please talk about me when I’m gone

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What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Rinse and repeat four thousand times. Sure, sure, sure. I believe this. Or I try to. See, I know it’s true and even for a narcissist like me the very idea can actually be comforting. Knowing that nobody’s opinion of me is actually important is a relief. Like if I am really “there” in that head space of truly and joyfully not giving a shit about what people think, it can provide a whole lot of freedom. Of course the whole idea of social media hinges on what people think about you and this is a tad difficult to reconcile. Still, I know in my heart that what people think about me is none of my business. Well, at least until I die, anyway.

Oh trust me we’re about to take self-obsession to a whole other level so buckle up. The level of the afterlife, specifically.  I do know that I can’t actually control what people think about when I die or maybe I can but that’s not something I’ll find out until I’m like dead. Uh duh. Still, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what sort of legacy my big ass personality will leave behind. Listen, my real hope is that I’m not so exhausting that I kill off all the people around me. Likewise, I don’t want my departure from this realm to be a “Thank God that bitch is gone!” sort of thing. I also don’t have grand illusions of monuments being erected or holidays being launched in my honor after I die. Of course, I am open to these things but I am not counting on them. This all sounds odd, I know but I have been thinking about it a lot lately. At age 44, I spend entirely too much time wondering about death and old age all the other things I didn’t think would physically happen when I was drinking and using drugs. Not in a morbid way though. More like a “Hmm. I wonder what the hell that’ll be like” sort of way. I know death is a train on its own timetable that I cannot stop and I don’t wish to. But I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t curious about what happens after it picks me up from the station.

My sister, who is sober and living in Florida and therefore proof that those two things can in fact coexist, was telling me a story the other day about a woman she knows from the rooms of recovery. This woman, in her 80’s recently died, causing a shockwave of sadness amongst her sober community. She had been able to cobble together 18 months of continuous sobriety after years of struggling to get sober. It’s an incredible accomplishment at any age. So imagine my sister’s shock and disappointment when nary a mention of this woman’s brave struggle against alcoholism even came up at the memorial. Instead, it was a ceremony rich in religious practices that were more about her family than her own. My sister felt like it was slap in the face to this woman who had by all accounts busted her ass to get and stay sober. We then agreed that if our respective funerals were given an unwanted religious makeover that we would independently haunt this earth in a manner that would make Amityville Horror look like a housewarming. We also agreed “that” part of our story was worth mentioning and honoring in death. After all, it’s a heroic battle that should be celebrated. There’s no doubt that a bout with cancer or time spent in the military would be heralded. Thus we came to the conclusion overcoming addiction should be treated the same way.  I mean for us. You do whatever you want with your funeral and haunt this earth however you choose.

But yeah I think when I die, it would be nice for my whole story to be told. Not like I plan on dying soon, as I am from a decidedly salty stock of people who tend to hang on for 90 years and act sassy until their very final moments. Still, I fought hard for this whole story, dammit and would like it all to be remembered. The idea of having people who only knew me sober at my funeral is a nice one. The idea of people being there who saw the whole journey is even nicer. And since my cross to bear in this life as a chronic bullshitter is telling the truth, these testimonies to my character might as well be as honest and funny as humanly possible. It would be very “off brand” to have it any other way. Might as well celebrate the whole picture, warts and all. As long as it’s not in a church and there’s 80’s music and tacos, I think there’s nothing from my personal life that couldn’t be talked about in death.

Sure, I can’t control what happens at my funeral, although my grandmother who had everything from the readings to the food and the location on lock well before she died would argue with this sentiment. But I can control what happens until then. I can try my best to be less of a dick on a daily basis. I can try to tell people I love them whenever and wherever I can. I can take minute and smile and think, “Wow. I’m fucking lucky to be walking in the sunshine right now” like I did the other day as I strolled home after buying flowers.

Therefore, consider this my official notice that you can say whatever you like about me at my funeral as long as it’s the truth and as long as you say a lot of it. Also, conditions and terms of the aforementioned haunting are subject to change depending on what kind of shit goes down over the next few decades.

private chanter

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If I have unrealistic expectations, don’t blame me. Blame Tina Turner. Witnessing Tina Turner live and onstage at age 12 has forever warped my expectations of what mere mortals should be able to do. I thought that every woman could dance and run around for 90 minutes in 7 inch high heels (they cannot). I thought that every person in their 50’s looked and acted like her (they do not). Much to my dismay, I also thought that every soul diva to come after her would be just as excellent and as we know they are not. In fact, I really blame Tina Turner for me not loving Beyoncé. Had I never seen Tina Turner live and experienced her funky rock and roll voodoo in person maybe I’d be more impressed with Beyoncé. Alas, I did see her on tour (with Stevie Wonder no less!) and therefore I am decidedly not. This is not Beyoncé’s fault. I am just rewired differently because of this experience. Having not seen many live performances at that age I still knew on a cellular level that this firestorm of a person was incredible. Every song, every dance move, every interaction with the audience was a masterclass on how rock and roll should be done.  On spiritual level, I think needed this cosmic interaction with Tina Turner as a 12-year-old. Maybe her resilience and survival were subconsciously telling me to hang in there or maybe she was just incredibly fierce and ran around non-stop in leather.

