Saturday, February 12, 2011

Looking Behind

I wrote a song a few days ago and I scribbled the lyrics down in one of my old notebooks, a spiral-bound relic of what feels like the distant past to me but is really from 1999-2000 judging from the writings in it. There's a couple clues as to the dates: mentions of an old job, one lyric set  uncharacteristically dated 8-1-00, some sincere but awful love poetry to a specific woman and, later, an undelivered letter to the same woman.

As a whole, the writings  in the notebook seem confused, unfinished, full of  glaring flaws and weaknesses, punctuated with bitingly concise outbursts at specific subjects, sometimes conflicting with other writings. There's the aforementioned series of bad love poems ending with an angry and never-delivered letter of betrayal, the two clashing sentiments peacefully co-existing between two cardboard covers for years until I dug them out of the closet during a recent rummage.

Bad poetry or not, I wish that I had taken better care to preserve my old journals. They are a window into my former life and this particular notebook is a fragmented chronicle of what was one of the worst periods of my life, one that I had almost forgotten about but should probably try to remember.

I've been feeling a bit down-spirited lately and some well-meaning friends have tried to cheer me up by reminding me that things could be worse, at least I have my health and a job, etc etc...I have used that same speech myself and I don't think I was much better  at delivering it than I was at receiving it. Not that I don't appreciate the truth of it it, or the caring  behind the sentiment, but hearing it just doesn't help much.

But this notebook does help. The writings in it show that, for me, things were a lot worse in the past than they are now and it gives me specific examples of why that is.

I spent most of 1999-2001 on Federal probation for what should have been a minor charge, but wasn't. I was required to submit to random drug testing and given this timeless bit of backwards advice from my Probation Officer: " If you get the urge to smoke pot, just get yourself  a six-pack of beer and watch TV until the urge to smoke passes." She seemed to think that the cure for pot "addiction" was alcohol-induced diabetic obesity served up with a side dish of lazy.

A cursory examination by a social worker found that I was suffering from trauma arising from the circumstances surrounding my mother's recent death. This was true, but the only reason they knew it was is because I told them about it. As a result I was given various pills to help with my anxiety and mood swings, which was a good thing, because mixing those pills with vodka was the only practical way I found to get through 18 months of AA meetings. The System treated my depressed alcoholism by haphazardly prescribing alcohol and pills, which I rather enjoyed at the time but wound up nearly killing me in the end. (But that is another story.)

I was forced to attend 12-Step meetings to help me overcome my marijuana 'addiction', which was pretty ridiculous, considering that I knew I'd go to prison if I flunked a pee test and that was all the incentive I needed. The 12-Step meets just made it worse because I had sit for an hour several times a week and listen to scary people talk about their boring drug addict stories. This odious, court-appointed  tedium made me wish for dope I couldn't have, a longing which drove me to wash down my Xanax with malt liquor, since I could have those.

And my real-life girlfriend at the time was no help. She was into white powder drugs and was always mad at me because I couldn't smoke while she snorted; to her, my drug 'problem' meant that I was "no  fun anymore", which was kinda funny to hear from someone who was wacked-out on coke and speed. I had quit that stuff years before we met and she kept it away from me for the first few months; we smoked together but I had no taste for the other stuff and that worked for a while, but after I got busted she started going daily with the powders and it soon became a source of arguments.

Ever spend a weekend at the beach with someone who is high on crystal meth while you are not?

It is grueling to the point of being unbearable. That stuff makes people almost comically paranoid and watching your methed-up girlfriend frantically  check the room for hidden cameras and microphones is probably the worst foreplay ever when it comes to a romping weekend getaway.

The last time I saw her, I loaned her $500 for bail after she got a DUI. I haven't seen her since then, so I consider that $500 to be money well-spent.

Adding to my troubles, under the terms of my probation, I had to remain employed or risk violation and my Census job ended early, so I had to take a job managing a discount shoe store, which was one of the worst jobs I've ever had, and I've had a lot of bad jobs.

I didn't know it in 2000, but in 2001 I would suffer a temporarily crippling neuropathy  that almost cost me the use of my left arm and that would be the end of my songs forever. Or until last year, whichever comes first.

So as another Bleak MotherFucking Holiday bears down on me, I have to remind myself:

-I'm not on probation and don't have to worry about random visits from my PO. Potential speeding tickets are my main Law Enforcement concern at the present time and I can cope with that stress without going to meetings or getting wasted.

-Being lonely  is better than having a girlfriend who needs bail money and thinks the cops are hiding in the bushes outside her house.

- My current job is not-so bad.

-My music just gets better.

Plus there's other  good things that I never even dreamed of in 2000, such as living past the age of forty. On  or around my 30th birthday I wrote a dreary poem: Countdown , which counts down the 10 remaining (I thought) years of my life. What the hell was I thinking? I can't imagine being quite that grim again.
I feel like adding footnotes and disclaimers to that notebook: yes, I know, I know... in case anyone stumbles across that  dreck after my passing, I want them to know I realize how dreadful it is.

It is a bittersweet thing, an evening spent with an old journal, but I'm glad I spent it. I needed the perspective.



you've come a long way baby.

NYD said...

Looking through journals that take us back to places we'd rather not have been to does have an up-side. Once you look up from the pages and the book is closed you realize that you are still there to keep on putting new entries, better entries.

Go buy yourself a new binder.