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 55 Hours of Freedom, Springily

My 55 hours of freedom began with a dinner party. To add to the slight stress of meeting new people, there was also the panic of the location – an upscale eatery. Confident in my knowledge of which silverware to choose (learned watching Titanic – just work your way in), I selected my favorite sweater dress. It’s navy and red, short and tight enough to be alluring, and high-necked enough to be modest. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a necklace, since you’re covered. That plus tights and boots and a little bit of eyeshadow turned me into a very compelling dinner companion. I remembered to grab my sense of humor on the way out the door, and had a lovely evening. Also, I ate everything. All of the meats. It was spectacular. If all I need to do to go have entertaining conversation and delicious food is put myself together, I will happily do that any day.

When we got home, we decided that we were going to sleep in the igloo we made last week during the epic spring blizzard. (I got sent home due to a power outage at work on Wednesday, and so we spent 6+ hours building this amazing 6’ tall snow fort – the man encapsulated it on Thursday, and thus, we are now in brief possession of an immense front yard igloo.) We hauled out blankets and pillows and snacks and fell asleep in our snow cave. It was not a night of great sleep. I was cold and sore, my hips protesting about the ice below them, my body protesting about the lack of heat and the cold everywhere. At one point, I decided I’d be generous and give the man my hat (bad decision for me), and I think we woke up at least 7 times that night. Lots of pulling and rearranging.

However, on the plus side, I now know that I do not want to pursue snow-camping as a hobby, and I’m glad I didn’t have to drive to the mountains to figure that out. But it was fun. Our friends stopped by very late in the night (after we’d gone to sleep), so it was fun to wake up to a yell of, “They’re in there!” and have a late night igloo meeting.

Saturday brought cat-snuggling. Carlos has been missing me, because I’ve been a terrible cat mother lately, and so I went home Saturday morning to snuggle him. And in theory, to finish cleaning (ha, guess how that turned out?). Then there was a yoga party – we built a two-story tall snowman and had the most delicious sangria before coming home and napping hard. After the nap, we broke for Easter preparations and then made dinner (the leftovers from the steakhouse were amazing).

Easter Sunday – as usual, it was too cold to wear my Easter dress, so I selected a pink lacy shirt and jeans. I’m trying to get into softer, more lady-like colors, but I’m still not convinced. If it’s not black, I don’t know about it. Adulting is proving to be harder than I thought, at least sartorially.

We had first breakfast. I was excited to meet new family, and there were jelly beans involved (which is never a bad thing). Then we had brunch with my dad’s family, and stopped off to see my grandpa at the nursing home before we headed back home to wait for AAA to pick up my brother’s car, which had stopped working. Ha, trying to push an SUV into our busy street was quite the adventure. It got stuck in the hole next to our driveway, and so it had to hang out half in the street and half in the driveway until the tow truck driver could get there.

I brought my 9-year old to my mom’s family’s Easter dinner. She’s my favorite person – a small blonde bundle of energy. She had flowers and a card for my grandma, as well as a chocolate bunny, and she made bunny cake! (Everyone knows how to make bunny cake and I feel like it’s something I’m going to have to learn how to do – I’m into the idea of being able to garnish a cake with all sorts of additional sources of sugar, and when we were at my grandma’s house, I ate all of the Easter-flavored twizzlers off the cake while we were cutting it.) She’s so talkative! (Maybe I was that talkative at that age?) She’s headed off for Spring Break, and she goes to the same elementary school that we all went to, so we had a lot to talk about.

I wanted to show her some acro yoga, because I imagined that she’d enjoy it since she does gymnastics. As it turns out, she loved. Poor boyfriend could not catch a break. She had him going through pose after pose after pose, determined to learn more. At one, she was demanding that we do something really cool. It made me laugh to see how excited she was about it, and how determined. He told her that once she learns how to do a handstand, she can do a lot more. She was super eager, and he was a really good sport about letting her leap all over him. When we dropped her back off at her house, she made him do it all over again to show her parents. It was really sweet.

I was exhausted. 55 hours isn’t quite long enough, is it? I feel like this week is going to bring a lot of necessary errand-completion and tasks to be checked off, so I’m feeling productive and excited to leap into it.

On the Weekend, Always Belatedly

Ah, the weekends. The 9-5 grind is exactly that, a grind, and by the end of the day, I’m generally exhausted. But the weekend provides me with roughly 55 hours of usable free time – 5pm Friday to midnight Sunday – and I try to make it a point to use as much of that time as possible.

Last weekend was no exception.

My mom had asked me if I’d like to bring the guy that I’m seeing to family dinner on Friday night – my favorite meal of the year, corned beef and cabbage – and I’d immediately declined the invitation. But then I thought about it, after telling him that I’d declined his invitation without even asking him. I realized that it probably wouldn’t be too bad if he met my people, so I re-invited him, nervously.

