On “The Journey,” Triumphantly

It’s timely, because here we are again, exploring another rape, another assault, another gray area – this story about a CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, who read the majority of the letter from victim of sexual assault during the sentencing of her attacker, filled me with hope – not because of the rape, of course, but because of the content of the letter itself.

This woman, this victim, this beautifully articulate human being, writes so purely and so beautifully – it was exactly the feeling that I felt, and exactly the feeling that I feel, continuously, onwardly, to this very day. This woman’s brave statement, and the willingness of the anchor who read that statement out loud to the public – and the network, which isn’t always known for their dedication to true journalism, is a testament to the ongoing negative effects of sexual assault, a testament to the fact that lives are changed, to the fact that sleep is lost, to the fact that everything is upsetting, to the fact that life is never the same. It is a testament to the fact that forgiveness does not come easily, to the fact that the hurt cuts deep, to the fact that the actions of another can shape your future in ways that you never imagined.

I never got the chance to write that letter, and yet, I am so grateful to this woman for writing the letter that she wrote. For me, it is much of what I never got to say, and it is a beautiful rendering of pain, reflection, and request for justice, which she will not get. But….I hope so much that people hear her words and are moved. This is beautiful. This hurts, but in the best way. It feels like solidarity. It feels like understanding. It feels like progress, even if it’s only progress because she was heard.

***

We are what we are; we are what we have experienced. We are what we choose to be. Lately, I’ve been floating on a cloud of bliss brought on by the beautiful lightness of letting go. I am choosing to be free.

A few weeks ago, boyfriend and I went to a meditative healing seminar called, “The Journey.” When he first told me about it, I was skeptical, as one is. I agreed to go, not because I thought I’d find healing, but because I was curious, or at least because certain circumstances had led me to believe that there might be something there. I had thought of situations that I knew of that were similar to the one described by the author of the book, “The Journey,” and the ever-skeptical part of me, or perhaps the ever-hopeful part, was swayed. It wasn’t until I ended up in the ER with the ovarian cyst that I thought, ah, maybe, and consented to the weekend seminar.

Even as we approached it, I thought to myself, this is ridiculous; what am I getting myself into? And I knew, because I had read the book, that there was healing and self-introspection involved, and so I had created fake issues that might need to be discovered, just on the off chance that I found myself needing to have resolved some issues, because I didn’t want to be put on the spot, panicked and nervous because I didn’t have the right answer.

Alas, it was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. It was the best thing ever.

Despite some early resistance – which occurred even in spite of my somewhat resigned determination to be open-minded – I ended up being open-minded and enjoying the hell out of myself. I felt the feelings fully, I met new people, I even made friends. So it wasn’t so bad.

The first morning, I was nervous, shaking hands with people I didn’t know and putting on the name tag and feeling silly for having begged boyfriend to bring me paper so that I could take notes, if necessary.

We jumped into it, and I felt awkward and alone. And yet, the curious part of me who loves to learn was intrigued, and so I allowed myself to open up into it, and found myself feeling layers of feelings. I had thought about New York (my past sexual assault and work situation), but had brushed it aside thinking it wasn’t the time or place…and yet…here I was, 10:30 on the first morning of a three-day seminar, feeling layers of feelings about it.

I was ready, almost.

I felt the hurt, the anguish, the shame, and then I dropped below that and I felt a rage I didn’t know was there. I felt it deeply in my core, my lower abdomen burning with anger. I hadn’t realized that under everything, I was angry. I knew that I had accepted what had happened; I knew that I had allowed myself to feel all of the general hurt and upset, but prior to that Saturday morning, I hadn’t realized how much rage was below. And so I felt the rage. I felt it through me. I felt it rising up inside of me and throughout me, and I let it be. I accepted it. And then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we did our first Journey process, and by that point, I had nothing. I could not, for the life of me, feel what I had felt earlier. I wanted to feel that rage, to address it, but I couldn’t. I was out, empty. I limped along, not able to conjure up the feelings that I had felt earlier, feeling like a total fraud. I guided another woman through her own process, watching tears of realization come to her face, feeling jealous that I couldn’t feel that.

I went home that night, slightly annoyed, but now more curious than ever. Not that I had been expecting an outcome, but because I had honestly felt truly deep feelings that I hadn’t been able to explore. I was determined, as I get, and the next day dawned beautifully with boyfriend and I teaching acrobatic yoga to a couple that we’d met at the seminar the day before (and whom we’d absolutely loved).

And so we did more Journey work, and in that, I went through a process known as the Physical Journey – I opened myself, and let my mind wander and my body tell me what it knew. I went to my fingertips. There, I felt them hot and swollen, dirty. I remembered the first time I had felt that way, in middle school, when I started picking at my skin, my scalp, searching for imperfections and nervously grounding myself with contact. They felt that way when I didn’t have time to wash them after recess and returned to class. I felt that time, snapshots of childhood coming up and playing out. I went back there, and my process was amazing. I felt my younger self, I loved her, I communicated with her. I forgave her for not being perfect. It was a last-minute revisiting, and in that, I found a wisdom I’d never felt, something I’d never even seen. I forgave my younger self for not being perfect; for not keeping everything together (despite her best efforts); for falling apart with no one watching closely and for not crying out for help.

I came out of that Journey feeling a quiet in my hands that I haven’t felt in ages. I felt this quiet all through my core. My body was calm. My body is never calm. Boyfriend noticed immediately. “What did you do?” he asked me. “You feel different.”

I did feel different. I felt light. I felt solid. I felt still. Still. To feel still is such a fantastic feeling. My fingers didn’t find my skin to pinch at it for the rest of the day, or for several days after that. (Actually, they haven’t been as curious as they usually are since then….my face has improved immensely, as has the rest of me. I am not tearing at myself with the same fervor as before, and I am thrilled, grateful, and peaceful.)

The next day, I called in sick to work to stay for the intensive part of the course. I’m so glad that I did.

We did several more processes, and I found myself connecting as a giver – I was able to feel and read people to whom I was “giving” the process, and in doing so, I felt so rewarded. One man exclaimed, “Holy shit you’re good!” in a very crowded, very quiet room. I was secretly thrilled.

So of course, when the afternoon came, and we were to try all of our new skills, I thought to myself, let’s do this! Let’s give up New York! And so I tried.

Oh man, did I try. I brought my old boss to this campfire of forgiveness, where you examine and converse and ultimately, forgive. And I was blocked. I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I tried, and I made it so that there was forgiveness, but it wasn’t right. I told boyfriend after (because he knew what I was up to, he’d seen the gleam in my eye), that I’d let my old boss off on a technicality. He knew I was unsettled; he was right.

On the way home, I shut down. I curled up into a tight ball and became unresponsive. Boyfriend was kind and gentle, but he knew I wasn’t all right; I knew it, too. We got home, and I took his house key and ran into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed and screamed into the pillows as though that might abate the pain that was swirling inside of me.

Boyfriend offered to do another Journey with me. Actually, he said that he knew I wasn’t done, and we both knew (“knew,” but on a deeper level of knowing) that I was ready and not done and ready — I wanted it so bad; I wanted to let go. I didn’t want to carry New York with me anymore.

And so we did. We leapt – our Journey process was nothing like the script they’d given us – it was three hours long (although for me, there was no time. It felt like a half an hour, maybe). Boyfriend held me while he guided me through a meditation that I led – he later told me that it’s a good thing he lives in a separate house and not a condo, because of my screaming and wailing, the police absolutely would have been called.

I let out my pain. I screamed; I shut down; I brought the emotion back; I held onto it. I imagined, and I re-lived, and I did the most amazing things. I cloned myself; I brought someone I had not expected to my campfire – my body knew, the wiser parts of me knew exactly what it was that I was holding onto – I ranted, raved, hated, threatened, felt, understood, cloned, felt, acknowledged, and finally, I let go, just a little bit. I burned everything. I cleansed myself in a healing firefall (which is exactly what it sounds like, a waterfall of fire – it was the water/firefall from the dream I had in February, and when I blissed through the peaceful layers to my hammock of water, it was that same water, but all water this time and no fire).

I ate a sandwich, in the middle of it, in the middle of my meditation I visited the cafe in my old office building and the woman there and her son made me a BLT (not a real sandwich, perhaps this one was just some soul food). My village – everyone who loves me, plus the cat – was there to hold me and be with me and help guide me.

