Archives For one day at a time

I’m 5 minutes into a conversation with a woman who works as a hospice nurse when I realize my life has no purpose.

I’ve spent my life trying to create meaning from brokenness. Smash the mirror and the shards reflect rainbows. I’ve told my stories; I’ve birthed a child and made a home; I’ve cleaned bathrooms at the Statue of Liberty; I’ve used up at least 7 of my 9 lives but nothing I’ve accomplished rivals her love for the dying.

I was three when my father died. All I remember of him are pancakes shaped like Supergirl and the day police came to the door to tell my mother he was dead. “Oh, you have the wrong family,” she laughed, with her gravelly cigarette-flavored laugh. A laugh borne of desperation because who dies at 46 and leaves his wife with six kids? My mother wept and wept and then I was sent away to a group home to live.

I learned early how to go away in my head when people did things I didn’t like.

Seven months, two weeks and five days ago I took my last pill. “Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.” I am fameless, yet I live in that hollow place.

I’ve lost the one true love of my life. Opiates stoked the chemical blaze in my brain that told me the world was amazing. Nothing feels right, because nothing feels.

Wake up. Think about pills. Get ready for bed, think about pills. I double cleanse my skin, layering on serums and lotions and think about pills, bribe myself by saying this is self-care, this is MY time, but who really owns time? I’d like to have a talk with that motherfucker about letting the last couple of decades go by without me having achieved anything worthwhile.

My ex and I are splitting custody of my son this summer. We live so far from one another that I am spending my summer on the Garden State Parkway.

I used to love driving. I was a road warrior, a travel mug and ear-splitting music my shield and javelin. I could drive forever listening to Lenny Kravitz’s saxophone oozing out of my speakers like slow brown honey. This blistering summer, driving feels like a punishment for me AND the highway. My tires pummel miles of desiccated asphalt relentlessly.

Another brutally hot summer, my eighth, I was sent away to Camp Rainbow, a broken mirror of a place with a cheery subterfuge of a name. It was a camp for troubled children.

Was I troubled? What troubled me was having my waterfall of cascading red curls shorn into an ugly pixie cut. My mother saved the ponytail for years. Eventually my hair grew back, but in a tumbleweed of  unruly curls that jutted out from my head in a frizzy pyramid. The only remnant I had of those silky red waves was encased in a thick plastic bag.

Without the velvet cushioned rabbit hole of opiates, I have no interest in anything. Destroy the dopamine neurons in rats and they’ll starve to death, even with food right in front of them.

I can’t write. The only thing I want to write about is this, and I don’t want to write about it. Peel back the layers to find what? One doesn’t don’t peel layers of onion expecting to find gold. There is only more onion.

Eventually my oldest brother extricated me from that group home. In the year I spent there, I learned that trust is not a thing and abuse masquerades as love. True enough, I was rescued, but my story was of imprisonment, not rescue.

After that, I carried around a blistering orange sandstorm of rage that my small body could barely contain.

I know why the rescue dog bites.

Sea salt, tomato sauce, protein powder, brown sugar – I reorganize the pantry and think about pills. Later, he’ll ask “where’s the protein powder?” and I won’t remember. It was in the doing, not the thing itself. This is a kitchen meditation performed so I won’t vacuum my car and search for pills.

He’s a good man. But I watch him through eyes that belong to this new person, this woman who goes to sleep at 8 pm because being awake hurts.

He is sturdy, both in mind and body. He is earthy and rooted; the perfect yin to my dreamer yang, he of the melting guitar solos and rustic house by the bay and this would be an idyllic summer if only I could feel it.

I can’t feel my life.

There are pictures to prove it exists; at least fifty the day of my son’s 8th grade graduation. What is left now? How can he be a character in my story, now that he’s telling his own? What else can I give him aside from a deeply dysfunctional childhood?

I only hope it will make you funny, and compassionate. ‘Adversity builds character,’ I say, but what else is left to say when the house is gone?

There are amends to be made, mostly to me. I’ve squandered myself feeling excessively and numbing it to survive. This great Empty is not the selective numbing of drugs. Opiates barricade against pain while simultaneously allowing angels from heaven to kiss your brain.

This is nothingness. This is flat line.

The latest narrative of trendy personal transformation is that we are the masters of our own destiny. What first world arrogance it is, to claim that we alone are responsible for our own stories! New age frivolity has tricked us into believing that we are the average of people we spend time with. As if the nuances of spirit, essence, energy and inclinations are mathematical things.

Some of our stories are contracts with God, written before we have a chance to tell them. Long before I learned the meaning of the word “innocence” I had already lost mine.

