Apr 07

“Dusk, Night, Dawn”: Anne Lamott Copes Some More

“Here we are, older, scared, numb on some days, enraged on others, with even less trust than we had a year ago,” Lamott writes of such challenges as the pandemic and threats to American democracy and to the planet in general. “Where on earth do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back?” Kirkus Reviews regarding Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott

As Hope Reese points out in her Boston Globe review of Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage, a collection of short essays, this is the 19th book by bestselling author Anne Lamott. Several have been previously covered on this site (see here for one of the all-around best).

Reese describes Dusk, Night, Dawn as “digestible and uplifting, conceived and packaged for the chaotic times we are facing. Although touching on a few broadly exterior topics (climate change), it mainly focuses on the human interior, Lamott’s specialty, with a particular emphasis on forgiveness of ourselves and others, acceptance, and unconditional love.”

An important aspect of coping is knowing what we can control and what we can’t. More from Reese:

What life throws at us remains very much out of our hands, Lamott reminds us. She cites a study showing that around 80 percent of people believe they are in control, while the truth is that we are only in control about three percent to seven percent of the time.

Some of Lamott’s tips, from the Publisher Weekly‘s review:

Concentrating on being more intentional and focusing on small changes in one’s personal life, she writes, allows hope to grow and to serve as the first step to larger societal changes. Lamott argues that people too often block themselves from love through perfectionism, self-loathing, cowardice, and the fear of being vulnerable with others. She also weighs in on domestic matters, including problems both weighty (alcoholism) and trivial (how one’s new spouse does the laundry). To her credit, Lamott turns a pessimistic mindset on its head with the difficult question: ‘What holds when you and your family are walking toward extinction?’ Her answer: kindness, humility, words of love, and stories of when the worst seemed possible, but it turned out okay.

Below are some quotes I culled from Goodreads reviewers who’ve posted their favorites:

My comedian friend Duncan Trussel once said nine words onstage that changed me. He said that when you first meet him, you’re meeting his bodyguard. I wrote it down and later taped it to my bathroom mirror, where all truth resides at least briefly. His bodyguard is smart and charming, and keeps people out. Deep inside, his true self is very human, which is to say beautiful and kind of a mess –needy, insecure, judgmental, like most of us. It is full of love, warmth, and rage.

Even now we aren’t in charge of much, and it is exhausting to believe or pretend we are.

We rise up to help the best we can, and we summon humor to amend ghastly behavior and dismal ongoing reality.

Kindness anywhere gives me hope; it changes us.

Seeing is a form of pure being, unlike watching or looking at. Seems why we’re here.

I know the secret of life. If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things.

Some poet once wrote that we think we are drops in the ocean, but that we are really the ocean in drops, both minute and everything there is.

May 02

Annie Grace Quotes: Does Alcohol Make You Happy?

In Annie Grace‘s 2018 book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life, she offers many quotes from others on the subject of alcohol overuse. (See my previous post.) One, for example, is from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

Below, though, are selected quotes from the increasingly respected Grace herself (from This Naked Mind):

For simplicity, let’s define addiction this way: doing something on a regular basis that you do not want to be doing. Or doing something more often than you would like to be doing it, yet being unable to easily stop or cut back. Basically, it’s having two competing priorities, wanting to do more and less of something at the same time. 

It wasn’t that there was always a reason to drink. It was just that there was never a reason not to.

Let me ask you, from a purely physiological perspective, how could alcohol possibly make you happy? The effect of alcohol is to deaden all of your senses, to numb you, to inebriate you. If you are numb, how can you feel anything, happiness included?

It’s not that alcohol makes drinkers happy; it’s that they are very unhappy without it.

Our society not only encourages drinking—it takes issue with people who don’t drink.

We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.

Why do you think drug addicts and heavy drinkers hang out together? Could it be because no one makes them feel guilty about how much they are consuming?

Alcohol erases a bit of you every time you drink it. It can even erase entire nights when you are on a binge. Alcohol does not relieve stress; it erases your senses and your ability to think. Alcohol ultimately erases your self.