Boyfriend held me through the whole thing. That, my friends, is love. That shit was not fun, nor was it easy. Might I remind you that I’m a hideous crier, so this wasn’t even slightly adorable. It was like Macbeth and Hamlet slammed together with an audio book of the Boondocks Saints – a lot of crazy shit happened, and a lot of rage. My body shook, my eyes welled and overflowed a hundred times; I screamed, I cried, I whispered, I whimpered; I begged, I conversed, I understood. And ultimately, I forgave, just a little bit. A teensy, tiny bit. 1%. Per day. For 100 days. Stupid, but doable, because I am a stubborn woman and I was not budging on the forgiveness part of it. But then I remembered I’m not a horrible person, and that I have a beautiful life, and as I let the gratitude parts of me overwhelm the desire to keep harboring the hate, the kindness won.

In the end, I was calm. In the end, I was secure. In the end, I felt peace. A thousand times peace. Safety. Warmth. Comfort. Security. Rocked gently in my dream water, my safe green space, warm and buoyant. Reassured. Cared for. Understood. Loved. Held.

I woke up the next day, and that feeling was still there. Grounded and still. I had realized what I had been holding on to, which wasn’t actually who I thought it was, and I let it go, a little bit.

I cannot explain to you the lightness that I felt, that I continue to feel. I can’t tell you how hard it was, or how wonderful, or the immense gratitude that swirls through me now. I want to, and I want to bring this gift to everyone who needs it. I want people to have the moments that I had, so that they can feel the letting go and the healing. I want people to fall asleep full, rather than full of rage. I want to share in that relief, that ecstasy, that peace. There is nothing that I want for the world than to feel that swell of hope and joy. I want to be able to give that to others, because I finally feel free of that horrible burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and I am at peace.

It feels fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Now I can direct my energy elsewhere, and I am finally, finally, gratefully, powerfully, blissfully free.

So I’m going to start practicing – if you’re curious, or you’d like to help me practice doing these Journey processes, send me an email, a text, a call, a fb message, carrier pigeon, whatever. I’d so love to share my excitement and see if I can help with this peace-bringing business. It’s totally not as insane as mine was – you can do 30 minutes and forgive that guy for cutting you off in traffic yesterday or understand why you’re so jealous of Becky with the good hair, or whatever. I just like to go big or go home, and in this case, I managed to do both.

 

 

 

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On Tindering, Tentatively

Note: Family members who are queasy at the thought of discussion about human sexuality/romance/all that jazz should not proceed past this point. I will take no responsibility for the intense burning in your retinas or the rise of Catholic guilt or the subtle reproaches of glaring disapproval emanating from you at future family gatherings, because you will not be able to say that I didn’t warn you. (It’s probably not going to be THAT bad, but I’m hedging my bets just in case.)

 

““Some people still catch feelings in hookup culture,” said Meredith, the Bellarmine sophomore. “It’s not like just blind fucking for pleasure and it’s done; some people actually like the other person. Sometimes you actually catch feelings and that’s what sucks, because it’s one person thinking one thing and the other person thinking something completely different and someone gets their feelings hurt. It could be the boy or the girl.”

And even Ryan, who believes that human beings naturally gravitate toward polyamorous relationships, is troubled by the trends developing around dating apps. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.”

The above is an excerpt from an article in Vanity Fair about hookup culture. I’m nearing 28, and I’m smack-dab in the middle of a sexual revolution of sorts. I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to put it all into words. And still may not be able to…but here goes:

One Thursday, I rolled into work in the morning and stood at my desk chatting with my work wife across the pre-fab bland blonde walls of our cubicles. “Oh god,” I said in dismay, “the feelings have landed.” Her face was sympathetic. “Really?” she said, and the discussion wound on, evaluating pitfalls and what it might mean to actually be having feelings. Feelings, we agreed, are the worst. Feelings make everything complicated.

I inwardly groaned when I realized I’d been infected with feelings for the person with whom I’d been sleeping. <— How horrible of a sentence is that? Dismay at the thought of actually liking someone? Distress because suddenly it’s not just skin contact and cocktails any longer? Panic because of the potential for disaster?

Of course there’s potential for disaster! The only things in life worth doing involve great potential for disaster! Not really, but for the sake of this argument, the ability to be vulnerable in a relationship is a risky move, but also one that has great potential for growth, etc. And that is important! The minute that we lose the ability to be vulnerable and to accept that this may end in horrible heartbreak and be the inspiration for the next “500 Days of Summer,” we’ve lost the most important part of human connection (besides the skin contact and endorphins, am I right?) and also a potentially lucrative screenwriting credit.

If we lose the ability to truly feel the emotions associated with romantic/sexual activity, we’ve lost the meaning, the depth, and in the end, the entirety of the relationship has been reduced to posturing and pretense, a superficial and ultimately narcissistic exercise in fleetingly empty satisfaction.

For me, life’s meaning is rooted in love and connection. There are all sorts of kinds of love, obviously, and I love them all. But there is something utterly fantastic about romantic love, and I absolutely appreciate the fact that I’m able to experience it, and would never want to lessen the impact that it has and can have on your life. It is profound. It is immense. It sears through you and shapes you. It’s beautiful, and deserves the utmost in care and appreciation.

We sit here in our digital age and wax nostalgic for the days of a simpler time, when men were gentlemen and they still called. Then we get on our apps and play the 2016 version of “Hot or Not” on Tinder while we wonder why we can’t find anyone suitable. We actively avoid getting involved with people, because we’re all too busy trying to evaluate all of our options, move upwards in terms of societal valuation of our scores, and ultimately….oh wait, what happens at the end of it? When happens when we’re not toned and fit and still hot? What happens when we are suddenly forced to rely on the content of our character? What then? What happens when the potential matches have dried up, the game has lost its luster and you’ve not attained any level of connection or progressed as a person?

There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m going to attempt to do that and then impart my wisdom (read: draw wild conclusions and dig in on them, because I can).

Here is the summary of what I’m going to attempt to discuss: communication, connection, cultural standards, the advent of the internet and its effect on sexuality and dating, expectations, exploration, and my goals/hopes/dreams (and so on, ad nauseum).

Where I’m coming from (while I may not be Raymond Carver, I’m still coming from somewhere…): I’m 27, have been actively dating since I was 15, and I’ve got over a decade of relationships and relationship failures (and successes) under my belt. It’s like the end of an NBA commercial I saw last night: “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet.” Foreboding, yet mostly correct.

One of my favorite quotes from well-known sex columnist Dan Savage goes something like this: you date, you break up, you date again, until eventually you don’t break up. I’ve always taken this to heart – even if I go on my last first date when I’m 80, I will have tried. I will have built a body of experiences and relationship endeavors that will have led me to find the thing that I seek. I will have loved and lost and, perhaps most importantly, learned.

I have hundreds of great stories about dating. Some of them are beautiful, some hilarious, some cringe-worthy, and all of them comprise the library that is my experience and the lens through which I evaluate relationships or potential relationships.

I’m an excellent first dater, because I’m not into the superficial conversation that generally comprises a first date. I want to know all of the things, because in finding out the deeper parts of a person, you’re better able to assess their potential as a possible partner or mate. Part of it is my unwillingness to conform to the expectations of the date as an interview mentality, because it is and it is not – the dating part of it is the longest interview of your life, and should be embraced wholeheartedly – and part of it is because I’m fantastically curious.

But then I find myself quickly losing interest, because the men I’m dating just don’t have “it.” They’re bland. They don’t hold my interest. In the early moments, I’m able to mirror my own versatility and excitement onto them, because they’re still reflecting that back, but once the mirror drops, it’s often a letdown. Tobias calls it “the sparkle phase” – normal people refer to it as the “honeymoon phase” – it’s the endorphin-filled glittery time when things are still new and we’re all still filling in the gaps of unknown information with the things that we want them to be. Once all that subsides and the routines of normalcy land, we’re left with the actual real human person and we’re forced to cope with the fact that they might actually, unfortunately, be just like us – flawed, neurotic, normal.

I always say that I want to find someone whose weird matches mine, or at least, works with mine. If we can each understand each other’s negative qualities, or even real human qualities, and still respect each other, then we’ll stand a chance of succeeding. I love my friends unconditionally. I know their flaws. But the sum of their parts as a person obviously overwhelm those flaws. Besides, if they weren’t flawed, they’d be totally boring, and I’d never want that.

I’m intelligent, pretty enough in an unusual way, and not into the whole image thing. I’m dynamic; I like a lot of things. I’m not driven by physical attraction – well, obviously a little bit – but I find that character and authenticity are far more important to me than a chiseled jawline. I need to find someone who’s driven, intelligent, kind, dynamic, flexible, willing to deal with my inability to organize and my ADHD-driven conversational patterns, and a little bit wild (a lot wild, but not too wild, you know?). It’s hard to find that blend of adult/responsibility/adventure/intelligence. Really hard.

