The Voice Inside That Never Shuts Up

Every day, after returning home from middle school, I sat at our kitchen table. Hours before my parents would arrive back home from work. I’d eat my afternoon snack and I’d wonder what it would feel like to be an adult. Long hours I spent there, in that square, wood, and wicker chair — wishing I was someone else.

Most days, I still feel like that little girl. Unsure of where I belong or how I’ll get there. I still wonder if all the things I waited on, after all these years, will really, truly, bring me the Happiness I dreamed they would. Yet, as ever, I look forward. There are things I know I will always have: An unfaltering curiosity. A deep, unprecedented faith in love. And, a strange belief that — somehow, despite the odds — everything will be OK.

As I write this, it is my thirty-third birthday. And, I’m not sure how to explain this past year. Everything changed. — My heart, the people who surround it, the dreams it dreams, and the place it resides have all spun forward into new realms of Happiness — places that, I am quite sure, I will never understand. And, I think, these gifts, and many more, are the real fruit of seeking out my own joy. — The little girl at the kitchen table could never have foreseen this.

After more than three years of weekly Wednesday posts, never having missed a-one, this will be my final blog post here at Saucy Sobriety. These past few weeks, I’ve thought long and hard about how to leave things with you. What to impart that could possibly communicate or encapsulate everything I’ve come to understand from taking part in this process. — The thing that will comfort those of you who still sit, waiting and wishing, at the kitchen table. — But, to no end. Because, blog posts or none, there will be no end to this endeavor. Happiness and the discovery of self are pursuits I could never abandon, even if I tried. And, I remain steadfast in my advice, that — you, too, should continue to seek these things in life.

If this past year, heck, these past three years, have taught me one thing it’s this: Happiness is not something you’ll stumble upon. It is something you build. — Do not sit in wait. — No one is coming for you.

Brick by brick. Story by story. Friend by friend. Mistake by mistake. Place by place. Lesson by lesson. — We find our own Happiness. We find our own sobriety. We find our own love. — Within.

Inside each of you, is an incredible light. Something magical and intangible, that I cannot explain. I cannot explain my own light, either. But, as our time together comes to a close, I know that this blog has been one step of many in my unending journey to do just that — to find the hidden magic and bright light that reside inside each of us. My quest, is one that will forever seek out joy and understanding in this life that, otherwise, can be pitiless and cruel.

The day-to-day can be ruthless. Heartless. Thankless. Yet, I strive on. And, maybe, like the little girl in the kitchen, you too will recognize the small voice inside. — The one that tells you the next moment may carry with it everything that you’ve been seeking. And, sometimes, to your surprise, it does. And, it’s in those moments that we find reward, despite all the heaviness.

Happiness and sobriety are the same thing. They are gratitude — for everything — as it is. The present moment is the only tangible thing we’ll ever have. We can hold on to the past, so much so, it halts us, hurts us, and makes us ill. We can hang our hats in the future, but, to be certain, the future we’ve envisioned is NEVER the one where we’ll actually arrive. So, in the here and now, we must take what we’ve been given and find some way to treasure it.

In this moment, my phone bings and chimes. Friends and family send me birthday wishes. I open cards from my parents, my bosses, my grandparents, and in the background, I listen to music that makes me feel joyful. And, though I feel as old and out to sea as I ever have — I know I am a little boat who has learned to break the big waves. — I am surrounded on all sides. With love.

Today, more than anything else, I want to thank you.

If you were a regular reader, or just one of the few who click through these posts every now and then, it means so much to me that you’ve taken any time at all to take part in my story. To know someone has listened to me and heard me, is perhaps the greatest gift I could ever ask to be given. Your time, attention, compassion, support, and empathy have been the glue that’s held me (and this blog) together over the years.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being witness. Thank you for passing through.

I’ve said it before — I’m crap at goodbyes. So, I’ll leave you here:

Happiness is the reward for seeking. In its pursuit, you will discover who you are and where you’re meant to go.

Listen to the voice inside that never shuts up. — She is telling you something worthwhile.

Hear her. Write her. Sing her. Dance her. Read her. Cook her. Sell her. Sew her. Walk her. Run her. Drive her. Bathe her. Climb her. Swim her. Fuck her. Comfort her. Cradle her. Raise her. Plant her. Judge her. Dress her. Dream her. Hide her. Hate her. Find her. Feed her. Open her. Punish her. Shut her. Forget her. Forgive her. Starve her. Break her. Save her. Reward her. Release her. Kiss her.  Kill her. Cut her. Mend her. Bend her. Resurrect her. Love her. — But, never, never leave her.

Whoever she is, whatever she is, wherever she is — day in, day out — stick with her.

When you are bereft, she is your Happiness. When you are lost, she is your Home.

 

 

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The Beauty In All Things

My mother apologizes for the untidiness of her supremely tidy dining room every time I come home to visit.

For as long as I can remember, tidiness has been a priority for my mother. And, when things do not appear as she sees them fit to appear, she is apologetic. In the same way, and with almost the same vigor, my father is unapologetic for the state of disarray in his “den.” Which is (or, I should say, was) a room that has all but one square foot of workable, moving space left in it. The rest of the floor, lays hidden beneath piles and piles and piles of books. These trembling towers of tomes are near collapse (as is the ceiling under them, right above my mother’s very tidy living room), all covered with three quarters of an inch of dust, and, most of them — unread.

Truth be told, I care little about the tidiness or untidiness of either of my parents respective spaces. I do, however, care about the stories these spaces tell. I care deeply about the character each room plays — the set in our little family’s Brooklyn house. I love how the acute nuances of our spaces (or lack thereof) can reflect our core traits and indicate how we’ve moved and continue to move through the world.

But, this story is not about my parents or the rooms in their house. — This story is about beauty.

As a child, beauty confused me. An awkward and lonely kid, I never felt beautiful. Beauty, as I understood it, was simple: Molly Ringwald. I wanted to be her. Red haired and moving through the world with her easy angst. She was a misfit, unconcerned with what anyone else thought of her. I watched all of her movies over and over again. I wanted to look like her, to pine after jocks like her, to dress like her, to love like her, and to be loved like her. I’d sit in the living room, curled up on my mother’s reupholstered chair with a big blanket, warm in the blue glow of our tiny 22″ TV set with a built-in VCR. And there, I let all that beauty wash over me like warm water.

