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The Focus of Desire

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THE FOCUS OF DESIRE

One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

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He May Have the Nuclear Codes, But He Can’t Have My Brain

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HE MAY HAVE THE NUCLEAR CODES, BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN 

Last night I finally did something I’ve been needing to do for weeks: I turned off my computer. I looked the angry orange tweeter who lives in the big white house right in his puffy eyes and I said, “No. You may not come in to my head anymore.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I learned to be hypervigilant. The only way to feel safe when there is a wild man in the house is to always know where he is, what he’s doing, and what kind of mood he’s in. You become ultra-aware: Are his eyes read? Does his breath smell like Clorets mints? Even from upstairs, you can hear the freezer door open and the ice clink in the glass.

It’s about survival. You need to know when it’s safe to ask for lunch money or a school permission slip, and when to lock your bedroom door, crank up the Grateful Dead, and hunker down.

Survival

So of course when an impulsive wild man moved into the Oval Office last week, I automatically took it upon myself to keep an eye on him. And this time it’s quite literally about survival. Right? Planetary survival. If I’m not keeping an eye on him, who will stop him from dropping a nuclear weapon on North Korea? Or Germany, if Angela Merkel says something uncomplimentary.

It feels almost suicidal to detach and ignore him for any length of time. I wonder how Mike Pence feels? He must know how batty his boss is by now. Can he sleep?

At least a half dozen Facebook friends have posted pleas for help with detachment this week. How do I tune him out? How will I stay sane? How do I cope with the grief and fear? How will I not burn out, trying to protect Muslims and Native Americans and gay people and African American kids and the whole frickin’ planet??

I always offer helpful advice about going for walks, and laughing with friends, and meditating. And turning off the computer. But I don’t take the advice myself.

Until last night.

Just Say No

I had gone out with dear friends the night before and although we talked about the nation’s perils and our resulting emotional states, we also laughed and listened to open mic offerings and drank wine.

I confessed to staying up later and later each night, 2 a.m., then 3, then 4, monitoring @RealDonaldTrump and retweeting and posting on Facebook and looking for pictures that capture the moment.

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lady-liberty-weeping

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I can’t focus during the day, I get nothing done. Can’t write. My friends expressed concern, hugged me, sympathized.

Somehow getting away from Crazyland for an evening broke the spell. It was good to hear myself say out loud, “I stayed up until 4 a.m. tweeting to Donald Trump.” Talk about crazy! It gave me the strength to push that “off” button on my computer last night.

I pulled up the drawbridge to my psyche, slapped a big ol’ “Keep Out” sign on it, and read my novel. And today I am saying no again. No Twitter, no Facebook, no trump™.

Pray Without Ceasing

Maybe trump™ will start a nuclear war while I’m reading my novel. I saw before I exited Twitter last night that he had signed something called the Military Preparedness Order. This after signing the Muslim ban.

muslim-ban

But there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is take care of myself so that I have the energy to take action when I can make a difference. To march, to write, to call Senators. To care for those who are hurting and afraid.

And to pray without ceasing for the Syrian children who may die because of what our nation has done.

Omran

Omran

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Scar – A Poem

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I have a scar on the bridge of my nose, straight across.

I don’t see it, but others do.

Especially in the summer, when the slash of skin darkens.

It’s narrow, but long, slightly curved

like the edge of the paint can

my tiny toddler nose encountered

at the bottom of the basement stairs.

One person who always saw the scar,

saw it all his life

was my father

who was supposed to be watching me

when I tumbled

over and over,

down and down.

“We can get that fixed,”

he would say.

“It’s OK,” I would say.

It didn’t bother me

the way it bothered him.

Or maybe I liked that it bothered him.

I used to wonder, was he drinking?

paint-bucket_zy8Lrv_O

In response to today’s word prompt: Scars

That’s a Strange Post for Martin Luther King Day

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Ignominious. Isn’t that a marvelous word? I thought it might be fun to pull a favorite word out of my gray matter once in a while and write about it. Kind of stream of consciousness, but not entirely because that’s hard to do without sounding ignominiously affected. Virginia Woolf, I am not.

