Victoria Jelinek


XXII: Radio Play

We are taught to consume. And that’s what we do. But if we realized that there really is no reason to consume, that it’s just a mind set, that it’s just an addiction, then we wouldn’t be out there stepping on people’s hands climbing the corporate ladder of success. River PhoenixLove in Recovery

In my opinion, the best humor has a tragic core. And, what better source for dark and amusing material than addiction? Think of Carrie Fisher with her book (then film) Postcards from the Edge. Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mall Rats, or Get Him to the Greek.

Addiction forms the setting for Radio 4’s fantastic six-part series Love in Recovery. It’s such a funny and interesting radio play that after a friend sent me a link to one show, I plundered the BBC I Player back catalogue. I have both laughed and cried on occasion while listening. It’s sharp and fresh, even as the story of immoderation in alcohol is age-old.

There are lines throughout that I have pondered after each of the 15-minute vignettes, such as, “The hardest thing in the world is just getting through…” Or, “I waited to feel better…it never came.” Or, “There is no cure. You will never be fixed. It’s horrible. But it’s just the way it is.” These motifs speak to me. The illogical sense of complete failure, disappointment, and a life full of more regrets than triumphs are familiar. That unhappiness, insecurity, and the sense that I’m not what I might have been had I been someone else (if that makes any sense to a rational person) is the albatross I’ll carry forever. That drugs and alcohol blissfully stop my brain from thinking too much. The characters in Love in Recovery feel much the same way. It rings ‘true’ to me. And it should. The writer, Pete Jackson, has an interesting backstory, which provides the lynchpin for the radio play’s authenticity.

Amidst the distress and pain is much humor. There is the subtle (sic) nod to the great British ‘art’ of “grumbling,” as well as slang, dialects, and cultural references that contribute to a sense of the everyday and the ‘everyman.’ Like Andy, for example, the needy group leader, who’s constantly offering cookies (biscuits) to the participants with the enticement that, “They’re from M&S.” And, as is often the case in the best Brits, humor coexists with self-deprecation and sadness. For example, one episode finds Julie (Sue Johnston) giving an unwaveringly powerful portrait of a woman who attempted to find happiness at the bottom of a glass after her husband of 40 years left her: “He went off with the cleaner, who ironically turned out to be a dirty bitch.”

All the actors are stellar. And, the sentiment resonates. It’s fundamentally about how even though you feel alone, that you have the worst difficulties, that you are the worst of the worst, you’re not. That even as you have some slim understanding that this vicious voice telling you these horrible things is false, and the facts belie this ‘self-speech,’ there are others who also find life hard. However, by sharing our stories, our difficulties, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, we can help one another take one day at a time. This works for anything, really, whatever the issue. Addiction takes many forms – alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, fornicating, exercise, and work. Or all of the above. Perhaps, as is the case for me, it’s ‘simply’ the compulsion to excess at all times, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Both substances and through actions. Big happy. Big sad. Big success. Big flop. For me at least, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my current struggle for moderation. My own floundering objective to be ‘balanced’ also seems to reflect modern society’s own battle with itself, arguably making addiction a universal story. For me, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching films, and looking at paintings isn’t just for diversion. They provide insights into the human condition. And through this, greater understanding of the world we live in, as well as ourselves. It’s comforting to find a sense of propinquity in the world. And, one can find beauty in ugliness, just as there’s humor in the darkness.

 



XXI: Book Club

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” Jane Austen

Geen-Tea-2I went to ‘Book Club’ this evening. Was loath to go after last night out at two bars with all the drinking, smoking and haphazard talk. Have been ‘twitchy’ and irritable all day as a result. My poor family. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d had one drink more than my ration. Which was already really hard, given that we were out for hours. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d been visibly irritated and uncomfortable with the drinking and smoking around me, and that’s not nice for those out to have a good time. Self-recrimination because I should know better than to put myself in the line of temptation. And yet. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been near-to-tears all day. And, well, ‘Book Club’ is normally a large group of women in what is essentially a ‘book swap,’* drinking a lot of wine and chattering.

So I went late. And, I went only ‘cause it was a bonafide friend hosting it at her house and I wanted to support her. I brought a thermos of green tea and ginger to drink and in order to keep my hands busy and to keep me drinking SOMETHING while, ostensibly, everyone else drank copious amounts of wine. But it wasn’t like it usually is. For one thing, it was just our host, a dear friend of hers, another American who, while I may not agree with her politics, is an avid reader and I trust her judgment on books, as well as our host’s twelve-year-old daughter who is also a reader, and who makes short stop-action films. They were finishing dinner when I arrived, and the daughter had made a peach cobbler. They also weren’t drinking alcohol, just Perrier, and later, tea, so I didn’t feel tempted or preoccupied with others drinking. Best of all? The conversations were dynamic and interesting. We talked about films, and books we’d recently read, and television programs – both in French and English – and we talked about curricula – both French and American – and we talked about travel, and we talked about exercise ‘fads’ sweeping the globe. It was a good evening. Nothing was discussed in too much depth, as I would generally like to do, but, I am, arguably, too serious.  Ultimately, it was an entertaining evening.

