"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009-End of a Remarkable Year

With Shelly & Lynette
The 950-mile drive from Santa Fe to Boise was a mix of mostly state and US highways that took us overnight through Pagosa Springs, Durango, and Cortez in SW Colorado then into SE Utah near Canyonlands and Moab early Wednesday morning. By midday, we were snaking thru the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City, then finally into Idaho by late afternoon.

I knew how beautiful southern Utah's terrain was, having driven it in '05, but had never seen the Wasatch between I-70 and Salt Lake on US-6. I hate to admit it, especially after regularly mocking Utah, but there's something alluring about the Land of Mormon. Salt Lake City's skyline is more powerfully dominated by mountains than any other I've seen; much more imposing due to proximity than even Denver's.

Inspired by the HBO series Big Love (and boredom), I spent a good deal of time playing ad executive; thinking of slogans I could sell to Utah and Mormon fundamentalists like Roman Grant. Picturing the billboards, magazines, and radio ads, I laughed so hard I nearly lost continence. Shalain? Not so much. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith's ghost likely sensed my attitude toward his state's fledgling theocracy and, wearing no magic undies to protect me, I believe he clearly conspired with Brigham Young to prevent weatherly cooperation. We had snow nearly the whole way from Northern New Mexico to Salt Lake City. What should have been 19-hours total was already 21 when we only reached Idaho- still a solid 3-hours from Boise.

I soon found myself once again on I-84 at the infamous Albion exit...for the third time in less than 18-months. The stretch of road between Pocatello and Boise is approaching I-40 in familiarity, second only to the now-tiresome I-25! I pointed out to a politely-interested (or keenly disinterested?) Laina some of my little landmarks from 2008 before we pulled into Boise around 8pm or so Wednesday night, exhausted but glad we had not waited until Wednesday morning to leave, as was our original plan. We were in town early enough to get (re)acquainted AND get a good night's sleep for New Year's Eve. Despite the weather and my initial misgivings as to its wisdom, in retrospect the beginning of this winter adventure really did work out perfectly.

Coming into Lynette & Dave's subdivision naturally invoked a flurry of Warm Fuzzies from September, and it again occurred to me that this was going to be the first time either Shelly, Lynette, Dave, or anyone here had seen me out of travel mode. The last time I had seen Lynette & her family, Chris and I were strapping on our packs and heading down a barren US-20 toward Caldwell. Laina's predicament wasn't lost on me; she had heard much about my drama's characters, but had yet to actually meet any of them. Now, she was about to be baptized by fire: meeting nearly all of my new family at once! I knew they were curious about her too: "How does she put up with you doing this?" was something I was asked 100 times over the summer!

Lynette came out to meet us walking up to the door, and it was as though I had never left. I gave her a big hug, quickly introduced Laina, then strode to the door to give Shelly a hug. Again: like I'd never left. I had to remind myself that it had been six-months since I had seen Shelly, and nearly four since Lynette. SIX MONTHS? Unreal. Ben & Brad were also there as were Dave's kids, Amanda, Mike, and Steph. The same cast as September. I kept telling Amanda & Mike I won't know what to do if I ever visit while they're at home in California. I'd miss 'em.

As I mentioned, I was exhausted from the drive and lack of sleep in the days prior to leaving Santa Fe. I blame my new supplements but whatever the reason, this fatigue led to one of the goofiest and nearly most awkward moments...ever. As I was introducing Laina to everyone, I was working very hard to keep names straight. I know everyone quite well, so normally: not a problem at all. Tonight? A slight problem! For a split-second, I lapsed Dave's name! I'm NOT proud of this, nor do I find it particularly flattering. I mention it only to submit to my sentence inside The Cone of Shame. In my defense, I was so tired that basic recall had begun to fail, and I KNEW it before hand. My radio background spared me the total in-the-moment humiliation in that I know to THINK AHEAD while speaking to be certain of what spews from my mouth. What was seen to unknowing eyes probably resembled Todd being a smartass...but I had to ask myself 3x if I got it right: "DAVE, right?? NOT DOUG? NOT DREW? Fuck! I'm losing my mind!" My shame is everlasting. Once again: Sorry, Dale.

A good night's sleep worked wonders for New Year's Eve. Lynette & Shelly took Laina shopping while Drew(?) & I hung around the house. He had gotten a telescope for Christmas and was learning how it worked, and after he showed me some of their home improvements, he brilliantly articulated something I had been struggling with for a month. It was something to the effect of: the more you're around family that you get along with and care about, and begin to have positive drama-free experiences, the more you want it. It took awhile for that to settle in and I'm not sure if he was speaking from my perspective, his, or Lynette's but it didn't matter; he hit on a significant portion of my drive to get here.

Going back to August/ September there are two things about Dave, among others: he's insightful, and has a way of getting to the point and simplifying things with a minimum of words. The first I respect. The second I admire because it's something I struggle with. I've become quite fond of "that husband of hers," and will be quite certain to challenge Ward & The Hens on their chosen scapegoat. Oh! my silliness! Ward & The Hens! Sounds like a Dukes of Hazzard spinoff. Or, Hugh Beaumont porn. Consider it trademarked; my intellectual property.

From there, Dave cracked open a new can suggesting that when I'm "done with this," Laina and I move to Boise. Shelly intends to move back there from Ohio sometime over the next year, so considering how little I like/much I hate Santa Fe, it's worth considering. In fact, back in October Laina and I discussed moving to Portland in order to be closer to everyone. I cannot stress enough how foreign it feels having, "move CLOSER to family" rattling in my skull!

The positive energy between Laina, Shelly, and Lynette was immediately obvious, and continued the "at-ease" I had felt in September; it was obviously not a fluke. All was well. All that was left to do Thursday... was ring in 2010! Food was prepared, and more importantly Dave was mass-producing his famous Rum Runners.

**Quick story about the Rum Runners that I've yet to tell: These concoctions are so good, that while at another friend Dave's, the harbormaster in Portland, I was taking pictures of a yacht entitled the 'Rum Runner' in order to pay homage to Sir Fogg's Wagon-Killer Brew. I was literally taking this picture when Andre and Cody sailed the MasterCraft in, and the Portland Adventure began. They're just that good!**

Stephanie and her boyfriend, Stewart, joined us as did Lynette & Dave's neighbors, Mike, Wendy, and Bailey. The drinks flowed and the food fed as we played a game of Apples to Apples before taking the party across the street for a game of Rock Band on X-Box. Having been deeply scarred by drunken karaoke a decade ago, I abstained. But, my sisters and girlfriend are apparently repressed rock stars. Never shy, Lynette took to the role of what can only be described as a cross between Belinda Carlisle and Sidd Vicious: singing the Go-Go's Our Lips Are Sealed while yelling at her band to, "get it together." Video exists. It's taken great restraint to keep it contained, and is now secured within a bank vault in Manhattan. Laina has applied great pressure to release it to the world, but despite that--I stand firm. Honor me.

This reminds me: I also repelled great temptation induced by Stewie, Steph's boyfriend. He spent the evening trying to coerce me to smoke and break my noble & righteous vow, but verily! I steadfastly refused. Despite slanderous claims that it was I asking for a cigarette, I am proud to say that due to my steel resolve in rebuffing The Stew, I have proudly hit the 8-week mark smoke-free. Also, a new hand-to-hand challenge from Young Ben was accepted, and while details are hazy at best, I'm happy to say that the young apprentice was once again easily vanquished by Ye Strong Arm of Errantry, again despite despicable, vile rumors to the contrary. Honor me! (When exactly did I become Lancelot?)

Stewart & Steph
While Sidd and her Go-Go's were reminding us all of garbage bag attire, Dave was taking odds on whether she'd see midnight. He wasn't convinced. At 9:30, she was a rock 'n roll tour-de-force; there was nothing stopping her and it became clear to me that Lynette and I could be trouble if the sun & stars happened to align beneath the banner of Bacardi or Blue Moon. By 11:00 she was in the fetal position- at home, asleep. I shook my head out of an odd sense of genetic familiarity, laughed, gave her a peck on the cheek, and wobbled back over to the Snyder's to welcome in 2010.

