I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

So there’s this guy, floating in the ocean, barely clinging to a piece of driftwood.  He’s been floating out there for a while, doesn’t know where the nearest land is, sometimes isn’t even sure he can keep his head above water.  But somehow he’s made it several days…

Then this little speedboat comes along, with a few people inside! The guy gets their attention, they slow down next to him and circle around with the motor running, asking the guy how he’s doing, finding out about the situation that ended up with him out here floating, asking what he needs.

“A way to get myself out of here and back on dry land, well — that’d be really great!” the guy says.

The folks on the speedboat rummage around through their belongings, and find — brand new, still in box, inflatable raft, with motor attachment! They toss the box out to the guy, kick their engine back into gear, and speed off, calling behind as they go, “Hope that helps!”

As the cardboard of the box soaks through and the weight of the package pulls it underwater, the guy catches a glimpse of the “fine print” on the box:


I find myself frequently frustrated by situations where the “help” being offered is much the same as the life raft tossed at the guy in my little story there.  And even when the speedboat folks hang around for a few after tossing the box at me, it’s difficult to try explaining why the “perfectly good help” they just gave me won’t work, doesn’t suit my needs, requires help beyond what they’ve given in order to be of any use.

Me: I’m looking for housing…

Them: Oh! The county you’re in should have resources for that, look on their website (gives URL) — check under “Low-Income Housing!”

Me: Well, actually, I’ve looked into that before, it has a page where they say that their waiting lists for Section 8 are closed, and their directory of “Low-Income” places are all out of my price range… by about 300%.

Them: Well, you could call their number and ask them to figure it out for you!

Me: Except for the huge anxiety around making a cold call to an automated system or a complete stranger, enough that doing so often sends me into a panic attack that spirals out of control and leaves me unable to accomplish much of anything that day, including essential stuff like eating…

Them: Geez! You have excuses for everything, don’t you?! Fine… if you don’t really want help, that’s your problem. I tried, at least.  I tried…

Reminding people over and over of the same things I’ve already told them gets exhausting.  When I’ve told the same person for the 5th or 6th time that I don’t have a magical power outlet in my pocket while I’m floating on a bit of driftwood, I start to lose my patience.  No, I can’t plug in the inflation pump for the raft.  No, I can’t charge my cellphone in its waterproof container, even though I do have the cord.  No, I can’t do anything with the strand of blinking holiday lights you’re offering, though I do see where you’re going with the idea.  No, I already explained why I can’t plug in the inflation pump on that raft.  Yes, I realize it’s a very nice model, it’s not a matter of lacking gratitude! I just can’t do anyth– oh, fuck it. And fuck you, too.

But what was wrong, and what was right? It’s just the strong who ever says what’s right.

Growing up in a religious household, there were many rules about many things.  Since there was an emphasis on “purity,” and keeping “clean thoughts” in one’s head, there were rules about which books and music and art and food were “good” and which were “bad.”

These rules, though, often seemed to my young mind to be quite arbitrary, and more about resulting in compliance than purity.  Being told to read “the best books,” and to “seek out learning” from them — well, that seemed like a fantastic idea, until those books left me asking uncomfortable questions about the power structures of the church, or finding approved messages conveyed with unapproved language.  Music was much the same — being told to listen to “uplifting” music was no problem, except when my choice of music ran counter to someone else’s idea of what should be considered “uplifting.”

I remember finding an mp3 of the old gospel hymn “Wade In The Water” when I was in my teens, and that recording moved me — it moved me in exactly the way that I had been taught that all good music, especially religious music, should move me.  I went to share my joy with my dad, from whom I learned much of my lifelong love for music, and he asked who had performed this particular version.  When I told him it was Chanticleer, he frowned and told me, “Well, you might not want to listen to that. I won’t tell you to delete the file, but… they’re gay.” I deleted the mp3, and all the other recordings of that song that I had. Oh, sure, he offered to play me some tracks by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as an example of what good religious music ought to sound like, but I had heard them plenty of times before, and while they did have some stuff I enjoyed, their performances didn’t really do much for me.

Or there was Steppenwolf — which I was cautioned “might have some small treasures of knowledge” but that to find those required a metaphorical “trudge through miles of raw sewage” to find, and then an equal or greater trudge to get back out with those few pearls, and that I was better off avoiding the piece entirely.  Or a number of visual artists whose work I knew very little about, because even though it fell within the larger categories of “kinds of art that are worthwhile and beautiful,” some artists “dared” to show the human figure without being fully covered in clothing. The horror! There were plenty of books by church scholars, or by authors who promoted a specific message, made available to me, as well as pointers towards “tasteful” art… but I kept going back to the fold-out cover on an issue of Smithsonian magazine with The Garden Of Earthly Delights which was in the massive stack of back-issues in the bookcase — because it had naked women, and I found the whole thing both fascinating and arousing… both of which I thought were very good things!

So, along with many other things I intentionally left behind when I walked away from my parents and moved out on my own, I rejected their idea that some things must always be forbidden, no matter what good might be gleaned from them, as well as the notion that anyone else could tell me what I stood to gain or lose from an experience.  I began actively seeking out many kinds of art and music and books and philosophies, trying on each thing I encountered and seeing what fit, and what didn’t.  I spent a fair bit of time with a small group of misogynist, atheist (in the “let’s get together so we can sit and talk about how we’re so much better that those stupid fools who don’t think the same way we do!” meaning of the word), gamer dudebros — and I learned a lot about myself in that time.  I hung out briefly with a lot of different people with different approaches to the world. Every time I found places that I didn’t belong, and every time I learned more about myself.

