Friday, July 17, 2015

Uphill Both Ways: or, on the Privilege™ of having legs.

When two people cross paths on a hiking trail, the person going downhill should yield to the person coming uphill.

To those who haven't gone backpacking, this might be less intuitive. But when you've carried a lot of weight for miles, it begins to make sense.

Foremost, going uphill takes stamina and a certain amount of rhythm and focus take hold - anyone who has been in this zone will want that uphill hikers be allowed to keep that going.

Additionally, going downhill you have line of sight that you don't have going uphill (if you ride in a car notice that the passing zone of a double-lined rural highway is always when going downhill or flat. It's not only because your car has to work harder to accelerate uphill, the line of sight is better). Therefore hikers going downhill will usually see uphill hikers before uphill hikers see them. Yet another reason to initiate communication and to yield.

Now, I don't always follow that rule, and like many rules there are situations where this makes no sense. As the link above states, if an uphill hiker wishes to rest, it's perfectly acceptable for them to stand aside. The point is that it's their choice to do so. I also will yield going uphill to a downhill hiker who I can tell is an Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hiker or any long-haul backpacker. I do this because while I may be hiking ten miles with all kinds of time, these folks have been on the trail conceivably for months. I stand aside when I'm able because I want to help their journey in that small way. Many times, I am thanked for this small gesture.

So what? I don't know. Let's take a right turn.

I've more or less abandoned notions of privilege as a vehicle for thinking about power. I may need to unpack it more but here's a brief mention. It's not just an argument against "privilege" because it's being used as a tool for silencing. It is an axis, and not the only one. If we focus on it, we risk quibbling about personal responsibility and systemic oppression. We risk missing coercion and injustice but it's not just a question of having bigger fish to fry. We risk alienating people who would otherwise be most likely to engage in demonstrably constructive conversation.

Maybe I'm becoming a pragmatist. I simply tire of attempts to tip scales by using privilege language as a corrective act. Of claims to being more (or less) deserving of a voice or authorship because of privilege axes. Ten years ago I might have bristled at a charge of lefties playing "Privilege Olympics" but now I bristle at providing a laundry list of my marginalized identities as license to be heard or taken seriously (or not dismissed). I value ideas -- including where they're coming from -- but I will not rate the value of a speaker's words by demerit points (the more privilege you score, the less you have any right to say anything at all).

Do oppressed people deserve more? Is it a Thing that some have to work harder than others?

Of course. But downhill hikers don't yield because uphill hikers deserve the right of way. Downhill hikers yield because of empathy. Downhill hikers yield because they've been there. Damn the metaphor -- yes, some folks are always hiking uphill and some folks are always, it seems, hiking downhill.

So what if I am always hiking uphill, and some downhill hikers just aren't yielding? And dammit, my load is pretty heavy. What then?

I'll leave you with this. I have choices:

  • Post signs everywhere to alert uphill hikers that I'm sick of yielding to them. (ineffective)
  • Keep hiking, forced to step aside and feel more anger every time I'm not yielded to. Complain when in friendly company. (passive)
  • Just don't ever complain. At least I have legs. (internalized oppression)
  • Ask them politely and explain why to those who listen -- ignore the ones who respond with expletives.(splaining)
  • Whack/stab them with my hiking pole. (violent)
  • Tell them they shouldn't hike. (coercive)
  • Keep trying to get them to understand what it's like to always hike uphill, but then resent any attempt to identify with me because how could they know what it's like to hike uphill? They can't. Never mind that carrying 30lbs downhill with bad knees has gotta hurt. (denial of empathy/projection of pity)
  • Why yield? Why should I *ever* yield? (...)
I'm not sure there is a good way. I'm sure I'm missing ways.

I guess to me it raises questions. What is the difference between being deserving of something and that something being just? I think that's up for discussion, and it has no one answer (especially regarding justice -- given that "social justice" brandishes a seemingly very different set of ethical assumptions than other notions of justice).

But that last stance of refusing to ever yield: beware a position of pride too great that you lose the very dignity you're fighting for.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

some osho

These were too long to tweet, so I'm putting them here.

I lovingly call OSHO a heretic. He is. Much of what he writes about is scathingly critical of monogamy, the church, state, and many of our ideas. But they are all meditations on attachment and ego. I love his heretical ideas. They make sense in my heart, even when I hate what he's saying.

