boundaries, electric fences & cattleprods

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“I’ve got to set some boundaries.” I never understood when people said that. It sounded so self-involved and overly serious. However, as a person would routinely get drunk and tell you what I thought of your personality and how you live your life, the concept of boundaries is something clearly lost on me. I never had boundaries. My motto for two Clinton administrations as well as two with Bush was firmly, “I don’t give a fuck.” Being inappropriate wasn’t something I worried about. It was a life-goal. Now, with a few years sober, I have new life goals that, thankfully, don’t involve telling people to fuck themselves. And recently, I’ve found myself setting boundaries of my own.

Here’s the deal with this “boundaries” thing as I currently understand it. Turns out, they start with me and rarely do other people–you know, the inappropriate ones– even know this big dramatic boundary was even set! Go figure. My emotional sobriety over the last several months has put me in several situations where professionally, personally and even in recovery I’ve had to say, “Hey this feels crazy and I need to nip it in the bud.” This is progress for the guy who used to send drunken tirade text messages. But it’s an unfamiliar practice for me as a chronic people pleaser who also likes to get drunk and yell at you.

It’s helped to have spiritual guidance. The person I call my sponsor has guided me through these uncharted waters. I need a push occasionally from a person outside the situation and he’s always good for that. He’s showed me that boundaries like fences keep us safe and keep us out of sticky situations. I need to set boundaries for me. Other people, as it turns out, kind of don’t give a crap. With a work situation recently, I agonized over sending an email because I worried that I’d come off as a jerk or that I over-stepped. My boss wrote me back quickly and basically thanked me profusely for letting him know what the issues were. This boundary and the subsequent response blew my mind open. I’m in charge of my own self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how I draw the line in the sand or how dramatic a pronouncement I make. If I don’t take the actions and if I’m doing it for other people, it ain’t gonna work out. I couldn’t get sober for other people and I can’t stay emotionally sober for them either. Recovery has taught me that I can open my mouth when something isn’t right and more often than not that simple act can save my life.

Hello Stranger

Fancy bumping into you here. I’d love to share a cigarette with you or buy you a drink but I don’t do either one of those things anymore. Instead, please enjoy this Barbara Lewis track and we’ll get all caught up.

Not enough songs have shoo-bop-shoo-bop-my baby in them, do they? Anyway, the internet breadcrumbs have recently led me back to blogging. I live my life one day at a time so I can’t promise I’ll be blogging everyday for the next 15 years but currently it feels like a good thing to do. I’ve been wrestling with a new play which went from this seemingly fun, frothy piece into a deeply personal,”shit got real” kind of work. So like a good addict, I’ve been avoiding it. It’s too hard. It’s too personal. It’s too raw. It’s too me. Thing is, I can’t run from it anymore and it’s demanding that I finish it.  These sorts of projects usually sit on my chest in the middle of the night and say, “Look. Finish me or I will make your life hell!” So much for being a master avoider. Curses, foiled again.anigif_original-26198-1430253629-9

So bleeding on the page and finishing my script is something I’m doing this week. If you hear crying and howling and general bitching, it’s just me, your tortured playwright friend who really isn’t that tortured but insists on making his life more dramatic than it really is. I know. Exhausting.

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I’ve recently crossed over into a new realm of my life and recovery and it’s kind of freaking me out, in a good way. When I got sober in 2009, I’d hear these people talk about how they experienced a neutrality around other people and how  difficult life situations would come up but not cause complete havoc.  My usual response was something to the effect of, “Good for them but they’re totally lying.” As usual, they, that ubiquitous all-knowing “they” were right. At 6 years and 6 months sober, I get it. I’ve had some stuff come up over the last few months that would normally spin me the fuck out and yet it hasn’t. Instead, I’m accepting stuff, feeling my emotions and moving the fuck on. Ah-ha! THIS is what they’ve been yammering about in meetings for years. IT DOES EXIST!

