A bright pearl has entered my constellation of cherished images, joining the likes of the moon and ice cubes and bridges and water and thieves and fire (burn it!). I keep finding pearls in my dreams. I notice them strung around the petite necks of women, on the lobe of a Vermeer, and the moon—it’s lately yearning to be a pearl. I don’t know why. Asking why insults the pearl’s bright white confusion of myriad colors that perhaps want to shine because shining is enough.
The images that populate my thoughts and writing are never derived consciously with the aim to symbolize things in a one to one type of meaning equation. That’s the way writers work and, lately, I’ve been feeling more like my life itself is immersed in some mysterious and unarticulable art project (artist unknown) as opposed to feeling like I want to craft little yarns spun by my clever ego.
Certain images become of their own accord important to me and they both invite and resist interpretation. Rich, ambiguous, open to revision, but always, first and foremost, the image itself—the bright pearl, not what the bright pearl might stand for or what it means. Rather, what it might mean shoots off the image like sparks, losing me on paths of reverie and wonder but always leading back to its original source, the numinous image that calls and beckons, the bright pearl.
I have already alluded to the pearl’s strange communion with the moon. 13th c. Zen Master Dogen Zenji had much to say about the bright pearl. Alchemical texts refer to the Dragon’s Pearl of Great Price in relation to the Philosopher’s Stone. There is the strange notion of the pearl emerging as a result of sand or grit irritating the oyster. And this—because we’re wandering—leads to metaphorical resonance with my being sober for a year today and the great irritable price of that sobriety.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, these are all just secondary sparks of potential meaning that lead us back to the bright pearl as the bright pearl. The image is always and ever the thing. We mustn’t forget to give our images the room and time to interpret, change, and go to work on us before we kill them with our premature interpretation of what they mean. Let the pearl pearl awhile. Let the bridges connect. Let the fire burn and burn and burn until the city smolders in black ruin.
My history of sobriety is cloudy and fragmented and so many people, myself included, have different versions of the story that I want to provide a quick outline of my relationship to alcohol and then swear on my mother’s life that I haven’t taken a drink in a year, a fact for which I’m grateful and humbled.
I drank the first time when I was 12 and I loved it and did it as often as I could until my first introduction to AA at 19. I stayed sober 90 days and relapsed during finals week of my freshman year at Michigan State University. I got sober again when I was 20, February 16th, 1992, and stayed sober until the day after Thanksgiving in 1998, making me 26. I got sober again when I was 30 on July 31st, 2002 and stayed sober until November 10th, 2008, another 6 year run. My wife at the time was out of town in Seattle for work and that’s the night I began my extramarital affair with Kate via Facebook. Not engaged in a full blown relapse of frequent drinking, I drank with Kate in Chicago, July, 2009, and again with Kate in New York City, August, 2010. I left my wife later that month and my alcoholism flared out of control. I drank with Kate in Edmonton, October, 2010, and my drinking all but ruined a meeting with Kate in Portland in February, 2011. I made efforts to quit after that but couldn’t string together any time until Mother’s Day in 2011 that lasted until November of 2011. The hardest drinking of my life was between November of 2011 and August 20, 2012, because it was an absolute secret to everyone. It was semi-controlled (infrequent binges), insofar as no one knew about it—not even Kate—but it grew and grew in frequency and exploded when my relationship with Kate ended in August, 2012. I drank from morning till night for 8 days, mostly blacked out, until I woke up on August 20th, defeated, shaky, and finished. I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and cried and cried and cried until I could finally stop shaking and consider alternatives to suicide. Pearls are created in an oyster’s reaction to sand and grit.
And here I am a year later, still alive, with a year of uninterrupted continuous sobriety for the 3rd time in my life. Good morning!
You may have noticed that my longer stretches of sobriety began when I was 20, 30, and this current year began when I was 40. I don’t know what that’s about but I honestly don’t believe I have room for another relapse and a recovery at age 50. I feel pretty done. Skeptics will wonder what’s different this time and I don’t know what to tell them. I can only say that, for the last year and especially today, for the first time ever, the 12 Step principles aren’t in conflict with the fundamental perspectives that shape my vision of what and who and where we are. In fact, the last year has created a forum for a very congenial conversation between the 12 Steps, Buddhism, the Post-Jungian psychology of James Hillman, and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. And if certain areas of this conversation do initially appear to be irreconcilable, I merely utilize Keats’ concept of negative capability to allow for contradiction and the ability to endure the tension without the irritable need for immediate resolution.
I ask for help.
I conceive of a Higher Power that evokes paganism and animism and a spark of life undermining the eachness of each thing in the inseparable eachness of each moment, all connected and mirrored in pasts and futures that exist only in the imaginative song of presence.
Which lately coheres in the image of the bright pearl. The last 21 years is a pearl. Sobriety is a pearl. Today is a pearl. Everything is a bright, bright pearl that both contains and displays its differentiated resonance while declaring itself above all as a pearl—bright, brilliant, radiant, an image that sings with the voice of luminescence.
I wonder. What images capture your imagination? What are the actual tangible things that call to you, alter, inform, and change the way you see and live your life? What makes you wonder? What speaks to you about the many different ways your life can mean? What images need you to tell their story?