Monday, February 28, 2011

Pet Rocks

Back to the subject of “Drop the Rock”. I now know that this is going to be an ongoing part of my recovery.

First I have to tell you about my first reaction to “Drop the Rock” . As I was reading I thought, “This is brilliant and wonderful and yes this is just the thing, it makes so much sense”. And then I –completely sincerely—began to make an ever so compassionate list of people I knew who would be so much happier if they just dropped their rocks.

Are you laughing?

I wasn’t. Sad to say I thought about all the people I should give the book too or people I hoped might somehow learn this helpful, growth-inducing, change-making concept. I thought about the coworker who would have so much more peace if she dropped her rock and I thought about his ex-wife and how she’d really be so much happier if she dropped her rock, and the guy I see in meetings who is suffering with his old stuck ways—I mean, man, if he could just drop his rock.

And then I heard me—ever so genuinely (I felt so wise) making a list of all the other people who should drop their rocks. And I thought: Oh Crap!—that’s MY rock right there.

So, knowing that I’ll be spending a bit of time with my pet rocks, it’s time to name them. My first litter has rocks called He Should, She Should and They Should. And I also have a rock named Don’t They Know I’m Important who, interestingly, likes to sit next to I’m Nobody & Nothing. And the one that loves to ride in the car with me is named, I’ll Bet They’re Gonna Upset Me.

God help me. (That’s probably the pet rock I need to adopt)

What are your rocks called?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academy Awards

I’ll be in my pajamas early this evening but I’m prepared for the inevitable exhaustion tomorrow. I’ll be staying up late to watch the Oscars I’m not alone. The Oscar ceremony is the highest-rated entertainment show of the year, second only to the Super Bowl.

Why such an audience to see movie stars walk across a stage? Well, we live in an awards culture in which everyone seems to be judging or being judged and Oscar night is the night to enjoy as much judgment as you want. From the purely cosmetic to the politically controversial, every kind of statement will be made—and critiqued.

You can join in. Make your self a set of Olympic-style score cards and rate everything: the hair-do’s, the dresses—best and worst-- and of course, the acceptance speeches. We can expect to hear good, bad and ugly thank you speeches. We can hope for the outrĂ© and the tears, prayers and peace signs. That’s all part of the show .

The Academy Awards is a show about shows. It’s style on steroids. And part of the appeal is that this is one of the last remaining experiences we have of live television. There are fewer of us now who remember when most television was performed live and therefore had the greater creativity that comes with spontaneity, improvisation, accident and recovery.

I know some people like to pretend they are too smart for the Oscars or that this is some kind of Culture-Lite. I don’t buy it. As Yogi Berra taught us, “You can see a lot by watching”, and it’s truer than ever when watching the Oscars. After all, the Academy Awards is a television show about filmmaking which underscores the ultimate state of our visual culture. When the Motion Picture Academy Awards each year wins an Emmy award for television production we have the paramount example of a recursive universe.

It’s also tempting to disdain movies as just entertainment, but we have to remember that movies, even bad ones, become part of us. They are now what plays or poems were in the past: important sources of metaphor and imagery that we draw on in our own identity formation. Human beings are always making stories and talking to themselves. Stories with pictures are even better.

The best movies, of course though, are the ones in which we star. No need to be embarrassed, it’s a fact: Most of us are narrating our own story a lot of the time: “This is me shopping, this is me eating, this is me walking down the street.”

It’s one of the reasons retailers—even outdoor shopping plazas-- have piped-in music –it facilitates this “story of me” narration that we constantly do in our heads. In the movie version of our lives we’re always seen from our best side so we deserve the car, the dress, the shoes, the meal. Having that little sound track helps the fantasy —and the spending.

Our need for stories and the editing of our own story come together this Oscar night. So pile on the rhinestones with your favorite pajamas. Serve up good snacks and be prepared: What will you say if they call your name tonight?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Drop the Rock

Early in recovery I listened to tapes of classic AA talks. I listened to Clancy and Bob Earle and Sandy Beach and Terry Gorski. But then as cars changed I didn’t have a tape player and most of the tapes broke or wore out so I moved on to listening to other kinds of spiritual guidance or self-help in the car. (As an aural learner I literally change the tapes in my head this way.)

I’ve recently learned that some of those great AA talks are now available now in CD format on EBay. And that sent me searching.

With my sponsor I’m working now (and forever) on steps 6 and 7—and she mentioned the book, Drop the Rock—written by Bill P. and published by Hazelden. It’s a simple paperback that talks about the process of these two elusive steps. And that sent me to EBay where I found the AA talk by Sandy Beach who begat the idea of “drop the rock”.

In his parable Sandy Beach describes someone in AA who begins to see the freedom and good life that is possible by working the steps. This newcomer is swimming behind the boat, Good Ship Recovery, and can see those onboard who are happy, joyous and free. He wants to get on board—however he is being mightily weighed down by the rock he is carrying while swimming—the rock is all his character defects and old beliefs. The swimmer calls to the people on Good Ship Recovery saying, “How do I get up there?” and they yell back, “Drop the Rock”.But the swimmer hesitates saying, “But it’s my rock; I know this rock, but how do I get up there to be happy like you?” and –as you can guess-- they keep saying, “Drop the Rock.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Faith: What is it Good For?

