Connections, Tendrils ...
The Rowley Winery
In the 1850s, the Rowley family established a winery on the bluff above a bridge and trail that is named in their honor on the south side of our village, Hastings-on-Hudson. Their product, made from the sugar-laden Isabella grape, was glowingly described in an 1869 newspaper article:
“Pure wine, such as the Rowley Brothers make, never did its drinkers any harm; it is only the adulterated stuff that passes for wine that injures one.”
Eventually the winery failed. (The alcoholic in me wants to ask: Was this because it never did its drinkers any "harm"?) Houses with stunning views of the Hudson River were built on the Rowley family's thirty-three acres. Today, wild summer grapes grow on the sides of the Rowley Bridge Trail. In late summer, they cling to trees and bushes, forming a verdant canopy. Spirally tendrils shoot from the stems, grabbing whatever is near, but sometimes they dangle in space.
I looked at these grapes one day while sitting on top of a boulder nicknamed "Forbes' Folly" and saw connections, tendrils, spirals, specters, and voids.
I was telling a friend of mine about the travails of a group of kids who grew up in Hastings in the late 1980s and had used drugs. Some were dead. Some were still wasted. Others had never grown emotionally past the years they had started using. Her own son was a few years younger than they, and she had heard some of the names before.
“Something's broken with those kids,” she said. “Something's really broken.”
The idea that something is broken spoke to me powerfully about what this website, this journey of ours, is about. Above all, it's about people making or breaking or missing connections, and the ways we are linked, often obliviously, to one another. We all want to embrace people, ideas or feelings that are larger and stronger and better than we are ourselves and, at the same time seem somehow rooted within our psyche, or our souls, or whatever we personally call the essence of our selves.
When we feel connected — whether it's because we are in love, or have read something that brilliantly rearranges how we perceive our perceptions — we seem to shimmer from the inside out.
It seems sacred and mysterious.
It is rapture.
It is getting high.
Some of our connections are tragic. An addict's connection is the source of both her ecstasy and her pain.
Vines grow tendrils to pull themselves up to the sunlight. Tendrils grow unruly in imperfect spirals. They latch on to anything that seems stronger - a tree trunk or piece of rusted metal - and wrap themselves around in a tender stranglehold, like a child clutching her daddy's neck while riding piggyback. Sometimes they grab onto their own branches. Many tendrils go nowhere. Groping, scrawny, out of place, and useless, they can become fascinating if you stare at them long enough. Or are stoned.
Most of us extend tendrils to other people. Sometimes we connect; sometimes we dangle. Our motives are good and bad and mixed. So, too, are the people to whom we reach out. We may want to help someone, or we may be manipulating them. They may be manipulating us with no truly nefarious motive.
“This round's on the house, pally.”
Wow, I'd say to myself, this bartender really likes me. And before I'd know it, I was blotto.
“Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says.
The spiral is a convenient cliché for a situation that has gotten out of control. Like the needle point of a tornado, an addict sucks up everything into her willy-nilly vortex, spins it around, chews it up, and deposits it miles from where it ought to have been.
Spirals are dizzying. They make our stomach flip-flop. We're lost in space, like Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tossing through the void, sucker punched, our severed tendril trailing behind.
Spirals are primordially powerful. DNA takes their form; so do galaxies. As unpredictable as the spinning seems, I think there must be an underlying mathematical logic, a Fibonacci sequence leading to an inevitable, violent implosion, like the universe someday contracting on itself.
A top-down look at a spiral is also helpful in looking at the forces that play on the addict. I think of each of these factors forms the funnel that is the spiral that is addiction.
A specter can be within or without. It is your craving for the first drink of the day, one more fix, another snort. It is your father, silently drunk and malevolent. It is the guilt of sex with someone who is not your spouse.
Specters are energies that act upon us that we can't see, or that we look away from because we because we do not want to deal with the consequences of acknowledging them. If we talk about specters that other people can't see, they say we are crazy. But specters are as real as love or fear or guilt, none of which are real unless you experience them. You may deny that they are there, but they are real if they affect you.
Voids are hollow and unconnected. A fix feels like it's filling a void. A hair of the dog feels like it's filling a void. But the void hisses with leaks.
We seek conviviality when we use, but in the end there is nobody there but the drug.
Drugs are slatterns. They seduce indiscriminately, and don't give a shit about anybody in particular.
The biggest fear of someone contemplating sobriety?
“How will I spend my time? Who will I hang out with?”
We fear the void. We fear dangling tendrils and haunting specters. We fear, most of all, spiraling willy-nilly through the universe.