Polyamory (and so much more!) in Pictures

(Book review #5 – original post @ Cannonball Read 8)

KimchiCuddles-AskMeAboutPolyamory

Fair warning: I’m going to pepper this review with a few actual strips from Kimchi Cuddles, because pictures are awesome and I love being able to use the actual author/artist’s art to drive a point home. 

That being said, here; have a comic!

Kimchi Cuddles #300 - "The Scandalous Truth" from KimchiCuddles.com

Kimchi Cuddles #300 – “The Scandalous Truth” from KimchiCuddles.com

Yup. Welcome to polyamory. I’ve been a practicing polyamorist for close to 15 years now and this might just be my favorite book on the subject. And that’s saying something because while there aren’t nearly as many books on the subject as I wish there were, there are still a goodly amount and I’ve read most of them. This is not an easy relationships style and while it is incredibly rewarding and wonderful, it also, in my humble opinion, takes a lot of self-awareness, communication, and emotional maturity. I’m working on ’em. It’ll likely be an ongoing quest, but I’m glad to have people like Tikva Wolf to help with the journey for the past few years.

I’ve been following Kimchi Cuddles as an internet comic strip for a while; her semi-autobiographical strips sometimes make me laugh and sometimes chop a clear path of understanding right through a problem that I was having trouble with, and sometimes, just make me feel not quite so alone. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can be polyamorous and feel alone or lonely. You can totally be polyamorous, have multiple partners, and still feel really alone and lonely sometimes. It’s kind of like how you can be going through the sadness of a breakup but also be happily married. Oh hey, btw, there’s a comic about that:

Kimchi Cuddles #301 "Sci Fi Marathon Time" - from KimchiCuddles.com

Kimchi Cuddles #301 – “Sci Fi Marathon Time” from KimchiCuddles.com (another thing I love about this is the note on Facebook when this was posted was that the author/artist likes to watch “Hedwig & the Angry Inch” after breakups. All Of The YES.)

This kind of thing is what makes polyamory so magical. Honoring the complexity of life and feelings and actively celebrating it all with people. Through polyamory, I’ve been able to grow more than I ever thought possible, come (mostly) to terms with anger, be a better communicator, open my heart to uncertainty and loving outside of social norms. And Kimchi Cuddles has helped me navigate all that. Tikva Wolf has a very open, nurturing way of handling the myriad challenges of polyamory and even when she’s struggling with her own demons, she helps others by sharing that struggle through her art. And as you may’ve guessed, there is a comic for that, too:

Kimchi Cuddles #326 - "Appearing Perfect" from KimchiCuddles.com

Kimchi Cuddles #326 – “Appearing Perfect” from KimchiCuddles.com

Being out of the closet is important to me, too, as is being able to write about my life. And I love being able to support artists and authors and musicians who help me along my path, so when I found out there was a kickstarter for the first compilation of Kimchi Cuddles comics in physical book form, I was SO on board. And so grateful I had the money to support this fantastic endeavor.

Random note: This book smells really good. I admit it; I love to open a book and stick my nose in center and inhale. I embrace my weirdness. Therefore, this comic seems appropriate:

Kimchi Cuddles #274 - "Queers" from KimchiCuddles.com

Kimchi Cuddles #274 – “Queers” from KimchiCuddles.com

What’s even more nifty about this comic, as you might be able to tell from above, is that it doesn’t just talk address poly issues. The book is divided into six sections (parenthetical notes are mine):

  • I. Discovery Polyamory (All Poly, All The Time)
  • II. Practical Living (the practicality of poly including family dynamics, sleeping woes any triad or quad (or more) poly person will recognize, and something I like to call “eating habits: you just can’t win with that many diverse people”)
  • III. Successful Relationships (I love this section because there’s so much relationship advice. It asks the big question: What makes a relationship successful? It also deals with metamours, love, intimacy, openness, support, and encourages discovery)
  • IV. Troubleshooting, Transitions, Taking Care of Yourself (a rougher chapter to get through, but so worth it. Touches on difficult things like jealousy, misogyny, relationship transitions, conflict, compersion, and fear)
  • V. Dating Scene (fantastic chapter about poly dating, NRE, labels or the lack thereof, LDR, Mono/Poly, Cowboys, and Unicorns. A very fascinating chapter, indeed.)
  • VI. Identities (Including: Trans, Genderqueer/fluid, Asexual and Sexual, Queers, and Pride!)