But, the thing was, I didn’t look like Molly Ringwald. I never fell for a single jock. Not one. It was always the geek. — Every. Single. Time. Instead of her cool, bohemian clothes, I was clad in matching skirt and sweater sets from The GAP. And, love? Forget it. — Dorks of my caliber were lucky if we had someone willing to sit with us at lunch.

So, I wrote. — In little notebooks. For my English class. On my computer. In the back of my loose-leaf binder during science class. — I wrote everything.

And, in choosing all my words, so very carefully — I learned to be beautiful in a different way.

Sometimes, to be the storyteller, you must live on the periphery of your own story. If you want to tell it like it is, it helps if you don’t get too close. And, I think that’s why I’ve always loved writing. It’s kept me one step away from really getting into the tough stuff. Writing can be safe, in the dirtiest kind of way. You get to see everything, but, you can avoid feeling anything. You can always step back when things get too hot.

Storytellers aren’t judges. We are observers. — So, we let our mothers apologize for the untidiness of a perfectly tidy room because, we see. We see that, in the apology, there’s a story. How, in that apology she has told us: She values this place where we come together and sit. How, in this room, she gathers her child, her husband, her family, her friends and, here, they have a place at her table. A table that, sometimes, will be bare, with only a decorative basin at its center, and, others, will be set with fine china and cloth napkins. The apology is not for me, but rather, a note to herself. How she’d rather not have the little things clutter this, her sacred space.

We let our father’s “den,” now in such a state, that an entire episode of Hoarders could be devoted to cleaning it out, be. Because, this is the space where he stows his books. Tomes that he is saving, because, for him, there is value in words — spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten, read and unread. And, these near-tumbling towers of paper and dust are monuments to all the words he has and has not said. He needs them there. Why? I don’t know. — I don’t need to.

We, the storytellers, experience the world by allowing others to show us the beauty in all things.

My cousin Jeremy, with his love for Breen suits. My friend Joseph, with tattoos on his chest like mile markers from his ten-year journey across the country. My friend Lizzie, with her affinity for off-color, ill-timed jokes. My dead grandfather, with his turkey-laugh and his ability to be endlessly entertained by cats. My favorite bartender and dear friend, Tony, and his undying love for Elvis Presley and nights at the opera. My ex, Joe, and his habitual practice of reading true crime books in a claw foot bath tub until the water turned cold. — These people. Their idiosyncratic ways. They have colored my life. They have written my pages so beautifully that, I am sure, there is nothing better than to have been witness to them all.

But, as I write these final posts here on this blog, I see more clearly than ever, that to write my own story — to find my own Happiness — requires more. It requires stepping away from the page and into the fray. Happiness is living in all the beauty that surrounds me — not just observing it.

Happiness is the room. However it’s kept. — Mess or none. — If we choose to really be there.

 

 

 

Jim Beam: A Love (Goodbye) Story

All endings beg us to return to the beginning.

As I try to wrap up this blog, to tell the stories that matter to me — the ones that mean the most — I keep returning to Jim Beam. I’ve been unable to escape the thought of his squared, glass bottle. Like a person. A character. — Jim Beam, Bourbon Whiskey, was an essential player in my story. — Just brown booze in a bottle, sure. But, still, after all this time, I’ll refer to that particular bottle as: “Him.” Because, like a fallen sidekick, I still sometimes miss his help.

I miss how I never felt alone, knowing I had a bottle on the kitchen counter. How I could go to any bar — and there he’d be. Seeing a bottle of Jim Beam White Label behind the bar, even now, makes me feel like I’ve run into an old friend — an old lover.

What’s funny is, admitting this doesn’t make me feel ridiculous at all. Not one bit. Because, as I come to another ending in my life, I am aware now, more than ever, of how important it is to recognize the anchors that root us in our past experiences. Jim Beam — yes, to be sure — was just booze in a bottle. But, he was there. He was there, for almost everything in my life before I got sober. And, he was the bottle I tipped back — the bottle who saved me — when things were the most difficult they’ve ever been.

While I was thinking about it, I realized that getting sober is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. — It was surviving the pain of heartbreak. And, during that period in my life, Jim Beam saved me from myself. There were so many times I turned myself over to that squared, glass bottle, completely, because staying present would have killed me, and nearly did.

I sat through countless 12-Step meetings where members told stories about how alcohol or drugs had saved them from themselves. And, of course, this is how things went awry. Booze can’t actually save you, not forever anyway. But, before things got bad, beyond the-point-of-no-return bad, there was a time where being drunk made my life possible. It gave me a reason to live — when I felt that I had not one. When it came to Jim, I never had to do anything to earn it. I had his love. Jim Beam always sat in wait for me, ready when I needed him. And, now, allowing myself to recognize that, to feel that, I understand why getting sober was so hard. There aren’t many people who will show up for you like that.

Alcoholism, the disease, isn’t about drinking. It’s about what we got from the drink. It’s what waited for me at the bottom of that bottle that defined my problem. Back then, I never thought to savor each sip, thinking the drink would love me back. But now, if I’m being honest, — somewhere inside of me — that was what I thought: I thought at the bottom of every bottle of Jim Beam I would find the love that had left me bereft. And, when I see that bottle today, it doesn’t make me feel sad. It makes me feel grateful. — Grateful that I am alive. — Grateful that my own heart didn’t kill me.

Love, like drinking, is most beautiful in the process. — Never in the result. Love and liquor are comforts you can count on — until you can’t anymore. One day, love is the only thing you believe in, and the next, it’s walked out on you. One day, a drink is what saves you from yourself, and the next — it’s killing you. You have to be careful how far you let things take you outside yourself.

Learning to be present with loss is the hardest thing any of us will ever do. And, we do it everyday. We lose people. Jobs. Places. Things. — Bottles. — And, worst of all, we lose the love that is built into each one of these things. There is no stopping it. No preventing it. The only thing we can teach ourselves to do, is to allow love to go. To leave us. And, to know, somewhere, we will find it again.

