power ballad through it

1txyhkXCA8x-4KchjK67CoAWeird, weak and maybe wonderful things happen at the end of a long creative project. Maybe you hit a wall and decide, “Fuck it. It’s done.” Maybe something elusive shows up at the last second to save the whole thing. Maybe a last blast of steam moves you to turn the whole thing around like a goddamn creative action hero! Or maybe you just fall into a puddle of tears while blasting power ballads. The latter was exactly what happened to me over the summer as I finished my first collection of essays, Now That You’ve Stopped Dying.

All was not well on the ranch last July. Sure, everything on a cellular level around my home was fine. More than fine. It was great. But inside of me? Disaster. The thing that nobody ever tells you about bleeding funny, dark personal stories on the page is that it really takes a toll on you. I’d been editing tons of personal essays as well as creating new essays for months for this collection. Sure, I had more than enough previously published pieces to fill a few volumes but I wasn’t feeling it, dawg. I wanted them to make sense together. I wanted them to hit all the right notes. I wanted them to be a gift to people in recovery who had the same dark, funny fucked up thoughts that I did. But the catch was I had to dig up a bunch of new painful shit, throw glitter on them and be funny too. Trauma but make it fashion.

The new pieces got written and the old ones were spit shined but it came at a price. After so many months of listening to my own voice over and over again, I started to go mad. Not mad like a Sylvia Plath moment but certainly not acting like myself. For example, the last two days of writing, things had gotten really desperate. All I wanted, no, all I NEEDED to finish writing was Starbursts and a never-ending musical supply of power ballads. This is cause for alarm for a lot of reasons but primarily because I’m a strict chocolate, coffee and Stevie Nicks kind of guy when I’m on a deadline. Something about stirring up years of personal shit flicked a switch in my brain. It was Starburst in varieties of flavors and the chest thumping anthems of Celine Dion or this book was not happening.

Thus I did what I’ve done my whole life when a significant moment needed to be less painful, I made a soundtrack. Back in my teen years, my drawers were filled with sad mix tapes that charted every heartbreak and mistake. Today, my benchmark life moments, good or bad, get their own playlists and this moment certainly deserved one. Entitled “power ballad thru it” the playlist hit all the inspiring, dramatic and delightfully codependent notes you want with such a collection. It starts with “Alone” by Heart because it’s one of the best ever and I will refuse to hear anything different. Plus the sisters Wilson had previously helped me write my play The Singing Room so their musical magic couldn’t hurt. Checking more boxes were tracks like “Time After Time,” “Listen to Your Heart” and “Without You”-the Mariah version. Duh. These sometimes triumphant, usually heartbreaking songs were perfect for a project where I hopefully left it all on the page, emotionally, while somehow managing to be hilarious too. It’s  also really helpful for me to have something to sing along to and do expressive hand gestures to while editing. Hemingway and Faulkner did the same thing. Trust me- my fist bump during “Show Me Heaven” as Maria McKee sings “I’m not denyin’!” is a sight to behold. Plus, the overt theatrics of these songs helped me laugh at myself and take this whole bleeding on the page thing a little less seriously. Nothing like an epic lip sync of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” by Celine Dion (who has two other gems on this playlist) to lighten the mood while editing a piece on PTSD.

The thing is, and this has happened with me finishing big projects before and will undoubtedly happen again, I was just ready to birth the damn thing. Months of tinkering on my own oh-so-humorous thoughts gets exhausting. That’s a fuck ton of time to spend inside my brain. I got tired of myself and of the essays. I lost all objectivity. Self-doubt slipped in more than once, that hateful bitch. She told me, “These essays suck. You’re not funny. Why are you even bothering?” Thankfully, I turned up the music and wondered why Laura Branigan is still so unappreciated instead of wondering if self-doubt was actually right. The day I promised it would be done by crept even closer and with that date approaching came another fear: I wasn’t going to finish. As a decades long flakey alcoholic and drug addict finishing anything other than a bottle or a baggie wasn’t really my strong point. But I wolfed down more Starbursts and didn’t listen to that one either. I’m not sure why other than I’ve grown up. The things that used to paralyze me don’t really anymore. Or they don’t for long, anyway.

The day my book was due, I didn’t work at my day job. I took the day to finish the damn thing, once and for all. The power ballads were at full volumes, the candy had been replenished and the coffee was non-stop. I got to the final essay. It was a rework of a pice that I wrote for urtheinspiration years ago. It meant something to me at the time because it talked about how I learned how to ask for help and to be honest with other alcoholics. Also? It was rich in Cher references. The new version was an expansion on those ideas but  now filled with reflections as a person with over nine years sober. Maybe the piece itself was emotional. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe all of those things are true. But as I wrote, tears fell down my face. I couldn’t help myself. I was a very Joan Wilder moment. Cher sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet” in the background. The whole experience was way too much. Here was this drunk, coke whore actually finishing a book!?! It took time, candy, caffeine and power ballads but I finished the fucking thing.

