I’ve been trying to write this essay for a few weeks, but I haven’t been feeling that grateful, so it’s been hard. Everyday the prevailing atmosphere of political fear mongering bombards my senses and assaults my principles and beliefs. Meanwhile the media is practically falling over one another constantly upping the anxiety ante, and now, through social media of all places, there’s even the scent of nuclear war on the air. It’s all so overwhelming it’s hard to feel positive about anything and that dread of negativity is flowing into every aspect of my life and I just want to isolate and hide.
Yet life goes on, with or without me, and I still have to at least go through the motions of being a part of it all, even when doing so causes depression and anxiety. And really I know it’s not just the external stuff that I’m stressing over. What I’m talking about is self-inflicted. Like I have a novel out in search of an agent and I have to interact with a lot of people I don’t know, which means I’m once again putting myself out there to strangers and getting rejections or worse, being ignored. While this isn’t the greatest part of the “being an author” experience, it should be a time of elation. Hey, I wrote another damn book, after all! But instead what it evokes is the fear I’ll never get published again, a sense of doubt that my writing sucks and that’s why I still haven’t found an agent, and of course a major dose of self-loathing, which unfortunately is a near constant anyway. Also let’s not forget I’m another year older in a society that values youth above all else and I’m stressed out that I’m too old and no longer considered viable—and if that thought is running on a tape loop through your brain… yeah, well, just try being productive. But then again what does it matter anyway when I’m so old I’ll never complete all the creative projects I’ve got planned, while simultaneously being afraid I’ll have to work a “day job” until I’m 90 and then die penniless and without healthcare in a tent on the street in front of the building that I now live in. Which, by the way, just got sold and we’re waiting to hear if we’ll indeed still be living here next year… See what I’m talking about?
Every morning as I brush my teeth I stare into the bathroom mirror and say my mantra: Fuck me. Fuck life. Fuck everything. But this morning when I woke up there was a sense that something was different and when I got out of bed and looked at my phone I realized it was the 8th of January, which is the anniversary of the day I stopped using drugs. Seventeen years ago I checked myself into rehab. I was strung out, absconding from parole, and all I wanted was to somehow figure out how to shoot heroin, free of all the horrendous consequences, and possibly not be as much of a scumbag junkie as I was. Of course that never happened because basically that’s an impossibility. But what I did get was a life free from active addiction, a new way to live, and a whole lot more that I never really considered or knew I wanted and needed. And now if I really want to put it all in perspective the old junkie me would have never even considered that one day he’d be stressing out about publishing a novel, or living in a 1700 square foot loft, or having a day job, or even getting old. My biggest (and only) concern then was my next fix and how was I going to get it.
When I look back at what my life was like then compared to what it is now I can’t help but feel grateful. And while the world’s political situation sucks a big bag of dicks, being in recovery has taught me that I can make it through a lot of rough times. And if you study history the American people have made it through similar tough eras of political malevolence and survived. So I have to believe that as before all of this will change with the ebb and flow of time. Will it be for the better? I have no idea. But if I am to live my life in fear of what may be, then I am not living. So for right now instead of concentrating on how bad it has all become I’m making an effort to switch my focus to being productive, supportive of others, and to work harder to be a part of the solution. I know, crazy, right? Besides if I just focus on the negative then I’m not acknowledging all of the wonderfulness that has occurred.
Without a doubt the best of 2017 was when the love of my life and partner forever Jennifer Courtney and I got married. On a sunny afternoon in March, at the height of rush hour traffic, we stood out on a piece of land that jutted out into the lake of Echo Park accompanied by a friend to stand witness and another friend who is a Universal Life Church minister. And while a production company filmed a rap video across the lake and the midi-bass boomed so loud that at times we couldn’t hear ourselves, Jenn and I said our vows. Afterwards a homeless man cried and thanked us for allowing him to witness our union while at our feet two ducks had sex.
Six months later I officiated my niece Dylan’s wedding (I too am a ULC minister) and our entire families were there and it was a beautiful day. Not only was I honored Dylan and Zach would want me to officiate, but I was grateful and happy to be able to be present and of service to my family.
