Not-So-True-Love Tuesday: The Way-Back / Way Forward Edition

Broken heartI played one of those internet quiz-games not long ago. This one was pretty simple: type in your birth-date, and it would tell you what song was number one on the charts the day you were born. I got a good laugh when mine came up with the Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues.” You know, the song where the woman is cajoling her lover Bill to marry her? And repeats, “Am I ever gonna see my wedding day?”

Wow, says forty-something-first-time-bride. Prophesy much?

The truth is, I started running into trouble with romance early on, and I had especially bad luck with movie dates. When my sixth grade “boyfriend” K. wanted to take me to a movie for my birthday, my parents agreed, as long as his mother went too. She and his little brother went in to the theatre ahead of us to sit down while we got popcorn. The theatre was dark, previews running, by the time we wandered in. I picked a row and settled in as K. hissed, “No, are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s fine,” I whispered back.

I’d inadvertently chosen seats right behind his mother and brother.

I wish I’d had a chaperone, or maybe a weapon, on my first solo movie date when I was fourteen. My crush—let’s call him “Toad”–called me up out of the blue, and my folks agreed I could meet him at the theatre. He was late (probably, I later learned, because he’d just come from some other movie with some other girl). And he was an oversexed lech. Yes, teenage boys have raging hormones, but no one else I ever went out with repeatedly pushed my resisting head toward his lap. Toad couldn’t keep his hands to himself and kept trying to put mine on his unzipped crotch. I’d never even been kissed. “Creep” doesn’t quite cover it.

from IMDB

from IMDB

In the ninth grade, my longtime chorus buddy P. asked me to go see Dune. When he and his mother arrived to pick me up, P. awash in cologne, I wondered if he was thinking something other than “buddies.” I shrugged it off. Searching for seats inside the theatre, we spotted someone waving: it was A., a tall, handsome tenth-grader who was in chorus with us. A. had come to the movies alone, so I—innocently, I swear—suggested to P. that we sit with him. Only after I was sandwiched between them, passing the movie vocab sheet that had come with our tickets back and forth between a strangely jubilant A. and a rather sullen P., did I realize I’d screwed up, yet again.

Not all my dating misfortunes involved the cinema. There was the time my high school boyfriend M. and I decided to go parking on the covered carport of an empty house for sale. In his sliding over to my seat, he knocked the gearshift of his Honda Civic into drive, so that when he restarted the car to leave, it jumped forward, the front wheels rolling over the lip of the concrete parking pad. Did I mention the Civic had a front wheel drive? A few friends, his father, and several policemen later, we managed to pull the car out. The irony was, we’d spent the evening just cuddled up, talking.

Several memorable star-crossed mishaps were food-related, like the time I was scheduled for a second date with a fellow I really liked, got food poisoning, and had to call and cancel. Talk about great timing: I hadn’t thrown up for something like 10 years before that, and I wouldn’t barf again for another 20. But we never had another date. Or then there was the really sweet, lovely dinner-and-a-show first date I had with J., which was probably as perfect an evening as you get—except for that awkward moment I bit down on a sharp object in my salad and had to extract a metal lettuce-crate staple from a mouthful of chewed romaine. Try that trick next time you’re looking to impress someone.

And that just takes us through high school.

♥ ♥ ♥

I don’t remember who said it, or wrote it, or when, but somewhere along the way, I was introduced to this idea: the common denominator in all the dates that went awry, the relationships that didn’t launch? Me.

I’ve lived most of my adult life (thus far) as a hapless romantic. It became, over time, a significant piece of my identity, being the single woman with all the crazy dating stories. Now that I’m getting married, the shift in my sense of self sometimes feels strange, almost alien.

I certainly had my fair share of not-so-true-love dates and near-disasters post-high school. There was the awkward dinner date that sent me straight to retail therapy, and the “Oh, did I mention I’m into poly-amory?” moment. And there was the time a guy asked me—while my date for the evening stood in the next room, ten feet away—if I’d be interested in “being asked out.” Wow: both ballsy (in the next room) and cowardly (asking if I want you to ask? Really?). He’s the same guy who recently expressed frustration that he keeps meeting nice women who seem good prospects, but then they bail, and he doesn’t understand why. The former profile picture (still visible in an album) featuring his screaming face superimposed over a woman’s naked, spread-eagle genitalia might be a factor. But I think that falls in the if-you-don’t-already-know, I-can’t-help-you

I myself have encountered puzzling problems (what do you mean, you can’t sleep until you fully void your colon, even if that means sitting for an hour before you come back to bed?) and painful puzzles (did you really just proposition me a) one month after you broke things off, and b) one hour after you told me men would flock my way if I just lost five pounds?). I’ve encountered the truly perilous (capsizing in a canoe and losing first an oar, then my car keys—and finally the boat) and the deeply poignant (a friend suffering from post-traumatic-stress-disorder after an agonizing divorce).

