Monday, December 12, 2016

The Generosity of Love

            I’m having trouble lately with staying mad. Mr. Makeout Music and I have (I’m almost sure) moved on from being in a fight to just taking space from each other. We’ve communicated this to each other in the most adorable way ever:

            Last Wednesday during Lego Day, he stopped in to reprimand some kids in such a protective and manly way, telling them (in his dreamy a-little-bit-mad voice) to be respectful of me and each other. I looked up from my coloring, smiled, and offered him a high five. He took it and I felt just a little more whole.

            The kids and I have been working on a kindness chain—a paper chain where each link is something kind you could do or something kind someone has done for you. He hung around and wrote like five links, the last one being “Giving people gold stars for existing.” Which is a thing that I do, so I knew he still felt friendly toward me, still thought of me as the person I was before November’s storm of grief and drama. Just that little visit was enough to start up the daydream machine again, so I’m still keeping my distance.

Saturday, though, used to be our main hang-out-and-make-art-while-he’s-supposed-to-be-working day. There may still be a stack of his art in my middle desk drawer as souvenirs. While I was getting ready for work last Saturday, I accidentally listened to the wrong toward-the-end-of Hamilton song so I went in with the achingest of hearts.

I was able to pour a lot of that love into the Thankfulness Christmas Tree I made with the kids, but I wanted to reach out to Mr. Makeout Music a little, so I made him a card with a pretty, delicate blue paper snowflake glued on and wrote:

“Space is awesome.
But/and I miss you a whole bunch.
I hope your life is full of awesome.

Poor editing that I used the word “awesome” twice, but after I gave it to him and he was sweet and thank you-y about it, I felt a million times better and much closer to the part of myself that feels missing while I’m missing him.

It reminded me of the brave day I let myself fall for him. He gave me a paper of his to read, a paper about rising to the occasion of fatherhood. I liked it so much and felt so grateful that he’d let me read it that I COVERED the margins in gold stars, intricate pink flowers, vines, and tiny purple asterisks. (No hearts, but those would come soon enough.)

I did all this in full view of my boss and everybody. One of the kids asked what I was doing and I (only a little bit sheepishly) said “My friend let me read his homework and I really liked it.”

It’s part of my routine to sit around work and doodle while waiting for my programs to start, but I knew this time I was being a little ridiculous, a little carried away, but something just unlatched and a light shined out of my heart, golden yellow like the million stars I was drawing. Something inside me said “Give, it’s safe.” So I did. I folded it up in a #10 envelope with the library’s return address on it, like an envelope could contain the ridiculousness.

That was the first day we really talked, the first time I stood next to him and really felt next to him. I don’t’ want to reduce him to just a Muse, though he certainly IS one, but there was something about our connection, something in his generosity of spirit that made me want to give him and the world every loving thing I had. While I miss his companionship very much, I also miss being able to give and give and give—to sing out his name, to lavish him with praise (and accept his), to unabashedly hand him every piece of art I felt like making him, without feeling the need to ask (as I did with the card on Saturday) “Is this okay?” I miss and value so much the flow of it, of him, of us.

I wonder sometimes, in the midst of that glitter-storm of generosity, why it was so important that he didn’t love me back in the same ready, open way. But it is, and I know every day that I take care of myself with space and grieving is a day closer to the next love, the next unlatching.

It’s hard not knowing whether he and I will end up friends or if our whole thing is just beautiful and done, but if I can love him in little ways, if I can visit the selflessness, softness, risk and vulnerability of those first margin-doodles, maybe I can stay in touch with the me that he was drawn to, maybe even become more like her. I have a lot of thinking to do about service, submissiveness, and unconditional love, and I’m so proud of how I got to these realizations. I’ll never stop loving him for it, even as I learn to let him go.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lady Work Crush, 2010: A Story of Cultural (In)competence (Part Three)

            I took a few days off and lay in bed with a cat sitting on me, deciding what to do. I went into the afterschool classroom in the in the middle of the day when no one was there, gathered up my stuff and left a note. I ran into one of the kids on the way in and the guilt just killed me. I felt like I was abandoning the children I’d been there to serve, because I was. Despite LWC’s perception that I was mean, the kids really did love me a lot, they always do, and I loved them so much too.

            I’d already written to the C.E.O. and other higher-ups during one of the witch-hunty meetings over the summer, and I wrote to them again at the end. This is one of those shitty experiences you hope has a good effect in the long run.

            A nice friend who worked at another school made me a card and had everyone sign it at the all-site meeting. It was sad but I hoped that future LGBTQ AmeriCorps members would be treated more hospitably.

            When I look back on the whole situation, I feel pretty humbled and mortified. Though homophobia was certainly a thread that ran through the whole experience, unwanted workplace advances DO need to be taken seriously, and she certainly deserved to be free of them. But at the same time, I never deserved to be treated with that much suspicion, that much distrust. Though the distrust was understandable in some ways, and I should have been much more willing to take time earning people’s trust, it still hurt, it still did damage, as did kind of having a car aimed at me.

            As I went deeper into the education field, the distrust factor got deeper and drownier. I found it very hard to stay in touch with my best qualities when people kept assuming the worst, and by the end, I was a threat to kids, I was part of a racist system and solidly part of the problem. I have to take responsibility for that and keep trying to bridge the gaps that separate me from African American people, from men, from straight people. The things that separate us hurt so much, and I know I can only do little things to fix the broken connections.

            If I were to run into LWC now, I would apologize for sending her the poem, for making her uncomfortable, for letting my frustration and loneliness impact her job. She probably wouldn’t apologize for aiming a car at me. Straight privilege seems insurmountable sometimes, and I am really, really sick of it.