One of the most important things I’ve learned from Kimchi Cuddles is that there are a plethora of ways to love. I mean, I kinda knew that going in to reading this comic, as I’d been polyamorous for over ten years by the time I first encountered this comic. But I was still very enmeshed in hierarchical modes of thinking and feeling about love. Kimchi Cuddles helped me deconstruct that and see the fear that has been living underneath. By asking (and attempting to answer) questions like “what makes a relationship successful” and “what does love mean to you”, I’ve been asking myself those things and coming up with some surprising answers. And it’s cool to see characters in the strip go through a similar growth process as they seek the answers to questions like this and more. When I read books, the ones that stay with me often are the ones where I can relate to the characters and feel like in a parallel world, they’d be real. Characters I’d want to talk with, date, be friends with, get into arguments with, cuddle with, admire. This is what the cast of characters in Kimchi Cuddles is like for me. What’s even more brilliant is I may or may not know some of the characters that the people in the strip are based on. Cause it’s a small world, after all.

And that small world, even with all the love in it, and all the possibilities, can get scary. Love is the ultimate emotional vulnerability and it can be hard to navigate that with one person, let alone many. In the end, though, I’m learning to embrace the uncertainty, open my heart, and allow love in in whatever form it takes without trying to obsess over labels (though I still maintain they have their place and can help understanding, when applied judiciously). I’ve come to much of this new found understanding and peace with the help of Kimchi Cuddles, and for that, I’m entirely grateful. And with that, I leave you with one more comic in the author/artist’s words and pictures:

Kimchi Cuddles #93 - "Ask Kimchi from KimchiCuddles.com

Kimchi Cuddles #93 – “Ask Kimchi from KimchiCuddles.com

“I’m not on fire, not burned out…just somewhere different now.”

“Somewhere Different Now” by Girlyman

So many relationship issues on my mind lately. Romantic, kink, friendships, blood family, work, my own with myself…it’s a little overwhelming.

The intertwining threads are a little maddening sometimes. How this person is connected to this person is connected to this person. How some threads become unraveled so easily and others stay strong, and which ones are which can be surprises, while some aren’t. And how just because you knew some threads would unravel, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make you sad when you suddenly lose a favorite metaphorical scarf or sweater. A friendship or relationship or something that kept you warm, made you feel good at one point in your life. A person you’ve loved for what feels like forever, or someone you thought you had so much potential, chemistry, connection with and they’re just….gone. And maybe you’ll find your way back. Maybe it can be knitted back together. Or maybe they’ve run their course in your life. There’s no real way to know for certain right now.

I don’t deal well with uncertainty. Must be why I recently picked up the book I couldn’t get through two years ago called, *ahem*, The Art of Uncertainty. Topical, that.

It feels like so much around me is tenuous lately. Not sure where I stand in some situations and relationships, yet solidly planted with others, but watching swirling winds and circumstances trying to uproot me, or so it feels like. Occasionally swatting away ghost whispers in my ear from the past. Also fighting a tremendous feeling of powerlessness as I watch people I care about get blown round by the fierce winds of change. Doing the best I can with that all. Some days are easier than others. I keep reminding myself that I’m not the only one feeling some of these things: loss, loneliness, anger, confusion, exhaustion, desire, fire, fear, momentum, frustrating blows, massive change.

I’m right in the middle of a bunch of things happening and in some cases, I’m afforded the luxury of maintaining neutrality. But lately, not so much in others.

