Sunday, April 23, 2023

All Bad Days

Six thousand, eight hundred and thirty-four days ago was a bad day. It was another in a long string of bad days that would continue for months to come. I can’t recall what, specifically happened on most of those other days that made them bad, but August 6th, 2004, was highlighted by particularly memorable moment — a bad one. It was also the first day since that past December that I had not used any drugs or alcohol. That was not my plan — my plan was to numb the badness of the day as much as possible, but my failure to do so made an already bad day worse.

 In the early evening, 6,834 days ago, my middle son (who was not quite 17), his girlfriend and two puppies dropped me off at the Wayne Brown Correctional Center in Nevada City, CA. It was my second extended stay there, my first was just two years earlier. This time I would be serving 40 days (two thirds of a 60-day sentence) for a probation violation — a violation of the terms of my release two years earlier. After my release, I would spend a week free before reporting to the Calaveras County Jail to serve 60 days of a 90-day sentence — the conviction that violated me in Nevada County.

I was lucky in that my crime was a non-violent misdemeanor and that the old Calaveras County Jail was seriously overcrowded. Every night a count was taken and every night the possibility of my release was palpable — and every night that I missed it by “that much” made that day a little worse. I was released after just eight days — a bit of goodness in what was a long stretch of only bad. Upon my ultimate release sometime in late September, I had almost 60 days “clean and sober” (I had nine months from March to December of 2003). I could not find a job and, although I did return to school in 2003 (with two semesters under my belt), by the time I was free, the fall semester was well under way. More bad days.

Adding to my misery was a prohibition against self-medication. The judge in Nevada County told me that if I produced just one dirty drug test (they tested for alcohol, too), my next home would not be county jail, but state prison. My choices were clear — be miserable and free or miserable in prison. However, despite the clear consequences, the urge to dull the “badness” of my life was strong, and it took a village — literally. That village came from the same place it came from before, the one thing I knew worked — twelve step recovery.

But I had a lot of issues with it, not the least of which was a “cult-like” feeling in some ways and the insistence that they are “spiritual, not religious” programs, yet there is an abundance of Judeo-Christian references throughout all of them. Some more than others, but all refer to, at the very minimum, a capital “G” god. For a non-believer like me, that is a tough hurdle to overcome — but at the time I had little choice. I also had enough prior experience that I knew there were others like me, and the program still worked for them. But… all the way through 2004 and into the beginning of 2005 I cannot remember anything but shitty days. I’m sure they were not all bad, but as a whole, as a slice of my life, there was a significant period of time that spanned the end of my using and drinking and the beginning of my sobriety that was not a good.

One day my perspective shifted — or, probably more accurately, I became aware that my perspective had shifted. It likely happened much earlier before I even realized it, but one day I noticed that I had not been angry in a few days. In fact, I could not remember how long it had been. I knew it wasn’t weeks or months, but it was many days, and I couldn’t recall what my last “irritant” was. This was revelatory because I was pissed off almost all the time. Being angry constantly is exhausting; the other revelation I experienced soon after was that I was not tired — not in general, not of “life.” I just wasn’t all that tired. It was a new feeling. The next thought was unavoidable — this shit was working.

By that time I was back in school, but the tail I developed from the criminal justice system along with other obstacles were still very much part of my life. I was drug testing every week, I was relying on student loans and the kindness of my family for my living expenses (and dealing with a profound loss of trust from them), and I was broke all the time. All the ingredients for bad days were there, yet I was starting to have some good days and I found myself happy from time to time. I was experiencing some success again. And, slowly, I was rebuilding the trust I lost.

By the end of my first year clean and sober, I was done with my education at American River College and was set to transfer to California State University, Sacramento in the fall of 2005. While working toward my bachelor’s degree at Sac State I got an internship at a local newspaper. That internship became a part-time job after just a week or two and, while I was certainly not rolling in dough, I was a lot less broke. Things happened, people came and went. I continued through my BA, entered grad school at Sac State, earned an MA there and then went on to Louisiana State University to earn a PhD. And while I did advance to doctoral candidacy, I finished “ABD” (all but dissertation) and collected another MA from LSU.

