A prefatory note: This post is not about my sobriety, though it was written in sobriety. I’ve been sober for almost eight years now, and I don’t have brand-new things to say about it as often as I used to. And yet, it informs every bit of who I am and the decisions I make. Sobriety is my landscape. So I’d like to widen Off-Dry’s aperture a bit and occasionally share parts of that landscape that aren’t quite as directly on-topic as you may be used to. I hope you’ll come along? (And not to worry, I’ll still be writing about sobriety when the mood or insight strike.)
John gave me this necklace years ago, the day after an Amazon senior VP told me in front of a roomful of people that I was a stupid person with stupid ideas. “There’s something warrior-like about it,” John said of the necklace. I started to wear it whenever I thought I might need extra armor at work, on top of the armor I put on every day, which for normal people at normal companies would have already counted as extra. But eventually I worked and planned and saved my way to a different kind of life, and the warrior necklace fell out of rotation.
I’m having an emotional wreck of a week, for reasons I won’t go into here. But trust me, it’s been bad. And why did no one warn me decades ago that at midlife I would still have teenage problems, but also just enough famousness that I would sometimes be Speaking to the Populace? Yesterday was like: cry cry cry, then do a panel! Cry cry cry, then tape a podcast! Later I met a friend for coffee. “I loved your panel,” she said. “I actually cried after it.”
“Same!” I said, then had to explain that I hadn’t been crying over my own golden words, that I was just bereft, a word that if I stare at it long enough seems more and more to describe the state of missing a beret, a red beret, a cardinal costume that makes you visible in a crowd so that someone can say “oh look, that’s the bird for me.”
Back at home and dressed for my run, I fumbled in a lacquer box in my office for my earbuds. And there, under some perfume samples and a recipe card from my mom, was the warrior necklace. It must have been there for years, right? But I certainly haven’t been seeing it. It freaked me out for a second. Then I thought “Well, this cannot be an accident” and put it on and ran in it.
I’ve been running down the absolutely stunning coast of Portugal—virtually, via treadmill—for four weeks now with my favorite iFit coach, to the point where–I feel a bit ashamed to say this–I’m kind of OVER the Portuguese coast. I’m ready for a Portuguese fishing village, strip mall, dental complex, anything without sand. This coach, Tommy Rivers Puzey, a top American trail runner and ultramarathoner, was diagnosed mid-pandemic with a rare form of lung cancer and spent much of last year on life support so that aggressive chemo wouldn’t kill him. He’s now conscious and undergoing a bone marrow transplant, which counts as progress. He’s 36.
On the Portugal runs, which obviously were filmed pre-cancer, he trots right up to the edges of cliffs to show off the views, then retreats, saying “Remember, guys, the number one rule of trail running is ‘don’t get dead.'” It’s become hard to hear him say that. So yesterday I muted his track and listened to the Silver Jews instead. When David Berman killed himself in 2019, a musician I know, successful in his own right, prickled at the ensuing shower of grief and praise. “I’m sorry the guy died, but jeez,” my friend said. “What do *I* have to do to get that kind of adulation?”
I knew it was a half-joke at most. The obvious answer was: Make wise, indelible art for decades in the face of depression and addiction so intractable and vicious that they will eventually kill you. Instead I said something like “Well, a lot of people loved him very much.” I wasn’t trying to sound schoolmarmish and stiff; it’s just that I found the question shocking, even a bit chilling, and I didn’t know how to face it head-on. Also, I was a little bereft and didn’t want to dwell on envy of a dead man. I just wanted to sink into the miracle of Berman’s legacy, and mutual friends’ stories of times he went out of his way to be warm and generous to them.
That was almost two years ago, though. I’ve changed. I could take that question now and line-drive it back.
Tommy Rivs, my iFit coach, runs so easily that he can spend the whole training session narrating what’s around him: dunes, native berries, the history of colonial fortresses. He loves the world so much that he can make me forget I hate running (though don’t worry, it always comes back). Yesterday, with his track muted, I noticed how much he talks with his hands. He gestured to the waxy leaves of a shrub and passed through a small knot of wrens. He stopped to pet a dog. “I’m gonna shine out in the wild kindness,” Berman sang, “And spurn the sin of giving in.”