Cherish is the Word I Use to Describe

Asking For It with Sibyl

Sybil,

You've actually answered a question for me before. I'm back again because your advice was excellent. I feel guilty coming back for round two; I want to give someone else a shot. But here I am because I need ya.

I am in love. Absolutely, without bounds, in a way I didn't know I could be. I know because I am full of goodness and forgiveness and understanding (I guess you'll have to take my word for it). But the man I love? He doesn't cherish me. He doesn't treasure me. He says he loves me. He doesn't act like it. I've carefully and calmly and sweetly explained what I need, what I want. I'm not a princess. I'm not a nag. I'm demanding the kind of treatment I deserve.

My question is, Sybil, does someone cherish you? If they do, how'd you get them to do that? Did you have to ask? Did they just do it naturally? What do I have to do to be cherished? I love myself; I know that comes first. I am loving, and I'm pretty sure that comes second. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

Sincerely,

Not a Princess

 

Dear Not a Princess,

Your question has been this little voice in the back of my head, the past week.  As I'm doing the dishes, crossing the street, lighting candles or checking the mail, I hear, "Sibyl, does someone cherish you?"  And then, when I answer internally, "I believe so," a further question arises, "How do you know?"

What satisfies the human heart?

I am beginning to believe that only gratitude does.  And that gratitude is not some little addendum to one’s spirituality, something you make lists about at Thanksgiving or consider when prompted in a yoga class, but the secret to living a sustainable life of joy.

So, am I cherished?  Well, my spouse loves me, in the cracked-yet-beautiful way that humans love one another.  I do not always feel the fierceness of his love in a way that I connect with, no.  Sometimes it is too tentative, and I lose myself in the complicated folds of where desire turns in on itself and into contempt.

I want it to burn.

But some years, it just smolders.  I know it is there, right under the surface, keeping me vaguely warm by its glow.  It doesn’t feel like enough and I am cold.  I shimmy under a blanket of self-love, treating myself like the most precious, fragile object I can find, trying not to starve out my desire until it can come in the form of the perfectly balanced fire I so crave.

Here’s what keeps me going on those nights when my toes feel like they are going to fall off: I do believe my beloved is capable of loving me how I need and want to be loved.  And he is trying, as I am trying, as we are all really fucking trying.

It does not always come natural.  Love, like gratitude, is a life-changing practice that starts within but emanates out into action.  And I am so, so grateful to have someone who is trying, with his whole heart, to love me as I am asking to be loved.  When he falls short, there is grace for that, just as when I do I meet his grace.  We share the values of committing to one another while also letting each other change, and sticking with it even when it isn’t perfect.  And trying.  Sometimes I think it’s all in the trying, in the arching, and that the satisfaction of the actual connection is just a fleeting by-product.

So the main question for you and your partner is, is he built to love you how you need to be loved?  For instance, are you asking for monogamy and commitment from someone who is not oriented towards that kind of relationship?  Are you asking for a quiet, steady kind of love with someone who loves in these huge bursts?  Are you simply asking for kindness, which everyone can learn how to do? Can you be grateful for his form of love, or does it really not even register as love to you?

If what he can offer is not what you need, and if you do not share the same values around love, then you’ve got to let him go and find another heart to attach to.  But if you see a glimmer in there of the love you want, and he has the willingness, then keep trying.  Keep arching.  Keep coming back to love.  Even if it all ends, you won’t regret the striving towards love.  You may even find you are grateful for it.

Love,

Sibyl

D is for Drums

lifetime

By Maria Mora My home office is supposed to be a master bedroom, so it has the best closet in the house. When [we] were moving in, I threw all the miscellaneous stuff in there. When he moved out, it ended up mostly empty. A printer. Some boxes. My scarves. The filing cabinet.

Moving him out was---

I filled boxes and put them in the garage, working like an automaton, doing surgery on my life but I had to do it, had to use my own hands and sore, skinny arms and bruised heart and gasping lungs. I had to do that myself, I had to---

I have so much space now. Space to breathe, unfettered, and plant rainbows in my front yard.

Every so often I need something in the office closet, so I poke around, sifting through photos or thumbing through the files I cleaned out last summer, in a fit of trying to make something right when so much was wrong. They’re organized now, no longer brimming with the clutter of two lives braided together. [A lover’s knot that became a frayed friendship bracelet and then a bow for remembrance and then nothing at all.] When I’m looking for a photo or a birth certificate or some insurance paperwork, my fingers stumble onto old Polaroids.

The one he took in his top bunk the day I lost my virginity. The one on the corner in the floor in his dorm room. I’m laughing, a blush hidden behind my hair. I know I’m supposed to feel something, that I do feel something, but it’s a nameless feeling, hollow and numb and sharp and tired.

I can’t bring myself to part with the box full of wedding favors and photos and my veil, so it gathers dust on the top shelf in the walk-in closet.

Looking for something, an activity I find myself doing often, I began cleaning, an activity I also find myself doing often. I found the workbooks from the Catholic pre-marriage retreat the church required for a big wedding on a big altar. I opened them, read a few lines, and decided to indulge in some old-fashioned, vindictive, jilted-lady behavior.

[I’ve been so good, you see.]

I burned the notebooks on my barbecue in the back yard, proud of my ability to light a small fire, and a little annoyed that the barbecue hasn’t been used in [six months, measured first in days I survived and then days when I could eat and then days I made it through without crying and then, little by little, just days, normal and beautiful and stressful and happy and mine, tears and all].

The edges of the paper curled inward, became a flower, glowed. It was lovely. Then I coughed and watched the embers swirl and thought oh my fuck, I’m going to burn the neighbor’s house down in the process of pettily setting fire to the earnest vows two 24-year-olds made eight years ago, and I got a pitcher of water and poured it over the remains.

The novelty had worn off.

The next day, I took some pictures of the mess, and tossed the rest of the papers in the trash. Sentimentality is overrated. It drags me down like mud around my ankles and if I’m not careful, I’ll trip, and it’ll grab me by the wrists and smother me. And the thing is, I don’t have time for that. Not when I’m alive.

This piece was republished with permission from Maria's personal blog Maria Melee.

A Little Walk

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Flowers by Plenty of Posies. Photo by Wonderbliss Wedding Photography.

On the night before our wedding, I woke up when Brian came to bed and thought, “I can’t believe we got married and didn’t go to bed at the same time!” Then I walked to the hotel bathroom with its mysteriously and perpetually wet floor, flipped on the light and realized, no. It didn’t happen yet. That was just the rehearsal dinner.

When I woke up again, in the morning, it was grey and raining a little. “It’s supposed to be good luck if it rains on your wedding day,” I thought, and got dressed for coffee with the wedding team. Some logistics, vegan waffles, gossip in bed and a hot shower later and it was time to get ready.

A lot of the time, I try to want the minimum, take care of my own needs, be the helper. But on your wedding day, people don’t really let you do that. If you say, “Oh do her makeup first,” when it’s 3:00 PM and becoming clear that either you or your sister-in-law, but not both, will be getting her makeup done, nobody’s having it. So you sit down in the chair and someone brings you a bottle of water. Being able to feel fine about that feels freaking awesome.

While we were getting ready, my sister-in-law Wendy, a practical, hilarious class act, as both my sister-in-laws are, called down to order champagne. She possesses that innate understanding that some practical people have of how to celebrate—what to splurge on, where to pin a corsage, when to have another drink and when to call it a night. It’s a skillset that my parents and I lack, but that somehow my brother ended up with. All my in-laws have it, and I find it absolutely thrilling.

