I gave up NPR when I entered rehab. I found that I couldn’t follow most of the stories, and the ones I could just depressed the hell out of me. So I stopped listening to Morning Edition, Fresh Air, The Takeaway, Here and Now, any others that didn’t figure into my daily routine but I nonetheless turned into with some regularity. I also avoided news sites, a habit that I rather like. As a humanities instructor, I want to remain abreast of current events (like the despicable actions of ISIS against treasures of antiquity) but I don’t need to wallow in bad news. For one thing, I can’t do a thing about it. The best I can do is be kind to my family and those I come across. I have to be content with that.
Today, however, I clicked on NPR and caught the tail end of John Hockenberry’s The Takeaway, I listened to two men talked with Mr. Hockenberry, one older and one who sounded about my age. The older gentleman referred to the other man as Ethan, who in turn referred to the older man as Seymour. Ethan Hawke? I thought, hazarding a guess. My wife and I were talking about him the other day when we all watched Voyagers on Netflix (still love that movie). Turns out I was right–it was Ethan Hawke talking about a documentary he made about this man Seymour, but I didn’t know anything more about it. Ethan Hawke suddenly (or not suddenly, since I hadn’t heard the first part of the program) began talking about artistic identity and how being true to one’s art can make one a better person, husband, and father. He went on, and I found myself leaning in toward the radio. Before I knew it, the interview was over, and since Terry Gross was going to be talking about vegan food choices, I switched over to Spotify and pondered what I heard. You can listen to the podcast of today’s show here.
A few hours and some Googling later, I discovered that Ethan Hawke has produced a documentary about an 87-year-old piano teacher entitled Seymour: An Introduction. After reading about it, I’m curious to watch the film, but I confess that I’m more interested to hear what Ethan Hawke had to say about artistic integrity and identity and how one’s artistic self can be harmonized with other aspects of one’s life.
I’ve worn so many masks in my life, many of which I’ve worn recently, that I wondered if I could ever be authentic again. I wondered if, without depending on alcohol, if I would be an interesting, talented person. I went as far (and still do, at times) as wondering if I’d ever have any identity outside of being an alcoholic. Of course, when I was drinking, I didn’t classify myself as an alcoholic, and I didn’t understand how much of an effect it had on me. I didn’t realize how lost I’d become in the bottle. None of this was revealed to me until I got sober and began listening to my treatment team and other sober people.
As many of you know, I’m a creative writer. I post poems here and here, and I keep a general creative blog here. I wrote 50,000 words of a book last November for National Novel Writing Month. I write music. My art and craft are an integral part of my life, so why don’t I incorporate it into everything? Really incorporate it into my recovery and not just give it lip service?Why not begin submitting poetry to markets again? Continue working on my book and get it ready to submit to an agent? Finish my album about recovery and then market the damn thing rather than just shrug and say, “Well, I write here and there and compose occasionally”? There’s more to it than that. In many ways, my art is my raison d’être.
If I got that much from listening to a few minutes of Ethan Hawke, how much more can I gain by truly pursuing my passions?
I’m learning who I am at my core; I’m learning my truth. Granted, that truth is still emerging, but I know where it’s leading me. It’s leading me to be a better husband, better father, a better writer and musician, and all of this falls under the banner of sobriety. Without admitting my alcoholism and seeking my Higher Power, I wouldn’t be typing this. I would be dead (yet), but I wouldn’t be on this new journey.
Some aren’t going to understand what I’m doing, and that’s okay. I can’t control other people’s reactions. I’ve hurt people due to my manipulation, scheming, drinking, control-freak ways, arrested development, disagreeable disposition…the list goes on, and trust me, I could harp on it all day and night. But I’m not looking at the past anymore. I’m focused on the present as much as I can be, and I have healthy goals set before me. Those goals will encompass my writing and my music because, by Jove, I’ve wasted enough time. My work has the ability to move people, and I want to share it.
And so I will.