Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall’

AA’s Big Book had Profound Influence

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

 Reprinted in honor of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 86th birthday, June 10, 2021.

(Addiction and Recovery column from TH-R, Aug. 21, 2012)

By Bob Gaydos
It is one of the best-selling and most influential books of all time, with more than 30 million copies having been sold and millions of lives changed by what is contained on its pages. Yet it is not exaggeration to suggest that a majority of its readers don’t know the actual name of the book.
It is known, proudly and even reverentially, by most who have read it as the Big Book. Officially, the book’s title is “Alcoholics Anonymous,’’ the same as the famous 12-step program for treating alcoholism (and other addictions) described within its covers. The Big Book received more recognition for its influence recently when the Library of Congress included it on a list of “Books That Shaped America.”
There are 88 books on a list that ranges from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man.” The common factor among all 88, according to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is that “they shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.”
While it may not be for everyone, the Big Book has certainly shaped people’s views and lives. Since it was first published in 1939, it has been the textbook, if you will, of how to get — and stay — sober, for millions around the world. AA, of course, has spawned numerous other 12-step programs to deal with addictive behavior. And, while basing its recovery program on established spiritual, psychological and medical precepts, Alcoholics Anonymous has also widened the dialogue within all three areas and influenced the way practitioners in those fields deal with addiction.
The authors of the Big Book are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA. But they had plenty of help from some of the original 100 AA members whose stories were included in the first edition. Many recovering alcoholics today regard it as remarkable that Wilson, the primary author, wrote two of the main sections of the book — one being his story — when he had less than four years of sobriety.
One could say the Big Book is a classic example of what it preaches. Much of the recovery program contained is take from the Oxford Group, A Christian fellowship that emphasized self-examination, making amends and working with others. (Wilson and Smith both were members of the Oxford Group for significant periods.) But the Oxford Group’s heavy religious emphasis did not sit well with many of the other drunks who were early member of AA. As a result, most references to “God” were eliminated or changed to a “Higher Power of your understanding.”
Editing also changed the preachy “you” to the inclusive “we” in describing how
alcoholics got sober. Thus, this is what we are and this what we did. If you follow these suggestions, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
What do current members of AA think about the Big Book? A sampling of recent comments:
  • “When I first read it, I had to say, ‘(Expletive!) I’m an alcoholic. How did they know?’”
  • “I used to walk around with the Big Book (in early sobriety) like a protective shield.”
  • “It helped me understand I have an allergy.”
  • “In many ways it’s like the bible for alcoholics. It provides direction and order.”
  • “Think about the impact. One person reads it and passes it on to others for more than 30 million.”
  • “When they get (the Big Book) people are usually in such pain, they will read it.”
  • “It gave me a guide for living, far beyond just not drinking.”
  • “Simple rules for broken people.”
There’s a significant local angle to this story. When it came time to publish the book, Wilson and the others chose The Cornwall Press, a now-defunct printing operation in Cornwall. Because they were going to charge $3.50 for the relatively short book, they wanted it to look impressive, so they used thick paper and the widest possible margins. Hence, the “Big Book” nickname. Subsequent printings were smaller in size, but the name stuck.
The first press run was for 4,800 copies, with the promise from the printers that more would be printed when the first copies were sold. But even those original copies were in limbo as the printer refused to release any books until they were paid for. Although printed in the winter of 1939, only a few copies were paid for at the time. The significant release came in early 1940. Today, with inflation, “Alcoholics Anonymous” sells for around $8 to $10, but many AA groups simply give copies to new members, continuing to spread its message.
rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob  Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Ah, What Cadet Trump Could’ve Learned

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Cadet Donald Trump ... at NYMA

Cadet Donald Trump … NYMA, Class of ’64

A few days ago, in response to the narcissist-in-chief’s (NIC) third-grade dissertation on the Civil War, I posted a sarcastic comment on Facebook: “Educators at the New York Military Academy, Fordham and Penn must be so proud.”

