Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hello, New Orleans!

What a long day. We were up at 4:00am, drove to San Jose, flew to Chicago, sat around for an hour and a half, then flew to New Orleans. After checking into our hotel (Le Pavillion, which is also said to be haunted; you can read about that here), we went for a walk around the French Quarter and had dinner at the Acme Oyster House.

Now, if you're a fan of Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, then you know about Adam Richman's fifteen dozen raw oyster challenge that he successfully completed at this place. I am not about to eat that many raw oysters, but I did brave a dozen oysters on the half shell (pictured) and had a side of craw puppies, which were fabulously spicy.

And then we went for a walk around the French Quarter. Since it's mid-August, it's hot and humid (tomorrow it's supposed to be 96 degrees), and Bourbon Street reeked. Stale beer, old vomit, and every now and then you'd just get hit over the head with a horrible stench that smelled like either something died or the sewer system is in serious disrepair. One of the first sights I was treated to was of a middle-aged woman staggering, stumbling, and then slamming herself right into the side of a building. Her drunk buddies reached out, pulled her to them, and, flanking her, holding both her arms, they all began a staggering march on up the street.

Seriously, there were a lot of drunk people walking around--maybe because it's Saturday night, or maybe because apparently there is no open container law in this city. It reminded me of Las Vegas. You can order a drink to go and then just walk around the streets holding your cup of booze, and the police just smile and say "hello" to you.

I did enjoy the musicians playing on the street. I loved all the psychic readers lined up along Jackson Square, ready to tell your fortune. Chelle and I even considered taking one of the horse & carriage rides until I saw that it cost $75 for a half hour tour. (Besides, in this heat, I felt a little sorry for the horses.)

Finally we strolled back to the hotel. Now safely ensconced in our haunted hotel for the night, it's time for some much needed shut-eye. If I see a wee ghostie in the night, you'll surely hear about it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Serenity Prayer

You don't have to be in recovery to appreciate the wisdom of this short prayer. The fact is, we don't have any control over some things, so whenever we try to control such a thing even in a small way, we are bound to be frustrated. It's no weakness to relinquish control; it's sanity. Rather, work on those things that you do have some control over, some "say" about in the situation.

We forget that the thing that we have the most control over is OURSELVES. Everything in this life is a choice: you can choose to set some things down because the battle is unwinnable or not worth the effort; you can choose to not let a situation throw you off your game; you can choose to involve yourself in a hope for change as long as you don't lay an expectation down as your goal.

Relinquishing expectations is the key to serenity. Hope, but don't expect.

And we have faith that our Higher Power has some purpose for us, some design in mind, and when we have no control, faith is trust that whatever should happen or needs to happen, will be what happens.

It works.

Etta James: "The Very Thought of You"

Getting in the mood for New Orleans, so I thought I'd post this jazz standard as interpreted by the fabulous, smoky-voiced Etta James.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Why is my nickname Tigger?

Well, this pillow, for one.

I also love tigers. I have a tiger tattoo on my right deltoid. (Jonesin' for a new one, too, but that's a post for another day.) But, tigers are big, beautiful, strong cats, and that describes me only part of the time.

The other part of the time, I am Tigger. "T-I-Double Guh-Er." Bouncy, pouncy, silly, and fun.

And yes, I am also unique and endangered. We rare Tiggers need protecting.

Just in case you were wondering.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Finding Stella

Short clip I got with my cell phone, so you know ... it's crappy.

But I think you'll agree Chris Snyder does all right when channeling Janis.

Hangin' at the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Now, I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since July 1997. In all this time, I have never ventured south to Gilroy for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. I love garlic, but I'm not crazy about crowds.

This year, Chelle and our friend Stacia traveled the hour to Gilroy. You have never seen such a thing. Garlic EVERYTHING! Garlic wine, garlic chocolate, roasted garlic, garlic chicken stir fry, garlic ice cream, and the deliciousness we experienced as shown in the photo: garlic crab French fries.

Stacia and Chelle enjoyed Sierra Nevadas and Shock Top while I stuck with water and Diet Pepsi. We also caught the band Finding Stella at the amphitheater, and I was pleasantly surprised. Chelle went to college with the lead singer, Chris Snyder. I admit I'm not too crazy about their original music, but the woman can channel her some Janis Joplin!

