baby, it’s crazy inside

According to my phone, it’s a balmy 16 degrees outside but it feels like 10 degrees which actually feels like, “Someone please stab me with an icicle because it’s so !@#$ing cold!” (By the way, how does my phone know what it feels like? Don’t you tell me how to feel, iPhone!) I am an absolute wimp when it comes to this weather. I know, I know. It’s weather. I mean talk about the ultimate in accepting the things you cannot change. Me bitching about the temperature is proof I sometimes just like to have something to complain about. Ugh. Complaining. A character defect I’m working on.

Anyway, this weather is actually a blessing though. After 15 years of living in the “Forever 85” temperature of Los Angeles, a little freezing my face off is good. It builds character. Because, you know, that’s what I need. More character. Also, acknowledging seasons is healthy for a sober person like my bad self because it confirms I’m alive and participating in my existence. In LA while drinking and living in “kinda hot” to “holy-shit-I’m-melting” hot, every day was the same. Same tequila. Same cocaine. Same blackouts. Same fights. Same hangovers. Rinse and repeat. It was a gayer and more depressing version of Groundhog Day. My life was in reruns, enjoyable maybe the first 10 times but boring, tiresome and toxic after that. Like old episodes of Full House.

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Today, I get to have new experiences and feel my whole life. But feeling all of my life today means feeling all of it. Crappy weather, depressing world events, grief, sadness, that-douche-with-bad-hair-running-for-President-whose-name-I-will-not-mutter-on-these-pages. I get to feel those things. But I also get to feel happiness too. After a recent bout of depression and general itchiness brought upon by my upcoming birthday, I was directed by my sponsor to pray and meditate more. If I’m honest, this task always sounds exhausting. Like I have to bust out a singing bowl, light 40 candles and sit for in perfect stillness for 2 hours. I mean isn’t there some app that can meditate for me so while I eat cookies and peruse Twitter?

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Still, I took the advice and started praying and meditating everyday. (Look, I know the internet gets it’s panties in a bunch when you talk about spirituality but I sort of don’t care. I’m not on a mission to convert anyone and I myself have no religious affiliation. Nevertheless, if me talking about prayer bugs you, feel free to leave. Or go read a post inspired by Madonna. These are your choices.) This time around, I eased myself into this sit down with God thing. For the last several days, I’ve set the timer on my phone for ten minutes. In that time, I pray, I read something alcoholism related not Jack Kerouac but maybe like The Big Book and I sit in silence and meditate. Pretty easy. Okay. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes I walk away and feel refreshed and spiritually in tune. But sometimes it sort of sucks. Like I can’t get my brain to shut the hell up and I squirm around and wait for the mystical chimes on my phone to go off so I go drink coffee instead. And this okay too. I used to beat myself up when this happened in early sobriety. Like I was doing this meditation thing wrong and someone would find out and kick me out of recovery. What I’ve learned talking to other crazy people people in recovery that this normal.  It’s not always going to be some scene from a Shirley MacLaine book. And a lot of time it is going to be a bit of slog. The point is I need to keep going regardless of how sucky the last time I prayed/meditated was.

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So far, I’ve felt results! And felt them pretty much right away. This is fantastic for my alcoholic self. I like fast results and I’d like them right now, thank you very much. The rattling I was feeling in my brain. The uncomfortable batshit craziness that screwed with my psyche. The overall I’m-gonna-cut-a-ho sensation I took with throughout the day? All gone. My crazy can be kept at bay if I do a few simple things. Prayer and meditation are part of that. Because of this tiny practice I feel actually happy and more relaxed. Not that stuff hasn’t come up because, trust me, it has but this practice helps me weather those things too. The moment I stop treating prayer and meditation like this impossible task, it gets easier. Just 10 minutes a day? I can do that. Twitter will still be there.

