Showing posts with label self-esteem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-esteem. Show all posts

a potential cure for jealousy

I've fangirled for The School of Life before, and I'm sure I'll do it again. I don't think the importance of emotional intelligence, humility, and self-awareness (all of which SOL triumphs), can be overstated. And this video about flirting is a surprising new favorite.

Historically speaking, I've been a terribly jealous partner. In 99/100 cases (how sad to think there could have been that many!), the jealousy had less to do with feeling genuinely threatened by an interloper than with facing my own insecurities; I am nothing if not well-versed in and thoroughly convinced of my inadequacies.

Watching a partner get chatted up by someone (that I perceive as) more accomplished, more successful, more this or more that - has always been an exquisite form of torture. He likes her more than me. He relates to her more than me. They have more in common. I'm not worthy, and she's helping to make that clear to him. 

Lovely, I know.

Anyway, this video takes the concept of flirting and makes something really sweet out of it.



I love the idea of a "redistribution" of confidence. I love the idea of my boyfriend - of anyone I care about - getting a harmless dose of it. Feeling just a bit more handsome, or walking just a bit taller after a throwaway conversation with a member of the opposite sex.

It's almost comical how quickly this philosophy of flirting dissolved at least one gnarly arm of my own green eyed monster.

absolutes

Here is a thing I am working on: dispensing with absolutes.

I tend to file my efforts in one of two folders: Absolute Successes and Absolute Failures. It's not a productive day unless I accomplish everything on my to-do list. It's not a workout unless I am dripping with sweat and exhausted. The day wasn't healthy unless it was totally free of refined sugar, or caffeine, or whatever my nutritional scapegoat du jour is.

This is great for keeping things simple, but not so great for actual achievement and growth. Because in my case anyway, the absolute system undermines the bigger picture by poking little holes in it. When I stumble in one arena, it's all too enticing to give up in others. Write off the day. Let the negative self-talk start. Absolutes are an excuse to flagellate myself and reconfirm all my worst suspicions about how terrible I really am, so why bother at all?

Absolutes are difficult habit to quit, but I'm experimenting with solutions. Rather than burn myself out scrambling after that 100%, I force myself to stop at, say, 85%. Then at the end of the day when I reflect on what I've accomplished, rather than berate myself for the missing 15%, I congratulate myself on the 85%. I'm learning to be okay with Bs.

And yeah, I know this sort of self-coddling makes overachievers and perfectionists throw up a little bit, in their mouths. But when you're coming from a place of total stagnancy and zero achievement, the small steps don't feel so small.


suddenly so precious

Well, I said I wasn't going to talk about work. But that was before I realized that work makes for some excellent material. Also: if I don't talk about work, there won't be much blogging going on at all, because that's a large part of where I'm spending my time these days. I do need to maintain some privacy (no names, no specifics), but I feel comfortable that I can manage that boundary and still share some of the more entertaining stuff. Because woo boy is it entertaining.

As I said before, I work in Beverly Hills. The office is in what's known as the Golden Triangle, a super luxe shopping and dining area right in the heart of the city. Every day I walk past some of the most expensive boutiques in the world. It's a kick. When I have some extra time I'll try to get there early and take photos. Gorgeous shopfronts, everything immaculate and gleaming. Yes, conspicuous consumption, yes entitled rich people--but I can't help find it a beautiful and welcome escape from a comparatively dirty downtown. I desperately needed a change of scenery, and wow did I get it.

I work odd hours. Middle of the day. I start anywhere from 11am to 2pm and work anywhere from 8pm to 11pm. That includes after-work dinners or cocktails. The hours are unpredictable because my boss is unpredictable--even to himself. (I'll get back to that.) To get to work I take the train, then the bus. It's an easy, straight shoot, and I don't mind it at all. Driving in LA has always been a personal nightmare of mine, and I use the commute to answer emails, catch up on Instagram, text friends. I am thrilled to be able to continue life car-free for the time being.

Right now I'm working three to four days a week. My boss knows I'm keen to work as close to full time as I can, and he's been great about having me come in whenever possible. To that end I'm working hard to figure out the best way to be of use to him. Indispensable, even. Because that's my goal. It's not a glamorous job and it doesn't pay loads--but it's kind of totally amazing for a lot of reasons. (Which I'll also get back to.)

Basically, I'm an assistant. Part office, part personal. I just do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes that's drafting emails or making calls or doing research. Sometimes it's running errands. Sometimes it's tagging along on a trip to an offsite facility, just so my boss can use the carpool lane. (He doesn't say this, but I'm 99% sure that's the case.) Sometimes it's trailing after him, toting his bags and files, while he makes the rounds near his office. Jewelry stores, the ophthalmologist's, his plastic surgeon buddy. He'll stop in to socialize for a few minutes, and I'll hang out while he gets a quick hair cut, say, or take notes when someone has some information for him. I always have to be on, and alert to direction. I definitely get ordered around, and to make my friends laugh I play up the under-appreciated, downtrodden assistant angle.

But the truth is I love it.

The first few nights when I got home, I just lay on my bed stunned and exhausted, trying to process everything. Because there's a lot to process with my boss, who is an exceptionally unique and occasionally challenging person. And when I had strength enough to do so, I cried. Not because I was unhappy, but because it dawned on me that I'd passed a whole day, then two, without obsessing about my own life. Without thinking about myself at all. Without worry, anxiety, or the demons of depression poking at me all day. The relief was overwhelming. And every day as I get more comfortable and confident in the job, the air grows even sweeter. I feel normal and productive for the first time in a very, very long time. It's a sort of soft-blooming happiness for which I am grateful every second of the day. Maybe happiness isn't the right word. Maybe it's just self-esteem. Maybe it's happiness born of self-esteem. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it immensely.

So. Now I've got to explain a little what it is about my boss--and therefore the job--that's difficult but simultaneously but great. In a nutshell, he's an eccentric. Brilliant but strange. He's an inventor and an investor, a businessman and an entrepreneur. He's made a lot of really cool, society-advancing shit. His ideas are all progressive, and at the end of the day he wants to help people live better and more safely. And he's made a lot of money working towards that goal.

But, as with many overachieving workaholics, he can be demanding. Impatient. Hot-tempered and moody. Indecisive. Highly opinionated. And all of that can make for a slightly destabilizing work environment. His agenda changes day to day, and therefore so does mine. Sometimes we only put in a few hours of real work before cutting out to have drinks at his Bel Air mansion. Yes there is a Bel Air mansion. And five cars. And all sorts of kooky rich-person nonsense. And honestly? I love it all. It keeps me on my toes. It forces me to flex muscles I didn't even know I had. Tact. Flexibility. Stamina. Patience. All while working to advance someone else's objectives, for once in my life. It's wonderful.

There have been, already, several hilariously WTF moments. Last week I found myself sitting in a five star restaurant, the only sober person at a table with my boss, two beautiful but perhaps overly, um, improved Greek socialites, and an Englishman who owned one of London's most famous music venues in the '60s and whose great-great-great (?) grandfather invented the plate. Supposedly. The Englishman is harmless enough though a bit of a blowhard who rather enjoys bossing yours truly around. I'm not going to say I smiled to myself when he knocked a full glass of ice water into his lap but I'm not going to say I didn't.

