• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

For me to write of family strikes me as vaguely pretentious if not outright hypocritical. Possibly we all feel like failures in this area, at least to some degree. Those who do not I tend to dismiss, even distrust. That’s just me: a walking encyclopedia of neuroses to rival the characters Woody Allen would often portray.

I was born into what would become a relatively large family. With parents, it would grow to ten of us. I was second kid, first son, usurping my older sister’s royalty in the eyes of my father. This is something for which she has yet to forgive me, even as we approach or have entered our 60s. It seems absurd; I doubt either of us could identify the origins of our estrangement.

Having lived in close quarters for many years, it is hardly surprising that we, each of us, moved to the far quarters of the country: Maine, California, Chicago, Texas, New York, and Connecticut.

Contact among us is sporadic at best. No real resentments of any significance, just, I think, too many years in too close quarters. Ironically, in 1968 (the year my father died), I joined a rock band and would join many more over the years. Always, it seemed, there was someone at my elbow — in shared houses, cars, or vans, in rehearsals or, of course, performances. A further irony, when communes became popular, I ended up in more than one.

This may go some distance in explaining my value for privacy. This comes in handy in my work as well. I tell myself this.

I recently wrote about my fear of homelessness (I have had the experience) and was taken in by a man I have also written about recently: Christian Cullen. Cullen’s is a sober household of five people, one of whom works full time, six counting me, and six cats. The only real contract involved was my continued sobriety. This went well for some time, but possibly the proximity to those in the house, again a brand of neurotic claustrophobia, sent me drinking. More likely it is just the nature of the disease itself, but I suspect the closeness as well, at least to some degree.

This understandably exasperated my hosts and elicited a promise from me to return to a detox rehab program. No doubt necessary but damned inconvenient, as I will not be permitted to work for a time. What I hope will only be a temporary absence of columns will ensue.

I hope this will serve in some small way for the frustration and embarrassment I undoubtedly caused here. I don’t believe I did anything excessively outrageous (except for the amount of alcohol I consumed), but I am very poor company, to say the least, when I drink to that extent.

My own immediate family: relationships with my grown son and ex-spouse were somewhat successful for several years, and though I didn’t see my son often for many years (until recently), I believe we still maintain a good relationship. The same applies with my ex, but the fact remains that the marriage ended in divorce. I simply no longer wanted to be what I perceived at the time to be Ozzie in Ozzie and Harriet. I was 34 years old and had met a woman at work. My sense of loyalty to family is probably suspect.

I imagine this will appear sometime around Thanksgiving, which usually involved large, mostly Italian family gatherings in my youth. I dreaded these occasions. No amount of turkey or pumpkin pie could ameliorate the sense of discomfort I would experience at the noise, arguments, subliminal disapproval of other family members. At times, hardly subliminal.

Like most people roughly my age, I sometimes wonder who would attend my memorial service and what would be said. If there was little turnout and what was said was along the lines of damning with faint praise, I could hardly blame anyone. I sometimes wonder if I have a retarded or inefficient genetic propensity for family matters. I also have a habit of being a harsh critic of myself (when I’m not being arrogantly egotistical), so maybe I’m a great guy and the ideal sibling, spouse, nephew, etc.

As pathetic as it sounds, I have a real sense of books as a kind of family. I no longer need to be surrounded with thousands of them; a few hundred are fine. And I have never knowingly abused any of them, except for two: I once threw a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged across a room and once a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Farnham’s Freehold, in which, in a postapocalyptic America, a father holds a gun on his son to encourage him to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


David Dodd Nov. 12, 2009 @ 11:40 p.m.

Monaghan, salvation is a continuous process, it isn't a one-time shot. Some people need more than one chance to right their kayak, and there isn't any guarantee that it won't turn over again at some point.


CuddleFish Nov. 11, 2009 @ 11:16 p.m.

You are in my thoughts and prayers, Mr. Brizz.


xians421 Nov. 12, 2009 @ 12:24 a.m.

John, I hope you've found a warm place.


monaghan Nov. 13, 2009 @ 4:20 p.m.

Most of what I've read here is maudlin and would be called "enabling" in addiction recovery circles. What "Mr. Brizz" needs is finally to take responsibility for himself and his actions.


