Hey gang — here’s the full transcript for the latest ep of B&tS. It’s another true (ie: embarrassing) story about the power of Beauty, and how each of us seeks out ‘medicine’ for our hearts and minds wherever we can find it. Hope you enjoy the show – BB
I get the question all the time.
How…can you live like this?
No house. No car. Unmarried. Freelance work. Just enough stuff to fit in a backpack or an oversized suitcase (if I’m headed somewhere chilly). Enough savings and credit to reach the next haven. Find a roof and a bed. Eat a decent meal.
A pal from France laid it out for me one night over cheap pizza and warm beers on the patio of my off-season bungalow, somewhere in the Andaman sea. ‘Ahhh Brooke…you are smart, have some talent, funny, okay looking, sexy to some…but who can take you serious, non? 50, she is not so far away, but you have nothing! The woman who goes with you, she’ll be looking for fun…but nothing more. Is not, how you say, ‘stable’. Same with the business — they will think you are always like this. Impossible to keep…to hold onto. I could not do this…parce que, maybe, I am afraid…but uhh…I think…I could not DO it. It would HURT too much.
And there it is. Right there. The answer…glaring at the end of his well-meaning yet stinging observation. My life, and the path it has taken. But it’s also in a pattern of mine that others who know me have long questioned. The rare indulgences ‑ tailored shirts and designer shoes. A luxury suite on the cliff, or a gourmet meal by the sea…alone. A gadget here, a business-class flight there, or a totally random blowout with double-jointed strippers and double-aged scotch. Goat’s milk gelato and stem cell wrinkle cream and organic himilayan bath salts. Bottles of Fiji water.
My folks knew something was up from early on, when we’d go for birthday or back-to-school shopping. After surveying the options with my pre-teen serious face, and with an eerie accuracy years before I could grasp the psychic weight of ‘the Price Tag’, I would pick the most expensive thing in the store. Every time, my Mom would shake her head and rub the spot where her discount glasses met a nose obsessed with sniffing out a deal: ‘Champagne taste on a beer budget. A recipe for misery.’
I used to think she was right. That maybe the planets really did align in this lifetime, making Libra my rising sign and cursing me to crave the finer things in life. Truth is…I’ve always been poor. Or danced on the poverty line. I was raised scavenging bottles out of ditches on east coast highways. Tasked with pulling apart two-ply toilet paper, re-rolling it into two rolls, and obeying a strict 5-square limit. Forced into bargain-bin girls jeans because the designer ones that would fit my stupid hips were NOT an option. And it wasn’t just ‘kid poor’. I’ve eaten out of fast food garbage bins, and lived on 7/11 nacho condiments. Been on welfare, and also homeless for weeks straight. And more than once I absolutely considered scams, robbery, and prostitution.
Yet I can honestly look back on those times with a sense of humour. Because it was never about the money for me. Ever. When I finally got some, it didn’t fix anything. It didn’t make me any happier. It didn’t make the pain stop. Which ties back to what our Frenchie friend said at the beginning. He couldn’t live my life, because he was afraid that all the uncertainty, the chaos, the loneliness, the lack of control…would HURT too much.
Now, this is NOT gonna be some ‘poor-me’ diatribe, though I’ve certainly been guilty of those before. I’m an Olympic-level complainer and a grumpy old man in training. But before I start yelling at those damn kids to pull their pants up and get the Hell off my lawn? Well, I’ll let you in on the secret of how and why I live like this. It’s simple, really. And maybe some of you can relate. I do it…for the hit. For a dose of the stuff that helps me muscle through. That keeps me getting up in the morning, going to sleep at night, and moving one day closer to the end my ‘shift’…
I do it…because living HURTS.
I’m not just talking chronic pain, though that’s definitely a factor — I’ve had pretty bad digestive shit (ha ha) for as long as I can remember, with the scariest moment being me greased up on the bathroom floor of some fleabag Quebec motel at the age of 7, during our move to Ontario, with my parents pulling white clumps of feces out of me as the French-Canadian doctor, back when they did house calls…or, in this case, Motor Inn calls…diagnosed a faulty liver. I’ve had psoriasis so bad that when I woke up I could feel myself peel off the sheets, leaving swaths and skin and bloody imprints behind that’d make the Shroud of Turin blush. I’ve had joints so swollen and inflamed that I’d choose to piss my bed instead of crawling 20 feet to the fuckin’ bathroom.
