[CBR10 – 6/13] Lies We Tell Ourselves

(Cannonball Read book review #6 – original post @ CBR10)

It’s Juneteenth, AND Pride month, which makes an incredibly appropriate time to review Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was on my radar since it first came out in 2014, but it took a wee bit of time to actually find time to read it. (Seriously, on this site, I know I’m not the only one who’s reading list is longer than the time I’ll ever possibly have to read over the course of my entire life…) What first drew me in was that the book was about desegregation and I knew there was likely going to be a romantic subplot, but I didn’t know at first that it was a lesbian romantic subplot. And not just that, it was a white girl and a black girl falling in love with each. In the south. In 1959. You don’t have to know a whole lot about American history to know this is not going to be a happy story. However, Talley manages to take a difficult and complex story of racism, politics, history, growth, and first love and infuse hope, joy, wonder in it. I already knew I was a fan of Talley’s when I read and reviewed her second book What We Left Behind but this was a very different reading experience.

Format-wise, Lies We Tell Ourselves follows a similar back and forth POV style to What We Left Behind with the story being told from each of the protagonists perspectives. There are also some great internal monologues from all four characters between the two books. But that’s where the similarity ends, I think, because Lies We Tell Ourselves doesn’t give you a moment to breathe from the very beginning. What We Left Behind starts out happy, lighthearted. A dance. A first meeting of the couple. Lies We Tell Ourselves first page opens with the chilling title “Lie #1: There’s no need to be afraid” and the very first sentence is “The white people are waiting for us.”

If that doesn’t shoot you in the heart with dread, I…don’t know what will. I tend to try to put myself in the shoes of characters I read about to understand people from different places, times, cultures, classes, etc better. I thought about what it would be like to walk into a throng of angry people who hate me…just based on what they see and think they know about me. Granted, the one thing I can relate to in that regard is that being a larger person, I’ve been read as lazy, ugly, stupid, pitiful, and disgusting by many people…just based on the way I look and the reason people think I got this way. And while that is NOTHING compared to hundreds of years of institutional racism, and does not mean in any way, shape, or form that I understand what that feels like, it has given me a tiny window of empathy and I try to be a better person with it.

So there I am, in my mind, walking with the ten teenagers into the Jefferson High School and it’s terrifying.

“They’re out there all right,” Chuck says when he comes back. He’s trying to smile, but he just looks frozen. “Somebody sent the welcome committee.”

No one laughs. We can hear the shouting, but the sound is too disjointed for us to make out the words.

We learn from there that the teens have been assisted and coached by the NAACP on this transition. Sarah, the main character on the desegregation side gives us this run down:

My father and Mrs. Mullins and the rest of the NAACP leaders have been coaching us on the rules since the summer, when the court first said the high school baord had to let us into the white school. Rule One: Ignore anything the white people say to you and keep walking. Rule Two: Always sit at the front of the classroom, near the door, so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. And Rule Three: Stay together whenever you possibly can.

I’ve been reading fiction about desegregation, the South during the 20’s – 50’s, slavery, and runaway slaves and I never came across that kind of description before. I knew the kids who were the first to face desegregation were brave, but I never fully grokked what this looked like on a moment by moment basis until this book. And this is only on page three of the book. By page five, these two paragraphs stopped me cold:

Police officers line the school’s sidewalks in front of the boys. They’re watching us, too.

I don’t bother looking back at them. The police aren’t here to help us. Their shiny badges are all that’s stopping them from yelling with the other white people. For all we know they trade in those badges for white sheets at night.

The rest of the chapter is just them getting into school the first morning, and it’s filled with hate, name-calling, intimidation, and it’s unclear if Sarah, her younger sister, and their friends are even going to make it in the building. They do make it in, after an almost mosh-pit incident and chapter/lie #2 is “I’m sure I’m doing the right thing” and the new students try making their way to their classes, worrying about getting detention if they’re late. Sarah rightly wonders “but if we have to deal with shouting crowds every day, won’t we always be late?” Makes dealing with traffic or any of the hundreds of other things that made me late over the years for school and work seem more than a bit insignificant in retrospect.

That first day is marked with students screaming at them to go home, threats to them, spitballs, milk being dumped on her, and pencils being bored into Sarah’s back. But we also get the set up for her closeted lesbianism and her budding crush on Linda, a red-haired student.

My mind is running to scary places. The images come too fast for me to stp them.

I imagine what it would be like if I were alone with the red-haired girl. How it would feel if she smiled at me with her pretty smile, and I smiled back, and-

No. I know better than to think this way.

I can’t take any risks. Especially not at this school. If anyone found out the truth about me it would mean – I don’t even know what it would mean. I only know it would be horrible. It would be a hundred times worse than what happened in the parking lot this morning. A thousand times worse.

As the day progresses, there are more lies. “I don’t care what they think of me,” “I’m not lonely” and “They won’t really hurt me” forever” hit pretty hard. We learn that while Sarah’s father is in the NAACP, Linda’s father is the editor of the Davisburg Gazette. “He’s the one who writes the editorials opposing segregation. He’s also Daddy’s boss.”

Whelp. This story just went from star-crossed to totally fucked in two sentences.

There are bits sprinkled in about how the white people view the black people and one of Linda’s father’s editorials details how “Negro children should be taught only Negro teachers, for our own benefit, because no one else can understand how “uniquely” our brains work” but we don’t fully get the white perspective until a few more chapters in when we switch to Linda’s POV.

That set up was very telling of the privileged mind of someone who’s never had to examine her own biases and privileges. Linda’s first lie is “None of this has anything to do with me.” And the first sentence of her first chapter? “They canceled the prom today.”