I’m known for bringing guys home to meet the family very early on – maybe it’s the sadist in me that likes to see them sweat, or maybe it’s that I want to see how they can manage themselves. My family is quite lovely, so it’s not like it’s difficult, but I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he interacts with your family in that sort of environment. Is he polite? Does he speak up? Is he patient? I’m impatient, usually polite, and always talking, so I need someone who can be patient, polite, and match my level of enthusiasm for the conversation. I love my family, and I want them to know the people I spend my time with, and for those people to know my family. Also, free food. Plus, my grandmothers are pretty fantastic people.

To my surprise, he said yes in the very best way. A long text message string of rap lyrics. I laughed out loud when I read it, and then immediately sent a few panicky emails to my grandmother, mom, and aunt, so that there’d be another place at the table and to make sure there was enough food. (I promised to eat less, if need be.)

And so that happened. I picked him up, ten minutes late (surprise, surprise), and we made our way the four blocks to my grandmother’s house (convenient). The evening was wonderful. He talked – he may have talked more than I did! (Ehhh, probably not.) He deftly handled the faux-argument we have over the men’s side of the table (they always mess up the passing order to make sure that their buddies get the best food first – and the women always tease them about it), falling in line with the “rules” of the passing and the back-passing. He definitely got in on the good end of the back-passing – he had meat, potatoes, and cabbage before I’d even gotten the bread.

We lingered for four hours. He got to see the reenactment of the guys and my mom dropping me off at college – my uncle’s impression of me sobbing and begging them to take me back to Denver includes, “I’ll go to DU, I swear!” and is fantastically hilarious – as well as my mom’s excellent impression of the “purse carrier,” which is exactly what I’m not allowed to marry. It was a really wonderful dinner, and I felt so happy to be surrounded by such lovely people, and to come from such a loving and kind family.

On Saturday, I went to see an old co-worker, who’s now my mentor/friend. She has the most adorable two-year old son, so I was happy to play with him while we caught up. It’s so easy to lose touch with people once you don’t see them every day, so I’ve been trying to make an effort to stay in contact and not lose people just because they’ve slid out of the periphery. Also, she’s very good about getting in touch with me, so that definitely helps. I always laugh and thank her for being a part of my village (village people, I think that’s what I’m going to call my wonderful network of humans), because I’ve been to her kid’s birthday parties, her family events, and I was the first person to ever babysit for her son.

Babies are the sweetest things. He’s talking up a storm now, and he has the biggest eyes and the happiest smile. I chased him and tickled him, and his peals of laughter brought me so much joy. I love how determined they get, or how frustrated, or how giggly. There is so much pure energy and pure emotion, and as I left, he stood by the door and waved to me, over-ready for his nap. My friend texted me after I left and told me that he was out 60 seconds after she put him down.

For some reason, I was in cleaning mode on Saturday. I have been struggling to get my house under control for a while now (again, no surprise here), and I wanted to go home and do some good work. And so I did. I got my room rearranged, opened up the box that contained my new mattress and got it unfurled, foam puffing up immediately. I got more things folded and hung up and stuffed into drawers (I mean, folded, definitely neatly). I threw away trash and cleaned out the fridge. I scrubbed the sink and unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. It was nice progress, and it felt good. My friend Gina will help me with the rest of it tonight.

Saturday night, we went to my old favorite Thai place. I’ve only ever ordered one thing there (five years is a long time to not stray on a menu, and I intend to keep up the streak) – pineapple curry, medium. Sometimes with shrimp, sometimes just extra pineapple, sometimes veggies. Always delicious. That is the food I crave on Sundays (when they’re closed), when I’m sad, or sick, or happy, or ….any time.

After that, we stopped into the PS Lounge – if you haven’t done that, you need to. Your life will get so much better. We had a few drinks there, and sat talking, oblivious to the bar around us. (Not entirely, but it makes it sound so much more romantic if I put it that way, doesn’t it?) Regardless, the conversations are so fantastic. I really like that I’ve met someone who knows stuff about stuff I don’t know. And who’s willing to tolerate the things that I love. He told me the other night that he loves that I always have something to add – actually add, a different perspective or input – to conversations. I laughed, what else am I going to do? We haven’t really disagreed about anything yet, and I keep trying to find something where we have drastically differing viewpoints…thus far, no luck.

My friend Jacob was playing at a bar down the road, so tipsy adventure me decided that we needed to at least pop in. So we did, briefly. I danced a little less than I would have liked, nervous energy coursing through my body. Bringing someone into your comfort zone is so hard. I like people. But it’s funny, because as much as I am uneasy in new places or doing new things, I’m equally uncomfortable when I’m bringing someone into my spaces, my people, my things.

