I am not coping because I am not the doctor. Because I am not the one who is fluent in the doctor’s language no matter how hard I try. How will I be able to benefit from wearing that white laboratory coat, stethoscope around the neck, with that particular bedside manner? Where is my infinite piano? Watch this. Watch this romance. It is clever math, no, it is elegant math with all of its violent alertness under my fingertips. What is the weather like in Los Angeles? What is a winter like in Los Angeles? What will my head say to my heart as I walk on that beach?
Or breathe in that valid air from that Parisian meadow with my moral compass to navigate me on those open roads, the wide open spaces of the Midwest? What will my limbs say to each other in London if I ever get around to having that London experience forgoing all my responsibilities as a writer and a poet in South Africa? For isn’t that what I am first and foremost. A South African writer and poet living in a post-apartheid apocalyptic city. City life as opposed to life in the rural countryside. Searching for greener pastures in the asphalt garden where everything is golden and chameleon-like. I have never wanted the experience of loss.
The measure of loss but life has given me that responsibility. Sutures too. And they all come with the sanity and the vanity of sobriety and alcoholism that will obliterate you if you dare. And panic and I have had to thread both against threadbare knuckles. I have covered myself up with an American quilt. It has become my shroud. It has become my cover in other poetry. But I feel it all the time now. The warmth of anxiety. I feel it humming, humming, and humming in my bones. Singing to the leaves on the winter trees. Guests every one. They’re like bees. They’re a rapturous swarm.
What do I know without having a sophisticated culture, a knowledge and education beyond this tidal moon and sun and then I think of the planets. How like the planets I am? I know my place. I know my place so well now that I cannot give it up. And why would I? There will never be a case of mistaken identity. All I will ever know about life is the predictions of Sappho, poetry and writing. And how sometimes how beautifully unpredictable life can be otherwise. There are storms in the dark and we need to speak about the acute pain from those storms in beautiful and wonderful ways. Mostly the image of depression is that of a wild thing.
When I’m crazy I know that is when I am most alive. When I am not crazy, when I am most sober is also when I am most alive but I don’t know it. All feeling leaves me and I long for the stress of crazy. I long for someone to tell me I’m beautiful like I long for the familiar child’s world again, to be nature’s bride and Ezra Pound’s Alba. Sobriety will only consume all your waking thoughts if there is spiritual poverty on your side. You are mine. The pain of Sarajevo is in my blood. Mingled there in my blood. Staring back at me in my blood and but what can I do but stare back at it? The door was somehow left ajar for me and my heart was bursting.
It ready to be split open like a pomegranate. Seeds everywhere like seawater. I found wild oblivion, the safe passage from suffering in those seeds. At first I could not speak of the fantasy that I held in my hands and that my head wished for so ardently. I could not interpret those promised lands that my mocking husband returned from. I needed land and yet I needed to be reborn as well. I needed stress, a tour of the flesh like I needed the back of my hand. I flickered and then I was buried once again amongst the flowers. And with dirt upon my head I soon realised that I was supposed to be the beautiful keeper of the vanished and the unexamined.
Alcohol ages you. I do not want to age. To age means to give up your mortality like an artist giving up their brushes. To age means to give up everything. To age means that you are not bold anymore and that you don’t have anything to be brave over. It just happens to be in your blood to think these things. Never mind how you try not to. I need to write to you of the quiet courage of our mothers and our grandmothers. So pay attention. And in closing I have this to say about alcoholism. There is nothing beautiful about it. It can rain on your parade though, make you feel beautiful and deserving. It is a sad indictment on humanity measured in losses.
Reflections on some Writer’s Quotes regarding Alcoholism
“An elderly black man with gray hair said, “Every bottle should come with a warning: ‘This bottle may cause you to lose your job. This bottle may cause you to get a divorce. This bottle may cause you to become homeless.”
― Akhil Sharma, Family Life
“Think about the stigma that is attached to the idea that alcoholism is a disease, an incurable illness, and you have it. That’s a terrible thing to inflict on someone. Labeling alcoholism as a disease, a cause unto itself, simply no longer fits with what we know today about its causes.”
― Chris Prentiss, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure
“But I’m not a saint yet. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.”
― Truman Capote, Music for Chameleons
“Some things just couldn’t be protected from storms. Some things simply needed to be broken off. Once old things were broken off, amazingly beautiful things could grow in their place.”
― Denise Hildreth Jones
“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
“People don’t like to talk about alcohol. They don’t like to think about it, except in the most superficial of ways. They don’t like to examine the damage it does and I don’t blame them. I don’t like it either. I know that desire for denial with every bone in my body: clavicle, sternum, femur and phalanx.”
― Olivia Laing, The Trip to Echo Spring
“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
― Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be: A Memoir of Alcoholism and Addiction, Faith and Family, Hope and Humor