            All of this informed my not-quite-love story with Mr. Makeout Music—the fear of meetings, the self-consciousness, the worrying about coercion, the general feeling like I might be the bad guy. But I’m gratified to say, this is a wholly different workplace (Well, it’s also a hetero attraction, but still.) Everyone on his team has been cordial and sweet and my own department head has been a patient, encouraging listener. Yesterday as the kids and I made a kindness chain for Christmastime, I felt things shift back into their normal, loving work ways.

I’m sorry it took me this long to realize I’m not back in the scary LWC situation. For all of my getting upset about Mr. Makeout Music greeting me with fear, I brought my own mess to the table too—fear of meetings, fear of oppressing him, fear of being too much and too many. As I revel in the space we’re giving each other and the freedom to grieve the lost connection, I feel aglow in the kind and accepting workplace I helped create.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Lady Work Crush, 2010: A Story of Cultural (In)competence (Part Two)

            At the time, Sweetie was working an hour and a half from home, on a good traffic day. It was a sacrifice she’d made so we could move to our new city, a sacrifice which my mother reminded me semi-daily was my fault and mine to correct.  Sweetie and I usually talked on the phone during her long commute, but the guilt and all of the dinners alone, combined with my insufficiently examined white lady issues, added up to a toxic soup of guilt and loneliness.

            While I was feeling this emptiness and longing to connect, Lady Work Crush developed a deep connection with the Mean Boss Girl, and they started to call each other sisters. Of course I would never want to begrudge anyone friend- or sister-love, but their bond made me feel even more alone, especially since their friendship included the detailed reiterating of SVU plots and I had to ask them to tone it down, to their great annoyance.

            We had a long series of snow days that February, during which my AmeriCorps hours got hopelessly behind and during which I wrote a love poem about Lady Work Crush. I mentioned it in passing and she said that she would love to read it. I hemmed and hawed and then sent it via facebook. I cringe every time I think about that decision, how it made things uncomfortable for her and unsafe for me.

            The next day at work, I saw contempt flash across Mean Boss Girl’s face as she took a call from LWC. There was another meeting. LWC said I’d been “taking it out on” the kids because I was upset that she didn’t like me back. I didn’t think that was accurate but it still gives me so much shame just to type it. She stated and reiterated that she prefers men in a way that still looks a little bit like protesting too much.

            I said that I understood and accepted her rejection, but that I also felt like I wasn’t being treated fairly, that this wouldn’t have had to be a meeting if I were a man. I said I thought they were making me into the bad guy in a way that made me feel unsafe and unwelcome at work. I’m not sure if that was true or if I was just embarrassed and hurt and trying to diffuse the shame and rejection like I always do. Probably it was both.

            LWC was LIVID at the end of this conversation, and that work night ended with her getting in her car, turning up the radio all the way, and speeding in the direction of my closeted male coworker and myself. I don’t want to be too dramatic, she only KIND OF aimed the car at us.

            There was a meeting with the boss’s boss the next day, wherein I was asked to sign a paper saying that I wouldn’t make any more advances on LWC. Now that I’m thinking about it, I only made one advance and accepted her “no,” so it seems crazy that there was a paper. I said again that this wouldn’t be happening if I were a man, but I signed it. I also told the bosses that this was a homophobic workplace and I didn’t quite understand how to fit in there anymore.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lady Work Crush, 2010: A Story of Cultural (In)competence (Part One)

First, an invitation—as I muddle my way through talking about race in this story, readers of color should please feel encouraged to push back on anything that bothers you. 9/10 of cultural competency is just being ready to say I’m sorry.

In 2008, I moved from a small city to a bigger one, and the new city felt more segregated to me, though I was probably just feeling the shock of a less white-centric existence. Though my defensiveness and self-righteousness wouldn’t have allowed to admit it at the time, I brought entitlement and racism in with me. I’m sure that that informs this story and I hope that I’ve made some progress in the intervening years.

As my AmeriCorps position brought me into situations where I was often the only white person, one thing that I had to get used to was people distrusting me based on my race. It was only a microscopic fraction of what people of color go through, but it hurt and felt frustrating nonetheless. People kept assuming I was a pushover, so I ended up coming across as meaner than I meant to, more forceful. I wanted insta-credit for living in the same neighborhood and for serving the kids—that’s entitlement. When the kids assumed I was voting for McCain over Obama, I was devastated, and I guess I’ve come a little way forward since then because I felt much more empathy and understanding this year when kids assumed I was voting for Trump.

As I was (often poorly) navigating being the only white person, I was also the only out LGBT person in most rooms. The new neighborhood was very religious, both Christian and Muslim, and was much more gender-normative than the hippie neighborhood I’d come from. My wife and I stopped holding hands as we walked down the street, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully acknowledged the loss in that.

The afterschool program I worked in was sexist and homophobic. My supervisor told me that he felt it was men’s duty to “correct” any boys they noticed “acting wrong.” (Meaning gay.) We walked the kids in from school in boy-girl lines. Though I loved leading my group with my sweet and sensitive male teaching partner, the supervisor put a more traditionally masculine man in charge of us because he thought “a male influence would give the kids more structure.” I quit in a blustery huff and moved to another site with a more progressive leader.

I’d only been working with kids for a couple of years at that point, but I’d already decided that it was my duty to be as out as I could with them. I wanted them to know that they knew at least one LGBT person and for any kids who were growing up queer to know they had at least one ally. Even under the progressive boss, I was always getting in trouble for this. There were meetings. When the progressive boss moved to another position, he was replaced by a mean young woman and things got worse.