This blog, over the years, has been the place I’ve thrown all my love. Anger and calm and joy and death and transition and waiting and finding and EUREKA! It has been everything. And, I think, this particular goodbye is so difficult because, I know that it is because of writing this blog — week after week, month after month, year after year — that I know, not only how to say goodbye, but, why I need to say goodbye. I know now that goodbyes are never permanent. Just like Jim Beam, Saucy Sobriety will sit on the shelf — a reminder that, somehow, I survived.

At the bottom of this bottle, this blog, there is a sweet, unpoured sip that I will never taste. And, I will always wonder: Does that last little gulp contain all the love that I got so incredibly drunk trying to taste?

To which the answer is, obviously: No.

Because, Love was the process of getting to the bottom of it all.

And, that, to be sure, I have tasted.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Disappearing.

Just shy of three years ago, I turned thirty. And, that’s when I threw my heart into this blog.

At a turning point, and one of the most difficult junctures in my life, there was nothing left to do but — write.

Having just left my heroin-addict boyfriend, I was a few months away from celebrating my second year sober. And, with the world crumbling around me, I was beginning to feel that, in sobriety, I’d lost almost as much, if not more, than I had gained. I had feelings so complex, I didn’t know how to begin unpacking them all, I only knew that they felt worthy of documentation. — So, every Tuesday night, I sat up in my bed, writing feverishly, into the late hours. Hoping to capture something I was sure I’d lost, or, better still, to get a glimpse of something good I had missed.

On the day of my thirtieth birthday, I woke up early to open a package my mother had sent me from New York. It contained, as ever, a poignant note that made me cry, packed along with a long-sleeved blue and grey striped blouse — which I still have, wear, and love.

As I pulled my new top over my head, standing in front of the mirror, I noticed for the first time how thin I had become. While I had been with my addict-boyfriend, I had all but stopped eating.  I had not noticed the physical toll all the stress had taken on me. Staring back at myself in the mirror, I did not notice my age. I saw only how my eyes had fallen back into my cheek bones, how my once snug jeans hung slack over my thighs, and how the size-small top my mother had sent me, fell over my shoulders like a sweater. — Before leaving my apartment for work, I sat down at my computer and wrote: I am thirty. I am disappearing.

I never published that post. Because, back then, I wanted to disappear. And so, calling attention to the ribs pushing up through my chest like piano keys, seemed like it would reveal a little too much about what was actually happening to me. It required sharing an awareness that I was ashamed to admit I had — the knowledge that: I was sober, and, I was not doing well.

Truth be told, as I have written my blog over the years, I’ve left out many of the big details in my life’s story, as it’s unfolded, here, on this page. Because, no matter how present we become, there are parts of us that will always hurt when they are seen.

In just a few weeks, I turn thirty-three, my year-long blog project: My Year of Happiness, will reach it’s conclusion, and, should you care at all to know, I am filling out my clothes just fine. — There is no mistaking that I am still here. In the three years since my unpublished post, I never did manage to disappear.

But, a lot has changed in the past three years. Most of it, good. Some of it, painful. But, despite the redacted details, this blog, and its loyal readers, have been right here with me. You have seen a changing life and a small chasm of the world through my eyes. And, so, in the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to notify those of you that may find this information pertinent, that, in conjunction with the end of my Year of Happiness — so too will end Saucy Sobriety.

I have spent the entirety of the New Year, 2017, brainstorming how to continue writing this blog in a way that could remain true to me. But, I just can’t. I have poured over old posts, tried to find solace in writing new ones, and spent hours contemplating what it will really mean to discontinue a three-year writing project that, in many ways, has defined me. Yet, something in me keeps chiming — It’s over.

And, it was in reading my unpublished blog post from three years ago, that I found my answer: I am thirty-three. I am disappearing.

But, this time, it is not because I’ve lost myself. — It is because I have found her.

Within, I have unearthed something new and exciting. A life where I can be so many things — all of which have nothing (and everything) to do with being clean and sober. It has been many, many months since sobriety has been the cornerstone of my life. Years ago, at thirty, sobriety was the only thing I had to my name. And, this space, this dot com, has been a testament to my own timeline. My change. My growth. My progression. And, my setbacks. — In a way, it has ushered me into a new, beautiful Universe. And, still, it allows me to go back and remember myself when I forget her. Even in those details that were lost between the lines, I am able to see a woman who has Become.

Now, I notice everything. Everywhere I go — I look for the story. — My story.

My life has taken its shape in the little things: Place settings at a friend’s dinner table. The light that fights its way through a thick canopy of leaves. The tired expression that the old man in cowboy boots wears as he pumps his gas at the Sunoco station. — Before sobriety, I was only worried about myself. — How I felt. How my life appeared. How I would survive all the things I was so sure were being done to me.

This blog has taught me to see. To see everything. To disappear into the background just enough to know that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than anything I ever was, or could have been, on my own.

This blog has taught me to find Happiness everywhere.

And, as my Year of Happiness comes to a close, I see that this has been only one chapter in my story. A bridge I’ve written to take me across the things I could not have waded through alone. I had to write them on paper. I had to have you read them on paper. But, with both my feet back on solid ground, I know that it’s time for new projects, bigger projects. — Time for a new story.

So, in some way, three years later, my story sounds more or less the same. I am disappearing.

But, it isn’t the same. It could never be the same. Because, I will never be the same.

Writing these final posts will not be an easy task. It is difficult to know how to say goodbye. — To you, and, to a younger version of myself.

But now, it is important for me that I begin writing a new story, on my own, without an audience. — One that, I know, I’ll sometimes wish I could share with you.

PHOTO: Selfie, My 30th birthday, 2014

 

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

I have never been good at endings.

I don’t cry at funerals. I have stayed in relationships, long after things have been thrown at me. And even after years of sobriety, I still find it hard to know when it’s time to leave the party.

Goodbyes are always complicated.

My first thought, as I come to the end of something big, is to let it slide by, unnoticed. To watch passively as it easily drifts away. But, the truth is — nothing of note ever drifts away easily.

In the past, I allowed things to carry too much weight. Which, in many cases, I’ve discovered, has ushered in the beginning of several downfalls. Somewhere on the road, while I gained traction in my life and sobriety, I convinced myself that certain things should not matter — or, at the very least, I’ve pretended that they should not matter. As a result, I let things get swept away. But, in reviewing this year, I see how flawed that system has become. And, in my efforts to dismantle it, I’ve learned that, more often than not, one of the most solid bricks in the foundation of my new-found Happiness is the ability to say a proper goodbye — even when it is hard.

