The Sea of During

 

Without preparation, we now sail the Sea of During.

“Today we sail the Sea of During, having set sail from Before. Our trip across During is not just uncharted but would have been nearly unimaginable last month. Other than survivalists, few of us dreamed During even existed—until we found ourselves gone from Before, the knowledge slowly dawning that we’d never said goodbye; in fact, we’d never even known we lived in Before.” Read more here.

Below you will find blog posts written by Keith to the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery community during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. 


July 13, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today is the day we begin our journey into the Land of After. The journey across the Sea of During seemed endless, and some of us thought After was imaginary. The quarantine/sheltering-at-home/isolation/call-it-what-you-will seemed it would last forever. We’d all end up with some form of sea madness, starve in our homes or die of COVID-19. For most of us, none of those things happened, and today we can walk into the Hope center, reconnecting with old friends and supporting new ones. We have survived and we can thrive… Continue Reading

July 12, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I apologize in advance for the length of this letter. Let it be some small consolation it could easily be five times as long. Today is Sunday, so you may have the time to sit back and read. Or not. I just have some things I need to say, hoping someone needs to hear them… Continue Reading

July 11, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Last Thursday I was sitting in a restaurant, masked and the only person in the dining room, waiting for a friend. We were scheduled to meet at 5, and I got there a little early, giving me a chance to watch the folks in the adjoining bar. There were a pair of couples and two or three solitary drinkers. One of the latter was a man who stared down at a 45-degree angle except when he raised his glass, when his head slowly swiveled up at the same rate as the martini until he took a large sip, call it a drinklet… Continue Reading

July 10, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

The journey is over. We are pulling into After. Hope for New Hampshire Recovery is reopening weekdays from 3-7 pm beginning next Monday. Read on for all the details, but before you do, let me say congratulations to all of you. You made it across rough seas with few folks falling overboard or being completely laid up with nausea… Continue Reading

July 9, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

For the last 107 days, I’ve written you daily, sometimes about serious matters, sometimes about recovery, sometimes simply silly musings of an old man. From the beginning, I’ve used the metaphor of a ship’s crossing of a sea. These letters can be seen, in a sense, as a ship’s log, at least if the log is kept by an idiosyncratic sailor with a taste for the absurd.  That journey has taken us from the Land of Before across the Sea of During toward the Land of After… Continue Reading

July 8, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’m lucky enough to live in the country, outside of Manchester’s light pollution. My daughter is gone for the week, I don’t have the attention span to watch television or videos and Lucy loves being out in the dark, so last night we sat by the non-burning fire pit and contemplated life. As regular readers might assume, my contemplation often takes me down strange paths. Last night, my mind’s theater was primarily focused on ghosts… Continue Reading

July 7, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Regular readers of these letters know I’m but half educated. The half I know is the humanities—literature, art, history, sociology, etc. Of the other half–hard science, math, engineering—I am blissfully ignorant. This overwhelming focus on human beings and how they communicate/coexist/live would have come as a surprise to my elementary-school teachers, because back then I was a math whiz… Continue Reading

July 6, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

There’s no accounting for taste. Once every week or so, I devote this letter to quotations on various subjects. Some of you absolutely love the respite from news about Hope or thoughts on recovery. I’ve gotten many emails and seen some Facebook posts filled with gushery over these letters… Continue Reading

July 5, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Anyone who’s read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, now apparently translated as In Search of Lost Time, remembers his madeleine, with memories springing forth from just a crumb of that pastry. There’s a madeleine in today’s letter, but you may be surprised what it is… Continue Reading

July 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Happy Fourth of July! Part Three of the Series will come tomorrow. For today, a special letter. Two-Thousand-Twenty is one of those glorious years when Independence Day falls on the 4th of July, so we get to celebrate two holidays at once! Whether today includes picnics, fireworks, swimming or sitting in front of a television watching the same “Office” reruns you’ve seen dozens of times before, please be safe: socially distance, don’t gather in crowds, wear a mask when you’re not able to properly distance… Continue Reading

July 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Yesterday I introduced the notion of oceanic feeling, the sense of being in the hand of the gods (or God) and the universe. This feeling, I believe, is central to all religious experience, and those of us who have inherited the ability to taste this now and then are very lucky people indeed. It could be that mystics, true believers and saints live in this place. I only know I get to visit it now and then… Continue Reading

July 2, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

My most interesting conversations take place at recovery meetings of one flavor or another. Last night I was involved in a discussion with another guy about water—not about drinking water, not about water rights, not even about its composition. (Because we are both roughly educated men, we knew water is made up of three ingredients: liquid, solid and gas). (If that last line didn’t make you at least chuckle, you’re wrong.) No, sitting outside with proper social distancing, the dispute was about what kind of body of water—stream or ocean–is the best image for describing life… Continue Reading

July 1, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I just attended the noontime all-recovery meeting behind Hope. Like cold orange juice first thing in the morning, spending time with folks in early-ish recovery opens my eyes and makes me happy to be alive. Among the many things we talked about that challenge of waiting for changes to happen. As folks leaving addiction, we tend to want what we want when we want it, if not a little bit earlier… Continue Reading

June 30, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

The other day I was in an all-recovery meeting, talking about how one extracts good from evil. That is, how can evil experiences be transformed to lessons, comfort or wisdom? Anyone who’s ever eaten an unripe avocado knows how bitter that fruit can be, yet given time, the avocado is smooth and, if not sweet, at least very tasty… Continue Reading

June 29, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Since the nights of broken glass began back in April, Hope has taken a whole bunch of steps to try to prevent further damage and to catch the thrower. In addition to using Families in Transitions’ cameras, reporting to the Manchester Police Department and conducting our own drive-bys at unusual times of day, we’ve also purchased and installed a quality surveillance camera setup of our own… Continue Reading

June 28, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

Another day, another two broken windows. Another day, another senseless attack. Another day, another chance to experience anger and sorrow.