 

everything’s a miracle

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With all due respect to the words “epic”, “literally” and “awkward” the word miracle has got be one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. A great parking space, Miley Cyrus in pants, 2 for one bacon cheeseburgers, a short line at the airport– all of them get labeled miracles on social media or in casual conversation. In recovery, the word gets tossed around with even more liberally. People back from a relapse, what’s-his-face getting 90 days, newcomers to a meeting– also all miracles. And yet those are the kind of miracles I really believe in. I mean the fact that me and all of the addicts/alcoholics I know aren’t dead seems like a bona fide miracle to me. And yet there’s such a thing as a “certified miracle” too. Like this story of a woman in Costa Rica who recovered from a deadly brain aneurysm after looking at a photo of Pope John Paul II. So what is a miracle anyway and who the heck certifies them? While my brain tries to untangle this, please enjoy Barry Manilow in an epic performance that will literally blow your mind. Sparkly sweater alert in 5,4,3,2,1….

While the Barry-break got me no closer to a better understanding of the word, I do think Sean Mahoney: Miracle Certifier would make an excellent reality show for A&E. Webster’s defines it, primarily as, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Sounds good enough to me and completely applicable to events I can’t explain. Like Courtney Love and Dave Grohl making up after 20-years.

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Or Prince and Warner Brothers finally burying the hatchet leading to a re-issue of Purple Rain!

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Or this little fish who became the first fish ever to be taken off the endangered species list!

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Or this 13-year-old who survived being shot in the head!

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Or this!

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Or maybe a miracle to you looks like not getting fired when you should have been or being nice to your mother-in-law at dinner  despite wanting to slap her or not getting pulled over for that busted tail light you can’t afford to fix. I guess my point is, whatever miracle you’re celebrating today, congratulations. You deserve miracles, no  matter what they look like. Literally.

 

 

death-defying balancing acts

At about 13 months sober, a teacher in a yoga class in Venice told me, “You have great balance.” With my butt high in the air and sweat pouring down my face, I think I murmured a muffled “thanks.” This was an odd thing to hear and something I certainly didn’t believe. To me, “balance” was always was one those hard to define and impossible to achieve words like “honesty” and “moderation”.

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When you live with a twisted all-you-can snort/swig/suck attitude, balance seems counter-intuitive. I never had “extra wine” or a “fully stocked bar” or “drugs from the night before.”The fact that anybody would, boggled my mind. Leftover drugs and alcohol? It’s not Thanksgiving. Aside from my own system, I couldn’t begin to imagine where one would store such a thing.   Wonder if Tupperware makes a container for half-used baggies of cocaine? At my core, I am a person who likes to eat a whole box of cookies, watch an entire season of a cable show on Netflix and play 14 hours of words with friends in one sitting. Which is to say, I’m an addict, through and through. These days in sobriety, I try to achieve what that instructor, in the teal tanktop who also led us in a sacred Iroquois chant (again, Venice), called “balance.”

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Last week, I worked my face off, went to five meetings, helped some other people who have what I have, cleaned my house and made it to doctor’s appointments. Oh and produced a live show. Cat wrangled 8 actors, picked up last-minute props, talked confused patrons off a ledge and all the other things that go into theater. But here’s the thing- I wasn’t stressed out. Go figure that when you delete liquor and drugs from your playlist, life is suddenly less chaotic. Everything got done and I was really happy. Of course by Saturday morning I was bitch slapped with the realization that I had a lot more stuff to do including marketing myself for new gigs, applying for part-time stuff, organizing a new series of writing workshops and handling my various and assorted diseases and responsibilities. I had a momentary feeling of panic like I was going to slip off the balance beam, crashing head first into an unbalanced hell my new agey teacher would not approve of.

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Not knowing the proper ancient indigenous ritual most effective for calming a bitch down, I relied on my own rituals. I prayed I meditated. I read. I drank a little more coffee. I had breakfast. And then I took care of that list I was sure was going derail my existence. Bigger than that, it felt amazing to look at things that scared me and not run away from them. I when I realized none of it was a big of a deal, I took a deep breath and just skipped happily across that highwire.

Friends, you tell me, how do you keep your life in balance? What is this balance thing anyway? Educate me in the comments section, please!

has anyone ever written anything for you?

First things first please, take a few minutes to listen to this song and story behind it and then I promise I’ll talk your ear off.

