12 Days of Blogmas: Unmemories

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Hello! The above photo of moi features a typical expression of “huh?’ although the mouse lady and Santa were not the typical companions. Anyway we’re back with the 12 Days of Blogmas and truth be told I don’t remember the above brunch with Santa and his rodent gal pal. Truth is there is a lot I don’t remember. And that’s what today’s trip down blog lane is all about.

I wrote Unmemories, Like the Corners of My Mind last February. It started out to be sort of a humorous tribute to all the things I didn’t remember due to blackouts caused by drinking. I had an idea of writing an un-memoir. I explained the contents of my unmemoir like this:

” My unmemoir would have lots of half stories. Beginnings or just endings. Rarely would the middle of the story show up,” I wrote. “Mainly because in the middle of the action is where I would totally blackout. It became normal, for years at a time, for people to say to me matter of fact, ‘You probably don’t remember. You were really drunk.’ Like it was some kind of acceptable handicap. Like being a blackout drunk excused me from acting like a human being. But really being a blackout drunk doesn’t get you a special parking space and doesn’t entitle you to a telethon. The only perk is that people will let you off the hook for  not remembering things and quietly pity you.”

The post turned out to be heavier than I had intended. Really looking at what drinking did to me and then writing about it was personally a game-changing experience for doing this blog. This post stared back at me in black and white with the truth. Not a pretty truth but one just the same. It became a goal of mine to hit that mark whenever I could. And I’m thrilled to say, as a writer, I feel like I have, a couple of times over the last year.

So friends, take a gander at Unmemories, Like the Corner of My Mind on this 7th Day of Blogmas if you feel so inclined. If,perhaps, you’re in the mood something more festive, my new short story A Tough Cookie Christmas is out now on SmashWords.com!

While we’re talking memories, how about you share some of your favorites from 2012 in the comments section below? 

 

minutes & moments matter

“It’s like you’re giving birth to a big sober baby!” a friend of mine told me when I was about to celebrate nine months of sobriety back in October 2009. I laughed at her metaphor but it was kind of true. Whatever was growing inside of me was not the same hopeless drugged-out, eternally hung over monster that I was before. The longest I had ever gone since the age of 20 was five months. At  age 36, 9 months seemed like an impossibility. You don’t see that chip handed out at meetings very much and based on my own hellish days in early sobriety, I understood why. At seven months, I received my HIV-positive diagnosis, had a cyst yanked out of my face by the thorough yet sadistic Dr. Wong, attempted to piece back together my life after leaving a long-term relationship and basically tried daily not to drink or kill myself. Just getting to 9 months was like winning a race. Even though I knew I hadn’t graduated, the fact I made to that moment, really meant something.

It is strange that the life of a drunk, so free of schedules and oblivious to the concept of timing, suddenly becomes sensitive to every second when they stop drinking. Personally, I clung to tiny  little glimpses of joy as proof perhaps this hell wasn’t going to last forever. I collected happy minutes and hours, reflecting on them, leaning on them when times got dark. Coloring with my nieces, devouring big slices of pizza on beach by myself, random laughter with friends in recovery-  kept the lights on and kept me going. In Southern California, recovery milestones are met with lots of clapping, sometimes singing and cake. In the beginning I rolled my eyes and snickered at this stuff. After a few months, I found myself singing, clapping and even crying like my life depended on it.

Currently, I have people in my life counting days and collecting moments. Restarting sober lives, waiting for difficulties to pass, changing for the first time, learning to live without someone. Seems to be going around. And thank God.  Hope, for me, exists largely in the human capacity for change. Also, watching others hang onto moments and minutes forces me to be grateful for my own. Mainly, it gives me the strength to keep growing and changing too. Fears and difficult stuff didn’t vanish in a puff of glitter just because I stopped being a drunken dipshit. Quite the contrary. But if I try to love this moment and be thankful for the happy minutes, it’s amazing how much easier it all seems.

The Library

I remember the first real meeting I went to. For those of you just joining us, by “meeting” I mean for the things alcoholics and drug addicts go to, not  a meeting like the high-powered thing CEOs go to with catered lunches and glass top conference room tables. This not-as-glamorous but equally as powerful meeting took place on the 4 floor of a dilapidated senior living complex in downtown Los Angeles. My recovery plan was simple.  I figured I’d sail in there,  shed some crocodile tears and legions of good-looking and helpful people would rally around  me and fix my life. I would then leave a brand new person, never to return. This rinky-dink library was filled with vintage page-turners by Nelson DeMille and Jackie Collins and probably didn’t see a lot of reading going on. I suspected it was more of an alternative napping place for the residents. (That’s how I plan on spending my golden years, by the way: finding new and kind of inappropriate places to fall asleep.) It figures that my first meeting would be in a library. I’ve spent the better part of my life hiding in libraries and stumbling on life changing information and this encounter was no different.

