Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'heart work' Category

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Last night, we had the extreme pleasure of hanging out with a small group of people on the island at the most divine home.  It was set right on the water, with a space in the back; covered, with beautiful tufted chairs, no walls closed to the scene around.

I took a break from the group to go sit there, and quite out of nowhere — looking at the water, feeling the breeze, so happy to have been having warm days here in the Pacific Northwest where there are never enough of them for my liking — was momentarily overcome by this feeling of profound gratitude for my life.

Specifically, and without much eloquence, my feeling and thought was that this has just been one hell of a life so far, and I’m grateful for all of it.  Earnestly, all of it, including the parts of it that have been hideous, traumatic and so incredibly hard and painful. Grateful that only in the middle of my forties, it has felt so tremendously full of all there can be to living, grateful that I’ve been able to experience so much of what it is, and still be around, feeling whole and full and challenged, for sure, but not bitter or jaded or so emotionally tired form all it’s involved I’ve lost my hunger for more.

It was one of those solitary moments where so much thought and feeling and reflection is packed into such a small fragment in time, where everything just kind of comes together and makes itself clear and known. Where who you are and all your life has been unionize themselves, and become inseparable. One of those moments that sometimes you struggle to get yourself to, but which don’t tend to happen so clearly and freely with intentional effort as they do when those efforts over time stack up and then all come to fruition at once without trying, without expectation or want.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

I’m not feeling well today, so I’m not good for much, but I can manage to journal, and am grateful for the chance to do it.  Even if I have to be nauseated in order to get the downtime.

I have to say, my introversion epiphany of a couple months ago was possibly the very best thing that’s happened to me in a long time, even though, as I keep exploring this, it’s bringing up some things for me that are kind of a bummer.

For instance, I’ve been feeling like this is yet another place where I really got a bum deal by not being able to live full-time with my father before I did, the introvert of my two parents.  I’m scrolling back in my life to even the weekend visits we spent together, and realizing what a great model they were for managing introversion well and not feeling like I had to conform to extroversion. Of the couple days we’d spend together, there was always just as much, if not more, quiet time as time spent out and about. Even the out-and-aboutness usually involved just the two of us or small groups. I’ve been thinking about the days where sometimes almost for the whole of a day, we’d hang out at his favorite deli, both of us with a book, where we’d read for a while then talk for a while, where people could stop, visit and chat us up and then move on, and if I wasn’t feeling open or chatty, I was never told to put my book down so as not to be rude.

At my other home, there really wasn’t room for being introverted. About the only time I really got any kind of acceptance, or was even just left alone for a little bit without conflict was either around achievement or performance, and ideally, both. If I did some kind of dancing monkey routine, then I was marginally acceptable.  But most often, my introversion was framed as rudeness, or trying to hide from people, or hide things from people; a need for privacy to refuel was often presented as a need for secrecy. Sometimes my need to be alone was framed as my not liking or loving people. Or, my desire to be slow in conflict or step away from it before reacting instead of quick and reactive was framed as not taking conflict seriously (when really, it was quite the opposite, and is still: it’s taking the time I need to react thoughtfully and well instead of getting caught up in a tidal wave of upset).  Of course, in the worst of the worst of conflict, I tend to do what my Dad does when people won’t give him space, which is to just vanish altogether, which then winds up being seen as abandonment when all we are really going for is some space to ourselves so we don’t implode or explode or just get utterly lost in someone else’s drama.

Suffice it to say, the wound around being way too separated from my Dad during a lot of my life is always one that stays a little bit raw, so more salt on it basically blows. It’s clear he would have done a bit better if we’d been full-time earlier, and in so, so many ways, I would have, too. This may be the least of them, really, but still.

I’m sure this is something other folks who survived a lot of serious trauma can relate to, but it also always feels so strange and surprising to me to identify smaller — per my perspective, anyway –  things in your life and upbringing that have messed you up or just steered you the wrong way.  I feel like it’s so much harder to see them, hell, even to remember them, through the thick fog of much bigger trauma. That’s not helped, of course, by the cultural narrative we have around certain kinds of trauma that paints those of us who are survivors as, of course, so, so super-messed up by X-thing, with everything that isn’t right for us or okay as automatically attached to that trauma. But the big trauma itself obscures the smaller issues that sometimes maybe aren’t so small after all.

In some weird way, it kind of makes me feel more connected to people who have NOT gone through some of the horrible shit I have, and who I’ve often had awkward conversations with when they feel bad about things like this having been traumatic for them, versus things like my living through rape or other abuses. I never felt like anyone needed to compare that way, or that there was any need to feel bad (and heck, I’m nothing more than happy when I know people haven’t been through the mill so badly in their lives).  But I have always felt a little disconnected, like we weren’t quite living in the same worlds, and these kinds of realizations make me feel a connectivity I really appreciate. I think this kind of connected feeling around the smaller stuff may be what people are actually seeking when they’ve been through The Big Awful and say they “just want to be normal.”

I’m recognizing a lot of seemingly-smaller things around all of this. I don’t want to do that thing people do where they latch on to this One Big Thing to Explain Everything, but you know, this does explain a lot. Also? It’s really kind of col to be learning brand new, shiny things about myself.  As someone who has done a lot of reflection, got counseling way earlier in my life than most, I confess that I’m often a bit hungry for new growth.

For instance, the more reading I do, the more I become aware of why friends with ADD have expressed that maybe I’m ADD: there are a bunch of introvert things that are a lot like ADD things. I’m starting to understand more and more why I sometimes feel so daft when I’m overstimulated, and how at times when the pressure is on to be so smart so fast it often IS in the context of overstimulation, and that just can’t work for me. That’s awesome for extroverts: a recipe for disaster for me, especially if I’m not doing that I can to dial everything down so I can step up.

Longtime readers may recall that a bunch of years back, I felt utterly crippled by a sudden. inexplicable anxiety about public speaking.  I’d never really liked doing it, especially with big groups, but I always could do it, but from outta left field, I suddenly really, really couldn’t.  I’d get sick to my stomach, have panic attacks, the works. I could never figure out why it got so bad so suddenly.  Then I took a look at that timeline, and noticed that happened at a time when I was so, so very exposed on the whole, had so many people and so much work I was juggling, I was so visible, and it was all utterly nonstop.  It didn’t even occur to me at the time — nor later, when it calmed down some, also fairly inexplicably — that it might have been about much too much happening all the time, with me having to be on almost 24/7, and was just to do with that business of straws, camels and their backs.  In retrospect, now, it seems really obvious.

Also?  I had this idea that because so much of my work life anymore doesn’t have me with people in-person, that a breakneck pace, so long as it wasn’t face-to-face could work just fine. Now I’m starting to see how marathoning direct service still isn’t so great, even when I don’t have people right in my face.  In fact, I think what can happen is that I miss the cues I’d otherwise pick up in in-person interactions to know when I’ve hit a limit and need to recharge, so with online work, I need to create breaks and downtime in built-in ways, rather than only realizing I went over my limits once I am utterly wiped out.

Anyone who knows me very well and has stayed talking with me for hours and hours and days and days has probably heard me go on at some point about my (apparent) very strange non-reaction to dopamine geekouts.  Now, I can’t tell exactly how well studied the neurochem around introversion I’ve been reading about it, but it seems that being introverted, all by itself, may be why I’m just all yeah-reward-neurochem-hit-that’s-nice-whatever-moving-on around dopamine, because the word is that that’s how interoverts are with dopamine, and it’s acetylcholine we need and crave instead. Oddly enough, my nutritional deficits usually are also acetylcholine-related, and I’ve also had low blood sugar and low blood pressure all my life, which it seems may have something to do with it, too. Who knows how useful any of that may be, but more to geek out about, always fun.

Unsurprisingly, a bunch of this involves Aha! moments for me, that when I bring them to Blue, is all “Umm, I know.” I suppose it never does fail that all of us are often so much more aware of the behavior of those around us than of our own. I think that’s one of those things we’re supposed to magically outgrow with the wisdom of age and a lot of meditation. And yet. That said, my sweetheart has been beautifully patient with my process in this, making extra room for me to have extra room, when I’m already someone who errs on the side of more-time-alone than most as it is. Those “Umm, I knows” also are delivered with likely less boredom than I’d expect from someone has who has already seen a lot of this from their side of the screen already.

I still, I’m sorry to say, have yet to come up with the miracle plan of how to change the world as it is right now so that there’s more room in it for introverts and for what we need to be who we are.  I know, you’re disappointed. Me too.

But my own plan for right now is to just keep reminding myself that when I feel like there’s no room for me and I need to conform that that’s not the deal: the deal is that I need to conform to this no more than I ever have with anything else in my life, and instead carve out the space and place I need and ask for room to be made. I’m still barely just starting with that, because it asks for quite a bit of revamping and revising, but I’m getting there. This includes asking myself for that space and place, or, perhaps more to the point, the part of myself that — quite counter to almost every other part of myself through my life, so I’m resistant to even acknowledge it sometimes — really bought the bill of sale that said I had to be a person in some ways I not only am not, but a person which often obscures the uniqueness of who I am and my best ways of being me.

For that matter, it obscures a whole kind of people who’ve always had a lot to give the world, but who the world has to quiet down to hear, and slow down to see and really take in, people who I’ve probably appreciated most in my life far beyond the mere fact of having a mere temperament in common.

P.S. Holy bananas, do I know how out of date some of the supporting pages of this journal are. Updating them is on my to-do list. But since that’s been on my to-do list for, oh, two years and change, I’m seeing if stating that intention where other people can see it — and thus, I’ll feel really embarrassed if I don’t get to it soon — helps.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I wound up getting a pretty invaluable takeaway from the Staycation-that-wasn’t.

When it was over — or not over, really, since it didn’t really happen, but you know what I mean — I realized that I had stayed off my personal Twitter without even noticing.  Then I realized that going back on filled me with some level of dread. So did the prospect of doing pretty much anything that involved promotion or standing out from the madding crowd in any way.  While I didn’t get the time off I wanted, I was at least able to get a handful of days separate from my larger work world of late and away from its constant din. In a word, anything potentially extroverted or which carried the pressure to be extroverted made me feel highly anxious and depressed.

Growing up, music, writing and teaching were always my big loves, as they are still. Unsurprisingly, my musical abilities tended to be the ones that got the most attention and focus from others.  Some of that was just because I loved to make music, but I suspect a larger part of it was that making music tends to involve a level of performance that writing (well, until fairly recently) and teaching, especially when you do it the way I’ve always liked to, do not.

The thing is, I never liked performing. I still don’t. What I liked was making music, being a part of music, or even more to the point, being so much a part of music that what I was in those moments was music itself, separate from myself, invisible as myself.  My favorite part of any kind of art has always been the process, not the product, and really being able to get lost inside that process. Before I went to the arts high school I did, I was always in the choir at every school I attended. I remember people feeling very invested in getting solos or not, but that was never my interest. Being in the choir — in it –  was my favorite part.  I especially loved those moments when you’d be singing with everyone else, and all the harmonies would be just right: even though you were still singling just as clearly and loudly when your own voice was more audible, you’d blend in so that you couldn’t distinguish your voice from anyone else’s anymore. It was like you opened your mouth and everyone’s voice came out, and yours was only one part.  It’s the same reason I loved being in the mosh pit during my high school years: things were loud and intense, sure, but everyone was part of the crowd, it required going with that flow or people would wind up underfoot.

I loved being at the arts school. Being able to focus on my writing was fantastic, but I was there primarily to study music, and I loved that, too. At the end of senior year, everyone needed to present their own project, and I was so happy to be able to form a band and be able to collaborate with a group, rather than playing alone. But by the time graduation was coming up, I,d realized that a life in music would probably mean a life performing. Making my living as someone who only stayed in the studio was not likely to be doable (I should have learned a brass instrument, I know). If I wanted to sing, I’d need to learn to like performing. I tried. During my gap year, my friend Joe and I would play open mikes and at a couple bars and I literally tired to see if I could learn to like performing if I just sang and played my dulcimer with my back turned to the audience.  (Yes, really.  I did like it better, but audiences, as you’re probably not surprised to hear, found it a bit odd.) What about street performing, I thought? Maybe that would work. Nope. Also? Fucking brr.

So, when I started college, I decided to stop studying music and focus instead on literature and sociology, and on writing and teaching. There’ve been two decades between then and now, and a lot happened in my life and in the world in between.  And of course, silly me, I decided to write and teach about and subjects that seem perfectly normal and relaxed to me, but also wonderfully complex, so never boring, but which most of the world finds provocative and feels the need to yell about a lot.

But over the last couple of decades, the biggest thing that happened around my little epiphany I’m about to talk about is that it seems to me that our culture has become a culture of constant and en-masse extroversion to the exclusion of all other ways of being.  A “look at me” world. If how a lot of the world seems to be going right now was a kid in class, it seems like it’d be the kid who always has their hand up for every question, even though half the time, they don’t have the answer or weren’t even paying attention to what the question was.

Everything seems to involve marketing. Everything feels like it involves making yourself louder and louder and louder and bigger and bigger and bigger. If you don’t want to be on television — or, if you’re like me and that kind of visibility sounds like a circle of hell Dante would have invented if he’d written the Divine Comedy in the 21st century — it must mean you’re not really motivated to do whatever it is you do. Hell, we have reality television, and people who aspire to be on reality television as a what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. If you just want to quietly do your own thing, it’s often assumed you must not want to involve other people or make an impact on the world, since making an impact involves being seen as widely, as largely as possible, even if what you have to offer when given those opportunities is less than the best you’ve got to offer. I can’t express how many times over the last year or two I have found myself arguing with colleagues who just don’t understand — they’re not being assholes, they just clearly don’t get it –  why I don’t self promote more, more, more and how I can be highly dedicated to doing what I am without wanting to spend more time marketing myself and my work than time doing my work. It’s gotten to the point where if anyone around me even starts the sentence, “You know, you really should promote yourself better by….” I feel on the verge of tears or shin-kicking, sometimes both.

And in the subject I work in, in sex, I feel like it’s just gotten really bad — and maybe it always was — to the point where the promotion and marketing schtick has gotten so fever-pitch that even smart people I know with great intentions frequently sound like snake oil salesmen to me. I ran from two professional email lists screaming in the last year because where I had been looking for educated community to deepen the actual work we all do, most of what I found was what sounded like a nonstop infomercial from hundreds of people at once, some of whom, it seemed to me, spent more time marketing than actually doing the work, because when they did ask about work-related things, the questions they asked were so rudimentary it made it obvious how little time they spent doing the work they were promoting.

When I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve felt so burnt out and tired, I kept finding myself very perplexed. I love the work I do. Working with teens and young people, especially when they’re in crisis, can be very challenging, but it rarely wears me out: it tends to energize me instead. I never get tired of writing: I still love the process. Same goes for teaching: I still love working as en educator.  The money stuff is always tiresome, so I often look there when I’m trying to identify a source of stress, but that’s not it. I wish I had more time for my life, still, and for my own creative work, but I’ve been working on that with some measure of success. I keep being asked for things from too many people who seem to forget I’m just one person over here, but as frustrating as that is, I can let mostly those annoyances go when I experience them. I’ve wracked my brain with all of these puzzle pieces and more, trying to find out where, exactly, so much of my stress seems to be coming from.

Then I realized that I somehow have managed to often fall into working in this extroverted mode that doesn’t work for me at all. In fact, it keeps me from doing my best work; from my best self, even. From who I am and the way that I do things best.

I’m gragarious, sure. And very open. Sometimes loud and boisterous. But I’m not extroverted. I’m introverted. It’s one of the reasons I always loved writing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m always much more concerned with getting enough time alone than with getting enough social time, and why I always feel completely perplexed when people ask me if I get lonely now that I live on the island or if I get bored out here. When I was in the UK early this year, Blue took some time off and was home alone for several days.  When he told me on the phone he hadn’t seen a single person in days, I said, “I know, isn’t it AWESOME?” (I think it is. Blue, on the other hand, was a little freaked out by the experience.) It’s one of the reasons I fell so in love with Montessori when I discovered it, where the teacher isn’t the focus, the students are. It’s one of the reasons I still love making music, and tend to save it for cherished, quiet times when I’m alone. It’s the main reason why it’s been very hard for me to have to adjust to the fact that semi-regularly now, I have to do public talks for big groups, something I’ve gotten decent at doing, but am always most thrilled when it’s over. My introverted nature is not news to me nor is it to anyone who knows me well.

And yet. Because — and really, I can’t believe how unaware of this I have been — it seems like the way things have been around this is that this, this high-key extroversion, is The Way you do them, I have tried to do them that way. I have tried to keep my own personal and professional din at something resembling the level of what seems like everyone else’s. I have pushed myself really hard to perform the way a lot of my colleagues perform. Heck, I can actually track this back to way earlier in my life, to times even as a kid where I forced myself to learn to be loud because I so badly wanted to do things, and the only way it seemed I was going to be able to get a chance to do them was if I acted like I was extroverted.

And that, my dears, is what I realized has been making me so incredibly worn out, above and beyond all else.

For an extrovert, see, that stuff obviously feels energizing and exhilarating. Not for an introvert: it gives me an intense desire for a rock to go hide under where I can take a long nap or listen to my records alone all day. An extrovert loves to be in the spotlight. We introverts generally can’t stand it, especially if we’re not at least sharing it, ideally with someone who wants that spot right on them, far, far away from us. My sense is that for extroverts, being constantly visible and in the middle of everything helps them focus. For an introvert, especially for this introvert, it feels like trying to watch one screen while 50 different screens with different things on them are on at once. It’s distracting. For me to see out clearly, I have to start by seeing in: and I can’t do that very well if I’m trying to be extroverted. It’s like extroversion puts a flashlight in my eyes.  Not only does it just feel wrong — wrong like you feel when you’re trying to get somewhere, and someone tells you you’re on the right street, but you are 110% certain you’re utterly turned around –  it makes it really, really hard for me to even remember what I’m supposed to be doing, let alone enjoy it.

The thing is, I — and my other fellow introverts — should be able to be who we are, the way we are, and do what we want to do in life and in the world in our way. It’s no more wrong or right than the other way: these are both ways of being. Not putting out a constant, flashy, look-look-look outflow doesn’t mean I don’t want to do things that have a big impact, nor that I don’t think my work has value: it usually just means that I want to be in the work and focusing on the work itself, and focusing on myself in such a way that I’m the vehicle for it, rather than the other way round.

I thought a little about some of the people I’ve admired most in the world who were clearly introverted: Blake, Goodall, Thoreau, Ghandi, Woolf, Bronte, Curie, Einstein, Dr. Suess, Jung, King, Van Gogh, Chopin, Yeats, Joni Mitchell, Georgia O’Keefe, Remedios Varo, nearly every writer and artist whose work I find most visionary and my father. Then I started thinking about how they’d fare in the world right now, and how hard it might even be to find them and what they did if they didn’t shift to an extroverted model. I mean, would Virginia Woolf really be like, “No, srsly, everyone, COME SEE MY ROOM! Pls RT!” Would Thoreau have a daily photoblog of Walden Pond? Why? How the hell would Chopin have composed anything with one hand on a cell phone? How on earth could activists like King and Ghandi have done what they did as well as they did with the kind of reactive urgency we have right now?

Then I realized that all the people on my list were brilliant people, very self-possessed and visionary people who I feel certain would have found a way to be who they are, and to do things the way that felt right to them, without taking on a way of being that would be more likely to stand in the way of their work and their lives than it would be likely to enhance it.

I am, at the moment, without solid answers about how to do this differently. At the same time, it’s not like I’ve ever really thought about it before: I only, and quite foolishly, just hit upon this awareness last week.

But I’m so very grateful to have gotten to that awareness, even if what got me there mostly seems to have been a lot of deep annoyance, a ton of new grey hairs, distraction from all of the things I actually want to do and which need a level of full attention tough to come by anymore for me to do them as well as I can, and feeling very misunderstood pretty much constantly, all unpleasant things.

For now, I’m just going to start thinking about this. I have a few strategies to start with, though, like staying away from social media I can until I figure out a way to manage it that really works for me, taking baby steps to ask the extroverts in my circles to accept I’m different than they are, doing things more quietly, even if it seems like a gamble to do so, and just reminding myself that the way it seems like everything has to be done isn’t the way everything has to be done.  There are other ways to do things than whatever the predominant model is or seems to be at a given time, something I know and have always applied to near everything in my life and my work, something I tell other people at least several times a day, and something I used to do all the time, so there’s no reason I can’t apply the same here with this, starting now.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do with my Dad was to go to Cubs games. And not just because it meant hanging out with my Dad, and also in spite of the fact that when they played the Phillies, my father rooted for them instead which resulted in things being thrown at us. I can’t decide if I liked doing this in spite of or because of the time when I was thisclose to catching a ball, some dude behind us grabbed it from me, and my father went into an invective that seemed to last for DAYS about what kind of putz someone was for taking a fly ball from a little girl. Probably both.

Even though I left Chicago over a decade ago now, I remain, and always will, a diehard Cubs fan.

If you assume I care at all about baseball, or even understand how the game is supposed to be played, you may be wondering why.

I have my reasons, but one of them is that the Cubs provided me — and provide me still — an amazing lesson in owning your suckitude. The Cubs never really acted like they sucked as much as they do, nor did we or any of their other fans. Sometimes it was fun just to see what new, creative way they’d blow a game: they have never seemed to run out of ways to do that, which strikes me as its own genius, really.

Every now and then, the Cubs would actually win or at least actually play well, and that was awesome, I suppose, but I feel like the times when that happened we were all so busy looking for pigs flying overhead or the four horsemen of the apocalypse that we, Cubs fans, were always distracted enough to not get the full impact of the amazing lack of total failure.

The Cubs, especially to me as a kid, made sucking actually seem kind of cool. Like a rebellion, in some ways — Oh, winning. That is so last year. And the year before. For everyone else, anyway. It’s cheap to be a winner: we aim to LOSE, because we are THAT MUCH COOLER THAN YOU. — but mostly they sucked, and then the next game, they got back out there and they kept playing.  And that’s been how it’s been for the whole of my life. Players keep actually joining the team and seem to be excited about it. Fans still fill Wrigley, and the jeers and cheers are full of equal amounts of love. The Cubs seem to basically give suckitude a hug, a kiss, slap it on the ass than have a beer together.  I think that’s pretty super-amazing.

I’ve been thinking about the Cubs lately, because I feel like I forgot these lessons in sucking they taught me so generously. When I was younger, they informed a lot of what I did.  I think, because of the Cubs, no lie, I was a lot more fearless than I would have been otherwise, and a lot less afraid to try things I might lose, fail or just plain suck at.

Lately, I feel like I have been failing a whole hell of a lot. Heck, last week, I had a much-needed staycation planned, and I even managed to louse that up.  One assumes there are no grades given for recess because no one could possibly fail recess.  Clearly, those school systems have not met me. I totally failed recess last week.

I keep feeling like I’m watching some of the people around me excel at things I have tried and tried to do well, but either failed at or…well, failed by my ridiculous standards.  Mind, some of these things are things where I just wouldn’t be down with, or have time for, doing the same things to have that same level of achievement.  Others are things where someone else is simply more invested in winning or succeeding at them than I am.  But with other things, those conditions don’t apply.  Some of these things are things I very much wanted to do very well with, or well with consistently, and tried the same things but got different, less awesome results.

Blue, because Blue loves me and is lovely to me, says I’m being too hard on myself.  That may well be, of course, as I’ve a bit of a reputation for that sort of thing. A couple other friends of mine roll their eyes, and with love, not malice or dismissal.

At the same time, my standards are my standards, and sometimes they aren’t actually higher than other people’s standards. By whatever yardstick we’re using, I feel like I keep failing and have failed a lot in the last year or two with a lot of things.

What I want, though, is to be able to allow for that. I want to have it be okay for me to fail sometimes, or even a lot.  After all, I try a lot of things, constantly, unceasingly, so it’s not like I can be amazing at all of them or amazing at them all the time, nor should I have to be. It needs to be okay — with anyone, but most of all, with me — for me to suck. Ideally, I’d like to get to a place where it’s not only okay, but I can have a Cubbish sort of Zen about it and actually embrace sucking.

I mean, it’s not like messing up, or not hitting the highest bar or just being meh at anything doesn’t have its benefits or offers us nothing.  It offers us plenty: humility, patience for ourselves and others, compassion, humanity, humor, and the ability to have a life that is about something more than achievement or whatever we count as success.  It keeps us playing the game, as it were, to play the game; to be in the process, not the product. I’m sure it offers more than that, those things are just off the top of my head, and I’m not where I’d like to be with it yet, remember. I feel confident that when I get to that enlightened place where feeling like a failure is nothing close to the end of the world, a place of ass-slapping comfort, good cheer and one more reason to just keep going back out on that field, picking up that bat, and trying again, I’ll have a lot more benefits to report.

But in the meantime, I kind of suck.  And dammit to hell, I am going to get okay with that being the case sometimes if I’ve got to fly to those now-unaffordable bleachers and make myself positively sick on cotton candy, cheap beer and completely misplaced optimism towards a team doing well that never has to make it happen.

Monday, July 25th, 2011

(Cross-posted at the Scarleteen blog)

I want to tell you something very personal about me. Not because I want to. I really don’t want to. But I’m going to do it anyway.

It’s one of those things where even though it’s incredibly uncomfortable for me, I feel like sharing despite my discomfort might be able to make a positive difference. And since this has to do with something where I believe others have been making a positive difference in a way I, myself, have not also been able to, it seems the least I can do. I’ve been largely silent around the Slutwalks. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest one of all is that what inspired them simply struck me much, much to close to home. So, my silence has not been about nonsupport of the walks. In more ways than one, it’s been about my stepping out of the way of them in part based on my own limitations.

If you’re triggered by candid stories about sexual or other forms of assault, this may be triggering for you. I know it still is for me, very much so. Telling this story in this kind of detail remains incredibly difficult for me, despite many years of healing, help with therapy, help and healing found through helping others and a lot of support. It’s not a story I tell often, because even just typing it out or saying it all out loud makes my hands shake and my heart race and turns me into a bit of a mess for a bit of time after I do.

I keep hearing or reading people say things like that no one really gets told the way they were dressed makes them at fault for their assault, despite about a million evidences to the contrary, and knowing far more than one person personally who has had that experience.

Conversely (and oddly enough, sometimes from the same people who say that first thing), I keep reading people stating, despite so much great activism around this lately, that how someone dresses IS what “got them raped.” Or that they were raped because of their sexual history, their economic class, where they live, how they talk, how they do or don’t respond to men, how they identify or present their gender — anything BUT the fact that they were in some kind of proximity to someone who chose to rape them, which is exactly how, and only how, someone winds up being a victim of rape.

A few months ago, I had an apparently politically progressive blogger who would not stop talking to me on Twitter about the “rape outfit” of an 11-year-old girl whose rape case I had linked to. He, without my asking him anything about it personally, expressed he felt she would not have been assaulted had she been dressed differently. He called whatever it was she was wearing a “rape outfit.” Hearing about the fact that I had my own “rape outfit” at 12, or that, when my great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her home at the age of 76, her “rape outfit” was a housecoat, or that the “rape outfit” of young boys sexually abused by priests was often their super-salacious Sunday best; equally not hearing my firm requests to please not keep tweeting me with misogyny which I found deeply upsetting and hurtful seemed to only make him more excited to keep saying what he was. Even reminding him I was a survivor myself didn’t slow him down. Only blocking him worked. I’m quite certain he left the conversation with exactly the same beliefs as when he started it.

These things we read and hear don’t just come from one group of people: some men say them, but so do some women. Social conservatives say them a lot, but progressives say them, too. People who assault people, of course, will often voice things like this or other things to do all they can to avoid responsibility. But even people who have been victimized themselves will sometimes say things like this. Sometimes — and, I’d say, probably most of the time — that’s about internalizing the messages they got. Sometimes it’s about feeling a need to have another victim be at fault for their assault so that they can feel less like they, themselves, were at fault for their assaults, even though no victim is at fault for being victimized. More unfortunately, than I can express, rape culture is one of the most globalized kinds of culture there is.

I keep reading and hearing and seeing people who, so far as I can tell, and intentionally choosing to misrepresent or deny the core issue of what the SlutWalks are about: activism working expressly to try and counter deeply harmful and endangering attitudes expressed about rape and rape victims like those of Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who, in January of this year, speaking on crime prevention at a York University safety forum said, “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” (This is why the word “slut” is so prominently featured in this activism, because it is this comment which directly inspired the first walk.)

I wish I had never heard a police officer say anything like that at all. I also wish that if I was going to hear that, it had been the first time I had.

In seeing so much nonsupport for the walks and people who have participated in them, I started to worry that being silent might be interpreted as being nonsupportive, which is the last message I’d want to send. I’m going to talk a little bit about the walks in this blog post and another in another few days, but I want to start by telling you what I’m about to tell you, if for no other reason than to do what I can do in support, because there are things I can’t do yet, things which others can and have.

When I was 12 years old, I was sexually abused for the second time in my life. The first had been a year before, when I was 11. Then, I was molested by an elderly man who cut our hair in the neighborhood. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t even totally sure what had happened to me, nor what to call it. It was 1981, I was 11, and all I knew was whatever it was felt horrible, scared me intensely, and was not okay. But I also got the message that telling anyone about it wasn’t okay, and seemed to feel some message that because it happened to me, it must have meant there was something not okay about me, too. The home environment I was living in enabled these kinds of messages constantly and was itself abusive in other ways, so I did not feel safe at that point saying much of anything, let alone disclosing something like this.

A year later, I was alone cleaning up the art room of the day camp where I was a junior counselor at he end of the day. Because the building was still open, someone was likely at the front deck, but that was very far away, and otherwise, the place was a ghost town. The only reason I was there so late is that I’d often stretch out those days as long as I could in order to avoid having to go home.

I’m going to tell you what I was wearing now.

What I was wearing wouldn’t matter and wouldn’t have mattered, to anyone, in a much better world then I lived in then and we still live in now. But it did matter to someone at the time, in a way that messed me up just as much as my assault itself did. In our cultural context right now, or perhaps in someone else’s view, it would seem clear that what I was wearing had nothing at all to do with my being assaulted. In fact, now, in our cultural context about what is and isn’t “slutty” dress, what I was wearing may be seen as indisputable proof that I did NOT ask for rape or deserve rape, even though nothing anyone wears or doesn’t wear proves or disproves that in actuality, which is clear when people are rubbing more than two hateful brain cells together in their thinking process.

It was summer in Chicago then. It’s hot in summer in Chicago. I was working at a camp, and I also had to bike back and forth, so I needed to be work-appropriate, even at 12, but also able to move around easily and not pass out from the heat. If it had been totally up to me, I’d probably have been wearing less than I was so I was more comfortable on the ride home.

But as it was, I had on gymshoes. I had a fairly loose white t-shirt on with the sleeves carefully rolled up, my typical uniform of the time (because big t-shirts are more cool if you roll up the sleeves, everyone knew that). I had on red chino-eqsque shorts that ended just above my knee. I was an early bloomer physically, so whatever I was wearing, there wasn’t then, as there isn’t now, any hiding that I’m a person with an hourglass shape and curves. Would that there had been: after what happened the year before and having been teased at home about my development, I often tried to hide parts of my body as I could. I probably had on some lip gloss. I had chin-length feathered hair that year, gone blonde from being out in the sun.

A group of much-older teenage boys, probably in their late teens, came into the art room started talking to me, and asked what I was doing there. I told them, then they asked how I got back and forth from the camp to home. I remember that as I said I rode my bike, I’d wished that I could take it back. I could feel a lack of safety in the air right then. I wished I had said someone picked me up. They asked if I wanted a ride. I said no, thank you. They asked a few more times, making a bit of a game of it, but a very pushy game. I said no a few more times then said I had to go get something and ran out.

I went and hid in a bathroom stall down the hall for what felt like hours but which was probably only minutes. I didn’t go to the front desk and try to ask for help. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biggest was probably that I had already learned in my life that being in danger was normal and that not being helped in being safe was what I could most typically expect from people. I had also learned already that sometimes telling when I was in danger only got me hurt more.

When I came out of the stall, I went to the bike rack to get my bike, planning to speed away as fast as I could and unlocked it in a hurry. But those boys drove up behind me in the van they had, physically attacked me and dragged me away from my bike and into their car. (Typical perhaps of a tween mind, I remember having a hard time later figuring out if I should be more upset I got hurt — assault or rape were not words I had at the time — or more upset that in the midst of all of this, my bike had been stolen because it was left unlocked.)

I have very hazy memories of what happened next, memories I have never fully either formed or recovered, that only show up in mushy, jagged pieces in night terrors I have had about this over the years. I will honestly say I am glad I have only hazy recall of what happened in that van, and that while parts of my body have always made clear they remember, much of my brain never has. A day later, a big, nasty bump welled up on my head, so I’ve always figured I got knocked out, and the rest of my lack of memory can be attributed to shock.

The next thing I remember was finding myself back on the curb near the bike rack, scruffed up, shirt ripped feeling incredibly sore and strangely soggy in places. I went back inside to the bathroom and was bleeding from my rectum. I think I managed to wash my face, but that was all I could manage. I was incredibly confused, disoriented and still scared to death, not knowing if anywhere was safe,if those boys had left, nothing. I went to the pay phone and called my mother, who also called the police before she came over. All I was able to voice was that I was very scared and hurt and needed someone to come to get me now.

