The Face Of The Hammer, The Head Of The Nail

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I leaned against the kitchen counter, exhausted. The taste of vomit, fresh in my mouth.

I had been arrested the night before and released from police holding at 5AM that morning.

The officer behind a slate colored, wire divider pushed a clear bag filled with my personal belongings through a long, rectangular slot. Inside, the necklace my father gave me for my 18th birthday, a silver pendant, had been placed carefully into a little, plastic bag, where it glinted in the florescent light. Next to it, lay the bright white laces of my shoes and the long white string from my hoodie, all of which the booking officer had carefully removed from my person while I stood, silently crying.

My phone. My wallet. My house keys. These were the possessions that I had with me. My property. As I ran my fingers along the outline of each item in the bag, I felt like a criminal.

Later, in my apartment, my eyes kept returning to the clear, plastic bag sitting on the edge of my small, dining room table. I kept weeping. Again and again. I lost count of the times I forced myself to cease my sobbing and regain composure.

I had taken a cab back to the apartment after walking out into the stark, empty street in downtown Portland.  Darkness permeated everything on that eeriest of mornings. The cold, punishing brick of the building from which I had just emerged, loomed behind me, threatening violence. I had only six hours before I had to return to that very street and appear in court for my arraignment. But, by that time, the city would be awake, lit by the winter sun and full of scurrying worker-bees. Now, it was just dark, silent, still.

My mouth felt dry and tasted of stale liquor. I could feel that my eyes were red and the cold stung my chapped, peeling lips. I remember wanting to die. Hoping to somehow be struck by lightening or to suffer a heart attack or be hit by a stray bullet. I wanted something big and powerful to sweep in and take me. Something to wake me from that heavy, dream-like haze.

In the cab home, I told myself: Sarah. This, is  a very human lesson.

If only humanity were a better teacher, then perhaps, I would have learned that lesson long before having to learn it the hard way. But, in that moment, I was too tired for regret. I focused only on staying awake long enough to get home. Long enough to get into bed and sleep, which seemed like the only plausible way to wake from that unending nightmare.

I did sleep, though, it was the restless kind with haunted dreams. I woke and, like a robot, dressed myself for court. I appeared before the judge, still unaware of myself. Floating in space. Lost. Alone. I had called Tony, my dear friend, dazed, and asked for a ride. My car had be seized. He drove me downtown to court, and, on the ride, we were both solemn. The sad look on my face upon climbing back into his car after court, where I’d been handed a stack of paperwork and been yelled at by a judge who had little pity for sad, drunken white girls, informed Tony that things hadn’t improved. On most days, he could make me laugh without any effort at all, but, on that day, he didn’t even try.

“You have to tell them,” he said as he ate from our shared plate of tater tots at DOTS. “You won’t be able to keep it a secret. They know you’ve had a rough time this year. They’ll get it. They’ll help you. You have to tell them.”

I didn’t answer him because, I knew he was right. But, I couldn’t get the words out just yet. I couldn’t eat either, but Tony pushed the plate toward me and gestured at the tots. “Shitbird, you gotta eat.”

Later, alone in my apartment, leaning on the kitchen counter, the words finally started to bubble up in my throat, thick and sour, like witch’s brew. That’s when I vomited in the sink.

There was no way to explain it away. It could only be an admission. A confession. A plea for forgiveness.

Me: A drunk. A failure. And now, a criminal. Those are the words I wouldn’t speak, but, that would be silently woven into my careful explanation.

I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the small, clear plastic bag from inside the larger one. I hung my little pendant around my neck again, where it rested on my clavicle like a weight. I felt along its edges and in its grooves with the tip of my index finger and I tried to remember how things felt before everything happened. Hours ago. Days ago. Weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago. But — I can’t. And, in that moment, I knew, there would be parts of me that would never will feel the same, ever again.

It was too late to explain the means to my end. It was too many things. Too many moments. Too many people. Too many places. Too many drinks. Too many losses. Too many goodbyes. And in that moment, the face of the hammer and the head of the nail mattered not. Only the force of the blow.

I pressed the green “SEND” button at the base of my phone.

“Dad. Something bad happened. Do you have a minute? I have to tell you something.”

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Notes In Her Kitchen

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When I arrive, she is standing slumped over a clipboard in her kitchen.

In an hour, the restaurant will be buzzing. Cooks, bartenders, servers. But, for now, it’s just the two of us, and, she hasn’t seen me yet. I’m standing, trying not to breathe, pressing my spine into the doorway, worried that she’ll smell the liquor on my breath.