Because the prom is CLEARLY the most important consideration at that moment. I swear, I’ve rarely wanted to slap a fictional character so badly as I did when I first read that. However, Talley knows how to skillfully turn that self-centeredness and build layers into the story very quickly. That first sentence was followed with:

Because of the colored people. Everything that happens now is because of the colored people.

If Daddy has to work later at the paper it’s because the integration teachers are making up stories. If I’m behind in English it’s because the NAACP forced the school to close last semester. If I get caught daydreaming in Math its because the colored girl in the front row distracted me.

Well, now. Apparently Linda is also taken with Sarah. But it’s disturbing to get into Linda’s head, even as skillfully as Talley brings us there. Linda theorizes, the first time she’s in a bathroom at school with Sarah, that “touching her probably feels like touching sandpaper.” Also that black people have a certain smell to them that “stink” up places. I think the most incredulous was that some of the white people wanted to know where the black people kept their tails. This kind of literal dehumanizing was clearly spoon fed to these people from birth and they just accepted it as fact. But what I love about this story is that we see and witness Linda as her thoughts change as she falls in love with Sarah.

Y’see, during that first time in the bathroom, Linda and Sarah get into a bit of a spat because Sarah dares to be anything but polite and deferential to Linda. This pisses Linda off to no end. At first, she uses it to justify her narrow world view:

Daddy was right. The Negro students think they’re entitled. They think their own schools – the ones set aside specifically for them – aren’t enough. They think they have to come for our schools, even if it means hundreds of us have to suffer just so a handful of them can be satisfied.

Linda doesn’t see that separate but equal rarely, if ever, actually means equal. She doesn’t see the suffering that black people have endured at the hands of white people for centuries. She can’t see beyond her own small corner of the world. But Sarah is about to change all of that. Because of the first convo in the bathroom, Sarah and Linda (and Linda’s friend Judy) are late to French class and the teacher decides that that means they’ll be grouped together for the French project.

Now Linda and Sarah have to figure out how to work together, but not only how, but where. Clearly they can’t be seen anywhere together in the white parts of town and it’s also likely not a good idea for Linda to be going to the black parts of town, either. Judy works in Bailey’s Drugstore in town, which has a back room that they can meet in because no one is in there after 4pm on a school day, so they all three agree to meet there. And that’s where the meat of the story really starts unfolding. I don’t mean to disrespect the desegregation parts at school, but it’s when the girls on by themselves and the mob mentality isn’t allowed to prevail that Judy and Linda can start to see that Sarah isn’t stupid. She’s not ugly. She’s not uppity or “entitled”. They begin to learn about the humanness of each other and that they’re more similar than each had previously thought, especially from Linda’s perspective:

The part about her parents and her church choir was strange to read. I’d never thought about what the colored students do when they’re not in school. Sarah must have a house somewhere. She must do things like help her mother with dinner or iron her clothes for church. The same kinds of things I do.

But this is one of my favorite parts of their conversation, after Linda calls Sarah and “agitator” like it’s wrong:

“The point is, we didn’t force your governor to do anything,” Sarah goes on.

“My governor?” I say. “He’s your governor, too.”

Sarah lifts her chin and looks me straight in the eyes again. “He’s not my anything if he doesn’t treat me the same way he treats you.”

My jaw drops.

“That’s anarchy,” I say quietly. I wait for her to take it back.

Sarah doesn’t even blink. “No, it’s not. If the law is wrong, we have to say the law is wrong.”

Linda freaks out about this and again, uses it to justify her views, calling Sarah a Communist. Sarah says she’s not but Linda counters telling her she’s going to tell her own father about Sarah being a Communist. She thinks she’s going “fix integration.”

Sarah very smartly asks how she plans to do that when Linda’s father doesn’t even know they’re working on a project together.

Linda’s list of chapters/lies for this section are little insights into her own mind:

  • None of this has anything to do with me.
  • I’m exactly who I want to be.
  • I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.
  • If I keep pretending, everything will be all right.
  • She’s wrong.
  • This doesn’t change anything.
  • I hate her.

The story truly unfolds from there and Linda and Sarah grow closer while the tormenting at school gets worse. By the end of that section, though, which is about halfway through the book, things come to a head between Linda and Sarah. And right after, we switch back to Sarah for next quarter of the book. Sarah decides that the best thing to do to combat how she feels about Linda is to ignore Linda and put her energy into dating Ennis, one of the other students integrating with her. As we watch her do this, we also get her internal process of how she doesn’t feel that spark with Ennis that everyone says you’re supposed to have with a boy…that she definitely has with Linda.

It makes an odd juxtaposition to Linda’s musings about her fiancee, Jack, and how the pin he gave her “means I belong to someone” and that “Jack is all I need. He’s more than I deserve” whereas when Sarah starts to think about marriage to someone, possibly Ennis, and having existential crises while theater goers are gossiping around her on date, she thinks:

I envy these women. I bet none of them ever doubted whether they should get married. I’m sure none of them ever had any unnatural feelings.

As she’s trying to puzzle this out, she keeps dating Ennis and she and Linda avoid each other. Until Linda seeks her out to tell her that some of their classmates are planning something terrible for the choir concert tomorrow. Because after initially being told they shouldn’t join any extracurriculars at the white school, Sarah’s incredible vocal talents get her into the school choir. The classmates tried to sabotage Sarah by not having an accompanist for her solo. However, Sarah handles it in her own, graceful way.

After this third section of the book, we suddenly get a change. The last section is called “Amazing Grace” and from there on, we get three chapters, one each from Linda, Sarah, and Sarah’s little sister Ruth. Those chapters are now titled with “truths” instead of lies, to mark the journeys that each of them has taken:

  • Truth #1: (Linda) It’s up to me.
  • Truth #2 (Sarah) None of them can touch me.
  • Epilogue, Truth #3: Ruth We did it.