With myself, I’m uncovering parts of me that haven’t seen the light of day in more than five years. I thought my submissive and Dominant sides were hibernating…that’s noting compared to what I’ve rediscovered recently. Thankfully, I have some helpful guiding forces and people but it’s likely going to be a largely solo journey for a while. Which is fine. Plenty of work for me to do, which will keep me focused instead of…clingy and bothersome.

That whole discovery is also leading to some less cryptic things I have to face about myself. Like the unhealthy ways I’ve dealt with anxiety in the past that are now changing. Like the way I’ve allowed myself to become too sedentary in between events. I’m very grateful my job lets me telecommute, but I have to get my ass up from the computer regularly and exercise more than just the classes I teach.

Speaking of telecommuting, my husband and I recently decided we’re going to be moving back to the east coast. The flying back and forth is getting a little ridiculous in it’s frequency. No clear timeline yet, but we’re looking at the end of this year or the beginning of the next at the latest. A lot of factors have to go into that, though.

Had a weird experience today while shopping. A cognitive dissonance and body dysphoria I get when I’m in full butch mode. Which was today. And even though I knew that was the case, for some reason, I decided to go dress shopping and everything felt crazy wrong, even though parts of me are saying that on another day, I’d really like that dress. But all I want now are my Docs and a pair of hiking capris.

My brain and body is a strange place to be lately.

I’m not really sure the point of all this…just a rambling attempt to get out some of the things in my head and heart and life right now.

Leveling up

“What the hell was that?!

These were the first words out of my boss’s mouth to kick off our private and impromptu post-event rap session on Sunday night.

It was a valid question. The event, long known by everyone in the company to be the largest and most difficult and time consuming show of our calendar of events, had just happened and was rife with…unexpected complications.

Of course there were the expected ones I’ve grown mostly used to…incessant hotel and performer questions, snafus, on-the-fly changes, and a million decisions to be made while a few hundred people over the course of the weekend want to talk, hug, complain, congratulate, and so much more. And there were the personal complications I was expecting, given there were a LOT of poly and D/s threads crossing to weave an interesting and complex tapestry of feelings over the course of the event, some for the first time in person. Which, holy hell, that latter thing…I wish I had adequate words for it but that required separate writing.

But no. What my boss was talking about was all of the unforeseen complications. The ceaseless winds and weather that blew through, so much so that the the Midway and Courtyard outdoor areas had to be shut down AND evacuated on Saturday. The busiest day of the event. And as if that weren’t enough, I had to relocate a wedding that was supposed to take place outside, to an indoor space, during the evacuation, during an event that I had packed to the gills and scheduled out the wazoo, so the fact that I had an open spot for the wedding and found it, relocated it, reset the room, and helped find live music since they could no longer play their pre-recorded music was a bit of a minor miracle.

He was talking about the people, some of whom told us they weren’t coming and some of whom we told could no longer come, who showed up and rocked some worlds.

I know he was talking about the feeling of difficult social and business situations that took a few of us completely by surprise and seemed to be completely counter to many years of previous experiences. Some of them fucked up our days and nights way more than we wanted to.

It’s likely he was also talking about the utter frustration that many people felt with the crazy bizarre traffic problems that started long before our President was supposed to be the speaker at Rutgers graduation a few miles up the road, causing the closures of most major roads around us for the afternoon.

Perhaps he was referencing the fact that one of the cast of his musical that was premiering was unsure of her ability to perform for health reasons, apparently right up until the day of the performance (but thankfully did, and from what I hear, rocked it.)

Maybe also there was reference to the entirely ironic mishaps that happened. And maybe it was all of the above and more.

It was a bizarre event, even for being the biggest and most time consuming and most difficult of our year.

I didn’t have an adequate answer for him then but I did by the next morning.

We leveled up.

The winds of change blew through with all their might, and outside (and inside) forces tested us, and we fought back as a team and leveled the fuck up.

