relieve me of the bondage of selfie

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How do I look?

How do I look when I’m struggling?

How do I look when I’m happy?

How do I look when I’m grocery shopping?

How do I look when I’m dealing with family members, cleaning up cat barf, watching reality TV or cooking dinner?

More importantly do you think I look?

Luckily for me, I have the magic mirror of narcissism that is social media which answers those questions with bubbly hearts. When illuminated several times over, I have won at the game of self-worth. The numbers can even tick up in front of my eyes like flashing beacons that say, “You’re doing amazing, sweetie.” Conversely, when nobody gives a damn these bubbly hearts stay clear, invisible, with no numbers beside them to alert the world that my likeability has confirmed kills. Yet recently, I reached the very bottom of the mirror and stared at the whole thing. Yes, that’s correct. I really feel as though I’ve read all of what Twitter and Facebook has to offer. I’ve heard the opinions. I’ve had my opinions. I’ve seen their opinions become my opinions.  I’ve seen them take my opinions.  In fact, I’ve now heard and read so many opinions that none of them matter or stand out anymore. Even my own. Yes, I truly think I’ve read it all. And what I’ve learned is, to quote Jon Bon Jovi, it’s all the same, only the names have changed.

This is okay. I mean how many things do we all have to actually talk about? It’s normal that we’d ramble on and ramble and repeat crap again and again. Besides, humans and their ability to have different spins on the same topics is one of the best things about humans. The “best things about humans” would be a great hashtag, by the way since it appears our collective qualities are harder and harder to celebrate these days and therefore should be gathered as evidence. It would be a great hashtag if I was doing those sorts of things anymore. But I’m not. In fact, I’m not really doing any social media anymore.

Or should I say “for today” I’m not doing social media. In case you didn’t know, “for today” is that give a way phrase we addicts use to signal that for hopefully 24 hours we won’t engage in something that is addictive and unmanageable. And by “not doing,” I mean I’ve cut back on Twitter and deactivated my Facebook for like 2 days so far. I know. I’m practically a monk. As someone who has worked in digital content and social media for the past seven years, I guess this is the part of the post where I should talk about the virtues that social media does have. You know– the ability to bring people together from around the globe, the ability to share information quickly and the ability to make you feel bad about you had for lunch– those types of things. And they are all valid and worthwhile. But I’m not going to talk about those virtues. Because my problem with social media is (wait for it) me.

Sometime over the summer after I had spent entirely too long styling a selfie for an author photo a website that I  contribute to, it hit me maybe my relationship with all of this is too intense. Putting my self-worth in the hands of others is something I’ve done for decades. So much so that if the folks at MasterClass are interested I’ll gladly share my knowledge with the world for the low, low price of $90.00. Us ninja level codependent people pleasers didn’t need no stinking social media to wrap our self-esteem in the approval of others but it sure the fuck makes it a lot easier! Now, instead of calling people or walking to their houses or showing up to their events that I don’t want to go to but will go to in hopes of them liking me more, I can just post witty, wise crap that will endear me to their hearts. In my pocket at all times, I hold the power to turn over my power to faceless others in 140 characters or less. Weeee!

I’m making light of this because that’s sort of what I do when a behavior of mine has become problematic. Like, “Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t it a hoot how much cocaine I can snort?” But the reality is my relationship with social media started to feel problematic. More than once, I’ve ignored my husband or missed what he was saying because my face was stuck to my iPhone like a fly on the windshield. Not a cool thing to do to my literal favorite person to talk to. Also troubling? Something about my dependence on it felt odd. Like here I was preaching the gospel of being sober and present in my life but all the while I had gleefully become my iPhone’s bitch. Uh, what?  I at the very least don’t use my phone or text during meetings. I mean honestly if I can’t live without looking at it for an hour, I really need help. But nearly everywhere else I’m glued to it and that’s primarily because of social media.