Once, I showed the kids a picture on my phone of Sweetie and me having bagels with my niece. Meanwhile, my boss had an entire collage of her family life behind her desk for all to see. I was pulled aside at a training by my boss’s boss for a reprimand, and I pushed back against it, saying that I felt unwelcome and unsafe because of the double standard. I was proud that I’d stood up for myself and I hoped that maybe I was heard.

It was into this context that Lady Work Crush arrived. She was beautiful and I felt something spark between us, or at least spark in me. She came across as a little butch and she looked like a goddess to me. We became friends and my heart started to do the yearning thing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Little Polyphobia, Two “I Love Yous” and a Blocked Number

            In the past, I’ve always found a way to diffuse my shame and sadness at the end of a love story by making the guy into a villain, which only one character in this blog every really was. The hurt is normal, the shame is my problem and my responsibility, and the rejection is not personal, so I want to treat the end of the Mr. Makeout Music story as kindly as possible.

I’m not sure what made me think I should be as out with him as I was. Maybe it was our mutual love of Steven Universe, the fact that he used to write erotica, or just the attraction making me all shiny and self-love-tastic. The librarians who supervise me at work range from queer-friendly-and-ready-to-learn to genderqueer and poly-leaning, so I don’t really feel the need to hide my queerness or poly tendencies. It’s not like I’ve talked directly to the kids about it, but I never worry about them overhearing. They all know by now that my ex-wife is my best friend, that I enjoy handsomeness, and that I’m active in LGBTQ and feminist causes.

There have been a couple of painful misunderstandings, but for the most part I feel safe to be myself—it’s part of why I love the job so much. Through honesty and careful conversations, I’ve helped make it a home that accepts me.

And before I tell this story I should say, it’s not like I haven’t acted polyphobic before. In my frustration and failure to fit and find love in the poly world, (Or, it sometimes seems, any world…) I’ve lashed out and been judgmental, impatient, and pushy in ways that I really regret. I’m grateful that my poly friends have been so generous and patient with me while I figure out what the heck my deal is.

Anyway, so Mr. Makeout Music. I REALLY missed him over Thanksgiving break. I wasn’t due back at the library until Tuesday, but I started wanting to sing out his name around Monday night. When I walked in and saw him at the front desk, everything seemed to go really well. He knocked me out telling me that he’d tried to watch some Gilmore Girls for me! We had a little awkward moment when I told him I didn’t like the book he’d leant me (Y: The Last Man, because apparently he thinks feminism means murdering all the men through childbirth…) but I felt like we were settling back into an easy flirty rapport and I was so delighted to see him.

He came to visit my department almost right away and we were talking about how awesome Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was. The conversation randomly wandered to my arbitrary dislike of Helena Bonham Carter (It’s probably because she killed Sirius Black!) This topic opened a surprising and irritating can of worms.
“I think she had some kind of love triangle thing a while back? Although, that doesn’t seem right. Why would I not like a love triangle, they’re kind of my thing.”

“Children’s department…” He said warningly, and I felt like I’d been slapped in the face.

“I’m not ashamed of being poly, and I don’t expect you to be, either.”

“I’m not ashamed, but they’re kids. There’s a time and a place.”

“You don’t need to protect the kids from me.”

“I need to protect them from everything.”

I was completely shocked by this exchange for several reasons, mostly because we had been talking about all the topics for months and months! Never anything it was inappropriate for the kids to hear, but definitely things more scandalous than a love triangle, which is the basis of like A THOUSAND Disney movies. I didn’t like his assumptions about what I was saying and the fact that flirting and being me was suddenly something he thought he had to control, something that was suddenly wrong. It was one of those loss-of-trust moments that’s hard, maybe impossible, to come back from.

When I got a crush on somebody at work, what happened next was what I was afraid of. I asked him to come into the meeting room and talk just a few minutes before the kids were due to come in and make paper snowflakes.

I told him what it’s like to have grown up queer, to have so often been perceived as a threat to children. The bad thanksgiving was weighing on me so much and I’m sure that made this more fraught than it otherwise might’ve been.

Though we’d spent months sneaking in flirting into a million different library conversations, he kept insisting that I’d been talking about sex in front of the kids this time. He kept repeating the “time and a place” thing. I think when I said “love triangle” he heard “threesome.”
It was Annoying Heteronormativity 101. I explained that some of the three-or-more relationships I know are families, that I was talking about love rather than sex. If he wouldn’t feel bad for talking about his family, I shouldn’t have to talk about (VERY VAGUELY ALLUDING TO,) other kinds of families. He was really mad and defensive, but he did try to listen.

From there I told him how hurt I was that he acted so afraid of me back when I took his hand, that he was sometimes treating me like a threat. Not as much the rejection part, but the fear. He insisted that he wasn’t afraid, but it did look like fear to me, then and now.

I started to sob and he said “Ms. ________, please don’t cry.” And came over and sat right up against my side, so sweet, so loving.
After some more back and forth about polyphobia/rejection/election, he said “Ms. _______, what do you really think of me?”

“I love you,” I sobbed, and cried the ugliest, snottiest tears you ever saw.

“I wasn’t expecting THAT answer! To tell you the truth, I really do love you too.”

So that happened. In the midst of all the mess and misunderstanding, we love each other, in whatever way. It counts for something, although right now I can’t imagine what.

I genuinely tried to keep being friends, but I was madder than I wanted to be about the threat-to-kids thing, and he must’ve been mad too, because the next time he came to visit, he was grumpy and he kind of glowered at the paper snowflake I’d made him. (Pink and blue for gender harmony. Maybe that was a stupid thing to say.)