There’s an giddiness to this revelation. That rush of “we did it!” that feels so good. I’m incredibly proud of my husband for leading the staff through it, and I’m proud of my team and myself (the latter of which is hard to say, but I’m trying) for handling programming as well as we did, and I’m proud of everyone else, too.

There were coworkers who showed immense growth over the course of the weekend and I’m so happy for them and glad I got to witness it. There were those who continued to shine as bright as I know they can. There were people who made mistakes (myself included) but busted their asses to make up for it and went above and beyond and I’m truly grateful. We truly rallied in the face of some bizarre shit, new life happening, and all the regular craziness. These are all the positive parts of leveling up. That camaraderie of joining together to accomplish a major goal.

But then.

Then, there’s the aftermath of leveling up.

I’ve been living this since Sunday.

You no longer are fighting and giving all your energy for that goal because you met that goal and are now past the finish line. The confetti is all thrown and there’s a mess on the ground. It’s time to go pack everything, go home, and sleep. And when you wake up on Monday, you realize…everything is different.

You’re in a new world.

One you don’t recognize. The things you became accustomed to, even though you fought not to, no longer happen. The terrain has changed. There are new goals that you now have to scramble to understand or be left behind. The rallying support and close proximity of people you spent so much intense time together with, working towards that common goal, is over and everyone has gone back to their other worlds.

I mean, it’s not terribly bleak. Not entirely. You still have those people. But mostly online.

You can’t turn the corner and be met with a hug from someone you haven’t seen in a long time and just be so happy to see them. You can’t catch someone’s eye and get a jolt of energy to know you can do a thing (or all the things) that’s hard. You can’t walk into a room and hear a song and see a dear friend and have a dance party to release all the bad shit you’ve been carrying. You can’t walk outside and see a rainbow and feel a crowd of dozens of people just collectively smile and yell “rainbow!”. You don’t know the next time you’ll be able to do certain things and it just…hurts. The sudden loss. The newness of life right now.

In many ways, I’m truly blessed to have the job I do. It’s heaven for a service-oriented submissive. I get to help people, make their dreams come true, make things happen, help create playgrounds that bring together people so they can wave their freak flags together and have a blast. But the thing is…I put so much energy into all that. Doing so much for other people. And I’m grateful that the feedback I’m getting is mostly good. People tell me I’m amazing and given the people saying it, it’s humbling. I don’t take it lightly. I’m more than grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded to grow into this position, and the people with whom I’ve crossed paths.

The flip side of it is…I’m currently feeling very needy. I’m in the middle of at least five different emotionally difficult situations, some professional, some personal, and I’m drowning trying to navigate them all. Work is on fast forward. And I’m burning for attention I just can’t get right now.

I want to be taken care of. I want to be held and for someone to tell me it’s going to be okay. I’ve poured so much out and am now so thirsty for…like a massive dose of aftercare. And this new level…doesn’t have much right now. For various life reasons, I can’t get the interaction and connection I crave from the people I crave it from to ground out and fortify for the next world.

There have been people coming out of the woodwork to help and support me, and for that I’m very thankful. It doesn’t touch the core hunger, but it helps soothe the ache some and reminds me that there are other ways to refortify.

But still…things like going to the local BDSM club nearly had me in tears as I watched people…the sub who sampled things (it’s a Sample Your Fantasy weekend) and the Dom who touched her and reassured her throughout the night.  The Domme who held her sub’s hand and brought her around to stations and made clear communication with the person doing the demo on her sub about what was and wasn’t good. The checking in. The connection. The desire. The touch.

Even though I had a brief knife demo done on me, I walked around with a chasm in my heart. Sampling your fantasy for me was a stroll down memory lane. I’d done everything there that people were just learning about. I remember scenes I’d had (some recently), experiences I longed for, toys I have that haven’t seen the light of day in far too long. The memories flooded in and it was all I could do not start crying. Thankfully I was able to hold off until the ride home.

