Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Anne Lamott to the Rescue (Again)

Over the years, the words of Anne Lamott have helped me through some very difficult and challenging times in my life: my son’s addiction, my father’s death, an extended period of unemployment, and a cancerous tumor on my kidney, to name just a few. So, it came as no surprise whatsoever that Dusk Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage found its way into my hands the same week my father-in-law had a massive stroke and lay in a hospital bed with a very uncertain future. (Cue Twilight Zone theme song here.)

I am incredibly grateful for Anne Lamott and her writings. (So much so that I started the Anne Lamott Quotes account on Twitter, which you should definitely go follow!) To be honest, I’ve pretty much fallen in love with every book she’s ever written. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of her novels!) That’s why my brand new love affair with Dusk Night Dawn was entirely predictable. But, even though I may be a bit biased, please trust me: This one’s another winner.

Annie tells it like it is and, quite often, tells it like she wishes it was. After all, she admits to us that “most of my life force goes into trying to self-will life and me into cooperating with how I think things should be.” On the other hand, though, she seems to be making some progress in her “third third” (love that term!) of life. “I am slowly making my way from a hypnotized engine of delusion and self-obsession to being a bit more real, a smidge more alive more often. I’ll take it. I am learning to live more often in reckless love.”


Speaking of love, that’s covered in Dusk Night Dawn, too, as Annie frequently talks about her still-relatively-new marriage to her soulmate, Neal. Sure, she loves and adores him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a target at times. “When I’m watching him, I observe what a tall, nice-looking, thoughtful focused know-it-all he is. He comes from a family of know-it-alls. His brothers are just like him. I love them, but at our family vacations it is like Wikipedia with PMS.” 

My favorite essays in Dusk Night Dawn are probably “Lunch-Money Faith” and “Light Breezes.” In “Lunch-Money Faith,” Annie talks about her friend Terri who, one day at church, told her, “I have made a life and career out of being a good sport…And I am worn out.” Annie concurs. “Me too. I am sick and tired of being such a good sport and worker bee, chin up and adorably ironic, while we notice how much worse things have grown.” Amen to that. Aren’t we all just a little tired at this point?


Meanwhile, in “Light Breezes” Annie explores one of my favorite “D” words: Dread. As a lifelong catastrophizer, I can easily relate to what Lamott calls “my most reliable companion, always there for me, like God in a bad mood,” sharing with us that “Dread was my governess growing up.” She adds, “If Dread is not still right there at my side, she’s there in the wings, humming her hymns, drumming her fingers, knowing there is always a place for her in my heart. Life will push her call button.”


In true Anne Lamott fashion, though, there is lots of positivity in Dusk Night Dawn, too. “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress,” Annie writes. “Yet the center may just hold.” She also posits that “Hope springs from realizing we are loved, can love, and are love with skin on. Then we are unstoppable.”


Dusk Night Dawn is classic Anne Lamott, full of observation, honesty, sarcasm, positivity, self-deprecating humor (“I have a doctorate in morbid reflection.”), and the occasional eff bomb (“Never disobey Sunday school teachers. They will fuck with you.”). If you need a little bit of hope and courage, do yourself a favor and read this book. And remember: “The kitten isn’t dead. The kitten is in the living room.” (You’ll have to read the book to understand the meaning of that!)

"In the third third of life, you may become just as miserable and prickly as ever, but you cycle through more quickly. You remember other dark nights of the soul and how by dawn they always broke. You discover that everything helps you learn who you are, and that this is why we are here. You roll your eyes at yourself more gently. You sigh and go make yourself a cup of tea." --Anne Lamott

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020: Damn, This Is Weird

COVID-19 sucks. 2020 sucks. And for a lot of people, Thanksgiving 2020 might suck. But not for me. Don't get me wrong--this Thanksgiving is gonna be weird with a capital W, because I won't be able to see any of my immediate family. My 89-year-old mom. My youngest sister. My oldest sister. My brother. My two sons. I won't see any of them on my favorite holiday because of this stupid coronavirus. And it's super weird.

My wife and I will, however, be having Thanksgiving dinner with our next door neighbors. That might sound crazy, but our next door neighbors are like extended family. Kathy and I are old enough to be their parents (I think), but we have been incredible friends since they moved in several years ago. Not only that, their two boys--ages one-and-half-ish and going on four--are like our surrogate grandchildren. We babysit them all the time and love them with all our heart.The reason we're having dinner with our neighbors is because they are in our "pod." We've stayed in contact with them pretty much since this COVID bullshit started, and we're all very careful not to have much contact with others. Plus, we're pretty much family. 

So we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with people not related to us, but it will still be fun. I hope you have a fun Thanksgiving, too, no matter who you're celebrating with.

Now, onto the purpose of this post: a gratitude list! 

It's funny: I used to post on this blog pretty often. But since I found a job I truly love, I've been busy. In fact, the last post I made to this blog was last Thanksgiving. And it was a gratitude list. Maybe I'll just come back here once a year to list a bunch of things I'm grateful for. Who knows? In any case, here's my stream of consciousness gratitude list for 2020. There may be overlaps from last year, but so be it. 

