Clay, Unmodeled

I never liked Play Doh.  I take no issue with the texture or the malleability of it. I don’t bristle at their assortment of accoutrements and fun-looking gadgets attached to the brand.  I have nothing against the product or the delightful, primary-esque colours.  Actually, I need to retract that last bit.  It’s precisely because of the colours that I dislike Play Doh.  Or at least, it’s part of the problem.

When I was a child, I can recall unearthing the dough from the canisters and just watching the dough rest on the table.  I’d look at it one way and poke it a bit, but sort of let it be, as if I was expecting it to morph into something on it’s own.  The kids around me were mashing and stretching and squashing the dough, smelling it, rubbing it on their faces, and having fun with it.  I watched as they slapped and stamped the dough together and started to create all sorts of kaleidoscopic art, stunning in their brightness and fluidity as they were in the roughshod, violent and chaotic birth of the pieces.  It was like a-rainbow-threw-up-on-a-deformed-ashtray kind of impressive.  And mine stood alone still, barely touched.  The problem was two fold:

1) I had no clue what to make.  I wasn’t a visual kid.  My stick figures now are just as atrocious as they were then.  I didn’t have that kind of vision, where I saw a lump of purple goo and thought “Ah – duck billed platypus!” I didn’t relate to things in three dimensions.  I had a hard time envisioning or creating something out of something that was already something, ya dig?  I didn’t see a crown or a crescent moon or a leaf.  I saw blob.  It was already a blob, so why change it?  I was ready for recess, lunch or detention.  I am still much the same today, in many ways (which is why I am a sucker for makeover shows – people, houses, etc. I just don’t know how people can “see” something that isn’t there.  Mindboggling.)

2) More importantly, I didn’t want to mix the colours.  It was very crucial that red stayed with red, blue with blue and definitely yellow with yellow (yellow was the easiest to contaminate with bits and shards of other shades and hues).  I abhorred the mauve mess that ensued after a rather brisk but brutal session with the ol’ PD.  It felt disrespectful or something.  I felt that the dough no longer served a purpose – it was defiled and no longer useful.  It’s one life was lived and it was time to retire it to the rubbish bin. I am the same today with my kids.  When they are playing, I am hovering, making sure that any bits squashed together into a homogenous mound are to be either salvaged, or the whole thing is tossed away when they aren’t looking.  (“Gee, I don’t know why we have such little dough left, guys – maybe we should do something else for play – like who wants to do the folding laundry game? Anyone?”)

And that’s sort of how I have been feeling as of late.  This sort of amorphous blob, not quite one thing, not quite the other.  A splintered splotch, unmodeled clay, a big splat of so what.  Undefined and undirected.  Spiritually splayed and trussed up like an ancient Chinese woman’s foot.  Or a turducken. Even sitting here writing this has been almost a chore, when this is something I normally spool out for God and Country.  It’s like lying back and thinking of the Queen while a ruffian does his funny business down below.  But that’s sort of the very thing I speak of – a slow mashup of random and unusually suspect bits of dough that are sticking and melding and just making this a big ball of bleh.  Not fit for human consumption.

And part of this whole recovery thing is trying to look at things differently.  Often it’s not difficult.  Some days it’s harder.  Some days my old ways like to visit, drop by, not wipe their feet, eat all my chili.  Couchsurf when I don’t even own a chesterfield.  So when I try to peel away the faded moss green, the pale azure, the crusted crimson, I find it near impossible, especially when it’s been morphed into something else.  When it’s very DNA has been transformed and blended with something else.  And in my life, often one thing bleeds into another and examining one thing often leads to something else, which brings me down the rabbit hole a little bit deeper.

And maybe that’s the point.

There is a wonderful expression I heard a while back, and I can’t cite the author, but it was something along the lines of “if it’s on your plate, you must have ordered it”.  And that has gotten me thinking of things of late, as I navigate this conflagration on the spirit and psyche, as I try to bounce this deflated ball. What’s on my plate lately has been loneliness.  I feel it when I ride my bike home from work.  I sometimes listen to music.  Most often I don’t.  I listen to the wind as it passes by my face, I pedal by bars and patios and watch the Beautiful People do their thing, and let my mind wander.  Often I escape unscathed, but sometimes the dream catcher misses the mark and I am off to the races.  This loneliness is not from not having folks in my life – I mean, I have my wife and children, extended family and friends. Parents.  Nice neighbours.  My recovery mentors.  A handful of ne’er-do-wells who allow me to help them in their recovery.  I have online peeps.  But there still seems something missing.  I have the Creator of course.  And I feel guilty that I shouldn’t feel lonely.  But sometimes I do.