Letting things go is important. Incredibly weighty. So much so, that I’ve tugged these blog posts around with me, written and unwritten, like little balls on chains. Stories and lessons that I’ve needed or wanted to share, but, many times, have been too scared to cut loose. But, this year, the more open I became — the more truth I blurted out — the better I felt. I suddenly had more space to occupy than I’d had in years. — Sometimes, the things that we keep too close are the things from which we need the most distance.

That distance can be difficult to navigate. There have been times during my Year of Happiness where this blog has felt like an extension of my person, another limb. Other times, it’s felt empty and unfulfilling — a blank page, begging for an explanation that I’ll never have. But, recently, I’ve discovered that, no matter what place the weighty things hold, we owe them. We owe the things that have been constant in our lives. Good and bad. Homage must be paid to the people, places, and things that have become a part of our day-to-day, regardless of their placement. Truly, it is these little things that make us.

You can never know how long something will stay with you — even after it’s left you. And this year, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is: You must learn to say your goodbyes. Even the ones that are long overdue. That can mean a host of things — revisiting old love, tending to old wounds, beating on your steering wheel in parking lots, crying for pieces of your heart that can never be retrieved, writing letters that you’ll never send because, no matter what you have to say — some words aren’t meant to be read or heard or even said at all.

This week, I was telling a friend how, when I was a child, my parents would correct me when I’d say that someone had “passed away.” — “They died,” I remember my father saying, “they didn’t pass away. They’re dead.” It sounds harsh, cruel even. But, it’s true. Taken out of context, and applied here, to the general idea of letting go, it still holds true. Letting an ending slide doesn’t serve anyone. Goodbyes are severe. They cut and bleed. But, they remind us we are still here. Alive and breathing. And, so long as we are still here, fighting the good fight, all wounds heal, even if we are left with scars.

It would be easy for me to let my Year of Happiness go. To slide right by it.  To say that, even if I don’t write my life out in so many words — it will go on. But, it won’t. Not in the way I’d intended.

This goodbye is a death, of sorts. But, it’s an evolution too. A Year that has carried me from one place to another. There is no way for it to slip away seamlessly. It it was never the organized syllabus of lessons and revelations I’d planned on documenting. It has been messy and painful, and on many days, it has been decidedly Unhappy. But, it has taken me to all the places I hoped I’d go — and to places I could never have predicted. For all this, I am eternally grateful. But, the Year is dying — it isn’t passing away. And, it is only right to mourn something’s death by celebrating its life.

Even as I struggle to write an appropriate ending to what feels like its own era, in these final weeks, a part of me knows that by seeking out a way to properly say goodbye to this Year of Happiness, and to all the parts of myself that will disappear along with it, I have gained something beautiful — in simply letting it go.

Artwork: Andrew Wyeth, “Benny’s Scarecrow (Jim Loper’s Coat),” Watercolor And Black Ink Over Graphite With Scratching Out On White Wove Paper, 1955

 

The Muddied In-between

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July 15th, 2014, I walked down SE 37th Avenue toward Reed College campus.

The canvas of my black Vans, a pair far beyond their prime, ripped at the seams of the heels. That morning, I’d cut up a pair of Levi’s jeans that I’d bought on 14th Street in NYC back in 2008, and pulled them over my sticky legs. I never wear shorts, but, that day in Portland, it was too wicked to wear anything else. It was too hot to stay inside. And, I shoved my book, an old, red sheet, and a bottle of water into my canvas, “Catch 22” bag from Barnes & Noble and stepped out of my apartment, waiting to find some space to breathe. But, the air was too thick.

Like that day in July, my life had stagnated. Love and joy had left me. And, I walked down the sidewalk, shoes disintegrating, toward the only place I had left that, I felt, could still hold the entirety of me: The green lawn beside Reed’s gravel track, in the the shade of a tree whose trunk looked as weathered as I felt.

I cast my sheet out, hoping for the assistance of a breeze that never came. The leaves above me moved in slow, gentle waves. The sun glinted through the green canopy, and I lay on my stomach, my head turned to one side, watching the brave few walking their panting dogs toward the nature trail that ran along side the brook on the other side of the red, brick dormitory.

Happiness, in that strange summer, always found me beneath that tree. The sun, sparkling, between cracks in the branches, reflecting off my Ray-Bans. Beneath me, was an Earth that felt damp and alive. Above me, was a cloudless, unmoving sky. — When we are sure we are forsaken, there is always a place we can go to find ourselves again.

***          ***          ***

This month of March, is the final month in my Year of Happiness. And, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right that a whole year has past since I first decided that, if I was determined, I could uncover anything — only by deciding to seek it. I continue to search for moments in my memory where I have been as sure, as aware, as I am now. Moments when I knew where to go to get what I needed. There are so few, but, in seeking them, I am able to measure how truly profound those few moments in my life have been.

I’m still not sure how to sum this year up. It has been unlike any other. And, I tell myself that this can be said of any year, but, I know that, somehow, this year has been different. I have sought myself, and others, in a different way. I have allowed myself, and those around me, room to move. And, as a result, I have discovered such truth and hurt and joy and Happiness that, now, as I try to describe it, words fail me. In making these discoveries, I find that, everything I’d been seeking was with me, inside me, all along. And, when I close my eyes and try to pinpoint the exact feeling that has connected me to this new freedom, I always find myself beneath my weathered tree.

***          ***          ***

I unlaced my Vans and pulled my feet out from inside them. I placed my heels on the grass, and let my toes press into the dirt. I let my head rest on the corner of my red sheet and I spread my arms wide. I let my chest, beaded with sweat, press into the ground, hard and uneven beneath me. And, even though I found myself more alone on that afternoon than I’d ever been — in that quiet, solitary moment, I felt that I was a part of everything. A perfect sky hung above me. A cool Earth surged beneath me. And, the umbrella of my tree’s leaves, floated somewhere in-between the the two.