Even worse, I’d committed the cardinal sin of social media, the one I’d warn clients about, the one every article back in 2009 would caution against: I started to take it too personally. When the tweets of others start to feel like attacks or the vague online personalities of people you don’t actually know in real life start to affect you, it’s time to get a grip. After all, it’s all for entertainment purposes only which I fundamentally know. Yet somehow here I am. But it also kind feels like something else. Like it feels hallow and immature for where I am right now. Worse for a snob like myself, my dependency on it is shamefully basic. I’m no better than our president or Taylor Swift. Look what I made me do.

So what? I grab a stack of novels and go live in the woods? Not really an option especially since I have real life commitments and hate mosquitos. Like my other addictions, I have to figure out how to treat it. Listen, I’m my motto has always been “Why do something you enjoy when you can turn it into an obsession?” so I’ve been down this road with booze, drugs, cigarettes, tv, sugar, people, sex, ad nauseam. By the way, if you’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and this sounds like some trivial-ass bullshit, that’s because comparatively it is. Nevertheless, I know I first need to admit it’s a problem, which I guess what this 1200 word declaration is all about and then I have to take action. For me, action looked like deactivating my Facebook account and taking Twitter off my phone. The obsession, as the sober kids say, has not been removed just yet and I’m really starting to see how much time I was actually spending on it. Yikes. It’s becoming clear how much of a crutch it actually is.

Suddenly, I don’t aimlessly scroll like a zombie in search of little bubbly hearts. Suddenly, I don’t have you to tell me how I look. And now I have to look at myself.

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sea change

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Look at the ocean long enough and you’ll hear it. It’ll be whispered to you as the waves hit the shore or in your ear as an ocean breeze pushes its way by you. It’ll gently tell you as you feel hypnotized by watching the water do its thing. It will remind that you, a white dude in his forties, isn’t really that important. And for this particular white dude in his forties this is something I needed to hear.

The ocean, as we’ve talked about, is one of those massive, overwhelming but really comforting forces for me. Whenever my problems feel too large and never-ending, the ocean says, “Oh no, girl. I’ll show large and never-ending.” As I stood by the water at the rocky tide pools of Cannon Beach this Saturday, that feeling, that reassurance was still there. The ocean and its power had not changed. But me? Honey, that’s another story all together. See from where I stand, ocean in view or not, change is about all I’ve been doing since last fall. From my grandmother dying to moving to Portland to spiritual and creative shifts, my world has been pulled like taffy and rearranged several times over. This is all okay, by the way. I long, long ago listened to some old crusty sober person who croaked out in a meeting, “The only constant is change!” This is usually said by a person who has the same shirt on every time you see him, by the way but his point is valid and one I’ve taken to heart. Besides, I’ve lived a life of stagnant, repetitive alcoholism before and to say it’s depressing as fuck would be the understatement of the century. So the only other alternative is to lean into it.

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As we sat jointly sighing, looking at the ocean for an hour or so, it occurred to me that I’m currently at a pit stop between even more changes. Mainly, in the career department. On September 11th, I’ll be starting a new job. Thru the utter magic of the universe, dumb luck and my ability to talk the ear off anyone, I have landed a job as a Peer Support Specialist with a state mental health organization. In a job interview which felt more like a 12-Step meeting, I was able to express my desire to help other while really, really wanting a regular gig with great benefits to help support my creative life. I had a good feeling about the position for the get-go. I mean it’s talking to other addicts which I love and the interview itself was on Madonna’s birthday, for crying out loud.  So it felt like a sure thing. Yet after a recent busload of rejections, no thank yous and straight up professional ghosting, I was cautious. Therefore, I stayed out of the results, I showed up and did my best and attempted to let it go and not obsess over it. Thankfully for Michael, the cats and my nervous system, I got word two days after my interview.  I’ll have this week at my silly cooking school job, a week off and then a whole new adventure begins.

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But it’s not just work that’s changing–I’m also going to Europe in 5 weeks! This trip is mainly what my husband and I yammered about like excited little college kids while we were walking around the beach shops. Kitschy beach boutiques and food stands, while not as powerful as the ocean are an essential part of any ocean side visit for me. I mean there’s only so much natural beauty I can handle until I need to nibble on fried clams and peruse the finest in local tchotchkes. Luckily, Cannon Beach provides those things very well and in spades. It was a celebratory backdrop to discuss a trip we’ve been dying to take since we started dating over 7 years ago. Plus, it was nice to talk about a big life event, that unlike death or a career shift, doesn’t deal with fear of the unknown or loss. This trip, and we by no means planned it this way, lands nearly 25 years after the last time I was in Europe as a high, hot mess 20-year-old.  It’ll be nice to reinvent Europe, a place whose centuries old buildings have not changed, through the eyes of a person who certainly has.

