Step 11 in New York.

Just back from New York, where I talked with Bill Clegg about his new memoir, 90 DAYS: A MEMOIR OF RECOVERY.

Bill Clegg in the West Village, April 3, 2012.

Getting messages from readers who may have seen the Newsweek excerpt, asking what I think about the book, and whether Clegg is “for real.” “Is he sober?” one reader asked.

Check back to find out. I’m splitting the goods between this site and Renew Magazine, for which I review books. Check your bookstore or better yet subscribe—May’s issue will have a review of Kaylie Jones’s LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME and a Q&A with the author.

I like going to New York. I’ve decided to go as often as I can. I used to think I had to have a special reason for going anywhere: a meeting, a conference, a bunch of appointments with important people, Something To Do. My new special reason for going to New York:

Because I want to.

This time, when I wasn’t working, I went to a couple of Al-Anon meetings. One was a Step 11 meeting at Blessed Sacrament church on the Upper West Side. I got there half an hour late because of subway delays; when I opened the door to the meeting place in the rectory at 11:30, there were about 20 people sitting in chairs around the edge of the room. The blinds were drawn, the lights of the huge crystal chandelier were off, and they were meditating. I sat down and joined them.

Afterward I sat in the church to be quiet and look at the candles. It was Wednesday of Holy Week; a homeless guy was lying in a back pew, sleeping; I expected half an hour of quiet time, but suddenly everyone else in the nave stood up and I saw that the priest had walked in and was getting ready to say Mass. So I stayed. I hadn’t been to Mass in—gosh, 25 years? but just like the good Catholic girl I was (and somehow, somewhere inside of me, still am), I knew all the responses; I listened to myself saying them as though it were another person standing inside my skin, talking through my mouth.

Later that day I went to another meeting at Caron in midtown. The weekly topic of this meeting is “intimacy.” It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever been to in my life. They talked frankly about all kinds of ways of being intimate, including sex. I wrote a piece about this experience for another publication and will let you know if and when it’s out… I’m thinking of starting a similar group in my town.

In New York, I stay way downtown. This is my subway stop:

It’s a challenge to maintain my patience in New York because the subway system drives me crazy. Most of the stations are invisible above ground. In London, where I learned to ride subways, the Underground stops are all marked by the ubiquitous and brilliantly designed Tube logo:

In New York you have to morph into a rat to know where the subway stops are. You have to have a nose for holes in the ground. You have to sniff out which stops are uptown-only and which are downtown, and you have to memorize the information in order not to waste time. But once you get inside the stations, you’re likely to see some good art while you’re waiting for the trains.

Just pausing to look at the mosaics is part of recovery for me. It requires me to slow down, be present in my body, be aware. I can appreciate the handiwork of a dedicated artist.

Then just before I left I went to St. Patrick’s and lit a candle for my parents.

The rose window and organ, St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.

When do you pause to look around you at beauty you take for granted? How do you manage to do it during a busy day?

6 thoughts on “Step 11 in New York.

  1. It’s nature for me, stopping to look at a flower or pile of leaves. And my kids, really listening to them and recognising their little brains in action. This is a lovely post. Thanks for sharing xxx

  2. I like how you describe pausing to see things in New York, and I noticed how the mosaics from the subway look similar to the stained glass in the church. The quiet and beautiful things are everywhere when we remember to look.

  3. The principles found in the first 164 pages of the book Alcoholics Anonymous keep
    a lot of people sober a day at a time. When you put a face or name on that program
    you set it up for failure. Billy Clegg’s memoir is dancing around the principle of anonymity. It’s a slippery slope. This is worth a read.
    Mike
    http://www.barefootsworld.net/bwlastmess.html

  4. Fortunate to live within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean and close enough to wander in several parks. A walk or bike ride is a priority in my day.

  5. Patti Digh feels the same way about NYC – and just purchased a ticket to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Death of a Salesman”. She just posted a request on her FB page to meet up anyone interested in seeing the play with her. Whadyathink?

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