Saturday, December 26, 2015

Misunderstood: In Defense of Myself

Every child, every teenager, goes through that: Nobody gets me phase.  Right?  I'm not fond of absolutes, so saying every is a toss-up to me, but I think that in general, that statement is pretty true.  Adults tend to laugh because "they've been there", of course the kid "is being dramatic", and "will be okay".

I've heard all of this so often throughout my life; it's no wonder I believed it.  Growing up, I felt like a stranger to everyone I interacted with.  As a child, I just wanted to be an adult, and wasn't afraid to tell anyone.  I generally didn't relate to other kids around me very well.  Sure, I made friends, but more often than not, I found myself explaining to them my thoughts and feeling; having to justify my view.  No, I'm not mad you went off campus for lunch without me when I had to make-up a test.  But, yes, I am hurt that you didn't tell me that you went, when I would normally have been invited..  The fine line, that fine distinction, I had trouble articulating as a kid/teenager.

Or, I would foul a pass in a volleyball game and the coach would tell me what to do better and I would respond with "I know".  It wasn't the most conducive or coachable response; I understand that now.  However, the coach's response of: "then why didn't you do it in the first place?"  always frustrated me.  I could never explain that I knew the theory of how to do it correctly, but just hadn't been able to get my muscles to do what I wanted.

In college I had this problem with Riley a lot, but rarely with other people.  I missed my high school friends and I hated being misunderstood, so my solution was generally to just avoid befriending people.  It's funny, in high school, I didn't start actually making friends until right before I transferred at the end of my sophomore year, when I know longer had anything left to lose.  Similarly, I didn't make friends until my senior year of college, when it didn't really matter if I was going to be misunderstood so I took more chances.  The pain of people just not getting me has been with me most of my life.

So when I moved in with my high school friends, the only people I feel like ever understood me up to that point in my life, I hoped it would go well.  It ultimately didn't and I feel for very much the same reasons as usual.  I had the opposite schedule of everyone, so I could rarely go to events.  When people would schedule events but not invite me/tell me about them and then I found after the fact, I would get upset.  More than once I came home unexpectedly early for some reason and found an empty apartment, not because they didn't want me at the event but because they knew I was busy.  My frustration stemmed not from the fact that they didn't plan events that I could go to (basically an impossibility) but from the fact that they didn't tell me about events that I couldn't go to.  And it reached the point where they stopped telling me about events entirely because they were afraid I would be mad I wasn't invited (again, not why I was upset in the first place); this logic always seemed circuitous to me.

When we lived in the apartment together, we had a dinner schedule and people signed up to take days.  But, when I was in tech and someone chose not to make dinner that night and I got home expecting dinner, I got angry.  I wasn't angry that there wasn't food.  I wasn't angry because I was hungry.  I was angry that they hadn't texted me and told me there was no dinner.  Not having food at home was a solvable problem, but I hadn't been given the opportunity to solve the problem because of lack of communication.  For me, it's always been those fine distinctions that people just don't seem to get about me.

I am constantly seen as being angry.  When I got left in a subway station in New York alone, when I finally caught up to my friends, I was told that I was having a tantrum and over-reacting.  My fear and hurt and anger at the situation was completely glossed over.  And even if I was over-reacting (which I'm not convinced I was), my emotions were declared invalid.  More often than not, people withheld information from me "because they were scared I'd be angry", which of course only upset me more.  I couldn't convince them that if they'd only given me the information up-front, I wouldn't have been angry at all.  So in that situation with my apartment, like my relationship with my family, I gained a reputation for be angry.  People began to treat me like I was always going to lash out at them and so it became increasingly difficult not to do something.  It's not to say that I don't have a temper.  I undoubtedly do.  I would also say that it is now firmly in hand though.

And my complex and guilt about anger now is almost crippling.  It's new baggage that I'm beginning to work through, with some success, I'd say.  But the first time I got truly angry with Wendell I just hugged myself and sobbed so hard I shook and felt like I would tear myself to pieces, trying to withhold my anger, to feel some other way entirely.  When I could finally speak, I stated my case in clipped tones and I apologized for being angry.  And Wendell complemented me on how well I had expressed myself (once I could speak again).  I was so shocked I stopped crying and couldn't only stare at him.  There has been one or two times where we've gotten angry at each other unjustly, but most of the time, I will explain while I'm mad and generally Wendell will say: you're right.  And I'll apologize for being angry and he'll say something like: no, you get to be angry when I do something that stupid.  I'm still shocked every time it happens.  And even when I am justifiably angry (which apparently is more of the time than I realized (?), I get near crippling anxiety.

The other reputation I seem to constantly get throughout my life is that I'm stubborn.  And like my reputation for being angry, it's not completely unjustified.  I was incredibly stubborn as a child.  If my parents told me to do something, I frequently wouldn't just because they had told me to.  But like with the anger, I've gotten better at choosing my battlefield.  I've frequently taken to saying (these days): "that's not a hill I'm going to die on".  But people still call me stubborn, because when someone does something I truly believe is wrong (morally/procedurally/legally/etc), then I am going to say something.  And if someone presents pressing evidence that I'm wrong, then I am going to concede.  I generally even try to say the words: "I was wrong" because someone, it's frequently just important for people to hear those specific words.

I said them to my mother the other day about something inconsequential and she joked that she need a tape recorder to record them because they shocked her so much.  And I turned to Wendell and told her that I say them all the time when I actually am wrong and he immediately and vehemently backed me up.  There's a fine line between being stubborn for the sake of pride and being stubborn because what's right needs to be stood up for and I'm trying hard to find it.

