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.

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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 Fear and the Bad Thing, Unabashedly and Forwardly

Trigger Warning, Yo. Things here are things that you shouldn’t look at if you’re at risk for being triggered by sexual assaults and such. Sorry in advance, shit’s about to get heavy.

It’s been ages. I’ve been avoiding blogging. Sorry.

It’s a long story, but my life took a complete detour. I know that’s how it always goes, the best laid plans always end up in complete and utter disarray, but this turn was long and winding in ways that I had never expected. I’m back on track now, thankfully. It’s been rough, to say the least, but I’m finally back where I need to be. I think.

I have been avoiding blogging. I haven’t had anything to say. I hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but I so badly want to want to blog again, and I have a feeling that saying this will help with that. It’s been bottled up forever, and if there’s one thing they can’t take from me, it’s the one thing I love more than anything: writing.

In short (not short) – I spent nearly six months being unemployed. It was necessary. It was a godsend, actually, because in the course of filing for unemployment, I got the opportunity to find closure for something that had haunted me for a long time. It was expensive, for me, but I get to sleep through the night now with the satisfaction that had escaped me for an entire year.

Here’s the short (of course, not so short) story: I was drugged and assaulted by a co-worker while I was a tradeshow in New York in January of 2013. I blacked out fifteen minutes into having a drink with a man I detested, but with whom I wanted to have a good working relationship. I woke up naked in a hotel room. There was a beer bottle on the tv stand. I hadn’t been drinking beer that night. I had missed meetings. I was sick, confused, dizzy. I had to GPS my way back to the hotel where the conference was after doing some printing for work. It was two blocks. There’s more, but you don’t need it.

My assailant met me outside the bathroom of the tradeshow floor – where I had been throwing up – and asked me what I remembered about the night before. I told him nothing, and asked him what had happened. He told me that we had “just had some fun,” and then apologized profusely. I was sick. I was in trouble. My bosses were so angry with me. I was in shock. I was so afraid of losing my job that I never went to the hospital. I was terrified. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I was okay. (I hate the band FUN. and anything that explicitly says, “Fun” on it because nothing is fun, not after that.)

I got back to Denver and spent an entire Saturday crying. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried for 6 straight hours, but it’s fucking terrible. I knew it was bad when my brother came to the door of my room and told me he loved me. He never does that. That’s when you know things are bad.  That Sunday was the Super Bowl. That was rough, too.

When we got back to Denver, back to work, they wrote me up for missing the meetings. They told me that they were leaving everything else out to protect me. They asked me if I thought I had been drugged. I told them that yes, I thought I had. They assured me that this was just a matter of procedure (the write up, not the drugging). I went along with it. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to do. I went back to work.

I tried to put the whole thing behind me. I couldn’t. I had a full-on emotional breakdown in April 2013, after reading a blog post by an economist who theorized that sexual assault while the victim is unconscious does no lasting damage. There’s a post there, from that moment, that I’ll never forget as long as I live. That day was my grandmother’s birthday party. I tried to smile.

After that point, I missed an entire week of work. My employer, realizing that this was actually a real thing, hired an investigator and conducted an internal investigation, but the findings that came back in June were “inconclusive” and I was told that while I wasn’t being fired, I was free to leave. The assailant? He kept his job. I left in July. I wish I could explain to you how great I felt the day that I quit. I felt like a god, for a few minutes, swelling with a happiness I hadn’t felt in months. I gave them three weeks’ notice, because my boss had told me to give as much notice as possible. The actual separation was much worse. The day I left, I wrote a post. The vice president of the company accidentally copied me on an email he was sending to my boss with a link to my blog and the subject line: There you go.

I stopped writing because I couldn’t write about, much less think about or talk about, anything else. I was at a point where I could hardly get out of bed. It was horrible. I felt like dying. I’ve never been so down in my entire life. I am so thankful for my friends – they listened to me for hours; they listened to me say the same things over and over and over; without them, I wouldn’t be here. I lost a few, too, because the things I was fixated on were too much. I get that. I hate that. I’m sorry. Grief has those ways of expression – mine was verbalizing it. Word vomit, everywhere, all the time. Oh, you have a job? Here’s my story….Blahhhhhh. I can’t describe how horrible it is to know that you’re being weird and not be able to stop.

I went back to work at the Dairy Queen I’d worked for since I was sixteen. I spent a year there. I managed. I was actually a really good manager. I’m good at customers, at people, at keeping things running smoothly. I went to work in the office, which I loved. I began to do more. I left there due to a whole slough of circumstances – mostly my foot surgery. My boss told me he wouldn’t contest my unemployment, since we had a good relationship and I’d worked there for a decade and the separation wasn’t bad. I filed for unemployment, having no idea what I was going to do.

When you file for unemployment, they take the wages not from the current quarter, or even the quarter before that, it’s the four quarters before that. (Think 18 months, minus the last six or so.) It was my birthday. It was a Sunday. I was filing for unemployment, frustrated and sad, and when the state asked me what the reason for the separation from my former employer (not my most recent one), I was honest. I wrote, “I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. After the investigation came back inconclusive, I quit.” Turns out, this is a legitimate reason to quit. I could have filed for unemployment benefits the minute I quit last year. I could have saved a year of my life spent blending ice cream and chunks of fattening cookies products and cleaning fruit gobs off of things and wearing gross polo shirts. Not that it was all bad. It wasn’t.

A state adjudicator called. We talked for twenty minutes. He was so understanding. He was amazing – I swear, if it was okay to send a thank-you note to a state agency, I would. I’d send flowers and fruit arrangements and my eternal gratitude. I told him what had happened, and he was professional and factual and expressed his condolences to me. I was professional, too, in a calm way I had not thought I could be. I was objective, or at least as objective as I could have been as I discussed the events that led to my separation. (Objectively subjective, if that’s a thing.) It wasn’t emotional. It was what I said it was. It was this date, and that date, and this happened next, and then this.