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I touched up my Hawaii tan.

Life is good.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Indigo Girls: "Ghost"

I can never decide which one is my favorite song by Emily Saliers, this one or "Virginia Woolf." Here, she captures the sadness of a love lost, the memory of whom always comes back to haunt her.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cool Stuff: A Visual History of Nuclear Bombs

Cool all right, but grim food for thought. The movie starts with the first U.S. test bomb in the desert in New Mexico prior to the two bombs being dropped on Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then it follows all other bombs dropped on this planet up until 1998, when India and Pakistan joined the madness. (One thing I never really realized was HOW MANY test bombs were exploded in Nevada. I know the bomb tests used to actually be marketed as a tourist attraction outside Las Vegas, but ... wow. That's the only word I've got for that.)

You can check out the whole story here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Silliness from a Braindead Tigger

I haven't blogged much since I returned from Hawaii because, between jet lag and work, I've been exhausted! Summers at college are always a bit of a nightmare in the Writing Center because it's a short session, and every student taking an English course at CSM is required to complete a weekly hour by arrangement lab assignment. When that's compacted from 16 into 6 weeks, you can imagine the crunch. The appointments are in 20 minute blocks, so by the end of a day filled from 8:00am to 2:00pm with non-stop 20 minute tutoring sessions with students, my brain is completely fried.

But it remains interesting and challenging work, because in one moment, I'm helping a student new to the United States who is taking an ESL course and has limited English; the next, I'm helping an upper level lit student explicate a poem; the next, I'm helping a freshman composition student write an essay about how racism leads some kids to join gangs. Interesting: but exhausting. I have to fire on all cylinders for 6 hours straight with only one 20 minute break, which I usually don't get because of the backlog of students on the stand-by list. I wind up wolfing down a protein bar if an appointment happens to end a few minutes early. (If it ends very early, like 10 minutes, the assistant will go grab the next person on the stand-by list and that person will be treated to a very "slap-dash" conference. That's the consequence of showing up for help if you haven't reserved a space.)

The good thing is that, once my workday is over, it's over. I at least don't have to haul papers home to grade or have to prepare lesson plans. (No, that stuff is for the fall and spring semesters.)

So, this is just a long-winded explanation for the lack of any posts of real substance lately. I'm fine; I'm not drinking; in fact, I had a student who's a recovering addict conference with me today at one point. He wanted practice essay writing before taking a few psychology classes in the fall. He was stuck trying to come up with a topic to write about. I asked him what he wanted to major in one day. He said he wanted to get his certification in drug and alcohol counseling. This, from a guy who looked like he'd seen the worst part of hell at some point and survived to tell the tale. He had long black hair streaked with gray and a mostly gray goatee. Tattoos all over him. I said, "Write me an essay about how addicts and alcoholics have predictable behaviors." His eyes totally lit up. "I can do that!" he said. And off he went, happy as a clam.

It's stuff like this that keeps me loving the work I do. Here's a short video I shot of myself today in the lab when I was having a playful moment between appointments-- it's me, hamming it up as I await my next victim (insert evil laugh here).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Billie Myers: "Kiss the Rain"

I saw her perform this one live a few years ago (okay, maybe it was longer than that) during Lilith Fair at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. My wacky friend Alma got Billie to sign her thong! Good times, good times.

A great song for when you're missing someone.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back Home In One Piece

Well, we're back home now, after ten glorious days on the Big Island. Definitely renting a house is the way to go. We were very pleased with the experience--it was a beautiful place with a wrap-around deck and an upstairs lanai/sunning deck, a koa wood bar (even though I don't drink anymore, it was still pretty to look at), and lots of little touches the owners took care of (including a big tub of aloe vera and bottles of peroxide under each bathroom sink).

The aloe vera was handy for accidentally getting too much sun, and the peroxide good for the inevitable scrapes and cuts you get when swimming in the ocean.

