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

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Monday, August 5th, 2013

I want to take just a little bit of time to talk about someone who, literally, shall not be named.  And, more to the point, my feelings about people who enable abusive and manipulative people. I don’t intend to be disjointed in this, but I no doubt will be.

Once upon a time, I had a work-based acquaintance, someone who contributed to two advice columns where I didn’t feel I understood the situation enough emotionally, despite getting it intellectually: questions from evangelical users struggling with feelings of being bad people because of having a sexuality or sexual life. I forget who initially connected me to this person, or how I noticed them, but it was the fact that they appeared to be someone who strongly ID’d as Christian, yet seemed to have some sense of how to approach sexuality through that lens in a way that didn’t make others in that spot feel like garbage. As well, as someone who runs a site which serves people of all genders, but in a field which is largely dominated by women, I was always on the lookout for men who could work with us, particularly for our readers who were young men, young men who often expressed feeling like older men didn’t care about this stuff with them, or that they couldn’t find older men, period, to talk with or hear from on these issues at all unless they wanted to talk porn, beer and boobs. Then I worked with this acquaintance on two articles, though working together still meant I did the lion’s share of the work, primarily since this person didn’t offer much of great substance: style over substance did seem to be the order of the day. But so it goes.

Then this person offered up a guest blog, which we didn’t wind up keeping, because there was a mansplaininess to it that felt not-quite-right, particularly given that the topic was addressing young women’s feelings and experiences with the way men viewed their bodies.After that piece, I made a quiet personal decision not to publish or work with this person again.  Not because of anything dramatic, but instead because that last piece was just iffy, and because again, working together seemed a lot more like working alone but having to integrate and flesh out someone else’s thoughts in ways that didn’t seem productive or worth the time.

Right about that same time, this individual seemed to find a couple big, paying markets for themselves.  What I saw getting published verified my ooky. iffy feelings, and I remember thinking, “Yeah, I’m glad I made the choice to let them float away: really not feeling this stuff.”

And then, maybe a year after that, some savvy readers had dug into the background of this person, primarily (entirely even, I think) via a personal journal he kept which I had never read.  In it were admissions — that word feels too neutral: really, confessions, strangely braggy, lurid confessions, given the subject matter and the fact that this was a public, not a private, journal –  of things that I just couldn’t imagine anyone with half a scarp of ethos would not only not have told someone like me before working in the kind of space Scarleteen is, and I work very hard to make and keep it, but would have simply said no when I asked for even the slightest contribution, knowing exempting themselves from a space and organization like Scarleteen would be the only right thing to do.  Again, something anyone, with even one tiny, tiny bit of both personal ethics and earnest care for the organization and those it serves would have done.

Confessions about sexually abusing a position of power with young people. Confessions about domestic violence, right down to attempting to murder an intimate partner.

The shit — in this case, so very literally — understandably hit the fan all over the place at that point.  We immediately started having some behind-the-scenes talk at the org about what to do with the material we had from this person, feeling, on the one hand, that any endorsement or notion of us endorsing this person was deeply problematic, since, with this information now in hand we most certainly did not and very much feeling that some of what had been written also rang so false with the reality of who this person had been — still was in so many ways, but more on that in a moment — that…well, publishing bullshit isn’t something we’re in the business of doing.

At the same time, I have issues with erasing or editing history, and also want us to do the best we can to be accountable for our choices.  After all, while we didn’t have this information at the time, and some of it wasn’t available when we published this person, some of it was: if we more thoroughly vetted people who work with us, even in the smallest capacity, we probably would have found a couple of things back at the time which would have had us nix working at all with this person.

Because we weren’t the only people finding all of this out at the time, we then got an influx of emails from readers and supporters asking what we were going to do.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that this person was — and never stopped — publicly describing a level of connection and interaction with us that was deeply inflated.  Mind, they also didn’t know at the time about my quiet choice, one I never shared with them, primarily because they were not staff nor a regular contributor, almost two years before not to work with them anymore.  But still.

So, things went bananas.  Validly, given the gravity of the situation: I don’t have issues with people taking issue with us having even small amounts of content from this person.  Saying a visible site gives someone credibility and more of a platform, even if it isn’t paying them or working with them anymore, is utterly valid: I agree. But we have a wide readership, and very few people doing the work, so the level of bananas was, well, bananas, and dealing with this basically shut down all the rest of our work for around a solid week.

Here comes the funny part. Not funny ha-ha. I’m talking knee-deep-in-guts-and-formaldehyde gallows humor, here.Because I tend to take people at their word — which is both a strength and a failing  of mine, as well as a personal blindness, as a lot of that comes from the assumption that because I say only what I mean, so does everyone else, which is obviously foolish to some degree — I figured the things this person was saying about changing might have been true.  Maybe.  That maybe was less about what they were saying and more about what they withheld: a person who no longer seeks to abuse, exploit or manipulate, after all, would have disclosed these things to me before working with me.  But again, perhaps there was something I wasn’t seeing.

Regardless, we had decided to remove this person’s work, leaving a note at the end of the pieces about having removed it.  That seemed to be something which would satisfy us and our readers and supporters.  But because this person had given some time, and for free, to us, I figured on my part, I owed them the courtesy of letting them know what we were doing, why, and telling them the content of the addendum.

Then the emails and the phone calls happened.  The emails were bad enough, but the phone calls? The phone calls made that “maybe this person is different” go away almost immediately.

I say almost because for as much as I know, from my work, what abuse dynamics are like, as someone who has survived and lived with several kinds of abuse, I have those special blind spots it leaves you with: that thing where you still don’t see it at first, rather than — as also sometimes happens — you recognizing it on sight.  And, of course, as absolutely anyone is, I’m vulnerable to abuse and manipulation; capable of being abused or manipulated just as much as anyone else, despite what I know about it, personally and professionally.

There was this moment in one of the phone calls, after trying to talk about what we needed to do and why, and being fairly constantly either mildly mollified, or outright derailed with talk of what THIS person was going through — all based on their own choices and actions, mind.  This moment where I had realized I had been sitting, without the ability to respond with the “WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?!?” that was in my head when someone who made vastly more income than not just I, but my whole organization does, ever has, was telling me how hard this was going to be on them financially. Given this person was, at this time now, primarily making their income from feminism, and was not a woman of any variety — and was talking to one, no less — it was particularly priceless.

This moment after I heard a strange monologue about how I surely must understand how hard it is to work in this field when people find things I have done controversial — in a word, things like my having been naked in places where people can see me, being a rape survivor, being queer and having worked in abortion apparently was comparable to abusing positions of power and engaging in domestic violence. Also, let’s just take a moment to let the unmitigated gall that is presenting DV, abusing positions of power, and defrauding people as merely “controversy” sink in.

This moment during which I was listening to some completely self-serving, bullshit monologue about “Well, how much of our pasts do we owe an employer, anyway? With respect (that was my favorite part: how smooth is it to say that while you’re disrespecting someone?), I don’t think I owed you or Scarleteen any disclosures about my past before working with you,” which was bookended with the super-WTF of “Clearly, we should all keep our secrets to ourselves, because mine (the “secrets,” not the actions themselves, of course) are ruining my life,” all of which followed a very hollow-sounding, “I care so much about the work you do, I’d hate to put it at risk,” that the lights went all the way on. Alarmingly bright, like when someone turns on a flashlight in the dark that they’ve accidentally aimed right in your eyes. I had just been sitting through more than an hour of gaslighting, more than an hour of attempts to manipulate me completely.I knew what this felt like: I’ve been here before.  Rather than having someone express any sense of responsibility, nor any real care whatsoever for myself, the work I do, or the people we so strongly and devotedly advocate for, I had been roped into an attempt to make me feel bad for this person, to blind me to what was not only done in the past, but was being done in the present.  I was in the thick of a conversation with someone convinced enough of their own power and my vulnerability and disempowerment that, clearly, they felt certain the things they were saying would have the intended effect: that is, where I left the conversation feeling wrong and feeling sorry for this person.

This person who had not only exploited, abused and manipulated other people in the past, but was still, very much, doing it now. Doing it better, even. And had been, and was now, doing it to me. And once that light turned on, I went back, in my head — and my email — and saw how he’d managed to get personal details out of me in exchanges that really weren’t personal.  Even made or wouldn’t let go of slight sexual gags (to be fair, when you work in this field, many people take more liberties with this) that I clearly wasn’t receptive to or responding in a way that gave any notion I thought they were funny or appropriate, but my response was silence or ignore, which is how I tend to respond when someone is pushing my boundaries but a response either isn’t needed — because they’re not right up in my face or my life — or doesn’t seem worth it.  The more I looked back, the more clear it all got.  The more of a moron I felt, the more angry, the more upset. And I had very few places to put that, particularly since it had been so clearly shown to me that this person would probably take a knife to their own eye before they’d take anything even vaguely resembling responsibility.

I didn’t say anything during that conversation, about realizing I was being, had been, manipulated.  I wasn’t up for hearing denials, and I just wanted outta there, so I basically just finished it up as best I could, and tied up loose ends as minimally as possible in a few more brief emails.  Emails where it seemed like this man had at some point figured out on his own that the jig was up when it came to me.
That was the end of that, really.  Of course, after this exchange, this person basically made efforts to make me try and pay for not taking their bait, and doing what I could to just be responsible, as both a person and a publisher, and to just manage a giant crisis they had knowingly, willingly created for me to manage. They stopped trying, for the most part, pretty shortly thereafter: looking at things as they are now, and were after, what seems clear is they just found far easier prey, and stuck with that, as predators are wont to do. They also found more than their fair share of enablers and defenders, or when not either, those who could justify still working with him in ways they’d personally benefit from.  This includes, sadly, more than one colleague who took generous portions of my time to have me explain all that was happening and went down, but who, clearly, just didn’t care, or didn’t care enough to behave differently. I’ve unfriended some people on Facebook because seeing, in their own posts and links, endless defenses of a person who I find utterly indefensible, was just something I didn’t want to see or touch.  I’m certain either none of those people have been people he has — yet, anyway — tried to manipulate personally or are people who, like me for a little bit there, hadn’t seen the gaslight was turned on yet.My hope is that at least some, and ideally all, of them have seen it by now, particularly since recently, what looks like (but probably isn’t) all of the shit has come to light, with more very public, and intentionally publicized, confessions and admissions, as well as what looks, from my view, like a growing inability to stay in character, per the person this person pretended to be, probably as much to themselves as to anyone else.

No, scratch that: see, I know better, I’m still vulnerable and easily blinded.  Probably pretended to be far more to other people, maybe a little bit, too, to themselves. Or maybe they knew full well and good they weren’t who they pretended to be: they sure wouldn’t be the first, nor the last.

One last — please, please, let it be the last — appeal was made to get my attention.  Before calling news sources about their recent, presumably private demise, some emails were sent out, and I got one of them.  I have to tell you — though I’m reluctant to, because should this person find this, giving them any satisfaction per causing me to feel anything around them is the last thing I want to do — even just seeing this person’s name in my email made me recoil and feel a giant dread. Reading it wasn’t much better: it seemed to contain a lot of hidden fuck-you’s to the couple of us on the email who had been critical, or simply done the monstrosity of not publicly defending him — paired with a handful of lies, blame, and sympathy-ploys. It seemed to me to be one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read, coming from a person who maybe was truly falling apart, but who maybe was still carefully, and for some readers, probably successfully, crafting narratives from a place no less sane or sound than any other time he’d written anything.  I’ve no way of knowing, nor would I even venture a guess, particularly since it just really doesn’t matter. I deleted it without a response to him. I felt like I needed a shower all day after reading it in order to get even the yuck of those short, transparent paragraphs of that guy, somewhere as benign as my inbox, off me.

I’ve been having a lot of feels about all of this, and not just towards this person.  I’ve been angry this person was even brought — brought themselves — to my attention again, angry that they get any kind of emotional real estate with me at all. I would prefer nothing but apathy: they got enough from me already, took enough, and even though these aren’t feeling I share with them, just even having them feels like giving them something in some way, when I don’t want to give a damn thing.  And of course, I’m angry with myself for getting played.  I think so many of us who have survived abuse have this wonderful fantasy of an idea that we’ll be ever immune somehow, and when that fiction and that bravado, that egotism, shows itself to be just that, it really fucking sucks.  I want the magic manipulator immunity I somehow feel I earned, please.

I am furious and grossed out by this person’s “friends,” “allies,” and supporters.  Furious at their silencing, including silencing facts about this person he himself has verified as truths.  Furious at their clear nepotism.  Furious at the noxious self-interest they had, have, in common with this person. Furious that some of these people and places pretended to give a shit when they didn’t.  And that includes about this person: if you truly give a shit about someone, if they have all there value and worth that you feel is SO huge, it validates silencing dissent or concerns about harm down to other people by someone, well then where the fuck are YOU when this person seems to clearly be going totally over the edge, and needs the people who feel that way about him to be the friends who show up where they are, refusing to leave until they get their shit together?  Or, if you know or sense an announced downfall is false or inflated, where are you per being as vocal about that as you were when others were saying things before about this person you probably know now are true?

Also, sweet bloody hell, do I hate clickbait and tabloid culture.  I might be swerving a bit here, but I’ll tell you, without those things, this person would have lacked at least half their arsenal of tools to do the damage they have to people.  They may not have been rendered toothless, but it would have been much harder for them to find people and places to bite. I hate this stuff because it’s made keeping afloat on the internet as an organization and independent media way harder — unless you’re willing to jump on board, and I/we are so, so not — but I also hate it because it seems to massively help people forget that ethics are a thing, and a thing that matters.

There are things now being reported, primarily with this person’s help, maybe even with them steering it, which include statements about people, including students, that make me totally ill.  Seeing this person sexualize their students so outrightly, and with language straight out of Penthouse Forum letters, makes me ill as an educator and youth advocate; makes me ill as someone who let this person have even a toe into what I do (though, thank goodness, who I never even considered asking to do work with us that would have given them any kind of private or direct access to our users: $20 says I owe my intuition a drink for that one).  And, perhaps selfishly, it makes me ill as someone who, regardless of what I didn’t know, was in any way complicit in giving anyone the idea this person was a safe person, a sound person, and someone who could be trusted, even in the smallest way, with people who were vulnerable, and people who assumed the person they were reading had a respect for them they very obviously did not.  And probably don’t have for anyone but themselves, when it all comes down to it.

