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Friday, May 2, 2014

The Eve of the Apocalori

It’s the eve of my 43rd birthday and despite the horror that best case scenario, half my life is over, birthdays don’t really bother me that much. In fact, most of the time most people are surprised I’m over 40. Either they are terrible at estimating ages or I’m immature enough to pull off “younger”.

But this year, something is different. For some reason, reality has hit the fan, so to speak. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still companionless, yet another birthday, and no significant other to share it with. Or just the reality of how many things I have waited too long to do.

It’s a cautionary tale really. I don’t like repeating myself, like the conversational recaps that television shows do to make sure the audience is all caught up. Reign is a hyper re-capper. Every time Mary Queen of Scots refers to her mother, she calls her by her full name. Ten episodes in, she’s still doing it. It annoys the crap out of me, but recap I will.

The recap is this and there’s a little TMI here, so brace yourself. But I am including it for a reason. I am including it for all those who have experienced a physical or sexual assault and have isolated themselves as a result.

In my mid-twenties, I experienced a sexual assault. It was my first sexual experience, so you can imagine that it super-sized the already tatters of my trust after a pretty awful childhood... can you say ISSUES?

Well, that was the end of any social experiences until I turned 40. When I did, a serious mid-life crisis hit me and I decided I wanted to live again, but I honestly had no idea how. I like to research things, so I did. I read books, articles, blogs, got advice. I truly had no idea how to date, what to expect, and how to be normal. I had only had three romantic kisses in my entire life, all before the assault, so between the age of 16 and 20. So, not only was I up a creek without a schema, I was also scared to death.

I was scared of being physically close to someone for fear it would invite another assault. I was afraid of being physically and emotionally hurt again. It took me 20 years to pull myself together after it happened. I was also scared of just being out of my depth. I didn’t know how to do anything. I hadn’t hugged or kissed a man in over twenty years. I hadn’t held anyone’s hand. I hadn’t had a date. Imagine an alien in a strange land who had no “normal” reference for the human courting or mating ritual. I was a strange girl in a strange land.

What normal people don’t realize is that they’ve generally had the experiences that I started having in my 40’s, in their teens and twenties.

And of course, then there’s internet dating. I don’t drink, except for an occasional margarita with my girlfriend’s, and I didn’t do sports, so where the hell was I going to meet anyone?

So, how do you figure all of this out while trying not be catatonically scared every time? Well... I just kept trying and failing and trying again and faking it a little. Sometimes, I ran, as fast as I could. Some times, I jumped in... and then ran, my little voice screaming WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! Let me just say, there are frogs, frogs everywhere. I’m sure that there are plenty of frog women as well, I am an equal opportunity disparager after all. But trust me, there are frogs.

Most of the time I didn’t have to figure anything out because it was a quick coffee and “I wish you well.” But then, I met a man I was attracted to and the feeling was mutual, thank god! At least for a little while, I didn’t have to feel like such a loser. But when I asked him to slow down, he was talking about buying a house close to me by the third date, he somehow translated that to “she just wants to be my friend with benefits.” Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me this was the translation, so we saw each other for a couple months, very casually. Him, more casually than me, that’s the unfortunate part. I had no idea I was just a friend with benefits. Increasingly confused, I thought maybe I would just be direct. I told him I would like to see him more if he felt the same way. This was in a text, another unfortunately... His response. “Sorry.” Hmm?? What did that mean? I had no idea. Sorry, I missed that? Sorry, I am lost? Sorry, I don’t speak English? Sorry, I have no balls to just tell you I don't want to see you anymore? I had no idea... So, I went to Facebook to see if he could chat. Why on earth I didn't just call, I have no idea. I guess Facebook seemed easier than texting and... Ummm... Let’s see, a picture of the guy I was seeing, snuggled up with a blonde, celebrating New Year’s Eve... which was the day before. The caption... something like “I’ve met someone so special, I can’t wait to see where the new year takes us!” Granted, this isn’t verbatim, but seriously, this is close.

Wow... WOW... Honestly? I felt like my frontal lobe imploded. I felt like an idiot. I truly had no idea he was seeing someone else or had even thought about seeing someone else, or had even thought about anything, I guess, because apparently, I didn’t know him at all. I felt used and confused and had no idea what was happening or why anyone would do that to another human being. I would have never done that, no matter how casual the relationship. It’s just so disrespectful and kind of mean. It sounds a little old-school, I know it’s 2014 and all, but if I even kiss someone, that’s it for me! I don’t mean instant “head over heels”, I just mean, when you touch someone else’s lips with your own, you owe it to each other to see where it goes. If it’s one date, so be it. You shouldn’t be kissing anyone else until you actually tell the other person it’s over, don’t you think? You shouldn't keep kissing someone when you've started kissing someone else! Is it just me?

Well, after licking my wounds for a while and with a lot of encouragement from my amazing friends, I got myself back out there and started making coffee dates again. More frogs. Frogs wanting a friend with benefits, frogs sending me penis pictures as soon as I trusted them enough to give them my number, married frogs, lying frogs, “open relationship” frogs. I was so exhausted by the end of it, I was ready to give up. Truly ready. I had been defeated, my spirit was completely broken. I had no hope of finding someone. So, I logged into my account ready to delete it and just resigned myself to life alone. I wasn’t happy about it, but it didn’t feel like I had a choice. And alone was familiar. I had reviewed all the options in head and so far was batting 1,000 frogs. Forgive me, I’m not sure if that sports analogy actually works because I’m a sports idiot, but you get the picture. Statistically, I was on the ropes.

Now, let me be clear. I am not the girl who can’t stand being alone so to avoid it, she seeks out any human with boy parts to call boyfriend. Remember, I’ve been alone from age 20 to age 40... technically, 42. And I should include most of my childhood in that as well. I am also not the girl who is in love with the idea of being in love. I’m just not. I think love is messy, relationships can be hard and yes, the experts are probably right, they are work and compromise. I believe that, I just haven’t had an opportunity to test the experts advice. I’m also not the damsel in distress looking for a sugar-daddy to pay her bills. I pay my own bills, thank you. I work on my own car... ok, sometimes, and I have no problem wearing the pants in my family of one. What I am after, is none of these things. I simply am at the point in my life where I finally have the courage to try to share it with someone else. I want to let someone in and vice versa. I want to make someone dinner and snuggle and watch movies and go for walks and go for long drives and go to dinner and go camping (there's a lot of on the go here, do you see the theme?) and build a life and have true intimacy. I want a partner and a friend and a lover. I want to be happy with someone, not just by myself. In fact, I desperately want to let someone into my life and be a part of theirs. I'm starting to think that being a part of theirs is even more important me because I've never really felt like a part of anything... I've always felt like an outsider looking in. Even before the assault.

