“i cut last night – would that explain the nausea and lack of appetite?”

My son puts his arms around me. “I’m ready for a rest,” he sighs. After a beat, he whispers, “I would never jomp you.”

“Jomp” is a word we came up with. On accident. I told him yesterday I was going to chomp him. But I said, jomp, on accident. The kids fell into peals of laughter and then asked me what jomping is. I said, “When I jump up and bite your neck.”

My son’s neck. His arms which furl like tendrils around me. He tells me he’s going to solve a case –  my missing phone – as The Cobweb – but he adds, “I’m disguised as a scruffy little boy.” Then under his breath, “I’ll brush my hair later.”

My daughter, this morning, arms around me with her head in my lap while I sip fresh, hot coffee. Her hair is iridescent, a dark waterfall, a brilliant teal. Her body solid, long, strong, lean; tattered pajamas, developing into a young lady right before my eyes, fingers catching hold of water. She is a loaded firecracker. She is full of righteous anger. She is tender and caring. She is fierce like a dagger.

Today:

Breakfast, prepared by my eldest; the younger child set the table:

And since last night was rough, a girlfriend and I – and the kids – took off to Olympia for GIANT DELICIOUS SUBMARINE SANDWICHES!

***

I am a Buddhist, and I don’t know if you’d call my chants “prayer”. I call these rituals “prayer” when I talk to others as much like the word, “God”, people seem to grasp what I’m getting at.

But do my prayers, my chants, my meditations, do they matter? I am not the only one I know struggling with difficulties. I have friends who are just being torn up by life. Friends who are going through pain. I name them at my shrine. I call them or email them. I check in with them, simply to check in. They are in my heart. I offer the help I can (food, a loan, advice if they ask). Mostly though I remember them. That is all perhaps my chants really are. Remembrances. I don’t worry for my friends but I suffer with them in some way I didn’t used to. My fingertips are on their pulse but I have no prescription, no magic pill.

Watching other human beings grow, and cope with their lot with dignity. It’s today’s “drug of choice”, this world of the spirit. It is an exhilarating place. I live, because others do the same.

Tonight: hot shower, glass of water. I set white sage alight; I put match to a honey candle. Turn down a newly-washed bed. Pull a child into my arm. Put my back into my husband, the crook of his broad chest, his strong arms.

To sleep; to wake, and work again.

living on the water 5ever

On Phee’s last day, of her first year, of school:

Such a wonderful girl. I have more to say about that, at a later date. But with this photo we also mark the fact I DID NOT EVER EVER MISS THE BUS, PICKING HER UP! I am so beyond impressed with myself on this one. So impressed. I drove 8.4 miles per day to get her from the bus stop. It worked out every time. I am a goddamned champion because lots of times I can’t do anything right.

At the Chehalis today:

Aberdeen, Washington. I love where I live, down in my bones. I may live and die here; I may travel and park myself somewhere else for a while. Who knows? It is beautiful here, so beautiful.

The Little Ones. They spent their first summer break day today being very tender to one another. Nels missed her very much this last year. I think the hard work of school made her cranky, too. He had a lot of angry tears this last year. We shall see!

A random apple, floating in the river. It was in perfect shape, and just bobbing away. A bright hard ball of lovely red in a sea-bleak riverscape.

By Ralph, whilst chaperoning the end-of-year fieldtrip with our children and Phoenix’s class. Cloud-cover and sunburns:

 

I welcomed a sunny, peaceful day today. Yesterday I was hit with the worst kidney stone I’ve had in a little under a year. I was sitting in a meeting when it came up. I gently rubbed my thumbs over one another and I felt myself sweating and shaking. A friend kept leaning over and offering me “help” but I was in my own little pain-world. It was bad enough I considered the ER; I gave it time, and after an hour and a half it abated. It took a lot out of me, though. Today the pain was so much less that I felt incredibly grateful.

Another day; another few steps on this spaceship Earth. Did I make the most of it? Was I loving – was I kind?

I meditated in the morning and asked for help, and inspiration, and tact. I met with a friend to help her, and served her pie and coffee. I called two other friends to check in on them. I manned my Wednesday volunteer shift. I took time out of the day for my children, and my husband, and my mother. I performed a bit of housework, I cared for our pets and plants, and I put a B-movie on while I did some sewing work (yay!). I thanked my husband for the wonderful dinner he made. And now: a hot shower, candles lit, a bit of journaling, and to bed with my lovies.