The decision came back. I won. I had been awarded unemployment benefits because the separation was not my fault. I cried hot tears of happiness. I felt as though pieces of my soul had been put back (wherever pieces of your soul go – your heart? I always imagine pieces of my brain going into place like a puzzle, which I feel like can’t be right, but it’s like that). Winning felt like justice. A third party – objective, with no vested interest in the findings, had looked at the evidence and ruled in my favor. He’s going to do another hundred of those that week. I was a social security number and a task to be checked off. He was my knight in shining armor, even if he didn’t know it. Guy, wherever you are, you are doing a great job. Keep doing that.

My employer appealed. We went to a hearing. I hired a lawyer, realizing that this was the only chance I was going to have for any sort of justice. She was great. I’m so glad I found her. I could have done it without her, actually, but having her there gave me resolve. I so badly wanted to get a favorable decision. I went into the hearing knowing that I was going to give it everything I had. Everything. I prepped for weeks. My mom came with me, emotional support. We sat in the room. My employer appeared by phone. I’m so glad – I only cried twice during the hearing, once when I talked about tendering my resignation and once when it was all over; it was overwhelming and I was full of the need to cry. I don’t know if I could have been as strong as I was – and I was; I was full on fucking lion-Katie – if they’d been there in person. I would have been a tearful puddle of sadness. I wouldn’t have been able to summon the heartbreak and rage that I needed to put on my big girl pants and handle the situation. Handle it. I handled that shit so hard. Seriously.

The hearing lasted two and a half hours, where most unemployment hearings are less than a half an hour. I got to tell the entire story, from beginning to end. I got to provide documentation. The hearing officer was fantastic. She was very adept, assertive in a very intellectual way, very quick to ask questions. I believe that she became angry when she asked my employer for a copy of the original HR investigation report. They refused to provide it, even though they referenced it throughout the hearing. I wonder, to this day, what was in that report. I wonder why they hired a second attorney to review it (something I learned the day of the hearing). I wonder why they were so adamant about not providing it, since their HR rep tried to tell the hearing officer that it was just a collection of notes, even though she’d ripped my therapist a new one about it, asking him if he’d ever seen it and why he thought he could testify about it/me. Ha. He responded that he was only testifying about me, my symptoms, and his experience of my therapy and trauma timeline. I would pay good money to see what that report said, since the day I was interviewed by the HR investigator, she told me that it wasn’t that hard to fire a contractor. She also tsked at times when I talked about how things were handled between myself and the bosses for reporting of the whole thing. She even gave me a book about feminist legal theory, since she discovered I was into that sort of thing. I’m way into that sort of thing, although since it all happened, my exposure to feminist everything has been limited to avoid triggering me. Stupid. I hate that. Take the one thing I love, why don’t you? I’ll get there. I’ll be able to read reports about sexual assault and rape without freaking out. It’ll happen.

Because of the hearing, I got to see the write up that was issued to my assailant the day they told me about the decision, in June. It said that no matter how noble his intentions….finding himself in a hotel room with a co-worker was unprofessional and not to happen again. I laughed, actually, at that. I should frame it, so I can remember how not to act as an adult, how not to reprimand, how not to manage, how not to resolve a situation. It’s disgusting. It’s fucking upsetting. It’s ridiculous. Six months later? That’s the best stern reprimand you’ve got? He’s costing you thousands of dollars in investigation costs. He’s costing you time and whatever else. He wasn’t written up for not calling the HR lady back the day he was informed of the investigation in May – he called my office and cell phones repeatedly that day, never leaving a voice message. Over and over the phone rang. I shook the whole time. My employer didn’t tell him to stop until the next day, when I had to email them a second time to tell them that the repeated harassment was upsetting to me. I was afraid to answer my phone for ages.

I left the department of labor and employment the day of the hearing feeling fantastic. I felt good. My support system was there. My lawyer told me that barring some strange legal technicality, she had no idea how I couldn’t win. I had told my truth, from beginning to end. I had responded semi-nastily, in the most professional of ways, to the ridiculous inquiries and assertions of emotional instability from my former employer and their representative. I got to hear the hearing officer ask them, using the words “ham-handed,” that if I had been hit by a bus, would they have written me up?

My former lady boss was amazing. I feel for her – I want to send her flowers, for testifying honestly. I hope that she didn’t get into any trouble. I always respected her and valued our relationship. It wasn’t the same after she asked me if it was because I got in trouble the day I had my breakdown. I know that she’d worked for them forever, and I hope that as a result of her testimony, she wasn’t in trouble. I love her. I sometimes think about her, and I hope that she’s doing okay. Seriously. Fruit baskets. Whatever she wants.

My boss boss’s testimony was different. He became agitated. The hearing officer asked him to clarify something he’d testified to three minutes prior, the issue of whether he’d known at the time of the write-up that something had happened, and he became angry and sarcastic. It was a yes or no question. He responded, “Sure.” That was the best response, I think. Instead of a yes or a no, it was a nasty “sure.” I watched the hearing officer’s face when he said that. She was intently scribbling notes. Intently. Very intently. I was hot with the prospect of his response – the annoyance he showed buoyed my claim, or so I felt. He brought some stuff up. I got to rebut it. He asserted that I was emotionally unstable. I got to rebut that. Being ADHD and having anxiety don’t make me unstable – they questioned the fact that I had a therapist, which is funny because the only reason I have him is because during my first annual review, they told me that I had to work on my focus issues. Hence, the ADHD evaluation and subsequent treatment. And my amazing random therapist who has been my rock for way too long.

I hate that everything went so badly. I hate that the people to whom I’d given so much came to hate me, and that our working relationship soured. But at the same time, I find that the people I detest the most are the people who masquerade as good people when they’re really not.

I don’t hate how it turned out. I walked out of that building and it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. People say that, but think about the last time you felt that way. It’s freeing. It’s like you’ve got light again. Light meaning less weight and also light the opposite of dark. The curtain of darkness was lifting, or at least shifting. I lived for a few moments. I put my professional face on that day. I got to change out of sweatpants and put on the business dress that I’d been assaulted in – I wore it for courage, an homage to the hope of my former self.