But that's the problem.  I'm changing constantly.  I've changed hugely and while my stubbornness and temper are things that will always be there, they're things I try to use and not let rule me now.  People aren't seeing the changes in me though.  They think they know me, when they either never did or no longer do.  And it is so frustrating and hurtful to me, because I am striving every day to be a better person.

So having Wendell just get me is the most incredible thing I could ever ask for.  To start explaining my motives and have him say "I know..." and then finish my explanation for me, demonstrating that he does know exactly how I'm feeling; that he exactly understands my motivations.  I don't constantly have to justify myself to him.  He's never assuming the worst of me.  The other night we fought (we do fight, but they've always been minor thus far) because I criticized a fix he'd made a work. While my criticisms were valid, he was hurt.  And his point that he hadn't had time to fine-tune his fix, in my opinion, made my criticisms unnecessarily cruel.  When I tried to apologize, he wasn't ready to hear me yet, and rebuffed me, so we both ended up feeling hurt.  By the end of the show though, we had talked through all of this to the point of understanding each other and ended the fight with thanking each other for being understanding.

That's a new situation for me.  It's an incredible situation for me.  I hate fighting with him and thankfully it's rare.  But I am so happy that thus far we've been able to talk through things not only civilly but to the point where we gain new insight into each other.

Maybe all I've ever needed was a single person to actually get me.  I'm not sure, but I'm more at peace with this than I really ever have been.

Though that statement isn't entirely fair.  Janey gets me and really always have and she's always been a wonderful supportive friend.  She's just in the middle of two groups of people that she understands both of but whom don't understand each other.


About a month ago, I started taking extremely mild anti-depressants.  About a month ago, my work troubles and my family's health problems finally took a turn for the better.  I'm not sure which one has helped lift my depression, but I'm so grateful.

Between my mother's cancer, my father's two pulmonary embolisms, and my sister's chronic and plaguing sinus infections and headaches, there's been a lot of family stress.  Between trouble with my standing in my union, being passed over for a different position by someone new who had less experience, and by being saddled with a position I'm not fond of, there's been a lot of work stress.  And these two sources of stress have, together, created a nigh irrepressible weight that I'm constantly struggling under.

As with everyone person, I've struggled with self-esteem throughout my life; believing that I am competent, capable, and worth other people's time.  Generally, I've mostly gotten to the point where I do believe that most of the time.  So, when people tell me that I'm not good at something, I can evaluate their opinion critically to see if I believe them or not.  The situation at work, with the new and less experience people be promoted above me (and several other coworkers) shattered my confidence.  And once it was shattered, the depression settled in, and I just couldn't regain my confidence and belief in my self-worth.

That's what I've found with the depression is that it isn't just sadness, as I've read in so many articles by people with depression.  For me, it typically manifests in this inescapable and irrepressible sense that I'm not worth anyone's time.  And where normally my self-esteem would kick in at that point and logically point to all the evidence to the contrary, with the depression hanging over me, I found that none of that evidence meant anything.  The feeling was going to remain and it was not going to let me shake it.

I'm personifying the depression, but that's not for literary effect, that's because it's how it felt; how it feels.  It this thing I live with that I can't escape or run from or hide from.  It imposed an overwhelming sense of futility and while it never, thankfully thankfully, got to the point where I didn't see the point in life, it definitely got to there point where I could see how people could get to that point.

And the overwhelming guilt I felt when burdening my boyfriend with all this baggage was one of the hardest parts.  We've been friends for awhile now, so he's seen me without the depression.  But the depression started right around the time that we got involved and so we've never really been together without it looming there between us.  He didn't leave though.  After my breakup with Riley and the fallout that caused between my friends and I, I was truly terrified that I'd scare him away.  I told him that and he laughed and told me he still liked me and that I didn't always have to be good company.

And when I told my family, they were shocked.  But they didn't run away either.  They didn't necessarily help either, but they didn't run.  If they had run; if my boyfriend had decided that while he loved me, the depression was too much, I truly wouldn't have blamed him, but I don't know what I would have done.  This thing stripped away every defense I had against doubting myself.  If I hadn't had that external support, getting through, surviving (and I do mean that in the least dire way) to get my on internal support back, wouldn't have been almost insurmountably harder.

So I'm grateful.  Endlessly grateful that they have helped me.  And understood that I can't always do this on my own.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Personal Boundaries and Self Sacrifice

Christmas, and, indeed, every holiday that involves family, makes me introspective.  A somewhat favorite topic of pop-culture lately seems to be the idea of personal boundaries.  The concept that a person needs a sense of self and to hold to their principles even when people, particularly friends and families, are testing or imposing on those principles.  

When put as simply as that, the concept is delightful and extremely important.  The idea is important to prevent resentment that comes from performing acts out of sheer obligation.  But it's always bothered me, because most of the articles I've read (which have been a great many at this point) have preached that when faced with a request that imposes on you, that you should hold firm to your boundaries against such an imposition.

Before tonight, I had never read an article that mentioned that perhaps doing something that is an imposition doesn't always breed resentment.  My problem with this psychological tenant is that, as the word implies, tenants do not encompass the whole of the situation.  I am not entirely convinced that performing something out of sheer obligation is always unhealthy or problematic, but that isn't what I would like to address.  What I would like to address is that doing something that is an imposition or something solely for someone else's benefit when you truly want to do it, won't breed resentment.