There’s a special kind of grace needed when you have a “chronic manageable disease” like HIV. See people will tell you that “Oh yeah. My neighbor has it and he’s fine”, “Oh I just read a thing about a girl in France who cured herself from it by going vegan” or “Maybe you should take more vitamins/take less vitamins/get new medication/stop medication/do yoga/do Pilates/meditate more.” Grace comes in handy when you can nod your head and say, “Okay.” But the thing is these poor, well-meaning folks are just trying to say something to make you feel less awkward and don’t really realize that we’ve pretty much tried everything if we’ve had a manageable disease for a few years. I’ve told this story on these pages before but its a funny one and worth repeating. When I was first diagnosed with HIV nearly 4 years ago in August, my nurse when trying to talk me off the ledge said, “HIV is a manageable condition like diabetes.” Oh in that case, sign me up. because diabetes always seemed like a trip to the tropics. Tahiti? No thanks! Who needs it when you have diabetes!

Also, let’s talk about this manageable word they like to throw around.Doctors are in essence are telling us that we are becoming managers of whatever our given affliction is. Correct me if I’m wrong but management seems like a lot of work. Whether you’re managing Mariah Carey or a McDonald’s, managers are some hardworking motherfuckers. As my own condition has recently caused me some health problems with a side order of fear ( I would have rather had onion rings, by the way), I have to get into gratitude. I am grateful that it’s treatable and that I have good doctors. I’m grateful for all the prayers and spiritual assistance. Yet I acknowledge that it sucks and that it’s hard. So here is where Stevie comes in.

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That song so beautifully talks about giving it away when you feel the absolute worst. I hope I can do that. I need to do that right now. Here’s my attempt to do so. If you have traumatic brain injury, manic depression, rheumatoid arthritis, bipolar disorder, suffered a stroke, are getting off drugs, have just lost a loved one, can’t get out of bed, tried to kill yourself, suffering from MS, learning to walk or speak again, trying to not pick upon a drink, living with HIV and yes diabetes; all I can say is I get it. As a bonus, I won’t tell  you what books to read or that my old English teach has whatever you’re dealing with.  All I can tell you is even if it is manageable, I know you hurt , that everyday is a battle to stay positive and healthy and that I am sorry. I hope you can laugh, I hope you do nice things for yourself and know that by fighting and managing everyday, you’re helping me and lot of other people. So has anybody ever written anything for you? I have.

And I hope you can do the same for someone else. As Stevie says, “If not for me, do it for the world.”

prayers for the terminally self-involved (who are trying to be less so)

Prayer is an interesting topic. It’s a little like cooking a chicken. There’s a billion ways to do it and everybody has their favorite. I guess now would be the time to note that this is a spirituality post and not one about religion. Or cooking chicken for that matter. Although I could ramble about the latter for at least 10,00o words. (Book idea: Eat, Pray, Fry Chicken) Prayer or talking to God or communicating with the universe or whatever you wanna call it is an essential part fo me being less crazy. In the beginning of my sobriety, my prayers were of the “Please help me not drink” or “God, help me make it through today” variety. Today, it varies. I try to take 30 minutes to just hang out and be grateful and pray for people who need help. And most days I pray short little prayers all day long like:

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“God please help me always remember between looking younger and looking scary.”

and

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“God give me the wisdom to delete bitchy or crazy emails/text messages BEFORE I send them.”

also…

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“God help me be less judgmental. Even to myself.”

or one of my favorites is

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“God, help me help other people. Even I ones that make me crazy. Especially them.”

And lastly, this one works all day and rocks for its simplicity.

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After two decades of being a self-involved drunken drug addict, I need all the help I can get. Right now, I’ve got a lot of uncertainty going on with my health stuff and it is scary. But thanks to having a spiritual life, I’m totally okay. Yes, I’m scared. Yes, I feel crappy. But am I going to be alright? Totally. Time has proven that I can get through everything thanks to my version of God and some awesome people in my life.

Listen, I don’t know how this prayer things works and frankly I don’t need to know. I just know that it does. So, readers, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll throw some your way if your throw some my way and we’ll get through whatever together?