Another day, another opportunity to practice serenity.

God, grant meContinue Reading

June 27, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve tried my hand at a lot of different kinds of writing, generally with only passing success. From journalism to essays to short stories to poetry to songwriting to novels, I’ve completed some works of which I’ve been proud and a number which I’m just glad to be done with. Throughout this long career of putting letters into words into sentences and onto paper, I’ve never made a ton of money off writing, and that’s been fine. Just as scratching dry skin between your toes is an end in itself, almost everything I’ve written has been a response to something in me that just didn’t seem right. I write to have written, to be done with that itch for now. Whatever money has flowed has been icing on the cake… Continue Reading

June 26, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Church sanctuaries held wisdom for me as a boy. It may have been wisdom I didn’t understand, and certainly couldn’t apply to my life, but when I went into the sanctuary of the Durham Community Church, I assumed the Reverend Novotny had a pathway to God and therefore some genuine wisdom. I assumed the baptismal font also flowed with insight into the universe… Continue Reading

June 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I started writing a beautiful, wise and insightful letter a little while ago. Unfortunately, it looked at burial practices in Colonial America for three distinct groups: suicides, drunkards and duelists. These personae non grata (“people without grace,” a phrase that is spot on here) could not be buried in the same space and the same manner as their fellow townspeople. They needed to be punished even in death… Continue Reading

June 24, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve always got more ideas to write about than time to do so. While these letters have been, mainly, a pleasure to write each day, they don’t offer the chance to clean my desktop of unrelated ideas, which pile up like newspapers by a vacationing family’s door… Continue Reading

June 23, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Reading books is dangerous, and I recommend against it. When I read—and here I mean real, challenging books, not just the novels or history which take up most of my time—I’m forced to confront new ideas. New ideas are always dangerous, and I recommend against them.  Because I’m cursed with intellectual honesty, when I’m introduced to new ideas I can only keep them outside my mental living room for so long. The damn things keep knocking at my brain until I let them in… Continue Reading

June 22, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

“Not poor, just broke.”

That’s the title of the first section of comedian/social activist/fruitarian Dick Gregory’s autobiography.  In case the meaning escapes you, being broke means you’re out of money, but you can still hold your head high.  Being poor is a state of mind, a brokenness of spirit, a belief your state will never end.  If a broke man comes into a thousand bucks, he’s not broke any more.  If a poor man does, the poverty remains.  Like Gregory, I’ve never been poor—even when living on the streets—but I’ve spent a lot of time broke… Continue Reading

June 21, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

First and foremost—Thank all of you for your support and donations regarding the broken windows at Hope! The money is huge—more than $5,100 as I write this—and much appreciated. It means we’ll be able to pay for most of the broken windows—freeing up funds for hiring more staff, helping people and supporting recovery. More than 100 people have donated so far. Thank each and every one of you—and the folks who are “as broken as that window” but still wanted to offer verbal support in the comments, along with the 158 “shares” of the initial letter… Continue Reading

June 20, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s 4:01 am, Saturday, June 20, 2020, as I write these words. I’m sitting in the front room at Hope with my heart breaking and my vigilante side rising. Another broken window. Another goddamned broken window.v I believe life’s creative force is greater than its destructive force, although destruction makes all the noise and gets you out of bed at 2 am to grab your sleeping bag and head to Hope. Creation is always stronger, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way… Continue Reading

June 19, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I bring you good news, glad tidings, music to all our ears. The voyage across the Sea of During is coming to an end. Initial landing parties have begun exploring the Land of After and discovered that it is good, not the same as the Land of Before, but still good… Continue Reading

June 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Although I can be passably humorous, I’ve got lines I think are hilaaaaaaaaaarious, but that have never gotten much more than a grunt. For example, whenever I’m asked to sign a yearbook or a going-away card, I write, “If I don’t see you in the future, at least I’ll see you in the pasture.” Alternately, “I’ll bury you in the pasture.” Neither one strikes anyone else as witty or amusing, much less hilarious… Continue Reading

June 17, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Relapse (reoccurrence) is not part of recovery. Let me repeat: relapse is not part of recovery. “Part of” implies, I think, that recovery would necessarily include reoccurrence, in the same way that in the Christian tradition, repentance is part of absolution. Until you repent or turn away from your actions, you can’t be absolved. You can (and many, many people do) recover from drug and alcohol abuse without ever relapsing, hard as that may be for some to believe… Continue Reading

June 16, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

A dear but shy friend of mine celebrates 30 years of continuous sobriety today. I’d like to write an appreciation of him and of all the work he’s done and is doing for folks needing recovery, but he’s the kind of man who doesn’t want attention. If I asked him how he did it, he’d likely say, “I didn’t drink. I didn’t use. I didn’t die.” Instead of writing that piece, I’ll instead focus on the person most important to him, the newcomer to recovery… Continue Reading

June 15, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with mission statements.