Also? Listening to anyone do a, “But: mental illness,” “But: addiction,” or “But: suicidal,” to excuse or justify someone’s — or their own — manipulative or abusive behavior BURNS MY FUCKING BISCUITS.  I have a parent with mental illness and suicidal ideation I have taken care of to some degree my whole life, who has struggled like hell, and is one of the smartest people I know, but lives sometimes homeless, and sometimes transient, rather than being someone with a bucket full of privilege and big paychecks, paychecks from positions they use to exploit people. I think it’s miraculous my father has remained one of the kindest people I know, but I’m also not surprised, because that’s who he is.  The fact that he has mental illness and is suicidal makes it harder for him to live his life, get through his days, but it doesn’t make him an asshole.  I have other people who have or have had these issues in their lives, and overwhelmingly, they are not manipulators or abusers, and that’s not because they are magic or superhuman.  It’s because abusing and manipulating are choices, and choices people with or without those issues and conditions can and do make, every day. It is both a gross insult and an astounding ignorance to and about people with any of these issues to justice, excuse or rationalize abuse or manipulation with these things.  (Also, for those playing at home: it’s usually the abusive person who handily provides these narratives for others to repeat, and you can be sure most know how much more powerful they are coming from someone who isn’t them.)

And, of course, I’m sad as hell that where we are with abuse as a culture, as a people, is not the place I want us to be.  I have had to know, through all of this, people have chosen to publish and work with this person knowing they are dangerous, knowing they do harm, but figure out how to use that for their own benefit and profit.  I have watched victim-blaming run rampant, and heard some of the most standard tropes around abuse come from mouths I thought better of, and who presented themselves as far wiser.”But he’s someone’s husband and father.” “Well, he has always been wonderful to me.” “He’s changed.” “Prove to me he’s what you say.” “You just don’t know him like I do.” “Prove how he is what you say.”

(Which, in this case, is particularly stunning since this person has done that better on their own than almost any manipulative person I have ever seen.  If manipulating was something to be proud to be good at, I suppose they should be proud, because it’s quite amazing how someone could manage to make so many admissions of engaging in abuse, and still behave so abusively, yet manage to at the same time to not only convince some people that they’re not, but to get them to do some of their manipulating for them. Of course, that’s what happens when you’re both a good manipulator, and you also have access to wide public platforms, platforms you intentionally choose — women, evangelism, sex, sex workers — because they are made of some of the most vulnerable people there are.)Those statements: those statements which have never meant someone hasn’t harmed or abused someone. Those statements which assure people stay as blind and as vulnerable to abuse and manipulation as ever. If abuse were a car, statements like those? They’re the gas.

I’ve no brilliant takeaways here, nor any neat or stunning summary to offer. Maybe I will at some point, but I really doubt it.  Because ultimately, all of this is, yes, about this person, but it’s really, particularly per my own feelings, about anyone and everyone like this person, and about where we’re at — or, rather, where we’re not at, but would like to think we are — as a world and a culture when it comes to abuse, and how we treat those who abuse, and how we treat those they abuse.I know, we know, we’re not anything close to far enough with this stuff to have The Big Takeways or summaries for that. I wish we were, and I think so many of my feelings around all of this, now and throughout, have, more than anything, been anger and sadness at how far we’re not, and how far *I* am not.  How I didn’t get my magic abuser-avoiding powers.  How I can still be manipulated, probably even easily. How I can still be scared into silence, and am still living with and amidst all of the things that keep my silent in situation like this. How I’ve avoided even writing any of this for a long time now, and not just because I don’t want to add content about this person online.

But also because I was, am still scared.  Not for my life, not even for my physical safety, though clearly there have been people who needed to have those fears about this person: maybe there are still.  But scared about my ability to weather harassment; scared about the way I can’t react at all calmly to people gaslighting on behalf of someone else and how it still triggers the holy crap out of me, and can make me a mess for not just minutes or hours, but days. (Truth be told, and I imagine I’m not the only one who’s had this experience, I am actually less triggered by this person and the things they say than I am by their defenders and what they say. At times, it’s looked like someone took out an “I don’t believe you! You made it up!” victim-blaming banner and draped it across the whole fucking internet.) Scared, if we’re being real about it, about not having the skills to protect myself and others from people like this, I thought I did, I wanted to have. Scared, because people can lash out intensely when you make denial harder.

Scared, because it’s one thing to think that people care, but just don’t understand, and were they given the education and information, they would care.  It’s entirely another to make attempts to do just that and find that actually, even with the education, even with the facts and information — including right from the source of the abuse himself –  some people truly just don’t care. So, talking about the facts, illuminating the situation means, especially around this person, you might open yourself up to more discovery about how much plenty of people just plain don’t give a shit, and will side with an abuser, and help them to keep harming others, time and time and time again.

* If you know who this is, please don’t refer to them by name in comments or link in comments to pieces about them. I ask you not to do that just so I don’t have to deal with them or their enablers, but also because, again, clickbait? Not a thing I like or want to take part in. I don’t want a flood of people coming here for this. And I don’t think a media frenzy, even macromedia, like this journal, helps anyone, particularly this person, who seems to thrive on it, if by thrive, we mean feel fed, and get more weapons to abuse people with, yet remain or become more empty, but just as dangerous.

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.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Okay, yum: Dessert when it turns out you’re out of agave and can’t make what you wanted to, but you have bananas and cherries in the freezer:

• 2 frozen bananas

• 1 and 1/2 cups frozen pie cherries

• 2 cups vanilla almond milk

• 3 tbs raw cacao nibs

• 2 pitted dates

• one tsp vanilla (or a scraped vanilla bean, even better)

Blend the living crap out of it.  Then devour, making many an obscene sound as you do.

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Up until around two weeks ago, I thought that I might actually get through the whole of a winter without a single cold, even without a sniffle or cough. Talking to my Dad, he’d said he couldn’t remember there ever being a winter where I didn’t get hammered by one at least once, and I couldn’t either. Maybe it has something to do with the grand size of our noses: respiratory viruses just can’t possibly turn down such prime real estate.

Alas, the Winter Without Colds was not to be. Wound up with one, and one where the little edges of the thing seem to keep holding on some, seeming like it;s gone, then coming back just to taunt me.  But I was SO FREAKING CLOSE.

I’m betting this has something to do with spending more time in town right around the time I caught the little bugger.

“Town,” otherwise known as the area on the island where, for about four blocks square, there are things like a grocery store, a few restaurants, some shops and people, rather than numerous tress, beach, a lot of mushrooms and critters, big and small, with even more hair than I have.  The latter makes up far more of the island.

It’s hilarious to me, as someone who spent the vast majority of their life so urban to live somewhere where there is “town.”  It doesn’t seem weird at all to live in the forest, after all, forests are where I always got myself to when city life stressed me out: living here usually just feels like I decided to go camping and never come back. (Something I truly wish I had done long before I did, for the record.  I have few regrets in my life, but not getting rural far sooner than I did is one of the few, and a big one.)

I like our town: I find it charming.  While the forest feels like home, town doesn’t, not yet, anyway: I feel more like I’m visiting some provincial little place as an amused observer. That perhaps sounds condescending, but I don’t mean it that way.  Rather, I just feel like a fish a bit out of water, but in a way that isn’t uncomfortable.  I want to squeeze half the people we see or run into in town, because so many of them — and the places they make and keep up — have a kind of soft, zany sweetness I admire but don’t think I myself possess.

I can probably look forward to it, though.  One of the nice things of living in such an isolated way in such a gobstoppingly beautiful place is that there’s really nothing to be besides yourself; no one to model yourself on or either try to conform or contrast yourself to but yourself or the land. There are people who move here who find out it isn’t for them pretty quickly; I suspect that liking this kind of place or not has a great deal to do with whether you like to be forced to turn and look inward pretty much 24/7 or not.  If you don’t, this would be a pretty hellish place to be, I imagine.

I love it: it feels like getting a giant permission to do what I’ve always generally been inclined to do in the first place, but to do it, always either had to get out of the city and run off to somewhere like this, or drop LSD, or lock oneself in one’s apartment for days, or maybe find one other person where you could both really sink into just the two of you, at least limiting the amount of other-input to one, rather than so many.

We have some folks who live on the island in tents on other people’s land, or who, I suspect, do a good deal of couch-surfing.  I really feel like I never want to leave here, even with some of the downsides — like the fact that Pacific Northwest summers are really just springs in disguise. If things ever turned around where renting here got impossible, I strongly suspect you’d find me seeking out a place where I could just borrow some space for a tent, wishing I could grow out a beard to match.

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

My sweetheart got us a new blender today, one that looks like it will actually do the jobs we ask a blender to do.  Yay!

On the other hand, that means the retirement of the old, almond-colored Osterizer I got from the Salvation Army back in college, probably for no more then five bucks.

Over the years — decades! — that old chum has been trying so damn hard to stay running, and to do so many challenging things. Sometimes it rocked it. Sometimes it just failed completely. Other times, it has done as much of the job as it can do, and often quite loudly, before it just stops and says, “No more. That’s all I’ve got, kid. Sorry, babe.”

You may think letting go of the Osterizer would be an easy thing.  Initially, the plan was for Blue to bring it to work and have it be a blender there, but then I started having pangs of attachment. Notions it should be put on the shelf I reserve for awards for work, commemorated in prose and poetry, or at the very least, bedazzled.

I realize this is because I perhaps relate a little too strongly to that old blender.

It’s outdated and horrifyingly nostalgic. It was cheap. It came from the humblest of origins. It had only half the tools or power to do most of what I asked it to, but goshdarnit, it tried to do it all anyway, even burning its little motor completely out plenty of times because it was not going to stop trying until it just couldn’t try anymore.  It had the grandest of aspirations, and tried to do so many very big things for such a small, crusty, and tired little blender.

In a word: it’s been me. I’ve been it. I am Ol’ Osterizer.

We get each other, that old appliance and I. Perhaps like no one else could possibly understand — or ever will understand — either of us.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

When the going gets tough, the tough (or not-so-tough) — me, in this case — recently employ some of the following coping mechanisms:

  • Bounce it out. I found a cheap mini-trampoline for my office a few months ago, and the ability to just jump over for bouncing is DREAMY.
  • Watch Harold and Maude for the 578th time.  When I was younger, I said I wanted to be Maude when I grew up.  Methinks this was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Play with the puppy.  Particularly since he demands it anyway.
  • Walk around the house with weird stuff piled on their head like they’re attending a five-year-old’s tea party.
  • Breathe. Then they get annoyed and think it’s silly. Then they make oneself do it again until it’s clear it’s not even remotely silly. Especially when you are not breathing and would like to stay alive.
  • Put cucumbers in the water.  Because it’s pretty. And also tasty.
  • Recall the conversation I had with a user the other day who asked, in utter earnestness, if sex was or wasn’t supposed to be better than snickerdoodles. (“Why choose?” I thought.)
  • Look at the picture of themselves looking all open, perky and mighty at the tender age of eight, and think, “What would she do?”
  • Note that the comfy chair is begging for one’s ass, while the office chair wants a damn break.
  • Take a bath.  On that note, I’m trying to bring, “Go soak your head!” back into vogue.  Please help if you can.
  • Sing Todd Snider’s “Beer Run.” Loudly. Oh, so very loudly.
  • Stretch it all the fuck out. ALL the fuck out. No halfsies.
  • Remember that your state has recently legalized marijuana. Even if you don’t have any, just the mere thought of this now-real-thing remains quite constantly pleasant.
  • Dream of being in the forest—OH WAIT. You LIVE in the forest!  Go out into the forest, you silly ninny, you.
  • Check out all the awesome people you love who love you right back.  You can just think about them, you can call them, and if they can see you, you can even click your tongue and wink at’em, all suave-like.
  • Remind yourself of two of your old high school friends you saw recently and remember them in the dive bar when you did, loudly singing “Let’s Dance” as a collective Elmer Fudd.
  • Spit like you mean it.
  • Remember that you grew up into exactly the kind of person you wanted to be.  You just didn’t imagine the annoying or frustrating parts, that’s all.
Monday, February 25th, 2013

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I sat down to write here.

I can, come to think of it.  Life has been full of a lot in the past year, the good, the bad or the sad,  the incredibly rough and the pretty-damn-easy, the insanely busy and the…well, more of the insanely busy.  One of the things it’s been particularly full of, though, is my turning inward a great deal, and working hard to try and really cut back on all of the things I had tried to pack into a life, a month, a week, a day. There were plenty of conversations and thoughts I could have shared here, and found the time to share here, but ultimately, they were really things I mostly only wanted to share with people I’m close to and, even more so, only think, feel and work through myself. A few times over the last year I tried to bring some of that here, but I’d get about halfway through something, and it just didn’t feel right.

Earnestly, when it’s come to the stuff of my life — not work, my life — the truth is that I have wanted to be alone. I needed to be alone.  Sometimes I think it’s harder, instead of easier, to see yourself the more visible you are to others.

I can’t sum up the last year in one post, so I’m not going to bother trying.  I think the best bet to getting back into the habit of this is to just start with the simplest of right now: there’s time to go backwards, if I want, later.Here’s my aim: I ideally want to come back to creating something here (or perhaps in another place: this particular site as it is right now may be something that I say goodbye to in the next year), near-daily, if it feels right.  It was a home for me for such a long time, and one I miss. I miss its space, but most of what I miss about it is the time made for myself in it.  Sure, it’s public, so it’s obviously not just for me, but the practice of just sitting down and putting words or images on a page, that are primarily for myself, but might be of benefit to someone else, with care put to both, is what I miss and what I want back.It’s taken me a ridiculous — or perhaps it was just right — amount of time in the last year to finally, over the last few months, carve out one hour, every day, that is only mine.  It’s just for me.  It’s by myself.  That hour as I have created it has been an hour at night, before bed, for my yoga and meditation practice.  Sometimes it’s a little less, sometimes more: I don’t pay that much attention to it, I just go up to the loft when it’s time and I take whatever time it is I want to take without a clock around to tell me how long that is.

