Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Wrestler

Spoiler alert: While I don't say what happens in The Wrestler in the following post, I do talk about insights and personal conclusions, so read at your own risk!


Friends and family are noticing something different about me, and I notice it, too. I feel like there is a big change coming, that I'm ready for something to change, but it's gonna take guts on my part.

This week has been a strange one, no doubt made even stranger by my new experiments with pot. Yes, at the tender age of 50, I was doing something all week that I didn't even do in high school or college. The results were curiously positive for the most part, but I'm not sure it did anything for the pain.

I will say that in the mornings, I was so alert that I felt like I slept like a two-year-old who's so dead to the world that you could toss her in the air and she'd sleep right through it. I've read that cannabis opens capillaries in the brain, so that right and left sides communicate instantly with each other, which is why people can feel so creative when...well...stoned. Their senses are heightened, and insights can come quickly, especially when you're looking for them.

I wonder, too, if pot somehow makes sleep more restorative, as the subconscious becomes so active. Perhaps we work through issues while we're sleeping that's in some way helpful, as this week has been fraught with insights all over the place.

Regardless, I'm finished with pot, for now anyway. The main thing I have to remember is that now is not the time to give up on life, even though certain days feel like nothing more than an endurance test. I have to wait out the suffering and just hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

I saw The Wrestler recently, and that's really the point of the whole movie--that so often, just when we're on the brink of having the things in life that truly matter, we give up on ourselves, thinking that neither our circumstances, nor we ourselves, will ever really change.

The film was profoundly moving, and it has stayed with me. I don't know Mickey Rourke, yet I feel so strangely happy for him that he mounted this tremendous comeback. (If you see the film, the word "mount" is probably not the best I could have chosen. lol!)

Unlike his brilliantly rendered character, Rourke himself did hang on through his own darkest days, and he prevailed in being "discovered" yet again. Talk about lightning striking twice. There was a tremendous amount of luck in him getting this role, of course, but no one could ever take away from him what he did with it. His work as this aging wrestler is one of those performances where you soon forget you're watching the actor, and you just see the characters and story...and yourself.

It was the movie I needed to see this season, as I feel so on the brink myself of good tidings; I just have to remember that I can't give up, not now, not ever.

The worst way I could give up would be to descend into a haze of pills, pot and god knows what else. I know what I have to do, and I know there's no shortcut around it.

Wish me luck.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Brush With Greatness


A shot of Senator Robert Menendez and me in my studio at the 2008 Hoboken Artist Studio Tour. That guy wasn't going to get out of my studio without me grabbing a snap of us together! :)
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Sweetest Thing

My friend Perry Norton sent me an exquisite poem on Valentine's Day as a source of comfort and inspiration. Perry owns her own voiceover company, so be sure to pay her a visit.

YOU SEE I WANT A LOT by Rainer Maria Rilke

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.

You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Love in His Fists

I'll try anything to get out of pain. I read recently that cannabis can be a great pain reliever and that it opens up our capillaries, both of which sounded good to me, so I visited a trusted pal who swears by the ways of the weed, and proceeded to take some home with me.

At first, I had some serious fears. Many MANY moons ago, back in high school and college, whenever I'd try pot, I'd get completely paranoid, I'd vomit, and it would take days to recover. But I was fairly paranoid in general back then, having been raised in a critical home where my every move was scrutinized.

As I've come a long way since then, I figured, "What the hell? What could one drag do to me?"

So I fired 'er up and took a short, wimpy drag, waited about five minutes, and upon feeling nothing, took another, then another, with each one getting longer and slower. All that seemed to happen was a complete loss of short-term memory and the eruption of ravenous hunger that led me directly to the chips and salsa.

There was no high, no euphoria, just a state of strangeness that even crept into my dreams. I had one where I was writing a song, and it struck me, even in my dream state, that the lyrics were quite good. The only problem is that when I forced myself awake, I could only remember one phrase: "...the love in his fists." Eee gats. There's a mind at rest for ya. Apparently, my Buddhist readings aren't taking root very well.

"The love in his fists." Whatever can that mean? I was never physically abused as a child, but I did live in holy terror. I know for certain that my dad would have died for me, but I also know for certain that his rage was uncontrollable--the kind that could be set off for no reason whatsoever and stay there for weeks on end. It was also the kind where his fists and face would turn so red in anger that I knew if he ever did pop, I was a goner.

I was an only child until I was 16, so I completely blamed myself for his rages, thinking I simply wasn't deserving of all the love and good humor he seemed to heap upon others. To the outside world, he was everyone's favorite uncle, and justifiably so, as he was a gas to be around. But behind closed doors, he could be someone else entirely...a dark, brooding soul who could hate indiscriminately.