The decision came via mail. I tore it open like it was a Christmas present. I read it, hardly daring to believe it. I screamed. I cried. I screamed and cried, tears of fucking joy. Tears of healing. Tears of pain. Tears of victory. It was just unemployment benefits. But it wasn’t. It was so much more than that. It was the soothing tears of healing, of justice, of a battle well-fought. I jumped on the bed a little bit. That’s how great it was. I cried some more. I felt the cracks somewhere in the brain puzzle that is my soul personified congeal in the best way, immediate healing. I won. I fucking won. I fought the good fight and I won. I am crying as I type this. I was brave. I was strong. I was everything that I hadn’t felt for so long. The world, which had been so cruel, rewarded me and my honesty and courage.

I collected unemployment benefits for a long time. I found a job, finally. Do you know how hard it is to have to take the honesty route when you’re applying for jobs? When the interviewer asks you, “Why do you have this gap on your resume? Why did you go from being “….” to Dairy Queen?” and you have no choice but to answer honestly? It’s miserable. You’re not only going through the strange hell that is interviewing, but you’re also reliving the worst months of your life while wearing a professional mask. Don’t cry, this is a dry-clean only dress. Ha, good advice.

This year, in September, I got a twitter notification that the vice president of my former company was following me. My stomach dropped into my ass. I checked immediately – he must have been visiting my twitter account and accidentally clicked “follow” and then immediately unfollowed me. I haven’t blogged for so long because I have been afraid. During the end of my employment there and the time that has followed, he has been watching me.

True, I used to be a fun, party child. I used to go out. I used to have friends and social engagements. I used to do things. I don’t have or do those things anymore, and part of me wonders how much of it is the shame I feel when I go out, when I have fun, as though I don’t deserve it. I am afraid. Afraid of deserving what happened to me. Afraid of being judged for being fun after what happened. Afraid that it could happen again. Just afraid. I hate that I’m being watched. Followed, per internet terminology. It’s not enough for a restraining order or anything, but it’s honestly fucking creepy. He’s a forty-plus year old man with nothing better to do than internet stalk his former employee? ….I’m not the only who’d be creeped out by that kind of shit. He’s smart enough not to check my blog from work because he knows I know the IP address.

I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe it’s this. Maybe there’s some sick satisfaction that they get from knowing that my life has been complete and utter shit for the past two years; that I’m not the person that I used to be; that I’ve lost so much; that I’ve been depressed and angry; that I’ve lost most of my friends; that I’ve struggled to get back on track; that my self-esteem has plummeted; that my enjoyment of all things is now minimal. If that’s the case, I hope they’re happy. In that way, you won. In those various ways, I’m not okay, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be. You win, all of you. Go back to your program updates and get the fuck out of my life.

There are things that happen to you that will affect you from the moment that they happen until the time you die and this is one of them. I’m serious. I don’t see fun anymore – I don’t desire it. I desire a night where sleep comes easily. I desire safety. I desire comfort.

When I finally got the courage to tell my now-boyfriend about what had happened, I was at work at the DQ. He was visiting with a friend. The friend knew. Somehow, like always, it spills out. It’s word vomit. Once it starts, I can’t stop it, the narrative pouring from somewhere deep inside me, my heart and stomach simultaneously contracting in a nervous rhythm, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, why did you do that? Fuck, why? Ugh, you’re terrible. When I told him, the first thing he said to me was, “Get his address; I’ll kill him.” My boyfriend is recon. He was a sniper in the Marines. He could. I know the dude’s address by heart. It’s engraved. Obviously, boyfriend was joking – not joking, but attempting to offer reassurance in a way that can never be achieved. He wouldn’t. He’s a good man. Killing is not the answer to anything. We all know that. But it felt good. To be cared about like that. To have such an immediate response. I know that sounds insane, but that sort of reaction helped to provide a bit of healing that day. He’s had to deal with it so much since – me crying all the time, me freaking out, me angry, me depressed. This Thanksgiving, we were in California with his family and I finally told him mom about it all, and he told me that it’s been so hard to love me through all the depression. I am so grateful to have someone who still loves me, through all of it. I know it’s not great. I know it’s not fun. But it is what it is. This is my reality. It doesn’t go away. Sometimes it comes back. He’s the one who has to listen to me sobbing, who has to hold me against his shoulders when it’s too much. He’s the one who has to deal with a lot of the fallout from something he never could have seen coming.

Blergh. There’s all of it. Here’s why I haven’t been blogging in a year. I so love my blog. I have loved writing since I was a child; I have loved blogging since LiveJournal; I have loved being able to express myself. I will begin again. No one can take that from me. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m sorry for word vomiting it all into this space, but I’m glad it’s out. Now I can go on about the rest of my life without this hanging over my head. It’s nice. I was talking with a former professor about everything this summer, and she encouraged me to write about it, in the hopes that it would help me heal. I’m finally writing about it.

🙂

Here’s to it being over. Here’s to fresh starts. Here’s to constant turn of the wheel of time – like it or not, we’re moving forward. But really, I am moving forward. My life is my own. They don’t own it. They can’t control what I do. I am me. I am my own navigator. I will not give up the things I love.

On Feminism, Needily

I’m a feminist. I have been since before I understood what feminism was, and I’m grateful for that. I grew up thinking that I could do anything that I wanted to, without any concern for gender. I hung out with the boys until fourth grade, was never consumed by beauty or girlie things, but absolutely loved my Barbie dolls and everything else girl. It wasn’t an issue. My parents never pushed a gender identity, and I never felt the need to have one. I still consider myself somewhat of a tomboy, although I recently learned how to fill in my eyebrows with powder to make them look more fantastic. I appreciate that knowledge immensely.

I got to college, full of wonder and amazement at the mountains of theory that could be produced by academia, and found my calling. Sociology, women’s studies, and everything that goes along with it fascinated me. I thrived in those classes – to me, it’s like common sense, but more in-depth. More focused. More history, reflection, examination.

One thing that always struck me was Judith Butler’s description of heterosexuality as a performance of drag, meaning that in order to participate in society as a heterosexual man or woman, you’d have to put on the right clothes, and do your makeup a certain way, and act in a way that was socially acceptable.

It all started to click. When I was in high school, I’d given up my nerd persona to try to fit in as a teenage girl. Of course, that meant denying my identity as a “know it all” in pursuit of acceptance. In time, of course, I found that trying on different identities had led me to the truth – that I am who I am, regardless of my outward appearance. I came into my own and found that it was entirely freeing and wonderful.