After a few minutes of him grouchily making one sixth of a snowflake and me trying to be professional/lighthearted/friendly, he said he had to go to dinner and left the snowflake there. I felt disproportionally sad about that. We’d given each other so many pieces of art, from homework margin doodles to a leaf rubbing that he named “Ms. ________ in Autumn” because the colors reminded him of me, to watercolor galaxies to me singing out his name, to these paragraphs, and his forgetting the snowflake made me feel like I couldn’t give him one more unrequited thing.
It wasn’t about the snowflake, of course. I texted him about it after work and we got in a really dumb fight that ended with me telling him he was using the wrong “your.” He was mean and I was mean, and I blocked his number and deleted the thread.

I’m stupid right now because of unrequited love. He’s stupid from love, too, and whatever else is keeping the friendship from being what it was. Nobody’s the bad guy, nobody’s wrong, nobody’s the patriarchy (Well, he’s a little bit the patriarchy.) Just a thing that didn’t go where we wanted it to. I can’t try to be gracious and cute about it anymore right now. I can’t quite get to magnanimous and sparkly and generous about it. We can’t fix it right at the moment and I can’t wish myself fine about it.

If I’m going to trust my heart, I have to trust the heartbreak too, and give it time, and take myself gently and firmly forward. Onward, and, more than anything else, outward.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Love, A Bad Thanksgiving, and Whatever Comes Next

I’m on vacation this week from the library and it’s given me enough space from Mr. Makout Music to really think through what our flirtship means/meant. Of course, there’s the simplest meaning, that it was a sweet attraction that didn’t work out and is now awkwardly in the process of becoming whatever’s next. The meaning we share is straightforward, kind, and a little sad, but my own side of things feels more complicated.

It’s hard in times like this to not get annoyed at my heart, at my romantic imagination, even at the sex drive I worked so hard (and only somewhat successfully) to embrace. It’s hard not to feel like we lost parts of what was nice between us because I just had to try and make things progress, but maybe things just progressed on their own, the way things tend to do.

A few months ago when he first suggested a too-emo-for-the-library-playlist song, I really did try not to let the song’s feelings run away with me. When he suggested I look up The Internet while I was doing my data entry in the basement at work, I ended up so swoony/squishy that I could barely walk up the stairs to my department. I thought I should probably try to stem the tide of feelings sweeping in with the lyrics, and I did try not to think he was telling me something with the songs. I know what music does to me, how it accelerates the heart’s processes and wakes up not-wholly-earned devotion. But sometimes, I just have to let it.

He told me once that he likes romantic music because he has a hard time expressing his feelings, that songs help him do so. He looked in my eyes when he said it, and after that I let the music take me where it wanted me to go, where I wanted to go, where it turns out I’d really missed going.

Still, I tried to be so careful this time. I asked and re-asked what he meant by things. I asked for as much definition as I reasonably could. I asked if the attraction was mutual before we were ever alone together, and he said it was. I hope it really was, that he didn’t just say it to be kind or to please me. I’ve found the best way is to take him at face value, to just try and straightforwardly believe what he’s told me. It’s hard.

My peer counselor at the local LGBT center has urged me through all of this to focus on facts, to concentrate on What Is. By that measure, he’s showed me hours of care and affection, given me so much without expecting anything in return. I appreciate the vulnerability it might take for a shy guy to come find me almost every day, to share some of his deepest stuff at work, in front of the kids and everybody. He said to me once “I want to hear all of your stuff and I want to tell you all of mine.” What a sweet, open thing to say, and I so much hope it might be true again after the awkward simmers down.

Yet in spite of What Is, I struggle not to see myself as somehow coercive, as an ugly, fat someone who was romantically deluded to think that someone like him could be attracted to me. My mind is so ashamed of the Stupid Delusional Crush Girl story that I superimpose it over every situation, though there are of course different reasons behind every connection and not-connection.

If I hadn’t been fighting the story so hard, would I have been in such a hurry? Would I have given him more space to make the first move and therefore be more comfortable, less pressured, more free? Maybe, but the problem with that line of reasoning is that it’s always going to be sexist to feel bad about being too forward, not just sexist but also counterproductive and counter to the only person I can manage to be—my barreling-forward, enthusiastic, soaking-wet-underpants self.

I know that the man for me is probably bolder, more available, probably more experienced by a lot, but right now I don’t want some stranger. This is the begrudgingly-go-back-on-OK Cupid phase of getting over someone, resenting them all for not being him, even though I know the next guy will feel equally best and equally-only when I’m with him, just by the virtue and magic of attraction. I know that when the next ones come along, the tide will come in and things will shift into place just as easily and emphatically, because bodies and hearts know what they’re doing. They’ll take us where we need to go.

Like most of America, I had a very hard Thanksgiving. Things aren’t good between my mom and me, and I was unable to keep great gusts of election rage from screeching out as pie was being served. As I drove home in the middle of the night blasting Arcade Fire and Frank Ocean, I couldn’t wait to be back safely in my city, in my apartment. I’m thankful that I’m amazing at rage driving.

My life is entering a new phase now and it feels both lonely and spiderweb-strongly connected. Friday night phonebanks at the feminist bookstore three doors down, marches as often as I want to go, a community art show to make a sanctuary for anyone made afraid by the election results—these things are home, who I really am, and I want to leave my tragically Trumpified family members behind long enough to settle back into who I really am.

I know that I’ve partly been focused on Mr. Makeout Music because crush-sadness is easier to deal with than election sadness, but the best thing I can do for both sadnesses is to take care, to find a way to appreciate myself as I really am. In that self, there’s anger and loss and a divorce I haven’t yet managed to finish. There are unsettled hurts on both a national and a personal scale. There’s an ocean of rage and an ocean of joy.