Shelly & I
As the new decade commenced, poor Mr. Snyder, or someone, mentioned politics...while I was drinking. Yeeaaaah. That should trigger Civil Defense Warnings. Eh, Chris? I'm surprised Laina didn't just bust a champagne bottle over my head as a public service, but some of her anecdotes involve Brad and Bailey (Mike's daughter) counting how many times I used the f-word. It appears that Mike, Wendy, and I were probably in agreement on most everything, but that's never stopped me from drunk-arguing before! Right, Chris? Dave hit it on the head the next morning, gleefully telling me that he "saw a side of me he'd never seen" in this drunken, nonsensical, circular political "conversation!" Guilty. But, I think it was a backhanded compliment; he seemed to imply that I usually make sense! I've intentionally tried to avoid the political/ social discussions around these folks in an effort to benefit them from the mistakes of/with others! Right, Chris? But dammit... sometimes that ranting little fucker breaks free. How do you discipline an unruly, chemically dependent pundit-child? I honestly have no idea how long Mike, Wendy, and I stumbled around inside the politics/religion (that too *cringe*) maze. I do recall having a terrific time, and considering Mike accepted my Facebook friend-request, I guess I didn't piss him off too much. That's a blessing... and always a good sign. Not all my acquaintances, or even friends, survive these! Right, Jason?

Over the last couple weeks of '09, and as midnight approached, I often thought back to last January-when Chris and I were pondering what we thought the year would look like. From NYE '09 in Denver to NYE '10 in Boise, 2009 was exactly what it should have been. And more. I don't know what I would have changed, other than the distancing of Pam and not meeting Skip. I do regret the faded relationship with Pam in the grand scope because we are closely connected whether we like it or not. Nothing can change that. And, Mike's enough of a brother!

2009 in a nutshell:

- The Veggie Bus
- Kim and the Cops in Tennessee
- Trent and Megan in Chesapeake Beach, MD
- Chris and I making our way by foot and thumb from DC to Lewes, DE
- The Beach in New Jersey
- The Corbin Cafe
- New York City
- Massachusetts to Michigan with Stacey.
- Meeting and spending most of June with Shelly, not to mention meeting my brother Mike & his daughter Ally, Ben & Brad, Travis, seeing my father for the 2nd time AND reconnecting with all my friends in Michigan after 10-15 years. Maybe the most relentlessly intense
5-weeks of my life.
- The week at the Iowa 80 & King Dirk.
- Learning about and processing Dennis's death. The eternal 5-hour ride.
- Devils Tower
- Leslie & Carthage, SD
- Joel, Don, Grand Forks, Williston ND
- Meeting Lynette, Dave, Mike, Amanda, & Steph in Boise
- Andre
- Port Townsend
- Meeting Amber

- House-sitting, selling the car, and PROCESSING PORTLAND
- Quitting smoking
- New Year's in Boise

And, this is just the inadequate cliff-notes version. Thanks to Chris, Bobby, Devin & Leif, Brian & Joey, Gus, Lauren, Mandela, Cody, Wendie, Katie, Fast Joe, and everyone else who made 2009 what it was! I wish I could list everyone, and as usual I wish I would have stayed in touch with more people. Maybe next year?

Wendy, Lynette, Dave, & Bailey

NYE Snowstorm

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12/29/09: To Boise or Not to Boise?

Spending New Year's Eve in Idaho began as a quick thought: possibly driving up for Thanksgiving. But, it immediately began to evolve because Shelly was flying out for the holidays, and it didn't take a ton of creativity to see the opportunity and symbolism of ending a remarkable 2009 with all of its major components, sans Chris & Andre, all together in the same place.

The surprisingly complex concept was brilliant in its seeming simplicity; implementation was not! Laina had long since made arrangements to return to Michigan over Christmas, meaning that the trip would have to be a quick one if she were to be a part of it. I went back and forth on the idea for the better part of a month, trying to be sure I wasn't spending too much energy on nostalgia at the expense of the future; it was quickly becoming obvious that if we rented the car and drove to Boise, my 2010 departure would have to be delayed as long as a month, possibly until February. All this for two full days in Idaho! Two days for a month? Every part of logic & common sense said this was silly, and around December 10, I phoned Lynette and told her that I just didn't see how this would work. Fortunately, common sense has never been my overly dominant trait!

Over the next week or so, my decision created a whole lot of quiet friction, the kind I have learned to pay attention to. The brand of friction telling me I'm off track regardless of conventional wisdom. This was an opportunity that was never going to come along again: to spend New Year's; no! THIS New Year's with Shelly, Lynette, Dave, Ben, Brad, Mike, Amanda, Stephanie...even Quincy & Dogg. To do it THIS YEAR was very important to me, and to simply blow it off because it may slightly "complicate January" was shameful, in direct contrast to everything I had come to believe, and resembled an "invitation to mutual apathy." An apathy that we've become all too familiar with for various reasons; I was not going to perpetuate if I could help it.

The beginning of a new decade was fitting as well: quietly reflecting on the last year of course, but also on the decades lost while consciously marking very real new beginnings. No, this obviously meant more to me than I realized and, one way or another, I was going to be in Boise, Idaho on 12/31...if not before. (Note to the wise: get out of my way when I decide I AM doing something!)

This is significant in more ways than one may realize, and this realization threw your humble scribe for a large-scale loop. I hate the holidays. Christmas in particular. With a passion not-of The Christ. I have a philosophically-driven disdain for the consumer-driven displays that drive the "Christ" holiday of course, but more important to this narrative is the source of silent pain it causes. Every Thanksgiving & Christmas is a reminder of what I don't have. Family. I've tried to spend Christmas with my mother, sister, and nephew over the years, but it's forced & contrived. We were there for my mother and out of a sense of guilt ridden obligation, not because we were family. Whenever I would look at my sister forcing her smiles on these holidays, I would hear her screeching, telling a 3-year old Todd how he was a "mistake." One of my first memories; that will sear one's vision of family and make one wonder about the "what ifs" of life...eventually of conveniently disclosed "mythical" family members!

With all this being said, it's not surprising that it is peculiar for me to attribute real significance to it, even New Year's. I've spent a few Christmases with Laina and her family in the years we've been together, and while they were nice, I've always been a bit uncomfortable. For one, it was difficult for me to figure out how to function within this foreign dynamic. But, more significantly I was left selfishly and habitually feeling victimized. I was riding in someone else's Bentley.

Who loves his metaphors?

I rarely see things while immersed in the moment so I had no idea why it was so important for me to do whatever it took to get to Idaho. I just knew that it was. 2009 was an incredibly powerful year where we altered many decades-old foundational perspectives. Most of that revolved around Lynette & Shelly and the time that was spent with them, and as silly as it may seem to some, reconciling it was important. It was important to SEE Lynette & Michelle in the same room. It was important for me to get a picture with the three of us together, and for whatever reason it was necessary to do it now. It was important to me to keep the momentum of '09 building, rather than taking for granted there would be other opportunities like this. There wouldn't. It was important to put forth the effort and make the sacrifice for this work. If that meant delaying my 2010 departure for a few weeks, so be it. I laughed when it dawned on me that perhaps this isn't so remarkable after all; maybe this is what families that care for one another do? Apparently (and amazingly), at least I do. It's always shocking to be introduced to a new facet of yourself. There would be much more of that to come!

