Category Archives: Drinking

Independence Day

Drunk on the blaze of my personal arson
and good Tennessee whiskey, I staggered
backwards twenty snaking yards
from my trailer to an oak with a view
of Kiwanis fireworks.
Never mind the drought
Southern Illinois was in the middle of–lighter fluid arced
half a halo in front of me sending undergrowth
crackling and hissing in ashes to heaven.
The blurred outline of my friends through the wall of flame
spurred me on. They were the wicked, quenching
my prophet’s fire with an earthly garden hose,
mortal buckets and tea kettles of unholy water.
It was vision I was after, miles of it,
punctuated by pink and green screaming meemies
and roman candles.The bottle rockets we’d shot
at each other merely tickled and I wanted to scrape
the sky to yell at the Almighty. I scrambled up the tree
in time for the hollow finale, a giant dandelion
of Sousa flashes that sent me disappointed down
into the gentle arms of a blackout.
I woke unable to articulate
“hangover,” the wet-ash smell of war thick as ink,
the charred path behind my trailer still smoking,
beer cans and the pitiful skins of firecrackers
dotting the yard.I stayed in the shower forever grateful
for fire that burned so far and no farther
but I could not cool the sting of vision limited
by recklessness so easily halted: the blank slate
of acres on acres of hardwood forest burned
uselessly might have rendered more wisdom
than my crooked destruction, meager
in scope, unnamed ivies already rooting again.


So much has changed since the late 80s when this event really happened. I no longer live in a trailer. I no longer get drunk. In fact, I almost never drink at all. Prolly a good thing. This poem was published in Cutbank in the early 90s, once I’d begun teaching in Wisco.

These were the days when we’d buy a bottle of Jack Daniels for a party and throw the cap away. “Won’t be needing that,” we’d say. Hey. That rhymes. I wonder if….

Oh–also, I’m sure I could name the ivies now. My guess is that a fair bit of it was poison ivy but also Virginia creeper, or as in the above photo, grape. Which we probably need to clear off our window before it comes inside.

There was also a lot of honeysuckle around that particular trailer, which I knew at the time, because some of it had worked its way inside, into the shower stall, which I liked, because it was so fragrant. I am no longer charmed by plants working their way inside my house from the outside. So much has changed.

Dream Song #4 (a fat sonnet)

The trees and hills are at that awkward point
of winter, snow on the ground but nowhere else,
a bald guy with new implants too spread-out
to be attractive. I can’t wait until it all melts.
I had a dream once of climbing a hill like that.
I stubbed my toe, looked down to see bright pink
instead of white—blood mixed with snow—I think
that’s why hills look like heads to me still. What
dream book should I consult for giant head
with tender scalp and kicked-up bleeding crown?
I was part of a dream journaling experiment back then
and had a wicked crush on the therapist who led
the group. He had snake dreams. We all said
a snake means sex. He said no, not always. It doesn’t.
At 22, I was a nearly-manic mix of depressed
and horny and drank too much one time and tried to find
his house. I knew it was by a lake. If I found
his house, he didn’t answer the door. Which is good.
That night felt like a dream, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

Garage Sale Liver Disease–a tiara of sonnets

Day 1
We were running anxiously, ridiculously late in the dream
I had right before I woke up this morning. At first
I was driving and realized I was taking the scenic route—
I go that way a lot when I’m asleep—
and then I was on my bike and completely lost track
of where the sidewalk was and all the sudden
I was inside a hospital. I couldn’t find my way back
at first and by the time I did, it was noon….
In real life, this morning, we started right at 8:00
to a flurry of people looking for cameras and toys,
of which, of which, of which we have a great,
vast really, trove; along with other…joys (?)
just waiting to be yours, all priced to sell,
and so much more we’ll be bringing out as well.

Day 2
There’s so much more to bring out, but it’s just as well
the sale ends tomorrow. Even though
we have enough to hold a goddam sale
every weekend from now until…who knows?
I’m fond of saying we are just one half
a matchbook collection away from being an episode
of Hoarders. This sale has pulled us safely back
from the brink. A house can only hold so much.
A house is like a liver. Everything
goes through and if you have too much of everything,
production slows. Deposits accumulate.
“Fatty liver.” A disease I have. A name I hate.
With virtuous living, it can be reversed.
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?