And while it could be argued that it is selfless, it is also a form of selfishness, because a person's gratitude for service or help rendered is frequently more than enough repayment for my actions.  We both benefit, so where is the harm?

I've gotten into arguments with friends about this and it, for me, is something that is decisive in my relationships with others.  While yes, doing something for someone because you'll feel good about it is selfish; I believe that not doing something because you don't want feel obligated is a different for of selfishness, and one I personally am less tolerant of.  In the first situation you both benefit in your selfishness.  In the other, one suffers while you benefit from your act.

I realize that people can't control when they will resent feeling obligated.  I realized people can't control whether they will actually feel good about going out of their way for someone.  But I have found that if you truly do care for someone, you will want to you out of your way for them.  Nevertheless, herein lies the conundrum.  You can't force yourself to feel a particular way and if you will truly resent an obligation, then I do agree with the advice that you shouldn't do it if it will make you unhappy.  It is simply my belief that it is best to strive to want to do acts of kindness for other to make yourself happy.  Unsurprisingly, however, I have no idea how to accomplish such a thing if it does not come naturally.

My other problem with most of the literature out there on setting personal boundaries is the advice that you should make your decisions regardless of how other people will react.  If you are going to do something that will upset another person, you should do it, because their feelings aren't relevant and/or have no bearing on the situation.  But humans don't live in vacuums.  We are social creatures and while another person's feelings on a subject shouldn't ultimately and unilaterally decide your actions, if you care for them, if they are a large part of your life and relevant to the choice you're making, then I believe you should keep in mind their feelings.  And if you don't have a reasonable idea of their feelings on the subject, then you should ask.  And if they tell you unsolicited how they feel about a topic, I believe that carries even more weight.

If my boyfriend has had a hard day, but I've made plans, I might still go out.  But I might stay in an comfort him and hang out with him, because it will make him happier and that will make me happier.  I'm not saying that I'm obligated to stay and comfort him; I'm saying that in many situations, I will be happier with changing my plans and staying than if I went.  But, there are times when my plans are the more important element and I'll keep them.  I'm not going to abandon my boyfriend though.  I'll maybe buy him ice cream, or make plans with him later that night, or text him and amusing article, or poke him in the ear (long story).  There's always compromise and I feel like most of the articles I've read would say the conversation has to go like this:

Him: I had a really hard day.  My coworker yelled at me and then I made a mistake that resulted in costing money.  I ended up with a flat tire because I hit a curb when someone almost served into me.  And it doesn't help that you have plans tonight.

Me:  I'm really sorry that sounds awful.

Him:  I would love if you would stay with me tonight instead of going out.

Me:  I understand that you want me to stay, but I've already made plans and I need you to understand and respect that.

My problem with the above conversation is, that instead of continuing the dialogue, it cuts it off entirely.  By explaining that he's imposing on my boundaries and he needs to respect that, you've ended the conversation, and no matter how nicely you say the above, you've basically created an ultimatum, which I feel like, people generally respond poorly to.  I also feel like the above scenario assumes that my boyfriend knows nothing of having boundaries and that I need to educate him on them.  The firm phrasing also, I feel, conveys a sense that he is intentionally trying to test my resolve and boundaries, instead of just making a request because he's not feeling well.  While it's true that he could be testing my boundaries, I tend to assume the best of people and would like to make allowances for this not being the case (I also think this assumption depends a lot on the individual person involved).

Generally (though my relationship is far from perfect), my conversation would go more like this.

Him: I had a really hard day.  My coworker yelled at me and then I made a mistake that resulted in costing money.  I ended up with a flat tire because I hit a curb when someone almost served into me.  And it doesn't help that you have plans tonight.

Me:  I'm really sorry that sounds awful.

Him:  I would love if you would stay with me tonight instead of going out.

Me: You know I love spending time with you and it's even more important to me when you're not feeling well.  Most times I'd cancel my plans and stay with you, but this time, it's really important that I go out.

Him:  I understand.  I'll miss you though.

Me:  Oh!  I finished Alloy of Law and know you'll love it.  Here let me grab it for you if you want.  I know reading often makes you feel better.  And hey, if you want and will still be up when my plans are done, I'll grab us some ice cream and we can hang out afterward.

Him: I don't want to impose or make you go out of your way.

Me:  I'm your girlfriend, I get to claim first right of imposition and I'm honestly happy to do it. 

Him:  Well then, that sounds nice.  Thank you.  You're the best.

This is pretty much exactly a conversation I've had with him before and I don't see the harm in it at all. It assumes that he's not trying to impose or manipulate.  In fact, he tends to know when he's imposing and mention it.  This isn't the case with all people, as I said above, but just because someone is pushing on your personal boundaries doesn't mean you need to rebuff them.  And I still don't believe that doing something that will make someone you care about (or even just an acquaintance) happy, and won't make you unhappy, is wrong.  

It's all about balancing your boundaries with that sense of self sacrifice.  And I struggle with people who have a low sense of self sacrifice, because I tend to have a high sense of it.  I feel like this is bragging or boasting, but I also think it is something that is intrinsically characteristic of me and not something I would care to try to change.  People have a lower sense of self sacrifice which means they're going to watch out for themselves more because it's the only way they can stay happy, and that's okay too.  I just struggle with accepting that.