Then I ended up finding the concept of feminism, and wrote a whole blog post about that discovery. Aha! This is it, I thought. Here’s where people make sense, where “my body, my choice — your body your choice” was an obvious thing, where (at least in the circles I found myself) being able to choose to wear high heels and lipstick was as critical as being able to choose to forgo shaving body hair and to avoid all penetrative sex, where eliminating the oppressive power structures that prevent women and men and people of every other gender from being able to choose was the goal!  And because so much of the talking, and much of the acting, was (on its face, at least) in service of that goal, it took me a long time to see that I had simply found myself back in the same situation I had walked away from several years before.

I listen to Lady Gaga, and enjoy much of her music.  I have my own issues with some of her songs and lyrics, but those are my issues.  Then… I started hearing shouting by people who claimed to be all about personal choice, “Don’t listen to her! She did that whole disgusting, offensive, appropriative thing with traditional Islamic dress, she’s just exploiting oppressed populations for her own profit and public image!” At the same time, I was told that I should be listening to Beyoncé, because her music was “really great” and “so perfectly feminist” and way better than all the other people “pretending” to get it.

Or being screamed at for recommending one of my childhood favorite novels, The Secret Garden, to MFP, because I was a horrible person to enjoy a book that was so obviously racist and championed Colonialism as a wonderful thing, and the fact that it was written in 1911 was irrelevant because I was mentioning it as something positive in the current day… although there were plenty of other books that she would gladly suggest if I wanted to do “better.”

See, I don’t think that anything in this world is beyond questioning, beyond examining for what benefit it brings, what harm it does, what it supports, and what can be learned from it.  I also know that, as Benjamin Franklin said, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” I know that the music I listen to, the books I read, the other things I take in on a regular basis — they’re going to offend somebody. They’re also going to please other folks very much! And I don’t worry nearly so much about what others feel about the things I enjoy, because I know that I continue to do what works consistently: seek pleasure first and foremost. Within that, maintain a constant re-evaluation of myself and my surroundings, constantly adjust as I find things which no longer benefit me (and leave them behind) and likewise adjust as I find things which serve me well (and embrace them.)

And I’ll keep doing that until I find that it no longer works, and then I’ll do something that does. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it feels good. And though I’m the only one involved in making those decisions, I know that others are positively affected by it, which is just further motivation to stick with it!

But now, she doesn’t live here anymore

Something wonderful: a delightful sexual encounter where all parties involved were satisfied and enjoyed themselves, where everything that happened was comfortable and communication was clear and direct.

Something horrible: Waking suddenly from sleep in the middle of that night in a cold sweat, with a knot of dread in your belly and your mind racing as you go over each and every single part of that beautiful encounter, trying to second-guess yourself, afraid of what you’ll be chastised for, what things might count as ignoring consent (and finding nothing,) which things might possibly be construed as unwanted violence (still finding nothing) or violation of boundaries (and still empty-handed, but still scared)…

…before your rational brain kicks in to remind you that it wasn’t your ex that you just were in bed with, and you’re not dealing with them anymore.

Yet another reminder that breaking up with MFP was the right decision, and that it will still take time to heal.

A love sonnet

Someday the world will see our love as such
And understand the beauty that we share
No whispering (afraid to speak too much!)
No more denying what is plainly there
We know the feelings deep within our hearts
And seek out other hearts who beat the same
Such agony, such doubt! When first we start
Alone, we dare not even use love’s name.
We reach out — only subtle hints we leave.
We speak in riddles, deftly-chosen words
Which give a sign to those who would receive
Then echo back, with recognition heard.
Such little choice: to love in secrecy,
Or brand ourselves as monsters openly…

Suppose you tell me darlin’ — who do you think I think I am?

I laughed at both of my older brothers as I watched them go from most of their lives griping about how they’d never have kids, they’d never want kids, they didn’t understand how anybody could want kids… to settling down and raising families of their own. My oldest brother has… 9 or 10, I think? One adopted, the rest carried by his wife.  I remember the same thing with my next-younger sister, there was no way she’d have kids… and now she has two, and is happy.

And now I’m standing in the mirror wondering what’s happened to the woman I knew, the one who used to casually joke about how “I love kids! Just gotta tenderize ’em first, back the van over them a few times works well, then marinate overnight and grill for dinner!”  Wondering what happened to the rage that accompanied being in the same room as any child under about 12, and the frustration that came with every sound they made.  Wondering what happened to the woman who would cross the street when someone came walking along pushing a stroller, or leading a toddler or two along. Because that’s the woman I keep expecting to see…

…but instead I’m looking at the reflection with a puzzled look, because the woman I see looking back at me can see herself settling down, can see herself not only as a housewife (and that’s something I’ve hoped to be for many years) but as a mother helping to raise her children.  Not just “can see herself” doing these things, but genuinely wants to do these things.  It’s a very, very weird feeling, and although I know that I’m the woman looking back, I’m kind of wondering “who are you, and what have you done with me?!”

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