On Black Lives Matter and showing up.

This movement is not about me. But it is about all of us.

I struggle with writing about the Black Lives Matter movement because the line between ally and trying to take over the conversation can be quite thin. I don’t want my voice to be elevated against those who are actually living it, living with blatant inequality every day just because I’ve had my eyes opened to the incredible injustice. No matter how much I learn, I still don’t live it. I will never truly “get it”. Furthermore, I can’t argue I really have anything new to say. However…

The last few days have been heavy. Exhausting. Truly fucking terrible.

Its awful seeing the videos and hearing the stories and feeling horrified, yet not surprised. It’s disgusting to think, as many have said, the only reason these stories are coming to light are because of the videos, because without them, the control of the narrative would belong solely to the police.

And it’s disheartening to see how many people still are staying silent.

There are a lot of feelings to process and so I am writing this partially for myself, in order to process said feelings, and also because, as the maxim goes, white people are more likely to listen to white people when it comes to talking about race and inequality. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll get one more person to examine their privilege. I am so exhausted by white fragility, of people immediately getting defensive and insisting they’re not racist. I’m exhausted by how many people still don’t get it. At the same time, I understand it: for most people it takes a lot of work to be open to different ways of interpreting the world.

On Thursday I was supposed to meet a friend downtown for Seattle’s “First Thursday”. But with the state of the news, the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I knew there was no way I could enjoy myself looking at art. I saw that there was a vigil downtown which would invariably turn into a protest. I wanted to go. I wanted to pay homage to these men who had been killed, to all of those lost at the hands of police, at the hands of the system, to stand in solidarity and make it clear that Black lives do matter, that we should not and cannot stand for this wretched cycle. I wanted to feel like I was doing something, no matter how little. I wanted to show up.

And yet, I still wrestled with the idea of asking my friend – who is white – if he would be okay doing this instead. We hadn’t seen each other in while, and a protest isn’t the ideal place to reconnect. I had also never been to a protest with him, and wasn’t sure how he would react. I had asked friends to join me at protests in the past only to have them say no, I’m not comfortable with that.

But I decided to hell with white fragility. No, this would not be the fun art hop and beers we’d intended, but it wasn’t really the time for that. If he didn’t want to join, fine. But I had to this. Thankfully, the worrying was unwarranted. He too needed to feel like he was doing something. He too needed to show up.

And it was a wretchedly beautiful thing to see. A thousand people turned out, despite the rain and the fact that the event was created – for obvious reasons – at the last minute.

It was wonderful and painful, seeing so many people of all colors, marching. To see so many Black people shouting for their humanity to be taken seriously. It was a welcome relief to see children – most happy and smiling at the energy in the crowd – but a harrowing happiness knowing they are growing up in a world that doesn’t treat them equally, in which they are already facing death. A world where they will have to receive “the talk“, be forced by society to grow up faster and earlier than their white peers.

It was tough seeing friends of color. Knowing how easily it could’ve been them in the videos. Recalling their stories of countless sketchy interactions they’ve had with police despite doing nothing wrong, in contrast to how many times I blatantly flaunted my white privilege with police – such as crying to get out of speeding tickets – to great efficacy.

Shouting in the streets felt powerful: a productive solidarity in our grief. We all know protests alone won’t not solve problems, but maybe, just maybe, it would make one more person pay attention; understand we won’t stand for this anymore. Understand that the only reason that murdered Black lives are getting attention is because now we know to hit record, to change the narrative of “another armed Black man, shot by police.”

At one of the intersections we blocked with our bodies, an SUV honked its horn to the beat of our chants. A few crosswalks later, a Black woman leaned out of her car window and shouted, “YES! YES! BLACK LIVES MATTER!” while smiling and whooping and honking. Along the way we picked up dozens. From bus windows, fists raised in unity.

And then, as we were leaving, the news. Three, then four, then five police officers killed. After a peaceful protest in Dallas. More lives stolen. More lives lost unnecessarily to guns and violence.

Violence is not the point, far from the intention, of Black Lives Matter. Very much the opposite, in fact.  The gunman did not align himself with BLM. But to some people that will not matter. They are, and will continue to, blame the protesters. The divide will grow wider between “us” and “them” when we should be trying to look at everyone as humans. We should be trying to learn all sides, all different points of view, instead of immediately shutting others’ realities down.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not insinuating other lives do not matter, it is not advocating for violence against police, it is a call to recognize that Black lives are being targeted by police and state sanctioned violence disproportionately, with little power for recourse. It is a conversation about the ways in which Black people are routinely deprived of basic human rights and dignity.

After the protests, my friend and I, along with another of his friends, went to grab food. We were exhausted and trying to keep up with the news and discuss the state of the race relations in America. I lamented how frustrated I was, how apathetic so many people I know are.

He told me he’d been having a similar conversation earlier, about how so much of what life boils down to is just showing up. How so much of our generation doesn’t get that. I can’t claim I’m exempt. It’s hard, especially in a world where so much of our interaction is done over media, where we curate and feel the need to be perfect. The growing pains are more visible. We need to accept that we might – and most likely will – make mistakes along the way. Mistakes are an indication of trying, of striving, of growth.

It’s really hard to feel like anything I do will make real change. It’s easy to say my voice doesn’t matter, my vote doesn’t count .

But collective action is powerful. So is collective inaction. Silence is still a choice, a stance: it does not create change. Silence is part of the problem.

