― Barbara Kingsolver,
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
“Many of us who aren't farmers or gardeners still have some element of farm nostalgia in our family past, real or imagined: a secret longing for some connection to a life where a rooster crows in the yard.”
― Barbara Kingsolver,
― Barbara Kingsolver,
9 years ago, we bought our first house in Mexico. We came to take a break from living on a sailboat, we needed a short reprieve from the same old boat problems, the same old bars, the same old routine. That was what was intended. Then, somewhere between Valladolid and Progreso, Yucatan, we decided we wanted a new life, a simple Mexican life. Just a little beach shack with a hammock and some coconut trees swaying in the breeze. That was our intention. So we bought a beautiful monstrosity of concrete with sliding glass doors. Okay, it wasn't really a monstrosity, it was a beautiful home with thick concrete walls that were always cool enough to make you want to plaster your whole body against them when the sun outside was doing it's best to make you part of huge human frittata. We spent years and a few tens of thousands of dollars changing what we exclaimed to be the "perfect house" when we first laid eyes on it and, then, when we couldn't find another wall we wanted to tear down and rebuild, we bought another beautiful monstrosity with sliding glass doors on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula.
And, somewhere, in the middle we bought a little casita with three rooms total-one of them the bathroom-with a huge yard, a lighthouse for a neighbor and the entire fleet of Dzilam de Bravo's fishing industry parked out our back gate.
Fast forward to today. One beautiful monstrosity is sold, the other beautiful monstrosity is in the fingers-crossed season of being sold, and we're living in three rooms-one of them the bathroom. Our wrought iron bed is in one room off to the side of a set of rattan furniture and an old roll top desk we picked up at a second-hand store a few years ago. The appliances in our kitchen, the remaining room in the house, consist of a refrigerator, a toaster oven and a gas two-burner. We often ask each other, "How come we don't have a microwave?" Then, we say, "Oh yeah, we don't have room." We don't have any sliding glass doors. Instead, we finally have the same traditional blue Mexican door that many of our neighbors have, the ones I'd driven by for years with always the same comment coming out of my month, "One of these days, I'm going to have one of those blue doors." Yep, that's mine above.
I didn't fall in love with our little house, not by a long shot, but I did fall in love with its windows. One contractor told us when we bought the house, "You need to get rid of those, the termites will eat them up." I didn't listen. Instead, I hung sheers over them because my mother always hung sheers on her windows. During the day they move in and out in long sighs and at night the signal light from our neighbor the lighthouse flashes through them in 4 minute intervals. And, yes, the termites and I are engaged in a constant battle of wills and appetites.
Almost every morning I walk down to the market, stepping around the dog shit and styrofoam trays that once held pescado frito or conchinita pibil (No, I do not live in paradise. I live in Mexico.). I might grab a liter of fresh squeezed orange juice that is squeezed while I wait before I get in line at the one vegetable and fruit vendor's table and see what the offerings of the day are. Vegetables are seasonal but not seasoned travelers here in Dzilam de Bravo, you get what's grown here or within a day's drive. If it's in season. Bananas, limes, comically-shaped squash, habaneros and tomatoes are always a given. Lettuce and avocado, somewhat reliable. Oranges that look like the rejects from the orange crate are amazing from November to March and pretty good the rest of the year if you can quit comparing them to their sweeter ancestors. Strawberries are overflowing from every curbside table top stand and fresa vendedor's headtop box for a few weeks in the early month's of every year but don't count on strawberry shortcake in July.
Broccoli and cauliflower? Grab 'em when you see 'em.
Today, as I was walking back from the market, I ran into Felipe, the man who cleaned the weeds from the sidewalk in front of my house a couple of weeks ago. This morning he was standing in front of his own house and he gestured me to look inside, obviously proud of his spare but neat as a pin dwelling. That never happened to me when I lived in my beautiful monstrosities. One hammock hung from the hammock hooks on the wall, a couple of shelves held clothes. I don't know, maybe Felipe was reminding me that his simple existence is what I once aspired to.