We were a two-minute walk to Manini Beach--not a beach for laying out because of the lava, but great for swimming and snorkeling. It was nice to wake up, sip Kona coffee, and totter down to the cove for a quick dip before heading back to the house and starting on your day. Plus, right by the beach was "The Gecko Grove," or party headquarters as Chelle called it... geckos hanging out by the dozens. She got more gecko photos! And sunsets ... pretty much every night we were treated to a spectacular view of the sun dipping into the ocean, then disappearing on the horizon.

Work tomorrow morning. Ugh. It's 11:00pm Pacific Daylight Savings Time, but it feels like 8pm to me. Not a bit sleepy. I have a feeling I'll be more than a little braindead in the lab tomorrow.

The kitties couldn't be happier that we're back.

More photos to come once Chelle gets them downloaded from her digital camera.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sarah McLachlan: "Ice Cream"

This song says it better than I ever could.

My Last Day Here

Well, I already made a saucy post on Facebook about this plant being happy to see me, so I won't repeat that here. (Except that I just did.)

Anyway, this antherium, I'm told, is also known as Little Boy Plant.

Today's exciting adventure involved stopping by Ma's Kava Stop to try a small cup of the local elixir. I'm sure my sponsor will raise an eyebrow at me for that, but seriously. I've had kava before (just never here in the islands) and it is just not the same as alcohol. I suppose in high enough doses (like, ten cups or so) it acts as an intoxicant, but mostly it just makes me feel a little relaxed, and I don't get a "buzzed" feeling at all. No buzzed feeling = no desire to keep drinking cup after cup of it. Hence no problem. Actually, if anything, coffee gives me a buzz, but it's a different kind of buzz.

Anyway, Ma was very sweet and gave me a big hug goodbye, and I kissed her on the cheek.

I'm going to miss this place.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Check Out the Seahorses!

Today we went kayaking across Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook monument, which, interestingly enough, is on British soil even though the Hawaiian Islands are part of the United States. The monument (actually a plaque nearby it) marks the spot where the native Islanders murdered the Captain once they figured out he was not the god Lono as they'd originally thought. Also of interest along the cliffs were all the small caves where the bones of the ali'i, or the island royalty, were buried. Apparently what they would do is lower a man on a rope to the caves, where he would pick one and secret the bones. Then he'd call up that the bones were hidden. The ones at the top would then cut the rope and the man would fall to his death.

It was considered a great honor to be sacrificed in this way, protecting the burial place of a king or queen.

The waters around the monument are an ocean refuge because of the coral reef, the fish, the sea turtles, and dolphins. Consequently there were many snorkelers, and I thought we did very well to not bean one of them accidentally with a paddle.

Kayaking in the ocean is not as treacherous sounding as you may think, even though it was my first time kayaking. Actually, the hardest thing was getting into the darn boat without capsizing it. I succeeded in capsizing not the kayak, but myself. Into the water I slipped with a splash, grazing my back on some rocks, much to the amusement of the locals and the other tourists in line awaiting their turn.

But there in the water near me floated a shoe lost by a little girl, so I snatched it up and swam over to her with it. Ha! Suddenly the fat haole girl who fell in the water was a heroine.

The highlight of the day, though, was going to the Ocean Rider seahorse farm, where seahorses are bred in captivity for research purposes and to sell to hobbyists and aquariums so that wild seahorses not be caught for pet stores to sell, thus depleting the oceans of them. It was a cool experience to see how they're fed, bred, and grown, acclimating them to aquarium life so that they don't get attached to a single mate. (The wild ones die in captivity if a mate dies; they grieve, stressed, and starve themselves to death.)

Here is video of some of them swimming around:

The other, very interesting, thing to learn about seahorses is that not only do they mate for life in the wild, but it's the males who get pregnant, carry the babies, and give birth. They give birth to about 600 tiny babies; then the male has about a minute of rest, and the female will do the "tail dance" with him and impregnate him all over again. What a trip.

At the end of the tour, we were all given the opportunity to hold a seahorse for a moment if we wanted. Now you KNOW this Tigger isn't going to pass up a chance like that! So we were directed to touch our fingertips together and hold very still while one of the guides draped a seahorse into our palms. Mine was a shy little female who
was soft and slippery (I'd say something crude here, but I guess I won't.)