I went back outside and sat on the curb in front of the park where a lot of people were, hoping I’d be safe there and that my mother would find me. She arrived about the same time the police did, who I didn’t know had been called. I know I was completely incoherent, and I don’t believe I was able to express anything anyone could understand. I suspect what I said was something to the effect of, “Guys. Said no, no ride. Hid. Came after me. Grabbed. Van. Scared. Hid in bathroom. Woke up on curb. Are they gone? What? Are they gone?” I know, though, however incomprehensible my words, it could not have been missed that I was in shock, nor that I had clearly been attacked in some way. Over the years, I’ve looked for rationale and reason of why I got so poorly served, but I always give up, knowing all too well how very, very many victims of sexual assault have had the same experience, and that it isn’t something with rhyme or reason part how poorly sexual assault is treated in most of the world.

While my memories of my attack are very hazy, my memories of what came next have never been. I’ve often wished they, too, were hazy.

The police and my mother talked for a while before anyone even talked to me or asked how I was at all. I sat shivering on that curb, holding my knees, watching a crowd form around us, people at the park starting to pay more attention, feeling more and more freaked out. My mother came over and asked if I was just scared, if the van was still there. I looked around. It wasn’t. I said no, I thought it was gone, I hoped it was gone, please let it be gone. For whatever reason, she said more than once “So, nothing happened? You just got scared?” and I remember not being sure how to answer that because it felt confusing, and like there was some kind of cue about a right answer hidden in there. Then two of the police stepped over, and talked with my mother again, instead of me, and I heard one of them say, half-looking at me, half-away, that I really shouldn’t be wearing shorts that short because if I did, I could expect to have trouble with boys.

I also know and remember that with those words, I suddenly got a little more clear, the clarity you get from having just felt unsafe, thinking you might be safe, and then all the more acutely recognizing you are not, and determined to say absolutely nothing to them or my mother about anything. I agreed that okay, sure, yeah, I just got scared, I was fine, please just get me home, fine. You’ll just make a note about the van, and I should call you if I see it again fine (and yeah, right). How on earth could I have felt safe saying to any of them in that space that I was bleeding from my rectum and I didn’t know why, something already incredibly vulnerable for me to share in the first place? How on earth could I say that I think what just happened to me was like what had happened the year before that I’d told no one about? So, I didn’t say anything. Not to anyone, not until a handful of years later when ever so slowly, I started telling people, scared to death every time I did.

That I didn’t say anything at the time and for a long time shouldn’t be surprising. It’s about all the same kind of things that keep most survivors from reporting or disclosing.

Here’s the part where I think it’s very, very important that anyone reading anything like this knows three vital things.

These are not opinions. These are facts. I can’t stop you from denying they are truths and facts, but you have to know that if you do, you do so from a place of bias or ignorance because we have all the evidence in the world that they are true. We have not just the story of someone like myself but mountain of stories from survivors like myself and survivors different than me, from sound studies and research and loads of “rape prevention” tips that made so many people feel like they were safer who learned the hard way that those tips didn’t do a damn thing to protect them. All they did was control them, make them feel more scared of living, more distracted by all the things they felt they needed to think about to be safe and then and they just wound up getting hurt anyway.

The only factual part of disputes to what I am about to say is that it is absolutely a fact that we still have a long, long way to go when it comes to the way most of our world and many of the people in it treat rape and those of us who have been assaulted and abused.

1) I was not assaulted because of how I was dressed. Those long red shorts and sneakers were not why I was assaulted. But. The person who was wearing a short skirt and heels when she was assaulted wasn’t assaulted because of how she was dressed, either. Even if I had been wearing something else entirely — like the housecoat my great-grandmother was, a burqua, a nun’s habit, overalls, skinny jeans or business attire; even if I was not a woman with a vulva, but a woman with a penis dressing in the clothing I felt was representative of my gender as a woman, but some of the world disagreed with me, and felt I was cross-dressing, how I was dressed would not have been why I was assaulted, nor would my assault have been prevented had I just dressed differently. That’s not because there is one way to dress that “gets you raped” and one way to dress that doesn’t. That’s because the thing that “gets someone raped” isn’t a thing, it’s a person who chooses to rape you and what you do and don’t wear is something we know does not matter and have loads of hard data that has made that clear fro a long time now. People have been raped wearing everything in the world people can wear, and the vast majority of the time people are raped, they aren’t wearing what those who blame them consider “provocative” clothing in the first place.

The idea or statement that how a victim was dressed had anything to do with their being raped does not reflect the realities of rape and rape perpetration, only the realities of victim blaming and rape culture.

2) My rape was a “real” rape. It was not a “real” rape just because my attackers were strangers to me, because there was physical violence involved, because I was so young and had not yet chosen to have any kind of sex yet outside of furtive kisses and some clueless dry-humping with a girl friend at 10, because I struggled and probably yelled no, because I was a girl, because I managed to be assaulted in ways that now, at this point in time, most people recognize as “real rape.” It was a real rape because people really did something sexual to me without my consent and against my will because they wanted to do it and either didn’t care I didn’t, or wanted to do it because I didn’t want to. That is why my rape is a “real” rape, and is also why someone who is raped by their husband at home after church has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is out at a party in clubbing gear, drinking cocktails, who says yes to something sexual, but no to something else but whose no is ignored has experienced a “real” rape; why someone who is worn down by verbal coercion and finally gives in to sex they do not want has experienced a “real” rape; why a man who is sexually assaulted, whatever the gender of his perpetrator, has also experienced “real” rape.

Rapes are real in all the ways rape can happen, not just in the ways that some people are most comfortable acknowledging, or the ways which do not challenge people to have to consider that rape culture is not only real, but more pervasive, widespread and more a part of anyone’s life, ongoing relationships, and perhaps even personal behavior than anyone would ever like to have to acknowledge.

3) All I have said here has a whole lot to do with Slutwalks and the aim of slutwalks. All I have said here has a whole lot to do with who gets impacted by the kinds of statements and attitudes the walks aim to call out and challenge, how deeply we can be impacted and how those statements and attitudes not only do not help people protect themselves from being victimized, but how they hurt victims and can even put people in greater danger.

All I have said here is exactly about telling women that if they dress a certain way, like sluts (or hos, or harlots or loose women, or whatever word du jour of similar sentiment fits your era, culture or community) they deserve to be raped or are asking to be assaulted. All I have said here is not some kind of strange exception where the woman involved was treated that way but wasn’t dressed “like a slut,” because all I have said here is a textbook example of the fact that the idea of what “asking for it” is is completely arbitrary except for the part where so incredibly often, the mere fact of having been raped means, to someone, if not a lot of someone’s, that a victim must have been asking for it.

I want to finish today by saying one more thing I think is critically important, and another big part of why I’m sharing what I have with you here, despite it all being so difficult for me to say so visibly.

I didn’t attend any of the Slutwalks. I probably won’t. I’m nearest to Seattle, and had some personal issues with some of ours here that were part of what kept me from it, issues I really think are personal and individual enough not to be relevant or important to anyone but me, especially with the bigger picture in mind. I also have some more political issues, but that’s something I’ll talk about more in my second post about this.

What I want to mention now is the one big thing that kept me from attending any of the walks, and that is a lack of courage and resiliency. I need to acknowledge that I have lacked a level of courage and resiliency around this which some other people who have attended these walks have had, and which I cannot possibly express my great admiration and respect for. When I see photos of them, read their words, think about them — survivors like me, who probably have similar or even the same wounds, but went all the same, some even wearing what they wore when assaulted, I am overcome with awe and humility and gratitude.

I know: I have talked about being a survivor very publicly before. In many ways, I am very strong around this, especially since my most harrowing assaults are hardly fresh: they happened a long time ago, and I’ve had a lot of time to heal. But in some ways, I am not strong around this. In some ways, I am still broken in places that haven’t yet become strong or whole. In some ways, I am not brave around this in ways that others have been or can be — or heck, know they aren’t but are so amazing, they do it anyway.

I thought about attending a walk wearing something as similar as I could find to what I was wearing that day when I was 12. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t open myself up to even one person, saying or writing in a place I could hear anything at all about the way I was dressed and my assault, whether the statement would be that I deserved to be raped because of what I was wearing, or that I didn’t, but some other woman did. I am just not that strong, mostly because hearing what I did, when I did, how I did wounded me just that deeply, that almost 30 years later, I can’t even put on a damn pair of shorts to wear in public without a meltdown, even though I can easily get naked in front of, well, pretty much anyone, or wear almost anything else I might want to with emotional comfort.

I need to say this twice: there are women who attended Slutwalks who DID wear exactly what they were wearing when they were assaulted; who did wear what someone told them made their rape their fault, despite it undoubtedly being scary and painful, because they recognized how powerful it could be for them and for others.

I had to stop for a few minutes after I typed that again, because the bravery and integrity of that action literally makes me breathless. There are survivors who did what I could not do, cannot do, because they know how important it is, to them, to people like me, to everyone. There are those who did what I could not do, who I firmly believe have done something that might seem small, but which is, I think, major. Something that will make it less and less likely a 12-year-old girl, wearing whatever it is she is wearing, who already has been done the grave injustice of rape, will never, ever hear anyone say that their clothing — that ANYTHING — made being raped their fault.

Any of us can have whatever options or ideas or feelings about this activism that we like. We can disagree about some of it, or the way a given person has or hasn’t executed it, but I just don’t know how it’s possible not to recognize the potential power of what so many people have been part of with these walks, nor to ignore how much participating must have required of some of the speakers and other attendees.

So, if there is anyone out there who organized or attended a walk who interpreted my silence as nonsupport, I hope you know now that it wasn’t. If there is anyone out there who feels worn down or unappreciated by the critiques or the resistance, know there is someone right here whose s/hero you are, in a way that someone who usually has no shortage of words has a hard time even articulating the depth of. If there is anyone out there who was brave in a way I couldn’t be, and who got torn down for it or spoken to in exactly the ways that I feared I would, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that after all the courage you probably had to muster up, anyone around you couldn’t manage to have just a fraction of the integrity and care and inner strength you do.

But know, too, there is someone sitting right here who believes that while you should not have ever had to take yet one more hit around this, I believe that in taking the risk you did, you’ve done something that not only will help make it less likely others have to, but you’ve humbled someone who sometimes arrogantly thought she was as brave around this as someone could be by raising the bar.

(P.S. I ask that you please tread gently in the comments on this, if you’re going to leave one, and in whatever you might say if you’re going to blog about my story at all. Like I said, this is something where I feel incredibly vulnerable. I think it’s safe to say it’s something where anyone would, so I’d hope anyone addressing any candid story from any survivor would be sensitive, cautious and thoughtful. I hate to even have to ask something like that at all, because, you know, we shouldn’t have to. But like all too many survivors, especially those who tell their stories and speak up, and as someone who has been burned before when being visible and vocal about her rapes, I know that we do have to ask, and that even then, sometimes even just asking winds up resulting in harassment. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen this time around, but feel the need to make that ask. Thank you.)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I very recently started some coaching to help me develop some balance between my work and my life, and to help me create better separation between the two.

It’s probably more obvious to everyone else than it was to me that I needed that, but to give you an example of just how clueless I can be about this, my coach and I were setting a goal so that I could, eventually, get down to a workweek that looked at lot more like 40 hours a week instead of the more typical 60, and even 70 I wind up putting in sometimes.

In doing that, she asked me if I could describe what a day when I was working 40 hour workweek would look like for me.  In my usual Corinna lead-first-with-mouth-next-with-brain fashion, I opened my mouth to immediately speak and said, “Well….”

And then nothing came out. In the back of my head, a very annoying Musak version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” started to play, because silence was all I had going.  Finally, when I reached the sub-basement of the elevator of my mind, I mumbled, “Shit, I have no idea.”

This seemed ridiculous. Surely it had just been a while, and I couldn’t remember.  So I asked her to hold on a second while I collected my thoughts, and flipped my fingers through the card catalog of my life.

Last decade or so: yeah, no 40 hour weeks there or anything even close. Plenty of years where I wasn’t even just working this one job, including the two years where I was killing myself — but feeding myself, and keeping my organization afloat, both hardly unimportant — by working three.

Let’s try looking at the pre-web years. The year before I started all of this?  Nope, three different jobs.  The couple of years before that? Teaching jobs, nannying jobs, my internship and the farmer’s market gig during the summer on top of all that.  Nope, back to that 60 hour+ week during those years.  I know it’s not even worth considering the years I was running my little school, because even in the five days a week it was open, I showed up every day to prep at 5:30 or 6 and didn’t usually leave until 6 or 7, then showed up one weekend day to clean it.

That gets us to the college years, during which I usually took around 27 credit hours a semester and worked close to full-time on top of that to pay for school and my own bills. When I was in high school, because of the kind of school I attended, we had a longer school day than most, and I worked part-time then, too, so no 40-hour-weeks then. During my gap year between high school and college I think I actually did have close to a 40 hour workweek, but since a whole lot of that year was spent in an LSD-induced haze, I a) have few memories of that year and b) think the ones I have are perhaps a little bit suspect, since some of them contain things I’m fairly certain did not exist in reality.

That gets me to early adolescence and childhood.  While I’m very sure trying to visualize how those days went is of limited use regardless, the fact of the matter is that even during a lot of them, I got up incredibly early, often going to the hospital with my mother hours before school started, so I don’t think I even experienced a 40-hour “workweek” as a child.

Which all led me back to my initial answer: “Well….shit, I have no idea.”

I’d like you to share a rerun of the moment I had in my heart and my mind when I realized it was true that I earnestly had absolutely no experience in my life, neither as an adult nor a teen or even a child, of not being overworked and overextended, and pushing past what is a pretty common limit for an awful lot of people; of having overwork and overextension be my absolute normal, to the point that I couldn’t even access anything in my usually vivid imagination to pull up a picture of what having a life that wasn’t like that could or even might look like. Enjoy the moment with me next where I was whacked a few hours later by what utter insanity that is and how very, very long it has taken me to realize that.

Mind, it’s not like my experience with this is all that atypical for someone like me in terms of my usual economic class, trying very hard to just pay the basic bills and keep my head above water. I come from immigrants, so there’s also that to take into account. I’ve also always worked in at least one of three fields: education, activism and healthcare, which are all legendary for paying very little while demanding a lot from their workers. But do most people in those kinds of situations not even recognize that their normal is….well, too much?  Again, color me clueless.

Setting aside the past, and keeping in the present, one of the big questions is this: why DO I work so many hours?  Over the last year and change, for the most part, I get paid the same whether I work 40 hours or 80 hours.  It’s not like I see an increase in financial support for what I do when I work more hours, like people notice and say, “Hey, that ED seems to be working way more hours than usual, I’m going to donate or donate a little more.” I think most of the time, people just don’t even realize that I’m the person doing most of the work that I am to even consider my work hours, why would they?

When other organizations are short of funds, short on staff, but high on people who want and need services, what do they do? They have people wait longer out of necessity and cut back services: they do not ask their staff to add more and more hours without additional pay or benefits to try and have one person do the work of ten.  They do not suggest that a staff person should just give up their whole life to do their very best to get as close as they can to working 24/7. That is because they are reasonable, fair and probably don’t want their staff to drop dead.  Go, them. Would that my own boss were such a smart cookie who gave that kind of a shit about me.

But she’s really, really got to change or else it’s going to be time for me to find a new boss.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing okay. Moving out here to the island has allowed me to live in a beautiful place where everything is not constantly breaking at a reasonable rent. No, I don’t own a house or a vehicle, but as always, that’s okay: those things are my normal, too, but they’re fine as normals. Working more isn’t likely to put those things within my reach. I don’t have the healthcare I need, still, but there’s nothing I can do about that.  Overworking also won’t give me access to that, it just makes me need it all the more. I can pay my rent and my bills every month, I don’t have to worry about being unable to afford to feed, clothe or shelter myself. I can even sometimes give the people in my life in a far worse spot than me a tiny bit of financial support sometimes: less than I’d like to, but hey, as someone not even middle-class, being able to do anything at all is a boon.

I’m actually in the position right now to have a really beautiful life if I want it, if I allow myself the time and space to enjoy it and live it. I’m living in a place I love being in, with someone I adore.  For the most part, my life currently is blissfully free of drama or crisis. I’ve had the opportunity to learn to just be happy, rather than in a constant struggle, be it financial, interpersonal or emotional. It’s even possible that sometime in the future, I might be able to find a way to bring Briana and Liam — who are both part of what I consider my core family in the world — over here, but to commit to that, I’d need to, and want to, commit to having the time to really help with Liam and be around for him. So, my little pipe dream is a beautiful thing, but this sense I’ve had that would be no problem is delusional, since as things have stood, I clearly have yet to learn how to make that kind of time. Promising it to a little kid and his mother when I don’t know if I can deliver it would be unconscionable.

Let’s take another trip to The Department of the Painfully Obvious. I have had pretty much zero time for any of my creative work.  I can manage a little bit of time to sit with an instrument and strum on it some, but have had little to none for more than that, to create (or even publish what IS created!) any visual art, or even just fiddle around to get those juices flowing, to put any real time into writing that isn’t directly related to work. I was an artist before I was anything else in this world, and it’s so vital to who I am and to expressing and exploring who I am for me, and yet.  And yet.

There’s more, but those are the core issues, and they’re pretty overwhelming all by themselves.  But the good news is, I know all of this now, I am painfully aware of all of it now, even if that awareness is in its infancy.  The even better news is that I’m committed to making positive changes and have started doing that.

The first goal is for me to get to a 55-hour workweek. Over the last week, since setting that goal, with one day shy of that week today, I’ve clocked 48 hours.  If I work  only a 7-hour day today, I’ll have met that goal for this week.The week before this I clocked around 70 hours, so that’s a pretty massive improvement.  Now I just have to stick with it which, of course, is a lot easier than it sounds.

It’s been a nice week.  I’m finding that at least once, I have actually felt the kind of sense of accomplishment in packing less into a day, and ending it on time, as I often feel in packing in more than seemed possible and working superhuman hours.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted to have for my partner.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted for myself. I feel slightly less relieved by the idea of being run over by a Mack truck because if I were dead, I’d finally be able to get a nap.

I’m also starting to see some of the things that keep me in this mess.  For instance, while I’m usually really excellent about limits and boundaries in my personal life, and in my professional ethics, I’m recognizing I’m actually very bad with both when it comes to work in the sense of what’s asked of me, what’s asked of myself and what (read: how little) I ask of others. I ask much, much more of myself than I ask of others, and I think the trick is going to be to find what’s in the middle of those goalposts, and move each side closer to it.

I’m also finding out I’m less immune to what others think or say about me around my work than I thought.  For instance, we did go ahead and put up a notice that response time for direct services at Scarleteen will now be slightly longer sometimes out of necessity.  There was some background gossip around that somewhere that I know was about something to the effect of how much I suck, and I was finding that really, really bothered me, even though I know I don’t suck and I also know that anyone who’d make that kind of judgment is clueless about the level of work I do myself and we do as an organization, or what it takes to run it all, especially for this long with so few resources to draw on. Why do I care so much, especially when the chances are that anyone being critical hasn’t put half the time and dedication into their work as I’ve put into mine?  And why am I putting so much of my own esteem into work, and so little into life anymore?  Must to fix.

Guilt is clearly another big trigger for my internal overwork beastie. When the emails keep piling up to the degree there is just no way for me to answer them all in a day, sometimes at all; when people are asking me to do things for them, their projects, their orgs, and usually for free; when I set a limit or politely decline things I’d love to do but just can’t because I am out of hours to do them in and people don’t back off, rather than feeling pissed, I feel guilty. I want to be able to do all of these things, and I’m very unforgiving of myself when I can’t.  So, rather than dismissing or getting mad at people who won’t respect my limits or take some time to get a sense of how much I’m already doing before they even ask for something (or hey, try and ask for things only when they can make a sound offer that compensates me in some way), I internalize and get made at myself and refuse to let myself off the hook.  Even when I know someone has figured out how to trigger a guilt response in me or is clearly looking to do that, I still have to talk myself through why that’s uncool, rather than just falling in line and acting of of guilt.

Of course, there’s also the fact that this is something I need to learn. I am, as I now know, an absolute beginner at this.  I do not know how to work a typical, full-time workweek. I do not know how to have this kind of balance, both because I haven’t usually had the opportunity and because the few times I have, I didn’t take it.  I have to learn how to do this, and my ignorance has been a barrier.  I have to ask for help with this, so I can learn, rather than asking for help with all the work I manage, which can feel like the same thing, but it really, really isn’t.

There’s going to be more, of course, but I think one other thing that’s on the list of things that keep me stuck here is one of the toughest to face, speak or even think about, which is that the person I usually want to be is really not a person I — or anyone who doesn’t want to kill themselves — can be. If and when I am only highly valued or appreciated because I do more work than others and will give up everything to do it, that is not a good thing. That’s a serious problem.  I can’t control whether or not that’s the yardstick by which others measure me, but I can control whether or not I use it with which to measure myself, and I have got to stop doing that. I not only cannot be that person and be healthy and whole, that person isn’t so great, anyway. I’m more than that person. I’m someone who has always had the capacity for a lot of joy, even when things are awful, and who has been really dedicated to milking everything I can out of life, living it completely and fully and with great wonder and abandon and delight. I can be that person, who has value AND still work to the degree I need to to support myself and to the degree I can to do the good things for the world and the people in it that are so important to me. But I can’t be that person, that whole person, if all I do is work and if when I work, I am working so much and so hard that when there is finally a minute when I am not working, I am too physically, emotionally and intellectually drained to do anything else.

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that a while back, my mother found this newspaper article about a relative of ours from 100 years ago. The headline read, “Man Drops Dead After Stint of Shucking Corn.” (For serious. Clearly a writer who thought subtlety was for sissies.)

The story was about how said relative was purportedly feeling really, really sick all day, but had a history of being a very hard worker, and was not going to make an exception that day. He made clear to his co-workers that until all that corn got shucked, he wasn’t going to leave work. So, he did it: he shucked all that corn. Then, as the headline so delicately reports, he dropped the fuck dead.

I feel certain there was a moment in there where dying must have felt very satisfying. A long day of farm work when you are literally taking your last breaths is hardly the best day ever, so it being over — like, really over — must have been awesome for a second.  There may have even been a moment in there where he felt quite satisfied, thinking that he won the Martyr Olympic Gold for finishing his work even though he also finished his heart in doing so, which probably no one else on the team that day could say for themselves.

But I also have this funny feeling that there may have been another moment, probably the very last one, where he had a sudden, likely awful, realization that he just spent his last moments above ground on earth shucking fucking corn for pennies; spent his last day creating a challenge for himself that seemed laudable at the time, but was about the worst, most pointless use of a last day on earth there was. When he had that moment, he probably felt like a total asshole.  Then he died, that assholic feeling being the last he had. It was perhaps paired with the vain wish he had had just one more nanosecond to leave a tip for someone later on down the line like me that his story was not to be interpreted as an aspiration or inspiration.  Rather, it was a warning not to be so damn stupid as to think that last ear of corn matters more than giving someone you love a hug, rolling down a sunny hill, having a laugh, drinking a cool pint, eating the corn instead of working it, or just appreciating the value of your life as something much, much more than merely being She Who Works Herself to Death.

He didn’t leave that message, alas, and some of my family members indeed saw this dude as some sort of hero. When I first saw it, I did too. I thought, “Yep, that’s us, aren’t we so awesome in our badass workiness?” I thought that because I was an idiot who somehow wound up with a Protestant work ethic that would make Luther feel like a hack, even though we don’t even come from Protestants (though I’d be lying if I didn’t say we do come from some idiots, so maybe that explains it).

But I’m starting to get that unwritten message now. I’m going to learn how to leave the last ear of the damn corn unshucked if it…well, if it doesn’t kill me.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Anyone who knows me or who knows anything about me usually knows that my pre-teen and teen years were incredibly difficult. I dealt with neglect and abuse in my family, starting from about the time I was 10. I was sexually assaulted twice before I even became a teenager. I was queer. I was suicidal and was a self-injurer. I struggled to find safe shelter sometimes. Few people seemed to notice, even though after I gave up trying to use my words, I still used my eyes to try and tell them constantly. The one adult I could count on over time to be unilaterally supportive of me had (still has) serious mental illness. I had to take more adult responsibility at the end of my teen years than anyone else I knew. Like many adolescents, I constantly heard directly or got indirect messages from adults who talked about how awful teenagers were, how awful I was, how difficult, how impossible, how loathesome. Four days after my sixteenth birthday, the first real-deal big-love-me-lover I had, who treated me with all the care, support and respect I could have asked for, very violently committed suicide, having scars of his own from a lifetime of his own sexual and emotional abuse. Four days after my sixteenth birthday, with just a few days of freedom under my belt, I looked at brain matter spread over a wall from someone I deeply cared about. And that was after things had started getting better. I’m 40 now, and in a whole lot of ways, I felt older at 16 than I feel now. Some days, I am truly gobsmacked that I survived at all, let alone with my heart and mind intact and rich.

A lot of why I survived is about having gotten support. Without it, I’m fairly sure I would not have, because the times I didn’t have it are when I was so perilously close to either taking myself out or just numbing out; to staying alive, but not really being alive.

I can identify a few different lifelines I lucked into. That love affair was a biggie, despite the way it ended. I had a couple of good friends. My father did the best he could, even with contact made limited and his own limitations from his own traumas.I had a couple wonderful teachers who never really talked to me about what I suspect they knew, but who gave me some support and tools to help me value and care for myself. Having and knowing I had creative talents and being supported in those by some of the people around me was a godsend. I had also started seeing a counselor when I was 15, Barb, who was wonderful, sensitive and kind. However, she was so supportive of me, and so vocally nonsupportive of how I was being treated at home — even though I’d only disclosed some of the picture — that my stepparent axed her and wouldn’t allow me to see her anymore. Unbenownst to him, she’d still kept seeing me pro-bono, and continued to do so for another two years.  When my boyfriend died, she slept on the ratty couch in the ratty apartment my dad and I lived in to help get me through the night. She was the first adult to help me even get started on sorting out my sexual assaults, and was completely accepting of the person that I was and wanted to become.

But there was someone else very unexpected who made an incredible difference. I wish I knew his name. If I did, I’d send him a thank you note every day of my life in an envelope full of cupcakes and stars and love and guts; all the best tears of the joy and wonderful agony I’ve found in living and all the best sweat I’ve cultivated in surviving and thriving.

Throughout most of middle school and the start of high school, I was post-traumatic much of the time, holding hard secrets inside myself and deep in abusive dynamics, quite successfully abused and controlled. Not to the satisfaction of the person putting me there mind, because can you ever be controlled enough by someone who wants to control you? But I was mostly just not there: I checked out a whole lot. I sometimes playacted at what seemed like was supposed to be normal life, pantomiming what I observed my peers doing and saying, typing snippets of my own truth between the lines on the old typewriter that hurt my hands to use and which was missing two vowels I had to write in by hand. I often went to bed early so that I could wake up earlier still and leave the house unnoticed for a safe place where I could cry without worry of opening myself up to more abuses and write without fear of discovery.  I’d then sort myself out, walk to school, and arrive with a manufactured calm that allowed me to at least be able to spend my days feeling like, and being treated like, I was living a completely different life.

Somewhere around the time I was 14 or 15, something inside of me spoke the truth of my own circumstances and the way that I felt. I was able to slowly stop internalizing the abuse and neglect, and know it wasn’t about what was wrong with me. That change in my mindset, however small and seedling, and a few other changes started to give me some strength to resist, to try and survive, rather than trying to disappear, hide or check myself out altogether. This change did not go over well in my household, at all. The sad, suicidal, lost kid turning into the rebellious, resilient kid is not a change an abuser appreciates. But for a little while, I remember feeling strong, like I perhaps could go to battle in this, go to battle for myself, and just might be able to win.

But it quickly seemed I was going to get bested, in a really terrible way. My stepparent came up with a “last resort” of many abuses-disguised-as-therapies to deal with me; to have the control he clearly wanted, and the family he wanted, which did not include me. He was apparently going to utilize his counseling connections to get me institutionalized out of state. This threat, coupled with some escalating abuse, sapped my spirit, and made it feel like my idea I could get out of there and survive was a total delusion. It’s always so hard to look back on how I felt then because in hindsight I can see that this person had very little power at all, over me, in the spheres he claimed to, save the power I and my mother gave him.  In my adult eyes, I can see him as the pathetic pretender he was, and see that it was, in fact, my power he was so reactive to. But that’s not how he looked and seemed then. Then, he looked and seemed, particularly with this new plan, like a very potent overlord with the capacity to make my whole life whatever he wanted.

In actuality, his connections were only so good and he still had to work within the system. To make an institutionalization like that happen, an outside counselor needed to recommend it. It was a given that my previous counselor would not make that recommendation. Before I’d started seeing that counselor, though, there was another counselor we’d met with, who I strongly disliked. My stepfather really liked him. I remember thinking he seemed cold, but the fact that my stepfather thought he was awesome was all I needed to know I wanted to stay the hell away from him. I can’t remember how I managed to win the battle to not see that person and see Barb instead, but somehow I swung it.

So, of course, this was the counselor they wanted to try and get that recommendation so I could be sent away, sent away for good, I was told (which was a lie, obviously, but I didn’t know that at the time). I figured I was doomed and defeated. All I saw in the few days before this appointment in the life ahead of me was no windows and no future. I saw myself losing the few good connections I had in the world, to my father, to my few friends, to my plans for my life which I’d only recently felt the desire to even have again, having stopped wanting to die. I saw myself doped up and locked up forever. I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to say painful goodbyes. My boyfriend and my friends tried to help me come up with any possible out, but I felt so beat down that though I think there were things I could have done to make that happen, I believed in my stepparent’s claimed omnipotence, I had started to believe that I was just nuts and broken, I believed again that I was powerless.

My stepfather, my mother and I drove a long way to see this guy. As ever, I had my giant bag I panhandled with packed with my own version of survival goods (loose change, some clothes, a couple pieces of fruit and bread, my journal, a mix tape or two, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, my teddy bear, eyeliner, sleeping pills, caffeine pills and an ever-present can of Aqua Net, extra-strength) in case I got the opportunity to run. But they seemed pretty prepared for that possibility by that point, and it didn’t seem likely I’d get the chance. To boot, where we were heading was so far outside the city, I had no idea how I’d even get anywhere if I could get away.

I went in to be assessed. I held back a lot, not feeling safe to disclose, especially in a system where my stepparent had made himself seem like Napoleon. But I did disclose some of what was going on with me, some of what was going on in my house, some of how I felt, and certainly how powerless I felt. I voiced feeling my own life was being taken out of my hands, and a hard, tired acceptance of that. In spite of myself, I did share how awful it felt to live in a house where no one liked you, seemed to care about you, or recognized how much pain you were in and how badly you needed help, and how much I wanted to be with people who cared for me and where I could do all I knew I was capable of. Because I was madly in love and loved back in the same way for the first time, I of course couldn’t keep from talking about that, too. I left his office, then, and went into the waiting room, silent and scared to death.

Then he took a turn seeing the two of them. They were in there for a long time: every minute felt like an hour. Then he called me back in again. I went back in. I sat down, awaiting doom. He was quiet, contained, and his face didn’t give anything away. And then he said something like this:

“I talked to you. I talked to your mother and your stepfather. I do think there are mentally unwell people in your family. I do not think you are one of those people. I think it’s amazing you’re doing as well as you are, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through what you have, and I’m sorry I didn’t see what was going on the first time I saw you. I think if you are unwell or in trouble, it’s not because of who you are or because something is wrong with you, but because you are living in a very unhealthy environment and there is something very wrong with that environment.  I am not going to recommend you be sent to Kentucky. I am going to recommend you live with your father, or in some other placement, because if we want you to be and feel a lot better, it seems to me we need to get you out of that house. I am going to call them back in and tell them this, too, but I wanted to tell you alone first.”

I think I still have a bruise on my thighs from my jaw falling so hard unto them in that moment 25 years ago.

I had so not seen that coming, even though my existing counselor had voiced similar sentiments (which is why I wasn’t supposed to be seeing her). I know and remember that I trusted and valued her words, and felt similarly relieved when she’d said them, but this was something different that had a much bigger impact on me. For starters, this guy had just effectively saved my life when it felt moments away from being a total loss: in some ways literally, since I no doubt would have gone back to trying to off myself in an institution, but it was bigger than that. He’d helped save and secure the possibility of my both having the life that I wanted, outside a lockdown, outside abuse, and helped me save my own sense of self, because I’d heard enough to squelch it that the lines had started to become blurry. I’d started to believe what I was told in abuse, and what I felt in neglect: that I was awful, worthless, ugly, defective, wrong and broken from birth, crazy and would always be all of those things at my very core.