Though, I know, even when she does, she won’t say anything. She keeps my secrets as well as I do.

 

I watch her for a minute. Scratching out her lists. Her notes. Counting heads. Imagining her plates. I know I have to tell her. But, something about the way she is standing begs me to wait until tomorrow. Something sad and tired in her movements, makes me hurt for her. We are both so tired. — Different things  have left us exhausted.

I decide to wait. It has to be the last thing she hears from me. Not the first. I can’t tell her. Not yet.

Her husband walks up behind me and startles me. He’s got a big plastic tub full of ice. “Hey you! Are you ready for today?!” He shouts, rocking his head back and forth like he’s at a metal show.

“Hell yeah!” I shout back, pumping my fist, as he walks past me into the main dining room. But, I’m not ready. And, before I can face them, I run back to the office and take a long swig out of the bottle of cheap vodka in my handbag.

It’s the hottest day of our Portland summer. We are all sweating, even in the air conditioning. And, when we walk out to the street to set up the restaurant’s booth for the street fair, it feels like walking into a stick of butter. Thick and oily. Even my cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a net. And, as we walk toward the shade of the tent, I have to talk myself out of dying. Not just for my own sake, but for hers.

***           ***           ***

As a drunk, there are moments that you know, without a doubt, that you have let yourself down. But, until that particular day, during that particular summer, I had never truly felt the weight of letting someone else down.

It wasn’t because of something I did or didn’t do. It wasn’t because of an unpaid invoice or because of the liquor that poured from the restaurant’s shelf into my glass. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hack the job, or the people, or the place. — It was because I couldn’t handle myself any longer. I couldn’t be available for all the things that I said I could be. But, how do I explain that to her? How do I explain that I’ve become unhinged? Every time I see her face, it kicks me in the gut. I couldn’t have known giving up on her would hurt like this — giving up on her dream would hurt like this.

She struggled with the blue awning at the left corner of the tent where we sat in the shade. It gave us little relief from the heat. She handed me her stainless steel coffee thermos. “Sare Bear — It’s time. Get me a vodka-soda.” We both laugh. But, my laugh is more an exclamation of my relief than my amusement. I’ve been drunk since this morning. But, now, I have her permission. Permission to forget the heat. — Permission to forget everything.

Under the tent, I sit next to her in a canvas folding chair and we drink our vodka-sodas from thermoses. The crowds haven’t arrived yet. But, the prep cooks keep delivering hotel pans of fried chicken and noodles for us to serve to people that aren’t there. “Fuck this shit! This is total bullshit. We’re not doing this next year,” she says surveying the near empty street. But, I know she’ll do it again next year — because she does what she has to do for her dream, even when she hates it. Even when the process pains her, she is the most utterly committed person I have ever met. I take a sip from my straw and watch her for my cues. I wait for a sign that I can read, because I have learned to read them all.

That’s the thing that kills me about it. I know her. I know when she says one thing and means another. I know when she’s playing it tough, but is headed for a breakdown in the office. I know when she’s going to smile kindly in someone’s face and tear them to shreds the second they walk out the door. I know that she is in love with her kitchen clipboard more than any of us humans. I know how this place tears her apart and lights her up in every minute she stands at her post in expo, looking out over the dining room like it’s the Serengeti, with a line of servers migrating across an empty floor. I know her. And, I know her kingdom is beautiful and tragic. And, there is so much of me that wants to stay.

But, I can’t. I can’t pull it off. Not in the way she deserves. I keep coming back to that promise I made. — I told her I could. — And. I. Can’t.

We press through the day, hot, tired, and drunk. My mind wanders. Floating in front of me like the little clouds of cigarette smoke. Her dreams. Her faith in this place. Her reckless abandon. Her laughter booming through the dining room. Her frustration, held back only by the sliding black door of the the tiny office. Her silhouette, forever bent over a clipboard full of lists. And me, with only one:

Drink. Drink with abandon. No matter who or what you abandon. Drink.

The sun sinks  and my heart with it. I sit alone in the office waiting for her to come back and meet me. My hidden-purse-bottle is empty now, and I bury it deep in the bottom of my bag. I’m still tired and hot and broken. And, I fold myself over my secondhand IKEA desk and weep into my folded elbows. She walks into the office and slides the door closed behind her, because — she knows.

And, she begins to cry too — before I’ve said anything at all.