And not just that. It was a book I was proud of. I wrote it for everybody who got sober and then thought, “Well, now what?” I wrote it for every queer person who struggled with self-esteem and addiction. I wrote it for every dark motherfucker who has a sense of humor about all of this stuff. I wrote it, finished it and now after months of life’s curve balls, I can’t wait for you to finally read it this spring!

 

 

 

I’m Gonna Be Festive. Dammit.

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It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might be a minute, as in the kind of minute that could take a month and not just 60 seconds. But it will happen. I’m going to be happy and I’m going celebrate. For fuck’s sake.

Moving into my first holiday season* sober back in 2009, I was petrified. What if multiple listens of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” caused me to relapse? (This is a legitimate concern, by the way. Turn on Judy Garland’s version and try not to wash down a bottle of Xanax with a tumbler of Jim Beam.) What if I was horribly miserable during the most wonderful time of the year? What if my first set of sober holidays were like everything else that first year–miraculous but really difficult? I voiced these concerns to my first sponsor to which he replied, “Boo, you need to worry about Tuesday.” His point was I was just as likely to relapse on any random day of the week than I was on the holidays. Fair enough. After all, I never needed a calendar holiday to justify being a hot wasted mess. He also said, I might as well find joy in the holidays and make them my own. In other words, embrace them or get crushed by them. I am also what’s been diagnosed as a “massive depressive” which means I even have to do depression more over the top and more dramatic than the average bear and therefore this is a good strategy. To say that holidays can be triggering for us residents of Depression Island (best. reality. show. ever.) is an understatement of the “maybe the planet is kind of getting hotter” variety. I have found that if I do fun things, watch ridiculous holiday movies, eat copious amounts of bake goods and hang out with people I love, the whole depressing holiday stigma melts away.

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Now, it should be mentioned again that I have no religious affiliation attached to the holidays and use them instead to celebrate peace on Earth and practice kindness. It’s also a nice time of year to breathe and enjoy beauty. This year, 2016 the year wherein Bowie, Prince and Cohen said, “You’re on your own, bitches!” it’s more vital and more challenging than ever to deck the halls. Don’t think I haven’t considered trying to operate the rest of 2016 as well as the holidays underneath a pile of cats and blankets (best. Christmas. special. ever). After all, it’s just 49 days. I think if I hid for 49 days people wouldn’t even be concerned. I mean Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend disappeared like 10 years ago and we’re still not that worried about it.

What happened on Tuesday–which I won’t refer to by name for the sanctity of the internet and out of respect for you the reader– would be reason enough to zip up my massive depressive bodysuit and just linger there until further notice. Granted that event and the person at the center of that event are fucking terrifying and depressing. As stated at the top of the post, it will take a while for me to get over the shock and despair which has been sprinkled over humanity like sugar cookie decorations. There’s no time limit on sadness, by the way. I’ve read these horse shit posts over the last few days that are all, “Oh. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And now we can all breathe.” (By the way, STFU Oprah) Um. No. Fuck you. Maybe we’re not ready to breathe. Maybe we’re not ready to hop into action and fight the power either. Maybe we just need to eat Chinese food and watch a show about Queen Elizabeth. Okay? Stop telling me to fucking getting over it or to galvanize, Internet. I need to be still, hug my husband and my cats and not move too much until further notice.

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I will most likely move from wanting to slap everyone to wanting to hug everyone on Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. There’s no gifts. There’s no out of whack expectations. Just pie and gratitude. I adore cooking and eating with my favorite people so Thanksgiving is kind of like my version of the Super Bowl. Last year was magical as we ate dinner and watched the snow fall. We had my grandma over along with other beloved family members. This year, grandma is no longer here and the group will be tiny. But the truth is I actually have a lot to be grateful for. I took several amazing trips to different parts of the world. I saw some amazing art and read incredible stuff. I got on the other side of pneumonia that nearly killed me and now feel better than ever. Creatively, I’ve had a complete overhaul and renaissance that can only be described as whoa. And I’ve been lucky enough to stay sober and present through some heavy, heartbreaking shit. Basically, I have a lot of gratitude to be expressed this Thanksgiving and will eat the amount of pie proportional to said gratitude.

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Right after that, it’ll be Christmas. The thing I like about Christmas is that it gives me a moment to be quiet and be still. Snowmen, twinkling lights and yes, even some of that sad ass music in the background are all things I look forward to. As suggested, I’ve grown into making the holidays my own. Every year, my husband and I along with a bunch of old Jewish couples go to the movies on Christmas Day. We eat brunch. We do gifts and then we sit in the dark and watch a movie. It’s heaven and I can’t wait to do it again. The thing is: no person, no event, no election can rob beauty from my life. No political climate can negate the truth that my life is beautiful and should be celebrated as such. Combatting the external shittiness of the world starts with me having joy. In fact, it feels more important than ever right now. And when the time is right and I feel less fragile, look the hell out.

 

*Read more about my first holiday sober in a Tough Cookie Christmas available here!