I’ve met so many people who don’t want to talk about race and injustice. Who don’t want to “get political”. I get it: It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s exhausting. But if we don’t show up, don’t demand change, don’t stop waiting for the perfect set of circumstances which will never, ever come, change won’t happen.

So my plea to you is this: strive to learn. Learn the history. Learn to listen. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s hard and scary and if your formal education was anything like mine, it’s going to take a lot of un-learning. But don’t immediately shut down because its hard and hopeless and heavy. It should be hard. People are literally dying in the streets. This will not be fun.

But I believe it’s our duty as humans to show up, to try, to recognize humanity in others. To see outside of our comfortable bubbles.

As I was angrily and rather incoherently trying to discuss the injustice earlier in the day, a friend told me, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your job to fix it.”

Thanks for the absolution, but yes it is. This is on all of us. This, as one of the protesters told the crowd on Thursday, is the revolution our kids and grand-kids will ask us about: “Which side were you on?”

I know how I’d like to answer: on the side of humanity.

Black lives matter.

Reminder: Protests are not the only way to show support. Read, learn, listen, have the awkward conversations. Join groups and community meetings. Donate. Here’s more ideas. Do what you can.

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Things I wanted to say to Kevin Young.

Things I wanted to say to Kevin Young, the poet I saw speak at the Hugo House the other night:
Hey, thanks so much for coming to speak tonight, I really needed to hear a lot of what you had to say. I write prose, not poetry – though I’m trying to explore more! –  but everything you touched on surrounding the bullshit about “finding your voice” naturally still applies. The notion of “finding” something that is inherently in us, that we cannot escape is a hindrance so thank you for laying this meaningless idiom to rest. You also stressed that people don’t always choose their subjects, they say what needs to be said and write about it because they must. For whatever idiotic reason I often try and avoid writing about things I know I need to, really personal stuff that keeps bubbling over the surface and demanding to be told, yet I stupidly try to avoid it and/or resent it once it finally spills out. But I need to, and pretending otherwise only makes me feel more neurotic and insane. Thank you for talking about writing about your own experiences, how you and your family see the world and how those experiences are just as valid as any other. Perhaps even more so, because the Black narrative is severely underrepresented in mainstream American media.
In reference to the answer you gave to the woman in the Q & A section on how to avoid writing the same things over again –  you told us limits are ethical and moral, with your personal anecdote of writing a book with no “I”. I wanted to ask if you know who Daveed Diggs is? He plays both the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton. I listened to an interview with him earlier today, and he raps in a group called clipping. and their aptly named album – CLPPNG –  also doesn’t use “I”. He talked about how initially challenging it sounded because a lot of rap is from the first person, but how it also forced him to assess situations differently. Anyway, you touched on rap as poetry and I feel like you might appreciate their music. The song Inside Out is truly poetic. And the explanation of the house in the chorus is his grandmother’s house. So, writing what you know – effective!
Anyway, I haven’t read your work before, but I’m really excited to delve in. If you could sign this copy of The Gray Album to Stephanie, – that’s P-H-A-N-I-E, that would be amazing. Thanks again for sharing your mind with us. Enjoy Seattle!
Things I actually said to Kevin Young, the poet I saw speak at the Hugo House the other night:
Me: Hi, thanks for coming, I really enjoyed your talk.
Kevin: Yeah thank you for attending, who should I make this out to?
Me: Stephanie.
Kevin: Is that -P-H, I-E?
Me (feeling very basic and common and inferior to all creatives): Yup, traditional Christian spelling. (laughs strangely)
Kevin: Is that the Christian spelling?
Me: I have no idea. I don’t know why I said that. I’m really neurotic and I feel the need to fill the silences. Thanks for coming.
Kevin (laughs, looks very comfortable in his own body): Where are you from, Stephanie?
(He’s clearly dealt with anxious students and weird-o strangers before.)
Me: New Mexico.
Kevin: Really? I don’t get out there nearly enough. It’s beautiful.
Me: Yeah, it’s gorgeous.
Kevin: I love Santa Fe.
Me: Santa Fe is great, but Taos is even better. Hometown! (laughs at self awkwardly)

Kevin (handing back book, smiling graciously): Well, thanks for coming, Stephanie. Have a good night.

Me (bumbling and bright red, unable to make mind function, repeating him nearly verbatim): Yeah thank you. Thanks for coming. Have a good evening!
(rejoins friend near door and insists they exit immediately)
Massive shout out to my social anxiety, who reared her irrational head yet again and turned me into a red-faced, bumbling, neurotic fool. Mr. Young, I’m sorry you had to suffer through this bizarre exchange. I hope the other attendees had far more interesting and coherent comments.

On renegotiating the past.

A memory of a then-new friend has been playing on my loop in my mind. It’s a Friday evening, early spring and we’ve left sweaty Belltown dancing behind to go stare over the inky water and chat. The weather is skirting between warmer than it’s been and still a bit too cold, but we stay out anyway. We tumble through conversation, the way you do when a new relationship forms, filling in the history that has led you to this moment. Both relatively new to Seattle. Mid 20s. Trying to figure it out. Making friends and attempting to date. What a nightmare it could be, but also, how fun.

I told her I was more concerned with friendships than romantic formations, because at this age they hold a far stronger chance of surviving the roller coaster; of lasting for the long haul.

(All of this I spouted, of course, as I was dating someone I vocally admitted I had no long term romantic future with.)

A few days later she told me I’d kind of blown her mind with the sentiment. Perhaps prolific, more likely a feeble attempt to avoid loss. Protect myself from pain, do my best to form connections with people who have a greater probability of sticking around, and stay one step removed from those who don’t.