The next day Jenn and I jumped on a plane for our honeymoon in Paris and Barcelona. It was amazing, it was awesome, and we didn’t want to come back (we just couldn’t figure out how to stay—not yet anyway). But after the initial culture shock of returning wore off it was good to be home because these days I’ve actually got a career and a community that I’m a part of. When I stopped teaching fulltime I was worried I was making the wrong decision, but now I work in recovery as a narrative therapist and not only do I get a lot of fulfillment from what I do, but I’ve more time to write and do things like co-coordinate the WTAW-LA reading series with Ashley Perez. Together we’ve completed our first year, and now we’re onto the next, and it’s been cool to fill another role in this awesome Los Angeles Lit community of ours.
I know I’m forgetting a lot of stuff and people and friends and family and achievements and events, but… The truth is my novel will get published, or it won’t, and I’ll keep writing because that is what I do. There will be more creative projects, the years will continue to flow, some will suck, and some won’t, I’m going to be depressed, I’m going to be happy, and I’m going to get older, there’s no way around any of it. But in the end what I’m really grateful for is each and every one of you and this world that we all share and live in. Maybe now is the time that we can help each other and make 2018 the year for change and create something we’ll never forget.
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You know I always liked you, but when you were on drugs I hated you! 1985 hotel room, I found you laying on a bed, out! _____ and Chris smiling their life away, I pounded you so hard on your chest you were black and blue the next day but I got you back! 1986 Mission Street SF, I found you half dead in your bed with ______, dragged you out and threw you on a coach I believe it was in the hallway (I think _________ was with me) called an ambulance and they put the big needle in you, whoops Patrick was awake again! Brother I loved you back then just like I did Chris but hell did you guys make it difficult for me sometimes, how cool would it be though to meet each other one day???
I am glad you have the life you have right now, wish Chris was still here!
* * *
Dear Mr. O’Neil,
I sure do hope this email finds you well and in God’s good grace. I trust you and your lovely wife are enjoying beatific glimpses of Mother Mary and her Perfect Child through eggs over easy, sunny side up or in whichever manner you are cooking your eggs these days for I have deleted my Facebook page and therefore deprived of your current breakfast tendencies.
Now that we have gotten the pleasantries out of the way let’s get down to business. I have become mighty frustrated with writing my memoir. I have 25k words and content continues to spill out of me but oh boy does it need structure and organization.
The majority of the writing classes in ________ are on weekends. I am back to rubbing on rich folk and do massage at a high end spa in _______ on Saturdays and Sundays. The few weekday classes are on days I have custody of my children. And I ain’t doin’ no online bullshit.
Would you be willing to work with me? If so what kind of rates are we talkin’ about? If not do you know of an editor who would be down?
Here is a link of a short sample of about 5k words. I must warn you should you be in the habit of printing out documents that there are pictures at the end of the document. I would not want you to waste precious ink on another man’s blood.
Thank you kindly for your consideration Sir.
* * *
I guess I don’t know how to do new friends I feel like I’ve asked you out many times attended at least one of your readings to no avail, usually I ask some to meet and they don’t offer an alternative meet, what am I to make of that. I moved around so much when I was growing up, my patterns are engrained of chasing new friends all the time. I know I’m busy working and chasing pussy all the time. Hardly time for mainline friends anyway. They say that old er men have trouble with this too, so we are all there.
* * *
* * *
Mr. O’Neil I am obsessed with all things drug related and I have read your book six times making note of every instant you mention drugs, drug use and drug paraphernalia and you did so 387 times so my question is did you do this on purpose or did it just occur as a result of writing your story and if so was that self conscious or unconscious and were you trying to subliminally tell me to use more drugs because I did and if that is true than it is your fault I am now in rehab. Yours Truly Carmelita
I would not call anyone a crackhead as a rule. Why, it does not solve anything. It is belittling and not nice to call another human being that. You put him down and then you feel better don’t you? We teach our children to not call one another names, and then they grow up. Then, is it all of a sudden okay to call people names? No. Never. The bad language is the bad habit. See?
No sir I do not feel better for saying what I said. I really hated writing this to you. We are losing sight as to what is really right, and that is what I fear the most. I am not your punching bag. I am your reader.
Improve your writing is the challenge, sir.
I am really looking for literature that is redemptive and inspiring for young people. I am afraid of the devil in your writing. I am at variance with dead end language usage such as crackhead. Your crackhead is so dehumanized he becomes nothing more than a pain, and has no persona. I am very sorry to cross your path and get you all fired up. As it remains I am looking for better quality writing that frees the crackhead.