Here is a passage I absolutely resonate with:

Remember, love is not an attachment. Love knows no attachment and that which knows attachment is not love. That is possessiveness, domination, clinging, fear, greed -- it may be a thousand and one things, but it is not love. In the name of love other things are parading, in the name of love other things are hiding behind but on the container the label LOVE is stuck. Inside you will find many sorts of things, but not love at all.

Watch. If you are attached to a person, are you in love? Or are you afraid of your aloneness, so you cling? Because you cannot be alone, you use this person so as not to be alone. Then you are afraid. If the person moves somewhere else or falls in love with someone else then you will kill this person and you will say, "I was so attached." Or you may kill yourself and you will say, "I was so attached that I could not live without her or without him."

It is sheer foolishness. It is not love, it is something else. You are afraid of your aloneness, you are not capable of being with yourself, you need somebody to distract you. And you want to possess the other person, you want to use the other person as a means for your own ends. To use another person as a means is violence. [161]

excerpt from Osho. Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships. Osho International Foundation St Martins Griffin, NY 2001.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Autism and The Erotic as Power

Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde has been a seminal essay in my growth. It struck a particular chord with me in my 20s and continues to inform some of the ways I think about the world.

In order to understand where I'm coming from with this, I think it's important to delve into what the word erotic means for Audre Lorde. The link above contains the full PDF and I strongly encourage reading the entire thing. However here are some quotes to begin:

The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. [53]

But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough. [54]

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves. [54]

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.
That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. [56-57]

The quotes above do not capture what Lorde means in entirety. However it's a decent starting point. The erotic is not pornographic - Lorde writes of it as in the realm of women but also a dimension not explored enough in men (as it is in the realm of women); it is devalued, but kept around because it is powerful; its power is subdued by the contortions of a culture(s) that fear(s) this power. Do people fear the erotic because it is in the realm of women-power, or because as a kind of power it is one that women are particularly good at embodying (if they let it)? I hesitate myself to gender the erotic, however I understand the particular place Lorde was writing from here.

The reason this captured my attention so much and resonated with me was in the lines like, "..every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience..."[56]

I can relate to the erotic connection with building a bookcase. The erotic is connection to self and others. So at a very surface level, if one does not attempt to really understand aut-istic - the connection is as simple as aut-o-erotic. But "autistic", despite the propaganda, is not "jailed inside ones own world and not really human", as much as eroticism isn't the one-dimensional masturbatory fantasy of much pornography. The erotic is life-force. This connection exists on every dimension of being. It is what artists tap into when they create, and also what mathematicians tap into when they work out a new equation.

It is, with respect, perhaps what some people only experience during sex, and why the erotic is often equated with sex and nothing more. Sex is great - and sex is so many things, and many of those things don't involve orgasm, or things we would think of as sex. There are no delineations -- as Foucault wrote, (roughly), before there was homosexuality (first) and then heterosexuality (second), there used to be bodies and pleasure. We've certainly categorized things in ways that divide up the erotic ever so much that it is not easy to grasp the entirety of what it means to live in the power of one's experience.

Back to those dimensions of being -- autistic spaces within me are dimensions of my being. The entirety of what it means to be autistic isn't exclusively the purview of the autistic. I could describe one aspect of my joyful experience with light and dust motes and this dimension is highly relatable to a cinematographer, even if he isn't autistic -- because his uses of the erotic, his power, includes this capacity.

If autistic capacity is undervalued, I believe it is for some of these same ways that the erotic spaces are undervalued -- however they have been around all the time, forever. Some writings on meditation and mindfulness touch on the kind of connective presence I'm talking about. However I don't mean to say autists are closer to enlightenment -- I mean that for each, our capacities are different. The capacity for kinetic resonance within space and light and sound is a particular capacity -- and less valued, in our world, than the capacity to understand office politics. But both are, I would argue, just as important to our humanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Voice of [Their] Anger

I grew up witnessing anger being silenced, including my own. I have also started to learn about my anger as a tool which can focus me toward what needs to change, and have the energy to change it. The silencing of anger, then, can be a particular kind of power against me.

Black people are angry. Disabled people are angry. Fuck your politics. Listen.

I have done a lot of privilege work since the 90s and while there is utility to that framework, I could not continue to look at the world through such a framework. In my experience it was used as a tool for silencing when it became the main framework for discourse. Power is complex and if we explore it along this one axis -- even through "intersectionality" (an attempt, perhaps, to introduce mathematics in an erroneous fashion as if we could ever quantify qualitative experience of oppression).