So... back to the previous paragraph. I logged in to delete my account and scrolling across the bottom of the fish market were pictures of local eligible, or so they say, bachelors. There was a face that caught my eye. Handsome in a cuddly, kind sort of way and so familiar. But I couldn’t place him. Distracted by this shiny object, I clicked “favorite” or something like that. I logged out and forgot to delete my account... And later, he wrote me...

Long story short, we saw each other for 7 months. The best 6 months of my life. The last month, he was more and more withdrawn and I didn’t want to bring up the elephant in the room, so I just smiled and hoped for the best. I won’t tell you the whole story, that’s for us to know. But I will tell you, I’ve been crying since Valentine’s Day, literally. And I don’t say literally, lightly! I can’t seem to stop and today it’s particularly bad. It goes without saying, I hate Valentine’s with a new vehemence I didn’t think was possible. Next V-day, I’m just going to light something on fire or sacrifice a virgin or something and call it good.

So... I’ve strayed off topic a little bit and really what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to, is this:

To anyone, man or woman, who has experienced a physical or sexual assault, please don’t spend your whole life “checked out”. You didn’t expect that, did you? I mean it hasn’t exactly worked out for me and as of this moment, while I’m writing this, I am crying so hard I can barely see... but the result is not what you’re after. Please trust me on this. There are good people out there that are worth getting to know. There are people who give you amazing memories and help you to grow.  (I was having a Suess moment, forgive me).

I wouldn’t trade all 7 of those months, even the weird one, for anything. I would give anything, my 401k perhaps, to have them back. I was happy. Happier than I ever thought I could be. I finally understood what it felt like to be loved, what it felt like to be wanted, and even what it felt like to have an inside joke with someone. All new to me. And I felt like I had a future. Finally. Imagine that?

Don’t get me wrong, I had a hard time with so many things during this process. I was constantly nervous. The first time he came to my house, I was embarrassed by the state of it. The first time I made him dinner, I spent the whole night hoping I didn’t make him sick. The first few nights that he stayed over, I was afraid to sleep in the bed. For those of you judging the “staying over part”, CAN it! I’m over 40 and Puritan values just don’t apply anymore. I wasn’t afraid of him, ever. It was the fact that I had never slept in a bed beside anyone, ever. I'm not using "sleeping with" as a euphemism here. I truly hadn't ever slept with anyone. For those who have experienced the trauma and loss of control that you do in an assault, you know what I’m talking about. You’re body does things without your permission. You startle easily, you automatically pull back even when that’s the last thing you want to do.  Your body isn’t always “engaged”, and here I AM using a euphemism,  in the activity if you know what I mean. The "you know what I mean" should clearly indicate a euphemism. See how that works? Your “fight or flight” switch goes on willy-nilly and when it does, you have to stop or fake it until you make it.

So, the first few nights I'd sneak out of bed and sleep on the couch. I felt bad about doing it. He felt bad too. He thought it was his fault. I don’t think he realized how scared I really was and I couldn’t explain it without him thinking it really was his fault, so I just told him it wasn’t him. It really really wasn’t. I wanted nothing more than to snuggle up with him and fall asleep. I felt content with him and safe. And safe meant a great deal to me. But at first, being able to fall asleep with him felt like the Holy Grail. Then, the first night I did stay in the bed, I woke us both by screaming myself awake from a nightmare. Again, I explained this away with a tale of stress and anxiety, but I remember the nightmare vividly to this day. It was of the man who assaulted me, on top of me and choking me. Now, my assault was not violent, as violence goes anyway, although it was a violation of my body. He didn't choke me or anything like that. But I was completely mute during the experience. I couldn't stop him with a "no!" because my voice was gone. I've always felt like he took my voice and that was worse than taking my virginity. I was a victim of “date-rape” without the date part. He was just a friend visiting my apartment when things went all wrong. But I couldn’t tell this amazing, kind, handsome man next to me that the anxiety and vulnerability of being asleep in the same bed as another human being had manifested this nightmare. He would know I was too broken.

And this is silly, but not only was I afraid of all those things, I was afraid of waking up looking like Yoda after a three-day binge next to the man I was falling in love with. The fear of him running for the door was almost too much to bear and I would end up getting up in the middle of the night to dab on a little makeup and comb my hair. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It sounds so vain, but it was the farthest thing from vanity, I swear.

Even though a truckload of Prozac wouldn’t have cured any of these anxieties, I didn’t want to give any of them up and I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world.

Six years ago I had given up. I was ready to spend the rest of my life alone. In fact, I was ready to give up on life altogether. But I didn’t. I got another dog so I had something to take care of. Something that I couldn’t leave behind and that, his name is Hairy, kept me going. He kept me going until my spirit finally said, ENOUGH! Get on with it! Stop existing and LIVE!

And no matter how hard the last 6 or so years have been, no matter how scary or difficult the experiences, I am still here. None of them killed me. I'm a little worse for wear. Very tender-hearted at the moment and licking more wounds and racking up more metaphorical scars than I care to have, but I'm still here!

What I’m telling you is, you don’t have to give up. You can believe in love, you can find it, even if it’s only for a brief period of time. It DOES exist. I’ve felt it. You can trust someone with your heart and your mind and your body. The right person will cherish them all even if they don't cherish them forever. You just have to find that person. It might be more than one person, each helping you heal a little at a time. It takes some work and there will be heart break. Sometimes it’s nearly unbearable. But you can sit next to someone again and maybe even hold their hand. You can hug them or better yet, LET someone hug you. You can have another kiss. And my hope is that you get a kiss that makes your toes tingle. You can lay in bed and talk and laugh with someone. You can be whole again.

