The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

Letter 21

St. Louis, MO

Dear John,

I need to thank you for your book, “The Flying Boy.” I am in the midst of reading it for the second time. The first reading tore me to pieces and put me back together. I had to become consumed with intense pain before I was willing to take action, which led me to the bookstore at the treatment center I went through for chemical dependency in 1980.

It would look as though my pain’s immediate source is being unemployed, broke, and currently trying to let go of a woman who has left me. The pain I am experiencing is the worst I can remember. Your book has shown me that these things are the result of a pain I have always been aware of, running very deep, and anger I thought only the Devil was capable of. You’ve helped me realize how much work I need. I am deathly afraid of having to go through what you did, hoping I can somehow escape it, or that it won’t be necessary.

The first reading, at many passages, brought tears to my eyes. Only recently has my pain been strong enough to allow myself tears, and only this book, hitting so close to home, has brought them out of me.

The second time reading your book, I stop as certain passages bring back memories as far back as saying my first words and many more painful memories.

I have never felt so completely hopeless and lost as in recent days. All I know is I hate my pain and I want it to stop, and I certainly don’t want it to last as long as yours did. In one way, I really don’t like knowing how sick I am, because it seems like so much to go through. On the other hand, I am grateful and feel like your book saved my life, reaffirming the fact that I have always know that what was in me would kill me before it would go away on its own.

I don’t know for sure where to go for the help I know I need. I don’t know for sure what kind of help I need, except I know I need a lot. You have many times heard people, when undertaking something say, “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.” Well, I am writing to verify to you that your book was worth it. If I am ever in Austin, I will look you up and thank you in person. If you are ever coming to St. Louis, I would enjoy meeting you. Please call ahead.

Forever grateful,

Joe L.

Dear Who Never Felt So Hopeless and Lost,

You know what fire and rescue teams try to get into our heads? If you’re lost in the wilderness, stay put and they will come find you, and yet nearly everyone tries to find their own way out and they end up getting terribly lost for days or weeks, or die out there because they were so afraid no one would come find them.

It’s okay to be where you are. Be where you are. Be where you are so that you can move out of it.

Then there’s the old saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will come. Once again there is great wisdom in getting still, silent, and trusting that now that you are hopeless and lost someone is on their way.

While we are hating our pain, we must give it time to prepare us for the healing, and God, that’s hard to do. I hated my pain so much I did everything I could to numb it with alcohol, women, and work. None of them worked. It was going into the pain, letting myself be scared of where my pain would take me. I felt there was so much in me, no firefighter or rescue squad would ever find me if I just stood still and trust and wait, trust and wait. So I grew wings and flew from the pain, flying from woman to woman, job to job, beer to beer and rum, whiskey, and vodka. Man, did I rack up some frequent flyer miles on this body. I couldn’t commit to anyone or anything too long for fear if I landed someone would find out who I really was and how much wreckage and trauma had been put in my young body as a child and adolescent.

Finally, my soul sickness caught up with me, and like you, I really did have the intellectual awareness at least that, as you said in your letter, “what was in me would kill me before it went away on its own.”

So once upon a time, long, long ago in a house on 9th Street in Austin in a shabby house even God wouldn’t live in just as the sun was sinking down and the moon was slowly rising, Laurel, the woman who left me saying I was angry and full of sadness, came around one more time.

Bottom line, she, the forest ranger of feeling and search party for a young man’s pain, came and found me. From dusk until dawn I was like a newborn colt who fell into the deep grass of her arms and I wept out, screamed out, three decades of pain as she held me and kept saying, while she couldn’t come back she wasn’t going away that long night into the darkness that was in me so deep I didn’t want her or anyone else to ever see.

So, my friend, like I said years ago when I was playing my own music regularly, “Pain, I love it, it will make me a country singer…” Then there is the whole other point of view, get up off your ass and go find a therapist who has done their own work and who keeps doing it, a counselor who helps take you into your body as well as your brain, a men’s group who will support you while, as the poet Rilke says:

Sometimes a man stands up at supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking because a church that stands somewhere in the East and his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

While other men stay inside with the dishes and glasses and dies there while he forces his children to go far out into the world to find the same church which he forgot. Translated by Robert Bly

So Dear Never Felt So Helpless, I see you in the woods, while you wait for direction, wait to be found or on the road and looking for that “church” that can help us heal.