The guy on the other end of the phone told her, “I’m sorry, we only have sparkling wine.” (Who knew the Holiday Inn were such sticklers about authentic, Champagne-region Champagne, what with the baby poop in the lobby and all.)

“That’s fine,” Wendy said, in her quick, deadpan voice.

“Well, I don’t have a price list here. My manager will be here in an hour, so I can call you back then.”

“Well, why don’t you just figure out a price, and if it’s not reasonable, just . . . make it reasonable,” she said, before hanging up the phone.

My sister-in-law Karen looked at her approvingly, “That’s my kinda girl.”

My friend Allison’s wide-set baby mammal eyes trained on my face as she applied foundation and blush with little white sponges. I drank bottled water with my mouth in an O shape to try to avoid rubbing off my lipstick.

Around 5 PM, the photographer told us that she’d been down to the wedding site and the clouds had broken and the sun was out.

I hadn’t allowed enough time for getting ready and we had to start over on the hair a few times, so we ended up arriving at the ceremony about 15 minutes late. We pulled into the farmer’s market parking lot just as my cousin Ricky and his girlfriend Amanda arrived with their dog Buddy, a giant “man in a dog suit” kind of dog.

“Is it ok if we bring Buddy?” Amanda called out.

“I think I saw a sign saying no dogs in the pavillion?” I replied.

“Oh we asked someone, she said it’s really up to you.”

“Then sure!”

Who doesn’t want a man in a dog suit at their wedding?

The chaos, cheer, and rule-breaking of my family already in full effect, I felt heartened. We may not know how to class things up, but we know how to make things irreverent, which I think is equally important.

We walked through the gravel towards the market. Wendy and I held hands. When they dropped me off at my waiting area, Karen looked over her shoulder and said, in her 80’s movie star voice, “Don’t worry. You’re just takin’ a little walk.”

I watched them find their respective husbands and start down the aisle to the Peanuts song. The flower girl walked to her “mark” (the day before, at my panicked request, my friend Ted, a film director, had graciously taken over directing the rehearsal) and took the ring bearer’s hand. I started to walk out behind them and Ted stopped me, whispering, “Wait a second, we’re building a dramatic pause for you.”

The music changed to the traditional Here Comes The Bride. It was funny the things I ended up feeling traditional about. We didn’t have a cake or toss flowers or do the garter, but I wanted that song, and I made sure to have something old (my necklace), something new (my dress), something borrowed (thread and time from my friend Kara, who helped me hem my dress by hand, watching Pretty Little Liars on the internet, just like they did in the olden days), and something blue (my eyes.)

I went to my mark, and though my instinct is always to rush, I thought, “Molly, this is the one time it’s ok to make people wait.” Which is probably really for the best, given I rarely wear heels and my dress was nearly floor length.

I walked past the decorations, which I’d helped to coordinate but which were made into reality by friends. These friends who amaze me all the time with their creativity and art had made the space so beautiful, so much better than I’d envisioned it, and I’m pretty sure I started crying right then.

I made it (slowly) down the few steps to the area where everyone was sitting, and the first things I saw were a little kid and Buddy the dog sticking their heads into the aisle and I thought, “Yup. This is my wedding.”

Brian was standing all the way at the end of the dock, so he walked up as I walked down, and we met where the water meets the land. My friend Andrea was our officiant, and looked so beautiful that I got choked up like it was her wedding day.

I had to laugh at myself a little as she read the ceremony, which I had written, clearly in a time of great trepidation, for the whole thing is kind of a pep talk saying, “don’t be scared! You can do this!” But it turned out that once it was happening I wasn’t scared.

My friend Kallista read a poem about an old man saving toads in the road, because “they have places to go, too,” which Brian referenced a few days later as he carefully saved a large slug from getting stepped on. My friend Q read a passage by Pema Chodron and Brian’s brother Mike finished it up.

I’d partly picked that Pema Chodron piece because it talks about a pilot saving his passengers, and Brian’s father, who worked for a manufacturer that made airplane engine parts, starting in the foundry and ending up head of sales, loves pilots. But when I looked to see if he was enjoying it, I saw his eyes were closed and his mouth drawn in a frown, holding back tears, a pose he maintained the whole ceremony. I recognize that sensitivity because he passed it on to Brian, and it regularly breaks and melts my heart during funerals, weddings, and tv commercials alike.

I cried all during my vows, which I hadn’t thought I would. But with all those people there, showing up and making this day, how could I not be cracked open?

By midway through the reception, I became the “I love you, man!” guy from Wayne’s World.

I told family members I’ve never said it to before that I love them. My mom’s cousin Tamison, whose house we’ve stayed at about half the Thanksgivings of my life, whose house we’d stayed at, in fact, two nights before and who, incidentally, gave my friends and I her bed to sleep in, who spent the following day making 30 pies with us and then took us swimming, replied, with her signature wild grin and Mary Louise Parker-esque lack of jaw movement, “WHY?”

And I said easily, because for that one night everything felt easy, “I can’t help it, I just do.”

She seemed satisfied with that and replied, “Well, I happen to be very fond of all my family members, even the ones no one else likes!”

Which satisfied me.

When the reception was starting to wind down, a group of us went swimming, stripped down to underwear or nothing. The moon was almost full. I went in first (unlike me, but this night I was brave) and looked back at the glowing bodies wading through the water, like bathers in an old painting, or people performing a baptism ritual, or sirens.

When I was still in the midst of wedding planning minutia, my sister-in-law referred to the impending wedding as “the happiest day of Molly’s life.” I thought that was a ridiculously romantic thing to say. Why would a day that’s just about me and Brian be the happiest of my life? I love lots of people in lots of ways, not just him. But that, it turns out, is the point.

Annie Oakley: Sharpshooter. Gunslinger.

historical woman

I don’t like guns. I don’t like the sound they make when they go off, and I don’t like what they tend to stand for politically. I also don’t like that a man who killed a teenager with a gun can be found innocent of manslaughter and then walk away with the same gun.

But before I digress. I do like Annie Oakley.

Maybe it’s because she kicked ass with guns, but there’s something empowering about Annie Oakley’s whole image. Poufy ‘80s (1880s, that is!) dark hair crammed under a cowboy hat, silk bandana, Old West petticoat, giant rifle. Spontaneous idea: let’s revive the Old West genre with her biopic! It would definitely be better than The Lone Ranger.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio in 1860, to Quakers from Pennsylvania. Her father died when she was very young, and then her stepfather died not long after, so she learned early on how to hunt, trap, and shoot to support her large family. In no time at all (here’s where I picture our new biopic’s training montage—maybe set to Mumford & Sons?) she was a sharpshooting expert.

When she was fifteen, Annie entered a shooting contest against Francis “Frank” Butler, a 25-year-old Irish immigrant and former dog trainer, and won. A year later, they were married, and then they began performing together as professional markspeople. So romantic!

In 1885, the gun-happy lovebirds joined Buffalo Bill’s famous traveling show, performing for adoring fans across the United States as well as European royalty (Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the King of Italy, among others).

In 1898, Oakley wrote to President McKinley to suggest that women would make a great addition to the U.S. Army, should hostilities break out with Spain (they did): “a company of fifty female sharpshooters” was ready to be committed to the service, Oakley wrote. McKinley probably never wrote back, the jerk. Side note, women weren’t allowed in combat situations in the U.S. armed forces until this year.

Another interesting anecdote about Oakley (that might make it into our movie, and would definitely ensure that it passes the Bechdel Test): she had a rivalry going with another female sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s show named Lillian Smith. Lillian was younger than Oakley and may have attracted more attention because of this. Oakley even left the show for a short period over the tiff. You could write this all off as cattiness, but it was probably equally a function of tokenism; what, audiences couldn’t accept two female sharpshooters in one show?