Anyway, on the way home, I stopped long enough to snap a quick photo of all the beautiful blooms lining the road. Kona is truly a tropical paradise. It will be hard to leave here.

315 Days and No Mai Tai's

Sometimes it seems as if the world conspires to make people drink.

It's sort of like how straight folks seem to always tell me, "I don't mind if people are gay, but why do they have to flaunt it all the time?" I think about that and then I think about how much straight culture is "flaunted" in my face all the time ... in the movies, in magazines, on billboards, in books, on television, etc etc. Straight people are used to seeing straight people kissing, holding hands, and exuding their sexuality because it's all around us. So when a gay couple walks down the street holding hands, it seems like they're "flaunting" it when in actuality, all they're doing is what straight people do, in hordes, day after day.

I guess we just notice more what is unusual to us, or denied to us.

Since I quit drinking over ten months ago, it seems as if every time I turn around, there's a neon sign flashing "Cold Beer" or "Budweiser" at me. Here in Hawaii on vacation, the big draw is "Mai Tais," in neon, on whiteboards, and in the 2-for-1's offered at the waterfront restaurants during Happy Hour. At Kona Brewing Company the other day for lunch, the waiter took Chelle's order for a Castaway IPA, nodded his approval, then turned to me for my drink order. "Diet Coke," I said.

His face fell. Seriously.

"Aw, come on," he said. "You have to try the local beer!"

I just laughed and said, "You really don't want to see me with a few drinks in me."

Chelle chimed in with, "You REALLY don't."

And we all laughed, so he gave up pushing it on me.

Just as most people assume others are straight unless otherwise informed, most people assume others are not alcoholics. You would not believe how many servers, upon seeing Chelle order a drink, look positively surprised when I don't order one, too. I see the words "party pooper" cross their furrowed brows.

Ah, but that's life. I'm enjoying actually watching the sunset instead of focusing more on how many Mai Tais I can safely order in one sitting without coming across as a drunk. I'm enjoying waking up around 6:30 or 7:00am and listening to the birds, hearing the waves crashing against the lava along the shoreline, and smelling the plumeria lei hanging at the head of the bed. In the past, I'd waste half the day sleeping in until 11:00, popping ibuprofen and chugging water in hopes of chasing off the hangover, then giving up and ordering a Bloody Mary at lunch to fix me up.

I am happy in my sobriety, happier than I've ever been. The gifts far outweigh any stray moments of discomfort.

A great one: I will remember this entire vacation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Great Hawaiian Adventure, Pt. 2

We're halfway through vacation, and the pattern seems to be something like this: swim and sun in the morning, eat lunch, shop a bit, then retreat to the house while it rains. And, I'm loving it! This pink hibiscus was flowering downtown in Kona yesterday while we were walking around after lunch.

Today we drove north of the airport in search of white sand beaches since everything near the house is a lava rock and gravel beach. After some exploring and asking the locals for directions, we were sent to Kekaha Kai State Park, which actually had a paved road all the down to the beach (a feat, believe me, when you're driving a convertible). It wasn't well marked and seemed to be a local secret and, for such a nice beach, was pretty deserted. I took some lame video, but you can see for yourself how beautiful it was: turquoise water, white sand, and other haole people like ourselves.

Here is a photo of me after I went swimming. Looks like I've got a tree growing out of my head, doesn't it?

We had lunch at Kona Brewing Company (no worries, I went for the Diet Coke while Chelle enjoyed the local handcrafted brew), then went shopping in Kona again. I was in a sour mood for some reason (maybe too much sun, maybe waited too long to eat, maybe PMS, maybe I'm just a psycho), but that's nothing a little retail therapy can't cure. Hence, I bought myself this new sterling silver bracelet with dolphins for good luck:

And I was in great mood after that. Bought some presents for friends, bought a new book to read since I'm almost done with the one on my Kindle, bought and chugged a gingerale.

Then I got home and saw that I'd burned my left side.

Eh, no worries. Just means I'll have to go back tomorrow and burn the other side so they match. Grin.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm Starting to Feel Relaxed

Finally we have had a day of mostly sun and not much in the way of rain. So I spent most of today lying out on the upstairs lanai, getting some color on my haole self, and reading. I discovered last night that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is available on Netflix, so I watched about half of that. I am definitely not having any deep thoughts about much of anything.

