Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Which I Encounter the Wrath of a Using Alcoholic

This actually happened some months ago, but I never got around to writing about it because I was busy with other things. But here I sit between tutoring appointments today, and my memory was jogged by the fine sense of well-being I'm getting this summer, sitting here in the Writing Center. I flashed back to how it was last summer, when half the time I was hungover in here and wilting in the July heat.

When I was drinking, one thing I never did was show up to class drunk. That's not unheard of; I've heard about teachers who were fired for that, or were hauled off to rehab as a means of saving their job. Still, at least once a week I would teach hungover; usually I'd picked "non-teaching" days for that--the students were at work in a rough draft workshop, or we were watching and discussing a film, or we were doing something that didn't require my brain to be 100% fast and firing. (This is not an excuse.) Actually, the longer I've been sober, the more I realize that even when I wasn't drinking or hungover, my brain still wasn't 100% there. Have you ever watched Intervention on A&E? You see these people drunk, high, and sober, before and after. The transformation of their personalities always gives me pause. Chronic drunkenness is not just a chain of temporary impairments. It's an entire attitude, a way of being. It's as if a sick person is in a generalized funk of resentment, anger, and blame-making. Once sober, the cloud lifts, life gets better, and you realize most of the crap pulling you down was just crap of your own making.

Chelle's mom noted something like this at dinner last week. She confided to Chelle that she'd watched me a bit at the table over dinner (I was sitting across from her) and could see the change in me. "Her eyes just sparkle!" she said, and Chelle agreed that yes, that's exactly it. I'm here.

But back to teaching. I was never a horrible or disinterested professor; I've always gotten good reviews; students find me funny; they learn from me; they like me. But now they LOVE me. (Oh, I'm sure there's always the random student who thinks I'm an old meanie, but seriously. Just yesterday, into the lab strolled a student I just failed last semester, but we both knew that was likely to happen, and she didn't have any bitterness for me. In fact, her face lit up at seeing me, and she waved. "Hey, Joyce!" she said ... so you tell me.)

This brings me to the aforementioned angry alcoholic. He's a guy I knew vaguely in college who had found me on Facebook. Nothing alarming; I'm friends with tons of old college friends on FB. In fact, with some of them, I've made a better connection with them now than I ever did when I was in college. This guy--let's just call him Tom--turned out to be into horse racing, so we hit it off right away and spent a lot of time talking about the ponies. Along the way, he let drop that he was in an unhappy marriage, marrying his wife on a whim in Las Vegas, and that he liked to drink. I had been very clear about being happily married and gay and a recovering alcoholic, so the appropriate lines were drawn early, and all was well.

But then, you know how alcoholics are. We just don't "get" boundaries. When we're under the influence, boundaries evaporate like drops of water on your skin on a sweltering day. One day it was clear to me that Tom was drinking because of WHAT he said to me. I won't get into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that he was intrigued by my being a lesbian and was interested in hooking up with me and his own ex-girlfriend with whom he'd had an extramarital affair, since the ex-gf was bi-curious. Suffice it to say also that I flatly turned him down.

I asked him if he'd been drinking, and he said, "Of course! That's what I do."

So I just said, "I can tell," said goodnight and signed off. I figured Tom would be one mightily embarrassed man in the morning, IF he remembered the conversation at all. So I wasn't judging him. It's just what alcoholics do. I have some pretty fuzzy memories of completely inappropriate things I've said and done, so it's not like I can point an accusatory finger and say he's evil. All I will say is that he was drunk.

The next day, however, Tom remembered the conversation clearly and started pushing the issue again. Since it couldn't have been more than 11:00am his time, I doubted very seriously that he was drunk again, unless he hadn't gone to bed at all and was doing a weekend bender. Or sometimes you can wake up hungover with your blood alcohol level still over the legal limit, down a quick shot or beer or Bloody Mary to stop the shakes and the headache, and then you're on again. So who knows?

In any case, when I politely said no thank you again, and then informed him that I would have to unfriend him unless this conversation turned to other topics, out came the rage. Alcoholics don't deal well with rejection, either. And an alcoholic would NEVER think that they actually deserved rejection. Oh, no. If you reject them, then it's because YOU are the fuck-up.

I got accused of quite a number of things. He knew I'd graduated from college with honors, so he first accused me of sleeping my way through college with my professors. (I feel pretty sure my professors would be amused to hear that one.) Then he called me a spoiled rich brat (and of course, since I was in foster care when I applied to college, we all know that one bends reality quite a bit). I probably would've cut him off from his abusiveness at this point, because words like "whore" and "bitch" were being tossed at me, but since he was sending this stuff to me in a series of enraged messages on Facebook, I couldn't really shush him.

I was shaking my head and thinking, "Boy, this guy's got a bushel full of resentments," when Tom then went for the jugular. He knew I'm a teacher. So he went off on some tirade about how teachers are all on power trips and that I probably have taken sexual advantage of my own students for grades, and that I should surely know that students mostly hate their teachers because the curriculum is shit and we're just in the business of producing people who can't think for themselves. I don't help anybody in my job; I just hurt them. I reckon I got accused of doing every awful thing any teacher has ever done to that guy.

That was about enough for me, so I shot Tom back an email that said, "You have crossed a major line and I am now not just unfriending you, but I am blocking you." And that's exactly what I did. Now he can't see me, I can't see him, and he can't contact me. Out of sight, out of mind.

I suppose if Tom ever gets sober, it may occur to him that what he did was shovel a lot of his own shit right onto my poor little ole head. Me, only because I just happened to be the person standing there. I suppose he thought the proper thing for me to do was to just let him do that because he happened to be mad. Why? Because that is how alcoholics think. Everybody on the planet is there to accommodate them, and when you don't do that, you, too, are the Royal Bitch Queen.

Tom is, of course, an extreme example (although every last bit of this story is true). But see, experience is a good teacher. He reminded me all too clearly of how everybody perceives things as they WANT to perceive them. If something shakes our self-esteem, or would make us feel bad, or would make us look at something we don't want to see, instead of just dealing with it, we sometimes will concoct an entirely false narrative that better suits us so that we don't have to deal with our shit.

It's why I try to not take things personally anymore. I have no control over other people's stories. What I do have control over is whether or not I'm buying their narrative.

In the case of Tom, there was no point in even trying to engage him on that one.

Now here's a student. Back to work ...

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Worst Betrayal of All

This is not a happy story, and I don't tell it to many people. The trouble is that innocent people can always be hurt by the truth. So, when do you decide to risk that and tell what needs to be told? When do you blurt your crap out to the world? There's no "rule" in AA that says I have to tell the world this story (not that the whole world reads this blog anyway), but this story is so common that I know sharing it will also be akin to my sharing someone else's truth. And I'm sure it will be a great relief to just say it anyway and put this horrible secret down, let it be a part of my past. It will always be a part of my story, but I want to own it, bring it out of the dark, and put this burden down. I'm tired of carrying it.

My best friend's father molested me repeatedly when I was a little girl.

It started, I think, when I was around ten years old. It was a hot summer day and the boys were all running around with their shirts off, playing with the hose, getting wet, and cooling off. I was (of course) a little tomboy and there was no way these boys were going to have anything on me. So I pulled off my shirt and starting playing in the water, too.

Mr. Cipriani was outside smoking a cigarette and thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever seen.

It started shortly after that. I was in the kitchen one day, eating a bowl of Kraft macaroni-and-cheese, all by myself for some reason I don't recall. The back door swung open, and in came Mr. Cipriani. I looked up, then went back to my lunch, thinking nothing of it since he'd headed right to the cabinet where they kept their instant Maxwell House. Then he coughed. I looked up and there he was, standing there with his cock hanging out of his pants, stiff and red and with a weird bump on the end and I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open, stunned, because I'd never seen an erect penis before.

He also thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever seen, and he started stroking his prick as I looked on, horrified, sure I was NOT supposed to be seeing that. Then a door slammed in another room and I was saved. He turned around, zipped up and was out the back door before you could say "Jack Robinson."

After that, until I was fifteen, I dodged this man's advances as well as I could. People to whom I've confided the story always wonder why I kept going back over to the Cipriani's house. I have no good answer. It was more of the madness that was my childhood. My stepmother had this rule: my brother and I were to leave the house and go play with a friend on Saturdays and Sundays. During summers, no problem. During winters, in snow, sleet, freezing weather, not so okay. I had no other friends, so I went to the Ciprianis. Most of the time, he wasn't even home. The thing was, sometimes he was. Those were the days when I tried to stay out of his sight, get out of his path.