Furthermore, as adults we have a tendency to immediately interpret strong emotions for someone new as sexual, instead of taking a moment to step back and assess. Far too often a friendship would probably have been more appropriate and fulfilling for both parties.  Added benefits include less likelihood of a growing graveyard of odd phone numbers you’ll never text again or awkward encounters while you grocery shop in no makeup and baggy sweatpants at Trader Joe’s.

Most of us trudging through new cities are some fucked up concoction of emotionally battered and overstimulated by options, severely hindering our ability to form healthy attachments. We’re all running at some promise of a better life, with little direction as to what that means, rarely taking the time to to stop and analyze.

Something more exciting and less traditional than what our parents had. Something bigger than what our stagnant hometowns can offer us. Some magical mix of exhilarating and comforting and gratifying.

There isn’t a guidebook and asking for what we need is difficult, because what we need isn’t exactly clear.

Suburbia? Disgusting. Commitment? Terrifying. Possibility of hurt feelings? Too risky.

So we binge on Netflix and alcohol and funny date disasters to avoid assessing what the fuck it is that will actually bring us some contentment.

I hate how debilitating the fear is, how easily I succumb to the above vices because making a decision feels crippling. How long I let myself coast along without assessing what it is I want; whether or not I am happy and fulfilled and getting what I need.

And there is that friend again.  Ironically one of the few people in my life who I consciously had to remove from my orbit, not just a casual dearth in correspondence but an ‘I can’t have you around right now’.

How painful that still is, months later, because I’ve never been one to love lightly. Debilitatingly loyal, because we are all humans and living wholeheartedly is a fucking struggle, one which mass society does not encourage. Too aware that most of our actions are colored by years of baggage even we ourselves are often unaware is propelling us.

Saddled with a vague guilt, because I know what caused her absence in my life isn’t her fault.

But then again, it isn’t mine. Fault isn’t the issue at hand.

But what do you do when you find something out – something that long since occurred – which restructures the past as you interpreted it? As you know it? What do you choose to believe? Were the moments you shared in earnest, or a delusion you had no idea you were spinning?

Over the past few months I’ve struggled with these questions, darting between acceptance, obsessive pondering and avoidance. As for the latter – for better or worse –  I’ve never been one who can sustainably block something from my mind and move on.

Our experiences do not exist in a vacuum, and every event that transpires with a second (or third or forty-seventh) person involved carries with it the immeasurable weight of our combined pasts. It colors how we act and react, what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Occasionally, the result is hilarious. The highlighted differences filled in by time and reflection. When I first met you… This is easy. A good chuckle, a trick for parties. It’s a pretty funny story, actually… If anything, it strengthens your bond.

Other times, the inverse is true. The revelation is not funny. It’s not okay. It calls into question everything.

So how do you reconcile the shared past – still look fondly on the good times and make peace with the shitty times? How do you choose to let the past be the past, not try and rewrite your history nor put a negative lens on otherwise positive events whilst still learning from it? Try and move forward in a thoughtful and meaningful way, without trust issues, but also more aware of warning signs?

How do you know what is real and what is not? What does “real” even constitute? Can real be defined, when two or more parties are involved? All we can ever know fully is what we interpret ourselves, and that reality can be easily punctured.

I am trying to move forward, trying to be open, yet careful. Although not too careful. Remain engaged and aware, thoughtful of how effortlessly I can slip into a wine and Netflix-fueled autopilot, ignoring the demons’ knocks. Because ignoring them won’t make them disappear, it will only make the inevitable implosion bigger.

And the demons will keep coming, in different forms and at different times. Life is a series of explosions and near misses and sometimes it feels as if there is always another one looming, taunting. But if we’re lucky, the moments in between are full of joy and laughter and overwhelming happiness to counterbalance the lows. And if we’re really fortunate, we have wonderful people in our life to share them with and to pick out the shrapnel when we’re knocked down.

The last several months were rough. A lot tears on top of the aforementioned obsessive ponderance and avoidance; and it has been exhausting. But thankfully, backed up by incredible friends (and stabs at comprehensive self care in the form of music and books and writing), I survived (with shockingly few breakdowns in public!).

Late February finally marked a turning point I’ve been needing for years. Life feels good, feels manageable, in a way it hasn’t for so long; I am present. I’m alive, I mean really, fucking alive.

And it’s a struggle. A daily struggle. Sometimes hourly. The ups and downs are severe.  But the full range of emotions is so much more fucking fulfilling than autopilot. Trying is so much more satisfying than ignoring.

There will never be a correct answer. “Real” will never be defined. Letting the memories of good times live on as good times is not necessarily as simple a choice as it seems. But it is the one I choose, because I know in those moments – unburdened by foresight – I was genuinely happy. And that’s something to hold on to.

 

*photo by Nick Onken.

On springtime in Seattle.

It’s been a rough past several months… Heartbreak. Moving. Rain. Cold. Moving. Rain.

More rain.

So.
Much.
Rain.

But I have an announcement to make, and I’m pretty jazzed about it.

I’m in love.

WITH SPRINGTIME IN SEATTLE.

Hot damn, it is so good.

Of all the seasons, I’ve always loved spring best – for all of the clichéd reasons. It feels the way New Years is purported to: a new beginning, a new chapter, a time to shed old skin. Or, in the case of spring, a time to shed warm clothing and reveal exposed, pale skin.

It also means warmer weather, my birthday and a world dotted with vibrant hues in the form of flowers and cherry blossoms and colorful clothing. (Suddenly my wardrobe is appropriate again!)