The problem that I have with so much self-help literature/blogs/theories/etc is that is written as an absolute.  There's often a lot of: This is the only healthy way to react to something and everything else is wrong.  And I struggle with that perception so much, because I firmly believe that there is always a better way to do something.  A better way to balance caring for yourself and caring for others.  A better way to make yourself happy.  A better way to know when people are trying to take advantage of you and when they're just hurt or upset.  And I am always going to look for that better way.  I do things the way I do now because for this moment, they're what I know as best, but I intend to improve.

My bottom line: I believe setting personal boundaries is extremely important, but sacrificing for other people isn't wrong as long as it doesn't make you unhappy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A good partner will...

I thought I'd written a post when Wendell (look, I found a pseudonym other than Boy!) started dating, but it turns out I was mistaken and it was actually a journal entry, not for public consumption.  Anyway, it's been about six months since I got involved with Wendell.  Closer to four (maybe? I'm not exactly positive on the timing) since we started dating.  And I keep waiting for the honeymoon/new relationship phase to be over.  And it keeps not happening (much to my delight).

Things have been so easy and we've fallen into a rhythm that we both love.  It helps that we get to work with each other through May.  Somewhat shockingly, it's easier when we're working together than when we're not.

Anyway, there have been so many things that I've learned in the past six months.  Things I wish I'd known sooner; things about relationships that people just don't tell you.  So I'm writing them down.  I still have so much in life to learn, but these are things that I believe to be undeniably true.

There's someone out there for you.  Hell, there's a bunch of people out there for you.  If you leave your current relationship, there is someone else out there for you.  In fact, numerically speaking, there's a bunch of people out there who will fit into your life.  You aren't trapped.  You aren't worthless.  There are people out there who will love you for you.  You just have to keep looking long enough to find them, which sucks.

Being alone isn't bad.  I write this from the perspective of being in a relationship now, but I learned over the last year and a half that not being in a relationship doesn't make you less of a person.  Getting to know yourself, being your own person without relating it intimately to who someone else is, is so so important.  And if you don't ever want a relationship, then good for you for recognizing that fact.  (Even now, my bedmates as I write this aren't other people, but my dogs and cat).

If you think you aren't being respected, trust yourself.  There's obviously a point that you could take this that would be too far; there is for pretty much everything.  But if your partner is gas-lighting you; telling you you're over-emotional, over-reacting, burdensome, whiny, etc, then examine your relationship very closely.  Is it actually worth it?  Is your partner actually your partner?

A good partner might consider doing certain things a burden, but they'll want to help you.  I just spent the entire weekend with the worst cold of my life.  And Wendell spent the weekend with me; made me tea, soup, etc.  Was it fun for him?  Really not so much.  Was it a burden?  Well, yes, it fit that description.  Did he mind doing it?  No, he wanted to, because he loves me and wants to see me happy (and in this case, healthy).  And I thanked him profusely for all of his help.

A good partner wants to see you happy and will sometimes want to sacrifice their comfort to ensure that.  (rephrased: you should make sacrifices for each other).  The other week my grandparents wanted to have dinner and I wanted Wendell to come.  He's not the most social of people, and wasn't sure he wanted to go.  I did my absolute best to tell him that it was fine, but he also knew, without me expressly saying it, that I was disappointed.  And so he decided to go, and actually did have fun.  This is the type of thing that we both try extremely hard not to abuse, because it quickly becomes manipulative.

A good partner will communicate with you (specifically) well.  They don't have to be a good people person to communicate with you well.  Wendell certainly isn't what either of us would call a people person.  But he gets me.  He understands me.  When I say something that isn't quite factually or actually what I mean, he gets me well enough to understand my meaning, and won't correct me on the phrasing (except maybe jokingly).

A good partner will tell you the truth. Even when it hurts.  Even when they'd rather be alone, or with friends instead of you, or in another/additional relationship.  Even when you know it might hurt them.  Even when you know their response might hurt you.  Even when everything in you just wants to shrug is off and say: "it's okay" when it's not or "I don't know" when you do know what's bothering you.  And if you both do this, then you can trust each other, unequivocally

A good partner will accept you even when you're not good company.  A good partner won't desert you just because you're going through a bad patch.  The number of times I've been told that it's okay that I'm upset; that it's okay that I'm angry; that it's okay that I'm not good company, in the past six months astounds me.  I've been struggling with depression and anxiety and haven't been all that fun to be around lately, and yet he still supports me.

There's more.  I know there is.  But these mean so very much to me.  And if you're looking for a partner (or really even a friend), look for these qualities.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Floodgate to my Childhood

Side Note: So I went back to the post where I know I mentioned him and I'm completely dissatisfied with the pseudonym I picked back then, so I'm going to pick a new one.  I just don't know what yet, so for the moment, I'm just going to go with Boy (which amuses me for various reasons (not the least of which because he's more than ten years older than me)) which is DECIDEDLY different than Boyfriend, who I'm not dating anymore, and will henceforth be referred to as Riley (though I doubt I'll mention him as much).

So in both the previous posts where I've talked about Boy, I've talked about the fact that we can talk for hours and a) not notice and b) not be sick of each other.  For years, I thought that I had told every story I had; every secret I'd buried.  Turns out, that's really not the case.  And even if I had told all my stories, I've realized that I've pretty much never discussed them from an emotional standpoint of how they intimately affected my life. It's interesting, because in the course of about a month, I really have told Boy stories that I've never told anyone before, and the emotional details that go with them.