But I wasn't always successful. So, at times I had to put up with him sitting down next to me on the couch, grabbing my hand, and placing it onto that swollen cock of his. Or he'd corner me in a room and shove his hand down my pants. One day when I was fourteen, he put his hand down there and found a maxi pad. For some obscene reason, this turned him on. His breath came fast and his voice got raspy and he asked me, "Are you old enough now to be on the rag?"

Ugh. I never consented to any of this, obviously. I'd squirm and try to get away. I'd say, "No. Stop!" but the more I protested, the more determined he got. He told me to let his son fuck me as a "first lesson." Of course I did not. And then he started offering to give me rides home. I always refused, but one day he followed me home in his van, pulling alongside me and pleading for me to get into the van. I just shook my head, quickened my pace, then shot off into someone's backyard, getting the hell out of there.

Finally I stopped going over to the Cipriani's house. It was shortly after this that I ran away from home, went into foster care, and the problem solved itself.

I think back on all this, and I remember a day when I was about twelve, perhaps. I arrived at the Cipriani's house, and it was as if half the family was waiting there at the door for me. The first thing they said to me was, "Joyce Ann, you missed the funniest thing!" And they told me the story of how, during the night, Gracie had gone into the bathroom to go pee and was in such a hurry she hadn't even bothered to turn on the light. She sat down and WHOA! Daddy was sitting there. Her screams had woken the house.

I cringe when I remember this. For, you know, it means I had it easy. The most he got out of me was a finger up my pussy. Grace was the most beautiful of all his daughters, and I feel pretty sure he got more than that out of her. Gracie and he, it seems obvious now, had gotten caught and I'd merely been told the cover story. His own daughter. That bastard. Now I know full well why she hated her daddy so much; why, at sixteen, she couldn't wait to turn eighteen and get the hell out of that house.

I think about the astonishing statistic: that one in four women will be sexually abused at some point in her life. I know (at least to my knowledge) four women who were raped by their own fathers. I could confide a bit more here, but this will have to remain between my sponsor and I, and Chelle and I, because though I'm sure Mr. Cipriani is long dead by now, there are others still living whose families I don't wish to hurt. But the story of my sexual abuse isn't confined to what Mr. Cipriani did to me.

I guess my point about sexual abuse is this. It is so common. And it is so horrid. Growing up, I used to hear guys express bemusement over the idea of rape: "I don't get it. Why doesn't the chick just lay back and enjoy it?" Jesus Christ. The only way to make some of them get it is to say, "Hey, if some guy grabs you, throws you up against a wall, and decides to butt-fuck you, why don't you just enjoy it? I hear having your prostate gland massaged feels really good!" Jesus.

Molestation, rape, sexual abuse, are not about the sex. It's about the total disregard for your person. It's about being utterly powerless to stop another person from violating you in the most personal of ways. It's an utter distortion of what our sexuality is about--a mutual sharing of the most intimate part of you, an expression of love. Mr. Cipriani did not love me. He just wanted to stick his dick in a virgin, in a powerless little girl who had no means to fight him off other than relying on her own wits.

Because he knew, you know. And that, perhaps, is the biggest betrayal, the thing that hurts me the most when I tell this story. I was an easy target because he knew I would never tell my parents. The Ciprianis knew my home situation. I did not dare tell Dad because he wasn't the one to go to; it had to be Lois. Lois, that sadist, would not do a thing about it. Instead, I'd be blamed; I'd be punished. She would have somehow found a reason to blame me for what had happened, or she'd believe Mr. Cipriani's denials and I would be whipped for lying. I guess I thought the occasional hand down my pants was easier to bear than yet another beating.

Try living with that one. I tried to drink that fact away for most of my life.

Bruce Springsteen: "Secret Garden"

Nothing like the mystique of a woman. This song says it all.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Pride!

Snippets from last year's Parade ... let the celebration begin!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why I Stopped Writing

You know, I was talking with a friend yesterday (oh, and just discovered, after having this MacBook for two years, how to use the video camera and AIM to do a video chat! Duh! But it's cool ... like sitting across from someone at a table and just chatting. Ah, technology.) Anyway. I was talking to a friend, and though she'd known that I'd published a Melissa Etheridge biography long, long ago, she'd had no idea I'd published other work. And that got me thinking about WHY I'd stopped writing.

It's not that anything I published (other than a short story) was anything of literary merit. I was, and am, a big fan of live music, and naturally the Melissa bio opened a few doors for me, so I did some occasional freelancing for Bay Area Reporter, OutLines, Girlfriends magazine, and places like that. It was mostly FUN stuff to do: interview Melissa Ferrick, the Go-Gos, the Indigo Girls, or the random CD or book review. One thing I found out was that "celebrities" are just like you or me. They can be sweet, they can be silly, they can speak passionately about political issues that concern them, they can be dumb, they can be amazingly honest and disclosing, or they can just put on an act to try to fit whatever image their management and publicist have created for them. Some of them are snotty and impatient; interviews are a drag but a necessary part of touring and selling records. The sweetest: Emily Saliers. We chatted on and on about Virginia Woolf, none of which was on point and did not appear in the published interview. The most passionate: Amy Ray on indigenous peoples. The most disclosing: Melissa Ferrick.

Melissa won me over by disclosing to me something she hadn't yet (at the time) disclosed in the press: she was a recovering alcoholic. The irony was that, at the time I interviewed her, I was still using. Hadn't even come near my bottom yet. I definitely did not think I was an alcoholic.

Yet I think it was, to a large degree, the alcohol that actually got me away from writing. I was either too drunk or too hungover to spend any significant amount of time on work other than teaching (which I needed for the salary). I'd written a book that needs significant revision; it's been gathering dust in my closet for years now.

I lived in a claustrophobic, small world the last three years before I checked myself into rehab. I cared about things or others in only the most superficial of ways. What mattered most to me was downing as much liquor as I could and then blaming everybody else but me for my own miserable life. The problem--and these are Melissa Ferrick's words, "was not everybody else; it was in my own hand." They say that alcoholics just kind of fall into an effin' bottle. It's true.

So it strikes me as ironic today that I revisit these old pieces of writing and remember the person I really am. She's coming back to life. I'm not writing about music anymore, and I haven't picked up that novel or started any new fiction (the serious stuff that I care most about), but I have been writing this blog. Some people skip the recovery posts and seek out the humor, the Youtube music videos, or my general wackiness. You know, Tigger. Others read this blog for the recovery posts. You know, the Hapless. Every now and then I get a surprise message on Facebook and I find out someone has been quietly reading me for months, recognizing a loved one in my experiences, or recognizing their own behavior in mine. I've said it before--in some ways, this blog is like 12th Step work for me. Right now it is also helping me remember who I am, where I've been, what I can be, and what I don't want to be anymore.

Some friends have told me, "Put this stuff together into a book, Joyce." Who knows? Maybe one day I will.

Chely Wright: "Damn Liar"

Damn but she's pretty! You go, Chely!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meg Whitman: Queen of Spin

Seriously, she doesn't give a shit about this state. What she cares about is influencing policy to benefit corporations so she can make more billions. If elected, she won't even finish her term. She'll pull a Sarah Palin and bail out early to become her pal Mitt Romney's VP running mate (an incestuous relationship at best; her creepy son works for Romney). Bad, bad, bad for California.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When Life Is Comprised of Reactions

A life comprised of reacting amounts to a life of wasted effort. You never actually learn whatever it is the Universe is trying to get you to see.

How many times does this happen to you? A situation is completed, and the next thing you know, pretty much the same type of situation presents itself to you again. Take job hoppers, for instance, people who can never stay for any extended period of time in a single job. They get bored, they get angry, they bitch about the incompetent management. (Frankly, I have never heard of ANY place of employment where at least a few people haven't been promoted beyond their level of competence, or the boss's idiot son is a department head, or something equally maddening occurs.) The job hopper quits, takes another job, hoping to hit the mother lode finally, and, of course, when some equally maddening thing happens at the new job, they hit the road again.