* * *
* * *
Hey Pat. I just wrote a 702 page memoir. It’s my first stab at writing. i’m no writer but I thought hey there’s a lot of peoples who weren’t writers writing memoir right now & why shouldn’t I be one of them. i don’t have a degree no fancy schooling I’m not wasting money & time with mfa who needs that stuff besides what are they teach me I don’t find on the internet or youtube? But hey I saw your a writer & you have been publish & i know __________ who I saw was a friend of yours on facebook & I need you to read my book. I’m not looking for editor just getting it published or mailing it me to your agent. Could read it & get back to me next week so i know your got this ok? attached it to this email & it’s copywrited and i’ll know if someone steals the idea & I want it to be a movie. heres my phone number to give to your agent __ – ___ – ___.
Hey there my long lost brother! Sorry to have to reach out to you under these circumstances, however, I just found out that ________ has passed away. I have no details other than my nephew, ________, told me it was cancer. Big up and may ________ rest in peace! Other than this news news, I hope you and the fam are well.
* * *
Dear Patrick O ,
We hope you are happy and you life amazing . We invite you to visit one of our most recent e-stores , carrying a major variety of items at truly amazing rates for you .
Also , as a way of showing our appreciation for you buying with us , we are giving you this amazing special sales on any purchase you make from the site of men’s medicine for you Erectile Dysfunction .
Order you prescriptions securely and discretely , from you own home , and have them delivered to you door .
Kind regards ,
* * *
I know you from when you came and talked with all of us at CMF. I was there in the back with the losers. You may remember me as the guy that mentioned offing his mom and stepdad on Christmas in Tulare, and you said something about happy holidays that was funny and we all laughed. But that was a couple of years ago now and you might not remember me. But I want now to write about what happened to me like you did in your book. I want to now tell my story about smoking meth and going off the rails and the damage I did when I listened to the voice tell me to do that thing that I did. I want to now make my peace with society and the rest of my family and hope to god that someone or maybe just one of them all gives a goddamn enough to come down here and forgive me as much as I forgive them for doing nothing. The chaplin talks about forgiveness like we all now supposed let them all off the hook for everything ever done to us but is that shit real does anybody not made up in the scripture with gods will actually say I forgive you? You talked a whole bunch about being in recovery and helping other people out but that was two years ago and you haven’t come back and I’m still here not going anywhere for the rest of my life and its so much some of the time that my muscles get tense I can’t breath and I’m smothering from no air. You ever think about offing yourself? I do. Be the easy way out.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon. Happy holidays.
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Yesterday, digging through some old files, I found this piece I had written thirteen years ago today. Oddly I never did anything with it. Just another essay depicting the world I lived in and my frame of mind. With less than four years clean off drugs I was just learning to navigate the world again. So much has changed. Yet so much stays the same.
It doesn’t always make sense – these moments of depression that I get into – especially when there’s no rightful cause or perfect reason as to why they come and stay with me for the durations that they do. Some days when I’m just going about life like it’s all normal, like I’m one of those individuals that never has to worry about dropping off the deep-end into the dark. I think I’ve got it licked only to turn the corner and run smack into a head-on collision with a hefty bout of despair: waylaid, blindsided and bushwhacked. And then there I am shrouded in turmoil, lost to my fears, waiting for some happy thoughts to reappear.
Like those mornings I wait for hours before getting out of bed: awake, but not willing to admit to it, eyes tightly closed, the covers over my head. Those are the days I’d rather not talk to humanity, avoiding social interaction and personal contact: staying inside, the window closed, the blinds drawn. Ignoring the phone, the quiet knocking at my apartment’s door – listening instead to my neighbor’s sorrowing cries on the other side of the wall.
In the past sleep came easily whenever I was depressed, despondent or even slightly deranged. But as I’ve gotten older: another year, another day, I look up into the mirror and I’m tired, I’m grey. I often lay awake nights: the sounds of the streets invading my thoughts, the sounds of my neighbor’s antics trying my patience, the sounds of the bridge traffic testing my tolerance for living below a freeway. Only to have the morning arrive too soon, the night barely over, the dawning daylight too bright for tired eyes as the sun slyly tries to work its way into my room.