But I wouldn’t trade any of my not-so-true-love moments (okay, well, maybe except for losing the boat). They’re instructive, after all. Big red flags waving in the wind are helpful signs: Caution. Think twice.

There are a lot of reasons not to couple up with someone, a lot of reasons not to marry person X or Y. Some of those reasons are pretty universal: don’t marry someone who abuses you, physically or verbally. It’s probably a bad idea to attach yourself to someone who lacks self-awareness, or who can’t love you as you are. Some reasons are a bit more individual: it wouldn’t work for me to couple up with someone who can’t see his own misogyny, or someone who’s a great person but who comes with weighty baggage I’m unable, or unwilling, to carry.

There are a lot of good it’s-not-so-true-love reasons not to pair-bond, not to marry someone.

Their being of the same sex isn’t one of those reasons.

♥ ♥ ♥

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, I’ve seen a lot of love, and a lot of hate, on the interwebs. One of my favorite comments came from someone named Rachel, on a public thread I’m not sure I could find again if I tried. Rachel said “I’m not gay married, I’m married.” Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Love is love, peeps.

If you are one of the folks who can’t or don’t or won’t understand the difference between constitutionally guaranteed human rights and your own personal sense of what is right and wrong (and you are entitled to that sense, but you must realize the whole world need not follow your personal ideals, any more than they will all love brussel sprouts just because you do)—please, work to get over it. The best explanation I’ve seen comes from lawyer Jessica Eaves Matthews, who writes:

“Those railing against the decision of marriage equality as a basic constitutional right are confusing the idea of constitutional (i.e human) rights with certain types of behavior (the stuff they call “sin”). But human rights are inherent in all human beings and US citizens – not doled out based on who is behaving “well” and who isn’t. All US citizens should have the equal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, regardless of the “sins” they commit. The only behavior that should curtail your constitutional rights is if you commit a crime (a felony) and are convicted. But even then, criminals can still marry, have kids, own property, work and live in our communities. The only things they can’t do is vote and carry firearms. If committing a sin was a barrier to receiving basic constitutional rights in this country, we would all be in big trouble, not just the LGBT community.”

Unless you are equally prepared to argue that a judge should not, because of religious objections, marry someone because of other “bad behaviors” (based on a biblical definition of such), such as anyone who’s ever gotten divorced, had sex out of wedlock, eaten pork—then stop. Just stop.

If you don’t, almost no one is going to qualify for marriage. Ever. Even you. Seriously. You know I’m right.

Judge Dennise Garcia, left front, watches as George Harris, center left, 82, and Jack Evans, center right, 85, kiss after being married by Judge Garcia Friday, June 26, 2015, in Dallas. Gay and lesbian Americans have the same right to marry as any other couples, the Supreme Court declared Friday in a historic ruling deciding one of the nation's most contentious and emotional legal questions. Celebrations and joyful weddings quickly followed in states where they had been forbidden. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

George Harris,  82, and Jack Evans, 85, kiss after being married (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, HuffPost)

How many of us have been in a committed relationship with the same person for over 50 years? I’m guessing not that many. These fellows are my heroes: Jack Evans and George Harris, who met at a party in Dallas in 1961 and have been together since. Now 85 and 82, they were married in Dallas on Friday at the Records Building. George had this to say: “Love is everywhere, and that’s a great thing.”

It is, indeed. Fifty-four years. Fifty-four years by choice, without any legal bind, or tax benefits. Just love. Show me what’s not true about that.

That’s the way forward. Walk on.

On Commitment and… Cats?

For my Eliza Jane, and all my feline loves, on Pet Memorial Day

ElizaChristmas2I’ve been missing my big kitty Eliza Jane, whom I lost back in February due to complications from diabetes and what was likely kidney cancer. As fiancé Steve and I get closer to the wedding, and thus to moving to a new home together, I’ve grown wistful thinking about leaving behind my little purple house and all the memories it holds.