I let Laina decide what she wanted to do, and that would lay the framework for my own visit. I was more-than-slightly pissed that spending more than 2-days in Boise was not even an option if she were to be part of it. Her dad had bought a ticket home...in July. I found that to be shortsighted on their part, especially considering everything that had happened even up until that point; I had just ended my Adventuriso Familia in Michigan. But, their shortsightedness was understandable. My 5-weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's have been a predictable dead-zone. Her decision would determine whether we rented a car or if I would just get a bus ticket north to surprise everyone on Christmas Eve. (Never mentioned that, did I Lynette?) That would have extended my stay by a week or so, but with Shelly flying in I calculated that there would be between 6 & 8 people already there. Plus, for the reasons above, I'm not generally at my best around Christmas! It would be far better to forgo my longer stay to give Laina an opportunity to meet this part of my family and to feel a part of all this beyond the support system.

Hearkening back to recent & familiar times, once my decision was made and I was willing to briefly postpone things in 2010, things fell magically into place. Laina flew to Michigan for her extended Christmas with family, while I spent the day of Our Redeemers birth sleeping and Skyping. Literally. I slept 'til 5pm fighting off a cold or something, then chatted via Skype with everyone in Boise. That was my Christmas; just like the old days!

"Hey... Todd"

When Laina returned on the 27th, we had a couple of days to prepare and by the time the rental was picked up on the afternoon of the 29th I was ready to go, but wondering if I had fabricated its significance. I had unwittingly set some high expectations...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Eve Mea Culpa

How's that for dramatic? To a degree, it's accurate but honestly I just wanted to use the cool title. In honor of the birth of Our Redeemer, I've decided to eliminate the full display of the f-word. For today and tomorrow, f*** will be presented as f***. Happy birthday, Jesus!

This was supposed to be a venom-filled rant tearing into some of the most basic of human weaknesses. I would like to say, "Christmas Eve is not the time for such things; I've been filled with the Holy Spirit!" That would be a disingenuous crock, although I concede that today is hardly the day to crucify anyone! Verbally or otherwise. I shant be doing much of that, but will offer a bit of some personal, clarifying insight into what's been happening with me over the last few months. It may or may not surprise you. What will surprise you is what made me realize it!

It would appear that these concepts of self-delusions and "faking beliefs" to fit a purpose have been much more powerful than I realized. It's inadvertently forced me to take another near-complete personal inventory, to "borrow" again from A.A. I've mentioned often that I've pummeled myself as much as Andre, Wendie, Chris, or anyone. It would appear, however, that I've been hammering away not only at me and my ego, but at the very foundation of my core-beliefs and looking for weaknesses. I was trying to actually CREATE then FIND fractures-of-inconsistency not only by provoking others, but myself. I must fascinate the mental health community! But, it's necessary. It bears fruit. What you've seen over the last 100 days is a public evolution!

The amusing part of this is how the simplest of things provided the proper perspective to see all of this from the inside. I was wrangling and trying to reconcile my agreement with Alison's violent rejection of "everything happening for a reason." A few scant months ago, this was a primary fundamental; synchronicity etc. Meanwhile, via the creepy-wonderment that is Facebook, I was reunited with a HS classmate, Jennifer, who commented on that post; on this very topic. In a flurry of thought, I realized that based on what she had read, she probably had NO idea that we were likely in near agreement on this. It was then thrown into momentarily crystal-clear focus exactly where I had ventured since returning to Santa Fe in September. I was continuing on a grand scale (and publicly) something I've done a hundred times in my journals over the last 5-years: subjecting my ideas and beliefs to brutal beatings to see if they'd survive. Or if I was just full of shit. As Chris so eloquently put it, I was "beating the f**k out of myself." Guilty. Not surprisingly, Chris is also of the opinion that I should be easier on myself. And by extension others.

Not surprisingly, I told him to go f**k himself. (Kidding. Or am I?)

So here's mea maxima culpa quod explicatus: If you've yet to notice, I tend to be a bit unforgiving & impatient of those searching for, or walking along the path I have perhaps already stumbled! My frustration (and anger) is born out of legitimate concern and love for people, believe it or not. I wasted too much time assuming "someone or something would show me the way" before realizing I was the one I was waiting for. So, realizing that, I have what I consider a gift I desperately want to give to myself 15-years ago! But, after digging thru my journals I was reminded of some things I learned a long time ago, and had apparently neglected to remember:
Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.

"When someone is seeking...it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything...because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal."

And my favorite: "The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught." -Hermann Hesse

In short: Sit the f**k down, and shut the f**k up! Sound familiar?

Before accusing me of backtracking, bite your tongue! Nothing would be further from the truth. Self-delusions are a peculiar human epidemic, but alas: perhaps they must be for the vast majority of people. We're born, bred, and die immersed in illusion. If you don't believe that, imagine a year long power failure. In this presentation, comfort & illusion are what keeps most of us sane; from contemplating the reality of mental/societal slavery. Huxley's SOMA, or Cypher's Matrix. Take your pick, but people...
"given the choice, will select entertainment...over information; citizens will prefer to have someone else handle the responsibility for their lives rather than face the burdens...; we will willingly choose slavery over freedom. Political and intellectual slavery are noting more than accepting the security provided by a benevolent authority."-Donald N. Wood Post-intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy p. 211
This is a quote that, when I first read and contemplated it, rattled me out of my progressive stupor. That being said, it's vital to understand one simple thing: I've not been intentionally attacking man-en-mass. My method is to attack ideas. The manipulation of truth/self-delusion is an idea that is, unfortunately, attached directly to the individual; identifiable on an individual level. Identifiable in all of us if we look hard enough. (Notice I didn't say "long enough"; it's there right now!) I used my previously futile attempts to quit smoking, and how the identification of them helped me to quit last month in order to illustrate it in myself. I could use many more over the last few years. In fact, I already have. Those on the email list already know, after 14-emails, what I'm talking about! I'll elaborate for the rest at the end, but if you look to the right side under archives, you'll see "2006" has appeared. So shall 2004, 2005, and 2007 very soon. Wendie (for me) and Andre in particular were powerful examples but, unfortunately, so am I. In fact, I'm living in a town I despise because of these self-delusions! Allow me over time to illustrate.

All of this probably wont mean much to my pathetic blob o' blogosphere. It's an egotistical waste of time to "try" to educate people. It's arrogance to believe you can intentionally instigate a Magical March to "Enlightenment." Why am I doing this then? Good fu****g question! It's alot of work! But, I've found my "voice"; it's just something...I...must...do. Like departing in the first place: it just must be done. That's the one thing I've written that will make artsy douchebags smile! Don't get cocky hippie; that ain't an opening.

Once I add a bit more to "2007," you'll get more of a clear understanding of what I mean by "voice." I'm not referring to the Moody Blues song The Voice or the internal compass I've repeatedly referred to. This time, I mean the message that some people feel compelled to convey. Comedians struggle to find theirs, as do radio folk. I never quite got there consistently while behind a microphone. I had access to the ideas, passion and fire, but never had the proper, comfortable venue. It's hard to talk seriously about the illusions of life between live reads for Bob's Used Car Palace and Connie's Fecal Art Emporium. Capiche? That voice is something I've been struggling to harness for a long time but as Herr Hesse just pointed out, my voice needed me to just let go. Again, one of those things that are likely to sound like jibberish unless you have a frame of reference.

That's been my week. How's yours been?

Tomorrow's Christmas, and I have a gift for all of you! This 100-days has ended. No more Don Quixote. No more self-delusion. The topic may come up again later of course, but now it's time to turn my head to what lies ahead, and there are some grand things! Laina & I are going to Boise for New Year's to meet my "new" sisters, Lynette & Shelly, and my nieces and nephews. (Not sure if Dave's kids consider me an uncle but to hell with it. I'm lumping them in!) Shelly's flying in from Ohio for the holidays, so we figured this was a ready-made opportunity to introduce everyone. Just as important to me: it's symbolically fitting! Considering what 2009 was, ending it and kicking off a new decade with Lynette & Shelly is perfect and needs to be done if at all possible. I'll write more on this after Christmas.

