Moving On, Looking Back

As we go on to other matters…

…this may only apply to a few of you, but I’ve culled about 70 pictures from the wedding and slapped them up on my Picasa site…have a look around if you’re in the mood.

And while we’re reminiscing about Santa Fe, here’s another look at that wedding sampler video I put together right afterward.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, there are lots of stories from that week in the Land of Enchantment, and if I don’t tell them, who will? So that’s a mission statement of sorts. And there are other things. Mostly, though, I wanted to clear some of the serious stuff off the front page. This is all about looking ahead, at least to me, even if that involves glancing over my shoulder from time to time. More soon.

Like you’re on pins and needles…

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The One In Which I Tell You Almost Everything, Ctd.

I found myself wondering all over again yesterday. I had more than a few reactions to the first part of the story, and they were fascinating and curious, since I didn’t see that coming. But, of course, this is communication, and since I’m the one writing it the responsibility to being clear falls on my shoulders. Suck it up, man.

So I’ll let Harold Pinter take this one. So much for responsibility.

I used to love this Pinter quote, although it’s not really a quote; I just read it somewhere in an interview and appreciated the sentiment, just as I enjoyed Mr. Pinter’s plays. In fact, I’m not ruling out the possibility that I’m simply a character in one of his new ones. That feels right.

At any rate, asked to explain the difference between comedy and tragedy, Harold Pinter said that everything was comedy; the point about tragedy was simply that it had stopped being funny.

So. My life stopped being funny, for a long time, starting last fall. We’re working on it.

You know what bothered me the most? They knew. These were law enforcement professionals, business-like and courteous. They treated me in a respectful and polite manner and they knew all about me, after months of research. And they knew about my future; that was the worst part.

They knew that inside of six months or maybe 12, I’d be toast. I’d wriggle and squirm through the legal system but in the end it’d work out in a conventional manner. I’d go to prison for several years at least; no leniency for this crime. Julie and John would probably move away. No more cute columns about life in the Mukilteo slow lane, only a sad lesson about dark secrets.

I know all about dark secrets. It’s the nature of addiction; you lie to protect your use, a defense. You can’t be telling the whole world you’re drinking three bottles of wine for breakfast and a fifth of vodka for dinner, so you keep that a secret. It becomes second nature, after a while, to manipulate your pathetic reality by lying, even when you don’t need to.

So you can probably understand how, for weeks afterward, I’d wake up drenched in sweat and before I completely woke up, the thought would run through my mind: What did I do?

And I’ll tell you something else, something this alcoholic thought about for a long time: There are no resentments to overcome, amends to be made, atonement to be sought or redemption to be found for a crime you didn’t commit.

Of course I didn’t commit a crime. At least not this horrible crime. I’ve done some jaywalking. Other things.

And it took them about 30 minutes, talking with me, to figure that out, but there’s a process. I’ve found out there’s an inexorable nature to the law, and indifference. And caution.

None of this is the point. The horror and terror, both appropriate words, my family has gone through in the past year isn’t the point, either. We’ve all got problems.

The point is, I hear from readers sometimes. Almost always nice, and sometimes they mention that they’ve found something particularly inspiring or interesting. This is fun and also odd; my style, as much as there is one, is to demonstrate how it’s possible to flail through life completely inept and still find it funny. I have no advice for anyone.

I can’t tell you how to get sober, just how I did. I can’t tell you how to lose weight, just how I did. All I have is my story.

But I think I’ll generalize now, in this specific case, in this forum, because I’m 51 and I’ve been alive a bit now. I’m not a stranger to adversity, although many have it much worse. And I have no interest in examining my victimhood; it’s hard to find something difficult in my life that couldn’t have been avoided or eliminated if I’d simply paid attention or done better. Again, it’s all about the story.

But I managed to come up for air, with lots of love and help. I managed to find some serenity and order after chaos, find a way to reassemble the pieces, learn to recognize hope and imagine tomorrow, learn to get through a day without drinking and know that I didn’t have to, and then the roof fell in, my life shattered into inexplicable pieces and stayed that way. I’m not cut out for this. I don’t have the tools I see in other people. I question, I procrastinate, I hesitate, I’m undisciplined and strength of character is not on my resume, and I found out that you can get stronger.

You can get stronger.

But you’d better own your story.

You’d better be rigorously honest. You’d better know what lurks in the shadows, you’d better know where tendencies take you, you’d better recognize signs and symptoms. You’d better own your story, know where you’ve been and where you might end up, but then you can get stronger. If I can get stronger, anyone can, and I did.