Here is a gem of an insight I picked up today from Brene Brown’s blog—(I’m loving this woman—her TED talk on authenticity and now her blog too). But here is what I read this morning and it hit home so hard and so well:

She writes, "As a lover of all things certain, I wanted faith to work like an epidural; to numb the pain of vulnerability. As it turned out, my faith ended up being more like a midwife - a nurturing partner who leans into the discomfort with me and whispers "push" and "breathe."

I don’t know about you but I have been  trying to use faith as an epidural, thinking, “Come on God take this feeling, take this fear.” And thinking there was something wrong with my faith if I still felt fear, anger, disappointment etc. Chastising myself with the idea that if my faith was stronger I’d be all that peace that passeth understanding, blissed out and calm in a crisis. Well, duh, yeah I was thinking I could use faith as a drug.

But Brown’s insight and wise phrasing—not an epidural but a midwife. It’s a whole new way of thinking about faith and the value of faith and the investment in my spiritual life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Defying Physics or Be There Now

My commuting time to work each day is about thirty minutes. Each morning as I’m driving to work I am thinking about the meetings that are coming up or the conversations I need to be prepared for. Some degree of that is good management. But this week in the car I had to say to myself—out loud—“Stop trying to defy the laws of physics—you cannot be at work while you are in the car and not yet at work.” I was having this “get there, get there, get there" mantra in my head—trying to will myself to be at work while I was 20 minutes away.

What a pleasant way to start the day, huh? So much for be here now and living in the present moment. But realizing that my mind—and body—were somehow trying to defy physics got my attention. So now I’m saying, “When you are in the car you are in the car.”

Progress not…well, ya just gotta laugh.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sylvia Plath Bake-Off

Today is the anniversary of the death of poet, Sylvia Plath. On February 11, 1963, on a bitter, cold, dark London evening Plath put her two small children to bed, then turned on the gas stove in her kitchen, stuck her head in the oven and died. She was 30. She was talented. She was celebrated. She was heartsick. She was depressed.

Celebrate Plath today by baking something yummy. Make cookies for someone you love. Bake lasagna for dinner. Read a poem. Write a poem. Cherish your life.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Blame and Control

Ok –big insight today. This is what I love about meetings. This morning the topic was old resentments—old family stuff and “I’m still mad at my sister because when we were 13…” that kind of thing. Some were real tragedies that no one could control—just bad stuff that happens to people. But we want to blame. Blame someone.

And it hit me: Blame is a form of control. Misguided, yes. Illogical, yes. But in its way it’s a safety valve and a form of control. If I can blame someone then it means there was a way for the thing that happened to not have happened. It would never have happened unless so-and-so did thus-and-such.

When I blame I am trying to control. I’m trying to control something that happened 20 years ago, three months ago, two days ago or next week! It’s an attempt to control (and still control) the uncontrollable.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

February's Cold

I wake in the night and listen. The reassuring rumble tells me that the furnace is still on. It’s good news and bad. It means we have heat but at this hour I visualize the dollar bills that might just as well be fuel. I don’t fall back to sleep easily. A glass of water, and check on the dogs, curled like Danish pastries on their pillows; I’m awake and afraid in the cold night.

With only 28 days, February is the longest month, and we secretly count it down. February is to winter what Wednesday is to the workweek: If we can get through February, even snow in April won’t rock us.

My fear of cold has an ancient echo. I listen for the furnace at night the way my Polish ancestors woke in their huts to check on the fire. In many wedding albums there is a picture of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. That odd custom is also about staying warm. In ancient times when a woman left her father’s home and was set down on the hearth in her new house she was in the most important spot in any ancient home. She literally kept the home fires burning.

Temperature is part of my own married romance. Coming to New York from Baltimore –where there is just one decent snowstorm each year--I too was set down on a new hearth. I married a man who came from Northern Ontario where winter runs from September to May and wind chill is scoffed at. So I had to learn to dress for cold.

But physical acclimation is real. That first winter, living in upstate New York, I thought I’d die. My boots were good below freezing but my fingers could barely tie them. Each year it gets easier. Now I complain about the cold, but no longer imagine myself part of the Donner party.

But there is also an emotional acclimation to cold. A quote from Camus is taped inside the cabinet where I get my coffee mug each morning. It says: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” The word “invincible” that reminds me that living cold does indeed build character.

But having a warm house is important. I can’t swear that my first marriage ended solely over the thermostat setting, but for years I never went on a second date with a man whose response to my “I’m cold”, was “Put on a sweater”. My tundra man had to learn that cold hands do not mean a warm heart, and that a big oil bill is better than roses. But I’ve grown too. I am willing, in this new life, to go and put on that cost-saving sweater.

The word comfortable did not originally refer to being contented. Its Latin root, confortare, means to strengthen. Hence it’s use in theology: the Holy Spirit is Comforter; not to make us comfy, but to make us strong. This then is February’s task. We may not be warm but we are indeed comforted; we are strong and we are counting the days.