I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to this record. Layla is perhaps the second most overplayed song in rock history and so I let this one slide. I’m not really a huge Clapton fan, either. But Bell-Bottom Blues grabbed my attention recently and I picked up the record so I could have access to that tune in my collection. This record is a surprise to me. The loose feel, the Band-like vibe in places, and the scope of style are all really refreshing If you haven’t listened to the whole thing, take a few and enjoy.
I don’t usually go in for these end-of-year musings, but this year seems like one I should take a little bit of time to consider. It was a pretty insane year. The past 2 years have been pretty insane, really. In 2013, my mom had a serious illness, I ran for public illness, I mean office, and lost. We became foster parents and met the boy we would bring in to our home and adopt in 2014. We moved into what will likely be the last home we ever inhabit.
2014 was no less crazy. There was the aforementioned adoption. And that was the biggest thing. We had planned on adopting our foster son from the moment we met him. He wasn’t like most kids in the foster system He had no home to go back to, while most kids are in the foster system as a bridge between a bad situation at home and better times ahead. Hopefully. But our boy, there were no better times to come. His father had basically left him in a residential treatment facility and bailed. So we knew that if he didn’t find a home he had little chance at anything good until he aged out of the system and then who knows what could happen.
We have asked ourselves why we are doing this many times over the past 18 months. There’s no way you can know what being a foster/adoptive parent will bring you, how much it will blow up your life, so much that it’s impossible to recognize who I was before we brought our son into our home. There’s a lot of good and bad to that. I’ve found I have the capacity to be less selfish than I ever imagined. I have the capacity to let go of a lot of who I am to be a parent, and honestly, even when our daughter was born I was afraid I’d never be able to do that. I have been a selfish person for most of my life, and now I take my responsibilities to other people seriously. My kids come first. Who’da thunk it.
The bad is I’ve found the limitations of my parenting skills. No matter what, every child in the foster system comes a little broken, or a lot. The ways a child can be broken are myriad. Neglect, abuse, trauma are all on the docket for just about every foster child and our son was no different. To become a foster parent you’re required to go through a pretty intense training process that attempts to teach a lot of this, but no training can really prepare you for having a broken child in your home or to parent a broken child.
We went from growing along with our daughter as parents, taking each new development as it came and learning, to having a teenage boy in our home. Any parent will tell you that’s hard enough, but this boy slathered all his food in ranch dressing and stole from us. I don’t want this to sound like it was all terrible. Anyone who meets him will tell you they see what a good kid he is. We saw it the first time we saw his photo. He is a good kid. But he’s damaged and we walked in after so much had happened that at times it’s hard to see how we can ever hope to undo the systemic breakdown of what happened to him. There are times when I’m pushed to places I’ve never been before. I find myself screaming and yelling. I’ve yelled so much and so hard I’ve made my throat bleed. I’m faced with being a person I don’t like and don’t want to be at times. I hear my father in the things I say and do, and my father is one of the reasons I was afraid of becoming a parent in the first place.
But I also know that I can be better than that. And so I keep trying, but then there are also times I want my old life back so I can blissfully delude myself into thinking I’ve got all this handled.
2014 also saw me pass into two years of sobriety. One nice thing about quitting booze in the exact middle of the year is that I get to see what the next year of sobriety will be like as well. The first two years I felt like an exposed nerve. I didn’t know how to be a human being without drinking. I still don’t, but life doesn’t seem so weird to me now. At least it’s starting to feel like life.
2014 was probably my worst year artistically in my adult life. I feel like I let everything slide. My writing schedule went to shit and I hardly picked up the guitar. But still, I did finish the first draft of a novel and am well into the revisions. I have a record on my hard drives that could be finished shortly if I just buckled down on it. I played one of the best shows I’ve ever played, not because of who I played with or how many people were there, but because I felt like I commanded my gifts for the love of it for the first time ever. Bittersweet that it comes so late in my musical life.
I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a beautiful wife. Our lives have been complicated by the ways we’ve extended ourselves into the world, but in the quiet moments I love her the way I have always loved her. I want to see her smile and be happy. I’ll be a part of making that happen in 2015. Our daughter is perhaps the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I know all parents say that, but all hyperbole aside, I am in awe of her. That she exists proves to me the goodness of humanity.
2015 will be another crazy year. It’s another election year in Iowa City. There will be 4 spots open on the school board and I’ll be on the ballot again.
I’ll work to find new ways to love and learn.
Good luck in 2015. Be well and love each other.