Day 3
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?
The sheath around it a shoe that pinches.
My liver gets uncomfortable. It hurts.
My ability to overindulge is diminished.
All those years of “Yes, I’ll have another,”
of thinking, saying, “too much is just enough.”
My body’s damaged. My house is still too full of stuff.
Less and less is the way I’ll recover.

“Well, no, I won’t take $10 for that. $15.
No lower. I’d rather give it to St. Vinny’s for free.”
“I’m sorry, no, we didn’t end up bringing out
any CDs or DVDs. Yes, those are all the tools we’ve got.”

We did the best we could. It wasn’t great.
As always, we were running anxiously, ridiculously late.

Leaving the French Quarter

New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,
I love your blackened bologna, your powdered sugar kiss,
but this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

I’ve rubbed fat blisters on both my feet
rambling the Vieux Carre. Such sweet excess,
New Orleans! You’re a sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

redirecting traffic so the music doesn’t stop.
I love every one of your Marsalises.
This is not my life. I’m glad it’s not,

but watching a finger of fog pointing at the top
of the St. Louis Cathedral, I know I will miss
New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

whose sweaty kiss gives my hair ringlet-
driven waves and curls, which I love, but this—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

There’s music everywhere. Even the drinks
sound like songs. Contessa. Sazerac. O absinthe!
O New Orleans, sexy too muchness, already hot—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.



This was my first time at the conference for the Popular Culture Association–it was pretty great. I heard a lot of really good poetry & was so happy to meet new poets and talk poetry.  Went to good panels–I have such smart colleagues in the UW Colleges!  And of course I enjoyed the food and beverage and music aspect.


Let me say a little more about the Blackened Bologna.  It was a house special at Evangeline, and I would recommend the restaurant and the dish, invented by an old friend of mine, Jim O’Shea.  We hung out in Carbondale about a million years ago (well, 30+) and haven’t seen each other since, but thanks to Facebook, I knew he was a chef in NOLA, so I made a point of going to Evangeline & I’m glad I did. I talked all my UW Colleges peeps and some new friends into coming along, and everyone’s food was good.  I could NOT resist ordering the Blackened Bologna–too hilarious.  But it actually tasted really good, and if you’re having nostalgic thoughts of friend balonie curling up in the pan, forget that–this is a serious hunk o’ meat.


But, even though I had an awesome time, I am happy, happy, happy to be going home to my family and to Wisco, even though there are budget cuts looming like a thunderhead, and even though everything is still early-spring cold and raw and brown and gray.

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these.  Rookie mistake!

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these. Rookie mistake!

The Contessa from the French 75--now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

The Contessa from the French 75–now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet--phenomenal!

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet–phenomenal!

Best use of flamingos award.

Best use of flamingos award.

The river this morning.

The river this morning.

Fog coming in off the river.

Fog coming in off the river.

Can I get some hellfire from the choir?

(Because hellfire would warm things up, I’m thinking. “Amen” not so much.)


I am a woman on the edge of exploding.
Global weirding’s gone too far this time.
I’m sick of winter but the snowers keep on snowing.

How the hell can flowers start their growing
when it’s still dipping down to single digits at night?
I am a woman on the edge of exploding

because an IED mood would at least not be cold.
I’m like Miniver Cheevy, that’s who I am.
I’m sick of winter but the snowers keep on snowing.

Who cares if I assail the season? No one.
This winter cares not one whit for my sighing.
I am a woman on the edge of exploding.

I want the boat to stop, but the rowers keep on rowing—
finally, finally, finally I’ve lost my mind.
I’m sick of winter but the snowers keep on snowing.

I’m worried about the leopard frogs stuck under the ice.
Can they wait to emerge or will they all just die?
I am a woman on the edge of exploding.
I’m sick of winter, but the snowers keep on snowing.

Ranting here is a problem for two reasons.
1. It won’t melt the snow.
2. It will ultimately make me feel worse about the snow.