David Dodd Nov. 12, 2009 @ 9:28 p.m.

Some people simply enjoy kicking a man when he's down, Eric. Monaghan seems to be one of those types.


antigeekess Nov. 11, 2009 @ 5:27 p.m.

"I also have a habit of being a harsh critic of myself (when I’m not being arrogantly egotistical)"

Word. Can I ever relate to that one. :)

I've never really 'understood' alcoholism, personally. Food's much more alluring, to me.

I would think being an unrepentant pothead is preferable. They always seem pretty happy. And it goes hand-in-hand with food.

Good luck, Mr. Brizz. Make this the one.


rickeysays Nov. 11, 2009 @ 3:41 p.m.

We all endure a life-long wrestling match with our inner demons. When the demons are strong, you just hope to fight to a draw.


SDaniels Nov. 11, 2009 @ 3:47 p.m.

re: #1: What he said, Mr. Brizz. You will be read.


David Dodd Nov. 11, 2009 @ 1:06 p.m.

It takes a strong man in order to hurl "Atlas Shrugged" across a room. I read it in two days. It was a train wreck I couldn't not look at. Rand's was a philosophy that tied itself into a knot that I couldn't undo.

You come from a large family, tied into a great ethnicity; I come from a small one, tied into nothing, we are ethnic mutts. With just me and my brother, it limited the culpability, it wasn't so easy to get lost, yet it wasn't claustrophobic.

My father is an alcoholic, currently a recovering one. I thought he would die a decade ago, hospitalized and bleeding from the inside. The doctors called us in one evening, my mother, my brother, and myself, to tell us that they would perform a tracheotomy in the morning and normally this was the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, my father lay, restrained (he kept pulling out his I.V.'s otherwise), detoxifying, hallucinating, living in his own version of hell.

He survived. Somehow, this hasn't discouraged my drinking, only perhaps slowed it somewhat. My guess is that I drink now because I can do something that he can't. Maybe there are other reasons.

Just write, John. Bradbury was right. An author lives so long he is read. You write, and we'll read. And heal well, Mr. Brizz. Heal well.


EricBlair Nov. 12, 2009 @ 4:40 p.m.

I second the feelings directed toward you.

You are on a difficult path. I wish you every bit of health and happiness possible.

I know you pretty well, though not so well since alcohol took over your life. The stuff killed my grandfather and uncle, but I always tried to be supportive.

I don't think you have issues of emotional claustrophobia. I think that you have issues with drinking, and a cycle of shame and self justification and despair. In other words, another facet of the human condition.

Robert Frost wrote: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." And that neatly describes the antinomy of family issues. I am fortunate with the family I have now, but it was not always that way. I remember the loneliness very well. We used to talk about those feelings, you and I.

As for what would be said at a memorial for you, hopefully a long, long time for now, would be this: "John was, at his heart, a good and decent man who struggled with demons. Some were of his own making. Some were not. But he always believed in things better and more noble than we could hope of experiencing, and judged himself far more harshly by that criterion than he ever judged another human being. The world is poorer without him. I know I am."

As for "Farnham's Freehold," no, the father didn't pull a gun on his son to force him to say the Pledge of Allegiance. He did so in a fallout shelter, when radiation levels were sky high, and the pampered son wouldn't shut up, and was questioning the father's authority under conditions where everyone's lives were at stake (while the son had done nothing to help with the shelter, and had denigrated and questioned the father at every turn). Did that make it okay? Not at all.

  1. It's fiction.
  2. It was intended to upset readers.
  3. It is hard for any male to read that scene without being angry at the father, but it is also hard for any father to read the sections leading up to that point in the novel without becoming extremely irritated with Duke, who was a cardboard cutout of the Rebellious and Foolish Son.
  4. RAH was a former Navy officer (invalided out because of TB), and military discipline was never far from him.
  5. RAH never had any children.

I think that you projected your own love of independence and natural distrust of authority into that book. No reason to throw it. Just shake your head at the scene. And there were far more disturbing scenes in the book than that!


monaghan Nov. 12, 2009 @ 6:14 p.m.

