Lasting Impressions

When I was fourteen, and just beginning to show the worst symptoms of bipolar depression, I experienced the death of someone close to me for the first time.

I still remember when my mother came into my room to tell me Nana (my mother’s mother) had died, from pneumonia she had contracted because the steroids she needed to be on to keep her autoimmune disorders (including lupus, among other things) in remission, had destroyed her immune system.  It was also the first time I truly understood the meaning of the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” as ultimately, it was the medications that kept her alive that killed her.

My memory of that event is different than most of the memories before that, in that I remember seeing myself from the door to my room, as my mom came in and told me the news, that Nana had died, and watching myself shrink away from my mother and curl up around the scruffy and worn long-eared rabbit that Nana had given me a decade before then.  It was then I began to understand grief (for someone else, I had dealt with a different kind of grief secretly on an ongoing basis for the last few years at that point following several severe sexual brutalizations), this grief seemed more acute than any feeling I’d ever experienced before.  The grief was so strong, that I feel it now still, in my eyes welling up with tears as I recall, in the feeling like a ball of iron is weighing down my gut, pulling on the bottom of my rib cage…

I started a photography class at a local college a few weeks ago, and instead of checking out a camera from the school a few days at a time, I remembered a recent offer from my mom for her to give me a 35mm camera.  I thought she was referring to the Canon that mom had used in college herself and that, when I was deemed responsible enough with the almost-disposable cheap snapshot camera I’d been given around age 5 when I showed interest in shooting pictures, I was allowed to borrow mom’s hallowed Canon.

The idea excited me.  This whole class excites me, really.  It had been so long since I worked with film, I’d forgotten how thrilling it used to be to me to hoard each exposure for *just* the right moment, because each roll of film and each print had to be begged for following endless hours of chores, and every exposure was priceless.   But I digress.

I was wrong.  I went out to mom’s for dinner after talking to her, she was tickled pink that I came to visit.  As I was getting ready to go, she brought out the camera.  It wasn’t the Canon.

The camera she brought out was a mid-80’s Minolta, a nice 35mm SLR that is IDEAL for the work I’m doing for the next three quarters for the film portions of my photography classes.  As she opened the case to show me, she said the camera had been Nana’s, that Nana bought it right before she started to get really sick, and had used it on her travels to see states she’d not visited before now that she was permanently retired from the hospital where she’d been an RN for close to four decades.  Mom said that it had been sitting in storage since Nana had started getting sick in ’88, that other than two or three times mom and the other kids had taken it out to check on it, it hadn’t been handled, and that it hadn’t been used.

I’ve been using it the last couple weeks.  Ineptly, because it’s been a little over two decades since I last shot film, but I’m anxiously awaiting my shot at checking out a canister and developing this first roll tomorrow.  Digressing again…

Tonight, just a short while ago, I went to clean off the dust that has been on the lens this whole time with a few cotton swabs and some rubbing alcohol, since I’d accidentally touched the surface today and left a fingerprint.  I swabbed the surface gently, switching swabs as soon as they started to leave lint behind.  When it seemed as clean as it would get, and it dried, I held it to the light to check the job I’d done.  Despite my work, a fingerprint still clearly reflected.

What the fuck?! was my first thought – how can that be?  Until I realized, the fingerprint is on the *other side*.  It wasn’t a lens surface I’d cleaned, but only a filter left screwed on the lens to protect it.  I unscrewed the filter to clean it, and then it struck me, hard.

This was the last remaining fingerprint that Nana left behind.

I almost looked for a box to save the filter, but I’m trying to work hard on not hoarding shit anymore (and keeping this would be a step backward on a moderately serious problem I have in that direction).  I would have taken a picture, if I had the right lights necessary to show its reflection on the filter’s glass, but I don’t, and so I didn’t.  And really, it seems to me that the purpose of death for me, as someone left behind, and of grief, is to learn to let go.

And so I let go, and gently swabbed the last traces of my maternal grandmother from the only thing of hers that I still own.  I wonder who will miss me when I go, like I miss Nana now — even though she’s been gone for most of my life.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on ideas for what legacy I hope to leave behind, especially since I have no children and plan to keep it that way (for many very good reasons – a discussion for later).  What fingerprint will I leave behind for decades after my death?  And who will be there to find it?