I wrote a song about Oregon. And, in it, I sing, “The mountains hold your heart, but, they don’t own you. Tree tops touch the sky, but, they’re still rooted deep below you.” And, for me, this is what Happiness has become. The muddied in-between. The balance of what we can truly touch and what we can only see in the mind’s eye. There is no time, person, or place that can define us. What will define us, is the time that we allow ourselves to sit still and truly become part of everything.

Happiness is not joy. Happiness is everything. Joy is the recognition that you have been a part of any of it — all of it.

It’s all very ambiguous. Very hippied out.  And, that’s what I missed while I was busy being so methodical and regimented. I missed out on the beauty of all my missteps because I was fixated on creating something that I’ll never be able to create. Because, it has already been created for me, for us — not by us. The sky, the tree, the ground — they were already there — just as we are here.

This time last year, as I brainstormed my plan for writing my Year of Happiness, I imagined I’d be wrapping up all this time in some kind of bullet-pointed retrospective. Expository obscurity. A list of lessons and realizations. A set of instructions. Definitive proof that the the pursuit of Happiness can never be fruitless. But, as I stand, looking out over these last, four weeks before me — I know. — I’ll write no such list.

Photo: Selfie, July 15th, 2014

 

 

 

All The Women We’re Not

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The women who hold the most sacred places in my life, all love old things.

Antique tables, lacquered armoires, oak inlay, varnished sterling silver spoons, and sets of fine china passed down from their mothers and their grandmothers before that.

Me — I prefer IKEA.

Clean lines. Black. White. Wood. Unfinished. Disposable. Too rudimentary to overthink. Bare walls and sharp edges. I have always hesitated when it’s come time to decorate. In Portland, I lived in my last apartment for almost three years and never hung one thing on the walls. That kind of commitment was too much for me. — Monuments to the past always left holes in my walls.

I spent, and sometimes still spend, much of my time wondering how to pay homage to these women and thier antique sensibility when I have no desire to inherit or admire their aged tables, hang my clothes in their finely-crafted dressers, or eat off their chipped, precious plates.

In a recent, somewhat morbid, conversation with my mother, I told her that when the time comes, there was only one piece from her carefully curated furniture collection that I want to keep — the rest, I intend sell to the highest bidder.

She sat across from me, smiling, in her reupholstered, cream-colored, living-room chair, with her feet elevated on a mismatched hassock that belonged to the couch that I sat on across the room. I could tell, a part of her was sad to hear this news, but, there was a flicker of something else in her eyes, too. — As I’ve aged, I have become so incredibly different than her, and, for the first time, I saw that my deviance has managed to bring her some kind of joy.

As women, we so often find ourselves attempting to recreate the lives our mothers have led. We are chameleons that so desperately want to re-live the lives that have given us our own. Secretly hoping that, somehow, it will help us to better understand ourselves. In a curious way, it is a sort of thanks. And, sometimes, we rebel against it. We try to become anything other than what our mothers have been or would have us be. We ford new, wide rivers, just to say we did. But, in time, we learn that the nature of every river is the same.

As I walk through the last few months in my Year of Happiness, I look for themes. At the onset of this project, I was so sure that by its end, I would know the woman I am. But, in a strange twist of fate, I’ve been surprised to discover that, more than anything else, I’m discovering all the women I’m not.

My cousin, roommate, and best friend has furniture pieces from her parent’s log cabin, her childhood summer home, placed throughout her house (which, it bears mentioning, was built in 1885). Many of them are in disrepair and, these pieces, are some of her most treasured. Weathered, and laced with meaning I’ll never quite understand, her collection is a map of who she was and who she has become. She scoffs at my need for stark, assemble-it-yourself, Swedish simplicity. — “Cheap shit.” She says.

The older I get, the more I’ve felt myself retaliate against the need for things. The need for people. Forfeiting all that space can be dangerous.

But still, I collect all these women I’m not, in my own, quiet menagerie. The woman I’ve become in this past year is not nearly as significant as the women I’ve let go or the women I’ve chosen to keep in my company.

In the last year I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be my mother. — An impressive career-driven woman with a laundry list of professional accolades that she’ll never share with you unless she’s pressed. The silent fortitude of a Japanese soldier. Caretaker to a feral cat colony in Brooklyn. Collector of snow globes. A woman who believes that the wrong rug can completely devastate a room. And, a beautiful mother who has, without knowing it, in her unique way, raised a daughter to mirror herself in the most unexpected ways.

In my quest to uncover myself, I’ve found it most useful to cast parts of myself aside. To become the like the old, weathered pieces my mother has carefully placed in every room of her house. For me, this process is different from my mother’s. — I had birds tattooed on my heel for my deceased grandparents, and, to me, this is far better than scraping my fork across their old china plates at Thanksgiving. And, while news of this development disappoints my mother, I know that the more often I let pieces of her go, the more like her I become. — Plates we’ve broken can be just as, if not more, beautiful when we glue what’s left of them back together.

When I move out on my own again, in the Spring, I look forward to sitting in my new space. My mother will help me move my cat up from Brooklyn and, then, she will likely spend the day cleaning my bathroom and kitchen voraciously, even though I’ll insist that there’s no need. — That is her way, and, I expect nothing less of her. She will begrudgingly agree to help me shop at IKEA for a MALM dresser (a piece that I have now assembled several times with expert skill) and she’ll weigh in on the various $20 area rugs, no doubt. And then, I will sit alone in my room, a beautiful canvas of barren walls, on a mattress with no box spring, beside my cat, who will stare up at me, as if to ask me — what comes next? A question for which I will have no answer.

But, in this mild Winter, I remain, sitting happily at the counter in my cousin’s kitchen, laughing along with her and her husband. Murray, their dog, has destroyed four chairs, and counting, from their hand-me-down dining room set. These foam-less, gnawed trophies now sit at the sills of the dining room windows, where Betsy, Murray’s Chihuahua/Shiba Inu-mix sister, sits gazing out into the Albany yonder, barking viciously at any and all invisible intruders who threaten us. And, I think, this is a fitting end for these chairs, these family heirlooms. Unsightly, perhaps, but, fixtures of the house in their own right. — Old things, destroyed by those of us who can never, truly appreciate their past. — Yet, there the pups sit, upon thier shredded thrones and, suddenly, the chair’s purpose and past matter little.

We are all here, now, together, in this old house.