Either way, my expectations were high and made even higher when I saw What’s Love Got To Do With It? in theaters in 1993. Please watch this immediately to properly find your way to the Church of Tina Turner. Anchored by two of the best performances of the 1990s courtesy of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburn, the film tells Tina’s life story and her escape from her abusive marriage to Ike Turner. It’s a phenomenal film made even better by the packed house of primarily black women where I saw it on opening weekend. The scene in the limo where Tina finally leaves is powerful on its own but gets rocketed into a whole other dimension of amazing when the audience is hollering at the screen, “That’s right, girl! Leave his ass!” Yet the scene that really stuck with me was when Tina gets introduced to Buddhism by one of the Ikettes. She is shown chanting, “nam myoho renge kyo.” I was almost 21 when I saw that movie and seeking something else. By then, I’d already done enough ecstasy that it stopped working and moved my car over into the meth lane to disastrous results. So this 3 minutes of spirituality on film was powerful for some reason.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009. I had moved from the East side to the West Side in Los Angeles which is a cultural faux pas akin to leaving the Democratic party to become a Republican. But I did it to get sober. Thankfully, my roommate at the time  was also sober and practicing Daishonin Buddhism. The religion, as it turns out, is primarily based on chanting “nam myoho renge kyo.” When she asked if I was familiar, I of course acted like an expert. But the reality was all I knew of nam myoho renge kyo was the 3 minutes from the movie. Still, it worked for Tina Turner and it looked like it was working for my roommate and her friends so I thought I’d give it a try. She taught me how to chant at home, took me to Buddhist events and I started to read more about it. Listen, I was in bad shape after 20 years of drugs and alcohol and I was pretty much open to anything. It felt good when I chanted and it didn’t seem like it couldn’t hurt. The idea to go get tested for HIV came to me while chanting. It had been years and it was way past due. Chanting also brought up strong and difficult emotions about the past. When I got my positive diagnosis and other parts of my life started to fall apart, I realized that maybe I was a tad out of depth with this chanting thing. Maybe my Tina Turner expectations around my newfound spirituality were unrealistic too?

Like a good drug addict, I wanted all of my recovery and spirituality to work fast and make me instantly feel better. So when chanting brought up difficult stuff, it scared the hell out of me. At the time, I felt like I unleashed a whirlwind with this spiritual tool and I was freaked out. Pretty quickly, I dropped chanting as a practice. However, the reality  was my life was fucked up thanks to the damage I did. Chanting just brought it all to the surface. The shit was destined to hit the fan (and continue to do so for several months) and chanting just expedited it. Also, those three minutes in the movie, although powerful, don’t tell the whole story. Any good Tina fan knows that her battles with Ike and struggles to get her career back were just beginning so chanting was just a practice and not some cure-all for her either. She continued chanting and her life, as we know, gradually improved.

Even though I stopped chanting, my life improved too. Feeling like I fast tracked a religious life too quickly, I just went to meetings and tried to keep my life simple. It was going to take a lot of time to get honest, to change my thinking and to stop feeling horrible. My spiritual life was stripped down to the basics. Prayers in the morning and at night and that was it. That’s all my little drug damaged head could handle. I introduced more meditation at a year and a half sober but I naturally did that alcoholically too at 30 minutes a day and was forced to make that easier as well.

This morning, I meditated while the sun came up for ten minutes as the cats took turns walking across my lap. I giggled at them and took sips of coffee and gently pushed my thoughts back to meditation. I’m not exactly levitating these days or being sought after for spiritual advice. But my prayer and meditation feels honest which for a lying addict like me is huge. What’s more is the thing I really loved about Tina Turner, her spirit of survival and ability to come out the other side of horrific times, is something I get to see in real life when I hang out everyday with other sober addicts and alcoholics. And I even get to see it in myself and I don’t even have to wear leather or high heels.

Lessons from Blogging Every Day in April

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I know, I know. It’s not April anymore. Why the hell am I still talking? Trust me. I’m as shocked as anybody else that I still have anything to say. If April went on for any longer, I’d be forced to write posts reviewing YouTube drag queen videos (Um that actually sounds entertaining now that I think about it). But I did want to spit out some thoughts on writing everyday this month before I binge more Hulu shows and forget what I wanted to say.

Writing every day last month was an unexpectedly informative journey. I basically decided to do it because I was bored and needed a project. I had no end game and wasn’t trying to build a fan base or rough draft a book. But those two things accidentally happend by the way!  I just knew on some level that writing everyday would be good for me. So I hopped into this whole endeavor with zero plans or expectations. To my surprise, this little 30 day exercise taught me a whole bunch about myself. Here now are a few of the lessons I learned along the way.