Learning to Die, Part One – “Fatal Attraction”

Today, write about a loss. The twist: make this the first post in a three-post series (Writing101, Day Four: The Serial Killer).

LEARNING TO DIE

Part One: “Fatal Attraction”

I always thought I would never even try a “hard” drug.  My dad had told me many horror stories of his friends that “never came back” from heavy acid trips and although he never mentioned that he had tried cocaine, speed, and heroin until after I was well into my own bouts with addiction (and recovery), I had been given enough information through his stories of girlfriends lost to addiction, through public education, and through the scare-tactics of the churches I attended as a child, that I was certain that the “harder” drugs were too dangerous to even try.

That being said, I still experimented heavily with alcohol and marijuana, consuming both semi-regularly from the age of 16 until my introduction to cocaine later in life.  I had tried pot once, in a very small amount, before moving out of my hometown, at 16.  Later that year, I decided my only escape from my mother was to choose voluntary psychiatric care at a nearby mental hospital for a few months, and when I got out I went to live with my father and to attend a nearby alternative high school.  There, the common practice after school was to go see the school pot dealer in the woods across from the school and smoke up with him.  I’m not sure how many times I did this, perhaps a few, but I know that I stopped when I had an experience that scared me straight (as far as going out in public when I was stoned).

One evening after smoking out in the woods, I got on the county transit bus to go home to the neighboring town where I lived, stoned out of my gourd.  I fumbled with my change for a long time, dropping quarters on the floor and stumbling around while picking them up.  Finally, I finished paying, got my transfer, and sat down near the front door.  When I got closer to home, a man in a dark blue sweat suit, carrying a navy blue gym bag that proclaimed in bright white letters across the side, “POLICE,” walked up to the front of the bus next to me, leaned over next to my face, and inhaled deeply through his nose.  That sniff seemed to last forever, and it freaked me the fuck out.  I was frozen in place.  He finally stood back up and said, “Sorry, I just had to do that,” and he exited the bus.

My mind spun faster than a gerbil wheel, my eyes watched the window through the back for following police cars, my heart jumped every time we went to make a stop, certain that uniformed officers were planning to board and take me in every time those doors opened up.  I finally made it home safely.

After that, I only toked up when I didn’t have to go anywhere or when I was sure I wouldn’t encounter anyone else while I was baked.

As far as alcohol went, I was able to get a hold of it regularly.  When I was at parties for older friends, I would drink to excess, getting pretty sloshed, then taking the bus home to my grandparents’ house where I lived with my dad in the basement.  He never said anything about me coming home smelling like a distillery, maybe because never really got into any trouble that way and I always came home, albeit pretty early in the morning.

However, one episode encouraged me to be more moderate in my drinking.  When I was 17, I and three other friends decided to try to finish off a full half-gallon of Everclear in one night.  I woke up two days later, praying to a god that I no longer believed in, hoping that he would just let me die.  The pain in every cell of my body took at least another three days to subside, and after that I didn’t drink to blackout ever again, usually I drank to get a small buzz going, and then would switch back and forth between alcohol and water to stay just a little buzzed.

Things changed the year I turned 30.  The fall before then, I tried mushrooms for the first time, having a pretty intense and partly uncomfortable trip, in which I lost my fear of death, or so I thought.  Shortly after, I was introduced to whip-its (nitrous oxide) and the wonders of its anesthesia.  Mushrooms did not become a regular part of my experience, but nitrous did from then on.  Nitrous, along with the things I would later substitute for it, would soon change my world.

Later will come Part Two: “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Three Songs That Saved My Life

Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you (Writing 101, Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice).

Before starting: The exercise calls me to write for at least 15 minutes, and however long I spend writing today to be my average writing time for the rest of this month’s course’s exercises.  A lot of people have been saying on The Commons for this month’s course that they find the time passes too slowly.  Not for me.  I have, so far, found myself having to stop myself when I’ve already gone over.  I’ve heard the term “bloggorhea” (like diarrhea of the mouth, but transferred to blogs) used to describe tendencies like mine to just write endless posts about what I find interesting.  I think my challenge this month will be to find a better “economy of words,” as my friend Nancy (an acclaimed gallery artist and former high school English teacher) from my young adulthood claimed was the only real thing my writing lacked.  And here I go doing it again.  Time to just do the exercise.