More honest: I’ve had a like/hate relationship with mission statements.

Most honest: I hate mission statements… Continue Reading

June 14, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Recently I’ve been asked by a number of people whether I’m looking to leave Hope any time soon. I’m not. I’m very happy at Hope because I get to spend time with folks in early recovery, the activity that means the most to me. Since it’s Sunday, parables are in order, and the following parable explains exactly why I’m not planning to leave any time soon. I have been the gardener in the parable, and Hope keeps me from becoming him again… Continue Reading

June 13, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of change through peaceful demonstrations, it is the age of violent riots, it is the epoch of recovery, it is the epoch of pandemic disease, it is the season of insight, it is the season of willful ignorance, it is the spring of potential, it is the winter of impossibility, we had everything in our hearts, we had nothing in the larder, we were all going direct to Life, we were all embracing death—in short, it was every day since the world began… Continue Reading

June 12, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

No subtle or not-so-subtle message here today. Just a dreamy memory of childhood—and what a stinker I was. When I was in sixth grade, my science teacher was Mr. Lefave… Continue Reading

June 11, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

As some of you know—but all of you should!—Hope now has 14 in-person all-recovery meetings a week, at noon each day in the back parking lot behind the Hope building, and at 6 pm at Derryfield Park by the gazebo. I’ve been doing some of these meetings myself, and have really enjoyed meeting new folks in early recovery, which has always been my favorite part of being at Hope… Continue Reading 

June 10, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I was at a recovery meeting the other night, and the issue of psychotropic medication came up. In this case, the question was about Adderall being prescribed for ADHD. The person in recovery had used meth as his favorite escape vehicle, so the issue was a live one… Continue Reading

June 9, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

[Trigger Warning: This letter contains potentially distressing material. Readers who have benefitted financially during the COVID-19 pandemic may wish to avoid that annoying sting to the conscience. Even those who have not benefitted, but who have maintained their financial stability may find their charitable impulses unusual and overwhelming.] … Continue Reading

June 8, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I was wrong. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to you about Hope for New Hampshire Recovery—”Hope is a recovery center, focused on helping people find, maintain and strengthen their recovery from drug and alcohol misuse.” I believe that is true… Continue Reading

June 7, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been asked why Hope for New Hampshire Recovery hasn’t issued a statement condemning the murder of George Floyd, the brutality of some police officers and the scourge of institutional racism.  This inquiry, I think, comes from a good spot in the questioner’s mind. Hope is a good place that welcomes all. I am a relatively good guy who welcomes all. Why hasn’t Hope made a public statement about these issues?… Continue Reading

June 6, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I have had a lot of time to read during this journey across the Sea of During, time of which I’ve not taken advantage. I’ve also had a lot of time to ponder the reading I’ve done in the past, and to write some about that reading… Continue Reading

June 5, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Those of you who have read previous letters, or anyone who’s ever tried to have a conversation with me, recognizes I have a hard time staying focused. Or, more honestly, I can focus like a laser beam until I’m distracted. While I’m a good writer, my narrative style isn’t quite a flow, more of a rabbit scampering across a desert with a hawk circling above. As you might guess, this scattershot voice has a hard time doing things like writing protocols and procedures. Oh, I can do that kind of writing—just as Van Gogh could paint a realistic still life—but the act requires a gun to be held at my head…Continue Reading

June 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In writing these daily letters, I think a lot about what readers tell me. Some of the letters that most impressed me when I posted them impose “meh” on most readers. Likewise, some letters I don’t think much of turn out to be very popular. As an example, four or five times I’ve pulled together quotes and sent them out, and every one of them has gotten a very positive response. Each time, I feel like I’m failing, as though there is some vast readership that waits with bated breath for the next morsel from Keith…There isn’t… Continue Reading

June 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Yesterday, my mom would have been 91. Since she left this vale of tears more than 19 years ago, yesterday wasn’t emotionally difficult, but it did provide some time for thought and reflection. My mother was a dear woman, whose patience was definitely stretched beyond the breaking point by raising me… Continue Reading

June 2, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today, when I walk into a store or business, I’m generally treated pretty well. As long as I keep my jackassery to a minimum, customers and clerks alike act like I’m a real live grown-up. As this picture demonstrates, I look safe as milk and slightly less fattening… Continue Reading

June 1, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I graduated third from the bottom of my high school class. As I recall, I was given a D- in biology as a sophomore, and the reason I did that well was the teacher, a kind and patient man, was fed up with my jackassery and didn’t want to have to teach me ever again… Continue Reading

May 31, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Do the next right thing.