And yet none of my changes, as the ocean reminds me, are that important. In fact, compared to love, staying sober, helping other people and travel, I’m starting feel like a lot of things aren’t that important. This could be my biggest personal change of all. Maybe I’m biting some of the ocean’s style but I’ve recently felt like the world around me doesn’t have the stranglehold that it once did. I feel dissatisfied with modern culture, social media, politics, celebrity culture, popular ideology, did I mention social media? The thing is I’m feeling like a bunch ways I react, participate and engage in life in 2017 are starting not to fit anymore. This is an odd thing to articulate but I feel like I’m less and less interested in what everybody else is interested in. Not in an alienated way at all. But like I’m being freed from unimportant crap that’s bogging down my time on this little planet. It feels good. It feels like I’m being streamlined to let bigger things in and let little stuff just float out to sea. What any of this means I don’t know. But what I do know about change, especially the ones we don’t understand, is that it can be as magical and surprising as the ocean herself.

 

 

 

The Rise of Politecore

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An odd thing happened for seven minutes in downtown Portland on Monday. This in and of itself is a remarkable thing to say, seeing as though a few weeks back in the exact same spot I witnessed a man in a Spider-Man costume playing the bagpipes and riding a unicycle. But this occurrence right here steps away from the world-famous Powell’s bookstore was something that doesn’t happen everyday, unlike the musically inclined Spidey. Because even in a terminally friendly town like Portland, there was something bigger and more profound at work and not just the eclipse, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1979.

No, what I witnessed was people, strangers for the most part, genuinely being happy with one another and dare I say it, in the era of world leaders dissing one another on the Internet, polite. Whether they were moving out of the way so a stranger could get a better glance or sharing their glasses with each other, something about the sun getting blocked out for seven minutes brought the best out in people. Very quickly you got the feeling that it wasn’t just the eclipse that was special but the behavior associated with it too. As it ended, we all went back to our respective shops, workplaces and cafes. The eclipse was gone and you could assume these moments of politeness, humanity and decency were gone along with it. But I’d argue that politeness is making a comeback and you need look no further than your television for solid evidence.

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Of the hundreds of things to love about The Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake-Off as it’s known in the U.K.) are the moments when contestants help each other. As a reality tv aficionado (or junkie depending on how you want to spin it) I can tell you this is a weird and unnatural thing in the genre. Sure, we’ll have random drag queens loan one another costumes on RuPaul’s Drag Race but for the most part, the “I came here to win! I didn’t come here to make friends!” is the battle cry of American reality tv. Thus it’s the utter lack of backstabbing and cut throat competitiveness that makes Baking Show so charming. During the last season to air on PBS this summer, I once again found myself near tears as contestants assisted one another in finishing their frosted masterpieces. The contestants genuine goodwill and enjoyment of each other makes the show feel darn near aspirational. They help their fellow contestants not because there’s an endgame or an additional bonus for not being a selfish jackass. They do it because it’s the right, normal decent human being thing to do. Sounds like a revolutionary concept when I put it like that. And perhaps it is.