Marathon Not a Sprint: Fairly quickly, I dunno maybe around April 5th, I realized the breadth and scope of what I was doing. It felt overwhelming and more than that it felt like I was going to struggle to keep it fresh and entertaining for 30 days. Luckily, I didn’t think about it too much and just wrote everyday. I did make little notes on things I wanted to talk about and came up with a calendar of posts that was flexible enough if decided to write about something else. All of this helped the project feel less overwhelming and allowed me to just do what I could do everyday and that was simple: write.

Feed The Beast: Although writing as an activity happens, cue the Celine, all by myself, it very much relies on the outside world to survive. After all, you can’t write about food unless you cook all of the time. You can’t write about art unless you look at art all of the time. So for me as a writer of pop culture and recovery, I had to lap in as much of that stuff as possible. This past month, I needed every tv show I watched online, every movie, every walk with friends, every conversation, every meeting I went to and most importantly every single thing I read. Without any other stimulation, I become dry, dull and repetitive. I know for a fact if I’ve run out of things to say there’s a huge problem and usually that problem can be fixed easily with reading. Reading brilliant and funny essays by Lindy West, Melissa Broder and Phoebe Robinson helped me so much as that’s the kind of stuff I want to write. By keeping myself “well-fed” creatively, I had more inspiration and energy to continue.

Look Out Weekends: It’s always interesting to look at when my blog gets the most reads. Until April, I just assumed it happened randomly. Like people stumbled on it whenever as if it was a dollar they found in their pocket. Turns out, thanks to WordPress’ algorithm tools, there are actually times and days when more people look at my blog. Thus it would make sense to publish on those days. Duh. For me, y’all like to read me on the weekends. And I’m okay with that and being the people pleaser I am will take that into account from here on out.

Reader Knows Best: That handy-dandy data also helped me figure out what kind of posts people liked to read too. The one common thread in popularity in my posts? The truth. When I let go and let you have it, the posts did really well. The more honest the post, the more readers. Pre-calculated and overwrought pieces rarely did well. But then again, my readers also like stuff that deals with life right now. So posts about a current tv show or movie or life change did in general better than the ones that dealt with a memory. These are good things to keep in the back of my mind when developing new essays….

But Also Write Whatever The Fuck You Want: I can’t get too tripped up about what people want to read or what I think they want. Talk about exhausting. Sure, it’s helpful to see what’s trending and gained popularity on my blog but it can’t be the whole reason I write certain posts. Readers see right through that nonsense. Instead, this month taught me to go with my gut and write posts from the heart that oozed honesty. 9 times out of 10 people responded when I stayed true to my voice.

Burn Out & Breakdown: Halfway through the month, as I have discussed here and on Twitter, I had a meltdown. Not like a Mariah Carey on a 5150 type of meltdown, mind you. But after days of spilling my guts on the page, I felt raw and like an exposed nerve. I thought I was breaking down because I’d hit something really personal in my writing and unleashed a mess of emotions. This was in fact part of it but not the whole story. I was also just burnt out. I was tired and out of gas. I needed to refuel and relax. This minor bump in the road was incredibly helpful because it made me prioritize self-care(things like rest, eating well, walking) and make it work in tandem with my writing practice.

Rehash & Recycle: Another thing I learned in this process? Some days the brilliant thoughts aren’t gonna come. Some days the well is just dry. So for these days I have plenty of drafts with a couple of sentences of half-formed ideas to help form new posts. Also I have an old blog filled with hundreds of posts and some of those ideas could use a fresh take or new spin. While for April I did write each post fresh every single day, there were a couple of posts who were born from an old draft, old post or just a simmering idea I jotted down a few words about. The challenge of breathing new life into an idea that was DOA is a good one and helped a few posts turn into something cooler and bigger than I could have imagined.

Trust It: Without a desired destination or preordained specific goal in my mind when I started this project, I really had to write with a whole shit ton of faith. I had to turn fear and preconceived notions off and just keep writing. I had to be creative and simply trust that creativity was enough. Which is not at all easy. Just trusting yourself as a writer and a creative being is some ninja bad assery. Still, when I let go and trust this process that’s when magical posts appeared out of nowhere. More than that, it’s these posts that I was the most proud of and that were the most meaningful. No, I didn’t sit down in the begininng of the month wanting to write about potatoes, showers, burritos, Mavis Staples and my ass. But by trusting the process, I did write those posts and I’m really glad I did.

So would I recommend writing a blog post every day for a month? Absolutely. It’s a really great way to get your writer muscles in shape. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But not in May. I promised you guys I’d shut up for a bit. And by “a bit” I mean I’m now only publishing three times a week.

 

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