I also finally got lei'd today. I like this photo except that I look like I have British teeth and have a problem grinding them. Eh. Just the shadows. My buddies are complimenting me on the coconuts. I don't see any darn coconuts. I do see a lovely plumeria lei, which is now perfuming up our entire bedroom. Happy sigh.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Every Dashboard Needs One

Hangin' loose with the man!

The Great Hawaiian Adventure

The great thing about Manini Point House is that we will be treated to a sunset every night we're here. This photo shows last night's--not too shoddy for an iPhone picture.

Yesterday was a "chill out" day--we did a lot of nothing. Laid around, read, walked down to the beach a couple of times. Checked out the kayak rentals across Kealakekua Bay, and we may try kayaking at some point during our stay. The neighborhood is a mix of houses for rent to tourists but mostly locals.

The oddest thing is that the locals allow their animals to run all over the place--which is fine, I love dogs and cats--but the thing I did NOT expect to see, nor associate with a Hawaiian vacation--was this little guy grazing in somebody's front yard:

There ya have it, folks: he da kine donkey!

The place is also fragrant with flowers and bursting with colors. Plucked this plumeria bloom from a tree on the roadside and wore it in my hair for much of the afternoon.

We grilled burgers and sweet corn out on the deck for dinner and went to bed early, once again listening to the sound of rain pounding the tiled roof.

On tap for today: maybe a drive into town. Chelle wants to hit some thrift shops to look for some aloha shirts. Maybe we'll grab lunch at Kona Brewing Company. No worries: I'll be the designated driver.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Aloha, Aikanes


We made it to Hawaii safe and sound. Our vacation house is fabulous--I think the owners must be Buddhist, because there are Buddhas all over the house and a few crystals too. Thus the place has a nice, soothing vibe.

The sunset photo is from the upstairs lanai off our bedroom. Here's another shot of the ocean from the lanai, looking to the left.

We're a two-minute walk to the beach and I went to sleep last night listening to the waves crashing upon the shore. Woke up this morning to see the lights of fishing boats bobbing along the waves. It's still pitch black out.

Yesterday I was also treated to an unusual sight: two geckos mating on the deck. Hahaha! I won't post a picture of that, although Chelle was snapping photos like an enamored zoologist.

I think for the first couple of days, we're just going to hang out, chill, read, swim, sunbathe, and do a lot of nuffin'. Maybe the volcano, a horseback ride, the seahorse farm, hiking trails, and that sort of thing later on.

Well, the sun's coming up now, so I'm off to grab some coffee.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Comedy: Rap Reiplinger's "Room Service"

Because if you've ever been to Hawaii, this will make you laugh. And probably even if you haven't.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Keola Beamer: Elepaio Slack Key

I loves me some slack key guitar! It's an interesting form of fingerstyle playing with some of the strings detuned (or "slackened"). The style originated in Hawaii. Keola Beamer and Hapa are two popular slack key guitar artists/groups. Whenever I play Keola Beamer in my office at work, people will inevitably stop, poke their head through my office door, and ask who it is.

You KNOW I'm getting ready for Hawaii...

Sobriety and Pride

My friend Tedi wrote this and posted it to Facebook this morning, so I have swiped it (with her permission) and posted it here. Lots of good info in this one.

I quit drinking nine months ago. In AA, nine months is a recognized milestone and I received a green chip to commemorate it. I also announced it here, and have been receiving my friends' and family's congratulations. So, why does it make me so uncomfortable when someone I care about tells me that they're proud of me for quitting? I've been thinking about it and have come up with a few thoughts.

The congratulations are great, I love those. It's like we're all celebrating together. And there is much to celebrate. I feel wonderful, people tell me I look ten years younger, and my life is on an even keel. I'm kinder, more amiable, less prone to stress, in short, more serene.

But the pride thing just rubs the wrong way. I can see how people would be glad I quit drinking. They love me and want me to be safe and healthy. And it makes me a nicer, more thoughtful person, so I'm more pleasant to be around. So "glad" sits well.

