The Hangover

images-3I am suffering from a bad hangover. A very bad hangover. Not even a shower seemed to help. It feels as if I have been stuffed with bags of sand and implanted with a metallic heart. My chest hurts. I am having difficulty breathing because of a pain in my back. Walking a straight line takes effort and my gut feels like it contains the remnants of a battlefield. All last night I wrestled with sleep trying to pin it down. Instead, I kept awakening with irregular heartbeats, pulsating ears and a parched mouth. I was nauseous and had images in my head of funerals and jumping over a cliff. A pin or nail seemed to be sticking out the side of my left temple- causing me an unbearable ache . My wife, snoring away by my side, was at peace in the womb of a deep inebriated sleep. I on the other hand was struggling….paying for my night of fun.

Even though I did not drink that much last night (three margaritas and two beers) I should understand by now that if I have more than one drink- all the ills of human kind are going to shower down upon me. One would think that after years of drinking and then spending nights and days in a kind of physical hell (that over the years has decreased the strength of my body and mind)- that I would sensibly abstain from having more than one glass of booze at a time. I have tried to invoke the powers of a healthy life style. I went on long meditation retreats and once did not speak for six weeks. I entertained a yoga practice everyday and ate raw food only- but still I needed a drink. This is no ordinary relationship.

I love drinking…and booze has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When I drink I am no longer stuck in human bondage. I am set free on a terrain that looks and feels like joy. My spirit is elevated beyond the constricting weight of my body and the unbearable lightness of my being puts a smile on my face. Even though I meditate for an hour a day nothing can come close to the power of now, the absence of mind that I feel after having a glass of wine or a beer. I never get so drunk as to lose control but I drink just enough to grow a pair of wings and fly away.

Since the day I was born I have grappled with a fear and trembling that has become more chronic as I age. This anxiety risks keeping me trapped in the safety zone of my home. Heavy thoughts that swim around in my head without traffic control are the substance of my disease. I work hard to disempower my thoughts and keep them from spilling over into the life I live- but at times it feels like a daunting task. Consuming alcohol is not only medicine for my spirit but it quiets down the negative temper of my feelings of impeding doom. For a brief period, while intoxicated I can be liberated from the insurrection that my thoughts wage against my heart, daily. The price I pay for indulging in booze is nothing compared with those few hours I spend in my bliss….or so I thought.

All morning I have been filling up on supplements. In the middle of the night I drank chlorophyl and ate sprouts for nutrients that I hoped would quiet my heart. I have read about how alcohol consumption depletes the body of vital minerals and vitamins causing sleep disturbances, irregular heart beats and a slew of other frightening symptoms. I was supposed to show up for my third “Meet The Author” day but instead I have chosen to stay in. When I am done writing this entry I will return to bed where I hope to find a few hours of sleep beneath my sheets. I can not help but to pity myself a bit and wish that this was not the fate that was upon me. I wish I could drink alcohol like so many others I know who consume it every day and have deep, beautiful sleep filled with dreams and a regular heartbeat. For years I was one of these lucky few consuming alcohol, coffee, cigarettes with no tormenting health effects. Then one day everything changed. Now that I have reached a certain age the only one of those vices that I have left is my booze- but I am afraid that soon this will have to go as well……and I will be left having to deal with myself.

Last night my wife and I bought an expensive bottle of tequila to keep around the house. For guests and fun. My plan was to put some of it in a flask and keep it upon my body at all times. I would douse the anxiety or negative thoughts whenever they arose like a man putting out a fire in his own head. I also planned on drinking the tequilla liberally in small amounts every day of the week….a night cap if you will. But now I am having to come to terms with one of the most difficult truths a man can face.

My body seems to no longer be as strong as my desire. My head is still foggy and my fingers hurt. I could swear I saw blood in my stools as I spent hours sitting on the toilet last night. The taste of alcohol is still in my throat. It all seems too extreme of a price to pay for a few hours of happiness. I want to say that I am going to hop on the wagon and never drink again. That I am done with that stage of my life. I want to say that I have learned my lesson and might be getting a bit too close to the edge. But I know that this is not true. I want to be able to drink, enjoy myself and then sleep like a baby… and I am determined to find a way. Even though I am going to get on the wagon and stay on board for a few days- I know that as soon as this hangover is gone and I have had a few day of rest- I will ask the driver to let me off so that I can enjoy a bottle of wine with my wife at dinner. For now I am going back to bed.

