Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

I’m too much about me, like to think about me, write about me, do my own thing, yada yada, et cetera et cetera, and on and on. Life is hard enough to figure out as it is, hard enough inside our own heads to figure out what is right, what it means to be a good and nice person who isn’t offensive without reason and who is kind and helpful without losing one’s authentic self, am I right?  Oh geez it’s complicated to even state the problem without creating a run-on sentence.  I mean it’s like, here we are, in our own heads, all alone, wondering what everyone else makes of us, worrying about all kinds of stuff we never say out loud like money and death (especially death) and how our breath smells and if we should cross the street yet or if we have some disease or are going bald or menopause is setting in and while we’re trying to silently figure all this out in our own heads all by ourselves we’ve got to interact with all these other damned people and you never really know (do you?) if you’re being nice or being a prick or hurting people unnecessarily or using guilt just to get your own way or maybe overreacting to other people’s harmless bullshit—and how can you figure all this stuff out?  How can you be nice and helpful without actually being someone else for a bit and observing how you are?  And then maybe it’s just your blood sugar, and you’re having a down day, and you need a nap, but who knows?  Maybe it’s more than that, maybe negativity has infested you, or you are finally and actually and once and for all egotistical—I mean, it happens to some people, right?  Why not you, why not me?  I think maybe it already happened to me, I think maybe I’m lost inside myself.  Once, when I was in rehab for not being able to stop drinking (the second time) the keepers ushered us outside to play kickball.  A bunch of grown or half-grown people who days or weeks before had been sleeping in our own vomit or living drowsy lives in crack houses were now being ushered outside to play kickball.  It was an unusually hot spring morning and I was a very unhappy man—I wasn’t quite done withdrawing yet and I hated everyone—and regardless of my mood, I was in no physical shape to play kickball.  I was quite overweight and hadn’t been eating anything close to a proper diet for years, in addition to smoking two packs a day and drinking a gallon of gin every two days.  My cardiovascular system was fucked, my vision still wasn’t right from all the drink and withdrawal and lack of proper vitamin absorption—that’s a real side effect of alcoholism, look it up— frankly I was having trouble sitting in a chair straight, and here I was being suddenly expected to play kickball.  Oh and one other thing: the woman I was in love with was in this rehab with me, at the same exact time.  I was head-over-heels for her (whatever passed for my head in those days) and despite my intense and fragile emotional and physical condition, I remained unable to extricate myself from those feelings—and from the macho bullshit that I thought was required of me in front of her.  She’d seen me crying almost endlessly for days since we arrived at the rehab (for reasons even I myself didn’t understand) but out here, on this sun-drenched kickball field, I was afraid I might not impress her with my physical prowess while playing a child’s playground game.  Needless to say, I did not excel that day.  Running to first base made me so winded I had to go out of the game.  I couldn’t coordinate my hands with my eyes to catch a lofty, slow-flying red playground ball.  I laid on the outfield grass and heaved breaths, sobbed for no discernible reason, was an unsolveable mess, and had to go back indoors before everyone else.  I thought I had failed as a man, that she would never want me (turned out she never did, but for reasons other than kickball).  There, then, at a moment in which I was almost completely divorced from my body and the pressures of the regular outside world, I remained unable to understand how others might perceive me, was unable to correctly order what was important from what was trivial and ludicrous, was so set in my mind how I viewed myself that I laid in the outfield grass not worried about why I could literally see my heartbeat in my thumb, but about appearing unmanly.  Damned idiot, always a damned idiot even when I’m just inside my head.  Is this what our lot is, as human, to be stuck in this vacuum tube of a skull and never know who or what we are?  Even now, more than a decade removed from that day on the kickball field and any bottle of any type, I don’t know what kind of a person I am.  Do you?  I spend time being grateful for this wonderful little life I have all the time, and yet daily find myself drifting into needless trifles; how much is that magazine I want? Can that person actually park there?  Maybe I should shave this goatee.  What time is Under the Dome on?  Is that even on on Sundays?  I think it’s Mondays this season.  Do you think my high school teachers remember me?  Maybe I don’t make enough of an impression on people.  Or do I try too hard to make a good impression?  Maybe I’m over-bearing.  I need to work on that, start thinking about it more clearly, with more resolve.  Is that black mold over there?  I don’t know much about black mold, I should look it up.  In endless loops.  All that shit in endless loops and at the end of each day (if you measure your life in days) you are no closer to knowing if you are a good person, a good and true person who is true to yourself and doesn’t hurt other people.  How can you know?  How can you know?  I just got home from visiting my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in, in the rural central part of Pennsylvania—all rolling hills, clusters of trees, right at the foot of the Appalachians in the Cumberland Valley.  The house sits on a neat rectangular acre across the street from an expansive Mennonite farm.  It’s calm and still, and the days pass with mostly silence outdoors, the grass growing and the animals making noises in the brush, a car passing every five minutes, fading into the static as quickly as it came.  Dad has hummingbird feeders set up by the porch and we sit out there and watch them, their wings moving as fast as lightning, flitting to and fro, drinking, drinking, then buzzing off to some other urgent affair.  Occasionally one will rest on the pole that holds their feeders, sitting still for a few moments, its head moving up and down and all around, as if to contemplate the surroundings.  But we know better.  It isn’t contemplating a damned thing.  It’s just guarding its territory waiting to eat again, waiting to reproduce again, getting ready to fly again, just simply waiting to respond to impulses.  It’s a beautiful, adorable little creature, but it is not contemplating shit, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think.

