Daffodils

The daffodils came out early this year.  Or so it seems… maybe they always seem to come up early.

It just seems a bit strange to see such a vivid sign of the coming spring so early in the middle of the winter.

The woman who comes to clean my house every other week took it upon herself to cut some of the flowers and leave them on my kitchen counter.

I wrapped them in a black drop cloth and made this photo (with my iPhone 7) which serves as the ‘cover photo’ on my Facebook page for the time being.

Farewell, “Alive Now”

….and thanks for all the fish?

For the past several years, it has been my unique and singular privilege to have photos from my visits to the UK (and other destinations) featured in “Alive Now,” a bi-monthly journal of prayers and meditations published by the Upper Room Ministries here in Nashville.

Sadly, “Alive Now” has just published the last issue of it’s ‘print edition’ – another victim of the relentless transition to digital media in the 21st Century.

On the other hand, I’m pleased to report that this final issues features not one, but two of my photos from England and Scotland – and this time, one of them (finally!) made the cover.

The cover photo is from Jervaulx Abbey – a Cistercian monastery that lies in ruin on a private estate in Yorkshire England. The interior photo is from St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Scotland, a destination known more for its golf than it’s ecclesiastics. St. Andrew’s Cathedral was once the largest church in all of Scotland, now all that remains is the East Facade, seen here through the arch of the West Gate.

I am forever indebted to Nancy Terzian,  Beth Richardson and Gina Manskar for their support and patronage over these past several years. The inclusion of photos like these in their publications has provided some much needed validation of my fascination with these ruins.

It is appropriate, I guess, that the theme of this final edition of “Alive Now” is “Thresholds,” as we all pass through the thresholds of our daily existence to whatever awaits on the other side.

Thank you, Nancy, Beth, and Gina.

Onward…

What I Am Not Going To Say
At My AA Meeting Today

I’m going to go to my AA “Home Group” this morning. This is what I probably will not “share” with the meeting:

Hi, I’m Paul and I’m an alcoholic.

I feel compelled to  say something today that’s going to sound like AA heresy. But I feel like I have to speak my truth here even if it means becoming the first person to ever be excommunicated from AA…

I don’t really know but one or two of you here, so most of you have know way of knowing what a tough time I’ve been having over the past year. My wife decided last – well, it’s been almost a year now – that she needs to live in Portland Oregon, where her two adult sons and her now  one-and-a-half year old granddaughter live.  And as you can see, I am not in Portland, Oregon. I have been to Portland at least a dozen times since ‘the kids’ moved there in the early ‘aughts, but I’ve never felt like I’ve wanted to live there. After more than two decades, I’m rooted here.

Welcome to Portland!

Welcome to Portland!

And as a recovering alcoholic myself, it’s hard to fathom how I am going to live in a city that greets you getting off the plane with a huge sign that says “Give In To Beer.”

Thursday night, I learned that a dear friend had died this week, most likely from complications of alcoholism. He was only a year older than I am. I think that news kinda put me over the edge…

Which brings me to yesterday. Yesterday was a day off from a new job that I got last summer which has absolutely been my salvation over the past 6 months. I like the work, it truly takes me out of myself and makes me a better person than I am when when I’m by myself. But sometimes the days off are challenging because, well, there’s nobody to talk to.

Yesterday, I felt knots in my stomach, that spinning wheel of loneliness and sadness, fear and despair. As I said later to my sponsor, I was having a tough day…

In the middle of the day, I made some calls and sent out some texts, to see if there was somebody in my orbit who could meet me for lunch or coffee. All those overtures came up empty. People are busy.

At one point, I was driving around town and started thinking, “maybe what I need is a meeting…” I had no idea where there was one in the middle of the day on a Friday. I was in town, driving around, and thought about going over to ‘202,’ but… I just couldn’t quite convince myself to do that, either. It wasn’t until later in the day that I fully realized why.

I didn’t go to 202 for the same reason that I don’t go to more AA meetings like this one: because I really dislike the whole format and structure of these gatherings.

A couple of years ago I ran across a TED talk by a Scandinavian counselor named Johann Hari that talked about the antidote to addiction being not just abstinence but connection.

Connection. That is what I was longing for  yesterday. And sadly it is not what I get at these meetings. I don’t really get a meaningful level of connection and engagement from sitting through an hour of extemporaneous  3 minute monologues. And I really don’t like the unstated pressure to be witty and profound if and when I take my own turn to ‘“share.”

So mostly I come to these meetings, sit in silence, and hope I get to hold a girl’s hand when when we all stand up to recite the Lord’s Prayer (which I usually don’t actually recite.  It’s a Jesus prayer and I’m a Jew.).

I know that the whole “no cross talk” structure of these meetings is essential to their decorum. But jeezus, sometimes what you really need is to actually talk to somebody.  The absence of dialog defeats my whole purpose of being here.  It actually makes me feel more isolated when what I need is something… not superficial. When I need the give and take of an actual conversation.

In the realm of recovery, I know that I’m one of the very lucky ones. The compulsion to drink or smoke or sniff (my primary drug of choice for nearly 20 years was pot; thank god I never got in to heroin or crack…) completely left me after, I dunno, somewhere between 30 and 60 days. That was back in 1987 – 29+ years ago – so I don’t really remember. I just know that there are a lot of recovering alcoholic types who struggle with the compulsion every day. That’s why the program insists that recovery is “One Day At A Time.” So I know that I am among the most fortunate of recovering ‘polyholics.’