Not without a price, not me. I’m more cynical. I’m more suspicious, and paranoid, and cautious. I get crankier and dismissive, and I’ve lost interest. I’m not as interested in the lives of others as I was. I’m not interested in your political ignorance or your bad taste in movies or your quest for spiritual hedonism.

At the same time, I’ve fallen in love with humanity all over again, it seems. I have no idea why, but I have tremendous affection for people now, people I know and people I haven’t yet met. Funny.

And mostly I’ve stayed alive, and gotten stronger, so I can tell you confidently that it’s possible to transform, to change. To survive.

I’m also more of a realist now. I’m just a story, one of billions, not all that interesting, and despite all that talk up there I still only have so much to do with it. I’ve had to understand that others have power, technical power, legalistic power, but power, and in a lot of ways it remains my story but they get to pick the ending.

I get to write it, though.

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The One In Which I Tell You Almost Everything

Here’s my secret: I’ve lived a relatively uninteresting life, so I get some creative juice by trying to extract stories that don’t bore anyone without making shit up. It’s sort of a calling.

I haven’t traveled much, been in prison, fought in wars, broken world records or killed any animals, even in self defense. I was a good student, a good actor, a reasonable friend and a mediocre athlete. I sang a little and did some imitations. Aside from that, I’m thinking the jury will be out awhile longer.

I was born in Southern California and grew up mostly in Arizona. I had good parents and a good childhood. I went to school, fell in love, got married, moved to Seattle, got a job, became a parent, and eventually started a business. Later on I started writing for newspapers, a weekly column about nothing much.

That takes me about two-thirds through my life right there. We’re making good time.

It was a successful business but it bored me; the hours were long and the work uninteresting, all done in a home office in my basement. My kids got older and my wife went to seminary. The dog pretty much ignored me. Sometimes I drank beer during the day and watched movies, waiting for people to come home.

My wife had a nice career as a singer before God stuff came along. My daughter seemed happy and successful in school and social life.

My son is developmentally disabled, which is what I call it now. Used to be I’d just say “autistic” because at least people sort of got that, but even though he’s on the spectrum it’s not a good fit. Who knows where they’ll be putting him in 10 years. Let’s just say he’s a good guy, charming and friendly, and you’d know within five minutes that something was up. Physical stuff, social stuff. Experts, professionals, all sorts, say he’ll need tons of support for the rest of his life. Not sure about that, but there you go.

Alcoholics say they don’t need a reason to drink, but of course there are reasons. It may not be a great choice, but there are reasons. So maybe I had reasons. Maybe I was overwhelmed, stressed, lonely and bored. Maybe genetics kicked in. Maybe I’m just a lousy human being. I can’t tell you how little I’m interested in this line of discussion.

So about the time I turned 40 I decided to stop drinking, and I couldn’t. That happens. It’s always a sign.

By the time I turned 48, I was heading downhill fast. I was living a very public lie, too; every week I wrote stories about my uninteresting life when actually I had a very interesting story to tell about how I was committing suicide in my basement.

Something happened. Random, probably, although I rule out nothing. I checked into a residential treatment program in Eastern Washington and spent three of the best weeks of my life there. I was a model patient, sort of a mystery to the staff, someone they remarked on. No one knew what would happen, but they wished me well.

I’ve always had this mental image of a bunch of wind-up toys. They feed us, teach us, keep us safe and sober, then wind us up and set us loose on life. Good luck with that. The success rates are dismal.

So this is a good story. I had an interesting but uneventful first year of sobriety. I kept stress as minimal as possible. I didn’t work much or make much money. I bounced from compulsive behavior to compulsive behavior, as people in early recovery tend to do. I cooked a lot. I watched a lot of TV. I ate a lot. I got pretty fat, and I started off pretty fat anyway. Starting somewhere a bit less than 250 when I got home from treatment, a year later I crested over 270. Anyway. I was happy.

After a year, though, I felt it was time to make more changes. I started taking some classes. I began to work more. I continued to write, although a lot of it was lame. I kept thinking and occasionally working on a new book, this time about my experiences with booze and becoming something else, but that seemed to spark and then die, then repeat. I waited for more inspiration. Maybe more stories.

I decided maybe I would lose some weight. I did, too, constructing a program that appealed to me, amused me by stoking my particular quirks. By the end of 2007 I was under 190 pounds and people didn’t recognize me. That was fun.

And I walked a lot. At first to burn calories, then to stay sane. Walking was great; sometimes I walked 15 miles a day, but mostly less, around 5. Still. I’m a fan of long walks now.