I want to find someone who respects me first as a person and secondly as a partner. I want to be an equal, not an object. I also want to find someone whom I respect, someone who pushes me to be better, but who genuinely adores all of the things that I already am. And someone who laughs at my jokes, because I love (my) jokes. I want to find someone who’s funny, and who appreciates humor’s importance in our lives. I want to find someone to share my life with, to have adventures with, and ultimately, to maybe grow old with. (Or at least a suitable first husband.)

I seek quality. That’s why Tinder is completely overwhelming. I have to just swipe right a few times, get about 10 matches, and then sort from there. I can realistically only date a couple of people at a time. I don’t want my dating pool clouded with confusion, cluttered like my car, and ultimately counter-productive.

I’m also diligent about the endeavor. I don’t want a one-night stand, not that those are terrible. I want to explore the possibilities with a person before I bail, but I also want to make sure that I’m not settling. And that’s part of the problem.

My friend recently used an excellent analogy about cheesecake. He posits that dating is like being at the Cheesecake Factory (if you’ve been living under a rock, it’s an entirely self-explanatory concept restaurant with oddly off-putting interior decoration). Cheesecake is great, but what about this fancy cheesecake? Or that one? There’s so many to choose from, how can you just choose one? (See that earlier quote from the Vanity Fair article – “psychosexual obesity.” Pertinent.)

Well….if you don’t want to get fat, you’ll probably have to settle for fewer cheesecake pieces rather than all of them (dear lord, imagine the lactose situation you’d have gotten yourself into). Also, if we’re approaching this analogy in the manner of this NPR article, if we wait and hesitate, then the cheesecake will spoil, or be purchased by other hungry cheesecake seekers. But then again, are we missing out if we get one cheesecake and not the other? Is there a better cheesecake? What if I picked the wrong cheesecake? Arrrrghhhh! The wrong cheesecake, the horror!

This is the crux of the problem now – it’s well documented that increased availability in choices leads to more indecision and increased rumination about regret. “What if?” becomes a standard follow-up line of thinking after a choice has (finally!) been made. It’s a Millennial conundrum. We’re standing with a seemingly endless array of options, and we’re completely stagnant, unable (or unwilling) to decide for fear of missing out or making the incorrect choice. Ha. But that’s the thing about choice…

In the days of yore (anywhere from agrarian societies to pre-Industrial Revolution…or maybe even as far as the early 1900s…), we had fewer choices. There were a limited number of eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes, if you’re into that sort of thing) available for mating, and it was expected that the pairing would be mutually beneficial, befitting of your social station, and lead to procreation for the sake of posterity and lineage continuation. The finality of the match was sealed, and that was that.

Then came everything that has come since that time, including women’s rights (pesky things, women…can’t live with them, can’t live without them), the Sexual Revolution, the advent and popularity of divorce for “irreconcilable differences” (those again), and the internet (which brought us Imgur, so we’re clearly coming out ahead). All of that has led to a massive paradigm shift, and with that, different expectations for dating, mating, and the like.

Being a modern woman, I am blessed with agency in the choices relating to my sexuality and partner preferences that past generations of women have not experienced. The importance of that agency is not lost on me. I am also blessed with a healthy sense of knowledge and self-assurance as it relates to sexuality (including health, preferences, subcultures, and practices, etc.). A lot of that is self-taught. I became incredibly curious about sexuality as whole and spent a significant amount of time ensuring that I was well-informed when it came to health, in particular, but also to the other elements.

When you think about it, human sexuality as a whole is fascinating. We’re blessed with the ability to create tiny people, but it’s about more than that. The entirety of the connection and endless possibilities for pleasure is amazing. We are truly #blessed to have been gifted with these fantastic bodies and the creativity to explore them to the fullest extent possible.

We are all over the board. We like what we like. We want what we want. One of my exes always used to say that he didn’t want limit his connections with other people. I hated the way he said it, but I get it now. I finally understand what he meant.

I understand that human beings aren’t necessarily wired for monogamy. We do want to maximize the potential for procreation; it’s biological and it makes sense. But much like the fight or flight response has been dulled in our softer survival situations (fire on demand, indoor plumbing, buildings, reduced threat of mountain lion attacks, etc.), I find that there are certainly evolutionary options to consider. I think that romantic love is the highest form of love – and creating, nurturing, and sustaining a relationship with someone is a highly intense and rewarding endeavor. It transcends the more basic animal tendencies of straight procreation and evokes the will power and high-mindedness of our human experience.

That’s not to say that it might not get boring. It might. I am finally coming around the idea of increased fluidity in relationships, but not so much so that I would want to be a non-primary partner. Or even have secondary partners to actively date in addition to the main, really. I know that works out well when it works out well, and maybe at some point in the future, I’ll be happily reporting back about the navigation of that territory. But for now – I’m looking for my person.

That determination to seek partnership may stem from my childhood – the whole broken home, divorce, not happy parental relationship thing – and my subconscious need to “correct” it. But it may not. I understand the argument that marriage is a social construct, and is actually entirely unnecessary. And yet, I would like to have a person. My penguin, my lobster, my partner, whatever you’d like to call them. I think of it as a permanent adventure buddy.

I’m also not freaking out about time. I have plenty of it. As we’ve progressed with women in the workforce, delayed age of bearing children (yay birth control!), and other more modern societal norms, we’ve seen the socially created and maintained institution of marriage become less of a focus. And for that, I’m grateful. Whereas I would have once been considered a spinster due to my advanced age (ha, the advanced age of 27), now I’m only just entering my prime. I’m free to happily explore my life without the intense scrutiny that once would have befallen my adventurous endeavors.

Do I want to get married someday? I think so. Do I want children someday? I think so. But I don’t know for 100% sure. And I’m definitely not going to settle for shitty cheesecake, so if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, I can still have my life and my adventures and some cats. And maybe a turtle. Who knows what will happen. The possibilities are endless!

I do think that it’s interesting to see how the dating game has changed as a result of all of the influx of technology and lowered expectations for commitment. It’s not that people are doing different things than they’ve been doing for millennia, it’s that suddenly, there’s access to information, to media, to availability.

But – much as the Vanity Fair article points out that people seem to be “gorging” themselves as a result of our ability to sudden meet and connect with potential partners whenever, wherever, however – I think that much of it is a false speculation of the true breadth of the market. There are thousands of people using Tinder within a 50 mile radius of me. I know this because I didn’t log in to Tinder for a few weeks, and Tinder sent me a notification saying that over 3,000 people had “liked” me since I last logged in. Whoa. That’s a seemingly endless supply, and yet…it is a finite and ultimately poorly represented number.

(Think of the data that came out as a result of the Ashley Madison hack…think of the disparity and misrepresentation occurring within that small niche market. Not that it’s representative of dating sites, per se, but I think that arguably, we’re all operating with the false notion that this supply is constant, consistent, and infinite, which is not the right way to approach it. Think about all the times you’ve logged in to your account online only to see, ugh, the same people you saw before. Think about the resurfacing of past bad dates, or running into an ex at the grocery store. It really is all the same concept. It’s not practical to operate on that assumption of infinity.)

As far as maximization of potential, it makes sense for men to swipe right on (which is to say, choose or like) nearly any woman. Women tend to be far more selective when it comes to online dating, and so for every time I swipe right and immediately get a match, there are equally opposite experiences on the other end. I know this because I help one of my friends with his online dating game on the regular. It’s hard out there.

Sure, the article talks about the twentysomething males who are focused on maximizing quantity, and that’s all and well. I think it’s also interesting to see the disparity between how they describe their experiences and the reality that I’m seeing when I help my guy friend. Not that he’s not getting dates, but he’s not getting 3 dates back to back in a night. I’m sure if he stepped his game up, he could. But that seems like overkill.

To me, it seems like an exercise in narcissism. I think that’s part of my criticism of online dating as a whole, and I’m not trying to excuse myself from complete and mostly complicit participation in that. I like online dating; much like all technology, it’s been able to bring people together and connect likeminded people, but it’s also brought about some worrying behaviors that I argue aren’t just relegated to online dating, but representative of a significant set of societal shifts that have occurred since the introduction of reality tv, the spread of the internet, and the increased prevalence of social media. Those behaviors include: the devaluation of commitment and connection/relationships; increased objectification of women; decline of chivalry; significant increase in brevity of and expectations for interactions; increased pressure to conform to societal expectations and engage in performative interactions as a way to demonstrate value; decreased authenticity; decreased depth of relationships as a whole; and an overall decline in etiquette to include devaluation of self and others.