What I’m trying to say here is: when I’m feeling isolated and alone – the very conditions that might spark a round of drinking if my sobriety was not as strong as it is – the last thing I need in the world is to sit in a hard chair feeling like a lame loser because I’m not to going to be as entertaining as the guy who “shared” before me or the woman who will share after me.  But that’s the structure. And I sometimes I just fucking hate it.

I come to these meetings because they give me the opportunity to at least experience and be grateful for – if not actually “share” – my sobriety, and the fact that I because I quit sipping, sniffing and puffing nearly 30 years ago, I am still living – even it that presently means struggling with some of the most difficult choices I have ever had to face.

I have an “altar” of sorts in my home on which rest photographs of my ancestors, and also the photographs of several friends whose lives were cut short by their addictions. I have another photo to add to that collection now.

But jeezus, sometimes you just want to talk to somebody. Sometimes you just need a hug.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know damn well that I would not be alive today had I not started going to AA meetings back in 1987.   And I come to meetings so that I don’t take that gift of sobriety for granted.

But yesterday, I needed something else.

OK, I guess my three minutes are up.

Thanks for listening.

RobinWilliams

Where’d Paul Go??

I can’t really know if anybody besides me has been asking that question, but if you’re one of the regulars around here (the numbers may not be legion, but the affection is sincere…) you may have been wondering why the frequency of posts to this site dropped off dramatically in the second half of last year (2016).

At least, I hope somebody noticed, and even if nobody did notice, I’m going to attempt to explain the absence.

So, where did Paul go?

He sorta went into hiding for awhile. His innate tendency to be reclusive and withdrawn when things “go all pear-shaped” got the better of him for several months.

Or, rather, maybe, he just had the wind kicked out of him, and he’s been trying to catch his breath.

Or maybe he’s been thrown into the middle of a lake and is treading water, trying to figure which shore to swim to.

Yeah, that’s it. Treading water.

Chalk it all up to disruption on a personally cosmic scale.

– – – – – – –

I remember exactly when the fabric of my universe started to tear: April 29, 2016.

Ann and I were in Portland, Oregon. She got back in the car and said,

“They want me to start August 1st.”

At that moment, the Big Bang Theory went into full reverse and my Universe started to implode….

Read More

Tomorrow

Tomorrow
I will do the things
All the things
that need the doing
the plant watering
the bird-feeder filling
the cat-box cleaning
the dish-washer emptying
the trash taking out
the compost dumping
the laundry washing
the run to the recycle center
the errands
the shopping
the fridge-stocking.

all those tedious chores
that must be done
so that the plants don’t die
and the cats aren’t crapping
in a litter box
already filled with
their own crap.

But today,
Today is my Saturday
Today is the day I get to do
whatever I want
including the nothing
if that’s what I feel like doing
or not doing.

I’ll write a silly poem or two
I’ll  surf the Interwebs
and post inane things on The Facebook
so that all my friends will think
that I am witty and profound.

I’ll make a few phone calls
send a few emails.
mess about with
my new computer.

I will try to
put aside
all pretense of “purpose”
long enough to let
“random” prevail
because “random” is where
the creative things happen.

So that’s what I’m going to do today.
But tomorrow
I will do the things,
like go to the store
and stock the fridge
so that the day after tomorrow
I don’t starve.

Exit 2016, Enter 2017, Exit…

Well, here’s something good that happened in 2016 that bodes well for 2017…

For the past several years, I have been a regular contributor to the publication Alive Now – a bimonthly publication of the Upper Room Ministries which “speaks to the opportunities and challenges of following Christ in the modern world.”

Anybody who knows me and my lack of (organized) religious conviction will appreciate the irony in that mission statement.

Nevertheless, over the years Alive Now has featured many of my photos from my wanderings amid the medieval ruins of the U.K.  I am endlessly grateful for the patronage of the magazine’s art director, Nancy Terzian and its editor, Beth Richardson – who also selected one of my photos from Scotland to serve as the cover of her book, Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings.

Alive Now has published enough of my photos – and actually paid for them! – that I’ve probably earned enough over the years to reimburse the trips I made to England and Scotland to shoot the photos of medieval ruins that they used (OK, not ALL of the photos were from the UK, but who’s counting?).

alivecover

click to embiggen

Now, the capstone of that fruitful relationship is in place.  After however many years, I finally secured the cover of March/April 2017 edition of Alive Now.  I know it’s a sin, but I’ve coveted a cover for as long as I have been submitting photos, and I finally have one.

Unfortunately, in what feels like a hangover from the annus horribilis known as 2016 (trust me, you want to follow that ‘2016’ link…), the cover comes with its own sad tidings: this will be the final print edition of Alive Now.  The publication will continue, but as has befallen so many print publications in the past decade, all future editions will be online/digital only. Once again, The Medium Is The Message (#TMITM).

The photo on the cover was taken at a monastic ruin in Yorkshire, England called Jervaulx Abbey. I stumbled on Jervaulx while touring the UK in the fall of 2014 looking for more “Portals of Stone.”

Unlike the neatly manicured ruins that are maintained by well-endowed institutions like English Heritage, Jervaulx sits on a private estate. Its owners have gone to considerable effort and expense over the past decade to rehabilitate the ruin, but it still lingers in a state that is more reflective of how these ruins must have stood before their preservation became pet projects for the British aristocracy starting in the 18th century.  That made spending an afternoon at Jervaulx an exercise in time travel that stopped in at least two different centuries at the same time.

And here is the ‘Portals of Stone’ version:

pa160471-edit