As an active member of Al Anon, I am working my way through the twelve steps. Most of them describe internal, attitudinal changes, so sometimes it’s hard to tell when you have “worked” the step, and are ready to move on to the next one. Writing my thoughts on each step as I go has provided me with a way of marking my progress; this daylog will be about Step Six.

Step Six:Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

A word about the God issue

It is said again and again in Al-Anon meetings, and written in the “Conference Approved Literature”, that Al-Anon is a spiritual, but not religious, program. Part of the introduction read at the beginning of every meeting states that three obstacles to a healthy meeting are gossip, dominance, and discussion of religion, and attendees are encouraged to avoid these pitfalls. That being said, there is a lot of talk about one's Higher Power, and although in a year of attending meetings I have yet to hear anyone mention Jesus, the phrase "(Higher Power) that I choose to call God” is common. I have heard no proselytizing here; members are also fond of the phrase “take what you like, and leave the rest”.

One idea very basic to the Al-Anon philosophy is that as an individual, I only have control over myself; I cannot (and should not) control another person, not the alcoholic(s) in my life or anyone else. Steps One, Two, and Three (1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable; 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him) form the foundation of belief in a higher power, a force outside oneself. It is suggested to people not comfortable with the idea of God that they could use the Al-Anon group as their higher power—a resource of support and ideas and hope. This is all well and good, but by the time you get to Steps Six and Seven, some sort of spiritual or celestial being or life force seems to make more sense than a collection of other people. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I am not bothered by the mentions of God. People bothered by the God issue are free to find a compromise that works for them, or choose a different path.

How this applies to me

I have been working on turning my life and my will over (in my case, to Love, which I may choose to call God) and acting with lovingkindness, even when I really don’t feel like it. I have tried to get in the habit of stopping, when I begin to worry obsessively over something which I have not control, and writing down the problem and putting it in a god box, and then letting go. I knew, however, since all of these behaviors are new to me, that I was going to have to work on solidifying my concept of god until it was a force I felt I could consistently lean on. So I started looking around for models.

When I was a teenager, and even through college, I had a wide circle of friends on whom I felt that I could depend. I pictured them, sometimes, as a trapeze artist’s safety net—an emotional support, if not a physical one. Although I am sure many of these people (as well as my current, smaller circle of friends) could still be counted on if I just called out their name(s), we are now scattered to the four winds and busy with our grown-up lives. Anyway, that’s the feeling I wanted to have towards my Higher Power—a source of solace and support. So I set out to recapture that feeling, to give myself examples of times when I felt safe. Having an Al-Anon sponsor has been a wonderful blessing, a concrete example of unconditional love. Having experienced this from another person, I could imagine it from a higher power. I made a point of noticing times in my day to day life when I felt safe, comforted, protected—during a massage, when surrounded by friends—and tried to project this feeling onto my concept of a source of serenity that was consistently available to me.

None of this happens overnight

I'm very struck by the fact that this whole Al-Anon process, this working of the steps, is something that takes place slowly, over time. I've spent a lot of time in school in my life, and I am used to the feeling, upon seeing the syllabus and course requirements on the first night of class, that if I just had the time I could sit down and read the books and write the papers and be done with it. Sure, sometimes it's not quite that easy, especially if it's a math course, --I don't yet possess the understanding necessary to solve all of the problems yet--but if I just sat down and worked my way through the material, I could get there. The emotional and spiritual growth I am experiencing in Al-Anon doesn't work like that. It's more akin to physical change--more like working out, losing weight, increasing stamina--changes that don't happen overnight and can't be forced, or hastened. I read the 12 steps a year ago, I read the commentary in the literature, but I did not make the connections that I have slowly made over the last twelve months. I'm on a journey--a consciousness raising process--and it can't be condensed or speeded up. This is not a single event, but a slow dawning of new understanding, new awareness. I am not experiencing radical change--very little of it is out loud, most is deep inside me--but I am having my own quiet internal revolution. Step Twelve alludes to a spiritual awakening, and that's what's happening to me. I'm in the middle of it.

