An effort to stay afloat while determining which way is up

Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Thunder and Confusion

My arms and legs are now positively spotted like some cat of the Serengeti, though my unusual coloring is the result of bruises rather than the need for camouflage.  Last Thursday was an unending hell of lifting and carrying more furniture and boxes and trash bags than I believed could possibly fit into the 500 square feet that I was permanently moving out of.  Given that I won’t be starting my menial summer job until next week (god willing), our new house has managed to unpack itself and turn itself aright rather quickly; one thing I cannot tolerate in my life is idleness, so my days have been filled with cleaning and arranging those small items that somehow, when combined, constitute home.

My dive into domesticity here has once again jumbled the state of affairs in my mind.  You see, normally my thoughts inhabit one of two mutually exclusive spheres to maintain a shaky cease-fire between two possible lives.  One sphere sits firm in the foundational knowledge that this relationship of mine is ultimately doomed.  Mark and I simply want different things out of life, and it will be eventually necessary to sacrifice him (and a part of myself) to achieve the adventures I crave.  All of my long-term thoughts about my life are colored by this sad but inevitable truth.  The other sphere grows from the knowledge that living here with the man I think I love makes me happy.  Anything pertaining to the short term rests comfortably within this realm.  These two incompatible mind frames have sat and functioned uneasy but inert, side by side in my mind since I returned to Denver last November with the goal of continuing our relationship for however long it could be maintained.

And yet, while embodying the ultimate housewife this week as I furnished this once empty space with all the comforts of home, my long-term thoughts began displacing themselves into the short-term sphere.  It has struck me that, in essence, I could live this very same day for the rest of my life if I choose to.  I could become the housewife, cleaning and arranging and gardening and watching the empty wasteland of daytime television to fill the silence well into old age.  Comfortably numb, to borrow and old phrase.  In fact, the longer I stay here, the more likely that is to happen.  At the thought of this my mind freezes into the dumb inactivity of terror.

And yet, despite myself, there was a moment of confusion and complication last night. Thunderstorms and tornado warnings have been rolling their way across the north-eastern part of Colorado for the past two days, utterly confusing and frightening me, as I have no idea of the behavior patterns of tornados, let alone what I should do if such a situation would arise.  Luckily, the Denver area has seen nothing more severe than rain and hail.  Last night, a slow, steady storm sat over our new house for the duration of the night, delivering the kind of constant, rumbling thunder that becomes a comforting, James Earl Jones-esque presence in the room, as opposed to the loud, crashing thunder which takes on a more staccato, Gilbert Godfried tone.  We were both laying on our new mattress beneath an old feather-comforter, simply watching the distant flicker of lightning and listening to the symphony of rain and thunder.  My only thought was, why does life have to mean any more than this?  What’s so wrong with letting this kind of comfort be your existence?

The shocking truth, which descended upon me in the brief pauses between the tympani thunder, is that this kind of life—one where you live simply with the goal of comfort, stability, and an accepted place in our society of affluence—isn’t as horrific as I thought.  While it appears empty and void of any true meaning, it can actually feel downright lovely sometimes.

I do not want to don the blinders, worn by so many Americans, which hide from us the great adventure of the world at large.  And yet, it is so easy to picture myself getting seduced into that kind of life if I let my guard down here.  That possibility shoots ice-cold dread into my heart and rattles me more than any Midwest twister ever could.

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The Things I Am (and the Things I’m Not)

“You have five seconds to be facing forward and silent!”

I was screaming into the churning, belching, giggling herd of Mr. R.’s  Spanish-English class getting ready to return to class from the cafeteria.  I’ve found that turning every task into a countdown usually elicits the response you need from even the most stubborn students.  My arm was raised in such a way that the upper arm formed a right angle at the shoulder with the rest of my body as I confirmed the disappearance of time counting down on my fingers.  All was going according to plan until, in the space between two and one, the line leader pointed up in horror at the dark inner-reaches of my arm-pit and uttered an expression of sheer disgust far too audible to be mistaken for anything else by the front half of that line.

