eine kleine nacht-reading

3/24/04

One of the books laying around my household is the Alcoholics Anonymous trusty little Hazelden book Twenty-Four Hours a Day. In many senses, this (along with the AA “Big Book”) have to be considered the first self-help books ever widely used. “24HAD” is actually a swell piece of literature, especially for 1954: tiny enough to go in your shirt pocket (or thrown in a suitcase), with bite-size nuggets of information that cater nicely to the attention spans of latter-day readers.

While Tessa drifted off to sleep, I cracked open the book and was immediately flooded with memories of my own despondency, and had a very quick, fleeting cognitive resonance with some poor soul reading these chapters for real, some woman in some other part of the country at this very moment, whose life was actually falling apart, with these pages offering the only glue available at this time of night.

This is the first meditation in the book:

You are so made that you can only carry the weight of twenty-four hours, no more. If you weigh yourself down with the years behind, and the days ahead, your back breaks. [The higher power of your choosing] has promised to help you with the burdens of the day only. If you are foolish enough to gather again that burden of the past and carry it, then indeed you can’t expect [the higher power of your choosing] to help you bear it.

Now, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to live in constant shame. I can barely make it through my second Jaeger shot, nursing nothing but girl drinks for years, and I still feel incredible bursts of humiliation at the way I’ve acted over the decades. I think of the stupid things I said at That Internet Job. I think of the way I treated that girl on 86th Street. I remember how quickly I ridiculed homosexuals in high school, and how I picked on Betty Kurtz in 4th grade because she was the only person lower on the social totem pole than me.

The thing is: it’s a good thing I’m not an alcoholic, because I think I’d still be one. I find it pretty much impossible to let go of all the shame that bears down on me, not because I need to remember all of these things in order to be a better writer, but because I’m afraid of being blindsided by an event I had forgotten. If someone comes up to me and says “you left me to rot,” I need to be able to say, “you are correct, sir, and I continue my penance.” I may be an asshole, but don’t think I don’t remember.

0 thoughts on “eine kleine nacht-reading

  1. chip

    And you didn’t even grow up Catholic or Jewish (or Quaker). I guess there is Mormon guilt as well.
    Seriously, though, what’s gone is gone. Don’t beat yourself up over the things you’ve screwed up in the past.

    Reply
  2. kent

    Ian, your blessing and curse has always been that you have more nerve endings, literal and psychic than anyone else. It’s what gives you the ability to do the good things you do, and it’s what keeps you awake at night, and what made it necessary to cut the tags out of your shirts when you were little, but cut very carefully to remove ALL the tag, because leaving a ragged tag-edge hanging down is worse than not cutting it out at all.
    All those little meditations may help to break you out of those negative feedback loops in your brain, and maybe you’ll start going to sleep before 3 AM …

    Reply
  3. Sean

    Hey, if you ever get to the point where you feel like you’ve buried all your demons, I could get a group of your friends together, and I bet we could come up with a list of things you have *totally* forgotten that you did. You should let this stuff go, and then come find me, we’ll keep your shame spiral spinning for a lifetime!
    For beginnings, you didn’t call me back yesterday… Come to think of it neither did Michelle. Or Mom.
    Man. I’m gonna go eat some cake.

    Reply
  4. michelle

    whoa ho ho- yes I did. I did call you back. Thrice, I believe.
    Ian, all I can say is, I absolutely know what you are talking about. I have moments, now that I’m a 31-year-old grown (I’ll say!) woman, that I put my head down at my desk (I have a desk job now- who knew) and have a brief moment of wanting to die because of something I did or said a decade ago. Clearly there is nothing to be done about it now, and it doesn’t exactly disrupt my life, but it lives there nonetheless, lodged into the hard-wiring of my brain.

    Reply
  5. Alan

    Let’s try this: “I absolve you”. That work? Hmmm. Try looking at this comment next time the deep crappies set in. Maybe it needs context.

    Reply

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