a piece of cake

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I’m a talker, a communicator, a storyteller. I’m a sharer and an over-sharer.  I’m a chronic poster, tweeter and Instagramer. I’m a recovering gossip who occasionally relapses. I’m eternally the 4th grade chatterbox who took the report card note of, “talks too much in class” as less of a criticism and more of a challenge to talk even more. Therefore, when I suddenly fell mute for a few days like Ariel in the weirdest part of The Little Mermaid, I was concerned. After all, there was A LOT going on in the world and now was the moment I chose to shut the hell up?

After Valentine’s Day, you know that sad ass Valentine’s Day where 17 people lost their lives in Florida, I kind of didn’t know what to say. Now, I’ve written about shootings before. From Aurora to Orlando, I have endlessly wondered why and how this keeps happening. I write to process, to vent and to share. More than that, I wrote about these things to hopefully connect with others who are feeling the same way so I feel less alone. Lots of words and tears but virtually everything has stayed the same. I just didn’t know what to say this time. By the way, feeling sad or enraged about shootings is an appropriate response. Otherwise, you’re fucking soulless robot. Yet somehow Florida was different. Sure, this was yet another heartbreaking, head shaking American made tragedy but it felt like it was finally enough. So soon after so many others, this one felt like a shift. Parkland wasn’t going to let us forget it and keep moving with our busy little gun-toting lives. Parkland wanted us to do something. Thankfully, as we all have seen by now, the children affected by that tragedy are leading the charge. Will things stay the same? I hope not but at least we have the right group with a lot to say when folks like me have run out of words.

What I did instead of talking was bake. As we have discussed here before, I’m kind of obsessed with cooking and baking. Baking, in particular, is very relaxing to me. I have an entire ritual: I listen to Sarah Vaughn, I make coffee and I bake. An obnoxious friend of mine once said “knitting is the new yoga” but today I would challenge her and say that baking is the new yoga. But who am I kidding? There have been so many new yogas that by now yoga is probably the new yoga. Anyway,  ever since my home was blessed with a pistachio-colored KitchenAid mixer last fall, my baking game has been taken to the next level. Elaborate Christmas cookies in tins for gifts, biscuits for Sunday mornings, cupcakes for parties, muffins just for the hell of it. The irony in all of this is my husband is not eating carbs, dairy or sugar (and yet somehow we stay happily married!). This means my baked accomplishments often travel elsewhere. I brought chocolate peanut butter cookies to a friend fresh out of detox. I took cookies to fundraiser for Crystal Meth Anonymous because tweakers deserve cookies just like everyone else, dammit. When someone at the clinic I work at suddenly died, sending a shockwave of sadness through my workplace, I brought more cookies and some muffins because I’m a former Catholic whose grandparents taught me that’s just what you do when these kind of things happen. Those cookies and muffins worked out particularly well since death is another hard situation where you don’t know what to say. It was my calorie-laden way of saying, “Holy shit. This is fucking sad. I love you. Have a muffin.”

Therefore, two nights ago I did what I do when I don’t know what to do: I baked. I made a lemon coconut cake. I experimented with cake flour because that’s what people like me do when they no longer experiment with new ways to ingest cocaine. I got to also make cream cheese frosting which is always a good day in my book. I was taking it to a dinner with some beloved sober people. Selfishly, it also helped me get my mind of some heavy shit. Besides Florida, I got some terrible news. A loved one who has been battling alcoholism for a long, long time has taken a turn for the worse. Her poor body cannot keep up with her disease. Alcoholism: 1, The Body: 0. It’s a horrific way to suffer. If it was someone with cancer or an incurable disease, the attitude would be different. Instead, since it’s “just” alcoholism (which is like saying just a tsunami) we act weird, dishonest and maybe not as compassionate as we should. God forbid we talk about it openly and say, “Ain’t alcoholism a bitch?” and then cry over a basket of muffins. So this loved one, this family member, this aunt of mine is losing a battle.

And in true alcoholic fashion, I can’t help but make someone else’s death all about me and take it personally. Like it’s super present to me that this is what would happen if I went out and started drinking again. My death wouldn’t be instant. My death from drinking and drugs wouldn’t be a graceful. It would be a long, brutal nightmare and that scares the shit out of me. Unable to eat and soon maybe unable to speak, a basket of UPS’d cookies would be lost on her at this moment. But don’t think I didn’t consider it.  Instead I make the cake for the ones that are here, the ones who are fighting alcoholism, addiction and depression, the ones who have sprouted up in my life like a magical bean stock. But mainly, I made it for me. I made it for me, the kid who is losing his aunt, the sober adult who is watching the disease in action–and ain’t that a bitch and I made it for me, the grieving person who simply just doesn’t know what to say.

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the heart asks for pleasure first

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I guess the idea shows up in your brain when you’re watching an Emily Dickinson movie on Amazon.

