The drive there and back
This week, I went for an overnight at Lynn’s home in Wisconsin.
The drive to Lynn’s is a drive I have made countless times as a student in Kenosha, a worker living in Chicago, a worker living in Milwaukee.
So many trees and clouds and buildings.
So many birds and fat squirrels.
Winter in Chicagoland, now, is like winter in a foreign country to me.
And when I have my moments (trust me, I have ’em) where I’m like “It’s-so-fucking-cold-and-did-the-sun-burn-out-what-the-fuck-have-I-done?”,
I try to reframe my thoughts and approach this experience as I have approached all travel experiences, even to destinations, like Ireland or England or Canada, where I stayed only briefly, I had genuine, open-hearted curiosity about where I was and how it all felt to me.
I am trying to feed that same curiosity about this experience instead of dipping every difference between where I am and where I was in a coat of terror.
That stretch of highway between Illinois and Kenosha, Kenosha and Milwaukee, is a well-worn path of mine.
And it was interesting to drive this drive, as I am now, and to feel those pinches of psychic pain caused by sad memories, and to also feel those sparks of psychic joy caused by memories, and then to simply smile because compared to where you’ve been for the last — damn near — ten years looks so different and though this looks different from that it is still beautiful (and sometimes the American Midwest, just like the American West is plainly hilarious in its “quirk”).
And when I got to Lynn’s, we talked a lot about my expectations of the Midwest, about culture shock, about returning — which is a thing my friend Lynn knows a great deal about and is, therefore, a good person to talk about my “this and that” thinking —
“That” = where I was.
“This” = where I am.
Maria Prymachenko (Ukrainian, 1909–1997): May That Nuclear War Be Cursed, 1978.
Last night, on the news, an emotional and defiant Ukrainian woman talked of her escape from the country and how her sons stayed behind to fight for “freedom and independence. To be free and independent. That is what everyone wants.” And then she ended with a “fuck you, Russia” in her native language. I supported her entire statement.
To be free and independent is all the human animal wants.
To be free and independent, I believe, is the birthright of every human being. And this is why, though I am a pacifist, I support the efforts of the Ukrainian people. This is a freedom war. Putin has chosen this war for the Ukrainian people. Putin, in his madness, has disrupted the political “peace” of The West. Putin has murdered and will continue to murder Ukrainians as he goes forward in his sloppy, homicidal, wicked degeneracy. And some innocent Russians will die, too. Many will have to die if Ukraine is to preserve its freedom and independence.
Freedom and independence are the only things, in this life, worth dying over for the absence of either kills the human animal physically, mentally, spiritually. We cannot live without these — freedom, independence — , and the degree to which these two things are lacking or present in a life will determine the health of the human. How are your freedom levels, reader? Your independence levels? My freedom levels are good, my independence levels are fairly low as I continue to rely on the “helps” of others around me to see me through to . . . well, my apartment and a new job and a new set of doctors.
Sometimes you have to be able to depend on others.
And sometimes you pay it forward by letting another be dependent on you.
I prefer the latter condition to the former condition because the latter involves reserves of trust that sometimes I simply do not have.
Trust is hard because I have spent a lot of my life eroding my trust by way of fear and then allowing the fearsome exceptions in my life to disprove the “rule” of general safety and wellbeing in my life.
And when I was able to see that in myself, I became more free.
When I gained the ability to say to myself, “Hang on a second, little spazmo. You know nothing about what comes next here. Stop acting like you do,” I gained the ability to better control my fear.
And as someone who works hard every day of her life — through meditative and medical helps — to keep her fear in check I can assure you, reader, if you’re living drenched in fear, there is a way to turn off the supply.
Or at the very least turn the running faucet down to a drip.
Before I quit drinking, my fear faucet was on full blast day and night.
This was no good. And for me, alcohol was a (nonhelpful) way of attempting to control my fear.
Maybe you’re cool with alcohol — one of those folks who can drink how they want, when they want and feel none the worse for it — and maybe instead your nonhelpful control for your fear is pills. Or purchasing. Or 24-hour news which, I swear has become a kind of emotional meth made, like meth itself, from only the most corrosive substances: fear, rage, sorrow. All the shit that lives under the sink in our heads unless we clear that shit out.
