Week Seven: -anon Expert

February 19, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized)

If anyone’s still out there, you can probably tell I’m getting sick of these blogs from the fact that I’m perpetually a week or two behind. The problem is that I’m just tired of pretending I’m an expert on everything. I’m not, and I know it. And I really learned it when I tried to write this week’s blog seven times.

I went to Al-anon last weekend. I wanted to rip it a new one via blog after the way it made me feel, but then I talked to a billion people — experts and laymen — about it, and I realize how irresponsible that would be. People go to Al-anon for the right reasons: to deal with family members or friends that are alcoholics and who have affected their lives irreparably. To discount that or oppose Al-anon’s effects for those who haven’t even tried it yet would be obnoxious. As I said a second ago, I’m no expert. Especially after having only gone once. I am just a girl with an opinion and a blog.

My opinion was that Al-anon was crap.  Al-anon emptied me of control; and yet I attended the meeting because I already felt out of control. I identified with the members who said they feel helpless, they must change things and they want desperately to save the people they love who are destroying themselves and those around them. I was shaking, sweating and dizzy trying to understand how they could be nonchalant about these things. Follow the 12-step program and “it will work if you work it?” That was the oversimplification of the year.

The common thread among us who sat around the three cafeteria-style tables in the 1940s basement of a 12-step house is that we are bubbling over with anxiety: we cannot handle the chaos and we cannot handle the un-smooth course our lives are on because of someone else. And if — my greatest fear — the alcoholics in our lives die, we will feel like failures. Already, I feel like a failure. The alcoholic in my life has put distance between us, has distanced from all of us and tells lies and half-truths to keep themselves (using the third-person plural here to keep it anonymous, thank you) protected. Alcoholism is more than a chemical dependency: It is a shield from terrible pain. It took more than the Al-anon meeting to realize this. It took me talking to independent counselors, as well. Once I realized that, I realized how deep this person’s sadness goes. This person obviously knows the therapeutic options and resources out there for them, and yet this person is so afraid of life they cling instead to alcohol until they black out from it. They are afraid of a life where they are conscious. That threw me. And although I had scoffed and scoffed and scoffed at the fact that, in going to Al-anon, I had to commit to taking all 12 steps of the alcoholic’s 12-step program, I realize now the benefit. I, too, need management for the pain.

Step 1:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

I stopped here and scoffed. What the hell? How did this apply to me? I was pretty much done here, but when we got to the other steps and talk of God, seemingly cult-like chanting while greeting of new members and sickeningly religious and vague mantras to live by, my stomach turned over and I turned off. I wanted to be helped by Al-anon, but I wanted mostly to know how to help my friend. I don’t fucking need any help. I don’t fucking need 12 fucking stupid fucking steps.

I took a few days and I thought about it, and I’ve decided that I truly am powerless to alcohol. Not because I drink it. Because I want to help the alcoholic cut their umbilical cord to the drug, and I didn’t recognize that their actions are beyond my control. I want to change my friend, and that is beyond my control. I keep saying I don’t want to control them but that I want to save them — and that is also beyond my control. The reality is that my friend really might die. That’s beyond my control. Now that I’ve realized I’m trying to control things that have nothing to do with me, I feel helpless. I am powerless.

Step 1 achieved. Great. I feel like shit and my friend is likely going to die.

I took a week or so with this thought. It’s still a lot to get my mind around. I don’t know if that particular meeting, tinged with religion and group-think, is for me. But those people need those steps. It’s sanity for them. One young girl came to me and told me I should try other meetings. That they’re not all the same. And because I feel so goddamn helpless, I think I might. I think I have to. Otherwise, I will certainly lose my sanity over this.

In the meantime, in lieu of begging my friend to change or staging a rash intervention —  which research has shown is likely to make them feel attacked, push them away and act as impetus for further and greater drinking — I need to work on being a better friend. If I can’t solve their problems, I can reach out in my own way. I love this person. My world is incomplete without this person. I can’t give up.