Is John Brizzolara really a "good and decent man?" What does that mean? Has he ever been a friend to anyone? Doubtful. Was he loyal to his wife? No. Did he take care of his son? No. Has he free-loaded off others' charity and goodness for years? Yes. Has he ever taken responsibility for himself? No. Does his writing ever contribute more than ego-centric drivel to the human conversation? No. Are we sorry he is drinking himself into oblivion and rationalizing every step of the way? Yes. Will the Reader spare us from witnessing this trainwreck? I guess not. It must be God's will.


EricBlair Nov. 12, 2009 @ 9:09 p.m.

You know, monaghan, my late grandfather used to tell me that there was a world of difference between "honesty" and "tactlessness."

I have known John Brizzolara for over twenty years. I can call him a "good and decent" man because I know him. He has stood by me in bad times when I lived in San Diego, and I him.

On the other hand, I could look at your posts and wonder if you are a good and decent person. Perhaps you are. But the way one treats people who are having difficulties and trials (even when they do not improve their own situation) says nearly everything important about a person.

Don't you think?


monaghan Nov. 12, 2009 @ 11:13 p.m.

Brizzolara's "sharing" by writing about himself ad nauseam is an affront to every blessed person who has suffered addiction and then dragged herself/himself into recovery which, by the way, involves making amends to those one has harmed. If such a person is not working at recovery, I once heard a wise man say, he's on a Down escalator.


SDaniels Nov. 12, 2009 @ 11:50 p.m.

re: #8: Christian, I assume by your post that Mr. Brizz might be out on the street. Will you keep us posted on him, and let him know that we can arrange for him to stay at our condo's guest suite for a few days? I'll email you.

re: #10 and 13: monaghan, I've seen enough of your posts to form the picture of a bitter and judgemental type who likes to argue for argument's sake, and cannot seem to learn anything from others. Case in point would be your back-and-forth a few months ago with paul, who frankly kicked your butt every which way to Sunday on a debate over the legalization of marijuana. Instead of bowing out gracefully when you were beaten, you continued to throw out ad hominem attacks rather than meet his thoughtful, carefully laid out arguments with the same, or at the least, thanks for putting much more into his posts than you did your own.

Now you are attacking John Brizzolara for no reason, and it is a bit hard to discern your purpose. Is it jealousy over his writing, and the fact that he has good friends and a loyal readership? Lost a battle yourself with addiction--or perhaps feel you won a battle, and have the right to be smug about it?

Or just more of your typical, aimless moral outrage? Not sure, though you excel at the latter. You and Herr Doktor Burwell should start a misanthropist's support group. Oh, and have a "blessed" day, monaghan ;)


kmsound Nov. 13, 2009 @ 1:53 a.m.

John, we are all a product of our families, education, the decades we grew up in, the people and life we have known. In your writing you have found your life's work, a testament to who you are and your immortality. We all pay a price for our art. It would have been interesting, had you continued in music, to have heard the poignant verses you would have written. I am sorry for many things, one that I didn't get to know you better in the short time we played together and, among too many other things, not having the command of the written word, that you are blessed with. It's hard for me to express how much I knowledge I have gained about you, the person I didn't know, and tell you how much I enjoy reading your views and comments on life, after discovering TGF. I am living in Thailand and have not had much luck here finding your books, but next trip to the States I will try to locate them. Good luck with the rehab,I will miss your TGF while you clean up,I look forward to reading them each wk. Just remember you have people out here,that you never even considered friends or family, that are part of your life through you work. Ken Minahan
[email protected]


monaghan Nov. 13, 2009 @ 2:01 p.m.

Refried #14 -- You are a generous soul who apparently has had your own tribulations. I appreciate the truth of your remark here. But I hope you don't use alcohol as your dad did or the way Brizzolara does. It is unforgivably cruel to the loved ones.