When I first got into recovery, slogans were like wisdom pills. They were small, easy to keep in my mental pocket and ready to be popped when needed. Some of those slogans helped save my life… Continue Reading

May 30, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Alone in the world, I’m afraid, Kevin Costner’s movie “The Postman” is one of my favorites of all time. Without going into a plot summary, Richard Starkey, the president of the Restored United States of America, has a saying: “Stuff’s getting better every day.”… Continue Reading

May 29, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

The foreseeable future of recovery was revealed in yesterday’s letter. Using the analogy of drupulets, the little balls of deliciousness on a raspberry, I explained in a manner both fanciful and masterful how different small groups could, using very cool technology, be connected into one large group. This solves the challenge of providing large recovery communities while maintaining social distancing… Continue Reading

May 28, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I have seen the future, and it seems to work well enough. Who would have guessed it would be based on raspberries? A landing party has returned from the Land of After, and all their preliminary reports are excellent. At the beginning of our journey across the Sea of During, Hope envisioned what recovery might look like for the foreseeable future and came up with the following observations:…Continue Reading

May 27, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

We’ve been living through heavy times. Hard times. Times that try men’s and women’s souls. For today, I’d like to lighten up a bit. What follows is complete and utter nonsense. If you’re looking for a serious piece on recovery, on hope, on mental health, please look elsewhere on the Hope website (http://www.hopefornhrecovery.org/a-daily-message/). There are more than 40 (50?) (60?) other letters to read there….Continue Reading

May 26, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Change has been my focus for the past two-and-a-half months, and quite rightly so. As you know, almost 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the unemployment rate in New Hampshire is around 20%, and Hope for New Hampshire Recovery has been closed since March 15. Other than wearing a mask, washing my hands and practicing social distancing, I can’t personally do much about the pandemic… Continue Reading

May 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation, 

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor our military dead, those who died while in uniform. Five years ago I delivered a speech at Veterans Park, following the Memorial Day Parade. This is that speech, which, unfortunately, is as timely now as it was then… Continue Reading

May 24, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s a beautiful day! So beautiful that as soon as I’m done with this I’m going outside to turn some of this pasty white skin of mine into a shining lobster-like red. You can see the results tonight at Derryfield Park from 5 to 6 for a Pop-Up All-Recovery meeting… Continue Reading

May 23, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

This letter may be directed at the one person in the world who absolutely needs to read it. I don’t know if you’re that person, and neither do you until you’ve read every. Last. Word.

I’ve written openly about my addictions and about my mental health. Regular readers know I’ve lived close to suicide many times in much of my life. You may have as well. I want you to know it can get better, even if all you can see in the darkness is the pinprick illuminating suicide. In recovery I’ve learned a lot—about being a friend, about being a father and about staying alive. You can too… Continue Reading

May 22, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

Land, Ho! is an expression used by sailors once they’ve spotted land. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to land or even intend to, but it alerts all on the ship that land has been seen… Continue Reading

May 21, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Thirteen years ago today, I knew what the rest of my life held. The rest of my life would be over within the week. I was implementing a scheme, a plot, a plan….Continue Reading

May 20, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Some of you may remember the letters around Easter—which seems at least a decade ago—where I stole a trope from Black Baptist preachers, and talked about where Jesus and his followers were on Good Friday. Jesus in the grave, darkness in the sky and his followers unfaithful and scattering. That was Friday.

But Sunday was coming….Continue Reading

May 19, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today is May 19, and we’ve spotted the Land of After! Or at least an initial party, gathered in bright sunlight at Derryfield Park from 11 to noon, had a chance to see what recovery may feel like for many in the next few glorious months. About a dozen folks sat in chairs, on blankets, on grass, maintaining a proper distance from each other for the most part, had Hope’s first Pop-Up All-Recovery Meeting. …Continue Reading

 

May 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

To quote Joel Goodson in “Risky Business” (or at least the bowdlerized over-the-air television version), “Sometimes you just gotta say, ‘What the heck.’” This, for me, is one of those moments. After all, it’s not often I have tears streaming down my face. I am so incredibly overwhelmed by a work of art, by its creator’s explanation of it, and by the whole feel of the project that I’m going to risk a rift in a friendship. Let me explain….Continue Reading

May 17, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Ever since I was in the Army, I’ve loved books of quotations. While some quotes are mere cocktail peanuts—pleasant enough but not hunger-satisfying—others are like Willie Wonka’s Magic Chewing Gum that contain a three-course meal. (Unlike Wonka’s gum, though, I’ve never heard of a quote turning an Oompa Loompa (or Violet Beauregard) into a giant blueberry). As Winston Churchill said, “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.” I agree, and here are some of my favorites in no particular order….Continue Reading

May 16, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve been accused, often rightly, of cynicism. No matter how fluttering the eyelids of the person telling me that astrology is based on research, that lines on my palm really do predict (or determine) my future, that tarot cards are a way for me to analyze my love life, I think it’s bunk. In the words of H.L. Mencken, one of my favorite philosophers, “We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine.” Lacking the symbolism of delivering his own funeral oration before throwing himself into his funeral pyre at the Olympic Games in 165, Mencken is the greatest cynical philosopher since Peregrinus….Continue Reading

May 15, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

[Read on for a fairly exciting announcement. Those of you who know me know I often bury the lead. After a Family Circus-like traipse around the neighborhood, I eventually end up with a payoff. This is that.]…Continue Reading

May 14, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

As I mentioned yesterday, a friend asked me to write a brief (300-or-so word) piece on the subject, “What I Miss (from before Covid-19).” As a person who’s always rewritten any assignment to suit what I felt like writing about, I wrote about something I’ve gained and lost during this time of During. Luckily, there’s a coda afterward that changes the whole tone… Continue Reading

May 13, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

A friend of mine asked me to write about what I miss most about the Land of Before. Although not a Biblical scholar by any stretch, during this time I feel like a Jew wandering in the wilderness before being led to Israel. As I try to get through each moment with grace and dignity, thinking back on the flesh pots of Egypt is not as helpful as staying in the present and planning for the Land of After….Continue Reading

