Tuesday
Jun042013

Emotional Residue

I’ve told some stories about my old friend, Skip, in two meetings during the last week and it’s been going something like this:

I was sober for around 5 years when my best friend, Skip, relapsed. I spent the next 2 years doing everything in the scope of my limited power to help him regain a footing in sobriety. We toured all of Michigan’s treatment centers, often driving for hours only to have Skip get us kicked out within minutes of beginning an intake assessment. We disappeared into the woods of northern Michigan, to let him dry out up there, only to watch him drink again in less than 30 days. And, as a last resort, we tried more than a few times to detox him at home, weaning him off alcohol slowly in conjunction with using benzodiazepines to keep his nervous system depressed so he didn’t have a heart attack and die in the goddamn living room.

It was during one of those home detoxes when Skip woke early in the morning and asked me to put my hand on his head. It was POUNDING and “pounding” is not just a fancy way of saying I could feel his heart beating. I could feel his heart beating but his head was fucking MOVING—it’s like his pulsating veins and arteries were damn near exploding. It was insane. Ever the teacher, he instructed me to keep my hand there as he drank half a beer and, as he guzzled, his throbbing head began to slowly relax until my hand no longer detected any movement at all.

Blew my fucking mind.

And, at the same time, it undermined the way I understood myself in terms of being an alcoholic because THIS—Skip’s physical withdrawal was alcoholism (an outright victory of my own alcoholism—I understand now—but nonetheless, that’s how I, age 26, sober since I was 20, eventually thought myself out of having alcoholism). I was drunk within 6 months and Skip eventually stabbed himself in the femoral artery with a buck knife and, full of spite and malice, painted the walls of his apartment with his own blood before he bled out and died.

So look for similarities; not differences.

That’s the advice lingering in that little parable and it’s sound advice. But here’s the deal. I’ve told this story twice—three times now—and something gets lost in translation when I use that story simply as a utilitarian means to instruct. Something is missing and its residue clings to me and makes me want to scream.

And I think it’s as basic as wanting people to know that Skip is more than a prop for me to illustrate 12 Step clichés. I loved that guy. I miss him. I think about him every single day and I just wanted to yell that somewhere and be heard. I was a witness to his life and worth on this inexplicable planet. And I hate him too. And there is something both constant and unstable about a mad rushing river that engenders comfort as one hurls profanities at the moon.

Saturday
May042013

I Said I'm Charming, I'm Dashing, I'm Rental Car Bashing

 

Wednesday
May012013

All The Gossip You've Heard About Me And Keep Googling Is In This Post And So Is Snoop Dogg

Sometimes being a dick catches up with you and you have to do something nice to balance the scales of justice or the scales of justice balance themselves and then it’s your ass.

So.

I’m going to run a sub 1:40 half-marathon in Chicago on July 21st to raise money for Megan McKeever and other kids with Juvenile Dermatomyositis. Afterwards, I’m going to be sore for a couple days and then my muscles will heal. But Megan’s muscles won’t ever heal until we find a cure and that sucks.

Read more about Megan’s story here.

The problem with asking people to cough up dough for charity is that you think you need to cough up $100 or whatever and you don’t. Snoop Dogg donated $5 earlier today and that’s awesome. $5 is way better than seeking self-knowledge, loving yourself, healing, and finding your Truth. It’s helping little kids.

Some woman named Patty said she’d match me $1000 if I managed to raise $1000. When I wrote this, I had $130.

Help me, Patty, and Snoop Dogg find a cure for JM by clicking here. Five bucks. Balance the scales. And, while you're at it, please use the buttons on the right side of the page to share on Facebook and Twitter. ~bhj

Give up dem Lincolns.

Thursday
Apr182013

Some Hearts Are Moons

My doctor likes to listen to my heart. He likes also to call interns into the exam room and say “Give this guy’s heart a listen, and tell me what you think.”

Placing the stethoscope on different parts of my chest, they look perplexed. Waiting the doctor out, they don’t venture a guess until he says “It’s nothing. Runner’s heart. Slow. Steady.”

“Yes,” the young woman said today, “but it’s not just the low rate, is it?” She moved the stethoscope again. And again. “The beat itself. It’s so calm. Gentle.”

And I knew then that I was a monster, that all my fire had turned to ice, that I was a student of the silver snow.

Saturday
Apr062013

Track 8

I was in a band for a couple months. I got really drunk one night, again, and Brian Glover told me to leave and never come back. Has anyone ever told you to leave and never come back? You get used to it. Most of that night is blacked out but there’s a fragment of memory that hangs somewhere in my mind like an old painting in an abandoned museum: outside, the amp was so fucking heavy; I was walking all lop-sided, holding it against my leg with my guitar in my other hand; snow bit my ankles like January snakes; I remember that alienated feeling once again that only the most selfish people can possibly know; but then I stopped, drunk and freezing, to stare at the moon; and it occurred to me that the hidden blessing of loneliness is a unique and singular relationship to things like the moon and being cold and the wildly vivid sensation of being alive against the backdrop of wishing you were dead.