I am a recovering news junkie.
Since my divorce was initiated, I have been trying to cut back on the news because what I found in those early days of “livin’” in the Comfort Inn, is that news usually just makes me feel more afraid, more sorrowful, more angry and more utterly, and completely, helpless and hopeless, and call me crazy but I do not wish to feel “intensified” versions of my IRL emotions.
I do not wish to feel helpless and hopeless.
These feelings do not improve my life.
These feelings do not contribute to my wellness.
The hitch is that I like to be informed, and the 24-hour news cycle (designed for worriers like me) fed right into my arrogant belief that more information meant “more control” over situations I have no fucking control over, will never have control over, and in most cases do not wish to have any control over.
More information about breast cancer is helpful to me. I can use that information to better my own situation.
More information about American History is helpful to me. I can use that information to inform my anti-racist, pro-woman, anti-capitalist work, which then might benefit me and those in my proverbial backyard (and proverbial my backyard will likely always be as I have an MFA and nearly a quarter-century of work in the fields of Arts & Humanities . . . )
More information about the exact time and nature of Putin’s atomic, global homicide is not helpful as there is no way I can use that information in anyway that will better my situation or anyone else’s situation.
Last Sunday, at Megan’s, over crossaints and strawberries, over Golden Girls and rock-n-roll memoirs, I checked the news on my phone. Saw that Putin was making nuclear threats. Told Megan. She replied, “Welp, been nice knowing you.” And then we just continued with our morning — eating, drinking coffee, laughing, watching the Golden Girls and commenting on the aesthetics of the show . . . And that, reader, is how I would like to die. I’m laughing with a dear friend, and then my life goes out. NOT my-friend-and-I-are-sitting-in-pant-shitting-terror-drinking-and-chainsmoking-and-crying and then I die.
I have no control over the situation in Ukraine.
I have no control over Putin.
I have no control over whether or not we are on the precipice of World War III.
Neither do you, reader. Unless you’re a head of state, in which case, buenos dias and could you please ensure that Putin doesn’t nuke us all? Thanks.
In my personal life since I’ve been “on my own”:
I feared ___, and ___, and ____ might die. They died. I felt great sorrow. I lived.
I feared I could get cancer. I got cancer. I felt great fear. I lived.
I feared the cancer would return. It did. I live.
I feared my partner would leave me. My partner left. I felt great sorrow and rage and fear. I live.
And this is not to say death is defeat. It is not, and to say death is defeat is ridiculous (as Socrates-by-way-of-Plato told us) because to assert fear of death is to assert that you know death is bad. And you don’t know, unless you’re an undead reader (buenos dias), and you don’t know anything about the state of being we return to after this life has ended.
I will die of cancer.
Or I will die of nuclear war.
Or I will die of clumsiness or forgetfulness or sheer stupidity.
Or if I am fortunate, I will die peacefully and painlessly in my older age.
In either case, I will die. So will you.
The “game” — if you see your life as a “game” — isn’t about avoiding death, for that is not possible. You will die even if you play your entire “game” by attempting to cheat death.
There is no hack for this. You cannot cheat death.
Feel your feelings about this fact, lord knows I have and do and will until I die.
However, I know now what I “knew” before, but did not fully understand:
the point of this life is not to outsmart death.
And if that is not the “point” why obsess on the matter?
I also do not like that Las Vegas exists, and yet it exists, and do I spend my life worrying over Las Vegas’ water waste and general grossness? No.
I acknowledge that the place exists, I try to avoid going there, and enjoy the rest of what life has to offer and there is so fucking much to recommend this life. This is why some people who are able have stayed behind in Ukraine to fight Putin because if you can grow soil fertile enough to grow true freedom and independence for human beings, life can be a paradise.
Life has a lot to offer that is not death, though we cannot really enjoy life’s offerings unless we are honest about the fact of death. (Lynn and I were banging on about this subject — death — ergo my banging on about it here.)
What I’m saying is I know I cannot outsmart death forever,
and so that’s not the point of my life anymore.