All good days? Not even. Many were bad, but there were no years or, really, even months or weeks of badness since early 2005. Shit has happened, life has come at me, I have been less a victim as I have been a volunteer, but not everything was due to my choices — chance is still chance and life is not fair. That is not to say “most” have been good days , either— most are just days. And most days I am content — not “happy” — but content. I do not believe the state of happiness is sustainable. It is and should be fleeting, but serenity, contentedness, peace — those can be sustained.

Usually “we” (those in the so-called “recovery community”) reminisce like this on our sobriety or clean dates, birthdays, or anniversaries. Some are looking for congratulatory pats on the back from those in society who are not alcoholics or addicts, many of whom have paid a price for loving one, or, worse, been victimized by one in his or her quest to get “well.” I do not see it that way; we do and should congratulate each other (that’s part of what the “village” does), but society has every right to say, “great, good job, it’s about fucking time. That’s what you were supposed to be doing all along.” It is not my anniversary — it is not August yet, but I see no reason to keep these stories to ourselves when they can reach those who are not necessarily the rest of society and not necessarily “us,” but, rather, those who are not us — yet. Or, maybe those who are and might just not be feeling it.

There can be peace. For many days in a row — and for the vast majority of my 6,834 days of sobriety — that is what I have, peace. One day at a time.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Decisions, Decisions

Nine years ago today, I was experiencing an existential crisis. Not in terms of my physical existence, but in terms of that which made me who I am. I had embarked on a particular (and particularly difficult) path and I was wholly unsure of my ability to succeed. Today, nine years later, I can report that I was both able to succeed and that I did not succeed - not entirely. However, I did not quit, not then, anyway. There would come a time when I would have to make a decision to end the quest for a PhD, but that would be down the road another couple of years.

I wrote about it and posted it on Facebook. It wasn't the first time I became vulnerable on Facebook, but it was significant. It felt, to me, like so much whining, but I knew it went way deeper and I was literally out of answers. I needed release even if it was a virtual tantrum (don't bother looking for it - it is filtered to "just me" now). I posted it and then went for a ride, neglecting the mountain of work I had to do. My mantra was then as it is now, when in doubt - motorcycle.

By the time I got back, there were more than 100 comments from both real and Facebook friends expressing support - all kinds of support. Some had real-world, similar experience that I could wrap my head around, others said shit like (and this could only come from someone I respect), "Are you fucking crazy, look how far you've come?" Because, among the viable options I laid out, quitting grad school was one of them. In the end I decided I really had little choice but to push on. But it is important to note that had I not vented as I did, leaving it to marinate while I took a ride and then coming back to read what everyone wrote, I very well could have imploded.

What ended up happening, a couple of years later, is that I did quit (sort of), but not in a knee-jerk way that it would have been if I just threw up my arms in frustration and split. And, although I "quit" the PhD (I made it as far as candidacy, what they call ABD - "all but dissertation"), I did have more than enough coursework and other requirements completed for another MA degree - this one from LSU (my first was from Sac State). I also have a shit-ton of experience in a PhD program at an R1 university, went to and taught at an SEC school and I lived in Baton Rouge for almost four years. None of that is nothing. But it's not a PhD. For 360 or so days of the year, I do not regret that decision, but it's a decision I might not have been able to make had I not "whined" to Facebook nine years ago. As far as "who I am?" I'm pretty good with that, too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023



This week is Spring Break at California State University, Sacramento. For whatever reason, Sac State “celebrates,” or places Spring Break on a different week than most other schools in the area (most others’ are next week). Be that as it may, this week, for me, has developed a little history and a tradition that also celebrates the coming of spring. It even has a name that MCU fans should recognize – the “Knowhere Ride.” It is the first long, multi-day motorcycle ride of the year and usually consists of at least three days (and could be up to as many as six or seven) and several hundred to more than 1,000 miles. The destination is always the same – Knowhere.


