The Poppy Diaries, 4: Channel Changing


The poppies are growing strong and spindly. Bright green and hearty. I think they like me. I think they know me better than I know myself. Even if they fail to bloom, let alone develop into petalless pods, the experiment will have been worth it. I was not expecting them to germinate, and so threw a thick layer of them into the window box. Now I have a thick carpet with not enough room for them to grow. I figure I will have to thin them out, sacrifice some so the others can grow. I am good at that: sacrifice. I don’t think I have ever truly resenting doing it, but there is always a first time. I take my little jag into gardening seriously. I talk to my plants, though they do not speak back, and mindless babies that they are, don’t seem to do any thinking. The poppies know they never had to do the explaining, the chasing, or the persuading. They know I will always run after them, and I am hardly unique in that matter. I think they enjoy the chase.

Joni is singing “You turn me on, I’m a radio…'” through my headphones. It is strange how some days I can press shuffle on the youtube music mix, that apparently has learnt what I do and don’t like to listen to via some satanic algorithm, and exactly the right thing comes drifting into my space here above the street in San Francisco. It doesn’t always get it right, sometimes it tries to play me Royal Trux when all I really wanna do is sway along to some Motown, or else it gives me Mazzy Star when I need The Velvet Underground. I didn’t know I needed to listen to Joni yesterday until the washing machine of youtube software made an educated guess it might be time For The Roses and got it spectacularly right. I still think it is witchcraft. I am too old to persuade otherwise.

Joni knows a little about changing the channel. “If there is no good reception for me, then tune me out…” she sings defiantly. Joni longing but keeping her cool, nurturing her defiance, protecting her freedom, and broadcasting her ‘signal’ from her ‘tower waving for you’ feels like wrapping a warm blanket around myself. A feminine blanket. A welcome respite from all the cock waving of much of what I end up listening to. My channel needed changing. I needed to be Marie Kondo’d. Gonzo’d. My psyche felt poisoned. My inner space was deteriorating into a no go situation. The male experience of life when it bounces off the corners and planes of the abuse I suffered feels hollow and brutal. Men either want to possess me, undress me, and save me, or use me, abuse me, and tell me why I am crazy. Sometimes it is all of those things, especially when I say no to them. I have not felt the urge to say ‘yes’ to a man in years now. If I poke at their motivation, pick at their attraction, examine the channel changing they are offering me and hold it up what I am prepared and able to give of myself, it never seems like a good deal.

The amount of tongue biting I am willing to do against the energy it takes to not just scream and run away when they spew their crooked beliefs, myriad of prejustices and grotesque demands on me, whilst not ever feeding my foots, encouraging my life, supporting my art and endeavors has disappeared into a pin prick black hole of immensely dense proportions. These men come to me with demands. They come to me married. They come to me with promises. They come to me with their own problems and hang ups and try to walk all over me. I never was one for putting up with much bullshit from men, unless I absolutely had no choice in the matter. Sometimes I had no choice. They either had a hold over me with my children, or a hold over my body with their ownership, or a hold over me with their connections to the next bag, and I was left bereft and not being true to myself. Not even being myself at all.

Changing the channel is now finding a different groove to listen to, finding a show on netflix to watch, though that sometimes goes wrong. I ended up watching Charlie Says, that detailed the lives pre and post murders, of the Manson Family girls. I wanted to punch Charlie right in the balls. I wanted to tell the girls that they were tuning into evil, turning onto destruction and insanity and disaster, that the only dropping out they were doing was dropping out of any possibility they would have to have any kind of future, that they were dropping out of humanity and decency and kindness. Sitting there, thanking my lucky stars I never had a Manson in my life, that my more vulnerable moments only ever hurt myself, and wondering if I would have been able to withstand his brainwashing, I had to change the channel. I didn’t want to know how it ended. I knew how it ended. Helter skelter. Upside down. He made monsters out of a bunch of hippy girls with previous traumas, and as fucked up as my life has been, even I would be nervous around any of them, even now. He was a one man agent of destruction and evil.

Last night, sitting there on my sofa at 1am, my finger hovered over the off switch. I pressed it, and put on some Miles Davis, listened to Kind of Blue for a while. The Boy had long since gone to bed, but I was wide awake, my head turning and churning around, that tight feeling in my solar plexus, almost as if I can’t breathe, the arthritis in my hands and knees hurting, my fucked up leg aching. It is strange how that throw-away act of stomping on my leg has caused me so much pain. My upper finger joints have developed hard bony nodules. While they were forming the pain was intense. I couldn’t play guitar. I couldn’t pick things up. I was in agony typing. I couldn’t pick up a cup. Now they are there, ugly and swollen, making my hands look old and gnarled, but they don’t hurt as much. I used to like my hands. I had nice delicate fingers. Now they are snow-white-witchy, grotesque and ugly, and more importantly, they hurt. Between willing Lulu Manson to get on that motorcycle, to make that one second split decision to split and get away from her tormentor and lover, worrying about everything from school for the Boy, to the future here in the apartment; worrying about whether my husband will ever find us, if the covid will get us, if the world will shut down, or the heating cost too much it didn’t look as if I was going to get much sleep.