So, where am I going with all of this? I have no idea. But I feel the urge to write about it, to spend the next winter trying to live with what is in reach of this small Mexican puerta at the very end of the road that runs up the back of the Yucatan Penisula. To wait with breath held for November with its ugly sweet oranges to arrive again next year.
A new blog?
I don't know. We'll see when we get back in the fall.
I say that a lot these days. "We'll see."
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Sometimes I forget, but my first step toward sobriety wasn't MM, my first step was actually this blog. This was my first public cry for help.
I received a comment on one of my earlier posts yesterday-a post written back when I was still going through that old back-and-forth tug-o-war with drinking. The reader asked, "At 50 years old, how do you make up for 30 years of drinking? How did you not blow it?"
My answer was, "You can't make up for it, all you can do is make your remaining years ones you don't have to make up for. 7 years later and I still don't have all the answers, but I know my life is better without alcohol, and I have worked to build a life I don't want to put at risk by drinking again, that's what keeps me from going back."
As usual, I kept thinking about that question and thought of a lot better answers, one of them being, You realize that the past is always going to be there and you can't go back and repaint that picture. You can keep trying to drink enough to make that ugly painting look better but, no matter how much you drink, you realize it is still as ugly as you painted it, you're only blurring it's stark reality. Or, you can finally grow a pair and start painting a new painting, a painting you know is going to hang right beside that old painting for the rest of your life. You'll have to look at that painting of your past every day, but now you have something else to look at also. It's a work in progress, but luckily you have that other painting hanging right there where you can always see it, so you don't repeat your mistakes.
Monday, April 9, 2018
I have a friend who is new to sobriety and I'm getting to experience the wonders of it again through his eyes. He makes me want it back, all that childlike wonder, so I'm actively pursuing it these days.
Do you remember what the first day of summer was like when you were a kid? How you had that endless expanse of time laid out in front of you in which anything could happen, and how you only ever imagined good things happening? That's how I've been trying to approach every day lately. Like I'm a kid who has tunnels to China to dig and treehouses to build. As though all the drudgery is too far away to worry about right now. I gotta say, it's working for me.
So, today the task is to look at the day with child-like eyes. What do you see? I see me eager to get back to work on the greatest book ever written, the one that's going to be more famous than Harry Potter, Gone With the Wind and Fifty Shades of Gray because a kid has no idea that 99.9% of books never make it to any editor's desk and even if they did, they wouldn't worry about that because they know their book is too good not to make it. Then, I'm going to splash around in the pool. Later, I might walk downtown to get an ice cream bar because, as a kid, I don't worry about calories.
Oh, and I'm not going to worry if my feet or shoes are dirty when I come in the house until someone hollers at me to wipe my feet and quit tracking in dirt. Because, really, is that so important?
Some people would say this is a frivolous outlook to have, sobriety is all about drudgery and dealing with reality without the childlike wonder that alcohol provide, even if briefly and fickle-ly-see, as I child I can make up words if I want. I say, "Bullhockey!" Wonder and joy are not frivolous, they are integral to our sobriety's survival. If you're not feeling them, you are in danger and you need to be in active pursuit. Like a kid who is "it" in a hot summer's night game of hide-and-seek.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
1. As always, my sobriety.
2. A faith in something bigger than me.
3. A week with happy, healthy and delightfully normal grandkids.
4. Good old friends who open their home and heart to me.
5. Tiramisu for breakfast-that's why it has coffee in it, right?
Thursday, March 15, 2018
I've been spending spring break with the grandkids. Lucky kids, they have a grandma who poo-poo's theme parks and resorts, so they get to spend spring break in my old home town, Liberal, KS. Ok, in my defense, it was the easiest place to get them all together and their bachelor uncle loves having his nephews and niece invade his house for the week (the kids love it because he has all the expensive video game gadgets their parents can't afford because they have kids) and the parents love it because they get a week to themselves.