I did my champion move of shame where I pretend not to hear what just happened, although my raging inner-monologue was giving this 9-year-old an hours-long tongue lashing divided between 1) how women trying to look perfect all the time are just surrendering to society’s ridiculous expectations; and 2) how she shouldn’t judge because one day she and all her little friends will have to deal with stubble and sweat and mustaches and all the embarrassing joys of adulthood.  For the rest of the day I tried to forget it all, just kids saying the darndest things, but several times throughout the day I simply had to go to the dankly lit staff-bathroom mirror, return my arm to that angle, and try to recreate the horrific image she saw to determine if it could have really been all that bad.  The fact that a 9-year-old could trigger such an intense fear of looking ugly for even one moment was deeply disturbing to me.

Anti-Self-Portrait #1
Hairless and with breasts that defy physics.

I feel no little shame in admitting that, like any modern western woman, I do worry about my appearance.  I draw on my eyes with crayon almost every morning.  I have developed entire differential equations to determine which combinations of clothing will minimize my mid-section. I’ve been counting calories and exercising daily under the authoritarian gaze of my swimsuit.  Taking all these facts into consideration, I begin to wonder, can I still be considered a feminist?  I support as many feminist causes as I can get my hands on (as it is simply the correct, ethical, logical thing to do), but this episode has made me worry that the way I live out my life makes me a hypocrite.  What if my fear of looking bad undermines any message I can give my students about becoming great contributing members of our world.  Have I been making excuses for not practicing what I preach?

Anti-Self-Portrait #2
Women can do anything, as long as a majority of it involves accessorizing.

This fear of hypocrisy goes beyond succumbing to the beauty myth.  In my domestic life, I seem to be the only force able to accomplish the cooking, cleaning, and other household chores.  If not for my efforts and constant prodding, these 5oo square feet of ours would resemble a mold-infested wasteland.  Mark will only assist me with such household tasks after a great deal of nagging and occasional threats.  While I’m at work (a traditional women’s school-marm job), I try my hardest to emphasize to my students the equality between sexes, only to come home and slip into the June Cleaver skin that’s been waiting for me since the mid-century.  Can I truly still be a feminist if I don’t walk the walk?

Anti-Self-Portrait #3
Repetitive, menial work disguised as a fulfilling life.

Of course Mark is rarely sympathetic to any gender-equality issues I ever bring up.  He honestly can’t understand why non-vagina related products (like soap or yogurt or anything pink)  marketed exclusively to women frustrate me.  He doesn’t see how a laundromat named WIFE SAVR is making insulting assumptions.  He fails to notice that anyone who addresses us when we’re together speaks primarily to him, as if he is automatically and at all times the head of this unit.  Whenever I try to discuss these things, he tells me I’m over-analyzing or being plain dumb.  Sometimes I feel like college-me would have kicked him to the curb long ago.

Anti-Self-Portrait #4
It’s ok, we’ve got her under control.

So what does it actually mean to be a feminist?  Is it a betrayal to try to contort myself into the expected role of a woman for the sake of ease, even when my heart is in the right place with the kick-ass sisters of the world?  I have tried before to abandon the comfort of my personal, unrevolutionary life in order to achieve the life that my high inner-standards require, but these attempts have never been met with success.  Sooner or later I come back to rest in the unchallenging, no-surprises life of  a traditional western woman.  I fear I simply don’t have the bravery needed to truly turn the personal into the political like so many before me.  I may be too timid to lead by example, and that more than anything nurtures the disappointment that’s been growing in me for years.

Anti-Self-Portrait #5
Life as a decoration.

On the other hand, could feminism be simply living your life in a way that makes you happy regardless of the outside world and its expectations (or lack thereof) for women?  Would rebelling against stereotypes simply for the sake of rebellion be giving them just as much power as conforming to them?  After all, in either case you’re letting others’ expectations and not your own wants dictate who you are.

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.  I only find small parcels of strength where I can then and keep on running, always stumbling and often in the wrong direction.  I want to be an inspiration in this world.  I also want to be happy. Right now happiness grows in the soil enriched by the ease of not having to defend my choices against daily scrutiny from the status quo; it comes from long hair and skirts and doing dishes because they sure as hell won’t get done by anyone else.  This stance could be laziness.  It could be surrender.  My hope is that this is merely a time in my life to gather strength and force of will like a rumbling thunderhead in the distance; to collect the courage and experience to set fire to the world when the time is right.