In a string of words that didn’t even take a minute for him to voice, he’d done so much. When my stepfather came back in the room, I got to watch his face twist and then hang defeated when this guy voiced similar words to him, and I got a whole new wave of feeling empowered and brave. For a minute, it seemed like even my mother wasn’t convinced he had all the power anymore. Back in the car, as we drove to a friend’s house of his, I was told, from between gritted teeth, that if I could manage to get myself back to the city alone AND gather whatever of mine I could out of the house AND be gone by the time they got back AND if I accepted that I “should never ask either of them for anything again” (a deal I had to think about for all of a nanosecond, since some of my most basic needs hadn’t been met for years, so I couldn’t figure what exactly it was I would have gotten from them if I did ask) THEN I would be left to live with my father IF he would take me. Long story short, I managed to do it with the one phone call I was allotted, some expertly nimble window-scrambling, a sympathetic taxi driver and a whole lot of courage and confidence that counselor had provided me. If that had been an Olympic sport, I’d probably still hold the world record. That day ended in my father’s apartment, with my Dad on one side of me, my boyfriend on the other, a pizza, and all of us crying and laughing and hugging with relief and joy and gratitude for hours and being able to fall asleep in the company of two people who I knew loved me immensely. It wound up being one of the most happiest nights of my life.

This did not fix everything for me. Six days later, my boyfriend took too many ludes too near his idiot housemate’s loaded rifle. My father and I lived in deep poverty over the next couple years. I still had years (and do still) to work on trauma from all my abuses and assaults, to accept myself, to repair deep wounds that usually feel pretty well healed, but sometimes still feel raw and seeping.But it’s okay. I’m okay. I’m really excellent, when it all comes down to it. It’s kind of a miracle, and no small amount of it has to do with an hour of time and an ounce of compassion someone who didn’t even know me gave.

That guy supported me. He listened, and he trusted my words. He was clear, he was calm, he was centered when I couldn’t be. He gave me information I needed and dismantled misinformation that was hurting me and would continue to hurt me. He validated my feelings. He showed me I had and could find more allies. He watered my strength and courage. He gave me hope. He believed in me and helped me get back to believing in myself. He showed me that however scary disclosing is, you have to risk it sometimes because you have to risk being supported, not just being unsupported. He did something and said things that would make it a million times easier for me to really start talking to other people about what I had been through, would still later go through, what I was feeling and how I needed to be helped. And he was one of the rare and wonderful adults during that time of my life who demonstrated that someone like him, who did for me what he did, even though it may have felt smaller to him than to me, is a vital lifesaver.

The older I get, the more my memories of all of those years get blurrier, but this particular moment is deeply etched. Every time I call it back up, I wind up weeping with a revisited relief and gratitude; not just because he helped save my life, my self, my goddamn soul, but because he modeled something for me that very clearly took root and has allowed me to be able to do something a little like what he did for me for many, many young people who, however different or similar their circumstances, need that now just as bad as I did then.

* * *

Lately, there’s been some growing awareness of, and attention given to, young people who have killed themselves or been killed due to isolation, harassment and other abuse; around or related to gender, sexual orientation, sexual abuse or assault, interpersonal or interfamilial abuse or assault. There are always the omnipresent news stories about kids who shoot other kids, kids who die from overdoses or drunk driving or kill or harm other kids that way. But these stories, however important they are to tell — and they absolutely are — are about when the absolute worst has happened: when some young person simply can’t take living anymore, or decides no one else should; when young people implode or explode. This is already a limited scope, and who knows how long even this level of awareness that young people often have it very hard will last. Unless something in the world has radically changed around young people, and I’m not seeing any evidence that it has, this will likely be a moment in time that passes, as many have before.

What doesn’t often make the news, and what most folks so rarely see, are the young people who have been traumatized, challenged, squashed, mistreated, neglected, dismissed or just have been poorly served who turn it around. They don’t implode or explode, they survive, thrive, endure, inspire. Those who slog on and pull through, even if all they can manage at first is to just get from one day to the next. But I see these young people all the time at Scarleteen, in other work that I do and in other work and environments like this (which sadly remain few and far between). That’s because the young people that pull through tend to because they get some ongoing, reliable and compassionate information, help and support.  That’s because one of the biggest and most important parts of what my work is to be a person that’s there for them to get those things from.

At Scarleteen, we see the young person who comes in making sexual choices that are simply not at all right for them, that they don’t feel good about, don’t like, or where they’re taking risks they don’t need to be or don’t want to be. We see the young person who knows or suspects — and is usually deeply afraid — that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, and/or that they are trans or otherwise gender nonconforming and has no one safe to talk to. We see the young person who’s had an unintended pregnancy, and in all sorts of circumstances; who may need help finding or being supported in abortion, or being supported in pregnancy and parenting, including after they’ve given birth when the folks who were so invested in them making that choice stop giving a damn because them making that “right choice” was all they cared about. We see the young person who’s been sexually assaulted or abused; we see the young person who is currently being abused, who feels trapped in abuse and does not know how to get out. We see the young person who’s only ever had abusive models of relationships and so has no idea that the abuse they’re in is not okay and is not healthy. We see the young person who wants so badly to connect to others, but who just does not know how or who has a disability that makes it even harder for them to connect than it is for abled teens. We see the religiously conservative young person who has so many questions, or has even had something terrible happen to them and isn’t their fault, but who’s gotten the clear message that they can’t bring those questions or needs to their community without being scorned.

We see the young person who grew up with so much shame around their sexuality that the mere fact of its growing existence, whatever it’s like, has them terrified and desperately trying to crush it any way they can. We see the young person whose hatred of their body is so profound they are asking how they can literally cut certain parts off or starve certain parts away. We see the young person who’s being told, endlessly, everywhere they look, how incapable they are. We see the young person so desperate to try and redo their own lousy childhood that they’re trying to get pregnant at 14 in the hopes that creating their own family will give them love they never found and still don’t have. At Scarleteen and every time I do the in-person work via CONNECT (the in-person outreach I do at youth shelters which is now part of Scarleteen) we see young people who have been rejected and cast out by the adults who were supposed to be the ones they could trust and rely upon most, the young person who is, with myself and/or other volunteers and staff, having the very first supportive and caring exchange with an adult they have had in their whole lives. We see the young person whose esteem and self-worth is so low that they simply do not care that their sexual partners are treating them like garbage, or who welcome being treated like garbage because it at least gives them some momentary sense of worth. Some of these young people are in times in their lives like I was in mine. Some of them have different challenges, and some of them are far less or far more challenged than others. Our world as a whole is highly unsupportive of young people, even in the best of circumstances. Our world as a whole is highly fearful of sexuality. Those worlds collide for me and for the people I serve every day.

But what we see in all of these kinds of scenarios and more are young people who have identified a place to be supported and helped, a place to utilize to try and make things better for themselves; a place to try and get even a little of what they need to care for themselves. If and when we interact with them directly, as we do with around 20-50 of them each day, we also see young people who are willing to take a risk and ask for help directly, often fully expecting that they will be denied, teased or shut down. And what we also see every single day are young people who often have those terrible expectations and don’t have them met: who DO get the help and support they are asking for. Who DO get the information they need and are asking for.

What is it we do for them? It’s often both as small and as potentially big as what that guy did for me. We give them information: information they ask for within the scope of what we do and what we know. We give them compassion and care.  We listen. We respond to what they say and ask for, not what we want to hear and say. We support them. We always try and tell them the truth and to do so with kindness and care. We have and demonstrate faith in them. We work hard not to judge or project our own stuff on them. We treat them with respect, accept and embrace who they uniquely are and encourage them to do the same. We connect them with other systems of support and coach them in reaching out. We help them in steps that can improve their lives over time — sometimes immediately, but more often it takes some time — but we don’t blow off that if we’re they’re at right now hurts like hell, it’s painful and uncomfortable. We sit with them in that. We give them hope. We create and hold a space where we work to make it as safe as possible to take a risk and open up, and where they can also learn how to interact with others in safe, supportive ways, even when voicing things that hurt or are scary or uncomfortable.

For millions of young people around the world for around twelve years now, we are and have been that guy. We’re not the only place to find that, but for many of teens and twentysomethings we are the only place at first, or the first place. Some have voiced that at a given time, we are, literally, the only place they feel able to talk and ask questions and the only place or people they know they can count on to be available for that, year after year.

I rarely get letters from a person we helped with taking a pill on time or working through a standard-issue breakup. Who I do get letters from, often years later, are the young people in places a lot more like I was. Usually, there’s a lovely thank you, but the very best part is that they’ll usually fill me in on how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and on how wonderful their lives are becoming, which is all the thanks I need, and what I always hope I’ll hear in time, especially when I go to bed some nights having sat with someone through something terribly painful. I can let them go, both for my sake and for theirs, but some part of me always wonders and worries and hopes and hopes and hopes. Knowing that when I hoped for the best for them that the best is what happened is an incredible gift. And I’m very certain that there are many letters we don’t get but would otherwise, because a lot like me, those now-adults remember the help they got and the impact it had on them, but for the life of them they can’t even remember the name of the person who helped them. (Which is maybe how it should be when we do it right.)

Obviously, not every young person who comes to Scarleteen is dealing with the toughest-of-the-tough-stuff. I don’t highlight our toughest interactions all the time because to do that paints an unrealistic picture of young people’s diverse lives and the work that we do, which sometimes is about work that’s much easier and less meaty than this. I do believe that a lot of what we do helps prevent the a lot of tough stuff in the first place; whether it’s teaching someone about healthy and unhealthy relationship models, helping someone avoid infection or an unwanted pregnancy, or helping people set up a healthy sexuality before they can get solidified in typical, unhealthy and unhappy patterns. But I think it’s important to also give visibility to young people’s lives and stories like mine, and to make clear that one of the biggest things we do is to help some of the most vulnerable people, for whom good support and information — often a challenge to even find — really can be the difference between life and death, or between living and barely being alive at all.

* * *

I’m directly asking for your support right now, like I do once each year. Scarleteen is very undersupported financially. We always need more financial support and I would very much appreciate having yours. I think we do a fantastic, important job, think we have for many years, and I intend to do all I can for us to keep doing that job for many more to come so we can remain a place young people know they can come back to, and don’t have to worry about passing in the night when a media or cultural tide shifts. I think Scarleteen and all that happens at Scarleteen is very worthy of being supported and sustained. To make that happen, we need more than just my own stubborn and dogged commitment and that of our volunteers: it also takes some dollars (and possibly a can or of Aqua Net, a mix tape and most certainly a teddy bear). In the last month we have been fundraising, and unfortunately, it’s been very unsuccessful this year, even though we’ve provided the same level, quality and scope of service we have for the last twelve years, and the young people who need us keep on coming in droves. From today through the 18th, a small team will be matching funds raised up to $1,000, so if you haven’t given yet this year, now would be a great time, and your gift would be deeply appreciated.

I felt a little strange that when I went to write a blog entry asking for support, this story is what came out. I wondered if it was appropriate or gauche to ask for financial support while also telling this story. But then I realized not only was it okay, it was actually ideal.

I grew up having plenty of things and people I wanted to be when I was grownup. I wanted to be the musician and artist I had all those talents for. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor, a firefighter, an activist, a muckracker, a lion tamer. I wanted to be Emma Goldman, Patti Smith, Jane Addams, Judy Blume and the doctor who worked with my Mom I called Dr. Harry, who had webbed feet (he was really nice, but also, unlike the nurses who gossiped about it, I thought webbed feet must be the most awesome thing to have in the world, especially in the pool at the Y).

But most days, I wake up and jump energetically into my work even if the day before wiped me out, and I realize that who and what I most wanted to be, and clearly still want to be, was that guy who kind of gave me my whole life back in but one hour and a short string of words. For someone. For anyone who needs me to be and for whom I can be. I don’t even remember that guy’s name, but I know that most days, most of the time, he’s who I want to be; he’s who I try to be. He’s better than my hero: he gave me access to what I needed to be able to be my own hero, and gave me something core I needed to keep trying to do the same turn for others every day, probably for the rest of my life.

When I ask for support for Scarleteen, one of the things I’m doing is taking some of what this guy gave to me and trying to keep it going. Because so much of Scarleteen is made of my personal time and effort, I’m asking for your help and support for my own aspirations to be like that guy, and for our staff and volunteers to do the same. But I’m also asking for help and support for a kind of intention, service and sustained space that I think, in the biggest of all possible big pictures, helps and supports every single person we help and support to be that guy, if not for a whole bunch of people, for at least one or two other people and most certainly for themselves.

That’s a different end result to aim for than a reduction in unwanted pregnancy, lower rates of STIs, less abuse and more love and pleasure, better body image or people just being more informed so that their sexuality and sex life can be as good for them and any partners they have as it can be. You won’t find a grant to fund sex education that wants a logic model for way bigger pictures than those, and I don’t know that we can build something evidence-based on the grandest goals. You won’t tend to hear people presenting this much-bigger-picture as part of sex education, even though I think it’s implicit in all quality sex education, and some part of what every thoughtful sex educator is doing and aims to do. Teaching and modeling compassion, care, responsiveness and support, in everything, but especially in the stuff that’s most loaded, is no small part of any good sex education because it’s such a large part of any good sexual life and healthy sexuality and relationships.

I think — and that’s hopefully obvious — that all of those kinds of less lofty goals are crucially important, at the end of my day, what I want to have seen and done is this bigger stuff that lies underneath it all. I want to go to bed knowing it was at the heart of everything I did, that in ways great or small, I was able to teach or model something for everyone I interacted with that’s all about being that guy for yourself and that guy for others, which I believe would be world-changing and also believe is absolutely attainable and should be as supported by all of us in all of the ways that we can.

UPDATE A generous ongoing donor has just agreed to throw an extra $1,000 in the kitty for matching through the 20th!  So, now, up to $2,000 in donations will be matched for donations made from now until Saturday!

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Life on the island is fantastic. I absolutely love it here. I feel at home, I feel at peace, and I find it very easy both to work and to relax, the latter of which is, was and always having been the bigger challenge for me. We’ve just had three days of nonstop rain, which hasn’t bothered me, but since the sun is out, I had Blue move my big blue easy chair out back so I could get some sun and some writing here in.

I didn’t mean to let a month lapse since I last wrote. I know this site of late (read: the last couple years) is something I’ve kind of neglected, or at least which has gotten far less of my time than it has in years past.  I want to just kind of sit with this today and thin — and write — about why.

When I started writing over here in 1999, Scarleteen was still in its infancy, the dot bomb hadn’t happened yet, and I was doing just as much work around sexuality and art for adults as I was doing sexuality work for young people. When it all comes down to it, I started this site, and writing here, not to long after I’d made some really major changes in my life, particularly leaving classroom teaching in order to make my work both online and around my arts and I’d moved to Minnesota after Chicago had been my hometown for most of my life.  I’d just come out of a few pretty damn dark years: of illness, of heartbreak, of almost winding up homeless again. I was 29 years old, in a relationship with my best friend at the time, and doing work that most people weren’t yet recognizing as work, or of anything of value, at all.  I was still doing some modeling for other artists, not just for myself (nor had I yet moved behind the camera, which is about 80 million times more interesting to me). I had a lot to sort out and suss out, very few supports in it and frequently fluctuated between states of intense inspiration and intellectual clarity and feeling totally, utterly lost, not knowing what the fuck I was doing in every area of my life. On top of that, very few women — or people, period — were talking about and working about the things I was. This site made a lot of sense then, and it makes less sense now, when so much of all of that has changed.

It’s so cliche, but I’m one of those creative people who tends to be most creative when I am hurting, angry, in a new emotion or in some kind of crisis or conflict.  I’d feel more stupid about that if there didn’t seem to be so many other artists and creative folks who are the exact same way.  All the same, it feels silly; lazy, even. I mean, if you can only artistically express a limited range of emotions, how creative are you, really?

So, here’s one thing: on the whole, lately — as in, over the past year and change — I’ve just been happy. Not the screamy, high-energy kind of happy, but the quiet kind, the kind that soothes and calms and contemplates and doesn’t have a lot to say a lot of the time. The kind that doesn’t keep its mouth shut because it feels silenced or scared, but because it’s just contemplating a gentle hum and finds it has little to report back.

The kind — no sense in being dishonest — I really don’t know much about at all. I’m a newbie. I can think of very few times in my life I experienced this, and the couple times that come to mind, I was so certain I was mistaking happiness for settling or complacency or detachment that I overthought it so much I didn’t really fully experience it at all, and also ran from it in due course.

But right now…okay, here’s my right now: I can pay most of my bills. I live in a rental — but a house — that is both beautiful and not in any way broken. I am in the middle of the woods, every day. More friends visit now that I moved out here than I saw when I was in Seattle-proper, and when they visit, we’re very rarely in the position where one or more of us is crying or venting because our lives suck in some major way. My sister even just moved to this state, a sister I have never really had a relationship with, but who it looks like I finally can, especially with both of us being so far away from home. I’m partnered with someone I have dearly loved on and off for 20 freaking years, who is both a peace and a passion in my heart and my mind.  All the drama around that when it restarted has since subsided. I feel able to be myself pretty much 24 hours a day, every day, no matter who I’m around.

Work is often a lot to manage (I’ll get to more on that in a minute), but it’s going well.  I’ve been doing what I have been doing for around 13 years now, solidly, and I know what I’m doing, I have way more support for it than I used to, it’s recognized as an actual job, and as something of value.  While funding, as ever, is always an issue, it’s not as much of an issue as it’s been in years past, and even when the shit hits the fan, I can usually figure something out.  I’ve been able to do some work through my work — like working for the abortion clinics and the teen shelter — I really wanted to do.  I may soon be writing a second book, which will carry a ton of stresses, but is something I very much want to do.

I could feel better physically, sure: my health is still not anything close to a non-issue.  Some things could be a good deal more stable.  Work could be less stressful.  But I’m 40, an age I never thought I’d even reach as a teenager, a concern that was more than valid then. I’m sitting on an overstuffed chair in the woods on an island, with a nice glass of wine, birds flying around me singing away, the sun is shining, the air is clean and warm and I’m comfortable.  And happy.  And mellow. In a couple hours, I’ll go make a delicious dinner with my sweetheart, which we’ll savor leisurely, then wind down with some lovely way of connecting and chilling, and then I’ll sleep like a baby in the perfect black dark.  It kinda rocks, to say the least.

Not only am I just learning how to be like this, I have yet to learn how to do my own creative work when I feel like this. I’m determined TO learn, mind you, but I’m not there yet.  And I forget, just plain forget, about my own writing or making art a lot of the time because I’m all caught up in my reverie.  When I realize that’s happened, I’ll start to give myself shit about it, and then I just stop.  Because I don’t have to do any of these things if I’m not feeling it.  But what I do have to do is learn to just let my heart be happy and my mind be quiet, one of the lone areas in life in which I am a late bloomer, and something I am actually learning to do at long last.

(more…)

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Several years ago, I worked on a sculptural piece about intimate partner violence. I wound up showing it in a gallery show, but installed it feeling like it wasn’t finished, and unsure of what would finish it.

It stayed the same for years, without any changes or additions being made. Both at the gallery show and in my house, people had strong, personal reactions to it, particularly DV/IPV survivors. In fact, my ex-partner and I made an agreement it wouldn’t be in a central part of the house because it was too hard for him to spend too much time with. Eventually, I felt like it would never be finished, or maybe it was finished, and I just wasn’t feeling it. If it was finished, it was such a large piece that it felt like it should be somewhere besides where I lived, especially if it was going to get relegated to a back room. The trouble is, anyone or any place where the topic matter would make sense, and where it would be the right thing….well, it would probably be the wrong thing. Donating something so triggering to a shelter, for instance, just would not work. So, it sat around some more.

As it got near time for me to move, I realized it shouldn’t move with me. Given the new space, it would just wind up unseen again. I still couldn’t think of the right person or place to donate it to where it could be shown. It also just really, truly, did not feel finished.

A statement of the painfully obvious variety: I’m stalwart. I tend to often be last man standing in many areas of my life, including with work and creative work. Attachment has really been my central area of challenge with Buddhism and life as a whole. Maybe it’s because so often in my life I had things or people snatched from me so much I never got to let something go of my own action and accord, maybe I’m just acquisitive, maybe it’s something else entirely, but I have a very hard time letting go of things, especially people, objects, work and communities. I wanted to engage in an active practice of letting something this big — spacially, emotionally, topically — go. I decided that I needed to let this go.

I enrolled Blue in the plan — it’s oak, and weighs about 80 gazillion pounds. On moving day, we went to put it in a local park that had seemed like the right place in my mind. But it wasn’t: not only were there people there at the time (you really aren’t supposed to just be leaving large artwork lying around), no placement felt right.

But on the way home, Blue stopped in front of a house on the block that I must have stopped in front of every day. It was the last remaining house on the block as old as ours, and had rather mysteriously been boarded up a couple years back, only to stay that way (and after it spent a year with the inside covered in tin foil, for some reason). It was sad, intimidating, dangerous, lonely and precarious; it felt like loss rendered architecturally.

It was where it wanted to go.

In thinking for so long about what would make it feel finished, it just never occurred to me that more didn’t need to be added to it. That, instead, it needed to be added to something else, then let go to be actively demolished, degraded and abandoned.

It went to where I felt finished with it, and where it also seemed to feel itself finished.

I had another once-gallery piece, or part of one. The window frame which was part of a larger collection within and around it; a frame once representing how I wanted both clarity in my own perceptions, and clarity from others in their perception of me.

That original piece had been dissembled because it felt like something that needed to change and keep changing. While it waited for its next life, though, I changed, too.

I stopped caring so much about being seen clearly, and started caring a lot more about my own clarity of vision, both in how I see myself and in how I see everything around me.

Which is why it lives here now, in the garden, in the midst of the vast green I get to sit in and with every day that has been nurturing exactly the kinds of clarity I have needed.

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The last few days, work-wise have been so much less than pleasant.  And some shit has been going on that could very well become a shitstorm I get smacked in the face with, something I’m used to, but continue to find profoundly unenjoyable.

But I had a wonderful, lovely day on all counts today.  On the way home, I made a promise to myself that should any kind of shit fly, or even just anything mildly unpleasant occur tonight or in the next few days, I would let this day stay wonderful, and pull its wonderful through to at least the next few.

I also made a promise I’d come home, put on comfy clothes, pour a glass of wine, look into the forest, turn on the computer (NO email or internet checking yet) and write this day this down:

Waking up at 4:15 today wasn’t fun, but responding to a morning “I love you,” with a half-asleep response of “Love is a Battlefield,” resulted in several hilarious and uninvited humming episodes for both Blue and myself a few times today.

The sun rose pink and purple-gold over the harbor, while we drove to the ferry. The always cozy experience of ferry-riding first thing of a morning.

Discovering the bliss that is a mocha at Stumptown coffee on Capitol Hill, doubled with a surprise Mighty-O donut appearance. Checking some crappy email and doing some online work during was not as blecky as it would have been otherwise. Reading loving gratitude made it all better.

Consulting for a patient at one of the clinics I do education for who really appreciated it. Having awesome, inspiring, political conversation about reproductive health dreams and ideals with the fantastic clinic manager.

Eating a wonderful middle-eastern lunch, but that’s not all.  Tasty lunch goodness with one of my favorite friends from my whole life where we lost touch and then couldn’t find each other for over a decade, just recently discovering we were BOTH here, not in Chicago. And having lunch not only be tasted, but gleefully shrieking and hugging and everything good there is about the best kind of reunions.

I met someone on the walk to the shelter in front of a dispensary who was short on money for methadone, and also painfully overdisclosing to me to ask for a whole five bucks.  Sharing a moment when I made clear I did not have to be sold on helping, nor should anyone else who had five dollars and watching an instant burden-lifted, the kind of exchange that tends to drive most of what I value most in living.

I had a great bunch of teens today at the shelter who were awesome to do ed with and for.  After the talk, one of the teens asked to talk to me privately, and I got to have the first relaxed, normalized, non-emotional and them-specific talk about their body that intersex youth seems to have ever gotten the chance to have until today.

Coming home on the ferry on a beautiful day, sipping honeydew green tea and nibbling on licorice, sun and wind and water abound.

Arriving home to pick up the phone, and have my newly-reconnected friend tell me she was just calling me to gab, because she finally could again.

Putting on comfy clothes, pouring a glass of wine, looking into the forest and writing this own.

Whatever else may come, be it the benign and typical daily frustrations, or the semi-occasional round of giant, steaming bullshit that gets left on my porch, today was a very good day.

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Even though when I moved part of the plan was to slow things down, I’ve been busy, busy, busy lately.

Mostly, it was just a matter of timing, that a lot of things happened around the same time as the move did, and that’ll be changing very soon.  Last week, the Scarleteen boards were closed to give myself and the volunteers a break from direct service, and during their downtime, I’ve been trying to catch up on some professional writing and a whole pile of administrative work.  I have a desk full of filing and invoicing to get done today, and several email boxes that need some serious cleaning and catchup. Being able to get this kind of stuff done with very little direct service work on my own part has been a lot easier, and I need to make that happen for myself more often.  It’s just really hard to make administrative work a priority when there are young people to care for with all manner of crises.  Especially since not only are they in need, I hate the admin work, which doesn’t help.

In a couple of days, I’m going to be taking a handful of days off so that I can finish unpacking and settling in here.  Then, towards the end of August, I’m taking a full week off.  I’ve been trying to remind myself that not only do I need downtime both to be effective in my work, but to retain my sanity, and as well, I may not always be able to be my own boss like I have been and even have the ability to do that. Considering how much of my life I have been self-employed for, I’ve really kind of blown it a lot of time time.  For sure, self-employeds do tend to work even more hours than folks employed by others, but there is a flexibility we should at least take advantage of.  And yet, year after year, I go weeks without a day off wake up early every day and work into the night, even at times I a) really don’t have to and b) really am not being compensated to.  I’ve just got to get better at that.  Thankfully, moving here seems like it’s going to help.

But I didn’t stop by here to talk about work.  Well, not really.  What I wanted to talk about was trees and their work.

Everywhere I look here, there are trees.  Outside every window, lining every walk. Pacific Northwest trees aren’t the wide, bushy trees I grew up with in the midwest before so many of them started going away to make more and more room for more and more buildings.  Some of them are as tall as city blocks.

I was laying in the hammock last week, gazing up at them above me, and was struck by questions for them I get asked myself about what I do all the time. Why do you keep doing the work you do?  What if nothing huge ever comes of it? Why keep plodding on, especially at times no one seems to be recognizing how hard it is for you to do what you do or why it matters?

Obviously, I can only guess at their answers: I’m not (yet) a tree whisperer.  But when I thought about it, and just kept looking at them, it occurred to me that the trees are self-accomplished.  Certainly, there are big ecological benefits to their being here and doing what they do.  But even if there were not, you look at trees like this and it’s clear that not only are they great just in the being, do they achieve greatness just by their slow, methodical and constant growth, they achieve absolute majesty.  We’re awestruck and humbled just looking at them, trying to grasp what they are, how beautiful and amazing they are.

But I don’t think they aspire to that.  In other words, I don’t believe that greatness or majesty is their aspiration, even though both are their achievements.  Instead, it seems to me that they simply have the desire, the patience and the persistence to grow and to never stop trying to keep growing.

… and that if that’s what any of us have going on, we get the same deal.  No matter what we may or may not achieve, how long we have to plod on without what look like results to ourselves or anyone else, even on the days no one recognizes all we’ve done, we’re at greatness and majesty because we grow and refuse to stop growing.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Amongst other things, someone called me classist this week. Normally, I’d just write it off as totally stupid: I’m just not sure how you can grow up poor, stay poor, have times of homelessness, have no health insurance your whole adult life, not have part of anyone else’s income to rely on (including your parents and from an age where that’s unlawful), be unable to complete or enroll in educational programs because of poverty, have a homeless parent, work in and around shelter systems, et cetera, and be a socialist and be classist.  The claim also came from someone I know has very little right to make that claim and who made it out of malice.

Mind, we can be whatever-ist within a group where other people can be the same kind of -ist to us. For instance, living in Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, I heard more than my fair share of racism from my neighbors towards Black people, even though both groups are deeply impacted and oppressed by racism. I grew up hearing my mother’s Irish family talk about my Italian Dad, and even myself now and then, in a profoundly racist way (which you and I know isn’t a race issue, but good luck explaining that to my mother’s parents). Both downtrodden groups/families because of poverty and immigration stuff, but that didn’t stop them from the slurs any. I have also met more than one misogynist woman in my day, to say the least. So, it’s possible, I know. It’s just one of those things where in my case, I have never felt like this one was an -ism I needed to watch out for taking part in myself, save when it comes to how I think of and treat people who live at incomes greater than mine.

But it crept under my skin all the same, most likely in part because I had some feelings earlier this week that were bad enough, though the realization about them was worse, and it fed into those feelings.

I’m in this place where the rent is basically the same my last rent was. My share is $600 here, after $400 goes for rent of the office. That’s even $300 a month less than the rent at the old place was about to be with an incoming increase. I also expect my utility bills to be substantially lower here than they were in the last place.

At the last place, I got to pay all that and go a winter with broken heat and everything else falling down on me. Even in summer, it was bitter cold at night from all the drafts due to 100-year-old windows and walls. I had to fix things on my own all the time, and things were constantly breaking. Often, in fixing or tending to things, I was not able to deduct costs from my rent. I probably don’t have to tell a lot of people here that’s hardly an uncommon experience. I, maybe like plenty of you, especially living in cities, have paid for broken or falling-apart places more than once.

In the new place, I’m paying a reasonable personal rent for something that is NOT falling down. Sure, it’s rural, so that’s part of the deal. The economy sucking is likely another part (otherwise, rent would likely be a lot higher, or the owner would be able to sell this house).  Not only is this place not falling down, it is AMAZING. It’s beautiful, it’s clean, and someone redid tons of it to the apparent specifications of James Bond.

Seriously, maybe living in old, run-down places all my life I just haven’t kept up with the times, and all newer places are exploding with gadgets like this.  But I don’t think so.

Here’s the gadget roster so far:

  • Lights, everywhere. The living room/kitchen/loft area alone has 18 different fixtures, all built in, controlled by  10 different switches, some with tiny dimmers next to the switch.
  • In-floor heating, with a thermostat you can program to go on and off at different temps at different times of day, including making a given setting for weekdays vs. weekends.
  • A stacking, front-loading washer and dryer, also with programmable timers.
  • Disability-accessible door handles.
  • Windows that open with nice, working levers, not with every ounce of energy you have in a day.
  • Drawers with back magnets so you only have to nudge them and they pull in (suffice it to say, this house is very, very well-equipped when it comes to my hand disability).
  • A dishwasher and fridge, both working, spacious and shiny.  The fridge makes ice and has a water filter, as well as drawers you can set for fruit or veg.
  • Hookups built into the walls for speakers, throughout the house.
  • Vents in both bathrooms.
  • A functioning compost bin (which sure, isn’t really a gadget, since it’s as low-tech as it gets, but I’ve never been able to have one I didn’t have to build, so).
  • A sprinkler system in case of fire.
  • A working and properly vented woodstove.
  • Outlets EVERYWHERE (that huge box of extension cords I brought will be gathering dust).
  • An in-wall vacuum cleaning system including a spot in the floor of the kitchen where you can sweep your dust pile over, move the switch with your foot, and it sucks it right up.  I am so not kidding.

I say “so far” because the property manager told us she’d come by soon and show us how to work the house.  That sounded silly to me until we started finding all of these gadgets.  There may be some we don’t even know about yet.

Anyway, when I was packing up last week, I got seized by this really intense feeling I can only describe as abject-stupid with a heaping dose of institutionalized guilt on the side.

I felt very certain I did not deserve to live here. I had moments of panic and worry that this was some kind of cosmic joke, and that I’d get here and it would be made clear I’d been punked, as expected. Even in saying this, and hearing how ridiculous it sounds, some part of me is still wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. Intellectually, I knew and know better, but my brain had little impact on my emotions.  In the midst of that feeling, I was seized with this equally foolish feeling of being a charlatan of sorts; of not only having something I shouldn’t and probably am just imagining, but having something that, despite costing no more, somehow makes me a traitor to the other people in my life and outside it who grew up the way I grew up and who live on the level of income I have and do.

Here’s one of the seriously stupid parts of this. Most places where I have lived before have been crap. In crap neighborhoods or crappy places or both. I have managed to make most places I have lived in, even the crappiest of the crappy, nice enough. I don’t tend to mind that, because I’m a creative person, so see it as a creative opportunity. But the thing is that none of that is free, either. It costs money, time and effort to do that. The pain and the brushes cost. The fabric costs. Whatever furniture you don’t dumpster dive costs.  Cleaning all the time because a place is in horrible shape costs. Spending days and days painting takes a lot of time. None of those things are free, and they all add to the “bargain” cost of a crappy place. As inane as it’s going to sound, for some reason, none of that resonated until now, which really is quite dumb, because it certainly always has had a palpable impact on my wallet which was impossible to overlook.

We came here and….well, nothing needs to be done. It’s already very clean. The pain isn’t chipping off the walls, the floors aren’t falling apart. There are light fixtures everywhere, making most of my lamps unnecessary. I probably have a good five boxes of stuff I just didn’t even need to move here: stuff I have accumulated over the years to makes places liveable that didn’t have what one needed in them to live there.