But that stuff’s just physical. You learn to live with it when it’s a regular gig. Stuff it in the sock-drawer and try to forget where you put it. Let it drone on and on in the back of your head like refridgerator, buzzing so much you eventually can’t sleep without it. And maybe that would’ve worked…maybe I could’ve handled the flesh and blood stuff…if it weren’t for the rest of it.
For all the other ways life stings.
I’m not sure on the first time I wanted to kill myself. think it was early teens. I think it came after a typical teasing and beating at school. I saw this fucked up joy in their faces as they did it, and others laughed and cheered. Saw the teachers roll their eyes as I screamed and cried, and dripped blood and snot on the vice principal’s desk. Saw the volcano of frustration bubble in my mom’s eyes that this was happening again, and that therapy had been a waste of time and money, and that I must be bringing this all on myself, and that if I knew what was good for me I would NOT come home with one more problem. NOT before I ‘left the nest’.
So, it reached a point where I was red-lining stress and angst, and wanted it all to stop. Permanently. ‘Cause I was just a kid…and this was every day. It was just too much. But there was still a part of me that stood firm — that believed that punching my ticket was NOT the way to go. Because it was ‘selfish’. Because it would hurt too many people. Because I’d be punished for it. Because maybe, just maybe, god was cruel and in the end I’d be forced to come back and do it all over again and again and again until I made it through once without bailing or whining about it.
And, you see, this is the point where most people — from their perspective at least, and that’s all we have at the end of the day — where someone is feeling so absolutely scared and alone and trapped on all sides…with the only available roads out leading straight to Suffering City, population MORE…it’s here that the quest for numbing begins. Where killing the pain becomes paramount.
For me, it started with TV. I talked about this before. I’d get up at 6AM and watch baby cartoons until I had to walk to school. The rest of the day felt like I was holding my breath until I could run home, crash in the basement, and watch more — cartoons and sitcoms and network trash until bedtime. Each show was its own kind of escape, and every re-run was like connecting with an old friend. But the appeal was destined to wear off after a while — you can only watch two seasons of Battle of the Planets so many times if they’re airing daily, it’s math.
So, as big-kid troubles started rolling in like storms off the lake? I knew I needed something harder. Stronger. More active. And that’s when I started hanging out at arcades, back when arcades were a thing and kids, dealers, and pedophile were the fixtures in them. I played games. Pinball and Pac-Man. Foosball and Joust. Gyruss and Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and Cliffhanger and Tron. I burned through my allowance and dug in the couch cushions and rolled up pennies and stole from my mom’s purse to get that fix. And it was threatening to get out of hand. My parents were a lot of things, but they weren’t stupid — so they buckled and bought me a videogame system — an Intellivision!!! — to my troubled junkie ass at home and under tight surveillance.
And that’s how it all began. Not just the origin story for my TV and gaming jones, but the use of ‘gateway’ painkillers. Which, by definition of ‘gateway’, means they’re gonna lead to the hard stuff. Booze. And girls. And weed. And girls. And lifting weights. And girls. And working overtime. And girls. And STIMULANTS AND NAKED GIRLS…Pinch my nipples and call me Suzy! When I got to university and found out that not only was hardcore porn ubiquitous, but I could use my meal card for coffee and smokes and chocolate?!?
HALLELUJAH!!! For I have seen the light! Through the Holy Trinity of caffeine, nicotine, and SUGAR in its many blessed forms…I shall banish the suffering for this broken little man! His mind shall become LIGHTNING! We’re gonna overclock this shit til he’s FASTER than the pain! Til he’s the motherfucking ROADRUNNER leaving that bad ol’ coyote in a bird-shaped cloud o’ dust! BEEP-BEEP, CAN I GET AN AMEN?!?!
It didn’t last. The body gets used to it. Adjusts. It tempers the rush. And then comes the CRASH. And with it, all the buried shit…all the hungry ghosts you left behind…and they start catching up with you. Like the ones in Super Mario – the Big Boos – chasing you, faster and faster, whenever you’re not looking. But it didn’t make any sense for me to just turn around and look at them…stop them dead in their tracks (even more dead, ‘cause they’re ghosts). Because I didn’t want to face them…to FEEL them…to accept that they were REAL…because every time I tried, the hopelessness struck me down. Another wave of capital-D Depression…followed by a deeper wish for destruction. My own. And I have fondled too many pill bottles. Flicked my bic around cans of gasoline. Started fights at 3AM in the wrong neighhourhood, and slept with scary women with scary boyfriends and even scarier medical histories.