The thing is, I'm not proud of myself, in this instance. I was proud when I graduated from college. I was proud when I was working on my newspaper column. I am proud of my children. Those were all things I actively worked, or contributed positive effort to, in order to accomplish.

It's hard to feel pride about something I'm not doing. It's more like I'm returning to a more natural state of affairs, that I've rediscovered the status quo. If I'd been beating myself with a hammer(and my body probably thinks that was the equivalent) for fifteen years and I suddenly stopped, it doesn't seem like a point of pride. It just means I stopped being quite so crazy. And a lot less bruised.

The other part of it, as my friends also in recovery will know, is that I didn't really do this. All by myself, I would have never quit drinking. It's not a lack of will power. People who know me well know how strong my will is. I have an actual physical disorder which causes me to react differently to alcohol than the majority of the population. You can't see it. I don't break out in hives. I break out in handcuffs. And a whole lot of other things. When I drink, I can't control what I say, or what I do, or how much of it I say or do. And it's sometimes hard to remember that, for me, it's the first drink that gets me drunk. Not every time. I've been known to have just one. But I never know, when I drink one, if it will only be just one. It's a crap shoot with very bad odds.

The one thing I did do was go to AA, and get some very good therapy. And I'm pleased that I finally did something good for myself. But just going to AA, and just going to therapy didn't get me sober. What got me sober is very hard to explain if you've never gone through it, never worked the twelve steps and never truly surrendered to a power you don't understand. But it isn't me. It's something greater than me. And it's a true miracle. Twelve simple suggestions for living, sharing my progress, pitfalls and questions with people just like me, and finally admitting that there are things in this world I can't do all by myself. I am not an island. I need the other people on this planet in order to be well.

That is not a point of pride. It's a point of gratitude.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aimee Mann: "Wise Up"

Since I mentioned the song, it's been in my head all day, so I'll repost it in case you don't know it.

Cool Stuff: Fireworks over Toledo

This was shot from the Willis B Boyer Ship Museum on the Maumee River in Toledo. Be sure to click on the video to watch it in high definition.

Getting Rid of Your 'Stuff'

I used to drink. I used to drink a lot. I used to drink because I couldn't stand facing the reality of things. Didn't want to deal with past hurts. Didn't want to face hurtful things I had done. Instead I'd rationalize, make excuses for myself, resent others, and then try to drink away the unnerving feeling I'd get, every now and then, that something was wrong.

Drinking lifted my spirits. And if it wasn't drinking, it was dopamine from something else: a sexual encounter, somebody falling madly in love with me (or with whom they THOUGHT I was ... lord, how often is "love" simply projection?), adoration from students, publishing a story, you name it.

All this "feel good" stuff defined me. Feelings became facts and if something didn't go my way, I'd crash ... into deep depression, days of feeling devastated, drinking even more to feel better and only feeling desperate and needy as a result.

Here was the problem: I looked for happiness OUT THERE.

Happiness is NOT out there. Sorry. It just isn't. Happiness is all internal.

The good stuff that happens to you when you're happy is just icing on the cake. But if bad stuff happens, it's just something that is not great--and it doesn't mess with your happiness. Happiness is a state of mind, a contentment with yourself.

You will forever be chasing after happiness if it depends on a person, a job, money in the bank, a nice house adorned with things you like, or whatever the hell you're so sure floats your boat. Because... the second one of those things lets you down, you are gonna crash. Yet, those are just things that are "out there."

But how does one reach that inner state of mind, or true happiness?

You deal with your stuff. You do NOT ignore it, or shove it off to the side with your salad fork, like a bad walnut that sneaked its way onto your plate. It will keep biting you in the ass until you face it, accost it, deal with it. Process it. Talk it out. Beat it to death if you must. But it does NOT go away until you deal with it.

No amount of ignoring it or of trying to get rid of it by focusing instead on those things outside of you that give you happiness will make it go away. As Aimee Mann sang in Magnolia: "It's not going to stop until you wise up."

That film was all about people unsuccessfully doing everything in the world to deal with their shit by NOT actually dealing with it.