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

1.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C Minor, as performed by Vladimir Horowitz on a cassette tape recording made during the early 80’s.  Also called “Pathetique.”

I still have the cassette, somewhere.  The music encoded on the magnetic tape of that cassette has been fuzzed out by the noise created by having played it many too many times.  I would play its movements, then rewind, then play it again, and rewind, repeating these as often as I needed to until the tears would slow down and eventually dry up.  I was so often so lonely that I would pity myself my (total) lack of any friend my own age – all my friends were adults, who understood my plight all too well, but they couldn’t take the place of the scoffing, mocking, bullying adolescents who were my peers in school.  I often used to say, “I didn’t have friends, I had books,” growing up, but that’s not completely true.  I had Vladimir Horowitz’s fingers caressing those white and black keys, comprehending the absolute despair that overwhelmed me, soothing my pain.  No other interpretation of that sonata has sounded so right to my ears since, no other version does for me what that one did then.  I found another Horowitz version recorded a couple of decades later, but it doesn’t have the same passion, the same skill, it is a faded replica of the older one’s glory.

2.  For My Lover – Tracy Chapman

When I was 12 or 13, I was given my first CD boombox.  My dad had already started collecting CDs, cassette tapes were still sold in stores but it was clear that CDs were the wave of the future.  With that boombox, I was given the three CD’s that were my favorites of my dad’s collection: Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits,” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album.  All three were rotated and played on repeat, but the latter was the one that spoke to my adolescence in a way the other two did not.  It was difficult picking just one song from that album – “Fast Car,” “She’s Got Her Ticket,” and “Baby Can I Hold You” were also top on the rotation of songs to get repeated on my headphones and sung along to under my breath at night, but “For My Lover” spoke to a time of great tribulation when I was 14.  I had been dating a 19-year-old, and he got me pregnant.  I miscarried soon after, but my mom (shortly after he had left town to go home to live with his parents again) went through my room, found my diary, and read the entire thing to find out what was going on in my life.  She tried to have the older boy prosecuted for statutory rape, to which I responded that I would volunteer to testify for the defense and appear in court wearing the sluttiest outfit I could find to prove that I had initiated the relationship and that he didn’t know my age until we were already involved.  I felt like I was in prison, I felt like I was being punished for my choice of lover and for protecting him and, in a way, that was true.

3. My Dad’s Gone Crazy – Eminem

This rap song starts out with the sound of someone chopping up lines on glass with a razor and then snorting something with a straw, only to follow with the sound of a toddler asking, “Daddy, what are you doing?”  The song speaks to the craziness of addiction, the anger and self-righteousness that goes along with it, the rebellion against society, and the grief at what is happening, what he is doing to himself and those who love him still in his life. ‘Nuf said.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now (Writing 101, Day 2: A Room with a View)?

It is winter there now, but the temperature there is probably warmer than it is here right now on this almost-summer day.  This is the same time of year as it was when I was there, and although fourteen years of time and a few lifetimes’ worth of experiences have passed in my life, there are still a few strong sense-memories that remain in the leaky bucket full of holes that I call my memory.

  • Flying for almost 24 hours of vomit-plagued turbulence.  The flights were all full, so there wasn’t room to stretch out as had been predicted by my friend who had made the flight before, so when I disembarked in Melbourne, Australia, my legs were cramped and I was exhausted.  I was not so exhausted, however, that I did not marvel at the scent of the air coming in my rolled-down taxi window once we left the airport traffic behind.  I asked the driver why the air smelled so sweet, he responded only, “Eucalyptus trees.”  Overhead flew a flock of budgies (like sparrows do here) to land, en masse, on a eucalyptus tree near the highway, brightly colored.  Ahead rose downtown Melbourne, with skyscrapers about the same height as here in Seattle, but it seemed there were fewer of them, or maybe they were just spread farther out.  The taxi let me out in a district filled with brick-faced shops and boutiques, tucked in between two buildings was an unassuming cement five-story extended-stay suite hotel in which resided my then-boyfriend.