Self Portrait

Hard Pill to Swallow

There is an issue in my relationship which I’ve been desperately trying to hide away for four years.  A big, purple, shiny, naked, lumpy, bulging, ever-growing animal of an issue.  I’ve tried to shut it in drawers, stuff it away into garbage bags, smash it under large pieces of furniture, and drown out its noise with my own mindless chattering,  only to have Mark bust it back out of whatever constraints I’ve put it in and let it take up residence front and center on our bed.  It started out small and manageable, but after four years of festering it has now become too large and unwieldy to ignore.

Birth control pills, or the lack thereof, have been (paradoxically) taking up all of my mental space in the past week.

I’ve always been a very logical lady; one might even say “vulcan-like”.  On more than one occasion friends have compared me to a robot.  That ever-present voice of logic in my brain tells me that oral contraception has been proven to be safe, effective, and not horribly expensive, and yet all the reasonable arguments in the world can’t stop me from avoiding any and all actions which may result in my acquisition of this wonder-drug.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the pill as a concept.  Maintaining women’s reproductive freedom is high on my list of priorities.  I would be ecstatic if every woman in the world were on the pill… except me, that is.

So why this aversion to something so clearly beneficial?

It’s definitely not a desire for children.  I already work with children, and as much as I love my students, I don’t need them contaminating the other areas of my life.  Not yet.

I tell Mark a large part of my aversion is biologically-based, and that is true to an extent.  I am terrified of significantly altering my hormones which, for the past 23 years, have been pretty self-sufficient.  I’m afraid of destroying the balance.  It would be like destroying the Hamburglar’s fragile balance by introducing him to hot dogs.  He would doubtless become addicted to those questionable meat-sandwiches, too, willing to do anything to acquire them.  Soon, he would be operating outside of the law (as he is accustomed) to get his hands on some sweet imported sausages. This would cause him to become classified as just a regular burglar without any Ham-related specialties.  Without his cute, pun-laden prefix, the courts would have no sympathy for him, he would be punished to the full extent of the law, and his life would be essentially ruined.  That’s why you can’t introduce new sub-par foods to the Hamburglar, and it’s why you can’t introduce new hormones to me.  Similar to new foods upsetting the fictional character’s fragile psyche,  new chemicals could upset whatever balance I have going on and throw my life totally out of whack.

Apart from this (admittedly overblown) fear, there is another, much larger reason why I always avoid taking this next step.

Oh, unfunny and offensive cake topper, if only you knew the truth...

I’m more than a little afraid of commitment, and altering my body chemistry for the sake of someone else seems like a weirdly big commitment to me.  Like bigger-than-marriage big.  You can always nullify a contract, but medications can do permanent damage to your body.  At least that’s how I see it.  Of course I couldn’t tell Mark this.  He would argue that if I’m not committed to us after over four years, there’s something seriously wrong.  Hell, maybe there is something wrong with me.  I know 23 is not that young anymore, but whenever faced by commitment here I still cringe away as if you had presented me with something several days dead.  Mark is the only man I’m with, and has been for years, but I feel like this pill will be biologically committing me to him for an extended period, if not forever.  For reasons I’m kind of afraid to explore, I’m still not ready for that.  What if I never am?

Regardless, I have an appointment to see the doctor this week and discuss my options.  After four years of holding out, this thing is finally happening.  There’s no other way I can put it off.  All I can hope is that this lumpy, bulging, ugly purple animal and I can become friends after all.

A Complicated Relationship

There is a certain quality to the song “Strangers” by the Kinks which always speaks to the very center of me. The extra beat present after every line of verse puts me in mind of a clumsy yet sincere dance between two people who fully understand each other’s shortcomings. Of course, I am a sucker for any song with a non-standard time signature, but I think it’s more than that.  There are some songs whose singers, simply through the tone of their voice, can convey their meaning more honestly than any well chosen words ever could.  One example is Johnny Cash in his cover of “Hurt”.  Another is Dave Davies in this song.  Even someone without a grasp of the English language could listen to this song and, from the voice alone, see a life lived and lessons learned.  Through Dave’s singing you feel his pride and rage and love and fear.  The lyrics also achieve the feat of being universal while still feeling incredibly personal.  “This love of life makes me weak at my knees.”  “My mind is proud, but it aches with rage.”  “Strangers on this road we are on, We are not two, we are one.”