And yet, here I am, in this beautiful place that not only costs me around the same as other places, but which will probably wind up costing me less, sorting through these feelings. They’re going away fast enough, but that they take up any real estate in my mind at all really bothers me and makes me upset with myself, upset with anywhere I ever got any messaging to support these feelings. Particularly since what I’d like is to just be able to enjoy the place, my good luck and good fortune and have a chance in my life NOT to be stressed out about where I live, but to have a place of peace, solace and function to call home. I’d prefer not to have to keep telling myself that I got a two-year lease, and need to accept that after these two years, I may not be able to live this well again, that that’s okay, but that I also need to not take a second of this for granted or I’ll be a ungrateful (to whom?) asshole.

The big epiphany in all of this that has me really steamed? It seems entirely possible that I could have been living somewhere similar to this way before now, just like I am now without needing any more income than I have to make it happen. I realize that it’s been bred and manufactured into me to feel like I’m feeling, to be sure I can’t do any better, to be sure that this was simply beyond my means and my ability. Plus, I have been way too receptive to suggestions or accusations that I need to be keeping down with the Joneses, as it were, and living the way someone of my means “should” be living, which is to say, poorly. I’ve also had so many messages that so many other people had it as bad, or that someone else had it worse, and took those so seriously, this is an area of my own life I’ve not really allowed myself to sit with, accept and unpack, sorting out what from it I need to heal from and work to get past.

Mind, sometimes we just can’t do better than we think we can. Back in the mid-nineties when a few stupid choices and a really bad set of financial circumstances hit me, I was thisclose to being back on street or needing to be in shelters. A parent from the school I once ran offered me a place that was really pretty crap: no heat, cement floors, no security, the works. But not only was it kind, and what I could afford, I do think it was the best I was going to do at that time with no time to find other options, and no services available for me. I called around everywhere in a frenzy, including to social services, and was just shit out of luck. This included a phone call where a woman at social services suggested that if I got pregnant, I could get benefits I didn’t have, so that might be the time to consider that. I wish I were kidding, and also wish I were kidding when I tell you that when I asked if she had any sense of the impact statements and suggestions like that made on people on welfare, or of what kind of effed up suggestion that was to choose parenting, she was completely unconcerned.

I was also without the kind of freedom then I have now per flexibility in where I can work, which is a pretty huge freedom that makes a very big difference (though Blue reported that his commute yesterday was no big deal at all). I was locked into a low-paying internship I really, really needed to finish to get job training if I had hopes of not living that way anymore. Again, I had also made some idiotic and reactive choices that very much limited my options.

But when you grow up poor, stay poor, and absorb the messages you get poor and from other poor people who have clearly all also been institutionalized, you hear a whole lot more about your limitations than your options. Same goes double for growing up with one poor parent who was a social justice activist. (A la, “It’s fine we don’t have things we need.  Good people are the people who don’t have things. Only bad people who oppress other people have things.”) Out of necessity, there’s a solidarity that forms between everyone that in some ways can be very positive and supportive, but in other ways can assure everyone is kept down and stays down. People who try and reach a little further can be put down by others with suggestions one “thinks they’re better” than those who either are in a place of absolute stuck at the moment, or who have simply given up trying to claw and crawl out, which is a weariness I understand and have experienced. Again, if you grew up like this or around this, or within other systems of oppression, I’m saying things totally old hat to you.

Yes, there are also messages that if you just work hard enough, then you can move ahead.  But since those messages also sound a lot like “You’re only poor because you’re lazy…” or “If you just worked harder, you’d be doing better,” things we know often are simply not true, they’re not very effective messages. Plus, again, sometimes working more or harder works and does help you get a leg up. Other times, it only makes you more tired and just as poor, sometimes even more poor, depending.

I think a lot of this stuff was why my father was freaking out so much about this. Over the last month and some, since we decided to move here, it got to the point where I was having to spend an hour or two on the phone with him daily to assure him this was a good place where everything really was nice and not broken, where we’d be able to eat and be safe: he really didn’t believe it could be within my budget, either.  I had to tell him again and again how big the island was, how I could take a ferry or water taxi to the city, how we do have a downstairs neighbor, how I have my bike, a phone, how there is a grocery store and other people who live here, and so on. Considering we spent some of the poorest years of both of our lives together, including two years in a row where our ghetto apartment literally flooded with sewage from the drain outside it, that attitude and fear is unsurprising. Considering that more than once my father’s “good fortune” really WAS an illusion, I get it a bit more now.  Next time I call him, I’m going to bring all of this up: I think the two of us both have so much of this kind of baggage that we’d benefit from hashing it out together.

I’m not asking for reassurances with this, by the way.  In fact, I think it’s really important that I work on providing them for myself, rather than getting them externally. I also don’t have any grand conclusions here I can draw: mostly what I needed was to try and exorcise some of this, which I’m hoping will at least unpack some of it from my head.

It’s a beautiful day here. Given, even when it’s rainy and grey, it still looks beautiful here, but today the sun is out, the green is blinding and the air is warm.  I’m a bit behind on work because despite all the gadgets, the phone and ‘net didn’t work here for four days.  But right now, I think catching up some more can wait one more hour so that I can get outside.  My appreciation — the earnest kind, not the guilt-ridden variety — is not just about the indoor space here, but about where that space is, nestled so wonderfully into such lush woods just waiting to be explored.  I think it’s pretty obvious that this move, this space, this place all have a lot of lessons to give me that I need, around the issues I talked about today as well as others.  One of them it seems particularly well-equipped to assist is in my willingness to take care of myself and my making that a greater priority. I don’t have to pay a fee to go see the museum that is right outside, find a ride and hours or days to get to somewhere like this, or acquire something I don’t have.

I just need to put on some shoes, open the door and walk right out into exactly what I need. Which is what I’m going to go do right now.

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

I had something really incredible happen this week.

In case it’s not painfully obvious, there are, in a lot of ways, in most ways, few benefits with my work.  The pay is gawdawful, the tangible (not emotional) benefits like health insurance or a 401K are nonexistent, and it’s often very hard work intellectually and emotionally.  I often feel largely unsupported, I’m always overworked and overextended and on top of what’s hard in working with and for young people, I have the haters to deal with as well. To boot, I have been in this solidly for a long time now, longer than most last in this kind of work.

So, it’s probably easy to see how sometimes I can lose sight of some of the benefits I do have or have cultivated, or how sometimes I can’t see that at all until they are right on top of me. But today, I came to realize something had happened over the years which I hadn’t even really recognized, something that may not directly personally benefit me, but it’s no small deal and it most certainly benefits the young people I work for and work to help.

This week, I had a new user just past her teens come to us in extremely dire circumstances.  The more I found out about her and her situation, the more dire it all clearly was. Long story short, she’s unwantedly pregnant, and only found out very late in the game due to a couple issues.  She became pregnant within an abusive relationship she since left, but grew up in the foster care system without ever getting a permanent placement and treated very poorly, as is woefully common.  Given her familiarity with the huge flaws in the adoption system she very much was not comfortable with an adoption, and does not have the resources, financially or otherwise, to parent (and is already the parent of one). Once she found out she was pregnant, she wound up at a CPC, who both made her feel like shit and also delayed things further.  This is someone who clearly has never had anyone advocate for her: I’ve been in that spot for a few years in my life, and they were so, so awful.  I’m aware there are people who spend a lifetime in that space, and I just don’t know how those who survive do: I’m ever awed by them.  She’s horribly vulnerable and was in a bad way, but it was clear — and in this process has become all the more so — that she’s got some really impressive inner strength and resiliency. I admire her.

By the time she came to us, she had been convinced by the CPC that she had no options, especially having no money whatsoever, barely even having housing, and was very intensely distraught, even considering self-harm.  After talking with her to comfort her, I then worked with her to help her know what options she did have, including abortion funding.  I got her started on working that, which is beyond underfunded, and also a tough process to navigate.  So, I took on some extra responsibility in helping her through it, starting by sending out some emails to people in my network who either run or work for funds or who are connected with some of this work.

During that process, which was arduous and intensive and is just wrapping up today, and now in hindsight, I found out something that floored me.  In a word, I’ve done the work I have for so long solidly enough, honestly enough, and with enough dedication and responsibilty that in a crisis for a user, when I say I feel someone needs advocating for and ask for the help of others in advocating for someone, many people trust me and my judgment. I’ll explain the situation when asking for help and support regardless, but clearly, I am trusted right from the onset. Wheels can turn a little faster, more people can and do get on board when I advocate for someone, and I have to spend less time convincing people to take action than I used to, which matters a whole lot in situations where a clock is ticking for someone.

Until today, I didn’t realize that’s where I’m at in what I do; that I have acquired some extra power over the years for the people I help. As a social justice activist of any stripe, this is the superpower you want. It means that potentially, if you keep it up, you can actually make some headway in people taking populations or issues seriously they may not have otherwise, or may not have taken so seriously. It means that beyond all the immediate things I want and need to do in a day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to making some real progress with the bigger picture. It means I may just be able to do what I want to do for people and the world, in the largest ways, not just the smaller ones.

It means I may actually be able to make things better, not just for individuals in the short run, but for everyone in the long run. Even typing that more real possibility immediately brings on tears. Mind, a few hours ago I was happy-crying about the outcome for this woman and for how blessed I am to know so many other people who are such compassionate, driven, big-hearted, big-minded people, so the waterworks had started already, but this is very emotionally intense for me. It’s also wholly unexpected.

With the added help and determination of some completely awesome other individuals, organizations and a clinic in New Jersey I was able to coordinate to all get connected, I was able to help someone who people don’t seem to have ever helped to help herself when she needed it most; to assure that she wasn’t let down by people yet one more time, wasn’t presented with yet one more harsh challenge she felt unable to weather and which would make her life feel even harder and even less like her own.  We were all able to make something happen this week that is very difficult to make possible in this particular set of circumstances. When she was getting really frustrated trying to help herself, I was able to grease some wheels to make it easier for her.  Again, if I got to choose my superpowers, this is one I’d ask for, and I’m still shellshocked that it appears I may have it.

This was a rough freaking week. I have more than one person I’ve been working with in a hard spot (our new users lately seem to be coming in with more harsh circumstances than usual), and having to burn up the phone and mail lines for days, worrying so much that I wouldn’t be able to help, wore me completely out.  However, I couldn’t ask for a better end to the day today.  Not only was this particular young person able to be helped when she needed it most, but I got to get a really clear sense of how working so hard for such a long time, and being sure than in how I worked, I did so building and honoring lots of trust can really pay off.  I got to hear the massive relief in her voice, relief she won’t be forced into something she doesn’t want, but also relief that she will not always be let down: a decent paycheck doesn’t give you that gift, and it is one HELL of a gift.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m one of the few full-time activists I know who had any preparation for the hardest parts of activism. My father gave me very clear messages growing up, as it became more and more clear I was heading this way, that it would often be really tough. That I’d scrape by financially, that I’d be overworked, that I’d have to deal with some backlash and that it was entirely likely I could work my whole life for people or a cause and have to accept that while there might be results eventually, they might only happen once I was dead and gone: I might never see them. Or, they might be so small I’d just feel like I didn’t do anything, no matter how hard I worked.  He told me to really think about if I was okay with that and could deal with that, especially since he had and still has a really hard time dealing with that.

All of that was valuable and important messaging. I’m glad I got it. I have done what I have done anyway, and I pretty much always have been okay with all of that, even though sometimes I’m not. Sometimes it all really gets me down and I can feel very lost in it and very hopeless. But knowing in advance this was all likely helped.

The message I really didn’t get, though, was that never really seeing results, or only being able to make some teeny drop in the bucket, might not be what happens. That it was and is also possible that I could make larger contributions, that I could make bigger waves, waves I could actually see and other people could feel and benefit from.  Something I find myself sitting with right in this moment is getting that message, and the strangeness of realizing how totally unprepared I have been for the reality of actually being effective, actually being able to make some real change, actually being able to see, in the microcosm and macrocosm, the kinds of results of my efforts I hope for, even if I don’t expect them and are prepared not to see or experience them.

And it’s earnestly overwhelming, the good kind of overwhelm I don’t experience in work very often.  If I didn’t feel so good right now, I’d probably feel a little foolish and blind. But instead, I just feel kind of mega-amazing. I have cultivated some level of superpower that has the capacity to do things for people that already should be done, but aren’t; that has the capacity to foster real positive change.

It’s intense. To say the least. Hard week, but very, very good day.

P.S. I am planning to call into the crisis pregnancy centers that swindled her and made her feel like hell next week. My intention is to call and graciously thank them for acting in such a way that made extra sure a young woman who didn’t want to stay pregnant didn’t have to. The people I networked with to get her funding already work to advocate for oppressed women already, but when you throw a CPC into the mix, we get even more angry and upset, and the fire already under our asses gets a whole lot hotter. Without them taking part, we may not have been able to make this happen like we did, so I want to make sure that they know that their manipulative, purposefully dishonest and cruel swindling assistance probably helped someone to get an abortion. Because I know that that would make them so, so proud of themselves.

Plus, that’s better than just calling and saying “Nanny-nanny-fucking-boo-boo, you bastards.”

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

I just wanted to leave something from the past today for Blue more than for anyone else.  It’s a piece from around a year ago. Honestly, the both of us were going through hell, though his in a lot of ways was far worse than mine, or perhaps more to the point, some of his hells-of-yore just barely beginning the cleaning-up stage were very hard on both of us.

Life has been really good for us since Blue moved.  For the most part, crazy-good.  As stressed out as my work can make me sometimes, on the whole, our homelife has been such a solace, so much joy, so much fun.  We need to learn to leave the house more often when it comes to our leisure time, but I think we’ll manage that one, especially now that the weather is starting to improve.  But it taking so long for him to find work was exceptionally rough on him (in case I didn’t mention it, he wound up getting a job at the teen shelter where I do some outreach: major career change, but so far, he loves it).  As well, he’s still got a lot to unpack as well as dismantle from his previous relationship and everything that went down in it, as well as the dynamics that were part and parcel of it. His having to deal with those still when it comes to doing all that needs to be done to sever those ties has been really hard for him, and it breaks my heart.

We’ve talked about it, acknowledging we both knew that in some ways, it might have been better to wait for him to move until all the ink was signed over there and he’d had some more time to heal, but that we both really didn’t want to wait, and that was okay. I’m still glad we didn’t, especially given how many years we effectively had waited already. I’m glad to be his support in this, even though some of doing that means working through his learned responses to things from his marriage that just make so sense here and have no reason to come into play here.

Blue, like me, can be pretty rough on himself sometimes, and can sometimes go without acknowledging progress he’s made, or ways things have changed positively via his efforts.  I was revisiting some of our shared writing this morning from the last year and came across this, which seemed a pretty good time capsule to remind us both of how much easier things have gotten, as well as how much we’ve both weathered and come through just fine. Blue is an emotionally intense person, (again, like me), and that given, he tends to leave a lot of intensity in his wake.  Last year around this time it seemed to keep coming from every direction: a year and change later, things have calmed down a whole lot.

There are far fewer worms in our apple now, and to boot, we’ve got each other to lean on every day, rather than having month-long lapses where we both so acutely felt the lack of the other during a time when we needed one another so badly. We are ever-mighty, and only keep becoming all the more so.

in times of storm or drought

There are truths, and then there is truth
and they are not comparable.

It will matter to you — of course it matters,
as it would to anyone — to have facts
lined up neatly, linearly;
to have fictions exposed and
shelved with the rest of the world’s imagined stories,
great and not-so.
I understand that this matters,
it has mattered to me before, too,
but right now, for myself,
it is nearly irrelevant.

There is a truth
which is wordless, boundless, nonlinear.
It is messy, often inconvenient and untimely.
It expresses itself better in
childlike images painted with blood on the walls of caves
than in any one language,
sound or pretty symbol. There is neither
any clear way to affirm nor deny it,
no formula to affix that tangibly validates.
It is a truth rooted not in fact but faith,
and one which feels all the more true
when it fails every proof applied to it.

These other truths or untruths
have little relevance or particular weight:
when I sit them on a scale with
that larger truth, they fly up and away,
landing flat on their ass
as a much smaller-child does
when the biggest kid in school
comes by and idly slides
onto the other end of a see-saw.

That larger truth lives in an effortless
space, be it silent or full of
words, tears, moans, grasping hands,
linked gaze, difficult history,
absolute acceptance, loud frailties,
unresolveable conflicts and the primal
urge to merge completely.
It makes a home where I am at the same time shaken
and yet still as stone.

I feel it when you lock your mouth
to my breast; it lives in that illogical sense
of nourishing you from glands I know
provide nothing, do not leak
or swell, and yet
when I look down at the angel
suckling me, when I feel how,
in those moments,
I soften and you impel
a strength in me. I am a mother cat
then: should I perceive anyone to even think
of doing you harm, I know I would
hiss, scratch, repel.

It lives in the fact
that if either of us are going to have
white-hot, seething anger with anyone
it should be with each other,
however much we have recovered,
and yet, even when I seek it out,
it denies me access. It has dissolved
as easy and invisibly as dew at dawn.

It lives under the soles of my feet.
My legs have always been peasant-thick,
but there is a certain force of will and ground
like the roots of grand redwoods
which could not be felled by word or deed,
no matter how poisoned, and such a tiny axe
is impotent even to seek intrusion by carving in its own petty initials.
It does not require
firm nor solid ground to walk upon, and meets resistance
with the confident quiet of giants.

I look at who comes to tangle with me,
and some part of me cannot help
but laugh: it feels a delusion, a jest
for anyone, at this time, in this space,
to seek battle with me. I feel I can pick them off
and blow them away with a huff and a puff,
as I would a piece of lint on my shoulder.
When you stand, solid-legged
with an ancient blade in your hands,
there is a certain hilarity
when facing the barrel of a Nerf-gun.

None of this is to say
I like seeing a worm in my apples,
I don’t, and it does disturb.
The grey, turning parasite
sours my stomach when my mouth
should be watering.
There are moments in which
it has felt as if my bathroom door
was broken down, my diary read,
a horse’s head placed on my pillow.

There are moments today where I feel
as vulnerable and overexposed as you:
while I often want to shout us out to the sky,
I do not relish intimacies of mine
in the sweaty palms of crooks or liars;
nor a hole for peeking into my heart
shared with an eye seeking an eye.

* * *

When first we met, I had all the seeds
of what I’d become, but some had grown mold,
many had yet to find soil or water.
Some had been purposefully stolen, for fear
of how much bigger I’d become
than those making off with my possibility
in their greedy pockets. I have since
not only germinated, pollinated, blossomed, grown,
I have overtaken every small patch
I found myself planted in. I have spread far
by wind, by water, by fur and by paw:
I have dispersed
myself and become hardy enough
to be capable of withstanding any manner of conditions,
and flourish even when it is proclaimed improbable.

This is who I bring to you, to us, to this:
to everything.
I would wish
it is who I had brought before, save that
neither of us were that expansive yet.
We are now. This is who knows
that no smaller truths even when juxtaposed
speak as clearly as that wordless one,
who knows how something rich and lush can grow
even in the most inclement of weather.

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not sure why. My guess is it may have something to do with the fact that I’m simply a shite long-term planner, a failing grossly impacted by the fact that I just care a lot less about the future than about the present.

But I decided a few weeks ago that I need to do it for 2010. I turn 40 in a few short months. I tend to give birthdays about as much weight as I give other holidays (which is to say, pretty much one), and have yet to have any milestone birthdays actually feel like milestones. I have a feeling, though, that this one may actually feel like a milestone. I’ve had a lot of changes in the last few years, know there are some to come in the next, and there are some ways I’ve come full circle in my life of late, too. Making resolutions this time feels like a way of acknowledging all of that and also perhaps better, more consciously, putting my life in a better framework for it.

1. Accept and embrace my place in the world. When I say that, what I’m mostly talking about is the fact that there simply is little place for me in the mainstream, especially when it comes to my work. It’s not like I’ve ever tried that hard to fit in, but at the same time, I feel like over the last few years, I also haven’t fully accepted that and then just really been who I am, without feeling like I should at least try to play the game.

For example, I really don’t see Scarleteen ever getting something like a fat Ford Foundation grant, no matter how many more millions I serve, what happens with abstinence-only funding and culture or who is President at a given time. Our world and culture overwhelmingly getting on board with sex-positive approaches to young adult sexuality and sex ed is just not going to happen anytime soon. And I’m just not Ford Foundation people. I’m also not TV people: I didn’t forget that, thankfully, and said no to TV a couple times this year.  I have no interest in being TV people. Ever.

Beyond the way something like doing television or getting a huge grant from a mainstream foundation could help fund and support the work I want to do and feel is important, I don’t think I ever wanted to be that kind of people. There’s a limitation in those things I don’t like. Being on the margins allows me to best address the margins and to do so in a way where I don’t have to capitulate to anyone or have anyone have the ability to control what I do or say.  I still think that benefit is worth the cost of it.

I’ve been more cautious than I really need to be with my work at Scarleteen, the other work I do related to or like it, and also with my other work, like my photographic and written work here, where I write and publish elsewhere.  (I know that to some, it probably doesn’t look anything like caution, and if that’s so, then you perhaps don’t realize I’m weirder than you think I am. I appreciate your mistaken impression, if that’s so.) Some of that caution is sound, is about things that are vital like good boundaries, like understanding that I’m modeling attitudes and behavior for people, particularly young people, and because building bridges is important. So is having some vague semblance of privacy.

On the other hand, some of that caution has been based in fear or weariness. Fear of being stalked again, of being harassed, of being driven out of town with sticks. Fear of going totally broke. Fear of failure. Weariness with fighting the good fight, with paying the harder costs of transparency, with having my freak flag sometimes flying right out there in the open where everyone can see it and may or will dissect it.

When I started doing all of this work, I was more fearless. Mind, I had way less eyes on me and what I do then, and I was younger, but I can still be more fearless, those things notwithstanding (in fact, a compelling argument could be made that . I hit, spoke, expressed myself from the gut more. I miss that about me. I want it back.

2. Get better organized. If you have never lived with me or shared my space, what you don’t know is that I may well be the most disorganized individual on the planet.

I’m very organized in my head. I’m an utter mess outside of it.

And at the present time, I am living with an exceptionally good organizer, who’s already made it far easier to keep the things I do actually have somewhat organized in place. I could, and with no shortage of gratitude from anyone who interacts with me in any way, take very good advantage of Blue’s unlimited and well-honed skills in this department to refine my own.

Of course, this includes doing some actual long-term planning.  Sigh.  But I can do this.  I can.

3. Choose my battles wisely. At the moment, I have a couple half-written, already lengthy screeds about individuals who have driven me up a freaking tree. Whether it’s about penning a book in which they effectively called me a slut who has no call educating young people, about someone faking their credentials and identity and hoodwinking young people who can make my own, real work by a real person harder for a while, or about a partner’s utterly full-of-shit ex-lover manipulating the crap out of me for what appeared to be either entertainment or pathos (or both), I got ire and it’s got words.

Going back to resolution number one up there, to the way I live my life, to the work I do, there is never going to be any escaping this. There are always going to be people like this. They are always going to hurt my feelings or make my life harder or less happy, and they are always going to care very little about that.

Some battles are worth fighting. Slander or libel matter, for instance, especially if they threaten my livelihood and my craft. Harassment matters, because one does need to refuse to be harassed to the degree they can. Muckracking is important when it impacts others, even if it has a personal relevance to me. Too, I’ve had some incidents in the last year where I just felt really taken for granted by some folks, and I started figuring out that rather than sitting and stewing, it was best for me to just call some people out and ask for what I feel I deserve, which has been working very well. Especially when I carefully consider if I need to do that or not.
What amount of heart and mind I invest into this stuff, and who I devote any kind of time to also matters. Some of this keeps me from actually doing the work I want to do, from living the life I want to live, and can result in certain individuals or groups accomplishing exactly what they set out to accomplish, which is pissing me off, complicating my life or making me feel like garbage. Some of it is simply not going to be a sound or productive use of my energy.

I think with this one, I need to learn to err on the side of arrogance.  I need to get a little high-and-mighty and decree that more often than not, some of these folks are just not worthy of even a minute of my time.

4. And on that note, I also get to take my time with things. As much time as I feel I need to. I think because often so much of my work is crisis-based, I can become forgetful about the fact that not only does everything not need a rushed and immediate reply, but that some things are best left to marinate before a response or an action. If something feels like it has to be said or expressed immediately, or that it should be, but I feel like I want to sit on it for a while, I need to give myself full permission to do just that. The world can wait. Lord knows I’ve waited on it enough.

5. Less work, more play.  This is a tricky one, of course, because I don’t make the kind of living that allows me a lot of leisure time.  At the same time, when I overwork, I don’t usually get paid any more than I would if I didn’t.

I know I’ve talked about needing to do this before, and I frequently fail.  I think there are some things I need to do that are supportive of this goal. Trusting that there are others who share my work and activism goals who are working just as hard at them would help. Reminding myself that part of my ethos and philosophy as an educator is to be supportive and to provide guidance, but not to do too much hand-holding and to encourage people to hold their own space and be proactive, also helpful. Getting better at delegating — which also involves accepting that no, that will sometimes mean things won’t get done exactly as I’d like them to be done, but that’s fine — would be a huge help.  Bearing in mind that if I burn out utterly, I’m of use to know one. I may even need to put a note on every wall that reminds me that even if I somehow manage the impossible miracle of helping everyone else have a life they enjoy, if I can’t manage that for myself, it’s no good. Bad teacher, no biscuit.

So, at the very least, this means that every week, I must take at least one full day off. Totally off. I’m also going to make a promise to myself that since I usually start my workday around 7 AM, at 7 PM work needs to be over, whether I’m finished with things or not. If I start later, same deal: workdays must stop at 12 hours, without question. And the Staycation I took last year?  I need at least one weekish-long break like that every year, at a minimum. That was one of the best things I had done for myself in a long time, and I’m a moron for not having done it sooner.
All of this also involves…

6. Letting go of childish things. Not the good stuff: the good stuff stays. I’m talking about the bad stuff.  About the standards I was often held to as a child which were not reasonable then and still aren’t now. About the idea that I have to work harder and longer than anyone else in order to be worthy of living a life at all, worthy of the basic things we are all worthy of even if we don’t do anything with our lives anyone thinks is of note. The hurt, the ugly little voices that say ugly things, the mistakes I made and wished I didn’t, but which I have long since apologized for. The things I was assigned — or self-assigned — responsibility for when I shouldn’t have been.

And that also means I need to…

7. Hold myself to lower standards.  My perfectionism can reach truly crazy epic proportions sometimes, and over the years, it just keeps getting worse. Heck, even with this journal, the entries are less frequent because I somehow got it in my head that I had to say things here of Great Relevance, instead of also just taking a few minutes to add silly, potentially irrelevant parts of my daily life, which is supposed to be what a journal is really for in the first place. It’s a journal: it’s not a book, it’s not a commissioned article, it’s not going to be up for a Pulitzer, for crying out loud.

My new mantra needs to be something like, “No, you don’t have to do it better than anyone else. Sometimes, you don’t need to even do it at all.”  It might also be helpful if I actually remembered now and then that I’ve accomplished more than just a little in my life so far, and with less resources than most: I’ve already pretty much exceeded everyone else’s expectations of me, which were mighty high, so it’s past time I give myself the props and the leeway other people do.

8. Have the birthday party I always wanted.  I mean, for real, I’m turning 40. 40! I’ve well bypassed the age I thought I was going to live until when I was a teenager, and given a lot of my life, that’s no small feat.  There must, at the very least, be rollerskating.

9. Take care of myself just as well as I take care of everyone else. If you’re a helper-person or know and love helper-people, you know how we are. We’re sure everyone else’s care is more important and immediate than our own self-care, even when the people around us notice this brand of dysfunction and call us out on it.  In fact, we can sometimes even come back to those call-outs with this inane and irritating little game where we basically make a Sally Struthers-esque plea for those we feel so need more care than we do. And we’ll say that from our sickbed, we’ll say that when the bills go unpaid, we’ll say that when we are clearly about to literally drop from putting everyone else first.

Must. Stop. This. And if I tell you I’m fine when I really, truly do not look or sound fine, please call me out on my bullshit.

10. Remember that I’m allowed to be as happy as I want to be and don’t have to keep secrets about that from anyone. This is a new issue for me. I’ve generally been pretty effusive about all my interpersonal relationships in my writing and with the people in my life, and very open about my feelings about them. But there’s something right now about being back with Blue again that makes me worry that if I express certain things I’m feeling with this, and what our life back together has been like, it will make all of my other relationships seem like they were unimportant (when they very much were not). My concern about that isn’t just those other people reading this, but even readers making assumptions about what other people in my life meant to me. Which is probably pretty silly.

Mind, it’s a tricky balance regardless, because this is also a relationship I feel deeply protective about.  I want more privacy in it than I have with other relationships. It’s not because it feels tenuous or insecure: strangely enough, for as volatile as some of our history has been, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as earnestly secure in something interpersonal in my whole life. It’s more like that it’s this miraculous thing that’s managed to weather so freaking much over the years, including in the long absences between times we were together or in contact, and so I think I worry that if I don’t guard it in some ways, there might be that one thing that somehow tips the balance. Maybe. We’ve also had troubles over the years with others being very threatened by or envious of the deep way we connect and the import we have for one another that have caused us some big hurt or giant frustrations, too, so I worry there’s more of that to come. And, of course, when all this started back up again, I had to keep a lid on it, so I may just need to remember that’s done now. I don’t know if those things are it either, though. Still trying to figure out what my feelings on this are coming from, really.

All that said, I get to express my joy. I should be expressing my joy, because it is miraculous and it is exceptional and it is also a relationship which has been part of who I am since I was 19 years old.  It was some part of every relationship since because it was a part of me. What I feel and have now doesn’t change what I felt or had for others before. Intellectually, I know this: I just need to connect my head with my heart. And  bear in mind that resolutions 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 will probably help.

…and for the bonus round: I am giving myself greater permission to BOTH tell people who I’m feeling love for that I love them madly, and to tell people who are being complete and utter assholes to fuck the hell right off.  So, whatever side of that coin you’re on, look out. :)

P.S. I love you wonderful silly people who have been reading me for an age madly. A happy 2010 to the lot of you.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The other day, a friend called to catch up with me and asked how I was.

I answered her by saying that the house won’t stop falling apart on me, that I’ve been beyond overworked and am scrambling to make ends meet, that I spent a week with what undoubtedly was H1N1 that flattened me utterly, but that otherwise, I’m seriously great.

Which is true, even in that context of not-at-all-great stuff.

Sorry to have been so absent. I was first gone for a while because of taking my Staycation, which I completely enjoyed, especially since half of it involved Blue’s arrival. Being able to have real time together without seeing and feeling the sands of the hourglass dwindle to an inevitable and painful separation was amazing. Having the time and the freedom to really spend some time ushering in a life together we’ve both wanted on and off for such a long time was a very big deal and a seriously righteous gift.

Then I forced myself to go back to work again, which included a day at the youth shelter, where it was total pandemonium including a couple of the teen boys hacking up a lung in everyone’s face. Two days later, I woke up feeling a little out of sorts. Four hours after that, I passed down face first on the couch and don’t remember a damn thing that happened the next couple of days afterwards, mostly because I almost entirely slept through them. I was still sick — but much more lucid — for a few more days, but it took well over a week for me to even resemble being back to normal. I thank my lucky stars that Blue was here to be a killer nursemaid.  It’s crazy to be so sick you have no memory of whole days at a time.

After that, I not only had to try to jump back into work again, but into big-time high-gear.  I had abstracts to prepare, a presentation for medical students to prep and deliver, a book foreword to write for an anthology, several local meetings, an interview and all the usual work I already have to do. I read a bunch of libelous commentary in both a printed book and online from a religious conservative about me that made me want to get out a Ouija board, channel Jesus from the dead, and demand he go and do something about some of his apparent followers because some of them are really out of hand and he’s clearly the only one they’ll listen to (if that: they seem to dismiss a lot of his messages, but just showing up would at least scare the crap out of them and get a momentary silence we all could use). After that, I needed to prep a feminist carnival, roll out a huge new addition to the services Scarleteen already provides, and start prepping for the big end-of-year fundraising appeal for Scarleteen that is critical to our survival. In case you haven’t picked up on this about me already, I HATE dealing with, thinking about and talking about money. I hate asking for it even more. I just hate money, period: I’d give just about anything to live in a totally barter-based world. When my days are filled with large portions that are about nothing but finances (especially since it’s usually about finances that aren’t there), I begin to slowly and surely lose my mind. It doesn’t help, of course, that Blue is in a similar spot right now himself.

The night before the fundraising release, my stress levels and way too many 12-15 hour workdays in a row broke the proverbial camel’s back.

I had a meltdown that made almost all other meltdowns in my personal history look downright amateur.

Mind, that was also in part because of the falling-down-house. The house I rent here is 107 years old.  It’s clearly withstood a lot, but the maintenance on it over the years and the time we’ve been here has been less than fabulous, and it’s a typical old west coast house: built fast, not in any way insulated. In the last two months, I’ve had so many things break it’s just nuts, and they seemed to have liked to do so in a way that gave it all a very dramatic build: it started gradual, but then picked up so there were days towards the end here where something would happen almost daily. First it was one broken sink (paired with another that was already broken: anyone who has stayed here recently got used to brushing their teeth in the kitchen). Then a broken toilet, which we woke up to with the floor full of water it resulted in. Already, the woodstove was toast (and the landlord doesn’t want to pay to fix it), and then the heat in the main rooms downstairs broke (which is also still not repaired). Next, one of the kitchen cabinets just fell off in my hand. Then the dryer broke. We’re not provided a washer and dryer in the lease: the last were bought used, so are up to me to replace: thankfully, we lucked out and found a free one. Then the toilet downstairs started leaking, providing the cold downstairs of the house with an oh-so-wonderful urine-scented perfume.  Then — not actually part of the house, but still — my main computer system which houses all my music, all my photo work and what I use to do it with, and my most important software, went kablooie.  And because we’ve had a recent move-out and move-in here, a good deal of the house was already in disarray.