Speaking of movies, Annie Oakley was in the eleventh movie of all time. Think about that: the eleventh. (After commercial showings began in 1894.) Thomas Edison shot a short film called “The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West,” starring Annie and Frank. In the film, they shoot various objects against a black background for about twenty seconds. Must have been pretty exciting, considering there, you know, weren’t movies yet. You can view it online.

Oakley continued to perform and shoot to the end of her life. She died in 1926 at the age of sixty-six. Her longtime husband and performing partner died just eighteen days later. Frank and Annie were then buried next to each other. So. Romantic.

If anyone wants to volunteer to write a script for Annie Oakley: The Movie (a reboot, if you will; there have definitely been Annie Oakley movies in the past), let me know. Just try not to make it anything the NRA could use.

Better Half

A week ago, we said goodbye at the bus stop, and he made his way—by bus and train and plane—to Scotland for a week. The days that followed were a string of flashbacks to the year, not so long ago, when we were long distance. He was here in Atlanta then, I was in Boston, and our lives intersected each evening around nine by way of our glowing screens. I always found it so funny that we could be together, in a way, while living separate lives, each built for one. He rose early and biked to the library; I slept in late and let the morning slap me in the face on my walk (read: run) to class. We ate our meals at different times, and we ate different things. In some ways, it seems easier to coordinate basic aspects of life when you’ve only got one body to consider. But I longed so much to build and be a part of a life shaped for two.

The end of each visit was the beginning of a countdown toward the next. In between, my physical space would gradually descend into utter disarray. I wanted things to be better, but since my space and the life I was living in it felt temporary, I didn’t put much effort toward change. When we were together, though, for those brief whirlwinds, I caught glimpses of my best self. She was someone who strode toward life on purpose, rather than bracing herself as if life were coming at her like a train.

After my return from the bus stop last week, I couldn’t stop noticing the shape of our life. Two sets of keys in a cup. A rack with space for his shoes and mine. Two placemats on the table. A note on the coffee pot in handwriting other than my own. I rolled around in our cozy apartment like a lost marble. I couldn’t quite get comfortable because all the best spots fit two.

I also slid easily into my old habits, staying up late and eating toast for two out of three meals a day. By Thursday, I was tired and more than ready for my better half to return.

When they say “better half,” they usually mean the other person, and I mean that too. I mean the partner I love and admire, who surprises and delights me every day. I also mean my own better half, who lives life on purpose in the context of a life lived together.

Marriage Rules for Little Girls

peanut m&ms

By EBK Riley The other night, as my daughter Delia rearranged the peas and chicken on her dinner plate to make it appear that she was actually eating, she announced that she "wanted to marry a rich husband." Swallowing my chicken and the jolt of fear that arose because she is already contemplating marriage at six, I asked her why she thought that was a good idea. She was very matter of fact, noting that if she married someone rich, she could have a big house, go on vacations, and get lots of clothes and her own car and anything else she might need. This is the first year she has seemed concerned about our family's comparative lack of stuff, and apparently it is shaping her ideas about a lot of things. Because she has visited the houses of school friends, she is less satisfied with our apartment, and as every girl who has had to share a room with her sister is bound to do, she is lobbying for her own room. "We could all have our own rooms if we had a house," she says, though she graciously allows, "you and Daddy could still share, if you wanted to..." We do. Thanks. But before we could turn the discussion away from lifetime commitments to talk about how having a lot of stuff isn't always so important, Fiona chimed in, "M used to have a lot of money, but he doesn't anymore and I love him anyway."

Fiona is in an imaginary committed relationship with a three foot tall plastic display version of a yellow peanut M&M. He was gifted to her before we left Boston by my CVS manager, who not only wanted to get it off his sales floor, but who was also touched by the true love of a girl and her candy pal. She can call him just "M" as a nickname, because he's her boyfriend. All of her dolls and stuffed animals are their children and she tells us often what he thinks about situations that arise with 'their kids' at school and about stuff happening on television. M has a lot of strong opinions, and I don't agree with all of them, but at least I know he's from a good home and he doesn't have a motorcycle that I have to worry about Fiona riding on the back of. We hope they're very happy together until she's about thirty, which is the age my husband Mike has decided the girls will be allowed to date.

The discussion of marriage continued when I asked Delia, "Don't you think love is more important than money when you decide who to marry?" Mike was also interested in the answer to that one. Again, she was matter of fact, "Well, if he was rich, he could buy me lots of presents and then I would love him." She paused for a minute, pretending to chew some peas, and possibly because she realized that this might be kind of shallow, she added, "I'm sure I could find someone who is nice and rich, and I would love him because he was nice, and he would still be rich. Then I would have the best of both." There it was, the admonishment of parents through the centuries: It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one. Out of the mouths of babes, right?

We were at the table for a while, because Delia never did really did make any progress on her dinner, so we discussed the possibility of her becoming rich herself. She had taken this for granted, assuming she would have a career (as a rock star or an astronaut or a professor) and her own money, but she was clear that her future partner should have his own too, because then they would not have to worry about money for sure. "And I might want to take time off to stay home with babies, or he might, so we both need to have money."

It all seems so simple when a six year old explains it to you.

Still, as we finally cleared the plates, after Mike and Fiona had gone in to muck out the girls' room in preparation for bedtime, I told Delia that even though it does really kinda suck to be poor, the real trick to marriage is finding the person you want to be with, no matter what else happens. "Yeah," she said, "like they say on a wedding, for better and worse, for richer and poorer, and then they both say I do and they kiss."

"Yeah, just like that," I said. And she giggled, because she's six.

The art of staying

eternally nostalgic

For Kate and Erhardt

In what is perhaps a twist of irony, I am writing these words as I sit on the floor next to a packed suitcase and a printed boarding pass. By the time you read them, I will be in Colombia,  where I will be spending this summer conducting the kind of field work and research that has made 'leaving' so rewarding for me in the past.

On August 5, 2012, I landed in the United States after four years of near-constant motion. From Sudan to Guatemala, from Egypt to Uganda, from Colombia to Jerusalem, from the Jordan-Iraq border to the Lebanon-Syria border, I cherished the many lessons that stemmed from conflict management, gender analysis in conflict-affected settings, and mindful presence with a generous side of faith in humanity. The past year required that I put the suitcase and boarding passes away and learn lessons of groundedness, emerging from libraries and owning a permanent mailing address alike.

My friend Kate has been an invaluable companion on this journey. Hers was the home I would always visit between stints of field work. My every transition was marked by sitting at her breakfast table, with each of us in the same seat every time, as though they were assigned. There were crepes and endless cups of coffee and whispered daydreams of living a mere walk away from each other. It was through glimpsing into Kate's life that I first realized that some of the images of permanence began to resonate. I loved her pantry---never mind that I do not cook unless there is an emergency. I loved the idea that one can be rooted long enough in a place to fill a pantry. I loved her shelves, carrying all the books she had read. Even though I have always been an avid reader, my books would either nest in my Kindle or would be gifted in paperback form to other traveling professionals I'd meet along the way. Permanence allows one to own books and anchor them in bookshelves.

On August 5, 2012, Kate and I did get our wish, as Elijah and I moved a mere 15-minute walk away from Kate and Erhardt's apartment. The breakfast table became a fixture in my new Boston routine. It held pistachio muffins and macadamia nut coffee, red wine after a particularly bad day and ice cream once the healing had started. We gathered there to share our anxiety and fear, our anticipation and hope. We gathered at Kate's place to recover from the Boston bombing, to cheer the Boston Bruins on, to eat popcorn 'just because' on a Sunday evening. I have had a lot of practice in the art of leaving, the art of transition, and---recently---the art of returning. It is through Kate that I have slowly learned that staying is, indeed, an art.