There’s nothing else for it!

catch me i’m falling

I would like to offer my readership an apology. I “owe” a few tutorial posts (I am well-aware of this!), and I have not been writing as much as I’d like.

Some of this is circumstantial – just, getting out of balance. As of this week I have committed to two sewing projects – and a design sketch – that I haven’t yet started. My creative exploits have been put on the back burner as I meet commitments to family and community. I am trying to be very patient with my limitations, as it is end-of-school-year for my daughter and I have a little work to do there. Ralph has had a few professional and personal activities that have kept him from home a night or two – and that adds up.

But most relevant: I have not been feeling well. I am experiencing medical problems that are quite distracting and often disabling. It isn’t a complex illness to describe and it is one I am looking forward to sharing in the next few days; but I don’t feel like writing about it now. I am under a sewing deadline at the moment; when this is finished (tomorrow evening), I will take stock of what I said I would accomplish, and make a plan.

Paradoxically, it has been a commitment or two that keep me in relative good cheer. I have a few volunteer engagements I’ve been faithful to for almost three years. Today I sat in my standard Wednesday afternoon meeting, and served as the meeting’s chair. While I listened to others talking, I wondered if the individuals there knew how much it meant to me, to have a place to go, and a purpose, and to be asked to help, a group of “strangers”. No fame. No pay. No reputation. No one gives a shit. All of this makes it deeply meaningful (because I’m a Buddhist, and we are weird). Dizzy and nauseated, I breathe deep, close my eyes, and meditate on the gladness I am alive. There is something very special about caring for people I will never see again. About pouring my heart out, just emptying it out, with no regard to where things go. Because I know I’m doing something helpful but I don’t know what I’m doing, exactly.

Home and my children are themselves: energetic, lively, clever, loving, and vibrant. I am ill and sensitive to noise; on the drive home (Ralph in the driver’s seat) I put my hands on my face. “Mama, are you sick?” Nels immediately asks in alarm. “I am, little guy.” The sunset is beautiful and the car has a full tank of gas and I’ve got makings for tomorrow’s dinner in the fridge (fried chicken, corn on the cob, coleslaw and homemade biscuits) and surely I’ll survive the night.

turn around, bright eyes

This morning the phone rang early; I answered to a small coutille shop across the country who wanted to know if I really did want their rather arcane and old-fashioned form of tracing paper. It was like: they were vetting me to see if I knew what it was for. In truth I am very happy to have found the product as, as a seamstress, my tools and fabrics are everything. And I’m going to be looking forward to that tracing paper like a huge, huge nerd.

Anyway after the brief call I hung up the phone, arose and brushed my teeth and hair, then fell back in bed.

My son was loving when he woke before I; he arose, dressed and cleaned up, and fixed himself a breakfast. Eventually he opened the door, “Mom? Do you want to get up?” Yes, yes I do.

I had trouble for the first hour I was vertically walking around. I am tapering off medicine that was prescribed to me in late May. I am feeling uncomfortable at times. I have good support. But wake-ups – a little groggy, still.

I am grateful for my family who is very patient with my limitations.

Tonight: Ralph (with a good-natured assist from Eric), busking. Today marked the official last day of the brick-and-mortar of local shop Gray’s General, which I adored. I think I was literally in there, their first five minutes being opened about two years ago. I’ve written blog posts and tutorials, hosted a class or two, and shopped for all sorts of wonderful craft this-and-that. Living where I do – with no fabric store, which is like a personal horror – Gray’s has been a well-loved experience for me. I will miss them, but I am so glad to have had them.

My daughter; looking half-grown. Today I told her to make sure to ignore any boys who were bugging her. She said, “There won’t be any kids [where we’re going].” I said, “Yeah, maybe not. But… even though you’re only twelve, men are going to start in with their stuff.” She immediately got my drift. I told her to read a book and ignore dudes who bothered her. She already knows how to do this, by the way.

A candle, lit for those in need. I told someone today, “We put other things where God belongs. We trust in things that don’t work.” Nothing is constant but that choice we have, to put our trust and our faith in something larger than ourselves and our limited understanding. This has, many times, been the only thing that has got me through.

The Lost Weekend

tossing the sandbags overboard: movies about drunks

The Lost Weekend

At three years’ sober today I’ve been to about a thousand meetings of recovered (or recovering, or trying-to-recover, or not-wanting-to-recover) alcoholics. If you average about fifteen people at each meeting sharing their stories that means I’ve heard roughly 15,000 personal accounts of the struggle with alcoholism.