I got to that — or rather to understanding how very much I needed that, and how incredibly important and non-negotiable that is — when I took a few days all the way off a while back: without work, without ‘net, without much food (on purpose), with a whole lot of water and juice and things to eat that only came out of the ground, a few books, a whole lot of quiet, yoga several times a day, sitting several times a day, even trying to learn to nap some (with limited success, unsurprising as a lifelong non-napper, but hey, I tried) and the intent to give myself to myself for a little while, where the only person’s needs I thought about in that time were my own, and the only needs I really focused on were the ones that came from a place of the simplest kind of hunger, and not the kind of hunger you get when you’re starving.

It sounds simple. It was. making the time and space for it, not so simple, but doable.  And thankfully, now that I live on the island, having a peaceful place to do it all was easy as pie, since where I live is just that when I let it be.

How I felt at the end of those days was also simple: a kind of simple I think I’d somehow managed to forget how to be save in fleeting moments.

I also felt like more than a bit of an idiot.

The work I do is stressful. Emotionally rewarding and the kind of intellectually challenging I have to have in work or else I feel bored to tears, yes. But stressful as hell.  I’m in people’s most loaded stuff all day, often every day, working it through with them.  Sometimes I get accolades for it, but just as often, there’s a cost to it: the cost of working hard and long with very little pay and other things, like healthcare or special perks; the cost of doing a thing that is just as often devalued as valued, the cost, to both myself and people in my life, of pretty much giving everything I can possibly give of myself to a lot of people, every day. That’s all stressful. That’s physically and emotionally expensive.

The amount of stress, toil and expended energy it requires or results in, of course, like with anything, or for anyone, means I also require an equivalent amount of the polar opposite. When something costs, you have to have something to pay that cost with.  When we put pressure on something, at some point we have to move back from it and give it room to regroup and expand again, or else it will break or burst.

My chronic pain was getting worse and worse, my body was doing various things I know my body just doesn’t do when it and I are cared for.  I looked ill, pretty much all the time: my hair was literally starting to fall out in clumps when I took a shower. I had turned into one of those vegans who eat like crap, which really is tremendously silly, especially since I live somewhere now where I have access to some of the freshest food there is. Things that were tough to manage already became infinitely tougher. Little annoyances were turning into big stresses. When any wins happened, they kept feeling more and more like nothing. My keep-on-keepin-on kept begging me to hitch a ride somewhere else, anywhere else, where it could just pass out and tell any passerby to fuck right off. My insomnia started coming back with a vengeance, and it brought friends. I was doing the small things that give me joy less and less, and that was a real kicker, since finding joy and pleasure in small things has always been such a big part of who I am, and such a big part of what has not just gotten me through a life that’s often been rough, but has made life, even in the tough parts, still feel so worthwhile. I smiled and laughed less. Probably a lot less than I even think I did.

When I did take downtime for myself, it was turning more into ways to tune out rather than ways to tune in, which not only way likely part of how crappy I was feeling, it was something so uncharacteristic of me as a person, that, probably more than almost anything else, I was starting to feel I was earnestly losing myself in a very, very big way.
I felt physically, emotionally, intellectually and even spiritually exhausted so much of the time: far more so last spring, and less so once I got to the summer and started making small changes, but I still couldn’t shake that feeling for good.

Why I felt like an idiot at the end of those three days was that I should have seen that I needed those three days WAY before I did.  More to the point, I should have seen that I needed all that was within those three days, not just now and then, but constantly, as much as anything else in my life and my days, way before I did.  After all, before those three days, I’d been gradually making small changes for months: getting back to eating the way I did years ago, the way people who make vegetables the core of what they eat should be, cutting back on a ton of things — smoking, booze, sugar (I managed to totally ditch sugar almost on accident last fall: that was a wacky surprise), negative thinking, toxic people — and adding or working on more of the good stuff, like sleeping the amount of time human beings do, playing outside, and things like just letting myself cry my heart out when I felt like it instead of bucking up and being macha about my feelings, even to myself, so much.

Where I’m going with all of this is that after those three days, I knew I needed to at least start with that one hour a day that was mine, all mine, for two of the things that make my body and mind the happiest. The cool part is, something about those three days made establishing that hour as a habit tremendously easy all of a sudden.  That hour is goddamn sacrosanct: I look forward to that hour at the end of the day even when I’m waking up in the morning. I know making one hour for yourself might seem like it’s not so challenging, and like it should of course be easy, but before recently, it really wasn’t for me. Not for a long, long time anyway. I can make a million hours for someone else, anyone else, but myself. Getting to the point where I could make it for myself again wasn’t easy until it because far more than clear that if I didn’t, my body, my mind, or my heart — maybe all of them — were probably going to start limiting all the hours I’ve got left in my life for anyone soon.

I wish, every day, that that hour could be way longer than that hour.Which brings me to this: I’ve got that hour. It’s untouchable. Now I just need to make more of them. And that includes the time to sit down here and write just like this.

If you’ve read this in the past, I’m going to ask that you extend me a little breadth this time around; breadth I need to extend myself. What I need with this is room to be brief sometimes, and also to be unimportant sometimes, if not much of the time. So much of what I do when I write or share is about The Big Work About Big Stuff. That’s part of my life, and I’ll no doubt bring it here sometimes. But I’d like to take the — mostly self-imposed, mind — pressure off to have to do that here, and give myself permission to just share whatever it is I feel like sharing, and perhaps even share less (as my life has changed in my freedom to do that as freely, too, and I’ll talk about that in time, as well), but share as much that perhaps is of little to no real consequence as that which is.  I suppose it’s about permission to be a person who is also just living a life, and a relatively simple one by desire and design, rather than a person who is doing the super-duper work or thinking the Very Big Thoughts.

And permission — again, probably more from myself as anyone else — to, when I talk about that life, talk about it the same way I’ve been re-learning to live it, where it’s very different, and separate from, work.

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.

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

It seems clear that Flora — AKA Screamy Cat — is in her last days. I took some time off this weekend, am still, and beyond Netflix marathons, it’s mostly been spent caring for her. She’s at the point where walking is clearly painful due to weakness, and getting her to eat or drink is a trial, at best, even after I went and made her a batch of the homemade food all the cats I have ever had have snarfed like nobody’s business when ill. She’s always been tiny, never weighing more than 9 pounds, but now she’s down to five.

About a month ago, we had a crap confluence of pet events around here that seems to have begun with flea season here on the island, something we were totally unprepared for, and so they basically caught us unprepared and seized their moment, investing all the pets and causing all of us to itch for weeks.  I still have scabs on my ankles just from how thick they were outside in the grass.  It’s nuts. So, she got the fleas, then also got a UTI, at the same time one of her nails had a bad injury.  That meant a bunch of different meds, and I think all of that, combined with her age, was just too much for her.  The vet tested her for everything, and save that UTI, which went away, there is nothing technically wrong with her.  She’s just really damn old.

People who know us well know that Flora is really a goldfish.

Around 1992, when I first opened the little alternative school that I ran for a few years, one of my very first wee students came into the place I had set up and created with such care, looked around, then announced, “This is not a real school.” I think I probably gasped, I was so heartbroken. In asking for the criteria of such a determination, he explained to me that real schools have an orange goldfish in a bowl, something everyone knows. Duh. I tried to explain that no matter how much care I give them, I seem to be terrible with fish. I tried to explain that already, there were three cats at the school (and have I mentioned that despite a near-lifetime of having cats around, I’ve always been allergic to them?  Oh yes.), even though they mostly stayed in my office. No explanation would do. I mean, that was all fine and well and good, but it just wasn’t a real school because of this fish issue, and that was just that.

There was a pet store a few blocks away, so — very much needing my school to be a real school, darnit — I asked if we all took a walk down there and got one, with the understanding the kinds would need to help care for the goldfish, if that would fix the problem. This was met with agreement.  So, off we went.

When we got there, did they have every kind and color of fish under the sun?  Oh yes, they did — well, almost. All except goldfish, of course: there were no orange goldfish. In the middle of a desperate discussion with the petshop owner about what fish might look orange under different light, I heard the little guy saying, “Heather, I found it!” Thank christ. I walked to where he was.

He was standing in front of a little cage full of mostly sleeping kittens, save one very rambunctious and especially tiny calico who was jumping all over all of them.  “That’s a very cute kitten,” I said.  “So, where’s that fish?”

“She’s got orange on her,” he said.

“She most certainly does,” I said.  Then we had this same exchange about three or four times.

“She’s got —” he went to say again.

“Orange,” I said. “I know, she’s got orange on her, I’ve got it. Are you saying she’s an orange fish? I know you know she’s a cat. We have cats at the school already, three cats, which is already a lot of cats, I think. And just because they don’t have orange goldfish here doesn’t mean they aren’t somewhere else. I can go to another pet store myself later if this is really important to me — erm, you.”

“She’s got orange,” he said. “And I really like her. She’s funny. She’ll do.”

And so she was, and so she did.

At the time I got her, my hair was down to my waist, and the first few mornings I woke up, I’d be all “Ugh!  My head feels like a bowling ball, what the hell?” This was because she’d nest in there while I slept, continuing to hold on after I stood up.  A few years later, we had an insanely hot summer, and I was also very tired of people mistaking me for Rapunzel and thinking I was in need of rescue, so I shaved my head.  (An experience which taught me many things, the biggest one being that I have a very round head and face, which means that instead of looking hot and butch with a shaved head, I look like a Cabbage Patch Kid. Yay.) She was very unhappy with me for years until most of it grew back.

The other cats made a point of hiding from the kids at the school: not this one. She was playful and friendly and awesome with all of them: they adored her. There were kerfuffles about who got to rest with her at naptime: some years, we even had to make a schedule. A couple years later, in an ironic twist, we were at another pet store and brought back a white lop rabbit who was in a cage with a bunch of dwarf rabbits hopping all over his poor head, after the sympathies for bouncy animals had apparently switched. The other cats were mortified by this: but Flora and Moe often played together.

After I had to close the school  in ‘97, I was in a horrendous financial spot for a while, including having to spend some of a Chicago winter without decent heat and sans electricity or gas. Flora, with the other cats, made it through our awful spot, making do on about as little food as I did, save that the cats could eat the leftover meatstuffs I’d manage to gather from the school lunches at the school I was working at then for my Montessori internship. When I moved to Minneapolis in ‘98, she had to stay with an ex of mine for about six months in Chicago. Flora has always hated being in any kind of moving anything, so moving four unruly cats at once in an 8-hour-drive just was not doable, and she was always the most socially flexible of all the cats. When we finally did get her, she howled the whole. Drive. There.

When Sofi, my pug, came into our lives as a very small puppy, the other cats tried to kill her. For reals. Once I walked into the kitchen and Rita, my eldest cat at the time, in cahoots with another of them, were trying to push knives from the counter unto the unsuspecting puppy below. Flora, on the other hand, often circled the pug, hissing at the other cats. She slept near the puppy, she helped guard her when she ate, she did her level best to teach her all the things puppies ought to know, like why not to grab cat tails and how to clean your face (my dog still bathes herself like a cat sometimes: it’s ridiculous). When Rita began to die, Flora kept her company when the other two cats wouldn’t have anything to do with her. When I was crying my eyes out for days after euthanizing Rita, Flora worked in tandem with Sofi to keep me in fuzzy cuddles.

When I moved to Seattle, Flora howled the whole plane ride over, managing to drown out my own sobbing and very graciously make herself the hated enemy of every other poor fool on that flight so it didn’t have to be me. That’s about the same time Flora learned to yell all night and sometimes all day, for reasons unbenownst to anyone (though my guess is that always living in tiny places with lots of animals, the adjustment to a big old house with its own noises and only one other pet was not easy: it wasn’t easy for me, either, and I felt like howling sometimes, too).

She got a serious kidney infection somewhere in there, something that had felled another cat of mind years back — the lone cat who lived a normal kitty lifetime, unlike my others who all seem to want to hit 20 — and the few days she spent at the vet, they didn’t want to give her back. She’s a very loveable fish: everyone thinks so. They were particularly wooed by the way she lies which everyone instinctively calls Superman: stretching both her arms as far in front of her as possible and just kind of freezing like she’s flying, a posture she often did in the times she spent in my hair when I first got her.

When Blue moved his big dog into the mix, at a time when it was just Sofi and Flora left — a smaller family I think they were both enjoying — Flora was very whatever about it.  Fur did not fly between cat and new dog. When we moved to the island, she delighted in looking out the window at he world outside. When mice found their way in here, despite having only one sad old tooth left in her little mouth, she caught one. She woke us up in the middle of the night with extra-loud yelling. We came out, and she had it in her mouth like, “Umm, okay, I got this thing I think I’m supposed to get.  But I think I’m supposed to do something next I do not want to and also lack the tools to execute.”  The mouse was looking clearly confused. Flora dropped the mouse and it ran away, probably feeling awfully grateful that day for what is, potentially, the world’s most gentle cat.

I have listened to this cat yelling and screaming for hours sometimes, for no reason I know of, where nothing makes her stop.  She has driven me up a fucking wall with that yelling. But you know, I’ll look at her little fishy face, and pretty much think, “Ah, well.  When I get that old, I’m going to annoy the crap out of everyone, too.” Then I’ll bitch about it some more, of course.

She stopped yelling a couple weeks back. I do not miss that yelling. Not even close.  But after a few days without it, it was hard not to know that it probably meant something was wrong.