My friend Ryan Martin has done some terrific research with UW-Green Bay colleagues, and it got lots of attention this week. U.S News & World Report ran a story on it. Here’s a good paragraph, and a good quote from Ryan:

“Martin said venting has been described as putting a fire out with gasoline. But it’s not actually the anger that’s detrimental, according to the researchers. ‘There is nothing wrong with being angry and there are lots of things to be angry about, and that is healthy,’ said Martin. But he added that a healthier and more effective approach is to get involved and do something to effect the kind of change you want, or focus on problem solving.”

Hm. Well. Miniver Cheevy assailed the seasons and it got him nowhere except deeper down the glass he was drinking out of. (But as my students might point out, at least he didn’t end up like Richard Cory.)

Here’s the best I can do in terms of problem-solving: I’m in my parents’ sun room with the blinds closed so I can’t see the snow. I’m trying to get a few hours’ work in, so I feel guilt-free next Friday afternoon when I take a half-day off to spend with my son, who gets Easter weekend off. And in general, for this week, I’m trying to get a POOPLOAD of work done, so that when it does warm up, IF IT EVER FREAKING DOES, I can relax and enjoy the warm weather.

Also on tap: reading Harry Potter to my son and drinking a beer.

And ignoring the snow (fingers in ears, la la la la can’t hear you windy-wind, blinders on, can’t see you, snowy-snow) and hoping it will go away.

You do not do, you do not do, any more, white shoe

You do not do, you do not do, any more, white shoe

Longing for the Sh*tty Barn

All those blizzard letters snaking across
the yard spelling “shiver,” spelling “cold,”
and one whole sentence, “spring will never come,”
they piss me off. An icicle of frozen piss
hangs down from a neighbor’s house, gold
in direct sunlight, briefly. Nope. Now it’s gone.

How I long for a warm night in May at the Barn,
Chastity Brown singing “oh la oh la” and then drums,
those drums…when I listen in the car, I pound
the steering wheel, I thump it, I hit it hard,
I sing along. Winter’s stalled. The doldrums
(“a belt of calms and light baffling winds”)
sound utterly lovely compared to this.
This snow. This mood. This lack of beer. This ice.


Fortunately, the lack of beer can be remedied. Were I at the Sh*tty Barn, it would be a Fatty Boombalatty I’d be drinking. So I will hoist one, this evening perhaps, and trust that someday soon, I’ll be at the barn.

And if you haven’t listened to Chastity Brown, you oughta. The song where she’s singing “oh la oh la” (and I’m not at all sure how to spell that) is called “After You.”

“How do I do that? How do I become a person who says no to things?”

(If you’re keeping score at home, this is also “How to Get the Pay Raise You Deserve, Part V”)

Here’s one of my favorite drums to pound:

You can raise your hourly wage by working fewer hours.

(You have to be on salary for the math to work.)

How? Here’s how to do less:

10. Take people at their word. Take them up on their offers. For example, when I get an email from someone who says, “Would you like to do X, or do you need me to do it?” I mostly say, “That would be great if you would do it! Thanks!” Because what are the possibilities there?

a. It was a passive-aggressive way of asking me to do it.

b. It was a genuine offer to do X.

c. It was a way to try to shame me into doing it, hoping I wouldn’t admit to “needing” anything.

So, for a. my response is that I might sometimes accede to passive-aggressive bullshit without realizing what I’m doing, but when I see it, I like to mess with it, and play dumb, and pretend like I’m dealing with someone who says what they mean. (Because they totally should say what they mean, or at least stop talking to me.)

For b., my response is THANKS! Then I try to make the offer back  when I can. (I’m not a selfish jerk. I’m just trying to stay relatively sane.)

For c., I would, if I were forced to name names, say call 1-800-Shame Resilience and ask to talk to Brené Brown. She’ll give you the what-for. And I have many, many needs about which I have so little shame that I’m happy to let someone else feel needed.