That said I still don’t know much about alcoholism; however, I’ve had a lot of misconceptions dispelled and I’ve un-learned a bit of ignorance. And y’all know I’m a cinephile, right? So one thing I do know is the story of the recovered alcoholic isn’t often like the movies – parties, socially-embarrassing moments, increasingly crazy behavior, tears and fights and then one day – he finally pours the bottle down the sink as the family tearfully looks on and then all is Eden. Yeah, right! [ she laughs ].

Anyway here’s some stuff that’s on the Real. You ever want to talk to me about these movies or my history as a “functional” alcoholic you let me know.

And thanks for three wonderful years. May I receive many more!

***

Who can put a list like this together without The Lost Weekend (1945)? This critically-hailed film depicts an end-stage binge of writer Don Birnam (as played by the legendary and wonderful Ray Milland) and I enjoy it more and more upon each viewing. What I like best about this film is Milland’s performance itself (for which he won an Oscar and claims the shortest Oscar-acceptance speech on record), as he doesn’t play the typical caricature of a drunk. You want to know how a hopeless alcoholic looks and behaves? Cunning, charming, lovelorn and sweet – likable, intelligent, devious, hopeless. There ya go. The score (and theramin!), the costume design, everything about the film (except the oddly abrupt denouement) is wonderful.

Clean and Sober (1988) is simply perfection. It’s perfection. Stand-out performances by Michael Keaton, Kathy Bates, and M. Emmet Walsh. Whereas most films that deal in any way with alcoholism show the troubles leading up to the cessation of drinking (borrrring!), this film concerns itself roughly with the first thirty days of an individual’s sobriety. Particulars aside I can’t think of a film that better depicts that window of one’s life. I related personally to so many moments of the film – the man, for instance, who sits in his car drinking a beer so he can “trick” the treatment center into admitting him, and he can hide out for a while from legal and employment troubles. Someone very dear to me did the same. There’s also a scene where a sober alcoholic arrives on the porch of his friend and sponsor, busted down beyond measure, without the thought of a drink but without anything to offer anyone either. His sponsor says a few kind but harsh words to him. Now that moment – well I’ve lived that moment, and long after my last drink. Gives me chills. A great film.

Shame (2011) is a rough go, one of those tear-your-guts-out films you want to recommend to your friends – with a cautionary measure. The film depicts a few weeks in the life of a sex addict and drug addict named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) as his routines are interrupted by the sudden re-appearance of a family member. This film is quite explicit sexually, but it’s the explicitness of addiction behaviors that make it a stand-out. The film delivers breathtaking realism on two accounts: how incredibly sad active addiction is, and how those who are addicted often appear to be living a “normal” or even successful life (Brandon occupies a world of financial privilege that won’t last long if he keeps practicing his behaviors). The film depicts addiction in full-bloom in an incredibly well-rendered way and for that, I adore it.

Come Early Morning (2006), the directorial and writing debut of Joey Lauren Adams, is in my opinion a film with beautiful nuance, and I recommend it often – especially for any family touched by alcohol and drug use. We first meet central character Lucy (Ashley Judd) after a night of drinking, but I’m not sure if she’s an alcoholic; at any rate, she certainly isn’t the only one. Another character in the film most certainly is, and that other person and his relationship with Lucy – well it really tore at my heartstrings. Judd is on point in this film (when is she not?), but so is the supporting cast. The DVD cover of this movie looks like a softball romantic drama; it’s not. It’s a rock-solid story of the journey to Recovery and that means loss, and change – heartbreaking losses and scary changes.

Protagonist (2007). This documentary isn’t about alcoholism. This film is about… well as a Buddhist I’d say this film is about Illusion and where that Illusion leads you – and how that Illusion, given enough credence and investment, will kill you. As a Buddhist I’d say this film applies to every human being out there. As a drunk I’d say this film is about trying to manage your life (or your addiction) – and failing, utterly so. This film is about striving, and certainty, and knowing you’re right, and knowing you know what the problem is. But then… something happens. Ah hell, I can’t explain the movie. It is almost a heartsong for me and perhaps it represents my own experiences with alcoholism more than almost anything else. This film is about Waking Up, I suppose.