***          ***          ***

We both sit at the bar with tear stained faces. “Connie, make us both something good,” she says to Conrad, the bartender who watches us lean into each other at the end of the bar. “I love you Sare Bear. And, I’m gonna miss your drunk ass,” she says looking at me and my puffy eyes. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out and  my eyes well up again. “Oh, get over it, Bitch!” she shouts at me as she pushes my shoulder playfully. Connie places two cocktail glasses in front of us. “Shooter boots too?” he asks, placing little, boot-shaped shot glasses in front of us and pouring out shots of whiskey before we can answer. She smiles at me in her wild way.

Our sentimental moment has passed, and now, like I’ve seen her do a million times before, without complaint, she will regroup and rebuild, as I crumble beside her.

***          ***          ***

When I picture her face, even now, I feel my heart drop into my stomach like a piece of lead. There isn’t a sufficient apology for walking out on her dream, even under the guise of making myself well again. It never seems enough. I read about her in the paper, online, and in magazines. I get a link about her on Facebook. She likes one of my Instagram photos. I send her a viral video of a pug I know she’ll love. But, my unspoken betrayal lurks. It stagnates, like a moat between us. What we shared, is gone.

To make myself feel better, I imagine going  back to the restaurant, early in the morning, before she or anyone else arrives. I creep into her kitchen, still clean, untouched from the night before. And, I slide a note onto her clipboard at her station before slipping out the door forever.

I imagine, when she finds my note, she whispers “Whatta bitch!” And then, she tapes it to the wall above her mise en place, next to all her other love notes and drawings. And, she even smiles a little before returning to her clipboard, where she begins today’s list with: “Cilantro.”

 

 

 

Our Collective Story

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For the first time in the 2+ years I have been publishing Saucy Sobriety, I am delaying the publication of my scheduled post.

Today, I feel that I cannot share my own story, because our collective story has made me feel too ill.I cannot contribute anything new to the discourse that is going on in this nation this morning.

Everything I would want to say has already been said and, frankly, it’s likely been said in more eloquent words than I would ever use to describe such an upset.

I will say this, for this month’s theme here at Saucy Sobriety, in my Year of Happiness, I’ve chosen to focus on Owning Up. And, today, we must Own Up collectively, as a nation, for the monster we have created. — The intolerance we have fostered. The misogyny that we have overlooked and ignored. The racism that we have allowed and encouraged. The ignorance that we have perpetuated. And the hatred toward those we do not understand that we have let fester and grow.

We are ALL responsible.

Politics, and their consumption, have reached a fever pitch. And in our tireless yammering on about what this country is or isn’t and what it deserves or doesn’t and who it deserves to lead it or burn it down — we have truly lost parts of our humanity that I fear we’ll never rediscover.

This is a sad day in American history. And, because of this day’s levity, my story can wait. It is our story that needs immediate revision. But, the truth remains that WE have chosen. And now, WE must Own Up to that choice. — We must live with it.

And, so often, it is those real,  experiential lessons that teach us the most. Though, at this time, that fact comes as little consolation.

Our humanity and compassion as a nation, as a people, may never be the same again. But, I remain steadfast in my hope that we can grow and change.

And, it’s my own personal hope that that change begins, for some of us, today, in the wake of what I can only describe as a national abomination.

 

All The Truth You Sleep With

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Kate* sold her body for heroin.

Kate was also one of the unlikely teachers that I’ve found in my sobriety, showing me that truth will take root in the most barren places.

When I first got sober, I enrolled myself in a rehab program, and Kate was one of the many, weathered women in my recovery group. She looked unkempt. Distracted. And, I thought her to be something of a loose cannon. But, she had almost one year of sobriety — to my less than thirty days. I wanted to know how. There was something mysterious and unusual about her, and, I watched her carefully. She was short, overweight, and had tight blonde curls that swung back and forth, wildly, when she turned her head from side to side. She was covered in tattoos, most of which, she had gotten recently. She told me that she was in the process of covering up all of her scars. — Something that everyone in the group was trying to do, in some fashion or another.

Kate lived in a halfway house for women. She was on probation for prostitution, solicitation, and drug possession. She’d already served hard time. And, the court had just awarded her custody of her daughter, under the supervised care of her halfway house, after a long period of separation. — I had never met someone who, outwardly, was so much my opposite. She was twenty-three, but, she looked like she was forty. She had tired eyes and when she pulled her legs up under her, onto the couch in the meeting room, she exuded a knowing protectiveness. She didn’t want others to notice her. She looked both ways before doing anything, and, no matter who was present, her motions were preceded with extreme caution.