These last few chapters wrap up decisions that Linda has to make, including whether or not to confront her father, what she was going to do about her fiancee, and, by extension, the rest of her life.

Sarah has to face some of her own demons, too. And some things that have happened to her classmates. One got hit with a baseball bat, one was nearly killed by a band of white boys, and then near the end of school, someone pees on her desk chair and the teacher tries to make her sit in it and won’t listen to why she won’t. The teacher gives a choice to sit or leave, so she leaves and goes right to the principal’s office. That conversation is fascinating as all hell to get into yet another white person’s mind from the time about on how all this looks and should work. But after what could’ve been a very disheartening meeting, Sarah left feeling not angry or sad, but more confident in herself:

I can keep sitting quietly, like a good girl.

Or I can get out the letter that came yesterday and decide for myself what happens next.

The book ends on Ruth’s chapter, “We did it” and we get to see Sarah graduating after a brutally hellish year at Jefferson High School and then a small window into where Sarah will go next. I like that there’s hope in this chapter and in this book. It’s more than I was expecting during a volatile, difficult time. It also seems appropriate that it passes to Ruth, who is the next in line to stay on to fight next year when she attends Jefferson High School in the fall.

Even given all that hope at the end, the thing I hate most about all this, though, is how relevant it all was to the current political climate. Today, in 2018, this was scarily too similar to the rise of Neo-Nazis and white supremacy and it’s horrific and depressing to think we haven’t come all that far in 60 years. There’s still more to fight, more to overcome, more to change, but I’m so glad that there are authors like Talley out there on the front lines helping to make that change happen one reader at a time.

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[CBR10 – 5/13] grl2grl

(Cannonball Read book review #5 – original post @ CBR10)

I’d been wanting to read this compilation of lesbian YA short stores from Julie Anne Peters for a few years, so I was very excited when I discovered a copy in my county library collection. As a fan of Peters for a while, since I love how she draws me into believable worlds of lesbian and trans teen characters with humor, warmth, and great writing, this book didn’t disappoint. In fact, it went beyond my expectations in terms of variety. Without going into spoilers on specific stories, it covers the fear of coming out and going to a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting, breakups, cheating, first love, sexual abuse, trans hate crimes & violence, impossible crushes, religion, classism and the complications of friendship, non-traditional families, less common pronouns, online dating, and so much more.

The first story, Passengers, details a budding crush one teenager, Tam, has on a fellow classmate named Andi. How she’s observed her sitting alone everywhere. “In Art, senior seminar, lunch, on the train.” Tam and Andi are drawn as different from the get go because Tam says if she were alone on the train, she’d “find something to do. Read or work on homework or doodle, fake it, so if [she were] alone it’d look like [she] wanted to be alone.” But Andi doesn’t seem to care. Throughout the story, Tam brings the reader along on her crazy whim to get to know Andi. It seems like Andi confounds Tam. She doesn’t understand the other girl. Andi is a bundle of mystery, and Tam wants to know her better. We get a snapshot of one day where they spend time talking outside in the cold and then go into school library’s “Brittanica Boneyard” where all the library and other supplies go to die. It was nice to read a story that was just…a beginning and like any great author, I so wanted to know what happened the next day.

The next story is called Can’t Stop the Feeling and it’s about the utter fear of coming out. Mariah keeps wanting to go to the Gay/Straight Alliance meeting at school, and keeps getting closer to going in. However, she has some pretty abject terror: “The dread and fear of exposing myself to them was nothing compared to telling my friends. Did they even qualify as friends? There wasn’t one of them I could trust, or confide in.” It sucks to be that lonely and I found myself rooting for Mariah to get in that Band Room to be part of the Alliance finally.

After Alex hit me pretty hard for some personal reasons. In this story, Rachael’s friends tell her not to take back her girlfriend after Alex cheated on her, but Rachael is still knee deep in heartbreak and pining for the loss of her first love. So when Alex comes back around, begging Rachael to take her back, Rachael is thrown back into remembering the first time they really made a connection and snuggled on a train ride back from a GSA field trip. It’s funny; the story just before this one was about a character who was afraid to join the GSA, and in this story, Rachael talks about finally getting up the “nerve to join the Gay/Straight Alliance at school.” Then Rachael remembers the first time they made love and we come back to Rach’s friends trying to convince her not to get back together with Alex. This is the first story we get a definitive ending on, in that we know what Rachael does in response to Alex wanting her back, and I understand her choice oh-so-well.

Outside/Inside was a clever way to tell the story of a crush, via the outside and inside of cards that the main character, Logan, wants to send to someone she cares about at the beginning of winter break. It ends with the card’s presentation to the crush and I shook my head at Logan’s feelings. I remember having similar ones when I was in high school. I don’t want to cast spoilers out here, even for a short story, so I’m just gonna leave it by saying that things are likely gonna be complicated when Logan when she gets back from winter break.

On The Floor uses a basketball game and two players who’re on opposing teams to build a sweaty, fast-paced, well played metaphor of lust and sportsmanship. I really liked the short, quick sentences in this story and how the way she wrote it really did make give it the stop-start-screeching halt-quick sprint feeling of both a basketball game and the dynamic tension of a couple.

Stone Cold Butch was a rough one for me as it dealt with sexual abuse and how it’s hard for someone who’s gone through that to connect to another person in a romantic or sexual way. The main character, Cammie, calls herself a stone cold butch. She won’t let anyone do anything for her in that intimate way. She’s shut down. Which is heartbreaking to watch from inside her head when a classmate develops a crush on her and pursues her, even though Cammie verges on cruel.

In Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, Peters tackles the subject of how abstinence-only sex ed affects queer students. Things like how birth-control wasn’t really a thing for same sex couples because, duh, no risk of pregnancy. Also, when Aimee, the protagonist, asks why should students who were gay wait for marriage when they weren’t allowed to get married and did that mean that they were just never supposed to have sex, I almost threw my fist in the air when reading. Aimee’s teacher gets snarky with her and first tells her she’ll be playing a lot of Solitaire (wtf?! But I can totally see certain teachers I had in school answering that way, and now I’m suddenly glad that I had fairly good NOT abstinence-only sex ed in school) and then later, when Aimee presses her for a real answer, tells her it’s between her and her god. I love the anger that rises in Aimee and also that afterward, in her head, she goes into a rant:

I stormed out after class. My god? My god? What did she know about my god? She probably thought since I was gay, I was godless. Against religion. But I’m not. I have a god. I go to church. My god isn’t her god. My god doesn’t scorn or condemn me. My god is kind and benevolent and accepting. We made a sacred pact. I’d be the best person I could be and God would save me a place in heaven. The real one, where it doesn’t matter who you are or how you look or how you sacrifice your dignity and self-respect most days just to be true to yourself.

The story takes a bit of a twist (to me, at least) from there, introducing an old friend, Peyton, that had dropped Aimee after her parents got divorced and Aimee moved to the wrong side of the tracks and “inner-city housing.” But it was awesome to see Aimee and Peyton reconnect and by the end of the story, with some humor and snark, we get hope for the two girls to be friends again.

Boi deals with an FtM trans character and opens with some fairly explicit talk about children being curious about body parts and how one moment with a cousin was a tip-off for the main character that ze wanted zir own penis. Over a decade later, the same cousin helped Vince get zir first packing penis. Vince’s cousin Kevin were raised by their grandparents. I really liked this story as soon as I started reading it, so the assault that happens to Vince utterly gutted me. Fair warning, this story ends on an incredibly upsetting note and I hate these fictitious boys for what they did to Vince. The damage they did may’ve been fictional, but it’s indicative of the real damage and hate that gets carried out everyday all over the world towards trans people and it’s horrific.

I think TIAD was my least favorite story. I certainly relate to it. It mostly takes place in a chatroom online and I remember what it was like to connect to someone in a chatroom, think that you have something in an LDR, and then to have it all fall apart. This one just felt a little flat to me. However, it is funny that the acronym and it’s meaning has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently wrote a piece about how Tomorrow Is Another Day, so that’s important to remember but this one just didn’t really stick in my brain and I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

Aaaand whereas I couldn’t connect in TIAD, I did nothing by connect with the story and characters in the last story of this compilation, called Two-Part Invention. This was definitely my favorite, but that’s likely due a lot to the fact that it was music-based. Whereas On The Floor was all sweaty sports-filled adrenaline, this was pure lyricism, ripe with music references, and I love how music can be a metaphor for love. This story centered on Kat and her yearly pilgrimages to an elite camp for musical prodigies and the girl, Annika, she’s fallen in love with. There’s a beautiful tension where Kat is trying to bring herself to tell Annika how she feels about her and also trying not to freak out about how Annika has been recently talking about a fellow male prodigy musician named Bryce, throwing a wrench into things for Kat to figure out if Annika might feel the same way. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I was a fan of the ending and think it was the perfect story to end the book on.

Have I mentioned how much I love Julie Anne Peters?

[New Year, New You] Week 13: Sacrifice

Last post before I get to the last page of prompts on Deb’s blog! (I am silly excited about this. Measurable progress is awesome!)

This one is all about sacrifice. Which should be easy, right? For someone who likes helping other people, sometimes to the detriment of zirself, I should be able to breeze through this one, right?

And it’s not like there isn’t a whole mess of sacrifice going on in my life now. I can’t really talk about much of it, but there’s also the impulse to downsize, so I’m getting rid of stuff. And also I’m working on writing a post about getting rid of things I have outgrown, such as a movies and tv shows that I used to love but realize I can no longer stomach watching anymore.

Deb talks about blood sacrifice. One day I might do that, when I have a clearer idea of exactly what and to whom…but for right now, when I just have a general idea of the direction I’m moving in, I’m going to go with something that I’ve been getting a lot of messages to give up for a while now.

The latest message came two days ago in my weekly horoscope from Rob Brezsny:

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Promise me that you won’t disrespect,
demean, or neglect your precious body in the coming weeks. Promise me
that you will treat it with tender compassion and thoughtful nurturing.
Give it deep breaths, pure water, healthy and delicious food, sweet sleep,
enjoyable exercise, and reverential sex. Such veneration is always
recommended, of course — but it’s especially crucial for you to attend to
this noble work during the next four weeks. It’s time to renew and
revitalize your commitment to your soft warm animal self.

So, in that note, to work towards treating my body with tender compassion and thoughtful nurturing, I’m giving up sugar. It’s been a three decade long love affair and it’s time to draw it to a close. It no longer is serving me, or helping me…not that it ever really did.

Ironically, it will affect my blood, and my hormones, and my health. I’m scared, honestly, to give it up because it’s usually my go-to to deal with anxiety. But I will find other (hopefully healthy) ways to cope. And I want to show the Universe that I want to keep moving in this direction.

So! Specifics:

I am giving up processed and artificial sugar, starting today, June 7th, 2018. I will not have processed or artificial sugar knowingly until July 16th, 2018 when I will re-evaluate.

This does NOT include naturally occurring sugar, such as is found in fruit, wine, and honey.