But spring in Seattle is a whole other level. It pops up just when you’ve resigned to the thought that you may never see a blue sky or be properly dry again. And it explodes with confidence.

The water glitters from more vantage points than seem reasonable. The air is heady with the smell of flowers so sickly sweet they stand on the precipice of decay. The decay of winter, woes, cold and insufficient Vitamin D.

Suddenly, the green and grey world is every color under the rainbow, screaming for attention.

I am more than willing to tune in.

And all of Seattle seems to be on the same page. As the weather encroaches on 70 degrees (shoutout to yesterday, warmest in Seattle thus far for 2016!), the grumpy fog lifts off the reserved Seattleites and the energy in the air is positively giddy (one might even call springtime… the original Seattle Thaw).

People are suddenly out. Lounging on their front porches or wherever they can find a patch of grass. Kids are tossing frisbees and playing tag. Ladies slip into sundresses and sandals. Men don their short-shorts and nothing else.

Strangers are meeting my smile and eye contact on the street. Some have even said hi. I repeat, strangers in Seattle said hi when I passed them on the sidewalk! 

I am high on the explosion of flowers (in a delightful, non-allergy ridden way. Shoutout to Mama for the good genes) and the collective happiness of the city. I have taken an absurd amount of walks through my postcard of a neighborhood, Ravenna. I am wearing sandals and floral prints and a big, goofy smile plastered on my face. I feel connected and in touch with a city united against drear and drab.

Oh Seattle, I am so, so into you.

My dearest Springtime, welcome. We are so damn happy to have you.

Happy Freaking Spring, y’all! 

On crossing the street.

It’s difficult to recall the last time I crossed the street or walked alongside a busy thoroughfare without imagining my body skidding across the uneven pavement. Teeth crumbling in my mouth before popping out of their comfortable home of the past two decades to land amongst the loam and litter, leaving jagged fragments in their place.

I imagine running my tongue over what remains, slicing it. Only it doesn’t matter because hot, sticky, blood already pours out like all the words and thoughts and stories I never had the courage to say; their last chance at seeing the light of day, racing outward from the innermost switchbacks of my mind.

I think about the pulp that covers parts of me where skin used to lay. Dark as the fruit of a prickly pear, only thicker, juicier, like the seeds of an heirloom tomato at the peak of summertime. Spilling across the pavement, staining the crosswalk lines red.

In the end we’re all just organic matter.

I hear the screeches and screams of tires and confusion. No matter how many times we are cautioned on it, no matter how many parables warn of it, we can never quite grasp how a scene can change so drastically from one moment to the next.

This time I imagine myself leaning into the fear and pain instead of trying to fight it, instead of questioning how this happened. I imagine at the first the shock, but then the utter relief, releasing myself into anonymity. Feeling everything and nothing. Lying in the middle of the street unrecognizable as my now former self, relaxing at last.

As I take that first step onto a crosswalk, or hear a the engine of a car zoom past loudly, all of this, life and death and how I got here, shoots up my spine in a quick jolt to attention.

Abrupt, demanding perfect posture. Like stepping into an icy shower when you thought it would be warm.

Only, shouldn’t I know how to test the waters by now?

As I step onto a road, every bit of my being screams – run! – but I do my best to not oblige. I do not want to give into the fear, I do not want to let it dictate my life. Just as I do not want to die.

I’ve come a long way since the days of my adolescence when I needed to hold someone’s hand in order to sprint across the street, despite the permission of the walk icon.

Today – March 14 – marks fourteen years (a golden anniversary of sorts?) since I found myself staring up at a tire and screaming from the pavement; a scene that ended with rather minor physical injuries, all things considered. A gashed face, a broken leg, a torn-up foot.

I’ve since crossed countless streets, in countless cities. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, oftentimes in the safety of numbers comprised of strangers.

The terror has subsided. But the fear has not. It lurks beneath the surface, a near-daily reminder of how fragile life and health are. Despite the frequent, abrupt interruption, I am grateful for it. The fear reminds me I have something to lose.

And as long as that’s true, really, how bad can things be?

On going home again.

Apparently you can go home again. And apparently it can be exciting and relaxing and comforting in a manner you’d never have believed possible in your teens. Or even last year, for that matter.

I spent a week in New Mexico over Christmas during which I was in a state of what can only be described as giddiness.

It was a much needed reprieve from the demands of adulthood and pseudo-autonomy.

First of all, the snow covered sage and farolito adorned adobes screamed Winter Wonderland. The sites were so comfortingly familiar and even more beautiful thanks to the objectivity (or, perhaps, the subjectivity) of passing time. I missed the incredible amounts of vast, virgin land. The imposing purple mountains. The red hillsides. The winding canyons. The always breathtaking Rio Grande Gorge.

I missed the way we communicate directions in Taos. Always referring to businesses as what they once were, despite how much times has passed and how many organizations have come and gone in that space. The relay of directions in relation to landmarks that Google Maps could never effectively lead you to.

And the food. Oh, the food. Red and green chile cheese smothered everything. Enchiladas. Tamales. Posole. Tacos. Chile Rellenos. Delicious is an understatement.

But mostly I missed the people. My parents. Friends from high school and college. Falling into old habits and easy conversations despite the expanse of time and poor correspondence. The random people I consistently run into, yet never properly meet.

I grew up resenting New Mexico. The remoteness of it. The lack of pop cultural activities. The dearth of major bodies of water. Constantly feeling like an outsider peering in.