But let’s get back to feminism. To me, feminism can be summed up in one word: equality. It’s not about being better than anyone, or denying anyone. It’s about being respected and treated as equals.

Here we are, in the twenty-first century. We’re officially post-postmodern, but we’re at a crossroads. Women have gotten the right to vote, and we’ve proved ourselves to be a force to be reckoned with at the polls. We’ve attained degrees, and sought higher education. We’ve entered the workforce and become politicians. We are no longer relegated to the role of teachers or secretaries, not that those roles aren’t absolutely necessary. We’ve been given choices. Motherhood isn’t an absolute identity.

And yet, we’re not there. There isn’t true, sweeping equality. We haven’t broken all of the glass ceilings. The pushback has been intense. Men’s emasculation at the hands of feminists have caused many a sleepless night for those concerned with that sort of thing, those people who believe that it’s a serious fear, that somehow women are determined to undermine our societal stability. (What societal stability?)

Recently, I was made aware of a blog that is focused on submissions from people who believe that they don’t need feminism. It’s called “Women Against Feminism.” It hurts me to read.

We’ve got women being raped and gang raped in India without any assistance from the police. We’ve got ISIS ordering Iraqi women to undergo female genital mutilation, and then backtracking to deny those claims. We’ve got women being kidnapped in Africa for wanting to get an education. It goes on and on. Our world is a broken place, one where being a woman is often a very dangerous thing to be.

You think you don’t need feminism?

The posts are laughable. They claim that they don’t need feminism because they don’t want to be a victim, or because they want to be a stay-at-home mom, or because they want respect and equality.

That’s feminism!

Feminism is about respect. It’s about equality. Feminism has nothing to do with “angry vaginas” or victimization or the furthering of political agendas. (Well….feminists do believe that women should be able to advocate for themselves, so I guess that in itself is a political agenda. I’m guilty of wanting to make my own decisions about my body! One poster says that her daughter is a privilege and not a choice. I’m confused about how feminism had a hand in that. I’m curious how the struggle for equality and respect became the choice to procreate or not — even natural family planning attempts to in some ways influence procreation, and regardless, that’s not about feminism. That’s about birth control. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-choice. I would never have an abortion. See what I did there? I made a choice about my own body….I didn’t make a choice that affected anyone else’s body. That’s feminism.)

One of the posts denies that patriarchy exists; another claims that she can’t think of an instance where feminism hasn’t caused more destruction and violence (I’d love to see her sources). Yet another claims that she doesn’t need feminism because her son shouldn’t be made to feel like less of a person because of his gender. That one got to me. Where does it say that feminism is about making a person feel like less of a person? Aren’t we fighting for the exact opposite thing?

I have a boyfriend. I’ve had him for a while now. Six weeks after we met, I dumped him because he was being a misogynist. He was ridiculous. He made comments that offended me. He said things that outraged me. He made me feel disrespected, devalued, and incompetent. We later had a long talk about what it means to feel respected and valued.

I know that he will always be a “man’s man,” embodying a very traditional type of masculinity. He knows that I’ll always be a feminist. We’re an odd pair, but we’ve learned from each other. We’ve learned to live with each other. He’s learned that I’m a valuable partner and that my intelligence is an asset. He’s become more understanding. He’s become more open. He’s grown emotionally. I’ve done the same. I’ve learned where he’s coming from. We’ve had endless amounts of debates about things, particularly women’s roles in the world. I expect us to contribute equally to everything, be it financial or domestic. Since he’s working right now and I’m not, I’ve taken on more domestic tasks. It’s a give and take.

One thing that I take from my discussions with him is that the physical differences between men and women are tangible. He’s stronger than me. (He was a Marine. It was really no contest.) I’m smarter than him, at least on paper. We both enjoy learning. He’s wittier than me – dry humor. I’m better at expressing emotions. He’s horrible at it. He’s better at math and cooking. I’m better at socializing, communication, and administrative tasks. I pay the bills. He pays me.

Feminism is not about one gender being better than the other. (This is based on the heteronormative assumption that there are only two genders….it’s not a discussion I want to have here, I have points to make.) Feminism is about acceptance and equality. I’m not trying to feminize men. I’m not trying to make all men seem like rapists, and all women victims.

The reason boyfriend and I work is because we complement each other. My weaknesses are his strengths, and vice versa. We’ve been able to work together to begin to achieve our goals. We’ve been able to laugh about our differences, talk about our differences, and grow as people because of them.

We need feminism.

I write about my relationship with my boyfriend because I feel that it’s important to discuss – feminists are often portrayed as lesbians (oh god, not lesbians!), or militants (what does that even mean in this context?), or violent, abusive, women-hating people, man-haters, or some combination of those adjectives. Feel free to insert your own.

Feminists aren’t those things. We’re people. We’re human beings. We exist with or without a partner. Some of us are men. My identity is not just his girlfriend. My identity is my own. I am a human being. I seek the same things that other people seek: happiness, love, acceptance, friendship, shelter, food, accomplishments, glory, and so on. (Glory, because who doesn’t want that?)

Another poster writes that she doesn’t need feminism because she likes men like Christian Grey, the super dominant billionaire sex god from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. Okay. That’s fine. As a feminist, I would also love a super dominant billionaire sex god. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist and still get one. (Super dominant billionaire sex gods, please feel free to apply.)

I bring up my boyfriend because I think that feminism and anything can co-exist. Maybe not. Feminism and racism aren’t a great pair, nor are feminism and fear-mongering, nor feminism and slut-shaming, which is often cited as being something in which feminists engage. I disagree. I’m pro-women. I’m pro-people. I’m pro-human. I’m pro-good-people-doing-well-for-themselves-and-others.

He’s way stronger than me. I was joking with his grandparents on Facebook today (after posting an article talking about the Women Against Feminism and their repeated insisting that feminism is moot because we need men to open jars) that every time I threaten to strangle my boyfriend, he responds that I don’t have the upper body strength. It’s true. I probably don’t.