This person is merely reacting. And if he keeps it up, he will eventually become unemployable because nobody likes a resume that lists 30 jobs in the past 20 years. But until that happens, he's going to keep reacting unless something happens that gets him to wise up, to handle differently basic job frustrations we all have. In other words, PROCESS your situation. Learn something from it. Don't just react. Otherwise, you are doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes and are building for yourself a life of wasted effort.

Or take your typical person who can't stay single for even one moment. They HAVE to be in a relationship. So they leap right into them without taking some time off to recover and fully process the last one. Their history is one of reactions we usually call "the rebound." I used to do this a lot (when I was in my twenties). Hell, I would even glibly tell people that I never really got over one lover until I was in the next relationship. And then, five lovers down the road, in a moment of clarity, I'd suddenly realize I was still in love with so-and-so from six years ago. It's crazy. There are probably a dozen women I owe amends to for, basically, using them to distract me from my own pain, my own sense of loss, my inability to take lessons about myself from the people who'd meant (I'd thought) the most to me. It took sobriety for me to understand that this pattern played itself out even into my forties; the only real difference is just that the relationships weren't as short-lived. But had you asked me, during any given year, if I was in love with the person I was with, I would've said yes. That's how well I'd fooled myself. I spent 10 years of my life in relationships with women I wasn't even remotely close to being in love with.

That is an astonishing thing to realize.

But nothing was wrong with them. Pretty much everything was wrong with ME.

So I, former Miss Impulsivity, am fairly wary now of people who just react, people who don't think big decisions through carefully, who shrug off the thought of long-term consequences and figure, "Well, we'll deal with that if it even comes up." It's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants morality because anybody can justify a stupid or selfish decision if they want to. As I've blogged about here, I sure as hell did it, using a pie-in-the-sky lie to myself about how love trumps everything--and lost my own son in the bargain. So, I hurt him, I hurt my ex, and I hurt myself for what? About a three-month rush that I clung onto for six years because I didn't want to face the fact that I'd chosen impulsively (and the woman I left my ex for was also selfish for encouraging me in making the decision I did. Had she really loved me, perhaps she would've moved to Ohio instead of me to California, or insisted on waiting until I had shared custody of my son legally worked out). Nope, we were just infatuated with each other, both of us reacting to miserable circumstances in our lives, and we had to do it NOW. It still hurts, to this day, to know I made that colossal mistake.

Reacting. They say in AA that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Now I look for repeating patterns in my life, recognize them, label them, process them fully, and resolve to get off that train. What a relief, to know I don't need to keep taking the same train ride ... especially when the ticket keeps getting more expensive.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Sponsor, My Best Friend

My friends who are not in recovery have been curious about why folks in AA need sponsors. It’s true that “sponsor” sounds like somebody who introduces you to the group as “belonging to the club,” or they sound like a damn advertisement. Others have the impression a sponsor is someone who is sort of like a cheerleader, whose job is to congratulate you when you stay sober and to give you pep talks when you’re tempted to fall off the wagon. Actually these couldn’t be further from the truth. (Well, I suppose there is some truth in the “cheerleader” idea.)

You’re in AA before you meet your sponsor. And, your sponsor doesn’t pick you; you pick them. Sometimes a sponsor will offer to take on the task, but it’s your choice to say “yes” or “no.” If things don’t work out after a few meetings or what have you, you can always change sponsors. Most of the people I know asked their sponsor to sponsor them after hearing them speak or share in meetings, and quite logically, most people are drawn to a sponsor whom they like and respect or with whom they have things in common.

It’s recommended that your sponsor be someone of the same sex, but that’s not a requirement. Still, guys usually feel more comfortable relating to another man about “guy stuff,” and ladies usually feel more comfortable sharing their deepest, darkest secrets with another woman. As a gay woman, I also wanted to have a sponsor who is a lesbian. Who wants a sponsor who’s going to sit there and wrinkle her nose in distaste when you’re talking about all your love woes?

Why all the disclosure, anyway, between sponsor and sponsee?

Your sponsor is someone who has been sober a while, has done the Twelve Steps, and who has been there, done that. They know how alcoholics and addicts rationalize, blame, hold resentments, lie, cheat—the whole gamut of bad behaviors, basically, because they’ve done it all themselves. They are quicker than anybody at spotting when you are engaging in alcoholic or unhealthy thinking. They serve as a checkpoint, necessary in early sobriety: this is what’s going on in my life; am I making a proper decision, or is this potentially destructive? Is it dishonest? Will it harm anyone? A good sponsor listens, asks questions, offers opinions or, sometimes, suggests options you may not have seen. In other words, they’re basically a really close friend.

And it’s not one-sided. In pulling information out of you, they often disclose to you their own past garbage and where and how they made mistakes. So basically, you and your sponsor know each other’s shit. I mean, every last little thing. Just yesterday, I told my sponsor about a decision I am presently wrestling with and said, “I haven’t acted on this yet because I knew if I did, you’d kill me.” So yeah, I guess in one sense, she’s also a moral compass, a mom.

But the most important job of a sponsor is to work through the 12 Steps with you, to make sure you understand them (and there’s a LOT of teasing out of things for each step, especially Step Four) and to make sure you do them thoroughly. Because, once you stop drinking or using, the Steps are what AA is all about. They go roughly like this, in layman’s terms: Accept the fact that you can’t control your drinking. Understand that you can never drink again. Hand over this idea that your ego and self-will are the all-powerful gods you’ve been thinking they are. Have faith that there is something outside of you operating in this world, and trust that the Universe has a plan for you: and when you’re drinking and stuck in self-will, you’re not being who you really are; you’re not fulfilling your purpose or reaching your potential. Consider carefully how you’ve been living your life, why you are the way you are. Forgive. Start squaring your actions and behaviors with your values. Get your side of the street clean. Make amends to those you’ve harmed. Get your life in order. Peace, serenity, and a good life will result. Now share what you’ve learned with those who suffer from addiction.

In other words, give it back. All a sponsor is doing is giving it back.

And in so doing, the sponsor is reminded, in working with you, of how things once were for herself when she was using, and this bolsters her own desire to remain sober.

It’s a two-way street.

It’s how AA works.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Unbeatable Zenyatta

This is a nice compilation of all 17 of the great Zenyatta's stretch runs. This mare is just unbelievable, indeed. Once she gets rolling, you might as well start your walk to the window to cash your ticket.

Happy Father's Day, Dad ...

That’s my dad in the right lower corner of this photo. I look like him, as much as a woman can look like a man—meaning I have his eyes, his nose, his basic body type. Like me, Dad was also a Gemini, a person with a dual nature. He could be very sweet and silly. He loved books, especially Westerns. A Navy man, he also loved ships, especially old clippers, and spent time building models or doing paint-by-numbers of them. On Sundays in summertime, he’d fire up the grill and cook steaks. And like me, he was quite introverted yet managed to be charming.

Well, I’m introverted, anyway—maybe not so charming.

And like Dad, I’m an alcoholic, although unlike Dad, I’m in recovery. I didn’t see Dad drunk too many times because he ceased the huge benders once he got a DWI, lost his driver’s license, and then lost his job. I was probably around ten, and I remember being in the front yard raking when I looked up, and there was Dad, walking home from the bus station. There was some kind of a row that night, but I couldn’t tell what was going on, could hear only the muffled terse voices downstairs with my bedroom door shut. Later on, it was my Aunt Vilma (the woman in the photo) who filled me in on what had happened.

After losing his job, Dad drank only on weekends—except for once when he took a trip with himself down memory lane, playing old records like the Venturas while sorting through photos after Lois (my stepmom) died. The next morning, he clearly felt like crap. Age was catching up with him, though he died still a young man, of heart disease at age 56, my first year in grad school.

When I look at this photo, it’s weird to think that everybody in it is dead now except for the youngest, Uncle Gil. (At least, I think he’s still living—my family wasn’t very close to this part of the family.) I am friends with some cousins on Facebook. I’m struck by how much my cousin Kevin looks like my brother Wayne. If you put us all in a photo together, it’d be really clear we’re all related. I wonder who else in our family is an alcoholic, or has problems with substance abuse. I know my cousin Stewart does, or did.

My own brother has been in jail for possession. But that was long, long ago.