Some Things I Am Grateful For

Katinka (a.k.a. my lovely wife Kathy; always at the very top of my gratitude list)
My job with Families Against Narcotics (FAN) and all the amazing people I work with
My 89-year-old mom
My two sons, Sam and Josh
15 months of sobriety for Sam
My new-to-me 2006 Pontiac Solstice
My amazing next door neighbors and their adorable boys
Great neighbors all around me
Law & Order reruns
People who believe in me
My ceramic, light-up Penobscot Building
A nice home to live in
My new front porch and railing
Music and the people who make it
Mickey, our 15-year old sweetheart of a cat
Anne Lamott
The Anne Lamott Quotes Twitter feed
Jason and the Clear Minds sober living house
Good health
32 years of marriage
A sense of humor
Kathleen Edwards
Pizza (always!)
Clean water to drink
My grandma's soup recipe
My father-in-law
My electrophysiologist
The ability to help others
The Leelanau School
My brothers- and sisters-in-law
The New York Times crossword and Spelling Bee puzzles
Facebook Marketplace
Apple products
Freshly baked bread with butter
Reasonably good cooking skills
Memories of my dad
Memories of my grandparents
Hope (always)
Retro-Taku Videogames
Good health insurance

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this. I hope you're able to enjoy the day, even if you can't be with the people who matter to you most. And if you've lost people who matter to you, I hope they live on for you in the memories you have of them.

Peace, love, and good food. And please wear a mask.

What are you grateful for today?


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Gratitude

It's been forever since I've written anything for this blog, and even longer since I've written anything of a personal nature here. But today I decided I'd stop by and write a simple gratitude list for Thanksgiving. This year has certainly been a challenge, but I still have plenty to be grateful for. So, here goes...

Some Things I Am Grateful For

Katinka (aka my lovely wife Kathy)
My job with Families Against Narcotics (FAN)
My 88-year-old mom
My two sons, Sam and Josh
91 days of sobriety for Sam
The City of Grosse Pointe Police Department
My amazing next door neighbors and their adorable boys
Great neighbors all around me
A nice home to live in
Music and the people who make it
13 years of kitty love from Ryan (RIP, sweet boy)
Mickey, the sole survivor of the Kitty Triangle trio
Anne Lamott
The Anne Lamott Quotes Twitter feed
Jason and the Clear Minds sober living house
Good health
31 years of marriage
Reasonably decent cooking skills
A sense of humor
Live PD
Clean water to drink
My mom's cheesecake recipe
My in-laws
Random acts of kindness
Brian Andreas
My siblings
Stuff my wife knits for me
The ability to help others
The Leelanau School
Sam Lamott's "How to Human" podcast
Peace and quiet
The smell of baking bread
Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet (two books by Matt Haig)
Hope (always)

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this. I hope you're able to enjoy the day with the people who matter most to you. And if you've lost people who matter to you, I hope they live on for you in the memories you have of them.

Peace, love, and good food.

What are you grateful for today?


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Book Review: Once More We Saw Stars

Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir is a book that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational. Jayson Greene wastes no time getting to the accident that took the life of his 2-year-old daughter, Greta, much too soon; we learn about the tragedy on the second page of the book. From there, Greene takes us on a journey that includes loss, heartbreak, anger, grief, guilt, and just about every other emotion you can imagine. Just how does a young couple deal with such a devastating loss? Greene's brutally honest and beautiful writing makes the reader feel like they are right there with him, his wife Stacy, and his mother-in-law Susan ("Grandma Suz," who was with Greta when the accident occurred) as they navigate their way through the unthinkable. Learning how each one of them manages to live through such a horrible event and come out relatively okay on the other side is an inspiration.

I found myself getting teary-eyed more times than I can remember while reading Once More We Saw Stars. Some of the things that are said by Jayson and Stacy are just gut-wrenching. For example, not long after Greta's death, Stacy says, "Haven't we done this long enough? Can't we have her back now?" And at one point, Jayson writes: "A pall of societal shame hovers over everyone in this club....Children who lose parents are orphans; bereaved spouses are widows. But what do you call parents who lose children? It seems telling to me there is no word in our language for our situation. It is unspeakable, and by extension, we are not supposed to exist."

This book also teaches us about the grieving process, and how no two people will go through it in the same way. "Grief is fluid, and it is always changing," a grief expert tells Jayson and Stacy during a retreat. "Above all, 'grief is unique as a fingerprint. We can show you the stages, but they are not a linear journey. In the end, nothing and no one can hand you the map to your own grief.'"