May 12, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Dear Hope Nation, You could fill eternity and more than a couple notebooks outlining my ignorance of life, the universe and everything. For instance, Chemistry, Biology, Philosophy. On each of these I have but bits and pieces of knowledge, often unconnected by any theme Chemistry: covalent, effective nuclear charge, exergonic, oxidation Biology: cell, species, mutation… Continue Reading

May 11, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I suspect many of you are tired of hearing me talk about gratitude. The way I go on, expressing gratitude sounds like a panacea, a remedy for everything that ails you. That, of course, is nonsense. Sharing your gratitude with the world will not fix toe fungus, halitosis or balding. (More honestly, I should say no clinical evidence exists to suggest these things. I maintain my faith in the power of gratitude, so I’m going to wait for peer-reviewed journals to weigh in on this.)  Gratitude may transform your life, and will not cause any damage. Promise… Continue Reading

May 10, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

[This is a Choose Your Own Adventure letter with a twist. If you’re of a certain age, you remember this series of books. You’d begin a narrative and at an exciting part, you’d have to make a choice. For instance, “If you want to explore the cave, Turn to Page 87. If you want to follow the ogre, Turn to Page 112.”  In the series, you got what you wanted. I hope I can give you what you need.] Happy Mother’s Day!… Continue Reading

May 9, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s week eight of Hope’s temporary closing. “Temporary,” of course, doesn’t mean short in time, it just means for a limited period. Hope will reopen soon, of course, at least as soon as it’s safe to do so. For now, though, to commemorate eight weeks of closure, I’d like to offer eight observations about Hope Before, During and After… Continue Reading

 

May 8, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Magic is a time and not a place.

Forty years ago, I was finishing up my four-year hitch in the Army. After having been stationed in Germany for 30 months, I spent my last year at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I’d been off heroin for a couple years, my drinking was occasionally excessive but mainly controlled and I had a pretty easy job—doing a daily radio show that was syndicated to some local stations… Continue Reading

May 7, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I believe in freedom, and in every American’s right to determine his or her own destiny. If, despite knowing all the medical risks, I choose to continue smoking cigarettes, I want that freedom. If I want to ride my motorcycle without a helmet, I want that freedom. If I want to free… Continue Reading

May 6, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Yesterday, I wrote about broken windows. Tomorrow I’ll write about what needs to be done to reopen Hope. For today, I’m going to ask for grace and share with you a piece of my childhood. Feel free to click away if this isn’t your cup of tea. Promise we’’ be drinking coffee again with tomorrow’s letter… Continue Reading

May 5, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Over the course of the past eight days, someone has broken five different windows at Hope. Someone threw one rock through one window last Monday evening. Someone (or someones) threw three rocks through three windows last Thursday night. Someone threw a rock through a window last night. Three nights. Five windows. No… Continue Reading

May 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Each of us has three faces.
The face we show the world.
The face we show our closest friends and family.
The face we show no one but see daily in our mirrors.

One thing recovery has done for me is move those faces into closer alignment. They’re still three distinct faces, but they look more like brothers and less like a random set of mug shots. Let me explain… Continue Reading

May 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Yesterday was a beautiful day to be outside, and today promises more of the same. Please, please, please enjoy the world and all it has to offer—while practicing safe behaviors. We’re starting to see cracks in the eggs we’ve been inside for the last seven weeks. Enjoy letting a bit of the light in… Continue Reading

 

May 2, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’m not going to ask you for money in these letters. Never ever ever. I am going to beg you to something free that will help meet a need at Hope, a need that must be fulfilled if we are to reopen. Then I’ll casually mention a fundraising drive called #GivingTuesdayNow, and ask you to spread the word among your friends and family using social media. No pitch for your money, though… Continue Reading

May 1, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s now been about six weeks since Hope closed, since we set sail from Before the pandemic. From conversations, emails, text messages and Zoom meetings with many of you, I have the sense most of us have found our sea legs on this journey across the sea of During.  While we’re chomping at the bit to find After, I’d like to suggest we not throw away the opportunity to explore During. This expedition through a pandemic is something no one under the age of 110 has memory of, and we should capture everything we can to help memorialize it.Continue reading

 

April 30, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.”
– Anne Frank

I’d like to tell you a story that illustrates Anne Frank’s uplifting and positive message. Read it through to the end and you’ll have your dose of optimism for today. Promise….Continue Reading

April 29, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

We’re still sailing the Sea of During. The pandemic continues, and we don’t know when we will arrive in the Land of After. I wish I could tell you when Hope will reopen. I can’t. All I can tell you is we will reopen when it’s safe to reopen. I understand how frustrating this is, but we will get through this and get back to the business of helping folks discover the power of recovery…Continue Reading

April 28, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

As a boy, I had a few moral and ethical foundations as guideposts. First, my friends, who were always ready to encourage me to find my darkest side and explore the irrational. As almost everyone’s mother knew, I was the designated bad influence; still, if it weren’t for my friends’ celebration of “Keith being Keith,” my childhood would have been safe, predictable and positive. In a word, boring…Continue Reading

April 27, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I always thought my childhood was fairly normal. Apparently, I was wrong. Or perhaps my misspent youth has resulted in a faulty memory. “Luckily” I’ve got a kid sister who remembers everything with crystal clarity, or at least everything I did that was insensitive, wrong or disgusting… Continue Reading