I think of how alcohol operated in my dad’s life. He never identified as an alcoholic, because back in those days, alcoholics were the “Skid Row Drunks.” Dad had a job, had a family, didn’t get in fights, didn’t drink during the week anymore. From all outer appearances, he seemed fine. But I know he wasn’t. Time, and understanding how alcohol has operated in my own life, lets me see that now. He made some bad choices. After my mom died, he married the woman with whom he’d been having an affair, probably because he thought he loved her and because his kids needed a mom. I’m sure he’d had no idea she would be the abusive, angry person she turned out to be.

My father became the classic p-whipped man. After a few lost battles, he stopped trying to argue with Lois at all. He’d retreat into the living room after dinner each night, stick his nose in a book, and tune all of us out. He let Lois be responsible for everything—setting rules, doling out punishments—and turned a blind eye to the beatings, the prohibitions, the utter breaking of Wayne’s and my spirits. In desperation, severely depressed, at age 15 I tried to kill myself, landing in the psych ward at Chippenham Hospital for 16 days. Dad surprised me one day by stopping by the hospital to bring me a book.

“Honey,” he said. “I’m sorry. I promise I will divorce Lois before I let her drive you to this again.”

A remarkable statement. He’d just told me he knew damn well that woman was destroying me. He’d already let her drive Wayne away from home; she’d already forbidden my two oldest brothers to ever visit. (I didn’t know at the time that Dad actually sneaked behind her back to go see them once a month.) Having almost lost me—the doctor said I’d taken enough medication to kill an elephant, so I am lucky to even be alive--he was on the verge of losing his youngest, too, and he finally was going to stand up to the bitch.

Of course he didn’t. Years later, he explained to me that it was shortly after that day that Lois was diagnosed with kidney disease and was dying—she would eventually need dialysis a couple of times a week. He reasoned that Lois needed him then more than I needed him, and he could always reconcile with me. So I came home from the hospital, the abuse continued, and I finally resorted to a healthier strategy—I took my own parents to family court to be free of them. I became a ward of the State of Virginia and entered foster care.

Foster care is no picnic, and you get shuffled around from home to home a lot, but it was still better than living in a house where I was simultaneously neglected by one parent and emotionally and physically abused by the other.

Dad and I did reconcile after Lois died, just as he’d wanted. I have never been one to hang onto anger. Actually what I held onto for many years was just hurt. Hurt and shame, realizing that my father had been a spineless wuss. But now, even that perspective has altered as I work through my Fourth Step in recovery. I have done stupid things too, and hurt people with choices I have made. I didn’t live in my Dad’s skin. I’m sure he had an entire set of reasons and rationalizations that made perfect sense to him way back when. Mostly, I think he felt trapped. He probably figured that no matter what he did, he was going to hurt somebody. And he couldn’t bear the circumstances of his own life. Instead of burying his sorrows in a bottle because he couldn’t anymore, he buried his face in a book. It was the only peace he could find.

Dad and I were on good terms when he died—I’d been spending summers with him and his new wife, Sadie, while I was in college. He’d come to my graduation from Randolph-Macon and told me how proud he was to have a kid who’d not only finished high school, but college to boot, and was now going off to grad school. And all without any financial help from her parents! It was a weird moment. But I took it at face value: my Daddy was proud of me.

Later that year, I came home for Winter Break from Penn State and spent Christmas with my Dad. He’d had a heart attack a year earlier and was still having problems with an arrhythmia. In January, he’d be going into the hospital for a pacemaker. All pretty routine. Life was looking up.

Well, he didn’t survive the surgery; he died in the recovery room. I’d been back at Penn State for two days and had to turn around and come back home to Virginia. I missed the first week of classes—my friend Jaime took over my freshman comp section for me. I think some of my friends saw me cry for the first time at Dad’s funeral. Actually, I was stunned by the number of Randolph-Macon people who showed up at Dad’s funeral. BJ Seymour sat me with me, quietly, for hours at the funeral home the night before. Amy Peterschmidt drove down from Northern Virginia and stayed a few days with me at Sadie’s house. My friends were my rock during this very confusing time. It has never failed to amaze me how much people are willing to hold you up when you need them to. It amazes me even more today when I think about the person I was when I was in college. I was mostly a self-righteous smartass. But apparently people saw through that.

There are, no doubt, more lessons I’ve yet to learn from my dad. But I think the one that sticks out for me today, this Father’s Day, is this: Don’t allow your life to be ruled by “shoulds.” If a voice hissing in your ear says, “You SHOULD do this,” or “You SHOULD do that,” challenge the voice. Whose is it? Is it your voice saying that? If not, and if that “should” would choke you or prevent you from being who you really are, tell that voice to shut the fuck up.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cool Stuff: Women in Art

Visited the DeYoung at Golden Gate Park today to see the first exhibition of The Birth of Impressionism, with paintings on loan from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. This put me in a kinda artsy fartsy mood, so it seems like a good day to post this video.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"...Easily Able to Control [the] Desire for Alcohol"

Well, Jerry's off my lap now, so it looks like I can share a few thoughts today after all. Another milestone, of sorts, reached today: Chelle's mom and dad are coming over for dinner tonight; we're going to toss some filets on the grill along with some sweet corn. So, Chelle called me from Safeway with a question. "Honey?" she asked. "Is it okay if I bring home a bottle of pinot to share with my parents for dinner?"

"Sure," I said. "No problem." Piece o' cake.

But. There was a time a situation such as this would've made me extremely anxious. The problem? One bottle of wine wouldn't be enough. If four of us shared a bottle, that would mean just one glass apiece. That wouldn't be enough to get me the desired buzz; it would only make me crave more. But I couldn't exactly turn down a glass of wine, either, especially if it was a nice pinot noir.

What to do, what to do? The solution was never to not just drink. The solution would be to figure out a way to drink more.

Thus you'll see that alcoholics very typically get used to stashing booze, hiding bottles, for "emergencies" such as this. I got away with it by sneaking vodka (usually) in the kitchen. Or I'd just take it upon myself to grab another bottle off the rack and open it, without asking if anybody else wanted more. I would just pretend I'd assumed they would (and secretly hope they wouldn't). I also wasn't above hiding a bottle behind my guitar case, which leans against the wall in a corner of the bedroom. I was really good at dashing into the bedroom when Chelle went, say, to the bathroom, pulling the bottle out, unscrewing the cap, and taking a few quick gulps before secreting it again. When she came out of the bathroom, I'd be back in the kitchen, scraping plates or washing dishes or getting the coffee pot ready for the morning.

But today, I didn't ask Chelle to not bring that bottle of pinot home. The thought of a bottle of wine in the house with other people enjoying it doesn't bother me at all. I have zero desire to drink. No thanks. Not for me. I have come to thoroughly dislike what alcohol does to me. It never made me feel better; all it did was enable me to never grow up, never take life on its own terms. And, I don't need alcohol to take the edge off or put me in a fun, silly mood. In fact, I'm in a much better mood and a helluva lot more witty without it.

I don't know WHO that drunk person was. I think, with a little flinch--I admit that--that anybody who knew me only when I was drinking doesn't really know me at all. They only knew that drunk, lost person.

That is not at all who I really am.

The real Joyce is me, now. I'm no longer a phantom, an illusion, a projection, or even the monster some may have chosen to make me out to be. I'm just me.

The Doctor's Opinion (Big Book)
"On the other hand--and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand--once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules."

It's Impossible to Blog Today

Because if I open up my laptop, I'd knock Jerry in the head.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Layout for Blog

Well, what do you think?

I'm torn about the way Youtube videos appear on the page. Now they bleed over into the right hand column, and where they do, it looks like the items in that column are off- center.

On the other hand, now the videos appear fully and don't get half chopped off, even though I've been embedding them in the smallest size offered.

So you tell me. Better? Or worse?

In any case, a new design has been past due.

Brandi Carlile: "I Will"

[click on video to embiggen]

Happy Birthday, Chelle

Just remember: A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the trip.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kinds of Love

I was chatting with a friend this morning, and you know how dykes are. We talk about work, The L Word, affairs, who's hot and who's not, who recently came out (this summer's new flavor is country music singer Chely Wright), and, since it's June, Gay Pride. You know. The usual.

But it all got me thinking about love, how we express it, its many forms, and where it can go wrong. I thought about all the women (and some men--oh lord, I hear the thuds now as some fall over in a dead faint) I've been romantically involved with. Well, "romantically involved" may not be a fair way to put it, especially where the guys were concerned. Look, here's how I know for a fact that I'm gay. I have never, in 48 years, ever fallen in love with a man. I have liked certain men, been attracted to certain men, had sex with certain men, but I've never actually loved a man. At least not in the romantic sense.