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Oh but the journey is not over. Just yesterday when I was a total dick to one of my co-workers, I was reminded that I still have a long, long way to go. In order to continue to experience the magical Pegasus sobriety that I have currently, I’ll have to do the work. Which includes making amends to people who drive me crazy. Sigh. At least, today I have people, people like you, who know what I’m going through and know how to do this thing called life sober. I appreciate you and I promise I won’t be a stranger.

follow me stereo jungle child

Somewhere in the ethos, somewhere in VHS tape Narnia. Somewhere in a Memorex/memory junkyard exists that videotape of me. No, not “videotape” in a Kim K. Ray J way. Mercifully, I never made a tape like that. Mainly because I could never think of why I’d want such an item. “Hey there’s nothing but reruns on. Good thing I have that old sex tape!”  Yikes. No, the tape I’m discussing is the filmed evidence of the  super weird, super gay, super crazy kid I’ve always been. On said tape, I can be found lip synching to Girls Just Want to Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper.  From what I remember, it’s a pretty entertaining performance. I was 11-years old and had studied Lauper’s every dance move and facial expression. For 80’s kids who worshipped at the church of MTV, lip synching skills and a repertoire of dance moves were essential skills and mine are on display in this tape. You’ll just have to take my word for it. I was spectacular.

Not spectacular in the same way the icon on display in the video above is but spectacularly a kid being 100% himself. Gay, weird, creative me dancing and lip synching and genuinely not giving a shit about what people thought about me. I danced to my own drummer and usually it was in my living room to  Cyndi or to this song

or this song

or this song

I didn’t need some dumb coffee cup to tell me to “dance like no one was watching.” I did it anyway. In fact, I danced, colored, played, lip synched with my whole heart, regardless of what people were watching. Simply put, I was free which is a powerful thing to type when you spent as many years as I did being alcohol’s bitch. But on that elusive video there it is evidence of my freedom and my spirit. Despite being knocked down, drugged out, battered and bruised, the free version of me was possible. The video proved it. So did the drawings, the glitter covered Christmas decorations, the crazy poems.

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While that tape may no longer exist, I’m happy to report that my freedom does. Recovery has truly helped me get it back. Right now, I’m in the middle of rewrites and finishing drafts on projects and remembering that kid filled with freedom is an important thing for me. Too often it’s that voice that says, “You are not good enough! Why bother!” that keeps me out of freedom and in total paralysis. I guess what I want to say on this rainy Wednesday is that my life is better when I remember to take care of that free crazy, authentic little being inside of me. He needs to be put on the dance and given permission to spin around.  So I hope you let your wild child dance today, even just for a little while. Remember what a wise woman once said, “All you need is your own imagination. So use it that’s what it’s for. Go inside, for your finest inspiration. Your dreams will open the door.”

 

 

 

 

Is it too late to become a penguin?

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I only ask because after watching a documentary on the Patagonia, I think penguins could teach me a thing or two about compassion, loyalty and direction. Seeing these waddling little characters travel thousands of miles every year without getting lost and then finding their mates nest with no specific markings is beyond impressive especially when you consider they all look identical. But somehow the couples find one another, year after year. And unless we kill them all (people suck.) they’ll keep it doing it and we might not ever know how or why. Maybe Google should hire penguins to help with mapping. Anywhoo, their affection and loyalty is as impressive as their built-in GPS. These penguins stay mated for their whole lives and wait for one another while the female goes and searches for food. If you asked most singles what they want in a relationship, I could bet it would sound a lot like the penguin life I just described. At the end of the day, we want somebody to be there when we get home, to do their part to help the machine run and to help us protect our chicks so they don’t get eaten by sea lions. Okay maybe not that last one.  For more proof that penguins rule, may I present Cookie?

I think with all the news, it’s easy to believe that as I mentioned earlier (jokingly) that people are the worst. I mean they don’t really try that hard to refute that theory. Ain’t that right, Paula Deen, Paul Ryan and all of Washington? A friend in the program once wisely told me, “No matter how great they are, people are gonna let you down.”  Yet there’s something freeing too in knowing that people, myself included, are going to screw up and do so royally. Maybe in a covert way I can even take the lessons of the penguin to help me be a better person. It sounds crazy but trust me I lived in LA for 15 years and I ‘ve certainly heard of wackier spiritual solutions. Hey, that’s not a bad idea.  Finding Your Inner Penguin: Waddle Your Way to Your Ideal Relationship coming to a Marriott conference room near you!

I’m actually happy being a person, despite all of our flaws. Besides, if I was a penguin, I would have  had to spend my childhood eating regurgitated fish. Yuck. Like I don’t have enough issues already.

Eff It Forty

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Seven months into being 40-years-old, something extraordinary has happened: I don’t give a crap. Not in a screw the world, I hate everybody kind of way. But I’m really done with sweating the small stuff, worrying about what people think of me and wasting my time on relationships that are dead ends. The great Laura Hayes, one of the original Queens of Comedy, describes this attitude as ‘Fuck it Forty’. This feels accurate. The things I used to stress out about, the people I used to coddle, the petty garbage that would pollute my mind and waste my time- fuck it. This is an incredible freedom and like a major milestone. They should really tell more people about this when they turn forty. Like they should print cards that say, “Happy 40th birthday! Please enjoy not giving a flying fuck!”