SDaniels Nov. 13, 2009 @ 3:58 p.m.

re: #17: That's a bit more human in tone, and I'm sure many of us can appreciate how hard it is to live with loved ones who are alcoholics, or to have grown up around them. But Mr. Brizz is not responsible for the pain you've been caused, so why try to add to his, just when he clearly needs the support of friends and readers, to whom he has indeed given great gifts of starkly honest humanity? We all give when and where and how we can--and Mr. Brizz's way of giving back to the community has been more than generous; you'll find that regular readers, especially those of us who do write some, can attest to being enriched by his sharing some of the deepest of his despair, his sometime gallows humor, and his seeming endless supply of those little sparks of hope of '...can't go on, I'll go on.'

I hope you can see this, monaghan, and not judge so harshly--and I hope for peace for you and yours. SD


NotQuiteADiva Nov. 13, 2009 @ 4:30 p.m.

SD, I must say, I love you the more I read your posts. You have a depth clearly beyond any of the usual suspects here. Even in regards to poor monaghan and loony goatfish you somehow find, and more importantly acknowledge, the good in them – scant as that may be…

More to the point of this topic, addiction is a disease, no more, no less, yet it still amazes me that people tack on a moral judgment to it. I can only think this resides with the victims of this disease, those who have suffered the terrible consequences of it all (monaghan I think resides in this group). I myself am intimately familiar with this particular affliction, thus I must reaffirm that relapse is only a symptom and not a moral failure as some might like to attest – would you blame an epileptic for having a seizure as a moral failure?

Anyway, I think I have proclaimed my appreciation for Mr. Brizz and his particular brand of sublime achy musings on many occasions, so I will leave it at that.

Take care.


SDaniels Nov. 13, 2009 @ 4:43 p.m.

Thanks, NotQuiteADiva, and can I just say it's nice to see you back? ;)

"relapse is only a symptom and not a moral failure as some might like to attest – would you blame an epileptic for having a seizure as a moral failure?"

I think monaghan might retort that drinking (and subsequent pain caused to others by the drinker) was at least at one time a choice, whereas epilepsy--safe to say--not chosen by anyone. However, your points still stand, NQAD; whether or not it was once an easy choice to make it alkie or non-, choice becomes a difficult matter, and increasingly disappears--in some cases--altogether.

We can talk about the predictable features of the "disease," but if we blame one drinker, like some kind of morality play's "Everyman" for all the failures of drinkers in general, we are forgetting some basics of humanity, and that people are complex individuals with their OWN failures and their OWN achievements.

I say therefore to monaghan, call it maudlin (yes, the word crossed my mind as I wrote my last post), but the sentiment is genuine, as is the hope--if you can find some left in your heart to offer.


monaghan Nov. 13, 2009 @ 8:03 p.m.

Off-point sidewalk psychiatric superintending about monaghan has nothing to do with this subject. My stating facts is neither "blame" not has it anything to do with assessing "moral failure." Indeed, they say relapse is often part of recovery -- a terrifying conundrum -- unless, of course, it's just part of continuing self-delusion and a slow death spiral. Somebody offers Brizzolara a "stay at our condo's guest suite?" Such facile kindness, so unhelpful, so misguided. That's it: I'm done.


SDaniels Nov. 13, 2009 @ 8:16 p.m.

"Somebody offers Brizzolara a "stay at our condo's guest suite?" Such facile kindness, so unhelpful, so misguided. That's it: I'm done."

I'm glad you are done, monaghan (a familiar phrase) because you have no grace, and no heart. Best you stay out of it, then.


NotQuiteADiva Nov. 13, 2009 @ 9:40 p.m.

Thanks, SD

I was going to post something really angry and horrible, but you made me realize how pointless such a thing would be… I get the sense that monaghan is coming form a very vulnerable place. And thus it’s best not to corner an injured freak! (I think Gandhi said that). ;)



SDaniels Nov. 13, 2009 @ 10:05 p.m.

Yeah, I think the name of the game is preserving as much dignity here for all parties (not sure if Ghandi said that, too, but he may well have). Have an excellent Friday night, dear :)


EricBlair Nov. 14, 2009 @ 11:07 a.m.

You know, as I read the posts here, I see different kinds of people. Mostly, they are people who enjoy John's writing (as I do). Some of us know John personally.

But when someone repeatedly shows mean-spiritedness about someone else's problems, why, that says a great deal about them. I could understand sneering and moving on. What I find curious is the necessity to repeatedly defend mean-spiritedness.