When I moved to Virginia, I arrived first with two of my cats in tow, Roscoe (also dearly departed in 2013) and Eliza Jane. My big girl had had a tough road trip, complete with car-sickness that earned her Roscoe’s usual spot in the front passenger seat. As I set her carrier down in the foyer of our new home, she let out a plaintive wail that echoed through the whole empty house. She calmed quickly once our (her) furniture and things arrived, with their familiar smells and textures. She was only three years old then, so most of the memories we made together are bound up with this place.

Eliza 2Eliza wasn’t an easy cat. Neither was she, by traditional standards, a beautiful cat: she was overweight for much of her life, though her head and legs remained tiny, rendering her proportions out of balance. Her short fur was coarse, her tail average, neither long nor particularly expressive. With asymmetrical coloring and a lopsided mustache, she sported a perpetually wide-eyed, startled expression (the cat equivalent, maybe, of resting-bitch-face?) and rarely exhibited the zen-like contentment many cats do. After a cancerous growth returned the third time on one of her back legs, we had it amputated, and she became a 21-pound tripod.

And though a sweet (at least to me) kitty who grew ever more cuddly and expressive as she aged, she was always reserved if not aloof, and, if we’re honest, inconvenient. As she got older, she had increasing trouble managing the hop into the litter box, and she struggled to keep herself clean. There were butt baths, lots of cat-bed washings, almost daily mopping. Sometimes I felt like the house always smelled vaguely of kitty accident. And it grew expensive, buying special food to manage her diabetes, boxes of extra-large pee pads, syringes and vials of insulin.

But I loved my Liza Belle. And when I adopted her, I’d made a commitment to care for her and love her for life.

Elizaonshoulder3Love, commitment, devotion: it’s not always convenient, not always pleasant. Sometimes love is hard, annoying, even smelly. It’s real. It’s being glad to do tough things, put up with inconvenience, because the love outweighs the irritation. Because that is the love, the practice of love: being there, being of service, being as much a constant as possible even in the face of fear, failure, decline. Being a constant presence, a constant heart.

In the last years of her life, Eliza was hard to fall in love with, and she and Steve did not bond as deeply as he has with my other two cats. I understood: he hadn’t known her as I did. When I looked at Eliza, I didn’t just see her matted belly and her kitty dander, experience her cool reserve. I saw the kitten who used to ride on my shoulder around the kitchen. The cat who played fetch and chased the laser light under the closet door, where she thought it lived. I saw the kitty who loved to cuddle her big brother, the kitty who’d warned me of an intruder by hissing in the middle of the night. I saw the—yes, beautiful—cat who’d borne up under so much and brought me so much joy.

Elizakitten2Eliza was some-kinda-cute as a kitten, for sure, but “cute” was all I really knew when I committed to adopting her back then. I didn’t know then whether she’d be cuddly or cool, how she might grow and change, what pleasures and pains and challenges would come. Once I said yes, though, my commitment didn’t depend on her staying cute, or being a perfect cat, or an easy one. Once I committed to her, we were in it, for life, together.

The truth is, the longer I loved her, the more beautiful she became to me, the more of her beauty I could see. It was only through committing to the long haul that I was blessed to get to know her fully and deeply, and the more I knew, the more I saw how beautiful she truly was. When I looked at her, I saw all the shared history, all the love; I saw her young and old, healthy and ill, cuddly and cranky. It was all there, and the layers made me love her all the more.

Even now, after she’s gone from this world, she keeps teaching me. Cheers, my lovely Eliza. And thank you for showing me the wonder, complexity, and meaning of real beauty and commitment.

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

Into Every Life…

“True love is beyond the physical and romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, and will not be. Life isn’t about learning how to weather the storm, but learning how to dance in the rain.”

I found several versions of this quotation in Steve’s mother’s apartment when we packed her things to move her to a new space–one typed, one in calligraphy–framed and on display. I don’t know the origin of these few sentences (the interwebs claim Taylor Swift, but I’m pretty sure typewriters and onion skin paper predate the nineties-born singer). The last puzzles me a little: isn’t dancing in the rain a way of weathering the storm?

Still, the sentiments struck a chord, as they reflect some basic truths about what I’ve come to know of love. Maybe the last one is about attitude: the difference being whether one focuses on the storm, or the dancing.

So, shall we dance?