I cannot think about race without remembering how the legacy of Jews (exile, genocide, diaspora) permeated the everyday experience of my [family] culture. I cannot think of race without imagining similarly, a legacy of Black people (slavery, colonisation, scientific racism) permeates the experience of their cultures. No, we are not a monolith (And I blame American solipsism and exceptionalism for some of the odd political stances I see). We inherit the trauma we didn't ourselves experience -- a Republican from Wisconsin talked to me about his work around historical trauma and I admit to being surprised his politics allowed that. Shows what I know.

At the same time, it doesn't diminish that we haven't just experienced second- or third- or N-generation trauma, we can also experience it in the daily ways that still exist. People still throw pennies at jewish people, and target black people as thieves, and on and on. We can use the language of microaggressions as a way to capture the chipping away of trust and safety one can feel going around the in the world, and we diminish the right anger at the macro aggressions - the acts without plausible deniability. The egregious acts of coercion being done because of an unchecked and toxic and repugnant orthodoxy to beliefs that should have been obliterated by science and freedom-fighting.

There is power, there is resistance. There is privilege, there is coercion, there is hegemony. There are many lenses, and many filters to apply to those lenses. Often, it seems common to assert a view through a particular filtered lens, then argue with others who employ a different filtered lens about who has reached the wrong conclusion -- without ever working alongside one another to even reveal what lenses we are employing. This seems like a great waste of fine minds. For if we allowed those revelations perhaps we would have a language for philosophical argument of the deeper issues, rather than building our skills for internet trolling.

When I read the arguments between people that ultimately devolve into silencing, hate speech, because of unchecked racism or ableism or any other ism -- I don't see the value in undermining the "-ism" because it is a left-wing idea of oppression, and I don't see the value in shutting down the hate speech when it so very clearly comes from a place of misunderstanding. Hold up a mirror. Listen. Be willing to hold the anger of the other. But let me be clear -- it is not so much on the people who are angry -- legitimately angry from an unrelenting legacy of receiving hate -- to do this work. No, there is a difference between losing many peers to race- and poverty-related violence and being angry about that, and the anger of rich white people at "their" resources, earned on the backs of those very people, being used to address systemic problems. No, anger at being fucked over by a world you want to change is NOT the same as the hate borne of a perceived loss of privilege. I use privilege in that sense very earnestly.

In other words, patriarchal/misogynist butthurt is NOT equal to the rage at a system that murders women and trans people. Got butthurt? I have toys for that.

But to those who would turn away from us who are angry -- legitimately angry -- because race may have no scientific meaning but it is culturally salient and it MATTERS in the sense that it materially affects a person's experiences, opportunities, and safety in the world, and because of that, being colorblind is at best a copout -- then that angry must matter. Not only must it matter, it is the path to freedom. Not only must we listen to the anger of black people, woman people, disabled people, trans people, first nations people, those in poverty, those who witnessed genocide, those who are being enslaved, etc -- we must understand that anger is like an arrow at the heart of coercion and evil and we must amplify these voices and distill their meaning and behold their power with the tenderness it deserves; without ownership, destruction of authorship, or compromise of message.

The more uncomfortable we feel about those voices, the more it's on US to work that through and pay even closer attention. There is no solution until those voices aren't just a part of the conversation: they are the conversation.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life Change, Regret(maybe), and Self-transformation.

There's something I don't like about the term "Love of my life" because it implies some kind of privilege to the idea that a single person is the only one I've loved, or puts the love in a place of importance or significance above the other loves -- which may reflect some people's truth but I feel wary about it. Even if my most recent love felt the most significant or deep or held the moments of most growth in my life, I don't feel like that places it above the others. I don't wish to devalue any relationship I've had, however helpful, troubled, or life-changing it was or is. While I don't begrudge the use of this term by anyone else, I've struggled with its meaning and have come to the conclusion that it isn't useful to me.

I'm also in my late 30s, and haven't figured it out. As my second marriage edges on the brink, I struggle with self-care and boundaries and how to be healthy in relationships. Parts of this feels shameful, and when I reflect on it they always did feel shameful, even if I intellectually know that many people figure things out later than this, or maybe even never -- or struggle, and figure out at some point that intimate relationship is not a priority for them, and they shift (gracefully or not) into an independent frame of reference. This framing can still allow for intimacy without subverting what feels like a healthy ego boundary. Sometimes this isn't entirely healthy either; it's possible to fall into some trap of fierce (Westernish) individualism that denies the realities of how much we need love, caring and connection. However I've discovered many people who find some way to grow a community around them that means, being single into older age they don't find themselves completely alone in squalor -- I think this is a large fear of people in our culture: the idea that if we don't partner, then we will become isolated and face our later decades as a person without love. That if/when we become sick and more dependent (especially if we haven't pro-created, but not exclusively -- and the correlate, that dependence is Bad, although this needs critique and reframing), the only logical outcome is death because it is our family alone who would take care of us in this state. And without a partner (or if a partner dies, then without children), society discards us. If we're lucky we can find social connection, support, and an occupational therapist who can help us use old-age benefits to work our way into an impoverished non-independent living situation. It's bleak, we think, to end up there. So regardless of our age, if we're not in relationship, many spend vast amounts of energy finding love.