One morning, Kate showed up to group early. I was the only one in the meeting room. She met my eyes with suspicion, but, then, a smile swept away the clouds of her constantly gloomy face and she walked toward me. “Look,” she said, pointing to a large bandage taped over the length of her forearm.

“Oh my God!” I looked up at her with concern. “What happened?” She laughed and sat down beside me on the couch. She peeled back the bandage and revealed her newest tattoo: “You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets” was gracefully penned, in ornate, red, scripted letters across the inside of her arm. — “Don’t you fucking love it ?!” She squealed.

Her new tattoo was a popular saying, one that you hear often in 12-Step or rehab. Kate was not the first junkie to make this her slogan, and, she won’t be the last. But, there was something about her reveling in her truth on that morning, that made me think about my own.

Kate had little formal education. Her parents were drug addicts and dealers. And, her life, from the very start, had been nothing but struggle. When I listened to her speak, I felt like a fool for sitting in the same room. — My battle was nothing compared to hers. — I was an affluent kid. Loved and cared for by my family. I wanted for nothing. Yet, here I was. In rehab. It made no sense. How had this happened? What had gone wrong? What had Kate done wrong? Surely, no one deserved the life she’d had. It pained me to even imagine.

I spent days and hours in my rehab group trying to make sense of her. I looked for clues. Observing how she spoke and how she moved. I listened to her story, which unfolded in every session, breaking my heart. — In comparison, my addiction, my dependency, my helplessness seemed like a pittance. No matter how I searched, I could never find the link that connected us. Until that morning, when Kate  showed me, and the rest of the group, her new tattoo.

“Who feels like sharing first?” Our counselor asked, her eyes scanning the room. Kate looked from side to side, and carefully raised her bandaged arm into the air. “Thank you for volunteering. Go ahead, Kate.”

Kate shifted in her seat on the couch, carefully cradling her arm. “You guys, I got this today.” She said, as she peeled back her bandage, yet again, and waved her new, red-inked arm from side to side, making sure the entire room could see it. “It feels really fucking good. Because, I was so sick, you guys.” She paused, gulping something back, hard. “All those secrets I had. Oh my God, I was so fucking sick. I never told nobody nothing about all the shit I did. Nobody knew all the shit that went down. Nobody. Not even my daughter’s father. But, I knew. And, I ate those secrets you guys. I ate it. So, here’s my truth, straight up: I fucked Johns for dope. But, I was really fucking them to escape dope. To escape all of it. That dope was my ticket out, guys. I thought it melted all my secrets. But, it just melded them. It just melded them into one big secret. You can’t get away from that shit, you guys.”

She paused again, looking down at her new tattoo. And then, two, big tears dropped, one from the corner of each of her eyes. She wiped them away quickly as we all  sat watching her, spellbound. — We had never seen her cry.

“You want to know how I got almost a year clean and sober? Tell all your fucking secrets, you guys. Tell them. Because, they make you sick. And, at night, it’s not just the Johns and it’s not just the secrets you sleep with — it’s all the truth. It’s all the truth you sleep with. —That’s the shit that clogs your fucking soul, guys. That’s the shit that will kill you.”

Then, she stopped talking. She looked at me across the circle in a way she had never looked at me before. As if, despite our obvious differences, we were the same. Just women. Just hurt. Just looking for the truth. The same truth. Dropping our dead weight there in the middle of the meeting room floor. — We were only as sick as our secrets. — And, now, Kate was free.

It got quiet for a long minute before we just continued on with our session. But, I spent the rest of that day, night, and week thinking about Kate. — Thinking about all the truth I slept with.

I could not fathom Kate’s life. But, I began to realize that, while I was drinking and using drugs — I could no longer fathom my own life, either. I had stopped being honest. I had lied at every turn to keep myself running at the same pace. I’d kept my secrets well — and, still, they’d caught up to me.

Honesty isn’t one thing. It can’t be. And, when you start telling your truth, it won’t sound how you expect it to sound. But, without it, you’ll have nothing. — You’ll end up with a bunch of lies you have to keep straight. And, then — you’ll have to go home and sleep with the truth.

The truth, when you’re living a lie, is a persistent and terrifying ghost.

