion, he escorted me off my ledge in crazy-town, and convinced me everything would be just fine. He told me to enjoy my trip. And, I sat in my hot car, staring at my iPhone, wondering — How?

After splashing some cold water on my face and sucking down an iced soy latte at a rest-stop Starbucks in Virginia Beach, I realized that I had to let myself surrender to the experience. If I was going to enjoy my trip — which had only begun 4 hours earlier — I had to let my panic and frustration go.

It’s easy to say “I surrender.” I think we all imagine that surrendering, once we decide to do so, is an easy action. We pull over to the side of the road, we say “Yes, officer. No, officer.” We get the ticket. And we accept what’s going on, because — we have to. But that’s just part of the surrender. It’s in the aftermath of surrender where we really have to do the dirty work.

Surrender isn’t in the action of giving in. Surrender is living with yourself after you’ve taken action. You give in. You give yourself up. But — then what? What’s the action that follows your surrender? Because, until you figure that out, there’s no way to know where your work lies.

It’s obvious — to me anyway — that we all want to be Happy. If being Happy were as easy as just wanting it, we’d all be living Happily every after. The thing is, Happiness isn’t just a vague concept. It’s actually quite specific. We are all unique and different beings. What makes me Happy, probably wouldn’t do much for you and vice versa. So, identifying what it is you want, being specific about the things that will bring you joy, is the first and most vital step to actually getting on the road to finding Happiness.

And, as someone who’s all over the map about what she wants, it’s no wonder I’ve been grasping at straws for so long. In the past, I’ve latched on to the wants and desires of the people I’ve loved. I thought, maybe, since they loved those things — I would too. But, that method has only led me down dead end roads.

This week, surrender means slowing down. Literally and figuratively. If I can’t put my finger on what I want — that’s OK. But, it means, at the very least, I have to surrender what I don’t want.

I don’t want another ticket. — So, I stick to the speed limit.

Surrender is identifying where the plan isn’t working, and implementing something that does work. That sounds rudimentary. I know. But, it’s a simple step that we all avoid and, as a result, we continually get stuck circling the situations and feelings we don’t want. We never let ourselves move on.

Truthfully, driving at 55 mph may not change my life, but, it’s doing something differently. It’s better than harping on about the thing that wasn’t working.

We want surrender to be fast. — Like, driving 79 mph in a 55 mph zone. — But, it’s not. It’s slow. Like, School Zone slow. And, it’s deliberate. It takes time.

So, this week — Month 1, Week 2 in my Year of Happiness, this is it: Surrender, at age 32, is taking your Dad’s advice to “Slow the fuck down.” I chose to abandon my panic and, instead, reveled in the fact that dear-old-Dad finally chose to speak in my superior vernacular of profanity. And, I found myself appreciating that, even though it may take time, we all can learn a new language.

Eventually, we can find ourselves speaking the very same language as the things to which we are desperate to connect. — Mainly Happiness. — Which, you should know, I did find on my road trip down south.

A journey that I decided to make — in spite of the speed limit.

 

Doing Things Badly

issa-and-giant-s-head-1932-3.jpg!Blog-1

This week, my people, has been tough.

A dry, dusty, depression wasteland.

But, rather than abandon you, my faithful, with nothing — I leave you with a morsel from one the zaniest and the most human of my favorite writers — Anne Lamott.

Her book, Grace, Eventually  started me down the road that led me to Baba Ram Dass, and shortly thereafter — to my own sobriety. She is a writer who had little trouble wiggling her way into my heart, and, I hope that this week you’ll devote the five minutes you might have spent reading my words to watching this short piece, and perhaps, you’ll allow her to wiggle her way into yours.

 

Artwork: Nicholas Roerich, “Issa and Giant’s Head”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Me Up, Santa

Santa-Claus-Camel-Cigarettes-Christmas-Ad

I want a cigarette so fuckin’ bad, I can taste it.

In the coffee shop, I stand at my post in the window, watching passers-by stroll down the avenue, little breaths of smoke trailing behind them. Their mouths, happy, little chimneys.

Camel. American Spirit. Marlboro. Kool. Newport. And, my old brand, Parliament. — The bodega across the street, with bright signs flashing, taunts me in the morning darkness.

But, I allow myself to be distracted by holiday joy. Inside our coffee-fueled-snow-palace-workshop, the scent of java wafts magically about as my coworkers pour the new, limited-time-lattés — Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread, and Maple Spice — into tall, white paper cups. We stand at attention, turbo-caffeinated elves, under a cascade of twinkling lights and dangling crochet snowflakes.