At the two-year mark, there were remarkable changes, then. I began doing real income-producing work again that summer, filling the gap from my college professor wife’s 9-month work year. That was the best summer, we all felt. John was shaky but the rest? Very good, very peaceful. September came, Julie went back to work, I looked at the world and saw nothing but potential, a do-over, a new beginning well on its way. My daughter was engaged to be married, happy in Boston, enjoying her life. I kept messing with the book. That was a good September, as I recall.

In October, the cops showed up all at once, marked cars and unmarked, uniforms and sidearms and plainclothes. Lots and lots, parked on my lawn, standing on my front porch. Looking for me.

(To be continued tomorrow. Not to be coy; it’s just getting long)

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Persistence of Vision

I’ve been mucking around with sentiment this morning; this isn’t a good fit for me, at least not these days, although you wouldn’t get that if you read back a few years. Things change.

And, of course, it’s been an eventful month. I can be excused, maybe, for a little wallowing, although God help me I wrote the phrase “little girl on a tricycle” and sent it off to an editor this morning. This will haunt me.

I also, oddly, got a little teary last night arranging some cell phone video I took of my road trip from June, 20 minutes or so of pretty landscape going by at 70 miles per hour. Sentiment was the last thing on my mind back then; I was mostly looking for the next rest stop, but there you go.

And, finally, we should talk about road trips. Or The Road Trip, which has multiple meanings, at least for me, at least today.

Julie knows. Beth too, probably, and John to a degree. Others. Mostly Julie, and occasionally I’ve stopped in mid-living and told her what we both know.

“Something has happened to me,” I’ll say, and she’ll nod. Something has. Something remarkable, I guess, or at least worth remarking on.

This is the problem with living life in one direction; survival insists that we dump discrete moments for The Big Picture. We can’t live like that, wandering through specific times, observing. That’s why we have cell phone video.

So it gets lost. We forget. Sometimes we should, too.

But there’s one picture I want to hold on to, and pull out. There is an actual picture, as a matter of fact, a representative of a time and situation, but this one’s mental. It’s me, sitting on my front porch, early in the morning, waiting for a friend to come by. Sitting there next to a suitcase that wouldn’t close, because I couldn’t figure out how to close it. I’d lost that ability, somehow, along with others.

I was going on a road trip. Shorter than this summer’s, but in some ways still going on.

I’ve written about it before, that day, that suitcase. I don’t want to get into it; too much energy would be involved, too many things I’ve said before. Too much sentiment, if you want to know the truth, or the possibility anyway, and who has time for that?

But I thought I was going to die, I thought that was probably not such a bad idea, and I didn’t. Instead I took my dysfunctional suitcase, got in the car and headed over the mountains to see what I could see.

The actual picture I have tells a lot, actually. I’m badly in need of a haircut. I have a full beard, most of it white and gray. My face is crawling with blotches, the result of spotty hygiene and constant dehydration. I look at least 15 years older than I was, I’ve been told.

This was taken the first time Cameron came out for a visit and met me, as it turns out. Sorry man.

So, remarkable. My face cleared up. I get a haircut every 6 weeks, sort of a miracle. I’m somewhere around 80 pounds lighter than in that picture. Bloat is gone, angst is gone, imminent demise, even imaginary, is gone at least for the moment.

My wife remembers. Maybe you do, too; depends on who you are.

I do, anyway. It’ll work for a rock bottom moment, at any rate, and I went and came back, took a few halting steps and continued to take them, 12 in particular, over and over, and that was three years ago today, and saying I’m grateful just doesn’t quite do it.

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Let. Down.

Cameron and Beth are heading for Tennessee today, apparently, after spending most of this week in Austin. They are winding their way back to Boston, although stops remain. Just keeping you up to date.

I gather from my inside information (i.e., what I read on Facebook) that they’re going to Nashville, although Memphis was on the table. The difference, as Cameron explained, was between hip and kitsch, and hip won out, I guess. I’d have trouble making that call, too.

Here? What passes for routine is passing, along with the dog days. I’m busy, John is immersed in sedentary stuff, and Julie alternates between moping and laughing at funny things she finds online. It feels the same. It’s not.

What we have, then, is sort of the blues, all totally to be expected but still. That’s a lot of excitement, joy and anticipation to recover from, and recovery is a long road, as always.

What we’re left with, though, is a moment that turned out better than we could have possibly imagined. And we’re pretty good with imagination.

Beth said and repeated many times her approach to organizing this wedding: Let her friends organize it. And they did, which says something about friendship but mostly about what kind of people my daughter and son-in-law are that they can inspire this kind of duty.

And sheesh, I’ve got a million stories. I have no idea what to do about that; I could write a book. They wandered through the wedding, little happy anecdotes, and mentally I was storing them up while trying not to throw up (don’t try this at home), since I was supposed to say a few words and had no idea how that was going to work out.