Sunday morning, we woke up and went for a bike ride. He was so sweet a few weeks ago and put my bike back together for me (to be fair, he’s the one who took it apart in the first place….but I had a tangled chain somehow?), so I’ve been able to ride around with him. I’m terrified of city biking – too many people in Chicago get smashed by buses on bikes – but I’m getting better! We did 20 miles on Sunday, looping through the park on our way downtown, made a pit stop for ice cream, and then to REI (obviously), and then back around to the water treatment plant, and then back. By the end, I’d lost all of my energy, and the last few miles were me playing the mental fortitude game in my head. But I made it! There’s an uphill part right at the end, which is miserable. It’s the last big push before relaxation, and when I made it, I was overjoyed and that feeling of accomplishment (or at least, not failure) washed over me.  And on the way I ran into a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, which was wonderful!

Ha, to make things way sexier, I wore bike shorts. And since I left my car at the Thai restaurant the night before, I had no shoes to wear other than my cheap little black flats. So between the bright orange bike shirt and short combo and the completely not bike shoes, I made a very official-looking exerciser. You know, I make fun of the bike shorts/shirt people (and will continue to do so…), but, there’s something to it. My sit bones were not even sore as a result of the padding in the shorts.

Then I went to Verizon and got a new phone. I’ve had my mom’s old iPhone for over a year now, and she had it for two years before that, and the thing was just starting to lose everything. No battery life, no storage, the whole deal. It was time. Verizon can definitely thank Lil’ Wayne for pushing me over the edge; I’d been vacillating between the iPhone 6s (or trying to wait until the 7 came out?) and an Android, and Samsung came out with the Galaxy S7, which is water-resistant (seriously, you could put it in a fish tank and it would still work – I’m so curious but not $700 worth of curious, so I’ll leave that to the professionals and try to keep my phone on dry land), and that’s what did it. I’m a bath-taker and also incredibly accident-prone, so this seems like the right choice. Also, I had an S4 once, and I loved it. Apparently, the S6 was a miserable piece of equipment, and they’ve corrected that (righted their wrongs and put things back) in the newest version, so I’m in.

We shall see. It’s been a funny adjustment, because I had forgotten everything. But alas, it’s like riding a bike. Your fingers and brain relearn the moves, and it’s been not even 48 hours and I’m back in the groove.

Then I had dinner with my mom. First dinner, to be more accurate. We ate salad and caught up for an hour or so. It was so nice. I really love my mom. Then I had second dinner with my friend Emily. Man, I really love sushi and sake. I also love having friends that you’ve known forever. It’s so wonderful to love someone who really knows you. Emily has known me since high school, and I am really happy that we haven’t let our friendship slip. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and all of the things I love. We had a nice time, except for the fact that my dark circles threatened to swallow me whole. I had that blank, empty stare of exhaustion by the time we were done.

Finally, finally, came the sleep. My exhausted body was so pleased to find bed and pillows and blankets, and I was gone, weekend concluded. Not too bad for 55 hours, right? Errands, accomplishments, exercise, family, friends, dancing, date night, alcohol, ice cream, adventure, new technology, and babies! All of the best things. Nailed it.

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 the Duality of Dreams and the Magic of Acro Yoga, Swimmingly

I did something wonderful last night. I went with a friend to try out acro yoga, which is partner yoga – think acrobatic controlled movement. It’s amazing. I was spellbound; I haven’t quite felt my eyes widen to try to take everything in the way they did last night in a long time.

I’d always wanted to do it, but never had actually really done it, and last night was quite the adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into, and today I am completely sore but so very happy. My body is quiet. It stretched and did things I wasn’t sure it could do – at one point, I was upside down with my shoulders resting on someone’s hands while I held onto their ankles and somehow managed to keep my body completely straight up and down. It was magical. The feeling of accomplishment at that was the most satisfied I’ve been in a while.

My friend remarked that I’m a quick learner, because by the end of the whole thing, I was just as eager as I had been at the beginning, but now somehow completely more comfortable and feeling very confident – not confident that I’m fantastic at it, but less hesitant and more able to give it all a go. He’s been doing it for ages, and of course is insanely strong and knowledgeable, which is nice to have because his calm ability to explain things while I was mid-air was very helpful. And also super attractive.

I think that the decade of dancing helped quite a bit, even though not everything felt natural, my body has retained some of its flexibility and is eager to bend and be. This is definitely something that I want to explore more.  Just sheer unbridled joy. It was wonderful.

After, we went and mingled over drinks with his yoga people, and I was delighted to find myself submerged in a completely unknown social environment in which I felt entirely comfortable. It was fun.

***

I’m a firm believer that as we age, we lose some of the connectivity we have with the energy on this earth; that the childlike wonder is infinitely more in tune with the environment than our older selves, due to the chaotic cluttering of the airwaves. Responsibility, society, work, experience – all of those things cloud our minds and work to limit our ability to be truly in tune.

It’s the reason teenagers are so lame – they’re suddenly aware of how people perceive them, and they don’t want to appear anything but cool about anything, so instead of allowing their excitement to show, they’ll just nod, and say, “cool,” with a shrug.