There are no guarantees in life. I’m not sure I will ever be able to try for another relationship again. I’m just not sure at this point, everything is still too raw. But chances are, after a little time passes, I will probably try at some point. I’ve discovered that the point of life is to try. That’s all we can do... But when it works out, when you have a moment, even if it’s just one brief moment of happiness, all the pain and sadness and struggle are worth it. Trust me, you’ll see.

Monday, March 31, 2014

From the Inside Out

So, being 20 years behind in the dating game is incredibly hard. I am most literally up a creek without a schema. Until recently, I’ve never had a romantic relationship. I’ve had potential relationships, usually one date and we, either/or, decide that nah, we’ll move on. I’ve had a few online relationships--which are just basically a lot of texting. But those usually end with a disappearing act or him going back to his ex. Oh, and then there are the guys who send random penis pictures and trust me, I do not request them! I also have a knack for setting potential suitors on the path to their “real true love of their life”. It seems just by meeting me for coffee, I set the fates in motion. I am a powerful woman!

In May of this year, I’ll be 43 years old. To have had one, solitary, all too brief relationship in the span of over 20 years of adulthood is a little abnormal, let’s face it. It’s also a little depressing.

There are times that these facts fill me with regret, but then I remember that all of our experiences throughout life, good or bad, make us who we are. And who we are is important. I have some not my finest moments moments. Things of which I am definitely not proud, but overall I believe I am a strong, loving, kind and resilient person. I’m creative, I believe in my talent and my tenacity. Most of all, I like my brain, even when it replays the things that I regret over and over in an effort to keep me up at night.

Having said that, I am UBER-HYPER-SUPER AWARE of every one of my thousands of flaws and shortcomings. That in itself is a shortcoming when you are trying to become an us. 
But that's who I am. Very self-aware, most of the time.

I’ve spent most of my life just observing people. The upside to observing as opposed to participating in life is that I think I have a deeper understanding of what’s important in life and to me than a lot of people. For instance, I see couples arguing all the time about who should’ve emptied the garbage, who loaded the dishwasher wrong, who forgot to pay the bills. Yes, bills need to be paid and dishes need to get done, but stop bitching at each other about it... SERIOUSLY! Do the dishes yourself (both of you) and don’t complain if they aren’t done the way you’d do them. Be done with it, it's not important!

In my last relationship, my significant other took the garbage out for me. We didn’t live together, he had just come over to see me, so this definitely wasn’t his responsibility. He hadn’t contributed to any of the garbage in the bag. But when he took it out, I didn’t ask-he just did it, I almost jumped up and down. No one had ever taken out the garbage for me. EVER. I seriously appreciated it so much that I wanted to do something, anything for him. Not because I wanted to pay him back, but just because he had been so thoughtful.

It seems simple to just appreciate each other. Look for any little thing each day for which to say thank you. Don’t get lost in the stress and chaos of everyday life and lose those little moments that you’ll never forget. Trust me.

Here’s the thing... Until 7 months ago, I had no idea what it even felt like to sit on the couch with someone and snuggle through a movie. Now I do. Now that my relationship is over, it’s actually a little painful to think of those moments, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Those moments made me feel real, they made me feel loved. And that is something that made my life whole.

My analogy is this... when you're blind, sound, smell, touch become amplified. They say that your other senses compensate for the lack of sight. Lack of touch and belonging are kind of the same thing... When you go 15 years without touch, touch becomes more intense. Almost overwhelming at times. Your heart leaps with joy when someone simply holds your hand. You belong.

For the most part, this is a blessing. I have learned to appreciate the kindness and joy that defines you when someone hugs or snuggles with you. I don’t care what kind of car you have or job you do. I’m just happy. In fact my heart thumps with joy at those little things.

But it’s also a curse. It’s a curse because a lot of people, those in my dating age range in particular don’t really feel the same way. These gestures have become routine, casual, almost absent-minded. They are anything but that to me.

My first relationship has ended and I haven’t completely worked through the grief of that. I have to admit, its hit me like Thor’s hammer. I cared deeply for this person for many reasons. Loved him with all my heart, in fact. At this point, I can only hope that someday I will be able to move on. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone will ever compare to him. It’s not that he was perfect. He had just as many flaws as me, I just didn’t care. None of them bothered me. He was the first person I truly wanted to let in. The first person I would kick Hairy off the bed for.

But I will continue to hope that I can move on eventually. I’m mostly hoping that I can move on before I hit my sixties, because let’s face it, it’s all fun and games until someone breaks a hip!

But when I am ready, I would like him to know this:
  • If you don’t think I’m “the one” within a few weeks, you never will, so please let me go, do it in face-to-face and try to be kind about it.
  • Be patient with me. I still don’t really know how these things are supposed to work and it’s so hard not to be terribly insecure about that.
  • Tell me when I’m over-compensating. I know it can seem a little smothery, but I can't help it.
  • Carry something for me without asking. If you ask, I will say “I got it”, and usually do, but the truth is that I would do anything for a little help.
  • Don’t call me honey or hug me, or make any romantic gestures until and unless you mean it. I will think you mean it and I will be terribly confused when you yell “psych! I just wanna be friends!”
  • Send flowers and only to me... unless it’s your mom or sis or niece. You get the idea.
  • Kiss me hello every time you see me!
  • Kiss me goodnight when we're together.  If we're not, tell me goodnight instead.
  • Just kiss me... a lot... if you’re taller than me, lean down. Standing on your tippy toes is awkward and I’m a clutz. I'm likely to kiss the bottom of your chin and then I'll feel like a dork and over-compensate some more. Also, I'm an awkward hugger, just saying.
  • Hold me when I’m upset.
  • Most of all, talk to me. Talk to me about anything, but especially when something is wrong. Please. Talk to me instead of just walking away.
  • Please don’t take me for granted. I’ll put up with it longer than I should, but then I won’t...
  • Don’t say “I love you” unless you mean it forever.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Chapter 4: My Troll Doll Can Beat up Your Barbie!