Anyway, ignominious is an adjective that means “deserving or causing public disgrace or shame.” Some synonyms include humiliating, undignified, embarrassing, and mortifying. I’m not sure why the word popped into my head this morning. Perhaps it’s because some friends and I were talking about family alcoholism and drug addiction, and stories of shame and disgrace naturally came up.

I’ve been thinking about alcoholism a lot lately, I guess because of the drunken fiasco in the streets of Philadelphia that I witnessed on New Year’s Eve, and because a friend of mine’s husband just died from the disease. I drafted a blog about alcoholism, but it’s on hold, along with yet another one about differing views on God, this one brought on when my atheist neighbor passed away last week.

I’m not writing about those things, though, I’m writing about ignominiousness. Ooo – it’s even better in the form of a noun, isn’t it? It somehow brings to mind the sound a spider might make skittering along it’s web to bind up fresh prey. Ignominiousness, ignominiousness . . .

I read in the Oxford dictionary that there are few words that rhyme fully with ignominious. The name Phineas, as in, “The dirty dancing of Phineas was ignominious.” And another word — new to me — consanguineous, which denotes people descended from the same ancestor: “My attempt to prove that Virginia Woolf and I are consanguineous was ignominious.”

And my favorite ignominious-rhyming word, which probably deserves a whole blog post of its own: sanguineous. I’ve always loved the word sanguine, meaning optimistic or positive, especially in the face of a bad situation. I love what it means, and I love how it sounds.

And what about the noun, sanguineousness? That sounds nothing at all like skittering spiders — more like a sea otter gliding across the ocean on its back with a pup on its tummy.

Well, even a stream of consciousness post must have some sort of point. Since it’s Martin Luther King Day, let’s make it about racial justice. And here it is: despite many being in positions of power, despite some being armed to the teeth, despite having a legal system skewed their direction, opponents of racial justice in America will eventually go down in ignominious defeat.

Like the police who turned firehoses full-force on peaceful African-American marchers so many years ago and created for themselves an eternal, ignominious reputation, the systems of white privilege, which many white people are unable to see simply because they know nothing else, will — eventually — be nothing but an ignominious chapter in the history books.

And that’s not just sanguineousness. That’s the arc of history bending towards justice.

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To Try

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I try. I’ve always tried. When I was a kid, I tried to be good, I tried to be smart, I tried to keep the peace in our house. Kids think the world revolves around them (you may also know adults who did not outgrow this) so they try extra hard to control things, especially in an unpredictable alcoholic household.

I’ve always tried to avoid conflict. It reminds me of the dinner table when I was growing up, where I couldn’t understand my father’s tirades or my mother’s silence in the face of family chaos. I tried to be invisible so as not to become the target of paternal wrath or sibling ridicule.

When I was a teenager, I tried to belong; I tried to be the cutest and the coolest; I tried to act like I didn’t care. I tried to end the Vietnam war.

As a young adult, I tried. I tried everything. I tried to see how many drugs I could take without passing out or going bankrupt and how much tequila I could drink and still drive home. I tried to see how many boyfriends I could run through.

Thankfully, grace abounds.

As an older adult, I tried to get ahead in my career as an environmental lobbyist, and I tried to be a good mentor and manager. I tried to make members of Congress vote against the polluting industries that funded their campaigns. You see how well that worked out.

Trying to Save My Sanity

When I was young, I tried to save my father from the bottle, but he died at fifty-eight. In recent years, I tried to save my brother from mental illness and heart failure. That didn’t work either. He passed away in December.

Nowadays I try really hard. I try to work through my grief. I try to “let go and let God,” to surrender my illusions of control and accept what is. I think I finally get that I can’t control anything except myself, and that’s where I need to focus my trying.

I try to manage my time better. Because I know that life is short and getting shorter with every breath, I try to spend time with safe people doing things I enjoy. I spend quality time alone with God, whether that means journaling, meditating, or being out in nature.

I try not to try so hard, and I remember to schedule time for having fun. I just bought a djembe drum!

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So my trying is a constant, though the object of my effort evolves. Now I’m trying to learn to play the drum.

