Over the weekend, a new friend of mine complimented me on the minutes I took for a recent monthly chapter meeting we both attend.
Since it was apparently on my mind in these grim times, I shared a story about how I developed my note-taking skills, which I have slightly updated here.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, I celebrate my 39th sober birthday. I would say “in a well-known recovery program,” but I haven’t attended those meetings regularly for two decades. Before that, I attended two meetings a week for nearly 20 years, regular as clockwork.
When I was just a few months sober, living in Manhattan Beach, south of Los Angeles, a new friend from down the street took me to what I thought was going to be yet another 12 Step meeting, but which turned out to be a planning meeting for a men’s halfway house to serve the South Bay and beyond. I became attached to that project for two decades, including a couple of years serving as “executive director” or “house daddy,” depending on whom I was talking to or who was talking about me. That project, eventually a 20-bed home called the Gratitude Retreat, had a lot to do with me staying sober, as I always had trouble—and still don't fully embrace—the "let go let god" concept, making being of service to others a real key for me.
Because I had earned a bachelor’s degree in English on the 10-year plan and had a typewriter I had used to type a series of forgettable novels, I could take meeting minutes.
At those first meetings were a bunch of mostly older men and a couple of women who had been sober what seemed like forever to me then, from five years to 40 years—small business owners, a couple insurance agents, a bank vice president, several who worked in the local aerospace industry, a carpenter, a hostess and a plumber.
They all knew tons more about staying sober than I did and had actually visited or passed through halfway houses, which I had not—I had flown home to Minnesota to go through a treatment center in St. Paul when I got sober, not realizing I could have walked a half mile away and started going to meetings for free, rather than spend the princely sum of three grand of my Dad’s money to go to the Twin Town Treatment Center.
To be useful at the start, I could stack the chairs and clean out the ashtrays—as I was younger and stronger than the others, having worked construction in my last several years of drinking away Vietnam. And because I had earned a bachelor’s degree in English on the 10-year plan and had a typewriter I had used to type a series of forgettable novels, I could take meeting minutes.
So for the next 20 years, even when I became executive director and president of the board, I took the meeting minutes. I got really good at it. It got so I could jot down a few things but remember a lot of other things that would go into pretty good sets of notes, provided I typed them up within no more than a day or so.
That stood me in good stead in a long career in publishing where I almost always led an editorial team of from six to 20 or 30 editors, writers, and graphic designers. Even leading the team, I would take and distribute the notes—I think to the team’s pleasure but certainly so that I could put my stamp (some might say “slant”) on what had been said.
So I’m good at note taking and like doing it, though I worry that I stand in almost permanent impediment to someone else developing their note-taking skills.
I guess I had all that on my mind remembering when I first got sober way back in 1981 with my friends Jimbo, who took me to that first meeting, and Frank, Rashid, Jerry, Carol, Joe, Clay, Lucinda, Ted, Blaine, Danny, and Pilar, my first sober girlfriend—all of whom save one or maybe two I believe have passed on to the big step study in the sky.
God, whatever god, do I thank those kind and patient souls!