But that’s not important. What I bring into our relationship is. To me, it’s like this: everybody has certain abilities, certain areas in which they excel. Lately, we’ve been seeing a rise in women in the workforce and stay-at-home dads. This has caused plenty of concern for plenty of people. But here’s how it is for me: I believe that everyone is suited to some things. For instance, my brother, who’s super manly, is way better at organizing than I will ever be. He’s in charge of organizing. I’m in charge of scrubbing. It works out.

Every relationship is based on give and take. Boyfriend is good at some things, I’m good at some things. Together, we’re great at a lot of things. Every single relationship is based on complementary attributes. So what if someone is great at childcare and the other is  whiz at engineering? Are those tasks only to be completed by someone of one gender or another? No. Everyone has an energy, whether it’s more masculine or feminine doesn’t matter.

I can’t be trusted in the kitchen. (Look at my foot scars and my lifetime knife ban…) Boyfriend is fantastic. You should try his pork tenderloin some time. Does that mean I do a lot of dishes? Yes. Because he cooks. Do I do a lot of sweeping? Yes, because he gets all the stuff in the right place before the sweeping.

These internet people (yes, internet people, take it with a grain of salt) claim that they want to be stay-at-home moms without being harassed. They should be allowed to do that. Anyone who’s harassing them is not a feminist. They say that they’re not afraid of men. Feminists aren’t afraid of men. I was assaulted by one, but I’m not afraid of them.

What I’m trying to say is that you do need feminism.

These women who are against feminism are allowed to do the things that they do because of the courageous women who fought so hard for basic human rights. They are allowed to vote because women stood up for that right. They are allowed to walk in the streets alone, which isn’t allowed in some places, places that could use some feminism! They are allowed to be stay-at-home moms or nuclear physicists or teachers or doctors or lawyers because of the perseverance of the women who came before them. That is not something to deny. That is not something that should be shunned. Their choices are their own because of the people who spent their lives fighting for that freedom.

Our world is not a world without women. The world needs mothers and lawyers and teachers and thinkers — men cannot shoulder that burden alone. The world needs people who think and create and nurture and care. Women are half of our future — we need to make it so that their voices are heard.

Denying feminism is at best ignorant and at worst setting us back as humans. The stigma that surrounds feminism is shameful, because women are active participants in our future as a global society. We are feminists because there is a need for understanding and equality. We are feminists because we work for freedom. We are feminists because we support education for all people. We are feminists because at the end of the day, a woman’s work is never done, nor is it valued enough.

I hate that there are women out there who decry feminism as an attack on men. I love men, but I don’t love men who don’t give me the respect that I deserve. I love to get dressed up and put on makeup (and now, fill in my eyebrows!) but it doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or less of a woman.

I am woman. I am so much more than that, though. I’m a human being.

On Silence, Quietly

I slipped away from my blog this summer, which is something I’ve never done before.

I started blogging when I was fifteen or sixteen – back then it was a different, now nearly defunct platform – after my father made the egregious parental error of photocopying my handwritten journal and hauling me in to the pediatrician to discuss the contents, which consisted of nothing but typical fifteen-year old drivel.

I have been keeping journals since I was five. I still have all of them, in a box. I drag them with me every time I move, and I will continue dragging them with me as long as I live. Writing is my way of reflecting, relieving stress, processing events and emotions. Writing is my absolute favorite thing in the world.

This summer, I lost the will to write. I’ve misplaced it before, but I’ve never truly lost it. This summer I nearly lost the will to live, and with it went my words. To be overwhelmed by the horrible pendulum of emotion, swinging from the furthest reaches of numbness to the limits of rage and anguish, is a peculiar and horrifying state of existence.

I have been searching for the answers. I have questioned everything I believe in. I have wondered if resilience is possible, and I have shed enough tears to fill seven salty bathtubs.

I woke up one day, and shortly thereafter, during one of my now frequent random onset crying spells, I decided I was done. Done with all of it. I had to force myself to be light that day. I had to force the smiles, the cheeriness, the radiating of joy. I forced the fuck out of it. That day, I made almost $20 in tips.

That day was the start of the end. I’m not out yet, but instead of free-falling, I’m starting to kick. “Your dreams are not what you thought they’d be,” she said. (One of my all-time favorite quotes, coming from the much-criticized Girls on HBO.) And they’re not. They’re nothing like I thought they’d be.

The silence has been horrible. I wonder, will I have anything to say? Will I still make sense? I still wonder that. But I’m done with the hiding. I’m done caring what anyone thinks about anything, whether it’s what I do for a living, where I’m working, why I’m not happy all the time, or why I have made the decisions I made.

I’ve spent the silence thinking. Thoughts are absolutely terrifying. They are heavy, overwhelming, upsetting. I’ve thought more about the world and the people living in it than I ever thought I would. I’ve thought about the future and the past. I’ve been trying to think about the present, and to actively be present for it. I’ve been embracing the routines I’ve created. I’ve been floating from day-to-day, trying to embrace the weightlessness that is now.

I’ve concluded that everything has an equally relevant opposite. That working for our society’s version of success is no more important than working for happiness. That rude, terrible people can be balanced out by the graceful, hopeful ones. That for all the light in this world, there is much that can never be light. (This, of course, is where super villains find their beginnings – the loss of hope turns to hardened hatred, the bitterness seeps into the deepest recesses of their hearts, and suddenly, they are no longer capable of seeing the light through the dark.)

I’ve spent the past few months removed from most things. I can’t afford to go out anymore – not to eat, not to dance, not to play. Austerity measures have kicked in. I forgot how good I can be on a ridiculously lean budget. I’ve been putting the pieces of my life back together. I joined a gym. I exercise until I don’t feel quite so angry, so sad, so helpless. I’ve gained eight very necessary pounds. I’ve been getting regular sleep.

The boy makes me feel safe. I have a solid, positive relationship with my bosses. I am well-liked, and more importantly, well-respected where I work. I am freelancing for a small publication. I am actively searching for a full-time job that doesn’t involve anything to do with ice cream. I am still a fantastic cat mother. I recently assisted with the coordination of my stepsister’s wedding, and I did better than anyone (even myself) could have anticipated.

