Category: addiction

To Finish or Not to Finish….

That is the proverbial question. I have so many stories I’ve started and never finished that it’s become par for the course. If I have a good start–characters I care about, dialogue that flows well, a decent plot–it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll move onto something else. Part of the reason is my ADD (undiagnosed, but it sure feels like it) and part of it is that I write in short bursts, before work or between online teaching sessions. At least, it used to be that way. A few months before our house fire–so last April–I began writing less and less. After the fire, I stopped almost completely. Up until then, I had written primarily poetry, and had amassed a decent list of publication credits. But then the poetry stopped flowing, and I took a break.

I actually did more than take a break. I killed my first blog–writingforghosts.com–and killed my first music site, too. I wanted to disappear. I suppose the feelings were linked to the fire and being displaced. Now that we’re quarantined and my kids’ lives have been completely transformed and my wife is working from home, I’m going through another spiritual shedding of skin. But it’s okay. I don’t have to spiritually destroy anything else. I just need to accept things as they are and adapt, which is always difficult for me. I’m not exactly a go-with-the-flow-guy.

I’ll mention here in passing that I’m in recovery, and that I blog about it here. So all these internal changes happen in relation to my alcoholism. This site, as it was previously, is for creative writing. Just know that much of my work, if not all of it, is informed or at least touched by my ongoing recovery from alcoholism.

Below is part of a story I began more than ten years ago. I dug up the file this morning to see if there was any spark still left in the story, and there was. It’s small, but it’s there. I’m going to try my best to finish it. I gave it a once-over for grammar and typos, but probably missed some things. Here’s part one:

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s absence, and it rippled through the trailer park like electricity.  He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstance.  There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different.  Worse.  Ed could taste it with every breath, every beat of his heart.  A fundamental shift had taken place.

 His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week.  Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor.  What good did that do?  He was a contractor, for God’s sake.  Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying.  He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel.  He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place.  Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house.  It was one thing Martha dug at him about; his apathy toward the work needed to his own house.  “I swear, it’s worse than the cobbler’s kids with no shoes,” she’d gripe.  “When are you gonna fix the bathroom?”

“I’m not a plumber, Mart,” Ed replied, using the name Martha hated the most.  “Mart,” she’d spit, “like I’m a Wal-Mart or something.”  Ed had once rejoined with, “Well, you’re as big as one,” which earned him a punch in the eye.

“You could fix it and you know it,” Martha replied, ignoring the nickname.  “You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she?  The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives in Robinson county.  Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum.  He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing except hammering two pieces of wood together.  Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened.  Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

 

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins, aged twenty two.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150.  “How many fucking rocks did you put in there?”

 “You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the car door and peering around the darkness of the lake.  “I hope no one’s out here.”

Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily.  “Too cold.  Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty.  And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry.  Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging.  Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and after bobbing around like ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed.  “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind.  “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

 “What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

 Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette.  After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly.  And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door.  She was dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”  She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.  “Nah, Georgia’s enjoying the flames of Hell right about now.”

Jilly shook her head.  “I don’t know, Martha.  Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air.  Jilly gasped and jumped back.  “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do when you’re alone.  Don’t try to drag me down, too.  I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right.  Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack.  “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp.  “I’m starting back now.”

 

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front the TV when someone started banging on the door.  He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock.  It was midnight, and still no Martha.  Unless she’d locked herself out again.  But no, because she would be screaming his name

 Ed polished off  the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door.  He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong de ja vue  that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue.  Under the sallow front porch light, the girl that had been Georgia Jenkins sobbed uncontrollably.  Her lip was split in several places, he left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant.  Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

 “Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket.  “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom.  He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief.  “You want some water?  Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls.  She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch.  “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice.  “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

 “What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and waited nearly a full minute before saying, “You wife.  And Jilly.  They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—none of them good—but a murderer?

 “Fuck you!”  Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder.  “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed!  They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake!  I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated.  She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair.  “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”  Ed’s ability didn’t give him insight into Martha’s reasoning, though in the back of his mind she thought he could sense her red-hot anger…and something else. Jealously?

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh.  “Why?  Because they’re lunatics.  And because of what I did with Jilly’s husband. 

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was become more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone.  Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia.  And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it? 