There are a few constants: I will always try to avoid math whenever possible. I will always try to be grateful. And I will always try to change the world; I think I’m hard-wired for that. That’s not trying to control, it’s trying to hope. I’ll be marching in the streets as long as I can, trying to end endless wars and trying to get action on climate change and trying to promote justice.

Because you have to try.

Trying

Trying

♦ ♦ ♦

Thanks to WordPress for today’s Daily Prompt: “Verbal Confirmation: To be, to have, to think, to move — which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?”   http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/verbal-confirmation/

Writing Challenge: The Story of John

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John had been here before, a long time ago. I watch as his eyes follow the train tracks into a copse of trees. His chocolate brown pupils have turned milky with age and look almost purple against the bloodshot whites.

“That was almost sixty years ago,” he says dreamily.

Then he straightens his shoulders, hitches up his belted black dress pants shiny with wear, and looks directly at me. “That’s when God put his hand on me and called me back,” he says with a vigorous nod.

John knows the moment he left God. He was fourteen, living in a small town in North Carolina not far from where his family had been enslaved a few generations before. One Sunday after church, John opined to his mama that he didn’t think he believed in the God that Granny’s pastor talked about, “the one who sends people to Hell and tells us we are despicable creatures. No sir, I didn’t know that God.”

“Mama whipped me good that time,” he said. But he was used to it. His mother often disappeared, going on drinking binges and leaving him alone for days at a time, only to beat him when she returned.

A few days later, still sore from the thrashing, John stepped out of a movie theater into the bright afternoon sunlight. His guilt-ridden mama had treated him to the show. “All the white folks were on the ground floor and all us blacks were up above. I decided it should not be like that. Things were wrong. That’s when I decided to go where the train goes.”

Going where the train goes...

Going where the train goes…

That’s also when John told his first lie. He asked a man outside the theater to give him a lift to the depot, and told him he had permission from his mother.

Then John hopped a train.

“Just like that,” he said. “My mama kept disappearing, so I disappeared.”

Enslavement and Liberation

By the time I noticed we were walking, we were some distance down the tracks. John was striding from tie to tie as if his feet had rediscovered an old familiar pathway, like fingers recalling a musical instrument after a lifetime away. I trailed behind.

“I had to lie again when I got to Raleigh,” John said over his shoulder. “I told the man at the depot I was sixteen and that my parents had died.” The man helped John find a job on one condition: that he go back to school. “Yes sir, God had his hand on me all along.” John shakes his head in wonder.

He stayed in school and worked afternoons at a hot dog stand. On Sundays, he would make good money selling wine and whiskey from behind his stand. “Soon enough I couldn’t do without the stuff; I was an alcoholic just like Mama.”

John slows his gait and looks up and down the tracks and over at the copse of trees. “Right about here,” he says, stopping,”right here.”

“One night I was sitting by the tracks — here — with another wino, wondering where we were going to find the money for more booze. All of a sudden, I see he’s crying. I asked him, ‘What’s the matter, Pokey? Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to get more wine before we go to sleep.’

‘It’s not that,’ Pokey answered. ‘It’s you I’m worried about — you’re not going to make it.'”

John is silent for a while, as if reliving that conversation.

“That was my low point, yes it was,” he says finally. He toes the dust with his black lace-up shoe. “I thought about it all night. After that I went to an AA meeting and had a miracle. God took away my desire for alcohol. It’s more than drinking, it’s liberation . . . that’s where I found the true God.”

Pokey went to a few meetings with John, but he’s the one who didn’t make it. “He died of alcoholism in his forties,” John says, “but he saved my life.”

* * * * * *

Based on a true story (John’s name has been changed) and in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, which this week offered a selection of photographs and introductory lines to kick off a story. I chose the train tracks and a variation of “I had been here before, a long time ago.” Photo credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands/The Daily Post.

Breathing Room: Journaling in Space

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Last night while I slept, a miracle occurred: a new room was added to my house! I know this sounds unlikely, but the painters and carpenters who’ve been crawling all over my house are apparently using some pretty good amphetamines.

OK, maybe it was a dream. Only it wasn’t. It’s the WordPress Daily Prompt: An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. How do you use it?