So there ya have it! Get to watching. And thank you, my dear friends, for helping me get along a little longer on this lovely little planet Earth.

on the present moment

This afternoon I did not want to put aside my work (which had been delayed enough already), and pack children into the car – rowdy children, not all of them mine – and go to a few shops, and pick up groceries for a summer dinner, and come home and prepare that food. I did not want to pay for or organize a cookout meal next door at my mom’s, but I did it anyway. I did so because I knew my mother and the children and the dog would enjoy it. I knew it didn’t matter if I enjoyed it so much.

It was my job. I was that guy. I want to be that guy.

This morning I didn’t want to be honest with a suffering friend. I worried my honesty might hurt an already-hurting person. I worried I was wrong anyway. Why speak up, if I might be wrong? But I also know: I want to be that guy. I want to be that friend you say, “She always told me the truth.” I want you to know I meant what I said when I said it. It’s my job. “You’re not thinking straight,” is how I actually started the main part of the conversation. It went from there.

I have more than one friend suffering and suffering over shit that is real. As years go on sometimes it seems I can help so very little, although I often wish I could help a great deal more.

I am a Buddhist. When I am thinking straight, I know I don’t have big problems or little problems, I just have Problems. I soothe myself with gentleness. I don’t know if I was helpful today. I know I tried to be helpful. I don’t know if I harmed someone today. I know I tried not to. How can I task myself with doing anything perfectly – whether counseling a suffering friend, or offering assistance to someone homeless, or teaching children how to play charades, or organizing a hot dog roast at my mothers’?

It doesn’t feel like Doubt, it feels like sadness. It isn’t always easy to stay on the path. My foot slips and there’s that moment I wonder if my journey matters much at all.

But life is too short to take seriously. I remember that. I lift my chin. I realize I am not easily intimidated, and that I like the company of myself. When my day is rough, I am my own best friend. This is new; it happened sometime in the last few years. It is wonderful.

And that I have a boundless love. When I lose it, when I let the fire down in the damp, I put down my load and go look for it. Right away.

I keep my love alive.

bravery is required

Spring emerges. Skunk cabbage, and newts in the small freshwater streams. Flowers have erupted from the still-cold and seemingly-inhospitable earth. It felt like things weren’t going to change. It was dark. The light is spilling in.

Tonight I flush a pain prescription; yet, afterwards, I feel foolish and uncertain. What I’m really trying to do is stop struggling. The most insane of struggles that I take up, time and time again: fighting my fears.

Stop worrying. I am beginning to think one day I will lose a kidney. Despite my efforts, despite the care of physicians. For a person who has a severe fear of even minor surgical procedures, the concept of something like that is very difficult.

And it feels wasteful to flush drugs I could sell on the street. Yes, I am shocked I even have such a thought, however fleeting. I have never sold drugs and I do not think that is ethical behavior. I know it isn’t legal. And yet the thought occurs because my mind has been overrun with fear. How will I provide for my family, how can we make Rent.

It is the most powerful seduction: there is something I can do, there is an action I can take Right Now, that will sort out my life.

In the car the other day, a beloved friend and I were talking. I said – in gratitude – “God supports me,” and she responded, “Well. I support myself. I provide for myself.” I drove on for a bit and then I said, “There is a lot of suffering in that idea.”

I am going to stop saying “God” when what I mean are the three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. I am shy about Buddhism because where I live it is a minority faith tradition. If you say “God” people might be prejudiced but at least they might not be outright bigoted about it all.

I can be a little bit brave. A little at a time.

changing pace

I often think I somehow had more energy when I was drinking. It seemed I could get up in the morning, take quantities of coffee, and put to use intense reserves of power – cleaning, cooking (a great deal of cooking, wonderful dishes), writing, sewing, active parenting, and constantly hatching up those plans and dreams – taking future trips into all the great things I’d do or become.

I haven’t had a drink in almost three years and in that time I’ve stepped on a path of spiritual practice.  I’m sober which is a rare way of life, at least in the country I’ve been raised in. For me, it’s a life more vibrant, more unexpected, and altogether more wonderful than I could have dreamed Life to be.

Still – now it seems I get less done, I have less to show for myself, my parenting is no longer “supermom” and is instead much more the role of a mentor, much more about unconditional love and steadfast faith. Admittedly the house is still relatively tidy and the meals are delicious but a great deal of that is courtesy of my partner – who has more strength and joyous energy than any person I know. You ever watch our big dog Hutch running, bounding with his big muscles and exuberant body language? That’s Ralph. He can run and run and run – figuratively, and literally.