I do this to dedicate to moving forward in my spiritual quest. I want to live cleaner, more authentically, more creatively, and more lovingly. And I need to extend that love to myself first for once and renew and revitalize my commitment to my soft animal self. I vow to sacrifice sugar under these parameters for the next 40 days.

So mote it be.

 

[New Year, New You] Week 12 – Everyday You’re Hustling

So close to the last page of the writing prompts! I mean…it’s the longest page, what with ten prompts on it, but I’m almost there! I can do this! After this prompt, there’s only one more and then it’s the last page! I’m doing it! Look at me go! Thankfully, I’ve got some good momentum towards the hustlin’ I gotta do for this week.

So. What does hustlin’ mean in this context? From the original post:

I keep talking about breaking down your goals into small pieces. This week is about putting your money where your mouth is. I want you to keep a daily journal. In it, talk about what you’ve done that day to accomplish your goal(s). If you didn’t do something towards your goals, examine your reasons why. Were you really that busy or could you have taken a half hour to work towards your goals? What stopped you from making your goals a priority?

If there are days when you don’t do something that moves you closer to your goal, be sure to journal about what stopped you from getting there. This might be a good week to contemplate a phrase that’s often used in matters of the heart: Never make someone a priority when you’re only an option.

Have you made you an option instead of a priority? If so, it’s time to make yourself a priority so you can accomplish the things you want to accomplish.

Daily journal it is! Here is the journal from this past week, including steps for the day and daily tarot card draw:

Day one: (Card of the Day: Ace of Shells) helped a friend move. This challenged me to get over a fear from the last time I drove a big box truck (clipped a hearse…in a funeral processional…in front of a state tropper. I know how to do it up.) Thankfully, no hearses were harmed in the move this time. But I got my strongs on. Made my body active because one of my goals is to move more. Reached out to a friend for help and they were able to. Got a little sassy with them when we were parting ways, but it helped me establish better parameters. Passed along some vessels for a creative project they’re helping me with. Read a short story when I got home. Instead of going to quick fast food, I drove to Shoprite and bought a semi fast but way healthier dinner option (mmmmm, pad thai) and made that for myself. Took a delicious shower. Continuing my one card a day draw to get more familiar with my new tarot deck. 7702 steps.

Day two: (Card of the Day: Five of Shells) caught up on my two weeks behind writing goals and also started working on this week’s. Both posts focused on spirituality, which is a double bonus towards goals. Also, in the middle of the night, I felt compelled to do a 3 card draw about a situation I’m confused about. More confused, but I’m working on it. (Spread: Situation/Action/Outcome – Cards: Awakening, The Star, Love) Thanked friend for amazing tarot deck gift. 2378 steps.

Day three: (Card of the Day: King of Acorns) Opened up to a coworker about spiritual things. Listened to their stories and helped where I could and opened up to their guidance and assistance and knowledge. Still processing that. Might be it’s own post. Gave me perspective, though, on relationships, spirituality, my path, my abilities, some of my health issues. Stood up for myself in an argument. Asked a friend for help reseting my brain. I know that I have a lot of work and manifesting and challenges to go through yet and I’m already depleted and exhausted and just…want something good. Something that shuts my brain off. So I went to a friend I know who has the best track record so far to do that. Talked to a new friend about some poly and kink stuffs.  Also tarot. 1484 steps.

Day four: Day off from work! Slept waaaaaay the fuck in. Couldn’t fall asleep until around 4am and didn’t make it out of bed until around 2pm. Asked to reschedule an early morning meeting I had for a project I’m working on because I hadn’t slept. Turns out the meeting was the next day. D’oh! But yay for doing my best asking for what I need. Did some laundry. Set up dinner plans with best friend. Realized that that I really needed to see my therapist, so I apologized for the short notice but asked her for an appointment for Friday. She did. Awesome. Asked a close friend if they’d be available to talk anytime soon, because I sensed I was going to need support with some life stuff happening. Also wanted to get their feedback as someone whose opinion I trust. We set up a time to talk the next day. Didn’t get a response from friend about reset so I checked in. Turns out there was a tech glitch and my full message didn’t go through. Cleared it up and they agreed and are working on it. Realized when I was going to sleep that I didn’t do a daily card draw. Felt a way about it, but realized that I’ve been doing it very consistently, and my morning routine was very different because of morning phone call. Need to make sure I’m still paying attention to spirituality even when life changes. But also need to go with flow and not beat myself up abut not doing something. Don’t want to get locked into it becoming a crutch and superstition.  Worked a little bit on an event class me and a partner are developing. 1446 steps.

Day five: (Card of the Day: The Wheel) Day two off from work! Managed to get up earlier on time for early morning phone call, which went well. Had therapy. Also went well. Had phone convo with close friend about some major changes that I felt coming in my life and how some very life changing discussions were likely to be happening soon. Had lunch with another close friend to catch up and also talk about said major changes I felt coming. Had an incredibly hard, fucking painful convo re: some relationship things. 1941 steps.

Day six: (Card[s] of the Day: Awakening & Love jumped the deck. Actual pull was Five of Acorns) Crazy busy day at work. Took some time off from work to have lunch with best friend who was awesome and came to visit me at work to help keep me sane. Also good because they got something through to me that I’ve been having a hard time with. I need to ground and center every night. And it should involve yoga. Messaged back a new connection I met at Beltane to talk about future stuff. Stood up for myself and said when I wasn’t comfortable with something with someone at work. Sang. Didn’t accomplish much else in terms of creative or health goals (well, making sure I ate on a holiday weekend was good towards my health.) But had no energy to do anything else after I got home after 14 hours of work. 2075 steps.

