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

Archive for the 'Auntie Heather's Helpful Hints' Category

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.

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.

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.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s possible I may be stating the obvious here, or saying something someone else has posited before without realizing, but something struck me last night, in the midst of insomnia, I wanted to put out there.  In the case you have read someone else saying the kinds of things I am, please leave me a reference in the comments.  I’d love to read someone writing more in depth about this.

So, you may have seen that I’ve started a large sex study about multigenerational experiences with and attitudes about casual sex.  (If you haven’t, and/or you haven’t taken it, I’d be so grateful if you did, by the way.  Same with getting the word out.  The link explains more of what I’m doing with it.) It’s gotten a lot of responses so far and also some feedback.

Someone tweeted that they were delighted with how I handled sex and gender on the study, and many people commented in the study that it was refreshing, and not what they’re used to with studies, to have so many options with sex and gender. Then, late last night, someone else tweeted that they didn’t understand why anyone was so impressed, because as well as including male, female and transgender, I included trans female and trans male as options.

I was already aware of the issues with “trans male” and “trans female” as identifiers, and understand that, particularly when used by a cis-person, they suggest that someone who ID’s as female but is not female-bodied is not “really” female or “truly” female.  At the same time, I included them because despite that, I still know people who prefer and use those identifiers for themselves.  For the record, even in leaving an open field for gender so people can self-ID however they want, I have a handful of people who picked trans female or trans male as their own IDs, more than chose transgender, and more than chose to ID as one sex at birth, then as male or female with their gender.  So, whatever anyone may think about those terms, some people are clearly still using them to identify themselves by choice.

Certainly, people outside marginalized/oppressed populations often voice an annoyance with the ever-changing language which tends to be common in these groups, whether it’s about the spelling of women, what indigenous people call themselves, or how gendervariant people identify. For instance, none of us in North America have likely been spared someone’s whiny vitriol about how those uppity indians keep trying to force everyone to be PC by asking us to call them anything but indians.  If you are or have ever been a member of a marginalized group yourself, I don’t need to tell you that within these groups, there is often great frustration about language changes and keeping up with them, some general eyerolling from some members, as well as a lot of infighting about proper language.

So, here’s what I’m thinking about ever-shifting language on the margins. The dominant groups, the ones in power, have had a LONG time to have the freedom to firmly establish their identities, with the privilege of not having their identities or language challenged by anyone most of the time who had any power to enforce those challenges: there is a level of flux in language and identity they do not have. Anyone who has tried to question or change dominant language in any way knows this all too well.

On the flip side, there is a necessary inflexibility in their language around identity and in identity overall if they are to firmly sustain their position of power-over: if they change their language, they change their identity, and thus, potentially their level of power and privilege and their stronghold on either.  If a man wants as much male privilege as possible, for example, he’s got to call himself a man, especially within that group.  Calling himself anything even remotely outside that can make his privilege more tenuous, less solid, may put it in question and put him at risk of not being considered a full member — or a member at all — of that group.

It’s really hard sometimes to be patient with ever-shifting language, especially when you want to get it right and be respectful of everyone, to fully acknowledge everyone, but are trying to get it right by everyone, which is always impossible in some contexts as everyone isn’t in agreement in any given group,  or even just when you want to freaking get things done rather than argue about language.  It’s also sometimes tough if you find an identity you like within a marginalized group, one that feels true to you, and are later told it’s unacceptable or out of vogue (I think of how many old-school feminists I know, for example, who still prefer “wimmin” as an identifier but who are going to have to take endless shit from everyone, including other women and other feminists, if they use it).

However, I think it’s a little easier to be patient about it thinking of it in these ways. We’re carving out identities more slowly, are still more in process, because we have only had so much time and freedom to do so, especially without our identities being adjunct to the identities of, or controlled by, the dominant groups. We are still in process, and there’s really no way around or shortcut in that process, especially in groups that have been oppressed and marginalized the longest and/or the most.

At the same time, we also have a freedom in that which those in — or who want to or feel they must align themselves with — dominant groups do not have.  As someone low-income all my life, I’ll often talk with people about how while being poor mostly blows (especially the poorer you are: I may be without a lot now, but I have most definitely been way worse off than I am at the present time), some aspects of being low-income provide some semblance of freedom I appreciate.  I have little to lose, for instance, and am not beholden to certain things people of means are. For example, I have had people say that even if I can’t find a healthcare plan to give me actual preventative care, I should really get catastrophic coverage somehow in the case I get hit by a truck.  However, as someone with no credit cards, no car, no house, the fact is that all that’d be is one more expense, and one that really only makes sense for people of a higher economic class than me. If I had to file for bankruptcy because of a ginormous hospital bill, I’d likely lose little to nothing because I have little to nothing to lose.  Weird as it can seem, there is a freedom in that, and I’m grateful for freedoms like that, particularly given all the downsides and ways that I’m stuck.

The same can go here with identities and language: there is a freedom in having flexibility around our language and identities, of being in flux, that I think often goes unacknowledged and unrecognized, especially when we’re tearing our hair out and driving each other up a tree about language.  The fact that any of us in marginalized groups are able to try on certain words and identities and adjust them as we go is no small deal.  It can allow us/others an authenticity and diversity that those who have privilege/power, especially those trying to make very sure they hold unto it, don’t have (or, more to the point, choose not to have, or feel they have too much to lose to have ) the freedom of having.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’d like a little help with something.

Due to popular demand from some of our Scarleteen users, I need to write a piece for them about casual sex: how to figure out if it’s right for you and someone else, how to negotiate it, how to work it all out.  Certainly, much of our material can be applied to sex in casual or committed/ongoing relationship contexts, but there are definitely some differences with brand new partnerships or casual ones that could stand to be discussed.

Initially, I thought that this was so no problem, and absolutely something I can write for them…

…well, wait.

Initially, what I actually thought was that I was bummed to need to do this because I know I am going to have to deal with a level of crap about it that is just plain going to suck.  I take enough shit from neocons (and all kinds of other folks) as it is for nearly anything I say about young people and sex that is anything more than “Just wait,” but putting something like this right out there and up front is likely to result in my taking more crap than usual.

So, I thought that.  Then I got over it. They tell me they need it, so it’s my job to provide it, that’s how I do things.  Plus, I’ve always liked casual sex and managed it exceptionally well, so it’s certainly something I can write about, and it’s not like I’ve ever pretended, to the young folks or anyone else, that my life and sex life has been made up of traditionally or morally-sanctioned relationships.

But I’m hitting a bit of a snag, which is the worry I’ve actually been TOO good at casual sex in my life to do this piece well all by myself.  That in some sense, it’s been too easy for me, so I may be overlooking some management and negotiation skills, or some potential pitfalls, that should be included. I tend to be a sex-on-the-first-date (or, sex-in-lieu-of-date) person almost unilaterally from near minute one of my sexual development, with me being the person nearly always initiating that. I spent many years of my life as a frequent one-night-stander and found that was usually a great fit for me: I felt very free in that, I’ve had a lot of fun, and I tend to be able to be sexually open really fast with people when the chemistry is there. I also came of age without feeling any major moral judgments around casual sex from my peers or even most of the adults around me, so I think I came into it with less fears and doubts and baggage than other people, and certainly a generation of young people told casual sex is the stuff of death and moral and emotional destruction, have.

In some ways, casual sex has posed less challenges for me than sex has in ongoing or committed relationships. I’m also, in general, a risk-taker by nature, so there’s that to contend with, too.

Now, maybe I’m just being a dope and underestimating myself, or maybe I’m even unconsciously buying into messages that casual sex is so much more emotionally risky than other kinds of sex, something which I know hasn’t been true at all for me, but I’ve always gotten strong messages I’m weird that way, messages which may or may not actually be true.

All the same, I’m asking for help: might any of you want to share with me some of your issues/tips/helpful hints when it comes to casual sex that I can look at and potentially include in this in the case that I might see this as far easier or more manageable than other folks do?  Pretty please?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

This post, about this post and some of the comments in it, brought some things up for me this week, so I’m going to unpack  some things.

Through most of my life, the majority of my long-term partners have not been porn users or those who have used porn with any regularity. That’s nothing I purposefully screened for, asked for or did intentionally, it’s just been the way it worked out, which has been pretty surprising to me, since you hear all the time how unlikely that is, particularly if you’re dating men. And yet. To boot, in my own sexual history, it’s been more common for my female sexual partners to be porn users than my male ones.

“Porn user” is a common but weird phrase, mind, and it carries negative implications. So let me be clear: they have not been people who generally or habitually utilized/perused pornography in our sex life or in their own masturbation. With my casual partners, I really couldn’t tell you. It’s something I just don’t know about some of them because it just never came up in the brief hours or days we were schtupping. My sense is that it’s been pretty all over the map.

In general, I’ve never been someone who has a preference when it comes to whether or not a sexual/romantic partner uses pornography. It’s a fluke that most of my long-terms have not been into porn much in the same way that it’s been a bit of a fluke that most of my long-term partners wanted to be monogamous with me: both things I often don’t have any strong preferences about and have a lot of flexibility with.

Mind, I was a written erotica author and publisher for many years, I have and still do work in erotic art and fine art nudes with my photography. More than once, I’ve had staples in my own navel. So, if someone else wanted to be with someone who had little or nothing to do with pornography or erotica, I’d have been a poor choice for them. However, personally, I’ve never really been much of a visual pornography user myself, though. Lord knows I had the chance: for a handful of years, I got sent a lot of porn to review for Scarlet Letters.

My own lack of porn use has not really been about ethical objections so much as the fact that I find most porn either a) grossly comedic (in a bad and not so-bad-it’s-good B-movie kind of way) b) really un-sexy (especially when you bear in mind that I don’t find most cisgender men attractive and I also don’t find myself attracted to femmes) c) full of dynamics, language or approaches that either gross me out or make me depressed or d) downright boring. In other words, so much of it has been either a turn-off or felt so nonsexual to me that I’ve rarely had the chance to even get to the part where I make personal ethical considerations. The visual porn that I actually have found sexy and stimulating has generally been made in such a way that I don’t have ethical issues with it, though I don’t think that’s the big reason why I liked it. I know that Shar and Jackie and Nan made and make their material in a way that works with my ethics, but while that’s a big plus, I think why I like their work has more to do with the content, style and vibe of it all (which yeah, okay is probably also about ethics: clearly compartmentalizing this stuff is only so doable).

I think I’m also influenced by being a visual artist and finding that what I see visually in my head when I fantasize is a lot more interesting, complex and purty to look at than what has been committed to film or video or because it’s possible that some of what I see in my head just isn’t possible with the limitations of those mediums (or the limitations of physics, for that matter).  And when I’m photographing other people, it’s not a sexual experience for me (even if it is for them, which it often isn’t), it’s not really about erotica so much as body image, and when I photograph myself, unless a partner was involved, it’s the same story. Not always, but most of the time.

Written erotica? That’s offered me a lot more, and was something I far more often have found arousing, but I stopped reading erotica for the most part years ago because I just lost interest.  Editing and publishing it for such a long time probably played a part in that. My porn these days, if you can call it that, tends to be things more like cooking or music. Toss a porn vid at me and you’ll probably get a 0 on the Richter scale. Make an ungodly good and beautiful cake or pick just the right batch of tunes and then you get the quivering thighs.  Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m bloody boring. Who knows. Who cares?

Because I work in sex, I also often feel like I’m probably a bit off-the-grid with any of this stuff.  When sexuality is your job, you’re just in a different mindset with all of this in my experience, than people are for whom it isn’t or has never been work. I see and hear enough about sex all day, and often not things that are sexy either, that when it comes time for sex I just want the physical contact, pronto. I want to get right to it.  Perhaps impatience is part of all this for me, too. I’m not often an “I need to be finessed” type: I’m more a “Stop fucking around and get on with it!” gal.

Anyway, on the whole, I don’t know how much difference a partner using or not using pornography has really made in the vast majority of my relationships. I’m inclined to say little to none, in either direction.

Of course, I also find it tough to even define that criteria. For instance, one longtime partner of mine didn’t have any purchased porn of any kind (and this was pre-internet), but often, as an illustrator, illustrated erotic images were something we sometimes made part of our sex life or our general sexual consciousness: that’s porn. And like I said, some of the art I made has been about erotic experiences, even though the arousing part for me was the-making-of (and the sex that often continued after) rather than looking at anything later.  But then, I’m also a process-not-product person in most things.

The one way issues have come up that have been problematic for me hasn’t been about porn or no-porn, but about attitudes around or about porn.

In other words, the one time a partner’s porn use really was a problem for me was when that person’s attitudes about the people in porn framed them as less-than-human, as commodities, objectified them in a way that I just wasn’t comfortable with. And sometimes those attitudes bled over into our sex life, particularly if that pornography had been used very recently. I did put a kibbosh in that relationship on having porn be used as foreplay (either with me or alone) in our sex life because when it was, I did experience a bleed-over of those dynamics in our sex that created a dynamic I really wasn’t comfortable with, and made me feel like I was in some way also kind of nonconsensually being made part of the sexual dehumanizing of someone else.  And that’s neither okay with me nor was it sexy to me: it was a really big turn-off.

If someone wants to bring sexual fantasy of someone else into sex with me, I’m totally down with that (and as someone who has enjoyed sex with more than one partner at a time far more than once, that’s a goodie for me, and plays a part in my own sexual fantasy life a’plenty), but not if that fantasy involves framing others as products or goods, not people. Mind you, I would never have asked that partner to change their porn use that had nothing to do with me and that I walked into the relationship knowing about, even if I didn’t know some of the flavor of it. And setting that limit with it did seem to put an end to the dynamic I experienced coming into our bed sometimes.

I’ve also not done very well with sexual partners who don’t use porn and have strongly negative or objectivist attitudes about people in porn or sex work. I don’t know how much that really impacted my sex life with those folks, but it certainly impacted the relationship as a whole, mostly due to my own history, to the fact that some of my friends are “those people,” and the fact that I just don’t connect well with people who hate on other people as a whole, or who feel very insecure about their sexual selves.