The film being A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon as the elusive poetess. The title doesn’t lie as it’s a quiet little church mouse of a movie but honestly it’s worth the watch for the poetry alone. Long a poetry nerd since childhood, the movie reminded me the Emily Dickinson is overused, over-quoted and maybe even overrated for a reason. The woman was a genius. Her sensitive soul and deep affection for her family mixed with a famously reclusive nature have always spoke to me. Therefore, the film’s choice to have Nixon read her work in voiceover is a brilliant one. In one scene in particular, my jaw fell open when I heard her speak these words:

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep; 
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Well, that was it. Ms. Dickinson, as portrayed by Miranda from Sex and the City, nailed it. The “it” I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a month: the journey of the heart. Of my heart, specifically. See, without me even trying or setting an intention or making vision board or visiting a witch (all things I approve of, just things I didn’t do) my heart changed. Love changed. Listen, this might sound like a bunch of nonsense so feel free to close your laptop or go read a really important article about the best episodes of The Barefoot Contessa.  But the best way I can describe it is it all got bigger. My heart could suddenly handle more. More love, more heartbreak and more change. And love, dear sweet love whom I’ve tried to push around and control my whole life, proved to me it was the boss. In the world of recovery, we often say “life on life’s terms” but I think we should say love on love’s terms, too.

Maybe it also shows when you hear a Savage Garden song in a Lyft.

“Is the music okay?” my sweet 50-something year-old driver asked me. “Perfect,” I said. Sometimes you just need to lip synch, “I’ll be your dream. I’ll be your wish. I’ll be your fantasy” in the back of a stranger’s SUV. Last week, was one of those times. For that 10 minute ride, I was happy to listen to Savage Garden and give my brain a breather. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend. From a joyous evening to celebrate with new friends to watching a loved one suffer, it was clear early on that my role was to just be wherever you invited me. The fact that I’m even able to do that still blows my mind after 9 years sober. Had you known me before when sending me a text message was akin to tossing a folded letter down a dark well, you’d be impressed too. Sure, I wasn’t doing as directed by Savage Garden and standing with you on a mountain or bathing with you in the sea,  but I was showing up for you last weekend and it felt good.

What happened by just showing up, is it availed me to some amazing experiences. One of which was sitting in a room with fellow addicts where someone I love was sharing their story. I scanned the building and noticed that 95% of the crowd was gay men. Gay men of all ages and varying lengths of sobriety. This is special for me because I never in a million years would have ever thought I’d have groups of gay men across several states that I felt  loved and accepted by. But here I am, gifted with male friends who are more than just fucks, adversaries or exes. We are connected to one another by the heart and by a common journey. What these people do, with varying degrees of success, is just show up and support each other and hopefully get better. The fact I get to be a part of something spectacular like that isn’t lost on me. By the end of the night, I soon didn’t feel like I needed my retreat into Savage Garden nor was my act of showing up all that remarkable. I felt honored just to be there.

It’s probably present too every time a friend picks up the phone.

The pursuit of being the cool bitch with a whole gang of friends has taken me to dark places. In the name of “cool” and on the never-ending quest for approval, I’ve done everything from shoplifting to trying heroin to snorting Special K with drag queens. Now at age 45, I am finding myself again seeking, finding and cultivating new friendships. It’s humbling to put myself out there, call people and be open. On some entitled level, I feel like I should just get a group of new friends each time I move to a new town without having to do any work. Like can’t we just have a casting agent take care of it? Can’t we hold auditions? Sadly, no. However, I have somehow found cool, funny, brilliant people to hang out with who I want to get to know better. I’ve rallied and pushed aside my shitty attitude to make friends. What’s more, and this is that expansion of love at work here, is I am open to be vulnerable and real with people I barely know, cool kid status be damned. I don’t take people hostage anymore and force them to get wasted with me. I’m just letting friendship happen. Already, I’ve been gifted with more than one phone call to a friend who somehow always gets what I’m going through, despite us not knowing each other for that long. This person speaks my language, lets me be myself and I try to do the same. It’s an incredible gift especially for someone newly back in the friendship game. Yet my heart is also grown up enough now to know that I can love these people in this moment, without expectation and somehow that feels like enough.

Maybe it’s always there.

Coming home the other night after being out with friends, my husband was already tucked in bed. A sleepy, funny random conversation that only couples who really like talking to each other followed, despite it probably not making a hell of a lot of sense. My heart and the rest of me wanted to go to sleep but it was later when I thought about those snuggly seconds before passing out that I realized that my pursuit of love and friendship begins and ends here, at home. The beings who live here: my cats Maeby and Larry and mainly, my husband Michael are the ones who teach me how to love all day long and who remind me that no journey my heart wants to take is too dangerous or too scary. No friendship too risky, no act of kindness without reason. Because every road leads back here–home. As Emily herself once wrote, I dwell in possibility and where I live is filled with precisely that.