John

THE LONELINESS EMERGENCY: From Isolation to Connection

“…Loneliness can be a prison, a place from which we look out at a world we cannot inhabit…” Poet David Whyte

Some people are on the mountain of loneliness—rock stars, chefs and business tycoons. Some, who we will never know their names, are in despair, depression, and stuck, barely able to walk or stand. Sadly, these folks like myself used alcohol, and other addictions to numb the pain. Others finally decide that suicide is their only option to get out of their lonesome valley once and for all.

These are the people in W. H. Auden’s poem, “The Unknown Citizen,” written in 1939 is perhaps even more relevant today.

…he had everything necessary to the modern man, a photograph, a radio, a car, and a Frigidaire…when there was peace, he was for peace: when there was a war, he went…Our teachers report that he never interfered with their education. Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should have certainly heard. 

There is a loneliness emergency, and as the Beatles asked a long time ago, “all the lonely people, where do they all come from?”  Some or most of them never make it to the emergency room or a doctor or therapist. And yet loneliness is a serious health risk. It is a predictor of premature death and is a bigger risk factor than obesity and the equivalent of smoking up to 15 packs of cigarettes a day, according to recent studies.

In 2018 we have 500 channels, computers, 80% of the world’s population have smartphones that they can talk on, watch TV on, listen to music and soon driverless cars and yet, 50% of Americans report regularly feeling lonely and one study shows those between 16-24 are the most likely of any age group to report feeling lonely.

There is a loneliness emergency in this country and others. I finally came out on the other side of the deepest, bone-lonely period of my life after my divorce, so I’ll be saying more about this emergency, but for now, touch a friend, call, hold someone, speak to someone face-to-face, and for God’s sake, if you are suffering from loneliness, tell someone about it.

 

Where Do I Go from Her: Writing Out My Divorce – Part I

In this unusual blog post I am sending out samplings of my new soon-to-be eBook. I am very interested in your thoughts and feelings about this little project. So if you have time and the inclination to leave me a note or email me at john@johnleebooks.com, I’d certainly welcome and appreciate any and all responses. Thanks –John

 

Search and Rescue workers have been trying to tell people for years that when you are lost in the woods just stay where you are and they will come and find you. The main reason folks end up in critical situations is because they are afraid to stay where they are and that no one will find them. So off they go, searching for a way out, and they can’t be found until days, weeks—or never. I’m going to stay here and wait and write my feelings, thoughts, and reflections until someone finds me. I’m going to try and figure out where do I go from her.

PREFACE

When we were gullible kids my friends and I actually thought if we dug hard enough, long enough, and deep enough we’d come out in China. So we kept digging. When we were teenagers, we thought if we wanted to be rock stars badly enough, it didn’t really matter that no one knew how to play an instrument; we just formed a band. When we went to college, we actually thought we could marry the captain of the team or the head majorette, if they could just get past the fact that we weren’t as beautiful as they. When we got married, we actually thought we could stay in love forever—but as it turned out digging a hole in the backyard was really more doable than the subsequent separating, divorce, or death, and then the surviving and moving forward.

I’m writing most of this most unusual memoir at my mountain home in the foothills of the Appalachians. Sometimes I even talk to this mountain, along the lines of, “So what do I do now?” I also sometimes hear a response: “Be silent and wait like I have for thousands and thousands of years.” Dog lovers will not think I’m totally nuts as I speak to my Giant Alaskan Malamute who lays loyally by my feet. “And you? Anything to contribute to this process of letting go?” She always replies the same thing, “Learn to pull something ten times your own weight and then we’ll really talk.”   One night, as I stared at the chessboard my former wife gave me one Christmas, and I swear it said, “Sometimes the king is the first to go.” Novels I’ve read, formerly sitting quietly on several dozen bookshelves, whispered, “Love has no clean-cut beginning, middle, or end.” I told them all their advice was solid, picked up my favorite poet’s book, and randomly opened it to the page that read, “Once you have loved someone you will always love them.” And to that all I can do is say, “Amen.”