The women, who I'd later find out are friends of fifteen years, were having a screaming match. In Greek. I was seated between them. Now and then one would lean in to me and demand to know what the other had said. Thankfully these requests were made in English, but it didn't make playing the diplomat any easier. It was a great relief when they suddenly, unexpectedly made up. Then, since the table was wedged tightly into a corner of the restaurant and the women couldn't stand up without disrupting everyone, I was asked to give each a hug for the other.

During this entire affair I was the only one really eating anything, which my boss noticed with approval (he has many quirks, and one of them is having very particular ideas about what one should eat - in the many meals we've had together already, I've not once been allowed to see a menu for myself). In fact he ordered an entire second round of food I'm pretty sure because he knew I was still hungry. The restaurant we were at is rather famous but as it's one of my boss's regular spots I'm gonna leave that detail out. Suffice to say I ate very well that night.

This is one of the perks of my job: meals. Good ones, at great places. As I mentioned above, my boss is a wee bit controlling about ordering...but I'm completely okay with that. The food is always amazing and I'm never allowed to pay or even chip in. Perk indeed.

As to downsides, well, the hours are a bit tricky. Of course I like not having to be anywhere at seven am, but as I'm determined to keep on top of other already-standing priorities in my life, I still have to get up early. I pledged to myself when I got the job that neither Chaucer nor my health would suffer for the change. That means getting up at eight am, so Chauc can still get his full, ambling walk, and I can still work out. I have to exercise before work; I'm way too pooped afterward. And I have to exercise period, for my sense of well-being. That's non-negotiable. So no sleeping in, despite the later start time.

And then it's a bummer to get out so late, particularly on Thursdays and Fridays, the prime go-out-with-the-friends days. But we're making it work. Saturday I finally caught up with Krista and we had a blast of an evening. Love that girl more all the time.

Anyway, that's the overview. There's much more to it all but now you've got the general picture.

More when time, suddenly so precious, allows.

behind it all

I have some thoughts to share that are pretty high up on the vulnerability scale. Things about myself I don't love at all, and am working on. But I'm going to share them anyway, because I also had an idea that makes me happy--or at least more at peace--about those things. The idea is a visual concept, a really simple metaphor I guess, and it might be useful to someone else, perhaps? I don't know. But here goes. First I have to establish some context. Okay a lot of context...

Do you remember my friend Cameron? I sometimes called him Wally, which became his nickname after a hilarious autocorrect fail. He and I were extremely close, and we spent a great deal of time together between 2010 and 2013, before he moved to Texas. We met around the time of my divorce--he was a neighbor in the building where Mike and I lived before we split up. I think the last time I mentioned Cameron was on Instagram. I believe it was a post showing a bounty of food and treats he'd brought over to me when he came for a visit. At the time I had just broken my foot. I wasn't very mobile and I was still in some occasional pain.

Well, Cameron and I broke up immediately after that visit. And "broke up" is not typically a phrase you use when discussing the end of a friendship, but for Cameron and I, it's really the only way to put it. And anyone that knows us, knows that too. We were tight. Really, really tight. Absolutely best friends. We'd spend hours upon hours together only to wake up and do it all over again the next day. We texted constantly. He was my confidant and my partner in crime (literally sometimes). When I went out of town, it was he who'd watch Chaucer - sometimes for months on end. When my husband insinuated to me that he was gay (fuck it, it's been six years, statute of limitations has been well bulldozed past as far as I'm concerned...plus he got remarried to a woman he was dating while he was still married to me), it was to Cameron I turned, devastated. When I got into an abusive relationship in Arizona, it was Cameron who got in his car and drove, overnight, to come rescue me. Cameron introduced me to gay bars, some of which became our go-to hangouts. I spent so much time in the gay bars of Silverlake and Hollywood that to this day, they are more comfortable to me than straight bars.

But Cameron and I had our problems. We would fight sometimes. Absolute ragers. We are both highly opinionated people who are unafraid to get angry. And having spent so much time together, having gotten so close, we had a lot of emotion invested in our friendship. That's a beautiful thing but it can make for a powder keg, too.

The reason Cameron and I broke up was simple: he wanted me to accompany him to the wedding of a pair of friends of his up in SF. I'd planned on going with him for months...but then I broke my foot. Long story short, we disagreed on how easy or comfortable it would be for me to go. I didn't want to. I was afraid of being away from home, injured and uninsured. He really wanted me to. Really, really. It was a gay wedding, one of his very best friends, and it meant a lot to him for me to come. He promised he'd take the utmost care with my foot. That he'd rent a damn wheelchair if need be. That we could go as slow as I needed. He saw that I was able to get about with crutches and a scooter and didn't see the difference between limping around in LA and limping around SF.

Well, we argued. And argued. And finally I just had enough. I felt completely justified in telling him to take a flying leap.

Oh, and conveniently? I had just started dating Terence. What the fuck did I need a stubborn, demanding jerk like Cameron around for when I had this amazing, loving, gorgeous new guy to fawn all over me??

Yeeeeaaaah.

I ripped Cameron out of my life ruthlessly. I wrote him a scathing letter and then blocked his email. Blocked his phone number. Blocked him on social media. To this day I don't know what came over me. Why I reacted with so much anger. Why I felt it was okay to obliterate from my life one of the few, loving constants in it. Sure we had some issues, sure there were things we could have worked on in our friendship, but really Ellie? Blocking him, like a cold-blooded bitch?

Time went by. Regret is like quick sand. You don't even know you're standing in it at first, and then you're suddenly sinking deeper and deeper and deeper. And the one person who could pull me out? Throw me a branch and haul me to shore? Well, I'd made myself invisible to him, and him to me. Pride. Ego. Shame. I assumed he hated my guts, too. And I buried my sadness underneath the new joy that was Terence.

Can you see where this is going? I told you--not proud of this side of me. The side that claims her friends are her family and then sometimes proceeds to treat them like dogshit.

To my credit, I waited months. Of course I'm talking about how long I waited until after Terence and I broke up to reach out to Cameron, tail between my legs. Because of course I would do that. Of course I would be so predictably basic. Of course I would wait until MY hour of need to invite him back into my life, knowing nothing whatsoever about the hours of need he may have had in the interim.

The letter I wrote was simple and short. I'm sorry. I was wrong. You were a wonderful friend to me. I think of you often and hope you are well. 

He answered. And so proceeded a month or so of polite back-and-forthing while he, understandably, got his bearings on the roller coaster that is Ellie's emotional regulation and decided that yeah, sure, he'd give it another shot.

Fast forward to last week. Those of you who follow me on IG maybe saw my post of him, though I don't know how many of you understood the import. I sort of quietly stopped talking about him after our fight, so maybe you assumed we'd just fallen out of touch? I dunno. Anyway, he came to LA last week, for work. And I spent three glorious nights with him.