The women interviewed in the article seem to discuss the way that manners have become less prevalent since the internet became the way that we date, and I agree, but also disagree. I have strong expectations for someone I’m meeting offline that I’ve met online. If we’re going to meet face to face, I won’t do it as a booty call or hookup. I expect that they will respect me, value me, and treat me as I treat them/want to be treated. Anything less than that gets a non-response from me. That and grammatical errors. I demand consideration, and so I get it. Otherwise, I’m closed for business, no longer interested in being a potential partner.

The twentysomething guys indicate that women love receiving salacious pictures. They report that women respond positively. Ha! I nearly choked on my tea when I read that. I have a friend who regularly sends me unsolicited lewd photographs. To him, it’s an expression of his masculinity, and an attempt to demonstrate value through physical appreciation. To me, it’s an exercise in utter narcissism, and does very little for me or my lady parts. I could do without them (the pictures, not my lady parts).

I think that hookup culture is fantastic, to a point. Women and men are able to engage in consensual activities that are mutually beneficial. For women, we’ve been able to cull the herd in ways that mitigate the onslaught of messages and requests for dates, and for men, they’re able to connect with women who are actually interested in meeting/engaging with them. It’s fun, it’s less oppressive than dinner on a first date, and it allows for increased adventures and decreases in pressure.

However, if one is participating in this process as a means of genuine connection, then it requires firm assertions of expectations at the outset. If you’re unwilling to accept a certain behavior, then you can’t bend on your standards, because if you do that, you’ll end up regretful. If you’re unwilling to have a hookup with no strings attached, then don’t hook up. Don’t have the expectations of something else from the beginning, because your hopes will be crushed.

That’s why communication is important. If you’re clear with someone from the beginning, and regularly touch base along the way, you’ll find that your interactions will progress far more smoothly than if you approach from a place of deceit. The autolycan nature of dating is depressing, and the fact that people are willing to lie, mislead, and misrepresent then truth of their intentions is indicative of a general lack of respect for and objectification of their partners.

I recently flipped through the book, “The Game.” I didn’t have much time, and may end up reading it in its entirety at some point, but near the end, the author is writing about meeting up with a woman who he’d hooked up with on a prior occasion, and who had just ghosted him. (Ha, ghosted. My word of week this week.) He asked her why she’d done that, and she replied that she wasn’t interested in his peacocking behavior. He wrote that during their drinks (the second time, post-ghost), he had already used so much of his material (meaning his “game”) on her that he had nothing left and was forced to actually be himself.

Surprise, surprise! I had a smug moment of “duh!” towards him when I read that. Authenticity is something I seek, and any posturing/peacocking/overtly annoying false presentation is going to drive me to near insanity very quickly. I’m not going to spend time with someone (relationship or hookup, whichever) who’s attempting to persuade me of their value without any real substantive proof. Smoke and mirrors are only just that. I want to see the man behind the curtain.

There’s another thing that’s mildly annoying about our current paradigm shift towards consistently casual dating. You start hanging out, you like each other, you keep doing that, and it’s never clarified. And then, seven months down the road, when you’re wondering where this is going, the other person is still free to be like, “Oh we’re not together, we’re never going to be, what are you talking about, weirdo?” and suddenly you’re the crazy one because you got hurt/developed feelings, etc. It’s curious, how that works. Yes, of course, no one wants to jump straight into a relationship, but I’m not willing to rule out that possibility.

If there’s emotional entanglement, the potential for heartbreak exists and is present and it’s the responsibility of both parties (or however many parties there are – I’m imagining class action lawsuit level number of parties, ha), to ensure that honesty is at the forefront and that clarity is communicated effectively.

Of course, there are hard caveats to online dating and tindering and swiping and hinging and whatever else we’re doing, bageling and bumbling, drunkenly groping for love in the darkest parts of dingy bars. It can get increasingly depressing, very quickly. The approach and results for everyone are completely different. It’s all about attitude, or so I’ve concluded. If you approach with an open mind and clear intentions, your results will be exactly as you want them to be. If you’re disillusioned, desperate, or despondent, your takeaways will reflect that.

In short – life is short. There is something beautiful about the intersection of love and sex, and even in the two on their own. We all strive for something meaningful, even if we’re loathe to admit it, and in our technology advanced society, we’re able to seek and strive so much faster than before. It’s like in movies – I have this theory that we’re far less patient not only because of the instant gratification options available to us at any given time, but also because in movies and other media, for the sake of story progression, the waiting parts are cut out or merely inserted as a montage. We don’t get to see the waiting, or the stagnation, or the things that aren’t action or explicit or explosions, and thus, we have come to expect that our own lives will progress in the same way.

However, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If that were the case, I’d be montaging the hell out of my work week and speeding towards the action/explosions that comprise my weekends. (Of course then you miss out on the actual meat of life, and in speeding towards the ends of things, you miss the value that is the journey, blah blah, we all know that.)

It’s like everything – you get out of it what you put in.

I’m a part of a strange tide of children of divorce possessed with the unrealistic expectations for fairytale endings actively seeking our own connections in the world, unwilling to settle on something unless it’s “right,” and enjoying the hell out of the ride. Wherever I end up, whoever my person may be – if there even is one – I will at least know that in the course of my life, I’ve done the very best I can to attain adventures, tell fantastic stories, express emotions, and genuinely connect with people around me. If that’s not the best approach, I don’t know what is.

On this week, penultimately

It’s Thursday. I thought yesterday was Thursday, and as a result, having to do this day all over again is miserable. I keep feeling like it should be Friday. It’s been a long week; one of those weeks that’s immense and intense and dragging on even as it’s speeding by.

The week has brought conversations I did not imagine I’d have; it has brought both clarity of situation and intention; it has brought unexpected complications. The theme of the week has been entirely human – emotions and choice. It’s been hard for everyone, us humans, merely bones and muscle and blood, love and pain and all the promise.

What is it to have the experiences that make us human? We have been given the greatest gift of emotions, the spectrum between suffering and unbridled joy, and the great swath that falls between. This week has been a gentle reminder of the fact that joy for one can bring grief for another.

I have stared into my past this week, as the present is swirling up around me, threatening to overwhelm. I have stared back, down into the dark things. I have found, unexpectedly, a bit of clarity of intention I didn’t imagine would be coming. I have cemented connections. I have thought mindfully and rationally; I have been physically shaken out of fear, and cried because the pain of watching someone else hurt is hard to bear; I have laughed, and been filled with admiration and gratitude. Now I sit watching the storm recede, and I am calm. I am filled with the radiant feeling of peace, a feeling of confident repose.

It is never easy to live. No actually, that’s incorrect. It’s never easy to be truly alive. There cannot be joy and happiness without the suffering and despair. In all of that, every single moment, we are given only choice – what will I do with the moment at hand?

I read an article today talking about life, not as a game of chess, but as a game of Tetris. The premise of the article was that there is no end game with life; we do not have the perfect move, the better move, the opponent. In life, our biggest opponent is ourselves, and in life, the pieces never stop falling. It is up to us to place them where we will and to continue, as the onslaught comes ever faster. There is not winning of life, not really.

Of course life is not a game, but in letting go of the approach of winning, I think we’re able to find the peace we so desperately seek. In the appreciation of the smaller moments, the shaking off of the heavy things, and the acceptance that we are all flawed in our own individual ways, we are given the opportunities to shape our own destiny, whatever is it that may be. We get the chance to choose happiness every day, to work on our relationships, our ways of communicating, our means of support, because we can. Otherwise, we are left to languish in the unknown, having decided that there is no bright future.

I’ve been there. The darkness almost swallowed me whole.

Now that I’m away, it seems so silly. Why can’t you just see that there’s light and joy in the world? When you’re in the darkness, you can’t see that there is even light, not within you, not anywhere. You are nothing. You are alone. You are forgotten, unforgiven, unrepentant, a sniveling excuse for a human, and you truly feel all of that to your core. It’s a hard experience to have. I almost lost myself to it. I withdrew from the world, apathy cloaking my spirit. I plodded onward, daily, misery incarnate. I couldn’t fathom the fact that I’d once been happy; couldn’t draw on those moments as a source of strength. Those, too, were no longer mine. People said it’d get better, but I didn’t believe them. How could I? To me, they possessed something I no longer had. I hated it. I hated that it wouldn’t end. I hated myself and everything around me, because everyone else was happier and better off, aware of some secret from which I had been singled out and excluded.