INTRODUCTION

I love what I do not have. You are so far…” Pablo Neruda.

It seems to be a fact that loving is so short and forgetting is so Goddamn long. That’s all I need to say most days, but I’ll scribble some more words into this leather-bound journal that no one may read. Hell, like most of my journals it will probably sit passively on shelves receiving dust. So why take the time? Like my journal teacher in abstention, the dearly departed May Sarton says, “Why talk about it? I say, talk about it’ because these are the things we bury and never do bring out into the open. And what is a journal for if they are never mentioned?”

When X first told me about her need to divorce, I left my body, hovering, clinging to the ceiling, certain I’d come back down. Now days have passed and months have passed and even years have passed. I try to re-inhabit my body and make my soul catch up with the fact that while we send pictures of our cats and dogs to each other through email, there are few words between us—a text here and there—and sadness becomes sorrow.

Yesterday my young friend Kat asked, “What is the difference between sadness and sorrow?” I’ve never been asked that question, nor have I felt the need to distinguish the two. But I think of sadness as an emotion that comes naturally, if one allows, and it goes and then it comes again as life dictates. Right now it would seem I am in a permanent state of sorrow, a feeling that will be less, greater, even greater, and less again, but at this moment feels like a river that will never make it to the sea.

Sadness is as transient as joy, lasts as long as laughter or fear, and then disappears altogether with the new arrival of things—good news, a promotion, a book deal, a new love. But sorrow is four seasons long, it is the constant backdrop for the play that continues, though the setting, character, and time changes.

Sadness is, “she’s gone,” and sorrow is, “she’s not coming back.” This is reinforced everywhere you look, felt every time you see the candleholder you bought together or the painting you picked out to hang in the living room of your cottage, felt every time any song from Bach to Beatles is played, no matter how different the setting. Sadness is seeing doors shut. Sorrow is seeing them sealed. But sadness and sorrow can also become the creators of a new life, a new vision, a revived energy, enthusiasm, and guide. But first I had to learn to navigate the uncharted territories of divorce, disease, depression, despair and get to a land where love grows out of the ground of new kind of a sacred, secular faith. This is not the kind of faith of our fathers and mothers and forefathers and –mothers; not written in holy books, taught and told by priests, preachers, gurus, and Rabbis; but more likely referenced by poets such as David Whyte, who wrote, “…When your vision is gone no part of the world can find you…Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong…” This is where I know Faith—or at least this man’s faith—may be found.

I went to my cottage in the pigmy mountains of North Alabama and started unbecoming all I’d been in order to become who I am meant to be. This journey, while still being taken, started with a journal. This is what happened and this is what I felt and learned when my vision, my wife, and my life disappeared.

 

Home for the Holidays

There’s something about that season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s that will bring out the adult children’s worst fears and greatest expectations. One of the biggest fears is that we’ll be alone. The biggest expectation is that we’ll finally have a Christmas the way a normal family does. This Christmas we’ll all be together, and we’ll all love each other and communicate our feelings openly and honestly.

For years I started dreading the approaching Christmas season as early as June. With some work, I finally made it up to September or October before I went into pre-holiday depression. That’s finally changed, but it’s often still hard. There’s still a little boy in me who wants to believe in Santa Claus and an overnight cure for alcoholism, dysfunction and co-dependency.

Many co-dependent adult children seem to feel absolutely compelled to go home during the holidays, no matter how much they don’t really want to.

“Mary, are you going home for Christmas this year?” the therapist asks the Mary’s and John’s of the world.

“I don’t want to. It’s always terrible at our house. It’s crazy. Mom works herself to death getting the meal prepared. Dad and my brothers stare at endless football games. There’s always so much tension in the air you could cut it with a knife. No one really talks to each other and everyone acts like there’s nothing wrong. I think I’m the only crazy one in the family because I either want to scream or run away and everyone else looks like everything is fine… Yes, I’m going home.”

“How is it that you feel you must go if it’s so bad?” Therapists who specialize in co-dependency already know, but we ask anyway.