Kate was right. Spill your guts, and know, whatever ends up on the floor, can free you. Show up for your life and peel back your bandages. Your scars — covered by tattoos or not — are there to remind you of what came before. — A monument for something real.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I think about Kate. And I remember, even when I am scared, and my bed feels sad, and empty — I have all this truth, laying here, beside me.

 

*This name has been changed to protect and honor Kate’s anonymity.

 

Burn, Baby. Burn.

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Martyrs are crazy, man.

I remember reading about Joan of Arc for the first time when I was a kid and thinking: This chic is fucking nuts.

Yet, I turned each page, unable to tear my eyes away from her gruesome end. Her expression, stoic, as her face disappeared into a haze of smoke and flames. I couldn’t fathom a world where someone would burn for her Beliefs. But, the older I get, the more I learn — people do this everyday. And, usually, it’s not for God’s sake.

The truth is, like it or not, we’re all a little bit martyr-y. I’ve been picking this theory apart, because — it bugs me. I don’t like the idea of people killing themselves, literally or figuratively, in the name of something else — especially expecting praise.

Since my Year of Happiness began, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering how my Happiness has been thwarted by my own martyr-like Beliefs and actions.

I’m gonna lay some Belief smack-down on y’all: We’re all selfish, narcissistic, idealistic, and self-serving. — Some of the time. — It’s called Being Human. And, I’m here to tell you that you’re supposed to fuck up and, occasionally, be an asshole. If you’ve been conditioned by your parents, family, coworkers, significant others, children, or friends to believe otherwise, you’ve got some serious martyr-issues to deal with yourself.

People who tell you that they do everything from a selfless place — are liars. Even the most selfless people get pleasure and happiness from the good acts they perform. Martyrdom, by definition, is self-serving. That is to say, to a martyr, to serve God is to serve one’s self. And, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Serving other people is THE BEST thing we can do. But, the thing about martyrdom is — to do it right — you can’t expect anything in return. That’s the rub. And, the part where most people fuck up. Unless, of course, you’re Joan of Arc.

But, I’m not here to talk-up theologian mumbo-jumbo. I’m here to tell you that your Belief and commitment to your own Happiness, doesn’t come with a list of prerequisite actions. You’re not selfish or idealistic to a fault if your priority in life is Happiness — Your Happiness.

I think that was the crux of my problem. I always felt that I owed someone — that there was a price to pay for feeling happy. — I had to have a certain job, look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. And, because I never lived up to my own impossible standards, I unknowingly held a fundamental Belief that I didn’t deserve better. And, that Belief was all-encompassing.

This week, I tackled a lot of the Beliefs I grew up with. Some from home, some from school, some that I’d created, myself, in adulthood. None were very positive. But, more importantly — none of them were true.

As we grow into adults, our little-kid Beliefs grow too. We never revisit the flawed system into which we’ve built ourselves. And, we forget that we wrote all these Beliefs during a time in our lives when we didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the doctrine to which we pledged our faith.

We’re never taught as kids that — Belief is flexible. — It is.

So often, we find ourselves feeling inadequate, powerless, and alone. But, if we leverage our Beliefs, we’ll find that this is never the case. We are, in every moment we live — Worthy, capable, and supported, each of us, integral parts of this incredible celestial ensemble. If your life is a testament to the things you value, shouldn’t the first thing on your list be Yourself? Your Happiness?

This is your gift to the world. — You. — Your unique being and all the gifts you already posses.

Happiness, I’m discovering, grows from a very small place within us. It has an uncanny ability to permeate into all areas of our being — if we let it. But, first, we must hold a Belief, even if it is just a small one, that we are worthy of the Happiness we desire.

I was a dumpy kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and, the ones I did have were dumpy too. We supported each other. But, we never believed that we belonged — not at the cool table, or at the pretty-girl-clique parties, or to get picked for school sports teams. And, maybe, that was true back then. But, I think, it’s more likely that we let a little bit of chub and big crew of mean girls get us down.

We were always good enough. But, we never believed it. And, for me, finding Happiness now, is about revisiting those things I internalized long ago. Eradicating ridiculous, outdated Beliefs that were never true. Finding my Happiness, largely, has been slowly silencing the voices that have been lying to me for as long as I can remember.

My advice? If you really want to be happy, don’t be a martyr for the sake of the self-deprecating voice you created to explain the unfairness of your youth. That voice is ridiculous and has no bearing on the person you’ve become. That voice only silences the one you’ve been given by the Universe. The one that serves you and everyone around you.