My need to admit I have needs and someone else’s need to feel needed = pie and ice cream.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

9. Ask for help. Don’t even wait for someone drive their passive-aggressive sedan by you so slowly that it’s easy-peasy for you to grab the bumper and ride your skateboard along in their fumes for a while. Just ask for help.  You’re a good person. You’re helpful. When someone who isn’t ALWAYS asking for  help asks you for help, do you think that person is horrible?  (Don’t tell me if you do.)
8. Pretend you’re someone you’re not. Would the Mansplainer say yes to everything asked of him? He would not. If you were a rock star, would your personal assistant field this request to you? He would not.
7. Wait to say yes. Lots of people have talked about this, so I won’t say much. But it’s pure gold in terms of effectiveness. It’s hard to say no in the moment of social pressure ACK ACK ONE OF THOSE BAD DREAMS WHERE I CAN’T SPEAK, but it’s way easier half a day later to email and say, “I’m sorry. I just looked at my to do list and my calendar and I just can’t.”

6. Don’t LIE and say you looked at your to do list and your calendar. Actually do it. And try to make it a really accurate to do list and a calendar on which you’ve sketched out when you’re going to do what’s on the list. (Please allow me once again to recommend Things and “Sunday Meeting” by Kerry Rock-My-World.)

5.Stop thinking up new things to do that no one even asked you to come up with.

4. Don’t wait until your wicked-burnout ways land you in a health or relationship crisis (they will, eventually). Get that calendar back out and imagine you’ve been warned that approximately two weeks from now, there will be a one to two-day crisis that you absolutely have to deal with.

Or, if that feels icky, imagine that the grandmother of a former student wants to give your campus a check for $100,000 dollars and because that student spoke so fondly of you, you have to accept the check in person. Two weeks from now. It will take two days.

What would you do? Cancel some stuff? Ask people to cover for you? Reschedule some stuff? Imagine blocking out two whole days. Make a plan.

Then follow through.  Or, if that feels too indulgent, do it for one day. Or an hour.

If you really can’t do it just for yourself, to get caught up, or catch a movie, or take a nap, or work on your favorite part of your job that you never get to work on, or go on a date, or WHATEVER, then schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional and use sick leave. That is what sick leave is for. It is for when you have a health problem. If you can’t make time for what is important, you have a problem.

3. Find that one thing on your to do list that you haven’t done yet, that you don’t want to do, that you keep putting off, for whatever reason. Cross it off your list. If someone else needs to know you’re done with it, email them and say, “I’m so sorry, but I said yes to too many things this semester/month/week/year/time on the planet. I am not going to do this. I am very, very sorry.”

This is not the BEST way to be a people pleaser, but you know what? Ms. People wasn’t pleased at how long it was taking you to do whatever. At least now Ms. People can make other plans.

And even though it wasn’t taking up your time because you weren’t doing it, it was taking up a lot of psychological energy hanging around on your to do list. Kind of like that creepy guy that kept asking you what kind of batteries he should buy with his special massage implement when you worked at Spencer’s Gifts.

2. Check in with people who know you & will tell you the truth (their truth, anyway) who can fulfill these roles (these might or might not be people you actually work with, and these may be the only useful roles the fun house mirrors play in your life):

MIRROR: person who sees things pretty much as you see them in terms of philosophy, values, work-life balance, who respects you and cares for you. Ask the MIRROR person: am I working too much? am I working enough? Jussssssssst right? Make adjustments as needed, in consultation with that person.

FUN HOUSE MIRROR SKINNY WORKAHOLIC VERSION: ask someone who lives to work and works to live the same questions. If that person EVER, EVER, EVER says something along the lines of “You’re working an awful lot lately,” you know it’s crisis time (see #4 above).

(Don’t wait for that person to say “You’re working too much.” They don’t believe that is possible.)

FUN HOUSE MIRROR LOVE-HANDLED BELUSHI-BOY: if you say to this terrific guy, who’s probably wearing a Hawaiian shirt & shorts with 700 pockets, “hey, am I working enough?” and he says, “No, you’ve been super mellow and ready to play pool a lot lately” go back and double-check with your MIRROR and then make a plan if you need to. Could be you’re making time for a precious friend or it could be you got TOO GOOD at setting boundaries. Don’t worry if that happened, because

Here’s what there will always be plenty of: people asking you to do stuff. You will never lack for opportunities to do a little back-fill if you realize you were slacking. Which you probably weren’t.