Boy and I are very similar in a lot of aspects.  Not personality-wise honestly, we're very different people in that regard.  But we have similar interests, fetishes, kinks, humor, mental-processes (though if we respond in tandem without planning it one more time, I think our coworkers are going to find a special punishment for us (and I, at least, won't blame them in the least)).  The similarity that has struck me, however, is that we were both very similar as children.  He had a lot of anger-management issues, which mainly manifested at school.  I had a lot of anger management issues that mainly manifested at my parents.

The biggest difference for me was that I had a very specific trigger.  And it this case, it relates to my younger sister, Carla.  I have two younger sisters, Carla, who is 2+ years younger than me, and Shea, who is 3+ years younger than me.  And let me tell you, those age gaps were huge when we were growing up.  I probably would have been closer to my sisters if I've been five or six years older, and I could fondly regard them as cute, kid sisters (instead of annoyingly immature, pseudo-peers).

Shea is smart, charismatic, athletic, popular.  I was a bit jealous of her when we were growing up (the charisma/understand people part of me didn't kick in until I was much older).  But, ultimately, we were kids who had a lot in common.  Carla on the other hand, I was never good at handling.

Carla is smart.  There is no denying that.  And I wish I could understand how she sees the world, because it must be utterly beautiful.  But growing up together, she might as well have been the devil to me.  She was diagnosed when she was extremely young, with a number of learning disabilities and behavioral issues.  She has ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, and is bipolar manic depressive.  The list is long, but I think I've forgotten something (or maybe two).

And when you lay her disorders out like that, it's hard to not be impressed (that's so not remotely the right word) by them.  Well, I can tell you that she's more than her disorders and every stereotypical thing.  And it is true.  She is more than her disorder.  But as a child, I couldn't see that.

All I could see was being the straight-A student who excelled at soccer and volleyball, loved art, and had a solid group of friends (even though, I knew even then, that I wasn't that close with them), but that was never good about it.  I was competent.  I was impressive.  I didn't have a meltdown at the drop of a hat.  And so Carla got the attention.  What little attention that was left from my parents, generally went to Shea.

Now, the perspective of a child is usually very skewed and egocentric.  But my parents admitted at the time (when Shea and I accused them of being preoccupied with Carla) that they did have to spend more time focusing on Carla.  I remember have the self-possession to tell them that the reason I always picked fights with them [my parents] was because even negative attention was still attention.  I think that was the first time I go through to them.  I was maybe ten at the time, possibly younger, not older.

I resented Carla endlessly.  And I resented Shea (to a significantly lesser extent) because her coping mechanism was to throw everything she had into being a perfect child.  The thing is, it worked for my dad.  Shea could do no wrong in his eyes.  So I was left with a father enamored of Shea, and both parents utterly distracted by Carla.  I, quite expectedly, always felt left out.

When I was about 16 (it was one of the last times I was traveling for sports) I ended up going out to dinner with my parents, which was unusual.  Shea was eating with her soccer team.  Carla had decided to mope in the room.  And I was done with my volleyball tournament and bored out of my mind.

We went to a really nice restaurant and I couldn't help but think that my parents were up to something.  Turns out, I was right.  They had been meaning to corner me for ages (I would guess on the order of years, not months).  I felt ganged up on, naturally, but they actually managed to talk through my upset and anger, which was rare for me.

They told me that they didn't get along with me, because they didn't understand me.  Well, yes, I knew that.  They told me that I was harder to relate to than either of my sisters.  I found that hard to swallow, considering Carla, but they assured me it was true.  And then they told me what I hadn't expected.  I scared them.  Me?! Scared them!?  They felt like I was condescending to them.  I didn't even know it was possible to be condescending to a parent (and deep down, I was surprised that my intention had come through).  I was so much smarter than them that they didn't know what to do.  And this, it was this statement that shocked me out of my mind.

Praise was not something I was used to.  Turns out, when you make a point to be so good at something that people take it for granted, that they take it for granted and don't praise you.  That might just be in sports, because it certainly hasn't proven to be true in theatre.  My parent's high school graduation card to me, brought me to tears, not because of the nice things they said about me, but because there wasn't even a small part of me that believed the nice things they said.  I was smart, I was a good person, they were proud.  These were all profoundly mind-altering belief-structures that I was not remotely prepared to accept.

I can look back at all of this now and see plainly how much my parents struggled with me.  When people ask me about my childhood, the first thing I'll tell them was that I was not an easy child.  The second is that I wanted to be an adult more than anything else in the world, which confused my parents.  My poor parents who had a child they had no idea how to cope with, a child who pretended to be perfect to hide he insecurities, and a child who scared them because she could and did manipulate them into doing what she wanted because she didn't see any other way of getting it.

Their lives were not easy and it's so easy to recognize that with hindsight.  And looking back, I owe them another apology (I feel like I will never get done apologizing for how much of a monster I was as a child).  I know that there were so many times that they felt like the failed me.  And, if I'm being completely honest, they did.  But it wasn't really their fault.  And I love all of my family.  I'm actually shockingly close to my family now.  Though I still desperately wish I was able to relate better to Carla.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Dom for Me

This should make an interesting contrast to my last post, I suspect.  Warning, no in-depth details, but discussion of kink, specifically my newly explored kinks.