The first Knowhere Ride was in 2016. It wasn’t named that yet and it was way more planned than the ride would become – and it was not solo. They do not have to be, it’s not a “rule” (that’s kind of a thing, there are no rules), but it is better that way. That time was with a friend, and it was very much planned; it was a good ride that included the best parts of the PCH. I did PCH the opposite direction again in June, alone. I did not plan to go as far or be gone as long as I was – but I definitely needed some escape. The ride was piggybacked on a trip to Southern California for a friend’s wedding and a visit to my sons’ family to see my grandkids. After that, no plans.


That was when the magic happened. That was when the Knowhere Ride was born. It doesn’t have to be during Spring Break, but that is usually the first opportunity. It doesn’t have to be solo, but it is best that way. Once it was a group ride – a “shake-down” ride for those who were going to Sturgis that year. While that was called the Knowhere Ride, too, there wasn’t much knowherey about it. And not every ride that is a solo ride into the spiritual oneness that is the coming together of my bike, the road, and my mind is necessarily a ride to “Knowhere,” either. The ride is at once difficult to define but, at the same time, impossible to miss when upon me.


What is true is that there will be no Spring Break Knowhere Ride this year. It was planned (which means only a departure date was planned) but scrubbed a couple of days ago due to a number of factors – and the weather was not the only one. The weather would only delay my departure, there are other factors that made the postponement of the ride a good idea. The next available time is in the latter part of May. That’s okay and there is no sense in making any plans for a thing that defies planning anyway.


What will be happening is still motorcycle stuff. I have two motorcycle projects that are waiting to become full-fledged, roadworthy motorcycles. One is and has been in the mock-up stage and the other needs to be torn down for painting. But before that can happen my garage needs a major overhaul. That’s what will be happening this week -that and other stuff I’ve been neglecting that needs attention. While all that stuff is decidedly Somewhere (here), it all contributes to getting somewhere else – Knowhere.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Eagles

The last time I saw the Eagles, I told myself it would be the last time. They put on an excellent show, they are one of my favorite bands, but I've seen them a few times over the years, and they are expensive. But that was before the show. After the show - the first of two nights at the COVID rescheduled shows at Chase Center in San Francisco, I posted the following to my Fakebook timeline:

This post is a departure from dogs, motorcycles and cigars, not the first one and not that last, but it is does run along the same theme of innocuousness. There is nothing disagreeable, controversial, adversarial, or, in the grander scheme of things, particularly important contained here. On the other hand, one could argue (I would) that nothing is more important than these small day-to-day , pleasures, victories, connections and the like. So, that’s a lot to set up this. If you’re still with me, cool. If you’re not, you have probably just skipped down to the pretty pictures and “liked” away. Also, cool.
Last night, the Eagles performed the first of their two nights at the Chase Center in San Francisco. This is the Hotel California/Greatest Hits Tour that was postponed for more than a year because of COVID. I’ll cut right to the, um… “chase” and go ahead and say that it was worth the wait. Since reforming after Glenn Frey’s passing, I’ve seen them three times - their first show in LA at the Classic West in 2017, again on their next tour in Sacramento at the G1C in 2018 and last night. All were quintessential Eagles performances, but last night was easily their best - before or after Glenn Frey’s untimely death, and prior, I’d say their best tour was their last with him, the “History of the Tour.”
Between Vince Gill and Frey’s son, Deacon, the elder Frey’s role is not recreated, it is reinvented, but in a way that pays homage to his legacy and, through his son, absolutely in his image. Yet, it was last night that the entire band, as good as it was right from the start, really came together in “that” way that few groups ever do, in the way the Eagles (almost) always have - and now they have again. There was magic on that stage. There was chemistry. Maybe it was alchemy, but whatever you want to call it, this band was truly enjoying their night, and their genuine appreciation for their fans’ - not just last night, but for more than 50 years - revealed an authenticity that cannot be faked.
I told myself this would be my last Eagles concert. While they are one of my favorite groups, I’ve seen them a lot - enough, I figured - and they are an expensive production. However, maybe this was not my last Eagles concert. At the conclusion of the fourth encore song (that’s right, Sacramento, we got four - Henley’s “Boys of Summer” was included in the SF encore set), I toyed, briefly, with the idea of going back tonight. I won’t, but when the next tour comes around - because I seriously doubt they are done - you might just find me back in the stands.
Cue the music…
🎶 I’m already gone… 🎸