And that’d be when I totally lost it, sinking into a pile on the floor of the stinky bathroom. It absolutely did not help that in that same week, we’d decided to double feature the original Grey Gardens with the dramatized new version (which was exceptionally good, but somehow manages to be even more depressing than the original documentary, which is quite a freaking feat). Both Blue and I could identify the stage the place here was in with its matching Grey Gardens stage, what felt like only a couple steps away from a pile of cat food cans in the corner and water from the ceiling pouring unto the piano.

I needed that big cry, really. It’s hard and it’s scary to work so much, so diligently and for so long in my life and still be dealing with things like not having working plumbing and heat. I was basically raised with very strong messages that I, like everyone else on both sides of my family, should expect to be overworked and underpaid, to always be bone-tired from work at the end of every day of my life and to not find work would net me even the basic the things it can net others. Those messages in some ways were helpful — after all, they have helped me manage my expectations — but in other ways, especially the older I get, they can feel a whole lot like a curse, especially given how deeply I am realizing I internalized all of that stuff.  Perhaps internalized to the point that others read that in me and figure throwing me crumbs is just fine since I’m clearly fine with it myself and will not stop doing all I do regardless of the conditions. It’s also hard and scary to be very transparent in asking for things I badly need, and most others in my position have, knowing that ask is inevitably going to meet with at least some cold shoulders that are going to either make me very angry, or just really hurt my feelings. Some of my meltdown was me bracing myself for some disappointment I knew would come.
It’s also hard and scary for me to have someone else around who very acutely feels my pain and frustration; who I’m both really letting all the way in, and who goes all the way in when I do let them.  Usually when I totally lose my shit, I’m alone, which sucks in some ways, but in others, I can really go whole hog with a freakout when it’s totally private.

While it’s certainly ironic, since it’s not what I want, it’s no coincidence that in my relationship history, it’s more common for me to be with people who keep a certain distance from me or withhold than it is for me to be with those who get very close and go all-in. With Blue back in my life full-stop, I’m acutely reminded that in some ways, I can be somewhat Wild Boy of Aveyron emotionally: a bit feral, twitchy and skittish when it comes to anyone really being all the way open to me and wanting the same in return. I’m reminded that this was part of the issue with us way back when, and that while I’ve certainly come a long way in that regard, I’m hardly all the way there. This Mowgli still has some serious work to do in this department. However, having someone so deep in it with me who will really just let me go and listen to all I’m crying about — both the reasonable and the not-so — is a gift. I also need to remember that especially for someone who knows — perhaps better than anyone — how hard it is for me to really open up and speak to the things that scare me the most, that make me feel the most awful, that my doing so is a gift, too.

But.

Like I said to Becca when she called and asked how I was, all of that aside, I’m actually ridiculously happy. Which might seem completely insane given all the crap I just chronicled, but there it is.

Last night I was saying to Blue that if the two of us are as happy as we have been with everything in such total fucking disarray and utter chaos, it’s kind of mind-blowing to figure how we might be if and when it’s not. Even something relatively tiny, like getting an electric blanket to help with the cold, seems to make us much happier and more giddy than it might otherwise. Life here is very good despite all the other kinds of crazymaking and badness.  It’s amazing having Blue here and continues to be awesome for us both to finally really be together. In setting up some of what we can with the place here, it feels homier than it ever has, and that process has been exceptionally nice. Nice enough, even, that when I had heartburn the other night and Blue pointed out the Tums were next to the condoms on the nightstand, it made me laugh instead of making me feel geriatric. The animals are all socializing well. The meadow I cultivated — where the tree used to be — is beautiful and flowering. I have some good work stuff on the horizon in the next six months, just have to see it all through and hopefully get there.  I have had some great help and company in Blue with some of my work stuff and functions. And while I am not in the position to cut back my work hours, I really, really want to, and that wanting is in and of itself a very positive thing.

It sucks that we have to deal with the crap that is this crumbling Grey Garden right now, but we’re still planning a move to the islands, hopefully in the spring. I think we can get through one winter here, even with busted heat. Thankfully this is Seattle, not Chicago or Minnesota, so even if we had no heat at all, it’d be uncomfortable but hardly lethal. It sucks that I have to keep pushing the envelope so much with work, and have to work so hard right now, but it’s hardly anything new.  And I *did* get a weekish off this year, and that really was a lifesaver.

So yeah: a whole lot of everything really is quite shit. But I’ll work my way through it — and get to some of the bright spots looming on the horizon up there –  and am sure I’m not only going to get through it all okay, but in some ways, all that shit only has so much impact because it hasn’t yet managed to overrun the stuff that’s really, really good.

P.S.  I deeply apologize to site subscribers for the lack of photography updates.  I actually have one fantastic completed set that was ready to go online, and two in the process of being ready, but since the main system died with all of that inside of it, I can’t get to any of that or upload any right now.  I may be able to get the data off of it in the next week, but it’ll still be a bit after that for me to be able to get everything moved over to another computer and get it all up.

P.P.S. For those of you who don’t know, when I’m silent here, I’m rarely silent on Twitter, where you can keep up with my life and work mini-updates, things that politically infuriate me, my irrelevant random thoughts and my attempts to stop eating the pretzels I’m unable to stop stuffing in my gob right now.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

I am a giant, pulsating ball of stress.

Here’s my whirlwind, as scattered and lunatic-fringe as it feels: some friends in deep crisis needing a good deal of care, more and more rape/abuse survivors coming to Scarleteen as well as more and more users who just need a kind of care we can’t give, but who often aren’t willing to get what they actually need, Blue mid-divorce which will probably get more and more yucky (paired with my own irritation at people getting married in the first place, with all apologies to my married readers), more work that just is barely paying me lately (Scarleteen donations are dismal) than any one human being can do, less work that does pay me available to me lately, a bunch of long effort expended on a maybe-second book only to get the oh-so-typical marketing team not-commercial-enough smackdown, Mark getting ready to move and going through something major to boot, Blue getting ready to move, a big house I am going crazy to keep tidy on my own, the tail end of the peer sex educator training, broken sinks, cut-down trees, overwhelming photo backlog (have been making progress, but have a long way to go) so I can get to the point where I can make some new art (which my spirit direly needs), serious impatience about having certain parts of my life start I feel like I’ve been waiting for forever, feeling ineffectual half the time even when I work my tush off, not enough help for…well, nearly anything and everything I need help with, behind on a million things from people visiting, feeling like I can’t possibly give all my friends the time and care they all deserve, money worries including old bills coming home to roost, too many people asking me to do too many things, feeling better physically but still have no answers and am sick and tired of stupid healthcare bills especially in the cultural context of a million people whining about healthcare proposals who have always had and will continue having their damn healthcare, not allowed to box which would really freaking help right now, still desperately trying to find a new developer for Scarleteen we can actually afford and not at all liking living totally developer-less, my pug is itchy all the time again, I’m sad for summer’s upcoming end, I desperately need some time alone, I’m excited about good stuff to come but also nervous as hell, I worry over both my parents a lot these days. Hell, I worry over anything and everything I could possibly worry about.  I have also been finding much of the world lately to be an utterly irritating and crazymaking place and I hate my negativity that way.

Like I said? Giant pulsating ball of stress.

At this precise moment, I’m not sure what the answer to all of this is.  I can figure out some answers for a few of those things, I can put on a few band-aids, but unfortunately, an awful lot of them are things I just have to weather for a bit.  All of this not going on at once would sure help, but there’s not much I can do about that.

I have, however, firmly decided that sometime in October, I am taking a full week, maybe even a week and a half, off.  I mean real-deal time off: NO Scarleteen, NO clinic, no work at all.  No managing anyone else’s crisis.  Part of me says I can’t afford it, but the smarter part of me that cares for myself says my pocketbook is more resilient right now than my head, heart and body are.

I honestly don’t know when the last time was that I did that, where I didn’t even check in with any work-stuff at ALL for more than a couple days at an absolute maximum.

I am taking a moment to put this here because I can pretty much always come up with some excuse when the time comes to take time off as to why I cannot, and I’m asking the internet-at-large to hold me to this, and nag me like a granny if I backpedal.  You see me working anywhere during that time?  I want you to chase me with sticks like a crow in the corn.
And if you’ll humor me, I’d like a few moments to step away from the whirlwind and daydream about what I’d like to do with that week, even about things that probably aren’t possible in reality, in an equally scattered fashion.

I want… to hula-hoop in my backyard on days when it’s sunny and blast reggae while doing so, get a footpath into the front lot where they took my tree away from, get back to baking bread especially so I can give it that satisfying thwack after it rises, make some art, have lots and lots of sex and even more kissing, paint a wall something crazy and in possibly poor taste just because, learn to take naps, go to the Olympus (and in my fantasy world, I magically don’t have to pay for it), eat too many Mighty-O donuts, get a bike ride in every single day, restring my dulcimers, watch way too many movies in a row, discover my new favorite band, have not a single pimple, find things I’ve misplaced and have been missing for years, write something completely fanciful and ridiculous of absolutely no import or consequence to anyone, not have anyone talk to me about money at all — in fact, not deal with money at all save to discover some unexpected donation that comes in to fund my taking time off and prove me right in being able to take the time in the first place, be free of awkward silences, put up curtains in the kitchen at long last so I can dance (and do other things) freely in my underpants without providing live theater for the neighbors, get a real sofa like real grownups have (if it appeared at Goodwill and was two bucks, that’d be even more awesome), giggle, sew a canopy for what’s become my new bedroom, actually experience total apathy for even just one minute, remember I don’t need to somehow write or say everything that needs saying in one sentence, get out of the city for a day, be given a bath in which someone washes my hair who isn’t me, play with my dog, take evening walks, spruce up my space for my sitting practice, have dinner made for me, read books that have nothing to do with work, have someone tell me marvelous things about myself right in my ear where I can hear them and not doubt them, go to sleep too early and sleep in too late, have an overcast, chilly day turn into the most beautiful day of the whole year, find the bathroom scrubbed clean when I didn’t do it myself, start one day with a pitcher of mimosas, go to the zoo, say some things I often feel like I shouldn’t, cry freely, have nothing terrible in the world happen for at least half my time off, find those days stretch like taffy and have each feel like a week and remember who the hell I am again, entire and apart from the giant, pulsating ball of stress I have lately become and deeply dislike.

Friday, July 31st, 2009

This is the twentieth time or so I’ve tried to write here in the last month and a half.  I’m determined to succeed this time, despite my fear of doing so.  I got a few notes from people starting to earnestly worry about me: I certainly didn’t need to make anyone worry, but do appreciate the concern.  Given my time lapse, and how complex everything is, there’s going to be a lot to read here today, and it’s going to read a whole lot like a confession, even though I’d prefer it didn’t.  I don’t really know how to do this: I expect to be clumsy, which feels like my default these days.

A lot of my silence has had to do with waiting for a very, very big shoe to drop.  The long and the short of it is that the once-primary relationship — a marriage — Blue has been in for over a decade has been troubled and deteriorating for quite some time: years before we even started talking again, let alone renewed our romantic and sexual relationship last winter.  And it has now led to his taking the first steps of a divorce.  I haven’t felt comfortable sharing that aspect of all of this until now because…well, wait.

I still don’t feel comfortable sharing, but I feel even more uncomfortable not doing so.  I don’t like keeping secrets, especially big, nasty ones.  I don’t like being secrets, either. All the same, I haven’t felt okay about even thinking about disclosing that until this point.  Both knowing (which I have for some months) what choices Blue wanted to make, and having those choices begin to be enacted was something I needed before I talked about it publicly, for everyone’s sake.

Let me get this out of the way: in general, I don’t care if someone is married, so long as it isn’t me.  However, I have always had a hard and fast rule about dating or sleeping with anyone who is married, even if it’s an open marriage by full and glad agreement: I don’t do it. The one time I was with someone who I found out wasn’t truthful with me about the status of a marriage, I put an immediate end to the relationship, even though it was an important one I didn’t want to sever.  If I went into all my reasoning around why that’s been my rule, I’d have too easy a distraction, but the crux of it is my feelings about marriage, honesty, honoring people’s existing agreements (and dating people who honor their relationship agreements), emotional availability, how much drama I’m up for and what I want and need in my life. I also have been close to too many messy, ugly divorces in my life, with family, with friends, and I want to be as far from divorce — always a possibility with any marriage — as humanly possible.

I made an exception this time, which I’ve had mixed feelings about. Because I did go outside my own ethics, ethics I tend to broadcast, I feel a need to explain why. I made that exception because of the nature of both my and Blue’s relationship, now and in the past, because of my understanding of Blue’s relationship with his wife, because of existing nonmonogamy over there for years before I was back on the scene, and because my feelings for Blue and vice-versa are very strong and enduring.  I’ll also be honest: given our long and complex history and how we have always been when together, beyond my usual bristling at the idea of anyone having ownership of someone else, the idea that Blue is “someone else’s” just isn’t how this feels or has felt.  Not to me, not to him. I made an exception because we both felt gypped at not having another chance to be together at a time in our lives when we could finally handle it. I made an exception because a lot of this — most of this — just felt right, and because in weighing my options, not pursuing this as we have felt like a choice I’d regret more than I would in pursuing it.  I don’t intend to absolve myself of any responsibility for my choices, but in terms of how it has felt and it feels, this hasn’t been one of those things where I’ve been all, “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but….”  I’m neither proud nor not proud.  In making my choices, I consulted at great length with my heart and head, and with people close to me who I know care about me a lot, understand me, and hold me to the same kinds of standards I hold myself to. I also made an exception because we both intended the way things have been to be temporary.

The end of this marriage isn’t about me: it’s been creeping towards this for some years now after efforts to repair problems for a very long time, and also has not been a sexually active relationship for a long time. Both for longer than I’ve ever even been in a romantic relationship, which is an odd perspective to have.  As far as nonomonogamy over there has gone, they have had is what I describe as a passive agreement to active ignorance (and not the pejorative meaning).  There’s essentially an agreement to denial, rather than to an open relationship, and some interpersonal structures built to provide certain freedoms for nonmonogamy while keeping a strongly padlocked silence about it.

It has not been something workable for me in anything but the short-term, if that.  Even in that limited way, I don’t see my ever agreeing to this with anyone but Blue.  I’m not down with multiple partnership like that where everyone isn’t talking and negotiating as a collective, especially with relationships as serious and loaded as these.  I also feel conflicted with anything — even when it’s a choice one woman has made — that keeps women from connecting with one another.

However, it’s not my relationship, so I’ve tried to be a grownup and not project what I think is kosher for me or in general unto them. Suffice it to say, I can have a certain arrogance about things like this as an occupational hazard, especially if I’m not mindful about it. I’ve tried to deal only with my and Blue’s relationship and how their stuff involves me.  What I could address, obviously, is our relationship, and both what I can live with and want to live with.  I had my ducks in a row over here on my end, and my agreements with Mark sorted already; I had from the get-go.

So, back in March, Blue and I made an agreement that by fall, he would either a) create an open and fully honest agreement per he and I within his marriage — which included the honesty that he wasn’t with some random person, but with me, as well as that he wanted me to become a primary partner — b) for that relationship to switch to a fully acknowledged platonic relationship and/or for the legal marriage to be dissolved, or c) for the model of our relationship to change so that it became a platonic friendship, either permanently or until one of the other options was wanted and chosen.

It wasn’t an ultimatum.  In fact, if his marriage wasn’t in disrepair already, and it was meeting Blue’s needs, in many ways I’d have preferred the first of the three options.

The why of that is complex, but I know part of it is that I just hate any a situation where one person is chosen “over” another or perceives things that way no matter who it is getting chosen, even when it’s me.  (Maybe in some ways especially when it’s me.)  My internal sense of fairness revolts at it, as does my core feeling that we all have room for infinite love in our hearts; room for far more than one person we love in life, and I don’t understand why we accept that as a culture with friends and family, but not with sexual or romantic relationships.  This “pick one” thing just doesn’t sit well with me when it’s about people.  I also know that Blue has a lot of love for the person he’s married to, and has valued many aspects of their relationship.  I hate to see love lost.  However, this is another area in which I’ve needed to work on being an adult when it comes to what other people choose and what they want.  I didn’t have a say in their relationship, to how they structured and lived it: that was all about their choices, choices made a long time before Blue and I reconnected and renewed our relationship.

In any event, Blue wound up choosing door #2.  At this point, discussion of he and I has not yet happened between he and his wife.  I sit on that precipice very, very nervously, the same way I’d sit in the open maw of a lion.  I don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to that point, especially since it’ll mean his breaking an enforced silence on a bunch of things she/they clearly just has/have not wanted to face or address.  His disclosures around nonmonogamy are going to be one thing when talking about other partners, but most likely something else when it comes to me.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s okay for me to talk about this here, but it’s really heavy for me and no small part of all this, so I’m going to say it for now and hope I don’t trespass. I’m a very loaded person in that relationship, and that’s age-old: in many ways I’ve been the most loaded person in that relationship since it began. I started out the bad guy (or rather, girl) for them both: I was the terrible person who broke Blue’s heart, who in some ways he was treated as needing nursing from.  In some ways I’m sure that he did, of course, but there was a lot of demonization there, some of which I understand now, but still don’t like.  I, or the history of myself and Blue, seems to have been a foil for some of their problematic dynamics.  Mind, I don’t think that was fair.  I was 22 years old when I left Blue and in the middle of very terrifying, overwhelming and unanticipated PTSD that took some things away from me (or seemed like it did) that I deeply cherished and felt utterly lost without.  As well, Blue and I had some shared issues, and he had his own missteps. I had a fight-or-flight impulse, and I flew. I handled it all badly, without question, and only after finally really working through all of it together last year did I stop feeling horrible about some of what I did which I know was awful.  However, I didn’t mean to hurt him: I was trying to protect and guard myself with limited skills and a mind that was in total disarray.  So, not fair, but that’s not all that relevant: a lot isn’t fair in life and love, and it’s very clear at this point that they were probably more hurt, and will be more hurt, in creating that dynamic around me than I was or will be.

It’s a bit tough not to feel like something of a homewrecker, though, even though I know that’s not what went on, nor what is going on, and not at all what anyone intended or wanted. But I anticipate it may be perceived or presented that way, especially since it’ll probably be more comfortable in some ways to point at me rather than acknowledging tougher or more painful truths.  If it is, if I am, presented that way, I don’t know how I’ll deal with it.  If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge that I have equal parts sympathy and a total lack of sympathy in that department.  I feel some guilt around this, particularly because I know that there has always been a good deal of jealousy in terms of the strong feelings he has had for me, as well as a (obviously valid) fear he’d choose to be with me instead of her.  I would never want anyone to feel like they were in or lost some kind of competition to me for someone else’s heart: that just sounds abhorrent to me.  I don’t even want to be even a tangential cause of someone’s pain. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone losing Blue in any way: I know too well how painful that can be. On the other hand, I have to be kind to myself and cut myself a break knowing that this is not a dynamic I set up: that was someone else’s choice, not mine.   I made clear what I felt and wanted a long time ago, and that last time around, in Act II of all of this, I stepped aside without argument to allow Blue to choose to go to her when a “choose one” was their deal, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do, it hurt like hell and I was the walking wounded for a couple years afterward.

It still sucks that this dynamic exists, regardless, and I still don’t look forward to facing it, but expect I will have to.  That everyone will have to.  But maybe we’ve all needed to, perhaps for longer than any of us have realized.

Okay, taking a breath.  Now another one.  One more.

I realize there’s another reason why this has been so tough for me to voice here, even once I had the criteria I thought I needed, we all needed, for me to do so.

It makes me feel small to admit it, but one benefit of having and living very stringent ethics is that it allows you a certain lack of vulnerability. In some ways, a perception of you being superhuman and perhaps not as flawed and fallible as everyone else.  Even if it’s not why you choose your ethics, certain standards of living and thinking do put you on a pedestal to some degree.  They can protect you from some measure of judgment. Of course, if that is the case, however rough some of this is, that’s very important for me to ditch, especially since it may well be part of some treatment or perception of me in life I don’t actually like and which can feel very isolating.

Let’s also face it, I’m hardly anonymous, and putting this out there does make me nervous in terms of my job and position in the world.  I know all too well that there are some individuals and groups who will relish evidence that I am the immoral, skanky harlot who is out to wreck families and traditional relationships it’s been sometimes suggested I am.  I’ve joked about it among friends sometimes, that that’s my easy out, my being everything some have said or implied I was in the first place. But my jesting there comes out of guarding how vulnerable it makes me feel and my desire not to be that person.

I’d be remiss to leave out that disclosing all of this means that if I wind up with egg on my face I can’t hide it.  (I was so close to typing “…then the yolk’s on me” instead.  I’m very sorry that I still did it.)

And that’d all be some of why I was so quiet.  Believe it or not, that is only some.

It’s been rough to figure out how to talk about Mark and I, too.  Some of what came out in all the communication around the poly agreement last winter was a level of honesty Mark had withheld from me –  and himself, really — that was so rough for me.  It wasn’t anything malicious, cruel or purposefully deceptive.  At worst, I’d say it was careless, but at the same time Mark and I have had very different lives, very different levels of experience with relationships and very different personal growth experiences. All the same, what came out hurt me deeply in some ways, and was a dealbreaker for me when it came to us having the kind of relationship we had been building, or that I thought we had.  I don’t mean to be obtuse, but it’s not my right to spill Mark’s guts for him on the Internet, so what I’ll just say is that I want and need certain things in a relationship of this depth and level of commitment that just didn’t mesh with how Mark was feeling, thinking and constructing his own frameworks.

It’s not an honesty I regret, and it was a brave one on Mark’s part that I’m exceptionally grateful for.  I think when this kind of stuff comes out of poly — as it tends to since you’re usually deepening communication a lot — it’s so convenient for people to blame the poly, and this just isn’t poly’s fault.  A lot of good things have come out of us opening the relationship up at the end of last year: I’d number those tough truths among them, even though the outcome of that truth led to a split.  I think, though, it’s probably also going to lead us both in directions that will result in both of us getting what we really want and also coming to whatever our best relationship is.  Mark still feels like my family: I have a hard time imagining Mark will ever feel like, or be, anything but. Mark’s family feels like my family, and they’ve made that clear on their end, too. Mark also remains, however sticky some things are right this second, one of my very best friends in the world.  Visualizing a life without him in it makes no sense to me.  And some of all that is why it’s been tricky to talk about what went down with us: I’m a ferociously loyal person with those near and dear to me, and can be very protective.

Over the years, I have kept finding that one area where it gets tough to write here about my personal life is all about loyalty.  Sometimes, it’s hard to be truthful about the not-nice stuff interpersonally, not just around protecting the privacy of other people, but because I also know that how I talk about someone, how I present someone or a situation with them creates a representation of them a lot of people read here.  I never want anyone I care for and love to be disliked by anyone — heck, even if and when I dislike them, which isn’t the case here, but certainly has been in a couple previous relationships of mine I’ve journaled about.  I absolutely don’t want anyone to think someone in my life is a jerk because of what I say, or because people who know or read me feel a loyalty to me, rather than to that other person.  Talk about unfair.  I can see how, over the years, from an outsider’s view it probably looks like I’m with someone and with someone and then BOOM: I’m not.  I can see how it probably presents a lot of my relationships as a bit one-dimensional, since I tend to talk more about their strengths than their flaws.  But again, I’m not anonymous here, and often, neither are the people I’m involved with.  I think being responsible around that inevitably means presentations that are often fair-weather.

That’s played a part in both of these relationships and my silence around them of late.  That loyalty made me want to withhold that Blue was married because I felt protective about anyone leaping to cliched notions about him and thinking he’s a bad person: I know he’s not and I have loved him dearly for nearly all of my adult life.  That made me want to withhold some things about what has been going on with Mark and myself because I love and care for him deeply and hate the idea of even someone he’d never meet having a fleeting thought that he’s a jerk because it’s so easy to do with only slices of a picture or only my own words.

To keep you in the loop with more practical stuff, Mark and I have stayed living together throughout, which has been okay sometimes; not so okay at other times.  It’s come to the point where we both clearly need some more space.  That means one of us leaving the big old house that we rent, and based on a bunch of issues (I’ve done much of the work to it, it has things I need or like but Mark doesn’t, it’s trickier for me to find a good place because I don’t have a car, etc.) we’ve decided I’m going to stay here.  I still intend to try and move to the islands, so Mark may even come back here and take over when I can do that (probably not until next summer, mostly due to the health stuff and its expenses).  And Blue is planning to move to Seattle to be with me in the next few months, which most likely means moving in here.

I keep going on tangents which I know are coming out of left-field — a very defensive left-field, no less — but I’m going on them all the same.  I feel the need to say that this is probably, from an outside perspective, seeming a bit fast.  From the inside track, though, it feels like something we have both waited for for close to two decades. We were also Olympic Gold U-Haulers when we got together in college.  Our first “date” lasted three solid days and we moved in together right on its heels.   It’s probably the most stereotypically dykey thing I have ever done, and I did it with a guy.  Figures.  All the same, we loved living together, it never felt too fast, and we lived very harmoniously for a few years at a time in our lives when we barely knew how to live alone.  We figure we’re probably better at it now. To boot, when we were together the first time we always basically headed these small collective households.  They were lovely — I often miss our shared house with Becky and Thai and all the kittens a ton.  However, the idea of actually being able to live by ourselves for the first time is pretty exciting.

Where things will go from there, where we’ll want to take them, we don’t know. We’re not there yet and don’t feel a need to be there yet. It’s been one of those things where you just jump.  You don’t have to, but you so want to and you can, so jump you do.  We’re still mid-air, so who the heck knows where we’ll find ourselves when we land.

The timing of all of this has been seriously rough, or maybe perfect, depending on how you look at it.  If Mark had not shared with me what he did, and our relationship hadn’t changed markedly because of it, then we’d still probably have been negotiating switching from primaries to secondaries a few months back.  We’d probably also still have been doing that even if Blue had wanted to choose for he and I to stick to a friendship, or if Blue was going to stay in his marriage.  Hell, the this of this has been rough.  Even from when Blue and I first just started talking again, I was endlessly checking in with Mark because he knew how I felt about Blue: he knew in the first six months we were dating, as I told him about the relationship way back then, before we got to Act III of it.  But of course, I didn’t tell him about it with any expectation that that relationship was anything but over. (In hindsight I’m glad of that: I never had to wonder if I was honest about my feelings.) I never thought any of this was going to be easy, but I do think all three of us thought it wasn’t going to be this hard.  We’ve all been clumsy, we’ve all had our moments of thinking and feeling we have loused everything up or taken missteps.  Maybe we have, any of us, all of us, but all things considered, I think we’ve all done alarmingly well in caring for everyone involved.  And that’s not something I’m simply saying out of loyalty, either.

On a strangely bright note, my parents, who got along for five whole minutes of my life and have agreed on things less often than the fingers I have on one hand (the one without all its original fingers, no less), have both been incredibly supportive.  Oddly enough, my father was the one with some issues at first — usually, it’d be my mother with the finger-wags — but at this point, they’ve both been great. And that’s been a real and unexpected source of comfort.  My friends have also been totally amazing.

On the health front, for the last two weeks, I have finally gotten feeling in my left arm and hand 100% back.  I also have been almost entirely without the constant pain in that arm and shoulder.  I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it is to have months of that be over, even though I am still enormously behind in everything from the months it went on for.  I’m still having weekly therapies for that and some of my other symptoms and issues — muscle work, acupuncture, nasty-tasting herbs — and we still don’t know why it happened, or why I have some other things going on.  But to be plain, the pain and numbness being gone, having full use of that hand back, is enough for me for right now.  I can live without that question answered at the moment.

However, in a lot of ways, all this health business has been a bit of a straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

I need to accept, I’ve been trying to accept, that I simply can’t do 60+ hour workweeks anymore. I need eight hours of sleep a night. I need to take plenty of breaks during the day, especially breaks to play outside where I can move my body around and turn off the incessant furnace of my brain.  I need downtime in the evening, and I need something close to two days off a week, not two hours.  I turn 40 next year, not 20.  I need time for my freaking art, including creating things I have no intention of showing or selling.  I also need more flexibility to call it a day when I’ve worked with someone in any given day who has just emotionally tapped me out: the longer I work in the fields I do, the more easily people very deeply connect to me, the more rough stuff they disclose and ask me to help them hold.  Sometimes I can hold it and move through the rest of my day, able to hold more.  Sometimes I just can’t.  That needs to be okay: I need room for that to be okay.

And on top of all of that, with as much diplomacy as I can muster, have to say that I want to be able to have the time when all of the preexisting context of all this is sorted (which may be a seriously long haul) to simply enjoy Blue and being with Blue.  Without attaching any sort of hierarchy to any of the relationships in my life, including my relationship with Mark, I am on the precipice of being able to spend a lot of time with someone I have loved for an age, and to be with him in a way that it seems we are both finally ready for.  In so many ways, there was an unwieldy enormity to our relationship and chemistry the first time around, and for us individually in terms of dealing with very difficult issues in our own lives.  It was a LOT of relationship, a crazy-quick depth of connectivity, some very strange fateful details, and no small measure of drama; a lot of for two relatively young and very passionate people with poor relationship modeling growing up to handle. At this stage in our lives, we are much more capable of both handling it and appreciating it for the rare, mighty thing that it is and always was.  Then, it felt like trying to be out in a thunderstorm holding nothing but an umbrella, more likely to get you electrocuted than it was to offer any shelter. Now I think we’ve both got handfuls of thunderbolts and a far greater strength, care and power to use them wisely and without so much fear.

The both of us, albeit in different sorts of ways and on different schedules until the last year, have been hoping for a chance again for a long time. The only things I’ve waited for this long in my life have been health insurance, world peace, the passage of the ERA and a perfect vegan donut (I at least got the last when I moved here). That it seems we’re going to have it feels pretty miraculous and incredibly unlikely.  I get to find out what happens when you get, and take, the second chance you never thought you’d get but always wanted.  Strangely, this is one of the few times in my life where I find I am not worried about what happens after, not even thinking about what happens after.  I don’t know why I’m feeling that way, especially about something so huge and potentially disastrous, but I don’t particularly care.  I’m just delighted TO be feeling that way for a change.  It’s very freeing.

So, sometime soon, I need to sit down and figure out what has to go in my life: which projects, which jobs, which way I use my time.  Some things simply have to go or get cut back to make room for everything else or I’m either going to lose my mind or do myself in with sheer exhaustion.

Okay.  So, that’s what I’ve got for now.  It’s a lot, I know.  Believe me, I know.  The funny thing is, it feels like I’ve only addressed a little, just kind of opened the door a sliver.  But I had to open it: the longer it sat closed, the more uncomfortable and dishonest it felt, and the more was going to bust out of it when I finally did open it.

I have some silly, light stuff to tell, but putting that here before I just spit out some of the other stuff felt disingenuous, so I can get to that stuff soon now.  Writing those trifles is easy as pie.  The other stuff?  Not easy.  And perhaps not graceful either, but at least it’s done.  I’ve got trembly fingers, but I’m going to push that button that says publish, even though “save” seems more fitting.

P.S. I think the most gracious way to handle this per saying so much, including about other people’s private lives as well as my own, is to password this entry in a little while.  So, I’ll leave it up for all for around a week, then it’s going somewhere more protected.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I’m sorry to have kind of left the ball in the air when it comes to my health.  I’m not great about that, as a general rule.

Here’s the deal as of right now: what the physical therapists identified was a big, swollen mass of muscles around my c6 and c7 vertebrae.  They don’t know why yet this is — pinched nerves, who knows — or what is causing it and some other spots in my body, because until we get that mass down, it’s going to be tough to tell.

Doing some traction and some manipulation of that area with the physical medicine  team and some basic at-home stuff to get the swelling down has been helping.  While my index finger on my left hand is still numb, the numbness of the surrounding fingers is gone.

They’re still thinking they’d like to have either or both a spinal x-ray and/or an MRI done.  They don’t see any need for an immediate rush to this, and this team is a bit more understanding per my lack of health coverage than the last, so are suggesting the spinal X-ray first since it’s cheaper, and think that’d be the best place to start anyway.

I have to say, this earnestly is the worst city I have ever lived in when it comes to public health, and given public health in Chicago, that’s seriously saying something.  I’m tremendously lucky that Bastyr both accepts cash payments and offers a really generous discount (50% for my income bracket).  It’s not cheap, but I can manage it. Thankfully I have (over)worked enough in the last year, and often at decent pay, that this actually is one of the few times in my life where something like this hasn’t completely wiped me out.  I can remember so many other times when a health or some other crisis has literally felt like the end of the world, and I had to sit down and figure out which utility to let go, or how to cut a meal out of each day.  I’m so grateful that I’m not in a space like that right now, but having spent so much of my life like that, and at a time of economic decline, it’s just a bit bizarre.  I keep thinking surely there is some shoe about to drop I’m just not seeing but  — knock on wood — I don’t think that there is.