I’ll be honest and also say that — in my experience, which isn’t to  say jack about anyone else’s — with my partnerships, when I think hard and try and find any differences, I’ve found my partners who are not big with the porn tend to be a bit more imaginative, full-sensory oriented lovers who I experience as a bit more tuned-in to the present sexual moment. There have been exceptions, but on the whole, for me, that’s one commonality I’ve found, though it usually hasn’t been a chasm of difference, but something more often more subtle. That personal experience may well bear no reflection on regular porn users as a whole, and I don’t know of any broad, credible study that has been done with that kind of criteria to make any kind of statement on if that holds true for others or most people or not. In my experience, partners who are not frequent users of very mainstream porn also tend to bring a bit less of some porny conventions or norms to the sexual table.  Given how gendernormative and heteronormative most porn is, so much of the attitudes there just don’t fit me or what I want in a sex life that’s rally about me or the kind of people I partner with.

I’m also not a fan of things being secreted away, so if and when I have had a partner (which has been rare rare) who came into the relationship with a pre-existing pattern of being very sneaky and secretive about porn or masturbation, that also hasn’t worked out for me. I wound up feeling like I was living in my Irish-Catholic grandmother’s house, which was not at all sexy and deeply unpleasant.  I just don’t do sex-sneaky of any variety or find that jibes with my sexual ethos or the kind of vibe around sex I want and need.  Unfortunately, I also don’t find that simply saying “Hey, you don’t have to hide that, in fact, I’d really prefer you didn’t, it’s no biggie,” fixes it.  Same goes with expressing that we can make room for privacy without anyone having to hide things.  Most people have learned those kinds of patterns in childhood and they’re often pretty darn cemented by adulthood (and sometimes the hiding and sneaking is part of the allure: you take that out, and you take the excitement out for them).

People who really need or want porn during partnersex also hasn’t worked for me. But that’s mostly about the fact that I don’t dig TV or computer screens being in my sexual or relaxation spaces in general. Having a monster TV screen nearby (even in my house at all, frankly) is a total buzzkill for my own libido. Plus, I don’t have any interest in acting out most porn scenarios, since most of them bore the living crap out of me. Watching women fake orgasm also just reminds me of the depressing parts of my day job.

So, all that said, how do I feel about what the pattern has turned out to be?  I really think I’d be copacetic either way, honestly, and that what was fine and what wasn’t would be unlikely to be as simple as porn or no porn.

But here’s the thing: I’m me, and someone else who writes in with an issue like this is someone else.

Even if someone who writes in on this is someone very much like me, I don’t advise people my age or people like me: I advise young people, and they’re almost always very, very different from me.

There’s no one right preference or set of preferences here, and while I feel just fine most of the time having partners who utilize pornography (or don’t) that doesn’t mean everyone else is fine with that. While I have not found that pornography use, on the whole, or a lack of same, has made any huge differences in my relationships or my sex life, not only may that not be true for someone else, anyone else is just as entitled to whatever their process is of finding out what works and doesn’t for them as I have been.  While I haven’t had strong preferences here, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t entitled to them.

I’m not on board with some of the reasons young people, mainly young women, are uncomfortable with porn. For instance, with a lot of the young hetero women, it often seems to do with them hating on other women and seeing other women as sexual competition instead of as allies.  Something else that seems to loom large is that porn tells the truth about the fact that no, most people, including those who choose to be sexually exclusive with one, are not only attracted to one person. Young people of all genders often really, really want to think that they are the ONLY person a partner or love interest is attracted to, rather than acknowledging that no, that’s rarely so. Even when I gently explain that if they find monogamy to have a value, that value must surely have root in the fact that even though they and their partners are attracted to others they are still choosing to be with but one, that tends to go over their heads and not be what they want to hear.  As well, there clearly is a certain virtue they attach to the idea that only that one person in the world is found attractive, even when I explain that that kind of fully-single minded attraction is actually often pathological and leads to stalking, not love.

If in doubt they idolize this mightily, please reference sales figures for the Twilight books.

But despite the things like this that I’m not okay with, and think they do need to work through in order to feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships,  I don’t see any reason it’s not okay for someone to choose to date or become intimately involved with only partners who do or don’t use porn or based on what they think is going to create a relationship that makes them feel best and works best with who they are and what they want right now.

And this is a particularly big issue since I’m me at almost 40, and most of the people I advise are just starting their sex lives and just starting when it comes to intimate relationships.  They haven’t had the decades-long learning process I have yet, the kind of vast sexual history or even the opportunity yet to have a relatively diverse dating pool to choose from and figure out what their preferences really are.  And a lot of them also — be the constraints internal or external — haven’t had a lot of the kinds of freedoms I have had to explore all of this. Even something as seemingly small as my never having felt pressured in my life, by a partner or culture, TO have a given stance on porn, to look at it or not, to be okay with it or not, is a pretty critical difference.  Young people right now have grown up with a very different environment when it comes to porn than someone my age or older did: young women right now often express feeling very strong pressure to both be okay with porn, to include it in their sex lives or even to create it of themselves for partners.  Young people today also often didn’t find porn after searching high and low for it, led by their own curiosity: many see it accidentally before that curiosity ever happens.

If what any of them need in their process with porn or sexual relationships is to try to only be in environments sans porn, then they get to decide that and find out whatever they learn doing that.  I don’t think telling a young person it’s okay for them to have that criteria is sex-negative, shames anyone who uses or creates porn, or enables a culture of shame. I also don’t think telling a young person they can choose not to enter or stay in relationships where there is porn use is telling them they can or should regulate a partner’s solo sexual behavior (something I unilaterally tell them all the time isn’t okay). More to the point,  I think it’s really vital that all young people hear that they ALWAYS have the right to choose only the kinds of relationships they want based on their own criteria, especially since so many of them (and more female than any other gender) express that they do not feel entitled to that freedom.

* * * * *

Some of my reactivity to this piece and some of the comments is also about this thing that happens all the time when you’re a person who does what I do for a living.

That’s the common assumption that because I said X to this person, my personal sex life must be driving the car.  And often, they’re really not.  In fact, part of doing my job well (which is why sex educators do things like SARs) is doing my level best to be mindful of what my own experiences have been, what my own sexuality is, what my own biases are, and to take them into account, then try and screen them out while still also bringing the person I am to the table so that I can still connect with someone well.  That’s sometimes very hard to do, but I always try.

When I answer people’s questions, what I try and do is put myself into their shoes and their heads as the share the contents with me and suggest what I think seems would be best for them, based on what they are telling me about their values, their wants, their ideals and experiences in their sexuality or sex life. I also have to bear in mind everything I have learned more broadly about this generation in the time I’ve worked with them. I certainly can’t leave myself at the door in that wholesale, and sometimes I feel like my own ideas might help them think a bit differently if it seems the way they’re thinking is problematic for them or limited, but what I say is mostly about them and my estimation of where they’re at.

The assumptions people make in public about my sex life who clearly know zip about my sex life get very tiresome, especially after more than a decade of hearing them.  And it’s adults who usually go there: the young people I work with tend to ask me questions more often than just making assumptions if and when they really want to know what my deal is (and they usually don’t). Same goes for the assumptions adults make who a) don’t work with young people and b) haven’t spent a lot of time working with a lot of young people and their sexuality.  It’s not the same as children and it’s not the same as full-stock adults, and the rare few of us who do this full-time for a long time as our job understand that in a way other people who don’t do not.

Plus, I’d by lyin’ if I didn’t say I always get a hot streak of irritation when I see long written responses to sexuality information and education to/for young adults, so people can take the time to discuss it, and how well they’d do it, amongst their adult pals, but don’t show up to volunteer to actually do the work with young people themselves, something all of us who do could really, really use some extra hands with. Seriously: if you could do it so much better, and feel you know exactly the right thing to say, please send me an email to start volunteering, because I could really use the extra help.

Back to those assumptions. For example, based on some of the angry email I sometimes get from men who resent what I say about female-bodied people and intercourse, it’s common for people to figure that the reason I say that the majority of women can’t orgasm from intercourse so often is because I don’t get off that way, and want to keep other people from doing so in my horrible bitterness about the ways I can’t get off. “You frigid old bitch” is not a phrase which I am unfamiliar with as a greeting in some of these responses.  I get that enough that I’ve even considered signing my correspondence with Heather Corinna, FoB.

The fact of the matter is that I AM someone who can come that way and always have been. I’m a very multi-orgasmic and easily orgasmic person, and I reach orgasm from fucking all the time, always have, be the member-in-question attached to someone’s body with sinew or with straps and D-rings.

But I also know from talking to many, many female-bodied people over many years, from anatomy, and from doing my homework on actual study around this that I am a minority in that: just because that works for me isn’t going to incline me to discount what’s clear for vagina-toting folks as a group.

One of my fave assumptions I get from some conservatives is the idea that because I give information on anal sex, and don’t say it’s icky or gross or dirty or always painful for women, I must be having receptive anal sex nonstop. Possibly TMI, but alas, no. Unfortunately — and I say unfortunately, because ideally I’d like to be able to have every single spot on my body have the potential for pleasure — due to one of my sexual assaults, receptive anal sex is simply not something I can do.  It is physically and emotionally intensely painful and triggering for me, and that seems unlikely to ever change. I very much enjoy providing anal sex and play for partners who dig it, to be sure, but I can’t ever be a catcher.  But again, that doesn’t mean I’m going to project that and state that my experience is everyone’s experience: I know better, and I study more than my own sex life for my work.

The assumptions about Heather and BDSM have always abounded, like that one that I have “condescension and hostility” for sexually submissive women, an interesting theory considering that for a few years in Chicago in the 90’s I was thick in the BDSM scene as a switch. While I moved away from BDSM in my sex life, it had squat to do with…well, not what I think that person seems to assume it did. I moved away from that per my Buddhism and where I was/am at with it, and I also have had some issues with how many BDSM communities present those communities as automatically immune from any abuse occurring there, as if there is any community in the world anyone could say that about.  In the early 2000’s,  I was also overwhelmingly awash in several years of submissive women as friends, friends of friends or anonymous emails coming to me — I really don’t know why– who were unilaterally a hot freaking mess. Either a mess because their partnerships really were not negotiated, because those women were not understanding that being sexually submissive as a woman was an option, not a requirement, or a mess because abuse was going on. I had a very close friend at the time where a BDSM community was knowingly and actively hiding the abuse that had gone on in her very visible relationship to protect the abuser.  My expressing somewhere at the time, which I did, that I still had yet to personally meet a female sub (I have since, by the by) who truly had her shit together was absolutely true for me at the time, and I had been asked for a personal opinion/experience in that post. Then, that was mine. I qualified it, though perhaps not as well as I could have. On the other hand, silence on that may have been my only other best option, since otherwise, I would have had to have lied about what my experiences had been. Maybe silence would have been better: I don’t know. It’s tough to make these kinds of calls, and in a space where I constantly tell people they can tell their truths, I don’t know how I feel about any of mine being somehow totally unacceptable (inappropriate is one thing: unspeakable is so something else).

What Vinnie who commented on Greta’s post first linked to, though, was a post way back when from a user who, likely unbenownst to him (as he probably didn’t take the time to look through her post history), was in a pattern of rotten relationships where she said yes to all kinds of things she later expressed she really didn’t want to, but was basically scared to death to be single or alone. She was in a space where she postured a lot, kind of setting herself up as “the girl who would do anything for love,” to prove she was worthy to herself and to partners. That particular post was her asking about a pretty 24/7 situation that, based on what we knew about her and this guy from her past posts, was not at all likely to be healthy for her, specifically.  While I thought it was possible she was a kinky person in general, this particular scenario wasn’t a good one, particularly in her headspace at the time. I did my best with it, with the knowledge I had at the time personally and professionally, and with what I knew of her to date.

You won’t find that original post now because Vinnie came into the community without any history there and made a reply in it that she felt very uncomfortable with — and in general, often when older adults come out of nowhere to talk to our users they feel understandably uncomfy, especially if they come in with a beef  that’s really more about themselves or me than the teens –  and which led her to finding his journal where he talked about her some more. She asked me to make her post at ST go poof from public eyes because of that and because she was basically being assigned a sexual identity from unknown adults she wasn’t sure was hers, so I did. The idea I had “disdain” for her was bollocks and a clear projection.

In that journal entry of his, Vinnie said, “I think you will not see Heather say [that intercourse poses no issues per consent and gender role pressure] because Heather has had pleasurable and fulfilling heterosex…what I enjoy is what’s good for everybody.”  Yet, I’ve actually had fulfilling all kinds of sex, and have also frequently discussed (including in one of the old posts he linked to) that consent and assumed/assigned gender roles are a potential issue in ALL kinds of sex, those I enjoy or have enjoyed, and those I have not or do not.  This is exactly the skewed root assumption I’m talking about.  That motivation — what I sexually like or don’t myself — doesn’t lead how I advise people.  If what I liked and enjoyed sexually led how I advised people, Scarleteen would be a very, very different place than it is, I assure you. It also very much would not have the broad appeal that it does, and would serve a far smaller portion of the populace, particularly since one of the big things I have never done/been is heterosexual. I’ve been queer since I’ve been sexual. And when it all comes down to it, Heather has had a whole lot of different kinds of sex with a whole lot of different people in her lifetime, and Heather has tended to like the vast majority of that sex, be it kinky or vanilla (not distinctions I use, but other people tend to, so), queer or less-so, genital or otherwise, whatever.  If I have any strong bias in the sexuality work that I do, my bias is that I like sex.

By all means, if I — or any other person giving sexual advice — am not doing my job well, as can happen, but hopefully infrequently — then my own preferences and experiences may wind up being more of the picture than they should be.  Many sex advice columnists and writers are legendarily bad at that, though that’s likely less about sex work specifically and more about the fact that people in general often aren’t so great about awareness and management our their own biases. There is a learning curve here, mind: we all tend to get better the longer we do this when we’re trying to get better.  We all have a process: none of us are born fully-formed from the head of Zeus, after all.