It hurts like hell, sure, but you have to pay the price to shine in the dark.

All that to say I was in a band for only a couple months and yet I remember the ecstatic sensation of being submerged, losing myself, in the depths of a group effort. And sound. What calls us away into the truth of forgetting more intensely than music?

*

Though sometimes it’s a source of confusion and frustration, I’ve been recently fascinated by the slow deterioration of my memory. Intrigued, I imagine a kind of goop clogging up my neurons as I struggle to recall things that used to simply fire through my mind at will. I try to remember something from a few days ago and I feel neurotransmitters ramming into walls, clutching messages that get lost in the mail. Man, I used to be razor sharp—I remembered details like burdens—but I can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday without pausing to stare, sort through a few thoughts, and wait.

Which infuses the things that still possess the power to scar themselves into memory with curious significance and magic. No longer everything, why just these things? My daughter skipping across the crosswalk. The collection of 3 people at the bus stop when I run by in the early morning. Gwen, in her closet, looking at dresses. I remember some things in the vivid way that things happen right now. Why?

*

And then there’s this guy I know, Kris, at the end of the last song of the set on the first night of Listener’s most recent tour. Beating—and I mean BEATING—his drums about every 5 seconds until the song faded into nothing and we all became people again. Here’s the thing. I remember loving the song but I couldn't remember the song. Let me invert that for emphasis. I couldn’t remember the song, but I loved it—the formal aspect of loving itself voided of content. Except for that final image of Kris. Beating his drums so hard that he was doing more than beating drums.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe some memories stick because they’re more than what they are: some archetypal something else that’s always happening and constantly searching for ways to be memorialized in the images that populate our everyday lives.

*

The hidden blessing of loneliness is the moon shining through you until the January cold is a guy beating on drums like he’s trying to break you out of prison. We are not us. There’s a way out. Just hold on. There’s a way out.

The song referred to above is Track 8 on the band's latest unreleased album, so you can't hear it yet. But here's this. And this is, yeah, just listen.

Wednesday
Feb272013

9

Elle Bee. You are 9 today and everything is smiling. The fear that trembles at the heart of all things has turned to faith and confetti and a gentle song that everyone is humming. No one is lonely. Sadness is ruined. It’s your birthday!

*

Piaget and Erickson have a bunch of sophisticated ideas about where 9-year-old girls are supposed to be on the spectrum of childhood development, but I’ve forgotten all that college stuff. And who cares? You’re so much more than a child in a predictable stage. You’re infinitely more mystery than can ever be known. You’re a vast expanse of yellow flowers howling in the rain. You’re the wind blasting through the trees and the weeds. You’re a pearl.

But I want to share with you what 9 was for me in my personal mythology with the hope that you too will be so blessed. When I was 9, my 3rd grade teacher told me I was creative and that I would one day be a writer and these messages took root in the core of my selfiest self to form the seeds of my identity and the way I understood my place in the world. These ideas were the rock thrown in the center of my pond; the rest is just ripples. Everything I am rings out from being 9.

Who will you be?

I’ve wondered it since the day you were born: Who are you? Who will you be, little girl? But don’t worry. You don’t have to know. You will always be more than what you are.

*

As you turn 9, my favorite memories of you are seeing you come off the school bus—when you grab my hand and we walk home. You burst with stories. The sun bounces through your hair and all the trees lean toward you. I tell myself to listen to you. I tell myself to remember you. I love you so much that I imagine the whole world was designed just for you to move through, live in, and tell stories about. You are a guitar. You’re the very best song.

*

9 years ago, your mother and I started a little fire and you have burned my forest down. I don’t remember being a man who wasn’t your daddy. Alone, by myself, left to my own devices, I am not a very good man but you make me better. I want to teach you things. I want to tell you about the things I have read in books and show you the paintings that change what seeing means. I want to be an umbrella. I want to be glue. I want to crack your head open and let the sky flood in.

*

An artist. An accountant. A drug addict. A nurse like your mom. A used bookstore owner. A ward of the state with a rap sheet of felonies and mental health disorders. A journalist. A cashier. A mother. I will love whoever you become, however you unfold. There is no possible way you will ever appear in the world and not breathe in the atmosphere of me loving you. That will sometimes mean a lot and sometimes not at all, but it will nonetheless be constant and sure like the ground beneath our feet. There’s a sky filled with clouds and birds. There are mountains and rivers and ageless stones. Water assumes the shape of its container. Two plus two is four. You will laugh and cry. Your dad loves you.