That’s why I actively practice childlike wonder. I want to be as enthralled as possible with new experiences, because there is such great joy in those moments. I want to be curious and learn everything about everything. I want to wonder, to wander, and to feel. I take time to lay in the grass (not directly, I’m allergic as all hell) and stare up at the clouds when they’re the most cumulus (digging that as a descriptor).

I write about the strength in intuition, and how I have relied on it for my biggest decisions. I have been actively working for years now to quiet the other external and internal thought processes and inputs and to listen to that voice. I’ve gotten so much better at it than I used to be, and I’ve stopped second-guessing myself so much. A huge part of the internal dialogue is self-critical (at least for me), and being able to disregard it has let me let the self-doubt fall away. It’s magical, that feeling of surety and confidence in my own being.

But I disgress…a bit.

When I was nine, the Broncos won the Super Bowl. I knew that they would, because I’d had a dream of hands touching the Lombardi trophy. I told a man that in a pager store, long before the big game. He didn’t believe me. I was tiny, and very firm in my assertion.

As a child, I had a pink dress my grandmother brought back from Spain. It was my “Spain dress,” and I wore it until it was dirty and ripped and tight in the armpits; I loved that dress immensely. I had a dream one night that I was twirling around in the backyard (because the best part of any dress or skirt is its flowy spinnability – when you twirl, how much area/separation do you get between the fabric and the legs? It’s an important consideration, to be sure), and my dad came out and told me that my aunt was getting married. And sure enough, one day, I was twirling around in the backyard and the announcement came: my aunt was getting married.

I’ve long dreamed very intense dreams; they come and go in different stages of presentation depending on my stress levels, life places, etc., but when the dreams are their purest, they are often telling and illuminating in ways I appreciate.

This fall, I had a dream – I don’t remember the specifics – but I woke up knowing that I needed to be on guard. That semi-conscious premonition alerted me to something I didn’t see coming, and that day, when the moment happened, I was prepared and able to handle it gracefully and smoothly, without the duress that I would have felt had I been blindsided by it. Katie (Un)Consciousness for the win.

My dreams the last two nights have been vivid. The other night, I dreamed two different dreams within the same dream (you know how they go – they wind and twist and change so abruptly, yet somehow comingle with the certainty of a single experience). Each dream involved rocks and water. In one, I was in a warm, light place, under water, with the perspective of two pairs of feet submerged to the shins. The water was clear and blue and I was content to observe these two pairs of feet just being, as the waves rolled around them.

In the other scenario, I was in my car, in the mountains. This day was far darker, a cold blackness of winter. I looked away, for a second, and my car slid along a rocky cliff edge that hadn’t been there before, furiously, and I could not control it. The dream flashed forward to me, half submerged in dark water, trying to pull myself out using the cold rocks around me. There were other people there, suddenly, doing whatever it is that they were doing, and a giant dangling spider and for some odd reason, a squirrel? The dangling spider was close to my hair, and I didn’t want to become entangled with spider and web and hair. But I couldn’t get out. And so I remained, half submerged, attempting to climb out, unable to do so.

And then the warm place was back again. The people and the beach and their waterfall, which is what they were standing under. I watched their feet, unable to “look” elsewhere, but I could hear their murmured conversation and their laughter.

I woke, curious about the odd duality of the matter displayed in my dreams. I think I know, but am not sure yet which dream location belongs to which of the things that relate to the things in my life. I think I know that too. I’ll sleep on it.

Last night, much the same, although with people I know. The general strangeness of setting and barely discernable plot lines plus the people – my family, a friend, other minor characters. Most of the dream has slipped back into my subconscious now, I’ve lost my own creation, but I remember starkly the presence of one person and then later the food on a plate – all of it green. I am curious about the clear warning of envy here, and what it will mean. Also, I’m suddenly craving pistaschio pudding.

 

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 Grit, Honestly

The following is a very brief (not really) email I sent to a friend today. We’ve been discussing all the things lately, and I felt compelled to word vomit my thoughts on things. Regardless of the response, I was actually very pleased with the content, as I had been mulling turning those thoughts into a blog post, and thus, when it came into being, I thought I’d share.

The meat of the whole communication stemmed from my rumination on grit as an essential human characteristic. I’ve written about it before, usually in expressing gratitude towards my mother for raising us to be resilient, but in all honesty, I think it has far broader applications…

Some of it stems from my job, the not being satisfied or appreciated or compensated properly, and part of it stems from the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Part of me is okay with that, and other parts of me are not. I remember my old boss saying, so many times, “We are not what we do,” which is true, but so often forgotten. When people ask me what it is that I do, I regurgitate an oft-repeated attempt at summarizing my job duties, only to realize that I’ve failed miserably at describing myself as a human.

And then people ask me what it is that I’d like to do, and again and again, I come up short. What I would like to do is write, do law things, invoke passion (both my own and others), and create lasting impressions on the people with whom I work. This is clearly not any sort of tangible job description, and yet, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing this all wrong.