On my way to sit down, a really, really happy smiling older man in a flannel shirt and tan pants accosted me with a small square of paper. After getting my name, he explained the paper was to ask anonymous questions about getting sober. “Can you please shoot me?” or “What the hell am I doing here?” didn’t seem like the kind of inquires they were looking for so I kept the paper blank. As the meeting started, I surveyed the room looking for the three categories of  I normally look for upon entering a new situation: ” Fashionable people I want to talk to”, “Guys I Want to Sleep With” and People I Can’t Wait to Judge. It was a Tuesday afternoon so it was slim pickings for all three. Having grown up with a dad who got sober I was familiar with the slogans and prayers and pomp and circumstance to be found at an AA meeting. Within in moments, like clockwork all of it was there. But just as fast, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Also, these people were really fucked up. I mean seriously. Relapses, depression, suicide attempts, jail time and that was all from people who’d been sober awhile! Where was the hugging and smiling and instant life-fixing? It sure the fuck wasn’t next to the Mary Higgins Clark books and burnt coffee in the senior center library. Still, I was desperate enough to stay and listen. I listened as a tough looking Latino guy (who would have comfortably fit into Category number 2 if times were rough and trust me, they were) read the questions and other alcoholics answered them. I listened to a hipster dude talk about how his world had improved. I listened to a girl cry who said drinking had made her life a mess. But mainly, I listened to people who kept coming to meetings. For years. And years. Older men, the smiling variety who didn’t fit into any of my categories, shared about how they kept coming to meetings and never drank, no matter what. Hearing this I started to cry. Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes. An eternity spent in dank smelly libraries listening to drunk people who tried to kill themselves. Somehow I don’t think I put this scenario on my vision board.

At the end of the meeting, my friend the smiling guy gave me a chip, he hugged me and told me to keep coming back. “Like Hell I will!”, I thought to myself. But I did come back. Because even though this seemed like the end of the world and the last fucking thing I wanted to do, my life was just beginning. Mainly, I came back because I wasn’t fixed yet and maybe it wouldn’t happen in one sitting but at least these people were laughing and weren’t drinking. No, I wouldn’t have imagined a new start happening in a shitty senior center in downtown LA but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

little old normal me

“The important thing is to go below the clichés to touch the texture of your experience. Your mind is hungry to be alive. You give us that gift by laying down your true mind on the page. We read it and you open up fields of our own imagination.”

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Sometimes I need Natalie Goldberg to write. I always need coffee. I  always need to shower first.  I often need music. But only in tricky times do I call on the writing goddess that is Natalie Goldberg to help get me started. And she always delivers. The quote above this Pegasus thing (initially chosen for its title but made the cut because I actually started to like it) is in response to a student of her’s who worried that she couldn’t write a memoir because her life was too “normal.” In a way only she can do, Goldberg assured this student and then readers of her book that all  true experiences have worth. This passage, entitled “Ordinary”, really spoke to me today.

I’m in the process of reorganizing this here blog and my web presence in general and naturally when projects which require sensibility and objectivity arise, I like to slip into something less comfortable like my old buddy self-doubt. Like the student in the chapter, I’ve been worried about being normal. Now I’m secure enough to know my multiple diseases and inherent sparkly self are enough to keep me out of permanent beige town. But what if I’m too quirky that it becomes annoying? Or what if I run out of clever things to say (perish the thought!). What if my life has stopped being crazy and I have nothing left to write about? Goldberg answered all of that and essentially told me to “shut up and keep going.”

And if you think about it-normal is an adventure for people like me. After decades of self-created drama, the challenge today lies in living the truth. Things like calling people back, following through on plans, paying bills are out of the norm for me. In addition to honoring my day-to-day experiences, I need to embrace “normal” life and go against my programming to be, dare I say it, happy! Talk about drama and the ultimate fish out of water story! I owe it to myself to keep going because this normal adventure is really interesting.

So if you just paid your phone bill or cleaned your house or showed up to work on time today, congratulations! If you are used to living in calamity and uncertainty and today your life is pretty quiet, I salute you! If you can now be counted on and trusted, way to go! You are deliciously, unabashedly normal. And I think that’s pretty spectacular.

The Glamour of Getting it All Down

From the time I was 16 until I was 22, I worked at my parent’s bookstore. Okay, it was really my mom’s store. My cop dad was just along for the ride.  Her love of books and art made her quit her accounting job and buy a funky bookstore-poster shop-framing business combo in South Denver. I gleefully became her employee. My other attempts at teenage employment were tragic including a brief stint at McDonald’s wherein a manager said with zero irony in his voice, “You might be the worst person that ever worked here.” Such a critique didn’t really break my fifteen-year old heart which longed for something else. Naturally, working around books was a dream come true. Because as much as I loved Chicken McNuggets, books and writing were always the true loves of my life.

