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Vol. 3, Issue 5

When I was in my 20's I received a fancy journal every year for Christmas from some well-meaning person who thought this was an appropriate gift for a struggling not-so-good writer like me. I hated journaling, but many famous writers I admired did it – ahem, practiced it – so I always tried to do it consistently. Like every other hopeless dope destined to fail, I'd start off strong and inspired on January 1st, but then I'd forget to make an entry on January 2nd and  3rd. I'd get back at it on January 4th, but not until I hastily wrote the January 2nd and 3rd entries first because there will be no slacking off this year, no sirree. 

Inevitably I'd miss a few days in a row again and not return until February. Clean slate! Then after February was also a wash, I'd just give up on it. Around early September, I'd get nostalgic for the First Day of School and all the promise those days brought so I'd return to the journal to make those wistful feelings into even more wistful prose. Throughout the rest of the week, I'd add a couple more super-depressing entries, but give up again eventually and either lose it or throw the damn thing away. Next year, though. Next year I'd get it. 

My biggest mistake was to write in it like it was my posthumous memoir, one that friends and family would marvel at after I'd gone too soon and then they'd hand it over to an editor at a major publishing house. He'd have a look, mostly out of sympathy, but after reading it he'd be shocked by its charming pathos and declare it a masterpiece. "I thought he only wrote about dongs!" he'd say. He'd fight hard to get it published finally and it would become a surprisingly huge hit. Beloved at last. 

But in reality, the journal would be terrible, full of unevenly spaced half-cursive, half-print entries in all different colors of ink. Depending on the graphologist, these are either the surest signs of a genius or an absolute drooling moron. 

Once I ditched those lofty ambitions – and once I got sober – it started to click for me. I still hated journaling but I'd muscle through it. Although most of the fragmented entries read like I was trapped on a deserted island, running low on food and water: "Missed the sunrise again today...need to go outside more...move my body..." 

But since 2017, I've done a full journal routine every single day and now I can't imagine my life without it. I wrote a complete rundown of what I do each morning last March but here's the speed-read version of what goes into it:

I wake up and read a poem. I usually have a shit-ton of compilations lying around, so I focus on one of those per week and just skim and land on something that seems interesting. Guess what? Ninety percent of the time they’re boring. (I’m not a huge poetry fan, either, but hang in with me here.) The thing is, on the days I find something I do like, it’s consistently the best day of the month...[A]fter that I move on to my first daily reader book. Recent selections have been “Seneca Epistles 66-92”; “The Practicing Stoic”; and “Words of My Perfect Teacher.” But the best one, hands down, is easily “A Calendar of Wisdom” by Leo Tolstoy. It’s got four to five little passages from Tolstoy’s all-time favorite spiritual texts that he painstakingly pulled together and organized during the last decade of his life. I read through them, underline my favorite one, and put it as my second journal entry underneath the poem. After that, I move on to my third daily reader of the morning, which is usually a shorter compilation guide by an individual author. Recent entries include portions of “How To Fight” by Thich Nhat Hanh and “Tao Te Ching.” Currently, I’m on “The Pocket Pema Chodron” which is great as hell. Same deal–I find a passage that jumps out at me, underline it, and put it in the journal. "

You get the idea. Since it's year-end list season I'll give you the 10 things from my 2020 journaling that stuck with me. You can find those in the feature swamp down below.

If you like this Recovery 101 stuff, hit up our Patreon and you can read new entries every single week, plus everything else I do to stay sober and sane. – AJD


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*cannonballs into the shallow end*

Here are some more TSB newsletters people thought were pretty good:

* This one's about Detachment
* This one's about Depression and Bosch
* This one's about Dads
* This one's about Amends
* This one's about That Time I Farted in Karate Class


FYI: The Next Small Bow Zoom Meeting Is Tomorrow (Wednesday) December 16th at 1 p.m. EST 

Swing through. No judgments, no formal affiliations. 

If you don't feel comfortable calling yourself an "alcoholic," that's totally fine. If you have issues with sex, food, drugs, codependency, love, loneliness, depression – whatever-whatever – come on in. Newcomers are especially welcome. Or if you just feel new.

Tomorrow's Topic: FORGIVENESS

We're there for an hour, sometimes more. We'd love to have you.

Meeting ID: 837 7190 8902


This is The Small Bow newsletter. We send it out every Tuesday morning and (sometimes) Friday afternoon. It's fun and helpful to talk to other weirdos and wasteoids. Please FORWARD it along to anyone you think would enjoy it. 