But then again, it doesn’t matter. The parts of me concerned with becoming wealthy long ago gave up those dreams, only because I don’t care to work myself to death accumulating wealth that won’t be anything more than a number printed on a bank statement. Yes, it would be nice to breathe and feel and travel, and yet, I don’t feel compelled to seek my fortune if it means giving up the principles to which I adhere. And that is authenticity, mostly. My genuine spirit cannot be tampered with, and my strict belief in transparency is not malleable. Of course, I could find a better wage without sacrificing those things, to be sure, and that is the task at hand.

How do I become a better (compensated) person while following my true passions?

That was off track, but not in the least. I am lost, wandering, languishing in the mediocre, even though I seem to have the rest of things semi-sorted. I want for things, of course, and I want for change, and yet, I am afraid of the leap.

This whole discussion began with us discussing fear, and change, and self-actualization, things that I can wholeheartedly relate to, and must conquer. And yet, simultaneously, I find myself frustrated with the whole of society, with our processes and petty procedural necessities. The race to succeed as a whole, rather than the enjoyment of the journey.

Here, is my rumination on identity, humanness, and grit, the oft-overlooked characteristic that so many people lack:

 

Grit (to me, of course) is the having seen and lived through things that shape us as humans and our worldview, and then still making the choice to pursue happiness, lightness, joy, success, whatever else. It’s not necessarily tenacious pursuit of a goal out of sheer stubbornness, but rather the continual push for forward progress in spite of obstacles. There’s nothing so distasteful to me as someone who can’t (really, won’t) fend for themselves or take responsibility for the things that need handling, even if that means asking for help. I think that having seen the less-than-wonderful things in the world makes us all more resilient, and I think that people who allow the dark parts to become a part of them rather than carrying them around like a dark cloud and then choose to grow from those experiences are really the most wonderful people. It makes the practice of empathy so much more natural. It’s an excellent source of strength, I think.

I don’t believe that there is ever a “right” choice. For me the definitions of “success” and “right” are all so subjective that there can never be a right choice, although that said, there can certainly be a wrong choice. Or a more wrong choice? A wronger choice? Ah, well. As I emerge into adulthood, I have realized that people make some seriously questionable choices in ways that I would never imagine. And yet, these people are still maybe or maybe not “successful” or present as “happy” by the standard social evaluation, but to what end? They’re drowning in debt, or sinking into stagnant places, or ultimately miserable for any number of reasons, or chasing unattainable things… But dammit, we’re determined to be the Kardashians if it kills us. (Hahahaha, please imagine how amazing I would look with a super fake tan. I’ll let that sink in, because we both know the spray tan won’t.)

Does making the “right” choices lead to happiness? — What is the ultimate goal for making “right” choices? — How do you measure success? – Where does courage come from? (For me, it’s how do I switch in and out of lion mode when I need to? My therapist loves that I’ve finally started being able to turn anger/upset outward into motivation/courage rather than internalizing it against myself. Dear god, that in itself is worth everything.) — What is “good”? —- What is the ultimate meaning of life?

Like all things, progress has complicated everything. In coming out of the space where every decision was life and death, or that survival depended entirely on our ability for self-preservation and procreation and ultimately continuation of our lines through work, we’ve softened. We’ve constructed (more) elaborate social hierarchies and taken the magic luxuries for granted (hot water, clean water, transportation, food, and so on. Did I mention hot water?). In doing so, we’ve complicated our lives by layering an increasingly complicated understanding of meaning onto the whole thing. (Okay, in all fairness, these have been core human functions since the dawn of our existence – music, religion of some sort, celebration and ceremony, social grieving…) But now that we’re not on the edge of survival all day every day, we’ve lost our ability to seek smaller joy in favor of a sweeping greater narrative – much like our inability to live in the moment with our damned smart phones and our need for ever-increasing entertainment stimulation, we’ve let go of the things that drive the core humanness of our existence. We’re chasing something that’s already there.

I think it’s all about the ability to resolve the disparate parts of our identities (nerdy video gamer, wild human, party girl, role model/mentor, family member, friend, caregiver, bookworm, etc.) and to be able to pursue the things that resonate with our own cores. Our meanings are all our own, and part of getting to a place of peace and contentment is acceptance (first and foremost, self-acceptance, but also acceptance of so much else as well). Quieting the outside input allows for greater accuracy in the assessment of our desires, needs, and motivations, ultimately guiding us to the choice that feels the most right. (That’s how I make all big decisions. I listen to my gut. I let it decide. It’s very rarely wrong, and as a result, I have very few regrets.)

I’m a firm believer that as we age, our internal voices become so drowned out by the external and the demands of the real world that we lose a lot of our sense of wonder and purpose. Part of it is self-realization (in a good way, when you’re aware of yourself and actualized as your best being, but in a neutral/potentially negative way when you become aware of yourself in relation to others — think of that moment sometime during adolescence when you started to become painfully aware of yourself and were immediately swimming in perceived inadequacies and comparisons that hadn’t been there before) and part of it is the hectic chaos around us.