I won't go on and on about what it meant to me to see him again, because if you've read this far you already get it. But it was like my entire world shifted back onto its proper axis. Cameron is one of the great loves of my life and talking to him again? Laughing and sharing and catching up and crying and forgiving and drinking and watching Netflix and getting Nutella and cookies at 2 am from the grocery store? Best thing that's happened to me in months.

Of course, he still lives in Texas. He comes to LA often but Houston is his home. And anyone that's read my blog for any length of time knows that I have other very close friends who live either in AZ or in other cities in California. Bottom line: my nearest and dearest are not very near to me at all. I see them a few times a year. Mason I see maybe once a year.  And this is very, very difficult for me.

How difficult? Well, sometimes I lose my ever-loving mind about it. Sometimes I get so down, so unbelievably depressed and angry that my friends are elsewhere, that rather than turn to them I turn on them. I grow incredibly demanding and unforgiving. Unforgiving that they have the audacity to live elsewhere and have their own lives. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. Sometimes? These bastards? They group text without me. Sometimes they even travel without me. Together. They take trips without me. Can you believe it?? Don't they know how much I need them? How much I need to be included? How much love I need, because I suffer from depression and have been through some hell?

DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THEIR OBLIGATION TO MAKE ME HAPPY??!

K. So. Has the picture formed sufficiently, of how needy a friend I can be? And let me freeze right here to disclaim, with utmost confidence, that any one of my close friends would be the first to tell you that I am also fiercely loyal, loving, selfless, fun as fuck, and awesome. They would tell you that they adore me with their whole hearts, and they would mean it. I know this, because every time they pick up on the fact that my self-esteem is in the shitter, they swoop in and reassure me with the most unbelievable love and support, you'd melt to hear. It's real, true love, and I know it. Which is why I want more of it, more often than I can reasonably have, from people that live states away and are damn busy. And the last thing I'll say in my defense is that I am NOT the kind of "friend" who only ever cares about her shit, and never participates in the details of other lives. That's kind of the whole problem. I want so much to participate in my friends lives, to know what they're doing, their challenges and triumphs, how I can support them, etc. But again. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. State lines.

Recently I took a really bad dive, emotionally. The details don't matter; suffice to say I was making plans and not for a vacation. I just felt really, really alone. I reached out to my friends with a mixture of pleading, punishing anger (why don't you call more often! you know I depend on you!), fear, and self-nihilation, and I ended up having one of the hardest but most necessary conversations of my life, with Mason. In a nutshell he told me I could have every last breath of his love and friendship, but that if things with me were so bad that not hearing from my friends was enough to make me suicidal...then no amount of love and friendship would matter. What I needed was a reframe, in the head and the heart. He then said a series of things that did fix me, as far as I was concerned, because my T-Rex brain was only focused on getting the love I needed THEN not the healing I need OVERALL...but the first bit was what was really important. Talk about your tough love.

I'm still thinking about all of this, still trying to figure out where the truth is. Because while I know that no one but me is responsible for my happiness, I think that fully needing and loving another is part of what makes us richly human. For a much better, clearer articulation of what I mean by this, see The Moral Bucket List, a NYT article by David Brooks that I can't stop thinking about.

And now I've come full circle. I started by mentioning that I'd had an idea maybe worth sharing. It's this:

Once, at Disneyland, I took a tour of the animation studios. I remember being fascinated by animation cels, and how they were created. An artist would paint on a stack of clear cellulose sheets; depending on whether what was being drawn was part of the background or the action, he would either lift the stack of sheets or lower them. So for example, if the animation called for a background of trees, the sheet painted with those trees would stay, stationary and constant, under the layer upon which characters would run, or jump.

I realized my life is like that. No matter what I'm coloring in on the top sheet, whether it's a new job or a new home or a new boyfriend, whether it's something scary and ugly I'm going through or something thrilling and fun--underneath it all is my same background. Friends I've had for years, decades in some cases. They're there, behind it all. And they're not going anywhere, as long as I don't erase them. They're sturdy and strong and they are in my life, always. No matter what else isn't.

It's a thought I can hold onto, to make the lonelier times less lonely.

I'm not very good at opening up to new people, which is precisely what I need to do in order to have more close friends locally. Especially now that Kerry and Ross are gone. I try, in small bits. See: Krista, who is truly a lovely, loving person. It takes me a while, but I do open up in a real way, eventually. I'm working on it.

Action and background. A richer, more complete picture. I'm working on it.

hey all you foxy young things, this is what's coming down the pipe

Apparently, forty is the age at which men start describing you as "vibrant."

Vibrant. Dear god.

I try to take it as a compliment, but I can't help feeling that's it's a kind way of saying, "You clearly used to be hot. And still are, sort of, in a way. Just not, you know, young-hot."

I remind myself of all the lovely things that are regularly described as vibrant. Sunsets. Flowers. Casino hotel carpeting. And I'm sure I'll get used to it. Hell, in five or ten years I'll probably be ecstatic if someone calls me vibrant. But right now? Ugh.

Forty is also the age when you can justifiably start filling in the sentence, "The central problem of my life is ____." Not that you should. That's probably a sentence better left unfinished, unless it's being co-authored by a good therapist. But it doesn't sound so ridiculous anymore, is the point.

I'm really selling this forty thing, I know.

the Heights of Estimation

The Heights of Estimation (where my heroes live) are treacherous and difficult to reach. Steep, craggy cliffs buffeted by icy, howling wind. A thorny, overgrown path that discourages visitors. I call on them only when I absolutely must - my heroes. Which is how I suspect they prefer it, anyway. Wizards behinds curtains keep the curtains drawn for good reason.

Still, I am a faithful supplicant. Bundled against the unbearable cold, I make regular treks to pay homage. I set my most lavish praise on their doorsteps and retreat quietly. I await response. Sometimes it comes; sometimes it doesn't. Either way they keep the homes I've built for them, high, high up in the clouds. The Heights of Estimation are rent stabilized.

Once in a while my mind plays tricks on me, and I think I see one of my heroes down here, in the sublunary world. But I know that can't be possible. Why would they consort among mere humans - flawed, pathetic, needful? What use is this place to them? They have everything they need in the lofty aeries I so lovingly furnished with my fulsome admiration, my undying devotion.

No - my heroes are quite comfortable where they are, I think. Safe. Elusive. Unassailable.

Unknowable, ultimately.

hashtag AI

A year ago this week, fed up with yet again "having to" concurrently document something that I was just trying to enjoy (in this case, Coachella), I quit Instagram. I bungled what could have been a breezy goodbye by having a mini breakdown, getting inexplicably, retroactively angry about my own two+ years of oversharing and taking that frustration out on several hundred innocent bystanders by way of the blockhammer. From over 1100 followers, I whittled and hacked my way down to 25 or so inner circle friends.

So silly.

Not quitting; I'm glad I left. But the concomitant drama - that was unnecessary. I should have just walked away and let things be, instead of making it so weird for myself, for readers and friends. Ah well. I was in deep. Big emotional investments result in big emotional cash outs, I guess.

