The Box Of Terrifying Journals

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Yeah, so….it looks like I won’t be writing for The Flounce anymore.  I won’t get into the details other than to say that stuff went down over there, enough so I don’t feel it’s the right forum for my writing.  And so we’re back to writing about Alzheimer’s, and caregiving, here.

We’ve hired the Geriatric Care Manager (GCM), and boy – she got to work immediately.  She’s speaking to our lawyer, and to Kevin, to figure out where we’re at financially.  She gave my mother-in-law what’s called the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE).  How did she do?  Put it this way:  her neurologist gave her the MMSE last year and she scored TWO out of thirty.  This time around?  The GCM gave up after the first few questions.

She is significantly, if not severely, impaired.  She doesn’t know what day it is.  She doesn’t know my name.  And yet this morning she made her bed, as she does every morning, hospital corners and all.  This is just absolutely the most messed-up disease ever.

The GCM feels that it’s time to put her into Assisted Living.  We are not superheroes.  Her needs have far surpassed what we’re able to provide.  She needs to be somewhere with constant supervision, and the kind of stimulation that only professionals can provide.  We have done our best, for over 3 1/2 years.  We’re exhausted, and that’s even with help.

I was in the basement last night, searching for a paper I’d written in graduate school about Marilynne Robinson (specifically, Emily Dickinson’s influence on her writing, and on Housekeeping in particular).  I’d promised to look for it and send a copy to Megan Phelps-Roper, who’s been devouring Robinson’s work lately.  I didn’t find it.  I think it may have been lost in our last move.

I did, however, find The Box Of Terrifying Journals.

Now, most everyone knows that I don’t shy away from the sometimes-very-embarrassing moments in my past.  I’ve gotten onstage and read my high school diaries in front of total strangers countless times now.  But The Box Of Terrifying Journals does not cover that period of my life.  The Box Of Terrifying Journals spans the years between 1992 and 1996, which were my early-to-mid-twenties.  The period during which I was in graduate school, writing papers like the one I was now trying to find for my friend.

It’s very…interesting…to revisit that age, when one is in one’s forties and navigating a fairly brutal and emotionally devastating family crisis.  I flipped through the pages, scanning the scarily huge scrawling and strange little cartoons, and felt a combination of affection and exasperation with myself at that age.  It’s the way I feel whenever I read something on Thought Catalog.  Some of you know what I’m talking about.  “Bless your heart, but, oh, honey, no.”

During those years, I was constantly writing, constantly agonizing over musicians, and taking myself just a wee bit too seriously.

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Oy fucking vey.

I remember FEELING things so very, very deeply.  I remember feeling outraged and entitled and possessed of a preternatural wisdom.  I remember that my biggest problems involved boys (the aforementioned musicians), and that I would never get over The Great Heartbreak of losing one boy in particular.  I fueled myself on that grief, on the energy that comes about when someone’s disappearance renders them even more conspicuous and extraordinary.

Should I say it?  I am jealous of myself at that age.  Even though I was clearly exhibiting symptoms of the mental illness and addiction that would overtake me at the beginning of my thirties, I am envious of that girl’s energy.  I wish I had her “problems.”  My God, I’d kill to pour so much gusto into bad poetry about bad boyfriends.  I wish I still had that much faith in my powers.

Some of it was pretty clever, too.

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Drunk Dialing

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I overheard some cute young thing giggling about having had maybe a TAD too much to drink the other night, and calling someone who may or may not have been her boyfriend.

I had to think back a bit…more than a bit, really, because a) my twenties were KIND OF a long time ago, and b) I haven’t been drunk since I was 31 years old. I had to think back and recall if I’d ever engaged in “drunk dialing.”

I mean, it’s entirely possible that I DID, and I just have no recollection of it, and my friends and loved ones are just too nice to tell me. But my friends and loved ones have never had any problem with telling me about the times I puked in their cars, crashed into their living room furniture on my way to the floor, or otherwise behaved in very unladylike ways. I can’t imagine they’d hold back on any phone calls I placed to them at drunk o’clock in the morning.

I seem to remember wanting to call people, but some odd sense of self-preservation would kick in, something that told me that no matter who I was to these people, not a one of them would be any too pleased to be hearing from me. Now, this same sense of self-preservation never stopped me from drinking myself into churning melancholia, but it did spare me the humiliation of slurring sweet nothings into the phone.

What I DID like to do was write. I have some very terrifying notebooks of stuff I thought was amazing and brilliant when I was completely scuttered. I would write in this crazy, upended Gothic scrawl, and cry because I was so very moved by what was pouring out of me, unhindered by the inner editor I’d managed to drown in bourbon. Drinking slowed the chattering in my head long enough to get it out on paper. Because I was also quite mad, and I romanticized the madness along with the drink, as so many of us tend to do.

Those of us addicts who also possess any sort of artistic bent frequently labor under the delusion that we can’t function without our substances. We are more of, and in, the moment when we’re intoxicated. Add mental illness into that mix and some of us really don’t want to surrender our version of reality.

Here’s something I tell people who start in with that “I play/write/paint better when I’m altered” – Jack Kerouac might have done a lot MORE if he hadn’t died, at age 47, of bleeding esophageal varices caused by cirrhosis. Without going into graphic detail, it’s a pretty horrific way to die. Is it worth putting your body through that just to have something that might or might not get published? MAYBE your output is better because you’re drinking or using, but frankly I think you’re cheating yourself. The stuff that I wrote when I was drunk? 98% pretentious crap. The other 2% was somewhat decent material that I found a place for in the work I didn’t have to chemically coax out of myself.

A funnier anecdote – a sober friend of mine is an architect. He would get blunted and hit his worktable and come up with TOTALLY GENIUS DESIGNS that he’d look at in the morning while saying, “What. The. Fuck.”

I guess what I’m driving at here is this pursuit of lowered inhibitions. We want to be able to say the things that don’t come as easily when we’re sober. The problem is that what we set out to say very seldom comes out as planned. If we’re lucky, it’s something we can laugh about, like the girl I overheard yesterday. Make it a habit, though, and we rob ourselves of genuine communication.