Other sense-memories bubble up to the surface:

  • Queen Victoria Market on Tuesday – a seemingly never-ending square of tent-roof.  I haggled for the first time in my life, quite by accident, when I put back the sport sandals I’d tried on after finding out their price – $60 Australian.  “I only have fourty,” I explained.  He quickly countered that it wouldn’t be a problem for him to take that $40 instead.  But I wasn’t about to spend the rest of the week completely broke.  He ended up taking $25 for them – at that point equating to about $13 US – for the Nike velcro-strap walking sandals (which are still functional 14 years later).  My boyfriend bought me a small gold-wrapped clear opal pendant. I bought souvenirs for me and my family – “thunder” sticks made of koa wood for percussion, boomerangs painted with elaborate dotted designs, a painted didgeridoo that I never did teach myself how to play, a plethora of beautiful postcards.  There wasn’t enough time to explore every table and nook, I spent half the day there and it wasn’t enough.  The shops in the buildings out on the boundary held further treasures, a glass studio with small delicate glass unicorn, fairy, star, and other fanciful ornaments that I knew wouldn’t survive the trip home.  Flags and kites a few doors down.  I glutted myself on the eyefuls of things I wished I had the resources in my wallet for, to take them all home.

  • Queen Victoria Beach, the sun shone brightly but the temperature was mild and balmy as it was there all week.  The rich creamy frozen yogurt cone on the walk there, the big wooden roller coaster from bygone days with a ginormous bright-painted clown’s face over the entrance.  The painters and sculptors set up on tables and blankets along the sidewalk bounding the beach.  The orange-peach color of the carved stone blocks holding the plaque announcing the name of the beach also proclaimed the cause of the color of the sand – pale orange under an unbelievably blue clear sky.  I had the beach, due to it being a workday, almost to myself.  I spent the rest of the day collecting shells, beach glass, driftwood and sand to take with me.  I was lucky, later, to discover no ban on bringing natural materials from there into the US.  The customs agents simply shook their heads to each other like I was nuts.

  • The streetcar trolleys.  I rode a few during my stay, a novelty for me.  I would have been petrified to try to drive and weave in and out among them, but the drivers downtown seemed not to care.  Drivers seemed very polite to each other in a way that just isn’t seen here.  I saw no evidence that road rage ever existed there, which boggled my mind.  Maybe it was because there was rarely even a hitch in traffic.
  • Anytime I stopped to look around to gain my bearings, someone would always seem to appear to help me find my way.  My helpers would invariably explain that all Australians go on “walkabout” at some point early in their adulthood, thus feeling a keen empathy for lost travelers.  Through them, I was pointed in the direction of all my soon-to-become-favorite attractions.
  • The botanical gardens were filled with tropical plants, larger versions of the small succulent “air plants” that we nurture in miniature here in the States, their versions sometimes dwarfed my body in comparison.  Tall palm trees and vivid exotic blooms of every color surrounded me at every turn.

  • Public art was almost everywhere.  An archway made of giant neon-color pick-up sticks, statues, other metal and stone sculptures, plaques announcing the history of this or that artfully-designed brick, stone, or wood-carved edifice abounded.  A long lush walking park extended across through downtown, along both sides of the small Yarra River.  Mosaics on the path and walls of nearby buildings, more sculptures, frequent rich red-bricked archways under bridges adorned the park, making the long walk well worthwhile.

It was the only time I’ve ever been out of the country.  I have yet to see Canada or Mexico, even though they are both much closer and in the same hemisphere.  Hopefully that will soon change.  But the trip to Melbourne resides in what remains of the lighter side of my memories, from a time when I could not have comprehended even the possibility of the darkness to follow starting a scant six years later that lasted until the end of last year.  It was a summer, or rather a week of Australian winter, of innocence, something which I am ever grateful to have experienced.

The Flow of Ink (Freewriting)

Freewriting for 20 minutes (Writing 101, Day One: Unlock the Mind).