I don't really know what the state of the gramming union is. If people love it, generally, or if enthusiasm is waning. If new features keep it fresh for them or if, like I was, they're burned out and bored. And it's the ultimate in navel-gazing, I realize, to write a post about Why I Did a Thing On Social Media. But every so often someone says something to me along the lines of I get why you did it. And I'm kinda jealous. Or, Totally understand. Thinking about doing the same.

So this post, aside from being a belly button lint check, is an assessment of life After Instagram. It's for anyone considering jumping ship, wanting a glimpse of the dark side. We here on the dark side are always recruiting.

No lie: the first week or so was really weird and rather awful. I felt like I'd up and moved away from some close friends. It was disorienting and isolating, like being in a foreign country without wifi access. Self-imposed banishment. I questioned my decision, only finding reassurance that I'd done the right thing when I reminded myself of all the things - better, more fulfilling and self-improving things - I'd be doing with my time instead.

So, how's that going for me? Am I doing better, more fulfilling and self-improving things with that portion of my time?

Nah, not really. I haven't exactly plowed through my reading list. I'm not out volunteering every weekend, and I haven't mastered a new language. I can claim no intellectual high ground, being off of IG. I still find plenty of ways to waste time. I do think my writing has improved, if only marginally, from forcing myself to tell stories more than show them. But leaving Instagram didn't magically transform me into a sophisticate.

It definitely made my life simpler, however. One less thing to "keep up", to manage. Pictures sit in my phone or on my computer until I'm ready, if ever, to share them on my blog. There's less nagging sense of expiration, gotta stay current, gotta 'gram it while it's fresh! So it's quieter, too.

I still take snapshots of my experiences to include here, but the urgency to Record! Every! Event! is gone. Which, interestingly, has made me look at the very nature of my friendships, of my relationship with Terence, differently. Well perhaps not differently, since it's something I've known - but maybe with refreshed eyes. A year clear of the mind-fuckery of IG, I am reminded that whatever the degree of my closeness to others - that is the same whether we're in front of a camera shutter or not. My dear friends are my dear friends, acquaintances are acquaintances, I am tolerated by some, disliked by some, and adored by a few. I can post a dozen photos a day, a carefully curated selection of flattering selfies, sunny hiking trails, and smiling faces, but not a single one of them can change what's going on behind the lens. I've got wrinkles. My boyfriend and I fight. Some nights out are boring. And that's okay.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to share the highlights of one's life. But there was a certain superficial affirmation in that feedback loop that, having now cut it, I recognize. Wow, my life looks so good! I must be doing great! Look how happy I look! I must be so happy! Which is not to say that I wasn't happy. Just that admiring myself and my life daily, in cleverly captioned, pretty little thumbnails, was a great way to excuse myself from the very hard work of trying to actually be happier. When I enjoyed a constant stream of external validation (You look fantastic! You two are the perfect couple! Wow you do cool things!), I wasn't overly motivated to find realer, more long-term and satisfying sources of internal validation (such as setting and accomplishing goals, and improving the very relationships I so proudly exhibited).

These days, if I want to feel good about myself, I have to actually do something. Something productive, or kind, or difficult. I no longer have the quick fix of posting to Instagram and getting a flood of positive cues to reinforce my lazy, push-button creativity or implicitly praise my lifestyle.

Last plus of being off IG? Opting the fuck out of self-comparison games. There's a fine line between inspiration and envy and being even one inch in the wrong direction was toxic to my sense of self. Sure, you can limit your range of motion on Instagram, only interact with people who make you feel good. But sooner or later you're going to see something that will make you feel inadequate. Or maybe not. I did, anyway, and I'm glad to be free of that.

Sometimes, when my phone is full of picturesque, perfectly filtered pictures, I'll miss it. I'll think about how great they'd look on IG, colorful and bright, reflecting moments of my life that seemed beautiful enough to freeze the frame on. But then I'll realize how self-involved that is. That I'm not wanting to get back on Instagram because I so miss joking around with my buddies and seeing what they're up to. That I'm wanting to get back on Instagram because I'm a goddamn me monster who is vastly less interested in other people's images than in my own. Yeah yeah, okay, kid, kid, sunset, selfie, cat...NOW ME! MY TURN! LOOK AT ME MY PHOTO MY LIFE ME ME ME!

I do more than enough Me Monstering right here.

So that my friends is what it's like here on the dark side. A little bit quieter, a little bit simpler, a little bit lonelier, with at least one monster poking about. I'm probably not making it sound as nice as it actually is, but I'd be glad for your company if you came over all the same. #atleastIwonthashtagyou

Captain Awkward

I'm probably one of the last persons on the Internet to have discovered the advice blog Captain Awkward, but I'm happy to disclose my embarrassingly late arrival just in case you're even later than me. Because it's fantastic. I've said before how much I like Baggage Reclaim for relationship advice, but Captain Awkward goes further, delving into career, family, friendship, mental health, Feminism, sex, and more.

CA moderates comments (referencing by way of explanation a rather thought-provoking post from another blog, titled If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault), has a glossary (also off-site) of thoughtful, funny Awkwardisms, and boasts a community of long-time readers who've established a discussion forum and regularly schedule meet-ups around the US and UK. In short, from what I've seen, it seems like a really cool, really friendly place to kick it online.

As a recovering people pleaser, I particularly enjoy what she has to say about boundaries (I don't know that I'll ever get used to the empowerment that comes from a simple "no"). But my favorite thing about Captain Awkward is the "scripts" offered to letter-writers: helpful, concise responses which advice seekers can utilize, immediately, in the difficult situations they're facing in real life. (Example scripts for saying "It was nice to meet you! But not THAT nice.")

I could definitely have used this post about pushy in-laws back when I was married. This one, about auditioning for the approval of people who dislike you, would have been handy a few years ago when I was detaching, with much heartbreak, from a toxic social circle. And this one, about a lopsided, all-on-one-person's-terms friendship, is kinda exactly what I've been needing lately. From that post:

Listen, you can totally still be friends with this person as long as you accept that the friendship will take place 100% completely on his terms. When you hang out, you will do so at his place, listening to him noodle around on his guitar and agreeing with everything he says unless you’d like a tiresome fight. 
So only see him on those rare occasions that you’re looking for a night of listening to him play guitar and agreeing with whatever he says. On all other nights of the year, spend whatever energy and love you would normally pour into maintaining and deepening a friendship with him into making some new friends who actually, I don’t know, are interested in things about you and can maintain a basic level of reciprocity? 
And when you say “Let’s hang out!” and he says “Sure, come over and I’ll play guitar,” say “Eh, can’t we go out and grab some dinner?” and if he says “No, but come over!” say “Sorry, maybe next time.” Like any time you enforce a boundary for the first time, it will feel super-weird for a short time and then it will feel normal and you’ll start feeling much better. 
You don’t have to drop him from your life – I believe you that you’ve shared some good times – but you do have to teach yourself to need very little from him and to accept that he’s limited in what he can give you. I would pour your limited time and energy into making some new friends. I realize that’s easier said than done, especially with a demanding job, but I think that effort spent will pay off much better than beating your head against the wall of “We will do things my way at my convenience.” Hang out with him once in a blue moon when his self-centered ways amuse and comfort you with their utter predictability and don’t grate you down like fine cheese.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was going through something tough with a friend, something that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to talk about. Well, Captain Awkward has saved me that, uh, awkwardness because the bits I've bolded break it down perfectly. The exact situation, the exact dilemma. So, yeah. That's that particularly corner of my life, summed up. Bleh.