Just before I turned 40, I had changed one of the things about my life that I didn’t like. My car. This seemed like an easy thing to do and fairly trivial. Something that I didn’t have to think much about. Just figure out what you like and go find one you can afford. But that seemingly little change actually lit up a slew of other issues that needed to be dealt with. You see, the elephant that I was ignoring was my “hideously ugly” complex. I’d ignored it for a very long time, and let’s just say, elephants have a way of getting noticed... eventually.

It’s not that I didn’t know I had this issue. It’s that I never treated it as being at all serious or even relevant. At some point in my nature or nurture, I became convinced that I was hideously ugly. That became my fact and no one really disputed it. I’m not sure exactly where or when it happened. It just was. It’s part of the reason I hated mirrors so much and also part of the reason for my panic attack during the first topless Jeep ride.

Let me say this... knowing something isn’t rational and letting go of that belief are two totally different things. But fate has a funny way of slapping you in the face with something just when you’re convinced your denial is impenetrable.

My 40th birthday was just a few days away now and God knows why, but I decided I would take the day off from work to treat myself to a massage and then spend the day with my dog.

I’ve never had an actual massage before, but I decided part of this new life should include at least acting like a was a normal woman and doing "woman" things. One thing that normal women did was to pamper themselves on occasion, right? I had learned this from watching “Dallas” and of course from listening to the women I work with.

Also, a few months before, I had started seeing a brilliant Chiropractor whom I called Dr.
Hannah. I’ve had this theory that I was in constant “fight or flight” mode for quite some time
now, but Dr. Hannah confirmed it. Clench your fists as tightly as you can and hold it. Now
imagine your whole body feeling like that for years. Turns out that this kind of stress can affect
a lot of body systems, including digestion. Wasn’t that interesting? Turns out that digestion is what
computer people would call, a secondary or non- essential system. That means, when you’re in
danger, it gets turned off basically to conserve power. If you’re in constant stress mode, like this
fight or flight thing, well, your digestion is FUBAR!

In the same office as Dr. Hannah, there are massage therapists. I made an appointment with one. I figured my muscles could use the attention and frankly, so could I. I was, however, quite worried about how I could possibly go through with it. I was still around 340 pounds and I would have to be at least partially naked. The mere thought of that sent me into a little state I like to call Catatonia. I purposefully set that thought aside. I could panic later. I was simply making the appointment today. One tiny step at a time.

Massage Day, aka My 40th Birthday: The day started off alright. I was trying hard not to really think about actually going through with it. I turned on my internal auto-pilot and the Jeep and headed to the appointment.

When I arrived, I made my way inside and checked in. There was paperwork. There was
ALWAYS paperwork, wasn’t there? I completed it and handed it over. The only way I was going to get through this was to tune-out, right? "Tuning out" was something I used to do a lot. If I simply turned off my emotions, nothing could hurt me because I was numb. In fact, "tuning out" was so second nature that sometimes I didn't even realize I was doing it.

Sitting in the waiting room, I was scared to death and desperately trying to look normal. But inside, the fear was mounting. What was I thinking? Why did I ever think I wanted to do this? I could picture the massage therapist cringing in horror at the sight of me and running from the room screaming at the top of her lungs. It was inconceivable that anyone would want to touch me even if I was paying them to do it. It's why I hadn't let anyone touch me for nearly 15 years. It would be too humiliating to deal with, of that I was sure.

I honestly don’t know how I made it from the waiting area to the room, let alone disrobing and getting on the table. Inside I felt horrible. I felt ugly. I felt defeated. What a way to
spend your birthday, you idiot.
There’s that little voice again.

But then, Dana came into the room and started chattering away. In fact, she talked so much, I didn’t have to. This isn’t normally what you'd want in a spa experience, I’m guessing? But I was grateful. She asked me a couple of questions and I nodded or shook my head depending on what was appropriate. This actually made me laugh a little considering I was face down in the head rest-y donut thing in the massage table.

“Have you had a massage before?” Dana asked. I shook my head. “Well, she said, some people like deep tissue massage, some don’t. If at any time I’m pressing too hard or it’s uncomfortable for you, you just let me know, okay?”

I nodded.

So far, I loved Dana. She was a little chatty Kathy, but thank God for that! She was busy telling me about her job and her recent dates and I thought maybe she’s so occupied with her conversation that she won’t even notice how hideous I am!

Then she put her hands on my shoulders and started working on my back. Oh my God. It was all I could do not to cry. It didn’t hurt. Not physically. I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me in that moment. I wanted to thank her, to hug her, to pay her mortgage. It wasn’t anything sexual, far from it. It was a validation of sorts. It was like in the act of touching me, bare hands to bare skin, she
acknowledged that I existed. It was honestly the first time I hadn't felt completely alone in the world. How could I ever think that wasn’t important? How could I have ever think that I didn’t need it? How had I lived without it for nearly 15 years?

A few tears fell, but I had to stop them or I would be blubbering and snotting into the pretty spa pillow and I couldn’t have that. So, for the rest of the massage, I concentrated only on the sensory experience and when that was too overwhelming, I concentrated on Dana’s chattering, bless her heart.
When it was over, I held it together long enough to drink my obligatory water, pay the bill and get myself to the Jeep. Then, I promptly broke down. Right there in the parking lot, I let myself feel what had just happened. I let myself absorb what it felt like to be touched again by another human being.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hey, Cumulonimbus... YO MAMA!

In memory of Randall Gloege: a brilliant, funny and thoughtful human. 

Randall, his wife Mary Beth, my friend Aaron and I stood in Yellowstone Park, watching the elk and the river rushing by one fall afternoon. We were hoping to see a wolf, but no luck. We noticed that the friendly fluffy clouds overhead were quickly turning grey. They became more ominous as we headed back to the rental car. Within a few steps of safety, the weather was still relatively calm and Randall turned to the clouds and asked in a booming voice: “I wonder what would happen if I said ‘YO MAMA” to that cloud.”