So, I am powerless, but I am not useless. I want anyone struggling with an alcoholic’s behavior to know that. Al-anon upset me because it made me feel I should just accept things the way they are. That’s not what they meant, and that girl was right: That group — that particular group of people and their thinking — was not for me. But accepting my place in this whole mess is important. When the group chanted this mantra of “live and let live,” I misunderstood. I now take it to mean that I need to see things as they are. I need to accept reality just as my friend needs to accept their reality. So what can I do? I can be a good friend. I can do that as best I can. But as for changing my friend’s life, and addictive and unsafe and delusional behaviors: I think Al-anon would agree that only the alcoholic can help themselves.

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Week Six: Writing Down the Bones

February 15, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized)

This blog is becoming harder for me to write. As the weeks go by, I’m keenly aware of all the new things I do every day that allow me to check off “New thing accomplished this week” on my blog list, but rarely am I inspired enough to write a blog about them. This starts a whole cycle of disappointment and self-hate, which — I’m reading a lot about in “Writing Down the Bones” —  is what writers do best.

I was at my friend K’s place the other night, and we were talking about my days of nannying, and how amazing the questions are that 2-year-olds ask because every moment is new, and every day is opportunity for new questions. And then I reflected back on a conversation I had with my boyfriend where I asked if he minded that I wanted a lifetime of reading and taking courses and learning new things. “Is that really nerdy?” I asked. “No,” he said. “That’s curiosity.”

I am definitely curious, and every day, I do learn something new. I ask new questions, I try new things, I take bigger risks. So while not everything may warrant a blog or turn out to be column-worthy for the masses, I have to remember that the original reason for this blog was to keep myself sharp and motivated during low points of employment, and to express myself instead of trying to be what others expect me to be.

The next blog is an example of a risk. I’m uncomfortable writing it, I’m uncomfortable sharing it and I was uncomfortable being there. But I want this blog to take me somewhere, and that place just might have to be the doghouse.

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Week Five: I Value Trash Cans.

February 12, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized)

I’m agonizing over this post and have been. I don’t know what to write because I’m a perfectionist and I have to approach this like an assignment, which is making it un-fun, which is why it is not coming. I don’t have a title because I don’t know what to write about and vice versa. I’ll  just tell you this: I didn’t like LA.

Not this time around. The 26 times before this, I wanted to move there, but this time, with my Iowa boyfriend and my newfound commitment to the Midwest as I begin to settle my mind  and my future here, I realize I filter LA through a Chicago lens. I am Chicago. I am my friends and my parks and underground theater community and my above-ground transportation that obviates the need for cars and cabs and encourages walking. I am my own person, here.

I had a lot more on my mind when I wrote this post, and WordPress lost it all. Lucky for me, I’m a writer. I have great thoughts and lose them on the way to the bathroom. So I will just let it go. But I will say this: LA has no trash cans, and I notice it because in Chicago, there is one on every block. They look identical no matter where in the city’s 228 sq. miles you are, and they are in the same place on the corner, so you know to expect them.

LA has no trash cans, such that I carried bits of paper and folded up Post-it note and gum wrapper with me all day, suffering as they poked me while I sat in Craig Ferguson’s audience and in cabs and walked furiously around Westwood Village trying to find somewhere to sit. Yeah! No benches either. Chicago actually is a community, and we value that community. With trash cans. And wide sidewalks designed for people; not for the convention of urban planning. And benches. And parks. And people who fucking give a damn about other people and not how hooked up they are going to be in the poshest club that night.

By the way: I went to that night club, and I fell asleep. And so fucking what? There were like 40 people ambling around that sweet club, not knowing what to do with themselves. I had a better time than they did.

And oh! The ocean. The reason I have loved and dreamt about living in LA. What is up with it being so under-appreciated? I wanted to hug it; everyone else watched it through a digital camera on the Santa Monica Pier. To what end?

There’s just a lot more to appreciate about Chicago and a lot more people who appreciate it here. I feel I have found my place in the world, and I am so happy to be surrounded by friends who are happy. I don’t believe a single person in LA has found anything of themselves. And that’s what this post is about. That’s my something new. I’m fucking happy. Shit. That’s a great thing to have to blog about.