It seems to me that when people have found love, that confusing mess of support, boundaries and legacy of dysfunction confounds a romantic ideal of mutually supportive and healthy coupling. Perhaps people land naturally and easily into this ideal situation -- and much of the time, they credit compatibility, or the other person's devotedness, or some foolish pattern on our own part of previously looking for love in all the wrong ways (but thank goodness this one person finally came around and showed us what we were missing, or what it really means to love/be loved/be treated like we deserve). I'm skeptical of this.

The people who have "arrived" -- who, at whatever age they found "it" -- can safely and confidently say (this moment anyway) that their coupling satisfies their need for wholly supportive companionship balanced with individual growth (no messy boundaries here, folks). Maybe they were young sweethearts who were always "the one" for each other and achieve their 50th wedding anniversary as prime examples of how marriage works (these people almost never say it was effortless). Or maybe they learned through a series of mediocre/difficult relationships before figuring out (maybe in their 30s, after a divorce or something), consciously or not, how to cultivate intimacy without dependency; or they keep soldiering through less than great relationships and credit the wonderfulness of their current partner with helping them work through things in order to relate in healthy ways. Or maybe they had some seriously crappy or even abusive relationships or marriages, and then gave up for a while, to "find themselves", and then in their 40s or 50s or 60s, and figure out, after a decade or two or three alone, that it's entirely possible to self-care, and that a kind of healthy love/companionship is entirely more possible when the people involved really are their own person and that the intimacy they can cultivate together contains the full sense of differentiated egos each working in their own way to support one another to keep growing and learning.

Whatever it is or is not remains a mystery to me. The above is merely intellectual speculation, mixed with an intuition about the truly healthy and supportive relationships I've witnessed in my life: the childless couple who feel truly like individual people, entwined in shared interests and their own creative, professional and emotional pursuits (they've worked for it, but we rarely see the messiness in it, just the happy outcome). Or the couple who seem to be raising absolutely amazing kids because they struggled for a while to understand that they come from different family cultures and get that a) what each person wants and needs and expects is different, and b) how they learned what demonstrating love is supposed to be doesn't necessarily match what their partner learned, and c) that communication isn't done one way, and d) that we have to see the people we love, whether we found them, or birthed them, as people *first* and roles second, in order to support the person they can become (not the person we want or think we need them to be). Or the couple who seem completely not enmeshed and therefore able to travel for business or pleasure each on their own, support full and vibrant social/creative/professional aspirations of their partner with no resentment or obstructionism because their adult self-sufficiency means that their partner's endeavors come alongside (not before or after) their own aspirations.

I may seem too harsh on the less than ideal arrangements, which can work in their own way. However it's really hard to tell, particularly in the self-representation of blissful baby-making and kitchen re-modeling that seems to represent successful adult pursuit=happiness. I can look at all the things people show me they are doing in marriage, parenting, house-buying, cottaging, hobby-making, business making... and become despondent that these are not things I do (or tweak my self-representation towards that model of responsible-adult-healthy-person, and feel like I'm lying in the process).

People may privately come to some degree of acceptance that they are mutually dependent or even co-dependent, but while it's mildly unhealthy it functions in its own kind of balance for the most part, only flaring up into unhappiness during times of stress. Or people who are truly unhappy but privilege commitment and tenacity to keep struggling through the issues rather than give up and risk being alone (or really, accept that there is struggle, and it's not wrong, but that the benefits of being together still outweigh the drawbacks to leaving). Or people who have kids, and their relationship is not outwardly toxic so they find their ways of living together for economic benefit, energy conservation, pragmatic support, kid raising -- and kind of relent on the probably-idealistic-anyway sense that one can continue to thrive as a person and grow and dream and take risks even as adult responsibilities grow and one necessarily struggles with the sense that there is no time or space for the playfulness or deep exploration necessary to have lifelong continued growth and personal fulfillment. Go to job, come home, do the chores, share a bed, rinse-repeat; self-exploration and play is the privilege of the selfish, childless people (even as what I'm talking about isn't about some Jetski Method of Letting Go™). Maybe we've lost the sense of value that comes with long, thoughtful and intelligent cultivation with others. Of respectful debate around subjective questions, of the many many layers of human growth that contribute to a better world. Trivial things, smartphones and google-facts aren't inherently bad things, but it becomes easier to get used to missing a rich community of ideas if we're all kind of watching little screens instead of observing what's around us. Keen observation is different from consumption. Do many of us have a similar relationship to our partners? Do we become frustrated when another human being isn't so readily packaged and consumed for our pleasure? Is it because we stopped seeing them for who they are because the projection is more comforting and desirable than they are? Has it ceased to be rude or narcissistic to demand the presence of others but then respond to them only as fits our purpose?