Of course some people will tend to simplify things. A couple years back, I wrote an entry about how I felt like my own efforts in sexuality activism were best made outside of trying to change or make better pornography or erotica, which got translated by a bunch of people into “Heather is totally anti-porn.” Not true (and pretty strange if a person has any idea about the scope of what I do and have done in all my sexuality work), and those making the assumptions didn’t usually engage with me in any way to flat-out ask me that, either.

I’m not saying, for the record, that Greta is making these assumptions. I’d be surprised if she did, even though I do think she misrepresented my response.  I think I was very clear that I did NOT think it was okay to try and “regulate” a partner’s porn use.  Rather, what I said was that anyone gets to make a choice about who they date and get involved with, and if someone, as this user was, felt very uncomfortable with porn, she got to choose to only date people who didn’t use it if she wanted. Mind, I also made some strong suggestions that porn may not even be her issue here at all, as I suspect, when it comes to the heart of the matter, it probably isn’t. But if she wants to find out by only dating folks who don’t use porn, she gets to do that, just like if I only wanted to date other vegans or other Buddhists, I’d get to do that, too.

I was on the fence about whether or not to cross-post this at Scarleteen, but have landed on the best-not-to side. Why? Because, again, one thing I think older people don’t realize is how much pressure is put on young women to be okay with pornography and things like strip clubs. When I did some surveys for S.E.X. years back when I was writing it,  was pretty surprised to see how many young people, of all genders, had some pretty negative feelings about pornography, and how many of them really were strongly anti-porn and felt very strongly unsupported.

Those who felt that way tended to describe feeling pressured to like it when they didn’t.  Because of the respect young people tend to give me, statements I make like I have in this entry can be interpreted by young people, correctly or not, as “Well, if Heather is okay with it, then I should be,” or “Heather says it makes no difference to her, so I must be a prude because it does for me. I want to be more like Heather, so I need to just suck it up.”  They tend to feel similarly about those of us who have had a lot of sexual partners: talking about a big sexual history can make them feel pressured, even if that’s not what we intend. I also really pick and choose carefully when I make statements about my observations around my own sex life, because sound boundaries are important and essential, especially between older people and younger people when talking about sex.

Ultimately, I want them to feel as supported in their own sexual life and ethos as possible, and am always trying to be very mindful per how what I say may or may not really be supportive in whatever their own journey or process is.  That’s the foot I try very hard to lead with.  I think I get better and better at it as the years go by, and I think some of my reactivity to a crit like Greta’s comes from hearing that critique at times when I think I’ve actually done exceptionally well, and had to work very hard to bypass my own experiences and my own feelings in order to address and try to understand hers.

Had it just been my guts talking, my guts would have said that I don’t personally get the big whoop with feeling insecure about porn like she does, especially since porn is so often so freaking dumb, and that while she was 100% entitled to choosing partners who didn’t use it (and on that, Greta and I may actually disagree), I highly doubted porn was her real issue.  But my guts in that regard would not likely have been helpful to her, acknowledged who she is now and where she’s at now, or made her feel at all comforted.  My guts probably would have gotten in the way of her process, and probably would have cemented her negative feelings even more, especially since my guts aren’t her guts, and I’m supposed to be looking mostly at hers, not at mine. My guts usually say, “Eh, porn, whatever.”  But that’s not what hers say to her, and I think someone like her can find ways to have relationships in alignment with her wants that don’t also trample, dismiss or exclude someone else’s.

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I’m posting most of the text of the lecture I just gave at UT last week, because a bunch of people asked for it, and because it was a great experience (and how awesome was it to be in a room full of current and potential sex educators?  VERY).  So much of what I said really sums up where I’m at with work right now and have been going.  I say “most of,” because some of the text here were points I knew I’d riff on some more casually, which I did, but this is still the meat of the thing.  My riffs are where I tend to be funnier, so my apologies for not remembering what the hell else I said.  I’ve gotten a lot better with my comfort level with more formal public speaking over the last year or two, but am still uncomfortable enough that when I’m done, I feel like I’ve just come out of some kind of hypnotic trance.

You might also notice that some of this lecture borrows some bits from a couple other pieces I’ve written recently, namely this one.

My name is Heather. I’m turning 39 this spring, and I’m a full-time sex educator.

I was asked to come talk to you to about how to be both innovative and inclusive with sex education.

In many ways, sex education often seems to get stuck in two big places.  Plenty of people seem to think that if you’re talking about sex to young people at all — no matter how you’re talking about it, no matter why you’re talking about it — that’s progressive enough, and for some, that in and of itself is too progressive.  Despite Americans having over 100 years to get used to sex education at this point, for many it still seems an innovation, and not a particularly welcome one.  Hopefully I don’t need to tell this group too much about how so many ideas about inclusivity in young adult sex education — when the notion exists at all — often come from a place more concerned with political correctness than real equity.

We infrequently seem to even address either of these issues, in part because American sex education seems to be stuck at the world’s longest red light: the discussion about it starts and ends with if abstinence-based sex education is best or comprehensive sex education is.  Progressive sex educators will always — validly –  tend to strongly voice that comprehensive sex education is best and that’s what needs to be provided.  For sure, medically-accurate, secular sex education is vital.  However, I think all too often progressives don’t realize how little difference there can be between the two, and how limited so much current sex ed of all types is.

To get us all started on the same foot, I want to address what those three terms usually mean.

Abstinence-only sex education is no kind of sex education at all, ultimately: it’s about why NOT to have sex until (heterosexual) marriage, and based around unwanted pregnancy, STIs, and ideology about how sex before or without marriage is bad news.  Most of it makes no effort to be medically accurate — quite the opposite — but instead relies on fear tactics like the notion that condoms have microscopically-small holes which sperm and infections can swim right through, or that people who have more than one sexual partner lose the ability to emotionally bond with others.  That education does not usually give instructions on using birth control methods or safer sex — it often furthers that any of this education would encourage sex (and that these things are not needed in marriages), though I can’t help but wonder sometimes if that also isn’t just about the fact that many abstinence educators also just don’t know how to use these things themselves.  It focuses almost entirely on refusals of sex, if it teaches any usable skills at all. Abstinence-based sex education also is by nature heterosexist and not merely gendernormative, but relies strongly on binary and traditional notions of gender and sexuality.

Abstinence-plus education does tend to include practical information, and much of it is medically-accurate, and may also be evidence-based, however its supposition is still that it is best for teens not to be sexually active or sexual in any way. It, too, also tends to be very gendernormative and not very inclusive.

Comprehensive sex education is medically-accurate, does (or is supposed to) include instruction on birth control and safer sex and may also include address of topics like anatomy, sexual orientation, masturbation, relationships, sexual abuses, pregnancy options and more, and should come from a place where no one set of sexual choices is privileged as best or right.

But in a recent study of comprehensive sex education in the state of Illinois, of 17 possible topics, emergency contraception was mentioned least, taught by only 30 percent of teachers. Only 32 percent of teachers brought up homosexuality or sexual orientation, 34 percent taught how to use condoms, 37 percent taught how to use other forms of birth control, 39 percent discussed abortion and 47 percent taught students where to access contraception and sexual-health services.  So, even when sex education is comprehensive…well, it’s often not comprehensive at all.

Most of the sex education available to young people right now is either abstinence-only OR abstinence-plus.  Very few curricula or programs are without some kind of abstinence ideology.

Despite thousands of years of young adults being sexual people in any number of ways, and every evidence possible that this is totally natural to them, many adults and sex educators  — even plenty we’d think of as progressive — have in some sense become apologists for sexuality, particularly that of young people.  We’ll talk about it because we have to, because many are going to try “it” and be sexual, but more and more, in sex ed, sex is discussed a lot like the common cold: fairly inevitable, but something you’d probably be best to avoid, which is a pretty wacky way to talk about something that is primarily about pleasure.

The vast majority of sex education available today is also centered around reduction or management of risks of unwanted to negative outcomes, giving the message that the best sex has to offer is nothing bad happening to you because of it.

I had a wake-up call a little while back when I spent some time reviewing some of the top comprehensive sex education curricula.  I, too — when it came to sex ed provided in schools — had made a lot of presumptions about the comprehensive curricula.  I knew they were medically-accurate and often also evidence-based, but I had made a bunch of other assumptions.  I assumed most, if not all, would have detailed address of sexual and whole-body anatomy, that they’d discuss or even masturbation, that they were inclusive — when it came to sexual orientation and gender identity, to race, to class, to relationship models and a variety of sexual choices –  I expected at least some address, though perhaps minimal or watered-down, of desire, of pleasure, of the sexual response cycle.

Yet most of those curricula have little to none of those things.  In fact, at a meeting to review a few of them, sure that I had merely overlooked or wasn’t seeing inclusion, in four of these curricula, I asked where the inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth was and was told that one of the curricula had a scenario listed in which both teens in the story where named Joe.

Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you that inclusion is a lot bigger than two people named Joe  — which doesn’t even assure those two people are the same gender or sex in the first place — on one page.  Nor do I likely have to tell you that sex is about a whole lot more than merely avoiding — or winding up with — unwanted or negative outcomes: if we get pregnant or don’t, get a sexually transmitted infection or don’t, are or are not sexually assaulted.

There are a few reasons all of this is the case.  A lock on funding for comprehensive sex ed since the end of the Clinton administration, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into abstinence-only through the Bush administration is certainly is one of them.  A general discomfort with sexuality as a whole among teachers, school administrators, parents, healthcare providers — and, by proxy, teens themselves — is obviously another. It’s no newsflash that we continue to have big problems — far bigger than many people like to admit — with sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, sizeism.  And all of these issues have certainly impacted sexology as a whole, a field of study which has always been highly male-dominated, very white, very heteronormative and gendernormative.  Sexology has certainly been becoming more diverse over the last twenty years or so, but it still has a long way to go.

So, what informs sex education?  These cultural attitudes, the limits of what has been studied when it comes to sexuality, which is also often informed by these cultural attitudes and blind spots.  The medicalization of sex is also a factor, as is the fact that America is far less sexually liberated than she likes to think.  Toss in an age-old fear of young adult sexuality — hell, a fear of teens and young people, period — then try and stuff it all into formats which can fit into mainstream models of public education, pass a parent and a school board, work in the often toxic social environment of high schools and junior highs and you get an idea of what we wind up with, and how, even if medically-accurate, even if it’s comprehensive, most sex ed is still woefully substandard.

I haven’t chosen to try and provide sex education in schools, but instead, have done so through an online medium to a widely diverse, international userbase for just over ten years, as well as with some in-person outreach and through print publication.  I don’t have to write a curriculum that passes anyone’s muster but that of the young people who choose to utlilize it, and I don’t do any sex ed that isn’t 100% opt-in on the part of young people.  I’m an anarchist by nature, an alternative educator by trade, and that is the way that I do sex ed.  As a young person, I was massively helped by alternative education environments — it’s even safe to say my experimental arts high school saved my life, and certainly my sanity and sense of self –  and before I worked in sex education, I spent several years as a Montessori teacher, a model which informs a lot of how I have done things right from the start with Scarleteen.

To give you a little history in a nutshell, in 1997, I was still teaching in Montessori, but had never stopped writing.  (A lot of my background is in the creative and performing arts, and I started publishing early, in my teens.) Much of my written and artistic work always had a whole lot to do with sexuality and sensuality, and other than bruising my head any more from banging it against the walls and doors of what existed in terms of publishing opportunities for that work, in 1998 — when the web was still very new and all of our web design skills were atrocious –  I rolled out a website called Scarlet Letters, which was the ‘nets first site which focused on female sexuality and eroticism.  Why the net?  Because it was dirt cheap, mostly, and because something about the newness of it: the pioneering nature of being on there seemed a great fit for pioneering ideas.

Within just a matter of months, I began to find letters in my inbox from younger people — Scarlet Letters was intended for adults — with questions about sexuality, stating they just didn’t know where else to go.  My first impulse was to look for somewhere for them to go, and when I did, I — as they clearly had — found nothing.  So, for a little while, I’d just answer the questions in email.  Most of them were pretty rudimentary — Am I pregnant?  Am I gay?  Where the hell is my clitoris and why do I care? — and as the go-to girl for sex in high school and college, the daughter of a public health nurse and and activist and, well…someone who liked sex a whole lot and had done more than her share of field research, they were relatively easy to answer.

And they kept on coming.

By the end of that year, I added a section of pages  of these questions and answers to Scarlet Letters which would later become Scarleteen. I hadn’t kept up with young adult sex education since I had it, I was only aware of how it played out in the ECE and elementary environments I’d taught in.  Naively, I had figured that sex ed had pushed off from many of the progressive efforts of the seventies and early eighties and must — I thought — be pretty okay by that point.  It didn’t take more than a few big batches on the constant influx of letters for me to do some research and find out how completely mistaken I was.

Let me fill you in a little on the Montessori model: Maria Montessori is a fantastic example of  being an innovator.  The first female doctor in Italy, during the first World War she was assigned to care for children in the ghettos.  Those children were intensely independent, used to caring as much for their families and self-care as their parents, and traditional notions of containing children, having them sit in neat rows and be directed by an adult just didn’t suit them.  So, Montessori, very organically, and based on the unique needs and stages of her students, developed her own method.

The primary way Montessori works is this: as educators, we are primarily observers.  Based on our observations of our students self-directed interests, skills (or lack thereof), unique needs and questions, we choose what materials to make or find and what to present to them. In doing this, we’re also trying to help students learn to be observers, as well as working to empower them when it comes to trusting their own interests and instincts and to be self-motivated and self-directed, rather than reliant on — or vulnerable to — others to give them directives. Montessori teachers see ourselves more as helpers, as guides, than as directors or teachers. We see our students as the real directors, not us: it’s our job to follow their cues, not to teach them to obediently follow ours. Questioning is not discouraged, but intensely encouraged. The principles of Montessori are all about independence, liberty and freedom, without which one cannot achieve, develop or experience self-discipline or learning, or live a life of any real quality. Montessori wrote that, “Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” 

(This is also a particularly pertinent notion when we’re talking about sexuality, and says — I think — quite a lot about what we can expect when we come to sex education or sexuality from a standpoint of sex and sexuality being something we and others must control.)

