One Day At A Time.
It’s a cliche, right? It conjures up all your 12 step stereotypes. Or you see a poster with a kitten hanging from a branch. Maybe you have a friend in recovery, and you remember them saying through exhaustion “one damn day at a time . . . ” Perhaps you recoil, and then attack: no, it’s not one day at a time, it’s a long string of days, and they came from the past and they stretch into the future and all of it is meaningful.
Is it? And where, precisely is the locus of that meaning? That meaning about what happened last year, or what might happen next? Is it in last year? Or next year? No. Because neither year exists. The meaning is in your head. You made it, you focus on it, you give it power. Some of us give the past (which doesn’t exist) so much power, that it creates our future (which doesn’t exist.) One day at a time. This is it. Right here. It’s all we have. And then it’s gone.
Right now I’m sitting in a comfy chair in a house my sister is giving me and my kids to stay in on Cape Cod, so we can get away for a bit, be close to family, unwind. My son is watching something on his computer in his bedroom – I can hear it and I wonder what it is. I am staring over my fat belly at the screen of this laptop, and watch my recurring vanity and insecurity pop up over and over. I discern a constant, low-grade worry about __________ (fill in the bank). I am reminded of David Foster Wallace’s lesson about our “default mind”, and how the choice to focus on something besides the default is an act of will, and ultimately, liberation.
This is it, and it’s perfect. Right now, from nothing, I am in the midst of blessings.
I have spent most of my adult life exploring creative worlds of fiction: stories, plays, and entertainments that are flights of fancy – sometimes deeply moving, sometimes absurdly funny, sometimes disappointing. But nearly all based in something not real: the author’s imagination. I recognize now that I am less and less interested in fictions. My alcoholism was an extension of my fascination with fictions – it was the high-test rocket fuel for escapist fantasies of all kinds, and it nearly killed me. And I have spent much time and energy in therapy and seminars of one kind or another trying to free myself from the grip I felt from an event, a person, some people, whatever, from the past. From something that no longer existed.
Because it was me doing the gripping all along. I just had to decide to stop it. To do this, I had to be in the company of other human beings, and to sense that we shared a common suffering, a common search. We saved each other, and if you want to know more about that you’ll have to message me privately. And in saving each other, we submitted to something greater than our obsessive, neurotic selves: a mission, a purpose, God, a higher power. We put something above us, and paradoxically became more powerful.
So now, in middle-life, I find myself needing to be in the company of other creative people, and have become fascinated not by what is made up, but instead by what is real, what is in the here and now.
Maybe that’s why I don’t like writing about my divorce – it’s over. Done. We got through it and now, here we are.
Maybe that’s why I can’t dive into TV shows the way I once did. Yes, it’s all so well done, and the acting and writing are fabulous, not to mention the design. But still it’s all . . . made up. It’s not real.
Maybe that’s why I don’t miss being in plays as much as I thought I would. Maybe – dare I say it? – I was getting tired of plays.
Maybe that’s why improvisation has such a hold on me now. Somehow, even though we are spinning fictions in the moment, at least they are being invented in the here and now. Something new is being born right in front of us (which doesn’t necessarily make it satisfying for an audience, but might explain why it delights me so much.)
Oh look – a new worry just popped up: that people who read this will think I am dissing plays and fictions and fantasies. So let me write unequivocally: no, I am not. I went on the Star Wars binge like everyone else and loved every moment of it. I see my friends in plays all the time and can’t wait for the next one (and yes, I feel a tinge of envy.) You see, this blog is and always has been Ben trying to figure himself out through writing. So as my friends in the rooms in Philly say, “dis iz fah me.”
And one day at a time, all my friends in the rooms everywhere remind me “yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, but today’s a gift, which is why they call it the present.” . . . okay, sorry about that one. Some day I will write post about all the amazing (and occasionally hilarious) things I have heard in the rooms. Some day. But not today. Not . . . now.
One Day At A Time isn’t just about being in today, it’s about choosing to focus on what’s real, right in front of you, immediate, and in doing so, allowing yourself to soften and accept, or to rise to the challenge, or to act boldly. It’s about working with what you actually have, seeing who you’re with, noticing your experience in the present moment, from the present moment. It leads to a sexy kind of authenticity, a presence. It may slow you down, because you are actually considering what’s in front of your nose, and that may be a good thing.
And you may notice that it’s time for bed.