*

It’s your birthday. Cake. Candles. Presents. Presence. Yes, I love all the past and future yous but none like the you right now, today, the one turning 9. The whole world and all its processes rush and converge into the explosion of you, a fountain, a thunderstorm, a fire, awe, wonder, a precious little girl. Yes. It all adds up to you. So laugh. Dance and spin. Swirl your dress and rip the doors off the house. Because you’re 9! Throw your stone in the middle of the pond; let the water ripple where it will.

*

Happy birthday, little girl. And many more, and more, long after I’m gone and I’m only a memory. Smile. And that will be me, a ghost, haunting your face.

Saturday
Feb232013

I Have Seen A Star

The moon tonight is a thorn in my side. Things are never what they are. That’s the best thing about everything. It’s always everything else. So the moon tonight is a teacher with a bunch of lesson plans about luminescence, receptivity, irrationality, and the wisdom of insanity. But you already knew all that. You did. I swear to God it’s already in there, swimming around inside you like a fish that loves to hide.

We could break all the rules, you know? Tell them all to get fucked and start a bunch of fires. Tip over cars. Take the city by storm. Do you ever feel like a storm? Sometimes I feel like I’m made of thunder and lightning. Never mind all those rumors about blood and muscles and bones. Those are metaphors. We could just as easily be made of thunder and lightning. Rain too. And fireflies that flicker in the dark like ideas.

We say things like I have an idea. But what’s that? A flurry of neurotransmission flashing through your brain, configured in a unique way that creates a new phenomenon that you call an idea. That you have? By what right do YOU claim ownership of involuntary neurotransmission? Aren’t you yourself, the idea of you, a product of this very same neurotransmission that creates the idea you supposedly have? Fireflies, man, flickering in the dark like stars.

See there? Ideas are stars. Thought is finally in the sky where it belongs. It’s not in your head. Never was. When we say things like I have an idea, what we really mean is I have seen a star. There’s so many stars, millions and millions, and none of them care about being right or wrong. A star’s only desire is to burn and shine with the hope of being seen. Did you know that fireflies ignite their flashes of light with the hope of attracting a mate?

Love, like everything, is always everything else. Sure, it might be an illusion created by an excess of dopamine flooding the pleasure pathway, the same thing that happens when you bowl a strike or boot heroin. But it’s also a fish that loves to hide in storms of thunder and lightning. Love can come and go in an instant when a firefly burns a hole in the dark. It shines, it’s seen, and it’s gone. But I think the best kind of love is looking at the stars all night with someone made of rain. So keep looking up. This is what the moon teaches like a thorn in your side. Thorns are found on the stems of roses and a rose is a rose is a kiss.

Tuesday
Feb052013

Irrational Happiness

Have you ever been so inexplicably happy that you want to write or yell or stop people on the street and tell them it’s going to be okay? For no reason you can discern? And I don’t mean I don’t have a helluva lot of things to be happy about. I do. It’s just that there’s not one particular stimulus to which I can currently point and say I am happy because… [happy stimulus].

As opposed to something making me happy, I feel rather that I am somehow happy on a subterranean psychic level that bestows happiness on everything it encounters. It’s hard to explain. Especially when being depressed seems to be the default for a whole lot of us. But I’m happy, I am, on some weird fundamental level and I want to smile at you.

The sky is a gob of blue cotton candy haunted by marshmallow ghosts. We could go to the graveyard, you and I, and I’d listen to you talk about your problems. What would they mean, all your problems, in that city of bones?

God, if we could—just for a bit—forget everything we think we know about all the things we think we know, we might maybe could then pluck fresh poems from the trees like outrageous ripe fruit and dance in the streets like philosopher clowns. Aren’t we about due, Dionysus, to at last free the convicts, lock up the police, and swap out the sound minds for the zaniness of craziness? I want to fuck like some starving to death thing that forgot the meaning of words. 

What’s a tomorrow without language? What’s a problem without opinions? What if we burned all the research and forgot all the theories? I’ll tell you what. Magic. Gods. Wonder. Awe. We might even learn to shut the fuck up, listen maybe, be stunned by the weird fact of our breath and the strangeness of having hands.

Pick something up. Eat a peach. Wash your hair. What the fuck?

I’m happy tonight, so completely, and I don’t know why. I mean. I took my kids out to dinner. I saw a picture of a very old friend. I’m sober. I listened to a wise old man tell stories. A woman loves me: purely, wide open, wholly. I could point at these things as causes but it feels a little off. Rather, happiness feels more like an atmosphere, an emotional climate, weather, perhaps a steady rain of candy and sapphires and neatly folded love letters that pour and splash into puddles of dollar bills around which crowds of joyous bums dance and rejoice.