We all laughed, rolled our eyes and turned to the car. Classic Randall. Almost immediately, the sky darkened, the wind started to whip and booms of thunder cracked in the distance. We quickly settled into our seats and headed to the main road only to find that the wrath of the wind had blown a 60 foot pint tree across the road. Cars were blocked on both sides and Aaron, Randall and I headed to see if we could help the gathering crowd remove it from traffic. We were bombarded with dirt and pine needles, shivering from the icy chill of the wind and by the time we got back to the car, we were soaked. When all the doors closed, Randall’s expression changed to one of mischievous awe and he said, “I had no idea I was that powerful!” We all burst into laughter and forgot about the beating we had just taken from Mother Nature.

The first time I met my friend Randall, it was to ask him to take me on (a naive art student) as an independent study in Environmental Ethics. He was a bear-sized man, and I was immediately intimidated. Not because Randall was ever intimidating on purpose. It was his sheer size, quick-wit and slight twinkle that made him so. He was deeply intellectual and believed in the specificity of language. In addition, I was intimidated by anything or anyone that resembled authority. And besides towering over me, he was a classic academic, white hair and beard, distinguished with a bit of rumpledness. I was a first generation college student, majoring in art and no one took art students seriously.

I was prepared to work hard, but I don’t think I was at all prepared for how much Randall would make me think. He would assign voluminous reading and writing assignments and we talked for hours about the dilemmas facing the planet: pollution, habitat destruction, species protection and many many more.

I was a product of Disney, raised on cartoons and movies that anthropomorphized animals. I had also never heard the word “anthropomorphize”. I think during the first discussion, I heard it 16 times. [It means: Assigning human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.]

I grew up in a violent, dysfunctional and very alcoholic family where being outside and being close to animals were the only solace I had. Essentially, my pets and plenty of sunshine kept me sane. So, through these experiences, I felt a kinship with animals. I related to them much more easily than I did humans, even in adulthood--even now. As a result, I did plenty of anthropomorphizing even though up to this point, I really didn’t know what that meant. I was taken aback when Randall scolded me for referring to the feelings of animals because it was “un-scientist-like”.

It turned out not to really be a scolding, but instead a brilliant way for Randall to start a discussion. He used this as a way to shape my thinking. He told me that in order to care enough about something to save it, we (humans) must first love it. That anthropomorphizing was in fact, okay, because it taught us to love things, places and species that weren’t human. And if we loved those things, we would surely see their intrinsic value and work to protect them. But he reminded me that using this technique instead of evidence, was not the way to win my argument. He helped me to understand the science behind the cause. I hadn’t heard the word “intrinsic” either. Needless to say, I spent most of my post-Randall appointment time with a man called Webster!

We discussed so many things: the rights of nature, how religion affected our view of the natural world, and wolves. We talked about wilderness, becoming eco-warriors, creative “monkey-wrenching” and the importance of a single spider in the grand scheme of what we call earth. Randall didn’t care much for religion and instead believed in what he could see and touch. He believed in bears. He believed in trees. He believed in wilderness.

Randall, was teaching me to question... everything. He was teaching me to think, to defend my point of view with more than my intuition or my passion and to listen as well. At the end of one particularly grueling session, I felt a little hopeless. We had come to the conclusion that just by being alive, every human being is essentially killing some other being. For instance, I may have stepped on a pile of ants while walking to his office. Poof! Dead ants. It could be that I ate a hamburger. Poof! Rest in peace, cow. Don’t even get me started on what damage I do by driving my car. The problem was, I loved cows. I also loved hamburgers. Living was a catch-22! On the verge of tears, I asked, “So, what is the point? Why do we even try if something else is doomed to die when we take a step or a breath?”

I don’t remember exactly what Randall said, but the gist is this, we can be aware. Every time we make a decision, we can remember that the decision holds consequence and it doesn’t just affect us. A decision creates a ripple. If we can see ourselves as accountable, we can make better, less negatively impactful decisions. That in the process of living, we would probably eat more than a few cows, step on a few hundred ants, maybe even kill things on purpose with our own two hands or a shotgun... but that we can be conscious of those actions.

Randall also taught me that intrinsic value should never be ignored. He asked me if rocks had value. I assumed monetary value, so I said some do. Immediately, he questioned why some do and some do not? That’s a good question, by the way. Some do and some do not because we (humans) say so, but why is that our decision? Wow. I hadn’t thought of anything that way before. It’s a matter of arrogance to think that we assign value to everything... but who assigns value to us? Does a wolf decide that one rock is valuable while another is not? You want to say no, don’t you... but be careful. How would we know? Only the wolf can tell us and we’re just not smart enough to understand his point of view yet. Randall introduced me to Aldo Leopold and a quote that has become so important to me:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Over the next 10 years, Randall and Mary Beth became very important to me. Although life eventually took us on different paths and I didn’t see them very often between the 11th and 20th year, I thought about them both, nearly every day. I did not become an eco-warrior, but it’s a rare day if I don’t have a discussion inspired by the things Randall taught me. Mary Beth deserves her own letter. But as for Randall, who once wrote in my birthday card, “Keep the faith! Not in God silly, in ecosystems.”, you were deeply important to me and I wish I would have said these things sooner:

Dear Randall,
Thank you for affecting me, for making my life better... for making me - better. Thank you for teaching me that a rock has just as much value as I do. Thank you for making me laugh every time I saw you even if your jokes were lame. Thank you for the walks, the conversations, and for sharing a little of your life with me. I loved your poetry and was honored every time you offered to share a new work. Thank you for encouraging me and even for calling me fat when I was fat. You are the only person I’ve ever met who can use that word objectively and without any malice whatsoever. 

Thank you for treating me as an equal even though I can never hope to be as smart and as thoughtful as you. Thank you for arguing with me about the true meaning of the word “perception” for 4 hours straight. Although I was ready to strap you to the hood of my car by the end, you were right. I still use it incorrectly, by the way, because everyone does, but it drives me crazy when I do. Thank you for introducing me to Yellowstone and for saying YO MAMA to that damn cloud. It was one of the best days of my life. Thank you for opening my mind and being my friend. And I hope you can forgive me for not saying all of this sooner and for not being as patient as I would have liked.

You once told me that if you believed in reincarnation, you would have been a polar bear in a previous life. I always loved that image because thats the way I thought of you. It breaks my heart that we will never have another discussion or that you’ll never tell me another stupid joke. But, as I was missing you today, I started to wonder how beautiful it would be if you got to be wild again. Maybe in the transition of your molecules and atoms, as you would say, you can experience wilderness as a wild thing once more, untethered to asphalt and car exhaust. No thought of paychecks or retirement or other annoying human obligations. Perhaps you can see the world as a mountain,where you and the old wolf can live with a fierce green fire.