Anything Could Happen

The funny thing about optimism is that even though its something I whole heartedly believe in, it can vanish the minute the waters get rocky. Like it’s incredibly easy for me to preach, “Don’t worry. This too shall pass” to other people but practicing in my own life? That’s another story. I’m sort of on-paper, in theory kind of optimist but will flip-flop back to pessimist land in the blink of an eye.  You know, kind of  like the friend of your’s from college who went vegan but still ate chicken sandwiches when no one was around. So knowing this about myself as I do now, I sort of have to work overtime to keep optimism and faith alive.

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Staying out my pre-programmed Irish thinking of “This world’s going to hell in a handbasket!” can be accomplished if I do things that make me feel good. I was once told that I could slowly achieve self-esteem if I practiced estimable acts. Once someone explained to me what estimable acts actually were (by the way gossiping and buying cocaine did not make the list. Go figure.), I’ve been able to live by this. Mainly, it boils down to thinking of others. If I’m wrapped up in my own garbage, my day is usually garbage. But if I’m busy doing things that make me feel good like helping my fellow-man, my day usually gets better. Sometimes, Its texting somebody I know is having a rough time. Sometimes, its making coffee for a meeting. Sometimes its letting my husband sleep in. And in a pinch, holding the door open for somebody or picking up some thrash can be lifesavers too.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that after a few weeks where I honestly felt crappy and felt like things weren’t ever going to get better, they have. This is largely in part because I kept doing stuff that helped others and myself. Even when it drove me nuts. On this Sunday evening, I am actually optimistic. I’m working on some great projects. My relationships are good. I have some fun events this summer. The amazing thing about being sober is that I have seen my life and other people’s lives change. I beleive that my life is only getting more incredible as the days pass, even if I can’t see exactly it at the time. The song is right– anything could happen. And more than that,  I think it already is happening.

 

Not Knowing is Half The Battle

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My life would make the worst “very special episode” ever. You remember those. A family sitcom or kids show wherein a lead character makes a serious mistake, learns an important lesson and vows to never make that mistake again. Sometimes these lessons were so ridiculous, they become iconic for how silly they are and not really for their powerful message. Jessie and the caffeine pills on Saved by the Bell, anyone?

Other times the “serious issue” itself was so bizarre that it made you question how necessary the entire exercise was. Monroe’s rape and abduction on Too Close for Comfort illustrates this quiet well.

Often these ratings-grabbing sobfests featured special guest stars like Tom Hanks as the alcoholic uncle on Family Ties.

But it didn’t matter if it was Blair smoking weed on The Facts of Life or Punky Brewster shoplifting, the whole mess was always cleared up in 30 minutes (sometimes 60 if it was a really, really special two-part episode.) This is where The Sean Show tanks at very special episodes. See, no matter how many years I have sober or how enlightened I become, my problems are rarely solved in 30 minutes and most of them come back. TV executives must have figured out early that watching a person do the same thing over and over again isn’t entertainment, it’s insanity. although my own experimentation with caffeine pills, wine coolers and a junior high dance only happened once. Jessie would be proud. I mean why mess around with No Doze when you can have cocaine? Now, I’m moving into Kelly Taylor territory. 

Anyway, my own issues are thankfully of the” normal, boring and wouldn’t make for a good sitcom” variety these days. Even more undramatic is the way my problems get solved (or don’t get solved as the case may be). Very special episodes of The Sean Show, much to the dismay of television viewers everywhere, would end with me sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of warm milk like they do in TV World and saying “I don’t know” after the kind dad/concerned coworker/mom in fuzzy bathrobe asked me how I was going to handle the problem du jour. Roll the credits and the theme song. Really. That’s my answer to all the life problems I get these days. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. And I don’t have to. By saying I don’t have the answer or know how to fix my problems or the world’s problems, I’m free to be open to real solutions and ideas that the universe will provide even if I don’t have a very special guest star or feature a hotline at the end of the broadcast. Not knowing, to me, means I’ve admitted I need help from a bigger authority. When I’ve reached the place of I don’t know, it means I’ve admitted my ideas won’t work. This is what enlightenment tends to look like in my life today. Not knowing. Who would have thought?