During my last play, the effects of “Fuck it Forty” really reared its liberating head. Flaky friends kept calling, emailing and sending text messages promising they’d be coming to my show. Them not showing up or canceling or making a big deal about getting there    soon became as dramatic as anything we put on stage. And then when they don’t come there’s all these crazy ass apologies and lame excuses. And people always think you’re going to be mad at them, but here’s the thing, thanks to being forty, I don’t care.

Yes, I love them. Yes, I’d like them to see my shows. But really I don’t care. First of all, there will always be another show. Second of all, we sold out most of our run and had lots of people come, so a few flaky friends who couldn’t get their crap together didn’t sink our production. I love the people I know and want to see them but if they don’t show up, it’s no longer a big deal.I no longer hold stuff against them or try to make them pay for not doing exactly what I want them to do.  For a person who spent most of his life worried that you were mad at him or that you hated him or that you were going to leave him, this is indeed an incredible transformation. Maybe its not ‘fuck it’ at all. Maybe its more that after four decades on this planet, the things that are important (my recovery, my relationship, my family, my spiritual life) have risen to the top and the other stuff just isn’t as pressing. Whatever it is, its a welcome shift and worth the number that comes along with it.

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.

Crazy pants

The very minute I start to research how apply for guru status in hopes of becoming this country’s new gay, white Oprah, is the very minute something happens that reminds I’m not in fact some all-knowing sage mystic sitting on a hill in Sedona. Yes, all it takes is one encounter that could have been avoided to confirm that I am indeed still batshit after all these years.

Without getting into the insane yet mundane details, I can tell you I had a meeting that turned into a screaming match. I’ve had a disagreement with a work collaborator for months and earlier this week things finally erupted.  It went from 0 to Housewives in 2.5 seconds. I sprung a Nene Leake, if you will. While these kind of explosions make for great television, they don’t really fit in with the way I try to live my life. Besides on those shows, the overdone screaming broads are usually nursing a kiddie pool filled with Pinot Grigio when one these kind of things happen. At 10:30am on a Tuesday morning with 3.5 years of sobriety, I didn’t have that excuse.

These days at Sean Inc. where the living being I encounter the most is my cat, yelling at another adult with my finger waving is not something I make the habit of doing. I mean, I’m supposed to be sober. I’m supposed to the kind of person who doesn’t yell at people anymore. But there I was screaming like a lunatic and I stormed off. Actually leaving was the smartest thing I did in that entire 10 minutes.  Yes a mere 10 minutes. It only took that long to turn me into a total lunatic.

I quickly discovered, as I rage-walked to wherever-the-hell I was going, that “letting someone have it” or “giving them a piece of my mind” doesn’t feel so good any more. In fact, it feels horrible. But what did happen, as the result of the crazy exchange, is that something dysfunctional finally ended. Would I have preferred to end this arrangement with an impeccably handwritten note on rose-scented monogrammed paper? Sure. Alas dignity and manners were tossed out the window  in favor of a ghetto “cuss a bitch out” type of exit. Oh well.

The good news is that I didn’t hang up the phone and go get drunk. Which was how I dealt with the aftermath of confrontation before. Instead, I called people in recovery. I went to a meeting. I told on myself for acting insane. And yesterday, I apologized to the person on the receiving end of my crazypants bullshit and made a real amends. This is truly an improvement and proof positive that even though my crazypants still fit me, it’s up to me whether of not I want to wear them all the time. Besides, my crazypants are out of style,  look ridiculous on me and have no place in current my spiritual wardrobe, so to speak. A few days after the blow-up, the fallout has been cleared and I feel better. It’s freeing to say, “Yeah, I’m fucking nuts but I’m working on it” and then carry on with the promise to try harder. Owning your insanity, I’ve heard it said, instantly makes you a little less crazier than you were before. If that’s the case, I’m on way to be becoming the poster child for mental health miracles!

