I’M ALIVE: GEORGE MICHAEL’S “WHITE LIGHT”

It was just short of a year ago now that I was rushed to the hospital with unexplained internal bleeding, in need of five units of blood, and sick enough that when the source of the bleeding was discovered – cancer lesions throughout my digestive tract – it was unclear if I would be able to survive the first dose of chemotherapy I desperately needed.

It was all a blur, really. I knew it was serious by the grim looks on the faces of four different doctors who came to explain the situation to me. They seemed to want to make doubly sure I knew what I was getting into when I authorized them to begin treatment. It was only later, after I had pulled through, that my primary care physician told me honestly, “We weren’t sure you were going to make it.”

Looking back, it seems like years ago, not months. I spoke with a good old friend from Los Angeles this weekend, filling him in on all the details of this last year. When I got to the part about being rushed to the hospital I said,

“It was great! My first time in an ambulance and those EMT’s are so damn cute! And I didn’t really know how serious it was so I was just enjoying these guys in their uniforms rushing me to the hospital with lights blazing and the siren droning on!”

Thinking back though, it really wasn’t my first time in an ambulance. Years ago, when I was struggling with drugs and alcohol in Los Angeles, I had an accidental overdose and was taken by ambulance to a hospital near my home. Because of the intoxication, I have trouble remembering exactly what that ride was like, but it’s clear that I haven’t romanticized it as exciting or fun. I’m so glad that I’m sober now. At least that struggle is over.

Twice now I’ve been in the hospital, fighting for my life. Once because my addiction brought me to a point of foolish over-intoxication. And more recently because a cancer that began on my skin had metastasized to my digestive tract, weakening me and making everything more complicated.

Every time I think about this, the George Michael song, “White Light,” featured in this really honest and brilliant video, plays in my mind. I like George. He’s from the 80’s and my youth, and one of the first celebrities I had a crush on (back in the Wham! days). I relate to him as a fellow gay man, and as someone who has also struggled with alcohol and drugs. I respect that he’s been honest enough to talk about all these things, both in his lyrics and in interviews and public statements.

Not many people know that in the midst of his struggle, while on tour in November 2011, he had to be hospitalized in Vienna for a viral infection that turned into a deadly pneumonia. It was touch and go for several days. He was treated in the intensive care unit, spent time in a coma, and underwent a tracheostomy. Finally released on December 21st of that year, George Michael made a public statement thanking the staff of Vienna General Hospital for saving his life.

This song was released in June 2012, just months after Whitney Houston’s cocaine-related death. The lyrics allude to both Amy Winehouse and Houston’s deaths, and George’s fear that it “could have been me.” This lyrical honesty gives credence to rumors that the problems in Vienna were drug related. The video is haunting because it is so brutally raw, so honest, and I’ve been there. It catches my breath every time I see it.

Having just come home last week from the hospital after my own struggle with pneumonia, I thought I’d post this video tonight. As George sings,

“I’ve got so much more that I want to do
Was it music?
Was it science that saved me?
Or the way that you prayed for me
either way I thank you

I’m alive”

My thoughts exactly.

WAIT A SECOND…CHANCE? HOMESTEAD?

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Phoenix, part Chihuahua, part Terrier. Chief four-legged Executive Officer of SECOND CHANCE HOMESTEAD. Expert in digging, following scents, stealing cat food, chasing quail, and barking.

Several months ago I was reading a column in the back of the UTNE READER, that good old alternative standby to Reader’s Digest. The author was ERIC UTNE, and he made reference to an old Chinese proverb that often inspires him: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (read more: http://www.utne.com/environment/what-gives-you-hope-these-days.aspx#ixzz2MQfmQQog)

Right then and there a branch broke off that tree and hit me right between the eyes.I had an epiphany (or a slight concussion). In either case I saw stars but also thunder and lightning. I couldn’t tell if I was in awe or just terrified.

“Tim,” I told myself internally, “If you keep on waiting for the RIGHT time…–whatever and whenever that is – nothing will ever happen.”