I’m reminded acutely of how little I know when senseless tragedies like the one which happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I don’t know why anyone would do that. I don’t know who would be behind such a thing. I don’t know how people rally and take care of each other during these moments. I don’t know how to even process these kinds of things most of the time. But I do know that we’ll get through it. I do know that, contrary to the mounting evidence, people are good. To quote the theme of another sitcom that was far too smart to ever need a very special episode, love is all around and we are going to make it after all.


Bjork, Nachos & God

When I used to fall into a tricky little hole called depression or the neighboring, less threatening hole named sadness, the tool I used to get out was my old pal liquor. Liquor, I thought, could make a ladder to help pull me out. What it did, though, every single time was fill the hole with more chaos until I was not only stuck in a hole but also drowning. Recently, the ladders I had to use to pull me out were of a different variety to say the least.

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Sometimes pop music transcends pop music and while listening to “All is Full of Love” by Bjork, I finally heard something I have needed to hear for weeks. Like a lot of incredible songs in my life, this one showed up in my headphones and out of nowhere it told me the truth.

You’ll be given love
You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love
You have to trust it

Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at

Twist your head around
It’s all around you
All is full of love
All around you

I’ve  heard this song a million times but it wasn’t until now that it really shook me to the core. After a difficult month involving a creative breakup, some financial uncertainty and a batch of sad news, I had fallen down a hole. I knew it too. My first instinct was to panic and freak out and try to frantically dig my way out. I’m sober and I always thought feeling sad or being depressed was who I was and not who I am. But the truth is, I am a human and sometimes my life is sucky or hard or fucking sad. And this last month was one of those times. What I did know is that I needed to go through it, no matter how long it took. I have been relying on meetings, bad TV and nachos to pull me out. But mainly, and not to sound like some horrible coffee mug that you’d get at an inspirational bookstore, I’ve needed God as my ladder. (Country song idea #51: God is My Ladder) The fact is that all of this seemed to heavy or too overwhelming and too fucking much.I kept up my prayer and mediation practice even when I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew that this was going to eventually pass but I needed some supernatural non-human aid of the higher powered variety to help it along.

And just like that it did. After a month of pushing on and feeling my feelings, it happened. I was lifted out of that hole that seemed too deep and too scary and neverending just a few weeks ago.  As this lovely song, now added to my “Play it at the Funeral” playlist, filled me with gratitude. It made me realize that my life, holes and rough patches included, is good. That I am taken care of.  It is full of love and it is all around me. Even when I can’t see it. Especially then, I think.

I’m So Effing Spiritual

In today’s post, I will share with you everything I know about prayer and meditation. Here goes: I don’t know how it works, I don’t know if I’m doing it right but I know when I don’t do it my days sort of suck. The end.  That’s it.

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I could blather on about the ideal prayer conditions and my recommended reading list to help someone develop a practice but it would be bullshit. The only ideal condition for prayer and mediation I’ve found is that it helps if your awake and alive, although I haven’t tried it asleep or from beyond the grave so I can’t even be sure about that either. And if we’re being honest here I never finish books about spirituality so my reading list would be based on a lie or what I read about in an inflight magazine. Yes, I’ll tell you I’ve read Eckhart Tolle or a Course in Miracles and its true that I do own them but I get a few chapters in, get distracted and go watch a television show where people make stuff and compete against each other. What I know for certain is that I feel crappy when I don’t do it and I increase my chances of being a nicer person when I do. And even then I can still act like a douchebag. Take this afternoon for example.

I’ve been feeling all “enlightened and shit” since I’ve increased my prayer and meditation in the morning. For a half an hour every day for the last week or so, I’m waiting to tweet or check my email and I’m taking time to check in with G.O.D. Hopefully this period of time will remind me to think of others and have the divine direction to act like the spiritual giant that I was born to be. Thus far, my increased practice has put my days on a better path and allowed me to be on an auto-pilot where I’m guided by a higher purpose and not by my crazy, cockamamie ideas. Today, I left my humble abode after a morning of writing and felt spiritually armed to face whatever came my way. I was going to my favorite noon meeting which I was thrilled to go do. Yet as I sat in the room listening to shares I found myself getting irritated, bitchy even. “Oh my God! That reading again!?!” and “Didn’t that guy just share” were a few of the snarky thoughts running through my mind. I wanted to hear some solution and what I got was the ramblings of crazy people! How dare they. Well, even as I was thinking this I knew I was being ridiculous.