I know now that my dad probably suffered from some type of mental disorder (most likely borderline personality disorder, which does damage not just to the patient but to all those in the patient's life). And I've forgiven him completely; I carry no resentments, and my time with him now is cherished, as he's much older, and as a result of a small stroke 10 years ago, he's much quieter. I miss the feisty party guy and all the good times, but I certainly don't miss the specter--that looming dark figure who could so terrorize my mom and me (and later, my sister).

So I suppose the phrase "love in his fists" is a good metaphor for how I feel about him. There was love and rage, always. Ben Horowitz at The Newark Star-Ledger once observed about my music that I create worlds "where joy and peril walk hand in hand." I've always loved that review, as I didn't see that in my own work until Ben did. That's the mark of a good critic--revealing truths back to the artist in a type of sacred dialog.

I also have a lyric in my song "A Better Haircut" that says, "Ya gotta stop popping me in the jaw." That line always startles people, because the song is a type of "East Village Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (observed by another reviewer)--light, silly, glamorous and pissed. So what the hell is that line doing there? It seemed to fit the tone of the song in a James-Cagney-shoving-the-grapefruit-in-the-blonde's-face kind of way, but still, it's disturbing.

Fists, rage, hatred, terror, all mixed with love. No wonder I'm in chronic pain.


Friday, February 13, 2009

End-of-Week Haikus

number one
waiting for waiting to stop
lemme take that call

number two
lazy friday night
feeling like a two-ton slug
man, that's slippery

number three
my cat sleeps again
wake me when dinner's ready
scratch belly for now

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Am I really doing the best I can when it comes to this pain mess? My pain meds have been changed, from Vicodin to OxyContin, and if I screw up with Oxy (if i take too much as I did with Vicodin), I'll be in serious trouble.

Last night, I took an extra pill, not because I needed it, but because the addiction was screeching in my head. It took hold and completely obsessed me, which is the bitch of being hooked. You're battling your own brain chemistry, your own desires. I didn't want to take it, but like the person who can't resist having one too many, I crumbled and didn't feel very good about it afterward.

I've been researching a lot of alternative theories about addiction other than the 12-step approach, which is very deity-centered and touts the disease model of the condition. While recovery folks will say that you can be an atheist and still work the program, I'm not sure that's true. When notions of a loving creator are profoundly challenged, all the talk of God working in everyone's lives can sound like chatter, even delusional. I don't go to meetings as much as I once did (I used to go every day, now just two or three times a week), not because I don't want to get sober, but because the spiritual words ring hollow.

I must say, I do love the friends I've made there, I like the social aspect of getting together, and I love the experience of such genuine love and compassion.

But in my case, I'm going to have to find either an alternate or supplemental treatment that will resonate. I have to get to the root of my problem, which I suspect runs deeper than I imagine.

On the surface, I'm suffering from an organic, latent infection in my jawbone that has only partially responded to surgery. But on a different level, this disease is a continuation of something very familiar to me, which I've written about in other posts. I'm used to battling as far back as I can remember. There's always been some evil force keeping me down, oppressing my fundamental nature, my desires and my outlook.

It's easy to just escape into pills and television. The harder road would be to explore the metaphors, which I've been doing most of my adult life. It's been a tough, meaningful journey, but when the pain crippled me in '04, all bets were off. When I became suicidal, the pills were necessary in order to buy me time; they also provided a type of comfort that chemically was impossible for my own brain to generate.

But what about now? This past week or so, I've been asking myself, "Am I doing my very best today to get out of pain and get sober?" The answer has painfully been "no" each and every time. I could do better. I could write in my journal daily. I could go down to my art studio, where there is silence (unless I play music) and creative materials all around me. (I tend to create in silence, for some reason.) But in my studio, I'm alone with me, myself and I. I don't want to be alone, perhaps to avoid loneliness, but also to avoid the issues I don't want to think about.

I know what I should be doing to help matters, but if I went off the pills, there are feelings there I don't want to deal with...or perhaps I should say, no feelings at all. When it comes to certain problematic areas of my life, I've hit a brick wall, even with the years of therapy.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a web site that used language I've never heard before, about what happens to someone with post traumatic stress disorder. It talked about dissociation, feelings of unreality, hypervigilence and loss of identity. While I've overcome a lot of this and have gone on to live a relatively full life, there are gaping holes that I still don't know how to fix.

I was encouraged by this site, as it so precisely described what I experienced as a teenager...what happens when a psyche splits into a type of duality as a means of coping. While I've improved tremendously in this area, I still avoid the pain of the fractures that remain.

How in the world will I ever get better if I think that "going back to life" will be fraught with this low-level psychic ache that never goes away, despite all efforts to resolve it?

This site gave me hope, as apparently there are therapists trained in this precise area. I've been in touch with the site's owner who will try to help me find someone in Manhattan.

Fingers firmly crossed.