At the time, I thought I was being clever. On further consideration, I decided that it is likely that none of the educational institutions that offered an education to Donald Trump is proud of how it is being displayed by the NIC. Also, that it was not their fault.

I’m particularly sorry that I cast what might have been aspersions on the New York Military Academy, which is located in Cornwall, not far from my home in upstate New York. We’re neighbors and I was a tad unneighborly and so I want to apologize to NYMA (Fordham and Penn can take care of themselves), especially since the school has gone through some rocky financial times in recent years, including bankruptcy, a threatened closing and a serious decline in attendance.

But I also was curious as to whether NYMA really was proud of our president and their alumnus, so I checked its website. Lukewarm is my impression. Trump is listed among notable alumni (“45th president of the United States”) and also appears on a list of the school’s published authors. The NYMA band did march in the Inaugural Parade, but I figure that was a tough one to turn down as it gave a bunch of teens an opportunity to participate in a moment in history. They certainly won’t forget it.

However, there is no special tribute to Trump at nyma.org., no special page or biography or look back at his years at NYMA. No bragging about the man who recently said, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Why indeed.

While apparently still stuck on the Civil War, he said a few days later of Abraham Lincoln, “Great president. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know? Lot of people don’t know that.”

He said this at a Republican Party fund-raiser where a lot of people undoubtedly did know that. Then again, along with the current president, a lot of members of what has long been called The Party of Lincoln, seem to have forgotten what that means.

At any rate, having piqued my own curiosity about NYMA and Cadet Trump, I checked out the website to see what the new owners of the 128-year-old institution were offering. It sounds pretty much like what one would expect from a military academy located just up the Hudson River from West Point.

Let’s start with the academy’s statement that “at NYMA celebrating diversity is a way of life.” Hmm.

NYMA also says, “Developing good citizens requires cultivating the essential traits of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, caring and fairness.” Hmmm.

And there’s the cadet code, the same as West Point’s: “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.” I get the feeling Cadet Trump was snoozing through some of his classes at NYMA. Still, he did graduate and his five years at the academy represent his only military experience.

While perusing the website I further wondered, knowing how much the NIC likes adulation and weekend jaunts away from the White House, whether he would be participating in NYMA’s Alumni Weekend. Wouldn’t that be a kick-and-a-half for Cornwall?

The alums are gathering at an open alumni muster May 19 at a local dining establishment to kick off a weekend of activities and reminiscing. It’s the kind of thing where everyone notices how old the others look and compares resumes. The NIC could show up with maps of his Electoral College win and Melania on his arm and go into his familiar grin. “I won.”

But what if, say, Francis Ford Coppola, who won a music scholarship (tuba) to NYMA (did not graduate) decided to show up with his multiple Academy Awards (The Godfather I and II), or Johnny Mandel, a 1944 band graduate of NYMA and an Oscar-and Grammy-winning composer who wrote the theme from M*A*S*H and worked with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Barbra Streisand. They’d have some bragging rights.

Maybe, just for kicks, John “Junior” Gotti, class of ‘83 (did not graduate) shows up. He and the NIC could probably swap yarns about life in Queens and Junior could take Trump aside and remind him, “Hey Donny, you know it’s the god’s honest truth that I lied to the feds, right? You can’t trust what the FBI says. There ain’t no Mafia. You know that. But they got my father and tried to get me four times. Four mistrials. Sweet, huh? That’s why they call me Teflon Jr. So you think you might have a job for me at Justice? Just askin’, you know?”

Or, for sheer bragging rights, composer Stephen Sondheim, class of 1946 (also did not graduate), could show up with his Oscar, eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer),  including a Special Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre award, eight Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote the lyrics to “West Side Story,” which is resume-topper enough for me.

But what might really annoy the NIC is Sondheim’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to him by Barack Obama in 2015. That’s a tough award to top, in the Electoral College or anywhere else. In fact, if he knew about it, Trump might just try to undo it by executive order.

Maybe he should just send Kellyanne Conway with an autographed photo of him and go play golf again that weekend.

rjgaydos@gmail.com