FsFTB is keeping it short today to devote time to making a few organization/navigation upgrades to the blog this week. Back on Friday as usual!


Sunset Meditation

As winter winds down and semester’s end winds up, I find myself simultaneously weary and frantic. A few days ago, rushing around making preparations for a conference, I emerged from my local Kroger to a steel blue sky washed with broad streaks of orange cut with yellow slashes. I stopped at the curb and set my grocery bag down to admire and absorb. For a moment I breathed in color and light. Then I reached in my purse for my phone to record the stunning sunset.

Years ago I learned that the myriad colors of sunrises and sunsets are, in fact, a side effect of a more prosaic problem: air pollution. The sky lights up because the light of the setting sun reflects off particles in the atmosphere. Whenever I’ve offered this information unsolicited, others have frowned and accused me of being a downer.

I don’t see it that way. I find it poignant, the dark knowledge of what’s underneath making the sunset before me that much more beautiful. 

Not in a “no pretty without pain” way; I’ve never been one, whether in art or in life, to advocate suffering as an ideal path to appreciating or creating beauty. No–it enhances the experience because it reminds me that beauty, like anything else in this world worth contemplating, is complex. 

Too often, we’re sold a bill of goods: beauty is pure. Simple. Innocent. Its most common cultural icon, after all, is the unlined face of youth. But beauty isn’t simple or innocent. Real beauty is complicated. Layered. Full of richness and depth. It is surprising, even challenging. Not Welch’s grape juice. Fine wine.

In its presence, beauty always already contains the possibility of its absence. For that, it is all the more precious. The breathtaking sunset stops us in our tracks because we are wise to its complexity, wise to its transience. It demands and deserves our full attention now, while it is here before us.

As with beauty, so too with love.

I took one picture of the sunset, then walked to my car. The hot pink line demarcating the black mountains from the deepening blue sky suddenly intensified, glowing a hot, bright coral. I glanced down into my bag to find the phone, but when I looked back up, the high color had already dissipated.

Hold fast. Every moment is fleeting.


DIY Decor: Pillows in Progress, or Making a Beautiful Mess

When you visit a craft fair or art show, you see shelves and racks and cabinets filled with beautiful finished products. Fat colorful coffee mugs rounded to fit the cup of your hand, stunning framed photos of frozen waterfalls or birds in flight, the striking drape of a woven wool and silk scarf: their unique beauty stops you in your tracks, earns your admiration, perhaps even secures your ownership.

What we don’t see at the fair are the hours the artist spent bent over the pottery wheel, the precise balance of brute strength and fine pressure required to throw a symmetrical vessel. We don’t witness the lopsided learning curve or the moment of inattention that sends a blob of clay whirling across the studio. We don’t wait with the photographer, bug-bitten and motionless, in the field, or feel her boot crack through the ice that covers a trail of mud. We aren’t privy to the knotted tangles of thread, the beads lost under the radiator, the two discarded muslin mock-ups in the sewing room.

Or the cat who insists on helping.

Anyone who’s ever made anything knows the truth: The creative process is messy. And hard work makes more art than does inspiration.

The same might be said of love and relationships. Continue reading


Guiding Words for the New Year

So, 2015 is gonna be kind of a big year in these parts. 🙂

A couple of years ago I saw a post about foregoing New Year’s resolutions and instead choosing “guiding words” for the year. I believe this concept originated with Chris Brogan, who, in any case, has been doing it for a while. Though I can only speak for my own take on the practice, I think of guiding words as a way of articulating intentionality, in terms of attitude as well as action.

Brogan advocates choosing only three words, but when I chose mine in 2013, I picked five, and defined them for myself as follows:

Openness = Being open with and to the world, sharing honestly and generously, and welcoming new ideas, people, and experiences.

Love = Being a loving person, letting love and compassion for self and others guide my actions.

Follow-through = Completing what I start, following through on commitments made to myself and others, while honoring time’s fleetingness.

Gratitude = Wanting what I have, expressing thanks for the gifts of my life, and keeping joys and challenges in perspective.

Sparkle = Living a life filled with wonder, adventure, and beauty, shining light on the world and seeing how the world shines back.

I wrote longer descriptions for myself, connecting each word to more specific aspirations. I still like these words, yet, looking back, they’re a bit lofty. Maybe that’s why I didn’t create a list of words in 2014—and why three might in fact be a better number. Continue reading