I’m torn. Torn between my desire for thrift in using every page of this journal, and between my desire for ink that flows freely from the metal nib of my new fountain pen that soaks through and makes the back of the page unusable.  I opted for the flow of ink this time, as I think most easily for wordsmithing in cursive, and the bold lines stand out indelibly dark purple against the pleasantly beige page.

I almost forgot to write today, I remembered at five minutes to midnight.

I’m writing in the garage, the only place with the needed combination of adequate light, seating, privacy, and the ability to chain smoke cigarettes, a bad habit I will soon enough need to untrain myself from. It’s going to really suck trying to write for a long while when that happens.

I’ve been in a funk the last couple of months.  It’s been difficult to get out of bed for any reason but unavoidable obligations and social occasions for that time.  I wish that one antidepressant were sufficient for combating my clinical depression, but wishes have always been fishes in that regard ever since I hit puberty.

I’m glad to be clean off drugs, but sometimes I really wish I didn’t have cravings anymore.  They depress me even more.  I cleaned the garage out today all the way back to the wall for the first time since we, my husband and I, moved into this house in 2009.  June, in fact, so this month makes it five years that we’ve been here.  So much has happened since then that it feels more like it’s been a decade, but anyway.  While I was moving the dust around, er, I mean moving boxes, I came across a couple of baggies that had once held drugs.  Not together, separately.  One was one of the baggies from when I was snorting cocaine, toward the beginning.  The other had likely held crystal meth.  While I’m glad I was able to eliminate their presence from the house, it was a real harshmellow (a word I invented many years ago) to find them.  A small part of me wished to be doing drugs still, so I could lick the baggies in futile thriftiness – futile because no small amount of residue they could have contained could have any perceivable effect, but I would still have considered that action a relapse.  Most of me was just sad in remembering that I used to hide back in those areas of the garage so that my husband, if he suddenly came out to check on me, wouldn’t see the straw or flame from the lighter and pipe in my hands before I could hide them, to prevent the explosion of rage and sorrow in discovering me attempting to use in secret – yet again.  Every time I encounter another reminder of my not-so-well-kept-secret life, I mourn for all the heartache I put my husband and my family through.  I didn’t share that at my meeting tonight, the focus/topic was on other things and I was more focused on carrying the message to the newcomer who was there, but I talked with a new female friend about it after the meeting.  She was right, a person so early in recovery  like myself shouldn’t be dealing with paraphernalia alone like I’ve had to on several occasions (I blogged about one of those times recently), but necessity has made my cleaning a solitary trial, so far successful in staying clean through it, however.  Yay, I filled two pages!

Carrying the Message: How Sharing in a 12-Step Group is Like Writing a Successful Blog Post

Hi, I’m Venus, and I’m a blogging addict.  (Hi, Venus!)

But seriously, a lot of aspects of a successful blog post are similar to a “successful” share at a 12-step meeting.

First, what do I mean by “successful?” I believe that most people blogging want their posts to be read and liked, just like I believe most people sharing at a 12-step meeting want their audience to pay attention an find something valuable in what they have to say.  In 12-step programs, this concept is called, “carrying the message.”  If each person only shared a self-centered, narcissistic view of what was going on in their own lives or an egocentric monologue about the topic of the day, 12-step meetings could not work as they do.  Instead, each sharer (in theory, as they gain more experience in their recovery) is supposed to blend a share from both what is cathartic to say with what will inspire their listeners.

This blending consists of what is called, “experience, strength, and hope.” Say that I’m sharing at a Blogging Anonymous meeting. (Disclaimer: Blogging Anonymous, like 12-step groups for pretty much every type of addiction known to mankind, may indeed exist despite my ignorance of its existence.  I am not a member of that group, therefore I am not breaking anonymity by using this hypothetical statement and thereby breaking any of the Traditions that accompany the 12 Steps of that group.)  Like all the other members at that meeting, it is generally expected that I will, during my share, do all of the following:
a) Share on my experience of events and situations related to the topic chosen for that meeting.
b) Talk about how I dealt or am dealing with those events and situations in a way that demonstrates or increases my strength as a person, focusing on solutions rather than allowing myself to get mired in the problems.
c) Explain what insights and realizations I gained by working through those problems toward the intended (or unintentional/incidental) solution or other resolution of the central events/situations related to the topic at hand.