I’m really hoping I won’t need to put her to sleep.  It’s not a political stance; I’m someone who feels very strongly that if and when life is ending and it hurts and has nothing good to offer, that whether we’re talking about my pets or me, making it better by making it stop is a good thing. But I had a horrible experience putting Rita down, the last animal I went through this with.  Our regular vet was sick that day and his replacement was a shitheel who basically grabbed my cat from me, jabbed her with a needle and put her down while she screamed.  I know that likely wouldn’t happen again, but I’m just really hoping that Flora will pass quietly here while I have her set up to be as cozy as possible and die in a much better, less traumatic way.

Mind, if she keeps going without eating, or barely doing so, or seems to be in real pain rather than just really out of it, I’ll cave, because I don’t want her to be uncomfortable.

It’s weird, Flora dying, weird and so sad.  She’s been an awesome cat, a very strange, very awesome cat. But she’s also the last of my kitty brood, and I won’t be having cats again for a while, something I decided about the time we got Flora. I’m not allergic to her, specifically, thanks to a parent at the school who was a vet tech and who gave me some tricks when she was a kitten, but I am to most other cats, and my skin and sinuses need a break.  It’s also really hard to be able to go places when you have more than one kind of pet, and the dogs really are more than enough for us to care for here, as it is. Plus, I can only take so many vet bills and so many elderly cat experiences.

I was never a “cat person,” whatever that means.  In Chicago, you can’t be a renter and have dogs, so cats it was. Plus, almost all my cats save Flora — though really, even she in some ways — just kind of seemed to find me, rather than the other way round. But I like and understand dogs. I like cats, but I do not even remotely understand them.  I feel about cats the way I think John Gray feels about people: I would need to construct some kind of bullshit philosophy in order to grok their motives or behavior or to make them make sense in my own limited understanding of life.

So, with the end of Flora comes, first of all, the end of Flora.  Flora who I have loved and who has loved me, a big bunch of kids, my pug and other critters and pretty much anything and everyone else she’s come across. By the time a pet of mine gets to this age, I always think I’m so ready for this, but then, you know, I get there and it’s always so much harder than I thought it would be. I’m a very sad camper right now. And it’s also kind of the end of an era, one which started with the first member of my personal kitty brood when I was 18; the end of a kitty family which has, at times — thanks to a stay who entered our midst, had sex with other cats in our building, then left her kittens — been as large a group as eight. There have been some of the roughest times in my life where at least one of those cats was there, and we could morosely sit with booze in hand and catnip on face and say, “Hey, life fucking sucks, doesn’t it? But here’s lookin’ at you, cat.”

And now it’s down to one, this delicate, little one, and then, it seems, to none. And that’s just weird. And sad. Really sad.

Who knows, maybe she’ll turn around: they do that sometimes. But not only do I doubt it (I tried to feed her three times in the midst of writing this, and she just refuses to eat or drink), I just wanted to sing her silly kitty praises and take some time to tell her tales while it was all in my head.

So, here is looking at you, my little cat/fish with the orange on you. May you fall asleep soon, gently, and dream marvelous, endless dreams of hair to nest in, howls to howl, and big oceans it makes no sense at all for you to be swimming in, except to us, for whom you’ve sometimes magically made some important things real.

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I’ve realized lately that by virtue of being such an early adopter of the internet and having done so right at the gate as a publisher and very visible writer and activist, I seriously missed out on one of the perks a lot of people seem to get to take advantage of.

In short, there are often times when I would really, really like to NOT have to engage in discussions or make criticisms with depth and thoughtfulness and care.  I’d like not to have to worry about what someone is going to feel/say/report that “Heather Corinna” said.  I’d like to be stealthy, and not feel any kind of social responsibility not to hide behind anonymity nor any to be a decent person and a Buddhist who isn’t fucking around about it. I’d love not to have to reread what I wrote even once, let alone several times.

In a word, there’s a post I keep wanting to leave online on at least one article or blog somewhere a day, and it is, simply, something like this:

This thing you said/wrote is seriously stupid, and I think you’re an asshole who is mean and also shitty.

Yep, that’d do it.  No careful analysis, no diplomacy, no “we’re on the same team so let’s work together,” or even “we’re not on the same team, but I know you’re a good person, right?”

Just that.  Without my name, without having to say anything else or engage in any way, without any kind of responsibility.  Just that lazy, drive-by not-at-all-thoughtful letting go that I know happens all the time because I get emails and posts kind of similar to that every day.  They’re more like, “That’s stupid and you’re stupid (or pretentious or arrogant or a dyke or a girl, the most offensive thing anyone can be, in case you were unaware), which I have to say because you’re not being mean or an asshole, even though that’s not stopping me from being both of those things,” but still.  Same gist.  Same words that elicit what I strongly suspect is a very, very satisfying — albeit pithy — feeling somewhat akin to a decent bowel movement of some kind.

One might knock that and call it small, but probably not one who feels chronically constipated, be that literal or symbolic.  I, too, want the online version of metamucil.  I am hoping having said it here just might suffice.

(It won’t, but it seemed worth a shot. And yes, most of what I just said was stupid, I’m being a bit of an asshole, and I literally even talked shit. But at least I’m not being mean.)

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Last night, I was finished with work, getting started on cooking dinner.

I had the 70s radio station on. I was in my bare feet with an apron layered over a long, cozy skirt, pulling my long hair into a knot to keep it out of the food.  The dogs were lazing around, being a little silly.  I was looking into the forest while I made a beautiful meal with fresh, wonderful ingredients.  I was enjoying a nice glass of wine. I was dancing around a little while I cooked, just kind of grooving out, feeling mellow and satisfied and happy with relatively simple things.  Feeling, as I often do anymore, like I’ve landed in a place and space, literally and in a larger way, in my life where I have pretty much what I need to be happy, and where what all of that is is within my reach.  In a place where thoughts of further attainment — as in, this is awesome, but I really still need that, or that’s great, but it’d be better if I had this — are often far from my mind, even though there are certainly some things that are pretty basic I remain without. In a place where what happens in downtime are things like reading a good book outside in a cozy chair, walking through the forest, hula-hooping in a wide open space, playing instruments at night, lounging in a tub until my fingers get all pruny, tending to the plants, baking delicious things, screwing, talking for hours, getting to know local characters who are as weird as I am in the few local haunts there are. I live somewhere where it’s considered a given that people share things and are kind to one another, where there are peace protests on the street even though the people standing know they’re preaching to the choir. I live somewhere where wearing mismatched socks isn’t just about not giving a crap, it’s about there being something joyful and hilarious in mismatched socks.

It then occurred to me that I had kind of lost my sense of exactly when it was, in the grander scheme of things, and in that, I realized that right now, in a whole lot of ways, I’m basically living the life my father really wanted when he was young and I was wee (soundtrack and all).  This life I have going right now is kind of his low-income aspiration to an almost-middle-income life, where basic needs are met, the luxuries are simple ones, and there’s a level of off-grid that’s still clicked in enough to avoid some major struggles. These are the kind of daydreams my father was having about his life and my life in the midst of Woodstock; the kind of respite he imagined he and I might be able to have if and when the kind of revolution he worked for and wanted — and ultimately, didn’t see happen — took hold and then settled down.

I am essentially living my father’s early 70s dream life, a life he also dreamed for me.  And it obviously was a very good dream, one would think, because I’m really loving my life this way.

Of course, when I think back to college, I realize it was my dream, too, even though it may still be one I inherited or was primed to, at least in part.  There was a while there where I was pretty dead-set on ditching the whole works and trying to buy an old school bus I figured I could somehow renovate to work just fine as a mobile home and use to find a place and a life…well, an awful lot like this one.

I really need to get him up here for a visit. Not only has it been over a year since I’ve seen him, and there’s the given that I always want to get him away from the hell that he lives in, I also want him to be able to experience this. It’s bittersweet, of course, as I know this is a life he’d still like for himself in some ways, and one I don’t have the means to provide for both of us, nor one where he feels up to the adjustment anymore.  But I figure there has to at least be something lovely and satisfying in seeing your kid living the kind of life you’ve dreamed for both of you, right?

I’m not sure, though I’m sure we’ll talk about it at some point, hopefully while taking a lovely walk here sometime soon or being delighted that you can get a $3 drink in an unpretentious pace without also having to suffer the company of racist assholes insulated by a crappy tiny place instead of a wonderful one.

But in the meantime, I’m just going to keep on relishing what I have here right now, what I’m able to be part of, and the time I can spend in this life that feels like such a beautiful dream sometimes.

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, April 18th, 2011

Not only am I not dead, it’s my birthday today.  And unfortunately for me, I’m sick as a dog.  Blue caught some nasty cold/flu thing last week that put him down for days and never one to want to be left out, I had to pick it up myself yesterday.

So, I can’t work, because the fever and malaise has made me stupid.  And I can’t play, because I’m not the kind of stupid that’s any kind of fun.

But I said to myself, as I was resting in the bedroom, “Self? This really is not so bad.  You’re sick, but you’re sick in this beautiful floaty-looking room with some beautiful sunlight streaming in. This bed is seriously cozy. That bagel you just ate was fresh and delicious. You don’t have the Black Plague, you’ve just got a bad cold.  And you can take a day or two off without the world coming to an end, or worrying about getting fired or winding up unable to pay for food because you got sick for a couple of days. You have a bucket of muppety-looking stuffed flowers from your sweetheart, who loves you, and would take care of you tonight if you actually would let anyone do such a thing. You can hear birds chirping (and your old cat yelling, too, but when you’re that old, you’ll probably be whining nonstop yourself). You’re just having a less-than-awesome day in what remains a presently wonderful life.”

Then I realized the light was so lovely, and I was unable to do so little else that I could at least take a few snaps to document my entry into my 41st year, despite being without a tripod right now since I misplaced the plate. And so I did. Even sick and tired both, as it turns out, I’m holding up pretty darn well for being an age I never even thought I’d reach some of the years of my life. Getting older remains more exciting than scary. I still have the freckles over my eyes I like so much, even though sunlight remains a rare commodity here in the Pacific Northwest. I like the lines I’m getting still. I heart the grey at my temples. I’m clearly getting my parental grandmother’s mustache, but that’s okay, especially since if I’m ever out of a job, maybe I can cultivate it and join the circus as the bearded lady. I look contented, how weird is that? All mighty swell.

I know, I continue to be pretty quiet over here, and I think the fact is that I learned all of my arts during crisis and turmoil. I’m one of those walking cliches who only seems to be able to really churn out the creative work when I’m unhappy or scared or in some kind of serious crisis or distress. Since I refuse to turn that situation into its own crisis, I decided a while back, when it became clear I had been happy for a good long while and it seemed to have become a trend, that I was going to just give myself whatever time I needed to get to a point where I could learn to create things when I was happy.

It’s not like I get nothing done: I put in 60 hour workweeks mostly helping other folks with their own scared/unhappy/fearful/crisis. I churn out a ton of work-work in my field just fine.  In fact, I seem to do that work far better in the space I’ve been in over the last… you know, I can’t even clock it, actually, which is kind of super-amazing. So, it’s okay if I do less creative writing, less art, less of what has most often been the way I out parts of my spiritual life and practice into tangible form.  It’s even entirely possible — and I don’t think I’m just telling myself this to rationalize it all — that I’m finally learning to make the work I’d always thought of as the least creative of everything do its own art; it’s own spiritual practice.

My days anymore go something like this: I wake up, I get some coffee, I have a smoke on the porch, maybe stretch my legs outside a bit. I listen to the sounds of the island.  I go to my desk, I get a couple hours of work in. I go outside again. I go up to the loft, do my yoga while looking out into the trees. I take a hot shower. I go outside again. Then I do another bunch of hours of work, now and then take an afternoon walk somewhere in there. My workday ends anywhere from early evening to a little later, with some hangout & a lovely dinner with my sweetheart. Then we vegetate in some way or another. Then we go to bed, and more times than not, I sleep like a baby.

On the rare days when I don’t have to do any work — though I have been doing decently at taking one day off a week — they tend to start the same, though now and then, they start with sex, which is even better. (I’m of the mind one has to start the day with something productive, after all. And yes: that totally counts.) On Saturdays, we go into town, see the farmer’s market, do our errands, sometimes take a drive somewhere lovely, which is pretty much everywhere on this island. Some days we stop by the beach, where I find too many things to bring home. Then we’ll bake or cook or make a fire, or, when the tub outside is working, have a soak or work the dirt. Blue has taken up the ukelele, so now and then we’ll both play together in our new home-only band, Tiny Instruments.Often enough, some friend or another will make a pilgrimage to come visit and we’ll spoil them to pieces because it’s fun as hell to share what we have here right now with the people we love.
I think if I hadn’t lived a life that was nothing close to so provincial up until now, I might even feel a little embarrassed at how much so mine is right now, but I’m not.  I’m constantly grateful for the peace and the solace, and the small, quiet joy that’s pretty much ever present. I never really saw anything like this coming for myself, and some days I don’t notice, but other times I’ll get whacked upside the head with the wonderful surprise of it all and remind myself not to take any of it for granted.

So, I’m sick on my birthday. Whatever. And sure, I still am way overworked and have way too much on my plate way too much of the time. So it goes. Because for the most part, I feel pretty awash in gifts pretty much all of the time, and I’m not sure what else a person can really ask for.

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Sorry for another long silence from me, here, anyway.  I’ve not been silent anywhere else, just here.  Don’t take it personally.  Per usual, been busybusybusy with work, but also busybusybusy enjoying the time I’m not working.  Which isn’t enough, I’ll give you, but I’ll take what I can get.

I stopped by because I just had to write down something lovely that happened around a week ago here on the island, which was such an excellent representation of why I love it here so much and remain so grateful I was able to move here.

I was in the city for a visit with my sister (who moved to Seattle last year, oddly, more on that another time) and some work at the shelter. After a lovely, albeit brief, run-in with my friend Ben, met up with Blue and we headed back home on the water taxi.  We got to sit with some of his commuting friends, who were lovely and witty and wise, and when we all loaded off the water taxi, half the folks, including us, jetted it over to the bus in a rush.

