The Endless Friendless

February 19, 2021

Chasing friends was humiliating and losing them even worse. Yet, the pattern of loss was real. And you were the common denominator. Was Sarah right? Were you too sensitive? Are you an asshole? Your estranged brother seemed to think so. The letters from your father had been unequivocal.

It wasn’t just old friends. There were the people you had helped professionally. And now, when you needed a lifeline, they were ghosts. One man, call him James, lives only 5 miles from you. He runs an agency in San Francisco, whose parent company you’d gotten him the job at.  When his career had been faltering, as well as his marriage, you recruited him to Chicago and made him a partner. You saved him. James knows you need work and he knows what you can do. Yet, he’s not called you once.

Why?

You have beaten this horse to a pulp in therapy. You shared about it in AA. You discussed it with Sarah, your father, the man on the moon. Endured their subtle damning explanations, pointing at you.

People in the fellowship like you. What do they see that no one else does? Like most, you present the best version of yourself in AA. Was that it? Still, had your second best really been that bad? Enough to alienate Tom, Peter, David and James? Maybe your mother’s theory would explain this great mystery. You sure as hell couldn’t.

Your mom has been talking non-stop, about the harrowing and narrowing life of a 77-year-old woman, living alone. Brave yet often frightened, rarely lonely but leery of isolating, doing the best that she can. She’s thrilled that you called. She loves you. Goodbye.

The girls.

Despite your many defects, or just the one, the girls still wanted you home. You had evidence to support this. They didn’t mind nor were embarrassed you were a recovering alcoholic. They might have even thought it was cool. The night you drove Callie and her friends to In & Out, blasting Guns and Roses. Your girls respected your commitment to AA, and presumably to them. They knew you once were the shit in advertising; it still had currency, as both a point of pride as well as providing the means to pay for their horses, vacations and private schools. 

That said, you doubt they’d accurately processed your misadventures. One day they might understand. For now they were not even going there. Denial, forgiveness or something else their true feelings about your transgressions would likely never be fully revealed, and certainly not to you. Bottom line, they still loved you. And you would always love them.

Bill W. conceded that becoming entirely ready to remove our shortcomings may take time yet we should never say to ourselves, ‘This I will never give up!’ He underscored the word never. As in never shutting the door on possibility. For the path to right living lay just on the other side. There was a crack. You’d seen the light and were moving towards it, slowly. When Sarah went out for the night or on longer trips, you stayed home reading a book or watching a movie. When Sarah was home you spent time with her, talking about her day and yours, instead of retreating to your office. You forced yourself out of isolation, joining your family, for dinner or just conversation. Did you deserve a medal? Of course not. But doing the right thing did not come naturally. You must learn normal behaviors until they turned routine, acting as if they were natural until they became so. You had to reverse-engineer your humanity.

In the throws of your addiction, you couldn’t imagine stopping drugs and alcohol even though you knew they were killing you. The same for any addict, beneath the craving was a matrix of false assumptions. The first being that life wouldn’t be fun without booze and that you wouldn’t be either. But being an addict was no fun at all. You had also believed you would not be as creative straight, that your Libertarian right brain would go fallow without an endless supply of intoxicants, the same myth that wrecked a million artists, authors and musicians. In fact, you had to completely rewrite your first novel because you’d written it inebriated, its paragraphs rambling on like a drunken floozy at the bar. Had Ernest Hemmingway, Dorothy Parker and Charles Bukowski required spirits to write? If they hadn’t died ignominiously they might well have answered yes. But they were addicts and addicts have always justified their addictions. They had been blessed with talent before pouring alcohol on top of it. Not the other way around. Regardless, you were not Ernest Hemingway and would never be. Drinking like him only insured you would die like him, if not sooner. Countless other false beliefs permeated the drinker. It was a social lubricant, it helped you with the ladies, it gave you courage, and so on. Maybe for some people some of the time but for the chronic user those beliefs usually just lead to an ass kicking in the alley or whiskey dick in a motel room.

Be Devastating Young Lady.

January 28, 2021

“I’m going to tell you a true story, okay?”

Callie is looking at her phone but you know she is listening. You are driving her to rehearsal. She has a big part in Les Miserables. She plays the grown-up version of Cosette. Though you saw the movie you don’t really remember the story. Victor Hugo is not your thing. Being a musical, Callie has been practicing her song for weeks. You’ve heard her belting out lyrics from her room, in the shower, on the trampoline in the backyard, which she pretended was a stage. You couldn’t tell if she was good or not but her enthusiasm was infectious. It gladdened you to see her so passionate, so happy. Many members from your family are coming in to see her perform. Hundreds of other people as well. The tickets cost money and this is a real show. Up until yesterday Callie had been totally psyched.

One of her “friends” had disrespected her online, insulting her singing skills or some other shit. Usually a brick, Callie had been wounded.  Your wife told you as much. Now you felt it in your daughter’s sullen demeanor.

So you tell her a story…

“Before you were born,” you begin. “Back when I was coming up at my agency in Chicago, we were preparing for this huge presentation. It was my idea we’d be showing. I had written all the copy. And I had the game to go with it. I knew what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. I had my shit down.”