I am not what I do. I am more than hourly soft serve. I am going to be okay. I am not going to be silent any more. Even if this year is lost to “emotional pain” tags and miserable posts, I am not going to stop. Because this, much like every journal I’ve ever owned, belongs to me, and no one can take that away (unless of corse I don’t pay my domain registration, or I’m hacked, or…).

The silence was necessary, but it’s over.

On Emergence, Nostalgically

You know those songs that always bring you back to a particularly poignant memory or moment?

Of course you do. The flashes of triumph you feel when you imagine the songs that accompanied your most brilliant moments, the song that nursed away your first heartbreak, pushing back the crushing sadness. There’s that perfect song for jogging, the perfect song for dancing in your kitchen.

For me, there will always be the Garden State soundtrack. I used to retreat to the bathtub and read and listen to it. It’s soothing. It’s not a moment for me, but a time period. Junior year of high school. The final set of struggle before the emergence of a more confident young woman.

It was an interesting time. I was testing the limits in many ways, pushing back against the very things I’d always taken at face value. I was plagued by the unknowns, the philosophical crises that stem from the inability to guess at what the future might hold. I believe that it was the looming promise of college and freedom that may have set off all of that thinking, but looking back on it, I feel as though it was more about the solidification of myself as a person than it was about anything else. I was settling into the next phase of life and of course, being actively engaged in that transformation, I had no idea.

I found this, a disjointed post I’d written quickly. I find it curious:

We’ve lost ourselves in a deconstructed fictional world. We’ve become the very things we were afraid of, that we wrote about in stories that were supposed to be far too far-fetched to ever become any sort of actual reality.

And yet here we are, thrust into a confrontation with our pasts and our fictional futures and instead of looking inward, we push blame, we make tender excuses, we tiptoe around the subject until we’ve lost sight of the original goal.

Gone are the days we thought the future held – in the third grade, I wanted to be a judge, the first woman president, both, all of it. And in the third grade, it was all just out of reach, attainable with hard work and dedication, the things that take you places. Of course, I reached.

And I found myself the very antithesis of everything I’d ever hoped for. You could say I was a serious child, but that would be an understatement. I realize now that every emotion I felt was tinged with a sense of nervousness, an eager anxiety that nibbled at me constantly. I became so self-aware that growth was impossible and instead, I reached for the only anchor I could find: peer acceptance. It had never mattered to me before.

The false idea that peer acceptance could make me happy changed my life. It was a startling realization. And of course, I panicked, handled it as well as, well, an awkward teenage girl, and then survived those awkward phases to grow into the young woman I am today.

(I hate the word “survivor.” My dad said it once, on Hampden, so I must have been in high school. He said to us, “Kids, we’re survivors.” And I scoffed, and I scoff to this day. I hated that. I hated that admission, that pretentious assumption of camaraderie, that weakness. We were not survivors.)

I left my old self behind in my search of light-heartedness, spontaneity, all of the things that they promise you’ll have in commercials. I wanted that.

I worked for it, I pushed it, I pulled it into place. Once it had settled over me, I was happy. For a long time. And then something shifted, there was a change in everything atmospheric and I was fraught with the same doubts that had preceded that first adult transition. I can’t help but wonder if now is one of those times, the current state merely a chrysalis in which I’ll grow and change and from which be reborn?

That idea of the bright light and the newness is what drives most humans, I get that. But maybe this time (like all the times so declared before it) will be different? This may be the second great emergence of my life. Or third. Whichever way you categorize it, this might be a big one.

My god. They sure do sneak up on you.

On Stumbling, Stubbornly

It happens less frequently now, most likely due to a conscious effort to subdue such thoughts, but every now and again I’m struck by a period of existential crisis which leads to panicky thoughts, hastily hatched life plans, and morose moments spent in soon-to-be tepid bath water, reading material thrown aside and all my focus directed on pink toes turning the taps.

Those toes breaking the surface of bath water form the basis of the physical memories of each experience, but it is the rapidly firing thoughts that mark the turn from “keep on keeping on” to “panic” in my existence. I spent a lot of time questioning everything as an adolescent (to wit, I had a “Question Authority” bumper sticker hanging in my room – right next to my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker and an Anti-Flag album – oh adolescence). The questioning led me to beliefs that I still carry today, and to the realization that some questions are better left unanswered.

The goals of my early introspection were far grander than they are now. Then, I was determined to seek love and beauty in all things, in the naive belief that arriving at the correct answer would be as simple as stumbling in the right direction with enough stubborn determination.

Now that I am older, immersed in a world that is far more complicated than I could have ever imagined, I see that the root problem revolves around conviction. Convincing yourself of something can be difficult, although true growth requires conviction to move in a singular direction (or perhaps many singular directions simultaneously).

I spend time now mired in the “what if?”, and endless stretches of point and counter-point conversation with myself. I can convince myself of the correctness of both sides of any argument, and it’s that ability that holds me back. How can I move with conviction if I’m not convinced myself?

Which brings me to my current crisis, which has been simmering under the surface for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s terribly important, and yet it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. It’s the ennui of the daily grind, I think, the realization that I’ve lost focus on the bigger grander scheme of things in favor of survival now. I’ve lost a part of me that is essential to me. I’ve let go of certain dreams in favor of the moment, and even though it is living the moment that keeps us alive, it is also important to chase dreams.

It’s funny how quickly survival now can turn into tunnel vision. It’s not just “now” in the immediate sense, but also now in the same way we used now in Africa – now can be immediate, or it can be later. It could be at any point from now into the future. Survival now for me has become an endlessly repetitive schedule of work, work some more, maybe see some people, date, pay bills, don’t think about anything but this week or next.

But what I’ve lost, or misplaced, is perspective. Perhaps not perspective exactly, but the ability to remove myself – whether it’s objective introspection or a wild fantasy world. It’s the thoughts, the curiosity, the wonder that used to keep me feeling alive. It’s the drive to know everything about everything. I’ve somehow managed to separate me from my future self, and in doing so, I’ve somehow disconnected the forward progress, I think. But maybe that’s overstating it.

I think that I’ve gotten so bogged down with everyday stress and responsibility that I’ve lost the wonder that used to fill me. I often write about wishing that I had time to be bored, and yet, when confronted with time unfilled with obligations, I find myself so overwhelmed by the possibility that I fill it up as quickly as possible.