So, there we are, everyone having finished their workday, tired, but still nice and chatty, something I found Seattle folks tended to lack, but island folks tend to make up for.  As the bus made its way down the length of the island, the sky started to get dark.  We were sitting near the front of the bus, where a teenage girl was also sitting.

All of a sudden, she yelled out, “Oh, wow! Look at the moon!” Before half of us could even start to do it, she was swiftly dialing friends on her cell phone to tell them, too, to look at the moon, a gorgeous, low-hanging, blazing orange harvest moon.  Everyone on the bus joined in in looking and admiring it, and for those who hadn’t heard said teenage girl, the bus driver used the intercom to advise everyone aboard to look at it.

So there we all were, moon-gazing, sky-sighing, all thanks to one of the charming, enthusiastic and kind of mystical teenagers we seem to have quite a lot of on the island, who I tend to notice other adults don’t take for granted, either.  All excitedly gazing at the beautiful moon lighting up the harbor and the rippling topography of our island.

Seriously cool stuff, that.  I grinned for days because of it.

This is a lot of what life is like for me here, save that it’s typically much more quiet.  I so appreciate the quiet and the solitude — with breaks for things like en masse moon-squealing — and the slowness.  I’m still dazed half the time just by seeing and feeling the forest and the water all around me.

It’s an interesting appreciation, too, for this time and place in my life, because it’s based both on the present and the past.  They don’t just connect each other, but my life in the past has been, I think, a big part of my enjoying my life now.  If it wasn’t for growing up in the city and being so urban for the majority of my life, I don’t think I’d appreciate being rural like this now.  If it wasn’t for such a fast and busy social pace at other times, I think the slowness and quiet now would feel boring, instead of peaceful and inspiring.  Narrowing my interpersonal relationships down is something that feels right and good, but likely in part because at other times, I’ve been so much more expansive in that area.

It’s such an exceptional and fantastic thing, loving where I am now because of where I’ve been before; not because what was before was not what I wanted, and this, instead, was, but because I’ve loved both parts and they kind of complete each other.  It’s like having had two cups for everything, where only one was filled, but the other is now also getting full.  It makes all of my parts fit together in really complimentary ways, and makes all of my journeys kind of make a lot more sense than they have before.

It is, however, also a strange thing for me to feel more quiet in my spirit and my energy.  It’s not breaking news to mention that it has been more often loud and frenetic, and also that it’s always been a challenge for me to find a quiet.  Figuring out how to balance that with the work I do, in which in so many ways, I need to still be loud, has been interesting, and an art I have yet to refine.  I’m still just starting to explore it.  I’d say it’s certainly had a notable impact on the way I’ve been working with people directly: channeling my compassion and empathy for them was always something I could do, but it’s become considerably more effortless.  It is a bit harder, I’m finding, to react and respond to anyone — in general — being really out of order or very angry or reactive, but slowing myself down to try and figure out how is easier.

I’m in the midst of some potentially major work choices and decisions, which could potentially change my life (and my org) for the serious better if all goes well, in an area I’ve never had a fast, serious-better change, ever, only slow, gradual progress.  Can’t say more than that about it for now, but this is one more way in which I’m glad I’m living here, because sorting out this decision feels like something I’m capable of doing well better here than I would have elsewhere.

Basics, I know, and little else, but, hey!  Look at the moon!

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.

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Last week, this eloquent missive arrived in the Scarleteen general email box:

From: na@aol.com
Subject: [General Contact] Heather Corinna
Date: July 29, 2010 8:50:10 AM PDT

bob sent a message using the contact form at http://www.scarleteen.com/contact.

her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is a SLUT

I don’t know Bob. I also have never slept with anyone named Bob as far as I recall — I have a near-exclusive partiality to lovers or partners with names that start with the letter J or M, followed by A, C and D. The two lone B’s I can recall have both been Brians. This begs the question of how, exactly, Bob knows I’m a slut in the first place. Bob’s agenda is also a mystery. Maybe he thought I had some kind of supervisor who would see this…actually, I don’t know what on earth Bob’s intent was here. No sense trying to suss it out. All I know is that it came in, I read it, and I said, “Umm, okay. It just might. And?” Perhaps obviously, I cannot ask Bob what sort of actionable response he wanted from this very important piece of news, because he, demonstrating exceptional courage, did not use a real email address.

There’s been a lot of talk about sluthood on the interwebs this week, mostly stemming from Jaclyn Friedman’s fantastic piece here and a couple patronizing, backlashy replies. I hesitate to link to them because I hate to send them traffic, but it’s never fair to call someone’s words idiotic without sharing the evidence you’re basing that judgment on.

When Jaclyn’s piece came out, I read it, thought it was great, so real of her, and clearly something that resonated with a lot of women. Jaclyn and I are friends, so I also had a little more inside scoop on what a big deal putting that out there was for her. While I very much appreciated the piece, it didn’t resonate with me on a personal level all that much. I’m quite certain this is not because it wasn’t a powerfully-written and important piece, because I think it was.

I just got off the phone with Jaclyn, in part because some I wanted to try and figure out WHY it didn’t resonate with me, and make sure that in figuring that out, I wasn’t making any assumptions about Jaclyn and her experiences or thoughts.

(By the way, an etiquette tip it appears some people never learned? When someone puts out something exceptionally personal, no matter who they put it out to or where, if you want to have anything resembling manners, you at least try and engage with them directly before you psychoanalyze them for the whole world, and probably mostly for your own benefit. No, no one HAS to do that, but anyone arguing for “values” or “respect” is going to lose an awful lot of face if they have the social graces of a mosquito.)

Back to that email. I got it, had that reaction to it, which was pretty much no reaction. That was followed with momentary amusement at the idea either I, or my mystery supervisor (oh, if only!), was supposed to have some kind of reaction.

See, to me, a statement like that is about as powerful and about as true as statements like:
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a BIG NOSE
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is SHORT
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna was RAPED
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna ENJOYS HULA-HOOPING
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna likes giving and getting HEAD
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a PUG
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is A BIG QUEERO
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna STUDIES SEXUALITY
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is IRISH-ITALIAN
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has been a TEACHER FOR 20 YEARS
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna HAS RENT TO PAY

All true, all part of who I am and what life I live and have lived, and likely all part of what influences the advice that I give to others. Etymologically, being a slut means being untidy and/or being someone with a twat who has either bonked a lot of people or, as the awesome Kelly Huegel pointed out, is a female person who has had sex with more people than any one person calling them a slut considers acceptable. One supposes you can add in the frequent implication that being a slut means being someone of “loose” or questionable character or values.

So, am I a slut? Sure, okay. I am untidy. I have had sex with more people than some people consider acceptable, and on the bell curve of what folks report with a lifetime number of partners, I have had more than most. Since I have routinely questioned both my own values and character for myself all my life as a regular practice, and try to keep flexible, I suppose it’s also true to say mine are both questionable and loose. When you tell me or others something that is true about myself, I’m not likely to get my feelings hurt or be offended, particularly when we’re talking about things that have been my choice, like my sex life.

Jaclyn is getting some of the negative reactions she is just because some people are just idiots. But Jaclyn is also probably getting that kind of reaction because some of what she said is exactly what those people want to hear if they read very, very selectively. She’s a solid writer, which makes it easy to take her statements out of context.

In the piece, one thing she voiced was that what she most wants right now is a long-term relationship; that she has been able to have casual sex of late, and that it has been positive, but what she really wants and does not have is an LTR. While she did not voice a causal relationship between the two (quite the opposite), what she said allowed people who are seeking out such things to cling on to that notion, one they desperately want to believe and want others to believe. She also voiced she had feelings about casual sex that were not unilaterally positive, something else they want to hear and spotlight. And because she said what they wanted to hear and because it resonated with some other women, she’s a great sort of poster child for a carnival show where people pretend to be showing others the poor, broken girl who just doesn’t know any better so that they can avoid her same, terrible fate.

She also disclosed she survived sexual trauma. As I’ve said about a million times, if and when any of us do that, while it’s important we do do that, both politically and because being able to be honest about any part of our lives is major, we become very easy marks.  Almost anything we do or experience ever-after, anything that is anything less than perfect, will often be attributed not even to our rape, but to us being a person who has been raped. I’ve decided my new comeback to this when I get hit with it, by the way, is going to be “Okay, let’s say everything wrong with me or that I’m unhappy about sexually or interpersonally IS because I was raped.  So… what the fuck happened to YOU that made you this screwed up?”

Anyway, in thinking about my non-reaction to that email since last week, to my less-than-super-pow reaction to Jaclyn’s post and to the responses to it, positive and negative, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Jaclyn was considered “the good girl” in her family. In mine, that was my sister, not me. Her good girl distinction and my bad girl one were affixed before either of us engaged in any kind of sexual behavior or even thought about it. Mind, my family was not a unified front in this. One of my parents was extraordinarily sex-positive and very strongly and loudly against slut-shaming and against the whole good girl/bad girl epoch, while my other parent — raised in a very religiously-oppressive household where this stuff was a staple — and particularly my stepparent (an abuser, so no surprises there), slut-crowned me pretty much on the basis of having a first kiss and on trying so hard to meet gender presentations that didn’t feel authentic to me, but that they required. It appears I erred on the side of presenting that way too well. Talk about a backfire. Not girly enough? You’re a dyke. Too girly? You’re a slut. It’s a tough game to win, and one I perpetually lost. It’s also why when I was assaulted at 11 and 12, after one attempt to tell my mother, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I knew my stepparent would feel proved right and I knew it would be used against me in his abuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him any more ammo.

That consistent verbal slur or implication was also based in homophobia: I knew about my feelings for girls, or experienced them, anyway, before I knew about my feelings for boys. I didn’t recognize those feelings for what they were very clearly until high school, but in hindsight, it’s obvious my family did. That may be part of why, while the word “slut” doesn’t hold particular power with me, either as a slur or as something to reclaim, the word dyke very much did and has. I think that has to do with my own journey in getting right with other women and with my gender. Mostly, though, I think it’s about been called a dyke and not being far enough in those journeys that I did internalize it as a slur — something I never did with slut because when it was hurled at my in my pre-teens and early teens, I knew it wasn’t true. About feeling bad about something I wished I’d instead felt good about and had had the strength to refuse to internalize as bad.

Jaclyn and I talked about what our differences in some of this might be, and some of what came up was privilege. While we have or have had some similarities (the self-defense, the communication skills, the fact that we’re both white), we’re also a bit different in that arena. The trajectory of our lives and sexualities have been different: with each decade, for instance, my number of sexual partners has declined: in the last ten years, I’ve only been outside LTRs and single with casual partners for around 2. I have had my work or the credibility of my work impacted by my actual or perceived sexual behaviour. But I also tend to experience a weird kind of privilege in often having little privilege. I figure if it isn’t going to be one thing, it’ll be another, so I may as well just be who I am and put who I am on the table. Like Janis sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Like Jaclyn, I have had times in my life when I have wanted an ongoing, intimate relationship and have not had one, though with me that’s rarely abstract. When I want one of those, it tends to be about wanting one with someone specific (or, let’s be frank: about wanting relationships where I can get some privilege and be spared some of the judgment we get while in other models). It’s fair to say I’ve usually been far more cautious about getting into romantic relationships than I have been about getting into bed with someone.

The first person I deeply romantically loved and wanted a lifelong relationship with died, and I had a while in my teens and early 20’s where I struggled with the idea that I had my shot with romantic love; I met My One Person and since apparently there was but The One, I had had mine and was shit out of luck because that person was dead. I got over that, but it took a while, and all the bullshit about there being only one big love people shove down everyone’s throat did not help at all. Given the fact that in many ways, the people closest to me growing up turned out to be who I could trust the least, I absolutely have had intimacy issues because getting close has always equaled a fear of not just being hurt, but the fear-via-experience of being abused and seriously neglected. I could go on, but the point is I have a very good idea about the why of that (and have already had and enjoyed the psychoanalysis to help me get there, thanks), and it’s simply What Is: don’t see it as anything broken I need to fix, but the person I am based on the life I’ve lived, a person I like, love and respect.

I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life, most of which I’d class as successful: I had good experiences in them and got good things from them, so did the other person or people. Sparing the death of my sweetheart in high school, the person who has left or adjusted almost every one of them? That’s usually been me. Why? It depends, really, but more times than not it’s just been because various needs or wants I had weren’t being met in those relationships or the relationship had morphed from something romantic into a different kind of relationship that felt a better fit for everyone. First time at bat with my current partner, I skeedaddled because of PTSD whacking me in the face without warning or preparation and I dealt with it very badly as a result.

However, I’ve also had just as many times when I wanted more casual sex partners or experiences than I had. Like most parts of life and like many people, I’ve had both feast and famine, and have been delighted about the feast and distressed about the famine. In what things or areas there was bounty or drought strikes me as irrelevant. Bounty almost always feels great while drought pretty much always sucks, for everyone, with everything. Rocket science, this ain’t.

I even miss casual sex when I’m not having it. I can’t always say that so plainly when I’m with someone long-term. But blessedly, my partner (who’s known me on and off for 20 years, a relationship that began in 1989 with a three-night-stand) knows with certainty that I very much enjoy the sex that we have as a currently monogamous couple and also understands that while there are plenty of common threads between sex we have in LTRs and casual sex, also groks the differences and doesn’t see them as being in a cagematch.

When I miss it, what I miss is the adventure, the uncertainty, the dance of the thing. I miss sudden, often unexpected connectivity. For me, there was always something spiritually very cool in experiencing sex as one of the many ways people who aren’t deeply connected can wind up very deeply connecting quickly, be that with the sex itself or with the conversation before or after. While I’m all for taking the cultural unacceptability out of casual sex for those who still cling to it or are very impacted by it, at the same time, there’s this sort of partners-in-crime thing I’ve sometimes had with casual sex partners, where you’re both doing this thing you know some people think is not okay, which can make it all the more playful.

