When medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan, there suddenly emerged an epidemic of chronic back pain. From the Porcupine Mountains all the way down to Monroe, doctors’ offices were teeming with goateed sufferers in their tie-dyed t-shirts, tattoo artists, and everyday Joes and Jessicas, wincing in pain. And the outbreak seemed precisely confined within Michigan’s state lines.
Back when I lived day after day, month after month, in that yellow fog, I despised the dreary tunnel of sobriety. As a young kid, after I first heard the word “sober,” I was amazed to learn what it meant. “You mean, there’s a word for feeling like I always feel, for feeling un-drunk?” This made no sense. But when I got older, but still a kid, I ventured on a constant quest to change the way I felt; a tough job when expected to play the good son, the good student, and the good citizen.
I’m convinced that had it been available to me, medical marijuana would have helped me discover some hidden back pain or other malady. I would not have had to play the good son or participate in any other charade. I could bask in the comfort of constant availability. I would have gladly eased into a most convenient shift: from a quest to numb those pesky anxieties, to medicating imagined nerve endings that wreaked havoc in the small of my back… or wherever. Hell, given the drug’s momentum and staying power, chances are good that I would still be bogarting that joint to, you know, treat the pain and wander around shit-faced in muted dreams.
Way to go, Michigan! Just don’t disclose this little-known fact: many a sufferer will be cured of pain, by necessity, if they move to a different state. A state where the green leaf is used solely to get high, and to get high again, and again, and again, and again, and again… where the aim remains the same: to build a cloud of yellow fog from which to preside in bleary and lazy discontent.
I can forestall discontent with a pill and a pail. I found that my anti-depressant kicks me best when I do the repetitive and menial thing, and recently this has been painting my house. Paint, paint, paint, dip. Paint, paint, paint, dip. I pay attention to painting and dipping. I trim the corner and fill the nail hole with acrylic. I watch as my house slowly turns a new and comforting color, and with each paint, paint, paint, dip, I grow in Presence. It’s a slow process, I suppose, but as there is no expectation in Presence, there is no parameter of speed.
But the brain wanders, of course, and look, here comes another objection: Is this really the best use of your time? Couldn’t you just pay someone to do this? You’re cheap. You are a cheap bastard… But, I like painting. I like painting and I save money at the same time. Paint, paint, paint, dip. Paint, paint, paint, dip. Another mental wandering: I might consider less salt next time in the tomato sauce. Salt will end your life. You, Tom, live your life in a salt mine. Who can live in a salt mine? People kick the bucket in salt mines. My house kicks the paint bucket when I am depressed. The paint depresses the house when it is kicked. I am against kicking in the door with a paint can. And anyway who cares if the doors ever get painted?
I descend and move the ladder. I am brought back to this place in this time. This moment. I climb up again and dip the brush in the can. Paint, paint, paint, dip. Paint, paint, paint, dip. Slowly the house transforms. Sometimes I am present with it, the house, as it transforms. I am at ease then, and my gladness pills have a heyday, having their merry way with me. But off the brain wanders again, back to words I never spoke. Back to actions I never took. Or I fixate on words I wish I had never spoken, or to the words of others spoken years and tens of years ago, that still whisper purely in the caverns of memory.
How to slip free from those rusty shackles? How to become Present after all this time? After daydreaming out the proverbial classroom window for fifty straight years? I want to commune with the grasses, with the bumblebees of summer, and the whipping winds of winter. Okay, maybe not the whipping winds of winter, but you get my snow drift. It’s where you and I belong, after all, not in a snow drift, but in the here and now. Here, as in, right here. Now, as in, right now. But this ego-driving brain of mine willfully ponders the pink elephant even though the instructions explicitly state: do NOT consider the elephant in pink. You will either turn to a block of salt or become banished to wander among mind holes forever.
Eckhart Tolle writes beautifully about the spirit of Now. I consider this and ponder this and think about this until I’m raw from thoughts. My thoughts chafe with the collisions of thinking. The human condition: lost in thought. I think therefore I am not. I am when I don’t think, when I simply am. Do dogs think up a plan, then set an agenda for the digging of holes? Dig, dig, pitch the dirt. Dig, dig, pitch the dirt.
My daughter and her boyfriend recently visited and brought along their persistent puppy, Wendy. Wendy was born and abandoned in rural central Georgia. Wendy had visited three months earlier when, like most dogs from Georgia, she dug holes to lie in. When I was a boy living in Atlanta, we had a dog named Josephine who loved to wallow around in dusty holes, but then again, she may have been part wildebeest. A Georgia mongrel instinctively seeks the cool red clay beneath a soil that simmers under that sadistic sun. Three months ago, Wendy dug five holes in our back yard. Large holes, small holes, three shallow, and two deep. She lay in them, in our cool Michigan spring, as though she were test-driving Georgia holes as yet undug.
During Wendy’s recent visit, I went to work one morning. When I returned in the evening, there were five fresh holes in the back yard. Large holes, small holes, three shallow and two deep. These five holes were in the EXACT LOCATION as the previous holes, the EXACT SIZE as the previous holes, and the EXACT SHAPE as the previous holes.
Salmon return to spawn and die in the exact locations were they were hatched. Just like these mysterious creatures, dogs, at least central Georgia dogs, must hold a genetic code that wills them to dig holes repeatedly at the same locations in the exact same way.
With my shovel, I again filled them in. Dig, dig, fill with dirt. Dig, dig, fill with dirt. All the while I sang, “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in, that stops my mind from wandering, where it will go-o-o-o-o.” All that digging and all that ladder-climbing gave me an aching back, but it feels fine now. No yellow fog was prescribed. And I wonder now if I filled the holes in exactly the same way as I filled them the first time around. I doubt it. What am I, a salmon?
Tom Bohnhorst is a social worker and lives in Traverse City, Michigan. In 1973, he spent a harrowing night in a Turkish jail. He also has a blog called Poopiderum.