So how am I still here? And here not as some drooling smackhead sucking cock for needle-fulls of temporary bliss? I am NO better than anyone else on that front. If the pain in my head or heart or guts was just a bit more, just a smidgen? I could’ve ended up right there…on my knees in the dirt. When the culturally accepted hits of speed faded, and the shots of Jager stabbed my organs, and a lifetime of porn killed my dick because normal and sweet would never be good enough again…?
What kept me going?
It’s wasn’t money or work. Somehow I knew, before any studies confirmed it, that chasing that shit is a one-way ticket to deathbed regret. Status and prestige? I’ve had it, my friends, and let me tell you — it’s as fickle and fleeting as a bleached asshole at a backdoor gangbang. I am not special…and the more I tried to prove otherwise, the more it hurt when the truth made camp in my living room, like a Bulgarian mother-in-law, cursing my name and waving a paring knife at my junk.
Let me be clear — this is NOT gonna turn into some bullshit ‘And then, one day, in a hilltop monastery, I found mindfulness and positivity, and realized that pain was my teacher, and I was filled with the most profound sense of Gratitude, and the desire to ease the suffering of others because, in the end, we are all ONE.’
Sorry kids…I’m not there yet. Maybe next time ‘round.
But somehow…I found my drug. Felt its pull on me…like magnets and gravity. It was strong. And no, I don’t mean some fancy serotonin re-uptake inhibitor or first-gen anti-depressant with a shwack of self-harm lawsuits. No…this shit’s available over the counter. Legal morphine. Generic-brand Tylenol 3s. And it turns out I’d been taking ‘it most of my days without even realizing it.
Not until the summer of ‘08…in Paris, France…visiting the Louvre.
I was finally taking a vacation after a brutal stretch of politicking, and smile-faking, and asshole-enduring down in LA, when I produced and directed a pair of animated shorts for a comic book movie sequel. It was its own unique circle of Hell…boy. (wink-wink).
And coping with the ugliness of it, the dearth of authenticity, the Hollywood vacuum…well…it took a lot of rich food and premium tequila and good coke and pristine poonani to bear it all. And that took its toll. It fucked me up. And I could feel it happening…like that moment a rollercoaster reaches the top, clicking and clacking into the first big drop…and the world stops. It becomes pregnant with anticipation…and dread. Because you know the real shit is coming.
That’s exactly how I felt after the gig was done…when I met up with an overseas overseas girlfriend, and we crashed in a moldy London hostel. When I turned down sex that night, and heard her crying next to me as I prayed for sleep. When we rode the train through the Chunnel, got picked up by a haggard Frenchman, and taken to a cramped flat near the river. When we had our first overpriced yogurt and croissants and cwine. When we listened to the pipe organ in Notre Dame. When she blew me in a back alley as Spain scored to win the Euro cup.
My guts were seizing with 5 days of rock-hard shit, and the skin on my ears and scalp was cracked and bleeding, and my face was an overripe pumpkin. It was so much discomfort, from all the new stimuli and poisons and violent expectations of intimacy being thrust upon me…that all I wanted to do was jump off Eiffel Tower, find a working guillotine, or be a racist with Armenians after dark.
Instead…we went to the Louvre. I was in NO mood, but the girl really wanted to go. It was the one thing she could actually pay for, and I think she knew the end was near. Thank you for playing…and here’s your parting gift. We got there early, sipped cappuccinos like adults do, and began walking. No talk. Just art. Which was fine. The quiet of the space early on. The light in it, the air, and the texture. Antiquities from ancient worlds. Old dreams, frozen in time with paint, and gold, and stone. Rembrandts. Vermeers. Carvaggios.
Then we got to Davinci’s grinning girl, and the place went nuts. They swarmed the painting, fawning crowds desperate for their rockstar. People fighting for the best view of it…the Mona Lisa…for a chance to take a picture…a picture of a painting…a painting a person, long dead, if they ever existed at all. Her smile is mocking you. ALL OF YOU.
Okay…when I get overwhelmed…when things are a frenzy in my head and the world is too bright and loud and hot and messy and…it really starts to hurt…then I can go to some very dark places. Like…when you start imagining headlines of ‘Canadian Bathes in Blood After Museum Massacre’? Then you know it’s time to take a bow and get the fuck out of the room. The soon-to-be-ex saw demons lurking in my eyes, hugged me, and said:
‘I’ll catch up…go find some quiet. Or something Beautiful. Remember where you are.’
