Seconds

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a lovely one. It’s my favorite holiday, though this year I realized what I really love is waking up early to bake cranberry cake that my husband and I devoured over the course of several days and going down a cryptic check list and ticking things off one by one with inane parade chatter in the background. What I could take or leave is the later onslaught of company and the tricky timing of 10 dishes that all need to be hot at the same time, not to mention the later washing of those dishes plus about 100 more. But I survived and didn’t crave alcohol so much as have periodic twinges that passed quickly and painlessly.

I also didn’t miss drinking when we went to New York city a couple of days later and this was a marked change from when we went in May and I felt dogged and more than a little lost. So I’m happy to report that my second sober Thanksgiving and trip to the big city were much easier than the firsts.

My peanut and me, ice skating at Bryant Park

There is something to be said for just continuing to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve done very few things by the book in sobriety, so I attribute most of the feel-good feeling I have now to simply not drinking and trying to be a good person, which, incidentally, got much easier to do when I stopped drinking. Every day I pray or wish or hope – whatever you want to call it – that I always remember I simply can’t drink normally and that I sure as hell don’t need to in order to feel happy and at peace.

Weeping willow

On the hill behind the house where I grew up, lived a giant weeping willow tree. Every time I passed that willow to get to my friend Jenna’s house, I yanked off a switch to whip through the air and make that cool whooshing sound or maybe even at someone before throwing it to the ground. When coupled with the memory of that time I whipped Jenna with my Strawberry Shortcake book bag at the bus stop one afternoon, I am struck with the realization that I may have been a monster-child.

I loved that willow tree though. Jenna was pretty great too, and I should mention she whipped me back with her own book bag. I just happened to win that fight because I was tougher, though I was terrified of Jenna’s father. He was a barely-there but larger than life figure in their quiet, perfect home because he had a lot of rules. Be quiet, no messes, never ever go in his home office. He kept it locked most of the time, though once I saw the inside, so I know it wasn’t a meth lab or torture chamber. They lived in the same model as our own house, and he had claimed the largest of the extra bedrooms as his office. When he worked upstairs, he called from a separate line down to the kitchen to ask what they were having for dinner. Jenna’s dad towered over everyone and he always seemed to be wearing a shirt and tie, though that can’t be possible. He scared the hell out of me.

Jenna’s dad flustered me so badly I once rang their doorbell and when he opened the door I asked “Can Jenna eat?” instead of “Can Jenna play?” Another time I rang their doorbell when there was an ownership dispute over a cardboard condominium Jenna and I had constructed in her basement for her cat. Jenna’s dad answered again and when I asked for my cardboard back, he laughed in my face and shut the door. And that time Jenna and I thought it would be good idea to take her cat, an ornery Siamese, for a dip in the kiddie pool, he came barreling out of the house, beet-faced and yelling. I took off so cartoon-fast that I may have left dust clouds in my wake.

Jenna’s dad drove a shiny sports car with the vanity plate JEP1. (There was no JEP2.) One Saturday I was at their house for a slumber party when Jenna’s dad came home from the hospital. He had wrecked JEP1 the night before and walked through their garage door into the family room wearing a white dress shirt covered in dried brown blood. The shirt still looked crisp except for all that blood. I had never seen so much  before. He went back out to the garage for something and I locked the door from the inside so he couldn’t get back in. No one saw me do it. In a minute or two, we heard him pounding on the door and someone let him in. He yelled at us “Who locked that door?!” but we only stared at him wide-eyed and silent. He finally gave up and went upstairs to his office or bed or who knows. I never told anyone about that before. You’re the first to know.

Around the time of his accident, parents started to whisper about Jenna’s dad. I heard things about another woman and cocaine. Jenna and her family moved suddenly one night in the fall of sixth grade. We had just started middle school together, and I was devastated to lose my best friend/arch nemesis. I heard they foreclosed on their home, something that never happened in our neighborhood. They moved a state away and I went to visit her once in their cramped townhouse and Jenna’s dad scared me once again when he came downstairs to his office in the basement while we were watching a questionable movie about vampires and virgins. But he seemed preoccupied and got what he needed and left us alone.

I lost touch with Jenna for years and found her again via Facebook. She’s the picture of success: a blond, beautiful Pilates instructor with a handsome husband and two little girls that look just like their mom. Jenna said her father died years ago from liver disease. It turns out he was a chronic alcoholic. He didn’t fit the picture we have of drunks. He was tall and mighty. He wore a suit and tie and drove a fancy sports car. And then I guess he smashed his sports car and lost their home and continued to fall away into nothing. It’s a sad story, for sure, but you know, it doesn’t have to end that way for any of us.

80-20 to 50-50

So how about that election, huh? Don’t worry, that’s all I have to say about that.