And then, it lifted.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that my hatred for being unhappy finally overwhelmed the unhappiness, that my sheer will not to let the bad thing be my only thing, or if some small moments of joy trickled in through the cracks and thawed my frostbitten soul, coaxing it back to life.

It’s not that I didn’t work at it. I did. I finally wrote about it. I finally opened it up and let it go, releasing my pain to the world. I talked about it. I fought about it. I cried about it. I scratched at the darkness until my fingers bled, and out of my frustration and desperation, I found the exit. Climbing out of hell is harder than you think. There’s no map, no how, nowhere to begin. That’s the trap.

Coming back into the sunshine is the greatest feeling in the world. The day that I was fully free, I was with my five year old in a park. The sky was immense and clear-blue, and the earth was around us. Just the two of us, we walked and ran and played. I felt unbearably light. I think I wrote about it that day. It was amazing.

This week, I was reminded what the dark places feel like. I saw the outburst of a friend struggling with the weight of being human – purpose, love, grief, sadness, anger – and I hurt because of that. The ripple effects of our own sadness carry far beyond ourselves, and in not being able to help those who are struggling, we each hurt in our own way. My part in his upset hurts too.

I am firm believer that love is the greatest gift we are given. Love is my highest goal. Love brings joy. Love is my motivation. Love moves me. I believe that we are each motivated by a single emotion – the thing that we seek, that drives us to keep seeking, that sates us when we’ve sought – and for me, that’s love. I am the happiest when I feel love, whether it’s friend love or romantic love or any of the other multitudes of love, those moments are my favorite.

To watch someone hurt so badly from the loss of love, or the unexpected unrequitedness of it all, is viscerally painful. To watch the pain that people keep welled up inside them erupt and spew out is difficult, because no one can make those things better. No one can change how you feel; it’s up to you.

My last big loss of love came after a brief entanglement in college. I fell hard and fast. I understand it all now – and appreciate the opportunity for connection, no matter how brief – but for a long while after, I was a mess. It destroyed me, until I was able to finally accept it, wrap my head around it, and move forward into the future. And then the peace came. We had our moment of closure, and in his quiet way, he acknowledged that it had meant a lot to him. Something in the knowing that it was important for him too, in a way that wasn’t mine but was his own, helped to finally close the wound that had begun to heal a long time before.

I remember the nights that I laid awake, desperate, panicked, unsure. I remember the feeling in the core of my palms when everything was falling away. I remember the tears, the dreams. Love is horrible, too.

Giving yourself, or parts of yourself, to someone else, only to be not wholly accepted, is the most terrifying thing you can do. To be rejected after that offering is a cold, steely slap to the soul. Sometimes, it’s not rejection of the person, but rather a difference in opinions, lifestyles, views, desire. Sometimes it is the rejection of that person, for qualities, characteristics, behavior patterns.

No matter what it is, the end of a relationship or the realization that things aren’t going your way hurts. The choice to pick up, reflect, dust off, recharge, and move forward is your own. The hardest part about living in the darkness is that there’s no roadmap out. There is only you. Only you and your ability to get yourself out of the whole darkness, because the darkness is also you. The darkness is your own. You helped create it, the world helped create it, and there’s nothing that can save you from yourself, except yourself. (I’m thinking Harold and the Purple Crayon here, and I’m into that aesthetic of the darkness and your choice. My crayon isn’t purple. It’d be mint green.)

I had to make hard choices this week. I also learned a few hard lessons, which require me to reflect back on my own actions, inactions, thoughts, intentions, and communications. I can learn from this. I can see how the things that I did led me to the place where I am. I can see how the things that I thought were incongruent with the things that someone else thought. I can see how my past shaped the way I reacted to a person in my life. I can see how I should have been better about instituting and maintaining boundaries. I will learn how to let the guilt go, and to stop internalizing things I shouldn’t. I have been learning that. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t put them up when I should have. I see a bigger picture now. I see someone else’s picture, too. I see how my picture and their picture and the rest of the picture were in no way the same. I will grow from the things that this week brought. I will adapt. I will ruminate. I will be confident in my choices.

I am confident in my choices, because I am confident in my status as a tiny lion person (my inner strength is a tiny lion, think the cat but with a mane). My inner strength is my own. I’m on that weird human journey, hurtling through space like everyone else, even though my perception of this space is entirely my own. I am bones and blood and muscle, and I am a complex system of hopes and dreams and joy. And dammit, I’m Katie Barry.

This week hurt. – This week brought new challenges.  – This week brought answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. – This week raised questions I hadn’t thought of. – This week was tough. – This week, I picked a lot. – This week I bought tickets to the skin picking conference.  – This week I sought answers. – This week I asked for help. – This week was joyful.  – This week was peaceful. – This week brought friendship. – This week I made fried rice terribly. – This week, I connected. – This week I lost a friend. – This week I felt empathy. – This week I felt frustrated. – This week I felt heard. – This week I felt threatened. – This week I felt stressed. – This week I took a miserable lukewarm bath. – This week I was strong. – This week I put up boundaries. – This week I realized I had been a part of the problem. – This week I tried to help. – This week made me smile. – This week I am tired. – This week I am excited for what’s to come.

That’s all we can really hope for, is to seek joy in the moment and to eagerly anticipate the rest of the things life will throw at us. And currently, I am. I’m really jazzed to be alive.

 

 

On Parenting and Educating, Symbiotically

I’m not a parent; I know that I have absolutely no ground to disparage parenting in any way. That being said, I’ve been a babysitter since I was twelve, and I’ve been around a number of very different parenting styles. While I understand the motivations behind each and every parenting choice that the parents I’ve worked for make, I really do question quite a few of them.

This article showcases an emerging trend in parenting psychology. It’s worth the read.

I babysit for one kid who struggles with social interaction and behavioral issues (I’ve babysat for many just like her), and I know that her mom struggles with “the problem” on a daily basis. Over the course of our time together, I’ve instituted a “no-nonsense” policy: if the kid is not going to do her homework, I calmly tell her that until we do the homework, we’re not going to do anything else. Then I sit down at the table and pull out the homework. I start doing it, slowly. (I realize this in itself is a problem.) I tell her that until she helps me with her homework, we’re not going to play, and I withhold the promise of dessert or playtime until she’s put in demonstrable effort. Lo and behold, it works. She ends up completing the homework, at which point, I give her double high-fives and tell her how proud of her I am.

If she’s going to say mean things to me, I’ll take a page from my mom’s book and tell that I find her speech to be inappropriate and hurtful and tell her that I’m not going to listen to her until she can speak to me in a more calm, polite manner. A few minutes of ignoring does a world of good – the kids want the attention, even negative attention, and so reminding them that they need to be respectful about it changes their approach immediately. Being ignored is the absolute worst, and when we continue to give the kids the negative reinforcement, we’re teaching them that attention can only be achieved through negative actions. Of course, this is a call to parents and caregivers to make sure that they are giving plenty of positive attention to children as well, so they don’t feel compelled to act out in order to get the attention that they crave.

On multiple occasions, I’ve pulled a kid aside, taken both of their hands into mine and looked into their eyes. I tell them that I know how hard it is to do things that we don’t want to do and how proud of them I am. I tell them that I appreciate their cooperation and compliment something in the homework that I think they’ve done fabulously, like counting or coloring or whatever. I want to reinforce the positives and applaud their choice to do the homework, not because I feel that they’ve done anything spectacular, but because I know that they’re not getting that reinforcement elsewhere and I want to at least entertain the idea that good work gets good results.

Sometimes, a child I’m babysitting for will get frustrated. Instead of trying to figure out a solution, they’ll dissolve into child-hysterics (duh, they’re children), crying and wailing without any real reason. I’ll calmly remind them that there’s another solution to their problem and I’ll ask them what they think will help solve it. We talk it out; we find a solution. If the jar won’t open or the toy won’t work, we look to see what might be done about it. (Personal note: only after exhausting most options are tears acceptable and sometimes encouraged. I get that. I’m all about a good cry-it-out session. Those sometimes are the best solutions.)

The same goes for diner. I have parents who cater to their children’s every demand when it comes to food, or alternately, completely ignore basic food groups and then wonder why their child is struggling with issues such as attention, energy, and general behavior. I have found that by limiting the choices but offering something that the kid will enjoy and eat (that’s simultaneously healthy or at the very least semi-nutritious) will go a long way towards obtaining the desired results.