            But there’s also this simple and sheepish-making fact. I love Mr. Makeout Music. And I also love his “no.” I want to be as close to him as I can but also respect What Is, his real life and my own. I want to step back and let him be where he is, respect and support his goals, be someone accepting and unconditional. I want to let myself move on and find the enthusiastic, mutual, available love that I really do know I deserve, but I haven’t yet let go of the thread between us, of those suddenly-deep conversations, of the safe space his presence made for me right here in the middle of pussy-grabbing America.

            It is a hard time to be (STILL) trying to learn to connect with men. Part of the reason that I get so attached is that deep down I really, REALLY miss them. As independent and strong and spinsteriffic as I am/want to be, it feels like part of me is missing. I am happier with a man to love, and I really hope I get to feel what it’s like for a man to love me back someday. The joy I felt when he and I were so near to being a thing, it was beautiful, a breeze of relief in my heart, that magical unlatching that happens sometimes, that seduces me so. It was wholeness, it was being myself. Even as I try my best to let him go, I want to believe in that joy, to feel like I deserve it, to take the light with me even as I walk away. It might take more bravery than I have, but I’ll try it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part Six

After I said the snuggle-drunk thing about being near him as much as I could, he said:

“Just don’t show up where I’m at. I’ve had that happen before.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t even like coming to find you in the library—it’s so vulnerable! I feel like everyone can see me crushing on you.”
I sat up out of snuggletown to hear the story, just a harmless-seeming ex-girlfriend who showed up a few places wanting to talk.

It was PARTICULARLY annoying for him to be afraid I might stalk him, given that he’d been by my side in my department for months. I mean, I loved all the visiting, but jeez, the entitlement. It reminded me of The Man and his out-of-left-field Fatal Attraction references. Just who do men think they are, that we’d be devastated by their rejection to the point of psychosis?!

Which brings me back to one of the central questions of the election—why are men so afraid of women? Why do they hate us so much? Why did they (along with a huge population of racist/Stockholm Syndrome white women) just throw the entire country under the bus rather than let women have power?

So while I reserve judgement about him being shy or just taken aback, one thing I definitely do not need in my life is a man who’s afraid of women—it’s bad enough that scared men have gotten control of the government.

I didn’t say any of this at the time, I just moved my body a little less near his, listened sympathetically, and moved on to other topics.

When I realized that it was four o’clock and I really did have to go back to work, he walked me to the store and hugged goodbye. He both hugged me tight and let go emphatically, so that felt like that. Why Don’t You Love Me? was being frustratingly apt on the bookstore radio. My coworker was amazing at girl talk, giving me young-people advice and inspiring me with her own self-assurance about men.

Mr. Makeout Music and I had planned to paint watercolors of butterflies with the kids at the library the next day, but I woke up feeling so sad that I texted and asked him for some space. He gave it to me and though I missed him, it felt good to concentrate on the kids and the art and not have to worry about putting on a brave face or being cute.

I meant for the space to last a few weeks, but when the post-Election-Day panic attacks started to roll in, it felt silly to push away someone who’d been such a safe place to me all autumn long (Though, he feels a little less safe now—I don’t know if that’s fair.) I don’t know if that was the right choice but our friendship/flirtship seems almost back to normal, even if the flirting sometimes goes in a learn-all-your-knots direction. (I swear I’m not the only one taking it there. It just sort of happens.)

Mostly, I’m sick of thinking about him so much, and I just want to be ready to move on. The best thing about getting close to Mr. Makeout Music was remembering what it’s like to have my heart opened, to let all of the adorableness and art and happiness flow out. He gave me so much hope and joy and support over the last few months and though I’m sad it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I’m glad to remember and celebrate the parts of myself that his complete and utter cuteness brought out in me.

He’s still really cute, and semi-always there, so I’ll need some extra help and time to get over him. I’m doing my best to move on, to spread my flirting around to maybe-bolder men, but I still spend my work days mostly waiting for Mr. Makeout Music to show up, even on days I know he isn’t scheduled. Like everyone I’ve ever gotten more-attached-than-I meant-to to, he’s still a big deal.

Though I wouldn’t feed his stalker fears by saying this to him, I did fall in love, I always do. My biggest wish would be to love the love I can’t help feeling, even though it scares people. This is the only person I’m ever going to be, and I’m rededicating myself to accepting and giving love, to accepting my Call Me Maybe heart and finding it many new and snuggly homes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part Five

After Mr. Makeout Music realized he was unavailable, I told him a little bit about my poly background, about why it hadn’t felt weird to have to schedule time or to have another woman in the picture. I wasn’t telling him this as a way to argue his decision but just to share my perspective and think aloud about where the heck I am in relation to poly, anyway.

            “If it were just you and me, it might be different, but I get really jealous…” Etc, the standard straight monogamous guy speech, I know it well and respect it, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him it’ll never be just him and somebody, it so very rarely is.

And I’ll pause here to realize that whether it’s a poly situation or just a family already in progress, “just you and me” is not what I want. Good to acknowledge.

We sat on stone steps on a secluded corner of campus, talking through a brisk and bright afternoon. I had to interrupt the very important conversation to Instagram a tree with sunshine lighting up every leaf.

We sat there for three hours, getting progressively more chilly and talking about all the things you can’t really get into at work—our families, his military history, my teacher/divorce meltdown, our imperfect and sometimes-intersecting paths to relative social awakeness.

But the topic that made him lose almost all of his nervous and relax into a curious smile, was confessing to him my various forms of sluttiness. His eyes lit up in a decidedly not-vanilla way as he asked me about Nude Years Eve and what BDSM relationships are like. I got his porn search terms out of him and told him my own. (Still lots-of-guys-one-girl; my time on lesbian island still hangs heavy.) He really wants to read my book, and he’s really not going to until we work in separate places. (It should come as no surprise to longtime readers that he’s got his firefighter’s exam coming up this weekend. Then he’ll know how to restrain AND carry people.)