For years I kept my addiction private, like a small secret talisman I carried around in my pocket for good luck. Now I need to loosen the choke hold it has on my life. I share this story as a chemist, hoping to dilute its concentration and in doing so, create a new solution.

When I do feel, it’s anger. The stigma attached to my addiction has devoured me from the inside out. Why are women permitted – encouraged, actually – to be impaired,  as long as it’s from alcohol? The boozy, wine-soaked mom is a tiresome social media trope. Where are the memes playfully celebrating mothers who pop Oxy?

I’m no longer ashamed of my addiction, nor do I judge those addicted to food, love, religion, sex, exercise, status, material possessions. You’re no doubt reading this on a smart phone you’re addicted to.

It’s inevitable. We have no chance against the science used to ensnare us in our own impulses, trapping us in the dopamine loop of mindless consumption. An individualized mass psychosis as a response to being human in a toxic world.

What is left to believe in? To whom do the faithless pray?

There must be something. It is a beautiful accident that we even exist; that billions of years ago fiery, chaotic forces swirled through empty space and formed our planet. Somewhere between the poles of life and death exists hope.

The story I tell now is of time, and numbers, and counting. It’s been seven months, two weeks and five days since I last used.

One day at a time.

One hour at a time.

One minute at a time.

Tick. Tock.

Talk to me. 
I’m listening. 

Join me on Facebook, so I can have friends without leaving the house.

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lolla-lighter

It was over 100 degrees the day the air conditioning crapped out on our tour bus. Mid August, somewhere between West Virginia and North Carolina.

20 narcissistic, insecure writers trapped on a scorching hot bus. We drank to block out the oppressive heat. We were off the next day, so we showed no restraint. Not that we ever showed the slenderest thread of restraint.

We were on a rock tour. It was the 90’s. We were in our 20’s. Do the math.

 

In the mid-90’s, spoken word poetry was HOT. The in-your-face nature of it, attacking gender, racial and economic social inequity, was perfect for that time. Which is why Perry Farrell decided to add a Third Stage to Lollapalooza for spoken word.

Slam Poetry

Slam Poetry is spoken word on steroids. A brutal poetry competition where judges quantify your talent with numbers on cardboard signs.

The New York City slam venue was merciless. A take-no-prisoners gladiator arena. You were heckled the minute you stepped on stage. If you were going to be heard, you’d better be good.

I was.

Skinny little white girl with a Big, Fat Mouth, winning slam after slam after slam. Landing me a highly coveted spot on that sweat-drenched tour bus.

 

The 1994 lineup was stellar. Nirvana. Green Day. Beastie Boys. George Clinton & the Parliament Funk All-Stars. Cypress Hill. Tribe Called Quest.

In April, Kurt Cobain put a shotgun to his head, and Nirvana was replaced by The Smashing Pumpkins.

A massive let down.

Even worse  – Courtney Love was on the tour, hooking up with Billy Corgan from the Pumpkins. Kurt’s body wasn’t even cold yet. I could understand a grieving widow craving physical solace, but that skanky clunge was fucking the guy who replaced her husband as the headliner.

I wasn’t the only one who disapproved. Those two would walk into the catering tent and people would actually start booing, and throwing shit. I saw Courtney Love pick banana out of her bleached blonde mane like nothing happened and just keep on talking.

That was the thing about Lollapalooza. Everyone ate together, was back stage together, whether you were a rock star, roadie, or poet.

Tequila at Twelve

We opened the Third Stage at the crack of noon, blasting War’s “Low Rider.” I got things going, dancing onstage in my signature daisy dukes/combat boots.

By 12:30, I was pouring bottom shelf tequila into the mouths of teenage babes from the jug I kept behind the sound booth. Underage, shmunderage. These kids had been tailgating all night and were rat-ass shnockered at 8 am.

We performed several sets of poetry a day. Our teen audience was enraptured by the spoken word scene. They stalked us between sets, asking for autographs. It was heady stuff, all this slavish devotion.

 

The downside was, we were being sponsored by MTV, and were expected to run moronic crowd participation skits, like “The Dating Game” and “Oprahpalooza”. As a mondo fuck-you to MTV, we decided to jack up the skits.

Girl-on-Girl Porn

I ran the Dating Game.

I’d pick an extremely hot, extremely intoxicated Lolita to be the “Bachelorette” on stage, along with three guys. Halfway in, I’d yell, “Forget these losers! Pick ME!

And then I’d start making out with her. I always had an eye to pick the ones who would just love it. We’d end up rolling around on the stage, grinding, tongue kissing and groping each other while the audience went completely bat shit crazy.