Martyring yourself for accolades doesn’t make anyone happy, especially you. More importantly, it doesn’t change the past. Real change takes place when our Beliefs reflect the people we have become, today.

Belief is flexible.

And, with few tweaks, I think you’ll be surprised how fast Happiness will light you up.

No inferno necessary.

 

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

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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.

 

The Promise of Color

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Spring draws us out.

Cynical, tired, hopeless, and angry as I find myself — there’s something that soothes every state of unrest in the way the sun rises this time of year. It’s a different shade of yellow. Creamy and light, never sallow. Spring has a grace the other seasons lack. The promise of color. Time moves us forward and we are given permission to let our dead things feed a new Earth.

The tree in my parent’s back yard litters the ground with little, red buds. The pointed tips of green leaves push their way up through thawing dirt, packed tight by feral cat’s paws. And the local squirrels make plans to execute their annual vendetta against my mother’s stoop-garden bulbs.

This time last year everything was soooooo nice. Nice city. Nice boyfriend. Nice apartment. Nice new job. Nice. Nice. Nice. — Oh, and stagnant. Stagnant and boring. I’d always imagined “Nice” as a place I’d want to stay. I thought I’d enjoy stability. But, forever restless, “Nice” needed moving forward. Growth. I began to feel the momentum of Spring pulling me toward the ring. Though, I hadn’t agreed to fight yet. I first spent a few months trying to make “Nice” work.

In Brooklyn, things move, begrudgingly. Uncomfortable and awkward. But, movement is movement. Time passes. And while I keep pushing up against locked doors, part of me feels assured a key is bound to show up. So, I dig in and wait.

When you abandon “Nice,” life picks up speed. The seasons bleed into one another and little things morph into bigger ones. A seemingly harmless unrest can turn into a move across the country. The arc of change is never what we anticipate. And I think, maybe, I did fuck up. Royally at that. It wouldn’t be the first time I made a huge life decision in haste.

I allow room for the possibility. And I’m finding the more I revel in my missteps, the more I like myself. I become increasingly amused by my uncanny ability to be me. I used to be so scared of making mistakes. I was a fearful kid. A fearful young woman. But, the worst of my wounds have scabbed over, I am no longer scared. I know now, with certainty — it absolutely will get worse. And, I know that even after shit hits the fan, it’s possible to get back to “Nice” and still find yourself unsatisfied. I devoted all that time to the pursuit of perfection, and wouldn’t you know — I ended up becoming the fuck-up girl anyway.

Each mistake gives me a new kind of freedom. And, I’ve started letting myself off the hook for losing track of the woman I thought I was supposed to be. Because now, I’m so far off course, it hardly matters.

“Nice” is a temporary thing. It’s better that way.

Eventually, a yellow sun rises and the dark season yields to new color.

 

 

Millennials: Big Hearts In The Big Void

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There’s nothing like a good corporate questionnaire to highlight all the things you’re not.

I sit at my MacBook Pro, just one double-click away from zombie status, filling in field after field of yet another online job application. This is just one of the many questionnaires that I’ve completed in the past few weeks. A repetitive, mind-numbing process that reminds me I don’t quite fit the mold into which I am constantly attempting to pour myself.

I keep reading all these articles about Millennials. Fucking Millennials. — The problems we face. The problems we create. We’re asked to face the destitute world that the Baby Boomers have so lovingly left for us to burn down, meanwhile — we’re moving back in with them, staring out longingly from the windows of our childhood. Our lazy, privileged existence, devoid of any work ethic or gumption. — The whole conversation makes me angry. Infuriated. Why are we the generation that no one can figure out?

I hate the sweeping designation that’s been bestowed upon our flailing age group. Not all of us are representatives of the Lena-Dunham-GIRLS culture. — At least we’re not trying to be. I find myself wondering, how should I designate myself? How do we set ourselves apart, step up, and place ourselves on solid ground without compromising our values and abandoning our dreams? And, please, don’t tell me we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

In searching for the keys that unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, I’ve answered my own question. We Millennials, are the seeking generation. And, for us, today’s commerce lies in the search. So much is available to us. And yet, we choke. There are too many places to begin. It’s no longer the pool of pensions and 401Ks that our parents waded into years ago — security is a thing of the past. Now — this river is wild. And, if we’re going to survive, it’s about finding our true calling. Our purpose. — Heart-based business, baby.