I was shocked when I read this article in The Atlantic about online dating, because it struck a chord with me. Not necessarily all of it, but the idea that there’s always something else waiting made me start to think about how I approach much of my life. They discuss “perceived alternatives” as one of the three factors that affect satisfaction in a relationship, and it got me thinking, both about dating but also about my own perceptions of alternatives.

I imagine my future self as being entirely different from the person I am today, which is silly, because as I age, I grow increasingly aware of the fact that I am and always will be myself (this is an overwhelmingly positive thing as I’m only growing more and more happy with who I am). Yet, if this is the case and I’ve got my mind constantly focused on the intangible elsewhere that is the “perceived alternatives”, how is it that I’m supposed to start building the foundation for the rest of my life? It’s not something that can be done subconsciously – arguably yes, but is that the sort of foundation you want?

I know that my disconnect is not uncommon. I know that approaching something looming ahead of you as large as the rest of your life is not something to approach all at once. It must be resolved in small chunks. Baby steps, if you will. (You will.)

I think the restlessness might be growing pains, the terror of assuming responsibility for everything you are and the desire to have the fullest life possible. I spent most of last year working on my own perception of myself, and I think that beautifully positive pseudo-metamorphosis is causing me to reach for more and question the path I’ve found myself on for some time now – the path of immediacy, the path of stability, the path of desperate independence. I have achieved my short-term goals: stable employment, home ownership, savings and a retirement account, and of course, my sense of self has been strengthened and renewed. Now, I want more.

I am looking for more knowledge. For more passion. For more wonderment. For new experiences. I am looking to continue the growth period and extend it – ultimately fusing the ideal of my future self into the absolute reality that is current me. I have spent the last decade learning how to live, how to be alive (here I pause to say that living and being alive are two different things, mostly), how to fully embrace myself as a human being and I think it may be time to return to my origins as a know-it-all fascinated by all things in the world around me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it was intellectual curiosity that was missing until I sat next to a guy on a date and watched as he explained a theorem to me. I realized that I was absolutely fascinated, and even as I yawned against him, exhausted, I was desperate for more. My brain, it seems, has not forgotten what it feels like to learn. It is as though the connections that used to fire so rapidly, the very same connections I long ago set aside in favor of experience, yearn to fire again, to make sense of things, to connect.

I think this time it may be as simple as starting off in search of knowledge that will lead me where I ultimately need to go. I have built the foundation that I needed, created the security that I sought, and now I can push forward, confident in my own abilities. Perhaps I was not wrong about stumbling stubbornly in the right direction all those years ago.

On Googling, Selfishly and Nostalgically

Oh man, the googling yourself business is bound to unearth a mountain of information. For me, who has lived in some form or another on the internet since I was 15, I have links. Some of those links I am entirely proud of and some I’m not.

For example, a video of me during the weird Charlie Sheen internship competition has been archived somewhere that’s not YouTube. I guess I’ll have to write to them and tell them to take my idiotic rambling offline, so that the four people who would ever stumble upon it can save themselves a few minutes of wasted time and me some cringing. (I’m cringing now – the preview image is me frozen, mid-sentence, doing air quotes and baring my teeth with both eyebrows raised. Oh dear.)

I remember starting a project to move my own pieces of actual writing from my hidden medium so that they might preserved in a more public place (and also removed from the endlessly amusing drivel of my adolescence) and never finishing it. In all fairness, three-plus years of nearly constant teenage secret internet diary writing is really hard to parse out into “decent” and “what the hell?” and the seventeen other categories such as “melodrama,” “bemoaning,” “possibly insanity or maybe just hormones,” “naiveté,” and “solid insight, way to go Past Me!”

Anyway, this all came about because of the Google – you should always Google yourself. It’s an anticipatory move, like placing a rook in front of your king when the queen is closing in. It buys time, or at least admits knowledge of eventual defeat. But at least you see it coming.

That date you may have read about? He writes. People who write are insanely attractive to me. People who write intrigue me. People who say, “I don’t trust someone who doesn’t have divorced parents,” also intrigue me, because I agree entirely. There’s a unique element of human experience ingrained in the psyches of products of divorce that is so understated and unquantifiable and yet absolutely real. But that’s another story entirely.

Now that he knows my full name, I imagine he’ll stumble upon some internet trace of me at some point. I’m curious as to what conclusions he’ll draw.

So I began a preemptive Google search of myself and was immediately distracted by my own stuff. It’s like cleaning my room. I never get very far because I’m like, oooh, haven’t seen that in a while! and then proceed to spend the next hour messing around with whatever it is I’ve just found, and then whatever I find while I’m doing that….two weeks ago I found pictures, and then a photo album, and then decided to make a scrapbook. Why? Why would I do that? That’s ridiculous and even I knew it. But I persevered, long enough to get to the store where I promptly forgot to buy the glue I’d need. The project was then abandoned in favor of newer and better distractions.

But mostly, the itsy bitsy bit of narcissist that lives inside me wanted an excuse to go back and read her own writing, because I’m one of those publish and bail people who rarely reviews their own work. (It’s problematic, possibly repetitive, and I miss out on a lot of awesome stuff.) So, for your reading pleasure, bits of previous posts that made me smile, made me think, or made me cringe (lots of cringing – when I feel something, it’s all or nothing, and the all is intense):

“In Memoriam (Part One)” – [note that there is no part 2] – posted 2010 or earlier

I spent three hours today pretending you were dead. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll spend four.

I sat on the bus, riding through your neighborhood, and hung my head in imitated sorrow. I bought a flower from a man with a cardboard sign. It cost me a dollar. I paid him in change. I walked through the gates of the cemetery and wandered until I thought I’d found you. I laid the flower there, squeezing my eyes, staring into the sun.  No tears came. None would come if you died, I think.

A woman there sat silently, kneeling on a grave, her arms across the headstone, silently weeping. I left, because I knew my fraud was nothing compared to her genuine sorrow.

On the way home, someone asked about the ring you’d once given me. I told them I was recently widowed. Me, a war widow, imagine that.