Anyway, if you've got some time and could use a laugh and a dose of good sense, coast on over. Great, useful stuff.

seven things I am aware of as the year comes to an end

1. If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to document it, it still made a sound. 

Quitting Instagram turned out to be a surprisingly educational experience for me. When I took away that push-button validation, it got weirdly...quiet. And in that quiet I had plenty of time and space to consider why and how I document my life. What my motives are, what if anything I'm trying to show - to prove - to myself and to others. I got honest with myself about some of my longstanding insecurities, particular those surrounding friendships and what has, pathetically, persisted as a never-ending need to prove I have them.

I went through some shit growing up, with friends. And not-friends. And frenemies. Some awful, awful shit that launched me into adulthood frantic to fix that part of my life. And I do feel miles away from where I was, as recently as my twenties. But I certainly don't need to fuck with the precious, mysterious thing that is friendship by making it any more of a spectacle than it already is here on overshariquent.

Not being able to announce, immediately, HEY GUESS WHAT I HAD DRINKS WITH MY FRIEND KERRY, WHO LIKES ME, BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND, BECAUSE I HAVE FRIENDS is really good for me. It took some getting used to, because I was so warped by the Insta-machine that not documenting my good times made them feel, at first, somehow less real. But eventually I was able to just chill and let go of the need to SHOW and TELL, and I know I became a better friend for it. More present and relaxed and engaged. Less distracted by the need to Make Sure and Get a 'Gram Out of It! Nowadays I don't even blog about every "bloggable" thing I do. I'm just doing things and enjoying them, like a normal fucking person. Imagine that.

Whether or not I blog it or Instagram it or Twitter it - the good moment happened. That's the thing to remember.

2. Reading fiction makes me a better person. 

My reading habits aren't what they used to be, but I'm fighting to earn back my bookworm badge. It isn't always easy to find time, and distractions abound. But when I do make the effort to plunge into a novel, to persevere until I feel its hooks sink gloriously into me, I marvel at myself. Psst, dummy! How can you forget how good this feels? How can you not want to do this ALL THE TIME? 

A good book occupies my thoughts and distracts me from the annoyances of daily life, making me less irritable. Even when I put it down, the back burner of my brain has something more satisfying to chew on than whether or not I should reorganize the spice cabinet. Fictional characters feel like temporary friends, and the (often epic) challenges they face smack some perspective into me.

I feel more open-minded and cheerful when I'm reading fiction, and I suspect I'm more pleasant to be around. It leaves me feeling peaceful and thoughtful, which probably primes me for more loving and engaging interaction with the people I care about. Compared to how I often feel after an hour or two on the internet (depleted, agitated), that's a very welcome change.

3. Being precious with things wastes them. 

For as long as I can remember, I've had the notion that "good" things need to be reserved for special occasions. It's only now starting to dawn on me how crazy this, because I'm looking back at the last few decades of my life and realizing how little I've utilized some of those good things. The expensive, the rare, the treasured and beloved. The "good" china. My "nice" sweaters. For a while after I bought it, I even avoided sitting on my own sofa, because I didn't want the cushions to wear out.

It's all fine and good to value your belongings, but what's the real value of something that you don't even use? When you think about it, disuse is about the saddest fate you can assign to some material thing. I mean, if you were a thing, wouldn't you want to be used and loved and appreciated to your fullest extent? Would you want to sit collecting dust in a cabinet, or in a jewelry box, or on a closet shelf? Wouldn't you revel in being taken out and given a chance to shine?

Losing my parents unexpectedly in quick(ish) succession has absolutely driven into me that life. is. short. Embrace what you've got here and now because you never know when it'll be gone.

4. Crowding out the bad is easier than cutting it out.

I first came across this concept in Hungry For Change, a food documentary espousing an approach to diet and exercise from a place of health and self-love, vs. one of deprivation and self-recrimination. And it was sort of revelatory for me, because it absolutely did work. When I stopped focusing on restricting bad foods and concentrated instead on slowly integrating in better ones, my life changed. And yeah that's dramatic, but it's true. I have never felt so consistently healthy as I have the past year, and that, I believe, is due to what I've added to my diet (which in turn has crowded out some of the worse stuff). It's easier not to fixate on avoiding unhealthy choices (thoughts which veritably consumed my food-disordered twenties) when they've been upstaged by healthy ones.

This idea has worked in other areas of my life, too. I'm as addicted to my phone as the next person, and much as I try to cut back on screen time, it's difficult. So rather than continuing to just rebuke myself for making poor choices (tap tap on Safari, oh look here I am surfing TimeWastersAnonymous AGAIN...tap tap on some shopping app, oh look here I am being a materialistic asshole AGAIN), I've added in some good choices. Duolingo. An awesome, super simple flashcard app for (NERD ALERT!) learning new words I've picked up while reading. I also only recently realized that I can save web pages, such as to news sites (or my blahg), to my home screen. But - and this is where the crowding out comes in - in order to do so, some other apps had to give up their prime real estate. Result: when I reflexively grab my phone in a free moment, it's that much easier to choose curiosity or creativity over mindlessness.

5. Curiosity and creativity are muscles that have to be worked. 

Sometimes I criticize myself for not being more up on current events, for not reading more articles, for not being better in touch with popular culture or knowing more quirky, interesting things about the natural world. The thing is, curiosity comes naturally to children, I think, partly because they have so little else on their plates. And since learning is so empowering, it becomes addictive. But the older we get and the more we have demanding our time and attention, the harder it is to keep this habit of learning up. It takes more effort to read the whole Times piece, for instance, and not just glance at the tweeted summary. But I think that just like any other habit, it can be strengthened. So rather than beat myself up for not knowing ALL THE THINGS, I accept that I can only know some - and even knowing those will take work. But educating myself about one issue is such a confidence booster that it feels less daunting to move on to another, and so forth.

Same thing with creativity. I believe writer's block exists, but I also know that forcing myself to sit down and create content sometimes produces the best stuff. No fairies are going to flutter down to my fingertips and take over. There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the world, but no magical muses. And the more I flex my creative muscles, the stronger they are and the braver I am about breaking out my guns. Even for silly stuff the point of which begins and ends with my own amusement. 

6. Good enough is a great stopping point for me.

A few months ago, Terence and I were checking out at the grocery store when a magazine caught my eye: Domino (a home decor magazine that was wildly popular but inexplicably retired in its prime). I was obsessed with Domino back in the day. I subscribed and saved every issue, only giving them up with great difficulty when I got married and wanted to pare down.