There is a great deal going on there more than disapproval of John's writing or choices in life.

The other comments were quite moving. "Maudlin" is one of those descriptors that is infinitely elastic. What I read were posts by people trying to help. Perhaps they can, perhaps they cannot. But the offer matters.

Sneering bile helps no one. Least of all the person with sneering case of the biles.


aquarimary Nov. 15, 2009 @ 6:33 p.m.

Wow, EricBlair where were you during the whole "retard" debacale? I don't see you criticizing refriedgringo for all the sneering bile coming from his posts. Funny how you take pity on one you must be personally involved with.All you reader bloggers should just do conference calls, and spare the rest of us.It's kinda like an inside joke.


SDaniels Nov. 15, 2009 @ 7:16 p.m.

Let me be succinct, for a change, aquimary: Kindly F OFF.


magicsfive Nov. 15, 2009 @ 7:26 p.m.

SD, are you armed with your troll spray? i hope so!! good answer btw, and very nice of you to offer to help mr. brizzolara. NQAD it is nice to see you back!


SDaniels Nov. 15, 2009 @ 7:45 p.m.

I have it, magics. AG donated a whole can ;) Just can't understand why people need to swoop in like vultures when they smell blood and a man down--what is that about?! Never mind, don't answer.


magicsfive Nov. 15, 2009 @ 7:49 p.m.

LOL i wasn't going to. i know you have it under control ;)


mjd419 Nov. 15, 2009 @ 8:16 p.m.

John - get the help you need. It is only found in One...THE ONE...Jesus Christ. You know what I am talking about. He is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). God loves you. You know what I am talking about. He has recently shown it to you in a tangible way. Not an accident or a coincidence. Make a choice and have victory. Your addiction can be beaten. The decision is yours. The work is God's. He will help you. And I am praying for you.


Fred Williams Nov. 15, 2009 @ 8:43 p.m.

Re: #9, Heinlein's son is a professor of political science.

Re: #32 Your invisible friend, the one who allegedly turned water into wine, and his maniac "Father", are highly unlikely to even exist...it's an interesting theory, that we're all just the experiment of a psychopathic deity who created us with original sin and then "saves" us from alcohol and drugs while personally intervening on the side of the football team that prays the hardest...but this strange theory is highly speculative to say the least.

Better to go with a theory that has some evidence behind it. Alcohol addiction involves genetic and social factors. By looking at evolutionary biology and psychology, we can identify some of these factors. Some can be mitigated against.

John needs to focus on those factors he can mitigate. He knows what they are. He knows how to do it.

Adding an invisible angry sky daddy and his mythical suicidal son does nothing more to advance the cause of sobriety than sugar pills or any other placebo. And placebos are less likely to work on smart people than dunces.

Since John is smart, he doesn't need your placebo Jesus to help him...and he especially doesn't need spiritual advice from someone who cannot even quote his own scripture accurately.


antigeekess Nov. 15, 2009 @ 10:45 p.m.

Fred sed: "He knows how to do it."

"To know and not to do is really to not yet know." -- Chinese proverb

God in the sky or God in the bottle. What's the difference? Alcoholics and drug addicts frequently become religious addicts next, not realizing that they're just bouncing from one mood-altering addiction to another. At least the religious addicts seem somewhat happier (even if more annoying).


Josh Board Nov. 16, 2009 @ 1:20 a.m.

John is such a great writer, and I hope he gets his demons in check. But all this back and forth he's gone thru...well, it's said perfectly by Stew; one of the most interesting songwriters of all time. Here's his song REHAB:

When she got out of re-hab, for the very first time She was very very very optimistic. First she bought a set of paints,then she started painting saints 'cause in Echo Park that passes for artistic. Then one day her art dealer came by with a sin,next thing we knew she was on the rope again. When she got out of re-hab, for the very first time she was very very very very very very very very very very very optimistic

When she got out of re-hab, for the very second time It was clear that she was painfully embarrassed. She was brimming with clichés, spoke of how she counted days playing checkers with a roadie from Save Ferris. Then she hit Los Feliz with some homemade earrings to sell but the hip gift shop assistant led her back to Hell. When she got out of re-hab for the very second time, she was very very very very very very very very very optimistic.