But the best moments come in the understanding of being a part of something bigger, but also being absolutely your own island. For me, standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, staring out into the endless water, but also firmly on concrete, surrounded by the immensity of a giant metropolis is the very best feeling. I am free, in that moment, just another person on the street, both no one and someone alone in the vast big world. It’s the most surreal feeling and it’s wonderful. That’s where the wonder comes from, and I hope that I never lose that ability to feel things, to really experience little joys and big joys and embrace the whole journey. It’s why I love children so much. They haven’t lost it yet; they’re amazed by everything, their joy is pure and undampened, and their ability to perceive is still insanely on point.

I’ve never been able to meditate, but I do have an app for it (because of course, why wouldn’t I have one?), but I’m working on getting there. One year, my word/phrase for the year was “do less,” (yep, thanks Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) because I’d been sucked into the hectic pace and realized that I’d lost touch with my quiet self. It was a great year. I did less. I allowed for boredom, because in that, I found my creativity and curiosity again. And in that, joy and wonder. Or at the very least, quite a bit of satisfaction.

On Kindness, Very Elderly

“Mustard and onions!” he would shout as soon he’d gotten himself through the door, gingerly shuffling up to the counter. He’s pull out crumpled dollars and some change. It was $1.62, always the same order: hot dog with mustard and onions, shortened to just “mustard and onions.”

Sometimes we’d see him coming and start his hot dog before he’d even gotten through the door (we had time; the man was 94 years old and no spring chicken. It’s interesting, to attempt to race an old man by microwaving a hot dog to have it ready for him before he’s even ordered it). His hands weren’t as nimble as they used to be, so we’d open the mustard packets for him and carry the hot dog out to his seat.

He would regularly give us a $5 tip and tell us not to spend it on the opposite sex. “Don’t spend this on men,” he’d caution, and I’d smile and swear I wouldn’t. And I never did.

He had a tiny white Pomeranian-looking dog thing he’d gotten from the Dumb Friends League. The tiny dog was tethered to the man’s walker by his leash, and the both of them were parked outside the large side window while the man ate his hot dog at the tall table in the corner. We used to bring the dog a little cup of ice cream to eat while the man was inside. One time, he yelled at me not to bite his dog, which made me laugh, mostly because it terrified some tiny children waiting in line. Once, the dog ran into the parking lot, dragging the walker with him. That caused a brief upset, and both the dog and the walker were safely recovered, returned to their post on the sidewalk.

Over time, I learned that the man had been a captain in the Navy during WWII. We talked about that when the captain ran his ship aground while showing off for friends off the coast of Italy. The man shook his head, clearly disappointed by the captain’s idiocy. When I was dating a Marine, he told me that the best part about the service was that when I got bored with the man, I could send him right back to the Marines.

He was the bright spot on many days. When we had new people working, who didn’t understand the “mustard and onions,” shorthand, they’d panic, confused by the gruff shout. He lived nearby, and walked the block and a half to the Dairy Queen regularly, exercise and human connection.

This morning, I read a post on Facebook written by a woman who’d taken her young children to a Target store for a quick necessities run, only to find herself behind an elderly woman in line who was paying for each item individually, in change. The woman wrote about her initial annoyance, but then wrote about how the cashier’s patience and helpfulness with the change counting and the interaction struck her. When the woman was done purchasing her items, she asked if she had enough to purchase a reusable bag, which she did. The cashier repackaged the woman’s purchases with a smile, no hint of aggravation or annoyance. She watched her young daughter watch the interaction, and she felt compelled to find the manager to speak about the cashier’s actions. And then she posted about it, which is of course how it came to me this morning, via a newsfeed so full of cluttered self-important noise.

When I was in high school, first beginning my time as the Dairy Queen (a self-imposed title, to be sure), we used to have an old woman come in and purchase a child-sized twist cone. Then she’d linger by the counter, chatting. At first, I was annoyed. I had things to do – re-stocking candies and cups and spoons. My manager at the time, a fantastic manager who somehow commanded and compromised and inspired with her honest work ethic and beautiful handling of high school employees who knew nothing about the working world, always encouraged us to stay and talk to her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that for this woman, we were human interaction, not just a quick pit stop on the way to other things. It wasn’t until I grew into more adult awareness that I realized the haunting reality of the loneliness that comes with aging.

It tears at me, now, to think of people, not just the elderly, who are alone. I see the posts about how they’ve put a pre-school in a nursing home, and I’m fascinated by the sheer brilliance of the idea. I don’t know why we don’t have those everywhere, because we should.

I shed a few tears this morning, thinking of the hustling, frantic pace of our world, and the isolation that comes with our own self-involved narrow focuses. Much in line with my recent ruminations on the disillusionment of life, I find it disheartening that we feel compelled to share these stories of small kindnesses as some kind of heroic behavior, because in my own idealistic view of the world, these would be commonplace courtesies performed not out of duty but out of sheer goodwill.