I love children. I understand that each and every child has issues that need to be addressed individually.

At one of the adoption camps this summer, there was a little guy who was struggling on the second morning. He didn’t want to leave his dad, and it took me immense amounts of coaxing to get him to come with me. I promised him that I was not going to leave him until lunch (letting him know that he had someone that was going to be with him was important), and that if he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to have ANY fun. I ended up getting him away from his dad (“dad’s got to go to boring parent stuff; he’s not going to have any fun either.”) and getting him to hold my hand and come with me. He was apprehensive about joining the group, so he and I took a walk around the building and I tried to find some common ground. I asked him if he had any siblings. He told me he had a dog sister. I asked about the dog’s name and what she liked to do, and then I told him that I used to have a dog named Acorn. The little guy looked up at me quizzically, and then giggled when I told him that we used to call him “Corn dog.”

By the next session, I had worked him into the group and helped him make a car out of recycled materials. After that, he did some art therapy. By lunch, I brought him back to his dad and asked him if he’d had any fun at all that morning. He broke into a huge grin and said, “No.” I was so pleased. That’s the feedback I need, the feedback that makes all of that time worthwhile.

At the end of the day, the dad came up to me and thanked me for helping his son feel more comfortable. I answered honestly that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One of the parents who was standing next to us turned to the dad and said, “That’s why we call her the ‘child whisperer.'” I blushed, filled with pride and happiness. I absolutely adore little kids and I do feel as though I am able to connect with them, simply because I understand what they need. They’re full of all the fear and apprehension that I felt as a kid, and so I think that’s what allows me to be able to respond to their individual needs.

That being said, I think we’re in a time where we overindulge our children. My mom worked really hard to create resilient children, and she did so through consistency, unconditional love, and determination/patience. Recently, one of my friends who has a terrible mother was going through a rough time and I insisted that we call my mom. My friend was crying and was terrified that she was going to “screw it up.” I told her that that’s the thing about moms, you can’t “screw it up.” You can call them crying (oh god, a million times have I called my mom in tears only to have her tell me that she can’t understand me and I’m going to have to use my words…) and they’re still going to love you.

By creating a space where we allow children the freedom to evaluate their own emotions and create genuinely productive responses to them, we create not only stable children but functional adults. By establishing systems and routines for assessing emotions, we allow children to plumb the often-neglected depth of their own feelings and provide the opportunity for them to help create a response that’s going to be fruitful not just now but in the future.

One of my mom’s favorite stories is from when I was very young. We were part of a camp or after-school program or something and we were at the local YMCA doing swimming. I remember being absolutely terrified (my general state of being as a small child), and she recounts that she came to pick me up and I looked at her and asked, “Why do I cry?” She knew immediately that we needed a new plan for swimming lessons, as the group setting wasn’t going to do it for me. By tailoring her response to my emotional assessment (such that it was), she was able to set me up for swimming success by giving me a different learning setting and a more tailored lesson plan.

That’s good parenting. It wasn’t indulging in tantrums or ridiculous behavior; it was catering to a specifically outlined need as a result of my own communication of my feelings. It allowed both of us to feel comfortable, although one of us ended up lighter in the pocketbook for it. But to this day, when I swim, I think of my swim teacher and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace, rather than in a group setting that somehow made my child-self profoundly uncomfortable.

Schools and school staff are becoming increasingly more responsible for parenting. The integration of positive efforts to affect (and create the desire to effect, too) behavior and help regulate children’s emotions and reactions are more necessary than ever. I understand the frustration that a teacher might feel when they’re constantly obligated to single out a child for poor behavior in the classroom due to any number of factors, including learning disabilities, disorders, and home life, but I do believe that consistent application of tools – particularly emotion-based ones – can not only affect classroom stability, but the overall wellbeing of the child.

If we’re able to provide the resources, then why are we not implementing these programs as part of a well-rounded approach to learning? (We do waste enough money on ineffective programs, and I understand that there are budgetary constraints, but in order to create and maintain the results we desire, it’s imperative that we be proactive rather than reactive about our approach to educating the whole child….rather than teaching to test scores or attaining specific metrics. I firmly believe that we can attain the results we desire if we’re able to establish consistency, so let’s figure out how to allocate the funds for these programs….ugh, which is another issue, of course.)

Each child will face innumerable struggles between socialization, education, and personal growth, and it’s up to the parents as well as the school system to foster the links between all three. By endeavoring to create more awareness in our children, we’re allowing them to help be a part of the educational system and their own maturation, which is not only necessary, but entirely empowering.

On Adoption Camp, Nervously

We’re about to start Domestic Adoption Camp. This year is a big year for me – I’m co-coordinator of the Elementary Programming, which means that every single activity that the Pre-K through 5th graders are doing was crafted by myself and my co-coordinator. This is a huge deal. The success of the camps requires the dedication of the volunteers, and I’m hoping that every single child enjoys every single minute of camp.

Domestic Adoption Camp is the smallest camp run by the Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families. It’s also the newest – only in its fourth year. This will be second year being involved with Domestic Adoption Camp, even though it’s my third with HCAF.

I’m hoping that we’ve come up with a programming schedule that is flexible but also enjoyable, and something that will be memorable for the kids. More than that, I’m excited to have been given such a huge responsibility. I know that sounds silly, but I like to think that I take to leaderships positions pretty naturally and I hope that I can handle any unforeseen conflicts with grace.

The best part of camp for me was the Adult Adoptee Panel. My brother and I got to sit down with several other adult adoptees and speak to the parents about our experiences. It was lighthearted at times, but also heavy. These parents are so dedicated to their children, and it shows in how involved they are, not only in their children’s lives, but also in the various communities that they belong to, namely, the adoption community.

This year, I suggested that perhaps we’d bring in a parent or two to talk about their experiences raising adopted children. The camp organizers loved the idea, and they asked my mom if she’d be willing to come and speak. (I said yes before I even asked her.)

I’m excited that she’s coming. I didn’t realize how excited I was until I kept bringing it up to anyone that I talked to about camp. I can’t wait to get up there with my brother and my mom and talk about adoption. She’s great. I’m biased, of course, but I really do believe that she did the parenting thing correctly — a little bit of strict guidance mixed with a lot of understanding.

We did all of the setup today. We’ve got tie dye on the agenda, which will be one of the best (and worst) parts. It’s messy and hectic, but I think the kids will really enjoy having something to take home with them.

I stole an idea from a creative writing teacher at my high school, too. In class, he had us write letters to our future selves. I think I’m due to receive mine this year, and I can’t wait to see what seventeen year old me had to say about stuff. I wonder if I’m where she thought I’d be. (I’m guessing not, but we’ll see.) I’m going to have all of the kids write letters to their future selves, talking about what it is that they think they’ll be doing, what they love now, and encouraging them to write a bit about what being adopted means to them.

One of the things that I love about these camps is that while the focus is on adoption, it’s not entirely about adoption (at least for the kids). Since I primarily work with the elementary kids, I don’t force the topic of adoption. If they want to talk about it, they will. And some of them are bursting with pride about it while others don’t want to talk about it at all. My brother usually works with the middle or high school kids, and I know that they spend a lot more time focusing on adoption and what it means to them. The camps don’t force the kids into anything – they let them handle it all at their own pace in an environment full of adopted kids and adoptive families. It’s beautiful to see what happens.

I love how curious the parents are. During our panel last year, they asked so many questions. We honestly could have sat there and talked all day. Mike and I talked about our differing relationships with our birth families and how they affect us — last year, I had just come back from my birth mom’s wedding, and I was still reeling from all of the love that surrounded me (and her) during that time. I remember thinking it’d be weird that my mom wanted to go with me, but it ended up working out perfectly.

This year should be interesting. I know my mom is nervous, but I also know that she’s going to do great. The parents are going to love her sense of humor (it’s sharp), and her knowledge about children in general (she’s a Special Education Teacher with 30 + years of experience). She knows a lot more about parenting than she thinks she does, and I hope that Mike and I are proof of that. I told her to talk about our teenage years specifically, because I know that a lot of the parents are terrified of that. I laugh, because last year, I told them that my mom’s motto during that time was “This too shall pass,” and I think they appreciate that kind of honesty and humility. I know that they all worry about doing the right thing, and I think it’s important to go into it with a flexible attitude while knowing that some things are going to go well and others aren’t — and you just have to adjust and move forward.

On Periods and Parenting, Lightheartedly

We’re dog-sitting this week. Instead of the boxer-lab mix, it’s a tiny thing. Like a shiatsu or something. Her name is Lucy and she’s my mom’s old neighbor’s dog. Turns out, having multiple dogs is really hard. Having a small dog is even harder.