But women. Ah, the girls are a different story!

And yet, when asked to pin it down, I realize that, in all honesty, I've TRULY been in love with only four women. I was romantically involved with all four, but only two of these were actually people I was/am in a long-term relationship with. And not everybody I've been in a long-term relationship with I actually loved in this way. This realization started me ruminating on kinds of love. Clearly, wires get crossed, things that could've worked out don't, and vice versa, and time passed makes that plain. (Huh. Isn't that a line in an Indigo Girls song?!)

I have been in long-term relationships for the right reasons and the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons, in no particular order: She loved me. She was nice and likable enough. I felt safe. She rescued me. I was trapped and couldn't get out. I wanted to prove to all the naysayers that yes, I was in a good relationship (even though my guts told me otherwise). We had a child.
The right reasons: We had a child. I loved her and she loved me back. I was passionately attracted to her. We understood each other. We granted each other the right to follow her own path. We did not see commitment as a contract to control each other.

Unfortunately, what tends to have happened in my relationships of the past that have failed is that the wrong reasons eventually came to outnumber the right reasons, or the bad came to outweigh the good, and we were unable to find a way to work it all out. Either a foot got placed down that set a non-negotiable boundary one of us couldn't accept, or we realized we had too many differences to be able to maintain sufficient peace, or one of us lost interest sexually (or wasn't having a sexual need met).

The women with whom I've actually been in love: I left Jenny (it was an affair, and after one year of waiting for her to leave her partner after numerous broken promises to do so, I walked); I left Beth (that story, or much of it, is here); I broke it off with Evan (although really there was no commitment between us as we were just dating and it was a mutual, kind of sad agreement that it wasn't going to work...and I still love her, always will); and Chelle, with whom I am delighted to say we are still together despite my most tremendously stupid acting out efforts to wreck us entirely.

Something I've learned: people have really goofy-assed ideas about love. Many toss that word out way too quickly (and I am guilty of that, too). But it's really easy to confuse intense sexual attraction and liking with actual love. It's because that FEELS LIKE love. But as Trisha Yearwood sang, "Fast doesn't last." Those lesbian U-Haul jokes are funny because they ring true for so many of us. How many dykes have you known to, essentially, show up on your doorstep with a U-Haul on the second date? You may THINK you know you love this person 'til death-do-you-part, and it sure FEELS this way, but baby, check in with me in ten years. These relationships usually unravel once you live with each other for a while. Somebody who seems completely loving and flexible and kind can, in two years, turn into someone who is selfish, controlling, and mean-spirited because of a bushel full of unresolved issues they've never dealt with that you never knew about until about...oh, a year after you moved in with them. Been there, done that.

I'm not saying these whirlwind courtships can't end well ... actually, Chelle's and mine was kind of one of those. But one difference is that we moved in together with the understanding that the relationship could turn into just a friendship. We decided to risk it since we were, basically, at one or the other's apartment every night anyway and it didn't make sense anymore for both of us to be paying (at the time) $1300 each month for an apartment when we could share a two bedroom for $1750. I don't think I even said "I love you" to Chelle until we'd been living together for a while.

Because it's also true that you really don't know someone inside out until you live with them. Sometimes you'll uncover things that aren't pretty, or they'll uncover those things about you. Chelle, for instance, had no idea the extent of my drinking problem. I was a fairly normal drinker for the first couple of years we were together. It became a severe problem only when we moved to Spokane together for a year. She put up with me for three years as I hurtled my way towards my bottom. She has had to swallow a lot of crap that I put her through when I was using. Yet she believed in me enough to pay for rehab out of pocket (Blue Cross still can't bring itself to reimburse me the $9,000), and that woman wrote me every single day I was at The Farm. On Fridays, she'd mail me two things so on Saturday or Monday I'd get an extra piece of mail to make up for Sunday. And every Sunday, she was there for family day, driving two hours each way and bringing a picnic and the San Francisco Chronicle. She would sit through an AA meeting with me and then we would go sit in her car with the AC on and read the paper together and eat. We talked--finally--like we hadn't talked in years. And we smooched. Ha.

Rehab reset my clock. Sobriety let me see she really did love me, very much, when all I could see before were flaws when I was drinking.

The bottom line: love is not like Fitzwilliams' idolization of stars shooting out of her lovely new vagina. Because it involves two independent individuals, there will be conflicts; ergo, work is required. Good nookie ain't gonna be enough once the passion wanes a bit. But nothing is insurmountable, as long as there is mutual respect, trust in each other's judgment, and honesty. (The honesty part takes two things: honesty with her AND honesty with yourself. If you're lying to yourself, then you're lying to her, no matter how well-intentioned you may be.)

And when these ingredients come together, you find yourself falling in love all over again, and again, and again, with the one you love.

I don't fall in love so easy
I don't even know where to start
I don't fall in love so easy
I don't understand my own heart

It's so hard to drop my guard
I don't know how to just let go
But what else can I do
I don't fall in love so easy
But I'm fallin' in love with you
I'm fallin' in love with you
Yes, I'm fallin' in love with you

Monday, June 14, 2010

Zenyatta: Now 17-for-17!

Needless to say, Zenyatta won the Vanity Handicap in an excellent nail-biter that had all of us thinking--just for a second--that St. Trinians might actually outrace her to the wire. But Queen Z caught her and swooped on by in usual style.

Video of the race itself can be found on Youtube, so I'm posting this longer, 9-minute one because it gives a special look at what it was like to be at Hollywood Park yesterday. Chelle and I were two of the hundreds of fans circling the paddock (with our new pal Dave... hi, Dave!) before the race. During the race, we were down on the apron by the rail watching the race unfold in front of us and on the video board. Afterwards, we were at the rail again as Mike Smith brought Zenyatta back to parade in front of a cheering, whistling, whooping, standing-ovation crowd.

I have never seen a horse so well loved as this one. Way to go, girl.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Finally, I Meet Zenyatta

I started following this great mare a couple of years ago, in her run up to and winning of the Ladies Classic at Breeders Cup in 2008. At that point, many of my East Coast racing fan friends grudgingly admitted that maybe, just maybe, Zenyatta really was worthy of the accolades she was getting. "She stays in California and runs against soft fields," was the complaint. They said, "Well, okay, maybe she is pretty good," when she beat the best of the fillies and mares.

But then Rachel Alexandra came along in 2009, wowing us all in the Kentucky Oaks, taking the Preakness, the Haskell, the Woodward... she seemed unbeatable as a three year-old. The one thing she didn't have on Zenyatta was that she wasn't undefeated. (Zenyatta was, and remains, undefeated, and will try for her 17th win tomorrow at Hollywood Park.) Everyone more or less assumed Rachel would win Horse of the Year last year because of the grueling campaign she'd run, beating even the boys.

Then Zenyatta's connections said, "Oh yeah?" and entered the Great Z in the Breeder's Cup Classic--where Rachel could have entered, but didn't, and where Zenyatta faced males for the first time.

It was an amazing race to see. Zenyatta loped easily at the rear, and when Mike Smith finally let her go, she weaved fearlessly through traffic, finally got to the outside, and, in her usual style, ate the ground up with that long stride of hers, beating them all to the wire. She'd beaten the best males in the world in that race.

She still didn't get Horse of the Year, which went (as suspected, because there really is an East Coast bias in racing, let's just admit it) to Rachel. There were good arguments to be made for either horse winning. Rachel certainly earned it; I am not disputing that.

And that brings us to this year. Rachel ran twice and lost. Of course, she'd had a long layoff and sometimes it can take a race or two to race back into shape. And today she won decisively. (Of course, her nay-sayers are also pointing out that she faced a "soft field.")

Meanwhile, Zenyatta ran on dirt again this year in the Apple Blossom and won. She ran at Santa Anita on synthetic and won. She'll run tomorrow at Hollywood, where she's stabled. And if she wins, people will just say, "Well, of course she did. She is a synthetic specialist! She still can't beat Rachel." I will just point out right now that entered in the race against Zenyatta tomorrow is Zardana, who beat Rachel earlier this year.