There’s something about him that makes me lose all my filters (he has suggested that it’s my open heart) so I even told him that I’d had fantasies of dominating him that I’d already been sort of dominating him without meaning to. He said “I guess I’m so good at following directions that I didn’t notice.”

“Yes. You. Are.” I said in my best bossy/slutty voice.

Though he was still very clear about not being ready for things, he was sweetly curious and didn’t seem at all horrified. When I told him that the man for me would have to learn all his knots, he said “Oh, so it’s like scouts?” and I giggled for a long silly time.

Friends, it WAS chilly. After a little while of freezing and wishing I had socks on, I asked if I could sit closer just for warmth, and he said “I know what you really want.” And pulled my into one of my top ten favorite snuggles of all time. He put his arms around me and I lay my head on his knee.

“What are we going to do to make the world better, Ms. _________?”

I sighed a deep dreamy sigh and said “This is a good start.”

I felt as sunny and golden as the pretty fall trees. The horror and fraughtness and drama of the election fell away and I felt as warm and cared for as I ever have by a man.

            I asked where his nervousness was on a scale of one to ten (I was at zero.) He said he was at a four, but that was the world, not me. Then I confessed something I’d been thinking about hard for weeks, especially as I’d fretted about voter suppression dangers on Election Day:

“You know you have a permanent human shield now, right?”

“Thanks,” he said, and I know it was a weird and maybe wrong thing to say, but I’m glad I told him. The world had just gotten so much scarier for both of us and I wanted to fight and scrape and elbow to keep him safe. I wanted to give him my whole body, my life. I wanted to be the sacrifice, to bleed in the dirt in hopes that things might be healed so that he and his family could walk around safe.

That’s love, I guess, and hopefully it isn’t too colonizing, but whatever it was it was way too much to be thinking about a thing that wasn’t even going to be a thing. Our not-date was almost over, the glow was about to leave us, and I never wanted to move from that spot. He traced his fingers over my shoulder, I felt his beard graze my hair, and I felt at once strong and all the way broken open.

“I’m just gonna be near you as much as I can.” I said, and I think maybe that’s what broke the spell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part Four

It should be known that I’m typing this to Frank Ocean’s Pink + White. I need to pause this chaste and adorable love story to talk about the soaking wet underpants factor. Since Mr. Makeout Music and I first started talking, I’ve been more and more ready for him. I daydreamed a million ways to kiss him, to lock him in my office at the library and have my way with him. I wanted to push him, shove him, pull his hair till he whimpered. I used to be so annoyed by doms’ fondness for young women, but honestly I sort of get it. I want to protect him, coddle him, and make him bow down for me. That all of this squishiness and glimmer and push could have been happening in my heart and pants at a time when pussy grabbing child rapist Donald Trump was in my face all the time feels like a minor miracle and a clear sign of health and resilience.

Anyway, after our lovely and soothing Wednesday, I took Thursday off from the library to go to a #gophandsoffme demonstration—yelling and chanting with enraged ladies made me feel stronger and more centered. The next time I saw Mr. Makeout Music, he was at my other job. I was overjoyed to see him—we were finally alone! Even if I was still at work! The easiness of our library rapport eluded us and we were both nervous as heck. I joked that I was sitting at the register to avoid jumping on him in the bookstore office and he honestly looked like he wanted to hide. I could see how much he was afraid of disappointing me, and I could see all of his youth in his frightened-deer eyes.

When my relief came in at the bookstore, I told her that I was taking a LONG lunch, and she said “Take your time, he’s cute.” She knew I was bananas about him because she’d been witness to all of my semi-fretful putting on of lipstick between jobs.
 I’d made us a nice picnic—I figured we should be spoiled since America had just completely screwed us over. I liked getting a little Donna Reed Night for him.

My plan was to take him to my favorite spot on campus, a fountain with this carving: “Pause always to appreciate goodness and beauty.” On the way there, I told him how special he is, how many men I’ve known who wouldn’t have been willing to spend this much clothes-on time, wouldn’t be willing to tell me all the things and listen to all of my things. While he usually basks in praise, this time it made him flustered.

Still, I took his hand as we walked. I’d wanted to hold his hand for so long (settling instead for lingering high-fives) but it didn’t go as I’d hoped. He called me by my library name (Ms. plus my first name, not unappealing in the dom sense…) and said I was making him nervous.
“Should I stop being so…me?”

“No, I would never want you to not be you. I’m just shy.”

I joked that I could walk on the other side of the sidewalk if that helped, but he let go of my hand and started talking. He said that even though he’s not with his son’s mom, they still live together and he isn’t ready for something new. He said he’d never experienced something like this before, that he didn’t want to lose the friendship, etc. I’ve written the same story a million times, but I’d call this my favorite.

It had been such a very long week. It was time to be brave and wise and let him take care of himself, but I didn’t want him to leave. He didn’t want to leave either.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part Three

After I found out that the thing was mutual, I felt nervous about going into work. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act, whether I was supposed to hug him hello and goodbye, etc. His desk was in a very male-occupied space and it always felt very vulnerable to visit him there.  Election Day, on the possible cusp of our first female president and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, I was also fretting about whether I’d been too affectionate in my voting-morning text. I’m not superproud that my Call Me Maybeness helped get me through the day, but there was also poetry and canvassing and a general sense of patriotic/neighborhood love that made such a fraught day as bearable as possible.