And perhaps this whole thing of what’s on my plate comes to roost on the rim of my dinner dish.  I look at what it is I am contributing to my sense of loneliness. Am I extending myself to others?  Do I upkeep friendships, or do I let them peter out?  Do I make any gestures or plans to get out and have just people time, other than 12-step meetings?  Do I bother to introduce myself to others?  Am I allowing myself to play victim again, even after all this time of spiritual growth?  Well, jeez, when you look at it like that…no wonder my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook (follow up – do you actually answer the phone, or let it go to machine, and hope it’s a telemarketer?  Ugh).

I still find myself being guarded around others.  I still see myself in a way that perhaps others don’t see me.  I am straightforward at work, I don’t get personal (or rarely do).  I don’t get frazzled much and I don’t let them see me sweat.  I am the last to know anything personal about anyone (which is a mixed blessing) and I do my thing and leave.  And I find that I do this in some of my personal “relationships” too.  I find I am still playing a part at times.  I don’t open up parts of me to people. I still find it hard to cross bridges.  I keep an emotional distance at times.  I am sometimes uncomfortable in my skin.  All the things that I “shouldn’t” be now that I am on a journey.  So says the ego, thank you very much.   And this whole thing, this whole shebang I blather on about here tonight is just that – ego kicking my ass into a dull, grey spoom.

And this is the tough part – to realize and admit that I still have old thoughts ranking me on the shins.  I feel the need to tell on myself and say that this is no play time, but pay time.  I need to pay attention to this, because no matter how much I tried to mothball this post, it kept standing up and slapping me on the head*.  I need to pay heed to this thing of uncovering, discovering and applying or discarding.  I need to pay no mind to my ego.  But my ego likes to play hardball, and can strongarm me at times.

And perhaps that is one reason why I don’t like the Play Doh colours mixing up – it reminds me, at a very deep level, of the sense of compartmentalizing that I have always done in my life.  Of keeping things separate.  Of not mixing these things up not because I fear blending them, but because I fear that I won’t be able to separate them again.  That if I mesh myself into someone else’s life, that I won’t be able to extricate myself from their spirit.  I only see yellow and blue.  I don’t see the shamrock or mint green that comes from mixing them.  And that’s what I have to get past.  And I am not sure I am there yet.

This is the takeaway for me on this – this is just what happens.  This is the drab palette on the board, one of the phases that I go through in my journey, this is just one of those things to trudge through and get through onto the other side and let others know where the sticky bits are and hope that it’s worth it.  Until then, who knows.  I have lots of time on my bike rides to think in other hues, think of what to model myself after and yet still watch the Beautiful People do their thing, and wonder why my back tire still feels a bit flat even though I just filled it two days ago.

This is what I found on the kitchen counter when I got home tonight, before writing this.  Modeling clay - a gift the boys got from a friend.   Just sayin'.
* This is what I found on the dining room table, after I started writing this. Modeling clay – a gift the boys got from a friend.
Just sayin’.

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Paul! I read your blog all the time and though I don’t always leave a comment I am always filled with a new thoughts to ponder. This post. Really speaks to me. First of I wanted to say that looking at a situation is the beginning of change even if you’re “not there.” Second I was thinking how opposite, yet the same my thinking was, my clay used to come all mixed up – figuratively speaking of course – and I would spend days and nights trying to put it all back in with the appropriate colors, and then I worked hard so that the would never mix it again. There will be no mixing! Strangely enough, in sobriety I had to learn how to let go of so many things, and although at times it was horribly uncomfortable I was able to let the colors mix again. I think this has enriched my life tremendously. Anytime I let go of an old idea I learn and grow. What a gift. Thanks Paul!

    1. Hi Maggie – thanks for your comments, and your reblog…that is very kind and generous of you. Glad you could identify. Wasn’t sure I wanted to post this, but it sounds like it resonates with at least one person! But I hear what you say about letting go of things, and that is what we try to do here, yeah? I will hopefully get to that point, where things melding don’t bring me a place of fear or isolating.

      You have made my day. Thank you.


  2. sherryd32148 says:

    I feel that way too sometimes. I think everyone does. But what I’ve come to realize in my recovery is that the loneliness I feel can only be solved from the inside. I’m not lonely for people. I’m lonely for what lies beneath. I’m lonely for the kind of companionship only I can provide. I’ve never been friends with myself – never liked being alone with my thoughts – didn’t like my own company. Which left me lonely. Does that make any sense at all?