Every morning I get an inspirational text delivered to my phone. Most days it’s something I glance at and immediately forget because I’m not really struggling with anything. Some days it relates eerily well to something giving me trouble. Occasionally I have no idea what it even means, as was the case early last week with this message:

Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. 

I could not for the life of me figure out what that meant. I didn’t think to google it, or I didn’t want to, but I didn’t stop puzzling over what it meant. Then we were watching tv Friday night and it came up in the context of don’t settle for good when you can have better. The oddest thing in all of this is we were watching Basic Instinct (don’t judge me) so now I think maybe I hallucinated the whole thing.

The next morning I googled the quote, only in typical fashion I got it backwards and searched this:

The best is the enemy of the good. 

I like this quote better. It basically means stop trying to achieve perfection because it doesn’t exist. This led me to the pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule. Typically it’s used in business models, ie 80% of a company’s revenue may come from 20% of their customers.  I was more intrigued by the idea that it takes 20% of our time to complete 80% of a task. The remaining 80% of that time is often used to try and achieve a possibly impossible state of perfection.

Oh god, can I relate to this. The last, sizable step of any project I undertake goes to undoing my attempts at perfection.

Yesterday I read a post on why Good Enough Isn’t that hit home. The author talks about taking a break from something and coming back to it with a set of fresh eyes and making the needed changes to put the project to bed. He also talks about good not being good enough, which I also relate to. Good enough is dangerous for me because in recovery I’ve learned I must grow or perish. But growth can be slow, which feels natural and realistic to maintain in the long run.

This leads to middle ground, a compromise between both quotes. Good is enough for me until it isn’t. I usually know when this happens because I start to feel restless and discontent. When I started running earlier this year, it was because I felt tired of walking. It didn’t satisfy me anymore, so I started running and struggled like hell the first few months but stuck with it. Fortunately running offers an abundance of challenges, but even so I’ve tried to stay tuned to my body for signs of when I need to push ahead or even scale back my goals. This system seems to work for me.

One final thought on the 80-20 rule. I can’t focus on 100% of the things I want to change myself. I can’t even focus on 80% of them because 1) I’d fail 2) I know I’d fail so I wouldn’t even try in the first place so I’d, uh, fail. I’m much better off focusing on the top 20% of the things I need to work on. I’m comfortable relying on instinct to tell me when it’s time to move on to something else. I’ll continue to work on my burning desire to make everything perfect, aka a complete mess.

The answer lies in balance and finding and maintaining it. Good thing this seems to get magically, mysteriously easier to pursue the longer I am without a drink.

Perfect moment

Recently I realized a pattern whereby I take pictures of various subjects in mid-air, and it got me to thinking.

This was the first mid-air shot, which I took during the same restaurant festival that triggered the worst craving I’ve had for a drink in some time. Which? Passed as quickly as it came and seemed to take with it a general preoccupation with drinking I’d carried for some time. Go away, cravings, you have no power here.

This was the second mid-air shot I took at another festival a month or so later. They were putting on some bike stunt show and I whipped out my phone at the very beginning and got this shot and then put my phone back in my pocket so I could watch the show in real time instead of hours later on my phone screen, which I used to do before.

This led me to realize:

1) I go to a lot of festivals.

2) I am putting away my phone more and being rewarded with fluke shots I never would have been able to capture before. (I’m not saying these pictures would win any awards, they just make me happy to look at, and isn’t that what amateur photography is all about?)

3) I can relate a lot to the suspended state of these subjects.

Maybe it’s because I was there to see the ballerina land gracefully or the bike dude land, not so much gracefully as spectacularly, but I don’t concern myself with what happened before or after these moments. It doesn’t matter how they got there or what they do next – the moment we see is perfect and beautiful.

This was my favorite and most recent mid-air shot. It’s my kid jumping into a pile of leaves my husband carefully raked before Hurricane Sandy rolled in and blew them plus many others across the lawn. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood the day this was taken. I’m human and sometimes I get suspended in a state of funk or fuck you. Usually I get this way when I’m dwelling on something that already happened or might possibly happen in the future. This all feels very normal and inevitable and I’m not about to beat myself up over it. The moment passes and life changes, hopefully for the better.

I like this picture, though, because even though it might always remind me of the way I felt at the time, it captures a perfect moment of childhood. It makes me smell the sweet rot of leaves and feel the prickle against my face and in my hair. It makes me think of all those times in childhood I got to jump in the leaves, also completely (sweetly) oblivious to the number of spiders probably contained therein.

Is there any sweeter joy than being truly happy and at peace with what you’re doing and who you’re with? There’s some faint feeling of hope about the future and peace about the past, but you can’t look closely for those or that perfect moment will vanish. Perfect present moments never last anyway (only on instagram), but it’s comforting to know they’re happening all around and when I’m slow and quiet, I might feel one for awhile.

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