Taking it slowly out of the abstract...

My recent (second) marriage collapsed because it was vulnerable (I dare say fragile), even before events of April 2013 thrust us into an impossible level of turmoil. It wasn't my first long-term relationship in which I struggled. It was hard for me to understand the problems, and easy for most people outside that relationship, who loved and advocated for me, to understand how complex and nuanced the difficulties were. I had supports who seemed to get (as their own experience mirrored) that relationship problems were never a simple single-sided problem residing in the other person at the same time that they could hold my pain and confusion with a degree of empathy. They could support without blaming my partner, or point out my partner's problematic treatment of me with compassion for us both. I credit this in part to their own recognition of how much work healthy relationships take, of how much past trauma can affect the ways we related, and most of all, recognize that if they thought I was a good person, then they must honor that I had/have real love, caring and respect for my partner even if it is a troubled relationship. I have had others who took the tack that relationships shouldn't be so much work and therefore my partner is the Wrong Person. These same people could also point out that I'm too emotional or intense, or over-analyze -- which invalidates the kind of person I am (one who analyzes a LOT, who feels very deeply, and feels quite confused about things.

My own parents have been together about 42 years, and this included a period of seriously considering divorce or separation, but they ultimately worked through that. So in many respects they have been successful, and yet I remain in a place of confusion about the dynamics in my family that equipped me to be in relationship/family, and other dynamics which didn't particularly support the ways I struggled socially as a kid and which impact my ability to have healthy boundaries. At least in this culture, people can often phase through a series of emotional states wherein they blame their parents, feel wounded and angry about things, differentiate themselves, eventually realize that their parents both had an effect but are not to blame for the set of relational tools we developed, and to whatever extent they affected that set of tools, if those tools need re-organizing or changing, it is not up to our parents to fix it for us - it's a personal project we engage in with trusted friends, lovers and therapists. But it's equally easy to cling to a sense that our own toolbox is wholly natural and complete; or that our parents must acknowledge the bad stuff they imparted in order for us to be released from the bondage-illusion of having to please them by being like them (that often just isn't gonna happen); or that our partner simply can't work with our set of tools -- our partner has the incomplete and broken toolbox. These illusions harm everyone involved.

Our (my) defensiveness around our (my) own fallibility is also a barrier. Some of us maybe grew up developing a healthy ability to try and fail, make mistakes and own them, apologize, repair, and grow. As a perfectionist, highly sensitive person with a faulty sense of myself as fragile and less powerful than I probably am (or at least unequipped to deal with failure, or expect to always be perfect the first time), making mistakes is a source of great despair and emotional turmoil. Handling the emotions that come with Being Wrong is a skill I'm working on. But it's equally easy for me to take on blame and churn on it endlessly, which both minimizes my agency and does nothing to repair actual damage I enact on my attempts to have intimacy (a self-defeating pattern). I can endure intolerable levels of harm to my emotional well-being so that I don't harm my partner, but inevitably I collapse and harm my partner because of this entrenched ignoble strategy for "supporting no matter what" leads to being unable to support, leads to abandoning, and ultimately the collapse of a relationship in spite of really caring.

My previous partner (first marriage) and I ultimately parted ways because, in part, I struggled with overwhelm and collapse (trying to get through grad school with undiagnosed autism and a complete lack of understanding of how I could (ask to) be supported). I had also been unfaithful about 5 years into the relationship, and while we attempted reparations and got married, I don't think we/she had healed from that betrayal. But at the time we made the overt decision to end our relationship, I had descended into depression and less than helpful psychiatric treatment, and I don't blame her for eventually pulling away and giving up because I had drawn into myself, not knowing how to get myself out of it. She couldn't save me. And I couldn't be the partner she or I wanted.