“Mom would be crushed if I didn’t. Dad would be so upset. My sisters and brothers would disown me. And my parents always say, ‘Grandma isn’t going to be with us much longer and is dying to see you. If you can’t think of us at least think of her. Don’t be so selfish!’”

So adult children go, and everything is pretty much like it’s always been. They are so tense they say or hear something that sets things off and the whole holiday ends up a big mess. Hope that “this time would be different” gets postponed until the next Christmas. No one has a good time except the ones still in denial.

When ACoA’s survive the holidays and return to their groups and private sessions, they have lots to work on. So going home does give us therapists plenty to wrestle with from January to the middle of November. Many ACoA’s want three to six extra sessions per week after that if they can afford them. Most of us really just want someone to tell us we don’t have to go home this Christmas if we don’t want to. Going home can be, for some, the loneliest way to spend the holidays. We go to not be alone, and yet loneliness was exactly what I would feel the most as I looked at the way our family really was.

As a footnote to all of this, when I didn’t go home, I had a tendency to isolate and white-knuckle my way through the holidays. Since I didn’t feel I fit in anywhere, I’d often be by myself. People would ask me over for dinner or to come home with them and be a part of their family. I’d decline and go to a couple of movies on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. I always knew the best pictures to tell folks to see when they returned from visiting their families.

The bottom line is that no matter what I did to not feel alone—whether it was to muster up the wherewithal to go home or stay by myself—I still felt alone.

Last year I didn’t do either. I went to Al-Anon and CoDA meetings during the holidays and felt for the first time that I was not alone. I fit in. All the meetings were made up of those of us who were ready to stop going home and pretending or enduring the ordeal. Yet we were not hiding out in movie theaters and under the covers in our bedrooms. It felt great. This year, after three years in recovery, the holidays were finally happy. But the year before? … Well!

My friends, I hope you enjoyed reading this excerpt from The Flying Boy II. 

I am proud to announce it will be one of my first E-book releases beginning the 2nd day of January, 2018, by my long-time friend and colleague, Robert Teitelbaum of Teitelbaum Publishing.

Further Thoughts on Unbecoming

The young person’s task is to primarily emancipate from his or her original family. I have a chapter in my book, Recovery: Plain and Simple, titled, “Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” The teen and early twenties, and now, even men and women in their early thirties, focus on establishing themselves in the world, and perhaps, creating a new family. The middle-aged person’s task is to discover and express their own uniqueness as an individual and to more fully develop, expand their personality, which Carl Jung defined as, “the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being.” In other words, really start the unbecoming process, the cookie-cutter, programmed, indoctrinated human we’ve become. We start dropping the false-selves, and stop straying too far afield from the path, which Nature/God/Higher Power intended us to follow and become the person we were meant to be all along.

In the process of becoming a husband, wife, lawyer, teacher, millionaire, starving artist, and thus be able to meet the demands of careers and families, we end up abandoning pursuits and interests, which at one time in our lives, gave us enthusiasm, zest and meaning. In my book The Half-Lived Life: Overcoming Passivity and Rediscovering Our Authentic Self, I encourage my readers, clients and workshop participants to recall what their passions, talents and loves – before the bills and the babies, the mortgages and manias came – and turn and rediscover those all-but- forgotten and neglected sides of themselves. When they do, so many turn once again to music, painting, writing, poetry, drama and other pursuits that enthralled them. Once this happens, our center of gravity of our personality shifts into action, and this center might be called our “Authentic Self,” which is more capable of joy than our false selves are capable of attaining happiness.

By stripping away these personas during the Unbecoming process we come home to ourselves; we more deeply accept ourselves, and thus, begin to accept life on life’s terms. Some might even go so far to say they “made their peace with their God,” or “it’s the way life is.” We become a more receptive human being instead of a “human doing” and increase our ability to be less clingy to whatever comes and goes, surrendering what is no longer ours to hold on to and receiving that which is ready to come. We stop trying to force everything to bend to our will and stop thinking we know how everything and everyone should go and who should come back and when. All of this creates a greater ability to exist in the “now.” Once we stop turning the dials and pulling all of life’s levers, we meet the great giver of joy – our deepest Self.