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For more proof that maybe  we just don’t act right, look no further that Netflix’s Terrace House. The reality tv hit from Japan became a global sensation recently when Netflix wisely added it to its roster of international delights. Seriously, if you’re not watching at least one crazy-ass foreign tv series on Netflix than you’re doing it wrong. They have a lot of great ones and Terrace House is my recent guilty pleasure. The show puts 6 singles (three boys, three girls) in a flawlessly designed house and let’s the drama (or in this case non-drama) unfold. If this all sounds eerily like MTV’s old standby The Real World than you wouldn’t be wrong. Except in Terrace House there are no manipulated situations, challenges or group jobs. It’s just six incredibly reserved Japanese people living under the same roof. With the exception of adding a room of offsite commentators who offer their own insights on the action in the house, that is literally it. Much has been written about why a show that isn’t just politecore but borderline borecore is so compelling even with its lack of fabricated plots. From the heartfelt discussions of emotions to the intimate glimpse into Japanese dating culture, the show has several layers that makes it a fascinating watch. But for me, watching twentysomethings that weren’t the rude, selfish, loud ingrates that I was in my twenties is utterly captivating. Even when Terrace House has “drama”, usually revolving around food or temporary thoughtlessness, the housemates resolve it in a sincere and tear filled way that would never go down on these drinking throwing, wig pulling shores. Sure, the sometimes snarky commentators offer good-natured jabs at the housemates. But even they spend a fair amount of time celebrating the personalities and emotional triumphs of each resident. Turns out, rooting for people who are considerate is just as easy as rooting for mental unhinged housewives.

While suggesting that we all be the Terrace House we want to see in the world is too ham-fisted and unrealistic for even me, I do think there’s something to be said for politeness. I recently had a job interview where the potential employed asked my philosophy on taking care of customers. I said basically, I try to treat people how I want to be treated. He laughed and said, “That’s so simple but sounds amazing in times like ours.” I agreed but it wasn’t just one of those things I said in order to get a job (which I did get, by the way). It’s a way of life I try to achieve. Try being the operative word. Catch me on a day with no sleep and in between meals while waiting in a long line and you’ll see that sometimes this ideal of politeness is hard to achieve. But for me the idea is to at least give it a shot. Like it won’t kill me to at least attempt not being awful.

This includes online too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of deep breathing and deleting on social media when replying to discussing about racism, homophobia and all the other nifty thing currently happening in this country. The endless scroll is now home to people yelling at each other, rambling off manifestos and most annoying telling others how they should process. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a trap to even have these conversations online. My rule of thumb now is I can either respond in a way that’s online with how I act in person or not at all. This, as it turns out, is a tall order as it is really easy to act like know it all or bully online with zero repercussions. Instead, I’ve chosen to make good-natured smartass comments, have my beliefs, stay of service in my real life and leave the debating over the head of strangers to those better equipped than myself.

Yet if we listen to the internet just being polite isn’t enough. Just being thoughtful of one another doesn’t qualify you to put resistance in your Twitter bio. Just having compassion won’t help us “rise up” as directed by the song the play on everything from the Olympics to soap commercials. And that’s fine. Part of politecore, the hardest part in my mind, is sticking to a value that kindness means something and that being courteous and loving to strangers is where real change is happening, without hashtags or celebrity endorsements. But the most amazing thing about politecore, about compassion and about love is that we don’t have to wait for another eclipse or to watch it broadcast from a foreign land. We can do it right now.

 

 

 

I die a little

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It’s a sad ass state of world affairs when a chocolate mousse made with love and instruction from the divine being of Julia Child herself can’t fix my broken heart. After all, whipping up such an act of selfless, culinary love on Saturday for a room full of strangers should have made me high for several days. I mean, I don’t snort cocaine(anymore) so the power of a good homemade chocolate dessert should not be underestimated and under normal conditions would have done wonders. But this Saturday was not normal.

Listen, you are smart people with fancy phones that tell you immediately when the world has gone to hell. Bless these little devices right now as they seem to be working like children in factories during the Industrial Revolution. So you know to what I am referring. You know that for the next few days that when we talk about feeling like shit about the world we’re talking about Charlottesville. This nightmare, this hate crime, this racially motivated act of terror and as well as the stomach churning pageantry which proceeded it is already infamous. It’s already another sad, shitty sidebar of American history and what we end up doing with it is anyone’s guess. At the emotional intersection of Bitter Old Gay and Sober Sage, I’d venture to guess not a damn thing will change. This is an awfully negative response. But you know me. This bitch keeps it real. Anyway, this isn’t that piece. This also isn’t that essay about how to fix racism or the world or what people are doing or not doing. This post is about me.