Is it me, or does he look like Val Kilmer c. The Doors?

After Boise, I'm literally days or weeks away from setting off again, this time for the ENTIRE YEAR 2010! Thanks to Katie, several Craigslist bargain hunters, and eliminating cigarettes, I've figured out how to budget from January thru December. Details are slow in coming, but I'm steadily zeroing in on a departure date, likely the middle of January but possibly sooner depending on how things go in Idaho.

Let me know if any unaltered f-bombs snuck through.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Honesty & Courage: Alison & Brittany

I've said many times: Beware of those who offer quotations with nothing original to add to them. Unaccompanied by some sort of personal insight, it's an implication of intellectualism; usually a lazy attempt to replace original thought with dictation. It's easier to be told what to think than to figure it out for yourself; to let others speak for you rather than speak for yourself. But, since relying on others work appears to be en vogue this week....

On display below are what I consider pinnacles of internal honesty & courage. I had been trying to figure out how to present these after finding them over the weekend. Whether to re-post them as-is or at all. Chris has, unwittingly, provided my vehicle.

After reading these, ask yourselves how Alison and Brittany, two women suddenly ejected far from sheltered, privileged, hopeful lives, would react to the notion that the benevolent Universe provides exactly what we need, all the time. Actually, you won't need to ask Alison. She tells you outright, and with emphatic brevity!

I've decided to post two of these, in the order I found them. The first is from Alison's MySpace page:

Alison say's:
It is what it is...The End. Oh, One more thing. F**K cancer!

grateful grateful

I enjoy being alive. I'm grateful for every day that I wake up and see my son. I think the stupidest saying ever is "Every thing happens for a reason". That is absolute f**king bullshit. It is what it is and that is it. If you don't agree you can explain to my son why he's motherless... Of course I'm not dead yet, and don't feel like punching out yet either. My game is still on.

-Alison died from breast cancer on 9/13/09; the day I was having the "dramatic" conversations with Andre in Portland.

Brittany's will take much more effort on your part, it is actually a paper that she wrote at Colorado State (I believe). It's raw. It's honest. It's personal. Considering its context, it's some of the most courageous and powerful writing I've ever read. While eloquent, it displays beautifully the difference between having a "vocabulary" and having a "voice." I'll elaborate in the following post; I want these to stand nearly alone.

FROM http://www.brittanybarzee.org/

The first story posted below is a paper that the Britster wrote for one of her college classes. The second story is something I recently came across. I wanted to share both, and even felt strongly that she wanted them shared because in her own words – as the great writer she is –recreates moments that you may not have been able to be there for, puts your mind at ease about things that may have worried you, and straight up tells you how she feels about a lot of things. I hope you enjoy reading these from Brit herself and feel a little closer to her in doing so. -Jessica Barzee

Learning to Live
by Brittany Barzee

Going to the doctor will be the death of me. I can’t think of a time not getting a panic attack in those waiting rooms for a doctor I didn’t really know. When sitting in these exam rooms, I never looked forward to sitting on the crinkly paper that moved as I shifted uncomfortably and gazed around the room at the plain looking paintings. They all have the same sterile smell, the same strange looking instruments, and the same starched white coats. With this it only seemed to get exponentially worse after a couple of unexpected hospital stays, misdiagnoses, and wrongful lectures about my fertility. This was all in about the span of only a couple of months.

And after the countless times of sticking my legs in the air, the baffled look of doctor after doctor, they finally uttered the words I knew I was going to eventually hear. As I gradually learned the gravity of the word “cancer,” doctors confined me to a hospital, the only thing they seemed to know to do. The captors kept coming in and out of my giant hospital room, the same grave looks on their faces. They stood next to the balloons, glanced around at all the flowers I never kept, cookies I never ate, and they got the scrunched brow, the limited eye contact, and the ruffling through file papers to give results. I never thought I would be told to write out a will, or live my life for “quality not quantity.” But I refused to be given an expiration date on my life, and demanded doctors grant me good bedside manners. When they spoke, it was like I was trying to swim across a river and everyone around me kept giving me things to carry to the other side, pushing me this way and that way, and still yelling at me that I could never do it, I’ll never successfully get across.

How I came to loathe those reclining hospital beds, complete with scratchy blankets and flat pillows. My vulnerability and weaknesses were visible for all who saw my file, or even entered the room. And before knowing the gravity of my “sickness,” there was a particular concern for my fertility; this was me thinking about my future, ten years ahead of me, still a goal that could be feasible. Since my doctor seemed to refuse to talk to a young female such as myself, he decided that giving my diagnosis to my family behind the large, closed doors would be best. It was when he finally walked in to speak plainly to me, I seemed to emit my uncertainty to the man we’ll call Dr. Johnson.

“Dr. Johnson, I really want to talk to you about something,” I looked up at his mustache as he cocked his head to one side. “I really want to look into having my eggs saved to be frozen, for later.”

“Brittany, I don’t think you need to worry about that right now. That’s not what you should be thinking about.”

“Well, it’s a big deal to me, and I want to look into the future, no matter what happens right now.”

He shook his head, once again dismissed my thoughts and concerns, patted my hand as if I were a child asking for candy. “That’s not in the plans right now.”

There was a second of silence, as I regrouped in front of this doctor who had seemingly sealed my fate. I refused to not be taken seriously. “Okay, well I need to do this. I don’t care. My fertility is really important to me. You need to start taking me seriously and the things I’m asking for.” And finally, he broke.

“Brittany, you don’t have time to be doing that. You have six months to live. Why would you be wanting to do that?” His raised voice freaked me out. Heaven forbid I refused to accept that statistic. “You have Stage Four cancer,” he continued, his voice revealed nothing but facts and science, statistics that gave him his nice white lab coat. There was nothing for me to do but lie there, sobbing. “Do you have $10,000 to do this procedure? You don’t have time to do that, it’s not possible.”

“But I want to. I don’t care,” maybe I was wrong to keep arguing through each sob, squinting through my tears.

“You know, you asked me to start treating you like an adult, well you need to start acting like one.”

I attempted to gather myself, then reply, “I am. I am. Handing this. Very well. All things considered. You don’t know. How this is. So don’t tell me that.” I struggled for words and assertion, but I did my best. As if I didn’t feel alone and isolated enough in my world, this man had just made it much darker. Soon after that he left, probably unconcerned with anything I had said, unaware of the fact that my nurse promptly came in and pumped me full of anxiety meds to calm me down, and pain meds to numb me up.

But not soon enough to prevent me from freaking out. My one ultimate freak out with no one in the room to see me, notice that the bus had just hit me in the face. But I must not cry, I must remain strong, for everyone else. In those cold moments after learning the truth, I came to the conclusion there is no God, no God for me. Who would leave me so alone, ask me to look death in the face without warning, or rules as to what to do. They never teach you in school what the proper answer is to “You have cancer.” There is no real response. Only silence. And people staring at you, as if they expect to see you deteriorate before their eyes.

I’m a middle child out of six kids, and I learned quickly to not rock the boat, and to simply remain unnoticed, as to not cause more stress to my Mom. The information I had learned about days before, and took in stride, was staring me in the face. A bleak future, barely a future. A week ago, I was getting ready to start just another monotonous, uneventful year of school. What’s six months from now, June? Doctors and their sciences will be the death of me.

After the tears, the shouts, the arguments, and the denial, the reality lives. Words I never thought I would hear, let alone words said to my twenty one year old ears, still seemed like words from a dream. A dream I had to live with and endure each day, without any choice or control over any of it. Chemotherapy, fentanyl drugs, pre-med steroids, and platelet levels make me uncomfortable. Just like breezy hospital gowns, IV bruises, and losing my hair. I loathed sitting in the waiting rooms full of people three times my age, and had to learn to be comfortable with the fact that people assumed I had been promiscuous and gotten cervical cancer. But until they found out that I had done nothing to warrant or contract this, doctors told me it was a complete and utter fluke, I let them live in their judgment, it wasn’t worth my time.