On the weekend before my departure for Colombia, friends came together to celebrate Kate and E's engagement party. In many senses, for me, this was not only an ode to love, but also an ode to Boston and to staying. There was lobster, which all but one of us had no clue how to eat, thus flinging it clumsily on hair and fishing pieces of it out of our bibs. There was clam chowder---or, as Elijah corrected me, chowda. You can't live in Boston and not be tempted to pronounce it like that. There was wind in hair. Courtesy of said wind and my own clumsiness, I spilled red wine at least twice and nobody cared. More giggles. The evening capped off with a walk through the North End, Boston's famous Italian neighborhood. There was a table of rotating desserts. The table could hold no more than 4, but we managed to park all seven of us there, as well as our gelato, tiramisu, limoncello, and array of cakes.

Thanks to Kate and Erhardt, and their love, I now know this: The art of staying tastes like rotating desserts, dug into with the same spoon, with your friends affectionately shoving bites of gelato in your mouth.

By the time you read this, Roxanne is in Colombia. Follow her journey there on Stories of Conflict and Love. She promises she'll be back in Boston in the fall, as she feels accountable to her friends, to love, and---naturally---to chowda.

A Love Story

When your best friend is falling in love, you want to hear every sweet, sappy thing. You want to know that the object of her affection values her as much as you do and understands how lucky he is to be dating such a girl. Every little gesture, told through email, text or phone, about how he sent her flowers, or paid for her drink, about how she cooked for him, or they spent a quiet evening on the couch watching a movie, each little story begins to illustrate the relationship. I’m not sure I remember the exact email when she said she had met someone new, but I remember the anticipation of their first official date.  I remember talking on the phone as she described him.  I remember how her eyes had a twinkle by New Years and how the corners of her lips turned up ever so slightly every time she said his name when we skyped. I remember hearing about how they texted each other every night when they were separated during the holidays, visiting friends.

I remember remembering the start of my own love affair ten years ago.  The late night phone calls, the silly New Year’s jokes as we talked when the clock struck midnight on the east coast, and again in central time. I remember the lightness inside me that I didn’t know if anyone else could see.

My friend and object of her affection didn’t jump right to boyfriend and girlfriend.  They waited awhile, preferring to stretch out that early period of bliss.  They didn’t throw around L words before they wanted to, preferring to use cutesy terms like ‘puppy luv’ and the incredibly accurate ‘smitten’.   My friend was the first to say "I love you." As her friends squealed like school girls she shrugged and in her perfect way explained her decision to use the three biggest words in the English Language:  “It’s true.”

By the time I visited in March and we met the man who swept our friend off her feet, it was clear that this was something special.  We were seeing something beautiful and important unfold in front of our eyes.

Not everyone falls in Love.  Not everyone is smitten with their partner. In the world at large, I believe these things to be a rarity.  More precious than gold or oil and more rare than the gemstones buried beneath our feet. I believe love is a gift to be treasured.  To see such a gift, to watch my friend falling in love, to be a witness to the wonder, reminded me to treasure the special guy in my own life.

When I fell in Love, I fell fast, it was puzzle pieces clicking together, and we’ve been together ever since.  After ten years, it’s easy to feel the routine.  I still dwell in bliss, and I’m still grateful every day for my husband, but I forgot the miracle.  I forgot how incredible it is that we found each other.  I forgot the wonder.  Luckily, my friend was there to remind me.

In June my best friends and I sat at a small town bar, raising our voices over the jukebox as we sipped from our bottles of beer and talked about relationships. We talked about how quickly things sometimes move, and how they don’t seem quick at all.  We talked about steps and future conversations.  We talked about all the things you talk to your girlfriends about.  And my friend sat there and told us how happy she was, how in love she was, and then she turned to me and said “Are you really going to cry right now?” But when your best friend is in love, when you’re reminded of all the wonder and beauty in the world, when the joy rises in your chest, really, what else can you do but shed a tear in joy and thankfulness.

 

 

Dream vs. Reality

Dream vs Reality

By Erin R. Van Genderen I turned twenty-three in June, and in no such way did I ever imagine my life to have turned out the way it has.

When I was younger, I pictured my adult life as a whirlwind of jet-setting, cosmopolitan adventures. I would graduate from college at the top of my class and move somewhere new to work a prestigious job or get a doctorate and teach upper-lever literature theory. I would be professional, impressive, independent, a bombshell. I would make my own life for myself and escape the stigma of my small-town upbringing. Eventually, I’d find someone and settle down, but only after I accomplished everything I wanted to do and worked the wandering out of my bones. I would probably be Thirty.

Move into reality, where I’m newly married to a military man and the name of our game is impermanence. In our current assignment, I’m a stay-at-home wife with a few little jobs on the side, looking forward to a more permanent station where I can pursue a couple of Master’s degrees I have my eye on. As external self-worth goes, I have very little---there is no boss to praise me, no co-workers to compete with, no promotions or raises for which to struggle---and so I’ve learn to give my own self a pat on the back when I get all of the laundry finished or meet a deadline.

And although the first scenario certainly sounds glittering, I’m happier than I could have ever dreamed with the second.

Chalk it up to the honeymoon phase if you will, but I like to think that the life I live now is so much richer because it’s taking me in directions I could have never traveled by my own volition. As a planner and perfectionist, I’m constantly stretched by the nature of my husband’s job. We don’t know where we could be going next---overseas? D.C.?---but I have to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. We uproot and move on every few years, leaving behind little homes and orphaned potted plants, but the excitement of a new place is always just ahead.

It is hard. Sometimes it is sad. But this lifestyle is already exhilarating.

And that’s a lot of what marriage is, I’m finding---many of those everyday details transform into something thrilling, and many of the fluttery moments become the mundane. It is an adaptive state, never one of stasis, just as we are adaptive creatures.

The realities we dream up for ourselves are a little bit short of what we should really be expecting. But what a pleasant surprise it is when, if we are adaptive, we have the forethought to reach out and grab the good things flying by and hold on tight, leading us on to a brighter adventure than the one we had stashed away for the future.

Why We Need Feminism, Reason #3849

Asking For It with Sibyl

Hi Sibyl,

I feel very lost.  Within the past 4 years, I've moved to another state, lost my job, gotten married, cheated on my domineering husband, gotten immediately divorced due to the shame of my actions, started my own business, moved 4 times within this city, and had the misfortune to fall in love with a wonderful man who turned out to be an alcoholic.

First and foremost, I struggle with the cheating and divorce.

My husband was a great guy, but treated me very much like a mother, being bratty until I fed him and coddled him, and took care of him -- and at other times, he treated me like I was a child.  After moving to his hometown, I made friends very slowly, but when I did, it upset him and he became jealous and would scorn me..  I felt trapped.  I lost my job as an architect, and went to work as a hostess at two restaurants, at my husband's immediate urging.  I also began working at starting my own business.  I had no access to our checking account or shared car, and he was grumpy whenever I needed rides.

I just snapped at some point, and began drinking, partying and had decided it was worth it to let a predatory co-worker have his way and we began a sexual relationship.  I've always been a good-hearted person, slightly bookish and nerdy, so when this co-worker cornered me at a work function and told me that I was beautiful, and sexy and basically proceeded to force himself on me, something in me felt amazing and energized, for once.

But it only made me ashamed of myself and unable to face my husband.  I pulled away, sure that our marriage had crumbled because of me.

