Monday, July 17, 2017

A Portrait of the Artist as a Catholic Schoolboy

"Then he wondered at the vagueness of his wonder, at the remoteness of his own soul from what he had hitherto imagined her sanctuary, at the frail hold which so many years of order and obedience had of him when once a definite and irrevocable act of his threatened to end for ever, in time and in eternity, his freedom. The voice of the director urging upon him the proud claims of the church and the mystery and power of the priestly office repeated itself idly in his memory. His soul was not there to hear and greet it and he knew now that the exhortation he had listened to had already fallen into an idle formal tale. He would never swing the thurible before the tabernacle as priest. His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders. The wisdom of the priest's appeal did not touch him to the quick. He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world."

- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Camp Log

Porcupine Mountains -- Lake Superior Trail

Biting black flies. Everywhere. That's alright. At least the storm is over. At least it's not snake season, like it was last summer.

It was a relatively easy hike in. Throughout the four mile journey I marveled at how infrequently I needed to stop in comparison to last summer, how physically capable I felt this time around; "I guess I was sitting in an office nine to five back this time last year," I remarked to Beth while crossing the wood bridge over the Little Carp River gorge. We frantically set up the tarp and tent near a heavily-bouldered stretch of shoreline, beating a fierce and frantic storm by seconds, literally. It felt relaxing to hunker down in the tent with our books and watch the storm blow through the screen window of the tent, Superior's gales howling like spirits, its surf crashing like battle ships, until the bottom of the tent started to puddle.

Lake Michigamme -- Van Riper

First air of summer up your nose. Campfire, fresh air, pine needles on the floor. Play camp games, ride your bikes, and pray you don't get old.

Longetudinal clouds like rows of cotton extending to the horizon -- the western shores of Lake Michigamme -- where mountains of blue green were juxtaposed against a sapphire sky. Miniature American flags are staked at campsites throughout (large ones, too), a lone boy fishing at the lake, whiffle ball, swimming, making railroad pennies, up to no good out along railroad tracks. Grown ups lounging languidly in folding chairs underneath camper awnings and mosquito tents, dog sleeping in the heat, retired grandfathers sleeping with beers in their hands. The tugboat choo of the Illinois Central train horn sounds sundown, its smoke above the pines visible before its red head end emerges along the shore, followed by its short tail of black box cars. Once upon a time it carried great loads of iron ore from the mining country to the straits of the Sault and further south. At night, in the tent, distant explosions in the sky echo another American Independence Day.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chapter 29 Excerpt

11 - BURR
17 - HULL
26 - KOCUR



He had gone to bed and tried to get some sleep. Both the pillows and the mattress crackled with every movement. They were all encased in heavy plastic. And he began to sweat. For a moment, he slept, then came the nightmare. That one guy in the lounge had called them St. Mary’s Revenge. About them, another patient had asked, ‘You ever hear of paying the piper?’”

- Barry Longyear, Saint Mary Blue

When I began sneaking liquor out of parents’ liquor cabinets in my teens I was naive to the villainous alter ego of alcoholism. I knew only of fun nights and the sweet buzz of intoxication. Because D.A.R.E. had falsely instructed me to regard marijuana as an evil on the same parallel as heroin, crack, and even methamphetamine, I had discarded all information they had indoctrinated us in regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, along with any other useful concepts of alcoholism I might have learned in my “Morality” courses in the catholic schoolrooms of Divine Child High with the queer-sounding Father Ed, a balding priest in monk’s robes; I had stopped believing in God, then, and though I aced most of my mandatory religion courses – always the easiest classes in high school – I consciously refused to retain any of the lessons and outdated notions the priests and nuns may have been trying to impress upon me. As such, it was with dumbfounded horror that I started experiencing the otherworldly phenomenon known in recovery circles as “Saint Mary’s Revenge,” the nightmares and hallucinations induced by acute alcohol withdrawal.