There’s a kind of abandon that I experience in sex period, but which for me has been particularly strong with casual sex. There’s that thing where it’s really very much up for grabs as to whether or not you’ll have sex that day or night or not that’s a lot tougher to come by with sex in ongoing relationships, long or short-term. There’s a lack of expectation I appreciate. Heck, I miss being able to blog more about the sex I have: that’s a lot more tricky when you’re having it outside casual situations. As well, given some of my history, it’s often been easier for me to say what I want when there are no strings attached than when there are. I can either way, it’s just that doing so with someone who knows me very well is more of a challenge, and feels much more vulnerable to me, so it’s scarier at first than in casual sex.

I clearly prefer ongoing or long-term relationships that start with casual sex. Not that I honestly know much about the alternative, since I’ve almost unilaterally had that thing happen that so many of us are told will NEVER happen with casual sex. Almost all of my ongoing romantic relationships have started with casual sex. Many of my friendships have, too. One of the things I miss when I’m missing casual sex are the friendships that I have found stem from it. Casual sex has rarely meant a lack of love for me. I’ve given and received a lot of love and care in most of my sexual relationships of all sorts; the casual ones have been no exception.

I know a lot of people are very scared of STIs with casual sex, but this is one of those areas where I know too much. Coming of age with a parent working in some of the earliest AIDS care meant I got and saw facts, not fictions. My personal life and those around me have reflected the reality that it’s lack of barrier use and lack of sexual healthcare most responsible for STIs, not what kind of sex we have. Having more partners certainly increases the risks, but only having one or two and not using barriers and having everyone regularly tested presents even larger ones. If I didn’t know this before I went into working in sexual health, including in clinical work, I sure know it now. Someone can tell me all they want STIs are about casual sex, but they’re usually not people working in these fields because we know better. When I hear someone say “she’s risking her life for casual sex!” I tend to wish I could require compulsory volunteering in domestic/intimate partner violence.

I’m aware, especially after going on 13 years of sex and relationships being my full-time work, that there is NO human interaction in which we cannot get hurt; NO one way of having sex or sexual relationships that removes the risk of heartbreak or abuse. There are some bare basics — consent, communication, self-awareness — and then each of us doing our best to make choices and interrelate in the ways that feel a best fit for us and anyone else involved at any given time of our lives.

I know that for people like the two I linked to shredding Jaclyn, of course, there’s also a gender script pretty much running the show. However, it’s not even worth addressing here because it’s absolutely meaningless and irrelevant for those of us who are queer and who aren’t gendernormative. (You also can’t make it meaningful by trying to change the facts of someone’s orientation and partnerships, calling them all male or hetero when they haven’t been. Just a tip.)  I’d posit that even for those who are, much of the time it’s only relevant because they’re so susceptible to those messages, not because there’s some sort of biological or sociological essentialism that rule all.

With both casual and non-casual sex I have not had radically different dynamics when it comes to my partners and their/our gender. In fact, some of the most pervasive messages about gender in the hetero scripts about casual sex sound like science fiction through the lens of my own experiences. For example, in my own sex life, it’s not usually been men who were hardest to hold onto when holding on is what I wanted, but women. It’s not been women who have expressed feelings hurt by casual sex the few times that’s happened, but men. Whoever these “all men” are that fuck and run? I’m not sure I’ve slept with any of them, and if I have, I must have just run through the finish line myself before I saw them start their own sprint.

There’s another difference Jaclyn and I talked about this morning, which is that being slut-shamed is new for her, whereas it’s something I grew up with and which has been pervasive for me for a long time.

I think it’s safe to say I haven’t ever been hurt by my own actual sluttery, per what that word actually means and per how it’s most often colloquially defined. Even being called one when I was young mostly hurt within the context of every name I got called and every way I was intentionally isolated and abused. There’s even a flip side to that, though, which is that being called a slut also gave me permission to go and be one: after all, if you’re going to get called something that involves doing things you may enjoy, it feels silly not to do those things. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten called one, it would have been harder for me to explore that part of my nature, which has involved some of the best parts of my whole life.

The personal disrespect to me in slut-shaming isn’t really what has stung, since it’s generally been clear people who throw that word at others don’t have much respect for anyone, not just me. They also most often seem to be most strongly reacting to women having sex outside the system of sex-for-goods, be those goods marriage, shelter, children, social status, hat have you. That’s a big reality for many women in the world I acknowledge and understand, for sure, and also acknowledge and understand is inescapable for some, but I also feel is nothing close to ideal. I’m lucky to have been able to live outside that system for most of my life with only a few brief exceptions. This is usually also clearly why so many of the folks so attached to that way of codifying sex are so anti-prostitution: it’s critically important their sexual exchanges be seen as radically different, even though I don’t see the big diff myself.

The few times I have felt deeply hurt by being a “slut,” wasn’t in any of the sex (or untidiness) I was having or had, but in the way people who call me or other people sluts; in the way “being a slut” is presented, something Jaclyn spoke so aptly about. It was the verbal abuse — like any verbal abuse — that hurt, not my own sexual life used as a vehicle for that abuse. That’s probably a big duh for those past the 101 of abusive dynamics, interpersonal relationships and sexuality. But for some strange reason, it escapes people’s minds who think that they can say the issue isn’t THEIR chosen words or actions, but what WE did to CAUSE their words and actions to burst forward from their mouths and fingers, which they apparently have no control over because of how our own lives, of which they often have been no part. It’s amazing that the same people who tell women they should just shut their legs don’t seem to have the same standards for their own mouths.

The times I’ve been attacked and nonconsensually deconstructed per what a slut/whore/insert-your-fave-sexual-chick-shame-here I am and it has hurt, the hurt was centrally about something different than I think the folks doling out that epithet imagine it to be. It’s not been about my feeling ashamed of myself or my choices. It’s instead been about profound disappointment and weariness that we still, at this point in history, can’t all be real about who we are in our sex lives and have our divergence simply recognized as the diversity human sexuality and life is, with the understanding that none of our lives is everyone’s right answer. That so many people still just cannot get that because they put themselves and their lives out there as prescriptions doesn’t mean we all do. When those attacks are about you having casual sex and about how much that sex shows how little self-respect you have or how little respect you’re getting, the ironic icing on that cake is that I’ve been very respected and cared for, as have my partners, in most of the sex — casual and not — that I have had. Where I’m not getting that respect isn’t from the people everyone says didn’t or won’t respect me, but from the people presenting themselves as experts on respect who clearly know nothing about it at all.

As someone who has worked many years and long hours to try and repair some of this stuff culturally, it’s particularly frustrating and tiresome and makes me feel like Don Quixote all too often. Which is really no fun at all without a Sancho Panza to have witty, existential banter with or without getting your very own musical.

There’s also a subtext to all of this that has to do with who is perceived as redeemable and who isn’t. If YOU, yourself, are seen as potentially redeemable, you get talked to one way: often with what is presented as gentleness, but tends to feel an awful lot like being patronized.  If you are NOT seen as redeemable, the language tends to be more angry and rough. If who might be influenced by you or what you voice is seen as redeemable and YOU also are, you all get talked to like you’re stupid little lambs.  If you are NOT seen as redeemeable, but who hears or sees you is, you’re really in the shit. And if you get so lucky, you and anyone you might influence are all seen as unredeemable, because that usually nets you a complete and blissful silence where you can just support one another and enjoy your private lives in peace.

I was accused by Walsh yesterday of having “many young women drinking my Kool-aid” who “were unhappy about it.” I’m not sure who these young women are or what my Kool-Aid is exactly. I asked, I got silence. Thus far, in the work I do, I have yet to see reports about how upset someone is that they did something Heather Corinna told them to do, sparing a few people I’ve told to get a GYN exam or a test for something and who got poor care from healthcare providers when doing so. Since I don’t tell anyone to have this kind of sex or that kind of sex at all — on the contrary — I’m not sure what that was all about.

Lest dumb assumptions be made, the reason this is here and not at Scarleteen isn’t because I feel ashamed of myself or my friends or that I think my sex life is de facto inappropriate.  It’s because as much as possible, especially when the young people there don’t ask me for it, I limit what I share anecdotally.  I have these funny things we call boundaries on my planet. I’d do the same even if — maybe even especially, since it’s SO different than where they’re at — I had only had one partner, married them and was with them for 25 years exclusively. The young people I provide sexuality education to usually know precious little about my sex life and sexual history, because they come wanting to talk about themselves, and also because my own sex life often has little to do with them or what they’re asking. How my sexual history would be pertinent to how they can use their birth control method or to where their own clitoris is beyond me. Adults who assume I sit and talk turkey about what’s going on in my bedroom with young people usually do because that’s what they do, not because it’s what I do. Young people also tend to voice to me that older people’s anecdotes about their own sexual experiences can feel like pressure, no matter WHAT those anecdotes are. Just a few weeks ago, a few of them were talking about how they feel pressured by a lot of abstinence-messaging TO have intercourse because it presents it as the only REAL sex. Go figure.

Some of the reaction to Jaclyn’s piece, or this business about my Kool-Aid clearly was about the poor, vulnerable young women we are perceived as having corrupted or may corrupt. Often evidence for this is stated in that wild, crazy “hookup culture” all the cool kids are purportedly part of. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure how people like myself or Jaclyn can be held responsible for any casual sex young women may be having now, I also want to make clear that I feel quite certain most of the hookup-culture stuff is pretty much exactly what happened to me when I was young.  It’s calling people sluts who often haven’t engaged in any sexual behaviour, or if they have, haven’t been doing anything different than what generations before them have developmentally.

Sparing a few limited populations, as far as I can tell and based on what young people talk about in droves in my work, this “hookup culture” where they’re apparently having ALL this sex or ALL this casual sex is mostly adultist sex panic.  (The funny thing is, the only interaction I had with Susan Walsh before this was on a panel where if I recall correctly, Logan Levkoff and I were calling her and another panelist out on exactly that issue.) From what I can tell, they’re considerably more sexually conservative than my generation and a lot of my parent’s generation was, and are having around the same or fewer sexual partners than we were, not more.  Which also makes them a lot more vulnerable to messaging about sluts, whether they’re going to do the name-calling or are going to get name-called; whether they are or are not sluts at all.

In fact, it’s entirely possible Bob is a 15 year-old kid who sees me as a slut simply because I’m a woman who is talking about sex, which he has been told, in umpteen different places, means I must be a slut and means he must try to shame me accordingly.  Hopefully, Bob will grow up, which is more than I can say for many adults talking this way.

P.S. Some other entries have come up today around some of the fracas I wanted to point out:

• From Amanda Marcotte: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/no_laughing_no_screwing_no_learning_how_to_read/
• From The Sexademic: http://sexademic.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/girl-fight-sluts-vs-prudes/ (who also wrote about Oxytocin, oddly enough, as I’m trying to finish a piece on it I keep putting off)

• From Jessica Valenti:  http://jessicavalenti.com/?p=592

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.

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Ugh, moving.  Always such a joy, especially for a disorganized magpie.

However, the last few mornings when I’ve woken up, grabbed my coffee, a smoke and the dogs to sit out on the porch as I do, I have been able to remind myself that very soon, my view will not involve asphalt, speeding cars and a ton of parked cars, loud sirens and garbage cans.  After the age of six, and up until now, this has been what I have seen every morning of my life, excepting the times I was able to go camp or otherwise escape to greener pastures very temporarily. That’s 34 years of urban life, my friends, which feels longer every day, especially the more urban starts to involve a lot of drywall and shiny-plastic-business and look more and more suburban in a lot of ways.

The knowledge that in a week I will wake up, go outside and see only forest sans asphalt, maybe a speeding chipmunk or two or a parked deer, or hear a bunch of loud frogs (the area of the island we’re living in apparently is chock full of frogs for a month or two every year) is DIVINE.

My coziest coffeeshop here in my current hood, where people were earnestly friendly, closed a couple months ago (RIP Mr. Spots Chai House).  The folks at the closest one to our new place, what’ll be about a 4-mile bike ride, which works just fine for me, already greet us warmly, even though we have only been in there a few times.  It’s also NOT across from a monstrously-sized condo development.  We already know our neighbor, and she’s friendly and hilarious and did this crazy thing where she said hello and talked to us, something the vast majority of my neighbors here, where I have lived for four years, have yet to do, even when I say hello first.  Half the time, given the reaction I get, you’d think I’d said “Fuck you, poopyhead,” instead of “Good morning!”

I’m looking forward to what I also hope will be the stretchier way time moves when you’re out in the mostly-middle-of-nowhere.  I just have had so little time for myself lately that wasn’t about work, and only work-work, not my creative work.  It’s also been so hard to keep up with calls and letters to friends over the last year, which I hate. I want some of that other time back, please.  I’ve also physically and psychologically felt very detached from the rhythms and flow of the seasons and the outdoors lately, which always puts me out-of-sorts.  Want that closer relationship back, too.

That all said, it is weird to be leaving this house and this city at the same time.  I’ve never lived in a city where I only lived in one place in it, for starters.  Even in only six years in Minneapolis, I lived in four different places. I also worry for this old place, clearly struggling to keep itself together with little help.  Vainly, I’m hoping the new folks keep a lot of the things I did to make it lovely intact, like the hand-painted wallpaper I did in two of the rooms and the bursting meadow our front. Of course, I have to let go of any attachment to that.  But still.

I’ve also had some moments of panic realizing that I have never moved where there is a boat involved. What if the ferry with our moving truck on it sinks, taking my piano, my photographs and all of my material life with it? It’s a silly worry, I know, but every now and then I get this vision of the next-to-last scene from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou in my head and cannot get it out.  Now that I think of it, it’s an especially silly worry since both sides of my family came over here on big ferry boats, too, even though they came from islands (or almost-island: the Italian side were living in Venice when they emigrated, so) TO a mainland, instead of the opposite way around. Maybe I just need to think of myself as following a family tradition, which could be good since most of our family traditions are not at all pleasant and should be avoided at all costs.

Between packing, moving and unpacking, possible hiccups in getting everything set up and connected, and the strong desire to just settle into the hammock once we get there and never come out, I anticipate a silence from me for the next couple of weeks.