    This recovery stuff is not for the faint of heart. I wonder if normies ever think up stuff like this?

    “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow.” ~ Janet Fitch


    1. Ah Sherry – wise words “I’m lonely for what lies beneath. I’m lonely for the kind of companionship only I can provide”. What lies beneath…hmmmm…that’s the real sticky stuff, isn’t it? Your comments make total sense…and I love them.

      you have given me much to think on…seriously.


  3. runningonsober says:

    You said something to me about The Civil Wars, do you remember?
    You said you weren’t a big fan of duets.
    Those voices melding together, perhaps?
    But something beautiful happens when we weave our voice with others. We create art, a connection, an empathy.
    “You’re just lonely, you’ve been lonely, too long,” they sing, straight to the heart.
    And just like in art, colors complement each other. Colors blend peacefully to paint a scene, they’re not always blobs. Though Jackson Pollack, some say, created blobs, but even though reckless, his blobs were beautiful and said so much to the human condition.
    An orchestra, Paul, life is an orchestra. No man is an island.
    Though we try so hard on the surface to be. Deep down, below the water that separates, we are all connected. To our pleasure or to our chagrin.

    There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,

    1. Damn you and your poignant and wonderfully articulated words and point through the demonstration of art and artists. LOL. And the death knell of Lenny at the end…that was so…apt. Funny you mentioned no man is an island (except for Freddy Madagascar), as I have that very title in my draft folder somewhere…and it was obviously along those same lines. the harsh, ugly truth (amongst many, by the way, lately) is that I still do see myself as an isle at times. The underlying fear in all this is that I will realize that I am NOT an island, and that my ego is wrong again. And then who is running the show now (or trying)…ha ha. It gets dark and ugly around here at times, and that’s fine. At least I have wonderful folks like you who get it. And can help shine the light through the cracks.

      Thank you


      1. runningonsober says:

        I’m stocked up on flashlights and batteries, Paul, an expedition shall we?ooh I’ll bring the play- doh. Play doh desensitization by immersion. With nothing but duet music playing. Oh and lots of canvas and paint buckets, we’ll just start throwing it around. Maybe we can sell it for $35 mill. You could even make a Warhol soup can painting out of play doh. We can adorn the can with Marius’ rubies. Man I got way off base. See Marius has these rubies he offered up for m&m trade, and we need to figure out transport. Might be fun and break some phobias. And laws.

        Got the FP nod this afternoon for grace, so it’s been a little busy. Nice response though, guido hasn’t had to come out. Yet.

        When you’re feeling really low? Just remember. You fart fire.

        God if this comes out as awful as it sounds in my sleep deprived mind, please can it or edit 90% of it out. 🙂

        I am forgetting my perfect offering tonight…

        1. I can’t tell you how excited and thrilled I am for you on the FP nod!!! That is wonderful – made my day! And of course well deserved. I saw it up on the wordpress site there and was so, so chuffed. That was a beautiful piece – and I saw how many responses you got *before* it got FP’d, and that was pretty impressive to begin with. So you really touched a lot of folks, as you normally do. I can’t wait to see the little plaque up there when I go over to your site.

          So very, very happy for you. don’t lose too much sleep trying to answer all the responses…ha ha. Enjoy this…so deserved.


          1. runningonsober says:

            Paul, meet Christina on Ambien.

            Warhol play-doh sculptings, dear god.


            But a sincere, and very much awake and alert, thank you.

            You are so appreciated, Christy

  4. Hi Paul, I’m sorry to hear you are feeling anything less than peaceful and serene. I agree with Sherry: we all go through it, at one point or another. (and by “we” I mean anyone in the human race!). The difference, which you described so beautifully, is two-fold. First, you identified it. That’s huge! Did you ever see that poster with all the smiley faces that describe our different emotions? I swear to you, Paul, I had to use that poster in early sobriety… I was THAT clueless in terms of identifying my emotions!

    The second, and largely missed component, is looking to yourself. What have you done to contribute to your feeling this way?

    Because, chances are,the only things I can change in any given situation are the things I am doing (God knows I spent enough time trying to change everyone else around me!). Chances also are that if I do change my behavior, then my perspective is going change as well.

    I really, really enjoyed reading this post, it has given me much to ponder about my own feelings and how I am unconsciously contributing to them. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out!

    PS… my kids suffered the same dilemma with the disappearing Play Doh, but I made no excuses… if you mix up the colors, you have just created trash (I am clearly a very mean Mom!)!