I have tickets right smack-dab in the center of the 202 section in the new 4,500 seat venue (named, originally enough, "The Venue") at the Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, CA. They are in the center of the center and close, closer than I was at the Chase, at The Golden 1 Center in Sacramento in 2018 and way closer than the band's resurrection after the passing of Glenn Frey for the Classic West festival at Dodger Stadium in 2017 or the seats I had as a broke-ass grad student in Louisiana when I saw them in New Orleans for the "History of" tour in 2014.

These tickets were close to $500 each (including all the bullshit Ticketmaster fees), comparable to the price of the seats I bought for both the Chase Center show last year and the G1C show in 2018. Were they "worth it?" That's a tough question to answer. If I had to put it on a credit card and I was paying those tickets off over the next few months (been there, done that - never again), then, no, it's not. But If I have disposable cash, then I decide what to dispose it on - sometimes I might "waste it" on motorcycle parts, others it might be an Eagles concert.

None of this means I will for sure use these tickets. I bought them because I could, knowing the investment is safe (-ish; I thought that about the pre-Covid Chase Center purchase, too - then Covid happened and I lost money on my "investment" extra tickets). They made selling the tickets a little more difficult by sending out actual, physical tickets in the mail - if I sell, it will be a real, not virtual, transaction. But that is only stupid Ticketmaster bullshit, not an insurmountable problem. And at least Ticketmaster won't get a double-cut that way. But I didn't "need" the money I spent and I don't "need" to double or triple it, either. However, I will get that if I sell them as a pair (no "friend deals," don't ask), that's the payoff for the investment and the risk I took.

But I also might go. What I wrote a year ago - combined with the fact that seeing the Eagles in a one-off small venue setting is not likely to happen again soon - is pretty compelling. I mean, I can be pretty convincing. If I do go, that will leave open one important question. Fortunately, I have, literally, months to decide.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Back to School


It’s early – way earlier than I need to be up and way earlier than I would ever wake up if given a choice. There are a number of reasons why I might get up this early, but not ever for no reason, yet here we are. It happens once in a while, and there probably is a reason, but fuck if I know what it is. I guess I do have a lot on my mind, but that’s not exactly new, or exactly out of the ordinary. In fact, it would be more curious if there wasn’t much on my mind. There was also once a time when I would use these “awakenings” (makes it sound more mystic that way) to pound the keyboard, to let the muse speak though my fingers and, usually, come up with something… some thing.


But it’s been a while. Not just since an early morning up-for-no-reason writing session, but since I’ve done any real writing at all. Oh, sure, I’ve done the shit for work – syllabus writing, assignment writing, emails and even a handful of letters of recommendation – but not this. And when I say it’s been a while, we are not talking about days or weeks – it’s been months. This is the end of August and I have not written anything besides a few longish Facebook posts this entire year. And now, all of a sudden, I wake up before four o’clock in the fucking morning and the words want to come out. Okay…


Speaking of work, yesterday was the first day of instruction for the fall 2022 semester at California State University, Sacramento. The official beginning of the academic year was last week, but the first day of school was yesterday and campus was packed. It was packed like it hasn’t been in a long time. It was packed in a way that I used to hate - the monumental hassle of the first week or two of school, the traffic, the parking, the students adding and dropping classes – all stuff that is part of doing my job but not part of the job. Yesterday I didn’t feel any of that frustration, any of that hassle, any of that over-peopledness. What I felt was gratitude even though I was stuck in a monumental traffic jam trying to get to the faculty lot that would likely not have any parking spaces available. I didn’t care.


I didn’t even have to be there yesterday. I have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, but not on the main campus. I went because I needed to pick up a couple of things, but I really didn’t – that was an excuse. But I didn’t even understand that until much later, after I got home last night. In my reflection of why I was feeling the way I was, processing it, I came back around to what in the actual fuck did I need to be there for. I didn’t. I was curious. And I could have just waited until today when I will be on campus virtually all day. And perhaps that is what woke me up. Don’t know. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter.


