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.

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It was an epic showdown between two individuals and I saw it all go down.

These two sets of eyes, one to my right, the other directly in front on me, casually met at first. Then something switched, like they realized what the other one was made of. Before you knew it, both opponents were giving each other the stare down. Each of them transfixed by the other and me and the people next to me were soon invested in this showdown too. This eye-lock for the ages last a few moments until the staring ninja in front of me let out a loud giggle. Or was it a coo? Whatever you’d call it, it was one of those sounds so brain explodingly cute that it could only come from a baby. His opponent, an 11-year-old female corgi, apparently loved it too and wagged her tail wildly. In response, myself and the man seated next to me both made our own unique noise that was something between a laugh and an “awww” sound. This Olympics of Adorableness happened yesterday. At an AA meeting.

If you wait long enough, everything comes around again. Or at least this is what I have been told by countless sentimental movies, thoughtful commercials and wise folks. While I would like to think that every experience I have is unique and one of a kind, it’s hard to not feel like a lot of my current existence isn’t mirroring the past. For example, when the husband and I started dating seven years ago, we lived in different cities. We are currently doing that once again for the next six weeks. Likewise, we lived in a near empty apartment while we waited for furniture some four years ago and  here we are once again doing the same thing yet this time in Portland. But the biggest redo from the past is starting over again with my recovery.

While I didn’t relapse, moving to a new town in recovery means basically starting from scratch. Having gotten sober in Los Angeles and then moving to Denver at 2 years sober, I’m familiar with what it takes to submerge oneself. And it’s a whole lot of work. I sigh just typing those words because I am inherently entitled, self-obsessed and lazy. Therefore, “doing the work” of recovery isn’t always my favorite. Like it’s fine and I know it’s necessary but really can’t I have someone do it for me? Isn’t there a temp agency I can call, a hologram I can use or a pill I can take that will have the same effect? Since the answers to those questions are an emphatic no, no and hell no, I realize that I have to just throw myself in. I have to go to many as meetings as possible. I have to talk to other people who have what I have. I have to show up. In my early days of recovery back in 2009, there were some meetings where I’d just listen and I need to do that now, in a new town. And that’s how I wound up witnessing Baby Versus Corgi staring contest yesterday.

I went just to get out of my head, a crazy place I’ve hung out in entirely too much lately. I don’t seek from meetings anymore. I don’t go to judge or to get anything. I go because I need a reminder of what I have and need to see miraculous transformations in person. Watching people turning into butterflies is the most amazing thing about 12 step meetings. Hang around long enough and you’ll see people on death’s door suddenly become someone beautiful, happy and productive. What can say? I love Cinderella and I’m a sucker for makeovers. I am lucky to have seen it several times in others and even in myself. Sure, sure, sure there’s a lot of a stuff to bitch about with meetings. While the internet has about 600 billion posts doing as much, I’m not really in that game anymore. Bitching and whining instead of actually evolving is so 2008. I currently go to meetings save my own life and watch others do the same and that’s about it. So every so often you get treated to something extra at a meeting and yesterday it was this corgi/baby lovefest.

Watching those two was like a living, breathing meditation. So sweet, funny, real and genuine, the interaction universally confirmed that the world is amazing and I have a lot to be thankful for. Their Disney movie interaction was a stunning contrast to what the poor adult humans in the room were sharing. On a seemingly average Wednesday, so many open hearts shared about relapsing over the weekend, about wanting to drink, about not wanting to live. Each person who shared needed to open their mouths and by doing so helped everybody else in the room, myself included. By choosing to shut up (for once) instead of sharing about my cats, I opened my heart too. I felt connected to a room of people in a new town but who were now anything but strangers.

move bitch, get out the way

I wish the administration of life was interesting enough to justify thousands of words and lots of titillating conversations. But it just isn’t. No matter how hard we all try to make the things we have to do everyday more interesting we cannot. Unless it’s something like rescuing baby sloths but I suppose even that can get boring.  My point is the reason there’s a big, fat, juicy lag in between posts here on the Seanologues is because my boring, old life has been getting in the way of nearly everything. My long simmering move from Denver to Portland, for those of you who are regular readers are aware has dragged on longer than the last Hobbit movie, has finally come to a head. After months of starts and stops, primarily caused by my husband’s workplace and its never-ending construction schedule, it’s finally here. We have a beautiful new home and we’re vacating our beautiful old home on Saturday. Cut, print, moving on.