My Dad is really freaked about my not being well.  He’s in this headspace where he’s sure he will outlive everyone: he found out most of his old friends died when Googling the last time he was here, and it really did a number on him.  I’ve explained that no one has even suggested the vaguest idea that this is because of anything terminal: the worst possible diagnosis remains MS, which doesn’t have anything to do with death or dying.  My guess is besides the connection to the friends some of the freakout is about me sharing that I was scared, sharing that I was upset, sharing that I really, really didn’t feel well.

This would be, perhaps, some of what happens when you take up permanent residence with the people closest to you as Ms. Stiff Upper Lip too often, I think.  I really, really need to work on doing less of that, and also less of sharing something big, then taking several steps back or going quiet because I felt exposed in the sharing.  It’s no good for anybody, myself included.  I swear, there are areas in my life in which I feel so enlightened, but others where I feel like the the wild child of Avignon.

* * * * *

Blue is coming back this week, and will be here from Wednesday night through Sunday.  We’re going to be staying at my friend Pam’s in West Seattle, hanging with her a couple nights, then housesitting while she’s away for two more. On Friday, Blue, Mark and I are finally having a dinner that is long overdue: they still have not met due to distance and poor timing every time we try and get it together.  Mind, at this point, it’s not the same sort of dinner we’d have had six months ago, but it’s still important.

It’s a bit nervewracking.  I think we have some good ground rules set, and I’ve made sure there is time for Mark and I to take a walk alone afterwards so we can process anything we need to.

Our shift into a platonic relationship, as I’ve said, is still shifting and shifting, and not be cliche, but it’s complicated.  There are solid steps and missteps on both sides almost constantly.  I think we’re figuring it out, and are helped by what a gradual shift this has been in many ways.  But there’s always that thing when relationships really start to move to a different place:  you can feel out-of-sorts or out of step with the passage of time.  Now and then, you have to press pause and remind yourself of both where you are and where you’ve been, then get it all sorted into the place it is now.  It’s disorienting sometimes.

At other times things feel just right, more right than they have in a while.  Mark has learned not just to cook, but to love cooking while we’ve been together, and Heath and I got him a couple cooking classes for his birthday he’s really stoked about.  Listening to him be excited about that or some of the more relaxed gabbing we’ve had around a couple of the dates he’s been on: it all feels as if it’s where we all should be.  We both think that for right now, living in the same space is still okay.  We still feel like family.  My guess is that it’s going to get more awkward for Mark as time passes than it is for me, since I’m not back in the dating pool like he is, but we can see how it all goes as it goes.

He talked to his family about our relationship changing a week or so ago (we’d decided that while his father was in a health crisis, it was best we not put any undue burdens on them), and they were really lovely about it, making clear that I’m still a member of their family no matter what.  Such fantastic, loving people: I love them dearly, so I was worried about that.

I really hope the dinner on Friday goes well and that everyone feels good about it.  I hate the notion of anyone walking out of it not feeling loved and fully loved, and that’s my biggest fear.  Ideally, of course, I’d like everyone to love each other, that’s always my ideal in everything, but even with the change in our relationship here, I think that’s asking a bit much of a first meeting.

* * * * *

Circling back round to what I was saying about closeness and some of my barriers to getting close,  there are some facets of getting very close again to one of the people I have been closest to in my life, ever, especially someone who was present for one of the most heavy and confusing times of my life, and who I probably did more stumbling with, made more mistakes with, than anyone.

I am reminded, with various things, that I have had a lot of forward movement in a whole lot of areas.  Sometimes, I almost forget what a wreck I was in so many ways back then, especially when the shit really hit the fan.  It’s really weird, and also pretty weird to kind of have this person who holds some memories for me that I don’t have myself, or which are really fuzzy.  One unfortunate result of having a lot of trauma in your history, especially in early life, is the lapsing memory tends to do around times of trauma.  There are some moments in my life I honestly barely remember now, and having someone else to reference them and remind me about what they really were like is a gift.  Too, I sometimes forget — not from trauma, just from absentmindedness, age or giving myself less credit than is due me — what the lead-up was like in terms of what I have done with my life to date: I forget how much foundational stuff I was building back then for what I do and who I am now.

I think that in the last year and some since we’ve been talking again, some of that reminding has shown up in the work I’ve been doing with the teens and young adults: there’s something you take from someone who knew you so well in (in my case, some of) those years, who keeps the you-of-yore from then real, not idealized.  In my teens I was holding and hiding so damn much, withholding a lot of stuff from so many (and myself) that would burst the dam, and Blue was there for much of that bursting.  It’s a whole lot of why we burst, both of our personal cloudbusting happening in a whoosh all at once.  It’s kind of fascinating to see the things we each worked out separately, grew through or past, as well as the things we’re both still working on.  It’s also really amazing to see how much we really moved for each other back then, how we still do that now, and what that experience is like with more awareness, maturity and sensitivity around it.

I also have a visit from Mya coming up the night Blue goes home.  What I’m hoping, what I need, is that save Thursday’s clinic, then my outreach morning at the shelter next Monday, I can just go ahead and take much of the next week off.  So many things have been happening all at once, and Dr. Tiller’s assassination and the flavor of the world in its wake have just left me toasted.  I feel much less sharp, a little numbed out, delicate and certainly worn down. I wasn’t able to get out and ride for a few months due to my dead bike: having a new one and being able to go ride in the early mornings and do my morning sit on the dunes or at Gasworks Park has brought me to feeling where I’m at right now more acutely.   Without a lot of movement and being outside, my meditation is never as good.

I think I need to do that thing I know I am allowed to do but never quite feel justified in doing: I can take time off.  It’s ridiculous that I can’t figure out that when you go weeks working seven days a week, that means that now and then you do get to make up for that by taking more than one or two freaking down days.  There are really only 10-15 hours of work in the next week I absolutely have to do, so it’s actually a good time to take some downtime.   I’m hoping for a nice day to take Mya kayaking when she’s here, get a Discovery Park hike in, a few other things I think she’d enjoy.   And for the love of Jaysis, being able to just mellow out with Blue this weekend would be great. For real mellow out: seeing one another in person often requires a good deal of time spent sorting out a bunch of heavy stuff, especially because his transitions are bigger, more complex  and have had less room made for them in his life than mine have in many ways.

I’m babbling, I know.  See?  Told you I needed some downtime.  I’m off to physical therapy, and then a full at-home workday.  Tonight and Wednesday I can get a pile of things done, and then Wednesday night I can pretty much bugger off for a week besides the few things I am scheduled to do.  If you see me working, snap my fingers in the laptop, will you?

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I’m cross-posting a piece here from both The Guardian (where it was edited down for size) and at Scarleteen, and then I’ve a bit more to say.

* * *

All of us who work at clinics that provide abortion, or as abortion or reproductive rights educators or advocates know we do so at substantial risk. Women who come to our clinics as clients also know that they, too, may be at risk.  The slaying of Dr. Tiller yesterday is tragic and upsetting, but it is not surprising or new. We didn’t become scared for the first time yesterday.  We’ve always been scared, and we have always had cause to be scared.

The independent clinic I work for part-time had a branch firebombed three times in 1983 until it shut down.  In 1988, via Operation Rescue, unending and intense harassment of children from demonstrators in another of our clinics forced us to close our on-site clinic childcare center for clients and staff.  And our clinic, despite being one of the 40 or so in the U.S. which provides procedures through the second trimester like Tiller’s did (though Tiller’s was one of but three to go past 25 weeks to 28 weeks, the legal limit), could very well be counted as one which has it easy. We haven’t had an incident of violence for some time, most days we have but a few protestors, and we do not wear Kevlar to work.  None of our providers have been murdered.  Yet.

But all of us who work in the field live either with the threat or actuality of domestic antiabortion terrorism daily: at work, at home or anywhere at all.  Let’s refuse sugarcoating or denials that merely call it violence or paint it as random or isolated: what happens around abortion is not the same violence as someone shot during a minimart robbery.

Terrorism is generally defined as an act intended to create fear, perpetrated for an ideological goal. The Patriot Act is not something I support, but antiabortion violence fits squarely in its definition of domestic terrorism. Vandalizing or bombing clinics; stalking, threatening or harassing staff, clients or providers and/or organizing or aiding others to do so; publicly publishing the home addresses of providers or staff, names, photos and school addresses of their children; outcries for a war:  all of this and more could be easily classed as terrorism by the definitions our government has used for other violence or threats.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church yesterday morning  — based on the information we have so far – was domestic terrorism, and terrorism which has been known and prevalent for some time.

It’s been going on in the United States since we have had legal abortion, and typically increases during times when our federal government is not outright antiabortion.  As Christina Page points out, the number of harassing phone calls to clinics since Obama took office has massively increased. She also notes that the murder of Dr. Tiller is eerily similar to the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993: that, too, happened only a few months into a new administration which was not antiabortion. Dr. Tiller was also shot the first time in that same year.  Rachel Maddow gives a good overview of the history of clinic violence here.

Some antichoice groups will call Tiller’s assailant a vigilante. But for those who use incendiary speech, who provided him with the information and comraderie that fueled him, it’s going to be tough to uphold that stance with anyone of intelligence. We all have freedom of speech, to be sure, but as with any freedom, that comes with responsibility.

Current Operation Rescue president Troy Newman says they denounce vigilantism, but the raging enticements provided en masse through their organization has always told a different tale.  The organization’s founder, Randall Terry, says his movement “should not tone down its rhetoric despite the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller,” and that Tiller was “a mass murderer and horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”

When someone like Bill O’Reilly provocatively says again and again and again, that an abortion provider is a butcher who the law refuses to punish (nevermind that abortion is legal), when he calls abortion “execution” or talks about providers as those who “kill babies for money,” (as if all surgeries did not cost money); calls abortion clinics “death mills,” or reports (falsely) that Tiller will terminate pregnancies up to the due-date, he is NOT denouncing vigilantism, just like someone constantly and intentionally pouring gasoline on rising flames is not denouncing fire.

This kind of rhetoric and harassment and the fear it creates is something we’re faced with every day. And it has serious impact, even when no one is murdered.

It purposefully scares, intimidates and upsets the women who come to our clinics.  It intentionally clouds their decision-making. If one reproductive choice may or does involve things like being harassed, stalked or assaulted, you’re obviously going to take that into consideration in your a choice, even though fear or harassment should have no place in choices as important, personal and complex as those of reproduction.  Even for those unswayed by these actions, abortion in a context of shame and blame can make a choice one’d otherwise felt was best one of guilt and remorse.

The threat of harassment and violence can even keep women from coming to clinics when they were not seeking out abortion services at all. Here in the states, clinics like mine are where many women – particularly low-income, immigrant and teen women — also get their well-woman care, contraception or pregnancy tests, as many women are without health insurance or a private OB/GYN.

The threats, intimidation, vandalism and assault and the fear of them makes staffing clinics difficult, and make a job which is already emotionally demanding far tougher. Anyone getting any kind of surgery ideally needs a centered, relaxed and stable staff and a safe environment during their surgery: that’s no minor feat in this culture.  Clinic staff work long hours, often at low pay and with few or limited benefits. Even without clinic violence or the threat of it, it’s not an easy job: abortion isn’t just any surgery, and as with anything to do with the end of a pregnancy, whether it tends in termination or a live birth, our clients emotional needs can be great.

With all of this violence and intimidation so constant and pervasive, and with the actuality of the job itself often being less-than-ideal, why do so many of us stick around?

We stay is because we know that women need us to.  Many of us have been those women ourselves at one time or another.  We know from women: we understand our own needs.  And we’re scared sometimes, but not scared enough to leave women without choice and care.

A sign at Tiller’s clinic read, “Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is an issue of the heart. Until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.” Dr. Tiller knew us, too. No one going back to work a day after having both arms shot, knowing it could happen again, is going to take that risk for cash or because they want to win.  Only someone who cares deeply for and about women, and has a very real grasp of the realities of women’s lives, is going to do that.

Obviously, the threat of something is not the same as that threat made real.  Some of the shared upset the reproductive health and abortion communities have right now is because we do feel even more unsafe than usual.  For those who knew Dr. Tiller personally, their personal loss is profound. But even for those of us who never met him or were not close to him, even for those fear has not increased, the loss is enormous.

It’s obviously important for the women receiving abortion and other reproductive healthcare to have as fantastic a doctor as possible, but it’s also very important for those of us working in the field to have our Dr. Tillers.

Like any field of practice, abortion has those who are adequate (and some less-than-adequate), some who are very good, and a few who are simply exceptional. Dr. Tiller wasn’t just any doctor; just any abortion provider or advocate:  he was an exceptional and inspirational doctor, provider and advocate. He was someone who set and held high standards of care, a quality of healthcare we all want to receive, especially when we are in crisis. He chose to work with some of the toughest cases; to include providing for a group of women with some of the greatest emotional needs, women who also had few other places to turn, despite that choice creating additional risks for him and resulting in greater harassment. His commitment to helping women never wavered in over thirty years of his practice. Just like anyone in any field, we have our heroes, and we all looked up to George Tiller.  Just like anyone in any field, having our heroes assassinated is devastating, particularly when they are assassinated for being so exceptional.

Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, an ANRP and the author of Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth, works at my clinic, and is someone I look up to the way I have Dr. Tiller.  I want to leave you with words she shared with me yesterday. I think they’re the way Dr. Tiller would want us to best use our sadness or fear and the way he so bravely used his own.  I think they are what those of us in the field, as well as those who want to understand or support us or the women we serve, need to hear.

Like anyone who knew him even slightly, I know that he was very brave. He faced so much hatred on a daily basis: he knew the risks he was taking.  But he simply thought that women’s being allowed to decide whether to carry a pregnancy or not was an essential, basic human right.  So, he continued despite the attacks and threats. He was diligent in protecting himself, — I don’t think he had any desire to be a martyr — but he continued.  He was very careful as a physician: using the safest, best techniques.  He did a lot to foster communication amongst abortion providers to make abortion safer.

I keep thinking about the old Joe Hill quote, “Don’t mourn, organize.”  I intend to mourn, but I also intend to carry on his legacy–to try to be as brave, loving, politically savvy and competent in my work as he was.  And to try, to the best of my ability, to inspire others as well.

* * *

This has hit me much harder than I expected: it’s been tough for me to shake it off.  It’s not like I expected it to feel like a trifle, but considering how aware I am of this kind of violence, how much I know to expect it, I’m surprised at my response and how it lingers.

On the afternoon that Dr. Tiller was assassinated — again, I’m irritated with it not being made clear by our leadership that this kind of murder is a political assassination just like the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or John and Robert Kennedy –  in an effort to find some way to work through my feelings without more hours of the crying that was hurting my face, I headed out back to do some weeding.  My garden had become seriously overgrown.

I was ripping those plants out like nobody’s business, feeling more and more anger with my sadness, and was struck by a (perhaps obvious) metaphor. I snapped a few shots trying to capture what was going on with me.

I think some of why my sadness and anger is lingering is that I feel we’re left so adrift, those of us who work in any aspect of reproductive justice, especially in or around abortion.  Yes, we have a new administration now which is more supportive of our rights when it comes to some policies. However, knowing that violence has begun again, in part because of that fact, I need a strong response to it: I need acknowledgment of the terrorism it is and always has been, clear statements that it is unacceptable, I need everyone and their uncle to shut the hell up about this “common ground” bullshit: my body isn’t common ground.  (Okay, so mine kind of is, but you know what I mean.) Women and our lives are not common ground, despite thousands of years of being treated like we are. Those of us who work in this field, who work around it, who work for reproductive justice have never sought to stamper on anyone’s rights or ideas: asking us for common ground is silly at best, and a grave insult at worst.

These are the loose thoughts I came back inside with, hands cathartically bloodied from weeding with such intensity:

An inexperienced gardener will often ask how it is, exactly, we know which the weeds are, and which are not.

The most simple answer is,
of course,
that I know what I want in my garden, and I know what I don’t. I get to make that determination because it’s all growing (or not) in my soil.

My neighbor or some bird passing by might drop a seed in it; that does not alter whose ground it is, and who’s right it is to choose what grows there: it is my own, and sovereign. It is my own say, and only mine, what gets nurtured and kept, and what is pulled, or let go to seed. However lovely everything growing might be, whatever it’s right is to grow, it may be that this plant will keep that one from growing. It may be that I either cannot afford or simply do not care to grow anything at all this year or that one — even every year there is — leaving the soil fertile, but barren.  I may even want to burn out all the seed entirely.  Again, my soil: my right to do with it what I will.

And sometimes it may be that this plant or that may well have grown into something more marvelous than I thought it would, and I will never see that result. And it may be that I accidentally pull a plant I did not intend to: but that is my regret, if I have one, to carry; my sorrow to hold, if I have sorrow.  All of that is the nature of my life and my life in this particular body: no matter what we do, no matter what we choose, there is a certain and unique weight that lives between our hips and in our hearts.

And we can’t always tend to our gardens on our own.  If we’re lucky, some other gentle gardener who understands, and cares to help, with no claim of ownership over the ground that is ours, will lend a hand. In the midst of storm, his hands, too, may become injured or bloodied; her heart, too, may sometimes be heavy.  This is not light business: whatever we do, even if we neglect the soil completely, blood, sweat, a tear, an ache, a strain and all the thick mud of our lives is unavoidable.

The best of help — genuine help — will not second-guess, will not presume ownership or a share of our crops, but will simply ask us what we need and then tend to it generously, offering counsel of his own only if we ask for it first. She will not ask if we’re absolutely certain we want these plants to go or that to stay; he will not enter into philosophical arguments with us about their own ideas about the way to garden.  They will not seek to speak for the weeds, nor for us: they are listeners with gentle nods, able hands who trust our hearts and their own and respect the soil.

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

I know that of late I’ve been talking much more work than the rest of my life (and I’m still due to blog about sex::tech), but the work stuff is a lot less complicated.  Given what I do, that’s seriously saying something.

The thing is, there is a lot of limbo right now, and it’s not just my own.  Since I accepted that no, I’m not digging Seattle and I seriously doubt it’s ever going to feel like a home for me, I’ve started looking more at elsewheres.  My feeling right now is that I’m in no way ready for an out-of-state move yet, for a whole lot of reasons: financial limitations, because that’d also mean moving far away from Mark (he wants to stay here, and it’s also more complicated than that), and because I’m also not sure I dislike Washington state yet.  Just sure that I dislike most of Seattle-proper.

Of late, I’ve been thinking about trying life on one of the islands here.  The rents are about the same if not better than in the city, there is water everywhere, loads of trees and green stuff, beach and, in general, a slower, more quiet life. The social dynamics also seem to be less chilly, cliquish and painfully hip, which is my primary complaint about Seattle. That’s sounding very nice to me, more like a life I have wanted to head towards for a while, but didn’t think would be able to happen until much later.  It also sounds like a much more suitable place to write a second book.  Oddly, just as I was starting to think that early in the week (I haven’t known when I’d get going on another since I finished the last), an editor from an imprint I like wrote me asking about something else, but we also may start batting around ideas, since apparently they’d love to publish me. I need to spend some time later today, in fact, creating my writing wishlist for her, then hop to more photo editing: it’s been great to have whittled out time to get back to my artwork.

Next week, I’m heading to a cabin on Bainbridge island for a few days to feel life there out some more, and to get some serious downtime, solace, creative inspiration and a visit with Blue.  I figure that’s one of several little minibreaks-with-purpose I’ll do over the next few months, trying a new island each time.  I’m just going to make-believe I live there and see how I feel about it.

Lord knows I could use the downtime anyway. There has been so much travel, so much work of late with both Scarleteen and the clinic.  I’ve also been putting so much of myself out there in life and work in a way that does take a lot of energy, and is a bit more than even I’m used to.  I can do all of this for the rest of the year, I think, but I’m going to need more downtime than I usually take to manage it.

The relationship limbos are even tougher than the locational ones or the work ones.  Well, tougher in some ways, anyway.

I find I’m frequently inarticulate about what’s all been going on in my love life, despite babbling like a brook about it with both my partners and with some friends.  Things are tricky and sometimes tough, though I don’t know if I’d say they’re capital-H hard.  There have been some moments of sadness, but in so many ways, things are also really good with everyone, too.  Where some aspects of the relationship Mark and I are in have been seeming to be stagnant or go on the back-burner, over the last year or so, other parts have been growing; they’re just not the parts either of us expected to be at the forefront of everything, especially when our relationship was new.  There’s not really anything hugely wrong, per se, with our relationship right now, it’s just been transitioning over the last year or two as it is, and us getting to adding other partners — and the deeper communication involved with that — seems to have amped up or illuminated some of those changes more over the last six months.  Even just in talking more and more deeply, some things have come to light coming from both Mark and myself about our relationship, not about anything outside of it, which have made many things more clear which were murkier before.

The quick-and-dirty on all things interpersonal right now is that both of my most intimate relationships have been changing, and both have their own kind of intensity.  While some of the changes are certainly challenging, I also think that things are all moving in the direction that is likely most right for everyone, even if it’s not what any of us expected, even if sometimes it’s been a bit rough and bittersweet and scary.  There’s a whole lot of surprise in everything, really, whether we’re talking about Mark and myself per how we saw this at the onset four years ago and how we see things and interrelate now, or talking about Blue and I: heck, after Act II of our relationship in ‘96, we were both absolutely sure (actually, I more than he, as he tells it) that we’d never even see one another again, let alone be involved like this.

I know I’m being annoyingly obtuse. It’s so damn tricky to write much about this or Blue and I here, despite there being a whole lot to say, and a whole lot I want to say. Mark and I’s courtship was so all over this journal that, understandably, he feels some sense of ownership with this space and it feels uncomfortable for him to not have that same ownership or, more accurately, that singular focus.  I get it completely, and want to honor that because I love him and want him to feel good, but that doesn’t mean I can easily figure out quite how to walk the line here.  It’s just as tough to talk or write about new-old relationship energy (still haven’t figured out if you can have NRE in a relationship with this much history) at the same time our relationship is in transition.  And it’s always tricky to write publicly about the parts of any relationship when it’s not just mushy-gushy stuff: I think it’s safe to say that no one wants to read about the tough parts of their relationship online. We’re all three of us (Mark’s other partners have so far all been very casual, one-time folks, so none of them are involved in the big stuff yet) pretty tender-hearted about everything lately, and sometimes it feels like everyone is getting the shaft in some way, but that may just be my own guilt talking; my own need to have everyone taken care of all of the time.

A month ago, in a wonderful but very intense therapy session I had in Austin, I came to some conclusions about how I have been living my life and some things I really need to work on changing.  Some of these led me to a desire to have this be the year I worked on learning how to be more… well, self-centered.

The therapist talked a lot about my nature to be a caretaker — in work, in my interpersonal relationships, even just in my worldview at large — which also made me think about parts of how I grew up, and how often I parented my parents more than they ever parented me: it’s crazy in how much of my life I’ve felt like an orphan, even as a child.  My last couple moves, for example, have been about what was most convenient for others rather than for me, about making sure the other person was comfortable, even if that meant I wasn’t.  What I’ve said to myself about them in the past was that I had the ability to be more flexible than others. But when I take a long, hard look at it, that’s just not true: it’s that I was willing to be flexible when others were not. I have to take responsibility for some of that, too, because I often don’t even ask for concessions to be made for me. And I often see myself as more flexible and able to give than everyone else, in work, in my personal life, in a ton of even just simple, daily interactions: as the person who needs to provide comfort, to help and aid others, who needs to step aside or yield, who needs to fight for so-and-so’s rights, with my own stuff second.

Long story short: I need to seriously knock it the fuck off, because I’m at an age where if I don’t soon, it’s likely to stay a pattern through the whole of my life.  So, I’ve proclaimed 2009 as The Year of Being Selfish.  We’ll see how well I do with that, and obviously, there are limits to it beyond being just not being a total asshole.  I have no desire to do different work than I have been doing: I just may need to deal with the doing of some of it differently. I want to be yielding, flexible and giving with the people I love, I just need to require more mutuality in all of that, and step into these things with more already intact in the first place. I need, I think, to recognize, that everyone has the ability to be just as adaptive as I have been, it’s just a matter of whether or not they want to, and also a matter of whether or not I keep shouldering everything by default.

(As an aside, I did manage to do this even with my father lately, who is the toughest person for me to do it with, since I am his lifeline in so many ways, and the only person he’s really got.  I also love him to bits, and his opinion of me very much matters.  But he’s been very strongly judgmental with me lately, especially about my relationships, and was kind of going to the place where it’s my job to take care of everyone and give everyone what they all want, even if it isn’t in alignment with my own wants and needs. I was able to draw a very serious boundary about this with him, which included making clear that I’ve clearly shown myself to be more capable of managing my relationships, and having healthy ones, than not just both of my parents, but than most of the people on either side of my extended family.  I was also able to make clear that he gave me the message loud and clear growing up to create my own models, so it was a little late now to have a problem with my doing that.  He’s still a bit pissy with me about my refusing to talk with him about certain things, and my insistence that I am making the best choices I can despite his feelings to the contrary, but I think we’ll work it out in time.)

I also have been thinking about how much of my life has been about fighting for survival.  Mind, much of that was unavoidable if I was going to survive, or others — like my father — were going to.  However, it’s so easy to kind of get stuck in that place, and be fighting and struggling even at times when you don’t need to anymore, or don’t need to be fighting quite so hard anymore.  I also find myself in the position, now, of having some more resources than I have during much of my life, and thus, have the ability to restructure so that I do that less, especially when we’re talking about the ways I do it so unconsciously. Heck, I fight enough with my work: needless struggle or needless battles elsewhere is just freaking silly.

… and as I hear myself say that, while struggling with writing about this when I’m really not required to, one supposes I’d best heed my own advice, figure I did the best I could so far, and get on with the rest of the day as I want it to be.

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Thursday was the kind of workday when I feel I’m right where I am supposed to be in the world.

I’m at the clinic itself around once a week now as part of my job running our outreach.  My job when I am there with clients having terminations is mostly as an educator: I give one-on-one consultations and discussions about birth control methods and proper use, STIs, relationships, sexual health and any questions or concerns a client might have about their procedure.  It’s also my job when there to particularly educate and advocate for teens and young adults, and since I’m trained to do options counseling, I do that sometimes, too.  Because I float in many respects, what this also means is that I can tend to be a bit of a concierge at the clinic, particularly between clients.  So, if someone needs help with say, a lodging issue, if I walk into a waiting room and a batch of clients have a question they’ve been discussing and want more information on, if someone is alone and upset about it, I’m able to tend to things like this and more.

While I very much like doing the outreach at the shelter and in other presentation environments, this really is my favorite part of the job, despite the hellacious commute.

Last Thursday, in the span of a day, I:

• Came upon a client in one of the waiting rooms who was alone and right about to burst into huge tears.  I was able to sit with her for nearly an hour, let her cry, be an ear for the relationship conflicts she was having and reflect back her valid sadness at being totally abandoned by her partner on that day and other times of reproductive crisis.  We managed to get from crying to laughing (she was actually tremendously funny, and HER words then wound up making another client who came in in the middle of our conversation feel better: gotta love that kind of trickle-down) during the space of that time, and every time I’d check in with her throughout the rest of the day, she looked better and better.

• Was able to help a developmentally disabled client and her very awesome partner (always so nice to see, and unfortunately a bit rare per the men who more often come to the clinic) with a whole handful of things, from connecting him with a state resource to have his vasectomy paid for, to getting them a place to stay overnight, to making very detailed notes about all of her medical conditions, reactions to medications, and just assuring her that everything was going to be okay.

• I was able to arrange for something to help a client who was otherwise doing just fine, but was terrified of but one thing.  To make it so she didn’t have to have that one thing be part of her day not only was going to change her whole experience of her procedure and let her feel really in-control with it, but it also meant she did not have to sit waiting all day dreading it anymore.  So, another where we got to go from tears to great big sighs of relief and peace and smiles.

• We had protestors yesterday, one of whom walked right by a teen client in front of the clinic (and broke the law here in WA by doing so on our property) who was already upset, and who was already being pressured TO terminate outside by her boyfriend and family.

I was able to get her inside, take her downstairs to my sitting room, and give her open time to talk about all of her feelings, what she wanted, and how she felt she was given no permission by anyone to make up her own mind.  She was able to say she felt very unsure, and was considering termination, but had also wanted to consider adoption but was told this was “selifsh” I gotta say, I hadn’t heard that one before about adoption, but you hear something new every day. She also informed me her mother had told her she could legally block her from remaining pregnant, which I let her know was false.  We were able to discuss both options in some depth, and she was able to hear someone tell her — and mean it — that ANY choice she made was an acceptable choice which could be her best one, and that none of her choices were selfish save that this was about her and it was really important she think of herself.  I was also able to open the pressure valve by letting her know that no matter what, when we have a client come for a procedure who says they are here due to being or feeling forced by others and/or says they do not want to terminate, we will not and cannot do a termination that day, and that I’d be happy to inform anyone she needed me to that that was our policy and my firm decision on that.  I let her know she was welcome, if she decided for herself she did want to terminate, to come back, even the next day if she liked, and we could still talk more about all of this regardless, but she did not have to worry about making up her mind that day.

After talking some more, asking a lot of different questions about both choices, she wanted mediation with her boyfriend. I got him and we were able to have a joint discussion for a while.  Some of this involved both of us listening to this guy dish out a neverending spew of how incapable the client was of anything (I was able to respond that my impression was he was talking about himself more than about her, as she seemed quite capable to me), how he feels abortion and adoption are the same since “either way, you don’t get a kid,” (I was able to make clear that he might feel that way, but she clearly did not and I hadn’t heard most pregnant women share that particular logic), and his unwillingness to even hear her feelings on this or to consider or research, with her, other options.

This and more also gave her the opportunity to listen while someone told her boyfriend that their impression of her was far more positive than his own, and she got to hear a rebuttal of all the negatives he lectured us both on about her.  She was able to hear that yes, he got to have his own issues and concerns but that our concern was for her, not anyone else, and she came first with us no matter what. (I believe my summary to him of all he had said was that what he had to say was very interesting, and he certainly did get to think what he thought about it, but that at the start, middle and end of the day, I just didn’t personally care what he thought because he was not our client nor the person pregnant, she was. He had his own choice, and he made it when he refused to use a condom.) She got to hear me point out that anyone pressuring her to make the choice they wanted not only was not okay, but that in this case, it really backfired mightily since their pressuring her resulted in her being unable to terminate that day, even if she had decided — in an environment without pressure — that that is what she had wanted.

He decided he needed to also go on this doomsday rant about how all teen and young mothers are doomed to disaster, how she won’t finish high school, won’t go to college, won’t have the money she wants, will lose her whole life, will be a terrible parent, will have no freedom — this is another point where I asked if he was sure he was talking about her, not himself — and I was starting to wonder if the story was going to end in a plague of locusts.  I was able to point out that yes, all of those things were possibilities, and statistically, were more likely for teen mothers than women who were older.  But I then made very clear that it was also possible she could have NONE of those results, and while doing things like finishing high school and college might be tougher for her or take longer, they were doable and I’ve met plenty of women who have done them.  He started to go down this road about how she wasn’t able to be like those successful women, so I pointed out that one thing I’d noticed those other women have that she doesn’t right now were people around them who didn’t tell them what they could NOT do, but what they COULD, and who were positive and supportive, not negative and nonsupportive.  I said that did she decide she wanted to parent, he could certainly influence the outcome by growing a better attitude, but she also had the option of influencing the outcome by choosing not to surround herself anymore with negative people like him, too.  Which, who knows, said I, she might choose to do at this point no matter what reproductive choice she makes.

I got to watch her face and posture change throughout in a very positive way, and also got to watch some guy who was clearly sure — even in the way he initially spoke to me — he could bully, sweet-talk or intimidate women like he had her find out that was so not the case.  His posture changed, too.

That never, ever gets old, I gotta tell you.  I can’t imagine it ever will.  If I could do nothing but mediate scenarios like that, adjusting the power-dial ever-so-slightly, in-person, with people (usually guys or parents) who talk young women into feeling like failures, I’d ditch everything else I do in a heartbeat to do that 24/7, truly.

I can’t know what she wound up deciding unless she does come back, but in the end, my sense was she was going to be likely to terminate, and was feeling that may have been best for her from the start, she just needed everyone to back the hell off so she could get all the information and breathing room she needed to consider her options, and so she could make her own choice. This is actually a pretty common occurrence, especially with teens who also tend to face people not giving them autonomy in most things, so they often already feel talked over and controlled as it is.

It doesn’t matter to me what she chooses, but my sense is whatever it is, it’s a lot more likely to be her choice now, and whatever she feels is best.  And that’s absolutely all I need to feel good about this stuff.

It was a really, really good day, and those are but the highlights.  Again, every day I’m there isn’t like that — and some can be full of sadness or feelings of hopelessness, to boot — but there is usually at least one exchange that just absolutely sends me.  I have similar things happen at Scarleteen all the time, mind you, but being in person, seeing body language change, really seeing something vital and positive alter in the moment adds something so massively marvelous.  I am so, so full of huge, bursty, loud love for these women, and I do think it manifests itself better in person — or sees itself reflected more — than online or by phone.