I’m entering my eighth year of teaching at Sac State and, if I include the teaching I did as a grad student, first at Sac State and then at Louisiana State University, my 15th year of teaching undergraduate university students. I started in 2008 at Sac State, continued in 2011 at LSU and in the fall of 2015, it became my full-time job back at Sac State. Prior to 2008, I was a full-time student for all but one semester from fall of 2003 until I received my BA in late 2007 – from Sac State. That’s a lot of time in the same area for someone who historically gets bored with not just his job, but with his entire career every five to seven years. In fact, I am in record territory for remaining with the same employer, never mind the same career.


But COVID nearly changed all that. I do not like people (as a collection, as groups, in general), but I love being on campus, in the classroom and amongst students and colleagues. It seems to be the only kind of peopling I can tolerate. When COVID hit, it reduced the one form of interaction with people that I actually like to little black squares on a monitor. The classroom collaboration and cooperation were all but eliminated and only those who were already naturally predisposed to engaging with their peers would do so – the rest (which was most) of them were content with Zoom anonymity. And it was like that for more than two years. The switch was turned almost overnight, but it took a long time – maybe as much as an entire semester or more – for it to get turned back. And, while it appears to be more or less back to the way things were pre-COVID, I am sure there are many nuances that remain, many of which will show themselves today in my three sections and one office hours session – on campus.


But I will be on campus, and so will they. And that is good, despite the monumental cluster-fuck it’s going to be. I have never looked forward to a traffic jam or a crowd or students jostling for a seat in one of my classes or any of the other first day/first week trials and tribulations like I am this week. I remember all too clearly venturing onto a virtually deserted campus on the first day of school not very long ago. This is so much better.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Dog People

One of the great injustices in life is that the average human lifespan is so much longer than that of the average dog. For those of us who cherish our canine companions, that means we will not only have to endure their passing, but also that we go into the relationship knowing that will eventually come to pass. They don’t, they live each day as though it is their only day — not like it might be their last, but like it’s the only day there is — the only one that matters. It is among the most profound gifts they give us, but it is among many, many others. If we, the so-called “dog-people,” are lucky, we will experience a few dogs who both grace our lives… and depart from them. Luck, however, is a two-edged sword, both edges are razor sharp. One side cuts deeply into our hearts, our souls and our lives, filling us with unequivocal, unconditional love; the other leaves the pain of their passing so unique it is difficult to describe. The sting of loss will fade over time, but their love never does.

“But what is grief, if not the perseverance of love.”

~ Vision, from Marvel’s WandaVision

Facebook, as much evil as it sews, is remarkably efficient in cataloguing my activity and recalling it as “memories” on a daily basis. In that respect, it only reproduces what I have put in, and much of that is absolutely worth remembering. Sometimes what is worth remembering is the “perseverance of love.” There have been a handful of really special dogs in my life, all lived out what would be considered long lives — for dogs. Facebook reminded me of two today. One passed on this day peacefully in her sleep nine years ago at the age of 15. Her name was Magic, a pound rescue black lab/Australian shepherd mix whose name fit her perfectly. The other, Bella, in this Facebook video, was just a pup 12 years ago today. She passed less than a year ago. Both of these dogs left paw prints in my heart; I feel them, still, persevering. The sting of their loss has faded, but their love remains — unequivocal, unconditional, eternal.

Now I have Möbius. He has not replaced Magic or Bella or any of the other dogs who have graced my life over my 59 years on this planet. He has added to them, he is among them, he is part of their pack. He lives every day like it’s the only day there is. He loves me unconditionally, he is always happy, his word is always full of optimism. However, the odds are that I will outlive him and one day, he, too, will have to leave me. He doesn’t know it, but I do. He still has a lesson for me — he has the tools to deal with that reality, to deal with all future possible calamity, uncertainty, whatever life might throw at me: Live today like it’s the only day — not like it’s my last, not like there is no tomorrow, and not like a dog without any need to plan for the future, but to enjoy what time I have and just live. Today. And love — like today is the only day there is.