Withstanding an urge

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When I started writing this blog a little more than four years ago, I had no idea what it would become. And looking back at well over 1,000 posts that I’ve written, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s essentially a clearinghouse for some of the words and ideas and images that otherwise would have died inside my brain, unable to escape that dark place in between my ears. So I’m grateful on that front.

One of the earliest posts that I wrote announced to myself–and anyone who may have stumbled upon it–that I was giving up drinking for good. I had made that vow to myself dozens of times before, usually while I was in the throes of a nasty hangover of some sort. But putting it into words that could then be sent out for the world to read made it official. It made it into a type of electronic oath that I dare not violate. And my blog has, over the years, reflected my commitment to sobriety.

But about a week ago, that commitment was severely tested. For the first time since I made the decision to stop drinking, I was gripped by an urge to have a drink. The circumstances behind it don’t really matter, and I’ll suffice it to say that my old habits wanted to get the better of me. There were some nasty old beers that have been sitting in my downstairs fridge for a long time, and they would have done the trick.

There’s a mostly-finished bottle of Jack Daniels in the basement, which I’ve written about before in this space and would have welcomed me back into the fold. It was a fold that I lived in happily for 27 years, in what sometimes feels like another life. It is the fold that most of our society inhabits, in one form or another. It is where we are led to believe, through advertising dollars and a generally unspoken societal norm, that we should be.

Whenever there’s good news, we pop some champagne corks, or buy a round of drinks for our friends, or generally go out and live it up, with alcohol in some form or fashion. And on the flip side, when things don’t go so well, we drown our sorrows and drink until the pain doesn’t seem so bad anymore. I was laid off, with dozens of my colleagues, from a publishing company several years ago and off to the bar some of us went, drinking shots until the uncertain future looked hazy, and so did the uncomfortable present. All that for $20 or so. A bargain, if you want to see it that way.

Giving up drinking wasn’t hard for me. I decided that I didn’t need it anymore, and that was it. It showed me that I never really needed it in the first place, but still I went along with it. But the urge that gripped me for about a half an hour a week ago was the first time in my life that I ever felt a physical pang for something.

Taking one drink–any drink at all–would set off a blaze that I wouldn’t be able to control. Most people have an internal mechanism for “knowing when to say when.” Some beer company genius thought that one up, I’m sure, to reinforce the idea that one or two drinks is all that a person needs. Ten bucks in a bar, depending on where you are and what you’re having. Hand the bartender or the waitress a little bit of cash, or a credit card, and you’re on your way. No worries, mate.

But I’m missing that mechanism. One drink can turn into two, and then five, and then forget about it. I never kept track, because I didn’t care to know. And after four years of living without it, I have no faith that I could somehow find the mechanism that I’ve never had before. The only way to live with booze, at least for me, is to live without it.

So I resisted that urge, and I felt good about it. The scoreboard still reads 27 years to 4, in favor of the liquor manufacturers and distributors and bartenders of the world, but it’s still trending the way I want it to. I doubt that I’ll live the 23 years I still need to even up the score, but life is a big question mark and we’ll just have to see how everything turns out. But I received a test, and I didn’t fail. I feel very good about that.

4 more years?

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I wanted to have a blog for a long time before I started this one, four years ago today. What held me back? I have no idea. But now that I’ve spent four years–and who knows how many hours sitting in front of a keyboard–throwing my thoughts and images out into the world, I can hardly remember what the delay was.

I often say that if Hemingway had a blog, it would make for quite an amazing read. But since he couldn’t have one, the rest of us have a chance to pick up the slack. I’m not Hemingway and never will be, but I do have opportunities that he and thousands of other writers over the centuries never did. And I don’t intend to let that go to waste.

4 years can be a long time–when you want to get on with your life–or they can be the bat of an eye, when you’re in a good place and hoping it can last and last. I’ve been in both places, sometimes within the very same day. But the world keeps on spinning, and I’ll be along for the ride over an as-yet-undetermined length of time. I may as well keep rollin’ along in this space, too.

Providence

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Twenty-nine years ago this weekend, I graduated from high school. At that point in my life everything called for a drink, and the culmination of high school was cause for something huge. And that something was going to be a party at some very remote cabin.

Since I had been to the cabin once before, a month before graduation, I agreed to drive several of my classmates to the party. My old Dodge Dart was packed to the limit, with probably four or five guys besides myself.

But I didn’t know my way around out in the boondocks nearly as well as I thought. As night fell, I became more frantic in my search for classmates and whatever substances they would have at their disposal. And make no mistake, the substances were the point.

At the end of the night, all of the guys in the car were pissed off that they had missed out on what was sure to be an epic bash. I didn’t blame them, either, because I felt like I had earned it, and by God I was going to enjoy myself, and make it possible for them to do the same.

But with the benefit of many, many years of hindsight, I don’t see it that way anymore. I now recognize that my failure to locate a high school graduation party that night was a good thing. It seems counterintuitive to think that, but everything happens for a reason.

Had I found that cabin way out in the woods somewhere, things would have spiraled out of control. That was the reason my classmates and I wanted to be there, after all. And then it would have come time to go home.