That became a turning point in my life.  I ended the affair, moved out, got a new job, and ended up falling in love with a man that I felt immediately kindred to.  During my marriage, I had this feeling that things were happening TO ME, rather than me being in control of my life.  As soon as I made the decision to finally face what I had done, and began rebuilding my life, I felt for the first time in my life that I could see clearly what was important to me and how I had failed to have agency in my own life with my husband.

I remembered all the times when his dominant personality had prevailed, turning me into a submissive and scared person, at his mercy.  I have never been a fighter, always sensitive to the needs and wants of others, and can easily see their perspective.  However, this type of personality, without a sense of grounding in what I wanted, turned quickly into people pleasing, rather than being understanding.  I was an easy victim who fed right into the types of emotional manipulation that people like this rely upon to keep others under their control.  Being isolated from friends and family meant that I had fallen into the perfect situation for an emotionally abusive person to take hold of me.  It's taken me a few years of therapy and personal growth to understand this, and my role in the situation.  I vowed never to get into such a bad situation again.

Very shortly after leaving my husband, I met S, a very charming, handsome and successful entrepreneur.  He was everything my ex-husband wasn't: fun, super sexy and totally energetic.  Whereas my ex-husband never had many friends, S had a million.  He was adventurous, loved my cooking, and we'd talk for hours about life, design, and literature.  He felt like the adult I had been looking for.

We quickly moved in together, and began building a life of trust, health, adventure, and business-building. I had even quit my boring marketing job to begin my business full time, with S's new company as my largest client.  Things felt like they were falling into place.

After two years of our life together, I found out that he had been cheating on me with roughly 5 other women.   Of course I was devastated, but because I had committed similar acts of deception, and had known the healing effect forgiveness could provide, I decided to listen to him and give us a chance to reconcile.

That's when everything began to unravel.

It was right around this time I became aware of S's upbringing.  He was one of 7 children in a fundamentalist Christian household, and was celibate until age 23.  He had carried a Bible around with him every day, and was very fanatical about his religion.  Until he decided that he didn't want that life anymore, choosing the opposite.  He left the church, began drinking heavily, opened up a bar with his brother-in-law, and began sleeping with as many women as possible.  He would start fights about anything that resembled family values, like having children, getting married, being faithful, creating a home, etc.  Though, he also became extremely hard on women who might be like him, dating multiple guys, being expressive of their sexuality.  On one hand, he wanted to be near these "slants" as he termed them, yet also hated them.  I believe he also has a similar feeling about himself, which leads me to the drinking.  I believe he has such internal conflict about how he lives his life, that drinking and girls ease that pain for him.  From my experience as a cheater, the worst part is facing the other person that you hurt.  There are a few ways to get around that.  You find someone new, who has a good opinion of you, surround yourself with others who have low morals and wouldn't judge you anyway, and numb yourself with booze or drugs.  I fell into the "new people" and "drinking" categories.

I've never written this story, and I apologize that it's so long.  Basically, I learned from my own experience that people fall, they fail and deserve a chance to be forgiven.  So I honored this decision and began to work with S to understand him and be there to help him get past this.  I knew that forgiveness would have gone a long way for me.

Another reason that I'm attracted to S is that he is a creative, very successful entrepreneur.  That's something about him that I wish for myself, to be as successful and well-respected.  Being accepted by him somehow makes me feel less insecure about my own shortcomings, which stem from financial instability, building a small business, and taking responsibility for my life.  I also love him, and we truly have a wonderful connection---or so I thought.

As soon as I discovered exactly what S had been hiding from me-- the girls, the drinking, the deception-- he was never the same.  He turned from a loving and supportive partner into a combative, irrational, mean-spirited person.  He began to blame me for "finding out" and for expecting too much from him.  He cared less and less about falling short and hurting my feelings.  I found out that he had been in an on-again off-again relationship for 8 years (which went on during an engagement to another woman, and during my relationship).  I know all this yet, my main problem is giving up and moving on.

Our city is small enough that getting away from someone like this business-wise is extremely hard to do.  My clients are linked to him and his to me.  He constantly makes it seem, to these people, that we are a couple, or at the very least that we are on good terms.  This is what I've termed "emotional-business abuse".  He's mostly concerned with how the public sees him, because he runs 6 restaurants/bars and wants to be seen as a leader.  He threatens that if I tell someone who he really is, that he'll destroy my business.  He constantly tells me that he created my current success.  He represents us as a couple to whoever it seems like it might be fitting to do so (without my consent and without me being there).  Everyone loves him and is fooled by him.  It's kind of a mess.  And I end up feeling so overwhelmed and (again) not in control of my life.  I didn't want this to happen, I wanted to build a life with S, and focus on doing good work and building a great business.  It just seems that because he can't come to terms with who he is, and forgive himself, that he needs everyone to like him to combat the truth of his life.

I feel courageous for having gone through what I did, and to have emerged with a greater sense of who I am, but now I'm just baffled at how to create a life that I am happy with, because so much has been destroyed in the last few years.

The whole situation leaves me with these feelings:

1.  Did I make a mistake leaving my husband?  When it comes down to it, I would love a partner and a family and a home.

2.  Why does someone like S have this power over me and why is it so hard to not equate my self worth with what he thinks of me?

3.  How can I begin to feel happy again, to plan my life with excitement?  Right now, I tend to feel like a failure.

4. How can I let this go and pursue a life that I love?

Thank you so much for reading all of this.  Just writing it makes me seem like I'm spending too much of my time thinking about this.  Please help me gain a new perspective on this situation.

Thank you,

Baffled

 

Dear Baffled,

You are in what I like to call a Patriarchal Shit Spiral. What I would really like to do is plunk you down in a feminist re-training program, where you are not allowed to date a man for at least a year, but I am not sure that exists.

The current man in your life is really no different from the last, he's just a bit more interesting. Both of them see women as objects to get what they want, rather than whole people.

I'm going to directly address your questions rather than speak overarchingly, since there is a lot here.

1. You did not make a mistake leaving your husband. Divorce is a two person endeavour, and there are very real reasons that you cheated on him and left him. You felt it was your only recourse to get out of a marriage in which you were completely stifled as a person. Could you have done it more gracefully? Perhaps. But you needed to get out of there, and sometimes the only way out is to implode it all from the inside.

2. S has power over you because of what you find attractive. In order to stop dating men like S, the co-worker, and your ex-husband, you are going to have to radically change your idea of what is "hot". You'll have to take back a lot of the power you've been giving to men to run your life, and make choices for yourself. It is extremely scary to do this at first, but in the end you'll find yourself wondering what you ever saw in those kinds of overpowering male personalities. I really want you to ask yourself some deep questions, about why you are attracted to these kinds of men, which I think would be best done with your therapist. Have you ever been into a person who wasn’t a domineering personality? How did that relationship go?

3. In order to feel happy again, you need to be free. You are completely bound up in the expectations other people have of you, particularly what the men in your life think of you. You need to get in touch with who you really are internally, rather than whether or not you are a success in your relationships, career, and life trajectory.  I know you are reluctant to let go of S, because all you see down that path is loneliness and ruin, but believe me, this man is not as universally liked as he appears to be. You will have allies if you leave him, and you will rebuild both your business and your self-worth, on your own foundation, not someone else’s.

4. Self-forgiveness is tantamount to your ability to let go and build the life you want. In order to fully embrace that, you need to understand that your choices, and your subsequent shame about them, were a part of the patriarchal system designed to uphold the image of men as powerful beings that get to call the shots, and women as mercurial sprites who exist to support and serve them. It is a system that is hurting men as well as women, and you are seriously caught in its web right now. You’ve got to cut your way free, which will be painful, but incredibly worth it.