But I grew to love it, to cherish its unique intersection of three distinct cultures. Its laid back, land-of-mañana attitude. The breathtaking landscapes, most especially the high deserts of the north.

I’ve left and returned to New Mexico many times and this was indisputably the happiest homecoming. The ability to absorb and love it came from knowing I wouldn’t be stuck there. True to my commitment phobic form I fully immersed myself because I was acutely aware my time was limited. As with all joyous epochs of my life, I cherished my impermanence there.

I don’t know that I’ll ever shake my perceived outsider status, it only seems more unlikely as the weeks and months turn into years since I’ve claimed residency. However, accepting the fact that I’ll never properly feel as though I belong or fit in, but recognizing it as home anyway has already filled me with longing for the next journey back.

Te amo, New Mexico. Y te extraño.

On finding my soulmate at 19.

Five years ago today Crystal Foley and I got on a plane and set off for England. I had no idea then who she would become to me. It’s insane to think our year in England was already that long ago, but crazier still to realize I’ve only known her for that short of a time. I feel as if she has always been a part of my life.

Our story started in typical rom-com fashion; we hated each other at first. But that is a saga for a drunken night. (Seriously, bring us some wine and ask us about it, it’s great.)

This is simply a tribute to my favorite person.

One of the pastimes I love the most in the whole world is watching her play guitar and sing. The way she throws herself into the music and the raw power of her voice, the way she moves her fingers across the strings, and the music she performs have rarely failed to make me well up, both with tears and emotions. That brilliant openess you feel where you can’t quite decide if you want to cry or laugh or puke, or all three. It’s the best

She’s the only person I’ve ever had in my life who I never hesitate to bring places, or meet other people in my life. Sometimes merging different groups of friends can be a bit awkward – you wonder if they’ll get along or see what you see in them, but I’ve never felt this with Crystal. Its understood; we’re a package deal. Ability to mingle aside, she is my absolute favorite person to bring anywhere. I’m a better me when I’m around her; we bring out the best in each other, play off each other in ways that cannot be counterfeited. I feel funnier, wittier, smarter, happier when I’m around her.

She has this desire to learn and absorb that I adore. Bring up nearly any subject and she has something to say about it, most of which she’ll initiate with, “I was watching this documentary on…”

We see the world in much the same ways, though she processes it far more beautifully than I could ever hope to. Luckily we can all have a glimpse at it, through the photos and films she produces.

We can talk and laugh for hours about nothing and everything, contemplating life, how we got here and where we’ll end up. Whether I need pragmatism or mirthful cynicism, she knows just how to be there when I feel needy.

She’s the first to cheer me on to make a joyful idiot of myself in public, and the first to join me once I start.

When we are around each other, we slip into a bizarre accent together. It is a voice we cannot control or use knowingly. Many times we are unsure if we are talking in Our Voice or not. If you haven’t heard it, it sounds more or less like Old Greg. (I know what you’re thinking: It’s really quite difficult to understand why we were single for so long).

So five years ago, standing in the Albuquerque Sunport with my severely overweight bags, I could never have fathomed that Crystal Foley would be my best friend. That one day I would understand the way her mind works more or less as well as my own. That someone would ever understand me quite this well. That I would be able to conceptualize what it’s like to have a sibling. That I would spend most first dates henceforth, talking about her, more or less exclusively.

She makes me feel like no matter what happens, I will be okay. Whatever the fuck life throws at me, I know I can handle, because she’s on my team. All the bullshit of navigating growing up and figuring out passions and finding people to cuddle with is infinitely more fun knowing I can go home and whine to her about it over wine. Other people may come and go (although hopefully stay), but she is my forever. Not to get sappy on y’all, but she is my One. She is my Soulmate. As far as I’m concerned, the sun shines out her ass. And it’s a pretty great one, so I’m not upset about it.

(Oh yeah, side note: she’s fucking gorgeous. And perfectly proportioned. Bitch.)

I hope all of you that have that one special someone who just gets it, who is so clearly meant to be in your life, who makes you feel like your most awesome, wonderful self. If you do, go give them a bear hug and thank them for being them. If you don’t, I hope you find them soon. Because the feeling is incomparable.

Thanks for being my person, Crystal. Thanks for understanding me, and trusting me and keeping my secrets. Thanks for laughing maniacally with me and and wallowing in self-deprecation with me and singing with me and moving across the country with me. Thanks for being my cross-eyed bear.

I love you, boo.

I wonder if I’ll tire…

I wonder if I’ll tire of fearing commitment,
and of making minimal commitments in order to convince myself I don’t.

I wonder if I’ll tire of sabotaging my happiness through hyper-analyzation.

I wonder if I’ll tire of subconsciously trying to model my behavior around the misogynistic manic pixie dream girl trope.

I wonder if I’ll tire of dabbling in everything, to avoid facing my mediocrity in the things I love.

I wonder if I’ll tire of using self deprecation to simultaneously reveal and mask my insecurities.

I wonder if I’ll tire of breaking my own heart.

But most of all, I wonder if any of this matters: we’re all imperfect, slowly marching towards our collective deaths.

I wonder.

On polyamory

Describe your ideal relationship, go!

Got it?

Now take a few moments to think about it – I mean really ruminate. Ruminate the crap out of it. You probably have pretty clear ideas of what constitutes a “healthy” and an “unhealthy” relationship.

But how many of those characteristics are what you truly want versus what society is telling you to want?

Many people are altering the definition of a healthy, successful relationship through polyamory.