Worrying about the people outside in the ‘Loin now the crackdown has moved them on. Worrying about global warming. Worrying about whether I could try an aspirin or if my celiac stomach wouldn’t take the abuse. Worrying about a leaning towerblock coming down. Worrying about earthquakes. Thinking about getting old. Crying that I won’t ever have any more children. Crying over the ones I did have. Crying over the unfairness of it all. Crying because I want a drink and can’t. Crying because I want to get high and won’t. Crying because if I do go out there and cop I will die this time around. Crying because I can’t let people down. Crying because I don’t care if I let myself down. Crying because between my life being taken up by being abused, crying because Billy let me down and then did everything he did before he finally exited in a blaze of horror. Crying because I found out what happened after he left, and that was never the deal. Crying because I can’t stand up nowadays without my back hurting, my hips hurting, my shoulders hurting. Crying because I want to run and jump and I have to move gingerly. Crying because some days I need a stick to get around safely, because my knee gives way. Crying for who I was, and how it was and what it is now. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy living inside in an apartment, in this beautiful city that is my home, with my son and enough food for once in my life. It makes life bearable. Sometimes I feel safe and free and content. Sometimes the past is just too much to bear, and the future unfathomable.

Mile’s plaintive wail felt like commiseration. I gave up trying to settle myself and go to sleep. There was no point laying in the dark crying quietly. I turned a light on, pulled the headphones off and grabbed my box from the shelf. Not exactly the kind of drug box I used to keep, admittedly. I put a sublingual thc strip under my tongue and rolled a joint, figuring Miles wouldn’t mind. I buy what amounts to ‘shake’, low grade little buds, the cheapest thing I can find in San Francisco pot shops. I have a little pot of indica to put me to sleep, and a tiny bit of sativa haze if I want more pep. The shop down the road has temple ball hash. My retro mind longs to buy a ball of it and do hot knives all night, but this hash is 55 percent THC. I’m pretty sure the hash I used to smoke was nothing even close to that. I have visions of me ending up in the hospital, overdosed on thc, and being terminally embarrassed. I used to love hash. Everything changes and gets ruined in the end.

I had to change the channel. I had to put something else on my inner screen besides my shattered nerves in high definition, and a movie reel of disasters that could have been. After lighting some sandalwood and lilac incense, I sat at my window, and pulled it half open, lit the bone with my head outside the window, and took a long deep breathe of smoke into my lungs, made sure I was not going to fall out in my attempt not to make the room smell, and let my hand trail outside along with the smoke. By the second toke I had decided that I could never have hurt people, not even with a manipulative man trying to make me into a monster. We all have choices. I am glad to say none of mine have hurt anybody else physically. There was one light on opposite. I wondered what they were doing up and about at this time. The sky was glowing grey and orange in the street light. The street was eerily empty. I want to know where everybody has gone, but there was no time for more worrying. By the time I had smoked half a joint and let the strip kick in, I almost liked myself again. Three quarters of a joint down, and I was listening to Dave Chappelle on youtube and laughing so hard I thought I was going to wake the building up. I suppose I have it in me to be a middle aged delinquent at times. I could almost imagine the conversations from the apartments around me. “Julian! Do you smell weed! Who is up at this time!” I raised a middle finger to the voices that were just out of reach, and let the joint go out.

The channel was fine. The mental white noise fuzz had turned benign and even though it had turned 3am, when nothing is ever ok, I felt better. Shut the window. Close the curtains. Get into bed. Pull up the covers over my face, and jam the pillow under my neck. Curl into a ball. The process was complete. Drifting off to a stoned sleep I almost felt like we might all make it to morning, but then again, I was always a hopeless optimist.


  1. Time Traveler of Life

    I insist you not only make it to morning, but for many years, so that that wonderful boy can take care of you like you took care of him. So that you can thrill your readers with your wonderful wit and humor. Please keep writiing, even if it is slower than you want it to go. Let me know if there is anything I can do. I will make a list of places to submit your work. Whatever you want me to do. The world needs another great artist. Sending love and hugs!

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      Thank you so much. I have spent the day sorting out Chris’s school. The local school was not wanting to help him…nightmare. I need to take stock tomorrow and work out what is going where. If you are interested I have a few things published in San Francisco Street Sheet – an online and print paper. Keep an eye out for a piece on there which is not going into the blog!

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