In closing, you are definitely not thinking about this too much. It is all you should be thinking about.

In Solidarity,

Sibyl

The Volume of Silence

In 2010 Marina Ambrovonic had a retrospective show at MoMa, as part of the retrospective she performed a new piece: The Artist is Present.  I don’t know why I was unaware of this show while it was occurring, but I only recently heard about it.  The Artist is Present invited attendees to sit across from Marina in the gallery and share a moment of silence.  Just sitting in silence.  The piece spawned facebook groups and blogs devoted to photos of the participants.  People smiled, people cried, people looked confused.  Marina was serene.  She was present.  It’s amazing and beautiful even to read about.

I wrote my final paper in my Modern Art class on one of Marina’s performance pieces.  I can’t honestly remember which one anymore, it was second semester of my senior year and I was more focused on my thesis than any other papers. But I remember parts of the research; I remember reading about her previous pieces, notably walking across the Great Wall of China to break up with her longtime boyfriend.  Marina and Ulay were/are both artists, they performed and worked together during the 70s and by all accounts were a passionate pair. When the relationship was no longer working, they decided to set off on a journey: they each started at a different end of The Great Wall and started walking.  In the middle the met, hugged, and said goodbye. The second half of the walk was the start of the next Journey.  After that moment in the middle of China, the said goodbye and didn’t make contact with the other again.  Until Marina’s retrospective, when Ulay came to participate in The Artist is Present.

This is one of the most beautiful, most touching things I have seen. It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch.  I’ve changed my desktop background to a still shot, to remind me.  Remind me of the beauty of passion and the importance of the journey.  Remind me to look into someone’s eye, to try to truly see. Remind me of the volume and multitude of things that can be expressed without speaking a word. It touches my heart.

 

Embarking on a new decade

This week I'm celebrating a birthday, my 30th birthday in fact.  I long ago discarded the idea that I should be at a certain pinnacle or milestone by a particular age; I remember vividly watching the Olympics, and seeing teenager after teenager accomplishing ‘what they had worked their entire lives’ for, and a little voice in my head reasoned ‘screw it’. But starting a new decade has brought a sense of introspection as I consider the years before, those to come, and particularly, myself. A lot of great stuff happened during my 20s.  I lived with my two best friends for a year, graduated college, moved away from home, got engaged, moved back towards home, got married, visited 5 countries, moved out of the country, moved to the middle of nowhere, started writing, and most recently, put pink highlights in my hair.

But then there’s a lot that hasn’t changed, my family is still as awesome as ever, I have the same best friends, I’m still ridiculously in love with the same boy, I still email my sister random things I found on the internet, and I still have more shoes than most people I know. These are things that are not likely to change with birthdays.  And in many ways, neither am I. I’ll be the 30 year old rocking plaid together with polka dots because they make me happy.  I'll be the 30 year old who gets excited about stickers and never misses a chance to dance in the rain.  I’ll be the 30 year old who thinks making the bed is a waste of time and photo booths are the best thing since sliced bread.  None of that changes when the calendar ticks over.  So I’m good with 30.

I’ve never had hang ups about the number of candles on a cake.  Maybe it’s because I have great role models, women who age with gusto and grace; maybe it’s because each year seems better than the one before; maybe it’s my natural optimism.  Whatever the case, while 30 is just a number, it’s also a step into a new decade; a new period, one that I’m terribly excited about.  As the anniversary of my birth draws closer and closer I’ve been thinking more and more about the woman I want to be.  For the most part she looks pretty much identical to the gal in the mirror, but there’s little things I’d like to get better at, more habits I want to develop to really become the best version of myself.  And I’m excited for that.  I’m excited to push myself, to learn more, to keep growing while I keep laughing.

A few years ago one of my friends told me about something she had seen on the internet---a blogger made a list of 30 things she wanted to do before she turned 30.  It seemed like a lovely idea, so I started making a list. Now, days away from the deadline, most of the items remain undone.  I never learned how to tie a bow tie or brushed up on my Italian.  I didn’t visit a national park or bake a pie from scratch.  I haven’t read Shakespeare and I haven’t learned all the dance moves to my favorite Blues Brothers song. But that’s ok, because there’s a lot of things that I’ve done in the last couple of years that weren’t on that list- things like writing this column and finding a job I love.  And the most important thing, regardless of what’s written on any list, I’m headed into a new decade happier than I’ve ever been.  So maybe next year I’ll bake a pie.

Thirty is, of course, not old, but then I don’t know of a number that is, unless you choose it to be. My grandmother is 90 years ‘old’, but she’s got quite of bit of youthful spirit.  For me, age is a number, and a blessing.  Not everyone has the opportunity to age, so I’ll always be thankful for another candle on my metaphorical cake.  Who knows, if I’m lucky enough to get to 90, maybe I’ll celebrate the same way as 30, with silly hats, silly straws, cupcakes and champagne, and the most important---with people I love.

Cheers to 30.

Zelda Fitzgerald: Flapper. Artist. Author's Wife.

historical woman

In our ruggedly individualistic culture, I often wonder: what is it like to be famous because of the person you’re married to? To appear in the press, go down in history books, as “so-and-so’s wife”—to never, ever be mentioned without your spouse as starting point or explanation? In some ways, I think it must be harder even than being a nobody, like the rest of us. At least we can pretend at the idea of absolute autonomy, that we achieved what we have on our own. Even if you’re nobody, you are your own nobody. You’re second to nobody.

Zelda Fitzgerald, whose life reads like an exciting tabloid drama (and who, clearly, would make the best E! True Hollywood Story), is one of those, a Somebody’s Wife. Her Somebody is renowned Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. You know, The Great Gatsby guy. That book you had to read in high school that you still kind of remember and is now a Baz Luhrmann movie. Their life together was glamorous, whirlwind, tumultuous, and ultimately short-lived. It reads like an American Greek tragedy. And while F. Scott had some tough breaks, I have to say, I really feel like Zelda had it even tougher.

Zelda Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayres, came from a prominent family in Alabama. There were senators, judges, etc. amongst the men in her family, so she was definitely your classic, privileged Southern Belle. However, it seems Zelda was a little, I don’t know, spunkier than her fellow SBs: drinking, smoking, seeing boys. That might have been why F. Scott was so taken with her upon their first meeting—he probably recognized a kindred spirit.

As soon as F. Scott’s first novel, Tender Is the Night, was published, he and Zelda were married. In no time, they were the It Couple of the 1920s New York (and later Paris) party scene. They drank. They cavorted. They spent money. They fought. It was all very Great Gatsby. Also, as you probably saw in Midnight in Paris, they were friends with many other American artistic luminaries: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas.

As her husband’s star was on the rise, Zelda threw herself into her childhood passion, ballet. It was a little late in life to start a career as a dancer, but for a while she devoted herself wholly to the art. It didn’t come to anything. Later, she would also take her shots at both painting and writing. The gist is, she seems to have been pretty good at all three. But what kind of career could the hard-partying wife of a super-famous hard-partying author really expect to have?

And eventually, even her role as Famous Wife wasn’t going too well. The drinking and fighting started to dominate a little too much of the couple's time. They both had drinking problems; they both had affairs. Zelda’s emotional health declined. She did one stint in a sanatorium (old-timey rehab) before checking into a psychiatric facility, which she was in and out of for the remainder of her life. She died in 1948, in a North Carolina hospital, trapped in the building when a fire burned it down. Terrible way to go, and first on my list of two tragic famous people psychiatric ward deaths (the other is composer Robert Schumann).

Only more recently has interest in Zelda’s artistic output been renewed, both her paintings and her 1932 semi-autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz.