The cat, Carlos (Carl), hates dogs. He tolerates Acorn because Acorn isn’t curious anymore, and lately, I’ve been catching them touch noses in greeting. It makes me all fluttery inside in the best way. It’s like we’re inching closer to my dream of walking in one day to see them snuggling in a furry nap pile. Lucy, the small dog, is curious about Carlos.

Carlos is playing this cool. I’ve spent the last hour surfing the internet (job hunting, reading news, you know), and watching Carlos mess with Lucy. Carlos is sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the kitchen. Lucy is sitting on the floor, wagging her tail, intent on inching close enough to check him out. I assume in the animal kingdom this is some sort of mammalian verification program that can only be achieved through an extensive smell-valuation.

Every time she gets close enough, Carlos doesn’t seem to notice her. But I’m not stupid and neither is my cat. He lets her get close, then he rears up into Halloween-silhouette pose and emits a terrifying growl. She starts barking; he flexes his claws; she wiggles; he strikes. She does a calculated retreat back to my legs, just far enough out of his reach that he calms down and close enough to me that he’s aggravated. He’s currently glaring at her through the bars of his chair, eyes narrowed into greenish-yellow slits.

My money’s on Carlos. He’s savvy, suave, and supremely territorial. She’s way out of her league here, but doesn’t know it yet.

***

Of course I saw this on Facebook last week, forgot to click on it because I don’t watch videos in public, and finally got around to it today. Thank you for being seven days late on the news cycle, NPR! (That wasn’t a dig. That was a genuine thank you.)

It’s a 2:19 commercial for a pre-period prep kit for girls. It’s hilarious. It’s about a girl who doesn’t have her period yet and fakes it. Her mom, knowing that her daughter lied, throws her an insane “First Moon Party” complete with “vagician,” “uterus pinata,” and more. At the end, the daughter admits she lied and the mom admits that the party was her punishment and then presents her with the pre-period prep kit.

The commentary by the author misses the mark. It’s about how the ad is a refreshing change of pace from normally awkward and offensive vagina product marketing. (True.) But then she decides to talk about the ways in which the ad is offensive because it pits the mother and daughter against each other, portraying the mother as scheming to embarrass her daughter and the daughter as a spoiled tween. I didn’t get that at all. The video made me laugh out loud. I watched it twice.

I remember when everyone else was getting their periods, and of course, my late bloomer self just wasn’t there yet. I remember pleading with the heavens for a period before I started high school. “Come on, God, please, just don’t let it start when I’m a freshman.” I think that was a pretty reasonable request. Everyone else had it. And they concealed it poorly, carrying unnecessary purses to the bathroom with them, or making a show of putting something in their pocket, while I seethed with pre-pubescent jealousy and got back to coloring and praying for blood. (Game of Thrones really doesn’t have a whole lot on the horrors of middle school.)

When it finally came (right before high school, thanks for making good on that one God), I refused my mother’s offers of assistance and settled down to figure it out all by myself. Much like the first go at leg shaving (again, “I can do it myself, Mom” said more from embarrassment and the terror of coming adulthood than real attitude at her assistance), I failed pretty miserably for a while. The leg shaving was rough because I didn’t know how to just rinse the razor and so instead of slicing my legs like a normal kid, I cut the shit out of my fingers trying to wipe off the blade.

My parents were divorced, and my dad, being completely overwhelmed by parenting a girl child, mishandled the period situation terribly. He’d have female friends bring me pads and try to have some sort of talk, but at that point, I was well-informed about the situation at hand and didn’t want or need assistance. At least he tried, although I could have done without it. It’s not terribly complicated and later, I would discover a vagina community online and the safety of anonymous reading would lead me to a wealth of knowledge without the embarrassment of actual face-to-face communication.

Part of the struggle is going through it on your own, making realizations, and then adjusting behavior patterns as a result. It’s very much like the scientific method, except it applies to your life. Parents are sometimes necessarily the adversary just because they’ve been tasked with ushering their children into adulthood. The unwanted presence of help is often viewed as antagonistic, and whether or not the mom should have punished her daughter for lying to her, the whole thing is an adorable farce about a very thrilling time in a woman’s life.

I’m pretty sure my mom cried. It’s bittersweet. Your kid is growing up — something they so desperately want — and parents are learning how to nurture independence and let go — something they so desperately want to get right. I’m pretty sure it’s terrifying all around. Let’s inject some humor into it, because we can. And we should. Periods suck. Might as well have a laugh.

On the Toes and the Tendon, Weakly

When I was seventeen, I fell in love with a pair of shoes. It was $70 at the time, which to any seventeen year old should be a ton of money. I mean, $70 shoes are still a huge deal to me. These were the very best kind – they had blues, golds, and glitter. I was in love. They even had a goldish bow right on the toe. I bought them, determined to have a reason to wear them at some point in the future.

….. Fast forward some eight years to last spring, when I did finally have a reason to wear them. I put them on, twirled, and took a few steps. The damned shoes didn’t work. My heels slipped out of them, my toes curled tightly to try to hold on but couldn’t quite manage. The whole thing was a mess.

But more than that, it was a letdown. I still have them. I’ve been unable to part with them. They somehow stand as a marker of my own financial independence and prudent judgement. (Just kidding about the last one.)

Yesterday I went to a wedding tasting for my dad and his fiance. The chef had created a menu for them, and since I’m not only opinionated but a semi-picky eater, I was the perfect choice to accompany them. I picked up my grandmother and we headed out to mingle with the very wealthy at the country club they’ve selected as their venue. Honestly, I’d love nothing more than to be rich, or at least wealthier. (Any amount of money would make me wealthier than I am now, so there’s that.) But then again, being wealthy means that you have to do so much status upkeep, which isn’t really my jam. I don’t enjoy small talk, or keeping up with someone else for the sake of appearances, and I do tend to agree with Biggie about the correlation between money and problems. Okay, but on the side of pros for the rich, the pools have waterfalls. How can you not be into that?

I’m digressing. Hard.

Dressing for a tasting is difficult. You need to look authoritative, but also make sure that there’s room for some waistline expansion through the course of the meal. I selected a dress. And then it came time for shoes — ugh.

I squeezed into a pair of heels. My big toe doesn’t wiggle correctly and shoes are a problem now. (Surgery on the tendon worked, but sort of didn’t.) I tried so hard. This was the first time I’ve tried to wear heels since my surgery at the end of March. I had them on for about thirty-five seconds before trying to walk, failing, and pulling them off. So instead, I drove out barefoot and then slipped into flip-flops in the parking lot.

Talk about authoritative.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll ever be able to wear heels, but for now, I’m still struggling with stupid things like hiking and walking, so I think it’s best that I set the dream of heels aside and pick it up again later. Talk about a letdown. I even have quite a spread of really suitable conservative pumps. Think of the wedges! As we speak, I’m wiggling the toe, trying desperately to get it to move again. Come on, big toe!

On Adoption Camp, Happily

This past weekend, I volunteered at Domestic Adoption Camp, which is exactly what it sounds like: a camp for families who have adopted children inside the United States.

I was one of three counselors helping with the pre-kindergarten/kindergarten group. We had five little girls in our group, which was fantastic. The smaller group size allowed us to do a lot more one-on-one activities, which is important with kids that small.

As domestic adoptees and (arguably) adults, my brother Mike and I were invited to speak on an adult adoptee panel in front of adopted parents. I was nervous and excited. Adoption is a non-issue for me; it’s always been a part of my life and I’ve never really thought of it as being a huge deal. It’s not anything that sets me apart; it’s just a fact.

As I get older, I find that adoption is more important to me. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I respect and for which I am eternally grateful. It’s something that does set me apart, to a certain extent. It is a curious thing, the way that I now have so many different mothers: I have my birth mom, my mom, my brother’s birth mom, my dad’s girlfriend. I love each and every one of them.

The panel focused on issues related to adoption and how we as adoptees handled certain things like self-esteem, open adoptions, searching for parents, and transparency. I explained that Mike and I have very different relationships with our birth mothers; I told them how envious I was when Mike got to meet his birth father (Mike jumped in to say that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be); I told them that even though I’ll never get to meet mine, the curiosity about what he looks like only grows stronger.

It’s a magical thing, to be surrounded by families like these. I’ve learned a lot about family over the years, as one tends to do when confronted with the inescapable reality that family is non-negotiable and therefore something you’ll have to adapt to. I’ve learned that family is what you make it. I have friends who are family. I have family who is family. I have family that I don’t consider family.