Particular areas of what we call absorbency — times during which a person is most able to learn something and can most easily and enthusiastically absorb information — is also something we pay close attention to and bear in mind. The big deal that identifies a time of absorbency is when a person is both expressing a strong interest in a subject or area of development and is just starting to use and hone those skills: ages 1-3, for instance, as children are learning to speak and are fascinated with language, is usually the time of the greatest absorbency for language. If we help children be exposed to and learn language then, not only is their mastery best, they usually can also learn more than one language, more easily and ably than they will be able to during other times in life.

It doesn’t take someone with Montessori training or keen observational talents to identify the fact that when it comes to sexuality, the minds of adolescents and pre-adolescents are greatly absorbent. Because part of identifying what and when to present certain things has to do with when a person is starting to use what they learn, we can easily spot adolescence as a great time for sex education. In working with young adults, while I’m not really getting in on the ground floor since so many sexual attitudes are learned in childhood, I’m still in early enough so that our readers can get help forming healthy habits and attitudes at a dawn in their sexuality and during a time when they are very absorbent. I’m not just working with them just so that they can use this information and these skills now — after all, some of them want the information now, but don’t intend to, or are not, putting all of it to practical use, while others are becoming or already sexually active — but so that they can have them early, available to them for the whole of their lives.

Using the models — or really, the un-models — of education I liked best, like Montessori, like ideas from John Holt and A.S. Neill, the first thing I did was assess my students, not based only or mostly on statistics or standardized testing, but based on who they really were and what they were telling me.  I had needs clearly expressed to me by young people.  They had important questions about sex and sexuality which were not being answered, and they needed and wanted answers.  Clearly, they also felt comfortable asking via the new terrain of new media, and also felt comfortable approaching me, personally, likely due to both my openness about sex, my casual tone and probably also because they were so desperate for anyone willing to answer their questions who seemed likely to have answers, and also likely not to be able to hold them accountable for asking,  that they were not being particularly selective about who they asked in the first place.

What were my tools and materials? I had what felt like the perfect fit for their needs with the Internet.  It was anonymous.  It was relatively cheap (and while my costs have certainly grown with our traffic, compared to print media, it’s still peanuts).  I was not going to have to try and slog through endless beaurocracies to provide what the teens were asking me for, wasn’t going to have to argue with parents and administrators — though later I did have to argue with the federal government, but we won that argument.  I would be able not only to build what I felt was best based on their expressed needs, I’d also have the freedom  — should I need or want to — to knock it all down and try something completely different on a whim, a flexibility and whimsy which often had not exactly been appreciated the few times I’d tried teaching in pre-established systems with administrators, but which is central to student-based and directed education.

I had me, someone who had been a teacher for some time and loved teaching, who had had an incredibly challenging adolescence and an easy and intense compassion for children and teenagers.  I had a set of diverse skills I could draw on which helped: I had writing skills, design skills, and the great gift of a sense of humor, which tends to be a godsend when talking with people about sex.  I had  the ability to camp out at the library and further my education as much as I liked with sexuality and related issues, a field of study I had already gotten into in college.  I had a love of anarchy, and of pioneering: I preferred to start with my imagination, rather than with pre-existing systems.  I brought my own diversity to the table: I grew up very marginalized in a handful of ways, had some views and experiences that were often outside of what many teens were exposed to.  I was queer, I wasn’t on the marriage-and-baby track, I came of age in the 80’s and made the absolute most of it, I was comfortable with the provocative, but not all that impressed with it, either. I was beyond comfortable — and quite happy — with sex and sexuality.  And I was impressed with that plenty.

That’s the way Scarleteen started, and at more than ten years since, that is still much of the way I direct it.  By all means, we are monstrously larger than I ever imagined we’d be: I certainly did not forsee this becoming my full-time job and my life’s work with those first letters, nor did I imagine we’d have 20 - 30,000 readers every day.

But I still stick to the same model I had at the start: the content we have is almost entirely based  — with some unavoidable but relatively minor limitations — on the content our users have asked for, which, as it turns out, has tended to result in an incredibly comprehensive, inclusive and holistic body of work. When you have this many people to work with, from this many places in the world, with this kind of diversity, in a medium with this much openness and an aversion to control, and you let them lead what you do, it is going to tend to result in a body of work and a community which is highly diverse, inclusive and holistic.

I rarely, if ever, have to think about what to teach, and what information to give: my users and clients — when I do in-person outreach — tell me that, and I trust them to know what they need.  More times than not, what it is I have to figure out is HOW to provide it for them, and I do that most by asking just as many questions of them as they ask of me, and by being open to what they tell me, willing to adjust my thinking at any time.

It might sound simplistic to posit that coming to sex education not through what we as adults deem important for young people to know, but by starting — and primarily staying with — what young people themselves tell us they want and need to know seems to solve many of the typical and current pitfalls of sex education.  But that has been my experience.

I also very strongly believe that  when we move past risk management, and address sexuality more holistically, not only do we better equip young people — any people — to have a happy, healthy sexuality that is self-designed rather than conformist, we also tend to also help young people build skills and a knowledge base which easily includes risk management and provides them with additional context and tools to make reducing and managing risks easier for them.  If a young person can talk to a sexual partner, for instance, about something as loaded as pleasure and desire, as perhaps not reaching orgasm through intercourse or even finding it all that compelling, or can openly show a partner where to find a clitoris or prostate gland, to discuss what dynamics they do and do not want in the relationship, negotiating condom use or discussing birth control can tend to be a piece of cake, and inclusivity also gets a lot easier.  This information also tends to come about pretty organically and in a way that makes a lot more sense, and is a lot less scary or intimidating.

For instance, if a young person does ask what a clitoris is, what it’s for and where it’s at, once you answer them, they might then ask how it is someone might experience pleasure that way.  In giving them that answer, you’re going to address sexual activities that aren’t for one given kind of couple, and which will likely challenge some heteronormative ideas, and likely ALSO wind up talking about how certain activities with the clitoris do or do not pose risks of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

If we teach young people about things like how incredibly diverse sexuality is, because it is, if we model active and compassionate listening when it comes to sexual pleasure and creating agreements in a relationship, not only can they use that knowledge and those tools with their own sexual lives, and in the way they think about sexuality as a whole,  they can also apply those skills even more broadly, such as for conflict resolution and understanding in other tough or loaded places.  Honestly, all I have to do to know that most of the members of our last administration didn’t have a really good sex education is to look at how they handled international diplomacy.

I feel like sex education in and of itself is still revolutionary, to be sure, but I also feel like most sex education at best is not very revolutionary, and at worst, is about devolution.  But real-deal sex education — that is open, that is honest, that is a lot more fearless, that is human and comes from who it’s being given to, that nurtures inclusivity and diversity of thought and experience — is seriously revolutionary stuff.  And I think it’s totally doable.

I want to leave you with a strong sense of how doable that is, and — hopefully — a desire to do so.   On the note, I’ve a few helpful hints I’ve picked up over the years I want to toss out at you about how to be — in my book — a totally fantastic sex educator.

• Be yourself and be honest. You do get to have boundaries — and limits and boundaries are vital with any relationship between teens and adults, and all people, and setting them is certainly one of those things that gives them some great tools for their sex lives. So, if a student asks you something you’re not comfortable answering, or it feels like an invasion of a privacy you need, you get to tell them that, though I’d advise really telling them that.  In other words, rather than saying “I can’t talk about that,” you say “You know, that makes me uncomfortable,” or “Actually, that for me is something I like to keep private.”  But ultimately, they’re looking to you as the person to be candid with them, and you can benefit them by repping you and sex as it is, in all its diversity, silliness, awesomeness, awkwardness, complexity and joy.

• Assume yours might be the only formal sex ed that they get.  Hopefully, that will NOT be the case: ideally, everyone should get sex ed from multiple sources and perspectives.  But all too many people really don’t, including well into adulthood.  So, don’t put undue pressure on yourself, but bear in mind this may well be a one-shot deal, and it’s best to make the most of it.

• Ask as many questions as you give answers.

• Recognize that no matter how protected an environment teenagers will inevitably feel vulnerable when discussing sex, meet them in that space.  If they’re vulnerable, but you don’t allow yourself to also be vulnerable, that creates an imbalanced dynamic that asks a lot more of them than it does of you.

• Peer educator training: any time you are doing sex ed, you are also effectively doing peer sex educator training.  More than anything else, teens get their sex information and education from each other.  So, when you educate one of them, you’re always educating more than one of them.  Teens having accurate information isn’t just about their own sex lives, but about the sex lives of all the teens they may wind up talking with about sex and sexuality.

• Take risks.  Know that if you take a risk and find yourself in a pickle, you’ve always got the ACLU.  I’ll give you their number.  Seriously.  They love sex educators.  A lot.

• Consider that an unhappy sex life or sexual self is just as dire an outcome as an unwanted pregnancy or a serious sexually transmitted infection.  I think we need to accept that it is, especially if we’re serious when we say that sexuality is huge and important.  Plus, from everything I have observed over the years, people at peace with their sexuality and in healthy sexual relationships tend to make smarter choices when it comes to things like contraception, safe relationships and safer sex.

• Lastly, don’t stop educating yourself.  As you probably already know, sex and sexual health information changes constantly and sometimes quickly.  What you learned in med school five years ago can quickly become archaic.  And that education includes your own personal field research. I’m talking about your own sex life. If you aren’t honest about your own areas of growth and doing your best to have a sex life and sexuality that is healthy and enriching — alone or with partners, and whatever that means to you — I’m just not sure how great a sex educator you can be, just like I can’t imagine that an English teacher who hated to read or only read the Cliff’s Notes would be very inspiring and effective.  Be an aspirational sexual demographic.

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

I really, really love what John Lewis has said.  That is all.

P.S. When someone you say you really respect makes that kind of criticism?  A critique that, given who they are and what they have done, you can pretty well know they are not going to throw around casually?  You don’t get defensive, you don’t puff up and knee-jerk deny.  You freaking well listen.

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Well, that was unexpected.

So, an 18-year-old girl came to my door selling magazines for one of these work programs (which are very questionable, to say the least: they’re often basically migrant worker situations which prey on young people).  Even more questionable than I thought: turns out her boss has told the young women there they will get fired if they become pregnant.  I’ll be making a phone call in a few days to assure she’s not linked to that disclosure. Grrrr.  Suffice it to say, I went inside and got her NWLC contacts in case she or anyone else should need them.

She had caught me photographing spiders when she walked up, and we wound up talking for a bit. I do have some mercy for door-to-door folks…well, when they aren’t trying to sell me religion.  Last week the Mormons came.  Telling them I was Buddhist didn’t get them gone (”That’s cool,” they said.  “If it’s so cool, you can respect it and go now,” said I.  They didn’t) and in trying other ways to get them gone, the pug ran out.  She doesn’t care why someone is there, just if they’ll pet her — so I wound up telling them as they were oh-cute-pugging her that she, too, was Buddhist.  That got me enough of a pause to be able to scoop up the pug and shut the door. It was at least more polite then the time years back in Chicago when I walked out naked to scare them off.  That works very well, for the record.  It was just too cold that day, and I’m a bit less emboldened to use that trick with my 38-year-old-ass than I was with my 23-year-old one.  Anyway.

But folks like this, PIRG canvassers and such… it sucks having a door slammed in your face on those jobs every few minutes, so I do tend to offer a porch seat and tea when I’m not smack in the middle of something.

As anyone who knows me knows, I have a strong confessional vibe: people I barely know tell me their unsolicited life stories on a daily basis. I sometimes know more about someone I have just met within minutes than others close to them know after years.  When I take quizzes to find out what job is the best one for me, clergy always comes up first.  G’won and laugh: it’s okay.

She’s the mother of a three-year-old already, was taking about how tough it was, and I mentioned what I do for my living in the course of sympathizing.  She then lets out a long breath and tells me that she’s three weeks pregnant again, only recently relocated to here, and has wanted an abortion, but had no idea where to go, how to go about it, what it entailed.   She also starts talking about her birth control history and how much Depo sucked for her.

So, there I was, just back from counseling the homeless teens — and truthfully, looking forward to a bit of a slow afternoon — basically doing a gratis options counseling session, as well as a birth control and DSHS-benefits consult, on my front porch. (And yes: for the big worriers, I know. I know that it was entirely possible this girl who looked and sounded just like the teen mother from Jackson she said she was was someone else entirely, and I took a risk.  I know.  But I also know that look, that sigh, and how this conversation goes with someone who really needs to have it.)

Obviously, I didn’t have to do any of that, I volunteered it, so it was hardly like my day was ruined.  Her day was apparently made, mind: she thanked the powers that be for landing at my door more than once.  It was just…very unusual.

Note to self: when really wanting a few hours of downtime, don’t answer the door.  Because apparently, it’s not as simple as not going to the work: it can also come right to you.

It’s been a strange day, period, actually.  On my way to the residental center, I got stuck sitting still on a bus for a half an hour because we just happened to pull up to a corner downtown in the middle of a freaking bank robbery.  Thankfully, when the cops poked heads into the busses, I didn’t set off anyone’s radar.  I tend to be one of those folks who authority figures immediately identify on sight as trouble, so I was glad my silent mantra about not being searched when I was barely awake was successful.

I think I need to be done leaving the house or opening the door today.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Antichoice, bible-thumping, sex-only-okay-for straight-marrieds-and-only-for-procreation trolls are really funny when they suggest Plato or Socrates as a suitable defense for their agenda and as in alignment with them when it comes to sexuality. Especially when they were serious.

Know what’s even funnier than that?

When it’s that day you need to tidy up the toys. So you go to head downstairs, your hands so overfull with dildos that you drop them and — bOINg! BOing! boING! — they all go down the stairs.

It’s peppy penises! A prancing phallus! A jouncing Johnson! Springing Schongs! Ding dong!