Zelda’s story, for me, brings to mind Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s amazing, amazingly creepy short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in which a confined housewife slowly goes mad in the room where she spends most of her time, and which was based on Gilman’s own experiences with mental illness and marriage. Zelda and Gilman’s heroine are different, sure—one was stuck indoors in the 1890s, the other was liberated and living it up in the 1920s literary party scene—but that stifling quality of being forever in the shadow of your male partner, constantly searching for that space that through your accomplishments you can call your own, seems in line on an emotional level with that more, perhaps, timeless female struggle. Maybe that’s why Zelda’s story still resonates today.

A Red Thread

loud and clear red thread

When I fall in love with a man, I fall in love with the place connected to his heart by one red thread, anchored with a map pin. And being there in that city, or usually that small town (a place which no one has heard of---so, he says he’s from the nearby city that other people can at least associate with a state, but is really forty-five minutes down the expressway) is the end for me. Or rather, the real beginning. On your first visit you hear it---the way that people say their A's as “ah” and will you run up to the Rosauers? (The name of the corner market has altogether replace the generic descriptor of “grocery store”) The neighbors close their blinds beginning with the heat of the day and ending with a fan facing backward out the window. He barely notices, because this is his home, but you begin to make sense of him. For months after, you'll catch a glimpse of it---when he opens a beer bottle with a lighter or is stubborn about the definition of coleslaw.

And then on the first hot night of summer he’s seventeen again, driving down River Road. The windows are down and you have nowhere to go and he reaches for the volume when Float On comes across the radio.

Even Vera Wang Can't Save Me Now

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm going wedding dress shopping with my mother tomorrow. I didn't really want to go and still feel ambivalent about it. My mother can be a loving, generous, supportive person.  However, her insecurities can easily and unexpectedly be triggered, turning her into the Witch of the West. She can be mean and offensive in the most passive of ways, making it difficult to call her out on it. I fear she'll hurt my feelings at some point and take the joy out of the moment.

I also realized recently that she's not a selfish woman but definitely self-centered: everything is about her. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of attention, and I don't ask for much from others, but I do feel the moment I try on wedding dresses for the first time should be about me.

This all makes me sad because I want a relationship with my mother and I want to share these special moments with her, but I've learned that she's so limited and I don't want to be too disappointed in the end.

I decided to bring a friend along for protection, (so sad that I need this) but I'm not sure it will be enough. And with 13 months left until my wedding, how do I continue to protect myself and set appropriate boundaries, while trying to connect with her through this experience?

Thanks,

The Naked Bride

 

Dear Naked Bride,

This is your homework, for the rest of your engagement: practice saying no.

Start small, with someone who wants you to give them money for some charity you’ve never heard of (“Not today, thanks”), or the person who asks, “can you watch my dog while I go in this store really quick?” (“No, I cannot, sorry”), or your co-worker who wants you to finish their work for them (“I can’t get to it, unfortunately”).  No, no, no, and, guess what?  No.

Then when you need to put up boundaries with people you really do care about, like your mom, you’ll be able to do it with a little more grace, because you have practiced.  It won’t come out in an adolescent rage fit in which you bring up every little way she’s hurt your self esteem since you were six.  You’ll just say, “No, I’m not wearing that hideous doily of a veil that’s been in your family for 6 generations.  I totally get it if that is disappointing to you.  But it’s not going to happen, so let’s talk about something fun we can do together.  What song do you want to dance to with me at the reception?”

It’s really sad, but true, that we have to manage our expectations quite a bit with our parents, once we are adults.  We get to this point where we can see them for who they really are, how far they’ve come, but also what their limitations are.  We want our parents to be superheroes, but they aren’t.  They’re just people.  Who had children.

Weddings are ritual events, and all good ritual is acts as a cauldron that brings out everything in people---all the ways we are transcendent beings striving to love one another in the face of impossible struggles, and all of the little wounds that are still festering, and cause us to react in unflattering ways.  They show us who we can be and also where we still need to work.  Rather than seeing this wedding as one day in which you pledge your love to your partner in front of your loved ones, start seeing it as a whole process of creation---you are actually going to become a different person through bonding yourself to another.

So yes, your mom is probably going to hurt your feelings in this transformation process.  But the ways in which she does will give you so many clues to where you are still growing, what sensitivities your partner can help you with.  The best thing to do, rather than protect yourself from all those barbs she’ll throw at you, is to catch them mid-stream, as they are flying at your face, and inspect them.  Ask yourself, “can I use this?  Can I bring this to my partner and let it draw us closer as we go through this together?  Or do I really just not need this shit right now, and need to say a hearty NO?”  Then decide whether you can take that on right then, and use it in your becoming, or not.  As the time draws nearer to the celebration, you’ll be saying “no” all over the place, as you’ll really have to focus all your energy on fighting your way out of the cocoon.

Weddings and marriage are not the smiling photo shoots we see.  They are deep transformative acts, and they unsit all of the important relationships in our lives, especially the ones with our parents.  In the end, however, hopefully it all helps us fly.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

A Sibyl Without a Quandary

Asking For It with Sibyl

The last few weeks, my Sibyl inbox has been empty.  I was tempted to conclude, "My work here is done.  Everyone is fixed."  Then, I encountered a whole bunch of pretty flawed and twitchy humans who could use a good Sibylizing.

Therefore, I'm going to provide you all with a little encouragement to write in your quandary to Asking For It, for Sibyl to answer.

Six Reasons You Should Write In to Sibyl:

1.  You haven't got it all figured out.  I know you---you're not even trying to pretend you have it all together.  So write to me about the things you're grappling with, and I'll help you cut through the fog and see it all more clearly.

2. The act of writing out the quandary and sending it in has helped some of my readers find their own answers, simply by sitting with it in that conscious way.  I've received follow-up emails that say, "thank you for your answer to my question---it confirmed what I was thinking, even while I was still writing it to you!"

3. Interactive columns between strangers are pretty rad.  People who don't know each other, offering wisdom and care for no money exchanged is a powerful thing.  Be a part of this random act of artful kindness.

4. We're a dying breed.  Sugar is on hiatus.  In the last few months, we've lost Dear Abby and Dr. Joyce Brothers.  The advice columnist, once called the "agony aunt" colloquially by Brits, is a classic way for women to show up for one other publicly, with the cloak of anonymity protectively in place.

5. Your friends are tired of hearing about this issue you are obsessing about, and you can’t afford more therapy.

6. Don't you have to see your family this summer?  Yeah.  Write to me about that.  Aren't there weddings you need to attend that you feel weird about?  Write it in.  I don't care how long and rambling your letter about your ex may be.  I can take it.  And your story could really resonate with another person, and help them just by hearing that someone else is experiencing that situation, too.

It's a powerful thing, knowing you're not alone in this world.  Sibyl is listening.

Meet the Local: Lisbon, Portugal

mind the gap

Meet the Local is a series designed to uncover the differences (and similarities) in how we think and live in different parts of the world.  Over the upcoming months, I’ll ask locals from places all over the world the same set of getting-to-know-you questions.  This week, we meet Jose, a former teacher who is making a new living in tourism after being laid off during the economic crisis.  

Meet the Local Jose Guerreiro

What do you like about the place you live?

I don’t really know how to explain…I just feel like it’s here, where I belong.  I lived in Spain for a few months, I lived in Romania for a few months, but I always feel the need to come back home.  I feel I have my family here, and I have everything here.  I really feel at home here.

What don’t you like so much?