I've known what kink and BDSM are from a fairly early age.  I used to be an avid watcher of Law and Order: SVU and CSI (I think my parents only let me because they knew they wouldn't be able to change my actions anyway).  And so a number of "deviant sexual behaviors" are explored as a matter of course throughout those shows.  I wasn't interested or intrigued as a child, but I also wasn't put-off by the behavior.

I can't really remember when I first realized I was interested in kink, most especially as a sub.  It might have been when I realized that I intended to enjoy rough sex, but maybe not.  It's odd, because I think it was more realization than surprise for me.  Like: "Oh, I'd enjoy having my control taken away (god knows I'll never let go of it otherwise), being tied up, and beaten.  But in a consensual manner of course."  And then I moved on with my life.

The thing is, up until now, I haven't had a partner who was interesting in being my Dom.  In truth, I haven't really had a partner who was interested in kink. So a friend and I went to a local kink club.  She enjoyed the atmosphere.  I didn't.  It wasn't the public aspect of it.  It was, however, that I didn't know the people there apart from my friends.  That's why munches are so important, meet people, get to know them, etc.  But I'm not sure even that tact would have worked for me.

I've known this since I was nine.  But I'm not attracted to people until I know them.  It doesn't always have to be knowing them really well, but it tends to be.  That's why I've sometimes known people for years and then suddenly find myself attracted to them.  For a long time, I would rail against this inclination.  I had no desire to ruin or alter my friendships because I'm suddenly attracted to a friend.  But, I'm demisexual, which is the first time I've really used that word in reference to myself.  I'm not necessarily huge on labels.  But in this case, the label concisely expresses what I feel, so I'll use it for now.

So, being demisexual and kinky seems to be an unfortunate combination.  Things tend to work out like this: I know you well enough to be attracted to you, but not so well that I know whether you're kinky.  Turns out sexual preferences aren't a topic most people talk about with all their friends.  And so, I tend to not pursue some of the opportunities I've had, because of timing or some other such thing.

Now, I think I've mentioned him at least once before, but I have a coworker.  I've worked with him on and off for a year and a half now.  And our interests have always aligned, much to my delight.  He's poly, I'm poly.  He's getting out of a long relationship, I'm getting out of a long term relationship (in case you hadn't guessed (I'll probably write about it eventually, but I'm not to that point yet)).  Recently, we were working together again and I realized that we were flirting, and then discovered that I could flirt back on purpose (I'm not very good at this whole thing. I fully acknowledge that).

Our flirting escalated to the point where he threatened to put me over his knee after I had teasingly provoked him yet again.  I immediately bit back the retort that: maybe that wouldn't be that effective a punishment because I'd actually enjoy it.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to admit to that yet, and so I held my tongue.  And the poor guy apologized to me after work, saying he hadn't wanted to make me uncomfortable.  I assured him he hadn't.

I thought about that interaction the entire night and next day.  And finally decided that I'd create the situation again and this time respond as I wanted to.  So this time when I taunted him, I smirked, and asked him if he wasn't going to follow through on his threat.  We stared at each other for a long time, me daring him, and him clearly torn. And then he spanked me.  Once, but surprisingly hard.  And at work of all places (in case you haven't gathered already, theatre's a weird place).

From there we fell into things.  We talked, a lot.  He bought me a drink after an especially hard day, told me he liked me (and I returned the sentiment), and he kissed me.  We continued to flirt, unambiguously, he called it.  He finally told me that he was into kink and was a Dom, and then asked me.  I told him I was a sub, but had absolutely no experience, but was certainly interested.  He followed me home at the end of that week (in the most exciting, non-weird, consensual way possible).

I've always learned fast, but this progression has been ridiculously so.  It feels almost unsetting, how natural this has been.  He out-talks me, by a fair amount, which is just delightfully novel to me.  More delightfully, he pins me, throws me around, ties me up, and beats me.  All at my request.  I was nervous at first.  But that nervousness evaporated probably within the first five minutes, when I realized I was getting exactly what I wanted.  Our kinks happen to mesh perfectly.  We couldn't have planned that portion better if we'd wanted to, it was just remarkably good luck.

We sorta fell into whatever this is, so easily.  It's not dating, and I'm fine with that.  I don't think either of us are really ready for that.  But the other realization that I've had is: dating or not, I'm more satisfied than I've been in years of a relationship that was dating.  It's wonderful to have someone take my control away, force me to relax.  Relaxation is something I crave, and I seriously can't seem to accomplish by myself.  I can take care of myself, so I do.  But having someone forcing me to let go, to take care of me, to let me just relax, that's amazing.  Things are still new, and I am determined to keep it casual for now (if I say it enough, it will happen), but it's fun.  And I've already realized that I don't think I could go back to only vanilla sex.  Or if I could, I certainly wouldn't want to.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Will Take Care of Myself

***Trigger warnings for rape, sexual assault, etc.  I won't discuss them in depth, but I do certainly mention them in this post

I carry my keys in my hand with getting to my car.  I also carry a knife and a flashlight after dark.  I complained to my landlord when the external lighting fixtures were all burnt out.

But the reason I do all these things?  You could say rape culture and you might be right.  I'm a single woman living in an unsafe world controlled by men, and again that's not a wrong assessment.  But I carry my keys in my hand because I work long hours and just want to get the fuck in the car and go.  I carry my knife and flashlight after dark, but during the day too.  They're tools for my job, which I use daily.  I complained to my landlord, because yes, it was a little eerily dark.  But also, because I walk my dogs after the sun goes down a lot, and, with no lights, I can't see where they poop.