I want to stay as healthy and strong as I can, for as long as I can,
and in doing this I am not going to structure my life around the question “What can I do not to die?”
But rather around the question, “What can I do to live?”
And live better, happier, clearer, more present in my days.
For me, that looks like taking my news in three courses during Putin’s war of murderous aggression. It’s like Thanksgiving: I’m on a strict diet, but I’m letting myself have a little more right now because this could be the end of The West if not The World, so to accommodate my diet a little bit, I have a slice of news in the morning (online), a half cup of news in the afternoon (online and/or televised), and a platter of news in the evening (online and/or televised), but not news all day. I don’t consume food all day every day. (Feels like it sometimes lately, but I don’t.) And if I did, I would feel so sick in my body.
So why would I consume news all day everyday and feel overfull, sick in my mind?
Old Me would have dealt with my current life situation thusly:
1. I would have felt very sorry for myself for being divorced with cancer and no job during “the end of the world,” and I would have drank at this predicament in which I find myself.
2. I would have watched news constantly, worried myself into stomach aches about nuclear disaster, drank lots while watching news, and believed on some level that by constantly watching I could “control” the outcome if the power plant is on fire, or the button is pushed.
3. I would have wondered “what if I die?” and “what if I die?” and “what if I die?”
I try not to feel sorry for myself.
My situation could be much, much worse.
I am fortunate in a great many ways. I am rich in loved ones. The money will come. The healthcare will come. I will get what I need if I am patient and calm, and I will get what I need in patience and calm just as quickly (if not quicker) than I might get what I need if I was panicking and drinking. Patience and calm feels better than nervousness, drunkenness.
Patience and calm seems to lead to better outcomes because in order to have patience and calm one must have presence of mind, clarity of thought.
These days, I prefer clarity of thought. Presence of mind.
For some, I am too “laid back.”
I have lived the other way. I have lived the way where I was not “laid back” and all it did was scramble my brains and damn near kill me.
So I am trying another way and adjusting as needed.
Like the exercise routine Lynn taught me yesterday morning — the right amount of intensity, open to countless adjustments and additions.
I like having choices. I’m guessing you do, too, reader. That goes back to the Ukrainian woman: freedom and independence. Those things are both contingent on having real choices, real ability to build your life in accordance with your own happiness (unless, of course, your happiness comes from secularly, objectively immoral deeds). Happiness is not “one size fits all.” Nor is education. Nor healthcare. Nor even the sobriety I sometimes discuss on this blog.
We are the same, and also we are each different.
I will not be writing self-help books anytime soon, for my “system” of living these days has been carefully tailored by me for me. Except for the “quit drinking” part — that part was mostly preordained curriculum. And trust me, in my early days of sobriety, I kicked and screamed against that curriculum and tried to find “other ways” to kick my drinking problem.
Like there was literally a morning that I was saying “this is fucking stupid” as I was getting on my knees in an effort to build into my days a habit of meditation and prayer. “This is fucking stupid,” I said. It was sort of stupid, and it worked for me becasue it brought me back to some basics. Brought me back to Buddhism, and while I always suspected I was Buddhist, now that I’m trying to live the Four Noble Truths, I feel like I can confidently identify as a student of this practice. Whether in some esoteric sorcery of your personal invention, or in the local Synagogue, I hope you, reader, know a practice that softens the edges of our hard human lives.
And about the nukes — oh, reader. I have no clue. The possibility saddens me more than it frightens me. If the nukes come, I will likely die. And you will likely die, too. And how do you want to do that?
I just know that if nukes come into play (as they already are), I don’t want to go out crying at Anderson Cooper’s face on a flatscreen, which though a beautiful face, though a lovelier face I have seldom seen, is not the face of anyone who knows me or has borne witness to my life. The people who matter are not the politicians or the parties, but the people who know you, who have borne witness to your life, and who love you however complicated you may be (and we humans can get quite complex over time). I want the final faces to be real human faces, and the final love to be real human love. The kind of love that has nothing to do with money, fame, or fortune.
The kind of love you have to sometimes adjust your thinking in order to see and hear and feel for it is not of the material world.
And to Putin and his cronies: іди нахуй.
Be good, hooligans.