What a happy surprise! There’s a moral here I’m sure. Perhaps it’s that I need to only hang out with people who enjoy talking about subjects I also enjoy talking about? Even if that means I am not as social as I generally like to be. There are several people in the valley whose company I find engaging. Perhaps it’s that I can’t be in bars? I suppose it’s like a junkie going to a shooting gallery. Certainly, I can’t be in them for too long. In my previous homes – Portland, New York, Los Angeles, London – I would have discussed the subjects we discussed this eve, such as literature, film, culture, education (and, ideally, some politics!) every time I met up with friends. However, perhaps in those cities it’s more obvious to find more people and situations in which to do so. I mean, my coterie of friends in each of the aforementioned places were filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, artists, and conversational skill is highly valued as a source of creativity and collaboration. Moreover, these types of people are generally more expressive. Whereas where I live now, people are outdoorsmen. Mountain people. They like to climb, hike, ski, and maintain their fitness in the outdoors, preferably at altitude. That’s their passion and their focus. Not ‘wrong,’ just not me. While I appreciate the mountains, I am claustrophobic in them, preferring the sea always (“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer”). As a result of both the environment and the community’s subsequent interests in general, I’m often self-conscious, frustrated, and isolated here.

More so now that I’m trying to substantially reduce my drinking, smoking, and drug-taking after 33 years of ‘caning’ it. Additionally, the social life I’ve primarily known here is centered on boozy lunches, afternoons, and dinners…at restaurants and bars…with those that flock to and spend a lot of time in them. However, for whatever reason, tonight I made the happy discovery that while the people and opportunities like this evening might be few-and-far between, there ARE, indeed, situations like tonight. I’ve experienced them here before. Evenings in which I will not spend the entire time ‘clock watching,’ leaning on, or ‘clucking’ for my ‘crutches,’ and can, instead, enjoy what I perceive to be good company. Is this a new direction? It could be. It should be. Is it evidence of a whole new me? Perhaps not. But, perhaps, it is a peek at what the future could be like here, for the remaining years I am here, and that’s a relief from the bleak perspective I’ve been viscerally feeling for the last couple of weeks.

*We don’t read the same book and then talk about it like a traditional “Book Club” does. It’s for Anglophone women to have a supply of reading material without having to buy books, which is a great idea in theory.



XX: Dog Days

My fashion philosophy is if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty. Elayne Boosler

border collieMy beloved dog, a bright Border Collie, is having a hard time adjusting to my rationed cigarettes, alcohol, and consequent change of habits. When I get up in the morning and head downstairs, she greets me at the bottom of the stairs then goes and sits in the kitchen while I make my coffee. Once I’ve poured my coffee, she heads to the back door and waits till I open it in order to go out for a smoke with me. Whenever I head to the kitchen for something she does the same thing. She knows I like something to drink with my cigarettes. So, she gets up from her bed, sits and waits for me to finish in the kitchen, then heads to the back door waiting for me to open it and go outside with her to smoke. Every time I rifle through my purse, she gets up from wherever she’s lying and goes to the back door and waits for me to exit for a cigarette that I would normally have retrieved from it. After dinner, once we’ve cleared the table, she goes to the back door waiting for me to exit, wine in hand, to have my ‘after dinner’ cigarette. When my son has gone to bed and I normally return back downstairs for a phone conversation to the states (time difference), drinks and much smoking, she gets up as soon as I take the phone from the cradle, she stretches, and heads to the back door waiting for me to open it.

I finally ‘clocked’ her behavior last night when I was clearing the dinner table and began cleaning the dishes. Normally, I would have gone for my after dinner smoke before doing this, and normally she would have gone and stood at the door waiting for me after the clearing of the table. But this time she didn’t. She lay on the floor and looked at me. She eyed my every move, but did not get up to go to the back door. Also, I noticed that she has taken to lying at the bottom of the stairs after I go up with my son for bedtime. I haven’t gone back down after putting him to bed in recent days for a phone call or anything. I now prefer to go to bed early, like a farmer might, ‘cause I can’t drink and smoke anyway. It makes the day shorter. One week in and she realizes there’s a new regiment going on (smart dog) but she’s confused. Maybe a little saddened that our rituals together are changed. Then I realized, “She’s a creature of habit, of course! And, for five years – her entire life – she has been my companion in the rain, sun, snow, cold, heat for my frequent cigarettes throughout the day and night. Cigarettes that were habitual – with coffee. With the second coffee. Before lunch. After lunch. In the middle of the afternoon with another coffee. With my first cocktail at ‘cocktail hour.’ The subsequent drinks. After dinner. Before bed while on the phone. And now that’s over. At least I hope it is.  “Well, it’s messing with my head, too, my dear doggie. We’ll get on with it together as best we can. Something tells me that you’ll break the habit much easier than me.”