Is it FUN? No. Hell, I don't want to revisit Mr. Cipriani's groping me as a child or remember my stepmother's beatings. I don't want to face that I have cheated on my partners in numerous relationships. I don't want to look at my crap and have to admit where I was wrong or acting out of fear or selfishness.

I would much rather believe I was a perfect little angel and the victim of everybody else. I would much rather believe I am an extraordinary and superior human being--oh, I can admit to dumb mistakes I may have made here and there--but it was always because I was fooled, or somebody lied to me, or because I had no power over something, or blah blah blah.

But THAT attitude made me drink.

Real serenity, truly letting things go, means processing our "stuff." It means looking at it all honestly and owning your part of things. We are so afraid of doing that. Sometimes people can't face it, and go back out rather than complete their Fourth Step. But I have learned it is way more valuable to just deal with my crap, face that pain, and work it out with others where I can (some people are dead or are no longer in my life, so I can't, but at least I can get my side of the street clean in those instances.) There is still some peace and complacency in that.

By far the biggest simple truth I have learned is this: my actions from here on out need to completely square with my values. When they don't, I am doomed. The drink is on the horizon. It's just a matter of time.

So, people in AA talk and talk and talk. Some find it annoying.

I find it utterly necessary.

Monday, July 5, 2010

'Til Tuesday: "Coming Up Close"

This was one of my favorite songs while I was in grad school at Penn State. I still remember Aimee Mann performing this live on television one night while I was huddled under a blanket upstairs in a cold bedroom, snow falling softly outside as I studied for my master's exam. Little did I know then that the next place I would actually live would be Iowa, where this song would take on additional meaning.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cold Brews on a Hot Summer Day

I knew it would be coming, because I got a tiny one over at Chelle's brother's new condo on the beach the other night. The family cracked open Anchor Steams to celebrate his new venture into home ownership, and he was sitting next to me, savoring the unique San Francisco steam-brewed beer. I could smell it. It was a hot day and we'd been moving a few things up the stairs for him into his new place.

God. I wanted one.

But I shook it off and soon forgot about it.

So today the cravings grabbed me fiercely by the throat. It's the Fourth of July. We're going to be grilling burgers and hot dogs. We've got the potato salad all made. Chelle's beer is chilling in the fridge. It's hot today and we've been out shopping and I'm sweaty. Everybody else is chilling out, enjoying their cold beer, their margarita, their vodka tonic. Everybody but me.

And boy, do I ever crave one. Just one. Just ONE cold beer, to slam down my parched throat, to give me that nice old buzz where everything is funny and life is good and I have no cares in the world.

I'm licking my lips. And for a long, agonizing minute, I was actually concocting a story, one that would get me off the hook of this silly sobriety and get me back into the game. "Aw, Chelle. I'm not an alcoholic. See here, I've been sober for ten months now. Let me have just one."

And thankfully, my rational mind, the AA slogans, the coping strategies rehearsed in rehab, descended on me like a blessed cloud. I had to laugh at myself. "What the fuck? Are you NUTS?!"

Naw, I'm just a recovering alcoholic. Deep inside my primitive brain, my inner addict is screaming for me to stroke its pitiful little pleasure center. That's all.

My best coping strategy is thinking the drink through to the end. That first one is always the one we remember so longingly. We have to force ourselves to think instead of the last drink we'd have on a bender, the one that came along with yelling, acting out, doing stupid things, and preceding either puking or passing out. That's the one that's not so fun to remember, the one you can't rhapsodize about. THAT ONE.

Oh. Yeah. THAT ONE.

Never mind. Pass me a cold Diet Pepsi, would ya?

And if that doesn't work, I'll call my sponsor.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

I love my country. I have always felt proud and blessed to be an American.

Oh, sure, all my friends know I gripe about the government, the Supreme Court, taxes, wasteful wars, this country's ridiculous stance on gay rights, and what I see to be the occasional deterioration of our freedoms--but that is because I love our country.

I love what it stands for. The ideal: We get to elect our representatives in public office. We have freedom of speech. Our right to pursue individual happiness is protected (as long as our pursuits don't infringe on the freedoms of another). We're granted freedom of religion so that no one particular religion is imposed upon us. And more. We're also the "good guys": We don't abide it when others pick on a little guy who can't defend himself from the big bully of oppression.