April 26, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Another Sunday of sailing across the Sea of During. (Since I typed that period, I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to figure out whether that first sentence is iambic pentameter or whether its consonance/sibilance misleads me into hearing poetry. It’s early, and this is where my brain goes with the first ingestion of coffee. I apologize.) Another day for gratitude for the gift of recovery. Really….Continue Reading

April 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

First, thanks for all the well wishes and concerns! My fever is gone, my soreness is gone, and only my spaciness remains—and that may just be my general condition. I’m really gratified at all the texts, phone calls and other messages I got inquring about my health. (I almost began the sentence that was to go here, “Especially in times like these,” then realized we are in unprecedented times—these times are sui generis–so that phrase must be thrown out. This trip across the Sea of During has no previous ship’s journal to appeal to.) In a time where we are atomized, it’s nice to feel the pull of the human organism. Thank you all….Continue Reading

April 24, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

When I get sick, I get stupid and depressed. Really. I’m sick right now, and I feel like tic-tac-toe would be as overwhelming as chess, and I have to avert my eyes from omens. Particularly in this age, sickness carries a lot more than mandated bed rest, especially for those prone to depression. I need to work to maintain my spirits, as do all of us right now….Continue Reading

April 23, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

This is my third attempt at a letter to you. The first was a gripe about Zoom meetings, whether recovery or business focused. The complaints were real and factual, and I’ll likely complete it in the future. Watch this space! The second was a meditation on sickness and death in the age of Covid-19. It was as upbeat and chipper as it sounds…Continue Reading

April 22, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

This is not a drill.

When I was in the 8th Infantry Division in Germany, we would often take part in joint military exercises with other NATO countries. Although these exercises were planned to the greatest extent possible, soldiers on the ground were required to pretend the Russians had come through the Fulda gap, were rolling toward Frankfurt and on to Paris. As a soldier and a journalist, I supposed my role was to attempt to muck up one of the tank tracks with my body while snapping a picture at the moment of my death. Still, playing Army was fun, much more fun than hanging out in the motor pool waiting for a chance to play Army. Anyway, we knew it was all just a drill, and by and by we’d get back to our normal lives of smoking hash, drinking beer and lying about women. . . . Continue Reading

April 21,2020

Dear Hope Nation,

[First, a disclaimer: Because of my open talk about suicidality in previous letters and elsewhere, I don’t want any of you to worry about me. I’m not contemplating, thinking about or toying with the idea of killing myself. What follows is just some writing about depression. It will pass, just as this pandemic will pass, just as all things will pass.. . . Continue Reading

April 20, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,
Well, well, well. It’s the 20th of April, 4-20. Depending on your background and mental health, April 20 is Adolf Hitler’s birthday (he’s turning 131 if he didn’t commit suicide in that bunker, did escape to Brazil and has managed not to die), the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre (21 years since the deaths of 13 students and staff) or . . . it’s a day to celebrate and consume marijuana. . . . Continue Reading

April 19, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Last night’s Sicker than Most was delightfully DIY and fun! If you missed it, mark your calendar for May 16 at 7:30.

I enjoy hearing from each of you. A couple dozen Hope members have contacted me over the past month, and each conversation has been meaningful. Do keep (or begin) calling—not just me, but anyone you’ve got in your phone, and ask how people are doing. Really. Likewise with texts and Facebook messages. Human contact matters more now than ever…Continue Reading

April 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Most of us have had the experience of walking down the street and looking into a shop window, seeing a reflection and having it magically become . . . YOU! It’s jarring, the same way finding yourself in a group photograph provides a flash of recognition. From that point on, the picture becomes fundamentally different—it’s a photo of you among a hundred people instead of a group portrait. That frisson of excitement, for me at least, is a shock to the subconscious, as if they reminded me that I exist outside of my own mind . .. Continue Reading

April 17, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

Saturday night may be good for fighting. Saturday night may be the time you remember you ain’t got nobody. Saturday night may, if you’re a woman of a certain age be S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night! THIS Saturday night, though, is the Second Virtual Sicker Than Most Show! See and hear other folks in recovery sing, dance, juggle goldfish and who knows what else. While last month’s show was, in the words of one critic, “a fantastic fecal festival,” this month your musical host, the one-and-only Andy Ryan aka The Man of a Million Aliases may actually show up at the beginning of the show instead of 20 minutes in… Continue reading

April 16, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In the past 12-plus years, I’ve spent a lot of hours in church basements, meeting halls, recovery centers and classrooms. This time was shared with other drunks and addicts who’ve given up drinking and using in favor of a more life-affirming manner of living… Continue reading

April 15, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Funny how our experience leads to strength and hope. Anyone who’s sat in church basements recognizes the grammar, the story arc, of the recovery tale. The speaker begins by telling a bit about her past, including her drug and alcohol use, moves on to the darkest moments before the dawning of recovery and, often, its beginning stages, then describes how she lives her life today. Many of us have listened to thousands of such Cinderella stories—and they all end with a variation of “and today I try to accept life’s terms, practice gratitude and clean my side of the street.” As my first mentor in recovery described it, “Tell them what it was like, what happened and what
it’s like today.”… Continue reading