 “Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about us having a fling, and I won’t either,” Georgia sighed and took another drink.  “After a few more of these I’m gonna want you to pop this shoulder back in.  Okay?”

 “Yeah,” Ed said.  “Okay.”

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms.  “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else.  You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit.  But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”

Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain.  “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up.  She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body.  “And I’m gonna want some clothes.” 

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam.  He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry.  “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened:  Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door. 

 

 

I Seem to be Taking a Break

A break from creative writing, at least, and I’m good with that. It all started a few weeks ago when I received the weekly poetry market update newsletter from Duotrope. I scanned the list half-heartedly. The idea of going through poems to see which ones would be a good fit for a particular market made me tired. When I sat down to write, nothing came. I shrugged and moved onto other things.

I’ve been shrugging and moving on since then, and I’m not worried about it. I’ve spent many years in anxious turmoil over my writing, pressing myself beyond healthy limits to produce. When I turned thirty and hadn’t published anything, I went into a tailspin of depression. Ditto that for when I turned forty. Then I got sober, went into therapy, and discovered an effective combo of meds with the help of a wonderful psychiatrist. These days, if I skip a day or two of writing, that’s just the way it goes. I’m on the hunt for a full-time job, I’m raising two young children with my wife, and I have a lovely coterie of animals I care for. I have a full life. And I’m sober, to boot.

I’ve been thanking God lately, in particular, for the ability to let a particular story line go. I don’t mean fiction; I mean the story line of my life that dictates that I have to a Writer. The capital letter is important. I’m already a writer and always will be, but I’m also other things. Robert the Writer, though, is hyper-focused on getting published to the exclusion of other things. Rober the Writer won’t rest until he’s exhausted himself mentally and spiritually, racing to beat the clock, up against self-imposed deadlines. Also, Robert the Writer is a selfish bastard. I have no more use for him, so I’m letting that story line go (for more info on story lines and attachment, check out this article by Pema Chodron).

I couldn’t have been this kind to myself without getting sober, and I also imagine that I couldn’t have done it (sober or not) in my thirties due to a stunning lack of emotional maturity. Not that I’m a paragon of emotional maturity these days, but I’m a hell of a lot easier on myself than I used to be. I accept and deal with my anxiety which springs from a variety of sources, but I no longer give myself panic attacks for missing non-existant milestones in my life. I don’t have a book deal at 43? Fine. I only publish poetry on web-based journals? Cool. I can look at other aspects of my life and celebrate them and not dwell on things I thought I needed.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking of myself as more than just a writer. Currently, I prefer the term “creative.” I’m a creative. I write poems, stories, and songs. I draw cartoons. No matter where my life takes me, I’ll always find ways to express creativity. Writing this blog is another way.

So I’m going to take a break from creative writing because the still, small voice inside me says it’s time to. I spent many years ignoring that voice and drowing it with alcohol. These days, I do my best to listen to it.

That Time the Can of Paint Wasn’t Having It

I’ve been sober for almost three years, and every now and then drinking and/or sobriety show up in my writing. When I first got sober, it was all I wrote about…mainly stories but a few poems, too. This poem is more or less based on a factual event (painting the dining room while drunk and doing a terrible job of it). It’s supposed to be funny, but I’m not sure if it is.

That Time the Can of Paint Wasn’t Having It

“You’re a bold motherfucker,”
the paint can told me one night
when I couldn’t sleep and grabbed
a brush, thinking I was the shit
and could paint the dining room.

“I’m drunk,” I told the paint can
and took another shot of courage,
as they say (whoever they are).

“Tell me something I don’t know,”
the paint can retorted and scooted
away, like I had a disease or something.
“You come anywhere near me, I’ll
explode and paint this room my way.”

I prayed to the god of Glidden, but
he wasn’t interested, and I implored
the god of Smirnoff, but he was three
sheets to the wind just like I was.

“Tomorrow,” I vowed and tossed the
brush at the paint can, who dodged it easily.
As I climbed back into bed in my hot room,
I heard mocking laughter, and I dreamed
of bare walls the color of absolutely nothing.

Temporary Survivor

I haven’t had a drinking dream in quite some time (now watch me have them for a week straight), but I heard someone on a podcast discussing dealing with such dreams. I wasn’t consciously thinking about drinking dreams, but it was certainly banging around in my brain because this poem came to me as I was driving to work. This one needs some tweaking (I may settle on a rhyme scheme, which would be different) but I wanted to share it.

