“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
I recently attended The Sun Magazine’s Writer Workshop: Into the Fire. A three day writing intensive, led by a number of successful, soulful, published, actual writers, who happen to teach. Man what a pleasure.
The workshop was held at Wildacres Retreat, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western NC, north of Marion, in the tiny town of Little Switzerland. The trip there ended with a rainy, skinny two-lane blacktop drive coursing miles up a mountain known as Pompey’s Knob, that felt, when I arrived, like I’d passed a test, the first of more to come. Marion is the home of the Livermush Festival, which I do want to try, Livermush that is. It’s up to you whether you stop by and try Moondoggy’s Classic Diner.
The story of how the mountain got its name and the retreat’s creation is a curious early 1900’s tale the resort staff tells with humor. Authors Sy Safransky and their hand-picked staff; Fred Bahnson, Chris Bursk and Frances Lefkowitz (and others) gave my mind a challenge and I’m the better for it.
While we’re at it, at Moondoggy’s that is, does anyone remember the venerated avant-garde composer, busker and street poet Moondog, of NYC? The 1940’s conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Artur Rodzinski, championed him. Blind since a teen, oftimes homeless, he struck me as Manhattan’s Shaman. Since we’re riffing here, I’ll throw in that Alan Freed called his radio show the Moondog show. Freed was an early rock pioneer, probably coined the term rock and roll, was vilified for playing what we now know of as the finest classics of R&B without which there wouldn’t be rock and roll and died of the disease of alcoholism after Congress scapegoated him around payola issues, their attempt to smear “that communistic music”.
But let’s get back to my writing class; writing about writing is problematic. Novice that I am I feel a bit of pressure. It demands an even greater facility with words. I want to bring honesty, illumination, humor, simile and metaphor. Wait, is it a simile or a metaphor?
I have never written in my life, until now. Never. No big deal but it is of interest to me. I never-I mean never-did homework which may have ultimately contributed to my expulsion from high school the second I turned 16, though certainly I could list other contributors. This is not entirely accurate in that in recovery I have done inventories on paper and journaling, morning pages’ ala The Artist’s Way. Oh and I prided myself on good postcards. But that is it. Finito.
Then my boss said a great thing; “You need to start writing.” So here we are.
I have always loved to read. I was read to from a very young age (Thank God) which aided me in learning to read young and I had books around and discovered the library young and used it, and books, as a refuge.
Words are important, abyssal, often quixotic, can uplift or harm, yet, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”. Words are often imperfect, especially in the arena of ideas, are worthy of study and I love ’em. I like to learn new ones, look them up including words I believe I know, just to check.
A science-based fact and truth of writing, is; the act of physically writing, hand upon paper (maybe keyboard), activates different areas of the brain than speaking and facilitates different healing process’. Another fact of recovery, which I see/feel is a human fact; we all want to be heard. It’s what every child wants & needs. When they are not it sets up future adult dynamics that play out over years even lifetimes.
We want to get what’s inside out. Be acknowledged, be seen, be heard. To be heard/seen is a key element of any artistic endeavor AND is different than the “old” addicted self that leans toward what we call being “right”. To be “right” signifies the ego “winning” and being in control, to be heard is to be seen, without judgement.
We all have a story, in our head and want to tell it, whether we are conscious of that or not. Recovery is often about changing our story.
These truths are at the core of the Recovery Advocacy Movement and any attempt by any group of peoples working to create consensus. To work together, to be heard and to hear, surfing our way toward the best decisions & strategies that are for the greatest good, is what consensus building is and what restrains condensation of power bases that ultimately inhibit true human needs and is how to get win/win success.
As I study writing & words now I am reminded of the fact that; in recovery I was surprised and chagrined to realize that there were words I did not know the true meaning of and I needed to grow in my knowledge. I thought I understood their definitions but really misunderstood them. Seemingly simple words like fellowship, service and support.
I had no idea what the word support meant. Pre-recovery support meant something along the lines of; you ‘de loan me money when I asked (and I could oftimes forget that “loan”).
That you ‘de come and bail me out of jail as soon as I called. In recovery I saw that support was something else entirely, which meant maybe you ‘de let me sit in jail instead of jumping when I called (not that that had to happen in recovery, thank God again). Support meant that you were there for me but also meant you called me on my…poop, when needed. That you cared enough for me to do that was a healing act in and of itself and my bottom was thorough enough (another thank God!) that feedback was not painful but welcomed. Or if it was painful it didn’t matter. I was open. Now the key is to stay open for the rest of my natural life.
Meanwhile, my understanding of the depth of meaning to the word support has changed, grown, morphed over the years. Allow me to walk through an example.
As previously reported, my fairly typical entrée into recovery involved deep immersion in 12 Step. I had no money, little life, little else to do so the wisdom in this immersion was evident. I went to lots of meetings, listened to many people/talks, hung out with and called the best, listened to tapes, read the literature, got a sponsor (really the best) and worked to talk honestly with him and to work the steps hard. I committed to and followed through on-often by direction-service commitments that grew in discipline and complexity as the days turned into months into years. Had fun such as going to dances and conventions where the spiritual is exponentially multiplied. And more. I began to build a new life.
A common thing happened, which was; as I grew recovery and got a life, a fair amount of that fell away. I listened carefully to advice and grew internal awareness so that I was not at risk of falling too far away, of doing so little that I might lose my way, but nevertheless I had less time for 12 Step.
What recovery grew into, for me, was a core of committed service work and sponsor. Less meetings. Less “hanging out”. I was blessed to go to conventions, attending 8 World Conventions. (I considered those a “working” vacation.) It’s beyond emotional and uplifting, plugging in with 10 or 20,000 other recovering people in one place. Comedians working the convention would joke about how if we all “relapsed at the same time the city’ d disappear”.
Bill White portrays it when he wrote, “High intensity participation in recovery support activities is typical of early stage lifestyle changes. Such intensity usually reaches a state of moderation and balance once the new changes have been fully mastered, stabilized, and integrated into one’s life.”
That integration stage is instructive to how Recovery Community Supports look and feel. At some point it hit me, all my supports were in place and working even if I wasn’t “working” them all the time. Support is everywhere, all around me, if I chose it, like a net underneath a trapeze artist, it’s “working” (building confidence) even when he does not fall. It’s there doing its job, growing confidence and positive energy. Various Brainiac’s write about spiral dynamics and I say we see that in everything. As I stay in recovery I grow more recovery which adds to my recovery which grows more recovery; spiraling upward. Reverse it if I return to use. I get drunk, feel bad, which supports bad behavior, feel worse, get drunk (to relieve), spiraling downward.
All the guys I knew, who I might at times just bump into out and about; the service work I’d done, the literature I read and the more I would read, the writing and understanding from that, the anniversary’s I had “under my belt”, the various other actions and symbols that represent community, because “there is no recovery that does not embrace community”, all this and more adds up to a safety net of recovery, which, in place, has healing aspects even when not in actual real-time usage. I can’t leave it alone completely, it demands maintenance, but that maintenance becomes easier as I go. The safety net under the trapeze act we call Life.
That’s what a community feels like. Thank you all for helping me be heard and part of your community.
A metaphor is an equation; A = B, a simile is an approximation; “like”.
A metaphor substitutes one thing for the thing.
A wire is a road for electrons.
Words are dreams we can hear.
A simile-to be like something-retains some irresolvable difference so it cannot be substituted.
A great book is like a great meal (i.e. nourishing)
Great words are like vitamins for the mind.