From open to close, our soundtrack is Michael Bublé’s Holiday Pandora Station. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” he croons, as a man jogs by wearing shorts and hoodie. Yes, it’s 60 fucking degrees outside, and — if we’re being honest — it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. But, I’m trying here.

During my break, I want nothing more than to stand at the back door, sipping a plain-old-soy-latte, sucking down three glorious Parliaments in quick succession.

‘Tis the season! — And really, that’s the thing I try to remember. — It’s just seasonal stress. Holidays make hard things harder. And, I remind myself when I can think of nothing but nicotine’s sweet kiss — cravings are just a chemical warning. — Ease up. Relax. Breathe.

Some days, I think I may as well have a cigarette — because breathing isn’t easy either way. It’s hard to be patient, waiting on change. Placing one foot in front of the other. It’s slow. And, the holidays are a pine-scented reminder that time is passing far more quickly than I’d like. — I’m not sure I’m ready for 2016 just yet. Not sure that I want to concede to another disappointing year. — “Come on Sarah, it’s nothing a latté can’t fix,” my favorite coworker tells me, steaming soy milk with an elfish grin painted across her face.

As Michael Bublé, fondly known in the coffee shop as “The Bubés,” really leans in to the chorus of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town”, I am reminded that — other than a nice, long smoke break — there’s not much I need this Christmas. I got my wish — I’m back home. And, I’ve got it pretty good here. Depressed, sure, a bit. But, I’m lucky. — And, I know it.

Things will fall into place. Somehow. Eventually. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I remind myself to be grateful. — To be a good girl.

This year, my list is short. All I want is my spark back.

So, go on Santa — light me up.

 

 

 

The Coffee Shop

Photo Oct 04, 10 47 31 AM

I watch the sun come up in the window of the coffee shop where I work.

I got the job a few weeks ago. — A barista.

I arrive at 6:25AM, five days a week. I brew big carafes of coffee, set out pastries in a glass case, and watch as the Avenue begins to open its eyes and welcome the day. The coffee is the best part. It smells warm and sweet and I breathe it in as deeply as I can throughout the day. And — I know — that when this time in my life is over, I will walk into some cafe, any cafe, and the smell of coffee will remind me of how the light splashed down Third Avenue in the Autumn of 2015.

After the morning rush — a parade of school teachers, mothers and fathers with sons and daughters keen on a breakfast of doughnuts, chocolate croissants and macaroons, crabby little-old-ladies, suited business men, and a suave Italian who always orders a cortado with “just-a little extra milk” — things slow down. It’s still. One regular sits at his computer quietly, for hours, eating his giant, cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I stock white paper cups and stamp white paper bags with our shop’s logo. I look out the window and I ignore the elephant in the room.

I’m just taking cover here, in Bay Ridge. Other parts of Brooklyn still lay in ruins.

I avoid the subway lines in certain neighborhoods. I decline invitations from friends who are headed into different parts of the borough. I’m still walking around in a mine field without Kevlar.

It’s not just that Brooklyn has changed. Change — I expected. It’s what hasn’t changed. The places that still remain — as if I’d never left  — a skeleton of a city that I once shared with someone else. When I left Brooklyn in November of 2009, I wasn’t an “I.” “I” was a “We.” We left this place. It had been ours. Everything. Parks and street corners. Restaurants and bars. Cafes and clothing stores. And Avenues. So many Avenues. I cannot escape how the light falls here. It’s like a time machine. Brooklyn, B.P. (Before Portland) and Brooklyn, A.D. — the two blur, in some strange warp.

Seven years later, I pass the same places and I want to melt into the cement. — To disappear. — All these little things I once loved, still living in the same space. Some are gone, too. My heart aches — for all of it.

But, here, in the coffee shop, I’m safe. The faces are, for the most part, kind. The Brooklyn accents, comforting. And, the smell. Oh, the smell. I grind the beans and I lean in as I pull the cleaning lever, watching, as a little cloud of fine, ground coffee puffs out into the air — flakes of fragrant, roasted perfume. I pour creamy espresso shots into little, ceramic cups and its aroma wafts up and into my nose. The little metal spoon clinks. The machine drips. drips. drips. the drip coffee into a steel carafe. A woman tears the top off a pack of Domino sugar. Everything feels calm and manageable.