If this formula was not fulfilled by at least a noticeable portion of people sharing at a meeting, if each person simply vomited forth their complaints, issues, and problems — this is what is called “sharing the mess instead of the message” — then 12-step groups could not sustain themselves.  People would simply not stay at meetings to listen to anyone.  Newcomers who start attending meetings need a reasonable motivation to return for the next meeting, to invest themselves in the group, in order to start turning away from whatever addiction is common to the membership of the group, and to eventually find recovery from said addiction.  That motivation — to stay, listen, pay attention to others’ shares, and absorb each message for use in their own lives — cannot exist in an environment of selfish pseudo-sharing.

Similarly, if a blog consists only of self-centered and/or superficial diary entries that no one else can relate to, then few, if any, would choose to “follow” that blog, return to it to read later entries, recommend it to acquaintances, or comment on the blog’s entries.  These are, I’m fairly certain, some of the main goals many bloggers seek to inspire, in order to gain a regular and expanding audience of followers who enjoy or otherwise get satisfaction from revisiting a blogger’s site again and again, to re-read valuable posts or see what’s new.

When you write a post, read it over before you publish and ask yourself these questions:
– If this post wasn’t about me or my life, would I be interested enough to come back this blog later?
– What about this post relates to many other people’s experiences?
– What can others get out of this post that they haven’t already found somewhere else?
– What information do I present that others can use in their own lives?

It’s alright to write exclusively about your own life, but if it’s all about your own unique life experiences and views of the world, try to include some humor or insights that will inspire others to achieve something better in their own lives.  Add some sort of value: a moral to the story, a point that provokes thoughts for others that will draw their attention and make your post memorable.  Remember to carry the message.

Writing and Blogging For Therapy

Writing and Blogging For Therapy, by Ronovan.

I like this guy’s way of looking at things. If you blog, this is a great post to check out. It’s short and to the point, but thought-provoking.

Poetry – Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Note: This poem is written primarily in street slang, so it probably will only confuse you or be irrelevant unless you have an interest in the urban dialect of the pacific northwest. It also speaks of numerous deviant activities, with which I became familiar in recent years. I no longer spend any time hanging out with my former street “friends” but my experiences were liminal and fairly formative in my current inner personality. I don’t dwell on it much lately, this was written during a period at the beginning of the year when I was not clean or sober in the slightest.

If you are a minor, please wait until you have some adult experience before trying to comprehend these concepts. Kids, stay kids as long as you can, some people (like me) never had that option.

Okay, disclaimer done. Read at your own risk.

Crack-Ho’s Cookbook

Ten toes down for that rusty renegade rock-bottom crown
That prehistoric hustle of hips hovering horizontally, they
Numero ocho their way above the ground.
This well-designed dawdle is a marketing ploy, out on the
Bleak blustery razor of the blade,
Saying simultaneously, “Come catch me!”
And yet, “Too pricey for your pocketbook, Loverboy.”

You can only make it here if you
Stay always somewhat out of reach.
It’s unattainable for me to stay in pocket
Me, the potentially top-dollar head doctor
Still intrinsically the same small-town whitey-whitebread reject kluck
Finding over and over that “I got you”
Equates to “I’ll bop you” time and again.

Unlike the other ho’s I was born to the trade
but not to The Blade.  I didn’t trick, didn’t have no licks, cuz
I was the trick, I was the lick.
Not for my Johns but for those damn gorilla pimps
Who take a “No, thank you” personal and so maneuvered
To be my non-consensual gigolos

Here, where a head-game
Is naught but the time of day (where no one wears a watch)

So I branched out to feed my habit
Boosted bottles and such, switched up those toes
For a few fingers – five, to be exact.
Slung a few rocks, but couldn’t stop myself
From lezzing it up for that cold, hard, White B**ch
More than a little, for
More than a little too long
But because I didn’t also fall for the Midnight Lady’s numb embraces
I was constantly inundated by my emptiness.
The street can only be home when you no longer feel your heart.