Anyway, when I saw the glossy cover on the rack, I audibly gasped. "What?" Terence asked.

I pointed. "My favorite magazine ever. Well, after Jane. I had no idea it was back!"

Terence grabbed a copy off the shelf and tossed it on top of our items, assuming from my reaction that I'd want one.

"No!" I exclaimed, shaking my head vehemently. "I can't." He didn't understand. "I'll want to redecorate our entire place," I explained. It's too much."

"Too much" is a place I can go to, too easily, and be too dissatisfied...and too spendy. Too much is Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and Domino. Where my home is concerned, I've learned that comfortable, organized, and welcoming to friends are good enough. I could make myself insane (and broke) trying to make it the most OMGstylish and amazing space ever, but that way madness lies.

Accepting its imperfection frees me up to better enjoy the home I've already got vs. obsessing over some future-perfect version of it that may never exist.

7. I want to be a fisherman.

A few weeks ago I told Terence about an interesting website I'd stumbled across. The Center for a New American Dream's tagline is "More of What Matters" and it sponsors initiatives having to do with things like community collaborations (sharing resources, strengthening regional food systems) and post-consumerist culture (better work/life balance, protecting kids from the marketing machine - even an alternative giving registry where experiences take the place of material goods).

But most exciting to me is their "Redefining the Dream" program, which is about what you'd imagine, and has a number of thought-provoking resource pages exploring the capital B Big questions (how much is enough? what really matters in this life? how fulfilling can an earn-and-spend existence be?) that, the older I get, the more I ponder.

Anyway, when I told Terence about it, he told me the story of the rich man and the fisherman, which I'd never heard. There are several versions of it floating around, but I like this one best. And if you're too pooped to click over, in a nutshell it's a story about a businessman who's too blind to see that the best things in life are free. (I'm not doing it justice though, because it's a powerful little tale and you really should read it because wow is it some food for thought.)

I've known a lot of rich men in my life and a handful of fishermen, and I've seen what it means to be each. I'm pretty sure which I'd rather be.  

stowaway

We should get a candle, I said, when you told me it was the first day of fall. Maybe you figured I didn't realize, because I lose track of things like that. Maybe you know fall floods me with an optimism that dips but doesn't really crash until the holidays hit, and you wanted to give me a boost. Or maybe it just made you happy to announce it, in the same way you love to say "Rabbit Rabbit" the first morning of every month.

We should get a candle, I said, and you smiled.

Yeah?

Yeah. To commemorate. Something scented and yummy, like pumpkin. It could be our new tradition, I went on. Picking out a fall candle. Then we could get duck fat fries. 

Yes, you said. I love it. Let's do it. And the next day I met you after work, at the shop. Candy sweet smells pouring out into the plaza. Bottles and jars with silly, sentimental flavors like "Sweater Weather" and "Tailgate". I showed you my favorite, almost sold out, and you mmmm'd appreciatively.

Or should we try to find something nicer looking? I wondered, frowning at the ugly orange wax and tacky label.

No, let's get it. You love it.

So we did. And we walked back home slowly, luxuriating in the coolish air. But we didn't get duck fat fries, because I wasn't up to it. And later that night it got worse, my thoughts twisted into black knots, as they do, until bedtime came and I couldn't sleep. So I crept out to the living room with my blanket and my pillow, and I shut the door carefully on the both of you, snoring almost imperceptibly in unison, a sound that keeps me alive more nights than you know.

And I watched a movie about broken people accepting themselves and finding love, a beautiful movie that should have lifted me up. But my thoughts were still twisted and black so it didn't. It made me feel worse, and more broken by comparison. Less lovable, less capable of accepting those parts of me that made me relate to them.

I tried to read, but the story hadn't pulled me in yet, so it couldn't compete with the blackness. I put the book aside and just sat, reminding myself that feelings are temporary visitors. But the visitors did a number on me in those small hours, and I let them. Idiot, they said, and I didn't correct them. Failure, they scoffed, and I didn't object. Loser, they sneered, and I only sighed.

Slivers of dawn framed the drawn blinds, but I didn't move until I heard the crows. (They make me think of fairy tales, I explained a few days ago, telling you about the early morning calls which you sleep through.) Only then did I return to the bedroom, climbing back in to your warmth and peace. I waited a little longer, listening to you, to Chaucer, to the birds outside. I pictured the eastern sky as it looked from our roof Saturday at six am when, again, I couldn't sleep. A streak of peachy pink watercolor behind the still-dark city.

Finally, I moved close up against you. Just enough pressure to let my presence sink into your sleepy subconscious, because I hate waking you unnecessarily. Slowly, you became aware of me. You stirred and took a deep breath, and I wondered what your first thought would be. Or if you were still dreaming and whether I was now in your dream. I rolled toward you then, because I knew you were coming to, and because I needed more. And you turned, and put your forehead against mine, and we didn't speak, and instead just enjoyed the wordless space of gentle coexistence that I know fills you up.

And here's what I did that you don't know: there in the stillness, in the semi-dark, my eyes shut tight - I passed it over to you. I reached in and pulled it from my chest, bruised and dirty from so much kicking, and I passed it over to you for a day of safe-keeping. Just one day. Because I knew I could, because I knew that when I was ready to be gentler with it, I could take it back from you none the worse for wear.

Afterward, I turned away, finally giving in to exhaustion. You wrapped yourself around me and your hand found mine, and I marveled at the way your fist stayed clasped around my thumb even as you drifted back into sleep. Was it unconscious? A reflex? Did some part of you know to keep vigil, to keep holding some piece of me tight and safe? I can't sleep tangled up like that but I couldn't bring myself to disturb you again. So instead I just lay unmoving and pictured the street below, readying itself for the day. Bread trucks and laundry service vans filling up the loading zones. The serious-faced husband carting supplies from his car to the tiny lunch counter his quiet wife runs alone, cooking up batches of curry and beef bulgogi that sell out every day. The freight elevator descending with a mechanical groan into the sidewalk, stacked high with crates of whiskey for the pub below. Bustle. Faces tired or friendly. All of it familiar in the best way.

And then the alarm, and you have to get ready.

I'm fading, quickly, mercifully, so you let me be except for a soft kiss on my cheek once you're showered and shod. Messenger bag. Light fall coat. And a stowaway you don't know about, taking a break from me, hitching a ride with you for the day.


spirit/hood

There is a thing in life I love so much that I am willing to abide certain Challenging Elements in order to enjoy it every so often. The thing is live electronic music, and the Challenging Elements are my age, the egos of many DJs, and the existence of butts better than my own.

I'll work backwards.

I spent yesterday in the company of lots and lots of nearly naked female butts. These butts, on average, were a good fifteen years my junior. They belonged to the thousands of women alongside whom I attended HardSummer music festival. They all seemed, to my surely unwelcome gaze, to be in top form, no matter the size or shape - if only because they were so damn young. It's hard for me to find fault with any young butt these days, now that mine is flirting with forty. Oh, youth. You are so fucking wasted on the--wait, no, never mind. I'm not actually sure you are.