Here on the day before Thanksgiving I find myself thinking about Thanksgiving’s past. When I was a kid there were always big family dinners at the homes Grammy and PapPap and Grandmother Lewis. I remember them being huge gatherings of people with huge spreads of food. The relationships from person to person and family to family weren’t always perfect. In fact, they were fraught with tensions large and small. But we were all together during the holiday season. That’s how I remember it.
I don’t know when I last sat down to a meal with any of my extended family on either side. In fact, I think I can now count on one hand the number of family members I’m on speaking terms with. Hell, I may have a finger or two left after that tally. What happened? What does it take to keep a family together? I need to know so I can start now planning for when my own kids grow up.
I also find myself wondering how much of it is my fault. I wrote a book and that’s what really drove the wedge, but that was long after everything started falling apart. I can’t get away from the idea that a lot of it is my fault. I left. I tried to come back and I couldn’t stay. I love where I’m from but I can’t live there. And yes, I understand why that might seem like an indictment on the folks who are still there. But it’s not.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss and love them all, those who are no longer with us and those who are no longer with me. I miss PapPap and watching football with the sound off while the rest of the family naps off the turkey. I miss early mornings on the hill with Dad, the fog gathered in the swales and the quiet. I miss Grandmother Lewis and her quilting looms in her carpeted two car garage. I miss the smiling little boy my brother used to be, especially when faced with the hateful racist he’s become.
I miss them all. And I miss the me that used to be a part of their lives.
This Thanksgiving I’m going to take a deep breath and mourn the family I used to have and celebrate the one I have now. I’m going to hug my kids and love my wife and give thanks that they are part of my life.
I have a hard time looking at old pictures of myself now, especially from the years when my drinking was at its apex: 2008-2012. Maybe even earlier, like, 2005 or so. But mostly its pictures from those later years, right before the wheels came off. It’s hard to describe what I see, and even harder to know if other people would see what I see. Maybe that doesn’t matter. My eyes are narrow, tired looking.My face is pale, not quite unhealthy-looking, but not quite well. I look bloated, filled with water, poison. Now, not then. Then I don’t know what I was thinking
It’s hard for me to think about the person I was then. Not just because I was someone so actively trying to destroy my life, but also because I’m afraid that when I look at that person I’m still looking in the mirror, that I’m still that person and that person is just taking a break, but will be back sometime, or has never really left.
True, I don’t drink anymore and I don’t think I ever will again, but has the omission of that behavior cured the defects of character my drinking hid in plain sight? Am I not still the same needy, self-centered, weak person I was when I was drinking. Yes, I am. The only difference is I can’t hide it from myself any more.
So when I see those old pictures, when I see the bleary, puffed up, frightened child I was then I am still afraid. I’m not afraid that I’ll start drinking again. I’m afraid that I’ll have no excuses for being what I am anymore and I’ll be held accountable.
Interesting question, that. I have to admit, it’s not a question that I ask myself very often. Sometimes I ask myself if I got done with everything that I needed to do for the day and doing that can make it feel like it was a good day. Did I write? Did I read? Did I play some music? If I do all of those things in a given day then I feel like I’ve accomplished something and until recently I thought that meant that it had been a good day. Did you notice how I left my family and my career out? I did. Believe me, I did.
But tonight I was reading something and that sentence, “Today was a good day,” scrolled across my vision and I asked myself, “Was today a good day?” Honestly, the answer is no. And it was a day where I accomplished the three tasks I listed above. So why? Why wasn’t it a good day? I have no idea, other than I continue to be profoundly sad about something I can’t quite put my finger on.
I disappointed myself in several ways, large and small, throughout the day, almost from the moment I woke up. And there didn’t seem to be any way to get on track no matter what I did. And then I found myself exploding at the boy because of something that I knew at the moment I was exploding had nothing to do with him. I didn’t have a clue what it was about, but I found myself lashing out, making him bear the brunt of my diffuse frustration.
Again, that’s something my dad would have done, indiscriminate anger directed at someone under my power. What the hell is wrong with me? There are times I feel like there’s something seriously wrong with me, like fundamentally wrong. It’s something that I was able to push down, to mask for years with drinking and youth and irresponsibility but now her it is, untethered, uncontrolled and I feel like it might consume me.
So maybe what I need to do is go back to that question: Was it a good day today? I need to affirm my intentions to make it a good day in the morning and check in with myself at the end of the day and maybe I’ll figure out how to actually have a good day in between. I hope so. I need it.