Thanks to everyone who gave me some tips on professional no-saying, by the way.  Very much appreciated and highly helpful!  Also, if you haven’t seen them via my Flickr feed already, there are some pics up of the new place to peek at here.

Bon voyage to me!

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen Blog)

I moved to Seattle around four years ago from Minneapolis, where I lived for six years after leaving my hometown of Chicago. Growing up in Chicago, living in Minnesota and after an early childhood on the east coast, I was used to old things, to history, to a total lack of shiny-and-new. Growing up poor and in a number of far less-than-ideal living situations, my normal in how and where I lived was often pretty rough around the edges, and often involved a lot of effort from me, typically more than my fair share.

Seattle, however, is kind of the land of shiny-and-new. Almost every place I looked at when I was apartment-hunting felt sanitized and kind of like Barbie’s Dream House to me: without my kind of character and so already-finished that I didn’t see where there was room for my own stamp in them. The allure of the fixer-upper was nowhere to be found. I’ve always liked fixing places up that anyone else would see as hopeless: it’s a challenge, and a situation where I might have the ability to feel like I’m awesome because I took something shitty and made it fantastic. I’ve always felt more at home in places that were a bit of a disaster, probably because that’s just what I was used to, but whatever.

As it turns out, I found this house to rent that seemed amazing: it was over 100 years old, and in a neighborhood that at the time, had more old character and charm than new stuff. It had a ton of kooky little quirks I found really charming. It needed a bunch of work done to potentially make it nice, but it had the raw materials to be something awesome with work. I didn’t think twice about how quickly the landlord rented it out to me, because I wanted it, so that just seemed like serendipity. Like this was meant to be my house, to the point that I had this idea that had anyone else tried to rent it, it would not have been so easy for them.

I did do a lot of creative work with it, though not as much as I’d have liked to. I just didn’t have the time or the resources to do so much of it mostly on my own. As well, even from the start, I should have seen some red flags I just didn’t. For instance, while I was so into working on it, my housemate wasn’t as invested in that as I was. I should have recognized that when a landlord says you can just do whatever you want with a place with no limits, they’re either not being truthful or just don’t care much about the place. I also had to pay some of the costs of fixing it up, rather than the landlord paying me to do labor he should have done himself.

As the years went by, more things kept falling apart and breaking. I tried to keep up with them mostly on my own, especially since when I asked for help, what was given was either substandard or radio silence. Within a year, my lease also got shifted to a month-to-month lease, meaning that the landlord could ask me to go pretty much anytime with very little notice. Having survived that exact situation more than once in my life, and so barely, that felt horribly unstable, but I just accepted it instead of trying hard to assert my needs. Still, I felt more comfortable here than I thought I would have felt moving, both because moving or any kind of big start-over is so hard, and because this place felt so familiar, not just with its style and age, but with it’s whole vibe: I’ve lived almost all of my life in places that were falling apart or neglected. I was used to that, and however uncomfortable that as, something about that did feel like home.

Last year, it finally became clear that I could drive myself batty trying to keep this place liveable and it just wasn’t going to happen. I spent a winter without working heat in half the house, wrapped up in blankets all day working in front of a space heater.  The basic fixtures kept breaking. There were leaks, including one that nearly took down my kitchen ceiling, and a lack of insulation that cost me more money in bills than I have to spend. One day, I was so frustrated with two things that broke that I just gave up, went to get myself a glass for some wine, and when I opened the cabinet, the door fell off in my hand. On top of my house falling apart all around me, I didn’t even like the city it was in very much, and my neighborhood had also changed radically during the time I lived here in ways I did not like at all, and was not going to change back. I sank to the floor in a pile of tears, already upset due to building stress from managing work and some other huge changes in my life. It all felt so hopeless, and I so felt trapped in it, especially since at the time, moving wasn’t an option I felt I could handle financially or practically.

But why was I staying in a city I didn’t really like in the first place? Why was I staying in a house that was falling apart all around me more and more? Why did I keep trying to convince myself I could fix everything when I knew I couldn’t, or that my landlord would suddenly do all kinds of things he’d never done? Why did I keep focusing on the small things that I loved about the house when the big things were so awful? Why was I investing more and more money, effort and love into something where getting a real return on that investment was about as likely as a million dollars falling from the sky? Why was I staying so focused on what this house could be, rather than focusing on the way it actually was and was most likely to remain? Why was I accepting a total lack of help from the people who should be helping me with it while ignoring some potential help others could have given me to be somewhere better? I’m a smart person: why on earth was I being so stupid?

Ultimately, I think it came down to the fact that I was so bogged down and overspent with a lot of things in my life, including this damn house. On top of everything else I was dealing with, the idea of feeling displaced from any kind of home at all, even a poor one, just seemed like too much. I had taken part in digging myself in deeper and deeper into a pit: having to take responsibility for the place I was keeping myself in was harder than being unhappy, but being able to pin it entirely on what the house was doing, what my housemate and landlord were not doing. I had gotten attached and stayed so attached to the “what-ifs” and had invested so much time, money and heart into this place: I was having trouble accepting my hopes for it were simply never going to come to fruition because it seemed like such a waste. I had gotten scared of making a change, and had strangely managed to forget that I was capable of making it and had done so many times before in my life, even when it was harder than this was now. I had become comfortable in being uncomfortable.

In a few weeks, I’m moving out.

I’m leaving this house and this city for one of the beautiful small islands just outside of it. For many years no, I’ve talked about how I’ve spent almost all of my life in very urban areas, yet when I needed peace, it’s rural areas I’ve gone to to find it, and so I felt I might actually be a lot happier living rurally. The way my workday most often is, I can actually get away with only needing to go into the city a few times a month for work, so it is doable. Because it’s just a short ferry ride into the city, I can be rural here while also having easy access to the city. I found a place to move to with almost the exact same rent as I’m paying now, but where everything works and nothing is broken. Sure, it’s only 20 years old, so that feels and looks unfamiliar to me, but it’s beautiful inside and out. I will literally get to wake up every day and walk out into the forest, which is heaven on earth to me. As is often the case, if we can shake ourselves out of our miasma, we can usually identify not only ways to get out of it, but ways that getting out can be part of pursuing more of what we’ve wanted and had as goals all along.

Of course, this means my having to pack up everything and move again. It means money spent on moving and resettling, which is always a major strain. It means all the practical, tiresome crap you have to do to relocate. That means risking that a new place or space may or may not be better than the old one in some ways, even though it most certainly will be in other ways. That means having to deal with change, which even when it’s positive, is often uncomfortable and scary.

You may perhaps be wondering why I’m going on here at Scarleteen about my move. I’d be wondering, too.

I only just realized one of the big things that got me to these realizations about my house were conversations with some of you about your unhealthy, abusive or otherwise crummy relationships. So, I figured the least I owed you for that epiphany was the possibility of doing you the same turn, especially since your bad relationships have the capacity to screw you and your life up you a whole lot more than my bad house has the capacity to screw me and my life up.

We often have users come to Scarleteen who are in abusive, unhealthy, dysfunctional or craptastic relationships. Most of the time, you do know they’re bad before we talk with you about them. Sometimes, you don’t realize how bad until we talk, or have been trying to hold unto denials or the hopes that the relationship will just get better, either by some kind of magic, by someone who has never made any effort miraculously starting to, or by you, yourself, going nuts to try and make something bad into something good alone. Just like me, with this house.

I could stay here. My rent would keep going up and the house would keep costing me more and more while it all kept falling apart around me. I could put in continued effort while my landlord kept putting in less and less. I could freeze through another winter, trying to keep myself warm with the memory of the heat that used to work, the way the house probably was 50 years ago, the beautiful changes I made that could never quite get all finished but still might, and the hopes I had for this house, when it felt like nothing but lovely and positive possibility. I could stay here and risk the whole ceiling caving in on my head, which has become a real possibility.

You could stay where you’re at, too. You could stay and, at best, things would stay just as bad or as substandard as they are now or, more realistically, you could stay and they would keep getting worse. You could stay and keep investing more and more while getting less and less. You could freeze through another winter, trying to keep yourself warm with your hopes, those past feelings of possibility, and the time when things did seem okay, shutting out the reality which has made clear that those hopes will only ever be hopes. You could stay and risk someone abusive and unhealthy doing you the kind of harm that you can’t come back from, which is often a real possibility.

I could stay, and so could you. But I can also go. I can take the chance and the risk of something better, remember or learn what I’m really capable of. I can get the hell out of here and do the grieving I need to about what could have been, but wasn’t, and move forward, putting my time and effort and energy into something or somewhere much more likely to be worth that kind of investment. I can move into something that doesn’t need fixing now or right from the onset. I can step outside my comfort zone and likely wind up feeling more comfortable once the dust settles, rather than less. So can you.

I know that it’s hard as hell to leave a bad or abusive relationship, especially the longer you’ve been in it, the more hopes you tacked on to it, the more promises you believed, the more your whole life got sucked into it and tethered to it. It’s harder still if you have managed to convince yourself or allowed yourself to be convinced that any or all parts of the abuse are love or some kind of natural and unavoidable consequence of your existence.

I could tell myself that he floor that is wasting away in this house was once so, so beautiful, and old things just need my love to be better. I could convince myself that if I made more money, or chose to do something else with my life than I do, I’d not be in this house, I’d be able to have kept it running better, or able to have been more assertive with my landlord. I could figure that all of this would be something I could handle if I had done things differently and had more to fall back on. But I didn’t, so this is why this is happening, right?  This is what I am solely responsible for and stuck with, right?

Wrong. My house is falling apart because before I even got here people who were supposed to take care of it well didn’t. It’s falling apart because it needs a kind of help that my love or my residency can’t provide. For sure, I have some responsibility in what happened here: I could have moved out earlier if I’d have asked more people for help, if I’d taken some positive risks earlier — and maybe even put myself in a temporary space to be able to do that that wasn’t great, but helped me get closer to being able to make positive changes. All the same, while I’m responsible for not changing my circumstances when I could, what I’m not responsible for is for this house not housing me well, just like you’re not responsible for any way someone abused or mistreated you. You’re just responsible for doing all you can to get away from it to a place that’s safe, sound and where your love, effort and care will be returned in kind.

Am I going to miss things about this old house, this neighborhood, this city? Absolutely. There’s an old clawfoot bathtub here that is divine, even though the faucet never stops leaking. I made a great garden here and a meadow up front. I painted things here that are very creative and cool and have my unique stamp: I hate to leave them, they feel like part of me. I have routines here. I have a couple places I go here that I really like. I’ll be further away from a couple of friends. But I’ll deal: new places offer new things to value. When I’m honest with myself, it’s impossible to deny that what I’ll be missing the most was how things were when I first moved in, when the bloom wasn’t off the rose. When my feelings about everything were painted with the exceptional spackle that a sense of possibility is and the desire for something great can be. I had hopes for this house, but they didn’t come to fruition.  That sucks, but it also happens in life, and usually more than once. You accept it, your brush your knees off, and then you find new hopes, hopefully getting a little better each time at identifying where those hopes are more likely to become realities.  You also accept that we’ve got to take risks for the good stuff.

It may be that the change I’m about to make, the next place I’m going, turns out similarly. I’m pretty sure it won’t, because I’ve applied some lessons I learned from this. I’ve set it up, for instance, so that I have a long-term lease: I made clear from the start I refused to sign unto something month-to-month, because I know that doesn’t provide me the stability I need and know I deserve to have my needs met. I recognized that getting a better place, a more functional place, meant the screening process and the way in took more time and was not quite as easy as getting this place was, and I accepted that. I’ve made sure that nothing needs to be fixed by me: walking into this new place, everything already works and nothing is already broken. I’ve asked for help and support from the people around me in my transition, and they’re glad to provide it. I’m leaving things behind here that I just don’t need or that I know hinder me.

Sure, it’s more shiny-and-new than I’m used to, it’s somewhere I haven’t lived before, and I’m going to have to learn to do some things well I’m not yet good at. And maybe the forest that has always felt like a great refuge for me won’t feel the same when it’s where I live instead of where I visit.  It’s totally possible. If and when we do things differently, apply what we’ve learned and make choices based on goals we’ve had for ourselves… that’s when we tend to net different results, better results.

While my move comes with some question marks, continuing to stay here comes with few. The trouble is, the certainty in staying is all about being sure that, at best, things would stay exactly as crap as they are. What’s even more likely is that they’d get crappier. When we’re honest with ourselves, we all know something falling apart is going to stay falling apart once  we’ve done all we can to try and repair it with no results. I have to recognize that things would get worse if I stayed: more things would fall apart, and I’d get more and more hopeless and trapped, especially since the longer I stay, the tougher it is to go.

Am I scared? You bet. Big changes are scary, even when they’re potentially good ones. Even as someone who has taken many big risks in her life and gone through a lot of changes, big change never really stops being scary. I’m nervous and scared and I feel a bit unsteady on my feet, even though I’m moving toward something I have wanted and dreamed about, something that very clearly is far more likely to be positive and better.

So I keep reminding myself that this is living. Trying new things, taking risks that seem likely to be beneficial, stepping outside my comfort zone in pursuit of personal growth and positive change, is all of what being alive is all about. I shouldn’t feel stuck in the ground until I’m six feet under, after all. Staying stuck, sticking with anything that clearly isn’t working, avoiding what’s new and unknown is the antithesis of living: it’s refusing to be fully alive. That’s not who I am, and I’m sure it’s not who any of you are.

I know that my house isn’t exactly your relationship, particularly since, as an object, it doesn’t have the ability to have the kind of power over me another person could have, and I also couldn’t get as attached to it as I could to another person.  While the conditions of my house are awful, my house itself can’t manipulate me or try and control me. My house isn’t doing anything maliciously, nor does it know it’s treating me horribly and trying to rationalize it or someone make it’s actions seem like my fault. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to fix itself, unlike whoever you’re in a relationship with.