I've been to enough festivals that I am relatively unfazed by the dearth of clothing on these whippersnappettes. It's probably good for me, anyway. A semi-annual, bracing ego check and a reminder that we all pass the beauty baton eventually - what matters is what remains when we do. Brains. Heart. Spirit. Humor. Grace. A personal blog littered with incriminating anecdotes.

Anyway, despite being mostly inured to the sight of twenty-something ass, I am still occasionally struck breathless by an especially exquisite specimen. It's moments like these that my fandom is truly tested. How much do I love this stuff? Enough to spend the weekend with my (also upper thirties) boyfriend, bobbing like castaways in a sea of nubile collegiate flesh?

Good news, electronic musicians! The answers are still "a lot" and "yes". You win, for now. And you win despite being some of the most douchetastic, arrogant idiots ever to take to social media. Because I believe that being a fan of any artist means fanning the art itself, not the flawed human behind it (an idea I want to explore in another post). So yeah, brag about your sports cars and complain about the lack of Skittles in your private jet; I'll still buy your albums and come to your shows.

And then there's the last of the Challenging Elements: my age. The happy fact is that I'm rarely aware of all thirty-nine of my years - or at least, rarely uncomfortable with them. And my list of age-determinate Won't Dos and Can't Wears is still triumphantly (foolishly?) short. But every year I do become a teensy bit more self-conscious in the festival scene, and a teensy bit more relieved when I catch sight of someone even older. I'll keep going, though. Because if fun has an expiration date, I'd rather dodge an entire stadium full of festival butts than read that fine print.

Even older, she wrote, and then stared at that phrase incredulously. Who am I and what have I done with myself? Did I not rock a spirit hood yesterday, just for the joy of dancing in a bear snow leopard albino raccoon an unidentified animal head? Did I not have an unbelievable time? Am I not ready to do it all over again today? Will I not be itching to do it all over again in another few months?

Yeah. I did. I am. I will.

White tiger? Fennec fox? Your guess is as good as mine.
They moved the festival from downtown LA to Whittier Narrows and WOW what an excellent change. Trees! Grass! Plus there's great flow and plenty of room to stretch out and adjust that tanga.
LOL sober people
The sun setting over the Porta Potties is always one of the most romantic moments of any festival.
Sound was fantastic on all the stages, but the nuclear blast during Axwell's set seemed a bit excessive. 
Okay well it looked cooler in my phone (and in person). Here it just looks like a sweaty gymnasium. Wev.
The best part of me insisting on taking these blurry night shots is I've forgotten who was on stage by the next day. 
LITE BRITE, LITE BRITE, TURN ON THE MAGIC OF INTENTIONALLY MISSPELLED CHILDREN'S TOYS
I asked Terence how old he thought that other festival-goers would guess we were. "They probably think we just turned thirty," he said. I have no idea how he came up with that, but anyway, Christ do I love this man for indulging my Peter Pan complex. Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning, baby.


So far the tops we've seen (day two starts in a few hours!) are Oliver, Alex Metric, and The Martinez Brothers. I found Axwell to be a bit meh (overly long buildups), the Goldroom DJ set to be lovely, and Jack U to be a weaksauce imitation of Dillon Francis. Go back to your roots, Skrilly, and leave the moombahton to Dilly.

And that will conclude the esoteric EDM snobbery portion of today's post.

Also that will conclude the post itself.

worms

I confessed them to you today, my fears and insecurities. Words and tears tripped one another in a race to be first; every last ugly thought to make it real and raw and awful. Because they'll see I'm a phony, I said. They'll know I'm a loser, and they'll tell you, and then you'll love me less. 

You'll love me less, I said, and it was like turning out pockets full of worms. You didn't know I was carrying them around. You thought I was just a girl. But nope. I am a walking tackle box. You kiss me and tell me how happy you are, and it's nice, it's so so nice, but meanwhile? Worms. In my pockets. That you don't see. That I use to catch all manner of horrible, slimy, deep-dwelling creatures (that you also don't see). 

But today you saw them, and you said, You don't need those, baby. Or the equivalent of that, anyway. You don't need those worms. And you told me why I don't have to be afraid. You made me look you in the eye instead of the shoulder, and you didn't loosen your grip one bit, even though we were both covered in the worms that I have been carrying for a very long time, since way before you even knew me. 

And that is why I will always try to keep my pockets free of the things that can weigh us down. 


learned this year: vulnerability

When you're willing to own the worst things about yourself, the criticism of others starts to lose its stinging power. It's as if someone were to pinch you on a callous. Yeah, no, go ahead. I've pinched it so much myself, it's gotten pretty numb. Be my guest, though. Maybe you need to for some reason?

But first you've got to be willing to face yourself down, in the darkest alley of your mind, and see your faults straight on. That's hardly fun. And worse: it isn't even necessarily productive, unless you plan on doing something about them.

A friend once asked me about vulnerability, as it relates to blogging. "How do you do it?" she wondered. "I wouldn't want to give that kind of fuel to my enemies." This was a conversation some six years ago, and it's stuck in my head as I've grown increasingly vulnerable in my online presence. I've written openly about depression, suicidal ideation, taking off my clothes for money, and drug use. I've revealed myself to be vain, lazy, self-indulgent, judgmental, immature, passive aggressive, hypocritical, ignorant, and materialistic. At least, I hope I have. Because those are all flaws in my character that I'm well aware of, and happy to cop to. Because I know I'm working on them. Because no one is perfect. And because I want to be the kind of imperfect person that others feel they can relate to, in this space and in real life.

Being vulnerable and admitting the worst things about myself doesn't change those bad things. They're there no matter if I say them out loud or keep them to myself. And they only have as much power in the hands of others as I allow them to. When I accept myself, the acceptance of others becomes less important. It's still nice of course (I'm only human) - but it isn't a prerequisite for my happiness.

Right now I know what my priorities are. I know what fulfills me and what makes me happy, and thus where I want to focus my attention and time. I know what areas of my life need work, too. When critics wag their finger at me, I understand, I really do. Given the same set of opportunities, the same talents and advantages, chances are each one of us would do something different. Each one of us prioritizes things differently: relationships, career, family, friends, health, etc. And that's a good thing, because life would be really fucking boring if we all walked the same path.

My path is mine alone to stumble down. Not everyone will understand my journey, and that's okay. It's my journey to make sense of, not theirs. Being public with my choices will always open me up to criticism, to side-eye and judgment for them. But I've learned this year that turning my palms up and saying Yep, you got my number, with genuine humility, makes it easier to pull the slings and arrows out of my back, so I can get back on my path, and hopefully be a little bit further down it when the next batch hits.

Vulnerability on its own is a liability. But vulnerability coupled with self-awareness feels like pretty fertile ground for personal growth.

You are not quinoa.

