Plagueless Decameron

That the last two weeks have been a “roller-coaster” would be a significant understatement. Here’s to a completely boring, uneventful, totally calm week.

Yeah, I’m laughing too. So not going to happen.

On the marathon front, ran 20 miles this weekend. Fifteen on Saturday and five on Sunday. Feeling a tad sore today, but good. Saturday was horrid—hot, humid, terrible running weather, but I did make it through. Was pleased to discover that I could still run on Sunday. Next week, 18 miles on Saturday and 5 or 6 on Sunday—can’t remember which. Discovered that my new jeans are too big, which is a damn fine discovery, all in all.

Sobriety, well, still sober, 86 days sober, to be exact [I wasn’t really sure how long it had been, as I wasn’t keeping count. I’m not even 100% certain that February 7th is the correct date, but I know I was not sober for this post (snort…not sober? I was freaking wasted. I had a friendly online exchange with a friend that I have evidence, but no memory, of that night), and I was sober at this one (two days later), but…I can’t recall much other than the decision to race, which gave me the something to hang onto for the first few weeks.] I’ve removed a few triggers—I don’t usually shop on Friday nights anymore, for one—and I am generally at peace with my addictions, in so far as I think I ever will be. Of course, I’m pretty sure that around 90 days was significant last time too (and in the midst of another church upheaval *shakes head,* come to think of it). I’m careful about what I take—even ibuprofen—checking labels on cough syrup, and so forth.

Several people, Duff included, have recommended David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy either in general or to me directly. To say that I have avoided the book really doesn’t capture the lengths I went through to avoid even looking at the book on the shelves. I suppose my avoidance could be compared to the pilgrims in Boccaccio’s Decameron, who shut themselves away in a monastery garden to avoid the plague, which was ravaging the city, hence the title of this post.

During their time (14 days, minus the 2 set aside each week where no stories are told, thus 10 days), the 10 pilgrims (10 x 10 = 100, hence Decameron) share stories, some quite obviously fanciful, others ostensibly true, but always with a moral center of some variant. One might even accuse me of having avoided the book not only by shutting my eyes to it, but by telling, well, reading, stories. My own frame narrative is likewise complete with stories of great moral uplift and absolute debauchery. The frame? See above–sobriety and running. The novellas? Yeah, they follow.

By the time Duff included Sheff’s book on his “Summer Reading List” assignment to readers, I was well into my avoidance mode. His remark, that the book scared him all the more as a father, didn’t really help, since I do fear what life holds in store for my boy. I’ve written about several of the books in these pages (? wow…WTF do I call these…ah, nevermind, got it:) musings, as I devoured several of them during Lent and wrote about them here. So, for the next post or two, I’m going to wander over the readings, until I reach the one I was heretofore avoiding:

The Lenten vat, about which I have already written at length were Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, her The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History and Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World, Brad Warner’s Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

In addiction (whoa, what a typo) addition to those, I’ve read:

Wright, Richard. Black Boy
Bock, Charles. Beautiful Children
Sixx, Nikki. Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star
Hornbacher, Marya. Madness: A Bipolar Life
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Peter Manseau, Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead

There’s a pattern (or several) here, of course. The Sixx book, which I mentioned here before, is another of the myriad addiction narratives I’ve devoured over the last few years, ostensibly as research material for that eventual-book-based-on-my-dissertation-project that ever PhD has in his or her mental back pocket. As I have mentioned, I found the book intriguing; it was…frightening…at times, when the addiction demons felt too close to the surface, but I think the narrative strategy employed here helps to distance the reader from the action, though I doubt that was what the meta-commentary was intended for. Such commentary does, though, force the reader out of the insanity captured by the journal entries themselves. In terms of the redemption strategies employed by the book, it’s not nearly as self-conscious an effort as, say, Slash’s, but at the same time employing journal entries would, I suspect, tend to limit the redemption narrative impulse. Realistically, both of the above mentioned bios tend to follow the redemption track, particularly in their final chapters, both of which are unquestionably spaces of confession and redemption seeking.

Bock’s Beautiful Children should have been better than it is, and the ending of the text, when we slide between the narrative voices of multiple urban nomads, showcases what the novel could have been. Unfortunately, those voices are crowded out by characters who feel listless and flat in their narcissistic-depressions, rather than engaging or sympathetic. I was intrigued by Cheri’s mapping of her life as a film script, until the convention went nowhere, and she was rendered just another stripper with a heart of gold (and nipple sparklers). I wanted to like this book; I was probably looking for something like What We Do is Secret,** which was far more arresting in the end. Hillsbery can certainly be credited with a far better narrative strategy, particularly in the utter lack of visual cues*, than Bock.

Manseau’s Rag and Bone is a bit of a departure thematically (though, anyone who knows my obsession with Roach’s Stiff will be unsurprised by my selection and giddiness), but I highly recommend it to anyone with a curiosity about the ways and natures of relics, all medievalists, and the merely morbid. His travels through the political and religious worlds that seek to preserve something—anything—that confirms the power of the status quo—from foreskins to whiskers to entire bodies, make for a terrific and quick travel narrative. He depicts his encounters with the various characters associated with relic-keeping with humor and goodwill, which makes for a pleasant set of tales, even one wrapped in the horrific realities of Kashmir and Sri Lanka.

The path to Beautiful Boy continues


*It also contains the single best description of a mosh pit ever, and he describes it without so much as a single visual identifier—purely sound, taste, touch, and hearing, which certainly befits a good pit.

**The websites associated with books are starting to drive me bonkers.

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