The other day Abbie and I were walking down an alley and I was, as usual, trying to keep her from eating gross things she found on the ground. (Note to first-time readers: Abbie is a dog).
The alleys around here are wonderlands of disgusting items, so
yanking guiding her away was keeping me busy.
“Why,” I thought, “Are alleys so foul?”
The answer came to me quickly.
Because nothing faces the alley.
MAJOR METAPHOR ALERT!!!
NOTHING FACES THE ALLEY!
See, it’s just like us – the things we don’t want to face up to are where all the detritus gathers, where stagnation happens and trash piles up!
Dude, I have to write a self-help book. This is the kind of thing every team-building off-site needs!
Or maybe not. The other day I witnessed the work of a corporate speaker-type, a hired gun motivationist, brought in because the troops were flagging.
Her topic was laughter and how important it is. Overworked? Managed by incompetents? Working with outdated computers? Laugh your troubles away!
I wasn’t terribly annoyed until she gave this advice: If you aren’t happy, pretend to be happy! Soon, you will feel better.
I almost came unglued. Fortunately for the listeners, I was on mute.
PRETEND! Ignore your real feelings!
If you want a culture of addiction, illness and fear, this is great advice. If you want any kind of real life with connection and growth, it’s a bad idea.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It seemed so anti-everything I believe in. I think you’ve got to go out into the alley and take a look around. Take inventory. See whether you need an emotional Haz-Mat suit, or just a broom and dustpan. Work on it. Clean it up. And then keep an eye on it, because it can fill right back up again.
Thank you. You can mail the check for the speaker’s fee to my office, or send via Paypal.
Someone I knew drank herself to death recently. She did it with a determined sprint toward the finish line. It wasn’t pretty. When you kill your internal organs with alcohol, it turns out that all kinds of terrible things can happen to you, and for her, one of the symptoms was her skin dissolving and not growing back. Horrible.
When she was sober, or even moderately not drunk, she was the life of the party, a raconteur, a bon vivant, a real pistol. She had a husband and kids, but none of it was enough to keep her alive.
Meanwhile, another of my beautiful friends has quit drinking and is struggling. She, too, is determined, but in a better way. Still, alcohol provided a structure for a big chunk of her life, and now she’s left looking at the space where that was like a building collapse happened. Big chunks of cement, dangling wires, and a loss of familiar territory. I’m rooting for her and praying for her because she deserves a big, grand, sober life. I know when the detritus is cleared away, she’ll have space for beauty and strength and love to grow.
And me? It has been almost a year since I quit drinking. I’m not sure of the exact date, but Mom 2.0 was May 2-4 last year and for some weird reason, I wanted to be able to tell Schmutzie that I had been sober for a month when I saw her, so I assume it was the beginning of April.
What I do know is that on April 21 last year, I wrote a post about quitting drinking, mostly as a ploy to keep myself from starting again. I figured spilling the beans would help me stay quit because then I’d have people to answer to if I started again.
I’m trying to figure out what to say about it. I wish I had had more big Life Revelations, but I’m not a really big revelation kind of person.
I do feel better, and proud of myself. I know I’m healthier. I never have to take tums before I go to bed to prevent a red wine stomach acid attack. I sleep better and feel better when I wake up.
Mostly, I’m happy to be on the consciousness team, people who have chosen to face up to everything clear-eyed and sober. I know I’m on touchy territory, because I don’t want to insult other people’s life choices which were also my life choices for more than 3 decades, though I took it much further than most people. Not everyone who has a glass of wine with dinner is slicing off big chunks of their consciousness the way I was.
I’m just happy for my fellow travelers, people I care about and admire so much. Hanging out in sobriety with my people – Jim, Elan, Laurie, Karen, Alexis, Heather, Marius, Ellie, Lisa…and everyone else – lets me know I’m on the right track, because I want to be more like them and less of who I was before I quit.
Do I still want a nice glass of pinot noir? Hell yes, I do. Just not today. Not today.
It has been raining, which is not news anywhere but in California. How long has it been since it last rained? Well, Abbie didn’t recognize it, and I have had her 13 months, so it has been a while.
She started barking at 3 a.m. She’s not a night time barker (though in the daytime, she loves nothing more than to find something outside to yap at) so I got up and opened the front door.
It was a dark and stormy night.
I saw a massive sheet of plastic up in the air, blowing every which way. I stared at it, wondering where it came from and thinking it must be caught in the power lines.
Then I realized my neighbor was holding it while standing on his roof in the wind and rain at 3 am. I hadn’t realized he was there because my brain didn’t register that there was a human on the roof.
Not only was I staring at him, but he was staring at me, staring at him. I can pretty much predict his thought process, because I would have thought the same thing: “Why is that crazy bitch staring at me as I’m up here trying not to kill myself while I cover my leaky roof? What a [insert favorite swear word].”
Sorry, neighbor. I really didn’t mean to stare.
I almost broke the Old Grease Rule. I had the day off and decided to go out to breakfast, something I usually only do on vacation.
I went to a local cafe, walked in and smelled the old grease. But the guy had already greeted me and I couldn’t just chicken out. I sat at the counter and ordered coffee. The guy came back with the coffee and took my order.
The coffee was horrible. Some cheap supermarket brand, watery, weak, acid. Strike two.
I unwrapped my silverware to see a greasy fingerprint on the knife. Strike three.
I jammed my hand in my purse, grabbed my phone, regarded the screen.