ARTWORK: Daniel Blagg, “Ms. Wright’s Chair” (2013), Watercolor on paper.

 

 

Maybe I’ll Be Her For Awhile

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The last time I remember knowing exactly who I was, I was seventeen years old, sitting at my parent’s dining room table.

NYU had made an error. They’d sent out an email, congratulating recent early decision applicants on their acceptance to the university before the applicants had actually received their official acceptance letters in the mail. And, the evening I got my email, I sat in front of my PC, staring at my AOL home page, elated.

That night, long before becoming a drunk, sniffing, snorting, or smoking a drug — my whole body buzzed. I was more of an energetic mass than I was a person. And, for the first time, in maybe my entire life, I felt worthy. The vision of myself, one that I had carefully cultivated and constructed, had not only been validated, but, better still, handsomely rewarded.

I’d bust my ass in high school, and, with one click of my mouse, the Universe — and the the university of my dreams — had granted me my every wish. Suddenly I had become the one thing I had always dreamed I would be. And, for the first time in my life, I didn’t care that I had no one to tell.

I sat at the dining room table, my arms folded on my mother’s textured, green tablecloth, the day’s mail piled beside my right elbow and the large, white, water-pitcher-vase, that served as the table’s centerpiece, beside my left. My parents were still at work. I had two, maybe three hours before they’d arrive back home. Shaking, the news bottled up inside me like lightning, news that I knew was to good to relay over the phone, I didn’t quite know how to contain myself. So, I cried. I cried for a really long time. It felt like hours. Sitting quietly at the table, just feeling. Feeling everything. I felt the possibility in my future. I felt the satisfaction of having been rewarded for performing the hard work — work that I was never really sure would pay off. And, I felt like, maybe, having accomplished this one thing — I could be easier on myself.

Just one email in my AOL inbox, sent in error, suddenly gave me express permission to believe in myself and my ability — wholeheartedly. I felt solid, a beacon of myself, and, I cried because I’d been holding onto all that emotion for years. I’d been waiting. Waiting to be actualized or noticed or forgiven. And, there I sat, and — I didn’t have to wait anymore. At that table, I became everything all at once.

I let it enter me and exit my lungs in loud, lonely sobs. I was everything I had set out to be. And, in that moment, I was the most grateful I had ever been. I thanked God. I whispered promises into the air — promises that were meant to assure the powers that be:

I would hold up my end of the bargain.

***          ***          ***

Six months later, only one semester into my dream program at NYU — I dropped out. Promptly changing schools within the university.

Ever since then, I have waited for a night like the one I spent sitting at my parent’s dining room table. I’ve waited for the moment where I’ll feel  sure about who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve moved from job to job, relationship to relationship, city to city. But, I’ve never sat so still as I did that night, waiting for my parents to come home. Never since that night have I had a moment where I have been so proud to share something with them — with anyone. And, I have never had the Universe so perfectly deliver me my true heart’s desire the way that email delivered me my childhood dream.

Breaking into 2017, I think about the three months that remain in my Year of Happiness. I think about how, in one of the Christmas cards my father gave me this year, he told me that his wish for me is that my Year of Happiness extends into forever. And, I think about what it really means to know who I am and what direction I’m about to move in next.

As someone who was always the “good girl” — an exemplary student, a well behaved daughter, and a loyal friend and family member — it still baffles me that I ended up being the fuck-up with so little direction. It still surprises me when I remember that, there isn’t anything that lights me up today the way getting into NYU lit me up back then. And, I still feel it in my gut every time I change gears — the ambiguity of my purpose here. Where can I begin to find meaning when I don’t have the slightest idea where to look?

In a way, my Year of Happiness has given me something back, even if it is just a fraction of what it was — not purpose, but, a renewed sense of meaning. So far, these nine months and, I expect, the three that remain, have shown me that purpose isn’t always something specific. And, meaning is relative. Maybe it was always the Universe’s intention that I be an entirely new woman every few months. Maybe the God I thanked, those now fifteen years ago, always intended me to be lost and found and then lost again. Maybe it was never about the goals I set and failed to meet. — Maybe it was always about being the chameleon. — Changing with ease.

New skin is easier to grow into and slip out of these days. And, while I may have dropped out of the acting program at NYU, I am still a master performer. I’ve played many strange and tragic roles. I change casts and costumes whenever I like. I see someone I want to be, and, I don’t think about it — I become her. I move in and out of my own scenes, project new heroines, and think: “Maybe I’ll be her for awhile.”

This January, the tenth month in my Year of Happiness, I intend to celebrate my Chameleon — the actress I became without ever really becoming. Things I have always hated — the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the disappointment — maybe these are all functions of my greatest role. The one I have played so well, that the lines separating us are hardly blurred any longer. Her stage is set, and, I know my mark.

The truth is, you can’t know anything at seventeen. You can’t know who you’ll be or what you’ll do. You can’t know if your dream today is the dream you’ll have in six months or sixteen years. You can’t thank God for something that you delivered to yourself. And, it should be obvious, that you can’t expect anything that arrived in your AOL inbox back in 2001 to be worth a damn in 2017.

But, you can always sit at the dining room table.

Change color.

And, feel it out.

Going Postal: Christmas Edition

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Before pulling into the parking lot of Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Center on Powell Boulevard, I stopped at the liquor store and got a big bottle of Jim Beam White Label.

It was a Tuesday. I was going to put up my Christmas tree. And, Goddammit, I was going to be drunk.

I threw the bottle, in it’s slim, brown, paper bag onto the passenger seat and drove down the road blasting a Nat King Cole Christmas album with the windows down. It was cold and my windshield was dirty. The Winter sun glinted in my eyes and I pulled down the sun visor as I turned off the road and into Dennis’ lot where three Mexican men were tying a tree to the top of a forest green Subaru.

Inside, twinkling lights were strung up under a white, plastic canopy that housed flocked, white Christmas trees, lined up by size, in tidy rows, as far as the eye could see. Red, glass ornaments reflected the glare of silver tinsel. Life-size Santas stood guard in every doorway. And, the woman who stood at the cashier’s counter wore a green sweater laced with cheap, golden threads and had glittery silver snowflakes dangling from her ear lobes. “Can you tell me where the Fraser firs are?” She looked up at me smiling her big, toothy, smoker’s smile, “How tall, hun?” She croaked. Unsure how to answer, I considered inquiring what height she thought might fill the loveless void my living room had become.