It became a standing room only, hot ticket item on Lolla ’94. Two weeks in, and the word on the tour was that there was live girl-on-girl porn on the Third Stage at 4:00.

Thank God there were no responsible adults around.

 

Rock Stars and Poets and Bears, Oh My

Many musicians are really poets at heart. Eventually, most of them came to the Third Stage to size us up. They liked what they heard, and as the tour wore on, we often collaborated. A horn player from P. Funk and I became close. He accompanied some of my poems.

The dark, rich sounds of his trumpet resonated and brought my poetry alive. As his music wove around my words, the audience could feel not only the story in my poetry, but the one of my growing relationship with this man. Those seductive, sunlit, late afternoon renditions of my spoken word, fueled with cheap tequila and extravagant passion, were the pinnacle of my performing career. Never to be rivaled again.

For many, for most, it was the summer of love.

 

Okay. It was a total fuck fest.

On tour, everyone’s single. You never knew which musician would wake up on our bus, crawling out of the coffin-like sleep bunks. I’ll never name names. I’m a star-fucker, not a name-dropper.

 

 

Touring was physically grueling. We only checked into hotels if we played a city more than one night. Otherwise, we packed up, and hit the road. No hotels meant no showers. Eating like crap. Nobody slept. We performed, partied, wrote, repeat.

I walked around talking into a hand-held tape recorder constantly. I have the entire experience on tape.

I can’t bear to listen to it.

 

 

 

To create some sort of order from this complete chaos, I followed a routine. We closed up the Third Stage at 6:00 pm. I had to haul ass if I wanted to get to Main Stage in time to worship at the altar of George Clinton and his P.Funk All Stars. Clinton was an icon who dominated my R&B project girl childhood.

♫ Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah
Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah ♫

 

Then, head to the Beasties trailer. They had a basketball court setup outside their trailer so they could play as their pre-show warm up, and my horn player played against them every night. The Beasties were dope white boys from New York, and I was fond of them, but I took a perverse pleasure in watching my horn player stomp their white asses across the court every single night.

After the game, dinner at the catering tent. Find a quiet corner – not always easy – so I could

Write. Write. Write.

Then, load up the bus and drive through the night, or check into a hotel. Stay up till dawn in whichever room, on whatever bus, was happening that night.

If we were in town for the night, then we tore it up. I was told we were completely off the hook in New Orleans. Police were involved.

I have absolutely no memory of it.

 

—-

Returning Hero

I came back to New York victorious.

Interview clips and MTV blips of our performances had been splattered across TV. Everyone returned to their hometowns in hot demand. We had crossed over, melded performance poetry with rock and roll. It was a pivotal time on the writing scene.

I had offers to do articles. Books. I had performances scheduled. My phone rang incessantly. Managers wanted me. Agents wanted me.

Yay, me.

Unfortunately-

I had acquired a bad habit. Without the tour to keep me going, the camaraderie of the other poets, without the whole carnival of lights, sound and music…

and my new-found fame so overwhelming, I could not handle it…

Or knew I couldn’t sustain it?

Something.

I lost myself somewhere along the way.

 

I missed deadlines. Blew off interviews. Showed up late to performances. Or so fucking high on smack, I’d stumble through a shit show and think I was spectacular.

I pulled the phone out of the wall, for days at a time. Heroin makes you antisocial.

People stopped calling.

I faded into obscurity.

Most of the writers I knew from that tour are successful. They write books; are artists-in-residences. Many still tour and perform.

You post videos of them on your blogs. I stumble onto one of those, and I forget to breathe.

I’m happy for their success, but I get sick thinking about what I squandered.

I never discuss it. People who know me today don’t even know it ever happened.

Maybe it didn’t.

 

For the next two decades, I stopped writing. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. The universe gave me my opportunity, and I blew it.

But now, my life has shattered open. Words, like blood from a wound that never healed, are gushing out. I can’t rein them in.

Even though no one will read, I’ll write them anyway. Just for me.

It hurts to write. It scares the fuck out of me to hit “Publish.” I’m afraid nothing will come of it.

I’m terrified that something will come of it.

 

One of my favorite songs I ever saw performed live is “All Apologies,” Nirvana.

“All in all is all we are, all in all is all we are…”

There are worse things then blowing your career after being on a rock tour.

Like blowing your brains out before you even make it on that very same tour.

 

All Apologies – to myself.

I have to forgive myself.

I need to forgive myself.

Please, God. Let me forgive myself.

 

 

Did you ever blow the opportunity of a lifetime?
Talk to me. I’m listening.