All I really wanted to do was go to class, be a poor college student that works in a restaurant. I wanted to smile again, let my long blonde hair down and go out with friends. When would I be allowed to joke and laugh and live life like I always did? I had been doing all the things I needed to do, was supposed to do, and should do. I talked to my mom regularly, and called my siblings on birthdays. I went out on the weekends, and always went to work on time. I blasted music and sang in my red Pontiac, and kept in contact with people from high school. I rarely wore sweats or hoodies to class, and I went to the gym a few times a week. Will I ever get that back?

Thoughts overflowed my brain, and I was powerless to get out of that hospital bed. My best friend, Megan, who had slept in the hospital bed with me the first night, and then scrounged up covers and couches for every night after that, stayed by my side even when my family drove in from Missouri. She had been my taxi driver, my cook, my confidant. She stayed through the roller coaster of emotions, observing quietly, taking in all information, and filtering it out to various others, as if she were somehow my inadvertent publicist. But she did it with grace, asked nothing in return, and I will be forever indebted to her for that. My older sister, practically my twin, sat on my bed as we attempted to make sense of what we knew. But there really was no way to fully make sense of this, so we cried.

“Brittany, I just don’t know if I can do this without you. I mean if you’re supposed to go, then we have to be okay with that, I guess,” she said through the tears.

“I know, but I’m not gonna die. I can’t. This can’t really be happening.” I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t process this information, much less fight against what everyone was telling me. Of all people, I couldn’t have my stubborn sister succumb to this fate I had been set upon. Not yet at least; I needed a wingman, someone who would laugh in their faces as I had wanted to do. And even as I replay those events over and over, I should’ve done or said a million other things.

“So, I know you like the name Charlotte if you had a girl someday, but what about a boy?” My sister asked me.

“I always liked the name Gabrielle, remember?”

I replied, we had talked about this many times.“Would you ever want me to name one of my kids after those names? I would be honored to do that.”

After giving my consent, wanting to have some part of me to go on, even just a stupid name, I rested easier knowing my sister really would keep her promise to me no matter what happened. She had offered her blood for a transfusion to me, as well as kidneys, and after the potential of my not having children of my own, to be a surrogate, if that time ever came. I needed her strength, a plan of action to make it through this chaos.

Mom tried to be just as strong, although I knew that when my eyes were closed, or she was in her hotel room, she secretly fell apart behind closed doors. As the quintessential definition of a good mother, she used to leave notes in our lunches, snacks after school, and never ending hugs. She devoted everything to me, even the simplest tasks of rubbing my back or putting lotion on my bloated legs. We all sat and watched television, read, colored, or did cross word puzzles, anything to distract and keep us busy in those long and tedious hours, trapped within the bland walls of the hospital. I learned to let my mother care and worry over me, if only to let her have the illusion of control over a small part of the disaster around me.

Eventually, I went home, back to Fort Collins which had become my home, and would remain my home through this semester. Perhaps it is because I’m stubborn, but I had to stay, had to go to school, keep some semblance of normalcy in a now unsure world. Criticism, concern, and condemnation filled my ears during every conversation, with every person in my life pointing to a road and saying “go home, one way or another, go home.” Apparently, I had to live defiant; to have control over a life that wouldn’t ever be the same. As I would sit myself upright in my hospital bed, I attempted to not reveal my shaky voice, for fear of someone who could take advantage of my uncertainty and drag me back to a place I had despised. No one had dealt with anything like this, but Megan I felt, had lived a particularly charmed life. Even my best friend, who was also consequently a roommate, disagreed. “Dude, it’s not that I don’t want you out here. Of course I want you to be out here.”

“Okay, well what do you mean?”

“I just, I don’t think you’ll have the best care out here, with us I guess.” She looked down at her hands, avoiding some eye contact, though not hard to do with the dim lights of the hospital room.

“Look, I want to stay. I need to stay. You know more than anyone how much I don’t want to go home. I mean, no I don’t think I’m a failure for going home or anything, but I just feel like staying here is where I need to be. It’s not like I won’t have doctors, and I really do have a good support group out here.” I felt like I had something to prove, once again defending my reasoning and rationale. After significant quarrels and questions, like a best friend only could reassure, Megan simply said, “Okay, I’ll respect that. And we will do our best.” We meaning her and Julie, my other roommate and a close friend, all of whom had taken on the burden of me. I guess it took me a while to realize that cancer hadn’t just struck me, just me physically, but everyone around me was also in this for the long haul. Each morning comes more realizations of the need to search for normalcy. Each morning comes trudging out of bed, feeling not just a day older, but wondering if the fight is being won. I had to get used to the mindset of needing Megan or Julie (both roommates still remained in our condo) to be there to make my food because I sure as hell couldn’t get off the couch to do it. Or they had to be there to help me rinse out my mouth, for fear of developing sores in my throat. But I didn’t know what to do when I started to seriously forget things, a sure side effect of chemo. They’d ask what I had watched on TV or what time my next doctor’s appointment was, and I honestly could not remember.

I felt foolish and elderly, helpless and burdensome. I was going outside of anything called a comfort zone, by having to give up serious amounts of pride, and learning to allow others take care of me. Mixed in with this was trying to prove to myself, and my roommates that this was the best choice to stay in Colorado. The deal remained that the day I could no longer get up the stairs to my room was the day I booked a ticket home. But I stayed kicking it in Fort Collins. I had been used to being ignored or blowing things off for fear that those around me would be annoyed with me, stop caring or basically cease to be there. No matter how childish these thoughts and ideas were, they still existed as clearly as having a time table for my life.

Perhaps it was the constant calls or text messages, or the promises of fun things to do when I was to come home, or the fact that she got jealous when my sister Jessica got to come see me, but I really missed my Mom. I wanted more than anything to curl up in her lap, as she would always allow me, no matter what age. She took such pride in being a mom, a good mom at that. But I knew that as crazy as it seemed to everyone else, I had to stay in Colorado for a while, I had to remain away, for whatever reason, perhaps just to be difficult like I knew I could be. The constant conversations with my Mom were just little reminders of how much she missed me, and also gave her more things to talk about and update the constantly questioning friends and neighbors. Sometimes, this was when I became more stoic, not wanting any detail to be spared to the always unsatisfied public. I once again closed up, even to my own Mother.

And then when the pain came back, as it inevitably does, I become even more vulnerable, powerless, and I imagined what exactly is going on inside. Maybe it’s spreading even further than my lymph nodes and abdomen and uterus. Maybe it’s dying. Maybe I am. I can never really know, and neither do the doctors. These were the days that it took everything in me to not scream and cry to the sky, and to that God that had promised me a long life, full of good things, and I had been portrayed. I wanted to just quit, check out, or take a lot of drugs to numb the pain and dull my senses. Of course, I never really followed through, but it’s more difficult than I had imagined to have virtually no choices in anything and everything. Nobody knew exactly what ran through my head, and it took many interventions for us roommates to get on the same page, learn to communicate about this messed up situation. Why would I want to share the dark dreams, the deep hurts, the deathly thoughts, when both of them already had plenty to deal with, I couldn’t keep the burden going. And especially for Megan I had to keep on a good face for her, despite our long talks at night, or the occasional crying fest, if only to protect her from the darkness that I battled.

So they’d talk about what would happen if I “kicked the can” or what would happen if I didn’t show any sign of improvement. Thankfully and not to my surprise, I did and I have made strides. Even so, I felt anxious as to not convey the depth of my pain, or the extent of my dependency on various drugs. My roommates started color coding my pill bottles to keep them straight, and served me hash browns and scrambled eggs on a regular basis, one of the few things that sounded good and didn’t make me puke. Conversations steered toward what I was able to eat and how I felt, as opposed to what we were doing that weekend or any new hot guys in classes. Instead, everything became completely and utterly predictable. It all became a prison to me. A person who had been so active, working and going to school taking 18 credits a semester, was now virtually confined, no control, no escape, no end. This was my sentence. And I had no idea what I had done to get this.