I have been fortunate enough to find so many different relationships, and when I went to my birth mom’s wedding in South Dakota, my family got a little bit bigger. (I’ve been playing a word game on the phone with my biological aunt. It’s been fantastic – she’s a seriously worthy adversary.)

I have been incredibly blessed to build the kind of strong support system that everyone should have. Through my participation in these adoption camps, I have been able to see the strength of family. The powerful and overwhelming amount of love there is something that gives me chills, in the best way.

Speaking on the panel, I told the adults that transparency was important. And unconditional love. I told them that when I started therapy, I told my mom that I might be angry with her sometimes, and in her graceful way, she told me that she knew that and that she supported me. I told them that if I were to be arrested tomorrow, the first phone call would be to my mother. I told them even though she doesn’t always like what I’m saying, she’s always there to listen. And for me, that’s huge.

When I told her my birth mom was getting married, she wanted to go. I was a little nervous, but I think she was more excited. I was grateful that she was there so that we could all share the experience, both of my moms and me. My family.

I watched a documentary called “Closure” about one woman’s search for her family. She had been adopted by a family in Washington when she was an infant, and as she grew older, she struggled with the not-knowing. (It’s a serious pull.) She began the search and was ultimately successful. It was a moving story, but a poignant reminder that family is forever.

In the documentary, they showed a clip of an old home video in which a stranger was questioning the dad about the kids (eight of them, I believe, all different colors and kinds). “How’d you get so many kids?” the man asks. The dad responds, “They stick to us like magnets. Better question: how do you get rid of them?” Laughter.

My favorite part is the laughter. At the last camp, I remember a girl telling the story of how her parents came to find her. They were in Africa, she was in an orphanage. She beamed as she recounted how they picked her up for the first time, and she smiled at each one of them, and they knew that she was their daughter. She radiated joy as she told the story, and my heart ached with happiness. I could tell that the parents had told her that story over and over, and I could feel the pride she felt.

My mom, Mike, and I have our things. We call each other the “worst guy” and we regularly quote The Sandlot. You’re the worst guy if you are doing something annoying, like when my mom senses that the stop light ahead might – just might – change, so she slows down while it’s still green. You can hear the chorus of groans and “Ugh, you’re the worst guy!” coming from both of us. My mom and I dissolve into a fit of laughter-induced tears when we tell the story of Mike falling off the treadmill. (No one, including Mike, thinks it’s funny.)

Family may be what you make it, but for some of us, we’re lucky enough to have more opportunities for family than most people.

On Parenthood, Bittersweetly

When I was younger, I assumed I wanted children. It was a given. I was going to grow up, get a job, get married, have babies. Simple plan, right?

But suddenly, I’m just not so sure. (About any of it, really, not just the babies part.)

I love babies. Babies love me. I’ll never forget the way my heart melted when one of the little kids I babysit learned how to say “babysit.” “Bye Mommy, bye daddy,” she said, waving her little hands. “Kay-ee bayee-sit.” In that moment, I was absolute mush.

The other night, I was babysitting for one of my favorite families.  I played baseball with the little boy in the backyard — I’ve decided that we may need to bring in an umpire because his perception of what constitutes the strike zone is nowhere near mine. The little girl showed me the things that she’d collected and artfully arranged on a tray next to a bear wearing pearls and a wedding dress. We played “amusement park” in the basement. One of the games involves putting stuffed animals on a person (me). It ended with the cutest snuggle pile ever. 

As I was reading them stories before bed (from a Star Wars encyclopedia), I thought about how much I’ve treasured all of these growing-up moments. I thought about the families I sat for in Chicago, how the three boys told me that I reminded them of the beach, and so instead of getting ice cream my last night with them, we went to the beach to put our toes in the water one last time. That night, they asked me why I was crying while I read their stories. 

The other night, as usual, the kids asked me if I would snuggle them after we finished reading about droids, Sith lords, and Jedi masters. As I listened to their stories about their old cat Fred, I realized that they’re not going to be babies forever. And then I imagined what parenthood must be like. 

Parenthood must be the most bittersweet job one could possibly have. They are so dependent on you; without you, there is nothing. But then they grow. They grow into inquisitive, wonderful human beings. They throw tantrums and wear strange clothes and develop habits you don’t approve of. And at some point, you’re not necessary to their survival. You have to let them out into the world. 

Does your heart break into a million pieces every time you let them go a little further? The first day of school? Their first dance? High school graduation? College? (I always used to roll my eyes at my mom because when I would drive from Denver to Chicago, she’d call me every hour, on the hour. I totally get it now.)

Parenthood is frustrating. I feel like after a while, the cute to frustrating ratio tips dangerously into the “Always Frustrating!” zone and the cuteness just dries up. Am I cute now? No. I’m grumpy, and tired, and constantly burdened by things that will someday seem trivial. (This may accurately describe everyone age 10 and over.) 

Is it worth it? 

Everyone says yes, but maybe that’s because they’re hoping enough yeses will lead to grandchildren. And then you can start the cute to frustrating ratio time-lapse all over again. When the cute baby grandchildren smile and do the baby laugh, you totally forget what it must have been like to have teenagers. 

(I think this is a real thing because a while ago, my mom texted us to thank us for not being sullen teenagers. I laughed and texted back something along the lines of, “Do you not remember the three years I spent as a moody, semi-Goth teen?” Her reply was something about how she must have forgotten. I think we can all be grateful for that.) 

On Earth Day 2013, Sandily

Happy Earth Day 2013!

When we were little, Earth Day was a big deal. We did projects, and papers, and dioramas about Earth Day. Maybe I’m making that up, but I remember loving Earth Day. I looked forward to it. I think I imagined that my future self (which would equate to present me) would be this great planter of trees every year on Earth Day. To date, I have planted zero trees.

I did, however, rake my entire garden last weekend and plan on planting some things this year, so I feel like that’s a baby step in the right direction. Some day, we may be eating vegetables that I grew. I’m thinking tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, mint, and so on. In reality, it will most likely be a sad plot that starts out magnificent but ends up overgrown with weeds. But everyone does that at least once, right?

I may have no idea what I’m doing, but I have friends who know how to do this, so I imagine I can call on them to help assist me with planning, planting, and harvesting.

In the meantime, let’s focus on current ecological issues (of which there about ten billion). I was reading this article about building structures out of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are great (not really – they’re terrible for the environment, but they’re ubiquitous), and they’ve been used in a ton of very ingenious ways such as providing light to homes and being used to help grow gardens inside.

However, reading about building structures out of plastic, all I could think about were the drawbacks. What about weather? What about security? How is the building going to hold up and be a strong structure going forward?

When I was in South Africa, one of the biggest problems in the townships (informal settlements) was the fact that the houses were built out of essentially reclaimed materials. The houses (some more shack than house) were built out of wood, sheet metal, plastic, anything and everything. The floors were often dirt, or dirt covered in carpeting. It’s hard to keep a place like that clean, but more than that, it’s hard to protect that sort of structure from the elements.

When a fire breaks out in a township, it’s often inside one of the homes. However, it’s nearly impossible to contain the fire based on a number of factors, including the lack of accessibility to running water, proximity to the other homes, and the materials from which the houses are constructed. When one house burns, it’s likely that the others around it are going to burn too, causing unnecessary damage and threatening human life.

The building project I visited was creating a house out of sandbags. These sandbags are laid down in a concrete foundation and eventually plastered or covered in concrete, creating a structure that is nearly impermeable, providing a safer structure that can withstand the elements.

This sandbag house is such a wonderful idea because it makes use of the ubiquitous sand that’s found in and around the Cape Flats where many of these townships are located. It’s cheap to buy the concrete mix and the bags for the sand, and with some community involvement and a little planning, a building can be built relatively quickly and very cheaply. Even better? It’s not flammable like the other houses, offering protection in case of a rapidly spreading fire.

Below is the article that I wrote while I was there, that was published in the Cape Chameleon, the publication of the Projects Abroad journalism project. I think it’s important to highlight sustainable building because it can help draw attention to solutions for problems that badly need solving.

Houses of Sand

THE FUTURE OF ECO-BUILDING

Issue No.52010

Words: Katherine Barry

A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.

The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.

Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.

‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’

Government response

According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.

Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty-one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.

While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?

Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.

Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.

20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.

Benefits of sand building

This cost-effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.

Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.

This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.

Structural soundness

Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.

They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Spreading the word

The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.

Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.

Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.

Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.

The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.

Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.