It’s very typical of an alcoholic to turn a national disgrace and tragedy into all about himself. So consider me guilty as charged but in my defense this blog is entitled “the seanologues” so I sort of let you know that I was my favorite topic from the jump. Look,  I don’t live in Charlottesville. I am not a person of color. I was not there Saturday. But what I do know is that the way I process this kind of news is different than it used to be. It seems to happen in stages. For example, when I heard about it, I was at my day job. I work at one of those places where foodies come and take cooking classes while drinking wine. I’m supposed to help the chef instructors but really I just snack, eavesdrop on hilarious Portland food snobs and occasionally get to cook too. Not a bad artist’s gig, as these things go. So when my social media blew up with news out of Virginia, my default is to snort, roll my eyes and shoot off a salty, “Well, of course this is happening” tweet. The more I read, the more annoyed I got. I had to put my phone down. After all, there was a chocolate mousse to be made, dammit.

As I plowed through Julia’s extensive and exhaustive directions, the mousse materialized. There’s something deeply satisfying about just following a recipe. Like I cannot control what hell on Earth is happening right now but i can be damned sure this mousse turns out flawlessly. And that it did. After working all day and obsessively checking my phone for the latest bad news, I was exhausted. I went home, flopped on the couch, nibbled a dinner that wasn’t as impressive as the mousse I made earlier and generally tried to let Saturday melt away. When I woke up on Sunday morning, it was still there. Not just the headlines and the trending topics from yesterday but that aching pit in my stomach.

Another work shift (this time pastas of the world!), another face plant on my bed at home where I took a nap. When I got up, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter was stuck in my head. Well, still stuck in my head. I sang it softly to myself  earlier in the day on my way to work. I’m lucky enough to live in a part of downtown Portland that a gay singing Cole Porter to himself happens to be pretty basic behavior. Porter’s lyrics are always a touchstone for me. When I need confirmation that beauty exists and that we are capable of truly lovely things, Cole Porter’s songs always provide. That song in particular personifies Porter’s masterful lyrics while revealing his tender heart. It’s a song of longing for a person whose absence is utterly heartbreaking. On a day like yesterday, however, it kind of felt like a goodbye to something else. Like every time I say goodbye to our humanity, our compassion and our love for one another, I die a little. I wonder why, a little. I thought about this as I sat on the end of my and then it happened. 24 hours later after a day of senseless and horrifying hate, I cried. And I cried a lot.

Me crying, as we’ve discussed here quite a bit, is not an abnormal thing. In fact, I consider it win every time I do because I lived two decades as an emotionless drunken robot. I once heard my friend Dennis with 25 years of sobriety say tears from sober people shouldn’t just be comforted but congratulated. And I wholeheartedly agree. When I respond with tears or compassion or humor, I’m working through it, instead of moving around it. In other words, don’t worry about me when I’m crying. Worry about me when I tell you I’m “just fine.” But in this case, I feel like having emotions might be particularly powerful.

Consider this:  currently in this country, we are at the whim of blustery, unemotional, bigoted assholes. These stilted shitbag examples of white men would rather die than show real emotion or compassion for another human being. Thus crying or going to meetings or therapy or helping others are now rebellious acts. The more we express ourselves, the more we take care of ourselves and one another, the less power they have. The first version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” I listened to yesterday afternoon before the tears rolled uncontrollably down my face was by Ella Fitzgerald. In my sorrow, I had to smirk that the vocals of an angel like Fitzgerald (a black woman and civil rights activist), Cole Porter (a gay man) and Julia Child (a unapologetic liberal and harsh critic of McCarthyism) were the Americans I turned to this weekend for comfort. Even my artistic inspirations from beyond the grave were holding their middle fingers up while also holding my hand.