It’s almost as funny when after the Great Dildo Circus of 2008 is over (wah!), after you’ve gathered them all back up and are going to the dishwasher, tears still on your cheeks from amusing yourself so, you look up to see your neighbor crossing the lane, stopping dead in her tracks and looking at you as if…well, as if you were a woman laughing and crying all by herself loading an armload of dildos into the dishwaher.

Almost, but not quite.

P.S. The San Francisco trip was very brief, but very nice. Having lots of time with Robert & Carol is always a treat, I was able to spend time with Melissa twice (and I do not know what it is about us, but we have the coolest thing that happens when both our brains are in the same space), met a lot of very lovely people, had a productive meeting, and spent a ridiculous amount of money on too many cups of impossible-to-resist Blue Bottle coffee, which was — unfortunately for my wallet — stumbling distance from Robert and Carol’s pad.

Honestly, I have had a lot of good coffee in my life, have even trained people to make it as a gig way back when, but I do think I can say I have never had better. And they do vegan mochas with gorgeous shaved dark chocolate which you get a thick mouthful of at the end of the cup. Heaven.

I thought the reception on Friday was a good time and the presentation/discussion Sunday went well. I wish, for the latter, that I hadn’t had to abbreviate answers to VERY big questions due to time, since it made me feel like I was almost diminishing some issues I thought were big’uns, but one does what one can.

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I just got back from a night and a day in oh-so-not-at-all-beautiful Yakima, Washington.

I was teaching the staff of the clinic there self-defense today, and had to try very hard, when telling them how best to keep safe and feel secure, not to simply say “First?  Get the hell out of this town.”

I am relying on Washington natives here to know I need say no more.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

My plans for last weekend were pretty mellow: I was going to work on my taxes, do a little housecleaning, maybe get started on my garden now that the sun is back out, hang out with my sweetheart, finish some writing, practice piano and play some Scrabble. I was going to tend to myself, for the most part.

The weekend I would up having was quite a bit different.

Last Wednesday, I raced against the clock — I had to go work at the clinic the next day — to get everything up for our focus this month on sexual assault and abuse as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That included getting together a page and other materials for the “I Was Raped” shirts which months back, I’d agreed to help Jennifer Baumgardner distribute as part of a project to increase rape awareness, both through these t-shirts and the conversation we’d hoped they’d start, as well as through her developing film of the same name, which will focus on first-person stories from survivors.

The New York Times first covered the project, using a photo of Jennifer — which was appropriate, since this is her project. Then Gawker and Jezebel hit on it, using a photo of me in the shirt without my permission or even a request for it (and still have yet to respond to my requests to remove a copyrighted image they have no permission to use). A few more sites followed suit. Later on Friday, KOMO-4 news contacted me, telling me they were doing a story on it that night and asking for my participation. As is my general practice with television, I declined to be filmed, but did finally agree to have a phone interview.

Before that interview, the reporter and I had a discussion about using my image where I explained why I was not comfortable with my face being put on the television as a survivor. I explained that when I went to get coffee this weekend, I needed it to be up to me if I was “that woman who is dairy allergic, so don’t forget, soy only,” or “that woman who was raped.” I explained that as a counselor for an abortion clinic half the week, I didn’t want to make anything of my personal life so broadly visible that any of my clients might recognize me and doubt that it was their issues which were of the utmost importance in my office. I explained that choosing to show my face with this in one context is not permission for anyone to make that choice for me in others, and that I’m the expert on how much exposure I can handle and want. I was told they don’t show rape “victims” faces on television, anyway (and then wondered, if that was so, why we were even having that conversation in the first place).

Apparently, they do, because my face was indeed shown on the news, coupled with the reporter saying I’d requested they did not show it. My words were edited massively — as is to be expected — and no information on the project was even given. The “I Was Raped” t-shirt was compared to t-shirts reading “Yankees Suck,” and “Boys are stupid — throw rocks at them.” The story spread — the tone of it intact — and the video made its way to other stations, and eventually to CNN (which I only found out about after the fact: CNN never contacted me). The story has spread very largely through the blogosphere, and with some notable exceptions, an awful lot of what’s out there is full of a lot of misinformation about me and the project, and in some cases, some really inflammatory accusations. As of today, I’m about one for one between positive emails and negative ones, and while the positives are very positive, the negatives are really negative and many have been incredibly threatening and disturbing.

I’ve been accused of exploiting myself and other assault survivors just to make money, which would almost be comical if it weren’t so vile. Scarleteen gets five dollars from any shirt sold. Five dollars, which to make, means not only my processing the order, packing it to ship, walking to ship them as well as doing all I’ve done to set things up to sell them, the crazy amount of extra bandwidth all the press has brought on (none of which I courted or chose), and all of this causing technical problems with the site, but also includes putting up with all of the crap which I have over the last handful of days. You’d think it’d be pretty easy for a person of any intelligence to realize that if it was about the money, I could do better by setting up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk, make the same dough, and do so without any sort of emotional stress or difficulty. And flatly, if someone doesn’t want $5 to go to Scarleteen, I have no trouble sending it to a different organization which helps with rape prevention, awareness and healing. But since I’m also the one paying the bandwidth bills for all of this, doing a lot of the work, taking care of all the orders and shipping AND being the whipping boy of choice AND since Scarleteen does advocacy work in this area, I’m not sure what the big problem is.

I’ve gotten letters in my email box from those who came to Scarleteen and read some of our rape content, and felt the need to write me and explain to me all of the ways in which any given kind of sexual abuse was not actually sexual abuse at all, be it because the victim asked for it, because the victim apparently really wanted it but was just ashamed of their own desires, because when the victim is male they always really want it; how for “horny” teenage boys, raping is just something they do naturally, how all survivors need to do is find out what we did to get raped, make sure we don’t do that thing again and move on, how in doing what we do at Scarleteen in the first place, we’re setting girls up to be raped by encouraging them to be promiscuous sluts, or enabling rape somehow by educating youth on homosexuality.

I’ve had the great privilege of being patronized, with other victims, by non-survivors, “experts” on rape, or even other survivors letting us know what they think we need to be doing “for our own good,” how they think we don’t know how to protect ourselves, physically or emotionally, how much more it would scar us to take something “private” and make it in any way public…and how all of these concerns are OF COURSE about us, not about them. I have been told what my personal problems are, by people who know nothing about me, and about how I could do a lot more good if I did more meaningful things with my life than I do, or how, if I stopped doing the work I do now, went and took a corporate job, was able to buy a house and car, and then give money to an organization like…oh, the one I run, I could do more for other “victims.” I have been told outright that while a given letter-writer cares for all other rape survivors, they do not care for survivors like me, and feel that it is perfectly appropriate — nay, quite called for — to shower me with abusive invective.

(Might there be some truth in some of them saying this could be traumatic for survivors because of what I’m dealing with myself and how I’m feeling right now? Maybe, save when you realize that most of this is coming from my being shown wearing the shirt in places that were not of my choosing, and where, following the choice they made for me, I have asked not to be shown. In fact, I think how I’m feeling says a whole lot more about how rape survivors are often seen as everyone’s property — since we’ve already been spoiled, see, already ruined — than it does about how my choices to be public have resulted in my getting upset.)

I’ve read about how any survivor who wears this is being a terrible person to other abuse or rape survivors who might be triggered by it. However, I never see the same concerns voiced about, oh, many media representations of sex or romance, people verbally abusing their children in grocery stores, people who enforce ideas that sex is a duty people owe one another in certain social contexts, people using the word “rape” applied in scenarios like “The IRS just raped me,” or… hey, wait! People deciding to verbally abuse a survivor because she breaks silence in a way they don’t like or wouldn’t choose for themselves. Just a word on that? I feel pretty confident saying that many of us who are survivors will not be triggered by another survivor saying he or she was raped, or having that voiced in a pretty sensitive way on a piece of clothing. More to the point, if you think this is the only way in any given day we might be reminded of our rapes, you’ve got to be kidding. The most benign aspects of daily life are often triggers: groups of men crowding close to us in a bus, the street we have to walk down to get home which was the one we were raped on, being quickly grabbed by the shoulder from someone who had no idea that was a trigger, a chair, a doorknob, a broom handle, someone’s hand, a belt, a given way the light looks at a certain time of day, the smell of a cologne, the very skin we inhabit, or someone, perchance, saying something about rape to us like “Don’t tell a soul.”

I have, of course, had to deal with the nasty kinds of feedback we always get any time we talk about rape. I have gotten email which informs me that women are property and that women are raped because men are superior. I have gotten email that told me I am sexist because we largely address rape at the site of men and women which is perpetrated by men, not which is perpetrated by women (which is only because it is perpetrated by women so infrequently, and because we can only respond, in advice queries, to the questions which are asked: I assure you, I have not deleted or purposefully not published any questions about a person surviving a rape by a woman — I simply have not yet gotten any such questions). I have gotten email informing me that I am making a “disgusting display” to get attention and pity for myself — and to help young women, I am told, make false rape accusations — by choosing to put my face all over the news (which again, was very much not my choice, but one made for me against my express wishes). I have gotten email which informs me that if I was raped, I clearly deserved it for being the terrible, horrible waste of breathable air which I am. Of course, I also got letters from people said they would have supported the work that I do and this project until they found out that not only was I, and the site pro-choice, but that I also am a baby killer who works at an abortion clinic (one such letter also informed me that having an abortion would only add to the trauma of a rape survivor, but going through pregnancy or becoming a parent before a person was ready would somehow be in no way difficult or traumatic). I read a thread discussing if I was “hot, for a rape survivor” or not.

For the record, the gender of those with those responses is mixed. These kinds of sentiments by no means only come from men (and when it comes to supportive responses, we’ve had just as many from men as from women). They come from every kind of person you could possibly imagine. This is one of the many reasons why those who have been raped often stay silent: we never know who is going to react to our rapes like this, and are well aware that it’s possible the people we expect it from least may be the ones who react just like this. I can assure you, for the record, that of the people who have sent me the worst of this vitriol, around one of every two is someone who those who know them wouldn’t even suspect the malice they usually keep hidden, save for people like me.

We’ve had server troubles all day which I’ve had to stay on top of when I still have things I need to do which I had planned to do this weekend, but could not do because I have had to spend most of it on damage control, sending requests to people to please stop stealing my face without asking me, correcting tons of misinformation about all of this flooding my mailbox, having to read through piles of hate to find emails from Scarleteen users we need to tend to, and having to try all I can not to have all of this wear on my relationships with people glad to support me, but who also have needs of their own, and things they need from me. Suffice it to say, since we have had many positive responses, many people want the short, and I wasn’t prepared to have to be processing orders all weekend. I have also been reading the positive mails, which are great, but many of them also contain the writer’s personal rape experience. That’s not to say I am not open to being the person someone chooses to share with, and that I am not very glad if I can provide a way for someone to disclose, but obviously, reading those letters is not pleasant or cheerful.

Obviously, this wasn’t my best weekend ever. Many of these responses and results obviously disappoint and distress me.

But what they don’t do is surprise me. I’ve lived as a survivor for almost 27 years now, and I’ve worked in sex education, including in advocacy for survivors and efforts for prevention, for a decade. When I was a teacher, more than once I had to deal with the travesty that was the justice system for a student of mine who was being abused. I am used to people excusing away all manner of abuses, resenting the hell out of those of us who do our damndest to protest that, and am well aware that denial of abuse, and the amount of abuse which exists in the world, is alive and well and living…well, everywhere.

I am used to statements which start with, “If I was a woman and had been raped…” (as if men never get raped: but really, statements like this start that way because they’re about how women should behave, period), or “If I was a rape victim….” or “If I had been raped…” and with the uselessness that follows all of them. Maybe it’s time for me to start talking about how I might feel and behave were I a woman of color, were I a heterosexual person, were I a person of means, had I survived the Holocaust. Because, obviously, my ideas on how I might feel and behave in those situations would be so very useful, especially to those people who actually are members of those groups.

I am used to hearing that if I want to talk about my rape, if I make it important in any way, even for a limited time, that I haven’t “moved on.” I am used to hearing about how I deserved it, asked for it; I heard it from one of my rapists (and had I been fully conscious for one of my rapes, I am sure I would have heard it from more), I heard it from friends and family, I’ve heard it from others who are oh-so-certain they and my rapists have nothing in common. I am used to hearing that the difference between strong survivors and perpetual victims is this: if you never say a word about it, if no one around you even has to know you were raped, you’re a strong survivor. But if you’re upset, if you want to talk about rape or your rape, if anyone around you has to know what happened, then you’re looking to stay a perpetual victim so that you can live a sweet life where everyone feels sorry for you. I am used to hearing that if I want to speak out about my rape, publicly or privately, that anyone who hears me is entitled to react however they would like, even if that means speaking to me in a way which is abusive, threatening, callous or cruel.

I am used to hearing about how any given thing about me is so awful or distasteful that nothing about me or what I do deserves any sympathy or, — and more important to me, since I don’t really need sympathy — any kind of basic common courtesy or respect. Sometimes that’s been because I’m queer, other times because I do sex ed, other times because I’ve had an abortion (and now, because I also work where they are provided), because I’m Buddhist, because I’m this age or that one, this gender or that, because I look this way or I don’t look that way, because I don’t have issues with nudity, because I’m sympathetic to a given group of people, because I’m loud, because I’m independent, because I have sex I enjoy, because I’m still alive. I am used to every kind of excuse imaginable at this point for why I don’t deserve the same courtesies I have always extended to others.

None of these things are new to me, nor are they much different from what I have dealt with simply in my personal life when it comes to my rapes.

And I am used to hearing all of this so much, that while it never stops being hurtful, what it has long since stopped being for me is particularly powerful. Don’t get me wrong: I have spent a lot of the past few days somewhat shellshocked, but that has more to do with the en masse onslaught and a lack of sleep than it does with any particular thing anyone has said or done. I know the place the craptastic stuff comes from, and I know that that place is one of fear, resentment, guilt, ignorance, violence or self-loathing. As much as I revile those things, as much as I want them gone, and as bad as they make me feel, I can at least identify them, and I know very acutely where my own bad feelings come from and, for the most part, how to deal with them. I can even look them dead in the eye: again, that’s a survivor skill, too — to survive, we all have to learn to do that expertly.