In my years as a bookstore employee, I must have looked at thousands of book jackets and author’s photos.  But the jackets of Dame Barbra Cartland, romance novelist extraordinaire never failed to crack me up. Cartland was always photographed with that fuzzy Vaseline on the lens look in an ornately decorated room and flocked by small, poofy dogs. Writing Cortland style looked so fabulous. I never read the books but I had to admire the sparkly manner in which she lived.  Little did I know that writing full-time is sometimes not so pretty and other times really fucking hard.

I bring all of this up because in this six month journey of writing this blog, I’ve realized for the jillionth time that this writing thing is not for wussies. The creative blockage, the rejections, the buckets of self-doubt are exactly the things that kept me from pursuing writing while I was drinking and using. As a copywriter for the last two years, I’ve been blessed to get my muscles in shape. I have articles, blogs, product blurbs, press releases and the like due for clients daily. I don’t have time to tell myself that I suck and no one will ever read what I write. This is an extreme blessing. Left to my own self-sabotaging devices, I would wallow in coulda been ideas and wonder if there wasn’t a way I could become a glamorous, famous writer without ever actually having to, you know, write. Cue the Tom Waits and the jug of whiskey.

Luckily, this steady stream of work opened me up to the possibilities of bigger ideas hence the birth of my first play and my second one on the way. I started this here blog right after my first play went into production. Mainly because I was given the excellent advice to keep writing and tackling the next project on my list. So I knew I wanted to write about being an addict and alcoholic and gay and HIV positive. Not that I’m an expert or have any startling revelations about any of these things but because I couldn’t find a book that talked about this stuff that also had a sense of humor about itself.  There’s a great quote by Toni Morrison which says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So that’s what happened. I think I pictured writing these clever musings about recovery down, the world applauding and a giant check like those big phony ones they give away on the Price is Right arriving at my door. Instead, I’ve been extremely touched humbled and baffled by then process. Talking about this stuff that nobody likes to talk about opens the door for more people to say, “Oh! Me too!!” Which has been the unexpected and brilliant gift with the whole thing. I’ve been turned on to a world of  amazing writers that I would not have found otherwise. Many of them from backgrounds just like mine.  Also, I never  anticipated how many feelings revisiting my old life would bring up. I thought all of the hours of crying in 12 step meetings zapped the power out of most of that stuff and it has for the most part. But it’s still exhausting and at times terrifying traveling back down roads that once tried to kill you. I’ve had posts that take the wind out of me or take me days to write due to my emotional response.

Ultimately, it feels great though. I’m halfway in my journey and I can see the book I wanted to read start to take shape. Glamorous? Hardly. But doing what I want and staying out-of-the-way of the process the best I can.  And that makes me like that fabulous author on the back of the book jacket.

Unmemories, Like the Corners of My Mind

I want to write my unmemoir. You know, a whole book about the things I don’t remember. An entire volume of the shoulda, woulda coulda adventures that may or may not have happened in a blackout. And by “a blackout” I mean the years 1992- 2008.

Now I am not suggesting I spent the entire 16-year span of 1992 and 2008 entirely in a blackout. I’m not Nick Nolte for crying out loud. But I did start having blackouts around the age of 21 and didn’t stop experiencing them until I got sober in 2009. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can’t remember lately because of Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg wrote the essential writing classic Writing Down the Bones and I’m currently working my way through her book on writing memoirs entitled Old Friend from Far Away. Goldberg is fond of the exercise of writing pieces that begin with “I remember” or “I don’t remember”. These are great little prompts to get the brain warmed up and working. I have been doing the exercises as suggested and soon started to think more about “I don’t remember.” Enter the unmemoir idea. Mainly, the unmemoir would have to consist of delusions and lies, which is my favorite combination right after “grilled cheese and tomato soup” and just before “smoking and talking shit.” My unmemoir would have lots of half stories. Beginnings or just endings. Rarely would the middle of the story show up. Mainly because in the middle of the action is where I would totally blackout. It became normal, for years at a time, for people to say to me matter of fact, “You probably don’t remember. You were really drunk.” Like it was some kind of acceptable handicap. Like being a blackout drunk excused me from acting like a human being. But really being a blackout drunk doesn’t get you a special parking space and doesn’t entitle you to a telethon. The only perk is that people will let you off the hook for  not remembering things and quietly pity you.

I might sound like I’m waxing poetic about blackouts but I’m not. It’s a horrible way to exist. It’s like living in Memento everyday. Wondering who you called or what fucked up texts you sent or how you got home. Ugh. And I spent YEARS like this. My blackouts usually took me on dangerous quests for more alcohol, drugs or sex with strangers– or all three if I was really in the dark. Or I would just yell at someone I allegedly loved and then pass out. Charming.  Today, like it or not, I get to remember everything. And none of my behavior can be written off because I was too fucked up. And so, many of the pages of my unmemoir have to remain empty. The story is that there is no story. That not remembering must be a protection or a blessing or just part of the deal. And that anything I did or didn’t do during a blackout were just the actions of a guy suffering from a disease. Tragic acts not worth writing down. Acts that don’t make for good reading but make for excellent reminders.