Callie looks up when you curse. Good. You had her attention. No easy feat with a teenager.

“Anyway, the night before I rehearsed my bit in front of the team. I get done. My colleagues are pleased. One even clapped. Then the head account person –the guy who deals with the client- he proceeds to crap all over my work. He’s not happy with the creative, he says. It’s shit. I’m dumbfounded. Where did this come from? He’d seen it before.”

Traffic on the 101 is heavy but it allows you to turn and look at your daughter. “The guy says to me, in front of everybody, if you present that work tomorrow it will be Armageddon.”

“The end of the world?” Callie asks. “What did you do?” Callie’s eyes are one of her most beautiful features, big and blue, and they are wide open staring at you.

You laugh. “I told him I would make changes. That I’d do what he wanted.”

“That sucks,” your daughter says.

“It would have sucked,” you say. “Had I listened to him. The next day I delivered my presentation just as I’d planned it. My work. My way. And I fucking killed it. When I was done the client cheered.”

“Really?”

“Damn straight,” you say. “But the story’s not over. After the meeting ends, everybody’s shaking hands, patting each other on the back. I walk over to the account guy who’d dissed my work. He thinks I’m going to shake his hand. I look him right in the eyes, and I say, ‘Welcome to Armageddon, asshole.’”

Almost missing your exit, you swiftly change lanes. So caught up are you in the tale.

“Wow, that’s a great story, dad,” Callie says. “It’s all true?”

“Every bit, sweetheart.”

At the red light, you look at Callie full on. The middle child, she’s the sassy one. The daughter that gives your wife the most trouble. You choose your words carefully. “If people disrespect you or your work that does not mean you have to listen to them. Just be…”

The light turns green and you move the car forward. The word comes to you.

“Devastating.”

AA teaches that redemption comes from being of service. Letting go the bondage of self. This is true. Yet redemption also comes by shattering the chains from the bondage of others. You want your daughter to believe in herself, even when others don’t.

In the parking lot, Callie thanks you for driving her to practice. But you sense something deeper. You can see it in her eyes.

The fierceness has returned.

You watch Callie as she marches toward the theater, joining her other cast members. When she was a toddler, she had refused to walk upright, instead choosing to tread on her knees. The pediatrician had concerns. Your wife was worried. It’s not normal, they said. But you knew her day would come. And in your mind so did she.

Continued from previous post…

So, has your definition for winning and losing changed? Maybe. Money and position don’t beguile you as much. Fortunate, given you have less of both. Yet, you still crave that feeling you got overhearing those students. The yearning never disappears completely. The ego cannot be evicted. From the program: If you want self-esteem do estimable things. Helping others. Or in your case simply not hurting anyone. Taking things in stride.

Serenity will always be ephemeral but it’s not a pipe dream. It can be achieved. You once joked that serenity was a pole dancer in Sacramento. Now that you’ve acquired some would you mortgage it for a shiny new job? Sadly. Probably. But at least you would know better. And that’s a start.

Life needn’t be something you master or endure. Mastery was an illusion. Enduring is a consequence. Letting go is what brings you true contentment. Winning and losing, fine for business and the ballpark, are the wrong terms for right living. Beyond shaking addiction, the word recovery means finding what you had lost.

You had lofty titles: Executive Creative Director, Chief Creative Officer, even Executive Chairman. You were on the board of directors at the most famous advertising agency in Chicago, supposedly the youngest member ever. During this period you commanded a huge salary, more than the President of the United States. Frankly, a lot more, especially when you factored in bonuses and stock options. You earned it; well maybe not all of it and toward the end probably less. Then you got asked to leave, to seek opportunities elsewhere, fired. The last time was probably the mortal blow. You didn’t know it but the job you had now was not going to last.

When it came to work, you were only great at two things: copywriting and presentations. You wrote your way into the boardrooms of the world, turning words over and over until they shone like gemstones. Once there, you would sell. Oh, could you ever! You loved selling and did not demure from it like so many other creative people. Those fools, you thought. Didn’t they know advertising and selling went hand in hand? Processing stage fright into stage-might, you had utter command. At times, it was breathtaking. You were excited to perform and it showed. Your confidence seldom came off as a con. During presentations you were like a kid unwrapping gifts at Christmas.

Alas, while showmanship mattered on the way up, once there, not so much. As a director, they wanted you to hire and fire; delegate and operate; things you came to realize you weren’t very good at. You liked to write and sell work. Truth be told, you weren’t interested in the other stuff. It all seemed beside the point, what you had to do as opposed what you wanted to do. Now it was you who was playing the fool.

At best, you’d possessed what the CEO called, “emotional intelligence,” a backhanded compliment, a quality your peers pretended to admire then grew to despise. In management meetings you lectured that creativity was messy and impossible to regimen. But alas, your left-brain partners valued process over intuition. They lacked patience for the soft skills inherent in the creation of ideas. They couldn’t scope it. So they loathed it. For a so-called creative agency this was, in your view, anathema. And so you had refused to whip your troops into creating. You put good ideas on the wall, and quickly. But it was never enough. Eventually, you became a problem child with a very high salary.

to be continued…