Can’t Hurt Me Now

You can’t hurt me now
I got away from you, I never thought I would
You can’t make me cry, you once had the power
I never felt so good about myself

‘Oh Father’, Madonna 1989

For a super effeminate card-carrying Madonna fan who sparkled a little bit harder than the Golden, Colorado kids in the 4H program, high school was not always a walk in the park. Or if it was a walk in the park, it was a walk in a park where they yelled “Hey faggot!’ at you. I was routinely pushed and tormented and spent my senior year with charming slurs scratched into my locker door.  It sucked but armed with my smartassed sense of humor and a few tough girlfriends, I survived. Mainly, I just didn’t really show up that often. I mean, ditching class, smoking cigarettes and shoplifting were more fun and less traumatic. By senior year I had friends and wasn’t harassed as much and did my own share of bullying to keep afloat. Like any good Madonna fan, I learned how to strike a good ,”if you don’t like me, go fuck yourself” pose. I worked, I went to concerts and bad teen clubs and oh yeah- I did drugs and drank. But then again, you knew that about me. (Spoiler alert: this drinking and drug thing doesn’t turn out so good for your’s truly.)

As delightful as talking about high school is, there is a point here. Last week, I had lunch with a friend from that institution. She was always one of the good ones. We were laughing about high school and the ridiculous people we survived together. Our 20th reunion was last summer, which I did not attend. I was about to explain why when my brilliant friend interrupted and said, “Oh I don’t blame you. They were awful to you.” She then went on to recall a time when she was walking down the hall with me as the homophobic cretins yelled names at me. She was horrified and the memory has haunted her.. “Thank you”, is what I blurted out as she finished her story. It was a weird thing to say but I meant it from the bottom of my heart. In truth, I don’t know why the hell I said it. Maybe I was thanking her for having the courage to be my friend even though the people in the hallway clearly thought that was a bad idea. Or maybe I was thanking her for her honesty. At the center of my gratitude, as I figured out later on during the day, was her acknowledgement. It was so cathartic to hear someone else say notice that people were awful to me. When you’re in that kind of thing, you think it’s bad but it’s hard to know the truth. To have another person say, “that wasn’t okay” is incredibly healing. See, her younger brother was bullied too for being Jewish. So even though my friend was a popular girl with lots of friends, she understood. I wasn’t alone. It’s important for me to remember, it wasn’t just me.  The county I went to school in was not a bastion of love and tolerance. It had an epidemic of bullying, suicides and racially charged violence in the late 1980s and early 90s. Nine years later, this county’s problems would come to a boiling point and it would be put on the map, thanks to the massacre at Columbine High School.

What’s funny is that I am no longer angry or resentful at my tormentors. Yes, I was thrilled when she told me most of them got fat and look horrible- hello, I’m a human being. But overall, I don’t care.I know was a little shit too and probably caused as much pain to someone else. The best revenge is being fabulous, growing up and moving on. And I think I’ve accomplished those things for the most part. But more than that I have compassion for myself and all of the kids I went to school with. These people can’t hurt me or piss me off today. The key is that I’m no longer hurting myself either. Like everything else fantastic in my life, my forgiveness around high school can be attributed to recovery from drugs and alcohol. Thanks to facing my demons, I don’t have to fake the tough Madonna attitude. I legitimately don’t give a shit and I do so with love. So I bristle whenever I hear about bullying and the well-meaning yet over simplified “It Gets Better” campaigns. Yes, it does get better but not if you don’t do the work. We owe it to ourselves to get better too. I’ll shut up now and  let Madonna explain it:

“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”

Isn’t He Great?

Here’s a hot tip: If you have the unique ability to treat yourself like the sludge that comes out of the sewer while pretending you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you might consider living in Los Angeles! The City of Angels is plum-full of people who act like they’re hot shit but treat themselves like actual shit. The creative types (and well, addicts) that flock to LA are masters at shining when it matters and self-mutilating when no one’s looking. So naturally I took to Los Angeles like a closeted homosexual takes to Evangelical preaching. See, in Los Angeles you don’t have to be a celebrity to feel entitled or faux-important. You just have to be next to someone awesome with amazing accomplishments to demand the same treatment they have.  Your neighbor landing a sitcom, for example, is basically like you getting your own sitcom. Therefore you should get the respect, free gift baskets and prescription drugs that they do. Location is everything in LA so as long as you can see fabulous from where you are, you can convince the world you are fabulous. Even if you have to squint really hard.