Inevitably, the calls start pouring in, the inbox fills up, and the mail man probably wonders why I’m getting tons of packages. The sympathy, the prayers, the concern, the dismay, all written on faces of people, and I still don’t know how to take it, accept it, or understand it. When I had scoffed or secretly judged people who sent me bible verses or small quotes probably taken from some desktop daily calendar, I now cried at them. Words I needed to live for, because without them, maybe I wouldn’t be able to be alive. Things I had taken for granted, no longer mattered. I cried at silly commercials, was touched when a friend sent me a text saying “I love you, and I miss you.” But always in the back of my mind was where I wondered “is it out of obligation, kindness, duty?” I could never tell.

So, I sat on the couch, memorized times for the daily shows I watched, attempted to attend classes, and shove certain thoughts out of my head. I put aside magazines, word searches, and seasons of ‘Friends’ and made sure my family knows I’m doing “just fine” each and every time I talk to any of them. But everyone reaches a breaking point, and in these long, winter days, I had finally reached some point of that. Where was God with all this? That omnipotent presence I had been searching for, for so long seemed further than ever, had ultimately abandoned me. I had already been mad at God for so long, turning my back on so many of my beliefs. This could only further broaden my divide from the divine, allow me to continue to be pissed off and silently scream at the sky to a God that affirmed how much He hated me. After being questioned and constantly interrogated about fatigue, nausea, and limping, I try to not think about how abnormal my life has become.

I still see people and think about what I wouldn’t give to be in their shoes, to have graduated from college, to live to be married and have children. How nice would it be to have a career, to be accomplished? I think of the things I had taken for granted, things I had assumed would always come my way and figured that because I’m alive I would just naturally come across these pleasures. I would give anything to look cute and well groomed, ready for a regular day, versus the no make up, rolled out of bed look I inevitably have to sport. And yet, I have to face everyday hoping I don’t get a blood clot, or try to be excited when I can get up and go to school for an hour. I still see people, and consciously try to not resent them because they aren’t supposed to go through certain things, or understand and value health, like me. I suppose this is what it took for me to learn to value my health. I’m young, I assumed I was invincible and obviously I’m not. I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

Each day, more and more leaves my body; pounds or hair, emotion or tears. Chemotherapy treatments find me sitting in lazy boy recliners, talking “shop” to other patients about shaving my head and having the right “shine” on my soon to be bald head. Along with getting to know certain nurses, I get to know what arm is best to get a blood draw, as well as trying to protest against having to take more medicines and supplements. Suddenly, the day comes where I realize I can’t keep pulling out clumps of my thick blonde hair. Everywhere I sit, a trail of hair follows, cascading down my back, though not in healthy waves but in broken up pieces, shriveled up because they couldn’t take it being attached to my head, couldn’t take the trauma. I decided to practically stop bathing, as it does virtually nothing but give me bald spots and clogs up my drain uncontrollably. I don’t do activities that cause sweat or any odor, so I get away with it fairly easily, although I could practically kill someone if only to give me the ability to run a couple miles. Fill my lungs to the fullest, and have sweat dripping from every pore and feeling like my legs would give out on me. But only if I could be normal, not the broken or damaged or defected body I have lived with. Then I realized my wardrobe consisted of sweatpants and t-shirts, and I’d have a good day if I can make it to the refrigerator by myself, despite how slumped over or how much limping is necessary.

Questions fill my head, continuously and without any real result. Maybe I should have gone back to Missouri and let my family take care of me, and perhaps my roommates really are talking bad about me behind my back, constantly analyzing my every move. Does everyone really think I’m going to die? Maybe some people have already buried me. Should I pick out a funeral playlist? Maybe it’s time to write out that will. Everyone dies. But not at twenty one. No, I can’t let myself think like that. I can’t freak out and leave everyone here because all they would do would be pissed off at me for leaving. I already know what it feels like to have that happen. I know how funerals go of those who left this life with an untimely death. Being involved in theatre and fine arts all through my life, I’d learned that family is not always blood related. And losing a member of that close knit family to a car wreck during an ice storm in January, not only put mortality in perspective, but also grieving. And even after it had been five years, there is still little closure for Jeremiah’s death since he had to be cremated; his body had been so mutilated by semi trucks after he was ejected from his car into oncoming traffic. I saw how much it hurt to lose a dear friend, I couldn’t become the next one, even over a slow period of having a deteriorating body. Is it bad that I sometimes worry that it could be me next? Is this all really mind over matter, or am I simply just stupidly optimistic, grasping at unattainable dreams and goals? I’m twenty one. Most kids my age are out having the best sex of their lives, getting wasted with trusted friends, and prepping for midterms. And while they all made plans for Spring Break, I planned for chemo treatments, and hoped that this week is more tolerable than the last.

You know, everyone says you learn to value things and learn to look at the “little things” in life when this happens. So, is that why I’m feeling nauseous with every good thing I eat and drink, or why I feel like I’m running a marathon when I try to go to Target with my roommate? Is this all to help me appreciate the leaves in my backyard, and the days when I’m feeling “normal?” Or value the art of meditation, and giving daily reports on my bodily functions? Each little thing becomes a battle to defeat, whether it’s getting out of a car, or making sure I’m not ever too far from a bathroom. I feel like I’m about seventy five years old.

The day came when I decided to shave my head. I vacationed in L.A. for a weekend with my sister and a couple of close friends. Everyone wanted to buy me things now, so the guy shaves it for free. It’s a good thing I don’t have big ears or huge lumps on my now vulnerable, but hairless melon, as my friends have come to call it. I decided I’m grateful for wigs, drugs, beaches, and not being the only one to have ever had cancer or something physically “wrong” with their body. Thank God not only for the person who invented the wheel, but the wheelchair. I may not have been able to go to the beach or even get out of an airport without it. I have to say that wheelchairs are the best kept secret to getting through long lines and security, but not without the hassle of strangers’ baffled looks wondering why the hell a girl my age, who looks well enough, should be in a wheelchair, let alone pass them in line. What they don’t see, is me trying to stand up straight, not have labored breathing and beads of sweat dripping down my forehead during my attempt to feel the same. The red purse full of medicines, masks, and other things to keep me looking foolish having a germ phobia doesn’t exactly help my case either.

As people keep calling me, checking on me to see if I’m alive, they pour in sympathy and the awkwardness of not knowing how to deal with this, not that I really blame them. I don’t need pity, I don’t need more self-help books. Normalcy is the only thing I crave because it’s the biggest thing I lack. I just lost thirty pounds on the “cancer diet,” as I call it, and I have a port sticking out of my chest that makes me look like Frankenstein. I have no use for razors anymore, as no hair grows, anywhere. My arms would say I could be a heroine addict based on all the scars and bruises that notoriously line each arm. And those people that continue to ask “what my opinion is about death” should probably go think about it for a while themselves, and then come back to me. In a world that seems to now be spinning twice as fast, it would be nice to let it slow down for a bit, not only to notice those leaves in my backyard, but for a good healthy laugh that makes my side hurt from happiness, and not pain.

-Brittany died from cervical cancer on the morning of August 7th, while I was writing about Dennis, and 10-days before I left for Devils Tower. From the Update page:

10 August 2009 - The family will receive friends tonight from 6-8pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; 1416 SW 19th St. Blue Springs, MO. A celebration of Brittany's life will be Tuesday at the church at 11am. The obituary was in the KC Star Sunday, and can be viewed here. Thanks for all your prayers and support.

4 August 2009 - Brittany was recently placed in the ICU at KU Med... and she wasn't really a big fan of that. SO, she has made the decision to come home under hospice care so she can get back to her bed, take a hot bath, be with her family, and play with her kitty cat.