I find the idea of polyamory fascinating, for so many reasons. Since moving to Seattle, countless people have told me they identify as poly. Many of them right off the cuff, without preamble or an established friendship between us. It almost feels like a badge of progressive liberalism.

Prior to moving here I couldn’t have named a single friend who labeled themselves as such. Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t know anyone, but nobody was open about it if they were.

A few months ago, when a guy I was dating suggested we have a polyamorous relationship, my immediate reaction was: NO! I have enough problems finding one person to date – I don’t find myself physically attracted to that many people. Plus, I am an only child, from a formerly single mother. I don’t share!

But I really liked the guy. So I decided to think about it, really try to imagine it. I read articles and listened to podcasts and tried to understand the logic.

Honestly, the commentary was fascinating. I love challenging societal norms, trying to assess how I really feel about something versus my initial judgments or what I am “supposed” to think. It’s difficult game, because our society shapes such a massive part of our personality and ideals, the depths of which we’ll never truly know. Nowhere is this more obvious than preferences in sex and relationships.

Challenging those norms is a huge aspect of polyamory.

I can’t say what I learned converted me. I don’t believe sex equates love, but it certainly does require a high level vulnerability for me and I can’t let just anyone in.

Thankfully, the guy understood and we’re now in a monogamous relationship. But the small glimpse of this world I had known so little about made me want to get a closer, albeit still outsider, view. So when a friend told me a married couple we knew, Sarah* and Lewis* were polyamorous, I was eager to learn more.

Lewis had enthusiastically agreed to talk to me, and it just so happened the day I followed up with him for an interview he was coming home from mushroom hunting with Sarah and her boyfriend, John*. Would I like to talk to all three of them?

Uh, YES.

So we sat down for sushi.

It really struck me how comfortable they all were with each other. Sarah sat across from John, giggly and flirtatious. Things were clearly still new between them. They told me had been on a total of about seven dates spanning the past month.

She sat next to Lewis and they occasionally exchanged loving glances. All three talked freely about other partners as well as each other. Sarah occasionally looked down and turned a little red, but at no point was anyone uncomfortable enough to change the topic.

After we selected an absurd amount of fish and veggie filled seaweed, I started off the conversation with questions relating to what I had learned from my prior research. Polyamory is all about rules and communication.

So I was pretty surprised to learn Sarah and Lewis didn’t have rules. In fact, the only “rule” they brought up was safety. Not I need to know where you are at all times so you don’t end up in a ditch safety, as I initially thought (although that is important), but safe-sex safety. It’s pretty easy: Sarah and Lewis can eschew the condoms, but its rubbers all the way with other partners, along with regular STD testing.

Communication is important for any relationship.

But in a poly relationship, as Sarah put it, “Open and honest communication is paramount.”

“Its sort of like if something feels weird or uncomfortable we bring it up and try to adjust, sort of like on the fly, which is good,” Lewis said. “I think that’s part of it for me. Part of the ideal is not having rules.”

Although they began discussing polyamory from the beginning – Lewis brought it up on their very first date – they did not start off rule free.

Over the past five years they’ve had seasons of monogamy as well as limits on frequency in seeing other partners.

It wasn’t until the past year or so that they figured out how to be truly comfortable in their polyamory, stemming from an accident in India that nearly took Sarah’s life.

Since recovering, she has loosened a lot the restrictions she initially felt.

“[I’ve] been constantly getting more and more comfortable with it and finally leveling out to where he’s been since we started dating,” she said.

It took John three to four years to be really comfortable in his poly lifestyle as well.

“I think that must be the learning curve to unlearn everything you think you know and re-learn relationships this way,” he said

Apparently determined to find the (non-existent) limits, I asked if they had restrictions on partners in their home. Lewis looked at me, dead serious and told me no one else could have sex in his bed. Sarah and John laughed hysterically.

“It doesn’t happen a lot. It just happened this morning,” Lewis explained. “That’s why I said that.”

When they first moved into their house, Sarah has asked they restrict sex with other partners to the guest bedroom, but eventually stopped caring.

Besides, Sarah told me laughing, they Airbnb their entire home out to strangers. Countless people have done untold things in there. It’s not exactly a marital sanctuary.

Okay, okay. No rules. I get it.

“In a relationship I feel like oftentimes rules are put in place to protect feelings that don’t need to be protected. They’re just protected because of tradition, because it’s uncomfortable to push those boundaries,” Lewis said. “So for me the lack of rules is important specifically because it’s gonna cause me pain. Those are the instant response mechanisms that I want to push through.”

Which makes sense. Attaching a lot of regulations to something that is supposed to be fighting the expectations of society seems fairly illogical.

People who identify as polyamorous are not just in it for the sex. They take respecting partners’ feelings and schedules very seriously. While they may have casual hook ups, they also often have deep romantic connections.

But what exactly makes a partner a boyfriend or girlfriend?

“There are some people I want to talk to everyday and find out like ‘what’s going on in your life?’ and I’m just that invested… it can happen really quickly,” Sarah told me. “And there are other people where I may really enjoy spending time with them and it’s fun and exciting for different reasons but that level of spark is not necessarily there or they’re involved in other relationships that are taking up most of the time that’s available.”

While she counts John as a boyfriend, she doesn’t label the two other people she’s seeing as such.

All three seemed to agree that someone is a boyfriend or girlfriend if they feel emotionally invested in their well being, talking frequently and spending time together often.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about that,” Lewis told me. “Classifying someone as a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ is hard, because it’s not an actual term.”