I have changed, though. It is said alcohol numbs us somehow. I think that is true, and I’ve spent years now studying, and I try to observe rather than analyze. I see the end results of the drinking lifestyle in those who’ve come to see they have a problem, and want to recover – those like me. I see the desire for “numb” in the social media posts and the casual conversations of those who still drink – they drink to relax, to feel better, to “reward” themselves after a hard day, to believe they are enjoying themselves. I don’t know who’s really enjoying themselves and who has that deep pit of awful in their belly, and a head full of angry scribbles. It’s not my job to know, it’s their job. Here’s what I know: many never figure it out in this lifetime. All I can do is be here for those who want help, and love all people unconditionally. That job keeps me busy enough.

Leaving drinking behind changed my life – second only to having children. I would have told you the quantity and frequency of my alcohol consumption didn’t have a significant effect on me – but I would have been wrong. This is the great mystery of living in denial. We believe we are okay. We believe other people have the problems. We are blind to our own selfishness.

Now that I’m not taking alcohol or mind-altering substances, I sure get to experience more reality! This reality keeps unfolding before me and it’s amazing, exhilarating – and often, exhausting. My feelings are stronger than I knew; my body aches here and there and I seek to “fix” it but my doctor says it’s because I’m getting older. Even my kidney disorder, one I was born with – this mysteriously had a near-complete “remission” from symptoms from about age 17 to age 34 – which corresponds to when I was actively drinking.

This morning I put together a cake for friends; I cuddle my at-home child when he wakes, briefly, from a distressing dream. I’m folding up tattered towels and washing dishes in soapy hot water. I am writing emails to a few dear friends who are struggling. In a few moments we are going for a swim, and then taking lunch. I am traveling out to Wishkah to cook alphabet soup with a classroom of sixth grade children. I’m letting my dog in the car although my daughter groans and rolls her eyes when she has to share a seat with him. I am meeting up with a friend in the evening; I am holding space for her. Tonight I hope to put my arms around my husband, and pet the cat who jumps on my lap the moment I sit down.

My life changed because over time I began to Want What I Have. Even now my feelings and my aches and pains, I get a little friendlier every day, a little more peace, a little more clarity.

It took a long time getting here and I hope I can stay here a bit longer.

that spluttering pilot flame

It’s cold, grey, and rainy outside. Nels and I sit in the still-warm car with the engine off; waiting for the arrival of my daughter’s school bus.

My son climbs over and lays across my lap. He has just told a sly joke, re-shared a funny moment of a film we watched the night before. He loves making me laugh almost more than he loves anything. I kiss the top of his head; I smell his hair. We have a new shampoo for him: sugared violets. The sweet grittiness mixed with with the smell and warmth of my son, is incredible. I hold him for a while but I know he’ll move any moment. I hold him because for a brief bit I can feel wonderful, amazing.

I’m a bit down, this afternoon. It seems I have been surrounded lately by the plights of children being raised, and schooled, according to the Poisonous Pedagogy – a worldview so rooted in at least Western society that, until I began to awaken to it, I didn’t believe it was very real, very much alive! Today I was exposed to several examples, several reminders – the specifics are not something I’m interested in recording, just now and in this space – and I am a bit discouraged. It is incredible how quickly I start to feel isolated in my desire to provide something better for my children, for the world’s children, for all who suffer, and for my grand- and great-grandchildren and so on.

When it comes to my children, and the world’s children, I teeter out of emotional balance often; it is easy for me to be overwhelmed at how much we’re failing at our responsibilities. I can feel sick when I think how much our children depend on us; and how vulnerable they really are. I can feel so angry when I see an adult promoting and then defending manipulative, or even cruel, methodologies of child stewardship.

It is easy for me to get out of emotional balance, indeed.

Today, I am committing to addressing my imbalance. I am committing to re-subscribing to a journal that I find edifying (and, probably, I will resume my career writing for it, if they’ll have me). I am committing to taking more care in the consumption of communities, individuals, and conversations purporting strategies I don’t want to enact, and ideologies I don’t promote. I am committing to deepening my practice of humility, and to enjoying my own family (“minding my business”). I’ve worked hard to do right by my  family – my own little spiritual community – and the fruits are self-evident.

I am re-committing to Buddhist parenting; I am so glad it is there for me to take refuge in.

I am aware that over the years I have helped many parents to find their authentic self; to turn away from violence, cynicism, cold-heartedness, and callousness. If you’re one of those adults and you are reading here, know that I’m doing the best I can to practice the self-care I need, so I can keep up the general effort.

And thank you, as always, for your support.