On Brittany's website, there is a Pay Pal link to a fund for Brittany's medical expenses. If you've even considered buying these pathetic excuses for photgraphy, please give the money to her family instead. Follow the "Walk for Our Sister" link. Not a bad "gift idea" for the holiday season, and I'd encourage you to spread the URL too.

These were, obviously, powerful, seemingly random middle-of-the-night finds that struck like lightning, holding high the metaphorical mirror in which I first saw myself, then others. They literally brought me to the brink of tears; that's not easy to do! I neither effort nor claim to prop myself upon a pedestal beside Alison or Brittany. Yet, I can tell you that I admire nearly no one. I admire and on some level now consider both of these women a personal voices of conscience. They've set a new standard for inner-courage and honesty, and provided a powerful antidote to our expected "sufferance" of selfish, comfortable rationalization. I'll save the rant 'til next time.

Notice, neither of these women were "professing" some personal doctrine or philosophy nor claimed answers of any kind. They were simply being honest: first with themselves, then by extension with whoever chose to read their stuff. Their examples have conjured up feelings of both shame, quiet anger, and the unavoidable, "If they can face and share truth, what the fuck are you afraid of?" screaming in my skull. I know it's "hard!" Yet, silently asking that question has emboldened me simply due to the harsh, honest introspection I myself have, and feel I continue to display. Declarations like that won't make many superficial friends, and will likely cost (more) frivolous acquaintances. I've quietly learned not to make the cowardly assumption that this will make me an "island." Hardly! It makes one a beacon to "men" rather than feeders of a meandering flock. It's simple: at some point I expect people to man-up, or shut up. When that point arrives is in direct relation to the amount of shit spewing from the jowls!

The alternative attitude reminds me, again, of the media's mass-appeal philosophy: "The masses are asses! Appeal to the lowest common denominator to get the most listeners (friends)!" I refused then, and I vehemently refuse now. Climbing mountains and crossing deserts is courage of a secondary nature; it takes real courage to climb within.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Big Quit

With everything I've written and said about Don Quixote and a commitment to self-honesty, an ironic thing happened. With all my scathing self-righteousness, I quickly became further disgusted with myself in one area in particular. Smoking. Specifically, the empty talk and proclamations that I was "gonna quit." "Gonna" seeming to always be the operative word, rather than "quit." "Words are important." (Shut up Andre. I get it.)

Always "gonna." When might that be? Was I waiting for C.O.P.D.? Perhaps deep down I enjoyed spending $10 for a pack in New York City? No. I even managed to convince myself upon leaving Bash Bish State Park that I just "wanted" a cigarette...after "patching-up" and going 24-hours without one. "Well, no shit you wanted one, fool! You're an addict!" With my new-found focus on "self-delusional awareness" I could now say for certain that this and every other excuse was utter bullshit. Not that it took a genius to figure it out; I still remember Chris's smug look of amusement.

The final insult to injury... literally... was in Boise, and it happened to be photographed. My 16-year old nephew, Ben, and I somehow got into a friendly wrestling match. While it's essential to stress that I did NOT lose, at the end I was on the verge of cardiac arrest! Not only was I unable to breathe, while I had him pinned on to the floor, (despite what you may hear otherwise, he WAS pinned- squirming futilely, not unlike a roped steer), I literally felt ALL of the energy in my body drain out through my feet! What the hell is that? That, and the fact that even in my emaciated state, I still had him by 10-15 pounds and struggled due to poor conditioning was a cold smack in the face.

I told Lynette or Dave, right there, (after 10-minutes of loud wheezing) that this was it. I WAS quitting. I got the same look I received from both Ben & Brad in Ohio when I told them I'd be hitching to Boise to see them: "yeah, right!" And, I still remember Chris's smug look of continuing amusement at Bash Bish.

When November began, so had my plan. It was time to just shut up or do it. I've tried to quit several times using the gum (nearly had a heart-attack after chomping on it for an hour... not realizing that's a no-no!) and the free-patches. The only things that have worked? Boot camp and a well-timed case of the flu. Taking cigs out of the equation. The flu immediately followed my aborted bicycle tour. Aborted for reasons similar to Ben, except entailed cycling my then 190-pound ass and my 85-pound bike/gear up Colorado mountainsides. Another story for another time, but that quit lasted for a month or two, then found me progressively smoking "one or two" more-and-more, until I finally gave up upon our return to New Mexico to play "radio" with Skippy the Super Douche.

I've regretted re-starting since that job ended, but nicotine's a motherfucker. People who have never been addicted think it's so simple, and when they say, "Just don't LIGHT them!" I wanted to inflict harm. If only it were that easy. It becomes a significant part of your psyche; part of who you are; especially after 23-years. (Yes, Einstein, I'm saying I was 6. This isn't math class; keep reading.) Even when you quit, it can be like losing a good friend, and that "urge" to smoke never really goes away although it does become manageable. It's like a mental scar; a lifelong rude reminder, and that's what the urges eventually become: persistent reminders of how powerful nicotine really is. The brain reacts in much the same way it reacts to heroin, and that's why people will continue to smoke while hooked up to ventilators, knowing full well that it WILL kill them if they don't quit. Some people would rather smoke than live. Or, perhaps it's better to say they would rather die than quit. Either way, it IS that powerful.

I knew ALL of this going in, and to my credit had been gathering weapons to add to the arsenal when/if the time came. During our time in Michigan this June, I talked with Brian about the prescription drug Chantix, since he had quit two-years before and raved about how it had worked for him, despite still living with a smoker. Having been he and Joey's roommate for nearly a year, after first working with him, I know how he loved his cigarettes! When he described how the drug works, it made sense. It simply blocks the receptors nicotine uses in the brain, while triggering a tiny stream of dopamine. Dopamine's the chemical the brain produces, in massive quantities, when you're smoke or drink (among other things.) Its effect is a sense of euphoria so addicting that lab rats will literally starve themselves to death if dopamine is an alternative to food. They would rather die than quit. Dopamine's fascinating, and there's a reason NO A.A. meeting is ever likely to be smoke-free.

Chantix may be a wonder-drug, but it is also expensive! One requiring a prescription, which meant an out-of-pocket doctor's visit; the Vagabond, Inc. HMO is a bit thin on coverage! This is where October and these notions of self-delusion, became a powerful and ultimately continuing & essential asset. Plus, seeing the cost, playtime was over! I was forced to ask myself IF I wanted to quit at all, and if so, why I hadn't quit yet. The flimsy excuses were no longer working because I knew they were excuses. Funny thing about self-awareness: it's not always convenient. On that Tuesday 11/3, in a moment of motivation, bravado & haste, I called the office Joe had suggested and luckily got an appointment for that Friday, 11/6. That was the first big step but the smokes were far from done with me, and how clever they can be!

The next day I found a laptop on Craigslist. A brand-new HP "desktop replacement!" 4GB RAM! Upgradeable to 8GB! Dual Core Processor! Windows 7! 17" screen! It.. was... fucking... perfect! It even came with the receipt, so if I wanted a different one I could return it; the last computer I'd need for years and would cost more than $200 less than it was new! I sent an email, offering $100 less than he was asking, thinking there's NO way he'd bite. He bit.

There was no way I could afford to get both the laptop AND the Chantix, so I quickly rationalized that if I spent the money on the laptop, it would force me to quit smoking on my own! THAT surely would be better for me! It would teach me something and Pfizer would get none of MY money! I quickly agreed with my inner Rationalist, and at 6pm that very evening I picked up my shiny, spiffy new laptop. It WAS perfect.

It was re-sold the next morning.