So, I was sitting in his living room this morning, pre-dawn, with one grandkid stretched out sleeping on the couch, saying my rosary and going through my litany of things to be grateful for. I got to my sobriety and I realized that a miracle had occurred actually two. The first was that I was sitting there pre-dawn with a house full of grandkids that their parents entrusted to my care, which would not have happened had I not quit drinking. The second one takes a little more 'splainin'.
See, in preparation for this teenage male invasion, my son loaded up his fridge with junk food, so much so that there is no room for ice. So, he stationed an igloo cooler outside just for ice, except, Friday night, before we arrived on Saturday, a friend stopped by and filled the cooler full of beer. There were still 18 beers in there when we arrived. Now, there are 17.
The miracle I realized this morning is that as I have been going back and forth at least a half dozen times a day to fill my glass with ice, I never once have thought about having one of those beers. The thought of them sitting out there hasn't dogged me all my waking hours, in fact, they haven't even crossed my mind. The other day, when I went to grab one for my old drinking biddy who stopped by, I never even considered grabbing one for myself, in fact, I didn't have one wistful thought about how much I miss the old days.
The obsession ends. It is replaced with something I hesitate to call normalcy because it feels like so much more.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Overcast and cool here today. I walked down to the market for my morning empanada de carne and I was one of the first ones there, the fruit and veggie vendors were still sitting up their stand but the grease was already hot in the empanada pan. Walking home, amidst the dogs still sleeping amidst the trash in the streets (Mexico has many virtues, but cleanliness is not one), I had to remind myself to say "Thanks." So I started my litany of things I had to be grateful for: I was walking, I was eating, I was seeing, I was sober....Which led me to wonder, way back when I was trying to quit, did I spend the days I woke up sober wallowing in gratitude, pride and happiness to the extent that I wallowed in shame, self-anger and disgust on the days I woke up after drinking the night before.
The answer is, "No." Oh, believe me, I felt pretty good about myself and those first hangover-free mornings were like a miracle to me every single sunrise, but I didn't spend all day gloating about how great I was or patting myself on the back because I was such a success. But, the days after I drank, I didn't just wallow, I buried myself in a stinky pile of self-hate and loathing that would take me days to dig out from under.
Why do we do that?
Why do we acknowledge our success but then kind of shrug it off and get on with our day but when we fail we become almost paralyzed in our disappointment in ourselves?
Maybe we need to adjust our settings-a little more treble and a lot less bass.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
One phrase in the "Best Lent Ever" podcast really caught my attention today. "We should live our lives for an audience of one." I had just finished up posting a message to a long-time friend of mine on the MMListserv, a girl that I held virtual hands with as she weaned herself off alcohol. She and I have come a long way since then and she has become one of the most dynamic, self-assured women I know. Through her messages, I can see how much she values herself these days. She wrote this morning that an old friend is coming to visit her and she worried about he'll expect of her. It made me think of how much we worry about what our friends think when we first try to quit drinking or change our drinking in any way, it's as if they are an audience we have invited to watch our life and we are playing a role for them, even though we know, offstage, we are a totally different person. I don't know about you, but I'm kind of disappointed that Val Kilmer isn't Doc. Holliday in real life. We don't want people to be disappointed when they find out that the person they saw on that stage is not who we really are, so we stay up there on that f'ing stage for years-for me it was decades-and we use booze to keep us in our role. I lived a conflicted, divided life for way too long-that's why the voice in my head never shut up, it just kept saying, "Come on, you can do better than this. This isn't the role you were born for.."
I finally did come of that stage, more like tumbled off into the orchestra pit. It took a while to quit trying to play the role, though, I'd been playing it so long I'd forgotten who I really was. But I came back to myself when I no longer had booze leading me away. The Best Lent Ever refers to that "audience of one" as God, but I think it can also apply to ourselves. When you become brave enough to act as yourself, your authentic self, that audience of one in your head quits throwing tomatoes and sits back in awed silence to watch the rest of the show.