Thursday, March 23, 2017


Some days the accomplishments are small. Laundry, the dishwasher, vacuuming and ineffectually wiping pollen and dust from the furniture, writing a few pages that might or might not survive second and third readings.

There is always something to do—that’s the nature of living by one’s self in a house and, I suppose, part of being self-employed. Bills are paid and small household repairs made with varying degrees of success. One day recently I spent a good three hours trying to find a part to fix the oven door of my 30-year-old Hotpoint electric stove. I searched the Internet and spoke with people at Sears, where Hotpoint ranges are still sold, and was told by a salesperson with twenty years of Sears experience that the parts simply didn’t exist. “Definitely obsolete,” the salesman said.

I searched some more. Eventually I found the parts in a warehouse in South Carolina where ancient appliances are disassembled and sold piecemeal. That made me inordinately proud. I’m a loud critic of planned obsolescence and knowing I had foiled the system in an oh-so-minute way made me happy. That was the day’s major accomplishment.

Book and short story queries are sent out, most of which will never earn a response. There are phone calls, and doctors, and tests for this and that because yesterday’s test was lost or false positive, or misinterpreted, or revealed something that warrants more thorough and scarier tests.

And there are the rituals, the minute necessities that make daily life tolerable—the coffee brewed just so, the half-bagel with a single pat of butter, the afternoon tea, the rereading of something written days or weeks ago.

Today I’m working on a new book, and I don’t yet know if it has a future. Since it’s largely autobiographical and relates to my first marriage, there are going to be difficult moments involved. I’m not sure how deeply I want to dig into events promulgated by a younger, far more foolish me. I’m hoping the book will explain the folly of youthful endeavors but, being not so youthful any more, I’m uncertain whether I can do the past justice.  

It does seem as if the bygone was fuller than the present is now, but that may be a series of false memories. It also feels as if the past was more interesting, and the accomplishments of then greater and more important than those of today.

I can’t remember the smaller undertakings, and perhaps that’s for the best.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Twenty-six Years

A lot can happen in 26 years, and a lot has.
On March 10, 1991, I gave up alcohol and the other drugs I used daily to quiet my ever-present unease. I quit because the small benefits of altering my consciousness were completely overshadowed by the panic attacks, black outs, ill health, embarrassment, and general stupidity engendered by drugs. Since that date, I have taken one Vicodin to allay discomfort following surgery. On two occasions, I’ve had accidental mouthfuls of drink. Once was during a social evening when I left my glass of ginger ale on a side table and later accidentally picked up an abandoned scotch and soda. The second was at a New Year’s party a half-dozen Januaries ago. At midnight, the hostess handed out flutes of champagne but assured me mine was sparkling apple juice. It wasn’t. The alcohol hit my tongue and I sprayed her dining room-and a couple of astounded guests-with a powerful mist of champagne. There were heartfelt apologies proffered all around. I was never invited to her house again.
I don’t regret the decision to become abstinent, although I am absolutely positive my creativity has suffered from it. There is a reason so many writers, musicians, painters and performing artists of every stripe use drugs. Psychoactive substances do free one from inhibitions and the constraints of accepted social norms. This is why peyote, marijuana, hashish, mescaline, opium and alcohol are found in so many religious ceremonies. Under the influence, the gods allow themselves to be seen. Is this freedom good? Yeah, sometimes it is. It lets us entertain thoughts we might repress or simply not have, and if we are smart and able and patient, we can translate these thoughts into something viable, something pleasing and perhaps even original.
On the other hand, we can become so spectacularly boring and cretinous that our friends and family flee. We are dullards who develop horrible conditions like cirrhosis of the liver or esophageal varices where we bleed to death from the throat. We swell up with ascites. We get hepatitis and strokes and cancer and bleeding ulcers. We kill off brain cells and drive drunk and walk in front of buses. We accidentally or on purpose maim and murder people and commit acts for which we cannot atone. We die.
The problem with drug usage is that it becomes cumulative. When I first started drinking, a couple of shots of Jack Daniels would do me fine for an entire evening. When I stopped, there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make me feel good. I had devolved from Jack Daniels Black to Popov vodka, which is made in New Jersey and does not involve potatoes or other natural products. Popov feels and tastes like boiling tar going down one’s throat, but it’s cheap. My pill intake grew as well. I seldom did street drugs, but my taste and need for pharmaceuticals grew and grew. I shook. I could not drive or sign my name. I had cold sweats and nightmares. At one point, four doctors were prescribing me Xanax, Valium, beta blockers and opiates.
Often, I couldn’t sleep and had to ingest enough to knock myself out. This is not a good habit when one is in a relationship because your spouse or partner will quickly discover the real bond is between you and your drugs of choice, and that this union is more profound than any that can be forged with another human.
Only twice—once recently and another time a decade or so ago—has the desire to use reappeared full force. In both instances I thought it through. I came to the conclusion that, tempting as a one-time fling might be, the likely return to addiction was simply not worth the very temporary peace of mind alcohol and drugs might offer.
I’m pretty sure I made the right decision.