Shortly after picking it up I came to realize what I had done. I had created my own little delusion; my own special narrative. I knew damn well that if I canceled that doctor's appointment I'd still be puffing away come July... still talking about how I'm "gonna" quit. When I realized what I was doing, I literally told myself to shut the fuck up. ***It's a bizarre feeling to be disgusted with the outdated and antiquated voice-of-habit- in your own head! I wanted the laptop, was afraid of what it would take to actually quit, and the computer was my habitual excuse to avoid it. Simple. Disgusting. But, a glorious sight to behold from an outside perspective!

I immediately called Laina to see if her co-worker was still looking for a computer. She quickly called back to say that Katie, the woman I had been house-sitting for, wanted one and asked me to bring it in to show her. She liked it (of course... it WAS perfect!), and that night I had recouped exactly what I had paid, losing nothing yet gaining some invaluable insight in the process... and into myself for once. That theme would continue.

I was a bit concerned about getting the prescription that Friday morning, and felt a little dirty about "asking my doctor if Chantix was right for me." I haven't been to a doctor in at least 15-years (probably much longer) and was NOT eager to take part in the drug-dealer charade. Plus, the cost was ridiculous considering what she was doing: asking & answering questions then writing a prescription. The process was painless and before I knew it I had my coveted salvation pills. I later chatted with Brian & Fast Joe (he used to work for Pfizer) saying thanks and asking more questions about the drug and its creepy "Quit taking Chantix IF..." laundry list. I laughed realizing that the drug's side-effects sounded awfully similar to nicotine withdrawal! How the fuck would you know if the drug's making you psychotic... or it's the jonesing for a smoke?!? Silly Pfizer.

The morning/night regimen started that Friday, 11/6. You continue smoking through the first week, supposedly to let the drug build up in your system, but I noticed effects almost immediately. First, the almost metallic taste to the smoke. Plus, I was smoking like a chimney; not getting my usual buzz. That Sunday, I felt what were later seen to be my first withdrawal symptoms, despite still smoking... albeit less. The symptoms? I was a raging prick. Unpleasant? Sure. Expected? Absolutely. A general change in demeanor? Not likely. That theme would continue.

Luckily, Katie and her husband had unexpectedly needed to return to California again, so I had another week house-sitting; one that coincided perfectly with the quit. My first dosage increase was Monday, and early Tuesday I noticed (and later in the day finally identified... with an ironic laugh) more severe withdrawals. The identification was hindered, again, by the fact I was still smoking, and a bit freaked-out by the "You may go apeshit!" warnings from Pfizer! I wasn't going apeshit; I was withdrawing. The drug was obviously doing its job, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to stop it now. Even if I chain smoked, it wouldn't matter. After I came to understand what was happening that was a HUGE help. The gun's chamber was all but empty.

The rest of the week at Katie's was calm, quiet, and boring. I played on her (what had been my) laptop most of the time, and ate. I began to count my cigs, and had gone from 12-18 down to 3-4 a day, and they were simply out of habit. A persistent habit. On Brian's advice, I signed up for the online "Get Quit" program that's part of the purchase, and as my (their) quit date approached with Friday, the fact that this was real began to set in. I knew damn well I wasn't quitting Friday, and didn't bother to try. It was as though I knew a friend was leaving, never coming back, and I wanted another day with my pal of 23-years! You may surely laugh, but I'm not kidding!

Saturday was my quit date, and after dumping the rest of my loose-leaf tobacco in the toilet with much fanfare Friday night, I did well on Saturday while somehow failing miserably at the same time. I decided to drag Laina to see 2012, both out of a perverse interest in seeing the world end and killing 3-hours in a place I couldn't smoke. However, the movie had sold-out. This was the day after my final dosage increase, so I was a special kind of menstrual. Being pissed off at the sell-out quickly escalated into just being pissed off at Santa Fe in general, then to anyone who looked in my general direction, which led onto "The Fuck It Express": smoking the final pack, which had been left at the house when I went to Katies. No one said this would be "easy" even with the drug; this was a punch in the gut to remind me.

Lighting the first cigarette on that Saturday evening was accompanied by an old, familiar, exiled and unwanted friend: the shameful, self-loathing and disappointment of failure. This time however, my awareness of the delusions & the narratives went to work. I was actually able to identify something very important, and something that should serve me for a very long time: The old-habit of escaping into excuse filled self-destruction when internally things inevitably become challenging. There were similarities between this moment and buying the computer earlier in the week: the flight instinct. This was an intensely interesting moment because it was old, yet persistent THINKING at work, something I thought I had sequestered securely away, only to witness it again on full display: naked!

Like picking up a cigarette was a nagging habit, so was this mental reflex.

I could see it, but didn't fight to stop it. I absorbed it, felt it, and focused on what had happened and what running to that cigarette meant. I smoked that cigarette with quite a cranky scowl, and perhaps  would have kicked a puppy had one been present.

I smoked normally the rest of Saturday night. At about 11:00, I was ready for bed and had a decision to make. By then, I'd had the time to process everything that happened throughout the course of the day and could clearly see, now, that just knowing the tobacco was at the house had given me all I needed to first fabricate, and then direct my little drama all the way from "Sold-Out" to "The Fuck It Express." Self-serving delusions? Alive & well in Santa Fe.

I was right in my Quixote assessments. We will conjure up anything to fit the narrative! But realizing that and fighting them in reality is like fighting the ego: a constant battle only made possible (far from "made easy") by awareness.

Knowing this, it was time to ask myself a very simple question: "Todd, are you going to keep finding excuses to smoke despite the fact that, if you do, it will kill you?" With that, the cigarettes were no longer killing me. I was. Nicotine was no longer the cast as the villain of my self-destruction. I was. I finally "owned" it.

I stepped outside, had one final cigarette with NO fanfare, then, silently and alone, dumped the rest of the full pouch into the fire. There was no sense of grandiose euphoria. There were no accolades or self-congratulation. I just sat there, watched the tobacco and the package symbolically burn away, and went to bed.

The first day, 11/15, was of course the hardest but also the most rewarding. All the ready-made excuses went out the window with the first full-day. Then again, and more so, with the passing of that first week. Laina and I finally succeeded in seeing 2012 in all its apocalyptic glory on Day 1 which helped immensely, as did the unwavering support she offered throughout-despite dealing with a cantankerous prick. I can't overstate how important it was to have someone to talk to!

Later in the week, I discovered that there were a plethora of things that kept me distracted. Writing for one. Imagine that! I managed to physically write more in that first 10-days than I had combined since February. The urges to smoke were still there but, again, I made an effort to own rather than avoid them, and it's worked. They've steadily decreased in frequency & intensity, and are now little more than pesky reminders. There was such an incredible surge in energy after a few days (when the carbon monoxide was gone), that I actually started running...and I hate running! It almost killed me the first day, but has gotten easier as my lungs and heart have been recovering. I just feel progressively better...and it's nice not to spend money on those things.

I know it's been only 19-days at the time of this writing. I also realize...it's been 19-fucking days! Those who know me know exactly what I mean! What's important is that the nicotine addiction is gone, taking with it any real excuses to smoke. The mental scars, the reminders, may always be there to some degree. Looking back, I have the mistakes I made with my '06 quit to learn from: allowing myself the (at-first) occasional cigarette. Looking forward, it's in my hands and the decisions I make. The addiction's been contained, so there are no more excuses other than compulsiveness, self-destruction, or plain & simple stupidity.

I guess I was "gonna" quit after all. "When might that be?": November 15, 2009. This, partnered with the powerful self-assistance from these introspective "October Rants" has once again provided a powerful new tool in dealing with these oft-problematic Quixotisms: Self-experience making tangible an organic yet, until then, only abstract theory.

As in August, this apparent "down-time" where I often appear lost in "idle reflection" and engaged in (as Chris called it) "cave thinking" rather than seeking out adventure and treasure in far-off lands, has begun paying real dividends, beyond the imaginary, anecdotal trips to band-camp.

Oh, as for the nagging thoughts of hubris and/or arrogance? Label me what you like, but it's only hubris if I'm wrong.