Friday, April 5, 2013

Day one thousand nine hundred and twenty-six . . . A Temporary Occupation.

I see the drama all around me
and pray my lucky shooting star
that when I walk the crimson carpet
it leads me to a waiting car

"A Temporary Occupation" performed by Colorway (F. Alex Johnson)

These are my words and they sum up my take on this world I'm stuck in.

And when I say "stuck" I mean it in the best way possible. Because I'm grateful to be anywhere, really. I thank whoever or whatever is responsible for the strings that had to be pulled in order for me to be sitting here on my couch in the first week of April, sober for over five years, in my home, with the love of my life at work for the day, lolling around in my gym clothes, tap, tap, tapping away on my Macbook.

It may not seem overly dramatic, but I assure you from these eyes that I see out of it is indeed.

It's been quite some time since I wrote about my life and all the things in it. Almost five months in fact. But the winter days, I guess, are when one takes breaks from the usual progressive activities--personal growth and emotional bounty--and begins to sour and ferment like so much kim chi buried in the backyard. At least in New England we hunker down and hibernate as the yearly freeze takes over. We stockpile our jars of honey and cords of wood and let a semi-permanent grimace slowly replace the pumpkin pie-eating grin on our faces that the fall brings--one of Mother Nature's dirty tricks as the cool days take over from August's sultry sweat lodge.

But from my perspective--the only one I have--it's been all for good.

We had Thanksgiving here at our home for the first time due to a shakeup in logistics from the past four years. It was strange, quiet, and wonderful. We slaved in the kitchen for over eight hours to make food for the two of us which disappeared in less than 30 minutes. After this experience I will never again underestimate the effort my poor mother made (and family chefs all over the country) to create a Thanksgiving bounty one day a year, every year.

Christmas was delightful. We made homemade Nutella. It's easier than you might think and about twice as fattening.

I celebrated five years of sobriety on December 27th.

We went to New York City for New Year's Eve and saw Phish play at Madison Square Garden.

We spent four weeks in Central America just like we did last year and escaped the world's worst blizzard (from all accounts) though we came back to two feet of snow. So, the tan was short lived and the flip flops are still wondering what they did wrong to get such an excommunication.

Jodi and I celebrated four, unforgettable, robust, and exciting years together on the trip in between hermit crab herding and taking a surfing lesson on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (Jodi even "hung ten" for a good ten seconds. No need to ask how I did. I'll never say). 

I got to play some fun shows with the chorus when we returned, including a collaboration with Staten Island's world famous children's choir, PS22.

And I wrote a whole album's worth of music, put a band together, made a commitment to go into the studio the third week of this month and set a CD release date at one of the best rooms in town, The Iron Horse Music Hall (Saturday, 6/29 at 10pm to be exact).

But the consistent thread that is woven throughout all of these events is that, at least up until today, at this very moment (knocking on wood) I have been able to shield myself from major personal drama.

Yes, that's right. I'm totally jinxing myself, but I don't really give a care. If it were that easy to summon bad luck then there would be a campaign to cajole our enemies across the world to recite such blatant announcements of personal good fortune out loud in hopes of an unprovoked turn for the worst.

I don't really know how I did it. But then again I didn't really do anything.

And that's the key.

I can't look into the future and gauge how something will turn out if I keep my nose out of trouble. I can't predict what my health will be like or how my personal interactions will progress with the inhabitants in my world if I stay clean and sober.

But I know what would happen if I didn't.

All hell would break loose, that's for damn sure, which is good enough for me.

I have a friend who recently had a "setback" as I've heard some people call it. He had been on the positive path (I hesitate to call it the "right" path because right and wrong is subjective and not for me to say, but "positive" is a different story) and fell off and dug himself into a deep, dark hole.

He reached out to me a few weeks back. We spoke on the phone. He sounded scared and desperate.

"How do I care about life again, Alex," he asked.

So how do you answer that? Anyone?

Well, I answered the only way I could.

I told him I had no f*cking clue. I meant it, too.

I said that if I knew how to advise someone else to care about their life in twenty minutes over the phone then I would have had my own mental health wing dedicated to me at Brigham and Women's Hospital by now.

But I've thought about it over the last couple of weeks. And while I may not be able to tell someone else how to care about life I can attempt to distil it down to the reasons why I do.

I care about life because it's mine. I'm living it. I've wrecked it in the past. I've stitched it up. I've put bandages on it. I've dealt with the recovery time. I've had to learn to live with the scars. I walk around with them each and every day and proudly present them to everyone I see--people who may or may not know me from the life I used to live. At this point they are one and the same.

I take this life seriously. I tell it dirty jokes. I shower it with presents. I take it out to dinner. I elevate its heart rate to 135 bpm for 30 minutes three to four times a week. I tell it I love it and that I always have. I brush its hair. I buy it new clothes. I spend the last fifteen minutes before sleep thinking about all it's done for me. And when I wake up I make sure to ruminate and reminisce and make plans for the next few hours before I slip into my slippers, run my stubby fingers through my thinning hair and face the new lines I see in the mirror--the one way looking glass that never seems to show its wear.

I talk to this life of mine about all the people who loved it. From the one who I miss the most--the one who knew about it first back in August of 1969, to the one who made the last great impression on it one lucky February in 2009. There were the ones who believed in this life from the other side of my eyes who may have sensed potential for good at an early age. There were the ones who believed in this life from the other side of my eyes who sensed a potential for destruction at any age. And there were the ones who shared time and space with this life of mine who I never formally met. The ones who shared this life with me for even thirty seconds in an elevator who might have gotten a chuckle from something that came out of the mouth that does my life's bidding.

These things make me care about life.

The drama that surrounds us does just that: it surrounds.

It makes us the center.

It magnifies what it sees.

It smothers.

It removes perspective.

It sucks our breath from our lungs.

It spreads rumors. It tells lies. It second-guesses. It double-crosses. It cheats. It steals. It kills.

Stress from drama killed people in my family, though the death certificate may try to convince otherwise.

But I, right now, in my life have a choice to take it or leave it. I have the option to concentrate on the things that I can do to make the world around me and the people in it better. Or I can chose to let the high emotions and staccato violins take over and divert my attention and lead me into drama's evil lair.

And yes, I do realize that it is highly ironic that I should use such dramatic prose to describe such a choice.

Because there really is no escape from it. There's only the potential to filter it. There's only the meticulous procedure of deciding every day which areas of our personal soap opera deserve our attention and which should be used as a snack break. 

This life is a temporary occupation.

Even though at times it may seem like this life will go on and on and on for eternity, weaving from doldrums, desperation and despair to climbing the foothills of positive personal achievements to mountaintops of cathartic elation and higher to the fickle utopian pillows that the clouds in the sky present to us and dare us to rest on them for a minute before disappearing into the ether leaving us to fall, spinning, smiling, crying back down to earth.

This life is a temporary occupation.

I wish I had a better and simpler way to coax someone I care about how to believe in his life again.

And even though I was raised by a family of lifelong teachers all I fear I could ever be was a student.

May I never stop learning.

Thanks for reading,


PS: If you'd like to keep in touch with my new band, Colorway, please click here and "like" the page.