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Week Four: The Late Late Blog (with Craig Ferguson)

February 1, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I like to go to bed happy, which is why you’ll find me in bed with my “Craigers” at least a couple times a week. My boyfriend doesn’t mind. He has a crush on the guy, too. So when he got us tickets to the show knowing we were going to be in LA, I jumped around the apartment giddy.

We were — ok, I was — so excited that we planned for weeks to get up pretty early from my best friend’s home in Westwood Village on the Thursday of the taping, and then we were going to head to the CBS studios before noon and wait in line with the other screaming fans for about three hours, hoping and praying to get inside the enormous studio. I FREAKED OUT when our cabbie told us the six-mile ride (yes, I had researched) would cost $25. I thought he was anticipating major traffic and I wanted to MAKE SURE we were going to get to see Craigers. No, it turns out LA cabs cost twice the price of New York City’s. I’ll just leave that for you to ponder.

When we arrived at the CBS Studios, I was sure we were in the wrong place: the buildings were as unimpressive and gray-stoned as the National Institutes of Health Research Campus outside of DC. Boring, government-like, set back from the road and shielded from view by hedges. SO not Hollywood. There were no signs anywhere, so we confidently chose an entrance and awoke a parking attendant who leaned out of his box only to wave us around a block-and-a-half. The whole distance of the black metal fence there were no signs. Nothing that indicated “taping” or “Craig Ferguson” or “line forms here…” Just hedges and sidewalk and fence. Cold and corporate.

The bubble burst a little harder when we ducked into another entrance-thing and the security dude chuckled at us for being so early. Yes, this was where the line was going to form but we should be fine if we came back at 3… for the 3pm taping. WHAT?! Broadway shows sell out but Craigers doesn’t? I was shocked.

In a daze, we walked down to the Grove, a meticulous outdoor shopping area with posh people, too cold in the 68-degree weather to stand outside for long, darting in and out of the extravagant boutiques. We watched a toddler dancing with a Bellagio knock-off fountain as it rose and fell to Frank Sinatra and Lionel Richie. We got some sun on our chalky faces. We people-watched. We almost fell asleep from heatstroke, Chicago’s 2-degree temps a distant memory.

At 2:45, we headed back toward the gate and saw no one. How the heck does the show stay on the air with absolutely no fans? Was the theater going to be empty? As I stood there holding our place in the line (what line?), my boyfriend re-approached the security dude, who pointed us to a shaded area where every other audience member had already gone through a pat down, a metal detector, a bag search and was now sitting on metal bleacher benches. Staff members wrote a number ‘3’ in Sharpie on our hands and put us in the last bleacher row. I now knew we were going to be sitting in the back.

Young warm-up guy who resembled annoying-man-with-spiky-hair from  “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came out after 15 minutes and told lame jokes and begged us to cheer and clap on cue when his boss, “Chunky B” came out “in a few minutes.” Chunky B took his sweet time, but eventually his appearance brought lamer jokes and more of them, dragging out the process and generally making me too tired too care if we ever got inside. He accosted us like a true panhandler, pleading with outstretched arms for loud cheering on Craig’s behalf, hungry for applause and bowing his head and shoulders in pathetic disappointment at yesterday’s audience. He made me uncomfortable when he asked us to not be smilers but to be laughers. To not use our inside laughter but to really bring guffaws. I was nauseated at how seriously he took himself, but I’m a good kid and I follow directions. This is how I lost my voice before the taping even began.

After 20 minutes more of this exhaustion (and not even a t-shirt!) we went inside something so blah I hoped it was the warehouse, and wound through narrow and pointless corridors, around dark corners, past cheaply painted grey-blue walls with no character, up stairs, down stairs, etc., etc.  I was still in denial, still desperate to be impressed, but I was about to find out how much about television is truly smoke and mirrors. We ambled on; then stood for awhile outside more nothingness, stopping before — perhaps for effect — a small rectangle fluorescent sign that lit up the number ’56’ in red. This was the most impressive thing we had seen thus far. Don’t quote me on the number, but this was definitely the place where it all was about to happen. I felt myself getting excited again.