Temporary Survivor

She shook me hard, and I rose
like steam from the arena of my dreams
where I faced off with my father again.
Freud, who had season tickets,
shook his head and relit his pipe.

When I woke, I remembered I was drunk.
I was also on the roof and not in bed.
You slept through the flood, she said.
By flood, I replied, do you mean—
I mean the flood!

Other rooftops poked out from the water
like the tops of drowned heads.
I spied Gilgamesh waving to me from one.
All hope was not lost.

She thrust something at me.
I opened the crumpled ball and read:
What the fuck happened? I said meet at the ark.
You better hope reincarnation is real. – Noah

I found a bottle (I could always find a bottle)
and drank it down while she cried.
When it was empty, I lapped
at the water rising higher and faster.

Fear and Loathing in Twitterland

Since getting sober, I’ve pulled further and further away from social media. It started with checking in less frequently with Facebook, abandoning Instagram (which I rarely used, and never checked it after I posted a picture) and trying Tumblr for all of a day before giving that up (and we won’t mention my brief foray into Pinterest, which just left me feeling weird and somewhat creepy).

And now it comes to Twitter. I’ve tried using Twitter several times and never with any measurable success. By that, I don’t mean a big number of followers; I’m talking about meaningful interactions. I suppose that’s expecting too much from a social media platform. If I get nothing from Twitter, why Tweet?

I suppose I think it’s something I should do as a writer to expand my…I don’t know, circle of like-minded men and women? In the course of Tweeting and reading Tweets, maybe I’ll find a new journal to submit my work to?

I read an interesting article about poets and writers on Twitter, and that started me thinking that maybe it’s worth pursing. I refuse to put Twitter on my phone (same as Facebook and Instagram). My phone, smart though it is, is for calling folks,sending the occasional text to my wife, and playing music. That’s it. So I’ll only Tweet and read feed when I’m at the computer, where the order is: work, email, writing, and then–maybe, if there’s time–things like Twitter.

If the past is any predictor, I’ll be on Twitter for a few days before forgetting about it. In the meantime, if you’re really bored, you can check me out @writing4ghosts.

 

Dispatches from Addiction and Recovery #4

Today’s entry comes from Tabitha S., a Seattle-based freelance writer and poet who struggles with sobriety. Of this poem, she says, “The hardest part for me is always dealing with the damage I’ve caused in relationships. When I relapse, it’s generally over that.”

Sorrow Hangs On

Sorrow hangs on me like an old coat,
finds me in different forms–

a Museum of Tears, Bird Graveyard.

I get drunk and go under the needle
for another fuck you tattoo, chop off
my hair and throw it in the trash.

Love doesn’t come with a warranty,
just an expiration date.

Merry Christmas, or Something (flash fiction re-post)

I originally posted this in November 2012, and something reminded me about this piece of flash fiction. Heavens, it’s dark. For the record, I feel pretty good this morning. The speaker’s tone doesn’t reflect my current state…though I imagine I was pretty down when I first wrote this.

Merry Christmas, Or Something

There’s nothing left for me here, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving.

I’ve grown accustomed to the ache, the longing to be elsewhere, and that’s usually enough most days. The nights are what worry me, when he starts playing that old guitar, the one his father stole for him a thousand Christmases ago, that he doesn’t touch unless he’s been drinking, transforming it from a piece of junk into a troubadour’s dream.

He coaxes such painfully beautiful music from the instrument, it nearly makes up for his caterwaul of a voice, his hesitant delivery, the way he stumbles over words he should know
because I know them and just about everyone who isn’t deaf knows them, too.

“You don’t understand music,” he always tells me, but what he means is, “You know a shitload more about it than I do,” so I keep my mouth shut and listen to him, settling against my longing to leave like it’s another lover, a more patient one than him, this would-be musician singing in a destroyed living room.

The winter night looms outside the windows, waiting to creep in when the lights are off and we’re in bed, clothes scattered through the place, his hands wandering across my body, re-staking his claim to make sure my dream to get the fuck out of this town doesn’t come true, the dream where I grab what I can, cram it in Mama’s pink and brown suitcase and shove his old car in gear, willing it to work at least across the state line.