My most recent partner was harmed badly by events external to us (but exacerbated by a distinct set of vulnerabilities in our relationship, including our uneven power dynamics, a very thin social support network, and both of us having a history of complex trauma). I was unequipped to support him through; he collapsed, and I collapsed. We kept trying, but that trying felt to me like continuing to put my bare hands into fire, trying to prove that I could solve the problems, stick with the person I love -- even taking on the problems that weren't mine to solve, and simultaneously churning in confusion around what was mine to own. Also, allowing and contributing to very messed up dynamics around who was to blame for hurt, misunderstanding -- blame is a toxic, no-win enterprise. I left three or four times, including one time when I had promised I would not abandon him, and breaking that promise is both inexcusable and understandable given the circumstances I can't fully outline here.

In any case, my second marriage has been one of hope, over and over, that we two people who have felt alienated in the world, afraid, struggling, vulnerable, hurt -- could help one another heal. That the notion that the ways we fight and struggle could be seen as arguments for breaking up or seen as opportunities (if we let them), and yet the patterns that emerged, the projected trauma, the ways we both increasingly withdrew into our own outrage at unmet needs, unstated desires, focus on our own hurt (and a demand for the other to own up and take blame for their failings as if those could ever be discrete from our own failings -- and what about not focusing on failings in any case, and how much is it reasonable to expect the other person to change because we want them to for our own needs/expectations? Not at all, because we don't change because someone else demands for us to). There are too many complexities, and they can't be reduced no matter how hard anyone tries.

One of the most painful decisions I have made in my life was to leave this person I truly and deeply care about - even as he tells me repeatedly that I demonstrate over and over that I don't truly care about him. It's painful because while I left and came back multiple times during post-marathon upheaval, even during times of my own unemployment, I ultimately left once I was almost 6 months into a job that paid enough to support myself in Boston, and left him in a state of unemployment, active PTSD symptoms, and already having lost friends and other supports. I have to live with the duality that I both made the decision I needed to make for myself, and left a person at the worst time in their life (what happened to in sickness and health?). I have to sort out the contradictions within my heart every time I need to establish boundaries with him, to recognize an emotionally dangerous dynamic brewing, even if it means that exiting that dynamic invites accusation that I'm doing wrong because I flee every time I'm told that I'm doing something wrong. Or that I'm making excuses when I struggle with boundaries, or fail to set them and then screw up (thereby causing hurt). The confusion, between his actions and my actions, the effect they have on the other, and how to deal with this in a context of deep emotional pain and fear, well it's a confusion that tears me apart. It can destroy a morning or an entire day. It can send us both into spirals of depression and shame and hurt. I can feel like I'm choosing between sustaining my job, my emotional wellbeing (which hurts him), or trying to pour energy into empathy, caring, listening, and deep, long conversations that are necessary and potentially healing in the long run (except that I can't predict at any time whether they end up being constructive or harmful).

And it's a lonely place. I have some sympathetic friends who have "been there" in one way or another, and advocate the setting of boundaries even as they understand that the boundary setting is like asking me to stop being being a people pleaser -- undoing a lifetime of being oriented away from my own needs, even if no one is explicitly telling me that my needs don't matter, that's... entrenched stuff. I want to change it but it's a monumental task, particularly within the context of a long-term relationship with so much caring and so much pain, and highly contentious ways of relating.

I haven't told my partner that there is no hope of reconciling. I haven't said that we're over definitively, for good, because I feel that would be dishonest. It is my true desire that we work on our own issues, with a degree of better boundaries, and if possible to remain supports in one another's lives. This would be easier, and more reasonable, if he was able to work right now and financially support his own living situation rather than decimate years of savings. It would be easier, in some ways, to completely cut off contact and insist we both engage in intensive therapy before exploring whether that individual work brings us to a space of relating differently. But these aren't the reality. I can sometimes try to carve out a boundary of no contact for a couple of days, but even that feels harsh and wrong even if I truly need that space.

Most each step I take to establish my own physical and emotional space (for the first time in my almost 40 years) feels full of potential for discovering my own patterns, my own needs and rhythms, a refuge to which I can retreat and heal from the assaults the world places on my introverted nature and overly excitable sensory system. There is something inherently positive and self-reinforcing about doing this - from setting up furniture, to living as minimally as possible, to coming home on a Tuesday night without the energies and needs of another person adding noise to my already noise-filled mind. To hear myself for the first time is both frighteningly exposing and strangely good - like listening to oneself being interviewed on the radio. Is that me? Wait. Really? In the absence of anyone, this is my voice? This is my heartbeat? I can choose silence? For someone who finds mirrors uncomfortable, my own eye contact too intense (let alone looking others in the eyes), being alone is a project in self-awareness that only when faced with that aloneness am I realizing how much I cocooned myself in the energy of others, a multi-channel radio that drowned out my own frequency. It's not that others necessarily drowned me out on purpose. I believe I lost the signal a long time ago. There's still a lot of static.