On the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" reads, in part:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We are a great country because we embrace those who suffer, those who haven't been allowed the same freedoms granted to ourselves.

I only gripe and complain when I see us NOT holding true to these values or NOT extending them to everyone, regardless of race, class, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or any other label we may slap on someone to deny them their equal right to pursue happiness.

Happy July 4th, America. May we never forget what we stand for: a nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

Let us never wish to "take our country back": rather, let us wish to take our country forward.

ps: y'all be careful with those pyrotechnics!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fisher: "I Will Love You"

A friend turned me on to this one yesterday. Shades of Enya, so it might not be your cup of tea, but I like the piano. Music, lyrics, and her voice are all haunting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Drawing Inferences or Reading the Subtext

All this week, students visiting the Writing Center who are taking English 110 this summer have been working on a tutorial about drawing inferences from literature. They do a series of exercises and then must pass a short quiz in which they read a passage (a couple of paragraphs from Colette) and have to analyze the characters. The quiz basically tests them on their ability to read beyond the obvious and literal meaning. They consider the author's word choices, what's said, what isn't said, to arrive at some conclusions about the characters.

In other words, we are trying to get them to read between the lines, think about the subtext, and try to figure out what's REALLY going on beyond the surface meaning.

It reminded me of how we apply these principles (or don't, unwisely) in our daily lives. Every time we encounter someone new, or deal with someone we may not know well, we are challenged to size them up. Some people, alas, are just crazy, ridden by anxieties or resentments or delusions, and they approach the world from that place. Others are simply cruel, mean-spirited, selfish, liars, and so on. The people we like are the trustworthy ones, the ones who mean well, who come at you from a place of respect and kindness.

Thus, the challenge lies in figuring out where the other person is coming from. So lately I've been relying more on subtexts and inferences, asking myself things like, "Why would they say that? Why is that detail significant? What are they really revealing to me?"

Maybe this is also on my mind because I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, in which he describes how we make, in certain situations, snap judgments that usually turn out to be pretty accurate. How many times have we slapped a hand to our foreheads and said, "Damn, I should've gone with my first impression!" because we gave someone a chance when our guts told us not to? HOW do we sense these things? A part of it is just inferences, subtext.

So three examples pop into mind.

Say Jane Smith in Sacramento always seems to have to boast (or manages to drop into the conversation this information) whenever she's having sex with someone. What does this tell us? Is she trying to make us jealous? Possibly, in which case she's acting like an adolescent. But one thing's for sure, she wouldn't even bring it up unless sex isn't a normal part of her life. Either way, I'm not impressed.

Or, John Brown adamantly tells you to NOT start dating Jimmy Handsome because "he's just a player who only wants to fuck with your head." You decide to not heed his advice and find out Jimmy is actually a very sweet man. Then, months later, you find out that John Brown totally screwed over a friend of yours with his incessant game-playing and cheating. Moral of the story: SOMETIMES it's true that, when somebody accuses somebody else of a certain agenda or motivation, what they're really doing is revealing to you what THEY might do in the same situation.

Last example along these lines. Say you confide to someone something extremely difficult and personal, let's just say child sexual abuse since I blogged on this topic the other day. The usual response would be horror, sympathy, and anger at your abuser. But what this person does is doubt you. They suggest you're exaggerating or just making it up altogether in order to get attention. Now, you know you've told the truth, so what does their response say about them? You got it: THEY would be the kind of person to tell a whopper of a tale like that.

This is what I mean about drawing inferences. It's not like you sit around and ponder them all day long, but it's something we continually are called on to do whenever we engage someone else. I'm finding it much easier to do as a sober person. When I was drunk all the time, it was simple to pull the wool over my eyes because I was unable to be attentive to stuff like this. I took some people at face value whom I should NOT have taken at face value.

The good news is, once you've gotten to know someone and trust your instincts about them, you're generally dead on. You don't need to hesitate at all; you can take them instantly for their word.

The other good news is, once the "questionable folks" figure out that you're good at sizing other people up, they tend to stay away from you.

This is not a cosmic revelation by any means, but just some pondering today about human nature.