That winter I suffered through some of the worst of those godforsaken episodes; they were amplified by long, unpredictable benders usually bookended by three to four weeks of sobriety. The horrors of the most recent withdrawal episode fresh in my mind, I was routinely able to accumulate upwards of two to three weeks sobriety in between benders, sporadically and irregularly attending AA meetings when it was convenient, discussing the recurring relapses frankly with my substance abuse therapist, but always at some point forgetting. Always at some point the burning memory of the latest bender, and the macroscopic horror of my drinking problem cumulatively would diminish, flickering like a cottage candle down to its last layer of wax.

At such junctures my addiction whispered false hopes in my ear, having cunningly bided its time until my resolve inevitably lapsed. It told that I’d never have an ounce of fun again if I never drank, that it’d be downright impossible to find female companionship without the assistance of alcohol, that I was merely a highly functioning alcoholic, and that there was nothing wrong with that, among other lies. It told me that I wanted a drink, that I always would. It somehow made me forget those wretched withdrawals.

However many days a particular relapse might last, and however many days I pushed off the withdrawal with a misguided tapering regiment, I inevitably faced the worst nights of acute withdrawal each time. During the dark mornings and the long daytime hours I endured deep depressive moods punctuated by paranoia and anxiety, constantly trembling hands and painful bowel movements that could only be eased by long, five mile to ten mile walks which I often went on. But it gets the worst at night. At night I shutter and shake involuntarily, I see shadows moving in the streets, in the windows across the street, in the woods. 

The sports broadcasts at night help a little. The smooth, conversational tone of a late night hockey or baseball game from the west coast quiets strange voices in my head, but past midnight, when even the west coasts games are over, the demons awake. During the midnight hours and the early morning hours that succeed it, I experienced some of the darkest terrors that alcohol withdrawal had to offer: the most vivid nightmares, ghastly hallucinations, doomsday premonitions, the lines between them blurred by a nervous system in shock. I woke from short, lucid states of sleep – if I managed to get any at all – from nightmares so real that I clutched my comforter close, half-expecting an apparition or a butcher-wielding madman to materialize at the foot of my bed, the midnight blackness of my basement bedroom shadowy in the blue glow of Sportscenter, kept on all night to ward off dark forces, my clove of garlic.

Deprived of R.E.M. sleep during a bender, the sudden shift to withdrawal makes for some of the worst of what the human brain is capable of. The most impressionable of the nightmares recurred multiple times: that of my personal Judgment Day in Hell. In it, I am traversing as if on a conveyor belt towards the lair of the devil, which is on the opposite end of the big black stadium that surrounds me, the seating decks and luxury boxes burned black and charred amidst drooping globs of red lava. White skeletal figures and shrouded demons harass me like pirates, as if to warn me of the consequences of a vice-driven life, clawing and heckling along the path to Satan’s Judgment. I never quite get to the lair; I usually wake sweating and shaking with withdrawal just before the moment of truth, red-eyed and wet-brained and breathing heavily. Each time I wake with the Catholic guilt of an alcoholic sinner, knowing instinctively that I’m going to Hell for my hard-partying ways, my continued inability to resurrect myself from them. I should have paid more attention in all those religion courses throughout the years, I lamented, and I shouldn’t have been going through the motions all those Friday and Sunday mornings in church; I should have been internalizing Father Bondi’s preachings instead of carrying on with an endless, imaginary college football season in my head. In my desperation, I prayed to the God I knew in those days for the first time in many years. “I’ll do anything,” I told Him. 

Summer Nights in Upper Michigan

I see birds soaring through the clouds outside my window
Smell the fresh paint of a comfort shade on this new fall day
Feel the coffee surge through morning veins from half an hour ago
Hear the sounds of shots and screams out in the hallway

Spent my last weekend camping out
Again down the roadways
Just me and Joan and a couple of friends on this beautiful trail
Watched the sun slip down behind a mountain stream in these great Cascades
Saw a mighty hawk swoop down upon a stream to devour its prey

- Drive By Truckers, "Guns of Umpqua"