Day seven: (Card of the Day: The Tower) Another crazy busy day at work. Stayed in touch with most of my Amazon Network for support. Got to know a new (to me) coworker and that was fun. My best friend recommended I try to keep positives in my heart and let them carry me. Had a good success with that. Left work early (yay for splits!) Had dinner with nesting partner and then decided to go see Solo. 1437 steps.

All in all, it’s a good-ish week in terms of goals, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

Here’s the shortlist of goals I’m working towards (from Week 2 of the writing challenge):

  • Creativity – music, writing, drawing
  • Spirituality – practicing more, meditating again, yoga
  • Kink – honoring all sides of the slash, seeking out play, educating myself more about the scene, honing my classes
  • Health – mental, physical, emotional
  • Authentic Relationships – better communication, being my most authentic self, fixing my own fuck ups and holding others accountable for theirs, seeking better connections and not settling
  • Cleaning – organizing, downsizing, not living like a trash panda

And here’s a breakdown of how I did adhering to those goals this week:

Creativity: Wrote two posts and started working on two others. Sang almost every day, even if it was only just in my car. Did sing one day for coworker.

Spirituality: I’m doing well with spirituality, I think. Want to do better with actual rituals and manifesting. And read more about tarot. Learn both my decks better. But I’m doing my morning draws, learning various spreads. Talking with people about it to learn more.

Kink: Worked a little on class I’m developing with a partner. Reached out for reset. Worked on new groundwork for new connection. Talked a bit with dear friend about scene possibilities.

Health: I think I did stellar for my mental health this week. Therapy, looking for a reset, talking with Amazon Network, taking some time away from work for mental and physical health breaks for important things like connecting to friends and eating foods. Honoring my emotional and mental limitations. Trying to get enough sleep. Need to walk more. Need to eat better. Going to be working on a meal plan soon with a dear friend. Took my meds every day. Stayed pretty hydrated.

Authentic Relationships: Staying connected to Amazon Network, having really fucking difficult conversations and honoring the weirdness of relationship changes but also that love doesn’t have to look one way. Being fairly blunt and not letting my brain get into the same traps with certain people as it has in the past year.

Cleaning: This is the one I fail the most hardcore on. I’m in such a cleaning rut. I don’t remember which day it was, but I did clean one bathroom counter. Took care of the dishes a few times. Did some laundry. But otherwise, I really need to downsize more and quicker. Sell and give away stuff. Go through paperwork and clean out my car.

So now, I think I’m going to come up with some short term goals within the framework of these bigger, long term goals to help me keep working towards them. Can’t wait to work on that and next week’s writing prompt!

Advanced Cartography: Rewriting Maps & Navigating Cars, Love, and Polyamory/RA

When I was sixteen, I had to take a test at a local community college. My mom and I were dirt fucking poor – on welfare, food stamps, housing assistance. Her old car was hanging on by a thread…no heat and this was in a bitter fucking winter, one of the windows wouldn’t stay up so we had to pull it up every once in a while, radio was broken.

We tried to make a game of it, though. When it was really cold, like the day I took the test, we would pile blankets across us and pretend like we were going on a sleigh ride. The car died on the road leading into the community college. I got out and pushed it until we got to a hill further in and we coasted into a parking space. Took my test. I passed (somehow with the second highest score in the state) but honestly don’t know how because I was trying not panic, thinking about how we were going to get home with the car, y’know, not working and all. My mom kept trying to reassure me as I went in that she would take care of it. And she did. She called my dad. My dad owned a body shop and helped us fix the car. This might seem like NBD, except they’d been divorced at this point for about ten years and neither were the other’s favorite person. But. We were out of options and my dad did it to help me.

I’ve never had a new car. I’ve never even bought my own used car. The cars I’ve had all were given to me, and I realize how fortunate I am in that. The downside is that they are usually high in mileage, or wrecks that my dad fixed up and gave to me. Most lasted for at least a year or two, with their myriad quirks. One decided it didn’t want to go in reverse anymore. That was a fun challenge, to try to always park in such a way that we didn’t have to back out of anywhere. One had a “police door”, as we called it. (The back door had child locks that apparently decided they wanted to stay on all the time so the door had to be opened from the outside.) Another became possessed and started repeatedly activating the power door locks…while I was driving.

I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing almost in-laws who then became my in-laws and who gave me their gently loved cars with high mileage. I still have one of those cars. She’s lasted longer with me than that marriage did, ironically.

My cars and I bond. I love them dearly. I remember the one that had the pair of dice by the dashboard light because one of my exes had a penchant for Meat Loaf and an adorable sense of humor. I remember the one that I fell in love with because it was deep green and had curvy lines like a zaftig woman’s body. I love(d) all these cars because they were freedom to me. They got me places I could barely dream about when I was little. Out of bad situations I couldn’t get myself out of when I wasn’t old enough to have a car. They are the place where I feel most comfortable, in some ways…I can have intense discussions, sing, choreograph burlesque routines (from the waist up and in my head, of course), see new places, get to sacred spaces, meet up with people who are important to me, help the people I care about by bringing them places or things. Even to this day, when I think about being without a car, I have to fight multiple panic attacks.

Like I said, though, they all had/have their quirks. Sometimes those quirks are repairs I can’t afford to make but don’t technically have to. For example, a cosmetic dent from a hit and run I didn’t even know happened until I got out of work. Since there’s no one to hold accountable and I didn’t have money for health insurance at the time, let alone cosmetic car repairs, there was no way I could get a new bumper. Also, it wasn’t a safety hazard, so it was low on my and my dad’s priority fix list.