About those defects of character

As mentioned in my musings on Step Four and Step Five, that's not my favorite phrase. I prefer character defenses, or shortcomings--learned behaviors that were useful to me at one point, but have been outgrown or are no longer needed. I named a bunch of mine when I made my personal inventory, but it was not an exhaustive list. As I continue to think about my life, read, talk to my sponsor, and attend meetings, there is a slow but steady awakening / shift in perspective / recognition of other traits of mine that have outlived their usefulness. Certainly my ability to see these things is related to my level of security and serenity; the more secure I am , the braver I can be. The more comfortable I feel, the more willing I am to be introspective and entertain the possibility of change.

Even so, I would rather look forward to the positive than dwell on the negative. I found (approximate) antonyms for the traits I would like to rid myself of, so that when I think or pray about them, instead of asking to be less impatient, I can focus on being more tolerant. Rather than dwell on my pettiness / rigidity / arrogance / fear, I can look forward to being more grounded, more open, more at peace. I can hope for a time when I have less of an urge to always be right.

Entirely ready?

There is some disagreement in the "Conference Approved Literature" on this point. One source seems to imply that I have to be entirely ready to let go of all my character flaws at once, and that seems hardly possible. I prefer the view (found in other texts, and held by most of the people whom I've talked to about it) that this whole program is circular, and when I finish my first trip through the twelve steps, I will start again. Al-Anon is not a program one graduates from; it is a collection of tools for living. Since life is always changing and one's situation always evolving, it's good to know that the support of the meetings and the wisdom contained in the literature will always be there.

So this is my take on being entirely ready: when I truly feel that a trait of mine (say, arrogance) has outlived its usefulness, I will do my best to become willing to let go of it. Somewhere, in one of the books, a person wrote about how s/he found it helpful to write that trait a letter, thanking it for having served a purpose, and then say goodbye to it. I'm glad that I have high self-esteem; I am grateful to have had an upbringing that celebrated my strengths. I can now recognize that I took this pride a bit too far, and become willing to let it go.

All I have to do is be willing

According to the steps, I am not trying to change myself. I am merely becoming ready (Step Six) and then asking God (Step Seven)to remove my shortcomings. It's an attitudinal shift that's called for; I have to be willing to let go of my old way of doing things, before new ways will occur to me.

Since I started this program I've been looking for phrases or prayers in the literature that describe what I feel or what I want. I've been using words written by others as I try to talk to my H.P. For the first time, in attempting to work this step, I made up my own words. I had a clear idea of what I needed, what I wanted to remind myself of daily:

God, today I place myself in your hands I trust that you will guide my thoughts and actions. Thank you for everything. Help me to become more open and willing to change.

I think it's working. I feel more comfortable with the idea of change, and more willing to let go of at least some of my shortcomings.

related musings: step one | step two | step three | step four | step five step seven | step eight

We run around time, speak/think/feel in stream of consciousness, secret spies in separate cars, racing from nowhere to a shared destination, our little home of horrors. We have a new friend now! Will he get it? Will he dig it? Only time and his muted reactions will tell...

Deciding after blowing some money that we should go to see a movie...Two and a half hours of mezmorizing cinema-vomit. Oh yes, Hollywood--choke on it, will you? ...But that's definetly NOT what I'm hear to talk about. I'm not here to talk at all.

Rip-off new age therapist's question for today: what's broken in Y O U ? Answer: ramble incoherent and meaningless words, be sure to mention your father and to talk non-stop for at least seven minutes. By then you would have almost had to vented, had to do some personal growth and/or healing. Feel better? That's right, swallow it down, nice and easy...

And after all the days of false smiles fed to a glassy eyed public with money in the bank and a need to feel the love seeping from whatever crevice they can locate, will you be able to stay up oh so late and get a less than satisfactory amount of sleep only to do it again? Looks like you made your own bed girl!

Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

I just got back from a journey that has changed me forever.

My school took us to Poland for a week. We began in Lodz and ended in Krakow. Along the way we saw many things, visited many places, and paid our respects to the millions who suffered and died there.

Poland is a grey country. Even now, almost April, it is cold and damp, still snowing on occasion. I saw very little green the entire week I was there.

Poland once had a rich Jewish heritage. Many of the great halakhic works were written there, and it is the birthplace of many Hassidic traditions. But in the space of a few short years, it was all wiped away. Krakow had a thriving Jewish community for six centuries. One man, a vicious sadist named Amon Goeth, made that fact a mere memory.