Keep the faith, Randall! Not in God, silly, for you are a mountain and need no such thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Dating Manifest-O

Over the last year and a half, I’ve learned a few things about dating. I only started doing it when I turned 40. Yes, you heard me right. Long story, just go with me on this. I’m seriously behind the curve when it comes to the modern relationship. But, it’s brought me to this place. The place in time where I’ve decided to write a brief manifesto. I struggled with using the word “manifesto” simply because in the age of the Internet, I didn’t want to get flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. In particular, I live in Montana, where lots of wackos come to embrace their wackoness. Generally, wackos in Montana aren’t actually born here, they’re transplants. I was born and raised here, so I’m perfectly sane... really.

I decided to stick with “manifesto” because it’s time to get serious. It’s time to be true to what I want and send a clear message to those “potentials” out there. I also mean it as a new age-y double entendre. If you know anything about manifesting what you want into your life, you’ll know what I mean.

So, here goes. Listen up people!

If you think relationships are a game to be played with strategies and plans:
Move it along, I don’t have time for you. I am who I am. I don’t want to try and manipulate anyone into liking or loving me. So, I’ll just tell you a little about me. I am caring and kind most of the time. I occasionally get pissed off, but that’s usually directed at my family and people who lie a lot. Not once, but a lot. I can stand up for myself, I am hard on myself, I am funny and I can be generous. I am extremely independent. I tried asking for help from someone I was seeing, once, because all my girlfriends told me that guys like to rescue the ladies and to fix things. My girlfriends were mistaken. I am strong, both emotionally and physically. I want a partner, not someone to take care of me or pay the bills. I deserve the same.

If you just want to “help each other out”, aka: friends with benefits: Move it along and quickly. I don’t want to be your friend with benefits. Friends with benefits is a complete misnomer. It should just be called “benefits” or better yet, random sex with someone you sort of know. People (both men and women) who just want benefits typically don’t know what real friendship is... at all. And although I want a relationship that includes lots of the benefit in question, and I mean lots in a very literal way because I spent 15 years in celibacy, I want the benefit to be in addition to a good conversation, endless laughter, spontaneous dancing in the kitchen, sitting on the couch cuddling (yes cuddling) and lots of other things.

If you’re married but unhappy: Run far away from me. I understand your plight, I really do. Things happen, people grow apart, things change, things are complicated, there are assets or children involved. I get it. But grow some balls and make a decision. You aren’t doing yourself, your spouse, your children, or your finances any favors. Is it hard? Abso-freakin-lutely! But life is too short to make each other miserable and trust me, the kids know, and they aren’t happy either. In fact, everyday you “fake it” you are chipping away bit by bit at their ability to have a healthy relationship in the future. And I am not willing to complicate matters further by being your friend-with-benefits-second-choice-waiting-in-the-wings-hoping-you’ll-eventually-choose-me-girl. Nope, sorry. So, run away and good luck in your quest for testicles.

If you want me to take vacation time so that we can sit in your basement and play
“World of Warcraft”, forget it. I really shouldn’t have to explain this one.

If you want to uproot your whole family and move to my hometown before we even talk on the phone, let alone meet each other... I’ll run, you stay where you are.

If you want to send me penis pictures before we meet in person: As an artist, I totally appreciate the learning value. And the variety in shapes and sizes is scientifically fascinating. A couple were even fairly impressive, but let’s face it. It’s just a little too exhibitionist. Let’s avoid it. After we’re in a relationship... I'm all for it.

If you bought your car... your jacket... your shoes to impress someone: Move it along. I’m pretty sure we’ll have nothing to talk about. This goes double for someone who makes snap judgements about people’s looks or fashion sense.

If you won’t allow a dog to sleep on the bed or get on the couch:
See ya!

If you are relatively honest, funny, sincere, creative, like adventure (not the extreme-you-could-die-zip-lining-in-the-Amazon type but more spontaneous and slightly safer adventures)... if you like movies, being outside, working hard, building a future, laughing, traveling, art, cuddling, zombies, sex (not zombie-sex... ewwwww squishy! And ewwww!) and me... then say hello. Better yet ask me for coffee.

Because here’s the thing. I’m worth it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In These Shoes

I recently rediscovered my love of shoes. It’s no big surprise that most girls, or women as the case may be, love shoes. The types of shoes we love, of course, varies as much as we do. But nevertheless, we love shoes. There’s no getting around it. Do I have to say it again?

If you’re an outdoorsy or sporty type, you probably love shoes that comfort your feet, preferring function over form. But, I bet that each and every woman out there loves at least one pair of completely frivolous, ridiculous, useless, over-the-top shoes. In fact, I have a friend who is wildly practical, and even she has a pair of sparkly pink sequined tennis shoes. Yep. I know, right? She is my irrefutable evidence.

As most of you know, I’ve been in the process of rediscovering myself. I’ve been losing some weight, learning to love myself (and let me tell you, this is like an epic battle of good and evil that I like to call Mothra and Godzilla need an intervention by Stuart Smalley) and living again after being hit squarely in the face with an early onset mid-life crisis.

Little by little, I’ve been taking better care of myself, treating myself to some nurturing and basically, doing whatever the hell I want. This is wreaking havoc in some parts of my life, but overall, it’s been fun and fascinating. Over the last year, I’ve been completely and utterly surprised by almost every choice I’ve made. And with all the ups and downs, the woohoos and uh-ohs, I’ve come to one truth. Life is a pretty amazing journey.

During my fantastical ride, I’ve re-discovered how much I love shoes... and other girly things. The fact is that most of the time, I prefer the comfort of elastic waist (or “waste” depending on your fashion dictionary) pants and threadbare t-shirts. I prefer them because they’re comfortable and I can get covered in clay and not worry about ruining anything expensive. Even though I’m an artist, I do have a professional job and I’ve used that as an excuse to buy some completely ridiculous and impractical shoes. In fact, each new pair gets a little higher in the platform and the heel. Eventually, I’ll make my way to stilts, but I’d call the latest pair: Dorothy Does Mary Jane: an over-the-top pair of red faux suede platform Mary Janes that officially make me six feet one inch tall. And yes, every time I wear them, I click my heels and make a wish. Did you really have to ask?