“Meet The Author”

images-1I have decided to take my writing career to its next logical level. After much pondering and consideration- I feel this to be an important and decisive move in the right direction. Over the years I have noticed that most successful authors have “Meet The Author” events where fans turn out to meet the author in person and possibly have the good fortune to shake a hand and/or get a book signed. Since I lack a published book, an agent and a large fan base- I have decided to launch a grass roots effort to get my name and writings out into the world. I live close to a university, so there are a lot of undergraduate and graduate students who walk past my home everyday. I often sit at my window envying their youth and purpose. I figured I have nothing to lose by setting up my coffee table in my driveway, putting out some copies of various short stories I have written, some information about my literary blog and a sign that reads “Meet The Author.” I have always believed in self-reliance. If you build it- they will come.

Yesterday was my first day sitting in the driveway- behind a “Meet The Author” sign. I wore my black suit with a black t-shirt and black converse shoes. I don’t have glasses but I realize that this prop may allow me to look more literary (so I may go to Target and buy some cheap reading glasses later today). There was little wind yesterday and the clouds abstained from covering the sun that hung diligently in the sky. I sat behind my coffee table in a fold up chair that had been rusting away in my garage. I made sure that I was outside by 8 a.m so as to catch the morning rush. Hundreds of students passed me by, many curious about what I was doing, but none stopping to meet me in person. At around eleven a.m I came in for lunch.

I spent the rest of the afternoon outside. I did not read because I wanted to look welcoming and available to whomever wanted to meet me. Instead, I watched the birds hop from tree to tree and the squirrels hobble across the sprouting grass. I watched feral cats walk around in the suburban park that sits across the street from my house. All these perplexed creatures seemed to look at me with the same curiosity of the students. “What the hell is he doing?” they wondered as they tried to make sense of a man dressed in a black suit spending his day sitting in a driveway. I noticed the way the animals looked at me was different from the glances of humans. There was something considerate and compassionate in the animal stares. It was as if they were not only confused but also taking pity on an author that no one seemed to want to meet.

When my wife returned home from work at around three I had to move the coffee table so that she could get her car into the garage. After I explained to her what I was doing all she could do was laugh, turn around and walk inside. I heard her shout “what time do you want to eat dinner!” but I did not respond since I was in the middle of an important event. I placed the coffee table back in its original spot and continued to sit and wait. The light of day was slowly fading so that I could no longer see clearly the various animals in the park. The trees started to become vague outlines of themselves. Hundreds of students again passed me on their way back to where they had come from. Back to a life of studying, possibilities, ambitions, opportunities and microwaved dinners. Several students looked at me but again, no one stopped to meet the author. I was feeling a bit disillusioned and could swear I heard a female voice yell from a distance what sounded like the word “fool.”

Then, as night was almost finished coloring everything in with black and gray crayons- a medium-sized Asian man made his way up to my coffee table. He looked like he might be a graduate student since he was wearing glasses and had a few books under his arm. I was getting ready to pack everything up when he said to me in a kind of broken English “You are the author?” I turned towards him and for the first time that day I said, “Yes, I am.” “I love America Writers….you guys so funny and sad, kinda tragic,” he said. I thought of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner. “My name is Randall Sokoloff and these are some things I have written,” I said pointing to the copies of my short stories on the table. He looked at them like he was investigating cellular activity through a microscope. Then he looked up at me and repeating one of the titles of my short stories, “The Man Who Swallowed His Wedding Ring, that is so silly,” and then he laughed and I laughed with him. “I take this one,” he said and I told him that he was welcome to take more than one. “Give some stories to your friends and tell them that they can come meet me in person this week!” Then he asked me the question that I had been waiting for all day, “would you mine signing story for me?” which I did with a hint of pride that I had not felt in a long time. We shook hands and he walked away with my short stories under hims arm. I immediately turned my head to see if my wife was looking out the window and had witnessed my victory. She was not there but my cat, who sat on the window ledge, had seen it all.