1. Do whatever you can to be the kind of person who operates from a base of worth and plenty rather than inadequacy and scarcity.

I still struggle with this, but I’m trying to listen less to the voice in me that wants everyone to like me all the time, especially the people I don’t like. I’m trying to listen more to the voice that says I am enough, and that I get to be picky about who rides on the bus with me. People who bring me down can’t get on my bus. Or they at least can’t sit in the back where we’re singing “One Tin Soldier.”

This isn’t possible for all of us, I know, at least maybe not now, not this year, not this week, not with this boss, not in this job, not in this economy–I get it. I feel it. I feel gobsmacked by it sometimes. But when and where it’s possible, we need to listen to Nancy Reagan’s quavery, moneyed, seat-of-power voice:


Little Shot of Sunshine A.S.A.F.P.

I have a serious case of the Februaries (as my friend Jessica calls them). Tired of winter. Tired of dark. Tired of tired of tired of tired.

So you know how we sometimes say someone or something is a force of nature?

Well–the sun is THE force of nature, right?

So let’s MacGyver our moods, shall we? Borrow our myopic buddy’s glasses and make a prism to focus what little sun there is on whatever target needs it most.

BOOM! Fire! Explosion! And we’re free.

(That’s how it works on TV anyhow.)

Seriously. Give someone a compliment. Say thanks. Apologize. Tell a joke. Randomly shoot a thumbs-up when you see someone doing anything remotely thumbs-uppable. Do it now. Or As Soon As Freaking Possible.

I know I need it. I know I’m not alone.

And lest anyone mistake this for a Pollyanna moment (or, as someone near and dear to me is capable of, a Nucleanna moment)–I think there’s a poopload of bleakness and bad news around.

But a little shot of sunshine now and then, that makes the poop more bearable.

At least in theory.

My favorite color.

My favorite color.


{photo from flickr, Creative Commons, by Beau B–no real name given because he is apparently a high school student. Usage of this photo should not be construed as an endorsement of underage drinking, drinking to excess, or drinking in the workplace. It’s just pretty. And a pun.n Plus, if you know me, you know the acrylic nails just crack me up.]

Just Walking the Dead with Bowie (thank you, thank you, thank you)

(Hello there, multiple folks from multiple countries who’ve landed on this blog by Googling “walking the dead” and “meaning” or some such. Let me see if I can answer that question–I took it to be two things: one, a play on words, similar to “walking the dog,” and two, a sense of remembering, being nostalgic, longing for people and places and times that have passed. There may be other things going on as well–for all I know, it’s a translation of some clever saying in German. Thanks for checking out my blog! Please read on, if you would….)


Well, that’s it. David Bowie’s 66.
He’s old. I’m old. We’re old. How much do I care?
I’m happy to report he is still deeply weird.
The video “Where are we now” is sick
(sick meaning not normal, not boring), lovely in
a creepy way–Berlin, mute woman, disembodied heads–
I was born in the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm–
explains a lot–Bowie sings “just out walking the dead”

How close was I to suicide in college?
In high school? Too close. I’m glad I danced away.

And Bowie helped. His weirdness, the vast collage
of his career, still here to help me navigate
the perils of middle age–oh here it comes–
the dancing and the danger and the weirdness–just in time


Why does 47 feel so much like 17?

And why is the self-destructive behavior of my middle-age so banal? I haven’t been suicidal for decades. My risky behavior has nothing to do with drunk driving or needles or strangers. (Not that it ever did. Ahem.)

I just eat too much. And weigh too much. And move too little. And here’s how I tend to handle stress–self-medicate with food, with alcohol (but not enough to actually be interesting about it).

I shuffle things around in my compartmentalized brain, but gracious the clutter’s accumulated.

So. I hadn’t even realized how much I needed a new Bowie album until I saw the video. But I did need it. I do. So thank-you.

(Now I need to hunt for a picture of myself when I used to make my hair look like his.)

RERUN: Dry Stretch: Beer and Creativity (or, Beerativity)

[New blogging goals in my second year of blogging:  host more guest blogs + rerun some of my “notes” from Facebook, which I was clearly trying to use as a blog. The following is from July 27, 2011. Update afterward.]

