NOTES ON READING FROM THE AUTHOR:
For two years, I have been trying to write a story about a young woman with stegosaurus plates running down her back. In some drafts, the plates are very real, there is dinosaur in her blood, and she goes on a quest to find her parents. In other drafts, she just suffers from a very serious case of scoliosis, and the comparison to a stegosaur is more like a cruel joke about her appearance. Sometimes it is a love story. Sometimes it is a road trip story. In one draft, she is also a witch. But things aren't going well with it, and none of the drafts mature past three or four pages, double-spaced. Two years plus! Sometimes when I go to sleep, I say something like, "C'mon, dream-life, help me with this stegosaurus story," but, no dice.
Of course, I've written other things, "Jaywalking" being one. I haven't lost it completely. This piece came rather quickly, and it's short, and so I have to assume there's either something fundamentally broken about the stegosaur story or I'm just not ready for it. I guess the characters in "Jaywalking" have a similar choice in terms of how to think about themselves. I try to stay away from thinking about writing as something mystical, but it is odd....
The title of the piece comes from the longer quote in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: "Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jaywalking." I've used a lot quotes from the Big Book for titles, such as "Rarely Have We Seen a Person Fail" and "There Are Such Unfortunates." I like the old-timey speak and authoritative tone. Oh yes, and the hope.
WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE AND/OR STRANGEST PLACE TO WRITE?
In the early 2000s, I bought a Palm Pilot. If you don't know what that is, picture a smart phone without internet and without the phone. At first, I told myself I bought it to keep track of the meetings for my job, but there were few enough of them that I could keep them straight without it ("Contracts" was on Tuesdays, "Specialization" was on Thursdays, etc.). So then I told myself that if I spent a little more money, I could buy a word processing program for it, and write and edit during my commute on the train. The screen was small and sort of greenish, and I mainly just fucked up the formatting of what I had written. But I felt cool and important tolling over the thing, which is probably why I started writing in the first place.
All of which to say, any experiment in location while writing has been a failure. On an airplane, I've usually taken some valerian root or melatonin to relax and can't work. I'm too near-sighted to write on anything portable. Too many bees on the deck. Luckily, there is a sturdyish desk and desk chair, a lamp, which, when on, means I'm working.
WITH A PASSION, SAY,
"Addiction is a disease,” Benny the Therapist says. “Like the flu or cancer.”
We like this idea.
“So shed some of that guilt you have,” Benny says. “You’re all sick people, not bad people.”
We think about our symptoms. Selling our sister’s car in the Walmart parking lot for $300. Losing a tooth. Sleeping through important exams, and weddings, and bail hearings. Achoo!
Ross L. speaks up. “You’re saying we are sick or we’re like sick people? Is it a metaphor or not?”
“You need help and can be cured,” Benny says.
The rest of us don’t need this clarity. We’ve felt ill, but never doubted that we were okay people. Probably not great people, but not necessarily people who need to be institutionalized. Which we are, and rehab is a metaphor for prison.
A guest speaker comes and says his addiction is “waiting outside doing push-ups.” We can use that. Another guest speaker says that they will no longer, “cosign our bullshit.” We like this too. We repeat this figurative language in meetings and to ourselves.
The metaphors get tough to deal with though. We imagine a muscle-bound monster out there, veiny and coifed in the dark, stronger than us, even though we have a gym here in rehab. We had a push-up contest and the number to beat was thirty-four.
And then paperwork. We know paperwork, right? Sign here, fuck-up. We know check cashing. We know, can you let me hold a hundred, hold being a metaphor for have.
The trap house is self-explanatory.
Then one of us gets the actual flu, and not an addiction metaphor. We live in close quarters and the disease spreads quickly. The showers are slimy, and it’s snowy January. We are not invincible—that has been clear to us for a little while now—but we are also normal.
While waiting in line for the doctor and our Zithromax, the thought occurs to us all at the same time: if addiction is a disease, there must be a cure. What’s with the meetings and the prayers? Why twelve steps, when modern medicine usually suggests just one? We bring our concerns to Benny the Therapist, and he says, “It’s time for ropes.”
THE ROPES COURSE is a series of obstacles that require us to work together. It’s a metaphor. Completing the course demands strategy, planning, trust. These are boxes we’ve rarely checked. Imagine if Wile E. Coyote was asked to work with many copies of himself to solve the Roadrunner problem.
So Ross L. suggests a sort of catapult to launch each team member from one platform to the other without touching the ground. The rest of us say, “Sounds good.” When the makeshift lever breaks, the kid who is overseeing this adventure, a kid who is definitely not a therapist but has some specialty in solving bizarre physical puzzles and an eyebrow ring, says he’s been doing this since the summer and has never seen this sort of attempt. He says, “I don’t know what you’re all going through, but you get an A for creativity.” Turns out, we were supposed to build a bridge and there aren’t even any ropes involved until the second obstacle.
AN IMPORTANT PART of rehab is that there’s no drugs or alcohol available whatsoever, which is not like the real world at all. But the decision is gone, and so it is difficult to measure our progress.
Lauren H. says, once, before, they gave her the magic pill that nullified the effects of alcohol, turning a glass of wine into something as potent and desirable as vinegar. She drank anyway until it occurred to her to flush the pill.