I’m feeling very lonely lately. Bereft. My husband is not abiding by one of our few rules and I…can’t make him. He’s got his own event experience to come down off of. I’ve tried hinting. I’ve tried talking. I’ve tried pushing. It basically all led to a horrific, nearly disastrous fight last night. We’re better, but there’s still a lot of hurt and more complications and gulf and I’m still…even moreso…aching. Raw.

This new world is cold and barren so far and it’s hard to traverse. Like Super Mario World and that damn ice level in the secret star world. I wasn’t ready for it. I know I’ll get better as time goes on. As I learn more about the world and what I can and can’t do. As I travel deeper into it. Maybe it’ll get warmer. Maybe I’ll knock a box with my head and a fireflower will pop out so I can make things warmer and brighter. Maybe I’ll learn how to just fucking run and glide instead of trying to take it slowly and falling on my face each time. Mostly, though, I want a certain type of reassurance and connection. A shoulder to cry on, a look to make me surrender, a physical release.

And Yoshi. I could use the companionship and I have a feeling Yoshi would be great for this level.

Curious Wine

This poem by Emily Dickinson has been with me for many years, ever since I was given my first lesbian novel, “Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forrest, to read when I was 19. Back then, it spoke to my longing of wanting a woman I couldn’t have, and also of being afraid to talk about who I was (then, a petrified babydyke). Now, 20 years and many sexual identity evolutions later, it speaks more to me about D/s and that hunger.

I HAD been hungry all the years;
My noon had come, to dine;
I, trembling, drew the table near,
And touched the curious wine.

’T was this on tables I had seen,
When turning, hungry, lone,
I looked in windows, for the wealth
I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread,
’T was so unlike the crumb
The birds and I had often shared
In Nature’s dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, ’t was so new,—
Myself felt ill and odd,
As berry of a mountain bush
Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.

There have been moments and times that have taken that hunger away, but the trick is to figure out how to feed that hunger on a regular basis so that I’m not always approaching anything I’m able to find with being overwhelmed by the plenty. To remind myself that there are other ways to stave off the raw, aching, clawing need to submit, to be useful, to be used, to surrender control.

Going out tonight to the local club for a Sample Your Fantasy weekend. We’ll see what there is to sample, what comes of it.

Breathing is good.

The Book MY Younger Self Could’ve Used in My First Poly Relationship

(Book review #4 – original post @ Cannonball Read 8…I’m a little behind in my blogging because of work and life, but here’s another review!)

Well, hell. This was a deceptive little book. It looks pretty slim and comes in at a scant 140 pages, which, I mean…after reading the unabridged Les Miserablès is downright tiny. And this is also a companion to a different book, The Husband Swap, but the same author which recounts her experience in polyamory and in a quad where she eventually wound up swapping husbands with another woman, but not before lots of heartache and personal growth. Which, for anyone familiar with polyamory, is…pretty much how it all goes down. There’s always at least one relationship that…transforms you. That breaks you open from the inside and changes everything you thought you knew about love, family, friendship, mental and emotional health, your own limits, and so much more.

My own experience with this kind of relationship was very similar to Louisa’s except I didn’t have someone to swap to. This may seem strange but it’s true. Her lessons and mistakes ran very parallel to my own and I’ve found myself looking back in a different way. With a little more understanding and a lot more peace. It’s helping me forgive myself for decisions I made that I sometimes wish I hadn’t.

I’m fond of the way she set up this book. Each chapter opens with as short excerpt from The Husband Swap, followed by two pages of the lessons she wants to teach her “younger self”. Right after that is the distilled version of the lesson, all pithy and quotable. The last four pages of the book are all the lessons listed in order, making referencing even easier.