Theirs is an exciting rivalry, one of the best things that has happened to horse racing since ... since ... well, since Secretariat? Maybe that's reaching, but trust me, if Zenyatta and Rachel finally meet on dirt at Churchill Downs at Breeders Cup this year, that will be the race to end all races. (If Quality Road will go into the gate this year, it will be even more exciting.) If this race happens, I might just have to get on a plane and fly to Louisville and crash on Dawn's friend's family's bathroom floor, or just sleep in my rental car. Hell. I don't care. I'll dress in a jockey suit and greet people entering the gates if I have to.

All of which brings me to today. We figured we'd have a better chance to meet Zenyatta today than tomorrow, the day of the race. So we hopped in the car this morning and made the drive. Flashed our owners' licenses at the backside and walked back to the training track and hung a right. (We knew where we were going.) Got to the Shirreffs Barn and there he was--the man himself, standing outside with a couple of grooms and a horse. Chelle approached him and introduced us, dropped a name or two, and asked if it was all right to go see Zenyatta in her stall. John Shirreffs is about as gracious a man as you could want to meet. He said, "Sure!", stopped what he was doing, and led us to her stall. He introduced us to Michelle, his Asst Trainer, who stayed with us as we visited the great mare.

I've gotten close to Zenyatta before, in the paddock and saddling ring at Santa Anita. But nothing says "up close and personal" like being a couple feet away marveling at how TALL this mare truly is. And simply regal in her bearing. Then, the next thing you know, she's being an utter goofball, sticking her tongue out and eyeballing you and then shaking her head as if to say, "Oh. You're just another one of those people who come here to gawk at me."

I asked if it was okay to give her a pat, but Michelle said, reluctantly, "No ... not a good idea before race day," and I respect that. They can get pretty hopped up, and our filly Firefly definitely took a few good nips out of me a couple of times. Then Michelle did something that surprised me. She said, "But you can come back tomorrow after the race and see her."

Yeah. Wow. We'd planned on leaving right after Z's race and heading back home.

I guess we'll see about that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eliminating Fear

As someone who has struggled with social anxiety disorder for a good portion of my adult life, initially self-medicating with alcohol until the alcohol eventually turned on me, exacerbating the condition, I have had an intimate relationship with fear.

I have also, at varying times, been on beta blockers, Ativan (lorazepam), Paxil, and Cymbalta, all in an attempt to just function--hell, to just be able to walk into my own classroom on some days.

Most of my fears centered around potential damage that might be done to me--and when I keep peeling back the layers and looking at the "whys," usually the damage simply involved my own ego. I feared being hurt. I feared being left. I feared being unattractive. I feared being perceived as stupid, or mean, or selfish, or unlikable, or humorless. The biggest fear, by far, was the fear of acknowledging I even feared these things. It had to be some "disorder," some "condition," not me--because I am not some pussy. Right?

Well, now I'm alcohol-free and off all anxiety-relieving drugs. And I can say with utter conviction that Franklin D. Roosevelt was right. Fear is not something "out there." Fear is all "in here." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he intoned famously. Fear is the mind-killer. It paralyzed me. In my quest to not be hurt, I wouldn't take risks. So I kept myself small. And in doing that, I became the very things I feared.

That is just plain crazy.

Here is some wisdom I read today at In the Rooms:

In the film Fearless, Jeff Bridges portrays a man named Max who narrowly escapes death in a plane crash. In surrendering to im­minent death, he loses all fear, and when he goes on with his life, he finds himself unafraid in a world motivated by mistrust and deception. His lawyer wants him to lie to exact a larger settlement from the airline company; his wife cannot handle the truth he is now unafraid to tell about their numb relationship; and his psychologist thinks he has gone mad (while he has actually gone sane).

In a poignant scene, Max momentarily gives in to pressure to lie, which leaves him painfully contracted. To vent the horror he feels, he climbs onto the roof of a tall building and screams at the top of his lungs. Watching this symbolic scene, I wondered how loud would be the cries of humanity if we all went up on a roof and screamed at the top of our lungs in proportion to the pain and constriction we have experienced by living in ways that are inconsistent with our true nature.

Fear is not our ordained condition. Psychologists tell us that infants are born with only two fears-that of falling, and loud noises; every other fear is learned. Fear is not a reality, because if it were, everyone would be afraid of the same things.

To live in fear is not natural, and neither is it our destiny. Our destiny is to live in peace and express joy. Dump fear by trusting life to provide for you as you live your truth.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More on Setting Boundaries

Over at MrSponsorPants, there has been some quarreling over setting and keeping boundaries. He had posted a saying: "If you can't keep the boundary, don't set the boundary," and the drama-mongers descended like flies.

Of course it wasn't entirely clear what he meant. I took it to mean that if somebody keeps crossing your boundaries, then stop setting them at all--walk away from that person. Others took it to mean he was saying "give up and don't tell them what you need," but obviously that would be destructive advice; it would be like saying, "Okay, since you're going to walk all over me, I'll just let you." I can't see MrSponsorPants ever advising that.

He cleared the matter up today by saying what he really meant was that he has a tendency to beat himself up when he sets a boundary and then somebody keeps crossing it. He gets mad at himself: "Why did I even try? I set myself up for this." That's actually not all that far from what I'd originally thought he'd meant.

Getting clear about boundaries has done wonders for my own peace of mind. It's all related to the "serenity" and "personal responsibility" and "what's my business and what isn't" concepts. If I draw a line and say "here's what I'll do; here's what I won't do," that's damned clear. If someone pushes and tries to cross the "here's what I won't do" line, then they're either an asshole; or they didn't really hear me; or they're prioritizing their own need over mine. That happens. Sometimes there are just conflicting needs. You can agree to call a truce and just avoid this particular hot spot with each other. But if it's a hot spot that can't be avoided, then sometimes there has to be a merry parting of the ways. It's really that simple.

No blame; no finger-pointing; no judgments; just a simple "this isn't gonna work."

I've been pondering lately the frequency with which I used to adjust my own boundaries in the past for the sake of accommodating someone else. I think I used to think of boundaries as negotiating points. That was dumb! If they're negotiable, they're not boundaries, now, are they, Joyce? Duh. So it's no wonder people didn't respect them. They'd push, prod, poke, until I'd back up a bit. And then so I could feel okay about things, I'd have to rationalize giving in and somehow try to square it with myself. Meanwhile, they're working on trying to get me to back up even more. What a sucker I was. It's no wonder I drank. I was constantly trying to live with myself.

I just figured, "Damn. Life is hard."

No. Not really. It really isn't. We make it complicated ourselves.

I have become incredibly direct. I think about things for a few days (instead of making impulsive decisions, which are usually self-serving decisions and not well made) and then state the rules as I need them to be. I never knew I had such power. Who knew how many people would back off once they realize you MEAN what you say when you say it?

When I first got sober, a colleague who has been sober for a little over three years told me: "The way I see it now is, I just needed to grow up." He was dead on. Alcoholics, addicts, and even a good many sober people--we just need to grow up. Toss the bullshit in the trash. Find your values. Then align your behaviors with your values. Everything else will follow.

It's not always easy because sometimes your values will bring you into conflict with others. But their stuff is THEIR stuff. THEY are free to do as THEY want. It's THEIR life. I can sit here all day and psychoanalyze everybody else and tsk-tsk-tsk over mistakes I think I see them making, which can range from a bad haircut to voting a certain way on the ballot. BUT THE BOTTOM LINE IS, IT'S NOT MY BUSINESS.

It's only my business when they make it mine by involving me, or by trying to involve me. I then have the choice to be involved or not. If being involved requires me to do something I don't want or something that's not good for me or will hurt someone I care about, then sorry. I will choose to walk away. Period.

I'm not going to even bother setting the boundary. I'm not even going to have the conversation. I'm going to say, "Not for me. But you have fun."

Thus: "If you can't keep the boundary, don't set the boundary."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Queen Meg Closer to Ruling!

What makes this parody particularly humorous is, of course, Meg Whitman's voting record. For the past 28 years, she has voted in elections only haphazardly. She really wasn't much interested in politics at all until she decided to fork out $73 per vote she just received in the CA primaries yesterday. It was enough to beat Republican Steve Poizner, so it will be interesting (distressing and disgusting, but interesting) to see how much money she throws into her campaign now to beat Jerry Brown.
[click on video to embiggen]

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In Memorium Dr. BJ Seymour

Look at that beautiful face. I always did think Dr. BJ looked a lot like poet Elizabeth Bishop. She sure did have the heart of a poet. She also had a gorgeous contralto, something a lot of her students didn't even know.