You also know that I started dating again a little over a year ago, and currently my life seems to be soap operatic in that area. See earlier blog posts if you need to get caught up. But, I have to say that my first actual, physical, in-person, old-fashioned date was a complete success. It was a little over a year ago. No, we didn’t run starry-eyed to the little white chapel, pledging undying love right off the bat. He didn’t have a white horse and I wasn’t wearing glass slippers. I was wearing a great pair of taupe faux suede four-inch open toed scrunchy shooties which made me nearly six feet tall. But alas, we are not a we at all. We never became a we even though I still hear from him from time to time.  How does this relate to shoes? Be patient, you’ll see.

The never-to-be we met for coffee at a local coffee shop. Something low-key that I thought would allow him to run for the hills should he be so inclined. It never dawned on me that I might want to run for the hills. Actually, it still doesn’t. But that’s for another post as well.

Anyway, we talked for quite a while and decided to go for dinner. At dinner, we talked some more. He had a couple of years on me, but is oh-so-handsome. Around six feet. Nice build. Dark short hair and goatee with a quick smile and twinkly eyes. Honestly we didn’t have a lot to talk about, but it didn’t matter. I was just enjoying the view. I had to restrain myself from leaning over to smell him several times because he smelled delicious, but of course, that added to my enjoyment of the whole experience. I saw him on his motorcycle a few weeks ago and I actually swooned... Swooning while your driving has an odd effect on your motor functions, by the way. I’m sure I’ll always be attracted to him, not just for his cutie-patootie good looks, but because he helped me find a little thing I lost. Courage.

After dinner, he walked me to my car and he took charge, kissing me goodnight. I am absolutely terrible at these things and although the people I work with would tell you I’m no shrinking violet, I am very unsure of myself when faced with a personal display of affection opportunity. You see, I’m very outspoken at work--probably too much so, but when it comes to dating, I can’t help but to be old-fashioned. This doesn’t mean men have to pay for everything, but they do have to make the moves. And no one had made a move on me in a very long time... In fact, I had kissed a total of four boys in my lifetime. Yep, you got it. And one was a kiss in the sixth grade.

So, needless to say, when he made the move... I could hardly contain myself. And let me give you some more perspective. I hadn’t kissed anyone in about 15 years. Again, more fodder for other posts. Anyhoooooo, my first kiss in 15 years turned into a full blown make-out session right there in the parking lot of the local Red Robin. TMI? Live with it.

Here’s the thing. When you go that long without a kiss, a lot of things happen to you all at once. The gaggle of butterflies that lives in your stomach waiting for occasions like this turn into hyper-active, ping-pong bowling balls on speed without any navigational control, knees launch their official shut-down sequence and uncontrollable giddy laughter holds your brain hostage and tickles it until the rest of you can’t breathe. Every physiological system in this organism I call me went “AWWW-OOOO-GAAAAA!” I was Riverdancing to my own drummer on the inside completely on the verge spontaneous combustion while doing everything I could to on the outside to contain it.

Eventually, we both got ahold of ourselves and stopped before we got arrested and had to register with the state. But, I was over the moon. It wasn’t the he’s-the-one-we’ll-live-happily-ever-after moon. It was the WOW-my-life-isn’t-over-I-can-do-this-I’m-not-completely-disgusting-somebody-kissed-me-I-can’t-believe-I-forgot-how-great-that-was kinda moon.

After putting ourselves back together, messing ourselves up again, and putting ourselves back together again, times two... we finally said goodnight. I smiled so long and so hard that my entire face ached. I don’t really remember driving to a see a good friend of mine, but I must have felt the need to tell someone for fear the whole experience wasn’t real. She knew that I had a date and as soon as she saw me she said, “How’d it go?”

It took me a few moments. I opened my mouth a couple times, but nothing came out. I jumped up and down in my fabulous suede opened toed shooties a few times and then, out of the blue I yelled,  “I got felt up!! These shoes REALLY work!”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lori & the Three Vikings

Okay, well first, there are more than three, but still not enough to make me a floozy. Second, the Vikings are kicking my ass slightly less than my now 41 year old hormones are. Third, I believe I have a multiple personality disorder.

Let’s deal with each one of these things separately, shall we?

More than three, but less than floozy...
So the last year of my dating life has been filled with a Goldilocks metaphor. This one is too soft, this one too hard (I’m sensing a double-entendre here, do you sense it too?), this one too cold, this one too hot... I haven’t found the one that’s just right, quite yet. And at this point, I’m not sure I should keep sampling the porridge.

Here’s the thing... no matter their Goldilocks category, the Vikings have all been good guys, each in their own way. But this dating thing hurts. It hurts to be dumped. It's even painful to hurt someone else’s feelings. And they feel exactly the same way in both regards. I’ve heard that geese mate for life, I’ve often wondered if they hurt this much while they’re trying to find their mate. Note to self: Ask a goose for dating advice. Believe it or not, I will actually do this.

The reason that I’m considering not sampling any more porridge is that I don’t want to get hurt or hurt anyone else, again. My last few experiences have broken my heart even if I was the one saying goodbye. That’s the thing about relationships, I guess. You can’t guarantee anything to the other person. You just can’t. No matter how much you want to. You can believe you can with all your heart, but people, including myself (and that's a huge understatement), are unpredictable. Circumstances change, people grow or change, life changes in general and there we are back in Kansas stealing sparkly red slippers off a dead witch so that we can try again.

I’ve found that if I’m honest about this concept, Vikings interpret it one of three ways: They think I don’t want a relationship or want to be alone ("relationship" and "alone" as defined by them); They think I just want sex... Most of the time they’re perfectly fine with this, but they also think it means they can ask my massage therapist out for coffee after they leave my house; or they think I’m playing with them like a cat plays with a three-legged mouse. None of these are the case, but usually I don’t have an opportunity to explain why.