A Baby Boomer once told me: “No matter how good you have it — work is work. You’re never going to wake up everyday and find yourself satisfied and excited to show up at the office. That’s just life, kid.” Um. That’s some bullshit and I’m not buying it. — An antiquated excuse born of another era.

To the dreams Baby Boomers lost in Vietnam we hold up our own. — The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan — this banner of unending war, which has served as the backdrop of our lives, now more than ever, a sobering reminder. — Our work is worth fighting for.

Privilege, if nothing else, has afforded us Millennials hope. Work is not just work to us. It has to be our heart’s work. Work that feeds us. So, it’s worth waiting for — worth seeking out in this generational void. We, at the cost of returning home, regressing to our 17-year-old-selves, will wait for something that fulfills an unmet need in us — in our world. Oh, and I guess it should pay the bills too? — Therein lies the real gap. The economy is only just now starting to catch up to our wide-open hearts. And, we’re still left wanting.

This questionnaire asks me if I “Strongly Agree” with this? Do I “Strongly Disagree” with that? And, I keep finding myself in this position of being lukewarm. I am trying to remember what it feels like to get riled up about something. To run hot. Where is the heart I so easily find in my writing or in the faces of the smiling regulars I’ve greeted at my plethora of service industry jobs? Why can’t our joy also meet our dividends? I didn’t get sober to lead a thankless life, redeemed only by my employer’s willingness to offer decent health benefits and to match my Roth IRA contributions.

During this process, filling out this heartless questionnaire, my purpose is jolted. Awakened — it remembers. I make the shift from disheartened to inspired. This piece-of-shit questionnaire, now revelatory. A reminder of all these things I’m not, it begs me to put forward all the things I am.

Would you say you are: Stubborn as fuck? Mildly manic? Conscientious? Coyly critical? Empathetic to a fault? Occasionally work-inappropriate? Passionate for people? A wide-open heart? A rabble-rouser? A dinner-table-debater? Tired and poor and yearning to breathe free? Ready to Burn. This. Shit. Down.?

Yeah.

Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. — In fact, put me down for “Strongly Agree.”

 

 

La Revolution

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Question: What is the difference between a teacher and a guru?

Answer: A teacher points the way. The guru is the Way. In the course of your awakening you will have thousands of teachers. Throughout all of this teaching, the guru waits, beckoning from beyond.

Be Here Now, Cook Book For A Sacred Life; Ram Dass, Pg. 6

I think we’re all waiting for the payoff.

The big reveal. — The moment of release. The summation of all this pain and toil. An unveiling of some blessed reason for the world’s continued suffering, and, what is certain to be, its ultimate demise.

We seek the guru because we tell ourselves it can’t be this. This place. This time. This cast of characters. This. It just can’t be. In our denial and disbelief, we gloss over the thing we know to be absolutely true. We beg answers of the teachers before us — but to truly know — we must go within. It’s clear to me now more than ever — relief is not around us. It is inside us. — Good lives within. — We must find it there and draw it out. A spiritual revolution.

I read the work of Baba Ram Dass daily. I love him. I’d love for him to be my guru. But the truth is, in my seeking him, I become more lost. What’s even more hilarious? — He taught me that lesson. Teachers are funny like that. They shine light where you’d rather not see, so, you go to another teacher, then another, then another. Soon you’ve seen too much, but really, you haven’t seen anything at all. I like to think you know what I mean, because I like to believe that we all are seekers.

I’m still in this funk, so, I’m stuck. I sit patiently and wait for instruction. From anyone, really. A customer. A coworker. A song. Sun glinting off the choppy waves of the water in the bay. — All messages from the Guru.

Recently, a few important people have drifted, unexpectedly, from my life. Teachers. — The best teachers. — And, watching them go has reminded me that there are new lessons I’m meant to learn. It’s not by my design. But, I must remind myself that if I allow myself to be stuck here, then I will continue to be just that. — Stuck here. Any design requires movement. Patience. Love. — Revolution.

Before my eyes, big cities have become incredibly small.

I turn off the television to avoid making myself sick. I embrace and abandon my own sense of place. I wait for healing. I look for apartments in Southern Vermont. I stare at a picture of a covered bridge surrounded by falling leaves, and, in another photo, the same bridge covered in snow. Different seasons. Each lonely and quiet. Isolated and still. It looks like a place my guru might wait for me. I feel myself moving closer to something. — We are all moving closer to something.

