Angry Haiku?/What? No nature image? No peace?/WTF?

As anyone who’s successfully completed second grade can tell you, a haiku is a Japanese poetic form, usually used to capture a philosophic snapshot of nature. The reason second graders know haiku has less to do with poetry than with learning about syllabification—the ability to break down words into their component syllables. Unlike most western forms of poetry which rely on rhyme and rhythm, a haiku needn’t rhyme but it must adhere to the following form:

Line 1: Five syllables

Line 2: Seven syllables

Line 3: Five syllables

Typically, haiku are contemplative, wistful and telegrammatic with a focus on imagery. For example,

Image may contain: one or more people and text

Thunder rips eardrum

Fireflies escape dampened grass

Lightning brings blindness

Or:

Sun bakes river mud

Frog hops, hoping for water

Circle expands–nothing.

(Remember, I said example, not good example.)

Life, my life at least, is fullest when I’m comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Thus, I was excited to learn of a new writing group at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery in Manchester beginning Tuesday, July 10 at 6 pm. (Full disclosure for those who haven’t followed my life as closely as I have: I

still live in the Tiny White Box, but it’s been transported a couple hundred miles south, and I’m now working at Hope.) Turning the placid meditations of eastern haiku on its head, Angry Haiku proposes to provide writers the opportunity to express anger, pain, dread and other uncontemplative emotions into the simple 5-7-5 of haiku.

For example:

Promises broken

Lies escape your lips daily

Daddy Mommy why?

Or:

You’re so mistaken

Cruelty is not a virtue

Kindness not a crime

Or:

Hunger meet anger

And now comes desperation

Party all the time

Or:

Friendly direction?

Left. Right. Up. Down. Silly fool

All roads dead ended

Or:

Ignore evidence

I’m gooish tub, dripping fat

Not bones but loose skin

As above, these are mere samples of what an angry haiku might look like, not superlative examples of the form. Your results may vary, and will almost certainly be better.

If you’ve completed second grade (or made your best effort to do so), if you’ve ever felt any negative emotions, if you want to meet some twisted people with senses of humor, please join us at Angry Haiku beginning July 10 at Hope.

If you need more information, or are afraid this might be a huge joke, please give me a call at (603)361-6266.

The Thirst that Cannot be Quenched Must be Removed

Back when I was a boy, or slightly before, a group of drunks at Chase’s Tavern on Liberty Street in Baltimore found a solution. On April 5, 1840, six drinking buddies sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, formed a total abstinence group, the Washington Temperance Society (later the “Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society” or the Washingtonians.)  They’d grown tired of church-based temperance organizations preaching about the evils of liquor—instead, the Washingtonians banded together to support each other. Much like AA meetings today, this band of besotted brothers met and shared stories of drunkenness and recovery. No religion, no politics, no creeds; just one alcoholic establishing identification and rapport with others and providing support to stay sober.  Their thirst for fellowship was able to overpower their thirst for alcohol.

The Washingtonians did amazingly well, growing like crazy throughout the country, eventually documenting about 150,000 recovered alcoholics. By 1842, when Abraham Lincoln spoke to the Springfield, IL, Washingtonian group, meetings were being held in every city and most towns up and down the eastern seaboard. Unfortunately, the group lost its focus, spreading its message and methodology into suffrage, education reform and the abolition movement. By 1847, a mere seven years after they’d begun, the Washingtonians had devolved into a spent force, many of its early leaders having made money through speaking engagements and later converts returning to drink. Still, they’d shown a way—some would say THE way—for alcoholics to recover—through identification and group support.

Today, as in 1840, 1900, 1920 or 1980, getting sober is hard for an alcoholic; staying sober is nearly impossible without some kind of active program of recovery. When I got sober back in 2007, I was lucky enough to find a ready-made and healthy group of people who’d overcome their alcoholism. Living in a shelter for homeless veterans in Nashua, NH, I was within a 45-second walk of a noontime meeting of such folks. Today, in larger cities in southern New Hampshire, such groups exist under the banners of Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery and the Three Principles. Not everyone is so lucky.

Once you get north of Concord, the population density gets lower and lower, so the recovery community gets sparser and sparser. During my nine months in Pittsburg, I’d drive 45 minutes each way, twice a week, to attend meetings in Colebrook. As a man who recognizes my need to be part of a community, this was second nature to me, but consider the case of the person new in recovery or, even harder, the one who has a hankering to quit drinking but no knowledge of how to do so. Unless he or she has a driver’s license, a car, the means to pay for extra gas and a fair amount of free time, the hope for recovery becomes pretty dismal. I mean, one of the first signs many alcoholics see of their need to quit drinking comes in the form of blue lights in the rearview mirror signaling a DUI and concomitant loss of license and with it, due to loss of transportation, potential loss of job. The drunk in Pittsburg (or Columbia or Milan or any other small town in New Hampshire’s North Country) is often stuck with no solution but to keep on drinking. Given the natural tendency of the later-stage alcoholic to isolate, many North Country alcoholics dive deeper into the bottle rather than seeking help. I know I would have.