Each step I take also feels like a betrayal of him. Like a giving up, even if that is less an abandonment than a letting go in order to wander out into the wilderness of myself and find what it is I need so that I can come back more intact and clear and healthy. Even if by doing so, I hurt him in the short term, yet in the long term, at the other side of the pain is a gift of a more whole me (which is primarily a gift to myself, from which my partner benefits).

So I have my own apartment. I'm working full time, setting up my space, newly on a board of directors, try to go to yoga once a week, try to see a friend, and try to navigate the space that is: I care about my partner, I care that he's hurting, that he feels he's collapsing without me, that he feels abandoned by the world, that he's angry and resentful at me, that he is caving to a message from the world that he is not wanted and doesn't matter. Except it's entirely possible to become the focus of those problems: I'm the one to fix it, repair it, address his resentments and continue holding the promise of a future together (at worst, the idea that it is my problems that are the main barrier to our relationship success) -- and that stating and re-stating what many have told me (therapists included) that we can't create a healthy relationship if either one of us refuses to own our shit and work on it. Which isn't going to happen if either one of us dwells on whether the other is owning their own shit and working on it.

This writing has gotten entirely too long. Sorry. But thank you if you're still reading.

One of the struggles I've always had is managing the network of relationships that is community. What do those people I know think about this other person I know, and vice versa, and what effect do I have on others' perceptions of people in my life, especially my partners?

Did I destroy others' positive regard of my partner? Is my challenged ability to hold all the meta-data of networked community what failed my marriages because we could never have the community support any marriage needs to succeed? Because I couldn't do it? Because I couldn't be "we"? Or because I was too unhealthy "we" and not enough "me"? Or too much "we" to everyone else but him, who felt I was selfish?

If I'm unhappy in a relationship, am I primarily influencing whether they judge that unhappiness to be a mutual state, the fault of my partner, or my own? Or does each individual's ideas of what a healthy/successful relationship is (whatever their version is of my own ramblings above), ultimately decide their approach to how they support a loved one going through difficulties?

Like if people think it's right to stick it out no matter what (don't divorce if you can help it), then I'm wrong for leaving. If people think relationships should just work and that if it's work, then I'm with the wrong person. If people think that relationship communication is key and that this is a skill not an inborn trait (that it's something they can learn), they may be neutral about whether I should stay or go, or trend one way but feel supportive either way, as long as the effort within the relationship is balanced with both people constructively working on communication.

As it is - many people feel that my separation and getting my own place is absolutely the best thing I can do. I think many would feel disappointed or even betrayed if, 6 months from now, J and I got to a place where we wanted to enter couples therapy and explore getting back together. As for how I feel? I'm scared, confused, and trying to discover that small voice telling me what the next moment wants.

At least for now, that small voice is whispering that being alone is the necessary thing. So don't congratulate me too much, because this hurts a LOT. Don't reassure me that with time I'll separate more and it will be better, because that feels too simple, and ignores that the man I left is a real person with feelings who you don't care about. You may be able to justify not caring about him because you care about *me* (which, just to say, hurts me), but this doesn't help ease the pain. You may not understand how deep it runs, this feeling of being unable to discern my own needs, like pulling off the Red Shoes because they keep me in this noisy dance and it needs to stop except the Red Shoes don't just pull off. I'm not the same as your friend who had to get away. I'm not the same as you, who got lucky (or had the tools) to be in a relationship already that fully supports and enables you to be your own person. My partners never intentionally kept me from this project, so it's not their fault, however if they unintentionally interfered with it, then I need to develop my OWN awareness and call to action from which I can move forward.

This is entirely too long. To quote that John Mayer song, I'm "like a maze where all of the walls continually change".

Thanks for rambling with me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ways I Love

Love, not Fear.

I first thought of other people's fear, but then thought that what I really wanted to blog about was self-fear. Fear of the world, fear of the politics, fear of all the hate, fear of other people, fear of being judged.