When she got out of re-hab for the third or fourth time I suspected well, a kind of pattern forming. So I plotted carefully,how i'd bow out gracefully 'Cause i've seen this flick before and it gets boring. Next she's in a band called Star of David Brinkleys, they were ropers one and all but they loved them at the Weekly. When she got out of rehab for the third or fourth time she was very very very very very very very very very optimistic.

When she got out of re-hab for the twenty-second time her new take on life was very deep and empty. She traded mainline for online, then she took up web design. Now she's paid in full and blows the horn of plenty. Once she said "hey listen baby I ain't gonna lie there just ain't nothing I like more than getting high". And funny how the maniacs who took the time to sob seem to not mind a junkie with a well paying job. When she got out of re-hab for the twenty-second time she was very very very very very very very very very optimistic.


xians421 Nov. 16, 2009 @ 2:36 p.m.


John believes in Jesus, and from what I personally saw this morning, Jesus hasn't done John one bit of good. He was a lot closer to the tile floor than he was to Jesus.


EricBlair Nov. 16, 2009 @ 6:37 p.m.

Um. For what it is worth, Heinlein died childless. Not that it matters.

Why not just JB well and move on? That isn't so difficult, is it?


Fred Williams Nov. 16, 2009 @ 8:43 p.m.

Re: #38

Eric (or should we call you "George"?) I admit that after searching for ten minutes online I didn't find evidence for my claim.

However I remember very clearly reading that Heinlein did have a son who later became a professor of political science. It stuck in my head because I loved Heinlein's books when I was younger and also studied political science.

But since I can't come up with proof, I'll provisionally concede.

...and agree it doesn't really matter. Ten minutes searching was enough.

Finally, Eric, I don't understand your second sentence. You're using "JB" as a verb? Huh? I don't get it at all. How does one "just JB well"?


David Dodd Nov. 16, 2009 @ 9:11 p.m.

Fred, I surmised that Eric meant to say "wish" after "just" and before "JB" and accidentally ommitted it. It makes sense.

And Heinlein never had any children. He married thrice, and none of his wives ever had a child, by him or anyone else.


EricBlair Nov. 18, 2009 @ 1:02 a.m.

Nicely said, RFG. Indeed I skipped a word. Sorry about that.

As for RAH, the new biography (approved by Ginny Heinlein, RIP) will be coming out this year. At last.

I was fortunate enough to correspond with Ginny Heinlein before she passed away. I loved how gently reminded me that RAH was very special to her, but a regular person. And VERY gently prepared me for some of the more unusual parts of his early life that were not apparent from his YA novels. Funny lady, and pretty nice to this particular fanboy correspondent.


rickeysays Nov. 18, 2009 @ 4:48 a.m.

One of my most prized possessions when I was younger was a form letter Heinlein sent to me in response to a fan letter I sent him. It was in the form of multiple choice, where he could check the responses he wanted to give me. It was 100% Heinlein. It kills me that I lost it somewhere along the way.


charts Dec. 5, 2009 @ 7:13 p.m.

Ah, you never aspired to be Ozzie and Harriet. Your great fear as you dropped your first acid in your teens was that you would end up a Republican. You would lay with your head inches from the tracks as a long freight shook the ground you lay on and ponder the Bohemian life. Well you lived it and lived it well. Be thankful that you have the talent in art, writing, personality and charm to live life on the edge. Most people look back and see little of experience. You look back and see tales upon tales. Pura Vida i Vaja Con Dios mi amigo.

Thoughts from a bottle of saki.


SDaniels Dec. 7, 2009 @ 9:59 p.m.

Picked up Dickinson to quote something to someone else, and it opened here:

While we were fearing it, it came-- But came with less of fear Because that fearing it so long Had almost made it fair--

There is a Fitting--a Dismay-- A Fitting--a Despair-- 'Tis harder knowing it is Due Than knowing it is Here.

The Trying on the Utmost The Morning it is new Is Terribler than wearing it A whole existence through.

Hope you are warm and dry this wet and windy night (Wild Nights! ;), John. We'll be thinking of you, and would love to hear how you are doing.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!