I’m also used to the fact that all rape survivors are different. We are not all the same, our rapes were not all the same, how we’ve processed them or reacted to them has not all been the same. I have had plenty of thanks for other survivors in my email box over the weekend, but I have also gotten emails like this:

“You are a sick fuck… and if in fact you were truely raped you would not be so fucking stupid to even want to do something so damn outrageous on wearing a shirt. And I wonder why you dont want to show your face. You are a sick individual and I am a rape victim and now a survivor but you appaul me on such a horrible suggestion on someone wanting to wear such a dumb remark shirt. If in fact you were raped, you are as sick as i could ever imagine. Of how you want to make money on it… this is not fame this is a sick person like you it saddness me to think there are people in this world like you . Playing on what horrific act of rape , how it kills a person day in and day out. We have to live with that horrible thought of it happening to us. And then we have people like you… SICK.. how do you get up and look in the mirror? May god bless your sick soul.”

By all means, I feel the way that person chose to spoke to me was insensitive and cruel. However, I think that it’s really important to remember that none of us lives in a culture conducive to healing, or in a culture which makes it comfortable to live as a survivor. We can’t even trust each other, as fellow survivors (and when we’re addressing a survivor who is same-gender, be we male or female, an awful lot of same-gender learned distrust is tossed in the mix, something often even more difficult for male survivors since their rapists were usually male as well), in our motives, in how our healing differs, in the different places we’re at in it. Survivors are, justifiably, angry — and also all sorts of people — and can often enough direct that anger just about anywhere: that’s how it is when you’re so angry and so hurt and given so little support. I directed mine inward after I was assaulted, and doing that, on top of having my rape be a thread that wound through other trauma I was living with and trying to survive, nearly killed me and also set me up for challenges in my life — as well as more risks of danger — all of which could have been, if not avoided, strongly mitigated by being able to talk about my abuses, at all, and finding some kind of support. I don’t like getting emails like that, to say the least, but at the same time, I have to take a breath, stop, and recognize that at the very least, someone just got some release of all of that anger, and while I don’t think I’m the right person to direct it to, that that person was able to direct it anywhere — to open up that pressure valve — is a likely positive for that person.

It may well also be — and pardon any pop psychology on my part — that as much as I don’t want this kind of visibility, that survivor does, and resents me for having what she wants. That’s also valid, since we are made intensely invisible as a group of people, particularly if we become survivors, rather than remain victims. While if our rapes were in some way found horrific, we might get some media-based ambulance-chasing, once they’re over, we’re non-issues, and if there is nothing particularly noteworthy about our rapes (and for most of them, the general population will find nothing noteworthy about them), we’ll rarely see address at all. In any case, victims trump survivors, and victims who arouse a pithy kind of pity trump all.

Or, this one: “No body in there right mind would believe that you’re truly doing this to help other people. I’m a real survivor because I’d never broadcast or announce the horrible things that have happened to me. the only people who would wear that shirt are full of shit. NO BODY would wear that who’s really been raped. But I’m sure a bunch of girls will buy it who want attention and want people to feel sorry for them. I do think this should be taken away from you and all the bullshitting bitches who pretend this has happened to them. Millions of women have suffered and worked very hard to over come what you are now trying to profit from. You should NOT be allowed to capitalize on other people’s pain. And even if you were raped that shouldn’t give you the right to profit from it. Did you know when you were raped that you were going to get paid for it? Or did that idea come later?”

What I hear in this — once more, forgive me for being armchair — is that this person needs to be validated in surviving, and needs to have someone let her know that however she speaks out of silence is okay, is brave, is laudable, even if it doesn’t look like someone else’s way. My impression is that she needs for her rape to be made important, because if it already really felt that way, I’m not sure why she’d put so much energy (I got three different emails from this woman before I blocked her address) into telling me how no one’s story is true but her own or those which resemble hers. I hear that she is suffering, and I hear that she is tremendously, and probably righteously, angry. That doesn’t mean I’m going to say she’s not responsible for misdirecting her anger at me, because she is, and I’ve directed no such things at her or anyone else, but it is to say that I can only get so angry back at someone in this space. I know that space: been there, done that, and — literally — have the t-shirt.

Here’s what we don’t often see and hear in the various peanut galleries of the Internet: we don’t see many survivors sharing the stories they have also shared with me both in my email box over the weekend and in other avenues I’ve had them shared with me in my life, both with work, and with the people who have personally disclosed to me over the years. I even got stories in my email box from survivors who were at sites talking about this, where so many people incessantly talked about how they were not silencing anyone, and yet, these people didn’t feel able to tell their stories, or perhaps even share the mere fact of being survivors. people who send me email like the above aren’t posting it in the forums or on the blogs: through the resentment, they also know I’m safe, or else I’d not be hearing this. Everyone else would.

Some survivors do want something like this. It’s okay to want it, and it’s okay not to, and wanting it or not doesn’t determine who was and who was not raped. It’s having been raped, only, which determines that. The two women above were raped. The man who wanted one of these and told me it was because of being brutally raped during time he spent in jail over a misdemeanor was raped. The woman who bought one because she was molested as a child was raped. The person who bought it for their partner who is working on acceptance of their rape was raped.

Saturday morning, I literally overheard my neighbors talking about the news story on the porch (and clearly not knowing it was their neighbor, who could hear them, they were talking about: Seattleites don’t tend to be very familiar neighbors)

So, why would a survivor wear something like this? Obviously, I can’t speak for anyone other than myself and for those who have talked about why they would. I’ve also already said a little bit about why I would here. One of the emails above asks how I look at myself in the mirror.

When the t-shirts got here, and I put one on to take a quick photo, checking in the mirror to make sure that despite the fact that I was two days late on washing my hair, I wasn’t too disheveled, it was an interesting experience. It was like myself was telling myself a hard truth directly, but gently. With a quiet, but clear, understanding. Rape is something that those of us who are raped are told at every turn to doubt happened to us, to explain away with a rapist’s “misinterpretation” of our nonconsent, to do our best to rid our memories of the experience, to the point that even someone like me, who also works with other survivors, who has done an epic amount of personal processing for over a very long period of time can have days and times where I, too, wonder if somehow, in some way, I managed to imagine what happened to me. Maybe that blood was from something else: maybe I just had hemmorhoids I didn’t know about. Maybe that soreness is from falling off my bike and I just don’t remember when. Maybe the reason I don’t remember all of that assault isn’t because I got knocked on the head, but because nothing actually happened. Maybe no one wants to believe me because I’m crazy, and this is all some sort of delusion. Maybe all of those body image issues, that overdose, all that poetry I wrote in my teens was about all that OTHER stuff, and that other stuff caused me to believe I was raped. Maybe when he shoved my head in his crotch, he mistook it for his own hand: maybe while I was choking on what he wanted and I didn’t, he just didn’t know I couldn’t breathe. Surviving rape is a whole world of maybe, but maybe nots.

So, sitting there, looking myself in the eye in the mirror with that t-shirt on did cause me to cry, and even if I never wear it anywhere else, even though I have, at other times, been able to acknowledge and accept what happened to me, that moment was powerful for me. I deeply could look at myself in the mirror and accept the woman who is there and everything that made her who she is, even when some of those things are incredibly difficult and not things I wished for. I was proud of her, and she made me feel strong and able, both for myself and for the work I do where I need to help others find strength and resilience. I can do that at other times, too, but I’m always grateful for any new tool to help me do that, because some days, the ones I have don’t work or don’t take me to a new place.

Over the weekend, when I was talking to an old friend on the phone providing support, he said to me, “You know, you can take this. I know it doesn’t feel good, and you don’t want to, but the fact is, you can handle this.” It might sound hollow, that, but the truth of the matter is that yes, I can. That woman looking back at me in the mirror could. If taking it wasn’t something I thought might carry any benefits for anyone, not only would it all be even more upsetting than it already is, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with this in the first place, or even have been public about surviving rape as I have been over the years. I didn’t need to be as public as I have for myself: just telling people close to me and being able to sometimes speak through my art, for me, has been enough. I’ve been more public in the hope that my doing so will help other people be able to break silence, find strength, and be able to find whatever way is their way to healing.

The biggest bummer with things like this is that unfortunately, one very strong message the backlash sends to other survivors is that it is absolutely best they stay silent: because if they don’t, see, if they speak up like I do, speak up in any way, this, too, is what will happen to them. Some who silence with ignorance, fear or guilt probably have no idea that this is a likely result: others, of course, very much are aware that they are silencing and very much intend to silence.

But here’s the thing: something like this shirt isn’t for every survivor, nor for any given survivor in every environment, on every day. I do a lot with my life, and my rape is not often at the forefront of any of it, but sometimes it is, and sometimes, it’s helpful to others if I let it be, as much as I’d prefer not to. Being able to even just say — even just to oneself — “I was raped,” is rarely easy, even though it does get easier over time. It still always hurts, it always infuriates, it always confuses, it always saddens, especially in a world which makes it so very hard to speak just that simple fact and to have it merely acknowledged. It is never easy, and it will never be easy. Saying it out loud, in any way, to anyone, is almost always scary, almost always risky. But for ourselves, and for others, when we can do it, when we are able — and it’s always okay when we’re not — it’s usually, in my opinion, a worthwhile risk. While it means that we might open ourselves up to all kinds of garbage, it also means we might open ourselves up to the good stuff, too, to connections which are rare and unfathomably meaningful, to us or to others.

I won’t be dishonest: I still want that other weekend that I was going to have back. I’d have preferred that weekend, and I really needed that weekend for myself. I spent a lot of time this weekend very deeply resenting feeling like I was pushed into the spotlight in a way I did not choose and I did not want: up until now, I’ve felt like the level of public I have been has been enough to make things better for enough people that something like this level of visibility wasn’t anything anyone needed me to do. And yet, seeing all that I have seen over the last few days, I can only assume that I was wrong in that, since if things like this were not needed, I can’t imagine I’d be seeing so much of what I had. We’d be past all of this by now, wouldn’t we? So, if that’s what needed to happen, and it did or could net anything at all positive, I can live with that. I can have that weekend I needed another time. I can move past my anger and resentment. I can make time up to my partner next weekend. I can have my life go back to being about all the other things it’s about shortly. Again, I can take this: I may not want to, but I can.

There’s no perfect note to end this on. I’m massively grateful for the support myself and the project have been shown by some. I’m deeply moved by the other survivors who have trusted me to share their stories, and to those who also have offered their care and compassion, and not just because you let me help you heal, but you helped heal some hidden parts of me I didn’t even realize still needed healing. I’m deeply saddened, frustrated, shellshocked and worn the hell right out from all of the backlash — and some of that is surprise in that I was more vulnerable than I thought myself to be and at the same time stronger, but also not as over my rapes as I have long thought — but I’m just hoping that maybe at least some of it will result in something positive, either for survivors, or for the world that we live in when it comes to how survivors are treated, how rape is viewed and in terms of anything and everything which might keep it from happening to anyone at all.

And if, from a Buddhist perspective, there truly is no separation between the self and others, and I am seeing and hearing from so many people who clearly need to work through all of this chaos, who have all of this inside and around them — and if the way I, myself, have been feeling has anything to do with anything — then all of these last few days hasn’t really just been about or for other people: it’s been about and for me, as well.

So, as it turned out, and for as much as it sure hasn’t felt like it, it seems I spent the weekend tending to myself, after all.

It seems appropriate to link this to Carly Milne’s blogging project to benefit RAINN, and I’ll write for that project a few more times before month’s end. We’ve linked to RAINN and its services for years at Scarleteen, so it shouldn’t be new to anyone, but to say it is a worthy place to support is a serious understatement. RAINN has made, and continues to make, great efforts for both rape prevention and survivor support, and if you have some extra cash — especially for many of you who get tax refunds — it’s a fantastic place to put it. I know I certainly could have used what it provides, and many other survivors do as well.

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

In hindsight, it might not have been the best idea ever to leave the little bottle of carpet cleaning fluid right next to the little bottle of coffee creamer.

Friday, December 7th, 2007

I know I’m supposed to feel ashamed about all the 70’s pop music we so often listen to around here, but I just don’t. It’s the music of my childhood, dude and it’s not tacky, it’s vintage: 10CC and The Doobie Brothers are the original Diane Von Fursternberg wrap dress of music. I know I should only admit that I really like P!nk (and enough to care about that little exclamation point) grudgingly and with some apology. But I think the girls a total badass, and see no need to apologize. In plenty of circles — and according to my sweetheart’s ears — the times that I feel the need to sing along tearfully with Kate Wolf, Janis Ian or Holly Near with absolute sincerity should possibly cause me great embarrassment, but I tend to be all “Whatever, man: I can be as crunchy, potluck and lavender as I wanna sometimes, just like you can air-saxophone in the dining room, wearing nothing but your socks, while blaring 25 or 6 to 4.”

But when I find myself raucously headbanging to Avril Lavigne — on repeat ALL DAY, no less — and belting out “You make me so hot/ Make me wanna drop/ You’re so ridiculous/ I can barely stop…You’re so fabulous/ You’re so good to me Baby/ Baby, Baby / BabeeEEEeeee…” I feel like I need more than a few moments of complete and utter disgust with myself. I need a cold bath in holy water, a hairshirt and some professional help.

Friday, November 9th, 2007

My great joy this week has been finding a new CSA which is easily the best one I have ever had. All organic, primarily local, inexpensive as hell — all this (I do a 2/3rds share, since Mr. Price is more carnivore than omnivore, and we take care of our own costs separately, anyway, and just share things as we like) and a pound of organic coffee for $35 a week — and they deliver, no less. My first order someone even screwed up, and one of the staffers was willing to bring my bin by on their way home. Most CSAs I’ve been part of have been great, but rarely organic, never delivered (and since I don’t have a car, that can be tough), never year round, and fruit has always been a rarity. The organic produce at our local market is decent, but it’s hella expensive. Heck, even regular produce generally costs me this much there. This is vegan HEAVEN.