My husband commented at dinner last night that it had been 18 days since he’d mowed, which he thought was a record. We’ve had such a hot, dry stretch here in Wisconsin that you can’t really even tell–the only things growing in the yard are those spiky things which we called plantains in Southern Illinois (so they’re probably called something else everywhere else).

It occurred to me that this is approximately the same amount of time I’ve gone without drinking.  No beer, no wine, and I hadn’t even gotten around to having my first G&T of the summer—I like to make tonic water ice cubes so the drink doesn’t get watery (though it does get tonic-watery).

A writer I know announced yesterday that he’ll be avoiding alcohol for 21 days in August & reporting for Men’s Health.

And doing more reading for my ongoing research on creativity, this section came up yesterday: “Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.” In this section, leading creativity researcher Mark Runco (who I like to pretend looks like Mark Ruffalo) makes these points, which seemed relevant to the whole dry-stretch theme:

  • In summarizing multiple findings, Runco gives these numbers:  One researcher “found a full 60 percent of those involved in theater probably having alcoholism, with writers of fiction and musicians not far behind (41% and 49% respectively).” Another researcher “found writers to be especially prone to alcoholism” (131).
  • (NOTE: poets score higher on the whole suicide index, to be fair.)

To make sense of the next point, you have to know that Wallas was an early creativity researcher, and any time a researcher discusses the stages of creativity, the basis began with Wallas, who described these as the stages of creativity: preparation (defining the problem, setting the task, doing research, mulling over different possibilities), incubation (setting the project aside & letting things stew/coalesce at a subconscious or preconscious level), illumination (that a-ha! moment), verification (when other people confirm whether the creativity is successful or just bizarro).

  • Runco reports two researchers who looked at drinking and creativity “found alcohol consumption to be related to improved incubation…as well as high originality but only in the illumination phase of the creative process. Alcohol seems to inhibit flexibility during illumination. It was also related to poor verification….” These researchers “were extremely precise in the methods used to administer alcohol. They used 1.0 milliliter of alcohol (100% pure alcohol, not Bud Light nor even Captain Morgan Rum) for each kilogram of body weight” (132).

Then he describes alcohol’s effect on primary processes (“Primary process is associative and uninhibited. It is impulsive, libidinal, and free of censorship”) and secondary processes (“realistic, practical, and reality-oriented”) (133).

  • Yet another group of researchers “administered alcohol with two experimental groups in an attempt to manipulate primary and secondary process. Surprisingly [they] reported that the alcohol group seemed to use secondary process more than primary process. The prediction had been that alcohol would allow primary process but inhibits secondary process….The surprising finding may explain the common misconception that alcohol frees up our thinking and therefore improves our creativity. Thinking while intoxicated may actually be more original, but it may also be unrealistic and worthless. Truly creative insights are both original and worthwhile Perhaps intoxicated individuals are simply very poor judges of their own thinking. They may indeed have a really bizarre and therefore original idea, and they may like it because it is original, but they fail to see that even though it is original, it is worthless” (132).

I have always been good at the preparation & incubation & illumination stages—it’s just the verification I’ve struggled with. And the notion of flexibility seems most relevant to revising—looking at options and not getting locked in to the original plan or draft.

So. It’s raining today in southwest Wisconsin, but at least at the moment, I’m still not drinking.  I’m sleeping better and feeling calmer overall. And it comforts me to know that I’m probably not losing anything in terms of creativity by staying sober.

Runco, Mark. Creativity: Theories and Themes: Research, Development, and Practice. Amsterdam: Elsevier,

2007. Print.

[11/26/12: I stopped drinking until I could imagine myself having a glass of wine or a beer without having a second or third automatically. It was the right thing to do–since I started drinking again (I think I went a couple months total without drinking), it hasn’t felt out of control at all. I’m checking to see if I can find the article Benjamin Percy wrote about his dry stretch.  One of the biggest disappointments about finding out that Jonah Lehrer is a big fat liar is that I really liked how his book on creativity talked about the benefits and drawbacks of drugs/alcohol on the creative process. Perhaps I’ll check his sources and write about that myself in a future blog.]