Much like the dump apartments that claim to be Beverly Hills Adjacent, I was hot shit adjacent. My best friend knew that guy who directed that thing. Oh and that girl who was in that band was at the same restaurant where I had my birthday party. And I even brought burritos over to the guy who was on that show that everybody loved but got cancelled. So yeah, I was pretty important. In reality, I had my brushes with important or fabulous but I was actually just another wasted club kid who was usually on the guest list but not always invited to the after party. The accolades and fame I so desired for doing absolutely nothing, unsurprisingly, alluded me. I couldn’t understand that I actually had to write something to be a writer or that the people I knew who were successful really busted their asses and sometimes sold their souls to get there. Even Kato Kaelin had the foresight to crash in a celebrity’s guest house. Hard work, unless it involved tracking down drink specials or drug dealers, didn’t really interest me. My entitlement was also a great catalyst to keep using and drinking. I deserved to get loaded because I was fabulous or not fabulous enough or because I had a job or lost a job or because I simply wasn’t enough. So there I was on the outskirts, watching others I knew end up on TV or the bestsellers list while I waited tables and scraped change together to buy wine at Rite-Aid. Living the dream!

Thankfully there’s nothing like getting sober to shake off the wannabe celebrity disease. The humiliation, the feeling like hammered hell, the losing of all the material possessions, the asking people you don’t like for help, is enough to pull one’s entitled head out of his lazy ass. For a while anyway. I’m still me so that means some days I truly think I should get an award for cleaning my bathroom or that the entire population should applaud every time I hold the door open for someone. I mean don’t they know who I am? Now, however,when my diva moments happen, almost immediately a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder will come around and slap me across the face to tell me, “Bitch you might be fabulous but you still have a long way to go.” And I wholeheartedly agree. On both counts.

 

hotmail, hot mess.

It must have been nice to be a crazy alcoholic back in the good old days. In that golden era before phones, email, text messages and Facebook, you could just tell people face-to-face all kinds of awful things drunk people say while intoxicated. Slurred assaults like “You never loved me” or “I liked you better ten pounds ago”  could just do their immediate damage and that would be the end of it.  Sure, perhaps the folks on the receiving end of these booze-soaked barbs would recoil and run the opposite direction whenever you entered the room but you wouldn’t have to worry about the words themselves coming back. Today, the Ghost of  Tequila Tantrums Past likes to haunt my inbox with moronic messages from YesterBeer.

This week, I stumbled on a doozie when I was searching my inbox for a pre-maturely deleted client email. See, I know it’s hard to believe but when I drank a lot, (which was the only way I drank, by the way) I had an annoying habit of saying brutal and horrible things to people I loved. And it was always under the guise of “being honest” or some crap. Like those drunk reality stars always say, “I’m just keeping it real” or “I’m using my voice” or my favorite– “Just sayin'”. No what you’re just doing is being a hateful, crazy douchebag. And that’s how I rolled. I didn’t know that I could be honest or state my opinion without being horrible or abusive. When you’re drunk seven nights a week, normal communication is a puzzling prospect. It was far easier to pound out a shitty, nonsensical text message or email while wasted and deal with the fallout later. The recently resurfaced email misdemeanor was written to my ex in 2007, two years before I got sober. I’ll save you the boring and tragic details but the email essentially apologized for the bad behavior from the night before. What made the email remarkable was how pedestrian and insincere it was. The tone of the whole thing is of the “Sorry I forgot to pickup more cat litter” variety and  not of the more appropriate “Oh my god I’m horrified that I screamed at you” flavor. I read the entire email thread, shaking my head in disbelief that I ever lived that way. Alas, this was not the only email trainwreck in ye old inbox. An apology over a barbecue blackout and the continuation of an epic drunken text battle were also readily available for my reading enjoyment.

Out of curiosity’s sake, I entered more search terms into Hotmail to see what old chestnuts they would produce. I mean this stuff no longer has the power to humiliate me anymore and I’m not living in shame about my past so why not? The words “drunk” and “sober” came up with another form of email that also shocked me. Like messages in a bottle, my email communication from 2009 were calls for help. “I don’t know what to do”, “I can’t stop crying”, and “I’m scared” are some of the sentences that stood out. I got a little teary eyed reading these but I couldn’t stop.  It was like reading a book where the crazy character who said he was “keeping it real” actually got real and asked for help. Other searches turned up job rejections, bold faced lies, SOS emails asking for money and even some embarrassing Craigslist dating ads.  Abruptly, I stopped the email archelogical dig. I got the message I was suppose to hear. Just because  Hotmail was going to hold on to this stuff no matter how many times I pressed the delete button or how old it was, didn’t mean I had to. I could read, remember and be grateful for the life I have now and truly “delete” the shame attached to old words and behaviors.