But life isn’t about moving. It’s about being. The most sacred lesson, more than any other lesson I’ve learned from my Baba, is the lesson of being. Not thinking, or seeking, or seeing, or knowing. It’s not a tangible trip. It’s not something you can destroy or embrace or free or trap. It’s not something you can kill. No amount of violence, inside or outside of us, can unsettle it.

It’s something we know because we are. All of us. Each one of us.

And, that’s the grist for the mill, Baba would say. — Becoming ourselves is the trip.

 

This moment, is a moment for the guru. — This moment, is the guru.

Vive La France. Vive La Revolution.

 

 

His Heroin(e)

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I lie on his bed while he shoots dope in the bathroom.

He runs the sink so I won’t hear him heat the spoon, but I still hear the flick-flick-flick of the lighter through the old vent in the floor. I can see though the walls. I. Hear. Every. Sound. The brown paste boils thin, to a liquid. The cotton top of a Q-tip soaks it up — breathes in the poison — like it’s alive. Each white fiber expands, taking on its color, like a web of molasses.

I stare at his water-stained ceiling. Rot from the upstairs apartment bleeding through the paint. The edges plume out and peel in the shape of mushrooms. I close my eyes. I see the tip of his needle drink it in. — His Heroin.

The plunger pulls back, and the spoon empties, like a tide going out. Smooth. Like a thick, dark caramel — drawn up by the moon. I cry quietly as I watch the way his cat just sits at the bathroom door. Waiting. — “C’mere kitty kitty.” I whisper.

I feel him poke his veins. Stick them. I found the syringes in his top drawer. Again. I hold the tops of my arms. I am outside my body. The girl is on the bed and the junkie is in the bathroom. I’m confused by my own acceptance. I allow this. My story. His story. Either way, it’s a war story. A story where sharp objects are made blunt and hard hearts are made harder. A world that defeats me with permission, not conquest. Then, I become her — some version of her — His Heroine. No. No. That’s wrong. It’s — His Heroin.

Some junkies will tell you that until you shoot dope, you don’t understand. — The high. The letting go. The relief. — It’s not true though. You don’t even have to move to understand. Just sit. Wait. — I sat perfectly still. I sat in another room while it swirled around me, not in me. A demon in the vents. You don’t have to feel that ugly, brown stuff pulse in your own, blue veins to witness its power.

Yield to it. Vulgar and dark. A power that turns your Hero into someone else. Something else. And then, you watch this creature lose everything. Lose themselves. Lose you.

But really………they just let you go.

Everything’s gone. And, all the while, I’m right there, it’s all right there. I try to trick myself into believing something that isn’t true. But, the cat’s still sitting, waiting, his tail curled neatly around his soft, white feet. And it is true.

He will give up anything. Anything. And, I learn, this includes me. It hits like a revelation. Christ Our Lord, where are you? I’ll never be sure. But, look, listen! The stained ceiling. The vent. The sink. The flick-flick-flick. The breathing cotton. The needle pulls.

I’ve dreamed it. No — no. I’m still awake. I’m still frozen. Me. The cat. We’re sitting in the same places.

I’ve seen it in the movies. I’ve read my Burroughs. It’s not the same. It’s not the same as watching him. Reading him. Feeling him slip. I cast him off like a thin line from the side of my boat, and he’s just a heavy lure sinking into the depths of this — some bottomless lake. His eyes disappear in a pool of water.

I imagine how he feels when he ties one off. How it makes him safer than I ever could. How the needle is the lover I never was and never can be. Sometimes, I imagine that he is a drunk, like me — not this. I imagine that the scars on his arms and legs are from something else — like the butts of his father’s cigarettes, maybe. It’s easier when I have someone to blame.

Fuck the poppy.

In the Springtime a coworker tells me — “It’s such a happy little flower!” I smile at her, but behind my face, under my skin, I grit my teeth. Poppies. At their dark, sticky center — lives the seed. Devil’s sap. I won’t eat your poppy seed bagels. Not anymore. And, now, I check the ingredients on the back of the multi-grain bread.

Heroin. Just a seed. It will always be stuck in my teeth. I will poke at my gums forever — but no amount of prodding will free it. It’s right there. On the tip of my tongue. At the base of my molar.

He is in the bathroom and I’m sitting on the bed. Waiting.
Later — with eyes half closed, he asks: “You didn’t see me, did you?”

“No.” I say.

But, while he sleeps, I do see it. How his love has left his body. And with gloves and bleach, I wash it away.

All that blood on the bathroom walls.

 

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