 

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence – Part II

Separation vs Isolation

Emotionally intelligent people engage in separation instead of isolation. By age two children begin the process of separating from their parents. By age twelve they are fully engaged in the process; unless the parents did not experience healthy separation from their parents, in which case they will tend to cling and limit their adolescence’s ability to move away from them in a healthy manner. This limiting, hovering, or clinging creates the tendency for teens and later adults to move more and more towards isolating when they need time to themselves, space and awareness, they need to renew and regenerate their energy to be with lovers, friends, children, or parents.

Separation generates closeness and intimacy because men and women can learn to detach instead of disconnecting when tired, overwhelmed, drained or exhausted by too much contact and stimulation. They get to pull away in a functional way and then return ready for more communication, commitment and caring.

Isolation leaves everyone in the dark because no one knows when the person is coming back or if they ever will come back, which very often triggers people’s unexposed, unexplored abandonment issues.  The “Isolator” closes themselves off to intimacy and can result in everything from feeling distant to contemplating divorce and ultimately to depression.

There are many forms the “Isolator” can employ, but the main one the emotionally challenged person tends to favor is to become a “Distancer.”  This is the person, who during conflict or confrontation, tends to say things like, “fine, I’m out of here,” or “whatever,” before walking or running away to work, alcohol, drugs, affairs, or other mind numbing, body numbing, emotion numbing behaviors. Luckily we can continue to become increasingly aware of the strategies that don’t serve us and learn new ones that do.

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence – Part I

Feelings Are As Important As Facts

First things first—A feeling is a fact at the moment a person is experiencing it. Emotion is as important as logic. In other words, if a person feels sad because their pet of ten years is lost or died, the sadness is as real as the sun, and they are not to be talked out of their feelings but instead receive empathy. If someone is angry about losing a job, their anger is as real to them as the stars in the sky. Again, empathy is the main element in the emotionally-intelligent person’s repertoire of responses.

Unfortunately, many people, especially many men, have been taught that the expression of feelings and emotions makes them weak or inferior in some way. This is changing rapidly for younger generations who are being exposed to and supported in learning about emotional intelligence early on in their education.

Now no matter your age, I.Q., vocation, occupation, or education, you too hold in your hands a practical, easy to understand and implement, guide to increasing and enhancing your emotional intelligence, which will allow you to be more emotionally present and available to those you love, care about, and even work with.

Crawling Through the Grass of Grief

A Poem by John Lee


As I crawled through the tall

grass of grief I saw so many

interesting and disquieting things.

 

The priest asks us to bend our knees

and pray but doesn’t he mean crawl?

 

Crawling makes us indistinguishable

from nearly eight or ninety percent of life.

 

Ants crawled right by me yesterday

on their way to work.

 

Ants don’t take off Christmas Day

anymore; they used to when they were pagans.

 

Beetles crawled over me as I

wept my way through the tall grass of grief.

 

I heard one say “that is the first human

I’ve seen here in a long time.”

 

“Yeah,” said his partner, or wife, or son.

It is hard to tell who is whom in the beetle world.

 

“Most just go down as far as a bending

knee asking the new God to bring back whatever was lost.”

Pagans, Poetry and Back sliding

The University of North Alabama, formerly Florence State College, formerly Florence State Teacher’s College, spread out before me waiting to suck me into its academic belly, digest me and spit me out an educated hillbilly, redneck, retired salesman, boozer and babe chaser, and send me on to seminary and then out into the wicked world to preach the gospel according to me. What a system! If I could crack it anybody can.

Those first few months I learned a lot—mainly that goofing off with my best buds, Bob White, Roger Fuller and Dane, all through high school and irritating teachers to get a laugh had left me virtually illiterate. So I began reading not only what was expected in each course, but everything I could every waking hour. I carried paper-backs in the back pockets of my Levi’s and would pull them out in the bathroom while I peed or pooped—every moment was precious and I didn’t want to waste any of them. I had a lot of catching up to do. Although I was sucking hind tit compared to my compatriots in class, it didn’t dissuade me from thinking I was chosen by God almighty to spread the word of Jesus Christ to the rest of the heathens around me.