Yes, this is a sad book. But it is also a book that reinforces the idea that people can--and do--find the strength to deal with unfathomable loss and learn to live again. Is it easy? Hell, no. But if you work hard at it, you can overcome even the worst things in life. I've never been able to imagine what losing a child would be like--until now. Kudos to Jayson Greene for his courageous memoir. Once More We Saw Stars will make you cry, but it will also make you smile. Especially after the birth of the couple's new son, Harrison, of whom Jayson writes: "Under his tutelage, I can feel a frankly ludicrous conviction growing inside of me. We--myself and my wife, the growing child in front of us and the one we never see--are going to be all right."

Take it from me: This one's a must-read.

Jayson Greene and his late daughter, Greta. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Anna David Learned from Her Mistakes...and We Can, Too

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an adult son who has struggled on and off with severe depression and addiction for more than a dozen years. I don't try to hide that from anybody. In fact, my son's issues inspired me to become a recovery and mental health advocate. Along the way, I've read just about every book on addiction and recovery I've been able to get my hands on, including countless memoirs and self-help books by people in recovery. And I have to say, How to Get Successful by F*cking Up Your Life: Essays on Addiction & Recovery by Anna David is one of the best I've read.

David is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Party Girl, a semi-autobiographical tale about a celebrity journalist who falls victim to a world of drugs, alcohol, and sex, which leads to her self-destruction before she finally finds sobriety. While Party Girl may have been classified as fiction, How to Get Successful by F*cking Up Your Life is 100 percent authentic.

In David's latest book, she shares essays that document her struggles with addiction and her journey to recovery. The essays, which are brutally honest and oftentimes laugh-out-loud hilarious, are grouped into three sections: What It Was Like [Pre-Sobriety]; What Happened [Early Sobriety]; and What It’s Like Now [Today]. This format allows the reader to ride along and witness first-hand the progress David made on her road to sobriety (potholes and all). And while the essays alone make this book highly entertaining and educational, David goes a step further and includes a value-added twist to the end of each one.

Personally, I think the "Lesson Learned" feature that appears after each essay is the absolute best part of How to Get Successful by F*cking Up Your Life. This is where David shines the brightest, taking the frequently negative experiences of her addiction/recovery journey and reframing them into a positive lesson that she, and others, can use to improve life going forward.

For example, in the essay entitled "What Addiction Sounded Like," David talks about how cocaine, the drug that once kept the party going all night long for her, had betrayed her. "It made me unable to do anything but sit in front of my computer and shake," she reveals. And while sitting in front of her computer, trying to write, the computer would emit an annoying "BEEP!" every 60 seconds. "I lived in fear of the beep," David confesses. "It somehow symbolized just how bad things were." At the end of the essay, David shares her lesson learned--“Remember the Bad Times (So You Don’t Repeat Them)”--and provides the reader with some insightful words of wisdom.

Anna David is a gifted, intelligent, funny writer, and this collection of essays shows us that a person can make mistakes in life--BIG mistakes--and still find success and contentment. As she says in the Introduction, David hasn't followed "the typical paths. But at this point in my life I can honestly say I feel successful on all levels…not just with what I’ve achieved but with how I feel about what I’ve achieved, not to mention how I feel about what I haven’t achieved." That’s not a bad place to be, and I'm guessing most people would be incredibly happy to feel the same way. Reading How to Get Successful by F*cking Up Your Life might just help them get there.

Anna David (photo from her Facebook page)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

HopCat (Finally) Does the Right Thing

Back in July of 2015, I wrote a piece about why the name of HopCat's "Crack Fries" bothered me. (The blog first appeared on The Fix's website, then was published here as well.) At that time, HopCat told me, "We have no plans to change the name." Well, it took a while, but HopCat is finally doing the right thing. Today they announced that they are indeed changing the name of their "Crack Fries."

In a statement on their website, HopCat says: "We chose the name more than 11 years ago as a reference to the addictive quality of the fries and their cracked pepper seasoning, without consideration for those the drug negatively affected. We were wrong."

Big kudos to HopCat for making the change. And while I admit that my blog more than likely didn't have anything to do with this development, I like to imagine some HopCat bigwigs referencing it during some important meeting. In any case, this change is a good thing. I might even go check out the HopCat in downtown Detroit now.

If you'd like to read more, here's the link to a good mLIVE story about the name change:

HopCat's Crack Fries Are Getting a Name Change

And here's a video from Mark Gray, CEO of Barfly Ventures, which is HopCat's parent company:

Monday, December 10, 2018

High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction

I just posted a review of the monumental new book by David and Nic Sheff. It's called High: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction, and it's a book that every young person and their parents should read.

As you probably already know, David Sheff is the author of Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, which was recently made into a movie (Beautiful Boy) starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet. And Nic Sheff told his side of his story of addiction in the book Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines. Now they've joined forces to write High, a fabulous, informative book that has been needed for many years.

If you'd like to read my review of High--and, hopefully, give it a "Helpful" vote over at Amazon (those are always appreciated)--click on this link:

Take me to Dean's review of High on Amazon.com

I think this book is going to be huge when it comes out on 1/8/19. Kudos to David and Nic Sheff for creating it. It's going to save a lot of lives.

Nic and David Sheff