This post isn't designed to disparage the women who do all these things because they feel unsafe.  Those women aren't wrong and I also do the above list, because they are sensible precautions for a young, single woman who lives alone.  But do I live in fear?  I choose not to.

My apartment could be broken into by someone (most relevantly a man), but my dogs aren't going to be thrilled with the intruder.  Someone I'm seeing could ignore me saying "No, stop", but if he does, then he's going to reckon with me. I could be accosted on the way to my car, but I have my knife, flashlight, and I'm generally near enough other people that they'd hear any altercation.  If a man follows me and makes degrading comments, I'm going to tell him off.  I can and will take care of myself.

A friend of mine created a pastel (only a relevant detail because it just makes the message better) banner that says "Fuck the Patriarchy" and I'm with her 100%.  The sexism and bullshit women put up with on a regular basis is unjust, unfair, and it's changing at a glacial rate.  It's not that I don't see the sexism, but I'm not going to live my life looking over my shoulder.

I have the luxury of coming from a place where this is possible for me.  I didn't have a father or uncle who was perversely fond of me as a child.  I didn't have a boyfriend who had one too many beers and didn't listen when I said no.  I never had a professor who poured on the charm and said "if I only did this one little thing" then he'd change my grade.  I didn't have a husband who hated me, who beat me, tied me up, and raped me.  These are all real stories I've heard, not on the internet, but from people I know.  And I have lived the charmed life of never having experienced any of that first hand.

For me, boys and men have always been who I felt safest around.  I'm the girl who was playing sword fighting with my best friend and he told me not to use an old sticker-bush branch and did anyway, just because I knew he'd be impressed.  I'm the only girl who the boys let play soccer with them at recess, because they knew that I could run circles around them.  And when more girls wanted to play too, I told the boys that they were going to let them or I wouldn't play anymore.  I'm the girl who felt intensely uncomfortable at parties with makeovers and girly movies and mean, cattiness.

I just didn't get along with other girls and so boys became my protectors, friends, and confidants.  No one whistled at me or catcalled me.  I was a person to them first and then a girl.  I went through puberty at the age of nine (it's always been early in my family) and not once did a boy make me feel uncomfortable about it (it's a good thing too, because that would have scarred me.  Being the only one going through that change at that age is hard).

And now, I've grown up and 2/3 of the year I work in a physically demanding, male dominated field, where the next closest coworker in age to me is a decade older than me and I have never felt unsafe with a male coworker.  Those men have seen me bring in a 600lb piece of scenery and then stop it on a dime. They've seen me lift scenic pieces that are taller than me.  They know I'm capable; I've been damn well obvious about proving myself.  As a result, those men are my friends and protectors.  I've never had an older brother, but I imagine this is what it'd feel like.

I can cry on their shoulders and they won't judge me or call me weak (they know perfectly well that if I'm crying, it must be something bad).  Hell, they can cry on my shoulder (not that they do often, but it has happened).  If they call me a bitch, it's to my face and because I have well and truly earned that title, in that specific instance.  And, if they're calling me a bitch, I've probably also called them an asshole/hat or douche bag/canoe first.  Being hugged by my coworkers has a feeling of protection to it, not of feeling uncomfortable (with a single notable exception I can think of).  If a guy messes with me in a bar, they will intervene.  But even more importantly (to me at least) they're not going to intervene until after I have had a chance to tell the asshole to fuck off.  I feel safe, protected, around these men and am grateful for their presence in my life.

None of this is to say that there aren't creeps, weirdos, real assholes in theatre, particularly technical theatre.  There are. That's not to say that one of my coworkers has never made me feel awkward and uncomfortable.  They have.  This isn't to say that female actors don't get leered at, hit on, cast for their looks, etc.  They do.  All the time.  But I am saying that these instances are the minority.

Women actors walk around in a bra, underwear, and a fishnet robe and feel safe and comfortable doing so (which is good since that's sometimes all there is to their costume).  I've told several people at work that I'm poly and A) they knew what that meant, B) didn't have to fear repercussions if the higher-ups found out, and C) they didn't call me a slut or shame me for being sexual being.  These are people who I've swapped sex stories with, talked about the practicality of threesomes, and on a good day, made men, decades older than me, blush.

Not all technical theatre is like this.  I prefer running shows, to loading-in and out shows.  Every single strike, it's a battle to convince the men in charge to treat me like I'm competent and have been working professionally in theatre for seven years (which, at my age, is pretty damn impressive).  I'm entering my third season working run crew for this theatre, and only now are the people in charge of strike finally treating me like I'm competent and not being condescending toward me.  I don't take bounce work (load ins, load outs, concerts, random work wherever you can get it through the union) because it's back-breaking, tedious, and because the men tend to be sexist jerks.

Theatre is not always a haven.  I've had plenty of bad experiences, but the bad experiences have been nothing more than unpleasant and I've handled them.  The run crews I work with are, in general, good people.  And I know plenty of theatre's where that's just not the case.  I'm lucky that I work with coworkers who I feel comfortable and safe around.  I'm lucky that I haven't had trauma in my past that makes me seize up at the thought of a confrontation with a man.  I'm lucky that the men I've surrounded myself with know that no means no.  The bottom-line is: I'm lucky.