One of my favorites was this one, which has taken me years to get to:

4. Be careful that the rules you make around your relationship aren’t an effort to push the emotional risk onto other people. You do not have the right to control others’ actions, only your own. You can and must express your own needs. But it’s up to you to seek partners who choose to do the things that help you feel loved, rather than making rules that they must do so.

It’s so much easier to make rules for other people. Or at least it used to. It was a way for them to “prove” their love. To “protect” my primacy. To give me a false sense of security. Now I’m much better at being comfortable with my partners figuring out how they want their other relationships to look and progress, and likewise have found people who feel the same. This was virtually impossible to imagine five years ago when I was still in my previous marriage. But then again, I wasn’t always good with change or imaging a future without the relationships I was in. I could’ve used lesson 17 back then, too:

17. Everything changes, and change is easier when you embrace it. You will get through it, and you might even fly like you never have before.

I’m working on embracing change. And that flying part. There are times when I catch wind and soar and it’s incredibly exhilarating.

However, I do have a confession to make. I’ve never read The Husband Swap. For some reason, this book called to me more than that one did and I feel like, while a companion guide, it stands alone quite well. The story was distilled into bite-size, easy to digest chunks and the lessons were swift and concise. Very grateful to have this book in my poly library.

“There is no vision without vulnerability.”

"Daring Greatly" by Brené Brown

“Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown

(Book review #3 – original post @ Cannonball Read 8…I’m a little behind in my blogging because of work and life, and the fact that this wasn’t as fluffy as my last book/review. But I’m still truckin’!)

I try, whenever I can, to dare greatly. I didn’t think of it this way until I started reading Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”. She opens with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” that explains where she got the idea for the title of the book:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…

It reminds me a lot of folk singer Harry Chapin, and how during concerts he used to talk about how his grandfather explained that there are two different types of tired…good tired and bad tired:

“Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy. It’s that good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away’”.

This book made me good tired. It took me far longer than I expected to read, as I borrowed it from a good friend about a year and a half ago. Thing is, this isn’t one of those books you tear through. It’s not a thrilling mystery that you want to race to finish so you know whodunnit. It’s not a sweeping romance that you devour until the inevitable end when they go all meatcutie and finally fuck at last. And it’s not an easy, breezy beach read that spirits you away somewhere for a few hours. It’s intense.

You know you’re in for a soul-searching ride when a book tells you it’s going to explore the following questions on page 2-3:

  • What drives our fear of being vulnerable?
  • How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?
  • What prices are we paying when we shut down and disengage?
  • How do we own and engage with vulnerability so we can start transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead?

From there, we dive right into answering those questions, delving into narcissism, feeling not good enough or just plain “enough”, and how detrimental using shame, comparison, and disengagement are to daring greatly and ultimately growing.

These are things that hit home rather hard to me, especially lately, as I’ve been having issues with feeling insecure in a burgeoning relationship and have been falling into the comparison trap quite a bit, which has been leading to some self-shaming and disengagement. The plus side is because of this book and years of practice and reading about polyamory, I know what’s happening and am able to mostly correct it. Well, mostly with help.

I’m working hard on becoming more “wholehearted”, as the author talks about:

The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness…there are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing I am enough.

Which all makes sense but is hard as HELL to really adapt into your life and feel on a regular basis. And this is only page 29, y’all. It gets heavier and harder from there. She goes into gender stereotypes and how each of the genders is fucked in it’s own special way with the thoroughly screwed up messages we give people, debunks vulnerability myths, teaches us how to understand and combat shame, how to build a “vulnerability armory”. As if that wasn’t enough, she then launches into how to put all these lessons into practice in the workplace, in education, and in your own families.

This is not a book that you can just gobble up, put down, and forget about. It’s helping me be a better boss, a better partner to the people I’m in relationships with or could be, a better friend, and a better person overall, I think. Brené has a way of making you feel not so alone, as she includes a healthy dose of personal anecdotes to drive her points home. She is not perfect and freely admits it, but she continually strives to improve and become more wholehearted and that’s my goal, too.