Then, of course, the worst happened. After a year of hope and struggle and fighting misogynist trolls and as much canvassing and phone banking as I could handle, after a year of telling the library kids it would be okay, of telling Bernie Bros to fuck off, of boycotting conservative relatives, the worst happened and Trump won. Wednesday morning, at the college bookstore where we work together, Sweetie and I listened to Hillary’s beautiful concession speech and cried even as we tried to take courage. On my commute, I alternated between singing along with my upbeat playlist and sobbing. If I never hear Fight Song again, it’ll be too soon.

My plan when I got to my afternoon job at the library was to be strong and soothing for the kids, to help them feel as hopeful as possible, but when I got to the children’s department, my friend the Nice Genderqueer Librarian saw me and burst into tears so we held each other and I sobbed loudly and brokenheartedly in front of the kids and everyone. There was nothing else to be done at that moment.

One of the other security guards was down in our department showing concern and accepting a hug, so I was brave/needy enough to snivel “Can you get (Mr. Makeout Music) for me?” She smiled and radioed for him. He totally Muppeted out when he saw me, just reached his arms out as far as they could go and gave me the warmest, friendliest, most joyful hug imaginable. I got the chance to tell him “I’m sorry white people suck so bad!” which is a sentiment I’ll be expressing as often as possible for the foreseeable future. (Seriously, if you’re a white person reading this, get it the fuck together and stand up for people of color. And while I’m at it, if you’re a man reading this, get it the fuck together and stand up for women. It’s past time to inventory your privilege and start using it to help. We’re past life and death here.)

Oh pals, Mr. Makeout Music took such good care of me that day. He talked me through the good and evil factors at play in the election and helped me to articulate my silver lining, which was that good people were drawing together in anger and love. He also asked if he could come visit me at the bookstore that Friday, since the library was closed for Veteran’s Day. I was delighted at the prospect of him distracting me at both my jobs, so we made plans for a picnic on the Hogwarts-esque campus where I work. No one would begrudge me a long lunch on such a week.

That sad Wednesday was made much less sad by the fact that he spent almost my whole shift by my side. He brought his notebook down and worked on a paper so soothingly next to me, it was just such a comfortable family feeling. He joked with the kids and parents and watched me stave off apoplexy when a mean-girling parent tried to challenge my taste in music.  When he switched tables to play chess with my teen assistants, I drew flowers, stars, and tiny red hearts all over his homework while I had a Shine Bright Like a Diamond singalong with one of the little girls. I was totally singing to Mr. Makeout Music. When he turned around from chess to see how the homework-art was progressing, his eyes flashed something so beautiful and perfect and clear. I felt bathed in a glittery cloud of safety and strength, like I recognized someone so special and devoted and true. And, I hopehopehoped, mine.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part Two

I spent a lot of time angsting about whether Mr. Makeout Music was really available or not. I knew he lived with the mother of his four-year-old son, but he referred to her as his “son’s mom” and not his girlfriend. I have a pretty good instinct for signals, though, because when, after a not-insignificant amount of fretting and some crying about whether he was taken or not, I finally found out through good old fashioned facebook that he was, officially at least, single. I was optimistic in believing that his son’s mom might be a complication, but that with my poly skills I could treat her kindly and handle it.

Besides, he was just ALWAYS there. As the flirting between us seemed to ramp up and I started to let my heart open, I knew I wanted to try with him. After a Saturday where he spent an hour in my library office talking about all of the Deep Topics and distracting me from my data entry, I knew I wanted to get to know him outside of work. On the way out of work that day, I told him to check his facebook and answer honestly, and I asked him if he’d like to hang out outside work sometime, but that if he preferred just to be work pals, that would be okay too. (Lying.) He wrote back that he would really like to hang out, but when I asked about when, he said he didn’t have a lot of free time so he would have to let me know. I guess maybe I should have left it at that, but he was seriously ALWAYS THERE.

I stopped feeling self-contained and happily spinstery and started to get lonely for him when he wasn’t in the children’s department. I felt restless. I still happily went about my work days, but when I he wasn’t with me, I was looking for him. There were days when I felt almost paralyzingly self-conscious trying to look right if he should walk by. It was alternately exhausting and exhilarating.  I was either completely bereft of swagger or it increased tenfold, depending on the day.

The Sunday before last, we were supposed to have our first time hanging out alone. It was my idea for us to go to the record store and then on a Pokemén walk, and I was so excited, but he had to cancel, I assumed for kid reasons. I didn’t want to wait another week to get clear on his intentions, so I texted to ask if we were attracted to each other or if we were just flirty friends. He wrote back that he was attracted to me, that he’d never met anyone like me. He said I gave him the feels. We made plans for makeout music the following weekend. I must have read through those texts twenty times—we really liked each other! It really might happen!

Sigh. I’m so glad I got to feel that hope, that it’s still in me, but I’m achey thinking of how it really went so I’ll stop here for now.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Supersweet Election Love Story: Part One

I spent a year hardly thinking about romance at all, but there’s always a perfect character to come along and break me open again, so that cartoon hearts swirl around my head and I remember who I was born to be. Like the election, this story didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, but I’m reopening the blog to make sure none of the gifts of this experience slip through the cracks.

I work in my local library’s afterschool program. It suits me much better than teaching because the kids and I spend most of our time on art and I never have to make anybody do anything, except be respectful and kind. I can smile all day and tell the kids “I love you” without being accused of being too soft. The library is my happy place and my biggest source of love, pride, and friendship.

About a year ago, a new security guard (I know! Me and security guards.) transferred to our branch and the first time I saw him, I thought “Yep, that’s what a man should look like.” African American, beardy, glasses, locks, sigh, swoon, giggle. One of my goals for 2016 was to flirt daily, and I felt like I’d finally found a worthy recipient. I tend to sing out my coworkers’ names, so I wholeheartedly sang out his name whenever I saw him, chatted when I could, accidentally told him how very much I like the scene from The Avengers where Black Widow breaks out of the chair.