So why have I written this post?  I don't want to undermine any woman's experience.  Women being stripped of their dignity, sense of well-being, and person-hood in men's eyes is disgustingly common.  But I am going to choose to be myself in spite of it.  I am going to stand my ground and I am not going to be afraid.  I want people to know that.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sighthound Life

When I was growing up, my family had a cocker spaniel.  He was a pretty good dog, well-behaved, though extremely wary of strangers trying to pet him (who could really blame him).  He aged less than gracefully: went blind, deaf, lost half his hair.  And for my sisters and I, those years are the ones we remember most.

I think it scared all three of us and put us off the idea of dogs.  But then I lived with a dog for two years.  He's a loud, sometimes angry, sometimes frightened little dog, but I still fell in love with him.  During those same years, I was surrounded by dogs at work.  I had two in a show I was asming.  And then, after that, I had coworkers who always brought their dogs around the theatre.  So, I began to consider getting a dog.

I wasn't really sure what I wanted and looked for months.  A fact about me, if I don't think something's going to work out, I don't talk about it.  This habit means that sometimes my choices seem to come out of the blue for the people in my life.  But for big life decisions, I've generally been thinking about them for around a year.

That was the case with my first dog, Argos.  I had been idly looking on petfinder for months when I stumbled across a shelter that had not one, but three dogs I was interested in: a shiba inu cross, an australian shepherd cross, and an italian greyhound cross.  All three were breeds that I was interested in (I couldn't decide back then, but I will never have that problem again) and all were fairly young and hadn't been abused.  The first two dogs were already spoken for by the time I filled out my application, but I went to see the little italian greyhound/chihuahua mix.  He was skittish and nervous, but so well behaved.  I fell in love right then and there.

So I talked to my roommates, who remarkably didn't object.  And I told my parents (because even though I don't live with them, they're still important to me) and they didn't object.  So the next week I picked him up and brought him home.  He was a trooper (his back dew-claw removal surgery (done before I adopted him) had gone rather badly, so he was in and out of the vet the first several weeks I had him).  What surprised me most was how quickly he bonded to me.

I knew, probably, within a week that I wanted to get another dog.  While I lived with roommates and another dog, this wasn't a possibility.  But then I moved out.  It's been almost a year since I adopted Argos and starting the week I moved out I was glancing over petfinder seeing if there was a dog I wanted.  Adopting an italian greyhound, even a mixed one, gave me the taste of sighthound life.  Argos is so fast and intelligent.  He could easily catch a squirrel or a rabbit if I ever let him.

I started doing research into sighthounds then.  Sighthounds are dogs that hunt using sight, rather than scent (bloodhounds, basset hounds, beagles, etc).  There's actually a good number of different species, but many of them are quite rare, particularly inside the US.  Sighthounds are known for being smart, independent, reserved, quiet dogs, with extremely high prey-drives.  For that reason, almost all literature stresses that sighthounds should never be allowed off leash.  Their instincts take over and they will just run and run, frequently straight into trouble.  The most famous is obviously the greyhound, but there are other breeds many people have heard of: whippet, italian greyhound (some people incorrectly call them mini greyhounds), irish wolfhound, afghan hound.

Now, I grew up reading Robin McKinley, who writes about sighthounds in several of her books.  One of my favorites to this day is Deerskin, which is a dark, hauntingly beautiful fairy tail, with a sighthound name Ash as one of its main characters.  Somehow, I got in my head that I wanted to have a dog like the book's Ash.

While researching, I discovered a breed of dog called saluki and knew that was the breed I wanted.  They typically have feathering on their ears, legs, and tails, but also come in a smooth coated variety.  These variations put me in mind of Robin McKinley's Ash, who goes from short coat to long coat after a trauma.  There were two problems with wanting to adopt a saluki. 1) Salukis are incredibly rare in the states and 2) since they are so rare, they are almost never available through a shelter, only a breeder.

I originally thought about going through a breeder, but I wasn't in a rush, and I'm a firm believer in rescuing over buying, so I waited.  Two months ago, I discovered an eight month old smooth coat, Saluki puppy on petfinder.  He was perfect.  He was young enough to be a good companion to Argos who is still under two years old.  He was not only cat safe, but cats actively seemed to like him.  He was even fostered with an italian greyhound and cat.  Things couldn't have been more perfect.  I looked into the shelter with low expectations, because it wasn't local.  But as it turned out, it was a nationwide shelter, dedicated to helping sighthounds specifically, and also willing to ship their dogs to their new owner.

I was ecstatic, but skeptical that everything would work out.  But planets seemed to align.  After several interviews with various people from the shelter, we set up the transport.  I picked him up from the airport, brought him home, and suddenly I had two dogs.  Argos wasn't sure at first, but the next day, started to play with the new puppy, who I dubbed Ash (I know, shocker).  It took longer for Fae, my cat, to come around, but she's always liked dogs, and she adjusted quicker than I expected.

I've heard it said, frequently, that two dogs are more than twice the work, but I'm not sure I'd agree with that assessment.  I've lived with two and dog-sat up to four, and if they're well-trained, adding more dog's is surprisingly not that much more work.  Ash, however, is still not in the well-trained category.  He's pretty much house-broken now, and knows basic commands, but walking both dogs currently is a handful.

What was the point of this story?  There wasn't really one, I suppose.  I've just been going through a lot the past year, and it's very much been my animals who have helped me through it, so they deserve a post (as infrequent as they may be).  If you ever do want to adopt a dog that can run 30+ miles an hour and then will happily spend the rest of the time cuddling with you on the couch, I have an excellent shelter recommendation.