Dr. Betty Jean (BJ) Seymour was my mentor at Randolph-Macon College way back in the early 1980s. We all called her "Dr BJ," and she was one of the finest professors that college has had to offer. She had been a former Asst. Dean of Students when the college first went coed in the early 1970s, but when I knew her, she was Professor of Religious Studies and a damn good one. At that time in my life, I was an avowed atheist, all intellectual snobbery, and the only reason I took a class in religious studies was that it was either that or philosophy to fulfill distribution requirements, and my friend Amy Thomas highly recommended Dr. BJ. I rolled my eyes and signed up. What can I say? I had a crush on Amy.

The rest, as they say, is history. BJ didn't convert me to Christianity--that wasn't the goal of religious studies courses--but she DID make me realize that a person can be a Christian (and she did eventually get her divinity degree) and not walk around judging, proselytizing, and oppressing people all the time. She opened my mind to the understanding that, like anything in life, we make things what we choose to make them. For her, Jesus spoke a message of freedom from oppression; the fall was a fall not into sin but into a state of human-ness caused by the gift and curse of freedom of choice; God was more about love, human kindness, and compassion for others, celebrating life instead of slamming doors on others and damning them to hell. At least once a semester she would take me to Pizza Hut in Ashland and we'd share a mushroom pizza, thin crust, with a pitcher of Michelob.

And she pushed me. She challenged me to come into some of her other sections of classes and participate on discussion panels or to read a paper I'd written for her. She once dropped to me some ideas she'd had about Melville's Billy Budd; I developed those ideas into a paper to send out for publication. She encouraged me to just skip the Master's degree altogether and apply to a new PhD program in religion and literature at Emory University. In fact, I wound up doing a second major in religious studies, just because I was taking all of her classes out of sheer intellectual curiosity anyway. After that, I was fond of telling people I majored in "English and BJ Seymour." I think, that of the ten classes required for that major, all but two I took with her. On graduation day, it was Dr. Seymour who slipped away--temporarily--from the ranks of faculty members to take her place behind me in the front row with the other honors graduates, and she proudly slipped the R-MC hood over my head and arranged it gently so it would hang correctly down my back. My Dad was totally okay with BJ hooding me and beamed from the bleachers.

Well, I didn't go to Emory because I couldn't afford it; Penn State offered me a full ride and assistantship for a master's in English, so I went that route instead. But BJ was with me when I got the acceptance letter, and we went for ice cream together to celebrate.

When I won the Stephenson Scholarship to Israel in May of my senior year, the award didn't quite pay the entire cost of the trip, so BJ generously wrote out a personal check for the couple of extra hundred dollars I needed. She never wanted that money back. So when I won, two years ago, the BJ Seymour Alumna Award, I didn't even ask what the honorarium was. I promptly gave it back to the college in BJ's name. The plaque hangs proudly by my other awards and degrees in my bedroom.

I have never lost my interest in religious studies, though my own spirituality fell by the wayside for a time when I was caught up in the horrors and spiritual sickness of alcohol addiction. That burden I put down nine months ago, and I'm sure BJ would be pleased to know that God is back in my life. I owe so much to her.

The biggest debt of gratitude I owe to BJ Seymour is my love of teaching. She nurtured that in me probably without even intending to. My students, from Day One, have always called me "Joyce," never "Professor Luck," and I follow BJ's lead in everything I do in the classroom. I see my students as intellectual equals and try to challenge them to think for themselves. I never see a student as "dumb"; at worst, I see some as uneducated, and it pleases me to no end to bring them the food and the spoon and show them how to use them, instead of shoveling facts down their throats. At times I am not always the best teacher--I can get lazy just like anybody--but when I'm good, you can bet that's when I'm channeling BJ. Just this past semester, I had a student write an essay I knew was potentially publishable, so we spent some time together reworking it as a piece of creative nonfiction and she has submitted it to NCTE for a scholarship. If she wins that, in a very real sense, she can thank Dr. BJ for that, too.

God, I already miss BJ already. But I feel 100% sure she and I will be meeting again some day.

R-MC honors her service to the college here. And if you want to make a gift to the college in BJ's name, information to do so is also there. Thanks for reading.


My take on realists: sometimes they tell us what we don't want to hear, but they often tell us what we need to hear.

Monday, June 7, 2010

News from the Health Front ...

Today I am pleased to announce I haven't put any Cymbalta in my system for ... it has been a little over 48 hours, and the last dose 24 hours before that was only 1/4 of a 30mg pill. Withdrawal symptoms are virtually unnoticeable, so it seems I am DONE WITH THIS!

Thus I'm pleased to be able to say I am now fully alcohol- and drug-free (even though the Cymbalta was prescribed). Tigger does the happy bouncy pouncy dance.

On a not-so-great note, remember my fish story? The one I blogged about here? I fell down (sober, I know, how lame am I?) and cracked my knee pretty well 8 days ago. At the outset, I did the rest, ice, elevation (though flaked on the compression) thing and honestly thought it would be okay. The bruise covers my right leg basically from my knee to my ankle and some of it leaked even around to the back of my knee. We have dubbed it my "Van Gogh Leg" because of the many wonderful swirling colors. But something clearly isn't right. New spots of fresh bruising keep appearing and the leg throbs (doesn't really hurt, but it's warm to the touch and occasionally I will get a sharp pain if I step the wrong way). Fortunately, I had an appointment scheduled to see my doctor tomorrow for my Annual Girlie Humiliation Visit, and since he's my primary care physician as well, I'll have him take a look at it. Chelle's thinking I may have torn a tendon. If so, so much for losing ten more pounds before Hawaii because there go cardio workouts down the drain.

This reminds me ... I need a trim and a shave. And maybe some nice sparkly glitter for dramatic effect. Carry on.

Queen Meg Invades Hollywood

The latest installment from the California Nurses Association. I count on them every day to make me laugh my ass off.

[click on video to embiggen]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Monsters of My Mind

I've blogged, many times, about the blessings of recovery. They definitely outnumber any drawbacks. But I haven't said very much about the hard stuff. One of the worst things about getting sober is having to face the consequences of choices I made when I was using. In the past, I used to just drink my bad feelings away (although they never really went away; they were just put on hold or I justified them by rationalizing them away--which is the same as putting them on hold). I can't do that anymore, and I don't WANT to do that anymore. But how, then, am I to cope with facing the fact that sometimes I acted in terrible ways?

By far the worst consequence has been facing people I've lied to or whose trust I have betrayed. It is difficult, and sometimes (depending on the person and the type of betrayal) to repair damaged trust. Sometimes, it seems, the damage done is so bad that it can't be healed. I can admit to what I did; I can apologize for it; I can refrain from repeating the same mistakes. I'm finding that for some, that's just not enough.

Please don't misread me: that is not a statement of blame or a glib "get over it already!" It is a statement made in grief.

I've lost some friends, people I care about. (I've also had to cut a few people who are simply bad for me--either because they can't, or won't, respect that I'm in recovery and want me to be Old Joyce; or because they feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me or else be accused of "creating drama" that may lead to my drinking again.) But the bottom line is, I'm finding that pretty much anything can be worked out as long as both parties in a situation are scrupulously honest. It's the relationships in my past that were based on some kind of dishonesty (mine, theirs, both of us) that are proving to be the most challenging.

Sometimes the "dishonesty" part isn't actual lying--it is, simply, not speaking anything at all when things need to be said for healing to occur. Anger, for instance. I'll just use Chelle as an example (hi, sweetheart). There is no way in hell she could have ever gotten to a place of forgiving and trusting me again without first having let me have it with a good dose of rightful anger. "You did this, Joyce; you said this; and those things hurt me in this and that way." She needed to hear me acknowledge that yes, I did those things; here are the reasons I justified those things to myself (the whys are merely explanatory and are NOT excuses--an act is an act, period); and she needed to hear me and see me be upset over it and apologize for it. She needed to also see that I "got" it--that I understood what I did wrong and that, understanding it, I owned it and learned from it. As more time has passed and she's seen me applying the same principles to other things that come up in my life--and she's also seen me call my sponsor when I get the nagging feeling that something isn't right and I need to do a reality and a self-agenda check--she has regained her trust in me.

She's also owned her part of things and now checks in with me, often, to make sure we're on the same page about stuff. We don't always agree about everything, but at least we understand where the other person is coming from and we each respect and honor the agreements we are making with each other.