He suspects as polyamory becomes more popular (or at least more visible) a distinction will need to be made, because those terms imply monogamy.

“I think the point is, for me, boyfriend or girlfriend kind of approximates it well enough,” Lewis said. “And if somebody is close enough for me to really care, they’ll know what it means.”

Finding healthy partnerships can be difficult.

Even in a city as open and embracing of polyamory as Seattle.

Could you look into the eyes of your partner, guilt-free, after sleeping with another? Would you be able to become friends – or at least friendly – with your partners’ partners?

Those are the true hallmarks of an ethical, healthy polyamorous relationship in John’s eyes.

All three of them have found themselves with partners who may identify as ‘poly’ on OKCupid (the easiest way to meet people, hands down), but have little to no experience living it. Jealousy and disrespect of partners’ schedules tends to ensue and relationships blow up.

Jealousy remains an issue for even the healthiest and most open of poly couples. All signs lead me to believe jealousy is human nature and not something that can be deprogrammed with time.

But John considers it healthy. He has been polyamorous for seven years, interspersed with periods of prolonged, mutual monogamy, and jealousy has never gone away.

Fits of rage, however, are not healthy. Sarah used to experience them, letting her jealously build up to such great heights she’d want to end everything. These days she finds her jealousy manageable and she and Lewis are able to work through it.

I can relate to this. While I do not consider myself a jealous person, I am an introvert. I will occasionally let something stew inside me until I have built it to epic proportions in my head, all the while not saying a word, until I boil over.

Not healthy.

But that is an issue that can happen even in monogamous relationships and avoidable with honest communication. My biggest concern in considering polyamory is turning relationships into a competition.

My boyfriend is naturally extroverted, meets a lot of people. He can have sex with people he likes on a superficial level.

And that’s fine.

I can’t. I need a strong spark with somebody for sex to sound remotely appealing. Date Three is way more fun than Date One. And I’m okay with that.

Unfortunately, I can easily see myself turning dating into a competition, going out with people simply because my boyfriend is. Sleeping with people I don’t care about because “that’s what I’m supposed to want,” despite knowing I don’t. Until I can accept that he would be sleeping with far more people than me and be okay with that, polyamory is off the table.

Lewis had remained rather quiet on the subject of jealousy. And just as I thought it had come to a close, he piped up.

“I have an example, that we haven’t spent a lot of time discussing, but its sort of there, in terms of where my jealousy is,” he said, looking over at Sarah. She looked back at him curiously.

“[Sarah] is into submission. Not like, hardcore, but it’s definitely a thing.”

She turned red and looked down, giggling awkwardly before he continued.

“She sees me as not only somebody who’s not a dom, but as somebody – this is what I feel like – could never be a dom. And if I try to fill that role for her, it’s just too phony and can’t really happen.

“So then when she’s with guys who … more naturally fulfill that role, then I get a twinge of like ‘well shit’. Partially because it’s something that I don’t do and that I feel like she’s not willing to grow with me on or showing that much interest. Maybe that’s unfair of me to say, that she’s not showing interest, cause I haven’t been pushing it tremendously…” he trailed off.

Sarah continued to look at him, lovingly calculating his words as he looked at me and finished his thought.

“Also that it’s her sort of primary way of being sexual, from the way she describes it. So not only am I missing out on something, but I’m like missing out on the thing for her,” he said. “So that’s… there’s some stuff in there about that.”

I took a moment to let that sink in. While everything they’d said made sense to me, and seemed logical up to this point, this contribution made me understand exactly why a polyamorous relationship may be the healthiest approach of all. The above easily could – and probably would – be an eventual relationship breaker if they were monogamous.

Expecting to get everything out of one person is a pretty ridiculous notion. Love, sex, companionship, inspiration, myriad mutual interests. I can easily acknowledge that. I don’t think it is impossible, but it is certainly a tall order.

But one of the best things about polyamory, as Sarah told me in response, is there isn’t a limit to what you get to try and explore.

You don’t need to try and find everything you desire in one person. Nor do you need to compartmentalize people into what they do provide you with.

“The difference between monogamy and polyamory for me is the option of sex,” John told me. “Because otherwise, literally everyone is my friend.”

And everyone knows a relationship is better when you consider your partner your best friend.

But where is the line drawn?

For me the main difference in my relationships with my best friend, Crystal, and my boyfriend is sex. So how does Sarah differentiate her relationship to Lewis from hers to John?

“I guess for me, it’s … long term life goals and aspirations,” she said. “Like if I were thinking about having kids, I would be considering that with [Lewis].”

They haven’t talked extensively about children, but Lewis is excited about the telling their future offspring about polyamory.

Sarah added that the last three people she has dated say they don’t want their own kids, but would like to help raise a partner’s kids, which she hadn’t considered before.

As an only child who did not grow up around extended family, I love this idea. I think people are better-rounded humans when a community raises them.

She is firm in one sentiment regarding child rearing though. No fooling around while she is pregnant.

(John squawked ‘what?’ incredulously at this. I wholeheartedly affirmed, ‘fair enough!’)

Lewis’s family doesn’t know they are poly. Sarah’s family knows and is not okay with their relationship choices, but after her accident in India they realized Lewis truly was there for her, and that their marriage was real.

They had initially been concerned polyamory was all his idea, as if she’d been coerced into it, and she would be left home with home with the kids while he gallivanted about with other women, á la Don Draper.

How quickly we turn women into the victims.