I hadn’t gotten decent sleep in two days, and thankfully, the one woman who lives near me was working that day, which is unusual.  So, I was able to catch a ride home with her rather than doing the two-hour, three-bus tango, which was a godsend, as I probably would have passed out on one of the busses and wound up gawd knows where.  We stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home. I was able to get myself a cheap bottle of wine, come home and enjoy said bottle, a little battery-operated something else, and a fine, simple meal in a peaceful night alone.  I started watching a movie but wound up feeling the adrenaline and sleep-deprivation crash around eight, which I totally indulged by going to bed as early as I wanted.

Some days are better than others, and some days — like Thursday — are freaking banner days I get a contact high from that’s got serious staying power.  Which is really good, because Friday was totally full of suckitude and I needed that buoy, big-time. Meh: every day can’t be a winner.

P.S.  Today is the very last day of the funds-matching for Scarleteen donations.  That also makes today the last time I nudge anyone about donating, likely for the rest of the year.  Point is, if you want to pitch in and can in any way, please do: anything you give will be worth twice that.

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I’m finally just finishing up the push for our two major Scarleteen fundraising drives (part of my infrequent updating here due to all this) for 2009.

So, I thought I’d share the letter I sent to existing donors and supporters about the drive…well, because I can. And you’re supporty-type people, oh readers of mine. Any donation you might be able to make yourself, or promotion of the fundraiser in your own networks would rock my socks. Thanks!

I blissfully anticipate a return to the more typical dizzying pace of my life in a couple of weeks, and hope to have something much more interesting to report than exhaustion.

P.S. It was very early this morning when I started working, and I’d already stayed up late the night before and had been sick for a couple days, no less. Thus, in trying to come up with a simple tagline for the Valentine graphic, my brain was not at its most normal. That’s not true, actually: it was perfectly normal for me, that’s just not the right kind of brain to use for things like this. Where there are other people involved. Whose money you need. Who are supposed to feel like young people would be safe – rather than permanently scarred — with you.

This state of mind is perfectly evidenced by the first two graphics which were other “brilliant” (and those are intentionally self-effacing bunny ears, not quotes) ideas I had for the tagline that is supposed to cast as wide a net as possible to help me sustain my organization. Yeah.

Anyway….

From February 14th through March 15th, one of our regular donors has agreed match the donations we receive up to $350 per donor, and/or up to $3,000 total.

This is a great opportunity to amplify your support! You can play a part in sustaining Scarleteen and all of the young adults who need and are helped with our unique brand of inclusive, progressive, holistic and accurate sexuality education. As we finish one decade of delivering the goods we so strongly feel have nurtured and continue to nurture the development of a healthy, happy sexuality for young people, I’m asking for your help as we enter another.

You have several options you can use to donate:

  • You can donate online with you credit card or PayPal account by clicking here, OR
  • You can donate by check or money order, made out to Scarleteen, and mail to: 1752 NW Market St. #627, Seattle, WA, 98107 OR
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible, you can donate by check or money order by making your check out to The Center for Sex and Culture, and writing “Scarleteen” in the memo. They will send you a written acknowledgment of your donation for tax purposes, and will send us any donations made to them on our behalf. Those donations should be mailed to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA 94114.

Scarleteen is now affiliated with the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. The CSC was founded and is directed by Dr. Carol Queen and Dr. Robert Lawrence. Their mission is to provide judgment-free education, cultural events, a library/media archive, and other resources to audiences across the sexual and gender spectrum; and to research and disseminate factual information, framing and informing issues of public policy and public health. We’re thrilled to be the first young adult sex education project they have worked with and are very glad for this partnership. Robert and Carol, as well as other members of the CSC, have been incredibly supportive of Scarleteen and sex education as a whole over the years.

To give you an idea of how we utilize donations, I’d like to briefly fill you in on where we stand with Scarleteen right now, what we accomplished in 2008, and what we have in the works for the future!

Most weeks, Scarleteen remains the top-ranked site for young adult sexuality education on the internet. Our information, support and advocacy continues to serve many young people all over the world.

  • We rank in the upper 25,000 of all sites online internationally
  • We consistently rank in the top 11,000 - 12,000 of all sites in the United States
  • 65 million page loads have occurred at the site from users since 2006
  • We now have over 40,000 active message board users

We currently have around 20 active volunteers, and in the last year, have added more content to the site than we have in any other year prior. We have been able to sustain and add to the most basic information, but have also been able to keep widening our scope so that on top of having information on topics like sexual anatomy, contraception and safer sex, we have a good deal of information which is tougher for young people to find on such topics as gender identity, body image, rape and abuse, more subtle or sophisticated sexuality issues, feminist approaches to sexuality and the body and relationship modeling and management.

One of the tricky parts about financing Scarleteen is that while our traffic is incredibly high, the vast majority of it comes from users who either do not have their own income, or who do not have checking accounts or credit cards with which to make donations. We usually average just one donation per every 500,000 users. That’s one reason why your help is so important: support that comes from those who can give — like past users of Scarleteen who are now adults, or parents, educators, mentors and other adult allies — is what helps provide our services for those who cannot. It’s also why a site like Scarleteen is so important. Due to both age and financial limitations (as well as concerns about safety — particularly for GLBT youth — or privacy), often young adults are also without the resources to purchase good books or access quality counseling and support services and our free, easily accessible information and support is a godsend for many of them.

Want an idea about how some of our users feel Scarleteen has been a help to them? Take a look at some of their emails to us here. You can also have a peek here to see some of the media coverage Scarleteen has gotten in the past, and peek over here to get a better idea of why we do what we do.

If you haven’t kept up, here are a few pieces we added to the site in 2008 and 2009 to give you an idea of what we’ve been up to:

We have also had a handful of great first-person pieces added from users or volunteers in our In Your Own Words section. Our voting guide last year helped many users of voting age to find clear, balanced information about the Presidential candidates to best inform (and motivate!) their vote. Our archive of direct, in-depth advice to users who write in with questions is extensive. Lastly, our message boards, which we rolled out in the year 2000, continue to be busy, actively moderated and a place of bustling, supportive conversation (as well as a way to help users manage crises quickly) at a level many teens do not have other opportunities to engage in when it comes to such loaded subjects.

Scarleteen is also in the process of organizing a Teen Talking Circle through the site in an online format. For information on Teen Talking Circles, see: http://www.teentalkingcircles.org/

With your support we can sustain the pace we have set for ourselves as well as be able at last to do some things we have wanted and have seen the need for, for some time. They include:

  • Creating and distributing outreach print materials for schools, clinics and community groups, based on content like our popular Sex Readiness Checklist, our anatomy articles, and our pieces on abuse, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Providing our volunteer staff extra training. In the next year, we’d like to get a few of our staff trained or certified in either or both pregnancy options counseling and/or basic sex education.
  • Stipends for some of our volunteer writers and columnists, which will both sustain a quality of content and allow us to keep up with the frequency of updates we have had in the last year. Paying writers also can nurture a greater diversity of voice and content.
  • Maintaining a part-time freelance developer to help us best manage and maintain the site for optimum useability.
  • A part-time, in-person assistant for myself as director.

In 2008, we were able to cover the basic overhead expenses of the site, and to do some travel for in-person book promotion, education and outreach. I was able to acquire needed computer/equipment updates for the organization, and have been able to pay our bills easily. We have also been able to donate many copies of the book to young people and youth advocacy organizations. We have also begun to establish a lending library for our volunteers so help them further and sustain their education on the issues we address at Scarleteen.

To let you know where I stand as director, I am very much looking forward to what we can do in our second decade. When I founded Scarleteen in 1998, I could not find any other viable resources online for young adult sex education and information, and perceived a strong need by youth for something like this. I also had a vision of sex education, having previously been both a teacher and a student in alternative education models before, that was considerably different than so much of what sex ed had been. Our supporters have put great faith and trust in my vision of the organization and sex ed as a whole, and I hope I can continue to inspire that faith and trust as we continue to grow and evolve.

I’ve had time to reflect on where we have come from and where we need to go. Towards that end I would like to continue to give my time, vision and dedication, as the sole full-time employee at Scarleteen, and to also increase my yearly salary to $20,000 (last year I took around 16K before taxes). As anyone who does work or has worked in non-profit knows, it’s hardly a place for the world’s best pay, however, as director of a large organization with ten years of operation, I feel, if possible, my salary should reflect the gravity of my position and the amount of my time and efforts a bit better.

Many of our supporters have been so exuberant and effective in drumming up support from others through the years, and that’s been an enormous help. Whether or not you can help with a donation right now, you can always help by getting the word out, both about Scarleteen as a whole, and about fundraising drives like this one.

If you’re able to donate, you have my deepest thanks. I know that these are not the best times for fiscally supporting anything save oneself, so I doubly appreciate what support you may be able to give. Donations of any size — and general support are so critical in providing support for those who need it and have helped us to thrive and survive. I cannot thank you for any of your support enough, both on behalf of all of the young people who remain able to access such needed information and support, and on my own behalf. Doing the work I do with Scarleteen has been, in so many ways, my dream job and my life’s work and I am so blessed to have that opportunity and to be able to continue to do it with your help.

Here’s that information on how to help out once more:

From February 14th through March 15th, one of our regular donors has agreed to match funds we receive in that month, up to $350 per donor, and/or up to $3,000 total.

  • You can donate online with you credit card or PayPal account by clicking here, OR
  • You can donate by check or money order, made out to Scarleteen, and mail to: 1752 NW Market St. #627, Seattle, WA, 98107 OR
  • If you would like your donation to be tax-deductible you can donate by check or money order by making your cheque out to The Center for Sex and Culture, and writing “Scarleteen” in the memo. They will send you a written acknowledgment of your donation for tax purposes, and will send us any donations made to them on our behalf. Those donations should be mailed to: The Center for Sex and Culture, c/o Carol Queen, 2215-R Market Street PMB 455, San Francisco, CA 94114.

We’ve also got a new way that some of our younger users can easily help support Scarleteen! If all of our users for just two days each gave only one dollar, we could fund the site for the whole year. One dollar can assure that others are helped the same way you’ve been. If you’d like to help out, but don’t have much income of your own, a checking account or credit card, you can slip just one buck into an envelope and make a big difference. Plus, for every 30 envelopes we get with a dollar inside, we’ll randomly pull one and send that donor a free signed copy of S.E.X., which is a sweet deal for a buck and a stamp. Find out more about our Give a Buck fundraiser by clicking here.

In peace and with pleasure,
Heather Corinna, Founder & Director, Scarleteen

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

One thing I love about you journal readers is that I can vacate for a while without having to make any kind of big to-do about it.  I appreciate that kind of latitude.

I’ve been working a lot, and struggling to keep up with the mad pace of work a lot , which for this year includes a lot of planning for both Scarleteen and the FWHC job and dealing with a lot of adjustments and shifts.  I’m also adding a few things to my load for the year: I recently accepted a position on the editorial board for the American Journal of Sexuality Education, I’m soon starting a Teen Talking Circle through CONNECT, I’m doing a bunch of travel for work which I’m usually more apt to decline.  I’m also keeping up with the column over at RH Reality Check, and have a couple new pieces for various things I’m working on in fits and starts.

When it comes to my more personal stuff, I’ve been writing for myself or writing for, talking with — to a point of very intense immersion –  the people the most close to me and the people I want to be closer to.  I’ve been spending plenty of time with my piano and even the dulcimers now and then (ah, to have my hands work like they used to: it’s a pity fingerpicking hurts like a bitch so much anymore), reading, meditating, taking long walks.  I took a break from my camera for a bit there, and it’s time to pick it up again.  Just being able to write a snippet of this, a snippet of that, and know it doesn’t have to turn into anything else or more is golden: I haven’t given myself that permission in a long while.

None of my time away or to myself is because anything is wrong: despite things being challenging in my life on several levels at the moment, nothing feels at all wrong.  Quite the opposite. There’s just a lot of cross-roadsy stuff that’s been going on all over the place, and it’s been really nice to be very introspective about it — and private about it — and when I do share outwardly, to be making an extra effort to do so almost entirely intimately.

It’s not something I tend to be inclined to do much of the time: hermit that I can be in some ways, I also don’t tend to keep things very close to the chest.  I usually write about them or express them very outwardly in some way.  But every now and then, the time calls for it and it feels like just the right thing.  And this has.  Of course, this season always lends itself to that, it’s for that, really.  The time of year is not inconsequential.

I have a very expansive heart right now: it’s been stretching its legs exponentially of late.

There have been a lot of opportunities for me to water and grow my compassion over the last few months, my ability to love well and wholly.  I’ve felt it at work with the Scarleteen users and the FWHC clients, with my family, and even just out on the street as I walk the dog.  It’s been a marvel, especially with things with Mark and Blue where as all three of us have stuff to work through, inconnectedly and separately, when either of them apologizes for bringing heavy bags, and I say it’s all okay, I mean it so sincerely.  I also mean that it all feels okay: I’m feeling so freely able that sharing a tough load with either or both of them may have its moments, but can feel nearly effortless when it comes to the flow of my heart and what I want to offer.  I feel bigger of late, more mighty, I feel like I have a clarity in how I’m seeing people, experiencing people, what I have to offer — and want to offer — others that’s more attuned than it has been in a while, one that makes getting really close much less daunting.

There are a few strings of phrase from some private writing a month and a half back which does a very good job of expressing some of this:

This is not often a sanctuary
for small, broken-winged birds,
a Muzak-humming rest home for invalids.
It is where the giant-footed few
who have the seemingly strange inclination
go to toast marshmallows and sing campfire songs in the midst of an apocalypse;
it feels a temple for legend, not leisure.

We seem to tend to err most
when we underestimate the nature of who we are,
what our unique alchemy is,
and try and fit magnitudes into the tiniest of boxes.

I have to confess that I can sometimes have — have certainly had in the past on far more than one occasion — the tendency to give people I am close to a whole, big lot, but also to withhold just an eentsie-enough that I am still withholding.  I actually think it’s partly a writer thing: I seem to notice that many of we wordsmiths have this tendency. I’ve been a lot better about that lately, a lot more fearless with it.  I’ve been letting people really know me, which perhaps sounds very strange coming from a total oversharer in so many ways, but to anyone in my life who has come very close to me, I assure you, those kinds of barriers of mine are well known. Opening things up and being in both of these relationships has been so just right for me, and I feel so, so nourished by all of this.  Nourished in my own heart and head, nourished with what I give out interpersonally, in work, in everything.  I have had a very strong feeling of being exactly where I am supposed to be.

Pema Chodron said some things I really like which relate to some of what has been going on with me:

There is a Tibetan teaching that is often translated as, “Self-cherishing is the root of all suffering.” It can be hard for a Western person to hear the term “self-cherishing” without misunderstanding what is being said. I would guess that 85% of us Westerners would interpret it as telling us that we shouldn’t care for ourselves—that there is something anti-wakeful about respecting ourselves. But that isn’t what it really means. What it is talking about is fixating. “Self-cherishing” refers to how we try to protect ourselves by fixating; how we put up walls so that we won’t have to feel discomfort or lack of resolution. That notion of self-cherishing refers to the erroneous belief that there could be only comfort and no discomfort, or the belief that there could be only happiness and no sadness, or the belief that there could be just good and no bad.

But what the Buddhist teachings point out is that we could take a much bigger perspective, one that is beyond good and evil. Classifications of good and bad come from lack of maitri. We say that something is good if it makes us feel secure and it’s bad if it makes us feel insecure. That way we get into hating people who make us feel insecure and hating all kinds of religions or nationalities that make us feel insecure. And we like those who give us ground under our feet.

When we are so involved with trying to protect ourselves, we are unable to see the pain in another person’s face. “Self-cherishing” is ego fixating and grasping: it ties our hearts, our shoulders, our head, our stomach, into knots. We can’t open. Everything is in a knot. When we begin to open we can see others and we can be there for them. But to the degree that we haven’t worked with our own fear, we are going to shut down when others trigger our fear.

So to know yourself is to forget yourself. This is to say that when we make friends with ourselves we no longer have to be so self-involved. It’s a curious twist: making friends with ourselves is a way of not being so self-involved anymore. Then Dogen Zen-ji goes on to say, “To forget yourself is to become enlightened by all things.” When we are not so self-involved, we begin to realize that the world is speaking to us all of the time. Every plant, every tree, every animal, every person, every car, every airplane is speaking to us, teaching us, awakening us. It’s a wonderful world, but we often miss it.

Of course, in all of this as well is the fact that for a very personal writer, I often find myself lately in the position of being the keeper of more than one very private vulnerability or big confidence which is okay, but it means that the gristle of a lot of my life at the moment is behind a closed door. It also means I’m being trusted to hold all of it, which is so small gesture, and these are trusts I’m grateful for.

I’m off for the most whirlwind of trips to Chicago on Monday for both love and for work — my apologies to all the Chicago people I just can’t see and who can’t (or don’t want to) catch up with me for a short bit at the workshop (by the way, I think we still need some more women on the younger end).  I get back Wednesday night, then head right into the clinic on Thursday morning, and if all goes well, on Friday, I have something to do with something that resembles rest.

Friday, December 26th, 2008

My poor dog.  Everytime the last few days I’ve taken her out for a walk or let her out back, she’d had to effectively try to learn to ice skate or swim.  The remaining snow here — which is of course, everywhere, since no one in Seattle owns a shovel — is so hard, and she weighs so little that when she walks on it, she either slides right over, or her little feet fall in an inch or so, leaving her stuck.  Her other option is to try and swim in the huge pools of melting snow which are the other half of the landscape right now.

She also did not get our annual ritual of an early yule morning walk, something we both (well, I can only assume) have enjoyed in the past here.  Ballard is total Goyville, so pretty much everyone else is in their homes celebrating Christmas, which leaves our usually bustling neighborhood beautifully silent and empty.  But it decided to rain here much of yesterday, so all she got was a round of toy-wrestling in the living room followed by the daily ear-cleaning she despises.

I’ve been fairly lazy here the last few days, only working half-days, and spending the rest of my day in the tub, reading, cleaning the closet, writing for myself, and starting to go through some photos.

When I was at my mother’s earlier this month, we sat with a big box of some of my childhood art and schoolwork, some of which is completely hilarious, so I have a bunch of those shots to edit.  I also left home with a handful of photos, mostly from childhood, and some slides (most of what we have from my childhood is on slides, because that’s the age I am).  I say some of which because looking at things like an earnest will written at the age of 12, not long before my first suicide attempt, is not hilarious.  Suffice it to say, things like that are not going to be making it into the archives.

When I was looking at those photos, there was a whole lot of bittersweet that started happening, and then some outright meltdown, some of which has continued since.  Most of what that comes down to is that I actually had a pretty good childhood, despite a lot of tumult (some of which I didn’t really know about until later in my life), and when I see photos of myself as a kid, I’m looking at a kid I really like.  But I’m also looking at a kid whose childhood came to a crashing halt due to a confluence of events — my mother’s second marriage and the nightmare of a man she married, my pre-teen assaults, some other things.  Seeing, for instance, a photo of me at 11 the other day, seeing what a baby I was with my shirt covered in rainbows, barrettes in my hair, I realized I was looking at what some vile man in his 40’s decided was ripe for the picking and it just left me floored and furious.  I cut my hair after that primarily to try and cut him out of it.  So, while in some sense, I love seeing me and aspects of the childhood I cherished — and honestly, thank the powers that be I had, otherwise things that happened later may well have left me a vegetable — in another, I find myself feeling angry at the world-at-large for taking that kid away so fast and so suddenly, and, in some sense, robbing me of enough of her left over.

I’m not going to get too into it, because so much of it feels so private, but my visit with my mother this last time was exceptionally healing for me.  I got the chance to tell her something I have simply needed to for some time.  That was that while there are things from my late childhood and adolescence I just don’t think I can ever forgive, and certainly cannot forget — some of which she was part of or very much enabled — the older I get, the more I understand not just the greater context of her life, but the lives of so many women like her, and can see the bigger picture of what landed her and us there and fed so many of the dynamics at play.  I was able to tell her that the more I understand, the more I accept, the less I blame, and that no matter what, she’s my mother and I love and accept her.

Being able to say that was a huge deal, and also had an unexpected impact on her: it seemed to make her feel safe enough to finally ask — just outright ask — about some of what had happened to me in the last handful of years before I left home at 15.  She was able to be honest enough to say that she didn’t think she could handle hearing all of it — an honesty I really appreciate, particularly since it reminds me that that’s some of why there was so much denial about what was going on with me then.  And we were able to talk about some of it, and she was able to really listen, to hold what I was telling her, to take responsibility for some of the things I have very much needed to.  Mind, I found out some things which were in some sense a relief, and also in some sense had already known or strongly suspected, but which were also tough for me to hear: for instance, finding out that it truly was only me who was the object of my stepfather’s malice made me glad that my mother and sister were not done any real harm.  It also validated how totally alone in everything I felt then, how singled out and victimized. But at the same time… well, it wasn’t a pleasant truth.

That process also invoked her to tell me some things about her life I hadn’t known, particularly in my early childhood, when my mother, at only around 21, wound up the head of a household that included 2-year-old me, my Dad (who stayed at home with me while my mother worked), and my fathers two teenage brothers who survived the accident that killed the rest of his family.  Unbeknownst to me, my mother even had to be the one to identify the bodies — my Dad just couldn’t deal — and this image of my so-freaking-young Mom with too much already on her plate having to literally look at bloody heads in bags just gutted me. (Not to mention that both of us having to deal with bloody heads and dead bodies at a point in both of our young lives was just eerie.)

Again, not going to get into too many details here, especially since a lot of it is about someone’s life that isn’t mine.  But I think this may have been the first visit I have ever had with my mother that left me feeling even remotely like this: it was intensely liberating, very healing for the both of us.  We’ve even made tentative plans to, for the first time ever, try and take a vacation together somewhere in the next two years, something which, before this month, would have been a daunting, rather than pleasant, prospect for me.

* * *

On the home front, Mark is back in Ohio visiting family after getting waylaid in Philly on Christmas Eve.  While I usually enjoy the time to myself when he goes home for the holidays, having him leave this time was a bit sad, because it drew our all-night conversations we have been having on the couch every single night since I got back from Chicago to an end.  He was just saying the other night that he has never felt closer to me than he has in these last couple weeks, and indeed, while I didn’t think we needed a turning point in our relationship, we seem to have landed at one, and it’s so, so good.  I feel like we wound up going to this totally new place that’s really exceeded where we thought we could go, where we thought we would go, which is seriously huge since I already have thought we’ve got something really damn good.

Next week, we both have dates: Mark has one out where he is, and Blue is coming to see me for a couple of days.  In our heart of hearts, we were hoping for a magical harmonic convergence during which we could both be in those things at the very same moment, but alas, it didn’t quite work out that way.

All of this moving into a much more tangible and physical reality is all the things one’d likely expect: exciting, nervewracking, anxious, exhilarating and more with the anxious.  Obviously, it’s a bit like a moment of truth is coming, where we’re going to find out if everything that seems like it feels so right to all of us involved really is.  I keep having these small moments where I second-guess what we are are saying and feeling, how harmonious it all seems to feel so far for everyone, and then I second-guess (or is that third-guess?) my dismissal of those moments, worried it is coming from a selfish place because exactly what I want appears to be something I can have that is also in alignment with everyone else’s wants, even though we all seem to have such different sets of needs.  When I voice this to either, the both of them effectively sigh and suggest I start trusting all of us — and myself — more, which is apt advice.

Having such history with both of the people involved on my part vacillates from being a total comfort to being completely daunting.   But I just got off the phone with Mark (clearly, we both want to continue our couch-conversations, even without a shared couch), and one thing we noted that seems to make this such an unusual scenario — and which I actually think makes it an easier adjustment for all — is that the person who is my domestic partner is also the newer person in all of this.  In other words, he’s already well used to Blue being in my heart and  being a part of who I am: when he walked into my life, that existed before he and I, and he obviously has coexisted with it just fine.  I can’t figure out if I envy Mark that, for now, anyone he’ll see is likely to be very new to him, or if I wish he were in my position on his end.  I do envy him some for having the ability to just ring Blue up and talk together, and I can’t say it wouldn’t be nice to have the same opportunity, but hey, maybe I will at some point.

This is one of those times where I wish I knew a bit less than I do, particularly about sex and love and relationships.  I was sitting last night in a stack of books from the shelves which addressed open relationships, and feeling very much like it was all so 101, and of such very little use to me.  I wanted the AP versions — even though I don’t think we really need them — and they don’t seem to exist.  I sat scrolling through my head with my own history with things like this, save that I don’t really have anything like this in my history.  Anything remotely close has felt like splitting before, or sharing, and it doesn’t feel like that, perhaps because both of these people have been in my heart already: no one is taking up any new real estate here.

I’ve also gotten to the point in my life where I know I am big enough, wide enough, AM enough for this.  Oddly, I think working at the clinic has been part of that: keeping a lot of distance is so typical in anything remotely medical that my being very open to clients, really kind of letting them in has occasionally worried my co-workers.  And yet, the way the clients have been with me, the way they want to disclose so much and have me hold so much while they’re in with me stands counter to that. I’ve heard more than once that I “just can’t” be as open to them as I have when it comes to kind of holding their truths and their feelings and really being in it with them for that brief period of time and possibly deal with it…and yet, I know full well that I certainly can, and that it’s one of my gifts as a person.  It’s not one-sided, either: it doesn’t just benefit others, but it also deeply enriches and expands me, too.

* * *

And I suppose that’s my rather random set of bleats for the day.  A Scarleteen once-user, since-volunteer and someone who feels very much like family to me is moving into the neighborhood next week, and will also be housesitting for me with her kid while I’m staying downtown.  They’re coming over the evening before for some hangout and dinner, and our place is so far from toddler-proofed, it just isn’t funny.

Thankfully, this week of the year is always exceptionally slow at Scarleteen, so it’s one of the few times where I feel able — without guilt or worry — to take some time for myself and work a short shift.  So, I was able to spend some time just talking more to Mark and Blue, and can now go spend some time housecleaning (which needed to happen anyway: bless houseguests for making you have to hop to it), maybe going through some more of those photos, doing some languid yoga, writing a bit more just for myself about everything going on with me, taking another bath and setting up a new computer that needs setting up.

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

So.

Last week, Mark and I had four solid nights of very deep discussion, centered around opening up our relationship.

We’ve discussed this as a possibility many times before, and when starting our relationship years back both stated that, in time, this is what we would likely want occasionally, even just as a possible option, utilized or not.

One of the big bombs of my visit last week was that I discovered a desire for our relationship to be open so that I could to pursue one with someone I was first with almost 20 years ago.  I found I felt like if I could be sitting in a room with someone who I had very big feelings for, with whom my history is insanely loaded –and with a certain level of permission from my partner to pursue various things if I wanted to — and it could feel totally okay, not something were I felt distance or divides created between Mark and myself…well, it was tough then, to envision a situation for either of us where that would happen.  In other words, I discovered I felt quite safe and secure in the idea.

It’s actually pretty wacky when I think about last week and see what a huge theme, with three different people, was so clearly about resolving or accepting the past and forging relationships anew, and that’s something I really didn’t expect to have happen with any of those folks, even though I’ve been building the groundwork for that with all of them over the last year.  But this is just about one of those relationships, and how that one now looks to become part of the one I am in with Mark.

Up until recently, it’s felt most right to have things be closed for Mark and I.  Our first year, we were so fixated on one another that there was really no point: we were so very single-minded and our NRE was so gangbusters.  The next yearish was all the adjusting one makes when cohabitating: that was the toughest year for us, and frankly, the year that Mark wanted to open it up most, but which was pretty obvious would have likely spelled serious disaster for us as a couple.  This last year and change, as we’re nearing our fourth year together, seems to have mostly been about us just really figuring out and settling into what and who we are.

We’ve had some ups and downs, we’ve had conflicts to work through, but for the most part, we’ve gotten to the point where we know we’re solid; we know we’re in this for the long haul when it comes to simply being two people who care about each other.  In short, we have been at the point for a while now where know we have a real and enduring relationship of some kind, and what kind is only so relevant.

This is not the first time I have been in a relationship that was open (nor dated those who are in open relationships themselves).  However, this is the first time I’ve done this while in a relationship that a) I have been in that has been so long-going  –actually, that’s not true, but in the other relationship it was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell thing which was very different than this — b) we are not opening because the relationship seems to be stuck, or we want to shop around for better relationships to replace it with, or c) when it really was not about what only one person wanted.  In other words, it feels like this is the first time I have considered this where it all felt very right to me.

On my end, a good deal of this has come as a bit of a surprise, in oh-so many ways.  For starters, I think both of our expectations from the get-go when it comes to opening things up at some point were that, for both of us, the desire to do so would be largely driven by sexual desires.  I think we also both expected that any other relationships would be very casual, on both of our parts.  I think it’s fair to also say that there was an underlying expectation that if and when I took any other partner, that person would most likely be female. None of these things are the case on my end (and yes, I suppose this may well be the death knell when it comes to my dyke card, but I have to tell you, I am not giving it up without a big fight, a pair of Indigo Girls tickets and a signed copy of Rubyfruit Jungle.  Just so you know.)

In hindsight, all of those expectations seem a bit silly to me, especially in terms of who I am, who I have been, and in terms of what is going on now.  And okay, because if I know nothing else about me, I know that consciously or unconsciously, I continually revolt against expectations: I should know this by now about me.   Everyone else seems to, after all.

Blue, the other person in this, in half-jest, has expressed a feeling of having gotten the golden ticket.  But that is really apt, here, because at this time, I just can’t imagine — for me — anything BUT this feeling like the right thing.  In opening our relationship, Mark and I have not, for instance, made an agreement in which I may only be open to this specific other relationship.  What he wants, for himself, is the ability to date a bit again, to have some casual dating or sexual experiences, and that is a door which could also be open to me should I want it, but I just am not feeling that at all.  In other words, I don’t see myself utilizing the opportunity to seek anything else out in the near future, if at all, which in some ways perhaps seems odd — walking into something that is about opening things up which is by its nature exclusive  — but for the most part, makes perfect sense in the context of everything.

Even the timing seems pretty outrageous: in talking to Mark on the phone from Chicago and stating that the idea of opening up the relationship for this felt resoundingly and surprisingly right, he basically leapt right in, and during our talks, it’s been made clear that he is very thankful I brought this to the table and did so at this time, because he has been feeling a strong want to go ahead and explore other relationships himself.  It’s clearly been quite the harmonic convergence, all around.

Before I say more, a few caveats, for today and henceforth as I will talk/write about this:

1.  I deeply dislike  — and always have — terminology about primaries/secondaries, and thankfully, the three of us are in agreement on this.   My experience in my life and my heart I that I just don’t tend to feel those kinds of hierarchies with people, which may explain why I have around five best friends and a very freeform idea about what family is.  As with anything else, hierarchies harsh my love buzz, not just my sex life or entire social systems across the globe.  However, we also currently have yet to figure out alternate terminology amongst the three of us, so you’ll have to make do without terms, and perhaps just accept feeling confused now and then, until further notice.

2. I feel ferociously protective about Mark as well as Blue.  I anticipate that, as is always the case in matters of the heart, there will be times when things are challenging or difficult for any of us.  If I’m going to be public about this, though, it’s really important to me not to only present a sunny side, and to be able to write about more than just the good stuff.  One of my fears around that — and yes, I’m being very  Mama Bear at the moment — is that because anyone reading me is reading me, and likely feels most inclined to be on my “side,” that it might be easy if things get tough and I talk about it to demonize one of them.  And I really, really don’t want that.  If someone is going to be the bad guy at some point, I’d prefer it were me by default.

3. I don’t think I really have to say it, but I want it to be clear that I love Mark very much, and vice-versa.  We are deeply committed to being in a relationship of some kind together and feel that we want to do that for quite some time.  I’d say it is that depth of feeling and commitment which, so far, has made both of us agreeing to the other pursuing what they want to pretty relatively easy.  I know that (just because we’re so, so cool) there are plenty of people who feel invested, in their way, in our relationship, which is why I want to make an assurance that we’re okay.  This isn’t something we’re doing to try and fix a problem, or as some kind of last-ditch effort to save an ailing relationship: our relationship has been changing, but it’s not going away.  If anything, a lot of what this feels like is the two of us understanding one another very deeply, and wanting very much for both of us to have our needs met, to live lives that feel true to us; feeling secure enough in who we are to each other that — so far — it is relatively easy to accept the different things we both want to explore at this point outside one another.  No matter how this pans out, I’d say that that desire and expressed understanding has been huge for us and is going to be really positive.

4.  In alignment with what I mentioned in the last entry (which was about far more than just this, but also about this), I’m feeling guarded when it comes to everyone’s privacy.  This is one of those times where I so wish I were a bit less visible or easily identifiable, but at the same time, I’m going on ten years of this journal, ten years of doing the best I can to be honest and open, and clearly both I and many people who read me have felt benefitted by that.  I’ve no intention of stopping it any time soon, nor any of pretending to live a different life than I do.  But again, there’s a balance to be struck here, and a mindfulness I need to find, keep and hone when it comes to what’s going to be safest and feel most comfortable for everyone, and also be mindful of the fact that this is a place for my stories, my disclosures, not for me to disclose anyone else’s.  I’ve made clear, in fact, that with everyone involved, I feel it’s best for the three of us to read anything I write about this first before I publish anything for the rest of the world to see.