I never was one for being a designated driver, at an age when I had no business doing otherwise. And I wouldn’t have backed away from the challenge of navigating back home, with as many inebriated classmates as I could fit into my car. It was a recipe for disaster, and I was too young and stupid to realize that.

Someone would have ended up dead or paralyzed that night, and if I was lucky enough to escape either the morgue or the hospital, I likely would have found myself in prison with a lifetime worth of regrets. So whatever cosmic being out there is controlling what happens here on earth took us out of that situation, instead.

None of the guys who were in the car with me that night are in my life anymore. I’ve forgotten who they ever were, and I’m glad of it. The memory of what happened on that night back in 1986 is now lost, except for one critical detail. Someone or something was looking out for me–and the rest of us–that evening. And I’m so very happy they were.

Well I’m takin’ my time

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This morning Boston’s Foreplay/Long Time came on the radio, and I listened to it for the I’ll-never-know-how-manyth-time.

Twenty-nine years ago, I used the opening lyric (It’s been such a long time, I think I should be going) as my parting words to my graduating high school class of 1986. Griffin High, the school I graduated from, went kaput a few years later, but I still keep in touch with some of my classmates, mostly on Facebook.

Four years in the same place does seem like a long time, when you’re 17 and itching to get out and see the world. Now, almost three decades later, I realize that four years can pass in the blink of an eye. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.

Another line from the song that I like is “There’s a long road I’ve gotta stay in time with.” That long road has led me out of Springfield Illinois to Chicago, with assorted side trips along the way. Where it leads from here, I have no idea. But I’ll be sure to stay in time with it, all the same.

Paying my respects to B.B. King

image I was on a business trip in Seattle when I heard of the death of B.B. King. For reasons I may never understand, I had packed two shirts for a one-day meeting: one white and one with white and blue stripes.

Is there a better way to pay tribute to the King of the blues than by wearing the partially blue shirt? Perhaps, but this was something I wanted to do, and it felt good to do it.

Thanks for all the good licks, Riley B. King. You done good.

Spending an afternoon with my mom

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There’s a scene from Good Will Hunting that has stayed with me, more so than the remainder of the movie. In the scene, the Minnie Driver character says that she would trade all of the money she has to spend another day with her dead father. And the reason she would is because once somebody is gone, there’s no way of bringing them back. So enjoy your loved ones while you still can.

My mom was 21 years old when I was born. At an age when I was still finishing up college and enjoying the carefree (as in, child-free) days of my early 20s, my mom didn’t have that. She had me and my sister and two brothers to contend with. Not that it was an actual competition, but she had demands on her time and resources that I can’t imagine. And she did a great job of raising us, I have to say.

I’m very pleased to report that she’s still with us today. I get to enjoy spending time with her while she’s still young enough to get around without a wheelchair or a walker. And we did exactly that a week ago, for the funeral reenactment of Abraham Lincoln. It was six hours in the car to spend four or five hours with the woman who did so much for me back when I was unable–and sometimes unwilling–to appreciate what that meant. It was a trade that I was glad to make.

I know that my mom reads my blog. So in a sense, I’m writing to her knowing that she will see it and probably get emotional. I’m getting emotional writing it, myself. But on the off chance that anybody else ever finds this online, here’s a picture and a story about my mom. She, like all mothers, loved her children and didn’t get nearly enough in return for her emotional and financial investments through the years. This is a humble attempt to repay a debt that can never be fully squared. And I’m very pleased to still have the opportunity to make payments on this account.

No rain, No rainbows

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I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

A goal for the Earth

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I wanted to put some thoughts about Earth Day yesterday, but time got away from me and I got some sleep for a change. Maybe there’s Earth Week to give people like me a bit of a break on that score.

I love this planet. It’s filled with so many great and wonderful things that everyone can enjoy. But I hate what’s been done to it, past and present. Like Jim Morrison once said, What have they done to the earth, our fair sister?

We need to do better. All of us, myself included, do things that aren’t in the Earth’s best interest. Using less plastic would be a good start, as I learned recently on a trip to the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Using less means that less of it will end up out in the ecosystem, to poison birds and fish who aren’t doing anything worse than looking for something to eat.

So less plastics, it is. I’ll report on my progress here, from time to time. And the differences might be small, but I can do it and so I will. Our home is worthy of the effort.

Like a trip to the past

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When cleaning out my garage today, I came upon a cheap little portable table that has been sitting around unused for many years. A hole in the umbrella awning, and a considerable amount of rust to the table, convinced me that it was time to let it go. Wheeling it out to the alley was not easy, though. It rolled just fine, but the younger man that I was when the table was purchased didn’t want to part with a family artifact.

There were several good days once, when the weather was nice outside and we decided to enjoy a meal together out on the patio. I knew those days were fleeting, and as a result I made sure to enjoy them as much as I could. But today I said goodbye to a tangible reminder of this history.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before some came down the alley and claimed the table as their own, so I dashed back inside to get my camera and take a picture first. And sure enough, within five minutes after the picture was taken it was gone.

While my family has grown older through the years, the clothes we once wore and the table we once used and the soccer ball we once kicked around in the park have remained as they always were. Parting with these things is not easy, but so long as the memories they evoke remain in our hearts, that can never be a bad thing.