So I dashed. A left, then a right, another left…zigzagged down marble halls til there was not a soul in sight. Til my jaw loosened and my fists unclenched and the fire in my head shrank to embers. Til I could breathe, and be human again. And it was after that breath, that I took stock of where I was — by a high stone archway, off to the right, flanking the empty hallway. I listened for voices inside, didn’t hear anything, and took a step into the room…
Rays of sun angled down through high windows on the far wall. The vaulted ceiling seemed faded…and faraway. My footsteps echoed on the polished floor. It was like…walking into a church. A lone worshipper…with the preacher waiting for inside for me, standing silent, haloed in sunlight. I stepped closer, and the silhouette sharpened. The shadows peeled back, like an ebbing tide revealing treasure from the deep…
I knew what this was. The shape. The statue. The piece of art. I knew it as well as the other famous works from the gallery that morning. The ones silkscreened onto my generation by TV and movies and magazines…by T-shirts and postcards…keychains and Monty Python cartoons. But this was different. This was REAL….towering before me on its pedestal. Timeless and limbless and empty-eyed.
And so…unbelievably… BEAUTIFUL.
I gasped…honestly I did…and then fell into what I can only call a trance. I began to vibrate, tremble, and I remember thinking ‘is this right? Is this how I’m supposed to feel?’ But that thought was quickly pushed out, tossed in the Recycle bin to make space for a brand new operating system.
As my eyes fell on its curves and grooves and sublime stone skin, its presence hit me…penetrated me. Yes. This was the Venus De Milo — THE statue of Aphrodite — the Greek Goddess of Love…and BEAUTY. The artistic and mathematic perfection of it was something ripped out of Heaven and somehow delivered here by human hands and eyes and will. I was transfixed as it, as SHE, beamed into me…ALL of her…not just the image…not just the face and breasts and missing arms and falling robe…it was her atomic structure…her position in space-time…her sacred geometry and her creator’s love and madness…and the awe of every living thing that had been lucky enough to gaze upon Her.
She entered me. Fused with me. Re-programmed me. And with the upgrade installed, I suddenly knew. It was clear what I’d been using. The drug I had dosed on subconsciously for 38 years, in order to keep going. Beneath the sugar and sex. The cigarettes and cinema. The stimulants, and new-age platitudes. My prescription for the pain of being Alive….was BEAUTY.
The switch flipped off as fast it came on and I found myself surrounded by a class of bored Japanese kids taking loud selfies. A tremor in my gut sent me running for the toilet, laughing like a loon, and sweat literally pooled around my feet as I purged what felt like years of shit and ache and ugliness. My girlfriend was waiting for me when I came back into the hall, and she looked different. Shiny. Everything did. Everything…looked…Beautiful.
And that’s when I had the first visions of what had to come next. Of how to keep going, and maybe even thrive a little, in the years to come. Not a slave to mortgage or marriage. Not chained to a desk in the cubicle barnyard. No dead-eyed smile, as I bent over for jealous peers and two-faced ‘friends’ and the barbed-wire strap-on of Society.
I would walk in realms that held my heart. Devoted to blue skies and warm waters. To white sand and fragrant flowers. To great mountains and endless deserts…to rolling plains and emerald jungles. To the richness of culture and art and music and architecture and language and good food and honest, simple comforts. To the sweetness and grace of animals…yes, especially CATS, who seem like Angels now —soothing me in childhood, and inspiring me now.
And to PEOPLE. The best parts of people. Inside and out. The unexpected kindness of strangers…wisdom and generosity and compassion…their strength and devotion and sometimes blinding brilliance…their heartfelt smiles and gleaming eyes and ferocious wills…their desires and yearnings….and wet-lipped kisses…and naked worship in the dark.
These things are BEAUTIFUL to ME…all of them, and more. Like I said at the start — it can be a nice shirt. Or shoes. An airport lounge or a 5-star hotel. An old tree…a rainbow…or a graveyard. Beauty is real…Beauty is everywhere…and Beauty…for me…at least in this life…is my Medicine.
I still get the question, though. Every few months. I didn’t tell Frenchie the whole truth that night. Not like this. I just gave him the short version — the one wrapped in pizza and washed down with beer — as the waves rolled in and the crickets chirped and the stars were like diamonds…
How can I LIVE like this?!?
How can I NOT?