For one thing, clearly I was supposed to hear what people were saying, insane or not. Maybe it was all a test to see how tolerant and spiritual I’ve really become. Maybe I need to just listen and hear all kinds of sobriety, even the batshit variety.  And I happen to one of those crazy people I was having an inner bitch session about and lord knows my ramblings are probably annoying to someone else. At the end of the meeting, I shared with some friends how I felt. We had a good laugh about my intolerant, bitchy ass and just like that I was back in love with program that saved my life. All of this stuff I do to make myself feel better, to keep me sane and sober is a practice. I can pray on top of  mountain with a guru but chances are something at the foot of the mountain will annoy me. That’s life. What I can do is keep practicing every day, keep trying to be more helpful to the people around me, keep forgiving myself when I fail and keep remembering I’m not in charge. And that’s about as enlightened as I need to be.

I haven’t got time for the pain

My rule of thumb when it comes to headline grabbing, locally based tragedies is this: when people I went to high school with are posting their thoughts on everything from Jesus Christ to gun control on Facebook, I officially have nothing to add to the conversation. Seriously, what can I say? I barely know how to ask vegans what they like to eat for breakfast much less have a genius diatribe about peace and understanding ready at the drop of the hat. Instead, I tend to go inward. I look for answers in music. I know it sounds crazy but hello- no crazier than the shit that has went down over the last week. Usually this musical introspection takes me to the 1970’s.

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Trust me, I wanted to sit down and write a blog about the tragic shooting in Aurora and perhaps even tie in some Greek Mythology all the while having the entire post really be about me and how sensitive I am. This magical blog post would not only explain the messed up events for readers everywhere but it would inspire them to follow me on Twitter or send me fan mail. No such luck. Instead, all I want to talk about is Carly Simon.

The other night I was making brownies (Baking relaxes me. It’s like Bikram yoga for junkies and drunks) I had the Linda Ronstadt Pandora station on. In addition to the ditties of La Ronstadt, the station features songs from “similar artists” who maybe aren’t so similar but were at least popular in the same era. Carly Simon was one of the artists chosen to accompany Linda and me on our musical baking adventure. In addition to learning that Carly was the daughter of Simon of famed publishing house Simon & Schuster (who knew?), I read that she was one of the era’s confessional singers like Carol King, James Taylor and Cat Stevens. The idea of Carly being confessional is one that appeals to me. I think that’s what always appealed to me about 1970s music and even film. The really good stuff (Daniel by Elton John, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and You’re so Vain by Carly Simon) all felt like your were listening to someone’s diary or watching the real lives of people you knew. It told the truth and for a child of delusion and addiction, artists that could pull that off have always been my heroes. Anyway, Carly’s song “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” came on as I poured my brownie batter into the pan. The words “Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive. Thought that’s just how much it cost to survive in this world” hit me like a ton of bricks. I can identify with mistaking living in calamity as actually living. I too needed pain or suffering to give me pulse or get me out of bed. That’s an intense realization to have, especially for an old soft rock song they now use on pain reliever commercials.  The power of being confessional, as Carly proved, is that sometimes your truth belongs to other people too.

When horrible fucked up shit like this used to happen, we would all meet at my favorite dive bar, play the jukebox and get really, really loaded. We’d do this when nothing fucked up happened too, by the way. Today, how do I deal? Well I have a cry. I bake something. I sing a long to songs from my childhood. But mainly, I have to stay out of the grudge match. I can’t battle with my opinion anymore or obsessively watch CNN in search of some answer when I know there isn’t an answer.

But maybe there is an answer. On a separate kitchen session in the same week with the same Pandora station, I heard Carly again. In her totally underrated song Coming Around Again from the film, Heartburn; Carly sings and almost chants, “I believe in love.” She sings it over and over again. I needed to hear this message on repeat. Because I do believe in it. I know that awful, hideous occurrences can only be healed with love. I know that it isn’t the easy path. I know that it frankly fucking sucks waiting for love to heal. But I know that it works. Yeah, I believe in love because, as Carly sings in the following line, “What else can I do?”