So, I open my bin and it is brimming over with a bunch of rainbow carrots, a bok choi, a gorgeous bouquet of chard, a bag of green beans, three big beets, two delicata squashes, five yellow potatoes, a beautiful, big yellow onion, a head of cauliflower, four mandarins, two pears, two apples, and that gorgeous, odiferous coffee…which I am sipping right now, quite blissfully.

I had to cook the night it all came, of course, so I made stuffed peppers and a really swell greens and carrots combo. I haven’t done recipes here for a while — and for newcomers, understand I’m one of those irritating cooks who often does things off the cuffs, so measurements are rarely exact — so here you be:

The Peppers:
• two large green peppers, tops removed, inside scooped out
• four chopped mushrooms
• one small zucchini, chopped
• one half yellow onion, diced
• one half cup faux beefy crumbles (or seitan, or crumbled tempeh, up to you)
• one cup or so of a batch of spanish rice
• saffron, smoked paprika, cumin, red wine, aleppo pepper, white pepper, raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 400, then saute the onions with a half teaspoon of the aleppo pepper. When they’re transluscent, add the beefy crumbles (or other veg protein you’re using), brown a little, then add the zucchini and get it a little soft. Add about a half teaspoon each of the paprika and cumin, a sprinkle of white pepper, a few threads of saffron, red wine to taste, then the rice.

Oil a baking dish, then fill peppers tightly with the mixture, and flop any extra in the pan. Dust the tops of the peppers with the raw sugar and another sprinkle of paprika: bake covered until peppers are soft, usually around 45 minutes to an hour. We served them with this really nummy raspberry-chipotle sauce we keep around (we have a whole shelf of nothing but hot sauces in the cabinet).

I didn’t have any tomatoes lying around, but if I had, I’d have stewed a few and then made the extra rice mixture extra saucy to put around the peppers in the baking dish.

The Roots & Greens
• one big bunch chard (of any kind, but the rainbow chard is always so pretty)
• four or five carrots, sliced
• one mandarin orange, peeled and sectioned
• orange juice and port wine or, a bit of the ratafia I have still managed to hoard from Minnesota (if you’re me)

In a medium pot, boil a couple inches of half water, half OJ. Drop in the carrots and let boil until steamed, then add the chopped greens on top and the mandarins, and steam lightly. Drain and toss with the port or ratafia.

Even Mark cleaned his plate.

Today I’m off in a bit for my weekly coffee klatch with David, a few errands, then back here to clean up a bit and get some baking done before the evening. It was a busy, busy week of lots and lots of work (even by my standards), so I think I may actually take a weekend like normal people this time around, or at least, give it something of a go.

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Seven Ways to Cheer Up When You’re Feeling Eight Below



1. Make something completely decadent with items already in your cupboard. Thankfully, even when I’m living extra-lean, there are always baking basics lying around here: cooking and baking are important balms for me. Cocoa, shortening, sugars, flour: check. What else is here? Hmmm…arrowroot powder, a bag of frozen cherries, some pinot noir not so good for drinking, but fine for cooking, and an influx of balsamic. Voila!*

Enjoy the first cupcake, while it’s still a little warm, by yourself and Ooh and Ahh out loud. Then call a couple of people who you know will also delight in a simple bout of vegan decadence, and share cupcakes with them on the porch during a perfect summer evening. Done!

2. Take a bath: don’t rush, and be sure to soak your head.

3. Be Mr. Rogers. Go and see the people in your neighborhood, and don’t be in a hurry. Take the time to have more than a two-minute conversation with the sweet woman at the mini-mart you buy smokes from. say hello to the folks at the coffeehouse. When people on the street stop to pet your dog, let them play with her as long as they’d like. Have your coffee on a chair with the homeless guy who can’t ever decide if his name is Pete or Elmer (I have no idea what that’s all about), but who always calls you “darlin,” tells great (albeit drunken) stories, and who people always rush by. Hope he found the five bucks you put in his hat when you saw him sleeping on the sidewalk last week, as you have before, but say nothing about it: it’d be nice for him to feel he had a secret admirer.

4. Clean and change all your bedding. It doesn’t matter if your sheets aren’t 400 thread count, if there are piles of laundry around your bed, or if there are no fresh flowers nearby. Sliding into fresh clean sheets and closing your eyes always feels like you’ve landed in a posh hotel.

5. Laugh. That isn’t a challenge when in sharing a headslap over this with Sarah, and mentioning that you almost told the questioner that if vaginas could expand so much you’d be thrilled, since you’d FINALLY have a place to keep your keys where they wouldn’t get lost, she shares this gem: “I have a multi-month archive of persistent emails from this 12-year-old kid who was convinced that if I wasn’t keeping things (e.g., an egg, a can of Pepsi, my wallet) in my vagina at all times, I was “wasting space” and was immoral in the same way as people who don’t turn off the faucet while they brush their teeth. Just walking around with this big, empty handbag between my legs, not doing anyone any good. It makes me think their must be some sub-genre of horror writing about empty, cavernous, enormous vaginas? People falling into them, never to be seen again?”



6. Remind yourself that lotuses grow from the mud. If something beautiful can continue to grow in the unforgiving cement of your backyard, then for fuck’s sake, so can you.

7. Open your email and find out you’ve been unanimously nominated for an award that Jocelyn freaking Elders won last year. Dayum.

* Incidentally, the cupcakes are an adaptation of an Isa Chandra Moskovitz’ recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, a cookbook I use much too often for my own good. The changes I made include using balsamic vinegar in the cake rather than apple cider vinegar: I always do that w/vegan chocolate cake; the balsamic makes the chocolate taste richer. I also shredded some gorgeous cherry/vanilla/dark chocolate into the mix and on top that Beppie (that was SO nice, gal) secretly arranged with Mark to have sent to me, and added orange extract to the cake and the kirsch because orange is gorgeous with chocolate, and makes cherry taste more tart. I did the cherry filling a bit differently, adding the red wine and skipping the sugar (who needs it with all that icing?). Too, her vanilla icing recipe is to die for, but I let it sit in the mixer for waaaaay longer than she suggests: a good 20 minutes makes it fluffy as anything. Adding some ground vanilla bean is also a help.

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

There’s something highly amusing about spending the evening in a hundred-year-old dive bar, and playing poker for (oyster) crackers with my Dad and Mark.

Really, it’s all the more giggle-inducing when you’re “gambling with crackers” while sitting across the table from the whitest guy in the universe (my melanin-impaired boyfriend).

Best exchange of the evening?

Mark (who won big, but refused to throw all the won cracker-chips into his mouth and munch them crazy, crumbly Cookie Monster-style to amuse me): I am the WINNER! You are the LOSER!
Me (calmly): No, I am simply a person without crackers.
Mark (incredulously, to my Dad): Do you see how this goes? Amazing. Even a simple poker win is somehow political. How does she do that?

My Dad just chuckled and shot me a grin. Apple, tree, my friends.

(By the by, when playing for crackers, don’t space out and eat some of yours. It kind of screws you over. This is especially vital when playing for actual chips, especially if you value your teeth.)

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

At some point, I need to make a list I can keep handy online with happy-making things for those times when I sink low enough that it’s not easy for me to remember what those things are. Sort of an “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass,” but without the having-to-break-anything bit.

When it’s the right time of year, anything to do with the garden helps. Thankfully, I was reminded this weekend of one of the reasons I was glad to move here. Spring in February? That’s the stuff, man. Saturday I was able to work out some angst by ripping up all the dead plants covering the new sprouts, and Sunday we found time to get to the nursery so I could get some new plants for the year. Given last year’s Big Tomato Mushfest — my impression is that it’s just too mild here to for the bigger puppies to grow to their best potential — this year I’m going for mostly herbs and flowers, with a few cherry tomato plants and then the berries: the two blueberry plants I put in last year have hopefully cross-pollinated to keep warm and will result in some big, juicy beauties. I also had a little splurge which involved bleeding hearts (which I have loved since I was a child, but never grown myself) and narcissus.

I’ve also determined that whenever possible, if I can find around two hours or so in any given day to do some yoga, then go whack off, then take a hot bath, and then a long walk, that everything feels a whole lot better for the rest of the day.

One of the beauties of BPAL is that because there is no immediate gratification when you order, given it can take a few weeks for Beth to concoct her artistry, a few weeks later you get a very nice surprise in your email letting you know that pleasant, smelly things are en route to you when you’d forgotten you even ordered them. It would be even better if my beloved Geek hadn’t been a limited edition, but on the other hand, sampling new stuff is a cheap thrill, and since the scents I care for tend to be more boy-flavoured or unisex, if something doesn’t work on me, chances are always good it’ll work on Mark.

My piano, as ever, remains a fine source of solace. Last night, it was a Tom-Waits-a-thon. I try not to let the once-operatic diva in me who used to have the crystal voice be disturbed by the fact that the older I get, the more I sound like Tom doing falsetto. On the other hand, back in high school when I had to sing opera half of every day, I was always irritated that I didn’t have the right voice for jazz: guess I got what I wanted.

Buffy. Over the past three days, I indulged in a marathon. Season Six, if you’re curious. I needed something to indulge my bitterness.

But this should probably top the list. It had us both laughing so hard last night, and unable to stop replaying it, that we ended up nixing sex we’d been nuzzling our way to because we knew too well that one of us would end up shouting “I’m a munchkin!” at the worst moment possible.

* * *
I think I may hate my new camera. Not sure yet, but so far, I’m just really wishing they hadn’t stopped making my last one, because it’s so much nicer to me.

* * *
In spite of my needing some respite time, the fundraiser for Scarleteen is still going on, so a few more shoutouts to folks who have blogged for it: Bitch, Jane, Dacia, Columbine, Irmelin, DivaMommy, Debbie, Jenny, Ariel and my dear Mr. Price (who only lives on MySpace, and yes, as a cultivator of much web snobbery, this is terribly embarassing for me — I often ask, beg and plead with him to drag his cute ass outta the web gutter, but to no avail). Thanks, y’all.

(For the curious, donation-wise, as of right now we’re close to about a third of what I hoped we could raise this time around: so long as things keep chugging along, combined with the grant, we may just be able to get to where we need to be to tackle this year’s expenses.)

* * *
And now comes my big bummer of a question (this is not about me personally, I promise, so no worries). To my readers and friends out there who work in alternative health — in bodywork, naturopathy, chinese medicine, nutritional health — if you’ve got any decent background in managing breast cancer, could you drop me a comment or an email? I was even certain this weekend that I had a reader who worked in an alternative clinic in Chicago, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who it was. Anyone local or nearby Chicago — or who could give me any resources there — would be a double bonus. Bless.

If that paragraph gave you a yucky thud, again, I refer us all back to this.

Sunday, January 21st, 2007


I expect to be mostly incommunicado over the next week, because my fabulous friend Mya is coming in for a visit from Minneapolis. In addition, we’re finally having the housewarming party we’ve been meaning to on Friday, and I’ve also just had the fantastic joy of spending a day and a couple evenings with Jeyoani (at right).

Big social month, apparently.

It was awesome to be able to finally meet Jey. We have a very similar spaztastic energy and enthusiasm: in fact, her first night here, we didn’t get to bed until 3 because for the life of us, we just couldn’t stop babbling. Great to be able to meet her at last: Jeyoani is the eldest daughter of my friend and mentor Cheryl, and we’ve chatted online and by phone for a couple years now, and she’d also partnered up with me in forming the AGA with Jenny and Becca.

Oddly enough, she met Mark before she met me, by way of rescuing him from a transportation fracas in L.A. about a year and a half ago. (During which I felt like a total ‘net celeb stud, by the way. He’d called me all panicked because he was there for a workshop, and his ride blew him off, so I was all, “Where are you? L.A.? No problem. Let me put out my bat-signals amoung everyone in the whole world I know, who OF COURSE will jump to help my sweetie, and we’ll fix this pronto.” In ten minutes, it was done and he was rendered utterly speechless in the wake of my supershero powers. Good times.)

It’s also a pretty cool thing when you can go out with two close friends who are also mother and daughter. The older I get, the more range my friends have in terms of age and identity, and there’s something really fantastic about that: the wider and more diverse a net I have, the happier I am. Strangely, that was always the case with my romantic and sexual relationships: not sure why with my friendships, until the past handful of years, that was less the case.

Cheesy as this is going to sound, it’s so hard for me to imagine my life without my friendships. That’s life without family. The move has been tough in that regard (it’s always especially touch to forge new friendships when you freelance), but nothing close to as tough as when I first moved to MN. I had near to a good three years there without a circle of friends, and it’s no damn wonder I got whacked with hardcore depression then.

I’m always so saddened to see the teens at Scarleteen who make their entire social lives their partners or their partners friends, and just seem to either not get or space out how important platonic friendships are. When the relationship is still ongoing, they don’t have a real support net, they often have all these troubles with abondonment issues or with giving their partners a normal amount of personal space, and it seems to kind of skew the view of romantic relationships as only one important kind of relationship. Of course, when the relationship ends, they wind up totally alone, since the friends they had were shared and there’s that usual your friends/my friends awkwardness that happens with a breakup when it comes to shared social circles.

We have a user right now who is in that spot, and just feels she’s too shy to make friends, but we’ve heard that before, and oddly, someone the same too-shy’s can cultivate romantic relationships, a disparity I can’t quite figure out.

You never want to tell them, point blank, that romantic relationships, especially at their age, tend to peter out a lot faster than they suspect, and friendships are more lasting, because a) a person only needs so much buzzkill when they’re just starting their lives and b) there are just so many variants there that neither of those things are always true, by a long shot. Truth is, during developmental years most of their relationships PERIOD will often be phasal, will come and go, or will be somewhat temporary because everyone’s identity is in such a state of flux. Note to self: figure out a nice way of explaining this — might help during those years when we often feel like no one will stick by us — without sounding like you’re saying they haven’t got a chance in hell of anyone sticking around until they’re older, and in such a way that supports the value of both their friendships and romances, and makes clear that the cultural notion that any one type of relationship is more vital than the other is hogwash.