One of the most nerve-wracking things about these cars, though, is taking them through inspection. Because often, with older, high mileage cars, the check engine light was on. Or going off and on. I’ve recently been told by a friend that this is usually just a faulty gas cap and if you make sure it’s secure and tightly sealed, all will be well after a day or two. This wasn’t knowledge I had, though, over the past two decades of driving. Which meant that most of the time, I figured it was something I didn’t have money to fix, so I had to pray that the car held out until another one came along or until my dad was able to have a friend fix it. There were short term fixes we learned for various problems. Or sometimes we would get lucky and the light would go off and we’d race to the inspection station and try to get it through before the light came back on and we flunked before they checked anything.

“Quick, get it in before it starts throwing codes!” was the rallying cry.

Sometimes we got lucky and passed. Usually, when we did, the check engine light came back on a few days later. But it was okay. (“Okay”). The old sticker had already been scraped away and a shiny new sticker put in its place, marking the car as valid. It was the stamp of approval so we didn’t have to worry constantly about the cops pulling us over, regardless of what the light said.

Old, out of date maps

Lately, I’m finding an odd parallel between how I was taught to procure cars and what I learned love was supposed to look like. A high percentage of people I’ve been attracted to share some of these traits from formative relationships in my childhood:

  • work-a-holic
  • obsessive personality
  • presently or previously addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other types of highs
  • charming & charismatic (for my magical friends, glamour for daaaaaayyyyyssss)
  • unpredictable
  • being showered with affection then starved for attention and when/if I can manage to ask for some I’m too greedy or demanding. Or selfish
  • being hurt and told it’s my fault. Or that it didn’t happen. Or having it be ignored
  • being in constant vigilance so often I don’t even realize it’s become a normal state as I deal with one fucked up situation after another because shit just keeps happening
  • low emotional intelligence and communication
  • long periods of unavailability
  • anger issues
  • not seeing or interacting with who I am, just what they see me as and what I can do for them
  • abandonment

Shit, when it’s spelled out like that, it’s not all that attractive. But…they manifest in such intriguing ways. Dancing eyes. Saying all the right things. That work-a-holic thing is “just dedication”. Obsessiveness can be so sweet at first when it’s directed at you. So if you look at these Relationships in a certain way, in the right light, on a good day, after an amazing scene, they look fine. The statuses on social media seem accurate. They’ll pass inspection. To the outside world, the relationship is up and running, doing well. Only the people inside it know the anxiety of the seeing the metaphorical check engine light on, or knowing that the symbolic heat doesn’t work, or that you really wish a particular damn window would stay up, especially when it’s fucking snowing outside. It can get really fucking cold and sad when this happens.

And if the check engine light isn’t on, there are times when it feels like these relationships are on the verge of throwing “relationship codes” – different sex drives, lack of communication, goals and ideals not lining up, wildly different kink drives, no pick up…play, fixes we can’t afford to make because they live far away and gas is expensive and we all live elaborate lives. So many codes that can spell disaster for trying to pass the test. For trying to convince yourself that you’ve got a little more time. That maybe it will all work itself out and the light will stay out.

And then I read this post by Page Turner.

This paragraph really hit home:

Yes, I drank and actually enjoyed terrible coffee for years without knowing it could be any different. And now I drink coffee that’s rather snobby compared to what I grew up on. But the same thing happened with love. I was just happy to have anybody in my life. I didn’t know what it was like to be really appreciated. To be cherished.

I would love to have a car I don’t have to worry about, but I don’t really know any different. I’ve never had that experience of new, fresh, and smooth. Waiting, saving, and picking exactly what I want. It’s always been what’s available. Buying a new or even used car has so far been entirely outside of my realm of experience.

Likewise, I don’t have a lot of experience with consistently being loved in a way that feels right to me once the NRE has worn off. My current dream is to eventually, when I’m looking again, find more capital-R-Relationships that could maybe turn me into a love snob. For most of my life, and especially the past few years, I have been stunned that anyone wanted to be in a relationship with me at all (capital or not). I’ve gotten into a Relationship or two because people were available and interested, and I was definitely interested, too. But I didn’t think too much about what it all meant and how it all fit…and if it fit at all. If they had the same values. If what we were looking for lined up. And if they loved me the way I wanted and valued me. Because it’s been a hard path to realize that just because someone wants you, doesn’t mean they value you. Or just because someone loves you doesn’t mean that they love you in a way that you want to be loved. Love itself doesn’t make relationships last. Likewise, it’s a hard road to open yourself up to people who might could love and/or care about you in ways you’re realizing you want, because those ways don’t look like ways you’re used to.

Figuring out how to navigate love is confusing as fuck to me

Especially because being without a relationship in polyamory used to make me panic nearly as much as being without a car. How would I get physical touch? Would I ever play or make out again? Would anyone love me again if I’m not already in a Relationship? Like they say it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, it’s easier to find people when you already have them, right? It’s taken me a really long time to realize that much of these thoughts are severely co-dependent. A good friend gave me a copy of “Co-Dependent No More” and even though I’m bristling at some of it, I know that’s because it’s all too familiar and applicable to me and my life. The more I want to throw it across the room, the more I know there are lessons that I need to learn.

There’s a quote in the chapter I just started that says “I’m fiercely independent…as long as I’m in a relationship.” That gut-punched me. I’m terrified to be alone…and yet I’m also craving to live alone for the first time in my life. I’ve run out of bandwidth and spoons for capital-R-Relationships. I finally know that adding a new Relationship isn’t going to fix anything (ask me how many times I had to do it to figure that out… *headdesk*)

As I skew more and more towards relationship anarchy, though, I’m trying to learn how to be in relationships (friendships, chosen and blood family, etc) that are what I create with the other person, not about what society tells me any of it should look like. That I get to ask for what I want instead of trying to fit things into a certain box or taking what’s in front of me, like the cars I was given, because they’re what’s available.

