The Twain of My Existence

As friends were sharing the other night about the legendary icons that they share their birthdays with, I pulled a Debbie Downer and said, “Nobody cool has my birthday. Except Billy Idol.” In addition to requiring the “wah-wah-wah” music necessary for such a moment, it was an out-and-out lie. First off, last time I checked Billy Idol was still awesome. Secondly, how could I forget that I share the same birthday as Mark Muthafuckin’ Twain?

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Aside from rocking epic moustaches that would make a modern-day hipster weep into his craft beer, Twain is the original American satirist badass whose take no prisoners style of writing and speaking his mind have turned him into a literary icon. Although my dad had the requisite massive volume of Twain’s collected works and I was forced to read Huck Finn at a young age, Twain’s genius didn’t hit me until much later. The dude was a one-man quote factory, pumping out brilliant thoughts on every topic during the duration of his lifetime. Just think of something- anything, and I’m sure Twain had something to say about it. And it’s usually brilliant and hilarious. His musings on aging have helped me over the last few days. Like this one:

“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old. ”

or this one…

“I was young and foolish then; now I am old and foolisher. ”

or my favorite..

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

I usually try to read some Twain around our birthday. I say “our birthday” like we get together every year, decked out in fancy suits while we trade quips and drink bourbon. But for some reason this quote has never popped up on my radar:

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Of all the Twain I read, this resonated with me the most–go figure! Not the old man part, mind you. I’m not quite ready to own ‘old man’ yet. I’m still trying to swallow the lie of a cocktail called “Forty & Fabulous.” But having “a great many troubles”, most of which never happened, now that I can identify with. In fact, that’s kind of the thesis statement of this blog. Leave it to Twain to nail in a few short words. After a ‘tough’ week where most of my misery was cooked up by your’s truly, he comes along and puts it all into perspective.

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So Happy Birthday, Mark Twain. Thanks for 177 years of knowing just what to say. I’m honored to have you as a birthday mate. And Billy, you’re not so bad either.

the squirrely show

“Squirrely.” That’s the word I’ve heard alcoholics use when they describe how they feel before a sober birthday. It’s a pretty accurate description too. The frantic hopping around from tree to tree, the dodging of speeding cars and the general, jumpy squirreliness of the little critters mirrors the moments before a sobriety milestone. Maybe not for every sober person but with my bellybutton birthday happening this Friday and my 4-year sobriety birthday on January 2nd, squirrely is something I can relate to. In fact, I can safely say I currently fall somewhere in between Squirrely Temple and Squirrely MacLaine.

squirrel gone wild

The combination of future tripping, anticipation, anxiety, perfectionism and the holidays thrown in there for good measure has created a perfect storm of cray-cray. I’m also busier than I’ve been all year and taking on new projects almost weekly. Yesterday, I was so squirrely and, not to over use the metaphor, nuts that I was on the verge of cancelling my birthday party and erupting like some emotional volcano.  I used to judge a friend of mine who was eternally stressed out and the only way she could handle life was by snorting Vicodin. I know. Me the former hardcore coke whore judging.  Needless to say, it’s in tense moments like this I completely understand. Luckily for my nostrils’ sake, however, I calmed the fuck down this morning.

Being squirrely for squirrels makes sense. All the leaping and running and squirreling around is what they do. It’s how they survive. For a nearly 40-year-old gay man who doesn’t even like running or wearing fur, squirreliness makes zero sense. (Sidebar: my nature observation writing is pretty incredible. “Being squirrely for squirrels makes sense” You’re welcome Discovery channel.) Futilely spinning my wheels and getting freaked out about stuff is a waste of emotional dollars. After some prayer and meditation this morning, I realized a couple of things: a.) I’m lucky to have the problems I have today. Just making it to 40 is a freaking miracle for this premiere passenger on Self-Destruction Airways so even if it’s just cake with some friends, I deserve to celebrate. and b.) it happens all the time. By “it”, I mean, all of it. People turn 40 all the time. People celebrate sobriety milestones all the time. People do the work and have generally amazing lives all the time. Thankfully, I’m one of those people.