So I've been turning all of this over in my head, and really I think it comes down to this: as Marianne Moore said, "Omissions are not accidents." And, everything is a choice. Once I've owned my part of something and done everything I can to fix it (ie, I've got my side of the street clean), the ball is in the other guy's court. That person has the choice to either want to forgive me and work on it with me, or to NOT forgive me and just toss it all aside. Sometimes people decide it's not worth it. Fair enough. Sometimes people decide to play the part of the victim, or take on the role of a self-righteous contemptuous person. Sometimes people choose to stay, for the time being, in a state of pain. (None of these statements is a judgment on my part; I'm just making an observation about human nature that applies to all of us.) And it's not because we ENJOY taking on whichever role we pick, but--and here's the part that is most interesting to me--it's because whatever role it is seems easier to take on than to face some truth we don't want to look at, or just aren't ready to bother with.

When it's a breach of trust, that "truth" might be something like this: You cared more about YOU than you did about me, didn't you?

And the answer is: Yes. Yes, I did. And I'm really sorry I did that. It was self-serving and flew in the face of everything I like to believe about myself. The realization made me feel like shit. Believe me. It did.

Or that "truth" might be something like this: Your real opinion of me is that I'm a scumbucket ugly horrible little troll, isn't it?

And the answer is: Nope. You're a smart, funny person with a huge heart and you didn't deserve the crap I dished out to you. I don't think you're a bad person. Not. At. All.

This brings us to the very last thing I've learned in this whole process of facing truths, forgiveness, and healing. The things I have feared the most are never as big or as bad as I have been afraid they would be. A lot of the monsters I've been afraid to face are very much like the ones I've been slaying in Castle Age or Haven on Facebook: they're not awfully big. In fact, they are cartoons. They are figments of the imagination. The monsters exist only in my mind.

Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn't

First it's "too much government interference" that bogs down the economy by tying the hands of private enterprise. Deregulate, deregulate, and drill, baby, drill!

Now, even Sarah Palin (WTF?!) is saying there should have been better government regulation of the oil and gas industry.

Well, you can bet your sweet BP that as soon as this tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico has blown over, they'll be back to screaming about the need for deregulation once again because too much of it is, you know, socialist or like the Nazis or whatever else they can pull out of their big BPs.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Stanford Tree vs. Cal Bear

This would normally be nothing all that special, but Chelle makes an appearance in this ESPN video from 1994 (ish, she can't remember exactly). The two team mascots--the Stanford tree and the UC Berkeley Cal Bear, Oski, rough each other up on the court. Chelle, who was Event Manager at Stanford at the time, is one of the ones breaking up the fight. She's the cute chick with black hair in the white sweatshirt, in the second fight clip. You can see the strap from her radio handset crossing her back. At first you see her from behind as she walks up to them and tells them to knock it off, but they take her demand literally. So, Chelle then jumps in with the rest of the guys to break it up. That's my girl!

UPDATE: my buddy Dee has made things simpler for us. Chelle appears at 0:57 and 1:10ish.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

photo credit: Sandy Clark

Belmont Stakes Picks

Today's running of the Belmont Stakes is rather anticlimactic because neither the Derby nor Preakness winners are in the field. Once again we have a year in which there is no contender for the Triple Crown (last won by Affirmed in ... I think 1978, but don't quote me on that).

There will probably be two favored horses in the race: Ice Box, who ran second in the Kentucky Derby and, given the trip he got, actually ran the better race than the winner, who was Super Saver; and First Dude, who ran second in the Preakness, almost holding on to win but getting passed by Lookin At Lucky. I understand the strategy for First Dude is to break well, shoot to the front, and pull away without looking back--let everybody come catch him. At a mile and a half, I'm betting against him. He should get tired and get passed. I might throw him into the exotics in case he can hang on for a piece, but I don't like him to win.

So, who could win? Ice Box, yes. The other Zito entry, Fly Down, is also getting some attention based on a superb eye-popping win in the Dwyer Stakes a month ago. I'm also staying loyal to my sentimental Derby pick, Stately Victor. Word is he's training well and if he can handle the sandy track, he could post a surprise at decent odds, especially since another son of Ghostzapper recently won going two turns at Belmont. Then there are others who could get a piece if not win, considering the distance is a question for all of them: Make Music for Me; Game On Dude; and Uptowncharlybrown.

Everybody else I'm tossing out, so all my tickets will be a variety of bets based on these numbers: 3,4,5,6,9, and maybe 11 sprinkled on the bottom in some. Good luck today, y'all, and may all the horses come home safely.

RESULT: It was Drosselmeyer at 13-1! (With Zenyatta's jockey Mike Smith up.) It was 7-5-11-8. Weird racing day; several longshots came in. The Pick 4 paid $83K, and there's yet another Pick 6 carryover at Belmont for tomorrow. Wow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Simon's Cat: "Cat Man Do"

If you haven't caught these on Youtube and you love cats, then you're missing some hella funny stuff. Here, Simon's cat channels our kitty Derby. I swear.

Queen Nutmeg Vs. Quaker Oats Dude

Separated at birth? I think so.

I need someone who's good at Photoshop to put these side by side and stick a hat on her head for a better comparison.

The Power of Words

One of the first steps towards sanity, as I discovered in early recovery, was to not take things personally. I've blogged about this here. I was forever attributing motivations, agendas, words, actions to all kinds of harmful intent. Truth is, I discovered it wasn't them: it was ME. I was projecting my stuff onto those "out there." (If you haven't read The Four Agreements, let me hasten to give it a plug. It's kinda New Age woo-woo, but there is much wisdom in it if you will open yourself to the messages within.)

Anyway, one other thing about taking things personally: aside from the fact that it is a very human, understandable, and forgivable thing to do, it does seem we are much more prone to doing it when we are hurt or angry at someone. For instance, say I'm pissed off at my friend Heather (yo, H-Bomb!) because she is a Libertarian who likes Rand Paul more than she dislikes him. This is hanging on in my heart even though I know she's a smart chica who has Lupita, who loves her yob, LOL. But then, say, Heather posts on Facebook that Obama is a sneaky snake oil salesman who is no better than George W. Bush in his handling of the BP oil spill fiasco--in fact, it may even be worse than Bush's handling of Katrina. Now Heather knows I felt Bush botched Katrina and that I luvs me some Obama. So I am, because I am already of the mindset that Heather has 'tude, gonna get pissed off. What she said is an attack on ME and my wonderful President. How dare she???

Meanwhile, Heather is like, "Wut?"

Yesterday I blogged about a pattern in my life, one of geographical cures and leaving people who are significant to me before they can leave me, due to abandonment issues I have. This was a pretty huge breakthrough for me in terms of understanding some of my past behaviors. When I was wrapping the post up, I was of two minds: I was marveling over how fortunate I'd been in not repeating that pattern yet again and feeling regret over all the people in the past I've hurt as I let that pattern play out, over and over. I was walking on air after realizing this because it means Tigger doesn't have to play this game no mo'....

Unfortunately, that post was read by a person I did very much hurt in the recent past and read what I said as "YOU are a bullet I dodged." I have written her an email explaining that no, that is not at all what I meant. And for the sake of clarity lest someone else misunderstand, I have now added to the post that she dodged that same bullet, as well as Chelle, because that is what I meant. But really, I was talking about ME. ME and MY dumb behaviors. ME and MY bad choices and acting out and stumbling through life only half aware of my own motivations and not understanding that yes, Tigger, my actions have consequences that involve real people.

So if I have anything to say today, I am reminded of the power of words. People carry their own lifetimes of experiences to everything you say. I'm thinking of my friend Ted, and how there's a quote on his FB page about our worst fears arising from being misunderstood, or something to that effect. You can apply that same idea to conflicts between nations or to conflicts between individuals--because these all arise from misunderstandings, if you boil all the bullshit away. We all walk a path strewn with mixed and conflicting perceptions. I struggle with this every day. ("Did they really say that? Or is this coming from me?")

Lately, I have tried the strategy of just asking before deciding. "Did you mean..." and trying to stay open to the idea that maybe it's just my dumb ass whose perceptions are off.

It has saved me a lot of heartache, but not all heartaches. The other lesson of today is a reminder of how there are always consequences to actions. Things I did a year ago are still biting me in the ass.