Somehow I got signed up with the local Methodist ministries to become a substitute minister.

When the regular pastor could not be present to preach and attend to his flock, they would give neophytes like me who were preparing for the ministry a call and we’d mount our white horses, or in my case, a rusty, blue Chevy Vega, and go pretend we knew what the hell we were talking about at the tender age of twenty-one or -two. I thought surely this would impress my red-haired angel that I really wanted much more than Jesus.

Somewhere along my way to getting on “The Dean’s List,” I started veering off the straight and narrow. Something was pulling me. Was it Satan, the great seducer of potential seminary students? Beelzebub, the Devil himself, trying to penetrate my psyche (Greek word meaning soul) – see Dean, how much I learned? Was I such a treat to Lucifer’s diabolical plan, the old serpent himself that sent me towards the pagan professors, back-sliding preachers and weirdo poets who became a huge influence on me in ways I didn’t even know at the time?

I had taken a few sociology classes before I was asked to leave college back in 1970. I had to declare a major upon returning. I had done pretty well according to my transcripts—two D’s and one C—Sociology it was. Besides even would-be saints like myself needed to know about the society I’d be preaching in and to, and there was nothing that went against the Gospels. But then there was the electives and courses that would transfer into most any seminaries that would take me – courses like The New Testament and The Old Testament. Every upstart Bible-banger needed those, but here is where the slippery slope that led right to Hell began—The History of World Religion, Comparative Religion – they were teaching the heretical ideas that there were religions besides Christianity that had satisfied and soothed souls for centuries and some even before Christ came to earth.

Dr. Miller (I’ll call him) was a short, cheery, Episcopal priest in his late seventies or early eighties that taught these pagan philosophies. Turns out the word “pagan” comes from the Greek or Latin word, I forget which, “paganos,” which means “country folk.” I could relate. I took every course this distinguished, easy-going, gray-haired man taught as my back began to accumulate marks from the slide I was taking by giving credence to these blasphemous creeds. So while I’m studying the historical veracity, or lack of the Four Gospels, I’m also being introduced to Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha, Shintoism and much more all the while eating it up with a spoon.

Now to make matters worse I was accumulating quality points, becoming Vice-President of the Sociology Club and meeting non-believers who had to be the Devil’s henchmen because a couple of them, Ed and Dan, introduced me to the poetry teacher they admired. Dan and Ed were two aspiring poets themselves. We would meet in the Student Union for coffee and conversation, not conversion, well maybe they were converting me. Dan reminded me of a southern version of James Dean—tall, lanky, tanned and intelligent. His cohort Ed, was shorter, studious-looking and eccentric.

“You’ve got to take a course from Dr. Thompson,” was their almost daily battle cry.

“I don’t know guys; English is not my forte. I mean I’ve barely mastered Southern Appalachian and I’m almost finished with my hours to complete my bachelor’s in sociology.”

“Listen, Dr. John Thompson will blow your fucking mind. Sorry, I forgot you don’t curse,” said Dan jokingly. I was trying to stay with my self-imposed asceticism—no cursing, screwing, drinking, smoking or caffeine.

My mind had already suffered a serious shock by exposure to Eastern thought. I wasn’t sure my neocortex was developed enough to handle more disruption.

After many more hours of brow beating, I gave up and went to registration for the next semester and signed up for Dr. Thompson’s Advanced Romantic Poetry class.

Let the Inquisition of my faith begin.

Ancient Paths

A Poem by John Lee

previously published in The Dragon’s Letters

 

Geese know the ancient path

their parents laid out for them

in the sky.

When horses are born

the first thing they do is walk,

even if their legs are like water.

Animals seem to know what to do

when it’s time.

 

I remember the first time

a woman said, “Let me hold you.”

This was a path I could not remember.

I turned and twisted my body like a

colt leaving the birth canal.

Finally I fell into the deep grass of her arms.

I lay on my left arm

till it went sound asleep.

Unlike the newborn, I didn’t care if I ever

stood on my own two feet again.