Tuesday, May 4, 2021

the last book I ever read (Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion, excerpt two)

from Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion:

There was nothing particularly wrong with any of it, and yet there was something not quite right, something troubling. At first I thought that it was simply the predilection of many of the members to dwell upon how “powerless” they were, how buffeted by forces beyond their control. There was a great deal of talk about miracles, and Higher Presences, and a Power Greater Than Ourselves; the Gamblers Anonymous program, like that of Alcoholics Anonymous, tends to reinforce the addict’s own rather passive view of his situation. (The first of the G.A. “Twelve Steps” involves admitting that one’s life “has become” unmanageable. Five steps further, and still being acted upon, one avers that one is ready to “have these defects of character removed.”) “My neighbor introduced me to Hollywood Park, big favor he did me,” someone said that night. “They oughta bomb this Gardena,” a young man whispered to me fervently. “A kid goes in one of those places, he’s hooked for life.”

But of course, mea culpa always turns out to be not entirely mea. Still, there was coffee to be drunk, a cake to be cut: it was Frank L.’s “birthday” in Gamblers Anonymous. After six years on the program he had finally completed a full year without placing a bet, and was being honored with a one-year pin (“Frank L., I want you to remember just one thing, the one-year pin is just a leafmark, just a bookmark in the book of life”) and a cake, a white cake with an inscription in pink icing: MIRACLES STILL HAPPEN, the cake read, “It hasn’t been easy,” Frank L. said, surrounded by his wife, his children, and his wife’s parents. “But in the last three, four weeks we’ve gotten a … a serenity at home.” Well, there is was. I got out fast then, before anyone could say “serenity” again, for it is a word I associate with death, and for several days after that meeting I wanted only to be in places where the lights were bright and no one counted days.

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