I guess the thing is this: sure, my emotions and reactions to world events are not the end all and be all. And thank god for that. But at least, I’m able to have them. So if you are upset too and have cried too, know that I get you and know that it’s okay. It feels normal. It feels appropriate. After all, imagine, if none of us felt anything after Charlottesville. We’d all die more than just a little.

action! I wanna live.

feelingsWe are in the era of the topless, body positive Instagram post. We are in the era of the multi-tweet thread chronicling everything from an individual’s heroic battle with a mental illness to a harrowing account of waiting in line at the airport. We are in the era of blogs like the one your reading now routinely using (or abusing) their pages to become a digital dumping ground for confessions, neuroses and run-of-the-mill epiphanies. As a big fan of all of these things, I will say respectively and from the most spiritual place possible, fuck this era. Fuck this false sense of heroism for simply being a human who handles their emotional shit. Fuck this bar for being so low that we now spring to our feet anytime someone is real about themselves. Because for people with mental illness, addiction and alcoholism this brand of self-truth telling isn’t some breakthrough handpicked specially for a Lenny Letter essay. It’s just how we stay alive.

Hopefully, my flagrant flinging of the f-bomb didn’t frighten you off. But I swear all of this is on my mind for a reason (cue the aforementioned confessional in 5, 4,3,2…). While I like to think it takes guts for me to yell into the void of the internet, “Ugh. I feel shitty and I kind of hate myself/everything else!” I know it’s ultimately chicken shit. After all, I could whine for days digitally (and I have and thank you for reading, by the way!) but if it’s not happening in real life and if I’m not reaching out in the real world, it’s all for show. While bleeding on the page and essentially throwing glitter on my hot mess mental health is sort of my brand, it can’t just be a blog or a series of tweets. I mean for me. “For me,” in case you didn’t know,  is what we say so we don’t alienate people who are doing something else to treat their own hot mess mental health. But in this case I don’t know if it is just “for me”. Study after study, book after book has shown that people with the stuff I have tend to feel better when they share it with others who have the same thing. All of this is to say, that yesterday, live and in person without editing or a delete tweet option, I let it out.

The “it” in question is some of the financial and career blahs I mentioned before but then also my general feeling horrible/depressed/over everything that’s been plaguing me for several days.  Plaguing is a dramatic word and not at all accurate when it considering places like Syria or Venezuela or Chechnya. But I described it to my husband as a “baseline of annoyance and depression”. In other words, I’ve been a fucking delight. Completely wrapped up in self and miserable, I forced myself to go to a meeting yesterday. It was a gay meeting not unlike the gay meetings I got sober in Los Angeles back in 2009. Gay meetings are awesome, by the way. Not only do I find them to be a little more entertaining and honest but they are filled with people who get me in a way sober straight people do not. Anyway, after hearing lots of stuff that resonated, I vomited out everything that I was feeling. While the details of this monologue are best left in the magical ethos of the sacred spaces of 12 Step rooms, I will say that I felt better almost immediately. And more than that a few people gathered around me and gave me their phone numbers after the meeting. After a tear filled text session with my sober bestie in LA, who hilariously called me controlling and called alcoholism a cunt, I started to feel human. I calmed down. I ate bread and watched reality shows. I snuggled with my husband, who currently deserves some sort of trophy. I went to bed. But I went to bed knowing that I need to be in a new state of action.

The thing is I’ve been going to meetings and doing the work I need to do to stay sober since I moved to Portland but clearly I still need more help. This is always a drag for me discover. I really, really hoped that when I got sober I’d only have to ask for help once and only feel shitty for a small period of time and the rest of my life with be like the last 3 minutes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What I’ve gotten in reality is a life that actually looks more like the last 30 minutes of Postcards from the Edge which is to say not perfect, challenging and a lot of work if I want to stay healthy and happy. Yesterday’s breakdown/breakthrough was a wake-up call to do more work and to keep going. Therefore, I’ve committed to 30 meetings over the next 30 days. I’m also going to find a sponsor and take on a service commitment. I traditionally don’t like to do any work and will only do so when I’m in a considerable amount of pain so consider this me screaming, “Uncle!”

I guess the point of this yet-another-act of internet heroism is this: my mind was in a dark place. A sad place. A despair filled place. A fucked up place. And was kind of there for a while and was pushing me to feel like, “Why bother?” This freaked me out. Because how long do I think like this until I then start thinking that drinking or using or god forbid suicide all sound like awesome ideas? Yikes. So I told the truth. I told on myself. I cried in front of strangers. I asked for help and I did it not because I wanted applause but because I want to be happy and alive. And because it’s what we do.