    1. I recall seeing that poster, Josie. I didn’t understand what it was for, but then when I was explained to me, I took a longer and harder look at it. I was blown away by it!

      “What have you done to contribute to your feeling this way?” – this is a grand question, of course. That’s the 10th step, in many ways. And lo and behold, my 10th step has disappeared as of late. this is all an inside job,and sometimes my insides aren’t doing a good job – need to get fired…ha ha. But I hope to get out of this sort of funk sooner than later. It’s a dangerous rabbit hole to venture into. I think the whole food thing is tied into this as well, as it affects my mood (physically and all) and the idea of self-worth. Anyway, I’ll have to figure it out 🙂

      Thanks Josie – your comments mean a lot to me.

      Love and light,

  5. REDdog says:

    What if someone lied to us about those bright colours being the real deal when really that poo-brown/bruised-purple colour you get when you mash em altogether is actually the point. Maybe the difference between wisdom and knowledge is acceptance…good stuff as per, mate. Respect REDdog

    1. You just flipped the whole thing upside down, mate! And I love how you did that. Wow. Perhaps you are right there – the single colours there aren’t the whole deal – just the beginning. The real deal is in the mess of it all. How do I deal with that “mess” then – toss it out? Joyfully return it? Or sit and look at it and wonder how to make the best of it. Or like you mention – accept and love it for what it is.

      Deep stuff.

      thank you


      1. REDdog says:

        You tha man Paul, you’ll figure it out bro. Love yer work. Rd

  6. Serialfemale says:

    I totally relate to this, but I am also an introvert so me spending time alone, with my play-doh blobs is a recharge. Regardless of my comfort zone I continue to work on reaching but immediately retreat…lol. Maybe I should buy a second set of the blob to mix it up…

    1. funny thing is that I am a total introvert as well, and while I do enjoy my alone time, there comes a time I have to interact with the real world, and that is where it sometimes gets sticky for me. I am much better, but I have to remember that I lived a certain way for 40 years, so into my 3rd year of recovery, I can’t expect to do a full turn around. Introvert is what I am, so it will only go so far… 🙂

      Thanks for the comments – wonderful.


  7. Kate says:

    Thanks for always a thought-provoking post. Loneliness is part of the human condition on lots of level, regardless of past hang-ups, etc. And I think we are always, on some level, going to be re-negotiating these feelings of comparison, of feeling unsettled of our own skin, of looking at glamorous people and wondering, of feeling insecure. I think just being a human is messy, and then you add in all of our complications and baggage…and it gets very muddled. I hate mixed up playdoh, too – and wish my life was neat an clean like separated playdo. I think the trick is to find a balance between continually working toward ‘neatness, clarity, order’ ,but being patient with ourselves in our messiness as we and God are still sorting ourselves out.

    Thanks for always giving me something to think about!

    1. I agree – alkies don’t corner the market on loneliness, obviously. We all go through this. I think because we isolate, loneliness is a more troublesome thing, and where we think we are unique, unworthy, etc. But certainly that traverses over others too 🙂

      ” I think the trick is to find a balance between continually working toward ‘neatness, clarity, order’ ,but being patient with ourselves in our messiness as we and God are still sorting ourselves out” <—-this rocks, by the way. I love this – will earmark this in my mind so that I can remember this.

      Thank YOU for your thought-provoking reply 🙂


      1. Kate says:

        Definitely have lots of work to do on that one!!! 🙂

  8. Al K Hall says:

    My next great project for myself is to wok on my socialization skills. i’m OK when i’m superficial, but when it comes to sincerity i freak out and run the other way. Thanks for this reminder to make more of an effort to put myself out there!

  9. dawn says:

    I mean, not even the smell of play doh? Doesn’t that have a homey nostalgic imagery/feeling for you?
    I get you on the colors, though! Somehow I think that issue can be best addressed in the myers briggs personality survey. In other words, that preference speaks directly to your personality type.

    I have the very large poster of varying face/expressions on the door of the group room where I work and each client must check that board prior to group starting and introductions are always prompted by two feelings. And yes, we DO struggle with even recognizing a feeling let alone naming one. We’re a work in progress. I learned years ago (and I’ve lived many!!) that there are certain issues, areas in life for which I will always be working on!

  10. Mrs D says:

    This is a great analogy. I like it. I can relate too.. not wanting to mix colours-ugh! xxx

  11. Al K Hall says:

    i keep coming back to the line, “If it’s on my plate, I must have ordered it.” Very astute…

Whatcha Thinkin' ?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s