I looked forward to seeing that old man every day. I brightened when he came in. I took as much (maybe more) from our interactions as he did. I still think of him, from time to time, and hope he’s okay. He might not be, it might be that he’s passed away or moved to a nursing home, but some small part of me wants to tell him how much he meant to me, and how his presence in my life made me better, happier, more fulfilled.

Listening to NPR cover the death of Alan Rickman last night, I heard the voice of one of his friends describe him using all of the words we all aspire to: kind-hearted, funny, and so on, and I started to think about the legacy that I will someday leave behind. The totality of our lives is summed up not on paper, which will eventually be filed away somewhere and left to the dust, but exists in the impressions we leave on those around us.

We get back what we put into this world, unless we don’t, in which case we must take comfort in knowing that we’ve done and been the best we could have been. My Russian co-worker, who became a dear friend, told me that she felt very deeply that the only reason she’d come back from Russia to be here for 9 months was so I could come into her life and we could become friends. She appreciated my sense of humor and my outlook. She’s back in Russia now, and I miss her every day. I miss our discussions of English language, and her laughter and our shared plants, which mingled in my tiny garden and grew together.

She’ll never know how much that compliment meant to me, and how it drives me when I’m in need of motivation. This. This is the reason we need other humans. We need them because the ripple effects of the smallest kindnesses don’t go unnoticed; they carry onward, softening over time, but still changing their environments. The harder we work to bring joy to those around us, the more joy there is to go around. That sounds Pollyannaish, and I don’t care. Taking the time to make small positive impacts is something that can have a very real and valuable return. It’s important, and we don’t seem to do enough of it.

On Falling, Swiftly

This is going to be a whole bunch of word-vomit about what it’s like to be in love, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, stop reading now.

I’ve been putting off blogging lately, because I have two serious fears about blogging while happy: one, that it will somehow magically disappear because I’ve talked about it, and two, that I’ll come across as a boastful, arrogant and/or smarmy. Smarmy is the perfect word to describe that, because I feel slimy typing it. That’s not how I want to be perceived.

Anyway – it’s time. I have accepted love, settled into it, and am attempting to keep my cool. And now you should know about it.

I met a boy.

Okay, you know that story. Everyone meets boys all the time. And they’re just that. Boys. They’re funny and they’re quick-witted, but then what? Where does it go?

This one is different. This one’s more man than boy, but has still managed to retain his youthful charm.

This one matches me, in a way that I was entirely unprepared for. Before our third date, I’d decided that I was going to be single for a long time — single in a way that allowed me to figure out how to become a real person, single in a way that allowed me to figure out what it was that I wanted, single in a way that I imagined would help me be better able to spot the one when he happened by.

But as it turns out, he happened by.

We went on our third date sometime in early June. We’d both come into the date with some heavy info about the other (because of our mutual friends, oddly enough), and we were both hesitant, nervous, tentative. But somehow, over vegetarian waffles and whatever noodle dish he ordered (he remembers kim-chi stew), we sorted it all out and lingered.

After that, it was like it had been lit on fire — the propensity of the potential skyrocketed that night, much like it has since, and I found myself entirely comfortable and disconcerted at the same time. How do you meet someone who shares your dreams, your goals, your passions and not recognize that?

You don’t. I mean, you do. In the best way. You accept it; you embrace it; you allow yourself to jump in with both feet.

I found that, unexpectedly. For the first time in my entire life, I’ve jumped into something that terrifies me. Not because it’s bad, but because it might be right. So yes, it terrifies me. I’ll never forget the moment that my mom stared me in the face, in one of those “real talk” moments and said, “You’re prettier than I ever was; you’re smarter than I ever was; never settle.” And she’s wrong about two of those points (my mom was a fox, and she’s the cleverest, wittiest woman I’ve ever met), but the never settling part was burned into my brain. I never wanted to settle, and there’s a few times in my life that I just about have. Thank goodness I had that talk in the back of my brain, stirring the secret inclination that there might be something else out there.

This is one of those things that if it works out, I’ll be one of those annoying humans who says, “When you know, you know.” And I hope I’m both annoying and right. I hope that I’ve found the person I’ve been searching for.

He’s smart. He’s brilliant, actually, nerdy in the way that I wanted when I was younger, then gave up for the worst sort of man/boy. He’s funny; he’s smart; he’s non-judgmental. He’s sweet, kind, and he adores me. How wonderful it is to be adored, for exactly who I am with, with no pressure or pretense.

I’ve been attempting to explain to him the immensity of this – the fact that I’ve never gone into anything with two feet and that I’ve always held back. I’m still not sure that he understands how much he means to me.

I’m enthralled by his intelligence, his humor, and his sense of purpose. We seem to want the same things. We seem to have enough similar interests to keep the other entertained for a while (or at least cultivate new and different interests along the way). He’s an introvert; I’m clearly not, and we’ve both attempted to be communicative in ways that will mitigate any potential disruption as a result of that.