The case is, in fact, that I want to be happy. And if being with someone doesn’t make me happier than I am by myself, then I’ll stay by myself. I don't expect someone to be perfect. I don't expect them to change. I want to love them for who they are. I want to be able to see a future with them. I don’t want to be in a relationship so that I have someone to share half the expenses with. That’s not ethical, and it’s not love. But trust me, a lot of people do it. And if I’m really honest, I’ve thought about it. I also don’t want someone to take care of me in any sense. I want to take care of each other. But again, it would be nice not to feel like I’m holding up the world all by myself all the time. I can’t put into words what happy looks like. At least not specifically... But I think I’ll know it when I see it. Until then, I’m not going to pretend that I can guarantee anything at all.

The Vikings are winning...
Yes, the Vikings AND my hormones are kicking my ass. First I should tell you that I only started dating when I turned 40. Yep. I know, long story, one I’m saving for a book I’m writing. It’s completely true, with the exception of having a few movie or dance dates in high school and college. And by few I mean between five and eight. Pathetic, I know.

Here’s the problem with not dating until you’re 40:

You have no schema! In fact, you’re up a creek without a schema. You just don’t have a clue what to do. This puts you at an extreme disadvantage and means that you’re going to do a LOT wrong. You’re going to hurt yourself and others in the process. You’re going to feel one minute like the world is the most glorious place in the universe (this is an oxytocin rush, just so you know). And the next minute, you’re going to feel like you can’t do anything right.

Let me put this in perspective. I’ve spent 19 years, just shy of half my life span, living alone. I had one roommate for a short period and it was actually good (maybe not for the roommate, because I’m pretty sure I’m hard to live with).

The point of telling you this is that I haven’t done a lot of the relationship-y things that most people have. I haven’t shacked up with a guy. I haven’t had a guy spend the night. I’ve never had a morning after breakfast. Bear with me, the TMI will be over soon. I’ve never cuddled on the couch to watch a movie with my significant other. I’ve cooked dinner for a few people, but the only one I was dating, I wasn’t really dating. It’s complicated. I’ve never had a joint checking account. I’ve never had anyone pay my bills for me, but I helped the it’s complicated guy financially a couple of times. I’ve never rented an apartment, bought a house or a car or even a teddy bear on joint credit. Never adopted a dog with anyone. Never had a child. I’ve never said “Honey, pass me the ketchup.” to anyone.

I have a vastly different perspective on life than most people and it’s tough for anyone to put themselves in my shoes. I don't blame them, I'm kind of a weirdo. Imagine going nearly 15 years without a kiss of any kind. Fifteen years without someone ever holding your hand. I’m not telling you this to garner sympathy, I’m trying only to describe my perspective.

I woke up this morning with a huge epiphany. One I didn’t like very much. It was: I may never be capable of having a significant other. This is a relief in a lot of ways because let’s face it, dating is hell. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort. This isn’t bad. It should take an enormous amount of time and effort or it wouldn’t matter. It hurts like hell when something doesn’t work out. And again, it should. Without hurt, you wouldn’t have a context for joy. But the other edge of this double-edged epiphany is that there is a pretty good chance (not 100%, mind you, but so far that’s my track-record), that I’ll grow older and eventually die having never experienced the relationship-y things I referred to above. So, yes I’m relieved, the pressure’s off, I can get back to work. But, I am also deeply and profoundly saddened. That takes me to my third point.

I believe I have a multiple personality disorder:
Most of the last year has been maddening! Mad-Hatter maddening. Too many fairy tales in this blog? Well, anyway... When I meet someone, sometimes even before I physically meet them, let’s say we text or talk on the phone, I can usually tell if we’ll be mostly compatible or not. I say mostly because no two people are ever 100% compatible. It’s just not possible to agree on EVERYTHING, or like ALL the same things. That’s why we’re called individuals. But, we can be mostly compatible and in my observations, those seem to be the happiest relationships. I can usually get a sense for compatibility with someone pretty quickly. And on the flip-side I can generally sense when something’s off as well. I don’t believe I’m always right about these things, but I try and make the best decisions with the information I have when I have it. I’ve also learned to trust my Spidey-sense in the last year, because if I ignore it, I regret it. Where are the multiple personalities, you ask? Well...

I seem to vacillate between the realist, the epically horny teenager and the pink sparkly tutu clad princess looking for her prince charming.

The easiest one to explain is the epically horny teenager. Fifteen years of no dating. Nuff said!

The realist. This is the woman who knows things sometimes work out and sometimes they don’t She is too honest, too logical (Lori-logic is a little different than say... Einstein-logic), occasionally skeptical, and always has a plan, flexible though it might be. She tries to be honest with her potential mates because if she fails them, she wants them to be prepared. She wants to spare their feelings right off the bat. In a twisted way, she ends up hurting their feelings by being honest about her own shortcomings. The trouble with the realist is that she never wants to count her chickens before they hatch. In some respects, she robs herself of her own potential futures.

The sparkly pink princess has counted the 5th generation of hatch-lings and built little pink chicken condos with her prince charming. She wants the fairy tale. She believes in the fairy tale. She believes every “this one” might be THE ONE. And with every potential prince charming, she floats around to the beat of her own drum... heart... something. I kind of lost that metaphor somewhere in the middle, sorry. My point is, she wants to jump in with both feet, tutu flying up over her head laughing all the way.

As you can imagine, the realist and the sparkly pink princess don’t get along all that well. For me, that means I’ve got a constant war going on in my head. Take a chance! No, wait and see. TAKE A CHANCE! No, I already know he’s not the one. TAKE A CHANCE, DAMMIT! But what if I do and it doesn’t work out and I hurt him? Argh!!!! Throw in the teenage harlot and I’m ready for meds and a comfy padded room.

Meanwhile, the Vikings end up hating me or dumping me.

At the end of the day, here we all are... Me, the realist, the sparkly pink princess, the teenage harlot and some Vikings, all special in our own way. I don’t know where we’ll all end up, but I know this. Eventually, we’ll get where we need to go. It might hurt, it might never work out. It might be happily ever after. Who knows? None of us. And fate has a funny way of making it happen  although she beats the hell out of you along the way.