I’m here, of course, to talk about my relationship.

I’ve been involved with Mark for over four years now, and for most of the last year we’ve been living together.  I began dating him as a decent and socially acceptable way to pass the time in college.  We met on the patio of some guy’s party where we drank and talked about work and school and the various incarnations of Star Trek.  He seemed like such an adult then, with his extra three years and his real office job.  I planned on just spending some time with him for a few months, but over time we became attached and dependent on each other, and now day by day my feelings about this union grow more and more complicated.  Quite honestly, if it weren’t for him, my life would be free of these existential crises, and I wouldn’t be keeping an anonymous blog in the hopes of finding some clarity.

I’m sometimes surprised when I actually look directly at him.  We are always side by side facing the television, or in the same room playing Elder Scrolls, or back-to-back while I make dinner in the kitchen and he fools around on the laptop, but the amount of time we spend actually seeing each other is surprisingly low.  I feel like my mind works so hard to keep him in the periphery because he has become the symbol of my weakness.  I wasn’t strong enough to fully leave him and pursue my own life, and I hate myself for it.  I’m afraid he’s become just another thing my mind tries to lock away in the background to protect itself.

That’s not to say I don’t love him.  I am very fond of him most of the time, and, though his attempts are sometimes misguided, he always does things to try to make me happy, and he often succeeds.  He is smart, and more attractive than me.  He makes me laugh, though less so than he used to.  We are comfortable together.  For adults, comfortable is supposed to be enough, right?  Things started to go awry when I decided to join the Peace Corps.  It was a difficult decision for me, but I wanted adventure more than anything.  I assumed we would fold up and neatly stow away our relationship while I was gone, and then maybe reunite after I came back to see how we both felt.  We wound up having a long distance relationship instead, which was fine with me until I had to be evacuated from Niger.  I wanted (and still want) to sign up again to have the full two year experience, while Mark has decided that if I put him through that again I’m on my own.   This is the ultimatum that caused me to betray myself.  Like Lancelot, who had to betray his devotion to his god and his knightly aspirations for his love of Guenevere, so have I betrayed my personal aspirations for the sake of the love in my life.

Similar to the way we keep from seeing each other, our conversations are once again devoid of any real meaning.  We talk plenty about weekend plans and television shows and what happened at work, but any time I try to bring up how I’m feeling about something, I’m met with one of three reactions: he yells at me to stop over-analyzing everything; he tells me to “stop being dumb”; or he totally shuts down and leaves the apartment.  We spend much more time giggling about funny words that reference genitals than we do talking about anything meaningful to either of us.

Yesterday I was sitting in my car outside an office building.  I could see a man on the third floor, a typical management type in a moderately priced suit, gazing out of his window, and, though the glare and distance kept me from knowing for certain, I decided he was looking over to me.  I began speaking aloud, telling him what I imagine to be my story, while at the same time he was clearly discoursing on something important.  More than likely he was speaking into a blue-tooth set, but in my mind he was telling me his story as well.  Two strangers, each trapped behind a wall of glass, desperately trying to communicate and hoping the other will understand.  For what reason?  I’m still unsure.

I am almost certain that I love Mark, though it is not the kind of love which consumes the soul like you see in movies and read in books.  It is a love based on easy friendship and comfortable dependence.  However, if he ever asks me to marry him and I go so far as to do it, I don’t know if we will ever share a dance to “Strangers”.  A part of me wants to safeguard that one dance, just in case love really does exist as so many people and media represent it.  Safeguard it so that if I discover that kind of love does exist and, against all odds, I happen to bump into it somewhere in my travels, I can dance my one dance with that perfect stranger.  After that short time we will have to return to our respective lives and, I’m sure, never look back to what could have been.  But for three minutes and twenty-two seconds, we might know exactly who we are.  “We are not two, we are one.”