I saw what racial hatred and cruelty can result in when left unchecked. The concentration camps of Plazsow and Auschwitz, the death camps of Majdanek, Treblinka and Birkenau, the mass graves at Chelmno and Tkocin. A legacy of pain and terror that may never be forgotten.

Yom Ha'Shoah, the day of Holocaust remembrance is April 18. Please do your part and remember the 11,000,000 who died, 6,000,000 of them Jews. The other 5,000,000 is comprised of other various groups that the Nazis considered sub-human: Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally disabled, Communists, Catholics, and others. Remember their deaths, so they will not have died in vain.

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.Peter Ustinov 1921-2004
Wow. Somebody just started a Montreal BBS reunion blog. People I haven't seen or heard from for fifteen years are all gathering back there ( some others, I learned, are gone. The scariest part is finding out how much of those memories are gone. Those days I spent countless hours ram-dialing and reading those boards and attending GTs. And it all faded.

Faulty memory gets in the way of nostalgia ... /me misses BBS days


< March 23, 2004 | index | April 13, 2004 >

Well, I suppose yesterday was actually the first day of summer, what with the clocks going forward and all that, but whilst I still have a bit of a sleep-hangover about the hour less of sleep (and it's amazing just how much difference it seems to make) today was actually sunny!. Not just sunny, it's been sunny on and off for a while (what with me living in the English Riviera ;-), but today it was actually warm, as well!

You may infer, from that above paragraph, that I'm a bit of a summer person, and you'd be right. I hate the winter, it really pisses me off. The summer's great. You don't have to put on loads of clothes just to go out, you can sit on the grass without getting a wet arse, you can skip gaily through fields and across streams whilstling happy tunes... well... maybe not the last bit.

The weather has also picked a very usefull time to become warmer... we've just run out of gas for our heater and haven't any cash to get some more untill Wednesday (when Caroline gets paid), so we were in for bloody cold times...

Right... in the car... sunroof open.... Woo Hoo!

Woo Hoo! Easter Holidays!

Wehey! I'm on my easter hols from uni too! Cool! How many great things could happen at once! Wow! I'm getting all over-excited now... O.K. calm down... go for a cigarette...

Watch me daylog! Bwa ha ha and other such expressions of mischevious evil!!! OR SOMETHING NARRRR!!!

Today, we got to go outside for English class. This began at lunch, because the other English class taught by our teacher (Mr. Rooney) got to go outside on Friday and seeing as it has been unseasonably warm, and seeing as it is planning to rain for the rest of the week, when Mr. Rooney walked by the lunchtable I screamed "Mr. Rooney! We are going outside today!" and he laughed and said "Oh ARE we?"

In English I used my "little-girl-begging-voice" and said "Mr. ROOooooOOOoooonnneeey-uh, can we go outsiiiiidddeeee-uh, puh-LEEAAASE-uh???!" and imitated the pose people make when they have to pee. The whole class also asked to go outside, and we bothered him for a good solid 10 minutes until we did. I was quite excited and could not sit down.

Going outside is not an entirely rare experience, but most teachers prefer not to, but Mr. Rooney is young and nice. And we are the AP class, so apparently we can be trusted not to run off and smoke cigarettes or somesuch. We ran to the front courtyard (which is to say, I hurriedly skip-hopped while everyone else walked) and once I got outside I grew quite excited, dumped my 30 pound backpack and hoodie (the backpack weighs 30 pounds on its own, not the hoodie) in the grass and proceeded to roll around in it. Andrew Fourna-cannot-spell-his-last-name remarked "Look, it is your only source of nutrition! Eat up!" (making reference to my veganism) so of course I took some grass and ate it. And then Chris Hall called me moronic, so of course I started shouting about how fun it is to be an idiot in the sunshine, and then they told me to "Go run over there! There are animals that need help!" So I ran a ways away and then ran back once Mr. Rooney had sat down on the cement.