We got inside almost too quickly to process the studio which I had wanted to be unveiled to me in some dramatic form, and I did double and triple takes, squeezing my eyes shut and then opening them again, hoping to be surprised when my peripheral vision opened up and revealed more studio to me. It didn’t work that way. The studio was unbelievably tiny. “We’re only 108 people,” Chunky B said and repeated. “Letterman is 465, we only have room for 108. We need you to bring that 108 strong so the people at home think we are at least … 116.” Ahahaha… Ugh.

The thought occurred to me that if this guy was in charge of the comedy warm-up it did not bode well for the rest of my day, but I dismissed it, deciding, as he lectured us on how to laugh, that anything that followed would be hilarious by comparison. He gave us test-taking instructions on how to laugh loud and long immediately following anything that came out of Craig’s mouth. If we didn’t get the joke, we were not to pause. Laugh! If it was a bad joke, we were not to sigh. Laugh! If it offended us, no cringing. Laugh! And if we couldn’t hear what was said, more laughter! The woman down the row from me fell asleep. I laughed.

I looked around the studio the size of my apartment and figured other audiences had not laughed hard enough. There was not a square foot to spare up on that kitchen of a stage. When they started with Corinne Bailey Rae and her band, the desk had to be moved out of the way on a track; then moved back when she finished. And she wasn’t even the musical guest for Thursday’s show! It was Wilco who appeared on TV that night, which Craig announced from his desk at the end of the taping; then after the ‘cut’ finally and for the first time acknowledged the audience and said, “No, they’re not here. They were here yesterday.” I felt very sad for Craig.

Surprisingly enough, it was Rosie O’Donnell who brightened my day, and we had only chosen to see her as guest because we figured her self-made and ongoing controversy would be more interesting than anything Jon Heder (our other choice) had to offer. The one thing we really wanted to see were the puppets, and because one of Rosie’s kids begged her to twist Craig’s arm for a puppet skit she could watch on YouTube, we got to see them too. I was definitely sad to see that he doesn’t control the puppets at all — just their voices — but I guess this is something I should have already figured out. Regardless, Rosie, Craig, some crew members who had last been seen instructing us around a corner and three puppets — all clad in Robert Palmer black with blond wigs and red lips — lip-synced through a musical number for the opener of the show. I spent the entire time straining my neck to see if that short, unassuming man in a dress really was Craig Ferguson and subsequently missed the whole thing.

They then moved the desk back into place and Craig came out and started his monologue. No time to straighten up, change into a suit (although of course he did), shift gears or rehearse his lines. The show just started. And I didn’t hear a thing except the audience, roaring with me over a long, drawn-out comedy obit for J.D. Salinger. I’ll have to watch the DVR for the gems because the whole time I was in the audience I just watched Chunky B like a young chorister watches a conductor: waiting for cues. He wanted swelling laughter — I swelled the shit out of my laugh. He wanted it to subside — I babbled it down to a brook. And when he wanted noise, I made all kinds of noise, yelling nonsense and and twice blurting out scales just to fill the room. When there was waning silence, I giggled a few times to make Craig’s good humor seem authentically contagious, sounding awful and unreal and hopefully being cut in the editing room. (Except my friends H and M watched and recorded the whole thing and they said they could pick me right out. I was sitting behind a mike, so I figured that would happen, but I really hoped they had a canned studio audience to put in my place.)

I laughed so hard I hurt myself, and I basically missed the whole show (damn, Chunky B!) trying my darndest to make Craig happy. I did catch the part where Rosie O’Donnell gave us all free Sirius XM radios with car kits and three-month subscriptions. That definitely was unexpected and put me back in the happy place I was beginning to think existed only in Oprah’s cushy studio audience, but it, too, happened SO FAST. And then it was over. I was exhausted, my head hurt from forced laughing, I had lost my voice and I had missed the whole show.

Seeing the man behind the curtain was an awesome and unique experience, but I give a lot of credit to the camera men, the lighting crew and those hard-working audience members for making The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson look so much bigger than it really is. I can’t wait to see my Craigers again, but from now on it will be from the comfort of my own bed. Because I now know that all those times I watched him at home and swore he was talking to me, he really was.

I love him for that.

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