You were late to work, I could see that. The 147 flew by you, running next to me. For an instant, I thought to stretch my hand to find you, but then my hand hit glass and I snapped back. Good thing you were never fast.

All the mourning made me hungry. I ate at that cafe we pronounced “quaint.” I called it delicious today and you weren’t there to argue when I used three packets of jelly for two pieces of toast. I drank my coffee black, just the way you said I never would. I hated it.

There were no messages on the machine, except one I skipped yesterday from a wrong number. Those always are the best, I think. Of course dead you couldn’t call me, I was stupid to think you might’ve.

But they say that dead men tell no tales. What tales would you have to tell me? What did you do today? Probably nothing.

Maybe something.

I’ll never forget you, but that’s not a good thing. I’m not going to smile fondly when I see the mailman who told us we would have beautiful children. I’m going to wretch violently and drink hard liquor.

You’re dead to me. I hope your life, or what is left of it, is a miserable cloudy place full of misery and pain. That’s what you made mine.

“Good Intentions” – October 14, 2010

“You’ve always got one foot out the door,” she said.

She was right.

I’ve got nothing but good intentions

But somewhere along they line

I always seem to lose them.
I dig in empty pockets, feeling only lint and cotton.

And then it all goes to hell, always.

Can’t give it up when I should,

I put it off, waiting for divine interventions that don’t exist.

It’s usually too late for help anyway,

Half drunk on the pure adrenaline of new, I let go.

Push off and fly, a fire suddenly ignited.

I’m afraid to look back.
I don’t want to see your face.
I don’t want to watch you watch me let you go.

It’s the same ending every time.

And even now, I tell myself,

“It won’t happen again.”

This time will be different.

I’m another kind of addict,

The kind that gets away with it.

No scars, no marks, just scattered bits of hearts

and sharp shards of pretty memories lying around.

They hit me now and then.

You and me, or he and I,

His shirt, his song, his smile,

They’re all a part of me,

That nasty fabric I’ve woven for myself.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions

But this isn’t hell.

This is here.

“Stand Off” – 2010 [I love this one. I had forgotten about it.]

She’s sitting on his couch, twirling her limp bland hair between her fingers, playing with it, rolling it around, twisting it, holding it up so she can look for split ends.
He doesn’t know what a split end is.
She smokes a cigarette, inhaling sharp little drags. She holds them for a moment, then releases, a slow exhalation of gray smoke.
He smokes one too, lighting it off the end of hers. He takes long, thoughtful drags, intent upon inhalation. He exhales quickly.
They don’t speak, there’s not much to say.
Things left unsaid? you wonder.
She sighs.
He doesn’t understand what her sigh might mean, doesn’t want to understand. That would require time spent thinking. It’s not high on his list. Asking her isn’t any good either. She’ll just roll her eyes at him and look away, wanting him to ask again, to want to know. He doesn’t want it enough to bother. She doesn’t care enough to try to explain without making him work for the explanation.
It’s simple, really.
She walks to the kitchen and fills a glass with tepid city drinking water. She watches the cloudy water swirl around into clarity.
He isn’t watching.
He’s sipping an equally tepid beer. He opened it when he got home from work and should have had it all quickly, but didn’t want to upset her.
She wouldn’t be upset. She doesn’t think he’s an alcoholic like he thinks she thinks he is.
She wants one but is afraid to ask. Afraid he’ll think she’s one. An alcoholic.
There are no alcoholics in the house.
Only cigarette smokers. Neither of them like the smoking either. They keep smoking because the other one is smoking.
She wants to stop.
He wants her to love him.
She doesn’t.
He’s not quitting now.
She’s taken a lover, someone she calls after he’s gone to work.
He’s taken his secretary four times this week, after hours, lunch hours, coffee breaks.
She meets her lover in hotel rooms she can’t afford. He’s wealthy. She doesn’t mind him paying. The lover thinks she’s lovely, she feels like a whore.
He thinks his secretary is only doing it for placement. How far can typing skills get you in an architect’s office? Maybe she’s in love with him. She isn’t. Or is she? She might be.
You never know.
Stranger things will happen.
She finishes the water. He gasps for the last sip of beer.
She walks to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and sighs again.
He rolls his eyes.
She doesn’t see him.
“What’s for dinner?” he asks.
Silence.
The sound of shuffling ingredients. They’re not ingredients when they’re alone. Food stuffs, organic material, dressings, condiments, the box of baking soda.
She walks back and sits down, beer in hand.
She opens it crisply, the sound splattering a little onto the coffee table.
“I was just about to ask you.” She takes a swig.
Silence.
He crumples his can.
She sets hers down gingerly on the coasters she registered for when they were married.
He never wanted them. He’s never used a coaster in his life without having been first told to do so.
She sighs.
“Some things never change,” she says on the exhale.
“And I wish some things never would have,” he says, tossing the can toward the trash bin.
It hits the side and bounces away, clanging through their tiny kitchen before falling to the floor.
Silence.

And this one, which made me laugh out loud. February 13, 2011:

The best part of breaking up is getting the t-shirts. Always take the t-shirts.

On Writing, Forgetfully

While searching for broken picture links – thank you, Blogger to WordPress transition for destroying ancient history (mostly cat pictures) – I stumbled across this little snippet:

The End

Posted on April 25, 2010

“It’s not you,” she begins, hesitantly. Silence. She doesn’t finish. Instead, she grabs the latte, still steaming, takes a sip and then, wincing as the liquid burns her mouth, stands gracefully, turns slowly, calculatedly, and exits.
He sits, left behind, left alone. He sits and sighs. And then he grabs her uneaten danish and, taking a bite, turns the page of the newspaper sitting in front of him and begins to read.
There will be another. He swallows the bite of danish.
She’s watching him through the window, hoping he won’t look up. Hoping he might. But he doesn’t. More bites, more page-turning. A sip of black coffee, no longer steaming, cooling as the minutes pass.
She realizes she might look like it really was her and so this time her turn is definite and abrupt. She turns into a man passing by, whose arm catches her now-cooled latte and upends it.
And thus it really is her and she really is soaking wet, covered in the cup of coffee she only bought to buy another few minutes of futile frustration at the end of a benign courtship.
His lips curl up, but barely.