It worked out fine, by the way.

One of these days, then, sooner than later. I’ve got video to assemble and pictures to pick, words to write and feelings to sort out, and in the meantime I’ve got a lawn and a family and job responsibilities and CDs to burn, cars to clean and miles to walk. Thank God for August, at least, when the world seems to slow down so I can catch up, and even though these wedding pictures add to the idea I’ve had lately that I’m pretty damn old, and there’s sort of a lost feeling with it all over, and I miss my family and friends from our too-brief visit, I still have a home and a dog and bed to sleep in, projects to complete and things to do. I put new strings on my guitar, a bizarre thing to do, and I’ve got some new music and this is still summer, after all, and I’ve got a hat, too.

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Bethy Got Married

New column:

It was an easy call, or maybe several calls; we’ll see how this turns out.

I write a weekly newspaper column, a column that deals with, for the most part, my world and how it looks on any particular week. This past week I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, attending my daughter’s wedding.

So when I said, after all the excitement was over, that I had to return to the hotel room and write about something for the column, I got the snorts and derisive comments usually reserved for reality show contestants or members of Congress.

Well, of course. The marriage of my eldest child, my daughter, the apple of my eye and the beneficiary of innumerable checking account withdrawals? All that emotion, all that drama, all the tension and stress and expectations? A slam dunk. Of COURSE I have a topic for this week.

But you know what? Along with sentiment and family and memories, I’ve learned what to many of you is familiar and obvious: Getting a child married is hard work. I don’t really want to write about my little girl all grown up and exchanging vows and the music and the magic. I want to SLEEP.

So, as I said, it was an easy call. I can write about Mitchell.

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(Mitchell Drury, video capture)

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Fire Bad. Bride Pretty.

i came home with a mild sunburn, a new hat, and a nonfunctioning frontal cortex. I had only a lizard brain left, meaning I could sort of differentiate primary colors and gag pretty well. Tired.

We’re starting to adjust this morning, open our eyes (and the windows; even only five days of an empty house produces interesting smells, at least this particular house) and process, although that’s going to take time. It was just…

Well. There ya go. Those words aren’t here yet.

Some pictures are, though. Funny — I snapped only a couple of stills, making do with my new Flip Ultra HD (I’m a fan; I was sort of reluctant to buy it, since Kodak releases its new handheld casual HD video camera next month, which sounds superior, but this will certainly do for me). I hadn’t quite gotten the feel of it, so there’s plenty of shaky video (and lots of it take from my lap in the front row of the wedding, not wanting to be too intrusive and y’know, having other things on my mind).

So video captures are mostly what I have at the moment, since a friend of the family (the Beauchamp side, although I’m not sure I want to make that distinction much anymore, we are all Beauchamps now) took hundreds of gorgeous pictures, and of course there were lots more. All of these will show up on my hard drive eventually.

And there’s a complete video of the ceremony, taken by our host, a gracious man who is a story all his own (I wrote a bit about him in this week’s column, more later, much more later, there are about a hundred stories like that, my head hurts). All of this will come together.

I do want to mention that since I sat directly underneath the sun, apparently, letting its warmth wash over me and at the 7000 feet of Santa Fe turn my Northwest paleishness into pink, on Sunday I went looking for a hat. Just a baseball cap, something with a brim, but while walking through the plaza Beth and Julie got a notion that there was a cowboy hat with my name on it, and there was.

Seriously, I’ve been looking for this hat for 40 years, since I first saw “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Cowboy hats are hard; if you don’t own them they will own you and it doesn’t end well, so I stay away, but this one works. It’s American buffalo leather, and I don’t know much about buffalo and whether or not this is an outrage, harvesting their hide for a hat. Maybe I contributed in a thoughtless way to the inhumane slaughter of buffalo and will feel bad, but I’m thinking the buffalo is dead anyway and I’m not giving my hat back.

Also in the plaza, Julie and I found silver wedding bands to replace our 26-year-old ones, so I’m now officially married too.

And the sunburn seems to be turning into a tan.

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(The women: Shelby, Cam’s sister, in the yellow; Kathy, his mom; and Julie, all sunshine and smiles)

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(Part of the high school Scooby Gang: Mitchell, Lucas, Cindy and Robert)

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(The parents: Scott, Kathy, Julie and me, taken by Cameron’s high school voice teacher, Mark Puentes)

(UPDATE: I just noticed that the little widget on my right sidebar that shows entries from this date in the past has a very interesting post. You can read it here. Fun.)

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