At the end of the period, as we were going inside, Chris Hall said he would "do something nice" if I ate a handful of mulch. I replied "REALLY??!" Because he is usually not a nice person. I picked up a handful but I could not think of anything nice for him to do, so I ended up just making him pay 5 dollars to AAVS (American Anti-Vivisection Society) and proceeded to eat the mulch. Actually, it was wood chips, so it took a great deal of chewing to get it into manageable pieces, but I ate most of it. I was standing at the front of the class waiting for the bell to ring with Chris watching me closely to make sure I was not just chewing and not swallowing. Mr. Rooney told everybody to turn and watch, which would have bothered me, but instead he and I ended up talking about vivisection and although no one really seemed too moved, I at least educated them, I suppose. It took me through most of Russian class to finish eating it, as well.

However, I also used his 5 dollars to make him a MEMBER of AAVS, so I win because now he is going to receive a thank-you note and all sorts of electronic and paper mail from them for this whole year. Bwa ha ha I win. Also, so far it is not causing me any digestion problems. I mean, it is just wood chips.

That was so exciting and riveting except not at all. This would be my first attempt at daylogging, and I am not exactly sure why I am doing it anyways, sooo yes. The End.

My daylogs: previous, next

(Node your homework for English Composition: Write a short essay about something that changes your normal disposition with a concluding statement to "reconcile" the two "yous".)

"Who Am I?"

I am basically an upbeat, friendly sort of geek. Generally, I like to go out with my wife and friends to play pool, watch movies, or maybe stay home and play some multiplayer video games. Most often we talk about current events, technology trends, or maybe more philosophical topics: what we want in life, where we are headed, what does love or friendship mean?

Sometimes, however, a family event of change in the weather will send me into a state of depression. When I'm depressed I am cynical, pessimistic and "bearable," if not merely subdued. I definitely won't go out for fun. In some cases I may not even want to work on a computer project. I may put off music I'm working on with friends. When I'm feeling the worst I even shy away from personal time with my wife.

With introspection and time, and a good talk with my sister (Julienne), wife (Kim), or one of my best buddies I will work through my funk. I know that I can reconcile these "two me's" by understanding and overcoming events and circumstances that lead to depression. Self-knowledge is a tool I use to balance my life.

Kyoto, Japan
from the foreign female perspective
Day : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

We had no choice but the check out of J-Hoppers this morning, as they were booked solid from that point forward well before I was able to make a reservation. Luckily there were three open beds at the Utano Youth Hostel, which, despite being a 40 minute bus ride from the station, appeared to be nothing short of a miracle given the over-crowded city stuffed with tourists trying to see the sakura.

After a leisurely breakfast of double-strong tea for me and ramen for the boys in the cozy lounge, we bid farewell to Evan the Australian and made our way downstairs. The owner gave us permission to leave our luggage in the storage room until later in the evening, which saved us that previously mentioned 40 minute bus ride, and we chatted with him for a little while before finally setting out for the day.

With our trusty 500 yen all-day bus passes in hand, we boarded the nearest 202 and were on our way to 二条. Despite boasting "nightingale floors" that squeaked incessantly with the heavy visitor foot traffic, we were not impressed after having to shell out 600 yen to see the thing. We wandered through the Palace section, admiring the paintings on the walls and trying to find a way to appreciate the over-simplified pine trees that were smattered along most available flat surfaces. The coolest part of the Palace was the plethora of red-tasseled sliding doors, ornate enough to be fit for the shogun himself, behind which his bodyguards were hidden.

Unfortunately the gardens were mostly blocked off, including the elusive Island of Eternal Happiness situated in the middle of a huge pond. But it was a gorgeous sunny day and it was hard to stay mad.

Our next stop was only a few bus stations away, the 京都御所. The grounds were massive and covered in a smallish grey gravel, which became uncomfortable to walk upon after half an hour or so. We hit up the nearest vending machine for caffeine and wandered around the enclosed areas, finally discovering that it was necessary to have a permit to get past any of the guards.

Thankfully we found the Agency of the Imperial Household and were able to obtain said permits, which appears to be nothing more than a ritualistic formality (much like the majority of paperwork in Japan), during which we were required to write down our passport/alien registration numbers, get a stamp, and join an English-speaking tour. No one cared to do a background check on us to see if we had a history of killing Asian emperors or hiding bombs in secluded corners, so it felt like a waste of effort.