 

And people get squirrely all the time. Big deal. My moments of hot messiness make me human and I no longer have to drown these moments out with drugs or alcohol. I now deal with them by writing about them and dragging my fluffy-tailed ass to a meeting.

Choking Mountain Memories

My insides were churning. My sinuses had a freshly sprayed with battery acid feeling. My head was raw and throbbing. As an added bonus, my gums became bloody,  tender and inflamed. Each noise I heard, every motion I felt, any aroma that wafted my way all made me want to do some insane spin-around 360, Kung Fu projectile vomiting  For the next two months, I would feel like this and daily I would make a note of how horrific it all was. I intentionally  ignored the “miracle of quitting smoking” and how I saved my own life and all of that crap. I wanted to remember how shitty it all was, every second.

 

This tactic was simple. It was the “empty all of the litter boxes before you adopt another cat” technique. It was the “remembering your alimony payments before paying for another wedding” trick. Never in my life had I felt so bad and I needed to remember that cigarettes did this to me. The bastards. I mean, we used to be friends. But more than 20 years later, things between us were not cute. My gagging, hacking last days of smoking were downright disgusting. The mornings were spent spitting and choking followed by the mandatory wake-up, shame cigarette.  Each time I smoked, I knew without a doubt that I was buying my face a one-ticket to Keith Richards Town. And the smell, my smell, became unbearable. I had recently met my husband and reeking like the floor of a 1980’s bowling alley tavern didn’t really seem like the aroma of a man in love should be rocking.

My sudden doneness with smoking was surprising. We’d always gotten along and throughout early sobriety cigarettes were my closest confidantes.Quitting never crossed my mind during those days either. I honestly never thought I would stop but somehow knew that when the time was right, I would know. November 15, 2010 was the time in question. I just knew that I never wanted to be the sad old queen in a kimono with a Benson and Hedges Ultra Light 100 dangling from my creased pruny lip. My horrific detox have helped this become a reality, at least for the last years anyway. Exhuming slimy critters from my lungs, which begged to be pulverized by Sigourney Weaver and some heavy artillery was the first stage of my shiny smoke-free life. This was followed quickly by a compound nausea made worse by moving back to the dizzying altitude of the Mile High City . Baking my skin and sinuses to a golden brown perfection was the toxic smelling 300-year-old radiator in my grandmother’s basement where I was shacking up when I first came back. Just catching a whiff of cigarettes during the early days was hurlicious enough to send me into dry heaves on more than one occasion. Even writing about it now makes me feel a tad queasy. The worst part is that- and  I’m not exaggerating when I say this-  it went on for months. A friend who had also quit smoking recently put it into perspective for me when she said, “You’ve been filling your body with poison since you were 15. Did you think this would be a picnic?” Good point.

In short, my Yelp review of quitting smoking wouldn’t be a glowing one. Seriously I would not recommend it. Stopping drinking was easier and a lot less disgusting  But yes, I am glad I quit smoking and I was incredibly happy and proud last week when I celebrated two years without those nasty bitches. The best part about my gnarly cigarette detox is that I didn’t want to smoke. I just wanted to die. And I hope I always remember that.

Never. Forever. Whatever

I’d like to be able to pinpoint and then appropriately blame whatever television show or movie or crappy book that I swallowed whole as a child that infiltrated my mind and tricked me into believing that everything needed to be forever. Jobs, relationships,dreams- all had to be forever. More than that it all needed to be happy and pretty forever. People always blame Disney for these kinds of notions. I don’t think Walt’s totally to blame in my case though. I mean I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when Disney movies sucked and were kind of weird and/or depressing. Like thank god I never wanted my relationships to be like the Fox and the Hound or The Black Hole (although I certainly could accurately apply either title to different periods of my life). No, my  warped sense of forever and never most likely comes from my lifelong distorted sense of reality made worse by ingesting boatloads of chemicals.