5.  Publicly acknowledging this makes it feel much more actual, which is good yet also exceptionally nervewracking.

Okay, back to where I left off, and do forgive my being a bit scattered.  There is so much in all of this, and it’s very difficult to sum up very concretely.  I’ve had to accept, trying to write this for a couple of days, that it’s hardly going to be my best work ever, and nothing remotely resembling a work of art.

These talks alone have been amazing: inspiring, enriching, revelatory in places.

We both feel like they have solidified our relationship, and particularly say the best-friendship aspect of our relationship. It’s been a bit like going to temple every night together, really trying to dig deep, both being as honest as possible about what we want, about needs we find the other just can’t or doesn’t meet.  The marathon-like nature of them has made it difficult to be anything but very candid.

We’ve been talking about places, spaces in ourselves that make us feel insecure or small or like a lousy partner.  We’ve been talking about fears and joys.  We’ve discovered that the very different things each of us wants feel just fine to the other, but that if the shoes were on the other foot, and either of us wanted what the other does, it would very likely feel entirely different, and rub very strongly against our insecurities. (This, by the way, creates a rather interesting dynamic, because it means that we both have a hard time understanding how the other is really this okay with things, because we each feel like we would not be were the roles/wants reversed.  We trust one another’s words, so we accept we each mean what we say and do feel okay about it, but it does involve a certain suspension of disbelief.)

As I have been having those talks with Mark, I have been having other talks and exchanges with Blue.

We’ve been doing a lot of resolution and rebuilding for close to a year now, but spending time together when I was back home took things to a whole new level, as has bringing to him what Mark and I have been creating, discovering and discussing.  Then I bring his stuff back here, and it just keeps moving like that. The two of them had a brief but very honest phone conversation by phone, which I was listening to, the evening Blue and I spent face-time (after an 12-year-lapse, which was completely surreal) together in Chicago which brought me to tears, in part because on top of everything else, I think that both of them could well have some big things to give the other that have little to nothing to do with me at all.

The fact that we have also had to create rules and guidelines for two very different situations has also felt like a good challenge.  Some of our limits, boundaries, guidelines overlap, but the application of them is likely to be very different.  Blue is a very known entity to me, as is our dynamic, some of the ways I am with him.  I can verbalize what I feel and have felt for him, with him, what we are like together in core ways: that’s clearly changed little over the years.  It’s huge, it’s always been huge. With what Mark is looking for, though, the “others” are a complete and total wild card, for both of us. That isn’t to say I have any notion I can perfectly predict what things will be like for Blue and I — for several reasons, I very much cannot — but it is a whole lot more familiar and known than the total abstraction of absolute strangers and relationships Mark has never had before.

One facet of this that’s been fairly huge for me is doing all of these talks, all of this negotiating knowing that it’s entirely possible either of us may not wind up getting what we want from anyone else involved.  In other words, I may extend possibilities to the other person involved in my case and he may have to or want to decline, in whole or in part.  Mark may seek out what he wants to seek out and not get takers.  In other words, a pretty prototypical open relationship issue where it may well be that any one member of a couple does get what they want, while the other does not.

But in my case, when it comes to both of them, being able to make that extension — the offer of myself, ultimately, the offer of all of us taking this journey, the offer to Mark to pursue what he wants to — without any promise of a return has felt like a bit of a gift on my part, one not so easy for me to give in some ways, but important for me to give, to both of them, and also for myself.  I feel like having to have some lack of attachment to a wanted result on my part, a lack of attachment to having what I offer be accepted, is an important personal growth issue for me as well as a gift they both need from me in different ways.  Being public about it in the way I can — especially knowing that in some way, it’s like being public about a very early pregnancy, which may or may not continue, and if it doesn’t, you have to deal with everyone’s reactions — also feels like a bit of an extension of that gift.

I’ve also been geeking out on some of the psychology of the very different things Mark and I want in relationships, because the symbolism in all of it fascinates me.  The big observation we were talking about last night was that, when you boil it all down to its lowest common denominator, Mark is seeking out a dynamic and experiences that are about what is and feels new and unexplored, whereas what I am craving is — both in terms of my personal history and in terms of the energy of the thing — something that feels very ancient, familiar and historical. He wants to connect and invent anew, I want to reconnect, reinvent.

(I also think in some ways we are each seeking out things that have a good deal to do with the way the two of us work creatively, with the things that inspire us in our respective arts.  Also wacky.)

This is all a bit intense and a lot, I know.  So, let’s take a breath, then a brief break.  Let’s maybe enjoy that break with Ernie and Bert, whaddya say?

That was lovely.  As I was saying….

For me, this is so much about love, rather than sex.  Kinship is a good word to throw in there, as are echoing, twinning, rebirthing.  That is not to deny there is a sexual element, and some of our negotiating all of this is around sex, and not just for whatever Mark chooses to pursue.  I would very much like to be sexually engaged with Blue on occasion, but it’s a complex desire, and not something that all of this hinges on: if Mark didn’t feel comfortable with any kind of sex as a possibility or option right now, the world would not end, nor would Blue and I be unable to find other ways to connect in the same or a similar way.

Oy vey, some of this is so bizarre.  I can sit and look back at some (very painful, for me) poetry published here from the span of a couple years after the last time he and I tried to connect again, years after our breakup, and I was the one who was cast away that time. But at the same time, Blue is never someone I have really talked about publicly — heck, even privately  — who I am quite sure I’ve never directly written about here in any manner until this year.  So, from my point of view, I have talked about this before, but only because I can find this and him in all the metaphors, intimations and allusions.

In some ways, it’s especially strange to think about writing about any of this here because in so many ways, I hid a lot when I first started publishing online, and when I started this journal in ‘99, was just coming out of one of the most painful and self-destructive periods of my life.  That was in great part because of the aftermath for me of that last meeting, and in also then knowing Blue’s similar aftermath from the time before when I’d done the discarding.  Seeing him in so much of my work, yet unnamed, is a lot like seeing a ghost, and having known I was the only one who could have seen it.  Even when I felt heartbreak over other things in the late nineties, it was all so bloody tethered in that heartbreak, and from my perspective, humiliatingly so.  Even in some things that were entirely positive, and in many ways so good for me, there is a thread in all of them that was so about this.  And in so many of the things and relationships I had for years afterwards, it’s so damn obvious how much my fuck-ups in those were so about my fuck-ups with this.  Again, I know so much of that lack of recognition, awareness, acceptance was something I just stuffed away because it hurt too damn much to face it, and made me feel like too much of a fool.

For instance, I had a really initially wonderful but ultimately bone-crushing affair (I call it an affair because it’s the only description that seems to fit, and because that person was, without my consenting to such, having an extramarital affair with me when I had been told by him, falsely, that he was divorced) in ‘98 which I was so too-open to, the kind of open that kept me from seeing that the person I was with was lying to me, and until it landed squarely in my lap I didn’t even see it coming, though in hindsight it was so freaking obvious.  That hurt all the more because I’d projected Blue right unto that person very unknowingly, and only became aware of that once I got betrayed.

I ran into two other relationships in my life, both pretty clearly in some ways reactions to both times, trying to create or find something that did not shake me up so much, that felt more benign, safer, quieter: more normal, one supposes.  I didn’t really realize that’s what I was doing at the time, and it’s another one of those things that you hate to acknowledge and say aloud just because it both feels so foolish and also seems to make so little of those other people and those other relationships.

Oddly enough, when I look at  the whole context of all of this, it can seem like the way I was able to feel about Mark and take risks with him may well have been because I finally had become unafraid enough of all that to let myself get really excited, to really connect with someone, to stop kind of seeing relationships or relationship dynamics as either being like Blue and I or the opposite (an escape from?) of Blue and I.  This is one of the many ways that I’m not even sure Blue and myself could be having any kind of real relationship at this point without Mark: one of the ways that everything feels so right, because it all feels so interconnected and intertwined.

One of the other interesting things is how little I even talked about him, and that was all about shame, more than anything else.  Shame of my own vulnerability, shame about the fact that I hurt Blue very badly the first time around with my own carelessness and lack of awareness about some things that were going on with me, including my fear in having someone be able to get so close, particularly during some things (mostly unexpectedly having very visceral sense memories of my sexual assaults I had never had before) that left me feeling massively vulnerable and wanting to retreat into myself and become invisible.  I also was just in a place in my life where, flatly, I just don’t think I believed that someone could have felt that strongly about me, and didn’t really take his love seriously in some respect because of that.

The only person I have ever really talked about that with was Mark: in fact, one of our best dates — by mutual agreement –  in the first year we were dating was the two of us sitting in the hot tub behind his old place in Renton and my telling him all of this because things felt serious enough that I wanted him to know about parts of me and my life of which I was not at all proud.  It was so tremendous for me to be able to talk about it with someone, and expose them to parts of me of which I was deeply ashamed and felt terrible about, while at the same time, giving history that also let him into one of the places my heart goes to and tends to be very delicate.  So, it’s actually fairly apt to say that Blue was one of the ways Mark and I first deeply connected.

I could obviously talk about this for pages upon pages, but it’s time for me to close this for today.  Before I do, one last thing I want to riff on is just how profoundly loved and understood I have felt over these last two weeks.

In talking about all of this, Mark said something that just made me feel so good, both because I felt like it showed how much he really got how I tend to intrinsically feel about relationships and people’s histories, and because it let me know how secure he is in my love for him without having to diminish other love I feel.  What he said was that Blue was in my heart when he met me, Blue has been in my heart all through our relationship, and Blue is going to be living in my heart no matter what.  All of which is true, especially in the last year since I’ve worked through the “I cast you out!” stuff I managed (if you can call it that) those feelings with for so long.  So much of my history is so big and so challenging, that when someone I love not only accepts it, but voices a profound respect for it, and an understanding of how it is such an integral part of the whole of who I am, it’s landmark for me. One of the feelings I so often struggle with (and I’d say is oddly some of what Blue has always struggled with too, save that it isn’t odd because we’re such twins in so many ways) is a fear and feeling of just being too freaking much for people, particularly the people closest to me who know me best, who are around me the most.  I have spent a lot of time in my life feeling like anyone who picks up the bag that it me, no matter how strong, able or willing is at some point going to topple over and hurt themselves from the sheer weight of my stuff.

…and that is not what has been happening lately.  In fact, it’s been more than even just the opposite, which is particularly amazing because reconnecting with Blue has been bringing up a lot for me over the last months.  I have been hearing from Mark, from Blue, even from my mother at long last, that I am not too heavy, and that it is also recognized, understood, felt, that I need, very much, not just those who can help carry my weight, but who can appreciate it, honor it, even revel in it and be able to go with me — or give me permission to go without them — to some very deep places, unknown places, even scary places.

I obviously have no way of knowing how all of this is going to play out, but what I have been feeling is a seismic shift in my heart, in my ability to open it more, in my understanding and acceptance of myself, in what I want to be able to give the people I care for.  I have grown bigger of late, and it makes me feel just as mighty as I feel vulnerable.

I feel like things have come full circle in a way that just absolutely blows my freaking mind, and I feel so incredibly grateful for how much that is being honored and made room for.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

I had a really wonderful morning today that very quickly turned bittersweet on me.

Today was one of my days to do sex ed outreach to the street kids at the temporary teen shelter in the International District. The group was all girls this morning, which rarely happens. I don’t mind teaching when boys are part of the group, but the mixed-gender group with this particular population really makes a big difference. I actually don’t think the difference is about sex or discomfort with the topic: rather I tend to think it’s about gender posturing for who is the toughest or the most disaffected. In any event, it was nice to only have girls today.

They were pretty bubbly when I came in, but when it was said what I was going to be doing there, half the group was delighted, and the other half expressed disgust or disinterest. (And I always make a point of making clear that no one is obligated to participate.) They all stayed, and I started going through the birth control and safer sex portion of my presentation. When I asked how they felt they and their friends were at handling safer sex negotiation, one of the “I’m not interested” asked about dealing with that when you’re on-street.

Without really meaning to tell a personal anecdote — rather, because I think I so often take for granted that my whole life history is right there on my face — I said I remembered that a few times when I was on-street in my teens, when I’d agreed to an exchange of sex-for-place-to-sleep, how that was probably the toughest spot I’d ever felt with negotiation: my having shelter was on the line. ALL the eyes got big then, and ALL of the girls jumped off the couches and came into a close circle around me on the floor. We then talked some more about how being on-street makes a lot of these issues different and more difficult before it turned into a two-hour long very random Q&A about everything from who’s fallen for the blue balls whine, how their gay male friends can use female condoms, why you shouldn’t use flavored condoms vaginally, where their uterus actually was, some talk about sex readiness and age, the works.

In the middle of all of this, the one girl who leapt furthest from the couch told me that she really wanted to do exactly what I was doing for street kids once she got off-street, and that she “didn’t mean to be a jerk,” but she only wanted to listen once she realized I’d been where she was because they had to hear from so many people who never were. She made “I’m so going to be you when I grow up” eyes at me for the rest of the session, which pretty much broke my heart into a million little pieces.

I don’t usually do condom demonstrations with these, but instead ask if they feel like they need one. Usually, they’ll say no, and often, too — especially in those mixed groups — I get the impression the comfort level among them just isn’t right to be yanking a dildo out of my purse. When I asked today, they were all over it saying, “Do you have a PENIS with you?” The fact that I did apparently was the funniest thing that ever was, second only to that giving them the permission to tell me what to do with “my penis” — “give me your penis,” “pass the penis, please,” and “no, it’s my penis right now, I’ll give it to you in a minute” — thereafter.

I got accused online the other day of trying to turn teenage girls into “temporary lesbians,” so I had to keep from cracking up myself when one of them had the dildo in her hand and said, “Doesn’t this ever get soft?” and I said, “No,” and she was quiet for a minute before saying, “Oh. Cooooool.”

I’d say I don’t know if I’ll ever be told again, “Put your penis back in your purse, Heather,” save that I know I will. Lord knows I have before. Welcome to my life.

In any event, it was a really great session, very dynamic and warm and hysterically funny after we talked about the tougher stuff. I wanted to put all of them in my purse with the penis, take and give them a place to have that slumber-party energy they seemed to be enjoying today in a real home, not a lockdown. It was a total daymaker, and I also left with this sparkle in my heart from just having a few minutes in there where I was reminded why I’m Buddhist. There was some big ol’ bodhisattva energy in all of those girls and they really gifted me by opening it up more around me.

Unfortunately, once I left and got on the bus I got whacked with the big-heart-ow of those girls being total throwaway kids as far as their parents or guardians are usually concerned.  Some of them are going to be on and off-street until or even through their adulthood.  Often, I feel that going in, presenting and coming home: things don’t usually get so spirited that I forget it for a while. I forgot today. Then I remembered.

When that reality came hurling back, it hit hard and left marks.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

While out of town this weekend, between two plane trips and a couple late evenings up reading, I started and polished off  Elliott Currie’s The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence in very short order.  I didn’t do this because it was a fluffy or easy read — it’s actually very in-depth and painful at times, though highly readable — but because it was such a well-done piece of work, so engaging, and from my point of view, so dead-to-rights.  It was incredibly refreshing to read Currie’s approach: I was thirsty for it, and it delivered a long, tall and much-needed drink. I found buried treasure.

It was timely, my reading this book, because for a while I’ve taken issue with how at-risk youth are even defined.  For the most part, they are defined by race and class, as necessarily of-color, and/or in poverty.  By all means, I agree that being a member of any oppressed class — which every adolescent is, simply by virtue of age — will always bump risk factors up, and I want care given to of-color youth and low-income youth in a way which does it’s best to compensate for those youth having less resources than others.  (As well, I’m also concerned with the not-so-well-meaning and racist or classist implications of identifying at-risk youth that way, as if, by virtue of color or income, rather than the institutions which discriminate by that criteria, a given person is somehow innately destined to have bigger problems, and it is that person in need of “fixing,” not those institutions.) But I do often worry, particularly since so often we see middle-class youth of all colors at Scarleteen having such a tough time of things, about assuring that our focus is broad enough when it comes to who we decide needs care and attention.  I have frequent concerns that the way we identify who is and who isn’t at risk, who may and may not be likely to be at-risk, is too narrow.

How much money the family of a young adult has is no guarantee at all of happiness or well-being, something I learned all too well when I taught upper class children for a year in the early 90’s: there was an isolation, a loneliness and a stressed-out perfectionism many of those students — particularly those approaching puberty — that took me very much by surprise at the time.  On more than one occasion, I heard a parent respond to a valid concern we voiced for their child with little more than an immediate concern for and defense of their needs (such as the “need” to pull a child in and out of school incessantly because a parent didn’t like the cold and liked to switch over to a summer home on their whim, for themselves), not those of their child.

The new middle-class world in which many American adolescents grow up is one that combined harshness and heedlessness in equal measure.  It is a world that is quick to punish and slow to help, a world paradoxically both deeply moralistic and profoundly neglectful.  Hence, it is hardly surprising that so many mainstream teenagers are in trouble, for that world makes it very hard to grow up.  It makes it all too difficult to achieve a strong and abiding sense of worth and all too easy to feel like a failure and a loser.  It makes it all too easy to feel like an outsider, all too difficult to feel appreciated or respected for being who you are.  It is a world in which it is treacherously easy for adolescents to trip up and break the rules but in which no one can be bothered to help them avoid tripping up in the first place. (p.254, bolding mine)

I admit, I had a lot of déjà vu when reading Currie’s accounts of the teens he worked with.  While I grew up primarily low-income, a few of my adolescent years were spent in the middle-class, and those were the years when things got as bad as they could possibly get.  Accounts in the book of Tough Love were all-too familiar to me, and the reminder harrowing.  In my case, Tough Love was used in conjunction with, and sometimes as justification for, an abuse dynamic, which was particularly chilling, and you see that in some of these accounts as well.  I remember, too, that when we moved into (rather, married into) the middle class, there was less notice of the effects of my household on me.  In lower-class communities and schools, neighbors and teachers seemed to have a keener eye: in middle-class life, there seemed a universal propensity to turn the other cheek, to put on blinders, to say “None of my business,” which felt very different — cold, isolated, the kind of disturbingly quiet things are when no one wants to talk about what’s wrong — than our lower-income community had.  Perhaps it was partly due to the timing, due to that switch happening at the onset of my adolescence, but I remember it very distinctly feeling like suddenly we youth were the enemy, always at fault, and parents and other adults ever-good, even when they were being anything but.

I noticed some changes and some similarities.  On the north side of Chicago, back when I was a teen, there were a rare few of us identified as “trouble” who had not either spent some time put in mental institutions by parents — not by the state — or who were frequently threatened with same.  It became a way to find something quickly in common: “Oh, you were in the ward at Northwestern?  When?  Were you there with Susie?”  That still seems to be occurring, but more often the institution is pharmaceutical: at the first sign of trouble, mood changes (which are part and parcel of the chemical effects of puberty, not a disorder) or rebellion, teens are put on SSRIs, anti-anxiety or ADHD medications.  We also see many youth now wind up in criminal institutions, “boot camps,” — whose listings I have to remove from our GoogleAds constantly — get shuttled more from one home to another, and with GLBT youth, in camps which aim to “rehabilitate” them.

Young adults seem also to be suspended or kicked out of school with more frequency and ease in this era, taking away yet one more resource that is needed; setting youth more adrift than before, rather than helping them to use places like school as a much-needed tether. His accounts of the world of modern-day suburban high schools and rigorous academic achievement will probably also sound very familiar to teens today: as cold, uncaring (particularly for students who do not prove their worth with high grades or test scores), punitive and, all too frequently, more parent and teacher-centered than student-centered.  Of course, there is also a heavy and judgmental religious morality, one which in the U.S. has found it’s way into schools and policies through our current administration, which also often judge, youth, and do so with the ultimate authority figure: one which claims to come directly from God.  The actuality or threats of kicking a teen out of the house also do not appear to have decreased, despite the fact that it still remains unlawful for a parent to abandon a minor in that way.

I appreciated that he brought up that one common reason teens wind up in trouble, or in situations or social circles which endanger them isn’t because teens are stupid or foolhardy, but because those places or groups are more accepting of them, have less stringent or rigid standards for approval than teens are finding elsewhere. There’s a reason, after all, that so many teens are so stressed out right now: it’s not random.

If we wonder why we see very young teenage women dating older partners who clearly or likely are exploiting them or putting them at risk, rather than just looking to that teen or that adult, we should also look at what they get from that situation which they are not finding elsewhere.  If the only person stating or recognizing a developing maturity (whether or not that is earnest or manipulative) is the 25-year-old guy who lives with Mom and picks up teen girls at the mall, it’s no wonder a young person moving into adulthood is very drawn to that person, despite their flaws or manipulations which may even be known to teens pairing up with them.  If we feel like youth are spending too much time in online communities and too little in real-life, we might look at the differences through this lens, considering what kind of acceptance they are or are not getting here or there.  If we’re wondering things like why we’re seeing an increase in abusive YA relationships we might also look to where they are learning those patterns in the first place, why those relationships seem to be so easy for teens to fall into and why they seem so normal and familiar.  If it seems completely incomprehensible that young people wind up with addictions to hard drugs (self-injury is also pertinent here), we might look at the differences in how a person feels on a drug and off of it: if a drug seems the only way to feel comfortable socially, to care less about feelings of hatred for oneself, or to find something to shake a person out of feeling numb, why look to the drugs or the addiction first, and to what’s being escaped from second, if at all?

The stories he recounts are so important: as usual, I can’t say enough how important I feel it is that we listen — really listen — to young people.  They are painful and poignant, but often inspirational: many of the young people he interviewed managed — though they shouldn’t have had to — to create and discover selves and lives of meaning and value despite so frequently being denied help and care from the sources where they should have most easily found both.

But what I found most important, and most meaningful, were the conclusions he draws from those stoires and what he knows as an expert on many of the institutions and institutional systems youth can wind up in, from what their experiences illustrated so clearly and consistently. It’s all very simple, really.  The idea many people seem to have that the reason middle-class adolescents find themselves in crisis is because they have too much of everything — too much esteem, too much care, too much attention — and thus, the answer is to take those things away — work to decrease esteem, withdraw or deny care and attention — is not only profoundly cruel but profoundly flawed.  When the young adults he talked to were able to turn their lives around was, of no surprise to those thinking and feeling clearly, when they finally got some practical help, some support and attention; when they were cared for and treated compassionately, when who they are was respected and assured to be of worth — without being proven through achievement — when they were no longer just tossed to the wolves to see if they’d make it or not.

These should be obvious conclusions, but we all know that however obvious they may seem, they are often not the conclusions drawn or the approach taken.

What makes this institutional failure so troubling is that many of these teenagers really needed help at some point in their adolescence.  They were at best overwhelmed and adrift, and often in peril.  Some had been genuinely damaged by their treatment at the hands of abusive, neglectful or dysfunctional adults. Over and over again, the teens I spoke with said that what they most needed during their periods of crisis was basic: they needed someone to listen to them, pay attention, take them seriously and not put them down or humiliate them.  They needed people who were sufficiently engaged to help them figure out what to do next and strong enough to be flexible and understanding rather than reflexively judgmental — people who could help them understand their mistakes while acknowledging their good qualities and who could help them build on their strengths and potential.  When they got that kind of response, they appreciated it and usually responded in kind.  But they rarely got it.  What they got too often was an ideologically grounded regime of punishment and blame that seemed designed to break their “oppositional” nature… (p.168, bolding mine)

More flashback for me.  I remember — and by all means, we still hear this from teens today daily - that whatever mistakes I made, or perceived failings of flaws I had always seemed to take more precedence than the good things I did or  my unique personality and talents.  I could get the great grades I did all I wanted, and yet, what I heard more about was how the way I dressed and presented was ugly and unacceptable.  I could be an intensely creative person, always writing, making a piece of art, singing and playing piano,  I could be as kind to other people as possible, I could try and do some things with social change movements, but because I clearly wasn’t straight and was (and actually was perceived as being well before I *actually* was) sexually active, what I boiled down to was just a loose slut.  The fact that I had largely raised myself, taken care of myself from a very young age without much help was never recognized, but when I made any error or oversight with that self-rearing, it was all my fault.

Like most of the youth in Currie’s work, when things turned around for me was exactly when these kinds of things happened for me.  I was able to switch from a very unwelcoming public school — even for an excellent student, which I very much was — to a specialized and highly inclusive arts school where my gifts and talents were recognized and my uniqueness was celebrated by both faculty and peers.  I had a counselor who didn’t put blame on me, but acknowledged things that were not my fault clearly (like that it was my family who was crazy and dysfunctional, not me; like that I had been trying to live though serious trauma without any real help or acknowledgment of that trauma so it was no surprise I was having a very hard time). I was able to get connected with a parent who was supportive of me and willing to work through the problems I was having with me with love and acceptance, fully engaged with me in doing so.  All of these kinds of things were my turning points. The fact that I had to actually fight to get those things — that anyone does — that I was ignored or denied when asking for them so much I just stopped asking, rather than to be neglected (or, at other times, face highly severe “punishments”), abandoned, institutionalized, tossed to the wolves all “for my own good,” will hopefully, at some other point in history, be recognized as the harmful lunacy that it was and for many teens, still is.

Here at Scarleteen, and at other services which are expressly for teens and young adults, one way we often see that lack of care is just in how tough it often is for us to find volunteers or get donations: to far too many people, teens and young adults are seen as a population who is too young to be considered and treated as adult, but too old to be cared for. Services which are about control or containment — which are, let’s face it, more about providing creature comforts for parents then for teens — often are more stable and supported than those which are about providing the kind of bonafide support or help the youth themselves are asking for, and that’s a serious problem.  Teens are often put in a sort of purgatory, even in what services are provided for them: little children are important, adults are important, but anyone in between…well, they’ll sink or they’ll swim, right?  What Currie makes clear, and I agree, is that what that approach inclines them to do is to tread water or drown.

I do wish some attention had been given to the additional challenges gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth often face; that some address had been made of how additionally isolated GLBT youth often are, and how “tough love” or… approaches compound their crises.  But that’s a minor quibble — and really, my only quibble — while most of the youth he talked with seemed to be heterosexual, Currie didn’t explicitly identify the orientation of any of them, and it may simply have been outside the scope of his study.  I also would have loved a foreword from one of the youth he interviewed: maybe for the next printing?

None of this is rocket science, but it does stand pretty counter to some very common approached to youth in trouble and.or in need of help. We should know by now that the “Bad kid! No biscuit” (or no love, no roof, no school, no social outlets, no dating, whichever it is) approach not only doesn’t work, but is potentially quite damaging, and certainly not in accord with helping young people transition into healthy, happy adults. For lack of a better term — though I personally, am really fond of rebellious and think there’s a lot of great power in the term — being “oppositional” is part of the nature of adolescence.  While it may inconvenience, challenge or scare parents or other adults, and while it certainly can wear a person out, in so many ways, adolescence is another sort of birth.  During the teen years, young people are giving birth to the adults they are becoming, and like any birth, it is frequently painful, in some way inconsiderate of its environment, raucous, unpredictable, chaotic, anarchist. To a large degree, it is not something others can control, which certainly poses a conflict to a culture seeking more and more control of everything and everyone.   I’m of the mind — and my impression was that Currie is, as well — that young adult separation and rebellion needn’t be or be viewed as destructive.  In fact, I’ve long thought and expressed that I think it’s something we need in our culture: one incredible thing teens do for us is sort of jar us awake, pull us forward unto their future, give us, as a culture, a sort of high-powered jolt I think we’re often in need of.

So many huge cultural and social changes in our culture — like them or not — are changes we have generations of youth to thank for: the Great Awakening, the Industrial Revolution, public schooling, the Civil Rights Movement, the Beat era, feminism, the hippies, yippies and diggers of my parents years, the punk movement of my era, the riot-grrls of the one right after that, tech development, and…. well, we’re going to see what we really have right now, if we give our youth a chance to show us, anyway.  For a lot of our national and global history, young people have been at the forefront of social justice movements and other social change, and for just as long of a time, adults have frequently been resistant, and sometimes that resistance results in attempts to (and successes at) control and contain rather than engagement, cooperation and participation.  Often enough, and certainly now, adults have been sure that teens cannot harness and manage their own energy despite history showing us that more often, in fact, young people know exactly how to channel their rebellion and their unique spirits powerfully and positively, perhaps better than adults do.

I think if we seek to quiet, subdue or control young people, we all — and most particularly the teens themselves — lose something immensely valuable and seriously important. We also don’t help teens at all by either abandoning them or by punishing them for their nature: it’s one of the ways we do them real harm.  The title to the book speaks of a typical answer Currie got when asking teens about why they fell into destructive or damaging habits, addictions or behaviors, or how they felt about themselves and their lives at the time: “Whatever,” was a typical response.  I think — I hope - one place all of us can agree upon, no matter our divergent and diverse politics, values or aims — is that no one earnestly benefits from a population who feels that their lives and actions are just “whatever.”  The youth themselves most certainly don’t, but neither do adults, even if that “whatever” gives some adults more room to have lives uninterrupted or without the inconvenience of a more invested and higher-esteemed teen.

It seems like stating the obvious, but if we want a healthy, vibrant and caring world, we just can’t very well expect to have that if when our youth are looking towards adulthood, we’ve made them feel that they’ll have nothing of value to contribute if and when they get there (unless, apparently, they become only who we want them to be to serve our own needs and aims, rather than being and becoming who they actually are and serving what needs and aims are their own).

Suffice it to say, I strongly recommend this book: to parents, teachers, other YA helpers, as well as to young people (I know my inner-teen got some healing and acknowledgment through this, so your actual-teen might well, too).  In a similar vein, I also would suggest two other books, Generation on Hold: Coming of Age in the Late Twentieth Century, (James E. Cote & Anton L. Allahar) and The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager by Thomas Hine.

It perhaps goes without saying that I also strongly recommend that we look at where, exactly, teens are learning to look at themselves and their lives as “Whatever.”  A mirror may prove useful.(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen blog.)

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Yesterday was my last official day counseling in the clinic.

I’ll be back once a week or so in around a month to do outreach work and sex education, so it’s not like I’m gone forever, but lordisa, it still was sad. When I got home from grabbing a few drinks with one of my work buds, I came home and mostly sat on the couch is a sort of a dull, heartsick malaise until I fell asleep. I’ll miss my team. I’ll miss my other co-workers. I’ll miss simply doing that work. And bloody hell, will I miss those women who came through my office every day, who for the brief time I had to listen to and speak with all of them, something magical and intimate in the best, most unexpected way happened and so often left me awestruck with a quiet but fiery admiration for all of them.

I think in the next few weeks, I need to carve out some time to bet back to my art and see if I can’t do a series of some sort for them, about them. Those clients have been my sheroes. I’ve kept trying to think of really how to leave the ones I will never meet some sort of gift in honor of those I did, and also better express what they gave to me, and also creatively work through my sense of loss, and I think that’s my best bet.

I will not miss catching my first bus of three before 6 in the morning in order to arrive at work at 8. It may well be that I’ll need to do that again sometimes should things turn around at some point, but I will enjoy the brief respite from it. Several times in that hellacious commute, I found myself feeling a sort of dignity in it, but in hindsight, I think I was just that desperate to find some good in it. I will not miss wearing scrubs. I remember as a child us often having some hospital castoffs from my mother as jammies, and they seemed very comfy then, but that was only because they were eight sizes too big for us, I think, and because we were wearing them to bed, not in the middle of downtown. There’s no stretch to the damn things, and if you’ve hips and breasts, you have to often buy them way larger than you’d like. I reminded myself of MC hammer a few times too many for comfort. It is a good thing not to be working over 60 hours a week during my favorite season, and instead, working only a little bit more each week than your average Jill. And financially, I really will be okay. The clinic manager yesterday also filled me in one a possible route for healthcare in the state I didn’t know about, so there may still be hope on that score. I will not miss….

…yeah, I’m out of items for that list. Ladies and germs, my feeble attempt at glass-half-full.

I am very much looking forward to the new teen outreach/education directorship, though. Doing in-person ed is a very nice bookend to all I do online, so doing more of it is a serious bonus. And I really am looking forward to bringing it into the clinic for our clients. I think too few people realize that information on birth control or getting clients BC methods just isn’t enough to keep women from unwanted pregnancy. If sex is an obligation or duty, if it isn’t really about you as an equal part, if you don’t know how to set limits and boundaries, don’t know where your clitoris is, don’t have a good sense of what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, don’t really feel some bonafide agency in your sexuality and sex life, then there are huge chunks missing which not only are going to be more helps to help limit how often that happens, they’re obviously also integral parts of having sex be a positive in your life, rather than something which, at best, just spares you a negative or unwanted consequence.

Mark has been away for the day job in Nebraska this week, and having one helluva week of his own, and comes back home this afternoon. I see extensive snuggle in our near future. We’re heading to Snoqualmie Falls early tomorrow morning, for a meeting I have for work, and then staying over with the pug so we can take a hike on Sunday. Big mountains, fresh air, green things, human sweetie, small-snorty-canine sweetie: just what the doctor ordered, I’d say.