My house isn’t calling me names, isn’t telling me I’m stupid or a slut, isn’t accusing me of things I haven’t done or trying to control where I go or who I talk to. My house isn’t trying to keep me from my friends, family or other people who care about me and would make sure I’m always safe; my house isn’t trying to limit me in what I do in my life so that it can feel superior to me or make it tougher for me to go. My house isn’t destroying my cherished belongings on purpose. My house isn’t hitting or punching me, isn’t raping me or trying to coerce me into sex or pregnancies I don’t want. My house isn’t doing horrible things to me and telling me I asked for them. My house, itself, didn’t actually make me any promises it knew it couldn’t keep. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to choose what it does or doesn’t do, and isn’t actively choosing to treat me badly. It earnestly can’t help or change the state that it’s in, unlike the person who is failing or abusing you who has chosen not to work on themselves to get better and to stop hurting you, others and themselves. My house isn’t telling me that I couldn’t do better, that it’s as good as it gets. My house will let me leave a bad situation without trying to trick or force me into staying in something where I’m going to continue to be harmed.

My house isn’t your relationship or your partner. If any of those things are happening to you in your relationship, your house, as it were, is in a much worse state than mine is. Which begs the big question: why are you staying when I’m leaving?

Like I said, I know leaving a bad relationship is hard, and that leaving an abusive relationship is even harder. I’ve been in that spot (which is some of why I feel so bothered by how it took me so long to recognize the problems with this house), and have had friends there, too. If you need help in leaving, come and ask for it. You can ask me or one of the staff here and we’ll be happy to help you find local resources to help you out, you can call any number of hotlines, look up your local domestic violence/intimate partner violence shelter or support group or you can ask the people you know really love and care for you for help, being honest with them about what’s going on.

But if you don’t want to freeze through another winter, have the roof cave in on you or wind up more and more trapped in your interpersonal version of this sad, crumbling house, then you’ve got to take at least one step that’ll get you to the kind of space that will earnestly be a good home for your heart and your spirit, even if those first steps feel shaky or your knees knock when you take them. I deserve and am worthy of that. So are you.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

While so much of my work involves my giving other people advice, I’m writing today to ask all of you for some for myself.

While the answers and working it out are obviously going to be complex, the question itself is pretty simple.  How do any of you both accept and express your limits to others, especially people you don’t know?

I’m not talking about sexually, but in the rest of life.  Over the last year, and certainly the last few months, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that I’m not very good at this.  I’m actually great at it sexually or when it comes to my close personal relationships.  But when it comes to work-stuff, and to people who I don’t know very well (including people who may feel they know me, but who I don’t feel I know)?  I kind of suck at it. Okay, so I really suck at it.
I am aware that one of the big hurdles is that I have done and do so much that I know that can give the impression I’m either superhuman, or just always capable of doing a million things at once.  I also know that a lot of people don’t realize — how could they, really — how many people at a given time will usually be asking/wanting things of me at any given time.  To boot, when it’s about work, I find it really hard to figure out who to be professional yet still state limits that usually have something to do with having too much work on my plate, but also have to do with my health and the limitations it can impose, which is very personal.  Same goes for the financial limitations I have, also personal.  I mean, “I’m sick, broke and stretched to my limit,” is just not a very professional answer, even though that’s often the truth of things.

For example, right now, the hard truth is that unless I’m being compensated very well for anything work-wise, I really, really should say no.  Same goes for my needing to do anything work-wise which requires a lot of time and energy for any kind of setup or prep, other than things in which I can just bring my existing skills and resources to the table.  Between now and a few weeks after the upcoming move, I just need to not take ANYTHING extra on at all, because if I do, I just don’t know how it will get done in the midst of everything else.  Ideally, I’d be able to go a month before even answering any email, because the backlog is so great, and I feel so overwhelmed by how many folks want or need something from me.

Lastly, I’ve little doubt that consciously and unconsciously, my own dislike of some of my many limits probably comes across in some of these exchanges, which I’m sure doesn’t help. Any tone from me that sounds apologetic about my limits…well, I guess I feel like it only seems to make things worse.  Too often lately, I find myself just not responding to a lot of people sometimes, too, because a) even taking the time to respond to everyone takes up a lot of time and energy I don’t have, b) it makes me feel crappy to have to constantly explain that I can’t do everything, and c) a lot of people seem to take it really personally, a response I’m also really bad at dealing with, and tend to easily feel guilty about.

So, are you awesome at this?  What works for you in doing this?  If you sucked at it in the past, what was your process like in getting better at it?  If you could just gab at me about it, I’d be so grateful.  Thanks!

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.”

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Now that I’m 40, I’ve decided there is something important I should do as I enter what is likely the second half of my life. In a word, I think it might be helpful if I warn people in advance about some things other people over 40 seem inclined to do, things I would not be at all surprised to see myself doing. Heck, I already started doing some of them before I turned 40.

Knowing in advance may or may not make any of them more pleasant or tolerable for others, but at the very least I can issue an apology in advance, and you can prepare yourself in any way you feel you’d like to for the likely inevitable.  So, with no further adieu, I present…

10 Things That May Make You Wish I Hadn’t Lived Past 40
1) I will discuss the failings and delicacy of my digestive system in increasingly greater detail.  People around me, including people who may not even know me, will be told more and more about what I can and cannot eat, explicitly how eating this thing or that one impacts my digestive system and my whole body, and may even be informed of the exact moment when something has gone terribly amiss with little concern for their own desire to finish a meal while not thinking their food to have some sort of diabolical agenda.

2) I will take up some sort of hobby or collection which I decide has more value and import than anything else I have done with my life or you have done or are doing with yours.  I will refuse to call it a hobby, and instead will present it as my lifestyle, my calling, or that one thing which has the capacity to create world peace when all else has failed, and will be astounded that, for example, no one else has figured out that the secret to universal happiness lives in Precious Moments figurines or in weekly fern foraging.

3) In the case I ever knew your last name, I’ll forget it or mix it up with someone else’s.  I may also do this with your first name. And my own.
4) If not a track suit by design, I will slowly (and have already begun this process) come up with my own version of the track suit because a) nothing else will be deemed comfortable enough, b) I simply will not want to have to devote more than two seconds of thought to dressing myself and c) I will feel the track suit is inevitably less painful to the eyes of others than what I will come up with otherwise. However, I cannot promise not to pair said-tracksuit with some very bizarre hats.  Because if you can’t be female getting older and not at least have hats, life just isn’t worth living.  And yes, a When I’m an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” poster will be displayed somewhere of prominence in my home, and you can’t fucking stop me, you sexist, ageist fascist.

5) I will try and convince you to do things or eat things I am certain are our shared secret to longevity, even if the actual process of eating or doing those things makes either of us wish life would end sooner, rather than later.

6) If you thought I talked too much already, I must warn you, it’s only going to get worse.  And whether or not my hearing actually goes, I’m going to pretend that it has. I’m sorry, what?  I couldn’t hear you (say that thing I have absolutely no interest in listening to). My hearing isn’t what it used to be, you know.

7) I will begin sending everyone cutesy-pie mail forwards I decide in my delusion contain the secrets of the universe, completely forgetting how much it has annoyed the living hell out of me.  I will also ignore any requests you make of me to stop sending them to you.

8) Appearing to revert back to the mindset of my childhood and adolescence, I will relegate all pop culture from my youth and adolescence to the level of religious iconography. If yours is different, it will never be able to be as good or as valuable as mine.  Because you just don’t get it, you know.

9) I will, at least once, be one of those feminists who says something so completely out of touch, out of line or otherwise patently offensive and ignorant that you will feel embarrassed both for me, and for yourself for ever having thought I had anything of value to say or do.  When I do this, I will also be blissfully unaware that with one mere mouthful, I may have potentially undone or jeopardized everything constructive I have said or done in the past.

10) Thought you knew too much about my digestive system? Just wait until I tell you all about my hormones.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

There are haps for telling. Here’s what they be.

Friday, Blue and I went over to one of the islands, despite it absolutely pouring rain all day.  Knowing we were going to do that, and figuring what the hell, I made a couple appointments for us to see some rentals over there.  We’re not yet ready to move, but I have been looking at ads weekly for a year now, so it seemed time to at least get started, even if we’d be seeing things available way too soon for us.

And the very first place we saw, the first rental I have even looked at on this particular island — which is my island of choice — was PERFECT.  Beyond perfect, honestly.  I have maybe looked at one or two places as nice as this one to rent in my life, and I have never lived in anything even close to this nice.  Even in my dreams about places to live, things are broken or falling apart. Ungodly amazing kitchen with zinc counters and sink, maple shelves and this huge island, open to the living/dining room that is almost entirely windows, floor to ceiling, looking into a gorgeous garden and then the woods.  Loft over all of that.  The office has big stones built into the floor with radiant heat, french doors open unto a side deck the size of the downstairs of my rental now.  Two good bedrooms (the only place there is the wall-to-wall carpet that pretty much covers the whole Pacific Northwest: dunno what is with people and the carpeting here). Two beautiful bathrooms, one with the shower to die, which seems magical compared to the truly gross makeshift shower stall that was added into this place. Very creative little bits everywhere, and everything in good repair. The way the house is set, situated and designed, it feels like being in a big treehouse. The windows are NOT from decades ago, unlike the ones here which are the cause of my weeping when heating bills come in. Dog-friendly.  Smoking only outdoors, but whatevs: I need a new motivation to cut down. Only bit more a month than rent now, a cost that would undoubtedly be offset by the heat actually staying in the house.  Plus, no more fucking month-to-month lease like I have been dealing with, and which leaves me feeling totally unstable. Oh, and a working woodstove, unlike my sad, sad useless one now, which has sat gathering dust over the last year because the chimney here is toast.

Our view is into the woods, and the house is too, with some other houses nearby, but a very generous distance between, however, it’s around a half-mile walk downhill and you’re right at the beach.

We both feel in mad love with the place, which created rollercoaster waves of joy to sorrow, since we were just looking too damn soon.  Went and saw another place, way too big, in an area that felt suburban instead of rural, and some of the scariest wallpaper I have ever seen in my life.  Plus, it just had bad vibes.  Me no likey.

But wait! Since I’d asked about extended leases, the agent called us back later that day to say that was an option, which is when we found out it wasn’t going to even be available until June or July. We gasped.  We sat agape. We jumped and giggled.  And we all but ran home to do a bunch of math and other logistics then filled out the application.  Exciting, but honestly, this place is so nice and so freaking perfect, that it felt very fantastical to do this, because I still really wasn’t believing the rent was what I pay now.  So, app turned in, but we were both seriously managing our expectations and I, personally, just figured some shoe or another would drop.

Got a call today: this ungodly amazing baby be ours to rent, potentially for as long as an initial two-year lease.  Haven’t signed it yet, but the agent says so long as we still wanted it (umm, yes) we could rent it. So, unless something exceptionally weird and unexpected happens, we’re moving to one of the islands this summer.  And I finally have something other than a feeling of dread about being on a month-to-month lease here.

I’m waiting for that paper in my hand to let it really sink in that I finally am getting to do spend some of my life living full-time somewhere where my backyard is a forest, where the sounds I hear at night and in the morning are water and wildlife (and I’m not talking about the pets), and where I get to be all the way in the kind of environments I’ve previously only been able to be in when I am in desperate need of respite and solace and peace.  I can have my coffee outside in the morning in the freaking trees. I can take breaks by grabbing my camera and galoshes and sticking my nose into wildflowers. And all just a short ferry ride into the city.  When the paper is signed and that actually sinks in, my head may well explode.

It’s a leap we’re taking here, and a chance. I mean, it is possible that this idea I have had for a long time that almost a whole life spent urban needs to shift massively to the radically different environments I tend to think I feel more at home in is patently incorrect.  It may be I don’t like it at all, but you know, even if that’s true, I need that answer. If nothing else, it’ll be a much-needed sabbatical of sorts.  Plus, the house here will just not stop falling apart. I have loved this old place, so full of character, but at the same time, I don’t love a winter with broken heat, a door that I have to fight with for twenty minutes to lock or unlock, the carriage house leaning so precariously I’m sure one morning I’m just going to find it toppled sideways in the backyard or any of the other problems.  Being month-to-month in a neighborhood rife with development, it’s gotten to the point where I’m scared to even ask to have anything fixed for fear the landlord will figure he should just sell (or tired of asking for things that just never get fixed).  We’ve looked at some places in the ‘hood here in case it seemed like the islands just couldn’t happen this year, but everything we have seen has cost much more than we pay now for much less space and often no character.

Obviously, this will also be a bit easier for me, who only needs to go work outside the house a few times a month than Blue, but we did the stopwatching, and it’s still only about an hour’s commute, and a far prettier one than the one he has now.  Plus, he feels it’s way worth it.

So, there you go!  For the record, I’ve decided I like the sound of living “on one of the islands.”  As in, “Heather Corinna lives on a crunchy little island across the pond from Seattle.” Obviously, friends will know which one, and at some point, I’ll probably give it away without meaning to, but I like the very silly mystery and the sense of reclusiveness (and let’s face it, safety) not naming it publicly might offer.  I figure I’ll keep Scarleteen’s mailing addie somewhere in the city just for my own safety and to keep things from getting too claustrophobic,   so I get to keep my mystique.

Besides that big news, it’s otherwise just work-busy over here.  Working on the Our Bodies, Ourselves chap I’m writing for the next edition (still very exciting, but talk about difficulty avoiding perfectionism), working on the research, study and whatnot for the book proposal, and then doing everything else I do in a week, which is too much, per usual. Got taxes done early, which is nothing short of a miracle. That means I got the budget for the org laid out for next year, and while it’s not what I’d like it to be, it’s way better than it has been in previous years and far less panic-inducing. Haven’t been feeling all that hot lately health-wise, but I tell myself that this is another way the move will likely help. In case I hadn’t mentioned it, Blue would up getting a job at the teen shelter I do outreach for a couple months ago, and in typical form, is now managing the day shift there, and he loves it.  I certainly don’t require that anyone I’m this close to does activist or teen work, but I have to say, it’s very nice when it happens that way: it makes me feel a lot less isolated to have someone else get it so much.  Job aside, we’re still happy as two little clams over here, which is a little slice of heaven.