The tour was ridiculous. The guide appeared to speak English effectively enough, but her pronunciation was enough to leave even the most forgiving ears burning. For those who are not familiar with the Japanese accent, it involves a process I call katakanaification, which means all syllables are broken into consonant/vowel pairs regardless of their true pronunciation, which quickly turns the English language into an ugly, incomprehensible (to those who aren’t used to it) mess. If I had to hear the word "pa-ra-su," "i-zu," or "ro-ya-ru" one more time, it would have been the death of me.

Not that I claim to speak Japanese perfectly, mind you. But I’m not a professional tour guide either.

The tour was filled with strange looking people who less sensitive souls might call freaks. One middle-aged spindly woman had buzzed dark hair with a streaky, bright blonde, shoulder length braid dangling over her right ear. Her companion was a much younger, albeit grey-haired, mullet ponytailed man with an impressive beer belly. But these two paled in comparison to the strangest tour member of all : German Barbie. She was a stout woman with hair dyed a ridiculous white-blonde, crimped into straggly nastiness, and held back with a wide pink headband. Her face was covered in a mask of makeup, her eyes like black pits, but it was her outfit that cinched the deal. Pale pink pants, a white frilly dress shirt stuffed under a tight bright pink sleeveless sweater, all of which were obviously and painfully too tight and small. Her purse was akin to a pink bowling ball with straps attached. Her companion was a shifty looking dude with a video camera who kept grabbing her behind and smiling lewdly.

The palace was nice enough. It was good to be able to actually go into the inner compound, which is impossible to do in Tokyo unless it’s the Emperor’s birthday or New Years. The entire place had the air of an abandoned museum, and it turns out the current Emperor has only ever even visited his Kyoto Palace three times in his entire life.

I wish I were so lucky as to be royalty with a huge palace in every major city regardless if I actually needed to use them regularly.

We wandered through the garden areas a little more before leaving. The sakura were beautiful, of course, and everything was crowded. The boys were fiending for lunch, so we hopped on a bus to (Ginkakuji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) and ate at a little restaurant near there. The temple was perhaps the best one in Kyoto, I think. There were huge gardens of sculpted sand, extensive gardens consisting of traditional flora, and a beautiful moss-covered ground beneath everything. There were many flowering trees, and where the blossoms had fallen, it looked like they had been carefully arranged around the base of the trunk in a perfectly random pattern that drew the eye like a magnet.

Kyle decided to tarnish the serenity of the area with a massive bout of flatulence directed towards the shrine of Ashikaga Yoshimasu, the shogun who had built and lived in the impressive house before it was converted into a temple. This led to unceasing giggling, outright laughter, ridiculous smiles, and an overall spectacle that didn’t coincide with the atmosphere of the place at all. But it was fun.

It was starting to get dark at this point, and Aaron wanted to run back to the Gion/Kiyomizudera area to buy some souvenirs. I knew one of the main goals behind the mission was for the boys to obtain another set of matching wristbands, so I played along.

Aaron bought a necklace to match Kyle’s engraved "Kyoto Kowboy," an "Ichi-ban" shirt to match Kyle’s Ichi-ban headband purchased back in Tokyo, and I can’t even recall the rest. Those boys think along similar lines, or so it appears.

We took the bus back to J-Hoppers to pick up our luggage, talked with the owner some more, and made it all the way to Utano a little before the check-in cutoff of 10:30pm. As we approached the building from the road, not only did we marvel at the secluded silence permeating the atmosphere, but also at the oppressive stench wafting from the general vicinity. Upon entering the building, we discovered it to be a huge, crowded, and sadly very dirty place.

We were also separated by gender, which meant I had to unpack my things from the suitcase Aaron and I were sharing and stow my stuff away in a wooden box attached to the ceiling above my top bunk bed in Room 3 of the women’s quarters on the first floor. Aaron and Kyle had to go up to the second floor, an area I never saw. My roommates were all Japanese and, naturally, assumed I couldn’t speak the language without even asking. They said hello as I entered, which I amicably returned, but then they immediately began conversing about how massive my suitcase was, how big I was, and other things directly related to my presence that were a little bold. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I could understand, as this has become an expected occurrence, and immediately left to return the suitcase to Aaron and read in the lounge. I wasn’t gong to waste the energy wondering why overweight Japanese women still call me fat when I am half their size despite being two feet taller.

The three of us were disappointed that night.

Day : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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