When you’re high and drunk for years, forever isn’t too hard to imagine. Time stops and achieving an infinite sameness is something that happens accidentally.  After ten years of daily drinking, I remember feeling like I lived in a rerun. My life was in syndication and on any given day you could catch the episode where I got drunk, did something idiotic and created some bullshit to get myself out of it. I know. We’ve all seen that one.  But in this pursuit of keeping life the same way forever and evah, the rest of my life rotted. My bills, my relationships,my teeth, my soul. After a while, I craved change but was paranoid of what would happen if this corroded museum exhibit I was living was exposed to sunlight and people saw it for the hot mess it really was. Forever horrible or daily uncertainty became my options and neither were things I wanted. Never was a big ole cup o’ crazy all its own. “I’m never drinking like that again!” or” I’m never buying drugs again”. The ‘nevers’ were never-ending and never panned out either.

Admittedly, I still lean on never and forever. The hot tempered Irish person in me likes to hurl absolutism gauntlets whenever life is tricky or difficult or even exuberantly joyful. I”ll never talk to whatsherface again, me and whatshisname are gonna be together forever, I’m never eating whatever that skinny celebrity gave up ever again. I have to laugh when I starting spouting off this nonsense. I mean I’ve stared at “One Day at a Time” posters in church basements for nearly 4 years! You’d think I would have figured out that I’m not allowed to live in “Never” or “Forever”. The whole luxury of one day at a time is being able to cross of these absolutisms off the list and simply focus on the here and now.

Nothing helps me let go of never and forever like rewriting and editing. All the jokes and clever characters and witty one liners that you were sure would go down in literary history get slashed, thrown out and killed in the blink of an eye. While currently editing my new play and tinkering with my book, I’m humbly faced with the reality that there’s a lot I need to let go of and a lot I still need to learn. And this is a fabulous place to be, honestly.

It’s better for me to get to a place of “whatever.” Not whatever in a bitchy teen girl kind of way. But more in the Doris Day “whatever will be will be” spirit. Gay sera sera, if you will.  Seriously, if I’m in a gleeful state of being open to “whatever” my days seem to be more fluid and happier in general. Whatever amazing idea, whatever cool person to collaborate with, whatever spiritual concept, whatever piece of knowledge I didn’t have before. Whatever!

So here’s to a Monday where I can live here in the right now, not worry about forever and embrace whatever comes my way. May whatever comes your way be fabulous too!

write now. yes, now.

Everybody needs a cheer or a chant or a mantra. Everybody needs a theme song. And everybody needs a little push. More often than not, my theme songs are from the 80’s and in my mind they look like a montage from Can’t Buy Me Love. But that’s just me. As many of my writing and creative cohorts are tackling National Novel Writing Month this November, I am taking on two giant creative projects– editing this very blog into a witty, glittery touching collection of essays and getting my second play ready for rehearsals which start this winter. So I felt like I needed a new mantra/chant/cheer (cherranta?) to give me a little push during this busy and creative month. So here it goes!

Write now!

now?  there’s no way I mean I have all these things I need to do and

No, right now!

now? but the time isn’t right. I’m not ready. It will be crap.

I don’t care. Write now!

Okay but first I need to nap, pretend like I’m going to clean something, call somebody I don’t really wanna talk to, eat something, feel sorry for someone (mainly myself), and then maybe I’ll be ready

Write, now? 

Hmmm.

How about now?

Okay but what I am a gonna write about? You know I should think about that first.

Not “think” now. Write now. 

Sure but it’s going to have to be amazing and life-changing and award-winning, okay?

No, not “write well”.

Write now.

But why now?

because if not you,

then who?

because if you don’t write,

somebody else will.

and if not now,

then when?

umm. soon?

no. now.

write now,

right now.

write now!