Mushrooms tonight. Just the littlest bit. Wasn't the plan. Didn't intend to. But it was dinner with his dad, who, despite having been nothing but absolutely lovely to me in our limited interactions - is still his dad. And I wanted to be my best. Relaxed, confident, engaging and clever. Interesting things to say. Listening well, asking smart questions. On point with my French. Basically, some version of myself that only exists in my imagination. And the fastest way to her is through what's contained in the little grey vase pushed to the back of my highest kitchen cabinet.

So a cap and a stem, as I was getting ready. Short pleated cotton skirt, loose turtleneck, dilapidated combat boots, marled hiking socks, long wool overcoat with slightly puffed sleeves. Strongly considered a beret. Actually dug one out and put it on. Regarded self critically. No. God, no. Yanked it off, tossed it onto the couch. Paused. Stuffed it back into the drawer from whence it came. Hide the evidence of that near disaster.

I didn't say I'd done anything, but he told me later I gave myself away, anyway. "How?" I asked, intrigued to think I have a drug tell. 

"The way you were oohing and ahhing at those Christmas lights, when we parked." I nodded. Guilty. Could have happily watched them for an hour. "Also, how open minded you were about getting vegan for dinner." I had to laugh. Yep. "I knew you were shrooming. I knew it." He shook his head. "Think I can't tell when my girlfriend is high? Come on."

But before this conversation, which takes place later, back at home and after the reconnect: dinner. Tiny place in Silver Lake, super crunchy hipster server, patrons. The menu makes liberal use of quotation marks, to emphasize (warn?) that items will not be what they seem. "Cheese". "Roast beef". "Bacon". The shrooms and I find this extremely amusing, but I'm scared of coming across condescending or critical so I try to reign it in. The man sitting beside me, whom I adore, really likes this place. I'm going to make an effort, goddamnit. 

It's easy to speak with his father, who is down to earth and funny, and will happily chat about himself, his work, or just random trivia - and who will kindly spare his son's girlfriend from having to talk about herself (which, as she suspects he quite empathetically picked up on the first time he met her, she prefers not to do). He tells us about the photosynthetic properties of olive trees, and mentions that a meteorite will be passing through Earth's atmosphere tonight. He explains the (very different) French meanings of some English words, when they confuse me. Panache. Elan. His third child and I listen with genuine interest, holding hands under the table. He's a born storyteller and utterly non-threatening, and I think to myself: he's my favorite of the dads, by far. And while I briefly wonder if I should say this later, I don't, knowing that a compliment like that, while well-intentioned, has the unfortunate side effect of ushering in the Ghosts of Boyfriends past. And while they never stay long, they can chill the room quite effectively when they choose to. I'm comfortable enough to throw in as much French as I can, glad of the little I do know, which feels like points scored, though I know it really isn't like that. I know I am genuinely liked. I can tell by the smiles and laughter - and the Thanksgiving card I received a few weeks prior. 

The food poses a problem, despite my having ordered the simplest things I could: white bean soup and a hummus platter. Before entrees arrive, we're served bread that as best I can tell is completely unseasoned and well on its way to a second life as croutons. It's accompanied by something called cashew cheese. I'm trying, I'm really fucking trying, but the shrooms are more than ready to steer me to a dark place, quick, and the phrase "cashew cheese" is all they needed to hear. Done. I'm done. Appetite gone. I glance around the restaurant like a caged animal, relaxed for the moment but growing wary and keen to have an escape route if necessary. I have an ungenerous thought. If vegan food is so amazing and healthy, why do all these people look vaguely sick and miserable? I make a mental note in Sharpie and run it over with several shades of highlighter to NOT share that thought later, no matter how high I get.

I can't eat my dinner, but I pick at it the best I can. The soup is harmless but bland. The hummus is awful until I realize it isn't hummus, it's quinoa, because the server has gotten my order wrong. No matter, I'm fully nauseous at this point. Fucking shrooms. Too many? Stale? On too empty a stomach? No idea. He notices me not eating and while he helpfully offers tastes of his, to fetch the waiter, etc., I can feel his disappointment. Or maybe I'm imagining it. Maybe I'm disappointed in myself. Maybe I'm feeling inadequate, for reasons I won't understand until several hours later. And had I articulated them to myself at dinner, had I been able to, this is what I would have heard: I'm an outsider, here, right now. Outside this family, this father-son relationship. I hope I'm worthy, in his eyes. Whose eyes? Exactly, Ellie. Whose. Outside this scene, this whole vegan thing, which, really is all part of a side of him I feel what - what do you feel? Intimidated by? Jealous of? What is it? Yes, maybe, a little of both? I'm not vegan or new agey. I hate tofu. I've never meditated once in my life, much less twice a day for ten years. I've never even done yoga, for Christ's sake. So? So what? So what if that's what he wants? What if that's the kind of girl he needs? You are a Midwestern-Southwestern suburban transplant LA wanna-be cool city chick who has no direction and has made a habit of scoffing, HARD, at some of the things he believes about the universe. So what the fuck, Ellie? Why are you sitting here? You are not vegan. You are not quinoa. You are white sugar and gluten. Are you sure you're what he wants?

Of course, none of that had helpfully presented itself yet. But I got through the moment, and the dinner.

---

Back at my place, the reconnect. The space where everything else drops away, no matter what tensions or misfires there've been. We are equals. Barely in the door. Deep in my eyes, always, fearlessly gazing, holding my face, the back of my neck. Breath gone. He knows exactly how. Thumbs in the waistband, below my skirt. No, wait. Not until the last possible second, I whisper. Something about keeping them on, so hot to me. Don't know why. Just is.

He whispers back. But what if this is the last possible second? Hmm? Turns me where I stand. Over the desk. Mouth against my ear. What if this is the last...possible...second...

---

I confess it all, after. The shrooms. The insecurity, the distance I felt at dinner. Though I don't explain the depth of it. I'm ashamed, self-conscious, I don't know. I want to be exactly what he wants. I'm scared of not being good enough. But, as always, he blasts it all away. Reflective listening. His empathy, like nothing I've ever known, from anyone. We are the same person. Everything you just said is how I feel sometimes, with you. I have all the same fears. But what's the very worst that could happen? Think about what the absolute worst thing could be. Work through it. What is it?

That you'd realize I bore you. That I have nothing to offer you. That you'd end it.

Well, I get afraid of the exact same thing with you. And hearing you even say that right now is helping me resolve my issue, making me feel better, because we are so similar and I go through the same thing. There are lots of things you like that I don't. And vice versa. It doesn't matter to me that you experience things the same way that I do. What matters to me is that we're on the adventure together.

I talk. He listens, ask questions. Unfold it, see all the wrinkles, get to the heart of it, take its power away, and be done with it. I can see he's exhausted. It's late. Keep talking. I'm listening. If it helps, keep talking. He sinks further into the pillows - but he doesn't miss a word I say.

Eventually, he falls asleep exactly where he's laying, his arm crooked behind his neck, above the covers and partly dressed. I watch him for a few minutes, delighted by the way he so quickly and easily drops into slumber, like a child up way past bedtime. 

But I don't watch for long. Chaucer needs a walk, and I should sleep, too.