I hand a little boy a clear bag that displays his little, coconut macaroon. His father buys one for him every morning. He tilts his head and smiles at the cellophane bag and the gold sticker that secures it. “What do you say to the lady?,” his father asks him. The little boy teeters back shyly into the wall opposite the counter and mumbles, “Thank you.” His father smiles at me when I hand him his cup of coffee. “Come on bud, let’s go.” He ushers the small boy out the door, but, the boy always looks back in. First, to me, then, to the case filled with macaroons.

I know that feeling. Looking back into a place that’s so hard to leave — so inviting. I feel his melancholy — forced to leave his dreams on the wrong side of a glass pastry case. But, it’s all just a part of growing up. He will learn. The necessity of leaving things behind. Too much sugar. He’ll know better. He’ll know what he can return to, and, he’ll know what he has to abandon. Yes, he’ll know. — Gold stickers will not always hold things in place.

I wipe down the counter where a few drops of coffee have spilled.

When I remember this time in my life — I know — I will remember the smell of this place.

I breathe it in deeply. Warm and sweet.

Coffee.

 

 

I’ve Still Got It, Baby.

Photo Jan 27, 11 35 57 PMI did it. It happened. I drank.

And — fuck man. Coffee is good.

All it took was one quintuple-shot-Americano. And, after nearly three months without coffee or caffeine, one sip was all I needed. GAME FUCKING ON. Caffeinate me. More. MORE! And, there it is, right in front of me. I’ve still got it, baby. After all this time, it remains — all or nothing. And, I concede; moderation is something that I just can’t do. I stand face to face with the thing I’ve known for years, but, I still want to ignore. — I’m an addict.

But, really, addiction is just the squeaky wheel. Pretty soon, what was an innocent squeak sends the car flying off the road, and then, everything gets stuck. Before anyone knows what happened — I’m back in a rut. But, it wasn’t the coffee. I swear.

And, we allow this. Our drinks and our drugs and our sex and our coffee and our food and our sugar to literally halt us, to pick us up, and to force us to try and hold on to something that can’t be held. But, not just anything — it’s this one thing. This. We break from everything — for this. There is solace in obsession. And, here, in my coffee cup, I can taste it. Yup. I’ve still got it.

Sometimes, I forget that the obsession was the cure. It wasn’t the bourbon or the bong or the fuck or the soy latte or the entire bag of Oreos or the handful of jelly beans. — It was the planning and the ritual. It was the reward. The supply and demand. Addiction offers something else — it hoists us up just long enough for us to see what we’re missing before letting us go — dropping us back into the mud. Addiction plows elaborate paths that lead nowhere. And, trudging back to the open road is exhausting. It can take everything you have. Frustration will ooze from old, muddy wounds and things will begin to spill over the sides of our ditches. It’s inevitable, our unattended ruts will flood.

Sometimes you’ll get stuck for so long, that you’ll forget what it felt like when you weren’t crawling through the sludge. Ruts hold us in a steady cycle. But stability is misleading. — Sometimes, it’s nothing more than limbo. Doldrums. Drudgery. Dread. — It goes a step beyond pessimism, because you are an active participant in the attempted escape from your rut. But, the same motion that’s needed to set yourself free can sometimes make you feel that you’ve lost yourself in an unstoppable flow. There is an actual rhythm in this kind of being. — It’s battle. And, as an addict, I know it. — I once felt that the only way to return to normalcy was to let my addiction take the wheel. Everyone gets tired of driving.

But, there has to be a moment where we finally see clearly. We learn to steady the wheel. Sometimes we find that moment in sobriety. Or, that moment is the one that gets us sober. Or, it’s an even smaller happening, one we can’t put our finger on. But, however we’re made to see it — it’s the way out — a point in time that’s absolutely pivotal to our awakening. It’s the place we must reach if we’re to keep moving forward. It’s the only way to get un-stuck.

So, we learn to harness our Chi and we stop treading water — we begin to throw our proverbial sandbags into the trenches and let the process of sopping up the excess begin. And, somehow, here, we find the tools we didn’t know we had.

Maybe, some afternoon, you’ll find yourself ordering a quintuple-shot-Americano and your hands will shake with anticipation at the end of the coffee bar as the barista pulls the espresso. And, while you’re waiting to receive your hot-paper-cup in its smooth-cardboard-sleeve, maybe, you’ll suddenly understand where you’re going and where you’ve been.

And, as you drop your empty coffee cup in trash can, you feel the caffeine hit you. — ZING!

Yeah. — You’ve still got it, baby.