Yet even though I’m moving across the country, something people do every damn day, this experience has had its own special set of, uh, shall we call them, “Life Lessons” that I didn’t exactly anticipate.

First of all, nobody ever tells you that moving away from people is fucking hard. Not just on you, the person who’s moving, but on the people who you’re leaving behind. If they’re lovely folks who you are close to, a series of  lunches, delightful dinners, chatty coffee dates and tearful brunches transpire that warm your heart and make it suddenly hard to say goodbye. But if they happen to be lovely folks who you are close to but who are just having hard time with this whole damn thing, it isn’t as easy. I didn’t anticipate the “shade”, “clap back”, “attitude” and whatever other internet slang for shitty behavior from a loved one but there it was. This beloved individual had problems embracing me leaving and therefore pushed me away like I was plate of boiled neck bones. It was, or maybe still is, hurtful but not out of the realm. The writing was on the wall and I knew this reaction was coming given other instances with other people, but I’m an addict so my default is always, “Maybe this time will be different!”

Nevertheless, it  wasn’t different and it all made me feel kind of sad and icky. But as somebody else reminded me, it’s nice to be missed.  Which is certainly true. Lord knows I’ve left many places where I wasn’t exactly missed and it was more of a “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass!’ situation. But as I hugged a dozen or so of my favorite folks on this planet on Saturday night, I also learned it’s nice to have people you’ll miss too.

Secondly, moving brings about a chaos that I’m no longer used to. The husband and I are not hoarders or collectors or collectors pretending they’re not hoarders. We’ve lived in a 1924 bungalow for 3 years with itty bitty closets (apparently in the 20’s you didn’t need much room to store your bootleg gin and flapper dresses) so we’ve had to continually purge and get rid of stuff. As a sober alcoholic, this is a good process to me and one not unlike every inventory I’ve had to write in recovery. That being said, we still had a bunch of shit and we’ve had to live out of boxes, bags and piles for several weeks. Even as the nicely packed storage pod pictured above travels onto Portland, I’m currently camping in our Denver house, living out of a duffel bag and eating take out with plastic utensils. It’s uncomfortable and not the cozy life I’ve gotten used to in the past 8 years. But I’ve sort of had a revelation while taking 20 minutes to find my keys or wallet: my everyday life used to be this crazy and messy.  And for years! While I was drinking and using, I could never find shit, accomplish shit or give a shit. So these last two weeks have made me feel really grateful for the simple, boring, pseudo organized existence I have today.

Lastly, the thing I’ve realized is me being ready to move on and the universe being ready for me are two totally different things. Personally, I’ve been emotionally ready to move since my grandmother died last fall. It’s been hard to live in my childhood neighborhood with her gone and making it a little harder to heal, if I’m completely honest. But it became pretty clear that none of this process was up to me.  Our timeline on this adventure has changed over and over and it’s been totally out of my control. Again, for an addict this is an awesome thing. Not being the boss or puppet master of anything is ultimately the best role for me to have. During this adventure I’ve just had to show up, move stuff and say, “Yeah sure. That’s fine” to a myriad of last-minute changes, Plan Bs and ideas that weren’t my own. I basically have had to move out-of-the-way and let all of this happen. This has been an excellent thing. Where we’re going to live, the time frame on which we’re getting there and every other detail that’s happened has worked out perfectly and not at all how I thought it would.

So the moral of the story as always is I don’t know any of the answers and things are just better if I get out of the way.

sit. 

Sit. Just sit. If I can just sit. It’ll start. That magical “it” where I can quiet my brain, where I can breathe, where I can do this thing called meditation.

I recently wrote a piece about meditation for AfterParty Magazine and I wasn’t called on to do so because I’m meditation master capable of levitating while sitting crossed legged in front of a pool of lotus flowers. The opposite actually. The point of the piece, without sounding like the biggest self-promoting writer douche on the planet, was to cop to the fact that I’m a bit of a disaster with the whole mediating process. It’s unfashionable I suppose for someone with a spiritual life to say that they aren’t really that good at it. But you know this bitch likes to keep it real. I’d be lying if I said, I’ve always been a purple glowing ball of spiritual light and energy. Just getting to the point of sitting my ass down and being quiet has always been the hardest part.  Nevertheless, over the last 40 some days, I’ve been able to do just that: sit.