Yet back in those murky days of old there were those horribly long nights I’d lay in bed stressing over impossible stuff I had no control over, much of it a direct result of my inability to deal with life’s situations and circumstances that came about through bad choices and an unhealthy lifestyle. Making me prone to bolting upright, doubled over with anxiety, whenever a particularity gruesome ill-fated thought invaded my brain. However, due to perhaps not making such horrendous choices anymore, or the unenviable fact that I don’t sleep like I used to, I now almost never lay awake pondering anything that I can’t immediately take care of. Choosing instead to rid my mind of such unproductive matters and concentrate on the present situations that are at hand. Or that’s at least what I tell myself.
Unfortunately this fundamentally sound reasoning for not stressing doesn’t always work out as I can just as easily stress standing up waiting for the bus or walking down the street. It’s just that I don’t do it while lying in bed anymore. But still, nothing seems to keep me immune from depression.
Although there are those mornings, rare though they may be, I’ll be up a half hour before the alarm rings, one eye open surveying the new day, not dreading going to work – but still be depressed. Though more than likely it’ll be more like it was today where I want to do nothing but lay in bed, ignore the phone calls, pretend I’ve got nothing pressing I need to do. Mid morning, the sun is already residing in the sky; three different rap songs are playing simultaneously from different apartments converging together as one convoluted mass of noise coming into my open window. Making staying asleep impossible, though I have feigned doing so for the last two hours. Begrudgingly I get out of bed making my way to the sink to brush my teeth.
A cup of coffee and a newspaper are the only things that’ll make me get up and stay up on days like this. So I walk out the apartment, down the hallway, past the prone crackhead sleeping on the floor by the door to the stairs. Slipping down three flights into the lobby, there’s a commotion going on as always. Through the front plate glass windows I see two cop cars with their lights flashing as they sit outside at the curb. While the security guard and a police officer drag that short dirty little dude, the one everyone says is a child molester, although there’s never been any evidence to corroborate that rumor. Both of them holding one of his arms by the elbow lifting him off the ground, his small legs and feet swaying as they step out the front door and shove him into the back seat of the patrol car.
Around the corner on Third Street two drunks with a dog argue over where they’re going to go to finish off the bottle of booze they’ve got. One of then pushes the other who stumbles into my path, the dog barks, I move to the left expecting the blows to start flying any minute. The drunk whose blocking my way excuses himself, gestures with his hand the path is clear and then kicks the dog who doesn’t even yelp, obviously used to such ill treatment.
Stepping off the curb onto Harrison Street a small sports car nearly runs me over and with a screech of its tires is gone. The dust settling as I try to catch my breath, looking up I notice the traffic light is still green. Across the street another cop car is parked on the corner, inside an officer reads his paper oblivious to what just transpired.
At the coffee shop there’s a packed house of caffeine addicts manning all the tables: fiddling with their cups, reading their newspapers, the overflow of regular patrons spilling over onto the tables outside on the sidewalk. A group of overly dressed high-heeled women clutching their pocketbooks scan the pastry counter, asking for things that aren’t there, demanding decaf teas, wanting everything to be low fat. Quietly I work my way around them to order at the espresso bar, the woman nearest me scowls as I inquire if there are any more Sunday papers left – gripped tightly in her hands is the last one.
Walking home I pass the newspaper vending machine, with no quarters in my pocket I continue on. Going in the opposite direction is that rather disheveled gentleman from the second floor and as we pass each other he turns and says, “Sumpin goin on in the building, got the poh-lees there again.” He always refers to it as “the building,” though he’s lived there for almost as long as I have. But I don’t even acknowledge him as I’ve witnesses one too many times the sordid financial interactions he’s been up to with that lady down the hall from me. The one with all the piercings, the one that sells the coke he uses to lure hookers into his life.
There’s now two more cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance out front. As I approach the entrance a uniformed paramedic asks me where I’m going. “To hell,” I tell him. Then push my way through the crowd of uniforms making it across the lobby and into the elevator. Upstairs in my room I put the cup of coffee down on my desk and get back into bed, rolling over, and pulling the covers over my head. Today can wait. There’s really no need for me to bother. It’s not like I’m depressed. It’s just that why should I even try when it’s like it is and everyone else seems to accept that? Eerily the knocking starts up again on my door, the phone rings once and then stops, and as I lie here in bed I can hear my next-door neighbor began to cry.
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