And yes, I do know that relationships aren’t actually cars

Cars are not people. In fact, in the words of a dear friend to me recently, “You are not a car. You are a person.” They were referring to someone I was interested in, who had a propensity for “chasing cars”.

I get it. (Still totally needed to hear it, then, though.)

But.

There’s a similar feeling towards them both given how I learned to view them in my life. And I realize this might not be universal, but it’s what I’ve got. First, I learned a very specific way that getting a car looked. Similarly, I learned early on what love looked like. All the “driving” in between is a combination of amazing, exhilarating, utilitarian, pedestrian, and thrilling. And then, when the paralyzing fear that the relationship’s or car’s life end is coming, I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to pull the plug. Like I said in a recent post, I don’t have a lot of skills built up in breaking up. When I don’t know where my next “car” is coming from and I have no money (or energy) to find another, saying “this is not working. It’s time to stop” feels so…wrong. I never fully learned how to embrace my own autonomy and strength to say, “nope. This ain’t working. I’d rather be alone than deal with this. I will figure it out from here but this sure as hell ain’t gonna continue.” I just…wait for it to just die. Or for something bad enough to happen.

There was one time when I found out a partner cheated on me; I literally packed all my shit and was states away before they got home from work. I had made it clear it was a hard limit and I’d leave if it happened. Hard limit was crossed. I was gone. That equation was so simple.

But what do you do when the equation isn’t simple? When there isn’t a bad person? When you love someone but you don’t want to continue in the way you have been? When you want to try to preserve some parts of what you love about and with that other person and you’re afraid that if you bring up changes you’d like to try, you’ll break everything and lose that person? I know, I know. I can’t control how the other person will react or feel. And that’s where communication comes in. And believe me, I’ve been having some really hard fucking conversations lately. Conversations that felt like it would be easier and less painful to just rip my fucking heart out and throw it out the window. Conversations that made my whole body tense up, even though it might be a good change. Conversations that were a long time coming and hurt like hell but also felt like an immense relief to finally have and come to an agreement.

I’ve broken up with a few people when we both were at the point of “you know, this just isn’t working right now. Let’s go back to being friends. I think that’s better for the foreseeable future.” Sometimes that worked out and sometimes it didn’t.

But one of the things I struggle with is saying all of this:

This isn’t working for me. I deserve and want more. I want to feel valued. Cherished. Desired. Like I’m someone you want to spend time with and make an effort to. I love you, but sometimes love isn’t enough.

Especially since it makes me feel like I’m a failure. If I were better somehow, I could make it work. Just add more duct tape! Adjust your expectations and desires until the little bits you’re getting seem so filling! Hell, if Alanis can feast on scraps, so can you!

Except…after a while, humans can grow accustomed to so many things. Shitty things and  awesome things…we’re remarkably adaptable. But if we keep adjusting our expectations beyond what we actually, really want, we wind up starving, dehydrated, and driving around in a broken down relationship and not wanting to give it up because you feel like you’ll never get another one again.

Seems like a good time for a song cue…

it is enough to have some love
small enough to slip inside the cracks
the pieces don’t fit together so good
with all the breaking and all the gluing back

and i am still not getting what i want
i want to touch the back of your right arm
i wish you could remind me who i was
because every day I’m a little further off

but you are, my love, the astronaut
flying in the face of science
i will gladly stay an afterthought
just bring back some nice reminders

“Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing” by Amanda Fucking Palmer

And cue the internet supplying me with advice yet again, in the form of this article making a great case for a good reframing…that of reframing what a “failed” relationship is. It’s a little monogamy-centric for me, but much still applies. This part especially:

“…stripping away the success/failure dichotomy and replacing it with an experiential narrative. You lived, you loved, you learned. Now, what did you learn? This perspective has transformed how I date, have sex, and manage my relationships. I encourage you to do the same.

Rather than focusing on doing everything right, it’s better and more rewarding to view each new person in your life as an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect.”

Letting the right ones in

Basically, I’m learning. And unlearning…at the same time. Trying to unravel decades of behavior and messages in a few months. Having hard convos and doing my best to be honest and to listen to the people I trust. I’m incredibly fortunate to have some amazing people in my life to have awesome conversations with about sexuality, sex, art, gender, kink, politics, and life, who encourage my creativity and who open up to my encouragement, who want to play with and make out and have sex with me, who cuddle me and let me cuddle them, who challenge me and demonstrate healthier ways to love on a regular basis. And who show me all the many ways to love and care about someone. That love and/or caring doesn’t have to be reserved for capital-R-Relationships. That it doesn’t have to look like the fucked up ways I learned it looked like growing up.

It’s funny; last year, my friend Deb crafted a limited edition essential oil blend for Valentine’s Day called “Let the Right One In”, based on the Morrissey song of the same name. I did what I almost never do…I bought it scent unsmelled. I just felt…compelled to. When it arrived, I adored it in the bottle and even more on me. I’ve worn it sporadically though out the last year. It’s always interesting to see who likes the scent on me and who doesn’t. Generally, I’ve found the people who like it are the “right” ones that I’ve been cultivating more fulfilling relationships with and the ones who don’t like it on me…well, those relationships aren’t doing so well right now or have already ended. The poly/RA person in me wishes that it wasn’t a singular subject in the song, but such is life. I sing it and pluralize “one” like below:

Let the right one[s] in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They cannot
They cannot
They cannot do what you want them to do
Oh…

In closing, I find this Kimchi Cuddles comic that just came up in my “On this day” FB feed yesterday to also be remarkably appropriate:

KimchiCuddles-TikvaWolf-572