Eventually, he started hanging around. He would spend his breaks coloring with me and the kids and talking about music, helping me build up my ongoing playlist of kid-friendly love/friendship/inspiration songs. Lord help me, he owns vinyl. He kept suggesting songs that were either too emo or so R&B dreamy that I could barely walk after listening. I made fun of him for his makeout music, but it kept finding its way onto my personal playlist, turning my early morning walks into dreamy movie-sequence mushfests.

He was with us in the children’s department whenever he could be, and started telling me apologetically when he was scheduled elsewhere. (I found out later he’d been making the schedule specially to spend time with us! <3 <3 <3) We painted galaxies, flowers, we drew mandalas. We did coloring pages that said things like “Follow Your Heart” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” He’s in college, (This is as good a time as any to tell you he’s twenty-five and I’m forty-two…) so he’d sometimes just bring down his homework, talk to me about what he was working on, and then happily let me distract me from it.

In the way that sometimes happens when you make a truly great friend, I kept telling him way more than I meant to. He became my safe space, someone I could confide in about my election struggles, my feminist rage, my religious questiness, everything that was the most important. I hope that I was doing the same for him.

I’d gone through a good spate of not caring at all what I looked like, but I started to want to look cute when I got to work. I stopped wearing shlubby T-shirts and became more likely to put on lipstick and blowdry my hair. Eventually he told me he wanted his to be the only name I sang out, and that was both very sweet and probably a bad sign.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Lovely Milestone in Not-Dating

Fueled by Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own and Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, I’ve been inspired to embrace this post-divorce bubble of time as a well-earned luxury, not a middle-aged curse. I’ve been proudly embracing the American spinster’s contributions to cultural and civic life, photographing Saturday morning cats without shame, and generally reveling in hearing my own thoughts. This perspective seems to have changed my approach to dating for the (MUCH) better.

Last fall, after J. turned out to be such a disaster, I didn’t really trust myself to date. My ignoring of red flags and self-gaslighting seemed compulsive and difficult to overcome. So many times upon meeting a semi-viable guy, I’d convinced myself that whatever didn’t work about him was something wrong with me. Once I liked a guy, I could so much more easily see his point of view than my own.

But as soon as spring worked its magic, I went back to OKC and found a seemingly datable guy—he was smart, had a house and kids, and was interested enough in politics to hold an elected local seat. He asked me out and we made plans to meet in the neighborhood for a drink, but after a little while, I started to not like his texting style. He didn’t do anything really wrong, but had a way of angrily confiding about bad days that felt over-familiar, as though I were already placed in a helpmeet role that I know I’ll never want.

So guess what! Instead of pushing myself to be more flexible, to take care of him, to ignore my instincts,  I told him I didn’t think we were a match and that was that. Although I’m at an age (and a size!) where women are generally expected to compromise, to respond to the pressures of the dating economy and settle for less than we deserve, I have higher expectations than ever. I have no idea what the future holds for my heart, but I know that I’m happy to be alone until/unless the right person comes along. Gold star for me!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

An Extremely Personal Reason Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

As I’ve written here before, my conception was an accident, while my parents were still in college. Her family’s Catholic faith mean that she had no option of abortion. She was coerced by her family into marriage at the age of twenty. Throughout my childhood, in the worst of times, she told me that her marriage, which included both verbal and physical abuse and marital rape, was my fault. Because I was a child when I heard that accusation, I had little choice but to believe it, and even after decades of hard inner work, a tiny fragment of my heart believes it still.

Though it’s the central pain of my existence, that dual sense of unwelcome and responsibility is also a huge gift. It fuels my drive to make the space around me safe for those who have less power and to push back against coercion and sexist norms whenever I can. My background compels me to do whatever little bit I can so that someday women won’t be forced by religion, family pressure, or tradition to give up control of their own bodies.

For large swaths of my life, I’ve simply hated my mother, almost thought of her as a monster. (My dad, of course, deserves as many paragraphs, and he’s had them.) She and I have spent four painful decades trying to make friends with each other, and to both of our credit, we now enjoy an uneasy peace. But I never truly empathized with twenty-year-old her until the pope’s visit to the U.S. unlocked a treasure trove of anti-Catholic fury in my heart.

It wasn’t right for my mom to take her anger out on me, but she was absolutely right and justified in being angry. In that forced decision, her autonomy was taken away, and only now, as I’m learning to relish my own autonomy, can I begin to fathom that loss. She lived, we all lived, in a tyranny in which chaos and violence could rain down at any moment if, for example, she hadn’t washed, matched, and put away the correct pair of brown socks. What’s more, she thought that she deserved the abuse, because Catholicism and sexism had taught her that she was less than he was, period.

Even long-divorced, she told me that she should have just shut up and obeyed him better, that that would have kept us safe.

But what about existing, you ask? I really love existing, and I wouldn’t trade my family for another in a million years. But what if, in that momentous moment, she’d felt empowered to choose? I think she might have still had me, but if I hadn’t been the product of coercion, she and I may at least have had less of a struggle to make a relationship. I do hold both of us accountable for our own actions, but what would it have been like to grow up in a world where my mother’s body was her own?

I’m sure that some little-kid part of me thinks that by advocating for choice, I can go back in time and repair that essential wound, but I can’t. What I can do is hope to give other mothers a better chance at deciding their own lives, and give more children the chance to be genuinely loved and wanted.

Electing Hillary Clinton send a clear message against misogyny and oppressive gender norms, and she is also the Democrat who is most vocal in her support of Planned Parenthood and women’s (AKA everyone’s) health. I am voting my mom’s life, for my own, and for children of all genders, that they may be wanted, loved, chosen, and safe.