3 Responses to “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Over the years I’ve learned that you don’t respond well to being strongly urged or often reminded to do something. In this instance rather than following the more successful path of giving a subtle nudge and leaving it be I’m going to go full force in the opposite direction. I’m now packing my bags to fly to Philadelphia, bust into your house when you’re not expecting a visitor, strapping you to a chair and placing your computer in front of you. You will not be allowed to leave the chair until you’ve written at least 800 pages of your alcoholic years memoir.

    I know you have your reasons for not writing it. Perhaps the answer lies in just gather the snippets you have written in blogs over the years and making them into one big story. I don’t care what’s going on in the outside world; the annual Philadelphia Alf Parade, free hot dog day at Independence Hall, Huey Lewis and the News playing a free concert at your work (and they’re totally gonna give “props” to the management for letting them play in your store by letting the MOD sit in on tambourine during “Hip To Be Square”!), or the Mitch McConnell dunk tank…I’m not letting you out of the chair until the memoir is complete!

    To my recollection you’ve not written publicly about this kickball game before and it was damn fascinating!

    But, you know, do your own thing :)

    • sethdellinger Says:

      I do really, REALLY appreciate your interest in my writings about that period. Aside from my inability to write anything that long, a big obstacle to me wanting to tackle it is the fact that there are ALOT of addiction memoirs out there. The market is really flooded with them, and the people who get published are ones with truly remarkable stories, like airline pilots who were addicted to crack, etc. My story might be mildly interesting to those who know me, but it wouldn’t make a dent in the addiction memoir field. All that being said, I still do feel like I have a pretty great “voice” when I write about it…I might just give it another go :) And you’re right, I have never mentioned the kickball game before…I really haven’t written much about the experience INSIDE the rehab…I might explore that soon

      • Kyle Sundgren Says:

        Short of you becoming famous for something else I agree that you alcoholic memoir probably wouldn’t sell much. But you’ve “self-published” many collections of your work before. I think the most realistic outcome if you were to write them would be a very entertaining read for everyone that knows you and no doubt word of mouth would expand that a bit further.

        You may or may not have kids one day, but I bet it’d be way interesting for your nephews to read when they’re older.

        I just figure with every passing year it’s inevitable you’ll forget more things. If you wait too long the book could just be reduced to a post-it that reads, “I’m pretty sure I never drank alcohol” :).

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