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As previously stated, I am no expert in this department so I need as much help as I can get. I stumbled on some guided meditations on YouTube for the piece I wrote. So I started there. Having someone in my headphones telling me to sit still and breathe helps reduce my thoughts of eating tacos or watching reality TV. Not completely but still it’s nice to have a guide to help keep me grounded. Some are 3 minutes, some a 15, others 10. Some have dippy new age music in the background. Others have the calm, accented voice of Deepak Chopra. They’re all great. Honestly. I’m not here to review guided meditations and I’m back to such an infancy state of my practice that anything is fantastic. I’ve found it to be helpful but me being me, my mind occasionally wanders and I find myself checking the time left on the video. This is okay. I’m a human being and one with a hummingbird mind so it’s just gonna happen. Some days are certainly harder than others but the point is I keep trying.

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Saturday morning as I woke up at a ridiculously early hour, the full moon and the comet that was passing by were both out as were my two cats. Nature doesn’t have alarm clocks so it’s nice to know that I’m not alone when I get up these dark, sleepy hours. I gazed out my window , yawning and clutching a cup of coffee. I took a moment to appreciate the lovely nothingness happening. Soon enough, I got to work at the business of sitting. As I plopped down, I was joined by the lady whose photo is at the top of this post. No. Not the one with the fancy ass dog but the gray and orange cat sitting on the couch. I tweeted about this a few weeks ago but it’s insane how cats and I’ve learned, pets in general, seem to know when we’re meditating. If you think about it cats and dogs spend much of their day sitting and focusing on their breath so it makes sense that they’d snuggle up to us when we’re doing the same thing. So this fuzzy little lady, Maeby, the older and less in-your-face sister to internet star Larry, has joined me most mornings to do something she’s a Jedi master at: sitting. My cats teach me daily about staying present in the moment thus having Maeby by my side during meditation feels oddly comforting. Even Mr. Chopra himself says, “pet your cat” during a meditation on living light-hearted and carefree so her presence feels important. Like she’s there to help guide me and keep me on track. Yeah, I know. That was a crazy cat lady sentence. But it’s nice to have company while I do something that I struggle with. Or should I say used to struggle with.

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In typical addict fashion, I’ve shown an itty bitty amount of progress in an area of my life and would not only like a significant amount of applause but would also like to be deemed an expert in said area. Girl, please. I’m still a baby bird in the wild kingdom of meditation but I have improved. Just sitting and breathing has become the best part of my day. As the months of 2017 slowly tick by, it’s getting easier and more habitual to just sit and start the process.

It’s shown up the precise right time in my life too. I’m moving to Portland next month, I’m leaving my day job next week and a plethora of personal and professional adventures are ready to unfurl as a result. My brain could spin wildly out of control without some serious spiritual help. Slowing down when my world is moving fast is far from easy but it’s totally necessary. Now more than ever, I need to breathe. I need to focus on gratitude. And mostly, I need to sit.

be nice. dammit.

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In a poetic moment the other day, as I walked down my lush tree-lined alley, feeling a cool breeze on my face, I had an idea. The next time I sat down to my blog I was going to write about spirituality. Because, as you might have guessed, I’m one spiritually enlightened muthafucka. I have all sorts of tips and ideas on how you can live a more enlightened and peaceful life. This was my idea, to share with you my knowledge of spirituality simply out of the goodness of my heart. This morning, however, I woke up and laughed. Part of my laughter had to do with a series of insane dialogue heavy dreams (even when I’m asleep I talk too much) and part of it had to do with feeling ridiculous. Ridiculous because I actually know nothing about spirituality or the secrets of the universe.

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And actually not knowing shit and being open, is the closest thing I feel to be connected to something bigger than myself. That sort of concludes my spiritual advice, if we’re being honest here. Meditation looks like me being quiet and listening. Prayer looks like me thanking, acknowledging and asking. And that is sort of the whole spiritual kit and kaboodle. That’s right. I said kit and kaboodle. See. I told you this was a serious spiritual discussion. But is that it? Does spirituality only happen when incense is burning and people are chanting?

