So maybe I haven’t described what life has been like the past few weeks. It’s been fucking crazy a little challenging. I’ve been teaching a class in essay writing at the university. And I’m doing other work. I’m also looking for tenants for a flat in a building we own. And in my “spare” time, I’m exercising, playing tennis, going to meetings, and talking with sponsees and new women and sometimes my sponsor. (I have blatantly thrown in the terrible towel on keeping the house clean.)
And oh yeah—I’m also picking a high school for my kid. He’s applying for admission into three high schools in our city: two public schools, and one private. Both the public schools are magnet-schools. So it’s a crap-shoot anyhow for the second magnet school, which is strictly lottery. But the first public high school is the creative and performing arts school, which requires a student-written application and an “audition.”
He’s written his application. (Do you know how hard it is to be a professional writer and not fix up your kid’s writing—but also help him with it? which grammatical errors do you let stand? how many questions do you ask in the margins before you’re showing your hand, not as writer or even an English teacher but as a perfectionist?)
And tomorrow he has his interview. He brings in his portfolio, and the admissions committee will ask him to draw on command, to extemporize about a professional painting, and to talk about his own work. He’s gonna be down there for six hours.
A six-hour interview.
The facility is awesome. Our city is at the confluence of two major river systems, where they join to form a third. The school is on the south shore of my favorite river. You can look out the corner windows of the painting studio and see both sports stadiums and the entire cultural district. The sculpture studio has saws and drills and other machinery that made me want to cut my hair off and buy black jackboots. …
But the keys to going to this school are: you have to want to do one art all afternoon, every day. You can’t do two arts. And you can’t play sports. My kid plays the guitar, and he’s an experienced soccer striker.
On the other hand, it’s free. The third option, the private school—which is, he announced in September, where he REALLY wants to go—costs
(this is sticking in my throat)
$23,000 per year. We have been told that 40 percent of kids get as much as 50 percent scholarship money. But who really knows until the papers are signed?
I’ve spent the last two months helping him put together a portfolio for the arts school. A lot of the day yesterday I spent upstairs cutting mats for his drawings. I also happen to be an artist, and as a fabulous bonus I’m the child of an alcoholic and an unrecovered let’s just say that I’m the child of my mother, a smart perfectionist raised by a crazy violent drunk—and helping him put the portfolio together has been a lot harder than helping him with his writing. Because underneath everything I have this truly terrible and awesome urge to Get It Perfect, to Make Him Get It Perfect, which on its flip-side is about self-hatred and lack of faith, and which, if I do not let it go, will mean that I will end up making him feel like a piece of shit if he doesn’t get into this school.
Not to mention I’ll go back to using, because I’ll look at my kid and know that it was I who made him feel like a piece of shit.
I believe another name for this is (just taking a stab here) “bondage of self”?
It’s also pretty close to delusion. As in, I am absolutely WORTHLESS if, as a professional writer and artist, I can’t get my kid into this school.
My mantra has been: “It’s all going to work out like it’s supposed to” (mantras are supposed to be internal, right?—you’re not supposed to go around chanting them out loud all day, right?). But a lot of the time, the louder I repeat this mantra, the louder the perfectionistic delusional voice chants back, and pretty soon I can see the bayonets coming for me over the hillside, it feels like I have a war going on, and the War In My Head was one reason I used. Or “used to use.”
The Place Where The Story Takes A Drastic Turn And G Gets Perspective
So this morning I’ve made breakfast and have tried to cajole my kid into wearing a hat over his wet hair, since we woke up to snow, and I’m just opening the door for him to catch the bus when I see K from up the street, standing in front of my house.
K is a woman who lives up the block. She has schizophrenia. She was doing relatively well before her sister died a year and a half ago. Then she got much, much worse. She stood there in her sweats, a look of fear on her face.
I asked what was wrong. She said she’d tried to go to the store but as she made her way down the block, the voices took over.
I thought about how often I use the word “crazy,” albeit in a colloquial way.
The long and short is, I jumped into some clothes and took her to the store. The whole time, she checked out with me whether the stuff she was getting was “OK”—as if some of the stuff could be morally wrong to put in her basket. Standing in front of the jam shelf, she couldn’t make a choice. “Help me out here, G,” she said.
I stood there and helped her pick out some jelly and my worries about everything shrank down like this morning’s snowflakes melting on the sidewalk.
A number of us who know K are pretty concerned about her. I called my spiritual mentor, who is a psychologist; also, a good friend of mine from the rooms, whom K herself had called yesterday, and who knows the social-services system here pretty well; they both suggested urging her to call her nurse if she were to come by again. My friend from the rooms articulated what I’d felt in the grocery store:
I think we can identify with that level of delusion because we’re teetering on the edge of delusion all the time ourselves.
It’s true. One of the most slippery parts of addiction is the delusion. I have to check out my own mind with people I trust. It’s strange: I can help others sort truth from delusion, but it’s sometimes not so easy to do when I’m stuck inside my own head.