Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)





The Fortunate Fall: a further exploration

Recently, I posted “The Fortunate Fall: change the future in a blink” and that led me to think about the fortunate fall in general.

“Felix culpa”is the Latin for “happy fault” or fortunate fall has its origin in Roman Catholic theology. The fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the garden of Eden was interpreted theologically as the source of original sin, but good came out of this loss of innocence. Without it, humanity would not have the hope of redemption. In particular, according to the church, we would not have the salvation of Jesus Christ.

In Paradise Lost, the 17th century poem by John Milton, explores this idea  beginning:

Of Mans First Disobedience and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
With Loss of Eden, til one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing heavenly Muse…

He and his Muse continue singing for 12 “books” and 200 pages in my barely worn, but 50 year-old, university text. First, of course, Satan has to revolt and refuse to submit to the will of God, falling with his host of rebel angels to land at last in the burning lake of hell. He consoles himself that
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
He gets his revenge by seducing Eve, convincing her to eat of the forbidden tree and she, of course, gives the apple to Adam.

In Book 12, Adam has a long conversation with the Archangel Michael before he is cast out to the east of Eden and learns more or less the whole history of humanity at least as the church sees it. Finally, Adam declares himself to be at peace, for something of great good will come out of his grievous error. He is about to be driven out of paradise by an angel bearing a flaming sword, but he seems quite convinced that, as Michael has told him, “thou shalt possess a Paradise within Thee, happier far”.

Juggling free will with the will of God proves to be an on-going theme in English literature. Theologians like St Augustine tell us that “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit evil to exist.”

That is one model for understanding the nature of life, but one which many of us may not find comes easily to us these days. Certainly, there is much evil in the world, much hardship and heartbreak. We struggle to come to terms with it. We cannot accept it as just random. We want to give our struggle with it meaning and significance.

Some of us conclude that we are paying karmic debt collected from deeds we have committed in this life or previous ones. This belief suggests that there is a natural law like gravity that makes it necessary to re-balance our moral selves by suffering what we have caused others to suffer, not as punishment, but as loving and necessary correction – a riff on the idea of “forgive them for they now not what they do”. Ah yes, now they do!

Another way to look at it is one that I prefer – at least at present. That is the idea that we are on a path of evolution here and what we are changing is our mind, our soul, our spirit. The hardship that we encounter is the instrument by which we progress. It is true that we can regress as well, but in general, our direction is a positive one. We are becoming more aware of oneness, for example, and connectedness. We are understanding that what we do as individuals affects others. We are becoming more empathetic. We are even beginning to see that God is not an autocratic, ancient of days who makes outrageous demands, but rather an indwelling loving essence. Which makes outrageous demands.

The poet Rumi uses the image of a tanner scouring the hide of an animal until it becomes a beautiful piece of leather to illustrate how the hardships of life render us more spiritual “Physically”, he says, “the world is grief, but within there are many kinds of laughing.”