“I don’t know. Six feet?” I asked her, not really concerned with height, only with getting something to convince myself that the holiday season of 2011 was not, in fact, the fifth ring of hell. “Carlos!” she shouted across the store, “Can you take this little lady over to the Frasers? — Go over there with Carlos hun. He’ll help you.”

Carlos stood behind me while I pushed my way through branches and needles in an aisle at the far end of the lot. “You like that one? I can open it for you, so you can see it,” he said stepping forward. “That’s ok. I’ll take it. It’s fine.” He looked at me as if he understood why I was there — a look that acknowledged both my indifference and his pity for me. “Ok. No problem. Which car is yours?” He picked up the tree before I could answer. “Black Honda Civic. The one with the busted tail light.” He nodded, leading me down the aisle and back under the heated canopy. “Ok. You pay inside.” I handed him my car keys and walked back to the cashier with the white ticket Carlos had ripped from the top of the tree and handed to me.

I paid Sissy Snowflake sixty-five bucks for the tree and another twenty for my impulse buy: A big, red, light-globe that sat on the edge of her counter. “Happy Holidays, Hun,” she said handing me my change.

Carlos saw the bottle of Jim Beam poking out from the brown bag on the passenger seat. “You throwing a Christmas party?” He asked, smiling, as he tied the twine taunt around the roof of my car. “Yeah,” I said, “something like that,” handing him a ten dollar tip.

Back home, I pulled into our driveway which, now, was just my driveway. I looked at the tree strapped to the roof like a dead body and did everything I could to stop myself from breaking all the car’s windows. I held my bottle of bourbon, like the baby Jesus himself, and left the tree atop the Honda. — First things first.

In the kitchen, I didn’t even bother to pull down a glass. I opened the bottle, letting the click of the breaking, plastic seal sound the coming of my lord and savior: Jim Beam. I drank from the bottle in gulps. It burned the back of my throat and sent a shiver up my back that started in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks, and, the warm liquid sloshed in my empty stomach like an angry sea. I felt my cheeks flush red and, after a minute, I could breathe again.

I put on Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Songs By Sinatra” and sat on the arm of the couch with my open bottle and my green, Rubbermaid Christmas bin at my feet. Inside the bin were smaller boxes of ornaments my mother had packed up for us before we moved, a tree skirt, old lights, stockings, and a Glade cinnamon-apple scented candle that we hadn’t finished burning the year before. I dug out the plush snowman with a hook at his feet and placed him on the fireplace mantle and hung my cat’s Christmas stocking. She sat watching me from her window perch in the sun, nonplussed.

When I was drunk enough, I decided to get the tree. Carlos had already put it in the stand, so, I just had to cut the twine and get the thing from the driveway, through the garage, and into the living room. It seemed easy enough, but when I got out to the car, the tree seemed bigger than when I had poked at it’s branches on the lot. I stood there for moment with my scissors, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver the sappy beast into the house. And, as I walked around the side of the car, snipping at the twine on the back, passenger side, the mailman turned the corner.

I’d seen him many times before. He’d always waved to me as he wheeled by during the Summer, while I sat on the back porch smoking cigarettes and drinking PBR. He was a fit, older guy with salt and pepper hair in a tight, military cut. Tall and lean, he walked quickly, and that day the dusty blue of his Postal Service uniform contrasted his red cheeks in the cold. He watched me fumble as he counted out my neighbor’s holiday cards and placed them in her slot. I struggled, sliding the tree off the driver’s side, almost falling. The plastic stand hit the asphalt, hard. It didn’t break, but, it startled me. “Godfuckingdamnit,” I spat out in frustration under my bourbon breath.

“Need a hand there?” The mailman asked in a warm, kind voice, as I dragged the stand over the gravel toward the garage. “No. That’s ok.” I said, tripping over the cement lip where the garage met the driveway. “Jesus. Fuck.”

“Here.” He said, walking toward me. “Let me help you there. You really need two people to do that job.”

“I’ve got it! Jesus.” I shouted. The sound of my voice reverberated off the walls of the garage and out onto Cora Drive, hitting the street like a piece of metal. “I’ve fucking got it.”

“Alright lady. Fine.” He said, putting his hands up, conceding. “Just trying to help you. Jeez.” He walked back to his cart at my neighbor’s front door and wheeled it up to his little truck around the other side of the circle. And, I stood at the garage door, wondering who I’d become.

***          ***          ***

Later that night, after the sun had gone, the apartment was dark, save for the lights on the tree. After the mailman left, I’d struggled for another ten minutes, but managed to get the tree up the single step and into the living room where it sat, undecorated, while I wept between swigs of bourbon.

As my Sinatra album repeated for the fifth time, I strung up the lights. I hung my favorite childhood ornaments. And, as tears streamed from the corners of my eyes, I pulled out the little angel my mother had wrapped for me, specially, in paper towels, and placed her at the top. — She looked down on me softly as I sunk to the floor where I grabbed at the blue carpet beside my now near-empty bottle. Even in that, the saddest and most desperate of moments, my tree was absolutely beautiful. — A light in my darkest season.

Completely blotto, I held myself up at the kitchen counter and pulled out a notepad and a pen from the junk drawer and wrote a note to the mailman. I stumbled to the front door and clipped it to my mailbox outside.

THANKS FOR TRYING TO HELP ME WITH THE TREE. I’M SORRY. IT REALLY WAS A TWO PERSON JOB. BUT, IT’S BEEN A CRAP YEAR, AND I REALLY NEEDED TO DO IT MYSELF.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

SARAH

Tripping Across A Lonely Planet

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The first time we tripped on magic mushrooms, we sprinkled them on top of Stoffer’s french bread pizza.

I stood with Colleen* and  Anna at the forest-green island counter in my tiny, East Village studio apartment where the three of us looked down curiously at the plate Anna pulled from my microwave, hot cheese and mushrooms, still bubbling.

“Is this supposed to taste like shit?” Colleen asked, her jaw moving sharply as she chewed in uncomfortable, contorted movements.