April 14, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I am not an artist but I love to paint, love the feeling of moving colors around on a canvas, love the accidental sprouting of beauty from even my ham-handed efforts, love the moment I discard my effort by declaring it finished. If we were talking about chess, instead of painting, I would be known as a patzer, a poor player who bungles basics… Continue reading

April 13, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

If you don’t like to read about depression, please stop. Really. Turn to something happier. Reread yesterday’s letter or wait until tomorrow’s. Write out that gratitude list you’ve kept in your head, bake chocolate chip cookies, play with your roommate’s cat. Again, if you don’t like to read about depression, stop now. You’ve been warned… Continue reading

April 12, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

Forty-four years ago, I began Army basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Given my clownish nature, you might expect basic training would have been hellish for me, going against my improvisational style. You would be wrong… Continue reading

April 11, 2020 

Dear Hope Nation,

For the six months before we set sail on the seas of During the pandemic, I’d stayed off Facebook, not with some sacred vow but because I’d discovered what a huge time vacuum it was for me. Being isolated from most of the world—outside of my oldest and youngest daughters, my friend Tara and her son, and Lucy, my dog, I haven’t been in the same room with anyone for at least the past couple weeks—I decided it was time to return to America’s Yearbook. I may rethink that soon… Continue reading

April 10, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today is Good Friday. On this day in Jerusalem a little less than 2000 years ago, Jesus was hung up on a cross between two thieves, having been sentenced to death by Pilate, the Roman governor overseeing the Roman province of Judea. Crucifixion was reserved for non-citizens who’d committed one of three crimes: running away from slavery, piracy and sedition (advocating the overthrow of Roman rule). Because Jesus was not a slave or a pirate, it appears he was killed for being a political rebel… Continue reading

April 9, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Since the pandemic began, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the universe, humanity’s place in it and other highfalutin topics. I’ve also been thinking about more mundane things like whatever happened to all the junior-high girls I had unspoken crushes on. Because I’m in recovery, I haven’t followed up and tried to search for them online. I know a bad idea when I see one. I guess navigating the space that encompasses both the transcendent and immanent is the human condition… Continue reading

April 8, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about leadership in a time of crisis. This is not a political analysis and will have no finger-pointing of any kind. Promise. Since Hope physically closed, I’ve gotten praise—some of it even deserved—for my leadership “style.” I use the quotation marks because my “style” is being myself. Praising that is like flattering Shaquille O’Neal for being tall—he didn’t have much choice, really, and neither do I… Continue Reading

April 7, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I am not a psychologist, sociologist, phrenologist or any other -ogist. I’m a formerly homeless drunk who observes life and jots down some of what I see and what I think about it. When it comes to the explanation of how things work or what it all means, you’ll need to look to theology, biology or scatology. All I’ve got is a pair of eyes and some paper… Continue reading

April 6, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’m always wary when people ask me certain questions, ones which I know are designed to elicit a stock answer so the questioner can begin his or her pitch. For instance, “Have you ever dreamed of being rich?” Or “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” or “Did you know the World Trade Center Towers collapsed at free-fall acceleration rates?”… Continue reading

April 5, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Here in During the Pandemic, we don’t have all that much to anticipate. I mean, I still look forward to the weekends, even though they don’t taste all that much different than weekdays—maybe slightly less aspirin aftertaste. I visualize sunny days, although this week I’ve thought clear skies are just the after-effects of a fever dream. Still, I’ve spent too much time trying to play my hand and too little trying to figure out what’s in the cards. Until now. Tuesday, April 7, at 12:30, you and you and, especially, you are invited to the best party since . . . well, at least since Hope had to close its doors three weeks ago… Continue reading

April 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

A few days ago I talked about the Land of Before (say, three weeks ago), the journey across During (where we are now) and the land of After (what life will be like when Coronavirus has ceased to keep us locked down in our homes). My focus in the earlier letter was on our voyage across During, and how the ways we treat each other on this journey will help create the After we will inhabit… Continue reading

April 3, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Many of us are now spending 24 hours a day with people we would not have chosen, or would have chosen until we actually had to spend 24 hours a day with them. Musical chairs is not a fun game when the rules are altered to remove all the open chairs and to require sitting in the same damn chair day after day after cursed day. While loneliness can be a challenge, in a lot of ways it’s easier than being lashed together with people who annoy the hell out of you…  Continue reading

April 2, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

One of the beautiful things about working in a peer recovery center like Hope is I don’t have to pretend to be anything more or less than I am. I am a person in long-term recovery who has had love affairs with all kinds of chemicals over the years. With each new chemical, I thought I’d discovered the thing that made life make sense… Continue reading

April 1, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In a previous life–and I know this is hard to believe–I was a Baptist minister, a born-again Christian. Really. Today, my spiritual life is very different, and not something I’m going to bore you with right now. Suffice to say I am not a traditional praying man, and would be loathe to prescribe any spiritual practice for anyone else… Continue reading

March 31, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Three weeks ago, without knowing it at all, we lived in a different world, the land of Before. In the land of Before we could live our lives without compulsive hand-washing, daily government briefings and closed everythings. With a few government edicts, we departed Before and we’ll never walk its shores again. Before is a foreign country; they do things differently there… Continue reading

March 30, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I’ve learned a lot in recovery—about the universe, about humanity and, most of all, about me. Learning about the universe has been almost uniformly delightful; practicing acceptance and gratitude really does make a difference. Learning about humanity has been enlightening, given that I’d viewed all the other folks in the world as impediments to me getting what I wanted… Continue reading