I will continue to sit out on my driveway at least until Saturday. Even if I only meet one person a day that is good enough for me. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. My hope is that next year or by the time I turn forty-two I will actually have a novel published that I will be able to present to passers-by. For now the copied versions of my short stories and information about my blog will have to do. If you care to come and meet the author in person, I am on the corner of Oak and 14th. I will be sitting in my driveway from 8 a.m. until dark at least until Saturday. Just look for the park across the street, the animals perched in the trees, the man in an rusting folding chair wearing an all black suit and/or the sign that in large black ink says “Meet The Author.”

Even Black Cats Get Depresssed

imagesMy cat buries himself beneath the blankets on my bed. He stays there all day- dormant as a doormat. He is an older cat whose biological clock is ticking past fifteen years. As a result of lingering old age he his prone to spasms of senility and immobility but normally he is erect and jumping over fences.

I wonder if it is because of the wind today? Or maybe it is the changing seasons that are bringing him down? My cat is a black cat- could it be that he is feeling the negative stereotypes of evil and superstition that are attributed to black cats at this time of year? Whatever the reasons may be, my cat is depressed. As a concerned animal owner I have decided to leave him alone until Halloween, the wind or the changing seasons end. If at that time he is no better and still withdrawing beneath the blankets of my bed- I will call a Therapist.

Hiding From The Wind

The wind is blowing outside my window. It is maniacal and insistent. If I did not know better I would think that the wind was trying to break into my house. On windy days- I do not go outside. I hide in the catacombs of my imagination or between the pages of a book. Ever since I was young I have suffered from strange, unsettling phobias. My first phobia was of my father’s toes, my second phobia was of nipples and my newest phobia is of the wind.

I am afraid that I will be swept away by the wind, deposited in the sea, and then eaten by a giant whale or that the wind is going to get inside me and blow me up. I know these are irrational fears, and even more irrational in the mind of an adult. Rationality is supposed to set in by middle age but for me it seems to of turned away. My phobias remind me that a child is alive and well in my chest, a child who is just as afraid of the outside world as I was when young.

I have always felt hallow and thin. Often times when I walk I have the feeling that my feet are not quite touching the ground. I have fallen to the ground because of a sneeze. Walking in the rain often makes me feel as if I am carrying around a heavy weight on my head. As I let go of more and more of my pride and ego and allow myself to be humbled out- the more I feel at risk of simply blowing away.

On windy days, I shut windows and cover my head so that not even a slight breeze can enter my ears. There is something homunculus about the sound of wind that frightens me. Reminds me of a cresting wave, or a falling sky that I am to small to defend myself against. I am better off sitting in silent meditation- visualizing my self as a metal weight or a twenty ton stone- impossible to budge.

How Facebook Saved My Life

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I used to be a very solitary man. I envied authors like J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon for their anonymity. “The Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison was my favorite novel because no one else was able to see the main protagonist. The French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s dictum, “hell is other people,” rationalized my isolation and made me feel good about not having any friends. I spent my time on my own. I went to movies alone, dinner alone and spent the majority of my nights either walking the dark, windy and lonely streets of San Francisco or sitting in my small apartment, alone, drawing pictures with my mind while floating through the pages of a book.

For as long as I can remember I was alone. I disliked school because it forced me to be around other people. I played tennis and jogged because it allowed me to not have to be a member of a team. After school I rode my bike around and around the lonely cul-de-sac until the sunset. I talked to myself in mirrors like I was having an in depth conversation with someone else. When my mother would ask me how my day was I would always reply the same laconic way, “fine.” I went to my room, did my homework, listened to music and only came out when tempted by the smell of food. When my father took me on a rafting trip and we passed an older man sitting outside a log cabin in the middle of the woods, I asked my father “what is that?” My father responded in an uninterested tone, “That is a hermit son.” Much to my fathers consternation- I replied, “that is what I want to be when I grow up.”