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My guess is no. In fact, some of the biggest examples of spirituality and otherworldly juju happen in the big bad outside world and usually from strangers. Proof that goodness exists comes in lines at the grocery store, airports, Starbucks and other unlikely and decided non-spiritual places. I know, I know. The idea of people being nice all the time and friendly and helpful sounds like something out of a 50’s musical and is totally unrealistic. Yet a little goes a long way. I think even surface level, “trying not strangle someone but I’m still pleasant” is acceptable, admirable even. This is all on my mind because two nights ago I rattled off a Twitter letter of sorts to straight men .

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As I’ve mentioned before, my non-writing-thanks-for-the-great-benefits day job happens to be at an arts non-profit where in I deal with the general public. Since I basically can strike up a conversation with a handbag, I’m good at this sort of thing. I’m also inherently nosey so talking to people is self-serving on some level. Yet the other night’s mini-tweet rant was spurned by a gnarlier part of being big sparkly gay me and working with the public. The fact of the matter is I can be a lot. I know this. I’m a professional for god’s sake and know that I can’t belt out Cher songs and throw glitter on every person I meet. But I’m gleefully, gayfully me and getting sober and learning to love myself means I care less about what people think about me. 

This being said there are times when particularly straight men of a certain age (read also: bitter old dudes) just don’t respond to me and more than that are downright rude. I mean whatever. I waited tables for 5,000 years so human behavior doesn’t surprise on in any level anymore. But I do feel like it’s 2016 and in order to survive we should just be nice to each other. Like even if it makes us sick or irritates us. We should suck it up and be nice. And by the way, I no longer buy the “That’s just how he is” excuse when regarding assholes. No. They’re just an asshole and it isn’t cool. Also? Being unfriendly is not macho or cool. It just sucks. But such is the life of working with the public. I know women in the service industry sometimes experience it from other women. Men like to buy jewelry from women. Women like to buy shoes from men. These are broad assumptions about gender and character to be sure but when you work with the public the patterns are obvious enough that you pick up on it. So I’ve picked up the fact that me and every old guy aren’t going to be BFFs and this is okay.  But in the span of a week, I had three men in a row with their wives who came in who were let’s just say it: assholes. And it gets tiresome. I want to say, “Look Wilford Brimley. I don’t want to make out with you and you won’t turn gay by smiling at me so let’s all calm the fuck down, okay?” But what I do say instead is, “You two have a wonderful day.” I shake it off and move on and know that most people who come into my beautiful day job are in general, pleasant and happy. Yet all of this uber awareness of niceness has done something really unfortunate: it makes me realize that sometimes I’m the asshole in question.

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I started to write this piece yesterday morning but had to put it on hold to get the aforementioned day job. You would think that having niceness on the brain would have made me try extra hard to not be sort of a jerk. Uh yeah. Not so much. In my defense, I was low on caffeine and sort of hungry for the first part of my day so much of my snippy attitude can be attributed to that. But, yes, I was kind of annoyed and cranky a few hours and I didn’t love it. Nor did the other people around, I’m sure. After taking a break and talking to a friend going through a hard time, I realized much of the kindness I demand from the world, I don’t always give away. Oopsie. Thankfully, I spent the rest of day laughing. Laughing with my coworkers. Laughing with visitors. And laughing at myself. Through this, I was able to be nice again and treat people how I want to be treated. Easy kindergarten stuff but it felt like Jedi mind tricks when I was caught up in my shitty attitude. When I left and walked home, whatever had crawled up my butt had apparently crawled out and I was in a good mood. Happy, even.

Alas, some 1,100 words later, we get back to the title. Just be nice. Dammit. is niceness the only path to spirituality? Probably not but it can’t exactly hurt. After all, studies from Yale say that we’re all inherently nice despite our best efforts to behave otherwise. I guess the trick is remembering to lean into that. And the bigger trick? Getting to a place of compassion for those crusty old rude guys. Trying to remember, maybe Wilford Brimley needs a sandwich too. Maybe he needs a nap. Or maybe we’re all just humans trying and failing and trying again to be as nice as we possibly can. Dammit.