March 29, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Today is Sunday, a day of rest, so my message will be a series of short sharp shots. First, if you didn’t see any of the Sicker than Most Show last night, you missed a great example of community gathering together. Not an example of a well-organized video production. Not a thematically-linked evening of performances. Not a group of exquisitely talented artists—with a few exceptions—demonstrating their skills. It was a community gathering together; around isolated glowing screens a couple dozen folks had a chance to connect—talking crap about each other, joking, and sharing some time as well as some talent… Continue reading

March 28, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

In recovery, we are a people of that name. We carry hope, that spiritual virus that drives despair into the light, where it is revealed as nothing more than the scary shadow play of our childhood beds. Having clung to despair ourselves, using it to fuel our addictions, we recognize it was all along a wet blanket, drawing heat and leaving no comfort… Continue reading

March 27, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

We all have heroes, sung and unsung. Today, I’d like to tell you about one of my strangest personal recovery heroes, describe what he’s doing tomorrow night and invite you to be part of it. I am a 61-year-old man in long-term recovery from both opiates and alcohol. Think of it—61-years-old! When I was shooting up, we actually used glass syringes, the same kind used back in the 1600’s. Artisanal addicts we were, able to trace our history back to opium dens and Civil War veterans strung out on morphine. In fact, before I ever shot heroin, I spent a long time smoking opium to come down from meth runs. But I digress. Before even beginning… Continue reading

March 26, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

“There is nothing new under the sun.” -King Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Old Solomon was absolutely right, on this and many other topics. As long as people are people and the earth is the earth, nothing new appears, just the same things in new relationships. Likewise, in recovery on whatever pathway, the foundation doesn’t change over time. From SMART to Three Principles to AA to NA to HA to Recovery Dharma to any other mode of recovery a through-line exists: the importance of gratitude, a fundamental endorsement of identifying and listing things for which we are grateful… Continue reading

March 25, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

After 10 days of seclusion, I’ve recognized one lie I’ve told myself for years. Back when I was using, I assumed I’d eventually be locked up by the state for some period of time. My vision of, say, five years in prison—always, for some reason, in solitary–would be that I’d spend 12 hours a day doing sit-ups and push-ups, six hours a day reading the classics of literature and six hours a day sleeping. By the time the warden gave me my walking papers and bus ticket, I’d be insightful, witty and buff as hell. When I got into recovery, I changed the scenario so I was now falsely convicted, but I still worked out and read and got released a new man… Continue reading

March 24, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

By the time you finish reading this, you will have experienced the creation of a new word! Read on to become the first kid in your neighborhood to utter these syllables and grasp their meaning… Continue reading

March 23, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

One of my favorite books of all time is Middlemarch. Written almost 150 years ago by a woman whose pen name was George Eliot, it tells the story of a small English Midlands town, primarily through the eyes of Dorothea, an orphaned young woman who has an impact on the lives of many folks in the village… Continue reading

March 22, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

It’s Sunday, so this letter will be a bit shorter than previous ones. One other difference is it’s taken completely from things I’ve heard in various church basements, meeting halls and repurposed classrooms. Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but usually, I try to rearrange thoughts and words to make some kind of point. Here, the words are the point… Continue reading

March 21, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I think we can agree these are not the best of times. Many of us are out of work. Many are forced to stay inside, away from others. Many are broke without a vision of how to get unbroke. Regardless of our material condition, an anxiety blankets the earth unlike any in my lifetime. No, these are not the best of times. Neither, though, are they the worst of times. Really… Continue reading

March 20, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

This morning I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine, a minister who also works in recovery. Michelle, who is much smarter and kinder than I—but not as funny—expressed her concern for folks who have never had to be alone before, but now are living in, for all intents and purposes, isolation. Maybe you are one of those people, a born extrovert now looking only within. If so, I may have a trick or two, based on years of experience… Continue reading

March 19, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’re alive! Most people aren’t. The BBC estimates about 107 billion people have ever lived, EVER. If there are about 7 billion people walking the planet today, about 15 people are dead for every living soul, and you’re one of the lucky ones! Maybe life is not all you’d dreamed it would be—and if this time IS your dream time, you may want to have your medications checked—but life still goes on and you’re still on its team. Again, congratulations on being alive. Give yourself a pat on the back and keep on going… Continue reading

March 18, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Although these days are dark, we still have each other, even if the word “have” exists only in a virtual sense. Still, think of how lucky I am to be able to write these words, far away from you, and know they can reach your eyes. The telephone can be a moon coming out of the blackness. How miraculous I can talk with you, you can talk with her, they can talk with us! Goddammit, let’s use this tool not just for checking Facebook for the latest rumors or snapping pictures of ourselves, but to connect as best we can with others in recovery or having a hankering to get into recovery… Continue reading

March 17, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

True Confession: I am an odd man with odd interests, particularly when it comes to history. I know more than any normal person should about major-league baseball of the 1920’s, the Washingtonian Movement of the 1840’s, and controversies in the early church… Continue reading

March 16, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

As we await the unfolding of the coronavirus here in the United States, I want to remind you of something you know but may be in danger of forgetting: You don’t have to use. If your work is canceled and you’ve got time on your hands, you don’t have to use… Continue Reading