The politicians.  Because they do all of this to our country.  The economic situation of Portugal, I think it’s their fault.  Because we work, we do all of the things we have to do, and they ruin everything.  I think this is very common in Europe, the politics are each time less credible, so the people don’t really trust anymore in politicians.  In Portugal, 40% of people don’t vote.  So the people who do vote don’t really represent anything, and the politicians can do whatever they want, because the people don’t care.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

Three slices of bread with butter and chorizo.  Coffee with milk.

What do you do for a living?  How important is your job to your sense of self?

I was a teacher, teaching sports.  I really like to work with children.  It was nice, I was doing something different than other people, because I used to work in summer camps too so I was taking the way of teaching in summer camps inside the school.  So I was not teaching sports, I was teaching games, and I was trying to teach values with those games.  First I would read the story, then I would do a game, and then I would relate the game with the story and real life.  I went to a small village to teach, but I was not from there, so when the crisis started, the people who don’t have friends are the first to leave.  So they asked me to leave.  Now, I do tourism, I run a walking tour company.  I really like it, because I can stay in Lisbon where I like to live.  I meet a lot of people, so even though my friends are leaving to get jobs in other countries, I can make new friends.  Of course, it’s not the same thing, but it’s okay.

What do you do for fun?

I go out at night, I go to the cinema.  I like to climb, but I don’t climb anymore, since I started the tours.  Because most of my friends that climb, they do normal jobs so we don’t have the same schedule.  I also like to run with my father, my father and I run together.  And travel.

How often do you see your family?  Tell me what you did the last time you saw them.

I live with my father.  I see my mother one or two times a week, just to talk with her.  I see my sister when I see my mother – they don’t live together, but she’s always there.  My grandmother also lives with us.

What’s your biggest dream for your life?

Right now, I don’t have many dreams.  I just want to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse, or at least the tours keep running as they are now so I can at least have a stable life.  Some of my friends, they are really bad in their lives.  They were married and have children but are living back at home with their parents, or they have moved to other countries and don’t really like their jobs or the conditions that they live in and I don’t want that to happen to me.   So I don’t have a dream, I just don’t want to have a nightmare. But if I had a dream, I would want a small house with a small garden where I could sit in the plants.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Why?

Here.  When I was younger I always wanted a house with wheels---a mobile home---so I could travel, but I think if I had that now, I would always come here.

What are you most proud of?

Now, it’s the tours.  When I came on and my friend was running them, they were almost dead.  Nobody would trust them---if you asked someone about our tours, people would say, “don’t go!  It’s terrible!”  And now we’re the sixth most popular thing to do in Lisbon on TripAdvisor, and I’m really proud of that.

How happy would you say you are?  Why?

From 0 – 10, I would be a 6.  I think everything is going well in my life, but I would like to have more friends, and a girlfriend.  My friends left---but the girlfriend, well, I’m a bit shy.

Check out previous answers from a local in Sarajevo, and a local in London.  Want to participate in Meet the Local or know someone who does?  Email liz@thingsthatmakeus.com for more details.

Fifty Shades of Yay

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I have a wonderful husband of 10 years and we have a good sex life.  Often, I need a little help to get me in the mood, my choice is romance novels.  Is this normal?  Should my husband take offense?  He's never complained, but I just hope I'm not hurting his feelings.

Thank You,

Romance Reader

Dear Romance Reader,

You're in good company.  The Romance novel is the bestselling fiction genre, ever.  According to Romance Writers of America's 2011 Romance Book Consumer survey, slightly more than half of survey respondents live with a spouse or significant other.  Some studies say that women who read romance novels have sex twice as often as those who don't.  Others say that a high level of romance reading is correlated with happy monogamous relationships.  So, to answer your initial question, your penchant for a little erotica fantasy reading is not only normal, it may be even helping your marriage.

The fact that you are worried about your reading habits, despite the fact that you are one of the ladies having hot married sex after reading a chapter of your romance novel of choice, makes me think you have some shame around this predilection.  Well, head on over to smartbitchestrashybooks.com, where Sarah Wendell and Carly Tan, authors of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, facilitate a thriving online community of fellow romance readers.  They’ll help you realize you’re not alone, and give you some great suggestions for new reads.

As for your second question, I have no idea if your husband’s feelings are hurt by your romance reading.  For that, you’ll have to ask him!  And I highly suggest that you do.  A conversation about how he feels about the paperbacks stacked on your nightstand could lead to a juicy discussion of the fantasies that most intrigue you.  You may find yourself living out a few of them, with your very own leading man!

My hope is that he does not feel threatened by your fantasies, and the fact that they are spurred by stories in romance novels, as it belies your thriving intellect and playful libido.  He should feel glad to have a partner that is inventive in her interest in all things sexual.

However, if he is threatened by it, it’s best the two of you are honest about those feelings, in order to work through them.  Perhaps you could spend a night reading him some of your favorite passages?  Next thing you know, he may be swapping books with you!  A whole world could open up for the two of you.  I hope it is one with lots of lace and fur-lined handcuffs.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

XXXIII. Savoie

postcards from france

I am the youngest one in the French language program in Chambéry, but was immediately placed in the highest level of classes upon my arrival. After the first month, the lessons begin to repeat themselves. My attention wanes.

In February another young student arrives, a Swiss boy named Laurent. We get along in class and while having coffee from the instant machine in the center’s common space, and after a couple weeks he asks me to have a drink with him in town.

My solitude, especially with my experience running, has made me suspicious of all men. I don’t know what Laurent wants from me, if he thinks I’m pretty or not, and I don’t trust him for it. We go to a bar and I cover myself up, wearing clothes that show none of my skin or even a hint of shape.

Laurent is easy to talk to about music, travel, food, and he walks me home after we have a few drinks. Instead of letting him kiss me---as I now know he wants to, and I wouldn’t mind either---I thank him for the drink, tell him I’ll see him in class, and shut the gate firmly behind me.

I have a bad habit, I realize as I walk slowly up the stairs to my dark apartment, of deciding how things will go before they happen. And these self-fulfilling prophecies aren’t getting me anywhere.

A Family

family

By Erin R. Van Genderen Photo by Judy Pak

My husband and I will have been married for nine months this month. That’s enough time to grow a baby, to start a family in a real, grown-up sense of the phrase. And I get that question a lot as a stay-at-home military wife.

“When are you going to start a family?”

A few days out of the week I help out an elderly couple in town who have experienced several medical mishaps in the last few years. Mr. and Mrs. Bond are still mentally sharp and living in their own home despite their declining health, and I’m only there to make sure a meal is cooked, things are tidy, pills get taken and blood pressure gets measured, and everyone gets into bed without issue.

They are frail, with Bible-page skin and fingers like bird bones. They have matching armchairs next to one another in their sitting room. They have family photographs on every wall and covering the refrigerator.

And even though Lillie’s voice is more of a whisper now and often too faint to register through Kendall’s hearing aids, she still calls him “honey.” They clasp hands at mealtime and offer up a prayer asking for blessing over the food and claiming thankfulness for all the many gifts they have received.

As tempting as it is to consider them fragile and naïve, childlike in their near-helpless old age, I can remember that they were once like me when I see these things. When Kendall lets go of his walker long enough to lift Lillie’s legs and swivel her onto her side of the bed, then tucks her in and kisses her cheek, I see a love that comes from more than fifty-seven years of life together. When he gets down on his knees to pull her chair, with her in it, closer to the dinner table, then struggles back to his seat with both hands on the tabletop, I see years of sacrifice, for better or worse.

Their marriage, more than half a century old, retains the respect and care of a relationship that many my age have still yet to taste.

So when I am asked when my husband and I will get around to “starting a family,” I get a little ruffled. Even though it’s just the two of us, in the end it will be just the two of us — and for now, just the two of us is all of the family that we need.