This past week I spent three days in Berlin at the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery program, a support center for folks in recovery or those with a hankering to do so. Support meetings of various kinds are held there, and the center offers a clean and sober space for hankerers to hang. The Hope center in Manchester, a city with about 20 times the population of Berlin, hops and hums with activity, while the Berlin center is slower paced and less active. Still, a message of recovery is available there, and I’d like to pass on a couple pieces of information about it:

  1. Saturday, June 30, from Noon to 4 pm, the Berlin Hope center hosts a block party for the community and for anyone who’s interested. Food, music and a dunking tank will be available. If you live in the North Country or if you’ll be travelling through, please stop by and demonstrate your support for Hope and for the hope of recovery.
  2. If you’re working a solid program of recovery, are a college graduate, have a desire to help save lives and transform people, and would like to relocate to the Berlin area, please give me a call at (603)361-6266. We’re looking for a center manager, and you might be that person.

Regular readers of this column know of my great regard for Abraham Lincoln, and here again he demonstrated, in the speech referenced above, an understanding far ahead of his time. In talking about drunkards, Lincoln said, “In my judgement, such of us as have never fallen victims, have been spared more by the absence of appetite, than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have.” The thirst I feel for alcohol is fundamentally different from that of the social drinker or the teetotaler. While I will never know that normal thirst, I have found a way to escape the bondage or that which I feel.

By the Light of Burning Tires I Watched My Life Go By

It’s hard for a fish to imagine the challenges of being a bird. The Uruguayan peasant child probably lacks identification with the Inuit boy. Only the most insightful fruit fly, living seven days, can picture the tortoise’s challenge of filling up a hundred years or more.

And for each of these, vice-versa.

Social drinkers and alcoholics of my type are in the same position. I may have briefly been a social drinker. Very briefly, since the first time I drank alcohol I was in 8th grade at a high-school cast party for a production of “Oliver.” My social drinking career may have begun at, say, 10:15, when the party started, and lasted until shortly before I ended up passed out on Jack Edwards’ lawn, face down in my own vomit. When one of the high school kids called my dad, he had to drag me to the car. To be very generous, my social drinking period lasted a bit less than two hours. After that, I drank for effect. I drank to get drunk. Apparently, social drinkers aren’t like that.

As for effect, I really believe alcohol interacts with me differently than it does with non-alcoholics. From the moment I take a first drink, I want to get to that brief space between the fourth and fifth drinks, that place where my perception of the universe changes and I am, briefly, on top of the world, able to look down with disdained amusement at all beneath me. I am 10 feet tall and bulletproof. After that, I drink until I am either knee-walking drunk or passed out. Apparently, social drinkers aren’t like that.

As I write this, it was a week ago that I spent my last night in Pittsburg, five miles from the Canadian border, alone outside the Tiny White Box. Wanting to mark the occasion, I built a small campfire in a fire pit as the sun was going down. There, I meditated on what I’ve lived in the last nine months, reviewed the writing I’ve done (and left undone) and thought about the next stage of my journey. In short, I looked back with pride and forward with excited anticipation. As the sun went down, the fire grew brighter until I was engulfed in darkness but for the glowing wood in front of me and the stars above me. After a couple hours, I spread out the fire’s embers, covered them with sand and went to bed. While I didn’t need the fire, it added to the experience.

From conversations with social drinkers, that campfire is analogous to their experience with drinking. On certain occasions—a wedding, a barbecue, a neighborhood party—they have a few drinks. These drinks add to the experience, lubricating fellowship, increasing celebration. Although they like having alcohol as part of the wedding or barbecue, the bride wouldn’t be any less lovely nor would the grilled chicken be less delicious without booze there.

So, if normal drinkers see a few drinks at the right time as being like a campfire to mark a passage, how does this alcoholic view drinking?

Imagine a tractor tire with gasoline poured on it. Imagine a lit match. Imagine the heat—not warming but scorching. Imagine the smoke—almost plasma and black black black. Imagine the smell—chemicals tearing through your nose like a straight razor through an Achilles tendon.

That’s what starting with a few drinks does for me. On a typical Thursday night. When I’ve got things to do in the morning.

On a night when I can drink the way I want always to drink?

Imagine that gasoline-drenched tractor tire burning on an ammo dump. At best it’s going to smell real bad. At worst someone’s going to lose a life.

I am not a social drinker, although for a long while I thought if I just learned to stop at the fifth drink I could become one. Now I know if I were a social drinker, I’d be drunk all the time, with the odor of burning rubber lingering in the air and the sound of explosions soon to come.