Frantically, I said “Excuse me! Excuse me! Can I cancel my order? I’m sorry, I need to go! I’ll just pay for the coffee…”
I did not need to go. Well, not for any other reason than to avoid a horrible breakfast. But he didn’t need to know that, did he?
I have him a couple bucks and dashed out, still trying to seem rushed.
I drove down to the Vagabond and sat at the counter, happily working my way through some French Toast. Not gourmet fare, but I’m pretty sure the grease was kind of fresh.
Look, Jack, I don’t know who you are (and I’m sure your name isn’t even Jack, but it feels good to spit those hard consonants out of my mouth), but I want you to give me a call in 20 years. Or 30.
Just give me a call when the regret really sets in. When you know there’s no one like my friend.
When you have found another woman, one who feels right at the moment but who won’t go the extra mile for you. One who doesn’t think of you as her best friend in the world.
Run around, look, try to find another love like this out there in the world. It’s a big world, but I don’t think you’ll find it. You had your One. She was there, her heart in your hands, constant, for all those years.
She was willing to wait as you pursued your dreams. She was proud of you. She was ready for you to come back, victorious, and was ready to walk beside you every day of your life.
But you threw true love away. I would pity you, but I’m far too angry. So call me in 20 or 30 years. I’ll probably have worked up some pity for you by then, and by then, I’m sure you’ll need it.
I heard a story on the radio the other day about the uselessness of performance reviews. It quoted someone who said the only people who want to hear negatives about themselves are people who are already dedicated to excellence.
In Toastmasters, we give generally positive evaluations of speeches. Every speech has an assigned evaluator, who spends several minutes going over what they liked about the speech and adding a few suggestions for improvement. We try very hard to be positive because we know how hard it is to get up and speak in public.
One night I did not do that. My dear friend Bruce, who is a longtime Toastmaster, got up to speak. He was unprepared and admitted as much, veering off in several different directions, even saying he was trying to decide what to talk about as he spoke.
I was his evaluator. Had he been a newer Toastmaster, I would have been kinder. But I felt like he had the experience to know better and do better, and my criticism was the harshest I had ever given or hope to give.
The audience was visibly shocked. They sat back in their chairs, rustling uncomfortably. When I got done, the applause was sparse indeed.
Later, CC took me to task. We ended up yelling at each other in the car, with her saying I shouldn’t have done what I did, and with me defending my actions. We never came to a resolution.
That was several years ago, and it wasn’t until recently that Bruce brought that evaluation up again. He told me that he felt I had given him one of the best evaluations he had ever had. I was relieved because I had felt all along that Bruce understood what I was trying to do, which was to shake him up and get him back on track.
I trusted that he was dedicated to excellence, and I’m glad he confirmed my beliefs.
When I was younger, I was horrible at receiving criticism. I automatically rejected it, angrily thinking that people were trying to hurt me. It wasn’t until I started writing for the newspaper and was under the supervision of a tough but very fair editor that I realized that he was trying to give me a valuable education.
“If I want to get better at this, I have to put my ego aside,” I thought. I had to lock my screaming teenage ego in a closet and take a clear-eyed look at my work every day, helped along by the team of editors and copy editors. They were never shy about offering criticism, and for that, I am glad.
Now I crave feedback. I gave a presentation on Thursday and dragged someone out into the hallway afterward, wanting to hear exactly what she thought.
I’m sure my screaming teenage ego is still out there somewhere, because I can hear her off in the distance. It’s just that I don’t care what she’s yelling about anymore. I have work to do.
Letting the dog out is a manual process. My house has one door and no dog door, so when Abbie wants to go out, I’m the one to do it.
During the morning hours from 8 to 10 am, she likes to run in and out, in and out, while I like to work and work and work. I can’t reach the door from my work chair. I cleverly solved this problem by putting a squeegee that is mounted on a broomstick next to me.
When she pushes the door open and comes in, I push the door shut with the squeegee, stopping before it latches. Then when she goes out 4 minutes later, I hook the squeegee under the handle and pull it open a foot so she can exit.
I am a genius. I am also owned by my dog.
Last night at 1:30 am, she needed to go out. I dutifully got up to let her out, then made my own restroom visit (in the house, not outside. Togetherness only goes so far).
BARK BARK BARK! said Abbie Lynn.
Oh, crap, I thought. The neighbors are gonna kill me. She usually won’t stop until I go and get her, but when I came out of the bathroom, she was standing inside the front door, peering out, and her fur was standing up. All the way up, like a husky.
I got my glasses and looked outside. It was a fullish moon night, with every detail piercingly clear. I walked all around the inside of the house, peering out, trying to see What It Was. I finally gave up and went back to bed.
Abbie went to the front door, whining. She clearly had business to do and had been so frightened that she couldn’t do it. I opened the door. She wouldn’t go out. She looked out in the driveway and growled.
I saw what it was. I had swapped out the giant memory foam mattress pad on my bed, and because my house is tiny, and because trash day isn’t until Friday, I had folded the old one and put it out in the driveway. (We live at the back of a property, so it’s not out annoying my neighbors).
In the moonlight, it apparently looked weird to a little dog with a tiny brain. She was trapped in the house!
I had to help. I went out and gave it a boot. Kicked it again. She came within a few feet, but then dashed back into the house.
I clearly had to show her that it was non-threatening, that I had the situation under control.
So if you saw a woman in a navy blue flannel nightgown with polka dogs dancing up and down on a memory foam pad in the driveway at 1:35 am, that was me. And if you heard her singing “Shawty Got Moves” because she needed something to dance to, that was me, too.
In other news, the dog overcame her fears and did everything she needed to do.