Solitude does not suit an older man. As I was getting closer to the age of forty I had been feeling the weight of my solitude like a potential crucifixion or a head cold that would never go away. In the back of my mind lingered the awareness that I was living in a bubble without any community and something felt oddly wrong about this. For years and years I had existed in a spiritually satisfying solitude that never caused me to feel defective or psychologically unstable, but know as my biological clock was nearing the midway point of my life- being alone just felt wrong.

My wife (who does not read my writings, so I do not have to worry about her reading about me telling you that even though I had been married for a few years I still felt alone. My wife is very independent and engaged in her work, which was one of the qualities that initially attracted me to her, because I knew I would get a lot of alone time. I just never realized how much) suggested that I join Facebook. My first reaction was similar to the reaction I had when as a child my mother offered me an avocado or when my dad took me to visit his dying friend and the dying friend reached out his jaundiced arm to offer me a date. I was repulsed and wanted to have nothing to do with such dehumanizing social platforms. But my dreaded feeling of isolation continued to persist and I became desperate enough to try just about anything.

I joined Facebook with the caution of a cat taking food from a stranger. I did not jump right in but rather smelled things out and licked the edges. I took my time going on-line and submitting friend request and investigating profiles. I still spent my days and nights alone and considered a social gathering to consist of me wondering the streets of San Francisco alone at night and maybe stopping in at a few seedy bars. Facebook was a new level of social engagement for me. I wanted to make sure I did not expose myself too quick.

My wife continuously sent me suggestions for new friends. Everyday when I would go on-line there would be one or two new friends that my wife thought I should have. I was fascinated by the concept of adding a friend. All my life I had never really trusted friends.  Newton’s third law that states- that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction summarized the story of my friendships. Every friend I had ever had seemed to require a great amount of challenge and heartache. Making friends was a tumultuous effort and keeping them was even harder. Now, with Facebook all I had to do was request to add a friend and wait to see if my request was granted. I did not have to see them or talk to them. There was something liberating about this new form of friendship that drew me in. It seemed so easy to make and keep friends. Possibly Facebook could offer me the same appeal that I found in my wife- the ability to have a good relationship but still remain alone.

Looking back on the period of my life right before I joined Facebook, I realize that I was in a dark space. I have matured enough as a human being to be able to look at my past self and be truthful about what I see, even if I do not like it. I was on the verge of death. The word suicide was circulating through my mind at an illegal speed and the only thing that kept me from drinking Draino or climbing up a tall redwood tree and then jumping was that I lacked the courage to take my own life. My depression was affecting my health and I was drinking enough booze to keep reality far far away. I was a sinking ship inside and the notion that my solitude was the cause of all this was as distant from me as a falling star.

Facebook took a desperate man and made him a member of a community. It has allowed me to have more than one hundred friends (which, is more friends than I have had in my entire life) without suffering the tormenting symptoms of social anxiety that I normally suffer around people. My friendships are as easy to maintain as leaving a few status updates a day and commenting on a few of the status updates of my friends. Where once I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning now I look forward to joining my Facebook community. I get my yoghurt with nuts in it and pour myself a glass of apple juice. I then sit down at my computer and review Facebook in the same way that my father would read the newspaper in the mornings many years ago. I leave a status update first thing in the morning that I make sure makes me feel moderately good about myself  (even if it is untrue) and I then look forward to the comments I will receive later on in the day. Finally I feel apart of something greater than myself. Finally I feel alive.

I have connected with old friends that I have never thought I would talk to again. I have improved my communication with my wife by reading her status updates and leaving a comment while she does the same for me. The sense of dread that followed me around like a feeling of impending doom is gone. I laugh more and am more aware of what goes on in what used to be a narrow world. My friends are not a burden to me since it takes little effort to keep them in my life. It is safe to say that I have outgrown the dictum that “hell is other people” and replaced it with the knowledge that,” happiness is only real if it is shared.” I can safely say that I have grown into a happier man now that I know Facebook saved my life.