That said, there are rooms to clean, errands to run, and still a load of catchup work to continue, all left around in a giant pile from the last few months of book craziness. If I catch up with everything that has fallen behind even by the end of this whole year, it’ll be a bleedin’ miracle.

P.S. And to be filed under the “I Need a Miracle” department (ah, those deadhead years, how I miss’em), until recently, I somehow forgot how insanely happy a bowl of steel-cut oats with raisins makes me. Almost fifteen years ago or so, I had a partner (the one who still holds the crown of my favorite ex, ever) who always made them for breakfast: at first, they seemed so utilitarian and plain, I wasn’t too excited about them. But then, the beautiful texture of the oats made itself apparent, and having someone make you warm, toasty grains in the morning was such a treat. A much-belated thank you to Michael Hays for turning me onto those delightful oats. Yummy.

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Finally got the manuscript back from the copyeditor this morning: I have but one week to get all the way through it, make any and all changes, the works. It’s going to be one helluva week.

A style sheet for the CE and myself also accompanies the revised manuscript.

I’m fairly certain that the style sheet for most authors does not include passages like the following:

AU uses “data” with a singular verb.
The words “either,” “neither,” and “none,” take a singular verb (e.g., none of these methods works every time).
The word “feces” takes a plural verb.
The word labia is plural; the singular form is labium.
The word ova is plural; the singular form is ovum.
The term corpus cavernosum is singular; the plural form is corpora cavernosa.
The word “media” is plural; the singular form is “medium.”
The word “criteria” is plural; the singular form is “criterion.”

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Because I cannot accomplish any sort of menial task without some sort of running commentary…

10:00: Reason #374 to Decide to Take the Day Off and Clean Out Your Closet: Because, however improbable it may seem, there could very well be two hundred and seventy dollars in cash tucked away in a pocket that somehow your poor-ass, keeps-everything-in-your-pockets-like-a-teenage-boy self managed to space or displace at some point, lord knows how.

Two Hundred. And Seventy. Dollars. I just made more cash in ten minutes than I make in a week.

And here I thought, with sending Mark off to Ohio for ten days (sniff!) this morning, it was going to be a bad day. Dayum.

11:15 I am not sure quite what to think upon the realization that as I get older, my personal style seems is becoming what would happen if Fran Leibovitz and Betsey Johnson spawned. Two women I think rock, for sure, but do I really want to look like them if they got tossed in a blender?

Seriously: first there’s this endless row of every conceivable type of white button down shirt — shadow-striped, sheer, tuxedo fronted (lots of those: hey, they make it easy to look dressed up when you can’t be sussed to bother), plain, ruched, deconstructed — fifty million white ribbed men’s tank tops, a pile of black jackets, old-style trousers galore and an awful lot of jeans. Then there’s this whole other half of stuff for which every item requires an exclamation point. Leopard boots and skirts! A shirt and dress an LSD-laced garden puked all over! Tulle! Lace corset tops! Fishnet everything! Shiny this! Shiny that! Stripes, stripes, and more stripes! My underwear drawer is equally confused and conflicted: there are literally lacy little bits lost inside boxer shorts.

The hell.

7:00 Six loads of laundry and every Liz Phair album later…

Note to Self: You don’t ever end up liking or wearing t-shirt or cotton tankdresses, so why on earth do you keep on buying them?

Note to Naked Lady Partygoers: Not only am I now nearly ready for another one soon, I have t-shirt and tankdresses, should there be someone who DOES actually wear them. I’m also finally ready to part with some shoes. Also, next Friday night, Women & Wine will be here at the house, in front of the toasty woodstove, since I have it all to myself (and there is plenty of room for drunken women here, so, for instance, Anna, if you’re around, you get dibs on the guest room since no one comes from further than you do). I’ll email everyone per usual, but if you’re local, not on the list and interested, gimme a shout.

All in all? Have to say that was a truly productive day. Who knew: there actually IS a floor in our bedroom. It’s covered in totally gross old carpet, but it’s a floor all the same. I found several missing treasures AND even got paid from the powers that be for cleaning al the clothes up. Sweet!

Monday, December 18th, 2006


Darlene
Originally uploaded by Heather Corinna.

Yesterday, I had a headshot client here: a local actor who I knew before from film work she’d done with Mark. (She was in Sofia’s movie, actually.) My new lights aren’t here yet, so our friend Heath was a dear and brought me over a big light from the studio he works with, since there just isn’t enough natural light here this time of year to do much of anything, let alone provide the sort of clarity an actor’s headshot needs to have.

She had told me that she didn’t think she was especially photogenic. I had told her that generally, I’m not sure there is such a thing, that I think that’s really a matter of the photographer doing their job both technicaly and socially. Plus, she’s got an amazing, unique face and we like each other a lot: I just couldn’t imagine not being able to do great work with her.

I woke up early, prepped the studio, felt as competent as I usually do, despite having a cold. But throughout the shoot, while I kept finding some great compositions and angles, my camera was not cooperating with me. It kept refusing to focus. The lights were giving me trouble, being either way too strong or too flat. I moved them here, I moved them there: I used the tripod, I worked without it. I kept cursing inanimate objects in the presence of a client. All the same, while I didn’t think I was getting as many great shots in a sitting as I tend to, and I wanted to pull my hair out, I thought I was doing alright.

Later that night, I unloaded the card and was decidedly not happy. About 1/3 of the shots were blurry, or I didn’t get the focus in the place I wanted to: I kept getting sharp focus on hair or lips and soft focus on eyes, the latter of which is where you really need focus in headshots. Another 1/3 of the shots were so overlit, half her face was washed out and overexposed. There were some AMAZING shots I’d see in the thumbnail view, get all excited about, then enlarge them and discover that one of the two aforementioned issues fucked the shot entirely. There was an awful lot of “Gah!” “Arrrrgh!” and “Fuckity-fuck-fuck-FUCK!” resonating in my office last night.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some winners (like the shot above at right, which is my favorite). There are, even to the point that I suspect — and hope — she’ll feel she got some of the best photos ever taken of her. But. I am used to having clients, especially paying clients, tell me that they don’t even know how to pick just one or two for their needs because there are so, so many great ones. And I want that to be the result. I feel like if I shoot for an hour, I should have a client walking away with at least 50 shots or so that are technically perfect, very creative, and which all could suit their needs, but in which there will be one or two that are just right in terms of the specificity of what they wanted. I’m just not comfortable giving them less than that, because I feel like I have not done my job.

I penned an email I have never had to pen to a paying client, telling her that for no fault of her own, I clearly wasn’t on my game, letting her know I had some great shots, but not enough for me to feel I’d done the service for her she’d paid for, and offering for her to come reshoot at her convenience if she wanted at no extra charge. I can think of only three times before this, and never with a paying client, that I’ve had to tell someone I just thought what I did was pretty crap per my standards, and I haven’t had to do so at all in a couple of years, paid or unpaid.

Mark called on the way home from working on a reel for a commercial gig he has coming up, and in telling him all of this (and I speak far more candidly with him than I do with all of you), and listening to his reaction, in writing that email and listening to the way I was talking to myself about all this, I started to feel pretty seriously embarassed. The embarassment wasn’t at doing less than my best — okay, some of it was — it was at my total and complete lack of allowance for my own imperfect humanity; at hearing myself honestly say out loud — and sound like a total asshole in saying — that while I absolutely allowed for others to have off-days, and thought nothing lesser of them, I do not feel the same towards myself.

(Mark: Everyone has an off-day, babe. Me: Everyone but ME! I may NOT! Mark: Yeah, okay, Princess. I’ll be waiting at the foot of the tower when you’re ready to come down. Actually, he stopped at “Okay, Princess,” but if HE was on his game, he would have finished with that line, so we’ll let him have it, just to be nice.)

It’s not that I think I’m better than everyone else in some intrinsic way, but I do often think that I work harder and longer than most, that I refuse to stop working at anything less than genius or perfection unless there just isn’t another sliver of energy left, that other people seem to set their standards for themselves lower than I’m willing to set mine for myself.

It’s ridiculous, really. And when I speak these things out loud, they all sound way less sensible and far more pretentious, arrogant and silly than they do when they’re in the confines of my mind.

I think this is part of the problem with working out some of your issues and demons via art and/or work. The part of me that often still believes she’s just not good enough for anything, and that she has to work harder, longer, do better than anyone else just to earn her right to live in this world and at a marginal level of peace and comfort finds a easy soil in which to seed in work. But unlike putting self-loathing issues in say, alcoholism, when you put them in workaholism, people — including yourself — applaud you for your drive, for your perfectionism, for your excellence, even if what’s driving all of that isn’t exactly functional or healthy. They don’t tell you to go to a meeting or put down the bottle: there’s nearly nada in the protestant work ethic and our cultural absorption of that propaganda that tells us to put the brakes on and get a fucking grip.

I may well be the equivalent of those people (who I think are totally insane: those mountain climbing stories creep me right the hell out and keep me awake at night) that climb Everest. Pretty much everyone thinks they’re completely cracked, but at the same time, they’ll cheer them on when they try, when they abandon everything to try, and celebrate them when they get to the top of that mountain, even if they lost a leg or froze near to death in the process.

Will I still reshoot if she wants to? Oh, of course I will. Will I still sit here every day and juggle several Herculean tasks because even just one isn’t enough? Oh yeah.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions, but I think I’d best make an exception this time round and accept that while it’s fine to work hard and aim high, and it’s even fine to enjoy working and feel validated in doing good work, it’s really ridiculous to take it to such extremes that your Sherpa is quitting his gig and heading to work for corporate America because he can’t ethically live with himself anymore in helping crazy bastards like you.

P.S. A word to the wise during cold season: when you think that your thoughtful sweetheart — who, like you, has a cold right now — has left a chewable Vitamic C tablet on your desk for you before he left for work? Email him and ask if that’s what it is first.

Because when you unknowingly pop one of those Airborne fizzy-tablets, the sort meant to fill a whole glass of water, into your mouth and chomp into it, not only does it taste like such ass you will nearly vomit, you will also have grapefruit-flavored foam pouring out of your mouth like a rabid dog for several minutes, which is more than a little unsettling. Trying to make the fizz stop with a slug of your nearby coffee is also not the brightest of ideas nor a fine flavor combination.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Quick! (thanks, Clare.)

To recognize National Back Up Your Birth Control Day at Planned Parenthood, today they are offering FREE emergency contraception at their clinics.

Even if you don’t need it now or for yourself, if say, there’s a clinic on your drive home from work, pick up a pack. Maybe you will have need for it at some point, or maybe a friend, younger sibling, niece or neighbor will. Now that we’re getting to the point where we really can just have some handy, never hurts to have it on hand, especially for free.

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

One last COPA-related nod before I set it down for a bit, do a quick interview for an Aussie mag about the All Girl Army, then bury myself in the big endgame of my book edits accordingly. My deadline is exactly one week from now, and between now and then I need to finish the initial edits on three more chapters and an appendix, then write a short summary, do the resource list, the dedication, the acknowledgments, update the TOC, then go back through the whole thing front to back for one more spit-and-polish before turning it in.

I expect to sleep and leave the house again sometime next week. I expect to eat infrequently, and when I do, to be unable to discuss anything but Chlamydia, breakup ethics, gender identity and how the hell to address pornography properly in this context.

I just have to say, before I plunge full-stop into this last stretch, that on that whole adventure, my boyfriend was such a rock star.

It’s really not easy to go somewhere as someone’s partner — and really, as nothing BUT someone’s partner — and have absolutely everything be about them and how awesome and important they are. I’ve been in that spot once or twice, and even as someone who dislikes having the spotlight put on me (which is very much not the case with Mr. Price), it’s still been tough.

But you’d never have known it was anything but easy-as-pie for Mark. He was a total pro in dealing with the awful flights to get to Philly and me, with discussions about nothing but this case, with the courtroom time and my moments of neurosis before, with the crazy celebration after. It may as well have been all about him for how damn cool he was about it all.

And really, sparing very old, very good friends, I can’t imagine being comfortable having taken any partner I have had before to this juncture. Anyone who was anything less than My Real Deal, would have felt strange, like taking someone you’ve been dating for a week to a family wedding, you know? It was also so, so cool to have everyone love him so quickly and immediately. All in all, having my very real partner with me made a whole lot of difference throughout. Sure, this love-of-my-life stuff still totally freaks me out sometimes, but most of the time, it is just the absolute thing.

After the trial, after I grabbed a couple drinks with Moe, I headed back to the hotel and we had this utterly awesome couple of hours just curled up under the sheets, gabbing and gabbing amidst many, many snuggles. We lucked out, in general, with both of us being complete snuggle-bunnies as people: these snuggle-fests have happened more than once, to say the least. In this particular instance, the fest culminated with some ungodly good sex, to boot. Bonus!

This is a particular bonus, by the way, when one is going out for a night of drinking. I explained this theory to a couple of our cohorts, but I’ll explain it to all of you out in the cheap seats as well, should you be unaware. Alcohol really inhibits the arousal cycle, and not just from a male not-getting-it-up standpoint: for everyone. It makes it a bit easier to want to have sex, for those who have a hard time sober, but it makes it a lot harder, physiologically-speaking, to bring all the bases home, if you get my drift. So, when you know you’re going to go tie one on, you simply have sex before, rather than after. Takes all the pressure off, and lets you go out already feeling good and looking all glowy. So, from me to you, sex first, sloshiness after. You’ll thank me later.

Boy raised the bar, is what he did. Next time he has something of crucial importance, I’ve got to seriously step it up and give back as much of a gift as he did me this time, or else I’m going to feel like a total slacker, especially since the last time he had something hugely important and all about him (making his last short film) I ended up getting the funny paralysis on the set and scaring the hell out of everyone.

I owe him, big time.