She Bets Her Life

A writer and former compulsive gambler reflects on women and addiction.

Antidote #6: for holiday gift block

Perfectionism clogs the blood flow to and from the heart.

You believe you have to find the perfect gifts (just as you believe you have to plan and cook the perfect holiday dinner, perfectly wrap the perfect gifts, find the perfect tree to decorate perfectly, be the perfect mate, parent, child, worker—all with the perfect honed body and perfect unconditional love).  I'm sorry. You are addicted to The Perfect. The only thing you'll earn with all that perfection is repeated late night awakenings as the Season of Giving clutches your heart.

Here might be a perfect gift for you.  It is part of a perfect gift from an artist friend a few years ago—a subscription to Word-A-Day messages about language and meaning.  

The French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." The same could be said of a writer.

The category of "writer" is not limited to those who write books. You are a writer if you write an office memo, a research report, a term paper, or a love letter. And when it comes to writing, you don't need a long list of dos and don'ts.

Antidote # 6  (For those of you who haven't been following these posts...I give few material gifts for this Holyday. Our planet is already exhausted. Here is a gift that cost me nothing and took nothing from the earth.  I offer the treasure of moving over wild ground, of the writing that comes from Place. Beginning December 1 and finishing on Solstice, December 21, I'll post dispatches of my time in the Western deserts, mountains and canyons. If they take you away from whatever is pressing on your soul, the desert, mountains, canyons and I will celebrate.)

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                        Where there is no doubt, there is no understanding

                        Where there is little doubt, there is little understanding

                        Where there is great doubt, there is great understanding.

                                                ---Buddhist teaching


         My friend and I climb to the top of the old stone tower on Mr. Constitution.  I look down.  Orcas Island lies below me---cedars and fir, mottled green, oval patches of cobalt water.  The San Juan Straits are malachite, the other islands lesser green.

I am barely present.  I feel as though I stand before the veil into a new world.  My friend seems to be on the other side of the veil.  I cannot imagine how it would be to be him, to move through life with trust.

My friend laughs.  “There’s one,” he says.  I know he means an eagle.  He is a man possessed.  Eagles come to him.

I’m a different bird.  Ravens have accompanied me for days, but from here I see none.  They were with me on the road, looping in each time I had thought This is a mistake.  What if the charm that held my friend and me is undone?  What if the task of fitting my words with another’s is impossible?  The ravens would streak across the road, turn somersaults, arc against the light and disappear.

My understanding should be great if the Buddhist teaching is correct.  I am a skin sack of doubt.  Still I manage to watch the eagle spiral in great curves up from the treetops.  Two others rise into the air on the east side of the tower.  A third joins them.

My friend gazes past me toward the south.  “There are two more, three, five, six.”  I turn and look up.  My eyes are older than his.  The sun glares through the cataracts.  Cataract.  Veil.  I see two eagles, no more than that.

I feel damaged.  Inept.  A woman much nearer exponential losses than her friend---though he has lived through a cancer that might have taken him all the way into nothing. 

My friend watches the people below us.  “They just don’t look up,” he says.  “They’re missing so much.  Why don’t they look up?”  ---Veils, in Dispatches 2009


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Mary Sojourner, M.A., is the author of She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction (Seal Press/ April 2010) and Going Through Ghosts (U.Nevada Press, 2010).


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