But back to the line drawing…

Sarah finds the question of delineating friendships and romantic relationships interesting. Since leaving college she has had a difficult time finding friends she connects with on a deeper level.

“I guess for me much easier to get to know people really well and intimately when sex is part of the equation,” she said, frankly.

So it’s not about the sex?

“I mean it is, that’s definitely part of it but I don’t feel like I’m trying to find this balance between my sexual partners and my close platonic friends.”

Which is valid. Balance is a real issue for me. Sometimes Crystal and I have to schedule “dates” to catch up because things get so hectic and we don’t see each other for a while. And we live together.

But upholding my relationship with her is a high priority for me. I need to schedule time for her and my other friends in my life. Having a sense of community through friendships is something I have been valuing a lot more since moving to Seattle. But it takes time. And it never seems like there is enough of it.

Meeting people, finding and attending dates, cultivating relationships: massively time consuming!

So how does one find the time?!

I need alone time to not turn into a horrible human being. That coupled with work, social life and all the chores required for being an “adult” don’t leave a whole lot of free time.

“That’s a real thing, for sure,” John told me. He has capped his capacity for romantic relationships at three partners, “Which is holy cow, I have no personal life.”

When he first became polyamorous he got a little over-enthusiastic and took on six partners.

My jaw dropped at this. Six people. Six people! I’m not sure I could sustain six close friendships at once at the level of commitment he’s talking about.

He says he became a man whore because he hadn’t been in a past life. None of the relationships from that time proved sustainable and quickly learned his limit. Now he typically has two partners at a time.

John told us he takes dating seriously and doesn’t do long term hook ups where he sees a partner once a week or less. He’s in it for substance and quality, not quantity.

Sarah laughed and added, “He won’t even kiss on the first date!”

Lewis doesn’t put caps on his number of partners, but is not looking to have deep relationships in the same way. He has kept some boundaries with his girlfriend because he doesn’t want two relationships right now.

“The objective for me is really to like, keep life spicy and have really intense emotional connections with people, not to develop another secondary relationship,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure out what that means.”

Both men have had experiences where one partner was demanding too much of their time due partially to insecurities, causing them to start neglecting other partners. All three of them stress the importance of making enough time for partners so relationships have the chance to grow.

Time is important. In romance, time is everything. Not having enough of it with a partner makes it hard to be vulnerable, which is crucial for successful relationships.

+ + +

As our conversation came to a close I told them all I felt a little bit silly for wanting monogamy with my partner.

I don’t envision us walking off into the sunset as octogenarians. We are destined to break up. It is just a fact. He doesn’t believe in marriage and has no desire for kids. I am a crippling indecisive and the only concrete feelings I can attest to on the subjects are definitely not right now. Neither of us sees ourselves settling down here. So monogamy, perhaps, is a bit nonsensical.

But yet again Lewis surprised me.

“Actually that situation to me makes monogamy make more sense.”

Really?

“If you’re only gonna be with someone for a certain amount of time, you know, maybe the things about polyamory don’t apply as much,” Lewis said.

“Serial monogamy can be a healthy thing, depending on how people approach it,” John added.

“Like some people might be in your situation and seeing the end and fearing it,” Lewis finished.

I am not fearing or dwelling on the end, despite understanding its inevitability. That’s would be a terrible way to live. But of course it is easy to be mature and open minded on this side of the relationship.

Talking to the three of them made me finally understand the appeal of polyamory. I am supportive. As far as I can tell, when it is done well, it’s an extremely healthy approach to relationships. But with all that being said, it is still not for me. As of now, I think I am destined to be a serial monogamist.

At this rate, it appears the partners will be few and far between, but life changing and meaningful when they arrive.

For now my boyfriend and I are taking it as it comes. I am in a moony-eyed, emotionally and mentally stimulating, laugh-‘til-it hurts kind of love. I am happy.

For now, that is all that matters.

*Names have been changed.

On finally thawing Seattle

When I first started this blog, I called it The Seattle Thaw because I intended to use it as an incentive to meet people and get to know this city better. I wanted to interview people in Seattle in the hopes of creating a sense of community for myself here, and encourage myself to battle through my shyness and talk to new people. And maybe help others do the same.

After months of being too busy and then being too nervous – you can’t fail if you don’t try! – I’m excited to say I’ve finally started down the path. I want to write about human relationships – not romantic ones, per se – but human connections. Be it a best friend, boyfriend, sister, coworker, stranger or wife I want to explore the connections we have with people that make us feel. The click of connection when you find someone of your tribe, the relationships that challenge the notions of what we deem ‘normal’, the people that make us feel the emotions we didn’t realize we were missing. The hurt of loneliness and loss. The partnerships that challenge us, inspire us, bring comfort in a way nothing else can. The tactics we use to protect ourselves and keep people out. The relief of finally letting them break down.

The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for me. Saying so many goodbyes and many more hellos. I spent a long time pretending being ‘independent’ meant I didn’t need strong bonds with people in my life. I’m an only child! I’m a strong, self-sufficient, single woman!

Now I value them as the most important aspect of my life.

So I want to explore connection by connecting with fellow Seattleites. As opposed to a traditional interview, in which I ask questions from a slightly removed angle, I want to have conversations – in which we are both vulnerable, and we both learn. This will be a new format for me, writing both their feelings and mine. It will definitely require some de-programming of my journalist training, but I’m excited (and totally nervous) to get creative. And then put that creativity on the internet.

Look out for my first conversation publication this Tuesday. Teaser: It’s on a polyamorous marriage. So here’s to new friends and new views on the world. See you Tuesday!

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