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If you'd like to check in with me personally,  here's where I can be reached: 


Even Your Thoughts Are Dust

by The Small Bow 
From the desk of a man afflicted

Ten great big little things. 

Tigers Above, Tigers Below by Pema Chödrön

"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” 

This quote from Ben Franklin

"Whatever begins in anger ends in shame."

The Man Watching by Rainer Maria Wilke

"I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on 
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book, 
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny! 
What fights with us is so great. 
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm, 
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it's with small things, 
and the triumph itself makes us small. 
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us. 
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews 
grew long like metal strings, 
he felt them under his fingers 
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel 
(who often simply declined the fight) 
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand, 
that kneaded him as if to change his shape. 
Winning does not tempt that man. 
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, 
by constantly greater beings."

Out of context quote from James Baldwin 

"Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch."

A random quote from George Bernard Shaw's "Candida"

“We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.”

"Dust" by Lucinda Williams

"It's a sadness so deep the sun seems black
And you don't have to try to keep the tears back
No you don't have to try to keep the tears back
'Cause you couldn't cry if you wanted to
You couldn't cry if you wanted to
Couldn't cry if you wanted to
You couldn't cry if you wanted to

Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust

So you stare at the ceiling
And wish the world would mend
Try to recall some better feeling
To no good end
Try to recall some better feeling
To no good end

Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust
Even your thoughts are dust"

Overused William Blake proverb from hell

"The cut worm forgives the plow."

Boomers by George Bilgere

"Look, here’s a photograph, black and white,
of my parents at their favorite restaurant,
Ruggeri’s, on the Hill in St. Louis, and it’s
1956. My mother in a cocktail dress and pearls,
my father in his jacket and tie, what choice
did he or any man have in those days,
and on the table is, of course, an ashtray and drinks
and the remnants of maybe spaghetti pomodoro
and garlic bread and some of that good rigatoni.
And you’re thinking, okay, what’s the point? Because
you happen to have more or less exactly the same photo
of your mother and father out on the town one night,
only it was 1957 and the place was called Maury’s
in New York City and your mother was a blonde,
not a brunette, but the image has exactly the same, Hey,
we’re still here in the late fifties, enjoying our Manhattans
and dinner at our favorite place, we’re still young, not to mention
alive, we like Ike, the Yanks are in first place,
and no one’s even mentioned divorce yet 
kind of look
so popular in those days.

And my point here is, everyone has this photo tucked away
in a box in a bureau somewhere, and now and then
you need to take it out and look at it
earnestly and reflectively, because he’s coming
across the room right now, the photographer
with his big funny-looking old camera with the flash bulb,
and your wife is already smiling and hiding her cigarette,
you look up from your steak, it’s your turn
to be in the bureau."

Something Latin I enjoyed but I forget where it's from

"A sense of self-importance so high that it surpasses all limits is a mental illness called mania grandiosa.

This Email from an anonymous reader

"Your thing about rereading the Esquire article and being unaffected by it reminded me of this thing I heard years ago, about a spiritual master in this town in South America. He advised his students to get insulted at least once every day. Apparently, he had an enemy in the town where he lived. This man hated the master and never missed an opportunity to gossip and spread reputation-destroying lies about him. The master knew of this man and what he was saying. And he was shaken by it. So once a week he would go to this man’s house and he would knock on the door, the man would open the door, see the master standing there and he would scream at him, call him names, say what a horrible fraud of a teacher and person he was. On and on. The master would stand there for as long as the man had the energy to scream at him. And the master always said nothing. He didn’t defend himself or object. He remained completely silent. One day, after years of doing this, it came time for him to go to the man’s house and he didn’t go. His students noticed and said, “Master, it’s 4:00, aren’t you supposed to be at so-and-so’s house getting yelled at?” And the master said, “No, I don’t need to go anymore.” They said, “Why not?” And he said “I went last week and as he screamed at me… I felt nothing.” So there you go. "

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Illustrations by Edith Zimmerman

Would you like to contribute to next month's Inverse Pitching? Here's the prompt. 

This is for the first week in January: What's something you're completely embarrassed about that sobriety makes a million times worse to face? Maybe it's bad credit? Your height? A scar on your body? 
Go deep, but keep it under 50 words, please.

Example: I owe a bunch of money to payday loan companies.

We'll pay you $5 per published submission. 

Send them in here:

This week's humble call to action: Don't call anyone a piece of trash today.
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