“I think so,” Anna said, washing back her first bite with a bottle of cheap, Belgian-style beer. “Maybe we should have made tea with them instead.”

We were all so young, each of us twenty-two or twenty-three. All of us beautiful, rebellious, and lost. Recent NYU graduates with squeaky-clean slates and deep, unfulfilled desires to feel and experience everything. All our dreams were far too large to fit with us in that tiny kitchen. Dreams that, on that particular day, I don’t think any of us knew how we’d move toward. And so, we told ourselves until we found the way, we would just live.

In those days, living meant smoking bongs in the afternoon, writing music on our guitars, and drinking Gatorade in the place of solid meals. Naive, open, and misguided as we all were that afternoon, we still laughed in my tiny apartment with the girlish wisdom of sages. I think about us now and I feel truly  happy to have been the girls we were back then, and, for the women we had no idea we would become.

Even now, I envy our lack of knowing. How our lives, then, so intricately connected, would soon be divided by a decade and the span of an entire country. In the more than ten years since I’ve seen or spoken to those girls, I have aged thirty, maybe more. I have lost more than I thought I’d ever be capable of losing. I have seen and felt great beauty and love that, then, I had no idea could ever be available to me. But, on that Wednesday, in my tiny kitchen, we started alone, with nothing — just each other and our dreams of adventure. — And, of course, our Stoffer’s french bread pizza, topped with psychedelic mushrooms.

*           *          *

It took awhile for the walls to move.

I sat on the huge, red couch my mother bought me, sinking into the soft, doughy seat. Colleen and Anna sat cross-legged on the hard-wood floor. We sipped our beer and waited. Colleen and I chain-smoked Camel Lights, flicking our ashes into a near-empty beer can that already sat in a halo of ash from the night before. The Summer humidity hung in the air and our smoke hung there with it, like a canopy above us.

I was taken off guard when I felt myself shift. Weightless and free, I didn’t even notice that I had stopped worrying about my mounting fear of entering adulthood without any real idea of who I was. But, fear somehow slipped away. And, with each moment that passed, I felt that I had somehow discovered something deeper. — Deep in the moment. Deep in the city. Deep in my own wild and unpredictable heart. — And then, the walls started moving.

At first, spacial shifts occurred slowly and subtly, like water lapping softly on a shore, and then, more forcefully, in bigger, more violent waves. And, before long, I saw Jesus’ face appear on my white wall, like a silhouette pressed into a white sheet. He pressed through the very same wall I had stared at, pure and undecorated, for two years while writing my papers and reading my tomes on Irish history. “Jesus is here.” I whispered to the girls, who were still seated on the floor. And, when he disappeared, I stared for a long time at the spot where he had been, wishing he would come back.

“I miss Pete,” Colleen said, rolling onto her stomach, holding her cigarette in her left hand. “I miss Pete too,” Anna echoed. — Both of their boyfriends at the time were named Pete.

Then, Anna started to cry. Both girls wanted their respective Pete more than any drug induced experience they were having. And, in a surreal and sentimental moment, they embraced on my floor, both acknowledging that, in their altered state, they had somehow managed to fly on the same wavelength. And then, they both reached simultaneously for their phones.

I, however, felt like I had stepped into Alice’s wonderland. I didn’t miss or have any desire to call my boyfriend at all. — I wanted to call my Dad. I wanted to tell him that Lewis Carroll’s world was far better than anything we’d imagined while we waxed poetic on the subject of our shared love of Alice and her magical rabbithole. But, even in suspended reality, I knew it was ill advised to call my Father while tripping on mushrooms.

I left the girls on the floor, walked into my bathroom and shut the door. The pastel tips of my yellow terrycloth towels moved, writhing like tiny earthworms or soft ribbons of seaweed beneath gentle, ocean waves. The lines of my Martha Stewart K-Mart collection shower curtain blurred and tangled like jungle vines, dancing gracefully without having been moved at all. And, I sat alone on the cold floor and watched the black and white tiles slide in and out of box-like formations, a child’s puzzle in motion.

In a moment of unparalleled uncertainty, everything was beautiful. Every movement, simple and intricate. I believed in everything and nothing at all.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Colleen and Anna were still crying about Pete and Pete, both of whom, they’d been unable to reach. I stood over the girls, a giant Alice — the one who grows incredibly tall after she’s sipped from the bottle that reads Drink Me, — and I told them, “I’m going into the garden. Don’t leave this room.” They looked up, barely acknowledging me, lost in their Pete-less grief, and I turned on my heels, walking across my floor, which felt trampoline-like under my feet, bowing beneath my weight, to my apartment door.

In my building’s garden courtyard, the superintendent’s wife had planted wildflowers around the various benches that were placed throughout. Their petal’s perfume crept up into my nose and the sun warmed my skin and the sky opened up like an infinite, blue canvas. Clouds passed overhead, and I watched them, as they swirled in unusual shapes — I could no longer tell what was real and what was imagined. And then, a tiny purple bloom turned into a butterfly and batted away into the sunlight.

   *          *          *

Later, we all came to. We walked in slow motion to a sports pub on Second Avenue where we waited for Pete and Pete to arrive. Colleen and Anna had bonded without me that afternoon, and I sat sipping my Guinness at the long-lacquered, wooden bar feeling like my own lonely planet.

The world had ceased moving in strange, new ways and I had returned to a reality that felt uneven and unsure. I still remember how that glass of stout, with its beveled curve, felt like a handle I needed to hold in order to keep myself from floating away into the Universe. Even on a day when the only notable event was having taken psychedelic drugs, it was still the drink that held me fast, a dear friend on my lonely planet — a planet now filled with drunken men shouting at television screens.

It has always been a blessing and a curse to know more. To have seen all the things that shape us and disappoint us and hurt us. But, still, after all this time, all these years clean and sober, there is something beautiful in remembering that, no matter how far I’ve come, there are pieces of that lost girl, her solitary planet, still within me. I recognize her, curious at her kitchen counter, free in the courtyard sunlight, and lonely at the long-lacquered bar.

All the change that molded us contains, within it, those core parts of us that will never cease to be. The DNA chains that, no matter what we do, remain unbroken.

And, I sometimes when I stare up at the golden sun, flanked by a host of swirling clouds, I wonder if Colleen and Anna feel the exact, same way.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.