Ask yourself if you are happier than before. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life dumber, with your senses deadened, experiencing tunnel vision, and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

I have been the lone sober person at many of these occasions. Here’s what happens. The wine comes, and the mood changes, so the conversation is intelligent, quick-witted, and full of life. Fast-forward two or three glasses, and conversation grows a bit dull, even among some of the most intelligent people. The wine does exactly what it is supposed to; it slows your brain function and dulls your senses.

The problem with alcohol is that once you start drinking you can’t judge the point where a little is good and a lot becomes a disaster. When you are making a fool of yourself, or when your conversation skills wane, you remain unaware. Even if you could gauge the exact amount to drink, booze doesn’t make you cleverer, funnier, more creative, or more interesting. There is nothing inherent in alcohol that can do this. 

But when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety…

Jun 05

“First Reformed”: Body/Mind/Soul Collisions

Ariston Anderson, Filmmaker Magazine, briefly describes the plot of Paul Schrader‘s First Reformedfor what it’s worth, a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes:

Ethan Hawke stars as a former military chaplain, Toller, who can’t get over the death of his son. When he meets a radical environmental activist, Michael (Philip Ettinger), he doubts both his faith and his purpose in life. After Michael’s suicide, Toller finds a connection with Michael’s young widow, Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried.

Alex Arabian, Film Inquiry: “Toller puts on a brave front, but still suffers from his son’s death, so he drinks heavily. However, this is ill-advised, as he suffers from some form of advanced cancer. He decides to write longhand in a diary for a year.”

More about Toller’s character from director Schrader himself:

This guy has a sickness that Kierkegaard called a sickness unto death — a lack of hope, despair, angst. This sickness has manifestations. The cloth of the clergy is one, the diary is another, the alcohol is another, and finally the environment is a manifestation of his soul sickness. So he grafts this cause onto himself — in fact, picks it up as a kind of virus from another person. But if it weren’t the environment, it would be something else.

About Toller’s emerging “environmentalist obsessions” Greg Cwik (Slant) notes, “It’s as if the dead man has been reborn within Toller, as if Toller has found a new, invigorated faith, a fervid and politicized one. Suicide is, for strict Augustine Christians, a sin, unforgivable as the dead cannot confess, unless one is labeled a martyr, like Samson. Yet Toller begins to see in death the possibility for new life.”

See the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: “As a priest who may or may not be losing his mind, Hawke provides a compelling anchor for Schrader’s surprisingly effective religious-themed film.”

Justin Chang, NPR: “First Reformed is a stunner, a spiritually probing work of art with the soul of a thriller, realized with a level of formal control and fierce moral anger that we seldom see in American movies.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘First Reformed’ is the kind of film that will stay with you long after the credits.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “An embittered look at our world through the eyes of someone who’s increasingly horrified to be a part of it, and a film that’s one of the most searing experiences of the year.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

Part of the movie’s understated triumph lies in its casting: Hawke is an actor who clearly cares, and worries, a lot–the tree of life is practically etched into his forehead. As the hyperconscientious Toller, he conveys both the selfishness and the true anguish of people who just can’t let go of their own pain. But he also offers a shred of hope in the idea that in the end, caring too much might be just the thing that saves us.

Jul 15

“The Confirmation”: If You Liked “Nebraska”…

Writer/director Bob Nelson‘s comedy/drama The Confirmation, difficult to find in theaters this year but now on DVD, has been described as “understated” by critics. Its lead characters are Walt as an “alcoholic deadbeat dad” and his young son Anthony, who’s sweetly dad-adoring though worried about him.

According to various reviewers, if you’ve seen Nelson’s previous screenplay, Nebraska, you’ll recognize some similarity in style and theme.

Andy Webster, New York Times, briefly summarizes the plot of The Confirmation, which “is seemingly simple: A handyman, Walt (Clive Owen), whose drinking cost him his marriage, has a weekend with his 8-year-old son, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), while his ex (Maria Bello) is on a church-sponsored couples retreat with her new man (Matthew Modine).”

Walt’s gotten himself a needed job, but his tools have been stolen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, taking it from there:

For the next two days, he tries to find the thief, get his toolbox back, and stay sober long enough to be a real father to the boy who loves him unconditionally. The weekend turns into something of a nightmare as Dad, struggling to be responsible, and his son, trying to be helpful, embark on a series of adventures both dangerous and funny. Not to mention contrived.

Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com:

They encounter a collection of oddballs and, if looking at it from a moral perspective, sinners. There’s Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reformed thief who ‘found Jesus’ but still beats his young son Allen (Spencer Drever). That lead brings the pair to a comic interlude involving Drake (Patton Oswalt), another thief, whose claim to know everyone in town becomes doubtful. The only, clearly decent man of the bunch is Walt’s long-time friend Otto (Robert Forster), who comes at a moment’s notice to help Anthony with his father and to explain the effects of alcohol withdrawal to the boy.

Tom Long, Detroit News: “The quest, of course, is a rich bonding experience for father and son. Anthony sees a bigger world, and Walt at his most vulnerable and Walt realizes Anthony’s resourcefulness and surprising gumption.”

Adam Nayman, AV Club, explains the title as well as key plot development: “…The Confirmation opens with 8-year-old Anthony…reluctantly taking confession with his local priest; the joke is that, when pressed, an innocent pre-teen boy can’t really think of anything he’s done wrong. By the end of the film, Anthony will have amassed a (modest) list of sins, but more importantly, he’ll have a much better understanding of the idea of forgiveness…”

In the end Walt will have been partly responsible for this lesson, states Soren Andersen (Seattle Times), for “giving [Anthony] sound advice on how to understand religion and, more broadly, how to successfully navigate in the world: ‘Listen to what they say, then decide for yourself what you think is right’.”

The trailer for The Confirmation follows:

Jun 29

“Blackout” Drinker: Sarah Hepola’s Memoir About Recovery

As I inched into my 30s, I found myself in that precarious place where I knew I drank too much, but I believed I could manage it somehow. I was seeing a therapist, and when I talked to her about my blackouts, she gasped. I bristled at her concern.
“Everyone has blackouts,” I told her.
She locked eyes with me. “No, they don’t.” Sarah Hepola, Blackout

Why this particular quote from Sarah Hepola‘s recently published Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget? Because as a therapist I recognize it as a fairly common scenario—the denial that precedes an altogether different discovery about one’s drinking and its effects.

As Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, comments about the perceived normalcy of certain patterns of drinking:

Blackouts aside, Hepola’s brand of alcoholism tracks with a way of drinking that’s familiar to many of us: the wine-soaked book club, the cocktails with friends, the after-work drinks…
But what’s cute in college and socially acceptable in your twenties turns ugly in your thirties. There are those who drink the book club wine, then go happily home to bed. And there are those, like Hepola, who follow it up with a six pack or two of beer…

Hepola, now 40 and a Salon editor, has a lot to say about her history of blackout drinking. The quote at the top and the next couple are from a book excerpt in The Guardian.

What is a blackout? Contrary to popular belief, an alcohol-related blackout is not the same as passing out. Rather, it’s when you forget what’s happened to you: “the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.”

Behind the scenes of a blackout: 

The blood reaches a certain alcohol saturation point and shuts down the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for making long-term memories. You drink enough, and that’s it. Shutdown. No more memories.

Your short-term memory still works, but short-term memory lasts less than two minutes, which explains why wasted people can follow a conversation from point to point, but they will repeat themselves after some time has passed – what a friend of mine calls ‘getting caught in the drunkard’s loop’. The tendency to repeat what you just said is a classic sign of a blackout, although there are others. ‘Your eyes go dead, like a zombie,’ a boyfriend once told me. ‘It’s like you’re not there at all.’ People in a blackout often get a vacant, glazed-over look, as though their brain is unplugged. And, well, it kind of is.

Blackouts, by the way, come in different sizes, as it were. There are, for instance, “brownouts”—a fragmentary type; there are en bloc ones, a full-scale loss of memory for a significant period.

Felsenthal summarizes some details regarding Hepola’s drinking episodes:

She might tumble down staircases, expose herself publically, hijack a dinner party with emotional histrionics—but she wouldn’t find out until annoyed friends reported back to her in the morning. Why did she once wake up in a dog’s bed at someone else’s house? Why did she regularly wake up in the beds of strangers?

On Hepola Quitting Drinking