He’s met my family, mostly. There’s still a Denver contingent that he needs to meet, but my most conservative, hard-to-please matriarch on one side is absolutely enamored with him, and I consider that to be a solid win. I imagine that the rest of my family will love him; mostly because of who he is as a human, but also because of the happiness that he brings to me.

It’s a calm that I’ve never felt. Even while the stirrings of the inevitable are writhing around inside of me (and with them, the natural panic of relationship-ing), I have an unsettling and yet very settled feeling of deep content. I’m settled, even though nothing is sorted and the future is wild and unbridled. We may end up in Africa, or Indonesia, or wherever, and for the first time in my life, I’ve admitted to myself and to another that I would be willing to forego my Denver life in order to create and establish something else somewhere else with someone else.

I wish for adventure and for magic; I also wish for communication and understanding and appreciation. I want love, life, and happiness. I want to struggle with someone; to grow with that person; to arrive at the end of our lives and to be able to say that we’ve done everything that we wanted to do and that we’ve made something of ourselves, and created a life together. I imagine this, and I adore this imagination, and I truly hope that in some way, I am able to substantiate it. I want nothing more than whatever comes, but whatever it is, I hope that it is as breathtakingly beautiful as the past few months have been.

On Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins, Nostalgically

I wrote recently about the disillusionment that comes with adulthood, and last night, I felt all of that, and then none of it.

I have been so excited about seeing Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins at Red Rocks for weeks. I didn’t think I’d be able to find anyone to go with me, but lo and behold my friend Emily was game. (She is my favorite for concerts of moderately ill-repute; we’ve seen Swayze, Mickey Avalon, a local Denver band masquerading as fake Germans called Total Ghost…..all of them equally fantastic in their own ways.)

I saw Marilyn Manson play in Milwaukee in 2009 and I was enthralled. The show was amazing. I was with my college boyfriend, and he loved Marilyn Manson. He’s the one who got me into him. I find Manson’s music to be mediocre when it comes to hardcore cred he’s tried to earn over the years; his act is more of an image-based popularity. But he does touch on themes of love and disillusionment that I so identified with during my teenage and early 20s years.

I’ve never seen The Smashing Pumpkins. The ringtone I had set for my mom for years was “1979,” so whenever I hear that song, I think of her, and then think I might be in trouble. It’s sweet, that way. My friend Dave in college had all of their music on vinyl. I’ve never been that into vinyl, but he had me at “Want to come over and see my records?” I did. They were crammed into his studio apartment, and I respected him immensely for allowing pieces of flat discs crammed into cardboard to consume so much of his living space.

Rolling Stone posted a review which very adequately described the show. Marilyn Manson was present, said the word “Denver” at least seven times, and had a suitably theatric, aesthetically interesting show, but it lacked the energy that The Pumpkins were able to provide.

I personally was crushed because he didn’t play “The Nobodies” or “Love Song,” both off his Holy Wood album (which is my favorite). Or even “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” newer but sweet in its own way. But still, even as he’s progressed into the depth of adulthood, he’s not lost his slightly irreverent charm. Emily and I concurred that it might have been our Catholic school upbringings, but there’s something beautiful in the slight scorn of religion. Then again, I’ve lost the passion for all things anti-Christ (most likely because I don’t have an overly devout teacher calling me “Sister Katherine” in a slightly sarcastic way, spurring the inklings of teenage rebellion), and much of the set fell flat for me because I’m no longer amused by religious appropriation. Much of his set was propelled by props but lacked substance and soul.

But oh my, The Smashing Pumpkins, or what’s left of them (namely Billy Corgan), blew my mind, tore apart my heart, and released such great nostalgia and joy. It’s that cathartic energy that brings you simultaneously back and forward, to the nights when you first fell in love and felt your emotions in time with their songs, and suddenly into the present here, now.

We stopped for a bathroom break and then decided we would wait for a few more songs before we adulted our way out of the amphitheater. I am so glad we did. We were able to find standing room in the 6th row, where we saw them play my favorite songs. “Landslide,” “1979,” everything else. I caught myself smiling that wide, unbidden joyous smile.

I fell in love with The Smashing Pumpkins my freshman year of college, and the resonance has never left. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was my jam forever. Hearing it live was beyond fantastic.

My life is such a fantastic one. I’m so pleased to be able to look forward and look back, and spend time with people who have known me (and will know me) forever. I treasure my adventures; each and every experience; every minute I am able to do what I want, because I know that there is only this one chance. I’m not giving it up without a fight.

I love the intensity of this photo. I love our faces, our lives, our experiences. I am so blessed to have a friend who will go with me to the strangest places and who will fully commit to the adventure of living in the moment. We look like animals. I love it. I love the intensity here. We had an absolute blast. My life is even more complete now.