Image description: Text on red background with heart design. Text reads: Flashblog Love Not Fear, presented by Boycott Autism Speaks. Submit your: poetry, essay art, photography, etc. by February 13 @ 12PM EST email to:info at inside the heart design is the hashtag #posAutive
So I'm a day late, whatever. I have never participated before in a Flashblog. I can always post on twitter.

I don't know what to write that would affect other people's fear. But understanding fosters love, so I guess starting there is something.

Someone wrote (paraphrasing) that the big loss that autism brought [them] was never being able to hear "I love you" from their child. What's interesting about that is how much that didn't really say anything about autism itself. Maybe it says something about how much fear there is about the myriad of other ways, aside from words, in which one can say I love you. I don't judge this comment, although it feels attached to so much sadness. #LovenotFear means that harsh commentary on them is a move away from love. I'd rather try for understanding. Are words the only way to say I love you?

There is sign language.
Stimming on your beard may be one way to say I love you.
Showing my favorite toy for a moment is another way to say I love you.
Talking to you a lot about what I care about is sharing myself, and a way to say I love you.
Putting my head in your hand is a way to say I love you.
There are many more.
There IS love. Do you see it? Do you feel it?

Except I fear myself. I fear myself going out into the world and being judged as less than or wrong, because I think, behave or look different from an expectation I didn't create. If the clothing I need to wear in order to focus on being a part of the world is "odd", I want to be able to love that and for that to be okay.

"People" share that tired wisdom that one must love oneself before anyone else will.

I think we learn very young how to love ourselves, from others. So really, we don't do this by ourselves. We can't love ourselves, despite the whole world telling us that is an illegitimate love. We have to love each other, it's the only way through.

So love the quirks, love the struggle, love the odd, love the difficult, love the strange, love the frenetic, love all the ways the souls around you manifest in the world, however it is they manifest.

Someone said to me recently, that they loved how honest I was because I didn't say something pat or glossy about where our lives are at right now. That's love. That is recognizing the humanity in another. It may seem tiny, but that's what love is built on. Those tiny acts of acceptance, recognition, of being with, that allow the full range of what it means to be human into our world.

Love, not fear. Open your heart wide, because there's a lot more ways to say I love you.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Nothing is a Waste

I originally unloaded this as a post on Facebook, after reading one too many comments on there and twitter about Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death including the phrase "what a waste". This phrase is a big huge trigger for me. So I wrote about it.


Back in the 90s, I remember having more than one conversation (or argument) with women who would see a really attractive gay man and say, "what a waste". And I would ask, "Why, exactly??" What is wasted about a gay person? Is it your assumption that they are "opting out of the gene pool"? Are you just lusting and it's a way to offload your aggression/frustration about it? Because what a waste they can't have babies (which we now know isn't even an accurate assumption)? I think the people who would say this truly thought their comments were innocuous. Like that there was nothing wrong with saying it (even that it was said in jest). To my knowledge people don't say this anymore, but I wouldn't be surprised if this context still existed.

When someone comments on the death of a famous person, or any individual who died "too soon", for reasons of their own cause or by another's hand and says "what a waste of a life", I am filled with a kind of rage I don't know what to do with. What makes for a waste of a life? Are people dying of bad drugs in mental hospitals a waste of a life? Is someone dying at 25 of a terminal disability a waste of a life? Regardless of what a person did in the time they had here, nothing they already did is wasted. They haven't done what they haven't done, so it's impossible to say what could have been. Is the death of a famous person worse than the death of a different drug addict, or an unknown talented person? Is it a waste because of how they died? What about people who die too soon because they eat food that kills them? Do we say that about them? Is the waste about the content, or what hasn't happened yet? Are people projecting their own regrets and sense of fragility of life? 

I know that calling gay people "a waste" isn't the same as calling the death of someone who overdosed "a waste", but something in the sentiment triggers for me the same kind of anger, even rage, about the assumptions and judgments we make about people and actions, and class, and race, and disability, and human life.. all kinds of things that are bound up in those few words. 

Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Kobain, Janis Joplin, Vincent Van Gogh, countless others known and unknown, just now, P.S.H. -- You may think saying "what a waste of a life" is a way of saying that they were so valuable and you are so disappointed that they are not going to have impact beyond their death (but even that is untrue, just look at the list above). None of them were a waste for having been on this earth, contributed what they have, experienced and loved and been loved. 

No one is a waste, and everyone is valuable. Underlying the phrase "what a waste" is a very unexamined connotation to the value/lack of value in any given human life. Yes, precisely -- the opposite of what you might think you're trying to express. Thanks for listening and considering.

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