It was a very sobering thought.

Some of you know (and others will come to find out if you continue reading this blog) that I haven’t always had the easiest time of it, adjusting to this world. After 43 years I still fight everything and everyone including myself – tooth and nail. I have lots of reasons I don’t always fit in – I was born left-handed, gay, uncoordinated, creative, with a tendency toward the dramatic. I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic.

If there was a hard way to get something done then that was the way I was going to do it. “Yes, I know you said not to touch the stove because it’s hot, but I’m going to do it anyway — with my right hand. And now that I’ve burned that hand I’m going to touch it one more time with my left hand just to be sure.” That was me. And even though I hoped to grow out of it that little stubborn tyke is still with me.

Life was hard, and not always because I made it so. I took some punches in my childhood and adolescence and tried my best to roll with them. But I wasn’t always to blame. By the time I was in my twenties and thirties, I was the one throwing punches, at myself and others, at the establishment, at  life, at the unfairness of it all.

Despite all my anger and frustration I was able to hold down a job and even made my way through college courses at night. I was what they like to call “high functioning.” Because behind the scenes I was nursing a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol and it was beginning to spiral.  Like every good addict, I convinced myself as long as I could  that I had things under control. In reality my chemical dependence was taking me down and under long before I admitted it.

Eventually I made it into recovery and established sobriety through fits and starts and an awful recession that made me question everything I’d ever known about this country I live in and the people who run it. I finally had some hope for my PERSONAL LIFE, but PROFESSIONALLY I felt adrift in a sea of disillusionment (mine and everyone else’s).

One thing I knew for sure: I didn’t want to find myself in another cubicle. Never again for the rest of my life. It killed my soul and made drugs and drink look that much more attractive. And though I had enjoyed teaching in my early twenties, the condition of the schools – with ever larger class sizes and “teach to the test” approaches emphasized – seemed to be worsening with every state budget crisis.  I just couldn’t get excited about earning my credential and becoming “Mr. Hane” in some overcrowded high school language arts classroom.

A good therapist helped me process through a lot of the pain and mistakes of the first four decades of my life. If you want to know what therapy is like, take a look at the T.V. show IN TREATMENT. It’s deep and intense and it can go on forever. Luckily when I seemed stuck in an overanalysis my past this therapist threw me a life line. After months of me sitting on his couch and  going over my feelings and foibles and fears and frustrations again and again he had the courage to interrupt me.

“Ahem…” he said, clearing his throat. “It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on the first half of your life. But what do you want to do with the next half?”

That was the best session I ever had with him.

Going forward I want to plant a tree. Maybe one I should have planted a long time ago.

I want it to take root in the desert soil and in the same light of the Southern California sun that formed me. And I want to be an integral part of the life sustaining process — to recover my sanity by living, breathing and working the land.

I want to begin and nurture a sustainable life, challenging the way I live, act and think about myself and the world around me.

I want to do it on a manageable scale, where half an acre and a two bedroom farmhouse is ENOUGH. I want to be satisfied with what I create. I don’t want to become obsessed with visions of “growth” and dreamy expansive ideas about a “bigger” and “better” and “brighter” future. I want to be okay with my half acre farm and the life that comes into being there. I don’t want to ask “Is that all there is?”  Hey, I’ve been in cubicle nation.  if that’s all there is I’ll take it.

Most importantly I want to do it now, in real time, not tomorrow, and not next year, and not in my head or on some proverbial drawing board.

And so I’ve broken ground. Or should I say “we” have broken ground. Because in the beginning of February I moved on-site along with my wonderful dog Phoenix and my two cats Diogo and Sophie. The three of us are in the process of renovating the farmhouse (and learning to “poop” outside). Soon it will be time to till the ground and plant our first crop. We’ll be raising organic agricultural product in raised beds, and producing fresh organic eggs from a gaggle of hens in their chicken coop. But rest assured, there will be no cubicles here.

Come along for the journey. I invite you to follow this blog and improve it with your comments.  Together we can see what a second chance can look like.

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