This prompt is so obvious, I can’t pass it up. My three items would be my journal, a pen, and a chair. I’m hoping that my tea mug doesn’t count, but if it does, I’ll choose that and lose the chair.

My Clutter

In my home, there’s barely room to get dressed in the morning and little floor visible to vacuum. Let alone space on the couch to have a friend over. Every potential sitting spot is stacked with papers and books and piles of folded t-shirts, jeans, and socks. There’s no longer room in the bookshelves or dresser drawers to put stuff away.

My Morning Room

But enough of my woes! I have a new room – a breathing room. I will call it my morning room, and I will sit and journal for hours, undistracted by the guilt, shame, and despair I feel when I’m sitting amidst my clutter. Lots of light will pour through the latticed windows, outside of which flowerboxes will overflow with red geraniums. A hummingbird feeder will be hanging above the geraniums.

geraniums 001.b

Am I cheating by filling up the area outside the window? I think not. There are still just three things in my room. My journal, my pen, and my chair, which will be a wing-backed chair of the deepest royal blue – maybe even velvet! Or perhaps it will be a recliner with a foot rest, still blue velvet. The walls of the room will be various shades of purple and blue, and since it’s a magical room, I can change the wall colors just by imagining.

My Journal

My journaling will remain the same, a combination of here’s-what-I-did-and-here’s-what-I’m-going-to-do and an outpouring of anxieties and prayers and lists of things I need to work on – emotionally, spiritually, and in the material world. I’m sure if were to read back over the years I’d see helpful patterns, but the lack of progress might be depressing, so I don’t.

My blog readers tell me they like it when I share random journal entries, and this seems as good a place as any to include a few recent rambles.

  • May 23, on grief:

Five months. A few minutes ago, the phone rang twice and then stopped. His secret ring. Then I found a sheet of paper I’d been writing on the day he died. Notes about nursing homes and insurance coverage, and in the upper right-hand corner I had scrawled the room number he told me he was moving to after the test, except that the test proved fatal. Room 43461, it says. I had a wild thought to go visit it.

That’s all I want to say. It will be years and years before this penetrates. Those little reminders can slay you. Today I am able to choose whether or not to be slayed by the grief. I think I will not. My plan is to spend the day submitting my writing.

  • May 24, on meeting a stranger:

Got in a convo today with a guy named James. Interesting old fellow, actually only sixty-seven, but guzzling booze and living on the railroad tracks have left their mark. He talked of liberation and miracles. His turning point came when he was in his twenties, he said.

He was sitting on the railroad tracks with “another wino,” and the other guy started crying. “What’s the matter, Pokey?” James asked. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure out a way to get more wine before we go to sleep.”

“It’s not that,” Pokey said. “It’s you I’m worried about – you’re not going to make it.”

“That was the low point,” James said. “I thought about it all night, and after that I had a miracle and God took away my desire for alcohol.” Pokey died of alcoholism in his forties, but he saved James’s life. {Stories of James fill three more pages.}

  • May 28, on the morning:

Such a pretty morning here on my porch. It’s humid – we had a big storm last night. The birds are calming down a bit, settling in to the work of raising babies. Not so much boisterous ecstasy at dawn. A hummingbird is at the feeder, and a cardinal serenades from the big pine. The honeysuckle fills the air with sweet. God is so, so crazy gracious. Well, I have a ton to do before I head for New Hampshire.

  • June 3, on eavesdropping in NH:

I don’t have much privacy with these painters just outside all the windows, but for a writer, this material is priceless. They come around the corner and I hear, “That happens every time I get arrested.” How can I not tune in to their chatter?

“I got major heartburn. Downed fourteen beers last night.”

“Oh man, me too. I got that every day. I’m embarrassed to look my mom in the eye. What do you drink?”

“Budweiser.”

“I used to drink that, but I can’t afford it anymore.”

“So Ernie’s dead now, huh? Last time I saw him he wailed on me. Punched me right in the jaw for no reason. Guess he was just too drunk . . . Yeah, I lost my brother to heroin.”

“I don’t touch that stuff. I did coke once. Took a hit of acid once. Walked around town with a box of elbow macaroni and an Elmo doll, burning bugs on the sidewalk. It was a bad night.”

And on that note, I will sign off.

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